Posted by: ken98 | September 5, 2011

The Time of Legends – Alboin Conquers, Narses Revolts, Justin II Abdicates, Rosamund Assasinates and They All Die

Day 722 – Ken here (M)(9-5-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.45, pp.850-860)(pages read: 1910)

Time Bandits - another home of the Time Of Legends

No, not this Time of Legends, but the actual European Time of Legends - we are smack in the middle (or middle-towards-the-close) of the heroic German Folk-Wanderings, the mythical underpinnings of Northern Europe - Poster from Movie Time Bandits - 1981 - I just love this movie - I can still hear the voice of God "Return What You Have Stolen From Me" or "I am the Supreme Being, I'm Not Entirely Dim" - anyways... you had to be there - its a great film

Like the Time Bandits – today we venture into The Time of Legends.

And in the days to come we go deeper and deeper into the fairy-tale like stories which form the substantial framework for the later cultural *subconcsious* of Europe – the first barbarian kingdoms and the mad, valorous, and by turns painfully honorable and inventively cruel men and women who lived in them. Now, how’s that for a thesis statement?

Actually we review Alboin, the king of the Lombards, gathering together rowdy bands of German young men by the thousands and tens of thousands (not unlike a Spring Break Frat Party), and directing his entire nation (+ frat bros) at the newly re-enlisted imperial provinces of Italy. Narses (the eunuch, of Justinian’s and Belisarius’s time – now feeling more and more like a distant memory) is still Exarch of Ravenna (Italy) 15 years later, is spurned/deposed by the court in Constantinople and so withdraws to Naples leaving the peninsula undefended (well, except by the new and less-experienced Exarch Longinus).

We also see Justin II‘s brief (but praised) reign. And see (wonder of wonders) a reigning emperor abdicate, leaving his co-emperor (just recently elevated) Tiberius II Constantine in charge.

Altogether, a strange day. We are still in the twilight/dawn/intermediate times between Late Antiquity and Early Europe – but more and more we are (unfortunately, at least in my opinion) feeling more and more at home. Large puzzle pieces are beginning to click into place and Medieval Europe is not far behind. Lombard Italy (the last, and final, and successful) barbarian state is in control, and where it will remain – right down to the present (as the northern plains of Italy are called Lombardy to this day).

How quickly we have left Rome behind. Only 200 years ago (360’s), Julian was trying to reintroduce a quasi-paganism back as the state religion of the unified empire.

I don’t know – sometimes reading this part of Gibbon – sometimes it feels like Autumn, sometimes like Spring…


The Story
Alboin the Lombard Invades (Italy) (567)
  • Heroic tales of King Alboin still told 250 years later in days of Charlemagne among the Germans
  • Alboin remembers helping Narses conquer Italy from the Ostrogoths just 15 years earlier (Narses still in Italy as imperial exarch over peninsula)
  • Gepids, Bulgarians, Sarmatians, Bavarians (20,000 Saxons alone) accept Alboin’s invitation to come and despoil Italy
  • Leave their lands to the Avars, taking all possessions/families and moving en masse away from Danube and towards into Italy

    Narses, Rebellion and Death, Just in Time for the Lombards to Invade
  • Narses in charge for 15 years (by this time between 80 and 90 yo), accused of theft and accumlating a great treasure of gold (taxes etc)
  • Accused before new emp. Justin of avarice, Sophia empress insults him, he retreats to Naples and (supposedly) invites the Lombards to invade
  • Why is is EVERY INVASION of ITALY that SUCCEEDS is never the empire’s fault, but is caused by some man/woman INVITING barbarian forces in (and for silly, personal reasons)? (ex. Honoria asking Attila the Hun to invade Italy to avoid marriage, Eudoxia summoning the Vandals to Sack Rome a few years later in 455, etc)) – somehow I think they would have been capable to think up these enterprises on their own…
  • Longinus is sent out as the new Exarch of Ravenna over all Italy
  • Pope, army, people plead for Narses to return and fight, he agrees, but dies before he returns to Rome
  • A sad end (if its true) to a great man

    Alboin Conquers Italy (568-570)
  • Alboin takes Italy almost without a battle
  • Pavia puts up a resistance, he determines to level it, is stopped by supernatural events, decides to make PAVIA the capital and so it is for the next 250 years
  • LOMBARDY – the northern plains of Italy are named that from this time the 560’s – remember these blond, blue-eyed men are the Langobards – or LONGBEARDS – the same way the men of Normandy are blond, blue-eyed North-Men (Vikings) – who in the 900’s become more French than the French
  • Venice gets a good start from all this – the huge town of Aquileia is abandoned for the last time from this point and New Aquileia (Venice) takes on its long life

    Alboin killed by wife Rosamund (573), Clepho Made King by Election, Killed after 18 months, Rule of Tyrants
  • Alboin (foolishly – or so the story goes) forces his new wife Rosamund to drink from that famous skull cup he made of Cunimund – who happens to have been Rosamund’s father
  • She vows to murder him, and engages help, kills him, tries to rule on her own, but fails, flees to Constantinople, but dies en route (poisoned supp. as she tries to poison her associate) – her daughter takes the spoils, makes it to Const. leads a rich life
  • Clepho made King (8-573), but murdered by a servant 18 months later – what follows is a 10 year interregnum waiting for Autharis, Clepho’s son to grow up – Lombardy ruled by 30 Dukes (the 30 Tyrants)

    Justin II ABDICATES – AMAZING(10-5-578), Succeeded by Tiberius (9-26-578->08-14-582)
  • Justin II, married to strong empress Sophia, is a good man but a weak emperor – loses Italy, much to Persians
  • Fends off multiple plots against him, is sickly, finally decides to ABDICATE, names his (apparently very handsome) Captain of the Guard TIBERIUS as his co-emperor – was Sophia poss hoping to marry him?
  • Then Justin II abdicates!!! and lives 4 more years in a monastery, Tiberius II takes over


    Possible portrait of Narses

    Possible mosaic portrait of Narses - poss from life - in the companions surrounding the emperor Justinian in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna


    Amazingly, Gibbon likes this eunuch


    It may sound a little like back-handed compliments, but actually, in describing the career/actions of a eunuch, Gibbon in this section on the rebellion and recall of Narses the eunuch is unreservedly enthusiastic – no references to half-men, effete habits, low-scheming, vile and depraved habits. Something of a wonder for Gibbon. I’d almost say (if I didn’t know better) he was growing mellow in his old(er) age.

