Posted by: ken98 | April 14, 2010

The Love of A Strong Mother, A Hugely Mistaken African Invitation, and the End of Armenia

Day 215 – Ken here (W)(4-14-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.32,33 pp.270-280)(pages read: 1370)

Still tired – but a lot of material here.

I think I’m getting it – we’ve been mired down in 200 or so years of history (180-400) for nearly the first 1/2 of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. We have to get through the year 1453. So (by sheer subtraction) we have to traverse 8 centuries in the same number of pages we spent getting through the first two centuries – it’s going to be a rough, fast, and furious ride. The sources are also getting sketchier and sketchier – even Gibbon is having a hard time wading through the immense amount of fictional, fabulous accounts (some innocently misleading, others militantly misleading) to get to some kind of reasonable narrative sequence of events.

So, I guess it’s “lots of material” from now on…

We end chapter 32 today with a brief account of the partition and end of the Kingdom of Armenia, and begin the intricate court struggles of the West (with the death of Honorius, the “usurper” John, the beginning of the reign of the (kindergartner) emperor Valentinian III and the “reign” of one of those remarkable empresses – Placidia – mother of Valentinian III). Also the Vandals get a new king (Genseric) who is invited (HUBRIS again) by the Western General Boniface to cross over from Spain to Africa and help him in his struggles against his rival general, General Aetius. Genseric and his Vandals will end up owning Africa for the next couple of centuries.

The Story
 
The Partitions and End of the Kingdom of Armenia
 
  • Armenia is divided into a small western, pro-roman kingdom, and a large eastern Persian satrapy
  • Theodosiopolis is built as a Roman fort on the frontier of the two
  • Through political intrigue, nobles wanting more power asked Persia for a Persian governor
  • Rome hears of this, and punishes Armenia by reducing it from a kingdom to a province – Persarmenia – the end of 560 years of the Armenian kingdom
  •  

    Placidia and Valentinian III (Her Son)
     
  • Placidia (daughter of Theodosius I) – once wife of Atawulf who is dead, marries a career soldier Constantine (later for one year Constantine III) – she is the power behind the Western throne in Honorius’s later years (early 420’s)
  • Her son, Valentinian III assumes the emperorship of Western Rome at age 4 (after the usurper John is put down)
  • Placidia is regent for Valentinian for the next 14 years – virtual ruler of the West
  •  

    “Revolt” of John
     
  • At the death of Honorius (8-27-423)(a probably handicapped emperor), the Primicerius – or principal secretary John is acclaimed emperor – revolt of John (423-425)
  • John tries to get an alliance with the Huns to cement his power
  • The East sends a deputation to take care of the situation (NOT to recognize John) sends Ardubarius and his son Aspar – heroes of the Persian wars
  • Ardubarius arrives, foments rebellion against John in Ravenna, and takes John in Aquilea – John is beheaded
  • Valentinian III is seated as the Roman Emperor in the West at age 4
  • The real powers in the West are Placidia, and the generals (who hate each other) Aetius and Boniface
  •  

    The Generals Aetius, Boniface, and the Emperor Valentinian III and the Real Ruler of the Western Roman Empire, Placidia
     
  • Placidia regent, then power behind the throne (425-450)
  • Placidia’s son Valentinian III emperor in the West (425-455)
  • Aetius famous for defeat of the Huns
  • Boniface famous for defense of Marcellus and deliverance of Africa
  • In the beginning, Boniface is the supporter of Placidia, Aetius supports John
  • Aetius befriends the court in Ravenna, persuades them to recall Boniface from Africa (Hubris again – and tragedy to unfold)
  • Boniface in return revolts (427), asks the Vandals to cross over into Africa to help him defend himself against Aetius (A BIG MISTAKE in retrospect) (428)
  •  

    The Rise of the Vandals (Again) in Spain, and The Vandal’s Invitation into Africa bythe Roman General Boniface
     
