Posted by: ken98 | April 22, 2010

Asian Invasions, Escaping Nuns, and Fallen Empires that Can Get Up

Day 223 – Ken here (Th)(4-22-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.35 pp.330-340)(pages read: 1430)

Feeling OK today, so on we go…

We continue chapter 35 and look at the early Franks, the wild life of princess Honoria, and the preparations of Attila for the last battles of Europe and the end of the Roman Empire in the West. Altogether a satisfying day.

The Story
The Franks Under the Early Merovingians (420-451)(
  • Although this seems to be the founding of an inevitable Frankish kingdom – we have to remember that at this point the Franks were a very minor tribe, only a few decades inside the empire the empire could easily re-absorb them as they had so many previous barbarian invasions and leave them Roman citizens in 50 years
  • Kings known for their long, blond, braided hair – all other Franks had to shave the back of their heads and have two small whiskers for a moustache
  • <li>Clodion – the first “king” – ie chief within the Roman territories – after the invasion of the 420’s out of Belgium into Gaul – taking the only 2 cities up North – Tournay and Cambrai

  • Clodion is surprised by Aetius during a wedding feast, loses the battle, and submits to Rome for the time being
  • But continues to raid Gaul – destroys the 3 cities – Mentz, Treves, Cologne
  • Significantly, his sons are divided as hostages – one is raised in the Roman Empire (Meroveus) and Valentinian III (adopted son of Aetius), the other, by Attila (the eldest son)
  • The detritus of centuries of French historians have thrown up considerable dust and clouds covering the issues of the foundations of the Frankish state and the early Frankish monarchy

    The Adventures of the Princess Honoria – Next in Line of the Strong Women of the Empress Justina’s Descendants (from 100 years before)
  • Honoria is sister to Valentinian III (West) daughter of Galla Placidia and Constantius
  • She falls in love with her chamberlain, gets pregnant and is bundled off to Constantinople (in the East) to lead a nun-like existence for the next 13 years (rather than being executed
  • In hopes of getting out of her confinement or for revenge, she sends her ring to Attila to offer marriage
  • Attila at 1st ignores her, then accepts her offer demanding 1/2 the west in dowry (one of Attila’s excuses for attacking Gaul)
  • Valentinian refuses Attila, brings Honoria back and marries her off to an old, safe Senator

    Attila’s Gaul Campaign – Besieging Orleans – and the Alliance Between Rome and the Visigoths
  • Attila decides to attack the West – why? his “marriage-offer” from Honoria, the Vandal king in North Africa persuades him to attack, as he wishes to attack Rome, and the Vandals want to stop the Visigoths in France from attacking them
  • Attila mobilized and moves on Orleans (451), destroying the cities of Gaul as he marches
  • The Visigoths in Gaul see the writing on the wall and ally with Roma against Attila

    Attila’s Gaul Campaign – The Beginning of the End – Attila Prepares for the Battle of Chalons (Which He Will Lose)
  • The massed armies of Rome and the Visigoths maneuver around Attila seeking a place to battle
  • Attila moves backward to find a strategically sound position for his army – Attila chooses the plains of Campania – near Chalons, where he has the advantage
  • Both sides prepare for battle


    The Not-So-Obvious Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire

    Did the Western Empire really fall at all? By that I DON’T mean the survival of imperial cultural/legal/bureaucratic institutions under a veneer (albeit, a very THICK veneer) of new barbarian kings and Germanic kingdoms. I DON’T mean the survival of the IDEA of empire – of a unified Europe – which has been resurrected in the European Union, but which was with us as recently as World War I and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which inherited the idea of empire from the Holy Roman Empire, which inherited the idea from Charlemagne’s failed Empire (in the 800’s), which inherited the idea/ideal of empire from our own decaying times (the 400’s).

    No, what I mean is – did it ever actually fall? Or did it must morph into something else? Or rather, was it morphing into something else all along and nobody noticed it until it was all over? I think the latter is true. Why? Because, when you actually look at the history, the empire was run probably as capably in many instances as you could ever ask an empire to be run. Politically, militarily, socially, the Romans DID THE RIGHT THING most of the time. THEY GOT IT RIGHT (in my humble opinion). We just keep on comparing EVERY SINGLE DECADE, EVERY SINGLE EMPEROR, EVERY SINGLE INVASION to the exact same situation – Rome in the first few decades of the millenium (0-50 or 100 CE or so), and keep on seeing FALL, FALL, FALL.

    It makes about as much sense as comparing the 13 colonies to 21st century America and seeing the (inevitable) DRASTIC DECLINE in values, DRASTIC CHANGES in national direction, etc etc. We are no longer a weak and tiny nation of farmer-citizens, clinging to the side of a huge, empty continent populated by unknown native peoples and filled to the brim with untapped resources. We are something else now. Its foolish, irrational, and embarrassing to treat Roman history in this same simplistic manner. It just doesn’t make sense.

