Posted by: ken98 | February 19, 2010

Rome Pillages the Goths and the Goths Pillage Back

Day 164 – Ken here (M)(2-20-2010)
(DEF I, v.2, ch.25, pp.1060-1070)

Not feeling so hot again today – and very tired – but we happen to be approaching some of the most interesting points in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – the vicious battle of Adrianople and the beginning of the final countdown for Rome in the West.

So…. we continue with chapter 26 and the Revolt of the Goths…

The Story
The Comedy of Errors Continues – the Rebellion of the Goths
Rome fleeces the Goths

  • The Visigoths (East Goths) have been allowed to move across the Danube by the Imperial authorities with the proviso they take no arms, and allow their children to be farmed out to various cities/villas in other provinces of the empire
  • Rome is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers 1,000,000 people, 200,000 warriors, and their arms are not confiscated
  • Corrupt Roman officials (read Maximus, governor of Thrace) begins to create an artificial famine, raising food prices to the point men sell their children and wives into slavery to get their families food to eat
  • The numbers worry Rome, they force the Goths to begin a slow march inland away from the Danube
  • Their brother Goths – the OstroGoths (West Goths) gather on the Danube border – being menaced by the Huns also they clamor to cross over
  • The Ostrogoths sneak over while the legions accompany the Visigoths south
    The Revolt

  • Maesia – the city of Marcianopolis – the Goths revolt at the continued starvation the Roman Governor is consciously causing, and take back their children from the slavery they have been reduced to – widespread pillage and rampage – first Goth Victories
  • Goths win the battle of Marcianopolis – proclaim themselves the masters of the all the provinces bounded by the Danube – now open military rebellion by the whole Gothic nation(376)
  • Spread of mutiny to Thrace, miners, other heriditary workers flock to the Goth banner – becomes in part a social revolution against the state – barbarian and lower classes united
  • Valens moves against the Goths – battle of Salices – partial victory to the Goths
  • Goths, Huns, Alani unite to revolt/invade Roman territory
  • Gratian (19 years old) called away to Gaul to fight the Alemanni – wins (May 378)
  • Gratian advances victorious down the Rhine to deal with allies and the Goths
    Quotable Gibbon – Homosexuality and the Goths
    Gibbon on the Goths:

    He obtained the formidable aid of the Taifalae, whose military renown was disgraced and polluted by the public infamy of their domestic manners. Every youth, on his entrance into the world, was united by the ties of honourable friendship and brutal love to some warrior of the tribe; nor could he hope to be released from this unnatural connection till he had approved his manhood by slaying in single combat a huge bear or a wild boar of the forest.

    (DEF I v.2, ch.26, p.1058, fn. 84)

    Engraving of the Visigoths crossing the Danube in 376

    Engraving of the Visigoths crossing the Danube in 376

    Thoughts on the Gothic War of the 370’s
    Where to begin? To put the conflict in context, we must run briefly over the evolution of the empire over the last 3 centuries.
    Social Evolution of the Empire
    Rome started from a single-city Republic, which thought of itself as a nation within a nation (ie the Senators and the upper class were the “real” citizens of Rome, the lower classes were second class citizens, Italians, third class peoples, and foreigners were only good for tribute and slaves). It was a racial/tribal identity, not a national identity in the modern sense of the word. The economies of this ancient world were vibrant – driven by local demand/pride, very flexible, and very responsive to market changes. Almost no coordination existed to benefit the empire as a whole – the emphasis was on benefitting the city of Rome at the expense of the rest of the Mediterranean – but Rome did not squeeze overly much very often, so there was a lot of slack left over for the local economy/elites.

    Eventually, the Republic decayed into the Empire under Augustus and his successors, but there were very strong divisions between the haves (Roman citizens – which included Italians and many provincials by this point) and the have-nots (everybody else). It was still tribal. “Foreigners” in the provinces and the subservient city-states paid tribute to Rome, enjoyed the Roman peace, law, and limited government, but locals were allowed almost total freedom in all internal political/cultural/social matters. It was a brotherhood of city-states with a particularly stern father-city-state – Rome. The economy at an empire-wide level now for some reason seemed accessible to the emperors, and Rome began to legislate for the “good” of the empire as a whole, rather than for the City of Rome at the expense of the provinces. As loyalty changed and power centralized, the local economy loomed less and less important, and the macro-economy took off (for the 1st time in Mediterranean history). Coordination and control grew at a haphazard rate sporadically at random at different points within the Empire.

