Stuff from Way Back #35: A Tale of Two Empires

(This essay follows Stuff from Way Back #34b: We Had to Destroy the Empire to Save It.  I have got carried away, and this will be the last of the tedious history pieces – well, for a while.)

 

With the death of Theodosius in 395 the Roman Empire fell into permanent division into two separate states, marking the beginning of the emergence of the Byzantine Empire in the east.  A fiction of Imperial unity was maintained for a time, with one consul (the two annual chief magistrates dating back to the earliest days of the Republic) chosen in Rome and the other in Constantinople, but in fact there were two separate administrations and the death of one Emperor did not result in the other controlling the entire Empire.

The situation in 395 did not bode well for either half.  In the east Arcadius was a youth of eighteen under the influence of the Prefect Flavius Rufinus, while the western Emperor, Honorius, was only eleven and completely controlled by Flavius Stilicho (Flavius yet again!), a half-Vandal of low birth.  Stilicho considered himself a Roman, but in fact most of the western Emperors would never be anything more than puppets of Germanic barbarians standing behind the throne.

Stilicho and family

Stilicho and family

And serious troubles were coming.  Seizing the opportunity presented by the death of Theodosius, Alaric, leader of the Visigoths settled north of the Balkans, began plundering Greece.  In 401, while Stilicho was busy with an invasion of Vandals and Alans, Alaric attempted to invade Italy and was repulsed, then tried again two years later, only to be thwarted again.  But in 408 Stilicho was assassinated, and Alaric blockaded Rome, demanding a serious of huge ransoms, all of which Honorius, who was holed up in the virtually impregnable city of Ravenna, haughtily refused.  In 410 a frustrated Alaric sacked Rome for three days and having unwittingly secured his name in history, then died the same year.  For the first time since the Gauls captured the city eight hundred years earlier Rome had been occupied by a foreign army.

Alaric in Athens

Alaric in Athens

Honorius

Honorius

Visigoths on the road

Visigoths on the road

 

The Visigoths moved to Gaul in 412, popped into Spain to fight the Vandals and Alans, who had been settled there, and in 418 were settled in southern Gaul.  In 429 the surviving Vandals and Alans crossed to Africa to establish a kingdom there, and the Visigoths began extending their rule into Spain, dominating most of the peninsula by 500.  The Burgundians, who may have crossed the Rhine in 411, were defeated by Aetius in 433 and settled in southeast Gaul (not Burgundy) and aided general Flavius Aetius, the “last of the Romans,” in the defeat of Attila in 451.  The Salian Franks, settled earlier on the lower Rhine, also fought as Roman allies against Attila, and steadily expanded their power southwards, reaching the frontier of the Gothic kingdom in 486 under their king Clovis.  Finally, Saxons, Angles and Jutes began settling Britain, especially after the last Roman troops were evacuated around 442.

Barbarian shit hits the Roman fan

Barbarian shit hits the Roman fan

Meanwhile, in the east Arcadius had died in 408, and was succeeded by Flavius Theodosius (Minor).  Theodosius II was a weak Emperor, dominated in turn by the Praetorian Prefect Flavius Anthemius, his sister Pulcheria, who became Augusta, his wife Eudocia and finally his chamberlain (and eunuch) Chrysaphius.  He occupied the throne for forty-two years, however, a measure of the greater stability of the eastern Empire, and was not troubled by any serious domestic problems.  There were two successful wars against the Persians, in 421-422 and 441-442, but the real problem was the Huns.  Constantinople began paying a huge annual bribe to the Huns in 424, and when Attila became king in 433, he demanded even more, which was paid.  Never trust a Hun: in 441-443 Attila ravaged the Balkans anyway, defeated the imperial forces and received an even greater tribute, which was paid.

Hun central

Hun central

Three notable achievements emerged from the reign of Theodosius II.  In 413 a new circumvallation of Constantinople, the “Theodosian walls,” was completed, and in 448, after a number of serious earthquakes, the damage was repaired and a second outer wall was added.   In 425 Theodosius founded the Pandidakterion, a sort of proto-university with thirty-one chairs, half in Greek and half in Latin, further establishing Constantinople as the center of European civilization and learning, while Rome and the west sunk into barbarism.  Finally, the Emperor ordered a compilation of Roman law since Constantine, and in 438 the Theodosian Code was published, the first of the great late imperial law codes that would so influence medieval Europe.  It went into force the following year, though its impact in the west, which was already mostly barbarian kingdoms, was minimal.

