Posted by: ken98 | March 3, 2010

Death of Puppets, Scheming Frenchmen, and Naked Soldiers

Day 173 – Ken here (W)(3-3-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.27, pp.60-70)(pages read: 1160)

Still not feeling so hot -but Gibbon awaits so here goes…

We continue chapter 27 (and end chapter 27) with the en-puppetment (if I can coin a word) of Valentinian II (he’s a prisoner in his own palace in Milan – his master the Frank Arbogastes). Arbogastes has Valentinian II killed(?) and raises a civil servant Eugenius to the throne of the West (an offer Eugenius couldn’t refuse). Theodosius raises his forces (2 years) and fights and defeats Eugenius/Arbogastes, but dies a short time later leaving both East and West in the hands of two youths (his sons) Arcadius and Honorius. The empire is falling apart – at the turn of the century (400).

The Story
 
Character of Valentinian II

  • virtuous, sensible
  • Ambrose converts him from Arianism to Catholicism (whew!!!) – so Justina’s problems are not visited upon her son
  •  
    Arbogastes makes a puppet of Valentinian II

  • The Frank Arbogastes made commander of all Gaul
  • Arb infiltrates legions, bureacracy with his cronies, and his nation – Franks
  • Valentinian a prisoner in his own palace – he complains to Theodosius but to no avail
  •  
    Death of Valentinian II (Suspicious to say the least) Usurpation of Eugenius and Frenchman Arbogastes

  • Tries to take command in the throne room – but Arbogastes rebukes him – Val II is found dead a few days later, strangled in his bedroom under mysterious circumstances
  • Arbogastes raises Eugenius – a noted bureacrat and speaker – probably not the strongest man in the political West – but one who could be malleable in Arb’s hands
  • Theod doesn’t recognize him, sends ambiguous message back to Eug, prepares in the East for war for 2 years
  •  
    Theodosius Conquers Arbogastes, Eugenius

  • Theod goes on campaign (he was always successful with what little he had) and manages to take Arb and Eug
  • Both Eug and Arb dead (1st – exec’d, 2nd – fell on own sword) after battle of Frigidus or Aquileuea(9-6-394)
  • Gibbon notes both Stilicho and Alaric were trained and brought up in the successful barbarian armies of Theodosius the Great
  •  
    Theodosius Dies Early at 50, Woe to the Empire as his young sons Arcadius and Honorius ascend the throne

  • Theod dies (1-17-395) – a man who could keep the faltering empire running while the old passed away and the new had yet to be
  • Gibbon ends his chapter 27 with a 2 page rant on the corruption of the times – but I think he’s trying to pound a square peg into a round hole here – see below
  •  

    Statue of the emperor Valentinian II - who died young, was never allowed to rule and was the first emperor to be the puppet of the Western barbarian generals - in 70 years, the barbarians would dispense entirely with using Roman Emperors to shield them from using power directly over the Western empire.  At this point around 400, although no one admitted it, the ruling elite class had changed in the West

    Statue of the emperor Valentinian II - who died young, was never allowed to rule and was the first emperor to be the puppet of the Western barbarian generals - in 70 years, the barbarians would dispense entirely with using Roman Emperors to shield them from using power directly over the Western empire. At this point around 400, although no one admitted it, the ruling elite class had changed in the West

     
    The sad tale of an orphaned Emperor

    When Valentinian II, son of Valentinian I and Justina, was elevated to the throne at a very young age, he did not look like the beginning of the end of the Roman empire, but he was. He was pushed off and left for dead by the important men of the West when the West supported Maximus and his bid for the empire when Maximus marched from Britain to the continent and made for Italy.

    Maximus won hands down. Justina and Valentinian II fled to the East and Theodosius, Justina managed to marry off Galla (Valentinian’s brother) to the strong reigning emperor of the West Theodosius (what was it about these women, Justina and Galla – they must have been very beautiful and alluring along the lines of Cleopatra – Valantinian divorced his current wife to marry Justina, Galla forced the entire East to go to war with the West when Theodosius married Justina’s daughter – interesting women definitely).

    Having the empire back, Valentinian devoted himself to study, good government, and virtue – all qualities Roman emperors were supposed to have, but often lacked. However, his brother-in-law Theodosius had only the mildest interest in keeping the West internal affairs in order after he set Valentinian II back on the throne. It didn’t help that the very strong Justina passed away four months after Valentinian was set back in control of the West by Theodosius.

