Stuff from Way Back #34b: We Had to Destroy the Empire to Save It

 

(This piece follows Stuff from Way Back #34a: We Had to Destroy the Empire to Save It.  Incidentally, the chronologies at the ends of these pieces are carefully indented and spaced, but that all goes out the window the moment I publish them.  I have no idea why, and WordPress has a lame system whereby one must hope some contributor with nothing better to do with his time will supply an answer.) 

[ISIS idiots are destroying ancient statuary in Mosul and their friends in Libya are desecrating Roman ruins.  Slaughtering innocents is one thing, but this scourge is now assaulting the very history of humanity and irreplaceable treasures that belong to all of mankind.  Kill them all and leave their bodies to be devoured by dogs.]

 

 

When Constantine died in 337, he was succeeded by his three sons, Flavius Claudius Constantinus, the senior Augustus, and Flavius Julius Constantius and Flavius Julius Constans.  Blood not being thicker than ambition, Constans challenged his older brother, and when Constantine II invaded Italy in 340, he was defeated and killed.  Engaged in continuous warfare against the Persians, Constantius accepted the new arrangement, and ten years later Constans was executed by his troops, who elevated a barbarian, Flavius Magnus Magnentius, as Augustus.  At the same time, Flavius Vetranio accepted the purple in Illyria and then immediately abdicated when Constantius came west and in 351 defeated Magnentius, who committed suicide two years later, leaving Constantius sole Emperor.

Constantine II

Constantine II

Constans

Constans

Constantius

Constantius

In 355 Constantius appointed his last surviving cousin, Flavius Claudius Julianus, his Caesar and tasked him with dealing with an invasion of Alamanni, whom he crushed in 357.  In 360 Julian, who was very popular with the troops, was proclaimed Augustus, and when his cousin died suddenly in 361, he named Julian his legitimate successor.  Once he was sole Emperor Julian, who had been disgusted by the bloody history of his family, revealed his conversion to traditional Roman religion and became known to history as Julian the Apostate.  Determined to settle the Persian question and pursuing the Alexander dream, in 363 he invaded the Sassanid Empire, only to be killed in battle, possibly by one of his own men who resented his abandonment of Christianity.  His death marked the end of the House of Constantine.

Julian

Julian

Julian’s army chose Flavius Jovianus as Emperor, and he concluded a humiliating peace with Persia in order to move back west to defend his new authority.  This turned out to be unnecessary, since he died the following year, probably assassinated.  The army met with high civilian officials and decided upon another Illyrian, Flavius Valentinianus, who chose Milan rather than Constantinople as his capital and appointed his brother Flavius Julius Valens as Augustus in the east.  (Flavius seems to have become an immensely popular name.)  In 367 Valentinian, in order to prevent problems with the succession, made his nine year old son, Flavius Gratianus, Augustus, a practice that would become more common.

Valentinian

Valentinian

Valens (or Honorius?)

Valens (or Honorius?)

Gratian

Gratian

Valentinian’s great achievement was reestablishing the Rhine and upper Danube frontiers, where he spent all of his reign smashing Alamanni, Franks and Saxons, guaranteeing the security of Gaul for years to come.  His general Flavius Theodosius meanwhile crushed a rebellion in Africa and swept Britain free of invading Picts and Scots.  Unfortunately, in 375 while negotiating with the Quadi, who had launched an invasion across the Danube, he became so angry that he had a fatal stroke, and the teenage Gratian inherited the purple.  Under pressure from his advisors Gratian chose his younger brother, Flavius Valentinianus (Minor), as Augustus, but only of Illyria, inasmuch as the new Emperor was only four years old.

