Roman Empire

Wether we like it or not, the mainstream history of the Roman Empire has shaped the western world.

It has influenced our ethics, our legal system and our culture.

However the more I study, the more I become convinced that the mainstream history is flawed.

We know about the  engineering capabilites of the Romans. The remains of their structures can be found everywhere in the former Roman empire.

We know about their rulers, from the coins struck to celebrate every reign, but do we actually know what those rulers thought, what prerogatives drove their decisions?

The answer must be no. Nevertheless a review of mainstream history is absolutely necessary so that some alternatives can be reviewed in context.

Such a society was inevitably reactive in its initiatives.  As Rome started to expand the Senate was aware that good quality arable land, gold, silver, precious jewels, silk, and spices all lay beyond the territory they controlled.  Initially made use of the Greek trading colonies which had proliferated along the northern shore line of the Mediterranean. However the the Romans regarded trading as a a disreputable activity. To them an occupation which bought  a commodity at one price and sold at a highly inflated price without doing anything to enhance the commodity whilst it was in their possession must be tainted with corruption. It was perhaps this attitude which enabled Rome to treat these Grecian trading partners so shamefully.

The Greek colonies

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In the early days of the Republic, south western parts of the Italian peninsula were dominated by Grecian colonies. The whole area was known as Magna Graecia, Greater Greece. Rome began to demand unreasonable terms of trade and threatened to invade it’s neighbours. Tarentum, one of the Grecian city states appealed to Greece for assistance, or to Pyrrhus of Epirus to be exact. Pyrrhus, a second cousin of Alexander the Great, remained in Italy and Scicily for five years and was never beaten by the Romans.

The Patricians, who controlled Rome regarded themselves as Grecian descended from Aeneus and his companions. Initially Rome was in awe of anything Grecian and from the earlist days spoke Greek at home because it is a far more subtle language than Latin.

Despite this endearing trait the Greeks probably saw the Romans as Barbarians. This attitude is displayed by Pyrrus’ comment when he first confronted a Roman army.

“ But this is not a barbarian army” he is said to have exclaimed.

The Cartharginians

Before the rise of rome there was a power struggle in the eastern mediterranean between carthage and egypt. Egypt was even more concerned with the convict with the sassianaid empire of persian and therefore avoided armed conflict with carthage. They encourage rome to challenge Carthage and were not disappointed.

The subsequent chain of events, not any preplanning, created the Roman Empire. Pyrrhus left Italy to claim the throne of Macedon Sicily and left a power vacuum in Sicily.   A group of  mercenaries sized the Grecian city of Messina. The neighbouring city of Syracuse also Grecian, tried to expel them.  Rome and Carthage both tried to take advantage of the situation leading to a war for the possession of Sicily which Rome won in 241 BC.

Thought the romans won a great naval victory and the control of sicily  it had virtually no effect on the carthaginian control of the north african seaboard.   Egypt used it’s influence to persuade Massalia at the mouth of the Rhone (Modern Marseilles) to declare itself an ally of Rome. Rome accepted them as such. Messalia however had links with other colonies on the shores of Hispania, Empurion and. Wishing to secure  Massalia’s good will Rome accepted  and negotiated a treaty with Carthage that in Hispania; Rome would not take any interests south of the Ebro river and in return Carthage promised not to take any interests north of the Ebro.

The Treaty in Hispania

The treaty  looked attactive to Carthage as it apparently confirmed that their Hispanic empire was recognised by Rome however Rome only entered into the treaty to prevent an alliance between Carthage and the Celtic tribes resulting in a co-ordinated attack on Italy. In 225 such an attack was made but the Carthaginian contribution was limited. Rome won a significant victory over the gauls and by a combination of allianaces and conquest extended its frontier northwards to the alps. Saguntum was significantly south of the Ebro but declared itself to be an ally of Rome. Hannibal Barco immediately laid seige to Saguntum. Rome’s senate declared this to be a criminal act and demanded that Hannibal be handed over for “Roman Justice”. Is it possible the senate had no clear idea where the River Ebro was in relation to Seguntum?


The year was BC 218  Hannibal’s reply was to march north across the Ebro  and by the end of the year cross the Alps into Cisalpine Gaul and on into Italy. Thanks to their alliance with Messalia, Rome knew they were coming . Hannibal remained in Italy for fifteen years, achieving several substantial victories over the Roman army and never suffering a single defeat. Whilst Hannibal was in Italy ravaging the coutryside but aparently unable to take rome itself, the senate sent its ex consuls for years 222 and 221 (The Scipio brothers Publius and Gnaeus) to attack the Carthagenians in Spain.

It is significant that it was in the middle of this conflict Egypt chose to finally throw all it’s resources against Persia. at the battle of Raphia Egypt had a significant victory but the Persians soon returned.  Egypt manipulated events to make rome look further afield and thereby distract the persians

A move to the east

Demetrius of Pharos, the puppet king of coastal Illyria (modern Croatia) saw his opportunity to shake off Roman influence. Again Rome sent its Consul ( Lucius Aemelius Paullus) against Demetrius leaving Hannibal free to roam Italy. Demetrius fled to Macedon. In BC 216 Demetrius returned now as chief advisor of Philip of Macedon. Philip formalised an alliance with Carthage.

In 211 Rome entered into a treaty with Greece ( Aetolian league) against Macedon, the Aetolian’s then mobilised Pergamon (todays Western Turkey in Asia) against Macedon. In turn Bithnia ( today’s North Eastern Turkey in Asia) threatened Pergamon.

Suddenly Rome was involved in wars streaching from the Atlantic ocean to the Black Sea and they still had to Hannibal  ravaging the italian peninsula. They still gave priority to Espagna, In BC 211, both the Scipio brothers were killed there at the battle of upper Baetis.

After the battle of Upper Baetis, in which both of their commanders had been killed,  the Roman Legions elected their next commander, in the field. The fact that the senate allowed this to happen without any retribution, set a precedent which was to be repeated many times, sometimes with disruptive results.

Victory in Hispania

In 206 finally an army commanded by the son of the elder Scipio brother (Scipio Africanus) defeated the Carthagenians and expelled them from Spain. Importantly the lands they made secure included to two biggest silver mines known to the ancient world, at Carthago Nova and Rio Tinto. The war in against Cathage in Hispania produced some other significant results.

asystem of government

Victories in macedon and hispania meant that Senate then had to invent a way to govern a territories a significant distance from Rome.  What was decided upon was the yearly appointment of a Governor,with the territory becoming known as a Province. Initially Governors were appointed in the first year after being appointed Consul. The appointment was for one year only which from the roman viewpoint limited the opportunity for corruption and avoided the temptation fot the governor to establish a breakaway state.

