Posted by: ken98 | August 22, 2011

End of the 1300 Year Run of the Roman Senate and Final Victory in Italy

Day 708 – Ken here (M)(8-22-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.43 pp.750-760)(pages read: 1810)

Worn-out and zonked (a medieval Latin word for eyelid-draggingly tired), but on the mend – so onto the great, bright, sunny spot in Justinian’s senior years – his accomplishment of the actual reconquest of Italy (for 30 years).

A lot of editorializing in the “Last Word” – sorry about that – but its been a long time since I blogged Romanically, and this is such an important time for the development of the Europe that was to come.

Today we see the end of the German experiment in Italy – Justinian wins, but in the process substantially obliterates Roman Italy forever.

The way of synthesis, or Theodoric’s gradual melding of German Ostrogoth and Roman Senate ceases to be an option – both are wiped clean off the face of the earth – the Roman Senate and the strong German forces defending her.

After this, Italy is just another poor, frontier, imperial province, subject to continual barbarian raids (like the Balkans), and substantially lost to the Lombard invasions within a single generation of Justinian’s Pyrrhic victory.

The Story
The Final Battle – Justinian Prepares OVERWHELMING FORCE This Time – Takes Italy (549-551)
  • Sends Germanus, his nephew, Germ = not liked by Empr Theodora, but Theod is now dead, Germ=liked by all, temperate, loyal, most importantly LIBERAL WITH THE MONEY – they prepare the most massive regular army in the West
  • Assembles massively exp force – uses Artabanes (a Persian who formerly rose up against Just – but forgiven by Just and released from prison to command army – there are wheels within wheels here), Liberius, old but experienced given a command
  • March overland thru Balkans – on the point of departure – Germanus dies (549)
  • Narses the Eunuch takes over, same Narses that Belisarius argued with in the Italian campaign a decade or so before (12 years) – GIBBON SURPRISINGLY LIKES A EUNUCH in this case…
  • Artaban takes Sicily, Gothic navy defeated (Gibbon makes the point that the power that controls the sea controls the land – a very 1780’s BRITISH POV I’d say)
  • Narses uses LOMBARDS, Heruli, Huns (Dagistheus, also released from prison), Persians + Romans in his very expensive, overwhelming army
  • Narses advances towards Venetia overland, the Franks have overrun it and refuse passage to the Lombards, so Romans go by the seacoast, building bridges across the major rivers of Venetia, Tuscany- Totila rushes to meet them
  • Its interesting how many noble prisoners were used in this all-out, go-for-broke effort in Italy – it goes to show you, that if the empire REALLY wanted something, it could still get it


    Ostrogoth King Totila defeated and dies in Battle (July 552)
  • Battle of Taginae, or Busta Gallorum, Totila rushes up, uncertain now of loyalty of fickle Romans, but in a heroic battle, loses flower of his army (6000+ warriors) and his own life(
  • Narses moves quickly to take Rome – 5th TAKING OF ROME – Goths inside, Romans outside
  • Dismisses the Lombards, thanks them and ESCORTS THEM TO THE BORDER – as they are known to turn around and pillage at will (which they have already been doing) – they are still pagans – AND THEY WILL TAKE THE ITALIAN PENINSULA ANYWAYS IN 30 YEARS

    Next Ostrogoth king – Teias – goes down fighting (Mar 553)
  • Battle of Mons Lactarius – or the milky mount
  • In a heroic battle to the death, Teias decides to go down fighting against the OVERWHELMING forces of the Romans – with his death, effective Gothic resistance ended, and the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy came to an end
  • Lucca and Cumae fight on in the next year, but are reduced

    Roman Senate is No More – End of 1300 Year Run
  • Its not that its been ***officially*** disbanded – it’s that all the Senators are dead or gone missing – it has effectively VANISHED FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH
  • Sent off as hostages, killed, raped and enslaved, or voluntarily seeking a new life in the South, or back East, the Roman Senate ceases to be, literally, a body of men
  • A group of men, an oligarchy, that once had owned a great deal of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East thru private property laws of the Roman Empire have now lost everything – the slate is wiped clean – Europe is aborning

    The (Predictable) INVASIONS – The Franks/Alemanni (Aug 553)
  • Like an organism recovering from a nearly-fatal disease, the extremely weakened (economically) war-wracked peninsula of Italy is ripe for casual plunder – who (but Narses) is left to guard her
  • 2 younger noble Alemanni brothers, Lothaire and Buccelin, take a combined Germanic force of 75,000 for a late summer romp thru prostrate Italy – gathering up whatever moveable wealth remaining from the Gothic war chests and the Roman reconquest
  • This is just the beginning of a series of invasions, culminating in the Lombards taking of N. Italy in 30 or so years


    Its the 550's, the Roman Emperor Justinian has just reconquered Italy for Rome, and there isn't a Roman Senate to welcome him back - all of these men (the Senators)and their families are only memories now - dead or forgotten - Roman Senate - from the column of Augustus

    Its the 550's, the Roman Emperor Justinian has just reconquered Italy for Rome, and there isn't a Roman Senate to welcome him back - all of these men (the Senators)and their families are only memories now - dead or forgotten - Roman Senate - from the column of Augustus


    Last Word…


    Final Victory and the End of the Roman Senate – OR – Why Rome Fell (by Ken’s lights)

    It is always disconcerting to see the end of something that once seemed unassailable. Roman Italy and the Roman Senate had once decided the fate of powerful foreign kings by votes in their Senate House, but in the 550’s, not only were they powerless, they were non-existent. The old senatorial families no longer lived in Rome – they were dead, enslaved, poor and forgotten, or simply living elsewhere – it was over.