  • After the Goths retreat from Spain, Honorius left in control, except in North-east where the Vandals and Suevi hold power tucked behind the hills
  • Imperial troops suffer defeats when they attack the Vandals – open up the entire peninsula to Vandal control now
  • Gonderic (Vandal king) dies – a militant Genseric succeeds him
  • Genseric quickly takes central Spain, moves East and South – looking to cross to Majorca of Africa
  • Count Boniface asks for Vandal help, allows them to be transported over to Africa (5-429) – BIG MISTAKE
  • Vandals won’t leave for centuries and will end up sacking Rome itself again in a very short time
  •  

     

    Gibbon on Hating Women (Again) – He Cannot Say Much Good About A Woman Ruler – On the Three Most Powerful Women of the Early 400’s in the Empire
     

    Gibbon relates the free-fall of the decline of the empire on both sides (East and West) in terms of its rulers – especially its male rulers. Gibbon’s take on the 420’s with the West being ruled by Placidia and the East by Pulcheria (and Eudocia) is interesting. It is the men (the Generals) who save or destroy the empire. Gibbon qualifies the actual leadership with the (typically Gibbonian and cutting) adjective of “female” when he describes the first couple of decades of imperial rule of the 400s’. The venemous, deprecating and minimizing view of female leadership (esp. of the empire) drips with un-spoken assumptions about the pettiness of female quarrels and the frivolousness and inconstancy of female opinions.

    Of course, the males in this time period seem to be going out of their way themselves to destroy what little imperial strength and unity still exists in the Roman world (examples: Aetius, Boniface, John, Gainas, etc) – in fact, the males are superlative examples of personal gain singlemindedly sought over national gain. Could it be that what little direction both empires had at this point came from stable female rule? Is seems pretty likely to me that this is the case (but not likely to Gibbon apparently).

    Here are some recent examples in Gibbon of the connection of the infamous word female and the notion of leadership in the early 400’s:

    Here, Gibbon relates the divisions within the household of the Eastern Empire – between the Western emperor Theodosius II’s mother (Pulcheria, the winner) and his wife (Eudocia – the philosopher-empress):

    But this pilgrimage was the fatal term of the glories of Eudocia. Satiated with empty pomp, and unmindful perhaps of her obligations to Pulcheria, she ambitiously aspired to the government of the Eastern empire: the palace was distracted by female discord; but the victory was at last decided by the superior ascendant of the sister of Theodosius.

    The execution of Paulinus, master of the offices, and the disgrace of Cyrus, Praetorian praefect of the East, convinced the public that the favour of Eudocia was insufficient to protect her most faithful friends, and the uncommon beauty of Paulinus encouraged the secret rumour that his guilt was that of a successful lover. As soon as the empress perceived that the affection of Theodosius was irretrievably lost, she requested the permission of retiring to the distant solitude of Jerusalem. She obtained her request, but the jealousy of Theodosius, or the vindictive spirit of Pulcheria, pursued her in her last retreat; and Saturninus, count of the domestics, was directed to punish with death two ecclesiastics, her most favoured servants.

    Eudocia instantly revenged them by the assassination of the count: the furious passions which she indulged on this suspicious occasion seemed to justify the severity of Theodosius; and the empress, ignominiously stripped of the honours of her rank, was disgraced, perhaps unjustly, in the eyes of the world.

    The remainder of the life of Eudocia, about sixteen years, was spent in exile and devotion; and the approach of age, the death of Theodosius, the misfortunes of her only daughter, who was led a captive from Rome to Carthage, and the society of the Holy Monks of Palestine, insensibly confirmed the religious temper of her mind. After a full experience of the vicissitudes of human life, the daughter of the philosopher Leontius expired at Jerusalem, in the sixty-seventh year of her age; protesting with her dying breath that she had never transgressed the bounds of innocence and friendship.

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.32, p. 267)

    And again, this time referring to the accession and marriage of Valentinian III (son of Placidia)

    The royal infant was distinguished at Constantinople by the title of Nobilissimus: he was promoted, before his departure from Thessalonica, to the rank and dignity of Caesar: and, after the conquest of Italy, the patrician Helion, by the authority of Theodosius, and in the presence of the senate, saluted Valentinian the Third by the name of Augustus, and solemnly invested him with the diadem and the Imperial purple.