The Governor commanded all Roman military forces within his territory.  An inherent part of these appointments was that these forces could be commanded without reference to the senate. He had other functions. He was responsible for the collection of taxes, the planning and management of major building projects, keep the peace and administer justice. In the Roman system a governor was immune to any accusation of wrongdoing during his term of office but could be prosecuted for impropriety when his term in office ended.

A standing army

For this never ending process of expansion and war, Rome needed a standing army. The main benefit of Roman Citizenship for those other than the patrician class was the ability to join a Legion. Legionaries were well paid and after ten years service could expect to retire in some style. Initially the patrician class provided all the cavalry and the officers for the army but soon they could not fulfil both duties.  They reserved the officer positions for themselves and created a new social class  to provide the cavalry.  This new class was called the Equites,literally the horsemen.  Membership of the Equestrian order was hereditary but dependant on wealth. Anyone who fell below the wealth threshold could be struck from the list. As time passed and the empire and the army grew steadily larger the Equestrians were allowed to take officer positions and wealthy plebs (honourable citizens) were allowed to become cavalry.  Thus from the very early days of the empire the cavalry were considered to be a step above the foot soldiers.

cursus honorarium

The wars themselves were an essential part of the Roman strategy, the increasing invincibility of the Roman army provided a clear display of the fact that it was better to be a part of rome than fight against it. To provide control and improved cash flow as the empire expanded a proportion of the land in all client states or provinces was allocated to patricians. For patricians there was a established and relatively inflexible career path which led to fame and fortune, or of course, death. The Cursus Honorum interleaved military and political appointments, starting usually with ten years service in the cavalry, to give the wide range of experience needed to ascent to Rome’s most responsible position that of Consul. However after BC 218 the reward for pursuing the Cursus Honorum became the almost inevitable appointment as Goveror of a province and though the appointment was limited to one year the opportunity to accumulate great wealth.

Ambition in the east

In order to keep tight control of the distribution of wealth the senate invited prominent plebs to become Patricians and join a patrician family. In the East,  Macedon, Greece, Rhodes, Pergamon, Bithnia, Pontus, Judah, Syria and Egypt were all remnants of the Empire of Alexander the Great. These were not tribes, they were Hellenic city states which in the aftermath of Alexander’s empire had become kingdoms. All had the belief that they were the rightful successors of Alexander and therefore in competition with each other. They all took part in the Olypmic games in which the pleasure of competing was accompanied with a desire to demonstrate superiority. Once the Romans had found themselves catapulted into Hellenistic politics during and after the wars with Carthage their tactic became to become Greeks, to become yet another successor to Alexander and therefore an equal competitor for Alexanders Empire.

The image projected by Rome in the east was therefore quite different to the image created in the west. Here they stressed and continued to stress the democratic nature of their government.  To the Hellenistic states the concept of a King or Emporer as the servant of a democractic state was familiar and acceptable.

this plunged them into the intricate policies of the est. Overlayed on recent history the Egyptians also believed they were the rightful successors of the Pharohs and the Syrians (Sassanids) believed they were the rightful successors to the Persians. A dangerous mix. Intermarriage, diplomacy, intrigue and treachery were all used as weapons in their struggle to achieve superiority.

The image projected by Rome in the east was therefore quite different to the image created in the west. Here they stressed and continued to stress the democratic nature of their government.  To the Hellenistic states the concept of a King or Emporer as the servant of a democractic state was familiar and acceptable.

the celtic world

Nevertheless the roman government seemed to work well in the east,  particularly across the Aegean in Anatolia,where the govenors often worked through client kings. Not so in Hispania.  In Hispania the Eastern and southern coastlines had been conquered by Carthage and were occupied by  Iberian peoples.  The Romans quickly discovered that  the peoples of the central plain and the northwest were Celtic.  It was in Hispania that the  need for a different way of dealing with Celtic tribes was identified. The Celts demanded self government.

They cared nothing for the Roman preoccupation in distinguishing other states as “allies” (related by treaty), “subjugates” (fought and surrendered to Rome) or “Enemies” (no surrender but conquered). They knew that the end result was always the same, Roman colonies created within their territory, taxation and forced service in the roman army. If a Roman Consul, General or Governor  beat them in the field or even if one of them could put a bigger army in the field than they could themselves, then they were prepared to submit and accept the victor as their “High King”.  It did not mean they gave up their independence even though they expected the high king to demand tributes

roman inconsistency

What they could not understand was that a Roman High King they had accepted as a result of his prowess was replaced, usually less than twelve months later. In the eyes of the Celts the role of High King was personal not institutional so the new appointee had to re-establish the right to the role of High King. Nor could they understand the total change in character, ethics and strategy from one governor to the next.  The first governor could be considerate in his treatment of those he vanquished, others murdered indiscriminately even those who sought treaties with the Romans.

independent hispania

In Hispania the inconsistencies of the Roman system led to nearly two centuries ( BC 219 – BC19) of the most vicious fighting with a great loss of life on both sides. Though over time the Romans advanced from the southest corner towards the northwest there was never a frontier as such. Almost any part of the territory they nominally controlled could rise in rebellion against their rule. Not surprisingly, because of the concept of High King, the rule of every new Govenor or general was challenged and the Celts frequently won. The Celts never gave up their concept of High Kings and slowly, painfully, Rome learned to accept this.

At a time when Hispania was still in frequent revolt against Roman rule, Quintus Sertorius took over as governor. He was a supporter of the Populares faction which was defeated, but not destroyed in the civil war. The Celts of Hispania were interested in the Populares cause which included in its objectives to bring roman citizenship to everyone under Roman rule, even those outside of Italy.

The Optimates, the opposing faction in the civil war, sent an army to pursue Quintus  and he was obliged to withdraw to North Africa but not before he had made a good impression. In Africa he defeated the Optimate army and captured Tingis (modern Tangier). The Lusitanian peoples then invited Quintus to become, under their sponsorship, High King of all Hispania.

His army grew in size and he was even joined by other Populares factions from Rome.When in BC 72 Quintus was on the verge of declaring an independent republic of Hispania, Pompey brought an army to Hispania to carry out a re-invasion of the peninsula. Pompey was twice defeated but the Romans amongst Quintus’ supporters wanted to march on Rome which he declined to do. He had become Hispanic. He was murdered by these same Roman “supporters” during a banquet supposedly in his honour.

pompey the great

The Celts  under roman rule may have been disappointed but in their world this “victory” now made Pompey their new High King. Pompey remained in Hispania long enough to consolidate his position and before he left in BC 71 he had raised four hispanic legions.