Theodosian walls around Constantinople

Theodosian walls around Constantinople

Theodosius II

Theodosius II

When her brother died in 450, the Augusta Pulcheria married Flavius Marcianus, who became the next Emperor.  He refused to continue payments to the Huns, who were bankrupting the Empire, and Attila decided to invade the west, removing for good, as it happened, the Hunnish threat to the eastern Empire.  Upon Marcian’s death in 457 Flavius Valerius Leo, surnamed Thracius (the Thracian), became ruler and was faced with the growing power of his Gothic general Flavius Ardabur Aspar, who had risen to prominence under Marcian.  Aspar’s power base was Gothic mercenaries and allies, and Leo began recruiting Isaurians, a warlike people living in Anatolia, in order to undermine his position.  Aspar was assassinated in 471, and Leo and his successor, his grandson Flavius Leo (Minor), both died in 474.  Leo II’s father, Flavius Zeno, became Emperor.

Leo I the Thracian

Leo I the Thracian

Out in the wild west the collapse was accelerating.  When Stilicho died in 408, his place was taken by Flavius Constantius, who crushed usurpers in 411 and 413 and convinced Honorius to make him co-Emperor 421, promptly dying a few months later.  Two years later Honorius died, and he was succeed by the son of his sister Aelia Galla Placidia and Constantius, Flavius Placidius Valentinianus, a five year old, who was escorted with his mother to Italy by eastern troops.  Placidia was made Augusta and regent, but the real power would be in the hands in of Flavius Aetius, who became supreme commander of the army in 429.

Aetius

Aetius

Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia

Valentinian III

Valentinian III

He was ousted in 432, but with the backing of the Huns he returned the following year and subsequently drew upon Hunnish forces to preserve Roman control of central and southeastern Gaul.  In 451, Attila, refused more authority in the west by Valentinian III, crossed the Rhine and was defeated at the Battle of Troyes (or Châlons) by Aetius and an army composed mostly of Germans.  The following year he invaded northern Italy, but after a chat with Pope Leo I he returned to the east, an army ravaged by hunger and disease rather than the words of the Pope being the compelling reason.  He died in 453, and the Hun empire immediately fell apart.

Pope Leo I chats with Attila

Pope Leo I chats with Attila

Huns

Huns

A measure of his stupidity, Valentinian had Aetius killed in 454 and was then himself assassinated the following year.  He was followed by a string of losers.  Flavius Anicius Petronius Maximus lasted one year, chased out by the Vandal lord of north Africa, Gaiseric (or Genseric), who sacked Rome, while his successor, Marcus Maecilius Flavius Eparchius Avitus, a Gallic general, was removed after a year by his supreme commander, the German Flavius Ricimer.  Ricimer was content to remain behind the throne and elevated puppets instead: Flavius Julius Valerius Majorianus, who was deposed by Ricimer in 461, and Flavius Libius Severus Serpentius, who died in 465.  For the next two years there was no Emperor in the west, and Procopius Anthemius was sent out in 467 by Emperor Leo.  Ricimer put up with him until 472, when he was executed and replaced by Anicius Olybrius, who died the same year, along with Ricimer.

Gaiseric parties in Rome

Gaiseric parties in Rome

Rare portrait of Flavius Ricimer

Rare portrait of Flavius Ricimer

Gaiseric the Vandal

Gaiseric the Vandal

A nephew of Ricimer attempted to take over his uncle’s position, appointing Flavius Glycerius Emperor in 473, but the following year Flavius Julius Nepos arrived from the east with an army and installed himself.  He was in turn driven out of Ravenna (now the western capital) in 475 by his own supreme commander, Flavius Orestes, who made his twelve year old son Romulus (surnamed Augustulus) Emperor.  The pair lasted a year.  In 476 German mercenaries in Italy under the leadership the Scirian, Flavius (!) Odoacar (or Odovacar), demanded land, and when they were refused, they murdered Orestes and deposed Romulus.  Odoacar declared himself king, and his authority over Italy was recognized by Emperor Zeno.  In theory Odoacar ruled on behalf of the Emperor, but in fact the western half of the Roman Empire was now nothing more than a collection of barbarian kingdoms.  Ironically, the last Emperor in the west bore the names of the two “founders” of Rome; Romulus and Augustus.

