Posted by: ken98 | April 27, 2010

Embarrassing Anatomical Details, (Yet Another) One Year Emperor, and A Sack of Rome,

Day 228 – Ken here (T)(4-27-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.36 pp.360-370)(pages read: 1460)

We continue on with

The Story
 
Genseric’s 14 Day Sack of Rome (6-10-455 – 6-29-455) Admirably Thorough – Down to the Jewels the Empress Was Wearing
 
  • Genseric the Vandal King marches north out of Ostia, comes before the gates of Rome and is NOT met by an army, but by Pope Leo who gave orders spare buildings, exempt captives from torture if the population were unresisting
  • – Gibbon notes “although such (Leo’s) orders were neither seriously given, nor strictly obeyed, the mediation of Leo was glorious to himself, and in some degree beneficial to his country
  • Rome was sacked for 14 days – and systematically stripped – even down to the gilded roof tiles of the Temple of the Capitol
  • The Candelabra and Temple Utensils taken from the Temple of Jerusalem in the 70’s CE by Trajan were carted off to Carthage 400 or so years later
  • The empress Eudoxia advanced to meet her “friend and deliverer” when she was rudely stipped off all the jewels she was wearing and compelled to follow Genseric as a captive (one sure to bring a rich ransom – ransoming rich Roman captives was Big Business in the 400’s)
  • In a strange, European “feel” to this proto-European age, Deogratias (GiveThanksToGod), the bishop of Carthage, melts down church plate to ransom captives and “hospitalize” the sick Roman citizens carried off as slaves by the Vandals back to North Africa. The Church, in some ways, is already post-empire in its viewpoint – ie The Church of Rome, and its hierarchy of Bishops is already taking over the duties of the old provincial governors of the Roman Empire – continuing the Mediterranean-wide sense of community
  •  

    The New One Year Emperor Avitus – Successor to Valentinian (1-10-455 thru 10-16-456)
     
  • Avitus, and exceedingly rich citizen of Gaul (and the brother-in-law to a famous poet Sidonius Appolinaris – thus we have many references to his life – unlike his successor – and much better emperor Majorian – whom we know primarily only from the summaries of his laws in the Law Code). Avitus is acclaimed, and unusually, promoted by the Provincial Legislature/Parliament – the Annual Assembly of 7 Provinces (8-15-455)
  • Promoted while he was at his estate in Clermont, he goes to Rome, is ratified by East, and very very grudgingly accepted by the West
  • He is promoted and proposed only because he is great friends of COUNT RICIMER (or the other way around) (barbarian General – 1/2 Visigoth, 1/2 Suevi – and the real power in the West after the death of Aetius)
  •  

    The Visigoths Attempt to Take All Spain – Manage the Northern Part
     
  • The Visigoths are in Aquitaine, are asked by the Romans (actually Avitus owes his military support to the Visigothic King Theodoric and the 1/2 Visigoth Ricimer – a cousin to Theodoric) to put down the Suevi in Northern Spain
  • Visigoths agree – but go in with the idea of a Visigothic conquest of Spain (an action in which they will eventually succeed – Spain will be German and Visigothic until the Muslim invasions of the early 700’s – almost 300 years)
  • Visigoths forced to come back from Spain, so did not have full Spanish conquest – only the North of Spain but eliminated Suevi Kindgom entirely
  • Spain has already drifted (as has Gaul) into barbarian ownership, under nominal Roman Government control
  •  

    Count Ricimer (Remeber That Name)(1/2 Suevi, 1/2 Visigoth Royalty) the Real Power in the West Now – Avitus is Deposed
     
  • Count Ricimer makes Avitus, Count Ricimer breaks him when Roman citizens rebel against him (10-16-456)
  • Count Ricimer defeats a fleet of Vandal vessels (456), comes back to Rome, and deposes Avitus
  • The assumption is the emperor Majorian was promoted then – but not much, (except for laws) remains of his 4 year reign (457-461) – Ricimer will create the next emperor after that too (Severus)
  •  

    Coin of the Emperor Avitus - a Tremissus.  Avitus ruled for about a year, was acclaimed by the National Legislature of Gaul after Maximus was murdered, and appointed a lot of Gaulic friends to positions at court in Rome.  He became very unpopular at Rome.

    Coin of the Emperor Avitus - a Tremissus. Avitus ruled for about a year, was acclaimed by the National Legislature of Gaul after Maximus was murdered, and appointed a lot of Gaulic friends to positions at court in Rome. He became very unpopular at Rome.