Pompey’s legions travelled with him on his subsequent conquests of Bithnia, Pontus, Syria and Judah Some senior officers may have been with Pompey when he entered the holy of holies in Jerusalem. He recognised the differences between celts and the greco persian states of the east however and the eastern states were allowed to continue be governed through client Kingdoms, something which was never utilised in the celtic world,

In the Far East however there were other nations who did not consider themselves part of the hellenistic world, Pontus and Parthia and Judah, all gave great resistance to Roman expansion and or governance. Parthia over time had the better of its never ending conflicts with Rome.

julius caeesar

In BC 61 Julius Caesar, at that time part of a triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus, became governor of South Eastern Hispania and had the opportunity to observe the Celtic cultural preferencers first hand.  ceasar was important because it was his tribe (gens) which claimed direct decendance from Anenaus and therefore the goddess Aphrodyte  .He realised that although he was Govenor, Pompey was in  celtic eyes High King. There was little he could do at that time in Hispania but he became focussed on the other Celtic territory, Gaul.

Caesar claimed decent from Aeneas, the founder of Rome and therefore from the goddess Aphrodyte . The human side of Aneas parentage was a Trojan who had fled to the west after the fall of Troy. According to the celts the founder of their race was also a Trojan, Brutus who had also spent time on the Italian peninsula but had then visited the northern slopes of the pyrenees (occitan)before coming to the british isles. These stories were documented much later by Virgil (the Aeneid) and later again by Geoffrey of Monmouth(Historia Regnum Britanniae). Both books much must have been part of the oral tradition. Many historians discredit  completely the story of Aeneus but what is important is what the Celts and Romans believed at the time.

Caesar used the legends to legitimise himself as the Gallic High King. One of the reasons for Caesars rapid conquest of Gaul was his inderstanding of the gallic psyche.  It resolved itself into a conflict with other  potential high kings, which concentrated the action.  Another reason was that Eastern Gaul was suffering from Germanic invasions across the Rhine. Caesar promised to put a stop to these disturbances which is exactly the king of “protection a high king would offer.  In 55 and 54 BC Casar invaded Britain, the last remaining Celtic territory.  Though he did little more than present his credentials as High King, that was probably enough. In gaulish eyes Caesar became their “High King”.

caesar as high king

Of the three members of the triumvirate Crassus now was the only one not to have military success. He sought to achieve this success success against the Parthians in the East but had a contrasting  experience, failure which ended in his death.

Ceasar now was in a position to challenge Pompey as high king of the total celtic world.  Pompey declared his opposition to Caesar’s ambition but was defeated and was murdered after a flight to Egypt. Only days later Caesar met Cleopatra and eagerly formed a relationship with her.

Cleopatra was not the first Egyptian princess to form a relationship with Rome’s patrician families, but what was unusual was that Caesar made the relationship so public. Clearly super confident because of the vast resources, both financial and military at his disposal Caesar ignored the sensitivities of Roman Society.

Pompey’s two sons and the survivors of Pompeys legions made their way back to Hispania where in 45 BC Caesar finally defeated them.  Briefly Caesar, high King of the Celts became dictator of Rome. He was assasinated in 44 BC because he now represented the interests of the Celtic world not the interests of the Patrician families.

the plebeians

By the time of Julius Caesar (70 BC) wealthly plebians could also follow the Cursus Honorium  but would usually include an appointment as “Tribune of the Plebs” a position not open to patricians. Mark Anthony held this position and therefore was, in the eyes of Rome, a plebian.


Anthony did not have a high profile in celtic eyes. Though he had been in Gaul with Caesar he had been mainly concerned with defending the eastern frontier, an important but subsidiary role.

It is difficult to understand why Cleopatra chose anthony as her second roman partner, perhaps she did not realise how important the gallic world had become,  perhaps at that point in time she believed all Anthony had to do was become Roman Emperor to control the whole empire. In the short term, it seemed that they were content to consolidate in the east, even to go so far as to redistribute the eastern half of the empire amongst Cleopatra’s children.

When Octavian Declared war on Anthony He did so knowing full well that Anthony’s defeat was essential to his position as High King of the celts. His success however emphasised the differences between east and west.

Thus Rome found itself with two empires, in the West the High King was a personal not institutional in the East the King was an instrument of the state. The dividing line between these two empires was somewhere in Illyria so it is not surprising that the Illyrians found the strategies and initiatives most difficult to understand. Gradually the Hellenistic states came to believe that Rome was the rightful leader of their extended family.  Some had to be “pursuaded” to give up their independance but the kings of both Pergamon and Bythnia bequeathed their nation to Roman rule, as, in a rather different way did Egypt.

Octavious challenged

The Celts had waited and watched. The Hispanic Celts knew Octavius well, it was he who had led the Romans in the Cantabrian war as a result of which the Romans finally controlled the whole of the Spanish Peninsula.

It is  no coincidence that Celtic assimilation with Rome and the acceptance of Roman Government improved from the point at which in 27 BC Octavian became Augustus, the sole ruler, Emperor of Rome. In theory there was no longer confusion about who was High King and wether the High King had earned his status. However in Celtic eyes any new emperor had to prove himself as High King.

He was not well known in Gaul however . On the northern side of the Pyrenees between BC 27 and BC 13, six legions were permanently occupied dealing with non stop revolts in Gaul. In the end Octavian did what his experience in Hispania told him he must do. In BC 16 he took personal charge of the pacification of Gaul.

There was a low level revolt in BC 12 apparently triggered by a census and the realisation that the main purpose of the census was to formalise the raising of taxes. This was dealt with not by force of arms but by the creation of the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls. This was not simply a temple ( to the Gaulish god Lugh, God of the sun and equater with the roman god Sol Invictus. The altar was inscribed with the names of every Gaulish tribe and inaugural priest was a Gaul. Thus Gaul and the celtic tribes were given a special position in the Roman Empire. Octavian’s step sons Tiberius and Drusus were present during the inauguration.  Drusus’ wife Antonia gave birth to their son, Claudius in Lugdinium (today’s Lyon) on the same day as the inauguration.

octavious  altered the Structure of the legions, which once raised by  were rarely disbanded, and whose allegiances were difficult to establish. he reduced the number from 50 to twenty eight, which after three legions were destroyed in a german ambush in the teutenburg forest was reduced further to twenty five.

Republic to Empire

Despite Octavian’s success the Celts were never totally comfortable with the situation in which the Emperor chose his successor without reference to the people and without the demonstrating his military strength.

