Posted by: ken98 | February 15, 2010

Poison, War, Blood, Death, and The Death of Roman Honor

Day 157 – Ken here (M)(2-15-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.25, pp.1010-1020)

I’m not feeling so hot today – but Gibbon awaits, so I plow on –

It’s a little difficult sometimes to separate this constant downward spiral of the empire (physically, spiritually, economically, morally – if you can apply thodr adverbs to an entire empire’s history) from my personal life. You start to get this constant feeling that everything’s going to hell in a handbasket – the news (21st century U.S. news) doesn’t help much either. A very strange feeling – having events 1700 years in the past affect me personally in the here and now – but I suppose it’s a standard “vocational hazard” for an armchair historian like myself. Besides, I’m pretty susceptible to suggestion and have way-too-vivid an imagination for my own good. But I digress…

We finish up Valentinian’s/Valens campaigns today, see 2 or 3 barbarian kings murdered by Romans, follow the strange political careers of Para, King of Armenia, and the lost Gothic empire of the King Hermanric. Last but not least, we see the (very unexpected) death of Valentinian in mid-tirade due to a burst blood vessel during an ambassadorial audience. This does NOT BODE WELL for the Romans – although no one knows this at the time.

We also note that the Roman Empire is turning “byzantine” in more ways than one. Byzantine Imperial political maneuvering (poison, treachery, murder, assassination rather than legal execution or judicial proceedings) seems to now have become the preferred diplomatic policy for the Romans in the late 300’s (examples – the deaths of the Roman General Theodosius the Elder, Gabinus, King of the Quadi, Para King of the Armenians, the reluctance of Goths to even ENTER the empire to negotiate treaties (fearing to have their ambassadors killed during negotiations). To what depths has the Roman Empire fallen?

The Story
Adventures of Para, King of Armenia

  • Para is having to be loyal to both Persia and Rome in order to try and maintain some kind of independence from either
  • Para has many adventures “dueling” with Rome, diplomatically. He is an outlaw in Roman Territory and hunted by the Empire
  • An impossible situation – he is eventually murdered by Rome when lured as a guest to a State Banquet
    Valentinian’s Campaigns – Arena 5 – DANUBE
    Conquests of Hermanric – and the Lost Empire of the Goths
    Cause of Gothic War

  • Roman mistreatment of Hermanric’s ambassadors/princes causes political problems with Goths – Goths start to attack
  • Hermanric builds a Gothic kingdom/empire from the Caspian Sea to the Baltic – mostly undocumented historically and now lost to history
  • Loyal to the house of Constantine (last emperor = Julian), they move on the empire when the non-Constantinian brothers Valentinian and Valens assume the purple
  • They invade, are fought for years, end up defeated and re-settled in the empire (367-368-369)
    War of the Quadi and Sarmatians

  • Valentinian goes against the Quadi and Sarmatians
  • Both tribes attack because a Roman official – Maximin, Prefect of Gaul – kills Gabinus, King of the Quadi while Gabinus is a guest of Maximin
  • The tribes fight hard, but are smashed by Valentinian – who refuses to assume any guilt for the war and Roman treachery
  • Theodosius the Great – the future emperor – is the one who brings the Quadi to their knees – remember his father was executed at Carthage after a brilliant career in Britain and Africa
    Sudden Death of Valentinian (Nov 17, 375)

  • As the Quadi humbly beg for forgiveness, and Valentinian goes purple in the face describing how angry he is at Quadi-ian perfidy, Valentinian suddenly has a heart-attack (or bursts a blood vessel in his head) during the audience in the middle of his own speech and die – 54 years old, 12 years into his reign
  • This is the beginning of the end of the Roman empire

    Map of Goth's Empire - the Chernyakhov culture (in orange) representing Ermanric's (Hermanric's) Gothic empire

    Map of Goth's Empire - the Chernyakhov culture (in orange) representing Ermanric's (Hermanric's) Gothic empire

    The Lost Empire of the Goths – under Hermanric (Ermanric)
    Hermanric, according to Gibbon, was the great uniter of the Goths, the high-king who managed to bring the rest of the Goths together and form a “lost” empire of the north – which was promptly destroyed by the un-stoppable surge of the Huns into the Goths new empire/homeland in the 370’s. Not much is known of Hermanric, only a couple of sources mention him (Ammianus, Jordanes), and some seem apocryphal (that he ruled his kingdom until he was 110 – Jordanes).

