Posted by: ken98 | April 28, 2010

Navy-less Rome Gets and Loses a Navy, and Roman Emperors Disguised as Spies

Day 229 – Ken here (W)(4-28-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.36 pp.370-380)(pages read: 1470)

Little tired out today – so a short day history-wise.

We spend almost the entire day in the pleasant company of a decent gentleman and an interesting man – the emperor Majorian (457-461). An unexpected pleasure in this, the extreme twilight of Rome in the West. Gibbon loves him. You’ll love him.

The Story
 
Character of Majorian
 
  • Majorian – initially liked by all
  • Career: father was capable, just administrator in Gaul, adherent of Aetius, Majorian was brought up in the army of Aetius
  • Intimate friend of the barbarian Count Ricimer
  • Although the small nature of Roman arms and victories is revealed by Sidonius Apollinaris’s panegyric of Majorian in which the victory of Romans over 900 barbarians is celebrated – well – it was something at least – and a victory – an unusual occurrence in Late Roman history
  •  

    Majorian Inferred Through Majorian’s Laws
     
  • He provided for a general amnesty of all tax liabilities – utterly forgiven – at the beginning of his reign – you have to know some history of tax law to appreciate this – taxes could (and did) go in arrears for 40 straight years – if no one even farmed the land and everyone were dead or slaves, the tax liability continued. The Roman empire enforced tax liabilities from CENTURIES BEFORE – it had a long memory. So this was a RATIONAL and ECONOMICALLY healthy solution
  • For tax collection – Majorian restored the local magistrates as tax collectors, rather than the professional privatized tax collectors who collected taxes + commission
  • the Municipal corporations (CITY SENATES) were no longer responsible for the entire amount – just the accounting of it – a BIG CHANGE – and one which IF ALLOWED TO CONTINUE might have re-vitalized the entire empire – before this, people who were running the cities were actually running away and leaving their estates because the taxes they were resp for (the taxes for the whole city itself) were ruinous – it was ACTUALLY a criminal penalty – if you did certain crimes, your penalty was to be ENROLLED as a part of the CITY SENATE
  •  

    Majorian’s Gaul Campaign – Defeats Theodoric, Brings in Barbarian Allies By the Tribe-ful
     
  • Majorian takes the field (457) with barbarian troops, persuades Gaul to allow him to pass through on Roman roads (Roman cities were actually refusing to allow the emperor with his barbarian troops to pass – we really already are seeing the Roman Empire as a thing of the past – past preterite to be precise)
  • Majorian defeats Theodoric and makes an alliance with him – already Spain and Gaul are practically independent kingdoms in all but word. These are Kingdoms pretending to be provinces
  •  

    Majorian’s African (Vandal) Campaign – The Beginning and End of the Fleet
     
  • Majorian refuses all entreaties by Genseric the Vandal to NOT go to war and prepares a fleet in Spain at great expense
  • Majorian visits Carthage in disguise as his own ambassador to see Vandal naval fortifications/yards
  • Majorian, unfortunately, has his fleet sabotaged and sunk while still riding at harbor in Cartagena
  • The public clamors for his fall as loudly as they clamored to support him before
  •  

    Majorian Deposed by Count Ricimer (Barbarian General) – Ricimer Raises Non-Entity Severus
     
  • Count Ricimer has Majorian renounce the emperorship near Tortona at a camp near the Alps, 5 days later reports his death of dysentery
  • Count Ricimer appoints Libius Severus as emperor (461-467)
  • Libius Severus = non-entity: Gibbon says “At his command the obsequious senate of Rome bestowed the Imperial title on Libius Severus, who ascended the throne of the West without emerging from the obscurity of a private condition. History has scarcely deigned to notice his birth, his elevation, his character, or his death. Severus expired as soon as his life became inconvenient to his patron; and it would be useless to discriminate his nominal reign in the vacant interval of six years between the death of Majorian and the elevation of Anthemius
  •  

     

    Coin of Majorian.  Majorian rose through the help of the Count Ricimer and attempted through legislation to reverse many of the disastrous tendencies of Late Roman life - decreasing tax base, decreasing political control over imperial lands

    Coin of Majorian. Majorian rose through the help of the Count Ricimer and attempted through legislation to reverse many of the disastrous tendencies of Late Roman life - decreasing tax base, decreasing political control over imperial lands. Gibbon loved him.