When Octavian died in 14 AD he nominated Tiberius as Emporer and this was approved by the senate.  Nevertheless the Celtic process of challenging the new Emporer was repeated. The Rhine legions, now with a good representation of Celts in their ranks, objected to Tiberius appointment and called for their leader Germanicus, the elder son of Drusus to be made Emporer.  Germanicus himself diffused the situation by leading his army across the Rhine, driving the many Germanic tribes back accross the Elbe. This in turn made Germanicus a legend amongst the Gallic tribes and the pressure to make him Emperor increased amongst the wider Gallic populace.

Renewed instability

Gemanicus however was murdered, and popular opinion was that Tiberius was inplicated in the murder.  The result was another Gaulish revolt and whisperings of support from the Celts in Hispania. The leaders of this revolt including Sacrovir were roman citizens. they were fighting as romans but against domination from Rome.

When Tiberius died in 37AD, Tiberius great nephew Caligula, who was bitterly attacked within Rome itself, achieved wide acceptance in Gaul, again because of the work done to strengthen the Rhine frontier. A delegation of British Kings came to Rome to pay homage to Caligula as High King, a nomination he gratiously accepted. Whatever his supposedly depraved private life may have been, and we only have the stories told by his enemies, Caligula was murdered, with the agreement of the senate, for his attempts to  reform the Empire to reduce the power of the senate and of the influence of the political system of Rome itself.

Caligula’s successor in  41AD was his uncle (Tiberius nephew) Claudius, who had been born on the day of the inauguration of the Santuary of the Three Gauls. Claudius immediately took up the need make special recognition of the Gauls position. He made a speech to the senate, (now known as the Tablet of Lyon because a bronze copy was installed in the sanctuary), in which he recommended that wealthy Gauls should be allowed to become patricians and therefore become eligable to enter the senate.

It was Claudius who extended Roman control to the British Isles, taking care to participate personally in one of the major battles so that his role as High King was clearly identifiable. He promoted his son, Britannicus as his successor, but Britannicus was murdered and in  54 BC on the death of Claudius his place taken by Nero.

Nero showed no sensitivity to the requirement to establish is credentials with the Celts and focussed his attention on the east. The Celts almost immediately revolted against this appointment. In AD 60 Boudica led a rebellion in Britain. The jews of the province of Judea revolted in 66 and Nero sent Vespasian to put down the revolt.

In 68 Vindex governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, one of the three Gauls honoured in the sanctuary rebelled closely followed by Galba, governor of Hispania Taraconensis, Virginius Governor of Germania Superior and Ortho, Governor of Hispania Lusitania, Vitellius govenor of Germania Inferior. All these Govenors were successively elected as Emporer by the legions of Gaul.

Virginus sensibly declined the honour and the others were all in conflict with the senate. One aspiration was that a separate gallic empire be established. consituency demanded a separate gallic empire.

In the east Eventually Vespasian, who had been the leading general in the conquest of Britain came from Judah to take control and become Emporer himself. Thus in a space of nine years every province with a celtic tradition had rebelled against Rome. With the appointment of Vespasian in AD 69 there was immediately a rebellion in gaul headed by Julius Civilis, a batavian but supported througout gaul, in favour of an independent gallic empire.

Vespasian, his son Titus and younger son Domitian all placed emphasis on strengthning the Rhine frontier,and pushing the frontier in britain further north. Vespasian was known in Britain he had been Claudius’ general during the original conquest. Despite being his sons Titus and domitian were less known and the northward expansion was mainly in the hands of Agricola , who was born in Frejus, Gaul. Agricola took part in the suppression of boudica’s revolt was governor of both gallia Aquitania And Britain. Agricola’s was govenor of Britain from 77 to 85 activities earned him the grudging admiration of the celtic tribes and he may well have been hailed as high king.  in the meantime Both vespasian and titus had died and Domitian campaingned in gaul and across the rhine frontier Perhaps against “phantom” enemies.Domitian also campained in dacia but ended up giving the Dacian King Decebalus a beneficial peace treaty.

Agricola was recalled from britain abruptly, possibly because domitian saw him as a threat. In 89 Saturnius , governor of Germania superior, saturnius rebelled against Domitian but was defeated by Trajan who had been born in Hispania and  had served with the legions in Spain. Trajan destroyed  all saturnius correspondence leaving a possibility the the revolt was in support of agricola and the he was himself involved.

After a short delay Trajan himself became emperor but not until after the death of Agricola. Initially Trajan was acceptable to the Celts but he then campained in Dacia And parthia which once again left a power vaccuum in gaul.  in 117 Hadrian who was also born in spain  but also concentrated on the east. In consequence there was a wjdespread rebellion in Britain in 119- 121  during which the ninth Legion “dissapeared”. Hadrian visited britain either during or shortly after thses disturbances. It was during hadrians reign that the jews again revolted against roman rule The dispute lasted from 117 to 135, and cost the romans heavy losses.

During the reign of Antonius pius there were only minor rebellions but this included the brigantes in britain. Lucius verus and marcus aurelius  ruled as joint emporers from 161 to 169 lucius dealt mainly with the east.

in 175 avidus cassius in the east rebelled against marcus aurelius. gaul was uneasy about the lack of interest in their concerns and in the years 162-166 german tribes managed to cross the frontiers on several occassions

Marcus died in 180 and Commodus inherited the inherited the title 185 disturbancies in gaul. Commodus murdered 192.

in the year of the five emporers  different parts of the empire voted different for different candidates 193 pertinax lost support of the army and didius julianus could not obtain the support of the senate. Three different armies then supported three different candidates Pescinnius niger in the east (Syria) Clodius ablbinus in the west Britain and gaul ans septimus severus in pannoniaand illyria

Albinus initially supportrd septimus severus  and accepted the title caesar from him and effectively ruled britain, gaul and hispania as a seperate empire for four years. apparently the senate approved of this arrangement but septimus severus the winner of the eastern battles did not. septimus brought his army , mainly iillyrians, moesians and dacians to do battle and defeat abinus whose arm was composed of britains gauls and hispanic troops. In the therlier civil wars the armies utilised could be classified as roman but not on this occassion.

thus the empire was divided, on cultural lines and would never again be totally united. Septimus knew that he had to prove himself to the gauls and after a significant period in the east he conduced a significant campain in northern britain he died in britain and his son caracella continued the campaign.

Neither the Senate who initially had the power, nor the Emperors, who gradually acquired it wanted to acknowledge the gradual inevitable slide slide from Republic to Monarchy.  In theory the Empire was still ruled by bewildering array of Magistracies such as Consul, Praetor, Tribune, Aedile,Quaestor, Military Tribune. Under the republic all these posts were elective.

The power of the Emperor initially came from the fact that he was granted Consular and Tribuary powers by the senate for ten years Giving him total control over the city of Rome and the Armies.  As well as being given the title “Augustus” i.e “Most Venerable” he was also given the title “Princeps” i.e “ First amongst senators, First amongst the people”.