Valentinian II

Valentinian II

Meanwhile, the situation in the east was more serious.  The problem there was not so much the Persians, who had their own troubles with barbarians on their northern frontier, but Goths.  In the early 370s the first of the steppe horsemen to plague Europe, the Huns, destroyed the Ostrogothic (East Goths) kingdom in the Ukraine and then assaulted the Visigoths (West Goths) on the Dniester River, driving sundry Gothic refugees to the Danube.  Valens, a far weaker ruler than his brother, granted the Goths permission to settle south of the river, but they were abused by corrupt Roman officials, who also left them their arms.  The result was the outbreak of war in 377, and in 378 Valens, ignoring advice to await his brother Gratian, attacked some 20,000 Goths at Adrianople in Thrace, and he and his army were slaughtered in the worst disaster for the Roman army against barbarians since three legions were lost to German ambush back in the days of Augustus.  In the wake of their tremendous victory the Goths plundered the Balkan Peninsula.

Battle of Adrianople

Battle of Adrianople

Gratian then appointed Flavius Theodosius, son of Valentinian’s general of the same name, Augustus in the east.  While fomenting trouble among the various factions of Goths, Theodosius enlarged his own army by enlisting many of them, and in 382 a deal was made by which the Goths were provided an independent kingdom in the depopulated lands south of the Danube in return for a military alliance with the Empire.  This was an ominous development (the Salian Franks had been allowed to settle in far northern Gaul around 358), a practice that would hasten the disintegration of the western half of the Empire.  A state that trades its territory for security from invaders is one in serious trouble indeed.

Back in the west, Gratian’s incompetent administration had alienated the soldiers and civilian populace, and in 383 the British troops proclaimed Flavius Clemens Magnus Maximus Augustus.  He crossed to the continent, where Gratian was deserted by his army and killed, and unable to do much about it, Theodosius temporarily recognized Maximus’ position as ruler of the western provinces, excepting Illyria and Italy, where Valentinian II was in control.  This arrangement lasted until 388, when Maximus chased Valentinian out of Italy and was then attacked and killed by Theodosius.  Maximus did have an impact: moving his troops to Gaul led to the abandonment of Britain’s northern defenses, including Hadrian’s Wall.  They were never reoccupied.

Theodosius

Theodosius

In 383 Theodosius named his son Flavius Arcadius Augustus, stationing him in Constantinople while he returned to Milan.  Eight years later he was back in the east to deal with Gothic troubles and problems among Arcadius’ officials, the most important of which was Flavius Rufinus (Was everyone named Flavius?), who served as a regent for the thirteen year old Emperor.  Meanwhile, in the west Valentinian was at odds with his protector, Flavius Arbogastes, who had him murdered in 392.  As a Frank, Arbogast could not assume the purple and proclaimed instead Flavius Eugenius, a rhetorician.  In response Theodosius named his son Flavius Honorius Augustus in 393 and invaded Italy the following year, defeating Arbogast and the hapless Eugenius.  Having restored unity in the Empire, he died in Milan in 395, never to know that the Roman Empire would be permanently divided after his death.

Honorius

Honorius

Arcadius

Arcadius

This period from the death of Constantine to the death of Theodosius saw the continuation of developments during the previous half century.  All state officials were now in theory personal servants of the Emperor, and despite the efforts of some Emperors there were more and more of them.  In 68 there were thirty-six provinces; by the end of the fourth century there one hundred and twenty, arranged into fourteen dioceses, which were grouped into four prefectures.  The praetorian prefects, who were the heads of the prefectures (yes, that is what happened to them), were the highest officials in the Empire.  Italy, incidentally, was now simply another set of provinces, a culmination of the “democratization” of the Empire, and Milan was now the western capital.

The economic decline, though not even, continued, and it appears the “Roman” population was steadily shrinking, making it more attractive to settle barbarian tribes within the confines of the Empire.  The western half of the Empire, far less urbanized and increasingly suffering more barbarian depredation than the eastern, was sinking faster, and huge estates, worked by virtual serfs, were turning to household economies, producing all they needed as economic communications broke down.  The medieval manorial system was emerging.  Members of the Senatorial class played a large role in these estates, for while the Senate itself was powerless, the Senatorial order comprised a great number of extremely wealthy and influential men, though they for the most part represented new families.