    So what was actually happening to Rome? Well, many things:
    1) A change of religion – not to Christianity (that happened by accident) – but to personal, mystery religions in general – but away from local gods who protected local cities to national gods (read: emperor-worship – something that continued right into the Christian empire -a sort of official worship of the emperor’s spirit) – away from gods who looked at peoples as a group (example a city state) and looked at the individual as a person who needed to be transformed/saved personally in this life (examples: Mithraism, the cult of Asclepius, of Serapis, of Adonis/Osiris, the Eleusinian Mysteries etc). The oracles began to cease speaking as early as the late 200’s – not due to Christianity alone (which wouldn’t attack the Oracles/Temples directly until the late 300’s, early 400’s), but due to the rise of Mystery Religions and personal salvation. The idea of having a direct relationship with God through Mithras or initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries or Christianity weakened and destroyed the social fabric that made the city-states of the Mediterranean (and Rome was nothing (at least at first) if not a federation of city-states) rich and powerful. Something else had to take its place. It was the melting pot idea of pan-Roman citizenship and empire.
    2) A vast mixture of peoples and races were all calling themselves Roman. The closest living language to Latin is Romanian – a section of Europe which has been overrun repeatedly by invasions, but taken on the culture/language of the empire. Romanians aren’t an isolated island of Latin colonists from central Italy surviving as a group for thousands of years. They are the descendants of Roman-ized barbarbians – multiple waves of barbarians that were Roman-ized. The empire had always resisted, then adopted, embraced, outflanked, and absorbed the barbarian cultures of the frontiers. It was doing the same thing in the 400’s. Just before the invasions of the first decade of the 400’s, in the late 300’s, it was difficult sometimes to see the difference between the two sides of the rivers dividing the empire from the Germanic tribes’ lands. Both sides sported villas, farms, roads, market towns, etc. The process was proceeding rapidly for a pan-Roman Europe before all hell broke loose in the 400’s.
    3) The military and the population was changing – it was becoming racially Germanic as the birth rate slowed within the empire and the jobs no one was willing/wanting to fill (soldier, laborer, tenant farmer, etc) were being taken over by men of barbarian origins. The early empire/old republic had had the same problems (although historians seem NOT to want to admit that). There was a huge enmity between the original conquering aristocracy (the Patrician Class – the Senators at 1st) and the “people” of Rome (the Plebeian Class) – (this is the source of that famous acronym SPQR – Senatus Populus Que Romanus – the Senate and the People of Rome. Later, the enmity was between Roman citizens and citizens of other cities/tribes ON THE ITALIAN PENINSULA – the other tribes were 2nd class citizens compared to citizens of the City of Rome. Later, it was Italian people versus people from the provinces (read: Spain, Gaul, North Africans, etc). Then, when the empire encompassed all of the Mediterranean world, the enmity became – those within the old borders of the empire (Italians, Greeks, Syrians, Spanish, Gauls, Africans, etc) and those outside the borders (Goths, Vandals, Alemanni, and esp. Persians). Then, with war, plague, depopulation, and declining birth-rates within the very-rich, very-developed empire, the enmity became – the old citizens PLUS the recent civilized additions to the empire (batches of Goths, Vandals etc) and the “wild, untamed” barbarians still sitting outside the empire, looking in like kids licking the glass on a candy store window. That is where we are now (the 400’s). Of course, people like the Huns are beyond the pale for the hyper-cultured imperial citizens of the later empire. Curiously, Rome had much more of an affinity with Persia and her empire (considered an equal, and a second “eye” in the head of civilization, facing the barbarian nations of the northern steppes together).

    How did the empire deal with this situation? They did pretty well actually.

    Jornandes is a major historian and a major political player for this period. He is a Goth. Stilicho was one of the greatest of the Late Roman Generals. His ancestry is Vandal. The imperial bureaucracies AND the military were primarily barbarian. And that was a good thing. For the last 500 years, Rome had Roman-ized barbarians by bringing them into their military, letting them settle (usually far from their own borders) in Roman towns, educating king’s sons as “hostages” in Roman courts (to Roman-ize them and try to stack the odds in Rome’s favor when they came into power and had to decide who to ally with). It had worked marvelously. Britain and Gaul had started out as frontier wild-west provinces and had ended up being as boring and staid as central Italy. North Africa was more Roman than Rome sometimes. Again, Romania would keep her (basic) language 15 centuries after the fall of the empire. The melting pot worked.

    So why did the political institutions fail?

    Again, and I’ll come back to this in succeeding posts – they didn’t in my opinion. They simply changed. The problem was with the ratio of leaven and dough in the new mixing bowl. And the Huns. Rome had a strong appeal to barbarian nations on all fronts – but in the 400’s the physical quantity of Romans in the Roman Empire was declining drastically, and getting fewer and fewer as the decades rolled on and the barbarian immigrations/invasions/raids continued. Rome was simply overwhelmed in the West by partially-Romanized populations. The old mechanisms of the last 500 years were all working. The old solutions were all being used – and successfully. Its just that there wasn’t enough Romans to do the leavening to go around anymore. And the Huns kept on destroying what little stability there was in the proto-kingdoms in France and Germany and Spain. Given time and a breather (like the Eastern Empire got – and maybe the reason the Eastern Empire survived the desperate 400’s), the West might have settled down again (remember, we went through all this before in the Crisis of the 3rd Century, in the mid 200’s before Diocletian reformed the empire (150 years before out time) – AND THE EMPIRE SURVIVED that time).