Thus, although nothing seemed to have changed everything had changed. The worst effect of having no written constitution was that there was no universally accepted way for succession planning. The traditional combination of patrimony and bribery, used by the republic for senate appointments was extended and in the illusion of the continuing Republic l a developed concept that the Emperor should be elected. As the Emperor was the commander of the armies the armies came to believe that it would be they who elected the next Emperor. Consequently the recipient of bribery was often members of the army.

Worse still in an extended empire the legions in one part of the Empire often had a different view. The result was intermittent Civil war of various degrees of severity and and appalling and totally unnecessary loss of life.

The detailed management of the provinces was little better. Each civil war resulted in a purge of officials who had supported the wrong Emporer.

The magistracies for the “Existing Provinces” were still awarded by the senate to those of senatorial rank.  The Emporer was however given direct authority over Egypt, where no one of senatorial rank was ever allowed to visit, but also Gaul, Hispania, and Syria where the same restrictions did not apply.

As the Empire expanded its boundaries Brittania, Germania and Arabia were added to these “Imperial” provinces. The public face indicated that all this was achieved apparently by case by case negotiation between the Emperor and the Senate. It was never a negotiation, the Emperor told the Senate what the outcome should be.

The Govenors and Magistrates of the Imperial provinces were not elected but appointed by the Emperor directly.

In 290 Diocletian made substantial reforms. Now the provinces, almost a hundred in number were administered directly by the Emperor through a monarchical hierachy of “Vicars”.

Diocletion abandoned the title “Princeps” in favour of the title “Dominus”, which historically had been the title slaves gave to their master! All this without any written definition of a constitution.

The false image of the continuance of the Republic was projected with the concept that of a multitude of roles and powers being invested in one person , the Emperor himself.

The change from Republic to Principate to Dominate was a gradual evolution but the changes were nevertheless real.

Thus the peripheral provinces such as Britain, and there were now four separate provinces in Britain alone, had never responded to the Senate in Rome, but only to the Emporer directly. The machinations of Rome and its Senate had always seemed like the activities of a foreign state of no concern to the British, or the citizens of Gaul, Hispania or Mauretania.

Diocletian’s went still further,he created in theory two parallel empires, jointly owned by two Augustii it was envisaged that the Augustii would consult each other on all important issues but no attempt was made to define what an important issue might be.

Diocletion also created the post of “Caesar’, one for each half of the empire. This attempt to improve succession planning envisaged the Caesar in each half of the Empire would  work as an assistant to the Augustus and thus be a ready trained replacement.

Subsequent events make it clear that both Augustii was needed to appoint a new Caesar but not even this was documented.

In practice this reform creating not two but four parallel empires. again it was not formally documented and there was disputation about the boundarys.  It was a recipe for conflict.

Worse still, the subdivision itself had built in inequities.

Diocletion retired, the only Emperor ever to do so. After yet another civil war in  Constantine (the Great) became, for a brief period, sole emperor. The details of the subdivision of the empire, to his family is recorded and became the continuing basis of the Subdivision of east and West The Roman Empire was underpinned by the granaries of Egypt and Africa ( the Province not the Continent).

This subdivision made the inequities clear.

Egypt was now assigned to the Eastern Empire and Africa To the West. In Practice Egypt was controlled by the eastern Caesar, not the Augustus. However The Augustus was still able to demand deliveries of grain to the major cities of the East.

In the west the major granaries of Africa were governed by the Augustus. The Caesars realm Britain, Gaul and Hispania  recieved very little, perhaps no grain.

Despite this it was the Western Caesar who was expected to maintain the empires most threatened frontier along the Rhine.

In Rome “Comes” came to mean “ Friend of the Emperor performing an important role”.

“Comes” were however middle level administrators, mainly in the military, but also acting as estate managers for both the Emperor and other important citizens.

As the Empire grew bigger and the power of the Emporer grew, the Comes themselves became more important. It was the Barbarians invading the boundaries of the Empire which were the catalyst for this change.

at the end

The Upper Danube

The Danube’s source is remarkably close to the source of the Rhine.  It is very similar but not quite as formidable a barrier in its upper reaches, which is presumably why a wall was built between the two.

The eastern end of the wall was Castra Regina, today’s Regensburg, at which point the River was considered wide enough to be an effective frontier.

The Danube was never as secure as the Rhine however perhaps because the Romans did move across it to establish the Province of Dacia ( todays Romania). Dacia was part of the empire, the Danube was bridged and there was significant civilian river traffic. The river became not so much a barrier as a thoroughfare.

There was another side effect to the Roman presence in the Carpathian mountains. it opened up an alternative trading route to the east, by passing the persian empire which charged high taxes for goods passing through in both directions. Unfortunately much further east this sensitised a nomadic group of expert horsemen that there was a rich, by their standards very rich civilisation in the far west. The trade route was a trail which guided them and before long the Huns were on the edge of Europe, putting intolerable pressure on the Germanic people living beyond the frontier.

The Upper Rhine in Flood

To the West of the wall the Upper Rhine provided a second substantial barrier .

The Rhine in Switzerland

The Upper Rhine is difficult to cross right up to it’s source high in what are now the mountains of Switzerland. This meant that the road to Rome for those who did cross the Danube was through Pannonia(today’s Slovenia and Croatia) and across the top of the Adriatic.

The persistant Alumanii

Despite the strength of the defences along the Rhine frontier there were continued attempts to break into the Empire. The area running parallel to the Rhine became a permanent militarised zone. Most of the towns and even the villas were fortified. It was here for over a hundred years that the Comitas honed their craft, becoming regional commanders who co-ordinated civil and military cohesion and developed longer term strategies which involved the whole population of each region. On occasions the records identify them as “Counts” rather than “Comes”

Of all their opponents the most persistent and ultimately the most successful invaders were the Alamanii, who for over fifty years regularly made their way into Roman territory.

 A Succesful Invasion  

In AD 406 the Rhine froze over, not a common event and the Alamanii poured across. This was a real invasion, land tenure changed. The Romans sealed the border behind them but Alamanii were never dislodged.  They became a separate nation within the Empire, making no tribute to Rome and most importantly paying no taxes.

Authors note:- This the first of a series of slides which which shows step by step the changes in the western empire until is demise in 486. Some of the underlying text has little relevance to the first slides in the series.

The years of the migrations

In the same year other Germanic peoples used the fact that the Rhine was frozen over to penetrate the Empire. They migrated to Hispania, presumably to get as far away from the Huns as possible. Nevertheless as they travelled west they lived off the land as they moved through Gaul, causing great disruption.

