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‘Masters of the World’
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon: Summation 12
© 2023 James LaFond
After the murder of Aurelian, Tacitus was selected as a philosopher king, despite him resisting this appointment for 8 months. For that period the Army and the Senate kept demanding that the other select the new emperor, for both factions knew that whoever they selected would be murdered by the other faction. [1] All men with sense knew that to become emperor was a death sentence. Tacitus was resented by the soldiers and died in his tent, sick from illness in winter and harangued by various camp politicians, in a reign of mere months.
The doomed philosopher king was succeeded by Probus, a student of Valerian and Aurelian, a professional soldier of great ability who would essentially serve as the school master to the crop of competent solder emperors who succeeded him. Probus defeated every enemy of Rome and awed the Germans into surrender in their own forest.
A small band of Franks, from among the armies defeated by the unstoppable Probus, was garrisoned on the Bosporus against Scythian raids. These men, achieved vengeance against their conquerors by a very Odyssean adventure. This band of some hundreds, taught themselves how to sail open boats and sailed down into the Aegean raiding the coasts. They descended upon the great internal city of Syracuse and wiped it out, murdering tens of thousands. [0] Nothing could demonstrate the internal rot of Rome more than a few battalions of barbarians doing what 40,000 Greek soldiers had been unable to achieve under Alcibiades’ instigation in about 410 B.C. [1] This was a city that had held off massive Roman armies for years about 210 B.C. despite the genius of Archimedes and his war engines. These men then sailed into the Atlantic and around the western empire up to the Frisian territory, which would be in Holland, or northwest Germany.
80 gladiators, from among 680 reserved for the triumph of Probus, did manage to kill their keepers and take to the streets, causing much mayhem and bloodshed, requiring the regular army to slay them in their moment of rebellion, an honorable death achieved.
Probus himself would soon be slain by his soldiers in a mutiny triggered by his demands that they drain a swamp and their suspicions that he was going to replace their mercenary ranks with conscript soldiers, something he had been doing by taking some 16,000 German hostages as soldiers spread across many units, 50 at a time.
The successor of Probus, Carus, 16 months after his elevation, while invading Persia, had a sense of humor. He warned a Persian ambassador, uncovering his bald head, that he would denude Persia of trees as surely as his head was denuded of hair. Carus died of a lightning strike during a tempest while he was sick in bed. The eagles used as Roman standards might serve as a lightning rod. Lightning strikes in the Greco-Roman world were signs of the rage of heaven and such places were walled off and shunned and those killed buried. There was an attempt to hide the cause of death from the soldiers, indicating that the emperor was killed by lightning.
His youngest son, Carinus, assuming power in the east, was one of the worst heads of state in antiquity, his reign a rude mayhem of whoring, murder and cruelty. His first act was to murder school mates who had filed to respect him, and then the advisors and teachers his father had assigned to instruct him. He was a worse creature than Claudius or Nero. However, the common people were happiest during the short reign of Carinus due to it being one spectacular party. A modern analogue would be if a gangster rapper became president of America, nationalized the NFL, declared every Sabbath day a party, and live streamed porn from the White House. I make this comparison to remind us that we at least have far yet to fall.
Massive numbers of wild animals would be slaughtered in the spectacles, which provided much meat for the mob. 32 elephants were slaughtered in one day. These animals were drawn at expense equal to a military campaign from lands as far as India and Madagascar. [3] These were important to the majesty of Rome, which made the collective claim to by “Master of the World.” 80,000 spectators could be seated in the Colloseum. The parallels with American football, as a consumptive form of social control, are so close that Gibbon would certainly have marveled at how far Anglo Civilization has degenerated into a parody of ancient Rome, had he had access to a time machine.
The elder brother, died of illness or murder it seems, on his way back to Rome. Disease seems to have been stalking the empire, with its wide flung trade connections, bringing slaves from as far as China, [4] and its infrastructure and sanitation in ill repair. Carinus, described as short, fat and white, [5] suffered of illness contracted in the Persian War. All three of the well-groomed sons of Caras would be gone in the year of his death.
Numarian, a third son of Caras, was murdered in the east as their eldest brother died in the west, I transit to dethrone his demonic sibling. The one arrested for his death, Apare, was imprisoned. Diocletion was elevated and he prayed to the all seeing Sun, [Apollo Helios] before slaughtering Apare with his own hand. Diocletion, elevated from commander of the Imperial Field Bodyguard, had to fight for his post at the head of a depleted and exhausted eastern army against decadent Carinus, at the head of a larger, stronger European army. As the battle turned against Diocletion, an officer whose wife had been seduced by the disgusting Carinus, slew him. Thus Fate granted corrupt Rome yet another chance to elevate a master that it did not deserve.
-0. The surest mark of Roman decline that is omitted thus far by Gibbon, is the apparent absence of a Roman navy, that during the reign of Augustus swept all pirates from the Middle Sea. Of course, wooden ships do not last hundreds of years in active service. This is the third instance of a naval invasion in the center of the Roman empire related by Gibbon. Additionally, the open boats of the barbarians were those of the age of the Odyssey, and could have no hope of contending against the warships developed some 800 years earlier that served through Actium circa 30 B.C.. The merchant fleet was obviously intact based on the massive shipments of grain, timber, stone, slaves and animals from the east and the easy crossings between Gaul and Britain. A useful modern analogue would be of the U.S. being in such a state of decline that its police could not stop drug shipments, human trafficking or massive urban flight, to include homeless mobs and interstate NGO protesters, along its internal highways.
-1. See Thucydides, and Pressfield’s historical novel, Tides of War.
-2. If one considers the bipolar factions of America, one providing most of the combat soldiers and police and the other providing most of the urban elites, and that these factions only agree on who the most dangerous outside enemies are, a concise study in the maintenance of empire may be deduced from a comparison of Room circa 270 and America circa 2023.
-3. Gibbon shows great empathy as “a naturalist” for the useless slaughter of beautiful animals. He indicates that the Roman access to giraffes, tigers, Zebras and Rhinos denotes a great knowledge of Africa. Indeed, Probus defeated a black African army in southern [Upper] Egypt.
-4. It was habit of the ancients, to send gifts with slaves, the gift taker wanting a native of the land that produced the gewgaw to curate it and the gift giver disinclined to receive back such an exile, and neither party wishing to foot the expense for the safe return of a human, who had little value in such affairs beyond adorning the object of the long lived gift with his or her fleeting life. The modern analogy would be the provision of a driver/mechanic along with a rare car shipped to a head of state to live out his life I automotive service.
-5. A rare use of this term, with on emperor Albinos, a rival of Severus, a native of Africa, named after an unusually pale complexion. Tacitus also applied this once to the Germans, though latter byzantine writers described these people, rather as “fair haired” and “ruddy.”
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