Posted by: ken98 | January 1, 2010

War, War, and more War, and the Black Heart of Amida

Day 111 – Ken here (F)
(DEF v.2, ch.19 pp.700-710)

First Day of 2010! Happy New Year!

We are mired in the last days of the emperor Constantius (late 350’s) just before Gibbon begins his long introduction to Julian called the Apostate – one of Gibbon’s favorite emperors (documented by one of Gibbon’s favorite ancient historians Ammianus Marcellinus).

And we are about to spend 100+ pages on the establishment of the Christian church in the empire for 2 chapters (20 and 21) – not something I’m particularily looking forward to. But, this is hot stuff for the late 1780’s as Gibbon gets himself into trouble again with the clerical establishment and the religious right of his day.

Today, we see the further trials and tribulations of Constantius – Quadi and Sarmatian wars in Hungary (on the Danube), a breakdown of peace negotiations with Persia and Sapor II ( Sapor taking advantage of Constantius’ domestic/family/nephew problems and the civil wars/barbarian wars Const. was waging). Sapor takes a number of important Mesopotamian cities including the famous Amida (Black Amida).

We also see the devastating effect of the civil wars – esp. the battle of Mursa – that gave Const. sole emperorship, but drastically reduced (by deaths in civil war) the number of soldiers available for defensive actions. We are seeing the beginning of the end – the endgame, where the pieces on the chessboard are fewer and fewer, and the Roman empire is being reduced to choosing which provinces to lose in a world-wide game of musical chairs – saving one province now means losing another.

The final withdrawal from Britain is only 40 years away, along with the loss of Gaul, Spain, and North Africa, and eventually Italy. And it all starts here.

The Story
 
Constantius’ Quadi and Sarmatian Wars

  • Battle of Mursa (costly in men/casualties – civil war Constantius versus Magnentius) dramatically weakens Roman Empire’s legions – possibly never to recover. Quadi (on the Danube frontier) take advantage and invade the now-undefended northern limes (frontier lines)(357,358,359)
  • Constantius has to take his own personal palatine troops across the Danube and wreaks havoc among the barbarians, bringing the Quadi invasions to a halt
  • Constantius makes broken Sarmatian nation (once invaders of Roman provinces) an independent client kingdom again
  • Strange history of the Limigantes tribe, a section of the Lazyges, a part of the Sarmatian nation. According to Gibbon (he goes on for 2 pages, from the ancient historian Aurelius Victor), this nation lived in the swamps of Danube, was conquered in the general slaughter of Constantius’ reconquest of the invaded Danubian territories, (the few remaining) ordered relocated to a distant province (as foederati?), rebelled again after giving their word, ended up being annihilated by Constantius. The whole nation at this point disappears from history
  •  
    Constantius’ Persian Wars

  • Constantius’ Persian Negotiations – Gibbon relates the very flowery, very formal, and largely irrrelevant pre-dance of diplomatic exchanges between the Empire of Persia and the Empire of Rome – consisting basically of “give us everything (Persia)”, “no, I don’t think so (Rome) (358)
  • Ammianus Marcellinus (ancient historian) – credits a Roman exile/spy who had influence in the Persian court with persuading Sapor to attack now that Constantius was weighed down with so many difficulties (murdered nephews, poss. civil war, barbarian invasions, etc) – so Persia attacks with high hopes – Persian Invasion of Mesopotamia (359)
  • Siege of Amida – highly fortified, important frontier city manned by 7 (albeit, small, Late Roman) legions. Sapor surrounds it, almost takes it by treachery from spies within the walls, digs in for long siege, eventually Amida falls to the Persians (at a high cost in casualties to both sides – 30,000 men of the Persian 100,000 man army lost, all the Roman citizens, soldiers not escaping slaughtered) – a very great defeat for Rome, and a Pyrrhic victory for Sapor (359)
  • Siege of Singara and Bezabde – Sapor moves on to take more fortified Roman cities in Roman Mesopotamia. He takes and levels Singara, sends its legions into exile into a remote part of Persia, and takes and refortifies Bezabde
  • Sapor, however, is flummoxed. He was counting on taking a great part of the Middle East, and at the end of the campaigning season has only reduced 3 border towns to submission, at a great cost to his fame, fortune, and armies
  • Where was Rome? Involved (of course) in byzantine (to be anachronistic) political nonsense with generals on the frontier jockeying for political position while the countryside was ransacked by the Persians. General Ursinicus (in and out of favor with Constantius) (Ursinicus brought down and possibly murdered the usurper Magnentius in Gaul for Constantius) – battles mightily with the resident Mesopotamian Roman General Sabinian to meet Persia in the field or at least harry her supply lines. Sabinian refuses – citing his orders to “conserve troops at all costs” – a useless order for a general on a frontier at war it seems to me – but if the Roman empire were at a point where every man counted and entire provinces were at stake – maybe a sane one
  • The first Eastern Germany – Amida (Diyarbakır) – and Constantius’ Walls