Now populations throughout Gaul sought the expertise of the Comes as they became increasingly aware of the dangers they faced and prepared to incorporate military defences with civil administration.

In Hispania vast tracts of land were removed from Roman control, another major loss in taxation.  Following, in AD 202, the grant of citizenship to everyone living in the Empire the gearing of taxation to welfare became unsustainable. Further losses in taxation led to debasement of the currency and that in turn to inflation.

Trading activity slowed as the Empire’s trading network was disrupted. The process of individual geographic territories becoming self reliant and militarily independent accelerated.

Defence in Depth

The successful invasion of the Allamanii and the subsequent migrations came as a great shock. Preliminary plans were made for a different border defensive strategy.

The idea was to have self sufficient settlements both sides of the border which also served as homes for armed soldiers. Though troops from remote other areas of the empire were introduced as eyes and ears for the commanders, it was planned that the troops consisted predominantly of foederatii, permanently settled in designated areas.

The Magister Militorum

Events outside the Empire, predominantly the move westwards of the Huns, led to even greater pressure on its boundaries.  Internally there were financial and  administrative issues which could not be solved. In AD 68 the denarius contained 95% silver. In AD 270 the silver content was only 0.02%. In AD150 a measure of wheat cost seven drachmas but AD 270 the cost was120,000 drachmas , inflation of 150% per year for a hundred years!  Debasement of the currency, activities of tax farmers, legislation to control prices, prohibition of people changing occupations was all part of a sorry story.  All these measures led to the strangling of trade and a disincentive to take part in farming or industry.  There was not enough revenue to balance the budget.  Increasingly the Western Empire reacted by arranging for administrative simplicity.  The military forces to responded directly to the Augustus and took a steadily increasing interest in civil administration. The Empire slowly became a military state.  This was facilitated by the appointment of a “Magister Militorum”. The civil administration concerned itself with taxing and disciplining the general populace, a thankless task compounded by the increasing necessity to take orders from the military.

The role of Magister Militorum was in the latter days of the empire frequently filled by the chief of a tribe who had been successful in acting as foederatii. In the case of the Visigoths despite their notional status as Foederatii they were allowed the right to become inheritors of the southern part of the Western Empire, assuming both civil and military roles.

The Comes began to organise themselves locally for their own defence. They could no longer rely on organised support from a central organisation. Some conflict between Comitas and Magister Milatorum was inevitable. The Comitas became increasingly independent and self reliant in the area they controlled.

Typical frontier

Nevertheless an overall co-ordinated strategy was introduced. The geographic nature of the Rhine frontier suggested the strategy which was employed.  The strategy was also influenced however by lessons learned far away on the eastern border. In attempting to extend the Empire eastwards the Roman Army had been continually frustrated by the the Pesian and Parthian use of Cavalry.

The Scythian Horsemen.

Roman armies had been unable to cope with the use of Scythian cavalry. It really was new technology. Horses had to be bred and trained. Riders too had to be selected and trained. It was a task assigned to a group of Comitas and introdced first against the Vandals in North Africa where the terrain was similar to the terrain in the east, then against the Sueves in Hispania and now afer several generations of adaption and experimentation it was judged ready to be used on the rhine and Danube frontiers.

The use of a strongpoint

Using fortified elevated observation towers in locations were the views in every direction were in any case excellent, early warnings of attempts to cross the river were guaranteed.

The next most important feature was the provision of paved roads running parrallel with the frontier, enabling fast response to any emergency and the  interception any intruders.

Close to the road were occasional strong points in the form of stone castles and fortified villas.  The soldiers who manned the front line were called Limitanei but were known a little unkindly as “the farmer soldiers”. They were organised on Legionary principles and commanded by Dux.  The purpose of this front line was to present any attackers with a dilemma. They could ignore the front line and push on quickly into Roman territory or they could stop and lay seige. If they took the first option the occupants of the strongpoint could emerge, disrupt supply lines and block any retreat. If they took the second option it would cause significant delays to their advance.

Behind the front line would be the new cavalry units which had been developed . Highly mobile heavy cavalry armed with lances, light cavalry armed with long “slashing “ swords, both supported by mounted archers. This force could travel at speed along the paved roads.

The Comitas had been so long involved in the development of this type of cavalry that the new units took their name from their commanders. They became known as the Comitatenses.

The strategy being used depended totally on local quick decision making. The Comitas were detached from the Dux and given the authority to command not only their troops but civil and other military personnel. Whole districts were put under their command.  The organisation created occasional conflict Comitas and Magister Milatorum. d.

For all this to work the district civil administration had to understand the role of the Comitas and the role the civil population must play. The Comitas became increasingly independent and self reliant in the area they controlled.

Attila the Hun’s invasion of the Empire In 451 and 452 is usually considered a turning point for the Roman Empire and in a way it was but not for the reasons normally assigned to it. From the point of view of the development of the comitas as a separate class, the “nobility” it proved absolutely pivotal.  The concept of defense in depth and the rapid response capability of comitatensis cavalry worked well, as did decentralised control. The new role of the Comitas was now fully defined.

There can be few better introductions to the subject of Attila  and the Empress Honoria than this 1954 Hollywood film. It was “historically inaccurate” as there is no record of an actual meeting between Honoria and Attila. However Honoria vanished from the Roman record immediately after Attila’s second invasion of the Empire and Attila is supposed to have died of a heart attack during strenuous sexual activity a year later. Who knows?

One version of the Geneology claimed by the Carolingian Kings of the Franks  shows that Honoria did have a child, Ellak and that the Carolingians are descended from that child.

The story really starts with Honoria’s mother Galla Placida. She was the half sister of Emporer Honorius (West) and Arcadius (East).

Placida was betrothed to be married to Eucherius, Son of Stilicho , a vandal who was the only man to be a Magister Militum simultaneously in both eastern and western Empires.

When Arcadius died, a court intrigue inspired by Olympius, a junior court guard, resulted in the murder of both Stilicho and Eucherious.

Stilicho’s army consisting of Vandals and Visigoths were in the east but their families had been settled on lands granted in Italy. In a genocidal act Olympius ordered the execution of thirty thousand women and children.  At the same time The New Emporer in

A measure of just how vulnerable the Empire was becoming can be judged by the fact that in the middle of making preparations to improve the security of the frontier another migration occurred. The Visigoths, already settled on the south of the Danube and acting as foederatii for the Eastern Empire decided they were being badly treated by the Emperor of the East and moved their whole population, about 60,000 people,  into the Western empire. They were already inside the defensive barrier and so there was nothing to stop them. After they sacked Rome a deal was done and the agreed to become foederatii on the on the new frontier below which the Alans, Sueves and Vandals had settled.  The Emperors daughter, Galla Placida left with or joined the the Goths in Septimania and four years later married Autulf, their leader.

