Posted by: ken98 | December 31, 2009

One Rises, One Falls, and the Journey of the Obelisk

Day 110 – Ken here (Th)
(DEF v.2, ch.19, pp.690-700)

We continue with emperor Constantius’ trapping and killing his nephew the Caesar Gallus, and look at Julian’s early years (Gibbon can find no wrong with Julian – and perhaps he is right). Finally we briefly look at the famous obelisk Constantius had erected in Rome on one of his (very) infrequent visits to that city. We also briefly digress on Gibbon, Voltaire, and homosexuality. Finally, we examine the often unfortunate fate of even loyal higher military officers in the Late Roman empire – the fate of General Sylvanus (a frenchman) leader of all Roman Gaul, and an emperor for 28 days.

The Story
The Sad End of Gallus

  • Constantius (very suspicious of Gallus – and princes in general), pulls back his legions gradually from the East, leaving Gallus without troops
  • Constantina, daughter of Constantius, dies – leaves Gallus even more defenseless before the subtle, pitiless, suspicions of Constantius
  • Constantius kills Gallus – calls him to Hadrianople with full retinue. After getting that far, Const. calls him to Milan with Const. own soldiers as escort. After getting to Petovio in Pannonia (safely within Const. territory), Const. arrests Gallus, has Gallus taken to Pola and executed like a criminal with his hands tied behind his back (Dec. 354).
    Rise of Wars and Ruin of the Mid 350’s

  • Constantius’ troubles – Sylvanus, general of all Gaul, is attacked by enemies (through forged documents) and shown to be a traitor, is sentenced, but reprieved too late. In the interim he does what any sane general would do if accused unjustly before Constantius of rebellion – he rebels. Sylvanus is hailed an emperor and reigns for 28 days. Constantius ends it by executing him, but now needs a strong man in Gaul to take care of the general unrest there (May 355)
  • Constantius’ troubles – the Sarmatians cross the Danube and ravage Gaul
  • Constantius’ troubles – the hill tribes – the Isaurians in Illyria (Albania) rebel threatening Greece and Italy
  • Constantius’ troubles – The Persians (noting the political unrest in their “brother’s” kingdom – ie. Constantius’ – Persian and Roman rulers styled themselves brothers) – begin to march on Roman territories
    Julian’s Early Years and His Being Forgiven and Raised to Caesar

  • Julian (after the execution of Gallus) taken by armed guard from the province of Ionia (his present prison) to Milan (the capital – where Constantius made his home)(354)
  • Julian is befriended by Const. wife – Eusebia, and eventually allowed to plead for his life, surrounded by spies and enemies
  • With Eusebia’s help he is given leave to be exiled to Athens where he spends 6 months happily continuing his courses in philosophy, and continuing to grow out his philosophers beard(May 354)
  • Julian is recalled to Milan to become Caesar, marry Helena, sister of Constantius , and become a Caesar – resident in Gaul – Julian is 25 years old (11-6-355)
  • Gibbon notes (for a whole page) Constantius’ formal Acclamation of the Legions – to formalize and justify Julian’s ascent to being a Caesar now
  • NOTE: Julian left an extensive autobiography and had a great admirer in the historian Ammianus Marcellinus (as well as the more modern historian Edward Gibbon himself) and so Gibbon waxes eloquent and long on all the details of Julian short rise,reign,and death
    The Story of the Obelisk of Constantius

  • Constantius commemorates his first visit in 36 years to the capital of Rome by having an obelisk (created by Egyptian Pharoah Thutmose III and erected in Thebes (1300’s BCE), coveted by Augustus, stolen by Constantine) transported and erected in the Circus at Rome. It remains there for at least 1300 years, but is eventually lost and broken in 3 pieces. Pope Sixtus V excavates and re-erects it in front of St John Lateran in 1587 – where it remains to this day – the largest obelisk Egypt produced, surrounded by the pines and olives of the Italian peninsula, thousands of miles and years from its home
  • Obelisk - now in front of St John Lateran, Rome, was originally on the central spine of the Circus Maximus, placed there by Constantius as a commemorative of one his few visits to the capital city (in 357)

