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‘Twenty Pieces of Gold’
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon: Summation 11
© 2023 James LaFond
“Their seditious elections,” by the Roman soldiers of their own emperors, resulted in civil war so often that Claudius had the throne brockered for him in A.D. 269. Through all of this the emperors had developed the habit of referring to the empire as “The Republic.”
Galianous was the sleazy emperor who did possess the personal bravery to fight once he was summoned away from the pleasures of the table. Rome had been ruled by two types of uneasy masters: the decadent occupant of the throne enjoying Italy and fearful of the real men on the frontier leading armies against the barbarians, and the emperor in the field, who was so oppressed by enemy invasions that the senate and people were mollified with his missives to them that he was the defender of the Republic.
A.D. 268 to 70 saw a fascinating period of invasion and civil war. Galianous had been handed a military dispatch in which the “Frumentarii,” agents of the emperor, scattered about the provinces, published a periodical for his eyes called the Notoria. It was known that Claudius chaffed under Galianous, “drawing a sword for a master he despised.” However, he served loyaly and others revolted: a general in Gaul, Zenobia a Syrian Queen, a general in Illyria. Galianous was slain by a dart from “an unknown hand,” during a ruse in which he had a rebel general besieged at Milan. This rebel general, Oriolus, and his conspirators bought off Galianous home army with 20 pieces of gold each.
Claudious turned out to be an honorable man, preventing the family and slaves of Galianous from being slaughtered according to tradition, and even giving back an estate that Galianous had given him, after taking it from a widow. Oriolus was executed, the solders were disciplined, and the senate was sent a letter in which Claudious marched off to his own probable defeat, as Zenobia had the archers in the east, Tetricus, the rebel general in the west had much manpower in his service, and his men were short on “darts, spears and shields.”
Out of ammo, Claudius attacked a Gothic-Sarmation army of wagons and boat people—but they attacked him first. The battle went against the legions. But Claudius had positioned a flanking force and slaughtered the Goths. In his farewell letter to the Senate, he confided that there were 320,000 Goths. This number seems accurate, with some of these being drowned in the unskilled passage through the Dardenells in their hasty boats, and others lost in unsuccessful assaults of walled cities. Some of these migrating bands went off to raid Crete and Cyprus. He had declared Zenobia and Tetricus as mere personal enemies and the Goths the real threat. At least 2,000 boats descended upon Macedonia, which seems to have been shadowed by a wagon train on the coast.
This invasions “deserved the attention of a war like prince at the head of the remaining powers of empire.” He had written to the Senate as “Conscript Fathers,” indicating that the supporting politicians at home who he was asking for more equipment, were themselves serving in a capacity that they would rather not fill, so decadent had they become.
Claudius heroically won the battle with the slaughter of some 50 men. The fact that one branch of the Gothic army escaped in a wagon train and another escaped to Mount Hemos where they would be besieged, indicates that this was a migratory force. Additionally, the reward of the soldiers included 2 to 3 women each, the wives and daughters of the barbarians. “Cattle and slaves,” comprised the chief booty, and “a select body of the Gothic youth” was inducted into the Roman army.
Further, famine and pestilence, reduced the mountain refugees to a small desperate band, reduced by the same disease that slew their conqueror, who had time, on his death bed, to name his successor from among his most qualified generals. He was placed among that “short list of emperors who added luster to the purple.”
His brother Quintilias, reigned as home emperor for 17 days, sanctioned by the senate and then, until he was either assassinated, committed suicide or died of disease, of which the primary sources disagree. Disease increasingly creeps into the record, something that court historians tend to gloss over in favor of glory and blame for the contending powers, glory for the victor and blame for the vanquished, very much like American politics. [1]
As plague stalked the faltering empire and climate change in the hinterlands drove more barbarians desperately into Roman territory, responsibility for fighting enemies, foreign and domestic, continued to devolve on the hard shoulders of professional soldiers of a lower class than those that built the republic and the empire, and who maintained social control at home. Many emperors, elevated as stopgap generals, were not of the top 1% of Roman citizens by birth. Bloodlines would be invented for them, with even bastards of decadent emperors past preferred over a peasant. Thus the resentment of the urban elite for their rural savior generals would increase. The Senate and elite of Italy controlled the distribution center for military equipment and the political and communication networks, as well as grain distribution out of Egypt.
As each general was elevated to emperor from the frontier, if he did not spend his time keeping an eye on the elites at home he would face conspiracy and murder there and barbarian invaders on the fringes. If he stayed on the frontier, the rich conspirators at home would finance his assassination in the field by his officers. What was needed, was an “us against them” alliance of 1, 2 or a few general emperors who could deal with not only numerous external threats, but numerous internal threats at the same time, including the greatest threat, the urban elite at Rome.
-1. With the exception of four years: 1819, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
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