Posted by: ken98 | February 12, 2010

The Distinct Smell of Rot in the Empire, and the Absolute Necessity of Questioning Authority

Day 154 – Ken here (F)(2-12-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.25, pp.1000-1010)

We continue in chapter 25 – a lot to cover here – a surprisingly deep treasure-trove of historical details. We recover Britain from the Saxon pirates by the lightning quick campaigns of the general Theodosius (the elder, father of the emperor Theodosius the Great). We lose Africa to evil military governors (Count Romanus) and popular uprisings against him (Firmus), and regain Africa by the expertise of general Theodosius (who is rewarded for his efforts by a hasty execution through imperial bureaucratic intrigue). We witness the uneasy partitioning of Armenia and Asian Iberia between Persia and Rome – and thanks to the invasions of the Huns and the death of the great Sapor of Persia, peace ensues on that troubled frontier.

Finally, a few thoughts about questioning authority, and the evils of tradition and common-sense when we examine the tangled histories of 2 military walls in northern Britain. Star Wars and Isaac Asimov sneak in at some point also.

Forgive the length of this entry – there was too much to leave out – I’m thinking that maybe too much morning caffeine ingestion is contributing detrimentally to excess blogging verbosity – a sad, editorial condition to which I am already all too susceptible.

The Story
 
Campaigns of Valentianian – Arena 2 BRITAIN (cont)
Restoration of Britain by Theodosius the Elder (367-370)

  • Saxon pirates invade Britain as part of the Great Conspiracy (Picts overrun Hadrian’s wall, Saxons and Atacotti land on shores of Britain – year-long war/coordinated invasion of Roman Britain (367-368)
  • Various generals sent to Britain to put down the invasion fail, Theodosius the Elder (accompanied by his son, the future Theodosius the Great) arrive in Britain (368)
  • Theodosius drives the invaders out and up (North) and re-activates the former/new Roman province – now renamed Valentia (see below for long account of Valentia) in the area between/straddling Hadrian’s wall and Antonine’s wall on the border between Scotland and England
  •  
    Campaigns of Valentianian – Arena 3 AFRICA
    Count Romanus Rapes the Africa while the Barbarians Invade (

  • Barbarians (Getulae) invade provinces of Africa, corrupt, rich military Count Romanus does nothing (366)
  • Romanus continues extorting and pillaging (semi-legally) for his own personal profit
  • Romanus succeeds in convincing/bribing imperial messenger after imperial messenger that it is the cities, not Romanus who betrays the empire during these invasions – Valentinian is incensed and vows retribution on the cities in defense of the evil Romanus
  •  
    Firmus Rebels against Romanus in Africa as an uprising of citizens against Romanus’ Corrupt Military

  • Firmus leads armies into a Geurilla War in the hinterlands of Western North Africa on the slopes/valleys of the Atlas Mountains (a very difficult place to attack, but easily defended)
  • Theodosius called in to remedy the situation after his spectacular successes in Britain with exceedingly small army (4000 soldiers) – Did Valentinian WANT him to fail?
  • He manages to corner and get Firmus, crushing the citizen’s (righteous) rebellion. Firmus commits suicide rather than be caught (373)
  • As a reward for his success – Romanus manages to get Theodosius executed in Roman African Carthage on Theodosius’ return to the settled parts of Roman Africa (376)
  • The end of the empire in the West is near – success spells death, rapine spells success, no Roman defends Romans anymore, they only fleece them – barbarian invasions will seem tame and preferable in comparison to Imperial rule
  •  
    Campaigns of Valentianian – Arena 4 PERSIA
    Sapor Takes What the Emperor Jovinus allowed in the Peace Treaty, and Dies, Peace ensues (365-378)