    Obelisk - now in front of St John Lateran, Rome, was originally on the central spine of the Circus Maximus, placed there by Constantius as a commemorative of one of his few visits to the capital city (in 357) - a further sign of the decline of Rome's importance (it will be sacked anyway in 45 years), and a sign of the decline in the decorative arts - the Empire was capable of massive engineering projects (moving an 115' obelisk from Egypt to Rome and erecting it in an existing building), but unable to build an equestrian statue (Constantius' original wish) as the effort was too complicated for existing Late Roman sculptors

    The Long History of the Stolen Obelisk

    I guess, by definition all Roman (city of Rome that is, or Constantinopolitan) obelisks are stolen, as they’re all Egyptian and antedate their (new) homes by many centuries. This one would’ve been part of the looted-treasures-of-the-whole-world-collection that Constantine (Constantius’ father) gathered together from one end of the Mediterranean to the other to ornament his new city, Constantinople in the 330’s or so. But Constantine’s death put an end to imperial collecting, and this obelisk from Heliopolis lay at port (Alexandria in Egypt) for 2 decades until his son, Constantius, in a rare mood of generosity towards the city of Rome commanded his visit to that city (the 1st in 36 years) be commemorated by the erection of an obelisk in the Circus at Rome. Eventually it landed in front of St. John Lateran by order of Pope Sixtus V in the late 1500’s, repaired after being broken up and buried in the general Roman rubble of Medieval Rome.

    Here is a scholarly description of its history:

    “Obeliscus Constantii: the obelisk which is now standing at the Lateran which was brought to Rome by Constantius in 357 A.D., and set up on p368the spina of the circus Maximus (Amm. Marcell. XVI.10.17; XVII.4.12; Cassiod. Var. III.51.8). It was erected by Thutmose III in the fifteenth century B.C. in front of the temple of Ammon at Thebes. Augustus thought of bringing it to Rome, and Constantine did bring it down the Nile to Alexandria. Its transportation to Rome and erection by Constantius are described by Ammianus (XVII.4.13‑16) and in the inscription cut on four sides of the base, which has now disappeared (CIL VI.1163; cf. 31249 = AL 279). The obelisk is of red granite, 32.50 metres high (cf. Cur. Brev.; Jord. II.189; HJ 132) — the largest in the world and the last brought to Rome. Its surface is covered with hieroglyphics (BC 1896, 89‑115, 129‑144 = Ob. Eg. 8‑50). It is mentioned in the twelfth century (Mirabilia 25), and again in 1410‑17 (Anon. Magl. 17, ap. Urlichs, 159; LS I.45), and by Du Pérac (Roxburghe, p107), but in 1587 it was found, broken into three pieces and buried about 7 metres in the ground. It was excavated by Sixtus V and erected in 1587 on its present site (LS IV.148‑151; BC 1917, 23).”

    Gibbon on Voltaire and Homosexuality
    Gibbon was not shy about attacking famous Frenchmen – ex. Voltaire. Although Gibbon thought homosexuality “despicable”, he thought Voltaire’s attack on a “Thebaean” legion to be un-scholarly at best.

    The Theban legions were the celebrated homosexual legions, pairs of soldiers, partners, fighting side by side – thought to be the epitome of martial pride, loyalty, and courage in ancient times. I’m not sure if the name of a legion being “Theban” means it was composed of like-minded same-sexed partners from the city in Greece, or if it followed the traditions of that city in things military, or if it was just a happy coincidence of legion naming conventions.

