Posted by: ken98 | March 24, 2010

Willful Granddaughters and Table-sized Emeralds

Day 194 – Ken here (W)(3-24-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.31 pp.210-220)(pages read: 1310)

We continue with chapter 31, with the aftermath of the Gothic raping and pillaging of Italy, their excursions into Gaul after Alaric died and Adolphus took over, the marriage of Theodosius’s daughter to the High Chieftain of the Goths, Adolphus, and some miscellaneous histories of fabled Gothic treasures.

The Story
Italy in the Hands of the Goths (408-412)
  • For 4 years the Goths reigned unopposed in Italy, living in mansions, taking over land from Roman Senators

    Alaric Dies (410) on the Point of Invading Sicily – to Move Over to Africa
  • Alaric dies (410) of disease, his tomb is buried in a stream (the Busentius) (the stream is diverted, the monument built underground, the stream is allowed take its course again), and the men who made it, killed to protect the secret (per the historian Orosius – it sounds a little like a fable to me – did the Goths ALWAYS bury their dead in stream beds? How could you keep such a thing secret? We are truly in the Dark Ages already.)

    Adolphus is the New King, Concludes Peace With Rome, Marches Into Gaul (412)
  • Adolphus decides to act “as a Roman”, is appointed a Roman Master of Generals and allowed to “take” many “rebellious” cities of Gaul. This sounds like another imperial fabrication – an attempt to make a barbarian invasion look like a Roman General’s campaign

    Adolphus Marries Theodosius’s Daughter, Placidia (this is the daughter of Theodosius and Galla)
  • Placidia, the wily daughter of Galla (2nd wife of Theodosius – see her strange career in earlier posts), is being shunted about the Italian peninsula as a hostage in the Gothic retinue, when she manages to get a meeting with Adolphus soon after he took over the Goths. She marries him, against the wishes of the imperial court, and her brother

    The Long Tale of Gothic Treasures
  • Gothic treasures continued to crop up for centuries after they had been taken from the fabulously wealthy estates of the Italian peninsula

    Laws for Relief After the Gothic Invasions in Italy Ended
  • As an example of the rigidity of Roman Tax/Laws – after the sacking of the peninusula, taxes were reduced to 1/5 for 5 years – in a depopulated and ravished land!
  • Years later, when Justinian re-conquered Italy (530-550), one of his BIGGEST problems was the reluctance of the Roman population to re-enter the empire and its incredibly steep tax structure. By this time (after nearly a century of barbarian rule) they were much happier under a barbarian king than under an imperial governor

    Count Heraclian in Africa Rebels (413), and is Driven Back and Killed (In an Unlikely Story of the Annalists)
  • In the increasingly fabulous world of Roman history, Count Heraclian puts together a fleet of 3000 ships in North Africa, and intends to sail for Italy and conquer it in his name, to become emperor of the West
  • We will never know IF he did it, WHY he did it, or any particulars about HOW he did it – the story becomes pure myth and legend
  • Heraclian lands, is encountered by a single Imperial Captain, is terrified, and runs back to his ships, fleeing in a single ship, he is captured in Carthage, and beheaded by the North Africans as being too cowardly to rule even as a usurper! Pure myth at this point – Gibbon quotes the Chronicle of Idatius – which in my opinion is reason number one to AVOID the Chronicle of Idatius at all costs if you want to write history, rather than critique Literature

    Revolutions in Gaul and Spain (409-413)
  • Constantine (usurper) in Britain, Gaul, Spain, has usurpers of his own to contend with – Gerontius and Maximus in Spain
  • Gerontius makes Maximus the emperor, they both move on Constantine, holed up in Arles with his son Constans in Vienna – why did Gerontius NOT take up the purple? Why give it to his friend? It would be interesting to know if they were such close friends they worked as a team. Again – it might all be fantasy – who knows?
  • Constans (Constantine’s son) is caught and executed by Gerontius
  • Gerontius beseiges Const at Arles, but is interrupted by an army sent from Honorius!
  • Gerontius flees to Spain, but his troops abandon him, and he commits suicide along with his wife (Gibbon devotes a half-page to their deaths – he must be hurting for material)