    A painting of Catherine De Medici - attributed to Clouet (1555) - the Medicis and Catherine in particular had a reputation for *indirect* diplomacy through unsuspected, hard-to-prove providential poisonings, murders, and disappearances which advanced the Medici family fortunes - accepting an invitation to a Medici feast could be fatal.  The Roman Empire begins now to follow a similar policy of diplomacy by assassination, broken promises, and ambassadorial murder.  What did it mean to be a Roman if the Law and the word of a Roman was worthless?  What were the Romans fighting so hard to protect now?  It seems the empire is truly failing and flailing - a very uncomfortable time to live in I would think

    A painting of Catherine De Medici - attributed to Clouet (1555) - the Medicis and Catherine in particular had a reputation for *indirect* diplomacy through unsuspected, hard-to-prove providential poisonings, murders, and disappearances which advanced the Medici family fortunes - accepting an invitation to a Medici feast could be fatal. The Roman Empire begins now to follow a similar policy of diplomacy by assassination, broken promises, and ambassadorial murder. What did it mean to be a Roman if the Law and the word of a Roman was worthless? What were the Romans fighting so hard to protect now? It seems the empire is truly failing and flailing - a very uncomfortable time to live in I would think

    Two Murders – These are the People Who Put Byzantine into the word Byzantine
    The Byzantine empire (Eastern Roman Empire) is known for treachery, deviousness and diplomacy by assassination, poison and bribe rather than direct warfare and judicial proceedings In fact the adjectuve (in English) byzantine means “convoluted, involved, knotty, tangled, tortuous (highly complex or intricate and occasionally devious)”.

    Like the De Medici (ex. Catherine De Medici) later, Byzantine policy devolves upon the indirect – ex. poison, murder. While poison and intrigue have always been a part of imperial family politics, with the late 300’s we enter on a new period when assassination of barbarian invaders becomes the norm. Gibbon deplores the sad state of Roman prestige –

    This per Gibbon:

    I am at a loss how to vary the narrative of similar crimes; or how to relate that, in the course of the same year, but in remote parts of the empire, the inhospitable table of two Imperial generals was stained with the royal blood of two guests and allies, inhumanly murdered by their order, and in their presence. The fate of Gabinius, and of Para, was the same: but the cruel death of their sovereign was resented in a very different manner by the servile temper of the Armenians and the free and daring spirit of the Germans

    (DEF v.2, ch.25, p.1018)

    and again, speaking of the later negotiations between Romans and Goths, the Goths were so wary of Roman lies and murders of ambassadors and kings hosted by the Romans as guests that they refused to meet the Romans on Roman soil, but met on an island in a river which served as the boundary between Pannonia and Gothic lands – this from a response of Athanric, a Judge (sub-king) of the Goths explaining why he refused to set foot in Roman territory:

    This per Gibbon:

    Athanaric, who, on this occasion, appears to have consulted his private interest, without expecting the orders of his sovereign, supported his own dignity, and that of his tribe, in the personal interview which was proposed by the ministers of Valens. He persisted in his declaration that it was impossible for him, without incurring the guilt of perjury, ever to set his foot on the territory of the empire; and it is more than probable that his regard for the sanctity of an oath was confirmed by the recent and fatal examples of Roman treachery

    (DEF v.2, ch.25, p. 1017)

    It’s pretty sad when the supposed upholder of civilization, law, and the Pax Romana cannot be trusted not to murder political enemies who have been given Roman protection as guests and ambassadors. It is as if the empire is now hollow – what exactly are they defending anymore? What does the empire stand for, except the economic interests of the upper class? What does it mean to be Roman? You get the feeling that there is a strange sort of spiritual drifting taking place – that a new entity is a-borning, and that the old ways are fading fast.

    The Strange Tale of Para, King of the Armenians

    Ammianus Marcellinus gives a long, rambling account of the adventures of the slippery almost-king of Armenia as he attempts to negotiate the (ultimately un-negotiable) middle path between the Persian and Roman empires while trying to maintain some independence from both dysfunctional “parents”. Para manages to claim to be loyal to Rome while still being an ally of Persia – but eventually is called to account for himself to Valens (Emperor in the East), who arranges an ambush(!) of the king when he arrives solidly in Roman territory – Para finds out and manages to escape.

    The Romans attribute his successful, undetected run for the border to magic! – which if you remember was the bete noir of Valentinian and Valens (both prosecuted accusations of magic and treason with a vengeance) – I’m thinking the magic part must come from Moses of Chorene’s garbled version of the history of King Para – hopefully not Ammianus Marcellinus – (see the Gibbonian footnote below). Eventually, Para is murdered by the Empire – invited to as a guest to a feast by Count Trajan, Para is murdered by Trajan’s barbarian bodyguards at a signal from Trajan. Moral of the story – never eat with a Roman, never sleep at a Roman’s house, never trust a Roman’s word (at least that’s the clear message to the nations surrounding the Roman Empire).