    By the agreement of the three females who governed the Roman world, the son of Placidia was betrothed to Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodosius and Athenais; and, as soon as the lover and his bride had attained the age of puberty, this honourable alliance was faithfully accomplished. At the same time, as a compensation, perhaps, for the expenses of the war, the Western Illyricum was detached from the Italian dominions, and yielded to the throne of Constantinople.

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.33 p.276)

     
     
     

    Famous Late Roman painting on glass thought to be Aelia Galla Placidia, daughter of Theodosius the Great and Galla.  Placidia married twice - once to a Gothic chieftain (Atawulf), then to Constantine III.  She led an eventful life and tried to hold the empire together under a (probably) handicapped and very-long-lived Western emperor Honorius.   At one time she was one of three very powerful Imperial women (Eudocia, Pulcheria and Placidia) navigating the empire through barbarian invasions and internal civil wars.  That they managed to hold off the inevitable as long as they did is to their great credit

    Famous Late Roman painting on glass thought to be Aelia Galla Placidia, daughter of Theodosius the Great and Galla. Placidia married twice - once to a Gothic chieftain (Atawulf), then to Constantine III. She led an eventful life and tried to hold the empire together under a (probably) handicapped and very-long-lived Western emperor Honorius. Later, she was regent under her son Valentinian III. At one time she was one of three very powerful Imperial women (Eudocia, Pulcheria and Placidia) navigating the empire through barbarian invasions and internal civil wars. That they managed to hold off the inevitable as long as they did is to their great credit

    Last Word…
    The Love of a Strong Mother – Placidia – Ruler/Regent of the West Under Honorius and Under Her Son Valentinian III
     

    We earlier charted the long line of strong women, all descendants of the very-strong-willed Justina (2nd wife of Valentinian I), who began this “dynasty” in the 370’s (50 years prior). It will continue at least through the 450s – thirty years in the future. Now we flesh-out the contribution of her great-great-great granddaughter Placidia. Here is a brief paragraph and explanation of these women (and Placidia in particular) up through the present.

    Genealogy of the Strong Women of the Late 300’s and Early 400’s

    Justina [empress] + Valentinian I [Emperor-East]
          ->Galla (daughter of Justina)[Empress] + Theodosius I the Great [Emperor-East]
                ->Arcadius (son of Galla) [Emperor-East] (+ Eudoxia)
                ->Honorius (son of Galla) [Emperor-West] (+ Maria – daughter of Stilicho. + Thermantia – daughter of Stilicho)
                ->Galla Placidia (daughter of Galla) [Empress-West] (+ Constantius III [Co-Emperor-West with Honorius 421],
                      ->Pulcheria (daughter of Arcadius)[Empress] + Marcian [Emperor-East]
                      ->Theodosius II (son of Arcadius)[Emperor-East]
                            ->Valentinian III (son of Galla Placidia) [Emperor-West]
     
     

    One set of noteworthy facts about this line of female political power is that they managed to get a very weak member of their family installed in the highest imperial positions – Galla had Theodosius I (East) fight to install her (losing) brother Valentinian II as Western emperor, Placidia had Arcadius (East)install her son Valentinian III as Western emperor. Not only were they regents and councillors, but they were kingmakers in the most literal sense.

    This from Wiki (here)on her later life:
     

    Galla herself, the former Augusta, was however forced from the Western Empire. Whatever the politics or motivations, the public issue was increasingly scandalous public sexual caresses from her own brother Honorius. This at least was the interpretation given by Olympiodorus of Thebes, a historian used as a source by Zosimus, Sozomen and probably Philostorgius, as J.F. Matthews has demonstrated.[22] Gibbon had a different opinion. “The power of Placidia; and the indecent familiarity of her brother, which might be no more than the symptoms of a childish affection, were universally attributed to incestuous love.”