    Ataulfo or Atawulf (noble wolf), or Adolphus was King of the Visigoths.  His wife was the daughter of the Spaniard, the emperor Theodosius, Placidia.  The German Visigoths later ruled  Spain for centuries (this statue is in Madrid, erected 1750-53).  Placidia, his wife came from a line of independent, strong-willed women who lived life as they saw fit, rather than as the men around them tried to get them to live

    Ataulfo or Atawulf (noble wolf), or Adolphus was King of the Visigoths. His wife was the daughter of the emperor Theodosius (a Spaniard), named Placidia. The German Visigoths later ruled Spain for centuries (thus, this statue is in Madrid, erected 1750-53). Placidia, his wife came from a long line of independent, strong-willed women who lived life as they saw fit, rather than as the men around them tried to get them to live it. They usually got their way

    The Hot-Blooded, Strong-Willed, Independent Line of Empresses Continues

    The (very young) empress Justina lured the aging emperor Valentinian to divorce his wife and marry Justina – all on the hearsay of Valentinian’s current wife, reporting back to her husband how exquisitely beautiful the young Justina was bathing in the nude (in 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 weak brother Valentinian II (who was most probably only a puppet emperor at this point anyway). Theodosius wins. The line of strong women and their influence on politics continues.

    One of Galla’s daughters, Placidia, (sister to the probably handicapped emperor Honorius in the West) decides she is going to wed the newly-acclaimed war-chief of the Goths Adolphus (Atawulf – or noble wolf) – and does. The blood of Justina continues flowing hotly in the veins of her daughters and grand-daughters as these strong women change history in a very restricting environment for women.

    Gibbon has an equivocal view of her – he isn’t sure she is entirely clean of blood of her cousin Serena, and hints she may not have been beautiful. But Gibbon is fascinated with her nonetheless. Hers is a strange story – and why was the former puppet emperor Attalus there, singing in the wedding chorus? Curioser and curioser. Wheels within wheels within wheels. We’ll never know the real truth of the Gothic Invasion of Italy, or its aftermath. This, part of Placidia’s story, from Gibbon (quoting Zosimus, and Gibbon’s contemporaries Ducange, and Tillemont):

    The professions of Adolphus were probably sincere, and his attachment to the cause of the republic was secured by the ascendant which a Roman princess had acquired over the heart and understanding of the barbarian king. Placidia, the daughter of the great Theodosius, and of Galla, his second wife, had received a royal education in the palace of Constantinople; but the eventful story of her life is connected with the revolutions which agitated the Western empire under the reign of her brother Honorius.

    When Rome was first invested by the arms of Alaric, Placidia, who was then about twenty years of age, resided in the city; and her ready consent of the death of her cousin Serena has a cruel and ungrateful appearance, which, according to the circumstances of the action, may be aggravated or excused by the consideration of her tender age. The victorious barbarians detained, either as a hostage or a captive, the sister of Honorius; but while she was exposed to the disgrace of following round Italy the motions of a Gothic camp, she experienced, however, a decent and respectful treatment.

    The authority of Jornandes, who praises the beauty of Placidia, may perhaps be counterbalanced by the silence, the expressive silence, of her flatterers: yet the splendour of her birth, the bloom of youth, the elegance of manners, and the dexterous insinuations which she condescended to employ, made a deep impression on the mind of Adolphus; and the Gothic king aspired to call himself the brother of the emperor.

    The ministers of Honorius rejected with disdain the proposal of an alliance so injurious to every sentiment of Roman pride; and repeatedly urged the restitution of Placidia as an indispensable condition of the treaty of peace. But the daughter of Theodosius submitted without reluctance to the desires of the conqueror, a young and valiant prince, who yielded to Alaric in loftiness of stature, but who excelled in the more attractive qualities of grace and beauty.