  • Sapor of Persia marches and succeeds in getting Armenia and Asian Iberia as vassal states for Persia – Armenia becomes a Persian Satrapy (Province) (
  • Armenia rebels in part
  • Iberia rebels in part (both due to an allegiance to their reigning royal houses AND more importantly an allegiance to Christian Roman Empire rather than the Zoroasterian Persian Empire – a RELIGIOUS distinction, not really found before the late 300’s
  • Sapor dies at 70 years old (380), and the invasions of the Huns and problems in Eastern Persia cause peace to ensue on the frontiers of Rome and Persia for some decades
  •  

    Movie Poster for the animated Geoge Lucas Clone Wars movie.  The intricate, and almost unbelievable story of Count Romanus, Firmus, and the General Theodosius seem almost too much like a comic book cautionary tale of where governmental/power elites short-term self-interest/power lust rots an empire from within, and the best of citizens are sacrificed for short-term gain followed by eventual  long-term destruction

    Movie Poster for the animated Geoge Lucas Clone Wars movie. Like the Clone Wars, the intricate, and almost unbelievable 4th century story of Count Romanus, Firmus, and the General Theodosius seems too much like a comic book cautionary tale. A tale of elites' lust for power rotting an empire from within and leaving the best of citizens sacrificed for short-term gain

     
    The Strange Sad History of Count/General Theodosius the elder, father of the Emperor Theodosius the Great
     
    A fable for our times: a great general felled by an increasingly divided, selfish, live-for-now upper-class citizenry – resulting in public lies, an inabilty to act/react, and the eventual absolute destruction of the empire in the West

    The military Count Romanus (this all is beginning to sound like an episode from George Lucas’ Clone Wars) has abused and raped the provinces of North Africa (instead of defending them) for a long time. Firmus has risen in revolt to protect the citizens of Roman North Africa from the depredations of the evil Count Romanus. The elder Theodosius (a very successful and loyal general of Valentinian) has been sent to deal with Firmus. Count Romanus appears to be in imperial disgrace. But not for long. Romanus lets Theodosius pursue Firmus (and he succeeds, Firmus is dead), but then manages to get one of the only generals left to Valentinian to combat the barbarian threats occurring all over the western half of the empire EXECUTED.

    Book cover for Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire - a book chronicling in part an Empires increasing inability to defend itself due to corrupt imperial bureaucracies and the fear of emperors when faced with obviously competent, successful military men (example: Asimov's General Bel Riose).  Riose resembles in many ways the elder General Theodosius, executed in his prime in 376 in Carthage

    Book cover for Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire - a book chronicling in part an Empires increasing inability to defend itself due to corrupt imperial bureaucracies and the fear of emperors when faced with obviously competent, successful military men (example: Asimov's General Bel Riose). Riose resembles in many ways the elder General Theodosius, executed in his prime in 376 in Carthage

    It is very reminiscent of the chapter in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series (Foundation and Empire) where the great general Bel Riose is on the point of completely annihilating the heroes of the series (the Foundation) when he is abruptly stopped and recalled by the emperor – signalling that the empire was in such a state of decline, that it was incapable of allowing the existence of successful generals (and hence continued Imperial existence on the fringes of the Empire) without fear of treason and execution of successful military leaders. A sign of permanent decline for the Empire.

    This from Gibbon (forgive the length fo this quote – it is a long and complicated and tangled tale):

    Revolt of Firmus. A.D. 372

    His father Nabal was one of the richest and most powerful of the Moorish princes who acknowledged the supremacy of Rome. But as he left, either by his wives or concubines, a very numerous posterity, the wealthy inheritance was eagerly disputed, and Zamma, one of his sons, was slain in a domestic quarrel by his brother Firmus. The implacable zeal with which Romanus prosecuted the legal revenge of this murder could be ascribed only to a motive of avarice or personal hatred; but on this occasion his claims were just, his influence was weighty, and Firmus clearly understood that he must either present his neck to the executioner, or appeal from the sentence of the Imperial consistory to his sword and to the people.