    Thus, Gibbon, describing Alboin’s Lombardic/Frat Party Invasion of Italy (567):

    (also this is the famous story of Sophia’s Insult to Narses, and Narses’ Response…)

    (also, this is another place for Gibbon to insert some additional cautions to his noble readers on the “Dangers of Democracy” – particularly germane since we are (in 1788) a few years into the Americans’ Experiment in Democracy – whose success was something certain Englishmen would not be too excited to witness – in fact many Americans (ex. John Adams) were not ovelry excited about mob-ocracy either, the 1st experiment was almost over anyways, the Articles of Confederation had only a year more to live…but I digress…)

    They might have failed, if Narses had been the antagonist of the Lombards; and the veteran warriors, the associates of his Gothic victory, would have encountered with reluctance an enemy whom they dreaded and esteemed. But the weakness of the Byzantine court was subservient to the Barbarian cause; and it was for the ruin of Italy, that the emperor once listened to the complaints of his subjects.

    The virtues of Narses were stained with avarice; and, in his provincial reign of fifteen years, he accumulated a treasure of gold and silver which surpassed the modesty of a private fortune. His government was oppressive or unpopular, and the general discontent was expressed with freedom by the deputies of Rome. Before the throne of Justinian they boldly declared, that their Gothic servitude had been more tolerable than the despotism of a Greek eunuch; and that, unless their tyrant were instantly removed, they would consult their own happiness in the choice of a master.

    The apprehension of a revolt was urged by the voice of envy and detraction, which had so recently triumphed over the merit of Belisarius.

    A new exarch, Longinus, was appointed to supersede the conqueror of Italy, and the base motives of his recall were revealed in the insulting mandate of the empress Sophia, “that he should leave to men the exercise of arms, and return to his proper station among the maidens of the palace, where a distaff should be again placed in the hand of the eunuch.” “I will spin her such a thread as she shall not easily unravel!” is said to have been the reply which indignation and conscious virtue extorted from the hero. Instead of attending, a slave and a victim, at the gate of the Byzantine palace, he retired to Naples, from whence (if any credit is due to the belief of the times) Narses invited the Lombards to chastise the ingratitude of the prince and people.

    But the passions of the people are furious and changeable, and the Romans soon recollected the merits, or dreaded the resentment, of their victorious general. By the mediation of the pope, who undertook a special pilgrimage to Naples, their repentance was accepted; and Narses, assuming a milder aspect and a more dutiful language, consented to fix his residence in the Capitol. His death, though in the extreme period of old age, was unseasonable and premature, since his genius alone could have repaired the last and fatal error of his life.

    The reality, or the suspicion, of a conspiracy disarmed and disunited the Italians. The soldiers resented the disgrace, and bewailed the loss, of their general. They were ignorant of their new exarch; and Longinus was himself ignorant of the state of the army and the province. In the preceding years Italy had been desolated by pestilence and famine, and a disaffected people ascribed the calamities of nature to the guilt or folly of their rulers.

    (DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.45, pp.852-853)


    Last Word…


    Solidus of Tiberius II

    Tiberius succeeded to the throne while his successor still lived (Justin II) something that had only happened (really) once before in Roman history (Diocletian) - Solidus of Tiberius II - note the inscription is still in Latin, not Greek yet - we have another couple of decades before the Latin part of Eastern Roman culture begins to wan

    The Amazing Abdication

    There were very few emperors before the Later Roman Empire in the East (like 600’s on) who successfully (or even unsuccessfully) abdicated. Most died, less often by natural causes, most often violently while still “in office” – i.e. in the saddle, at their desk so to speak, stabbed, poisoned, beheaded, cut into pieces, etc etc etc.

    Only a couple (3 to be exact) of the hundreds of other emperors prior to Justin II successfully abdicated and lived in retirement after their public life (the famous examples of Diocletian, Maximian and their “retirements” in 305, and the suspicious 2 year reign of the usurper Maximus 409-411 – AND THAT”S IT).

    Actually, its a sign we’re moving into the “Greek Empire”, the “Byzantine Empire” that emperors are abdicating and “retiring.” Another sign of the Middle Time of the Eastern Roman Empire will be public maiming/mutilation to prevent the holding of an office – i.e. instead of killing all your relatives upon accession to the throne (strengthening your reign and removing any competitors.

    As a vivid example of this: Julian’s (360’s) sole survival of all the relatives of Constantine the Great, his son Constantius murdered everyone upon his accession).

    At the end of the 600’s we will start to see forced-retirement-through-mutilation (with the huge and possibly SINGLE exception of Justinian II in the 690’s – known as Justinian Rhinotmetos – the slit-nosed) as an almost commonplace occurrence – a thing unknown up to this time – it was seen as a more “Christian”, more humane, more “modern”, less sinful way technique of ensuring political stability.

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