    That Irascible Old Emperor – Majorian – Favorite of Gibbon and Mostly Unknown
     

    Majorian is known mostly through his laws, but also through contemporary historians. Mostly he is unknown. But it is nice in this topsy-turvy world we find ourselves in (with barbarian kingdoms pretending to be provinces, and provinces being run – almost like privatizing pieces of the empire – by barbarian nations), to find an old-fashioned emperor with an old-fashioned problem – what to do about Carthage?

    As to the law – the ones that future generations thought worthy of saving and keeping as models were preserved in the Theodosian Code (Justinian would later revise this and codify it in a form which is used even down to the present – indeed the laws of the emperors of Rome are used in the U.S. – they are the fundamental basis of laws in Louisiana – which bases its law on the Napoleonic Code – which uses as its base – Roman law). Majorian had Nine laws added under his name – Gibbon notes he (Gibbon) was one of the first to appreciate him (Majorian) and his laws. Sidonius Apollinarus (the poet), Procopius (the historian), Florus, Jornandes (the Gothic historian) and Priscus (the man who documented the trip to Attila’s court) all give us pictures of Majorian.

     
     
     

    Last Word…
    Coin of Genseric, the Vandal King (a siliqua).  Genseric unwittingly entertained the disguised emperor of the Romans (Majorian) when Majorian pretended to be his own ambassador on a fact-finding mission to Vandal Carthage

    Coin of Genseric, the Vandal King (a siliqua). Genseric unwittingly entertained the disguised emperor of the Romans (Majorian) when Majorian pretended to be his own ambassador on a fact-finding mission to Vandal Carthage

    The Masked King – Majorian Puts One Over On the Vandal King Genseric (Who had Just Carted Off Every Thing of Value Out of the City of Rome)
     

    Majorian decides to attack Carthage (and the Vandals – who have just made off with all of the city of Rome’s wealth and many of its citizens as slaves) – but needs to build a fleet to do it first. This is revealing of many things: 1) the Romans no longer had a viable navy, 2) the idea of building one was revolutionary (hadn’t been done since the 1st time Rome built a navy, 700 years earlier – they couldn’t use barbarians, barbarians didn’t have any navies either), 3)The ship-building and naval command were gone from Roman life also – the fleet of 300 vessels was easily destroyed at anchor in Cartagena, Spain by Vandal saboteurs.

    Also unusual in this whole episode – is the unusual idea of Rome actually defending itself – with its own military might – and not relying on foreign auxiliaries to do the dirty work. Majorian is said to have actually done some field research-work by disguising himself and venturing into the Vandal capital at Carthage (the whole idea was so new, the emperor himself had to go and supervise military espionage operations in the enemy camp). Things have sure changed in the last 100 years. The time and reign of Julian (360’s) seems like a distant memory of a foreign empire.

    This from Gibbon:

    The intrepid countenance of Majorian animated his troops with a confidence of victory; and if we might credit the historian Procopius, his courage sometimes hurried him beyond the bounds of prudence. Anxious to explore with his own eyes the state of the Vandals, he ventured, after disguising the colour of his hair, to visit Carthage in the character of his own ambassador: and Genseric was afterwards mortified by the discovery that he had entertained and dismissed the emperor of the Romans. Such an anecdote may be rejected as an improbable fiction, but it is a fiction which would not have been imagined unless in the life of a hero.

    and this from the footnote:

    Note 050
    Procopius de Bell. Vandal. 1. i. c. 7, p. 194 [tom. i. p. 341, ed. Bonn]. When Genseric conducted his unknown guest into the arsenal of Carthage, the arms clashed of their own accord. Majorian had tinged his yellow locks with a blackcolour.

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.36, p.379, fn.50)

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    1. […] before 7 decades earlier (Eastern Rome’s Leo’s Armada headed by Basiliscus in 468 and Western Rome’s Majorian’s sabotaged fleet preparations in […]


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