Flavius Odoacar

Flavius Odoacar

Romulus Augustulus

Romulus Augustulus

Lights out for Romulus Augustulus

Lights out for Romulus Augustulus

The eastern half survived, on its way to becoming the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire, which would last another thousand years before the Theodosian walls of Constantinople were breached by the Turks in 1453.  In some ways the west was doomed once the Empire split permanently in 395.  The east was in a better strategic situation, with a shorter northern frontier and Constantinople guarding the crossing between Europe and Asia.  The lower Danube was the only seriously threatened border, primarily because of the sheer number of barbarians, whereas deserts helped protect Syria and Egypt, and the Persian Empire, exhausted from its long struggle with Rome and with its own barbarian threat on its northern frontiers, could generally be dealt with.  Further, Constantinople had the option through threat and reward of convincing barbarians, primarily Goths, who crossed the Danube to move on to better pickings in the west.  The west also had to deal with more Germans coming across the Rhine and upper Danube, especially when the Huns moved into eastern Europe, driving the other tribes westward.

Clearly, the policy of recruiting barbarians into the Roman army and settling entire tribes in the provinces as allied kingdoms led ultimately to their growing power over the actual Roman rulers and the making and breaking of Emperors.  This had a far greater impact on the western government, since outside the area between the Danube and Greece there was in the east very little settlement of barbarians, leaving the core provinces of the eastern Empire generally under imperial control.  Additionally, as early as Arcadius Constantinople was endeavoring to raise troops from within the Empire in order to forestall the emergence of powerful Gothic leaders; Leo I did precisely this when he began hiring Isaurians to thwart his Gothic general Aspar.  The eastern Empire was fortunate in having a supply of excellent non-Germanic recruits in Anatolia, and this became more or less a steady policy.  Troubles with barbarians were not eliminated, but the emergence of Germanic puppet masters was prevented, and by the time of Emperor Justinian (527-565) the armies of Constantinople were virtually completely indigenous.

Very important was the far superior economic situation in the east.  Because of the long presence of the Greeks, the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire were far more urbanized and productive than those in the west, and as the Empire fell into political and economic trouble, especially in the wake of the Anarchy, capital began fleeing to the more stable east, further aggravating the situation in the west.  To be sure, during the Dominate Constantinople had serious financial problems, but with the complete collapse of Roman authority west of the Adriatic and the suppression of the Goths in the east, the economy began improving.  In the sixth century Justinian had enough resources to attempt to reconquer the west, a foolish endeavor, as it happened.

Justinian the Great

Justinian the Great

The reign of Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus (527-565) in fact marks a symbolic end of the Roman Empire.  He was the last Emperor to attempt to reunite the Empire – he failed – and his administration was the last during which Latin was the official language of the government – it gave way to Greek, the true lingua franca of the east.  And under him for the last time consuls were appointed, ending a thousand year political institution.   A new history begins here.

Could it be that in addition to all its other problems the Roman Empire collapsed because during the Dominate virtually every official had the first name Flavius, confusing the hell out of everyone?

 

395-476 The Divided Empire

            383-408 Flavius Arcadius (East)

            393-423 Flavius Honorius (West)

395 Death of Rufinus; Huns invade Asia Minor and Syria

408-450 Flavius Theodosius (Minor) (East)

                        408 Death of Stilicho

409 Vandals and Alans settled in Spain

                        410 Visigoths sack Rome; Alaric dies

413 Theodosian wall

418 Visigoths settled in southern Gaul

421-422 Persian War

421        Flavius Constantius (West)

            423-455 Flavius Placidius Valentinianus (West)

                        429 Vandals occupy Africa

433 Burgundians defeated by Aetius, settled in Gaul

438 Theodosian Code

441-442 Persian War

442 Last Roman troops leave Britain

            450-457 Flavius Marcianus (East)

                        451 Attila defeated at the Battle of Troyes (Châlons)

453 Death of Attila

454 Death of Aetius

            455        Flavius Anicius Petronius Maximus (West)

            455-457 Marcus Maecilius Flavius Eparchius Avitus (West)

            457-474 Flavius Valerius Leo Thracius (East)

            457-461 Flavius Julius Valerius Majorianus (West)]

            461-465 Flavius Libius Severus Serpentius (West)

            465-467 No western emperor

            467-472 Procopius Anthemius (West)

            472        Anicius Olybrius (West)

                        472 Death of Ricimer

            473-474 Flavius Glycerius (West)

            473-474 Flavius Leo (Minor) (East)

474-475 Flavius Julius Nepos (West)

474-491 Flavius Zeno (East)

475-476 Romulus (Augustulus) (West)

                        476 Odovacar king of Italy

486 Salian Franks under Clovis occupy central and northern Gaul

493 Theoderic king of Italy

            491-518 Flavius Anastasius Dicorus (East)

            518-527 Flavius Justinus (East)

            527-565 Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus (East)

Advertisements

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