Posted by: ken98 | July 4, 2011

Roman Raping in Africa and Italy, Totila and the Ostrogothic Underground, and Impractical Poetry

Day 661 – Ken here (M)(7-4-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.42 pp.730-740)(pages read: 1790)


(a pic of a crotchet)


Ken: a hot, summer day here, all the fans going under a cloudless blue sky – a grand day for the Fourth of July here in the States.

Gibbon: a day when Africa rebels, and Italy rebels, multiple times, and with a great profusion of violence and the spilling of ink.

I have to ask, in what sense are these places (Italy and North Africa) Roman again, since they both shift loyalties (away from Rome) so quickly and for such long periods? Italy won’t be completely retaken until the early 550’s, and then will be utterly lost 15 years or so later to the Lombards (except for Rome and Ravenna and some other cities and ports). North Africa will be pacified but desolate in a few decades, but 70 years afterwards will fall to the Muslim Jihad, where it will remain to this day.

You know, if you actually start to graph out (which I promise to do someday) the years of Pax Romana for different regions of the Mediterranean, you only get the stray 50 year periods here and there where the “empire” really was an “empire” in the sense we think of it – the rest of the time it was a hodgepodge of regions with differing levels of loyalty to the centralized state. But I digress…


(another pic of a crotchet) - all three (the two pics and me) are crotchety today

And except for a brief tirade, we are introduced to Totila (real name Baduila – Romans – read: Procopius – are NOTORIOUS at getting “barbarian” names wrong) – who will bring Italy out of imperial hands starting with only 1000 men in Pavia.

Oh, and we start a new chapter today – the Great 42nd – great because it ends with such a metaphysical bang! – Gibbon describes the end of this chapter by the sub-topics “…Extinction of the Ostrogoths. Defeat of the Franks and Alemanni. Last Victory, Disgrace, and Death of Belisarius. Death and Character of Justinian. Comets, Earthquakes, and Plague.” Death, comets, earthquakes, and plague – D.C.E.& P. sounds like an apocalyptic law firm.

The Story
AFRICA: Roman Rape of Africa, Army Rebellion (535-545)
  • Gibbon opens with a poetic description of the health of the empire (see below) – driving me into a frenzy
  • As usual, once a terr. becomes a province again, it is taxed RUTHLESSLY and CORRUPTLY in the Late Antique Roman Manner – poss the problem is (me talking) there are no GREAT MEN at COURT to defend the newly-conquered ESTATES in N Africa from rapacious tax collectors – thus N Africa is naked to raw imperial power unlike other provinces of the empire
  • Also, Arian “heretics” lose all rights under Catholic Justinian and so are ripe to rebel, and Just. fails to pay the troops or relieve them, or give them estates which they feel theyre entitled to after marrying Vandal widows and daughters and thinking they were going to inherit vast former Vandal estates
  • <li>Riots in Carthage, revolt of the Roman soldiers (mainly Heruli?) and 10 years of violence ensues

  • Stoza (private soldier) becomes leader, governors of Africa (Solomon the Eunuch, his nephews Cyrus and Sergius) try to handle it but cant – Belisarius briefly returns, order restored, Stoza goes off to Moors, returns after Bel leaves
  • Romans continue raping Africa – Gontharis – a Vandal – reigns for 30 days, Gibbon points out killed by an Armenian prince in Roman Army – Atraban of the Arsaces – ex. of the Great Roman Melting Pot

    AFRICA: Rebellion of the Moors in Africa (543-558)
  • Now, Moors rebel too, Solomon and his nephews treat them badly (80 Moors killed at a banquet treacherously by Romans)
  • Moors now on virtuous mission against treacherous Romans – Battle of Tebeste, Solomon and whole Roman army wiped out
  • N. Africa depopulated – province loses its rich character of Antiquity – Carthage, Phoenicians, St Augustine, Rome, Breadbasket of Rome, and starts to look more Medieval, deserted and desolate – of course the PLAGUE of 541 wiped out 1/4-1/3 of everyone also, the war and Roman Tax Collectors did the rest
  • Italy was to follow a similar fate…

    ITALY: Revolt of Goths, Election of Totila (real name Baduila) (540)
  • Immediately after conquest, a few Goths in Pavia vow restoration of the Ostrogothic Kingdom – as you’d expect – after Bel. fooled them into handing over their king and Bel. NOT becoming the King of the Goths
  • Among the Goths various intrigues and murders happen (incl hoping to rope Visigothic Spain and Theudes into the Italian Gothic struggle), and eventually an Ostrogothic nephew of the last king Witiges – TOTILA is elected – starts out with 1000 men and Pavia</li>


