Posted by: ken98 | June 7, 2011

Scots in Turkey, Modern Defenses in Byzantium, and Gibbon’s in Error

Day 634 – Ken here (T)(6-7-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.40 pp.600-610)(pages read: 1660)

The walls of Anastasius's and  Justinian's model fortress-city Dara today - abandoned after the Arab conquest 150 years later when the Persian-Roman border became irrelevant (because there was no longer a Persian-Syrian Roman border to fuss and fight over

The walls of Anastasius's and Justinian's model fortress-city Dara today - abandoned after the Arab conquest 150 years later when the Persian-Roman border became irrelevant (because there was no longer a Persian-Syrian Roman border to fuss and fight over)

Really tired, and doing this really late (like 1 A.M), so… sorry there’s not more pictures, and that it’s not a little more concise.

We continue with a review of Justinian’s incredible and expensive and expansive fortifications of pretty much every boundary of his empire – this while prosecuting a couple of major wars of conquest in the West, a long defensive one in the East, re-tooling the entire law structure of Rome, and dealing with an empire full of petty (but probably not as talented) courtiers like Procopius.

Gibbon spits on his efforts, although in general he LIKES Justinian. I think we’re starting to get a little reflexive-Byzantine-hating on the Gibbonian front – something which will JUST GET WORSE as we progress through the last 1400 pages.


The Story
  • Remember, Procopius is writing about Justinian in his PRAISE in Proc. “Buildings”, but condemning him for bankrupting the empire with needless bldg expenses in Proc. “Secret History” – Gibbon alternately praises and condemns Just.
  • It really gets my goat – the Later Roman Empire can NEVER WIN in the eyes of some historians – if they build and fortify against invasion they are retreating, if they don’t build and fortify they are luxury-loving and lazy and deserve to “fall” – this isn’t history, its name-calling on a kindergarten playground – Gibbon joins right in
  • Fortifications in Europe are along the Danube frontier – Justinian basically turns the Danube into a Cold War Zone, armed to the teeth with walls, forts, military bridges, etc, and a Defense In Depth (see below also) (which Gibbon doesn’t get at all)
  • Gibbon briefly mentions the Long Wall of Anastasius of Constantinople – 40 miles west of the city (to Gibbon yet another example of an indefensible defensive structure – but actually again, a delaying tactic) – pieces still exist today

    Justinian-Fortifications-Africa, Brief History of Isaurians
  • Turkish Scotsmen – Isaurians are considered (by Gibbon) to be the pirates within the Roman empire (living in S. Turkey) a rough, independent, militant hill people prone to vendetta and raiding, but fiercely proud of their independence – kind of like the SCOTS of the BRITISH ISLES – and a thorn in the side of Eastern Rome
  • The German Barbarian Generals (at the end of the 400’s) HAVE taken over the Western Empire, and SEEM ABOUT to take over the Eastern Empire, when the Isaurian pirates save the day – in the form of the emperor ZENO, an Isaurian
  • Later (492-498) the Isaurians are hunted and killed and retreat again to their mountain forts

    Justinian-Fortifications-Black Sea through Armenia to Mesopotamia
  • AFRICA – Justinian fortifies Egypt (Tanais) against the Ethiopians – you forget he had a HUGE AREA to defend
  • ASIA – J. constructs the long walls of the Crimea (way up north under Russia) to protect the FRIENDLY Goths –
  • ASIA – J. constructs forts – Trebizond (on shores of Black Sea) in a 500 mile arc into Iran (the fortess of Circessium)
  • ASIA – Armenia and Mesopotamia fortified – the famous five/li>
  • The Persian frontier was the most dangerous – the Persians were every bit as disciplined and organized as the Romans and were the real threat to Constantinople