    In modern temrs, instead of being the guys propping up the property values of the neighborhood, the Romans are turning into those kind of worrisome, unpredictable neighbors you just wish would move away and leave the rest of Europe in peace).

    The convoluted story of Para King of Armenia – his Stuggles, and his Murder by Romans (374)
    This from Gibbon:

    In the general picture of the affairs of the East under the reign of Valens, the adventures of Para form one of the most striking and singular objects. The noble youth, by the persuasion of his mother Olympias, had escaped through the Persian host that besieged Artogerassa, and implored the protection of the emperor of the East.

    By his timid councils, Para was alternately supported, and recalled, and restored, and betrayed. The hopes of the Armenians were sometimes raised by the presence of their natural sovereign, and the ministers of Valens were satisfied that they preserved the integrity of the public faith, if their vassal was not suffered to assume the diadem and title of King. But they soon repented of their own rashness. They were confounded by the reproaches and threats of the Persian monarch. They found reason to distrust the cruel and inconstant temper of Para himself, who sacrificed, to the slightest suspicions, the lives of his most faithful servants, and held a secret and disgraceful correspondence with the assassin of his father and the enemy of his country.

    Under the specious pretence of consulting with the emperor on the subject of their common interest, Para was persuaded to descend from the mountains of Armenia, where his party was in arms, and to trust his independence and safety to the discretion of a perfidious court. The king of Armenia, for such he appeared in his own eyes and in those of his nation, was received with due honours by the governors of the provinces through which he passed but when he arrived at Tarsus in Cilicia, his progress was stopped under various pretences, his motions were watched with respectful vigilance, and he gradually discovered that he was a prisoner in the hands of the Romans. Para suppressed his indignation, dissembled his fears, and, after secretly preparing his escape, mounted on horseback with three hundred of his faithful followers.

    The officer stationed at the door of his apartment immediately communicated his flight to the consular of Cilicia, who overtook him in the suburbs, and endeavoured, without success, to dissuade him from prosecuting his rash and dangerous design. A legion was ordered to pursue the royal fugitive; but the pursuit of infantry could not be very alarming to a body of light cavalry; and upon the first cloud of arrows that was discharged into the air, they retreated with precipitation to the gates of Tarsus.

    After an incessant march of two days and two nights, Para and his Armenians reached the banks of the Euphrates; but the passage of the river, which they were obliged to swim, was attended with some delay and some loss. The country was alarmed, and the two roads, which were only separated by an interval of three miles, had been occupied by a thousand archers on horseback, under the command of a count and a tribune.

    Para must have yielded to superior force, if the accidental arrival of a friendly traveller had not revealed the danger and the means of escape. A dark and almost impervious path securely conveyed the Armenian troops through the thicket; and Para had left behind him the count and the tribune, while they patiently expected his approach along the public highways. They returned to the Imperial court to excuse their want of diligence or success; and seriously alleged that the king of Armenia, who was a skilful magician, had transformed himself and his followers, and passed before their eyes under a borrowed shape.

    After his return to his native kingdom, Para still continued to profess himself the friend and ally of the Romans: but the Romans had injured him too deeply ever to forgive, and the secret sentence of his death was signed in the council of Valens. The execution of the bloody deed was committed to the subtle prudence of Count Trajan, and he had the merit of insinuating himself into the confidence of the credulous prince, that he might find an opportunity of stabbing him to the heart. Para was invited to a Roman banquet, which had been prepared with all the pomp and sensuality of the East; the hall resounded with cheerful music, and the company was already heated with wine, when the count retired for an instant, drew his sword, and gave the signal of the murder. A robust and desperate barbarian instantly rushed on the king of Armenia, and though he bravely defended his life with the first weapon that chance offered to his hand, the table of the Imperial general was stained with the royal blood of a guest and an ally.

    Such were the weak and wicked maxims of the Roman administration, that, to attain a doubtful object of political interest, the laws of nations, and the sacred rights of hospitality, were inhumanly violated in the face of the world.(139)

    footnote 139
    See in Ammianus (xxx. 1) the adventures of Para. Moses of Chorene calls him Tiridates; and tells a long and not improbable story of his son Gnelus, who afterwards made himself popular in Armenia, and provoked the jealousy of the reigning king (1. iii. c. 21, etc., p. 253, etc.). [Para is not the same as Tiridates, who was the father of Gnel, first husband of Pharandsem, the future wife of Arsaces, and the mother of Para.]

    (DEF v.2, ch.25, pp.1010-1011, fn.139)

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