    He was received as the deliverer of his country, and, as soon as it appeared that Romanus was formidable only to a submissive province, the tyrant of Africa became the object of universal contempt. The ruin of Caesarea, which was plundered and burnt by the licentious barbarians, convinced the refractory cities of the danger of resistance; the power of Firmus was established, at least in the provinces of Mauritania and Numidia, and it seemed to be his only doubt whether he should assume the diadem of a Moorish king or the purple of a Roman emperor. But the imprudent and unhappy Africans soon discovered that, in this rash insurrection, they had not sufficiently consulted their own strength or the abilities of their leader.

    Theodosius recovers Africa. A.D. 373

    Before he could procure any certain intelligence that the emperor of the West had fixed the choice of a general, or that a fleet of transports was collected at the mouth of the Rhone, he was suddenly informed that the great Theodosius, with a small band of veterans, had landed near Igilgilis, or Gigeri, on the African coast, and the timid usurper sunk under the ascendant of virtue and military genius. Though Firmus possessed arms and treasures, his despair of victory immediately reduced him to the use of those arts which, in the same country and in a similar situation, had formerly been practised by the crafty Jugurtha. He attempted to deceive, by an apparent submission, the vigilance of the Roman general, to seduce the fidelity of his troops, and to protract the duration of the war by successively engaging the independent tribes of Africa to espouse his quarrel or to protect his flight.

    Theodosius imitated the example and obtained the success of his predecessor Metellus. When Firmus, in the character of a suppliant, accused his own rashness and humbly solicited the clemency of the emperor, the lieutenant of Valentinian received and dismissed him with a friendly embrace; but he diligently required the useful and substantial pledges of a sincere repentance, nor could he be persuaded, by the assurances of peace, to suspend for an instant the operations of an active war. A dark conspiracy was detected by the penetration of Theodosius, and he satisfied, without much reluctance, the public indignation which he had secretly excited. Several of the guilty accomplices of Firmus were abandoned according to ancient custom, to the tumult of a military execution; many more, by the amputation of both their hands, continued to exhibit an instructive spectacle of horror; the hatred of the rebels was accompanied with fear, and the fear of the Roman soldiers was mingled with respectful admiration.

    Amidst the boundless plains of Gaetulia and the innumerable valleys of Mount Atlas, it was impossible to prevent the escape of Firmus; and if the usurper could have tired the patience of his antagonist, he would have secured his person in the depth of some remote solitude, and expected the hopes of a future revolution.

    He was subdued by the perseverance of Theodosius, who had formed an inflexible determination that the war should end only by the death of the tyrant, and that every nation of Africa which presumed to support his cause should be involved in his ruin. At the head of a small body of troops, which seldom exceeded three thousand five hundred men, the Roman general advanced with a steady prudence, devoid of rashness or of fear, into the heart of a country where he was sometimes attacked by armies of twenty thousand Moors.

    The boldness of his charge dismayed the irregular barbarians; they were disconcerted by his seasonable and orderly retreats; they were continually baffled by the unknown resources of the military art; and they felt and confessed the just superiority which was assumed by the leader of a civilised nation. When Theodosius entered the extensive dominions of Igmazen, king of the Isaflenses, the haughty savage required, in words of defiance, his name and the object of his expedition. “I am,” replied the stern and disdainful count, “I am the general of Valentinian, the lord of the world, who has sent me hither to pursue and punish a desperate robber. Deliver him instantly into my hands; and be assured, that, if thou dost not obey the commands of my invincible sovereign, thou and the people over whom thou reignest shall be utterly extirpated.”

    As soon as Igmazen was satisfied that his enemy had strength and resolution to execute the fatal menace, he consented to purchase a necessary peace by the sacrifice of a guilty fugitive. The guards that were placed to secure the person of Firmus deprived him of the hopes of escape, and the Moorish tyrant, after wine had extinguished the sense of danger, disappointed the insulting triumph of the Romans by strangling himself in the night. His dead body, the only present which Igmazen could offer to the conqueror, was carelessly thrown upon a camel; and Theodosius, leading back his victorious troops to Sitifi, was saluted by the warmest acclamations of joy and loyalty.

