Posted by: ken98 | February 22, 2010

Nude Arabic Vampires and the First Worst Disaster in Roman History

Day 161 – Ken here (F)(2-19-2010)
(DEF I, v.2, ch.26, pp.1050-1060)

The Story
 
Valens marches against the Goths at Hadrianopolis (Adrianople)

  • Valens arrives in Constantinople, the populace clamor (via political chanting in the Hippodrome – a Late Antique way of citizens making their wishes known directly to the emperor) – Valens is embarassed by 19 year old Gratian’s successes in Gaul, wants his own victory – (this reads like hubris in a Shakespearean play – probably with good reason)
  • His general Sebastian is already at Adrianople, he wins the 1st battle of Adrianople – captive Goths are sent to re-populate Parma and Modena in Italy (Is Italy now de-populated? as Spock would say “fascinating”) (May 30 – Jun 11 378)
  • Valens marches to Adrianople – does everything right, is in an EXCELLENT position – has done exactly what a prudent Roman general would have done – fortifies city, builds standard military camp, stops to examine the situation,
  • Fritigern, lead general of the rebelling Visigoths, involves Valens in endless negotiations – the Romans feel he is stalling – as does Gibbon – I’m wondering if Fritigern might TRULY have been looking for a way out – and the Romans ONCE AGAIN forced his hand and made a disaster out of a victory-aborning
  •  
    The FIRST WORST DISASTER – the (2nd) Battle of Hadrianopolis (Adrianople) (8-9-378)

  • As the empire disintegrates, each disaster becomes the Worst Disaster. (Rome itself will be sacked, and all of the West and Africa and Spain basically lost in just 30 years – UNTHINKABLE DISASTERS – and its all starting here)
  • Count Richomer returns from the West – the Alemanni are conquered, Gratian is marching to fortify Valens – Gratian urges Valens to wait and attack together – Valens is urged by his generals to fight and get an easy victory over the Goths BEFORE Gratian arrives
  • Valens decides to fight, lines up for battle, Fritigern delays the fight all during the hot day while the Romans fry in their armor – but so far all is OK
  • Some archers from Spain broke lines and started the fight prematurely – some cavalry of the Goths returned unexpectedly and attacked the waiting Romans, so the battle started irregularly
  • The Roman cavalry retreated leaving the infantry alone on the plain with the emperor in the center – the infantry were slaughtered – this is an obvious example of the precipitous RISE in importance of horse-born soldiers and the DECLINE of foot-soldiers – the ridiculously successful, horse-born Huns are another example
  • Valens is wounded and is carried to a farm house – Valens dies when the Goths, impatient of their captives in the house – set fire to the house and burn everyone alive (a mistake on the Goths part – they probably would NOT have allowed such an valuable captive as Valens to die before being ransomed)
  •  
    The AFTERMATH – after the Battle of Hadrianopolis

  • Gibbon gives inserts a portion of Libanius’s (the friend of Julian, and teacher in Antioch) for a page or so – Gibbon liked Valens and Gratian – not a common thing in Gibbon
  • The Goths beseige Hadrianople to get at all the treasure there (from previous Roman spoils from victories over the Goths in the past few weeks, and all the stores/gold Valens brought to fight the Goths with) – but give up after a few days siege
  • the Goths move and beseige Constantinople – are repulsed at the walls, and disperse throughout Thrace, Greece, and to the borders of Italy
  • Gibbon briefly goes on a tirade on Roman slaughter
  • Gibbon questions the accuracy of Church Historians for a page or so (example: Jerome)
  • GENOCIDE – The Empire orders the Gothic youth dispersed throughout the empire to be slaughtered on a single day – they are gathered under false pretenses in the capitals of all the provinces and killed by soldiers – the expectation was that they would rise up and become a 5th column in a general empire-wide revolution – a very sad moment in Roman history – one which Gibbon hates also
  •  

     
    Of Exagerrating Church Historians and Sober, Pagan Historians – Gibbon Cherishing Ammianus Marcellinus
    Gibbon notes in a sad footnote, the exit of Ammianus Marcellinus from written history – i.e. at this point Ammianus’s history comes to a close, and with the end of Ammianus, we begin the long, tedious journey through Ecclesiastical historians. We also begin the (I’m sure to be endless) series of Gibbon-complaints on the exaggerations, laziness, sloppiness, emotional, and generally inaccurate histories of the monks and Fathers of the Church.