    How had this happened?

    Well, this is the whole point of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (and tangentially, to Americans, the whole point of the American Revolution whether we want to admit it or not) – how do you prevent your own group/country/nation from disappearing from the face of the Earth?

    The easy answer is the one always given for decline – ennervation, love of luxury, loss of will – but these ultimately offer no real solutions, they are just other ways of describing the problem: “they grew weak because they grew weak.” Circular reasoning makes for great political theater (legislating morality, crusades for justice and righteousness, sumptuary laws, etc etc) but isn’t much good for much else.

    Perhaps a more careful definition of terms (defining the problem) would help – if power is the ability to influence another’s behavior, then a loss of power in a society would be a sign of decline. What drove the Romans to conquer the entire known world? I would say it was three-fold: a Fame Economy Run Riot (i.e. for Romans, the only thing that counted was “winning” and “winning” meant getting people in the Roman Senate to fear/love/obey you), a Mediterranean World that was self-running, drastically decentralized, very diverse and rich (a group of cities and city-states – each with their own fame-economies), and an unconscious Roman choice to “own/run” nations with a very light touch – the minimum of expense, the maximum of income.

    That is NOT what the empire looks like in the mid 500’s.

    The combination of the three – a need for (only Roman Senate) acclamation/power, a thriving local economy, and a drive to rule with the lightest touch when things were going well, and the absolute heaviest punch when they weren’t – made the empire unstoppable.

    What the individual City State in the Roman Empire looked like

    What the individual City State in the Roman Empire looked like

    The substitution of a homogenized, centralized “empire” in place of a family of cities (Diocletian’s Dominate, the universal Catholic Church, the idea a person was Roman 1st, and a member of a city 2nd) killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The economic motor that drove the empire was the small units of the city – it was the invisible goose that was laying the eggs year after year. After the crisis of the 200’s, and the co-option of the city’s duties by the imperial government, the engine sputtered to a halt. Only massive top-down planning (the indictions, censuses,etc) jump-started the Mediterranean, but the city-based fame economy no longer did the pumping, the imperial government did. And if the imperial government faltered, the Mediterranean world’s heart skipped a beat.

    Perhaps, as Gibbon proposes, the “triumph” of Christianity had something to do with the decline and fall also. The local gods, the local curiae, the local fame economy were all intertwined in the ancient world. Substituting a universal god, a universal curiae (the empire) and a Mediterranean-wide aristocracy (imperial court offices) moved the emphasis from the specific and the local to the vaguely general and universal. Although, one has to say, a world-empire (Rome) and a world-church (Orthodox Christianity) accumulated wealth, money, land, and therefor power on a scale never imagined before or since. At least for a time. Until it all fell apart.

    So what is the moral of this story? (and what is a story without a moral?) Well, to me, (and looking at the U.S.), it’s self-evident – it’s the reason Americans have relatively powerful states and why Americans seem curiously ambivalent towards the well-being of the Federal Government at times. We fought a civil war to prove the Federal Government paramount over state’s rights, yet cripple and disparage Congress, the Executive, and the National Judicial freely. We were built to be dysfunctional at a national level, and bottom-heavy with regards to local government. Curiously like the Roman empire, the functioning empire at the beginning.

    And since all the power comes from a multitude of small things working generally in the same direction, the engine keeps on running.

    It’s not something we came up with ourselves, (I could go on about the British empire and the East India Company, unwritten constitutions, and the like), but it is a mindset we inherited, and chose to some extent. This, however is a blog about the Roman, and not the American (as Gore Vidal would say) Empire.

    Big is better, but small is where it happens. That big is better on a global scale is obvious, and the national government sometimes does a better job protecting groups of citizens from each other than local political bodies seem capable of (example – the Bill of Rights), but ultimately, the engine that makes a country run is the local engine. Dismiss that, and you cut off your own legs. Something smaller and less complex, but in larger numbers is sure to overwhelm you.

    The functioning, fame-economy Roman Senate had (and this is an obvious truism) disappeared a couple of centuries earlier, only no one had noticed it at the time. The Ostrogothic kingdom started a kind of revitalization of the Italian peninsula at a local level, but the “new Italy” was squashed before it had a chance to grow.

    Thus we have the hapless and helpless Italy of the 550’s, now very much just an impoverished province, re-joining the imperial family as a distant, poor, second cousin to Constantinople.

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