    Here is the text from Gibbon

    “The Thebaean legions, which were then quartered at Hadrianople, sent a deputation to Gallus, with a tender of their services. Ammian. 1. xiv. c. 11. The Notitia (s. 6, 20, 38, edit. Labb.) mentions three several legions which bore the name of Thebaean. The zeal of M. de Voltaire to destroy a despicabie though celebrated legend has tempted him on the slightest grounds to deny the existence of a Thebaean legion in the Roman armies. See Oeuvresde Voltaire, tom. xv. p. 414, quarto edition.” (DEF v.2, ch.19, p.691, fn.23)

    The Treacherous World of Politics in Late Roman Military – the capable General Sylvanus and his Strange Fall

    This from Wiki (here)

    “Claudius Silvanus (died 7 September 355) was a Roman general of Frankish descent, usurper in Gaul against Emperor Constantius II for 28 days in 355.

    Silvanus was born in Gaul, the son of Bonitus, a Frankish general who had supported Constantine I against Licinius. In 351, he held the rank of tribune and was recorded as having defected to Emperor Constantius II at the Battle of Mursa Major, after initially supporting usurper Magnentius. Silvanus eventually rose to the rank of Magister militum: in 352-353, Constantius entrusted him with the task of driving the Germanic tribes attacking Gaul back beyond the Rhine, a task Silvanus fulfilled bribing the Germans with the taxes he had collected.

    Trial and usurpation

    Some of the courtiers of the Emperor Constantius managed to persuade him that Silvanus was planning to seize power. According to Ammianus, the praetorian prefect Lampadius and the ex-treasurer of the privy purse, Eusebius, used a sponge to alter a letter sent by Silvanus to his friends in Rome. The fake letter suggested that Silvanus was attempting to win support within the city for a coup. Constantius’ camarilla, with the exception of the Frankish generals Malarich and Mallobaudes, was uniformly against Silvanus. Courtiers Apodemius and Dynamius composed further fake letters. Constantius held a trial where Silvanus’ allies were successful in defeating the spurious charges against the general. Silvanus, unaware of the success of his supporters, responded to the threat of condemnation and execution by actually proclaiming himself emperor on 11 August 355 in Colonia Agrippina (modern Cologne). Late Roman historian Michael Kulikowski has argued that the entire episode was a later invention, created as an excuse to rid Constantius II of Silvanus before he became a threat. His primary basis of this argument is the fact that no coins minted with Silvanus’ image have been found to date, since virtually every usurper minted coins as an attempt to legitimate his authority.

    Death of Silvanus

    Constantius, who was in Milan, ordered Silvanus to come to him, and named Ursicinus to take over Silvanus’ post. Ursicinus was himself at odds with Constatius’ camarilla and Silvanus no doubt trusted the veteran general. The letter that Ursicinus gave to Silvanus did not indicate that Constantius already knew of Silvanus’ bid for power, so Silvanus considered himself safe. However Ursicinus arranged the murder of Silvanus by co-opting some of the rebel soldiers. These men killed the usurper’s guard and dragged Silvanus from the Christian church where he was worshipping and hacked him to death.

    Ammianus’s report of Silvanus’s death

    It has been suggested by at least one scholar that Ammianus invented the entire coup attempt to gloss over the role played by his patron, Ursicinus, in the murder of a fellow general. This theory suggests that Constantius had grown suspicious of the popular Frankish general and so offered his post to Ursicinus, who then murdered his peer in the course of a botched change of command. It has been noted that Silvanus did not mint any coinage (which would have been a clear indication of a usurpation attempt), unlike other equally-short lived usurpers of the era, such as Poemenius. However, the thesis of a concocted coup attempt is generally rejected by scholars. The lack of numismatic evidence is not determinative, because Trier, the nearest minting centre to Colonia Agrippina, closed its gates to Silvanus.

    Ammianus thus concludes his treatment of the Silvanus episode: “Such was the end of a commander of no small merit, who was driven by fear of the slanders in which a hostile clique had ensnared him in his absence to adopt extreme measures in self-defence” (15.5.29).”


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