    But the West didn’t get a break.

    And we ended up with Europe instead of Rome (which might not have been such a bad thing after all, come to think of it)


    so much for ranting and raving on the Fall of Rome


    Coin showing the princess Honoria (sister of Theodosius II) as Augusta. Honoria continues the line of strong women that started with Justina and the first Valentinian in the mid 300s - these imperial women apparently had a genetic predisposition to consider their brothers weaklings, and run the empire by themselves. The coin reads - Justa Grata Honoria crowned Augusta by the hand of God


    Last Word…


    Incredibly, the Strong Line of Women Continues – Galla Placidia’s daughter Honoria Upsets the Entire Empire

    An incredibly strong-willed, sexual, politically-savvy line of women begins with the indomitable Justina and continues with her daughter, Galla, her granddaughter (the famous) Galla Placidia, her great-granddaughter (the First Empress) Pulcheria, and her great-great granddaughter Honoria (who invited Attila the Hun into the empire to get back at her brother the emperor). These were not women to be trifled with (see articles in Strong Women (here) for previous biographies of the Honoria’s formidable female ancestors). Strangely, many of the male ancestors (many of them emperors themselves) are the weak, throw-away emperors of the late 300’s and the 400’s.

    Genealogy of the Strong Women of the Late 300’s and Early 400’s (the “Justina” family)

    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]
             ->Honoria (daughter of Galla Placidia) [Princess, Troublemaker-West]

    This was the beginning of an era of women taking a stronger role in government. Eudoxia and Eudocia (see Strong Women section again – here) were 2 Empresses who ruled the empire in the stead of their weaker husbands.

    This from Wiki (here) on the princess Justa Grata Honoria

    Justa Grata Honoria was the sister of the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III. Coins of her attest that she was granted the title of Augusta.

    Honoria’s Brothers and Sisters

    Honoria was the only daughter of later Emperor Constantius III and Galla Placidia. She had an older, maternal half-brother by the first marriage of Placidia to Ataulf of the Visigoths. Theodosius, her half-brother, was born in Barcelona by the end of 414. Theodosius died early in the following year, thus eliminating an opportunity for a Romano-Visigothic line. Honoria also had a full brother, Valentinian III. He was born in 419. The history of Paul the Deacon mentions Honoria first when mentioning the children of the marriage, suggesting she was the eldest.

    Honoria’s Mother

    Placidia was the daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius I and his second wife Galla.[4] Her older brother Gratian died young. Her mother died in childbirth in 394, giving birth to John, who died with their mother.[5] Placidia was a younger, paternal half-sister of Emperors Arcadius and Honorius. Her older half-sister Pulcheria predeceased her parents as mentioned in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa, placing the death of Pulcheria prior to the death of Aelia Flaccilla, first wife of Theodosius I, in 385. Her paternal grandparents were Count Theodosius and his wife Thermantia, as mentioned in the “Historia Romana” by Paul the Deacon. Her maternal grandparents were Valentinian I and his second wife Justina, as mentioned by Jordanes.

    Honoria’s Life

    She was reputed to have been ambitious and promiscuous, using her sexuality to advance her interests. She regarded her brother as weak and indolent. She seduced his royal chamberlain, Eugenius, and they plotted to murder her brother and take over the crown. However, their plot was discovered and Eugenius was executed while Honoria was sent to live in a convent in Constantinople. Only the influence of their mother Galla Placidia convinced Valentinian to exile Honoria rather than kill her.

    Honoria and Attila

    Honoria made a number of unsuccessful attempts to escape from the nunnery, and her brother decided to marry her to a Roman senator. Honoria sought the aid of Attila the Hun. She sent the Hunnish king a plea for help – and her engagement ring – in the spring of 450. Though Honoria may not have intended a proposal of marriage, Attila chose to interpret her message as such. He accepted, asking for half of the western Empire as dowry. When Valentinian discovered the plan, again only the influence of his mother Galla Placidia convinced him to exile, rather than kill, Honoria. He also wrote to Attila strenuously denying the legitimacy of the supposed marriage proposal.

    For years Attila had been planning to invade Rome and Honoria’s letter gave him the excuse to make his move. Attila sent an emissary to Ravenna to proclaim that Honoria was innocent, that the proposal had been legitimate, and that he would come to claim what was rightfully his. He duly invaded Roman territory in 451 using the excuse that he was a “wronged husband.”
    Rome was able to survive the attack with the help of a nomadic tribe, the Visigoths.

    Attila never rescued Honoria and she was ultimately sent back to Rome to face her brother. He did not want to cause a scandal by executing her and was not willing to exile her again. In the end Honoria was married off to an elderly Roman senator, Bassus Herculanus, the outcome that she had brought on so much disorder in trying to avoid.

    Nothing of her latter life is recorded.

    The sources for Honoria’s life are Merobaudes, Carmina, I; Priscus, fragments 2, 7, 8, De legibus gentium; John of Antioch, frag. 84 De insidiis; and Jordanes, Get. 223‑224, Rom. 328.


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