Posted by: ken98 | September 2, 2011

Gilded Skull Cups, Roman Judges, and the Death of Justinian

Day 719 – Ken here (F)(9-2-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.44,45, pp.840-850)(pages read: 1900)

A short day after the mega days which preceded it –

We finally finish the very long and unexpected Chapter 44 on Gibbon’s Cliff Notes on Roman Civil Law, and start Chapter 45 Justinian’s successors, beginning with his nephew Justin II.

The Story
  • Originally (in dist antiquity-almost myth) court & judges = assembly of all people
  • Gibbon makes a good point, when an entire legislature makes judicial decisions, its hard to tell the difference between PARDON and ACQUITTAL – indeed both look alike
  • Then, Praetors=judges
  • Then, a pool of 1000 Senators/Knights were the source for judges – a group of various numbers would be drawn and they would serve as a combination jury/judge – a majority vote decided the case
  • All this was under the Republic, under the empire, a single magistrate app’d by the emperor would be judge and jury
  • Under Roman Law, instead of DEATH, if you anticipated the verdict by voluntary EXILE, you were not pursued – since the worst thing you could do to yourself in an ancient city-state was to dis-associate yourself from the GODS of your fathers – as youd have NO RIGHTS anywhere else – often by EXILE, you allowed your kin to inherit your property as if you were dead – this was changed later, and exile did nothing to exonerate your family or prevent the appropr of all your wealth
  • Suicide was considered an admission of guilt
  • Gibbon notes – while SINGLE MAGISTRATES make for wonderfully efficient judicial processes, he recommends judiciaries which are hampered (and this is very English, and American actually of him) by endless appeals and adjournments to throw sand in the gears of justice and protect the innocent from the erroneous energy of a too-efficient court system

    Death of Justinian (11-14-565), Ascension of Justin II (11-565 -> 12-574) 9 years
  • Justinian dies, childless, 7 nephews were available, educated, and ready, and only one – Justin (45yo), son of his sister Vigilantia
  • He is awakened in the middle of the night by members of the Senate, advised by his wife to accept, acclaimed by the palace guards (raised on a shield), and acclaimed again by the Greens and Blues in the Hippodrome (by the crowds), and crowned by the Patriarch – thus the big Byzantine 4: Army, Senate, Patriarch, and People – all did it in agreement
  • Justin II revives the consulship – for himself this 1st year – Justinian had stopped naming consuls in 541 (25 years earlier) – after this it becomes part of the first-year traditional office an emperor takes upon accession

    Justin II and the Avars (566)
  • Avars send embassy to Justin II, in which Justin overawes them with elaborate court ceremonial and refuses to send them further money
  • The Avars attack Frankish tribes with mixed results
  • Alboin, King of the Lombards asks the Avars to join him in destroying the Gepids instead
  • All of this is TYPICAL BYZANTINE MANEUVERING – WHY FIGHT THE BARBARIANS when they will destroy each other for you?

    The Lombards, the Avars, the EXTINCION of the entire race of the Gepids (566)
  • Lombards and Avars attack the Gepids and take the kingdom
  • Gepids are either slaves, or absorbed into the larger kingdom
  • Alboin, King of the Lombards, had the defeated king’s skull made into a cup – a practice – the Skull Cup which apparently has a long history


    Cunismund's head

    Illustration of King Cunismund's head after his defeat at the hands of the Lombards and their king Alboin (if he's hard to see - look closely - he is the goblet, the inverted top of his skull is the cup part of the goblet) - Sebastian Münster Cosmographia (Basel, 1550) page 193, text about the Lombards and illustration of Alboins famous skull cup


    Last Word…
    Byzantine Consul

    I couldn't resist, a gorgeous and very expensive piece of Byzantine art - and at the very end of the office of consul, in another 20 years or so, there will be no more consuls - A beautiful Consular Diptych of Flavius Anastasius Paulus Probus Sabinianus Pompeius (consul 517 AD) (from WIKI) in consular garb, holding a sceptre and the mappa, a piece of cloth used to signal the start of chariot races at the Hippodrome - Ivory panel from his consular diptych


    The Ever-Changing Consulship

    The consul is one of the identifying offices of the Roman Republic, and later the Roman Empire. Originally, the 2 consuls, elected for one year, were the annual “Presidents” of the state – the highest magistracy of Republican Rome (under the seldom-used office of Dictator). The consuls gave their names to the years – thus from
    509 BCE through 541 there was a pretty much continuous list of consuls to use for dating (see List of Roman Consuls) – that’s almost 1000 years of dating by government officals – a very long record.

    Under the empire, the emperor often had the consulship, but wealthy citizens vied to get it (your name was forever remembered by it – well, at least until the empire fell – either in 476 or 1453). The only problem with it was the expense – you were expected to give outrageously expensive games and festivals and handouts upon your accession to the office and the imperial government often had to step in to help, SIGNIFICANTLY – in one case, 80,000 lbs of gold – which in purchasing power would be between 2 and 4 BILLION dollars – enough to wipe out a century of family savings even for the uber-wealthy senators of Late Antiquity – (See Suppression of Consulship)

    On the other hand, think of what it would have been like living in a city with an ANNUAL FESTIVAL that cost the government 4 BILLION dollars to put on – EACH YEAR. It kind of makes you think – the IMMENSE WEALTH that Rome had available to it, in the form of a monstrously efficient tax system and a skilled bureacracy. No wonder the barbarians wanted in (after visiting Constantinople on some diplomatic mission or as mercenaries). And no wonder it all fell apart so quickly. No barbarian nation would work its fingers to the bone like Romans would to “keep up” the Romanitas.

    Late Antique Rome – and we would do well to remember this – was a MARVEL TO BEHOLD.

    The Greek word for “consul” (a Latin word – remember, and the East was a Greek-speaking place – well, Greek, Syriac, Egyptian-speaking place – but educated people wrote/read Greek) was “hypatos”. Why is this important? Because our highly-charged, high-prestige office of “hypatos” was, by the 9th century, with the HUGE AMOUNT OF Title-Inflation that took place, given out constantly to the highest and the lowest with the result that “everyone” was a consul. And so, no one was a consul. The title finally was dis-used, and retired (so to speak) in 887, thus ending its nearly 1300 year run.

    Justin II

    Gold Semissis of Justin II


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