Day 25 Ken here
Wow! We finish Chapter 9 and start the massive 40 pager Chapter 10. Chapter 9 ends with some general comments on Germans, and on History itself, and on the 1st Great Incursion of barbarians into the Empire (that of the nations of Germany and Sarmatia at the mouths of the Rhine and Danube that embroiled Marcus Aurelius during the late middle years of the 100’s (circa 170)).
The Gold Rush
Chapter 10 begins the wild roller coaster ride of the 20 years between 248-268. Like Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock the rate of political change begins to increase at a steeper and steeper rate. The conveyor belt system of emperor raising and emperor slaughtering by the military becomes so common, the obvious question occurs – Why march on Rome at all? Why not rule the piece of the empire you’ve rebelled in and defend what you know, where you know, with people you know best?
The empire is on the brink of dividing into small pieces, but no one realizes it yet. Probably because the Germans, Persians, and Goths keep breaking in and ransacking – which isn’t all bad. It means if you’re a soldier on the winning side of an invasion repulse, tons and tons of pillage and slaves and loot. It was like 1849 in the Empire – a gold rush of war and profits. No wonder the legions got so impatient with emperors who wouldn’t get out of the way and let them all get filthy rich.
It’s hard to maintain unity and solidarity in a society when so many seem to be mining whatever worth is left in the Empire and not giving a damn about tomorrow. Like The Emperor’s New Clothes, the substance (or illusion) of Roman national identity is questioned. A very uncomfortable situation for a world Empire to be in.
This is the context of Peter Brown’sThe Making of Late Antiquity where he describes the late Empire NOT as an implosion of a diminishing economy, failing military, and barbarian invasions, but an explosion of a strong and vibrant new civilization finally breaking out of the shell of Antiquity and Antique culture.
A word on sources – we are coming as Gibbon himself says to an unhappy place. “The confusion of the times, and the scarcity of authentic memorials, oppose equal difficulties to the historian, who attempts to preserve a clear and unbroken thread of narration.” (DEF x p.253).
Case Study: The Ill-Starred Duo – Philip and Decius
Gibbon attempts a chronology of the last days of Philip for 2 pages, then dives into a 20 page tangent on the Goths before returning to the bewildering and murky succession of revolts and murders which was the political lifestyle of this period of the Roman Empire.
Philip the Arab (244-249) born in Roman Syria in the city of Shahba of a (probably) important Roman family Marinus, advanced upwards in the military, and was made a member of the Preatorian Guard under Septimus Severus (another Syrian) (possibly when Severus cleaned out the old Guard on his ascension).
He served under various emperors, and was made Praetorian Prefect when Timisitheus (the father-in-law, Praetorian Prefect of young Gordian III) died on the campaign in Persia (243). After his ascension in Persian after the mutiny that killed Gordian III (244), he went back to Rome, celebrated the 1000th anniversary of Rome’s founding with the Secular Games and was called to Pannonia and Moesia (lower Danube) to battle the Goths (248).
Despite winning, a new man Decius was acclaimed emperor, apparently against his will – because of poor plunder after the Persian campaign. So many emperors were acclaimed, and killed in turn by the army, it must have been the nightmare of every commander that his legions would make him an offer that couldn’t be refused. The armies of Decius and Philip met, and Philip lost and was slaughtered outside of Verona (Spring 249).
Decius, more from Decius point of view (from Wiki): “By the end of 248 or 249, Decius was sent to quell the revolt of Pacatianus and his troops in Moesia and Pannonia; the soldiers were enraged because of the peace treaty signed between Philip and the Sassanids. Once arrived, the troops forced Decius to assume the imperial dignity himself instead.” (Wiki). Gibbon notes his reluctance, and even remarks that he begged Philip to ignore the “revolt” and allow him to deal with the situation (possibly defusing it) without forcing the issue of succession and sole leadership of the Empire. But apparently, it was the armies now, and not the generals (Decius and Philip) who were effectively making the executive decisions concerning if and when civil wars were to be fought or not fought. This one was.
Gibbon in History
Gibbon: “Wars, and the administration of public affairs are the principal subjects of history”. (DEF ix p.252). It is notable that he says “are” and not “should”. His own history is full of proto-sociology and proto-economics. Although, to be fair, he makes the above statement in a paragraph explaining how easy it is to mistake one German tribe for another, and not as a call to arms to write broader, more meaningful, less elite-based histories of nations.
New Sources Gibbon Uses
Greek. Writing in the 490’s, just before Justinian (in a very different Roman Empire), he is one of the few pagan sources we have for this period (the conversion of the Empire under Constantine is just around the corner in 312). He is good because he (unconsciously?) uncritically transcribed the works of other historians writing closer to the actual time of the histories.
Greek. HMedieval Byzantine historian writing in the early 1100’s. He wrote an 18 volume work Extracts From History which stretched from the creation of the world to the death of Alexis (1118). Increasingly reliable as the volumes approach his own time, Zonaras is valuable in preserving extracts of texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries that are otherwise lost. Gibbon says “little dependence is to be had on the authority of a modern Greek, so grossly ingnorant of the history of the third century, that he creates several imaginary emperors, and confounds those who really existed.” (DEF Bibl Index (end of vol 3) p.1276).
Goths, Slavs, and the Lower Danube (Sarmatia)
More on the Goths tomorrow