The army was of course the greatest consumer of shrinking Imperial revenues, and the Empire simply could not afford the numbers it required.  Further, the main source of recruits was barbarians, given the declining population and increasing reluctance to serve in the military.  Training had plummeted, and the only advantages “Roman” armies, now devoid of heavy infantry, possessed were in mobilization, logistics and fortifications.  The Persian front was more or less stable, as control of northern Mesopotamian and Armenia see-sawed back and forth, and in 384 a treaty of friendship provided peace for almost four decades.  But the pressure from Germanic tribes was becoming overwhelming, requiring the planting of relatively autonomous kingdoms in the provinces and the payment of tribute.  The barbarians were in effect now running a huge protection racket.

With all the power of the state behind it Christianity was spreading and the church growing in power.  Constantine and a few other Emperors had supported a policy of religious tolerance, but the persecution of non-Christians grew steadily.  In 341 polytheist sacrifices were outlawed, and in 392 the cults were banned altogether.  Symbolically important, in 357 Constantius removed from the Senate the Altar of Victory, installed by Augustus in 29 BC, and though it was restored by Julian, it was removed again in 382 by Gratian.  (And the Empire split into two thirteen years later.)  The old gods persisted in the rural areas and among many of the intellectual elite, whose learning was rooted in the non-Christian literature of the Greeks.

Altar of Victory

Altar of Victory

The Church also began to flex its muscles regarding the state.  In 390 Theodosius ordered the massacre of a mob in Thessalonika for murdering general, and Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, told the Emperor that he would be barred from Church services if he did not publically repent for the crime.  Theodosius at first resisted but ultimately gave in and publically admitted his guilt.  The Empire was ending, and the long battle between Church and State was beginning.

Theodosius and Ambrose

Theodosius and Ambrose

 

 

 

337-395 Dominate II

337-340 Flavius Claudius Constantinus

337-350 Persian War

337-350 Flavius Julius Constans

337-361 Flavius Julius Constantius

350        Flavius Vetranio (abdicated)

350-353 Flavius Magnus Magnentius

358 Salian Franks settled in northern Gaul

358-363 Persian War

360-363 Flavius Claudius Julianus

363-364 Flavius Jovianus

364-375 Flavius Valentinianus

364-378 Flavius Julius Valens

367-383 Flavius Gratianus

373 Huns attack the East Goths

375-392 Flavius Valentinianus (Minor)

378 Battle of Adrianople

379-395 Flavius Theodosius

382 Goths settled south of the Danube; Altar of Victory removed from the Senate

383-388 Flavius Clemens Magnus Maximus

383 Hadrian’s Wall abandoned

384 Treaty of Friendship between Rome and Persia

383-408 Flavius Arcadius

390 Theodosius does public penance at Ambrose’s order

392-394 Flavius Eugenius

392 Polytheist cults banned

393-423 Flavius Honorius

393 Olympic games ended

 

 

 

 

 

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Arma Virumque Cano

 

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the early evening of February 10 a 46 year old man, Craig Stephen Hicks shot and killed three University of North Carolina students, Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Abu-Salha, 19.  As their names readily suggest, the three were Muslims, American born, and they were all killed by a handgun. (Anchors on CNN kept describing them as “wonderful” young people, which I expect they were, but is this objective reporting? Would it be any less a horrible crime if they were unemployed and obnoxious?)

The shooter - another victim of the Second Amendment

The shooter – another victim of the Second Amendment

Victims of the Second Amendment

Victims of the Second Amendment

The details of the shooting are unclear – police are slipping into the secrecy mania that seemingly affects most public servants – but it appears to have resulted from an ongoing dispute over a parking place, the sort of trivial incident that is increasingly leading to the use of deadly force in America. The shooter and his victims were neighbors in a residential community near the UNC campus, and the students were shot in the apartment of the newly-wed couple, Deah and Yusor. The circumstances of the crime are mysterious. Each was killed by a single shot to the head, and while the police found eight shell casings, suggesting that Hicks missed with five of his shots, three clean shots to the heads of three different people is nevertheless still strange. Unless the victims were completely frozen with fear, Hicks must be a phenomenal shot. I have shot handguns, and even at close range hitting a moving target as small as a human head is not at all easy. But again, we do not know all the evidence.