    Although Gibbon was impatient with the often florid, overly decorated prose of Ammianus – he thinks these faults of little moment compared to the massive labors ahead of him sifting legend from fact in the later Church Historians.

    In typical Gibbonian fashion, he uses a carefully short phrase, inserted just so, to drive the knife in (lamenting Ammianus, deprecating Zosimus). This from the melancholy footnote (describing the Goths leaving Constantinople and sacking the Balkans and Greece all the way to Italy):
     

    Note 098
    The series of events may still be traced in the last pages of Ammianus (xxxi. 15, 16). Zosimus (1. iv. [c. 22] p. 227, 231), whom we are now reduced to cherish, misplaces the sally of the Arabs before the death of Valens. Eunapius (in Excerpt. Legat. p. 20 [p. 51, ed. Bonn]) praises the fertility of Thrace, Macedonia, etc.

    (DEF I, v.2, ch.26, p.1067, fn.98)

    An engraving of a monopod (mythical creature) from the Nuremberg Chronicles (1493).  Pliny in the 1st century BCE first described these people and they inhabited encyclopedias for a millenium or so afterwards.  I'm not sure why it seems less likely to Gibbon to admit the existence one-footed men living in the Far East, than a blood-sucking, nude, Arabic warrior caste employed by the empire in its defense

    An engraving of a monopod (mythical creature) from the Nuremberg Chronicles (1493). Pliny in the 1st century BCE first described these people and they inhabited encyclopedias for a millenium or so afterwards. I'm not sure why it seems less likely to Gibbon to admit the existence one-footed men living in the Far East, than a blood-sucking, nude, Arabic warrior caste employed by the empire in its defense

    Image of Antar - a famous Pre-Islamic Arabic poet and soldier.  This from http://www.damasceneblog.com: This is a traditional Damascene artwork by the late Abou Soubhi al-Tinawi, showing Antar, "father of all knights," on his horse al-Abjar. Antar is a pre-Islamic Arab hero and poet. His father, Shaddad, was a respected member of 'Abs tribe, but his mother was a slave; so he was also considered a slave by the tribe. Antar fell in love with Abla, his cousin, but because he was a slave, the rest of his tribe would not approve their marriage. When the tribe needed his assistance fending off another tribe in battle, his father Shaddad acknowledged him as his son and granted him freedom. Antar wrote many poems that are considered best of the best in Arabic poetry. Most of them describe battles he fought and his passion for Abla. The two poetic verses at the top of this painting are from a poem considered to be one of the greatest in the history of romantic classical Arab poetry (well, the first verse might sound violent, but look at the second!)  "I remembered you, even when the lances were drinking my blood And bright swords of Indian make were dripping with it  And I wished to kiss the swords For verily they shone as bright as the flash of the foretooth of your smiling mouth"

    Image of Antar - another view of Pre-Islamic Arabia - Antar is a famous Pre-Islamic Arabic poet and soldier. This from http://www.damasceneblog.com: This is a traditional Damascene artwork by the late Abou Soubhi al-Tinawi, showing Antar, 'father of all knights,' on his horse al-Abjar. Antar is a pre-Islamic Arab hero and poet. His father, Shaddad, was a respected member of Abs tribe, but his mother was a slave; so he was also considered a slave by the tribe. Antar fell in love with Abla, his cousin, but because he was a slave, the rest of his tribe would not approve their marriage. When the tribe needed his assistance fending off another tribe in battle, his father Shaddad acknowledged him as his son and granted him freedom. Antar wrote many poems that are considered best of the best in Arabic poetry. Most of them describe battles he fought and his passion for Abla. The two poetic verses at the top of this painting are from a poem considered to be one of the greatest in the history of romantic classical Arab poetry (well, the first verse might sound violent, but look at the second!) I remembered you, even when the lances were drinking my blood And bright swords of Indian make were dripping with it And I wished to kiss the swords For verily they shone as bright as the flash of the foretooth of your smiling mouth

     
    Gibbon on Arabs – they’re Nude Vampires
    And then again, every so often, you begin to question the vaunted, irreducible fortress that IS GIBBON’S SPOTLESS RATIONALITY. Now I’m no sociologist, and I certainly know next to nothing about pre-Islamic Arabic culture, but this excerpt from Ammianus Marcellinus, which Gibbon dryly recites as socio-anthropological fact sounds as likely as the guys who live in the Far East, have only one foot, and escape from the heat of the sun by shading themselves with their single, enormous foot (Monopods).