    Long before the cold war created the contested state of Eastern Germany, two other super-powers fought a long cold/hot/cold/hot war of attrition in the Middle East – Parthian Persia and Rome. One continual hot-spot was Eastern Turkey – and the highly-fortified town of Amida (modern Diyarbak, Turkey).

    The walled town (and the walls) of Black Amida are legendary. The frontier town taken and retaken by Roman and Persian for so many years was strongly fortified by the Romans – notably by Constantius. A famous quote (“Black is the land, and black are the walls, and black is the heart of Amida”) referring to both 1) the volcanic rock around the city of Amida, and the city’s black volcanic walls, and 2) betrayals and counter-betrayals in the city from so many violent sieges/conquests.

    Amida is on the hotbed again in the later period of the 500’s and later 600’s when Heraclius (Rome) and Khosrau II (Choesroes II) engaged in the massively destructive death struggles that paved the way for the Arab-ization of the Middle East in the 630’s as both empire’s collapsed before the newly-born forces of Islam. Amida was at the fulcrum of the power struggle between the 2 empires and the black walls are there to this day to prove it.

    Amida walls (Dyarkbakir) - the Black walls of Amida - made of volcanic rock - of Black-hearted Amida - highly contested frontier town between Rome and Persia in Mesopotamia - taken and retaken many times - the walls are ancient, but a great deal from Constantius' reconstruction (340's)

    Amida walls (Dyarbakir) - the Black walls of Amida - made of volcanic rock - of Black-hearted Amida - highly contested frontier town between Rome and Persia in Mesopotamia - taken and retaken many times - the walls are ancient, but a great deal of the bulk is from Constantius' defensive building program of the late 340's - another example of Late Roman extensive investment in engineering, even though the empire was grinding down to a halt in recession and gradual cultural disintegration


    Walls of Amida (again) - (Diyargakir, Turkey) - still standing after nearly 2000 years of constant turnover between now-vanished empires - Rome, Persia, Arab, Mongol, and Turkish among others

    Walls of Amida (again) - (Diyargakir, Turkey) - still standing after nearly 2000 years of constant turnover between now-vanished empires - Rome, Persia, Arab, Mongol, and Turkish among others

    Amida (Diyarbakır)- the Great Mosque

    I am fascinated by enormous, or obvious changes of religion, esp. changes that remain obvious because of the continued use of previous architecture from the old religion in the service of the new religion. The Hagia Sophia (b. 530’s, a mosque for 450 years (after 1453), now a museum) is one of the more striking examples of religion change commemorated by the change in use of enormous public buildings.

    Hagia Sophia - Church of the Holy Wisdom - center of Eastern Roman Empire's Christianity - built by Justinian (200 years from now - in the 530's, was converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in the 1450's by the Turkish Sultan Mehmend II, then converted into a museum in 1935 by the nascent Turkish secular state under Ataturk - quite the history!

    Hagia Sophia - Church of the Holy Wisdom - center of Eastern Roman Empire's Christianity - built by Justinian (200 years from now - in the 530's), was converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in the 1450's by the Turkish Sultan Mehmed II, then converted into a museum in 1935 by the nascent Turkish secular state under Ataturk - quite the history!

    Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain - Great Mosque of Cordoba - built on the site of a Roman temple, then a Visigothic Christian Church, it was erected starting in 784 CE and was once the 2nd largest mosque in the world, converted to a Christian church in 1236 with the Reconquista when Cordoba fell to the Christians

    Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain - Great Mosque of Cordoba - built on the site of a Roman temple, then a Visigothic Christian Church, it was erected starting in 784 CE and was once the 2nd largest mosque in the world, converted to a Christian church in 1236 with the Reconquista when Cordoba fell to the Christians

    Another example: the Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain, buried in the former, huge mosque (that gate you see in the picture above leads to an entire cathedral inserted into the center of the vast complex of horseshoe striped pillars that made up the original mosque). Built of scavenged Roman temple materials, and the (purchased) remains of a previous small Christian church, the Great Mosque of Cordoba was once the 2nd largest mosque in the world during the golden age of Arab Spain during Europe’s Later Dark Ages (800-1100). A mosque for about 500 years, it was converted into a church in the 1230’s by Ferdinand II of Castile when Cordoba passed into Christian hands during the Spanish Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula.

    Amida -  model of Great Mosque - (Diyarbakır), Ulu Cami (Mosque) - obviously a converted Late Roman Church - actually one of the 1st churces converted into a Mosque (in 639 CE) - en example of the strange, intricate  lives of old religious architecture - the emperor Heraclius (early 600's) was battling the mighty Persians when he built the church - little did he know in 30 years or so he would lose most of his empire to the hitherto invisible tribes of the Arab peninsula

    Amida - model of Great Mosque - (Diyarbakır), Ulu Cami (Mosque) - obviously a converted Late Roman Church - actually one of the 1st churces converted into a Mosque (in 639 CE) - en example of the strange, intricate lives of old religious architecture - the emperor Heraclius (early 600's) was battling the mighty Persians when he built the church - little did he know in 30 years or so he would lose most of his empire to the hitherto invisible tribes of the Arab peninsula

    Finally, we get to the city of Amida (Diyarbakır), in the far south-eastern corner of modern day Turkey (on the hotly contested frontier of the Persian/Roman empires (200’s – 600’s). I was researching Amida because it is on the frontier (it is a border-place, on the littoral), which, to me, are often much more interesting places than the centers of things. Amida’s loyalties bopped about a bit (forgive the alliteration) also as it was a taken and retaken so many times in the 400 year Roman/Persian wars of the 300’s-600’s CE.

    I came across a picture of the Great Mosque in Amida and was immediately struck by its Late Roman, un-Arab/Persian architecture. The mosque has a long history, first as a Christian church both in the Roman empire and the Persian (depending on who was running the Corduene frontier at the time (400-600 CE), then as a reconstructed cathedral under Heraclius in the brief twilight of the Roman empire in Mesopotamia just before the takeover by the Arabs (circa 600), then as one of the 1st (5th?) (and one of the greatest) mosques in the Islamic world at the beginning of the Arab Conquests. What strikes you most is the obvious Eastern Late Roman Arches and layout in the photos – kind of as if you were walking about St. Peter’s in Rome after it had been converted into a Hindu temple 1500 years before. Very strange and very interesting.

    Ulu Cami – Mosque in Amida (Diyarbakır). One of the most ancient mosques in the world (supposedly the 5th in the world, dating from a converted Byzantine church – the church of St Thomas – after the Arab capture of Amida in 639 CE).

    This from a site (here) with great photographs of the Mosque:

    “The Great Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in the whole Islamic world. It was converted from the St. Thomas church in 639 when Muslim armies captured Diyarbakır. There is some debate whether it actually was that church, which was built for Emperor Heraclius on the spot of a previous church, that was mentioned in a 403 document. However, it is certain that a Christian church was transformed into a mosque in 639 here. It is documented that the building was shared in 770 by Christians and Muslims. A large mosque was destroyed here in 1115 by a fire that was the result of an earthquake. Some 200 pillars were reported to be toppled. Several restorations were executed.
    ULU CAMİ”

    Amida (Diyabakir) - modern photo of the Great mosque - clearly showing the blockish, round-arched, non-Arab/Persian architecture that marks it as a Late Roman Christian church - although much renovated in the last 1400 years by various cultures

    Amida (Diyabakir) - modern photo of the Great mosque - clearly showing the blockish, round-arched, non-Arab/Persian architecture that marks it as a Late Roman Christian church - although much renovated in the last 1400 years by various cultures

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