Because the victims are Muslim, the possibility of a hate crime is being tossed about. In online posts Hicks has labeled himself a “gun-toting atheist” and has made fun of Christianity and Islam, but so far there is no word of any actual expression of hate for any group. Being contemptuous of Christianity and Islam is not hate; I do not have much regard for any of the Abramic religions. That he had a house full of guns and ammunition means only that he is like thousands of other Americans. The fact that his victims are Muslim may have tipped him into violence, but it may simply be this was the argument when he lost control.

I find the whole idea of a “hate crime” a bit disturbing. Our legal system rightly makes distinctions concerning intent – thus the difference between homicide and manslaughter –   but considering motive as a factor in determining the seriousness of the crime and the extent of the punishment strikes me as a dangerous practice. This comes perilously close to punishing a person for what he was thinking, and in a free society one may think whatever he wants. So long as one is not creating an immediate physical danger, such as inciting a riot or an attack, hate speech is protected under the First Amendment, and presumably so is hate thought. The distinction between killing a man because you hate him and killing him because you hate the group he belongs to seems an extremely fine one. Suppose a violent thief happens to hate Muslims and murders a Muslim whose money he wants to steal. Is this a hate crime? And what groupings qualify for hate crimes – just those defined by religion or ethnicity? Suppose you hate Republicans and kill one for that reason. Is that a hate crime? Slaughtering schoolchildren because you are an adolescent with problems and slaughtering schoolchildren because you are an anti-Semite seem equally heinous to me. Certainly, the innocents are equally dead.

More important than this exercise in social engineering is the fact that yet more people are dead because someone, whatever he felt about Muslims, got angry and had immediate access to a firearm. Petty disputes, such as over parking or being cut off on the highway, have become deadly because of the availability of guns and the consequent ability to express anger in a lethal manner. Silly arguments that might have resulted in a fist fight now result in a dead human being. That an “armed society is a polite society” is clearly a ludicrous proposition, especially in a country, such as America, that has long had a culture of violence. Respect engendered by fear hardly strikes me as a laudable social goal.

Women who hang out with guys with small dicks?

Women who hang out with guys with small dicks?

Guys with small dicks

Guys with small dicks

Concealed carry only exacerbates the fear: you never know who is packing and might turn on you.  The state of New Mexico is even considering allowing concealed carry in bars, an idea that should strike sensible people as madness.  Is alcohol and guns any less threatening than alcohol and automobiles (not that New Mexico is particularly concerned about the latter)?  But open carry is also dangerous – and downright embarrassing.  In what other civilized country can you see shoppers carrying assault rifles as they push their carts about?  An armed society is not a polite society; it is some ways a failed society.  And “stand your ground” legislation, as the state of Florida has amply demonstrated, does nothing more than promote violence, suggesting to some people that when confronted with some offense or imagined threat, they are quite justified is blowing someone’s head off.

The Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – made perfect sense in the late 18th century.  It does not in the early 21st century.  We no longer have a “well regulated militia” but rather a professional army, nor do we have a frontier requiring an armed citizenry.  In modern warfare untrained armed citizens are useless against any real military force, and civilians with guns are no defense against tyranny so long as the military remains obedient to the government.

Personal firearms for self-defense may make sense in some few situations, but packing a gun is more likely to find you trouble, especially with the increasingly trigger-happy police forces.  Carrying an assault rifle into Walmart has absolutely nothing to do with personal safety; it is a stupid macho demonstration that disturbs more sensible citizens.  Home defense is more reasonable, but the fact is if you have a firearm in your house you are twenty-two more times likely to experience a serious gun accident, suicide attempt or assault/homicide.  On the average, for every one time a home firearm is used in self-defense or a justified shooting, there were four accidents, seven assaults/homicides and eleven suicide attempts.  Even just living in states with large numbers of guns dramatically increases your chance of being shot.  According to the CDC in 2011 there were 32,351 gun deaths in the US (and we worry about terrorists?), of which 591 were considered accidental, victims under the age of 18 accounting for 102 of those deaths.