    Persian Wars – Death of Peroz I (488), Khavad’s Wars with Justinian (502-505)
  • Persia – Shah Peroz dies (488) fighting the Hephthalites or White Huns, who reduce Persia to a tributary state for 15 years – Until the Huns are driven out – civil wars ensue
  • Persia – Kavadh, son of Peroz, recovers the throne from his uncle Barash with the help of the White Huns
  • Persia – Kavadh wars with Justinian (502-505) ending the 80 years of peace that the Romans and Persians had during most of the 400’s – he takes, then ransoms back to Anastasius many towns he took and sacked – Theodosiopolis, Martryopolis, Amida – ends war with a treaty

    Anastasius Founds Dara (Early 500’s) and the Contentious and Fabulous Caspian Gates
  • Anastasius – to confound the treaty founds a brand-new city – Dara just 14 miles from the border and the Persian city of Nisibis – once the strongest town in Roman Mesopotamia – but (if you remember) was ceded to the Persians when Julian died in the 360’s by Jovian to cement a hasty peace and his rule at the same time
  • Dara was built with cutting-edge fortifications with double walls and triple moats in places – it remained Roman through the 560’s
  • The Caspian Gates – actually 2 places in Northern Iran where nomadic peoples were funneled between the Caspian Sea and mountains from the vast steppes of Asia down into Iran and the valleys of the Tigris/Euphrates/and valleys of Turkey
  • The Gates are always a matter of contention to the Romans/Persians because the Romans pay money to the Persians to man them and keep the secure against nomadic incursions – altho this seems like a convenient excuse just to get “tribute” money from Constantinople in a form that leaves the Byzantines some respect – the Persians ACTUALLY DO GUARD THE GATES – so maybe theres more truth to the Roman expectation and the Persian action than what seems likely 1500 years after the fact to total strangers

    The Five Famous Cities of the Persian Frontier – Amida, Edessa, Theodosiopolis, Martyropolis, Dara
  • I love borders, frontiers, the littoral – the in-between things that lie in the middle of two well-defined things – that’s usually where all the interesting action is – and the border between Persia and Rome in the 500’s is a very interesting place, socially, religiously and culturally – the 5 cities just fascinate me (KEN) so I put them here
  • Theodosiopolis – now called Erzerum – the “Land of the Romans” in Arabic!
  • Martyropolis
  • Amida now called Diyarbakir
  • Edessa called Urfa or Sanliurfa
  • Dara, Anastasius’s and Justinian’s model-fortress city – now abandoned


    Map of location of Isauria (in Turkey, central southern coast - from The Classical Atlas 1886 Keith Johnston

    Map of location of Isauria (in Turkey, central southern coast - from The Classical Atlas 1886 Keith Johnston


    Defense in Depth - a U.S. Navy version  - showing LAYERS of protection, the outer for DELAY giving way to the inner to allow more mobile forces to ENTRAP the INTRUDERS.  This is the strategy of Justinian's HUGE building program along the Northern frontiers of the empire

    Defense in Depth - a U.S. Navy version - showing LAYERS of protection, the outer for DELAY giving way to the inner to allow more mobile forces to ENTRAP the INTRUDERS. This is the strategy of Justinian's HUGE building program along the Northern frontiers of the empire


    Last Word…
    The “Enlightened” But Wrong Idea of the Silliness of Defense In Depth


    Gibbon and Montesquieu – representing the “Enlightened” viewpoint just do not get Defense in Depth. Once more this is an example to me of the hubris of historians (and intellectuals/academics) who have clever opinions (that play well in salons and over cocktails among their own set) but that just happen to be the absolute opposite of what is true in reality. Of course, pure uneducated commonsense can be equally, frustratingly bigoted and ignorant.