    Theodosius is executed at Carthage, A.D. 376

    Africa had been lost by the vices of Romanus it was restored by the virtues of Theodosius, and our curiosity may be usefully directed to the inquiry of the respective treatment which the two generals received from the Imperial court. The authority of Count Romanus had been suspended by the master-general of the cavalry, and he was committed to safe and honourable custody till the end of the war. His crimes were proved by the most authentic evidence, and the public expected, with some impatience, the decree of severe justice.

    But the partial and powerful favour of Mellobaudes encouraged him to challenge his legal judges, to obtain repeated delays for the purpose of procuring a crowd of friendly witnesses, and, finally, to cover his guilty conduct by the additional guilt of fraud and forgery. About the same time the restorer of Britain and Africa, on a vague suspicion that his name and services were superior to the rank of a subject, was ignominiously beheaded at Carthage. Valentinian no longer reigned; and the death of Theodosius, as well as the impunity of Romanus, may justly be imputed to the arts of the ministers who abused the confidence and deceived the inexperienced youth of his sons.

    The probable area of the Province of Valentia in Britian - re-instituted in 369 by General Theodosius - map of Hadrian's Wall and Antonine's Wall in Northern Britain - between Scotland and England.  Hadrians Wall (built 142, abandoned early 400's), and the Antonine Wall (100 miles north of Hadrians) (built 142, abandoned 158-162) represented the northernmost points of Roman direct control in Britain - Valentia would have been a highly-militarized contested province - like the border between North and South Korea

    The probable area of the Province of Valentia in Britian - re-instituted in 369 by General Theodosius - map of Hadrian's Wall and Antonine's Wall in Northern Britain - between Scotland and England. Hadrians Wall (built 142, abandoned early 400's), and the Antonine Wall (100 miles north of Hadrians) (built 142, abandoned 158-162) represented the northernmost points of Roman direct control in Britain - Valentia would have been a highly-militarized contested province - like the border between North and South Korea

     
    The Koreas of the 3rd and 4th centuries – On the “Newly” Reconquered Province of Valentia
     
    I had never heard of a province called Valentia, especially a new one in Roman Britain, but with all the Imperial tinkering with/winning/losing of provinces in the late 3rd and the 4th centuries, I figured it wouldn’t be hard to miss a few. Valentia has an interesting history – a highly-contested border area between 2 very different cultures (Roman and Celtic Scot/Pict)

     
    On the Turning into Myth of History and Facts – and the Extreme Suspicion that Should Be Used when Relying on Tradition
     
    As the the first hints of the Dark Ages begin to close about us (in the late 300’s), history (especially pagan history) begins to cloud over and vague, generalizing labels start to adhere to simple historical truths. In later ages, the accepted knowledge of tradition, the social truth of history becomes little more than a compendium of knee-jerk religious fear and ignorance – something which Gibbon felt intensely and personally, and something that drove Gibbon to write 3000 pages of Roman history to try and cast the sweet smile of reason over centuries of hormonal fear-driven traditional “explanations” and “facts”.

    We can only applaud Gibbon and thank him for beginning a work we continue today – although the words tradition and common-sense are not nearly feared enough in my book – but that’s my opinion.

    The Demilitarized Zone – the New Province of Valentia

    A case in point is one I stumbled upon looking up the history of the “new” province of Valentia – that of the later history of Antonine’s Wall. Even the much-more-famous Hadrian’s Wall (built 142, abandoned, early 400’s) was giving way to myth as early as Bede (late 600’s) when even a historian like the Venerable Bede mistakes the builder/name of Hadrian’s wall as Septimius Severus’ wall (from the early 200’s).