She had at least one, possibly three children by Autulf.

The geneology is unreliable in the finer detail but it is certain that the Roman bloodline found it’s way into Visigothic, Burgundian and Frankish Royal Families.

There is some evidence that Theodoric, King of the Visgoths who died fighting the Huns at the battle of the Catalunian plain was Galla Placida’s son. It is possible but if so he could only have been eight when he was hailed as King. Their is nothing in the record to suggest he was so young or that he needed a regent to act on his behalf.

These relationships are the reason that the Salic law, formulated by Clovis, barred succession though a female and why his family never mentioned Clothilde, their mother’s heritage. If they had made any claim dependent on Clothilde’s bloodline it would have opened up similar claims from both Visigoths and Burgundians

On Aultulf’s death Galla Placida returned to Rome where she married again to the Emporer Constantius III. Constantius and Galla Placida’s son became Emperor Valantinian III and their daughter was Honoria. She became an empress in her own right.

A celebrated contemorary painting shows the three of them. Surprisingly the central figure, dominating the other two, is Honoria.

Even after her return to Rome Gallida Placida was always referred to by the Visigoths as “Our Queen” and she made sure they were always treated favourably.

The flight of the female royal blood did not end there. Eudoxia Lucinia, Galla Placida’s Daughter in law and, Eudoxia Valentina, Galla Placida’s grandaughter also married outside the Empire, bringing the royal blood lines to the Vandals, who passed them on to the Visigoths in Spain and eventually back to the later East Roman (Byzantine) Emperors.

Away from the intrigues of this succession of Empresses, the implementation of the principles of defence in depth were now introduced in an economy which no longer could afford to pay for the services of the foederatii and which was desperate to increase revenue from taxation. The answer chosen was to make land grants. This was achieved by making land owners in the border areas give up one third of their land to the foedaterii.  who were immediately Roman Citizens and taxpayers.   The Visigoths were already along the Pyrenean frontier, Franks were allowed to expand along the North West Rhine frontier and along the boundary with the lands conquered by the Alamanii.

Saxons were introduced into the Loire valley east of Orleans and Burgundians allowed to settle in the Rhone and Saone valleys thereby constraing the southern border with the Alamanii.  Finally a mixed group of Foederatii were settled on the Northern Reaches of the Alps in what is now the Tyrol.

A final piece in the jigsaw was the arrival of huge numbers of Roman Britons fleeing the Anglo Saxon invasion arriving in what is now Brittany.

Defensive measures became irretrievably mixed with issues of settlement, land tenure and fortification. It was the Dux and the Comitas who managed these complementary but conflicting issues.

In 439 Vandals, who had been summonsed to Northern Africa as Foederatii, but in an internal Roman dispute ( between Bonificus and Flavius Aetius triggered by each of them trying to discredit the other in the eyes of Galla Placida), declared themselves to be a Kingdom, independent of Rome.  The implications of this sequence of events were disastrous for the Western Empire. without access to the grain from Egypt and Libya which were provinces of the Eastern Empire, the Western Empire was now totally dependent on grain from Africa and Mauritania (now  coastal Tunisia, Algeria and Morrocco).

The Western Empire was forced to pay a full commercial price for the grain.

To the North, all three of the major groups of foedaterii payed attention to this declaration and commenced a process of expansion sometimes allowed by the magister militorum, but sometimes resisted.

The Visigoths had the most success, quite probably as a result of support from Galla Placida but in any case aways making their expansion seem to be in the service of Rome, hence their move into Hispania to control The Sueves and Alans.  In AD 455 on the death of Emporer Petronius Maximus it was the Visigoths who nominated his successor Avitus and avitus was not a Visigoth.  Clearly up to that point they were operating at least nominally within the Roman System. Avitus was then defeated and murdered by Ricimar the Magister Militum. It was possibly from this point in time that the Visigoths made the decision to seek full independence.

In the meantime Attila had established a principle of protection money from the Eastern Emperor. It was a simple arrangement, in return for a generous payment Attila would not cross the Danube, would nor attack Byzantium. There were frequent diplomatic exchanges between Attila and Byzantium and during one diplomatic mission Priscus, the Byzantine historian recorded in great detail the way that Attila lived.  His observations are recorded in a famous painting by Mor Than which is in the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest.

In AD 441, The Hun’s finally invaded the Empire. They poured through the Allamanii lands and swept past the defences of the Franks and the Saxons.  Attila made it abundantly clear what he wanted.  The hand of the Empress Justa Grata Honoria and half the empire which he judged to be hers by right.

Honoria, Empress, daughter of an Empress, possibly half brother of the Visigoth who now called himself King Theodoric, had proposed marriage to Attila in 450 and sent him her most valuable ring as proof of her scincerity.  Obviously Attila was interested.

However the defence in depth worked admirably.  Attila chose to ignore the fortified facilities and had reach a point half way between Orleans and Paris before he discovered that he was surrounded. He retreated rapidly but was now hampered by hit and run tactics by the Comitatenses, the Cavalry, who’s very name indicates that they were controlled by various Comes.

Suffering continual losses Attila made a stand at the Catalunian Plain. The site of the battle was no accident of fate. Reims was one of the great intersections of Roman roads and South east of Reims is the point where the great Roman highway from Narbonne through Nemausus and Lugdunum joined the northern road network.

This permitted the Visigoths, travelling quickly along well made roads, to take part in the battle.

Using the network of roads the Comitiatenses poured into the area, supported by all the local Limitanes who could get there in time.  It was on the outer edge of the Limitanes manned by the Franks. Another ten miles and Attila would have been safe.

It was a triumph for the defensive strategy which had been devised. Historians call it a tactical defeat for Attila. The evidence suggests a resounding victory for the Romans. Most of the records of the battle have come to us through Frankish sources or sources under Frankish control. They would have wanted to describe the total collapse of the Roman Empire and the incompetance of its administration to justify their own grab for power. It just was not true The Huns were surrounded by Comitiatenses who used their archers to annihilate the huns with wave after wave of arrows. Then the cavalry moved in for the kill, heavy cavalry first to break resistance and then the light cavalry to mop up survivors. Attila was lucky he survived, most of his best troops did not.

Just for good measure Attila tried again the following year this time making a more easterly approach through Pannonia and striking direct for Rome. Again the defensive system worked, again Attila found himself surrounded.  This time he retired much more quickly and there was no definitive battle. He never tried again and died shortly afterwards.

The Comitiatenses and the Comes who controlled them gained much confidence and the battle tactics used were still in use in the hundred years war nearly one thousand years later.