    The smart thing for the historian or the academic is to assume, FIRST, that POSSIBLY, the people alive at the time might KNOW SOMETHING about their situation. Gibbon and possibly Montesquieu share the fatuous, self-satisfied Enlightenment prejudice that all men before their time were idiots and just a little silly. This from Gibbon:

    The fortifications of Europe and Asia were multiplied by Justinian; but the repetition of those timid and fruitless precautions exposes, to a philosophic eye, the debility of the empire. (111)

    (DEF II, vol.4, ch.40, p.600)
    and in the footnote (where, as usual, he bares his soul even more plainly):

    Note 111
    Montesquieu observes, (tom. iii. p. 503, Considerations sur la Grandeur et la Decadence des Romains, c. xx.,) that Justinian’s empire was like France in the time of the Norman inroads – never so weak as when every village was fortified.]

    (DEF II, vol.4, ch.40, p.600, fn.111)

    A very typical “French” witticism – pithy, reasonable and oh-so-clever – but of little practical use whatsoever.

    Gibbon’s next sentence begins to raise doubt upon doubt (at least to the modern reader – well, me, I suppose) as to how “expert” Gibbon and Montesquieu are in area of military defense strategy.

    Single watch-towers were changed into spacious citadels; vacant walls, which the engineers contracted or enlarged according to the nature of the ground, were filled with colonies or garrisons; a strong fortress defended the ruins of Trajan’s bridge, and several military stations affected to spread beyond the Danube the pride of the Roman name. But that name was divested of its terrors; the Barbarians, in their annual inroads, passed, and contemptuously repassed, before these useless bulwarks; and the inhabitants of the frontier, instead of reposing under the shadow of the general defence, were compelled to guard, with incessant vigilance, their separate habitations. The solitude of ancient cities, was replenished; the new foundations of Justinian acquired, perhaps too hastily, the epithets of impregnable and populous; and the auspicious place of his own nativity attracted the grateful reverence of the vainest of princes

    (DEF II, vol.4, ch.40, p.600)


    The Very Best Theories, the Very Best Evidence
    is Often Given By Your Opponents
    In History

    The best way, sometimes, to see the truth (as a historian) – and ONE OF THE MOST SATISFYING WAYS is to have a source vehemently espouse the exact opposite of what you believe to be true, and then (unknowingly and accidentally) by their arguments prove themselves false. This is Gibbon’s situation with Justinian’s defenses – Gibbon just DID NOT UNDERSTAND. But, in giving his testimony to the FOOLISHNESS of Justinian’s plan, Gibbon proves Justinian’s intelligence and his own ignorance – how is this? Defense In Depth.

    Defense In Depth is (from Wiki)

    Defence in depth (also known as deep or elastic defence) is a military strategy; it seeks to delay rather than prevent the advance of an attacker, buying time and causing additional casualties by yielding space. Rather than defeating an attacker with a single, strong defensive line, defence in depth relies on the tendency of an attack to lose momentum over a period of time or as it covers a larger area. A defender can thus yield lightly defended territory in an effort to stress an attacker’s logistics or spread out a numerically superior attacking force. Once an attacker has lost momentum or is forced to spread out to pacify a large area, defensive counter-attacks can be mounted on the attacker’s weak points with the goal being to cause attrition warfare or drive the attacker back to its original starting position.
    The idea of defence in depth is now widely used to describe multi-layered or redundant protections for non-military situations, both tactical and strategic.

    Defense in Depth was a rational and planned response to the Roman’s need to defend a very long frontier, against very numerous barbarians, who attacked at random, but lacked the foresight or discipline to truly stage a campaign. Used since Constantine, the idea was to have a very mobile field army in the interior, an expendable, and only delay-enforcing force right on the frontier, and fortified positions all along the frontier in LAYERS. Justinian inherited the two types of legions – field and border legions, he brought the process to a culmination by intelligently and systematically turning the Northern Balkans and the Line of the Danube into one continuous, multi-layered defensive machine.

    A very rational, very cost-effective solution to an empire with smaller armies and smaller tax bases.

    After all, Justinian understood this stuff, HE WAS FROM THE FRONTIER Tauresium – later Justiniana Prima and had firsthand knowledge of what it was like living on the frontier.


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