    By the time of Diocletian, significant rebellions, barbarian invasions, economic downturns, natural disasters (esp. in the 50 years or so between 225 – 285 – the Crisis of the Third Century) rocked the Roman economy and brought it to its knees. Whereas before, Rome would have looked to its own, and let the provinces take care of themselves, the new spirit of Romanitas (a feeling of being a Roman 1st, and a local citizen 2nd), and the budding understanding/obligation that the empire could resolve Mediterranean-wide problems with massive control systems and interventions lured the empire into taking over the responsibilities of the local city states entirely. The form of the city-state remained, without any of its vital, driving pride/power. The center of power now lay increasingly in the imperial capitals and with the imperial households/bureaucracies.

    Diocletian fossilized this economic/social takeover by legally turning everyone into a kind of serf/slave – legally binding every son to follow in the occupation of his father. He also fossilized the local elites/senates of the old city-states into hereditary tax-collectors. The only means to free oneself were to join the empire as a whole – either in the military or the imperial bureaucracy. The general effect was to create a super-class of new “more-equal-than-others” (in the Orwellian sense) “Roman citizens” – the hyper-rich (who could almost own whole provinces, and whose economic transactions were in gold), and the new “slaves” – the hyper-poor (who barely traded in silver, mostly bartered in food, and were 90% of the population). An ever, smaller “middling” class lived on in towns, but increasingly faded into the hyper-poor category as the empire lurched into the 300’s and Constantine and the era of Valentinian and Valens.

    The barbarians filled a middle tier between the hyper-rich and the hyper-poor. There were in some sense beyond the social strata of Late Antique Rome as they were considered little better than animals by the Roman elites. Romans thought them stupid, and child-like and considered them easy prey for swindling schemes and murder and theft. Of course, they treated their own hyper-poor in the same way. In many ways, the empire of the late 300’s was an illusion – the same way the New York of the 400 families in the Gilded Age (late 1800’s) was an illusion. A tiny population of the hyper-rich controlled almost all the wealth, brutalized the weak and poor, and engaged in an endless ballet of elaborate power struggles to hold on to their wealth WHILE PUBLICLY PROCLAIMING equality, rule-by-law, Roman political/military superiority, and opportunity.
    On the War
    The Goths allowed into the empire in 376 were a new thing to Rome – although no one knew it at the time. For the 1st time, a nation challenged the hollow shell of Late Roman culture – a small incredibly rich minority controlling almost all the (rapidly shrinking) assets of the Mediterranean basin – defending its right to exist and subjugate the civilian population, by demanding that everyone work to support the myth of Romanitas – the Roman Empire – something which hadn’t really existed except in the imagination of its citizens for 150 years.

    The Goths allied with other “guest” barbarian populations, and local Roman citizens “enslaved” by law to work in imperial industries (which at this point included almost every occupation – miner, trader, farmer, etc). It was a social revolt, not a political one – and was the beginning of the manifestation of a new type of society – the centralized, organized barbarian-Roman KINGdom – which was to dominate the Western empire for the next 300 years.


    Last Word…

    I had to try and find a translation of the homosexual passage in Ammianus (Gibbon, typically, gives the passage, but relegates it to Ammianus’ impenetrable Late Antique Roman prose.

    Here is an English translation from

    It is said that this nation of the Taifali was so profligate, and so immersed in the foulest obscenities of life, that they indulged in all kinds of unnatural lusts, (BOWDLERIZATION) exhausting the vigour both of youth and manhood in the most polluted defilements of debauchery. But if any adult caught a boar or slew a bear single-handed, he was then exempted from all compulsion of submitting to such ignominious pollution.

    (Ammianus Marcellinus, Histories, ch.31, para.9)

    and the original Latin from Gibbon’s footnote:

    Note 084
    Hanc Taifalorum gentem turpem, et obscenae vitae flagitiis ita accipimus mersam, ut apud eos nefandi concubitus foedere copulentur maribus puberes, setatis viriditatem in eorum pollutis usibus consumpturi. Porro, si qui jam adultus aprum exceperit solus, vel interemerit ursum immanem, colluvione liberatur incesti. Ammian. xxxi. 9. Among the Greeks likewise, more especially among the Cretans, the holy bands of friendship were confirmed and sullied by unnatural love.

    (DEF I v.2, ch.26, p.1058, fn. 84)

    Hmmmmm… I have lost faith in the translations of the good folk at Tertullian .org – that is NOT what it says – not a word of unnatural lusts – the key phrase: ut apud eos nefandi concubitus foedere copulentur maribus puberes – that among them by dirty compact, desired to have sex with boys as with husbands


    1. Ken, it’s February 20th not the 22nd. Mark

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