    According to Gibbon, “On a sudden, by some base intrigues of a steward and a nurse, this excessive fondness was converted into an irreconcilable quarrel: the debates of the emperor and his sister were not long confined within the walls of the palace; and as the Gothic soldiers adhered to their queen, the city of Ravenna was agitated with bloody and dangerous tumults, which could only be appeased by the forced or voluntary retreat of Placidia and her children. The royal exiles landed at Constantinople, soon after the marriage of Theodosius, during the festival of the Persian victories. They were treated with kindness and magnificence; but as the statues of the emperor Constantius had been rejected by the Eastern court, the title of Augusta could not decently be allowed to his widow”. The passage places the arrival of Placidia and her children as following the marriage of Theodosius II to Aelia Eudocia, known to have occurred on June 7, 421.

    The “Persian victories” mentioned were probably victory celebrations over a brief Roman-Persian War, under the respective leaderships of Theodosius II and Bahram V of the Sassanid Empire. The conflict took place from c. 420 to 422. “The general Ardaburius operated in Arzanene and gained a victory, autumn 421, which forced the Persians to retreat to Nisibis, which Ardaburius then besieged. He raised the siege on the arrival of an army under Varahran, who proceeded to attack Resaina. Meanwhile the Saracens of Hira, under Al‑Mundhir, were sent to invade Syria, and were defeated by Vitianus. During the peace negotiations the Persians attacked the Romans and were defeated by Procopius, son-in‑law of Anthemius (Socrates, VII.18, 20). The Empress Eudocia celebrated the war in a poem in heroic metre (ib. 21).” The “Saracens of Hira” were the Lakhmids of Al-Hirah.

    On August 15, 423, Honorius died of dropsy, perhaps pulmonary edema. With no member of the Theodosian dynasty present at Ravenna to claim the throne, Theodosius II was expected to nominate a Western co-emperor. However, Theodosius hesitated and the decision was delayed. Taking advantage of the power vacuum, Castinus the Patrician proceeded to become a kingmaker. He declared Joannes, the primicerius notariorum (“chief notary”, head of the civil service), to be the new Western Roman Emperor. Among their supporters was Flavius Aetius. Aetius was a son of Flavius Gaudentius, magister militum, and Aurelia. Joannes’ rule was accepted in the provinces of Italia, Gaul, Hispania, but not in Africa Province.

    Theodosius II reacted by starting to prepare Valentinian III for eventual promotion to the imperial office. Within 423/424, Valentinian was named nobilissimus. In 424, Valentinian was betrothed to Licinia Eudoxia, his first cousin, once removed. She was a daughter of Theodosius II and Aelia Eudocia. The year of their betrothal was recorded by Marcellinus Comes. At the time of their betrothal, Valentinian was approximately four-years-old, Licinia only two. Gibbon attributes the betrothal to “the agreement of the three females who governed the Roman world”, meaning Placidia and her nieces Eudocia and Pulcheria. Within the same year, Valentinian was proclaimed a Caesar in the Eastern court.

    Galla Placidia's tomb in Ravenna.  I've actually stood in this tomb - you have to be there to see the incredible play of light on the mosaics - its truly incredible.  Honorius had moved the capital behind the swamps of Ravenna now, so this would make sense now as an imperial resting place.

    Galla Placidia's tomb in Ravenna. I've actually stood in this tomb - you have to be there to see the incredible play of light on the mosaics - its truly incredible. Honorius had moved the capital behind the swamps of Ravenna now, so this would make sense now as an imperial resting place.

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    Responses

    1. I know you wrote this more than a year ago, but I’m incredibly curious about that glass painting alleged to be of Galla Placidia. I’d love to find out more about it. On this website (http://www.bogdanoff.com/blog/) there is a non-cropped view of the painting showing her with two other people. All three have a marked family resemblance and are executed with great skill. I didn’t realize that this kind of realistic portraiture was being done in late antiquity. Would you be able to point me to any more information about this painting? Thank you!


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