    Soon, in a matter of years, this “good” general was outclassed by the nepotism and conscious plan of Arbogastes (a devious Frenchman) who promoted his own men in the military, set up his own shadow government and infiltrated the “legitimate” government. Soon, Valentinian II was a prisoner in his own palace. Although emperors had been made and unmade by the Legions before, especially in the Times of Crisis of the 200’s (3rd century), it was a new thing under the sun to have the legions surreptitiously governing in all areas under a barbarian who would not assume the purple because (due to his heritage) he would be unacceptable to Rome as a whole.

    Shadow governments were a new a thing, a sign of the times, and a condition of the Western empire that would lead to total annihilation in the space of a few generations. As good money drives out bad, real power inevitably overwhelms shadow power in the end.
     

    Sketch of Late Roman soldier with no armor - it wasn't a sign of decay as Gibbon thought (after all, did Englishmen of all classes in all wars fight with body armor on? - probably not), it was a sign of strategy and military decisions - weight and temperature versus protection and mobility

    Sketch of Late Roman soldier with no armor - it wasn't a sign of decay as Gibbon thought (after all, did Englishmen of all classes in all wars fight with body armor on? - probably not), it was a sign of strategy and military decisions - weight and temperature versus protection and mobility

     
     

    Last Word…

     
    A Sign of Decay? – Naked Soldiers? Armorless Roman Legions
     
    OK – well not naked, but without helmets or armor – so metaphorically naked in a military sense (there I justified the gratuitously pandering title of this section of the post).

    Gibbon closes chapter 27 with a 2 page tirade on the corruption of Late Antique Rome, especially focusing on legionnaires who had foregone the wearing of armor or helmet. To Gibbon this is an effete sign of corruption and laxity – although a little thought about this topic would dispel the opinion of the armchair military advisor (read: Gibbon) disparaging a foreign culture’s practices. There was probably a reason for it – and Gibbon should have “doubted a little of his own infallibility” as Franklin’s saying goes. What experienced military man would knowingly go into battle, certainly giving up his life, and losing the contest only because armor was inconvenient or uncomfortable? Not very likely. The whole death-by-corruption thesis of the Fall of the Roman Empire never holds water once you dig into the details even slightly. Its just a subject for sermons and armchair sociologists more interested in the soundbites of the moment (even if those soundbites are strung together into 18th century 3000 page histories) than history which seeks to explain and predict human behavior of entire populations.

    On the armor this from a forum on Historum.com

    Unarmored Soldiers of the Republic

    Chainmail was first introduced to the Romans by the Gauls in the 4th or 3rd Centuries BC, but bronze breastplates were still in use until the 1st Century BC. In Regal and early Republican times, armor of any kind was probably only worn by commanders and champions in the armor, the rank-and-file defending themselves only with their shields.

    By the end of the 3rd Century BC, there were four kinds of Roman legionary – the triarius, a veteran who fought in a phalanx-type formation; the princeps, an experienced soldier wearing chainmail; the hastatus, a younger version of the princeps whose only armor was a helmet and maybe a breastplate; and the veles.

    The veles, usually a young lower-class soldier, was a specialist skirmisher. He was equipped with a round shield, six-eight light javelins, and gladius. This troop type existed throughout both the Republic and Imperial phases of Roman history, under a variety of different names. Even though the legions are traditionally portrayed as a force of armored heavy infantry marching in formation, they always had a small percentage of dedicated skirmishers. In the 2nd Century BC, such troops were called antesignani – “those who fight in front of the standards” – and were known for their skill as swordsmen. In the 1st Century, they were apparently known as expediti, but their fighting style was fundamentally the same.

    Legionaries of any kind might be called upon to forego armor for specialist duties. Sallust records an incident during the war with the Numidian leader Jugurtha in which C. Marius hand-picked 15 legionaries to scale a cliff. They were unarmored, and in addition to their sidearms they carried only small round hide shields of Numidian style.

    As always, the truth is much more complicated than a simple one sentence knee-jerk, Jerry Springer explanation.

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    Responses

    1. […] the public baths) (for the full story see here). Justina had a daughter by Valentinian named Galla. Galla ended up marrying the emperor Theodosius and forcing him to go to war with the West to prop up her […]


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