    The marriage of Adolphus and Placidia was consummated before the Goths retired from Italy; and the solemn, perhaps the anniversary, day of their nuptials was afterwards celebrated in the house of Ingenuus, one of the most illustrious citizens of Narbonne in Gaul. The bride, attired and adorned like a Roman empress, was placed on a throne of state; and the king of the Goths, who assumed on this occasion the Roman habit, contented himself with a less honourable seat by her side. The nuptial gift, which, according to the custom of his nation, was offered to Placidia, consisted of the rare and magnificent spoils of her country.

    Fifty beautiful youths, in silken robes, carried a basin in each hand; and one of these basins was filled with pieces of gold, the other with precious stones of an inestimable value. Attalus, so long the sport of fortune and of the Goths, was appointed to lead the chorus of the Hymeneal song; and the degraded emperor might aspire to the praise of a skilful musician. The barbarians enjoyed the insolence of their triumph; and the provincials rejoiced in this alliance, which tempered, by the mild influence of love and reason, the fierce spirit of their Gothic lord.

    (DEF II, v.3, pp.213-214)


    The Gachala emerald, one of the largest emerald gemstones in the world (about 2 inches square) currently in the Smithsonian.  Gibbon is probably very correct in doubting a very large table made of one emerald existed among the Gothic treasures the Arabs inherited when they conquered the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain in the 8th century.

    The Gachala emerald, one of the largest emerald gemstones in the world (about 2 inches square) currently in the Smithsonian. Gibbon is probably very correct in doubting a very large table made of one emerald existed among the Gothic treasures the Arabs inherited when they conquered the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain in the 8th century.

    Last Word…
    Gibbon loves Gems, The Tale of the Emerald Table

    The Gothic treasure from the Sack of Rome was legendary. This from Gibbon on the later histories of some of the pieces:

    The hundred basins of gold and gems presented to Placidia at her nuptial feast formed an inconsiderable portion of the Gothic treasures; of which some extraordinary specimens may be selected from the history of the successors of Adolphus.

    Many curious and costly ornaments of pure gold, enriched with jewels, were found in their palace of Narbonne when it was pillaged in the sixth century by the Franks: sixty cups or chalices; fifteen patens, or plates, for the use of the communion; twenty boxes, or cases, to hold the books of the gospels: this consecrated wealth was distributed by the son of Clovis among the churches of his dominions, and his pious liberality seems to upbraid some former sacrilege of the Goths.

    They possessed, with more security of conscience, the famous missorium, or great dish for the service of the table, of massy gold, of the weight of five hundred pounds, and of far superior value, from the precious stones, the exquisite workmanship, and the tradition that it had been presented by Aetius, the patrician, to Torismond, king of the Goths. One of the successors of Torismond purchased the aid of the French monarch by the promise of this magnificent gift. When he was seated on the throne of Spain, he delivered it with reluctance to the ambassadors of Dagobert; despoiled them on the road; stipulated, after a long negotiation, the inadequate ransom of two hundred thousand pieces of gold; and preserved the missorium as the pride of the Gothic treasury.

    When that treasury, after the conquest of Spain, was plundered by the Arabs, they admired and they have celebrated another object still more remarkable; a table of considerable size, of one single piece of solid emerald, encircled with three rows of fine pearls, supported by three hundred and sixty-five feet of gems and massy gold, and estimated at the price of five hundred thousand pieces of gold. (141)

    Some portion of the Gothic treasures .might be the gift of friendship or the tribute of obedience; but the far greater part had been the fruits of war and rapine, the spoils of the empire, and perhaps of Rome.

    …and from the footnotes (large emeralds being explained by Gibbon speaking in hyper-rational-Enlightenment-mode:

    Note 141
    The president Goguet (Oirgine des Loix, etc., tom. ii. p. 239) is of opinion that the stupendous pieces of emerald, the statues and columns which antiquity has placed in Egypt, at Gades, at Constantinople, were in reality artificial composions of coloured glass. The famous emerald dish which is shown at Genoa is supposed to countenance the suspicion.

    (DEF II, v.3, p.215-216, fn.141)

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