     
     
     

    A slightly exagerrated frontal muscular anatomical drawing.  Presumably, JUST THIS KIND OF THING was what Gibbon was meaning to avoid when talking about specific details of his male/female friends appearances.  Gibbon definitely felt talking about the firmness of a mans calves was - too much information.  Luckily for us Sidonius Appolinaris did NOT hold the same opinion, and we have a detailed (but embarrassing to Gibbon)  description of the Visigothic King Theodoric saved in one of Sidonius's letters

    A slightly exagerrated frontal muscular anatomical drawing. Presumably, JUST THIS KIND OF THING was what Gibbon was meaning to avoid when talking about specific details of his male/female friends appearances. Gibbon definitely felt talking about the firmness of a mans calves was - too much information. Luckily for us Sidonius Appolinaris did NOT hold the same opinion, and we have a detailed (but embarrassing to Gibbon) description of the Visigothic King Theodoric saved in one of Sidonius's letters

    Last Word…
    Gibbon Delicately Alludes to Detailled Male Anatomical Descriptions
     

    Gibbon gives a long description of Theodoric, King of the Visigoths in mid-chapter 37, but pulls back from giving a complete physical description – merely noting the horse-breeder (or in the case of the Romans – slave-breeder) mentality of examining every physical attribute possible. It was embarrassing to Gibbon. It would be even more interesting to see if Sidonius gives as detailled a description of well-bred Roman Senators when requested – maybe he only gave us all the dirt on Theodoric because, after all, Theodoric was a Visigoth, and not a Roman. Maybe Theodoric didn’t care. At any rate, I’m sure Sidonius’s description sounds much better in the original elegant, terse Latin, than in 18th century English.

    Still, Gibbon’s reluctance is interesting, at least to me. Gibbon, obviously does not consider it proper to list the blow-by-blow anatomical character of a gentleman. I imagine Sidonius had much less of a fear of the human body than did Gibbon. Of course, Sidonius was bathing (probably daily, often in public – this was the Later Roman Empire after all) every day, and Gibbon (probably) thought the frequent immersion of his corporal mass into water un-civilized at best, and un-healthy at worst. So not much chance to see another human body out of clothes for Gibbon, but a lot of chances for Sidonius I’m sure.

    I wonder if Gibbon ever saw another human being naked? I’m sure the nakedness of one person before another brought up all kinds of male dominance anxiety. It probably activated the same male dominance/submission attitudes as passive and active same-sex acts: i.e. a dominant male was not passive but active, and a dominant male (I’m thinking) would be the one in clothes, not the naked one. Sidonius probably shared the first attitude with Gibbon, but not the second. Anyways… on with Gibbon and Sidonius.

    By the majesty of his appearance, Theodoric would command the respect of those who are ignorant of his merit; and although he is born a prince, his merit would dignify a private station. He is of a middle stature, his body appears rather plump than fat, and in his well-proportioned limbs agility is united with muscular strength. (18)

    and from the footnote:

    Note 018
    I have suppressed, in this portrait of Theodoric, several minute circumstances and technical phrases, which could be tolerable, or indeed intelligible, to those only who, like the contemporaries of Sidonius, had frequented the markets where naked slaves were exposed to sale (Dubos, Hist. Critique, tom. i. p. 404).

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.37, p.365, fn.18)

    and the full text of the letter in question (from here) Sidonius’ Letters II,section 1 (to his brother Agricola, On a description of Theodoric)

    You have often begged a description of Theodoric the Gothic king, whose gentle breeding fame commends to every nation; you want him in his quantity and quality, in his person, and the manner of his existence. I gladly accede, as far as the limits of my page allow, and highly approve so fine and ingenuous a curiosity.

    Well, he is a man worth knowing, even by those who cannot enjoy his close acquaintance, so happily have Providence and Nature joined to endow him with the perfect gifts of fortune; his way of life is such that not even the envy which lies in wait for kings can rob him of his proper praise.

    And first as to his person. He is well set up, in height above the average man, but below the giant. His head is round, with curled hair retreating somewhat from brow to crown. His nervous neck is free from disfiguring knots. The eyebrows are bushy and arched; when the lids droop, the lashes reach almost half-way down the cheeks. The upper ears are buried under overlying locks, after the fashion of his race. The nose is finely aquiline; the lips are thin and not enlarged by undue distension of the mouth.

    Every day the hair springing from his nostrils is cut back; that on the face springs thick from the hollow of the temples, but the razor has not yet come upon his cheek, and his barber is assiduous in eradicating the rich growth on the lower part of the face. Chin, throat, and neck are full, but not fat, and all of fair complexion; seen close, their colour is fresh as that of youth; they often flush, but from modesty, and not from anger.

    His shoulders are smooth, the upper- and forearms strong and hard; hands broad, breast prominent; waist receding. The spine dividing the broad expanse of back does not project, and you can see the springing of the ribs; the sides swell with salient muscle, the well-girt flanks are full of vigour. His thighs are like hard horn; the knee-joints firm and masculine; the knees themselves the comeliest and least wrinkled in the world. A full ankle supports the leg, and the foot is small to bear such mighty limbs.

    Yes, you have to say Sidonius is thorough, and yes, you can almost see Sidonius’s hand testing the “knee-joints” for their firmness and masculinity.

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