    Ammianus has the Arabs riding nude “to their manhood” – is that possible? Gibbon says hairy, but it could mean they had long hair. You decide it this makes sense.

     
    This from Gibbon ( in describing how the Goths were driven from the walls of Constantinople by a squadron of Arabic cavalry):
     

    The tide of the Gothic inundation rolled from the walls of Hadrianople to the suburbs of Constantinople. The barbarians were surprised with the splendid appearance of the capital of the East, the height and extent of the walls, the myriads of wealthy and affrighted citizens who crowded the ramparts, and the various prospect of the sea and land.

    While they gazed with hopeless desire on the inaccessible beauties of Constantinople, a sally was made from one of the gates by a party of Saracens, who had been fortunately engaged in the service of Valens. The cavalry of Scythia was forced to yield to the admirable swiftness and spirit of the Arabian horses; their riders were skilled in the evolutions of irregular war; and the Northern barbarians were astonished and dismayed by the inhuman ferocity of the barbarians of the South. A Gothic soldier was slain by the dagger of an Arab, and the hairy, naked savage, applying his lips to the wound, expressed a horrid delight while he sucked the blood of his vanquished enemy.

    (DEF I, v.2., ch.26, p.1067)
    and this in the footnote (where the interesting bits usually are):

    Note 097
    Crinitus quidam, nudus omnia praeter pubem, subraucum et lugubre strepens. (with long hair, all nude to their manhood, with a somewhat hoarse and terrifying noise – my translation) Ammian. xxxi. 16, and Vales. ad loc. The Arabs often fought naked – a custom which may be ascribed to their sultry climate and ostentatious bravery. The description of this unknown savage is the lively portrait of Derar, a name so dreadful to the Christians of Syria. See Ockley’s Hist. of the Saracens, vol. i. p. 72, 84, 87.

    (DEF I, v.2., ch.26, p.1067, fn.97)
     
    The Poem of Antar
     
    For the curious – an example of actual Pre-Islamic Arabic culture. Here is the entire poem of Antar (translated in English).

     

     
     
     

    Last Word…

     
    Gibbon on Genocide
     
    The First Melting Pot
     
    Gibbon describes the slaughter of the Gothic youth in 378 throughout the empire. He is disgusted by it and shocked – which is all to his credit. The impulse to protect the familiar from the foreign at all costs is not just an ancient Roman practice, The Romans acted as we did in the U.S. during World War II, when the Federal Government imprisoned Japanese-Americans in prison-camps – solely on the basis of exterior appearance, The Goths of the Roman world that were killed were young men and women (and children) who were brought up in Roman cities dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world with the goal in mind of raising a generation of Gothic nationality that would be both Goth and Roman. In one day, Rome wiped out 20 years of social engineering.

    You get the feeling that the empire is out of control at this point – not that it’s falling apart – quite the contrary. It is doing everything right, working with the tools at hand, trying to ride the current wave of history out and build a new multi-ethnic Roman state. Perhaps Gibbon was right. Perhaps Christianity was destroying the empire from within and intellegent civil government was giving way to passionate, emotional, religious government – one which operated in black-and-white absolutes in an era when the Mediterranean universe was varying shades of gray. Perhaps Christianity fossilized the reflexes of the empire at a time when all was in flux, and great flexibility was needed. Perhaps it was all chance.

    anyways…

    here’s Gibbon’s word on the massacre:

    At the same hour, in all the cities of the East, the signal was given of indiscriminate slaughter; and the provinces of Asia were delivered, by the cruel prudence of Julius, from a domestic enemy, who in a few months might have carried fire and sword from the Hellespont to the Euphrates. The urgent consideration of the public safety may undoubtedly authorise the violation of every positive law. How far that or any other consideration may operate to dissolve the natural obligations of humanity and justice, is a doctrine of which I still desire to remain ignorant.

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