    ITALY: Initial Victories of Totila, and his Character compared to the Romans (541-544)
  • 11 Roman Generals of equal rank rule Italy after Bel. is removed – to fight in PERSIA which we’ve seen already
  • Artabazus, a captured Persian, fighting for the Romans (MELTING POT AGAIN), takes Verona with 100 Persians, but TOTILA takes it back
  • Battle of Mugello – 20,000 Romans meet Ostrogoths – at 1st attack, they throw down arms – problem w/Romans – fight with ill-equipped, underpaid mercenaries – a large paper strength of legions but no real actual strength
  • Ignoring the bigger cities (Ravenna, Florence, Rome) TOTILA goes for and takes NAPLES, then all the South
  • Once Again, the Ruthless Tax Collectors (a constant theme of Procopius) brutalized the newly-conquered, exhausted Italian provinces – so the Romans FLOCK TO THE GOTHS
  • SIEGE OF NAPLES: Just. sends Thracians and Armenians, but land in Sicily, and General of Sicily sends little or no or tardy aid to Naples, any aid sent=intercepted by Goths – Naples asks for 1 month before surrendering, TOTILA gives 3, and TOTILA still wins
  • TOTILA takes cities, but is abs fair towards populace, encourages industry, reduces taxes extr, offers justice, and prosperity to the Roman rapacity – Gibbon goes on for a page on TOTILA’s many and manifold virtues
  • TOTILA also razes ALL THE WALLS OF THE CITIES HE TAKES – why? a mercy to the inhabitants – a wall-less city cannot be defended, cannot be besieged by an enemy army, so it must succumb peaceably to whomever occupies it – the city is no longer a military target – another example of TOTILA placing the welfare of ITALIANS above his own SUCCESS as the RULER OF ITALY – ie willing to lose cities to save Italians lives and property in the process

    ITALY: Just. sends Belisarius – Troop-less, Money-less, He Land Twice (544-548)
  • 1st Landing of Belisarius: Bel. recalled from PERSIA, sent to ITALY without troops or money, leaves from SPLIT (Diocletian’s old palace) in Illyricum
  • Bel. Harangues the citizens, makes many promises, but accomplishes nothing – all S. ITALY sides with TOTILA at this point – and much of the countryside – Empire holds major cities and ports and fortresses only
  • 2nd Landing of Belisarius: – assembles troops at Dyrrhachium (Durres in Albania) – wisely decides NOT to force the Appian way across the mountains, goes round the boot and arrives in ITALY at Tyber – mouth of the Tiber – near Rome</li>
  • we are about to start the many taking/retaking/besieging/being besieged of ROME which will leave (at one point) Rome with a population of zero


    Coin of Totila - as Totila took over the Roman South he also gained the Roman Tax Revenues - or portions thereof - here is a coin of hisfrom a stolen coin registry - - stolen in March of 2004

    Coin of Totila - as Totila took over the Roman South he also gained the Roman Tax Revenues - or portions thereof - here is a coin of his from a stolen coin registry - - stolen in March of 2004

    Me - nosing about for historical truth

    Me - nosing about for historical truth


    Last Word…
    A Brief Digression on the Practical versus the Poetical

    and a great many historians alive today) have the typical and standard reasons for political weakness in a society – poetically vague and ambiguous terms which refer to some nebulous state of societal health/growth/maturity. The observations are useless to anyone asking (the inevitable question) how could we (in my case 21st cent. Americans) avoid a similar fate?

    A Gibbonian example from today’s reading (of course, this IS a PRELUDE, and so a place for an author to display ELEGANT INSINUATION – but still…):

    The review of the nations from the Danube to the Nile has exposed, on every side, the weakness of the Romans; and our wonder is reasonably excited that they should presume to enlarge an empire whose ancient limits they were incapable of defending.

    But the wars, the conquests, and the triumphs of Justinian, are the feeble and pernicious efforts of old age, which exhaust the remains of strength, and accelerate the decay of the powers of life.

    He exulted in the glorious act of restoring Africa and Italy to the republic; but the calamities which followed the departure of Belisarius betrayed the impotence of the conqueror, and accomplished the ruin of those unfortunate countries.

    (DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.43, p.731)

    Very beautiful words and images, but are they true? What do I do, now that I know? What are the “powers of life” and how can I prevent them from decaying in me and in society as a whole?

    In other words, how does this PRACTICALLY relate to me?

    History to me is a Science, like Physics – a description of the world intended to be used.

    I have to admit – as a historian, the only reason I read history is to 1) try to ferret out the truth of what is being reported (for example in Procopius) – or what they thought was the truth and 2) (MOST IMPORTANTLY) APPLY EXAMPLES OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR FROM THE PAST to PRESENT SITUATIONS with a view to LEARNING FROM OUR OWN PAST, and OUR OWN MISTAKES/SUCCESSES.

    To some (maybe most) historians, this seems a quaintly naive, and foolish goal – every graduate student KNOWS that history is ENTIRELY SUBJECTIVE, and therefor WORTHLESS.

    But it has been my experience that most “historians” of such an opinion, have entered history from literature (in the case of Late Antiquity – Latin or Greek) and so view history as a kind of romance based loosely on actual people and actual events, but forever made opaque by the astonishing fact that EVERY PERSON HAS THEIR OWN SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATION OF WHATS HAPPENING AROUND THEM.

    Since all is “relative”, nothing is “absolute”, no historical truth is possible, and so you can write pretty much anything you want as a historian and no one can gainsay you or oppose your opinion. History kind of turns into a Deconstructionist, stream-of-consciousness, free-for-all, essay on WHAT I’M FEELING AS I READ THIS PAGE.

    To all that I say (in the spirit of Gibbons) Balderdash! (I love that word – Senseless Rubbish!) & Humbuggery! (another wizard of a word – Fraud or Nonsense!).

    Chalk all this up to crotchetiness, ill health, and a heat wave on the coast (altho i can be pretty crotchety (another interesting word – “full of barbed and hooked instruments”) in the winter too)…

    O.K. – a not so brief digression…

    anyways…back to our regularly scheduled program…


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