    Hadrian's Wall - built 142, abondoned early 400's - the lower or possibly middle section of the border-province (once a client kingdom) of the new province of Valentia - the demilitarized (or rather, very militarized-about) zone between the Picts-Scots and the Romans in Northern Britain

    Hadrian's Wall - built 142, abandoned early 400's - the lower (or possibly middle) section of the border-province (once a client kingdom) of the new province of Valentia - the demilitarized - or rather, very militarized zone between the Picts-Scots and the Romans in Northern Britain

    Bede Misidentifying Hadrian’s Wall

    Enough also survived in the eighth century for spolia from it to find its way into the construction of Jarrow Priory, and for Bede to see and describe the wall thus in Historia Ecclesiastica 1.5, although he misidentified it as being built by Septimius Severus:

    Antonine Wall near Bar Hill Roman Fort, Cumbernauld - the wall would subsequently be attributed to the Devil - and (as was most Greco-Roman remains of civilization) popularly characterized as strange, unknown, and therefor demonic.  Gibbon's Decline and Fall is in one sense a rational, man-of-the-Enlightenment's reaction to glandular/tribal fear and ignorance

    Antonine Wall near Bar Hill Roman Fort, Cumbernauld - the wall would subsequently be attributed to the Devil - and (as was most Greco-Roman remains of civilization) popularly characterized as strange, unknown, and therefor demonic. Gibbon's Decline and Fall is in one sense a rational, man-of-the-Enlightenment's reaction to glandular/tribal fear and ignorance

     
    Antonine’s Wall’s Strange History
     
    Antonine’s Wall 100 miles north has a very strange and superstition-ridden post-Roman history. Roman history, and Greco-Roman civilization was demonized by former imperial populations (of former provinces) in the centuries succeeding the fall of the empire in the West. Knowledge and history were supplanted by common-sense folk wisdom and myth, not to be recovered until the Renaissance and the great leaps in philosophy in the 1600’s (Descartes, Newton, etc). From an article on Antonine’s Wall in Wiki (here), the following is a brief history of the wall from a Medieval and traditional/folk history point of view (the wall became known as a dyke later, as much of it was of wood, earth and ditch construction – although parts were made of stone). The process of demonization (an irrational impulse to fear and loathe what is unknown) struck me forcibly as I was reading it mid-page, so I wanted to share it with you:

    Post-Roman history (of Antonine’s Wall on the border of Scotland)

    Grim’s Dyke
    In medieval histories, such as the chronicles of John of Fordun, the wall is called Gryme’s dyke. Fordun says that the name came from the grandfather of the imaginary king Eugenius son of Farquahar. This was corrupted into Graham’s dyke – a name still found in Bo’ness at the wall’s eastern end – and then linked with Clan Graham.

    Of note is that Graeme in some parts of Scotland is a nickname for the devil, and Gryme’s Dyke would thus be the Devil’s Dyke, mirroring the name of the Roman Limes in Southern Germany often called ‘Teufelsmauer’ (or Devil’s Wall). Grímr and Grim are bynames for Odin or Wodan, who might be credited with the wish to build earthworks in unreasonably short periods of time. This name is the same one found as Grim’s Ditch several times in England in connection with early ramparts: for example, near Wallingford, Oxfordshire or between Berkhamsted (Herts) and Bradenham (Bucks).

    Other names used by antiquarians include the Wall of Pius and the Antonine Vallum, after Antoninus Pius.[6][7].

    From Antonine’s Wall – to a dyke constucted by an imaginary king, to a dyke linked with a Scottish clan (you can most likely bet that attribution was fiercely contested/upheld by the Grahams), to a dyke constructed by the Devil (Gryme, Graeme), or a place constructed miraculously, in a short period of time, by Valhallic gods (Odin, Wodan) – who were actually demons disguised as gods. And not only here, but in Germany, Southern Britain, as well as many other places in the former territories and borderlands of the Roman Empire, this self-same process of demonization manifested strongly.

    Tradition and Common-Sense have much utility, but can only be relied upon with a great deal of understanding, research, and critical thinking. Questioning authority seems to me to be a useful tool to have in your everyday bag of thinking habits – the more you see how easily tradition can mislead, the more you see the need for independent, critical evaluation.

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