I expect one of the reasons American police are employing so much deadly force is because the country is awash in firearms, most of them perfectly legal.  The police have come to expect that any perpetrator will have a gun, and the result is a hair trigger mentality and an increase in shootings of unarmed individuals.  How often do you hear about this sort of thing happening in Europe, where access to firearms is strictly controlled?

What can we do about this?  Well, nothing.  Restricting gun ownership runs right up against the damn Second Amendment, and it would be easier to repeal the law of gravity.  There are of course measures short of this – background checks, prohibition of private sales, registration of all firearms, requiring a license to own a gun – but apart from background checks (less effective when you can turn around and legally sell a gun to someone on the street) it is extremely unlikely.  Politicians, especially Republicans, are sensitive to their gun-owning constituents, and there is of course the National Rifle Association.  There is always a cry for gun control legislation when some loonie massacres schoolchildren, but it rapidly fades, particularly in the face of NRA propaganda and money.  Until the 1970s the NRA was actually a reasonable organization, interested in gun safety and open to gun control, then a leadership change initiated its evolution into little more than a shill for the gun industry, resistant to even the slightest limits on firearm acquisition and use.

People seem oblivious to the irony that while we are wringing our hands and spending billions of dollars to protect Americans from Middle Eastern terrorists who would have a tough time getting at anyone in this country, virtually nothing is done to stop the homegrown slaughter that annually takes thousands of American lives.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I do own guns.  They are almost all antiques, which I collect, and I rarely go shooting, but I must admit that when handling something like an AK-47 I can feel a taste of the macho high that motivates the jerks running around the woods of Idaho in their camos.  Fortunately, I am not an idiot.

How true

How true

My Kitchen Abattoir

 

I am extremely loathe to kill anything (with the exception of members of ISIS, if I had the chance), even insects, unless they are a nuisance in my house (ants, cockroaches), and even then I prefer to employ an insecticide that will liquidate them out of my sight.  Flies of course must be swatted, since they simply refuse to go away; some Greeks actually featured the housefly as the device on their shields because of this “brave” persistence in a “fight.”  Housekeeping fanatic though I am, I am reluctant to clean away a spider web if the builder is still in residence, stopped by the thought of how much energy was expended by the little creature in spinning all that silk.  Yes, I am becoming a borderline looney.

The hungry houseguest

The hungry houseguest

My kitchen slaughterhouse

My kitchen slaughterhouse

Black widows (genus Latrodectus) occasionally pop up in my house, and I generally capture them and release them outdoors, though they are not really dangerous if left alone.  Some months ago, however, a western black widow (Latrodectus Hesperus) began setting up shop in an out of the way place in the utility room off my kitchen, constructing her ramshackle web in a narrow space between the dryer and a wall.  I decided to allow her to take up residence so that I might observe the behavior and development of this darkly beautiful spider over the months.  The result was a tiny arachnid abattoir, a slaughterhouse for unfortunate bugs.

The adult western black widow female has a black body 14-16 mm (1/2 inch) in length, usually with the distinctive red hourglass on the underside of her abdomen.  The male is half this length, tan with light stripes and a much smaller body relative to his legs.  Contrary to the usual practice, the Hesperus female rarely devours the male after mating, making her more of a black divorcée than a black widow.  She has poor eyesight, and hanging upside down in her patchwork web, she is alerted by vibrations in the silk to the presence of prey, which is bitten and wrapped in a cocoon for later munching.

The little suitor

The little suitor

The gay divorcee

The gay divorcee

A black widow female can live several years, so my eight-legged sweetheart could be here a while.  However, if a male manages to sneak into the house and an egg sack appears, she and her brood will be carefully relocated to a protected spot outside.

The didn't use protection

They didn’t use protection