The Roman records are sufficiently complete that it is possible to identify who were the key players in this defensive effort. In the year 446. Flavius Aetius  was Magister Militorum.

In the years before the Hunnic invasion he had used Huns not as Foederadatii  but as mercenaries to help control the Franks and as his own personal bodyguard.

Richimar was the senior Comes. He was of  Sueve/Visigothic parentage but a second cousin to Emporer Valantinian III and the Empress Honoraria.

Aegidus was possibly of Frankish extraction. He was elected King of the Franks when Childeric was accused of rape and remained so for eight years whilst Childeric was in exile outside the empire ( in Thuringia).  However he was thrust to one side when Childeric returned.

Comes Majorian and Avitus both went on to become Emperors.

Considering the reputation this period has for instability it is rather surprising to find that Honorius ruled for twenty-six years and Valentinian III for twenty five.

This period ended with the murder of Flavius Aetus and a short time later the murder of Valeninian.  Valentinian is credited with murdering Aetus and his own death was supposed to be a reprisal. It is difficult to believe that the murders were totally separate from Valantinians’s sister Honoria’s proposal to Attila and the fact that Aetus had an enduring alliance with the Huns. Certainly Flavius Aetus’ death co-incided with Honoria vanishing from the record.

After the deaths, Petronius Maximus, assumed the purple but lasted only seventy days.  One of the causes of Maximus’ downfall was the second capture and sacking of Rome, this time by the Vandals.  Valentinians’ wife Eudoxia Lucinia asked Gerseius, King of the Vandals to rescue herself and her daughters from the clutches of Maximus and his son.  Subsequently she married Gerseric and her daughter, Eudoxia Valentina married Hunneric, Gerseric’s son from a previous union.

Whilst all this was happening Avitus was declared Emperor by the Visigoths. He returned the complement by appointing Riccimar, who was half Visigoth, to the post of Magister Militorum Praesentalis.

It took less than a year for Ricimar to take advantage of his new position to drive Avitus from office.

There then followed seventeen years in which Ricimar decided who should be Emperor including two years in which he exerted direct personal rule without the formality of declaring himself, or anyone else, Emperor. It was in this period that his one time colleague  Aegidus placed himself safely behind the barrier presented by the Allamandii, Burgundians and Visigoths to set up an alternative Roman State.  Aegidus died in 464 and the area he controlled was taken over by his son Sygonius.

What were the British doing there?

One of the surpries in the period Immediately after the period of the Hunnish invasions was the prescence of the British in Gaul.

There was eventually a considerable flow of Romano Britsh immigrants into Brittany.The subtleties of the Celtic languages indicate that the later wave of refugees, fleeing from the saxon advance, had a significant impact. Many of the place names in Brittany have their origins in this later event.

However in 457, The Angles, Saxons and Jutes were firmly pinned in the south east corner of britain  and all the signs were that the Roman Govenor of Britain, Ambrosius would completely subjugate them. Abriosius was however voted to be high King of the British in a parallel initiate to that of the Franks who voted for Aegidus election as their High King.

When Ricimar dismissed Avitus and appointed Marcian as Emporer, Marcian took a dislike to the idea of Romans being HIgh Kings. He summoned both  Aegidus and Ambrosius to come to Rome. Aegidus Ignored Marcian but Ambrosius , now known in Gaul as Riothemus “The High King” went to Rome to plead his case. He ended up for a short period in prison and in England Caswallan made himself an altrernative High King.

When Marcian was in turn dismissed, Ambrosius was released and hurrying back to Britain, sent Caswallan into exile, where Caswellan took refuge with the Visigoths.

Conflict With Visigoths

Flavia Galla died in 450 and her son Valantinian was murdered in 455. Valantinian’s wife Licinia Eudoxia copying Honoria’s dealings with Attila, invited Gaeseric to revenge her husband’s death. This he did and removed most of the remaining wealth of Rome. It was known that there were dimplomatic relations between Carthage and Toulouse and so both Visigoths and Vandals were declared Enemies of rome    In 468  with yet another Emperor in place Ambrosius/ Riothemus was in Gaul again and now came into conflict with the Visigoths.  It is possible that his aim was to link the territories controlled by Sygerius with Auvern, still outside the Visigothic influence. It is possible the aim was to push the Visigoths back to their original land grant south of the Garronne river. It is possible that the conflict was initiated by the Visigoths in support of Caswallan.

Riothamus won a battle at Bourges but then suffered suffered a disastrous defeat at Deols. Interestingly he then sought refuge in Burgundy. Why would Riothamus have taken action independent of Sygerius? It must be suspected that Riothemus was senior to Syagerus in the roman Hierachy.

There was an uneasy alliance between Riothemus, Sygerius,Burgundy and the Franks all nominally working according to the wishes of the then Emperor Anthemius, who was, until he was appointed as the Western emperor a member of the Byzantine court.  The Western Empire was still functioning albeit in a modified way. Nevertheless Riothemus was not supported by and of the others during his battles with the Visigoths.

We know about this snippet of history because Avaranus, the pretorian Prefect for Gaul betrayed Riothemus‘ movements to the Visigoths. Arvandus was subsequently charged with treason against the Emperor(Anthemius). The charges are recorded and he was condemned to death but Richimer murdered Anthemius and commuted the death sentence.

From this incident the nature of the conflict in Gaul is revealed.   The Visigoths, despite over fifty years as the Empire’s servants, were now seen as an enemy.

They had declared themselves independent and cast envious eyes on Northern Gaul, Brittany and perhaps Britain itself.  The Visigoths cause was supported in Rome by Ricimar and his nephew Gundobad a Bundurgian.

Everything which happened over the next thirty years was not a series of invasions but a civil war to decide who controlled which part of the empire and, most importantly, who gained the largest proportion of tax.

Like many civil wars it turned brother agaist brother and sons against fathers.

Exchange is no robbery

In 475- 476 there was a sequence of events of great importance.

First the Visigoths followed the lead of the Vandals in declaring their independance from Rome. They ceased to be Foederatii and declared themslves inheritors of the South Western part of the Western empire. They agreed to pay taxes to Rome based on the last census and agreed to give up the eastern part of Septimania in return for the Auvergne.

Secondly, when Orestes, appointed Magister Militum by Julius Nepos, yet another emporer, was sent to supervise an orderly transition for the administration of Auverne and he became aware of the magnitude of the transaction, he determined that he should be a part of it. He gathered together a group of the smaller nations acting as Feoederatii; Heruli, Scirian and Torcilingi. He marched on Italy and sent Julius Nepos into Exile.

Unfortunately these Foederatii also knew the terms which had been given to both Visigoths and Franks, namely one-third of all land in the territory they occupied. They demanded the same in Italy but Orestes refused.

This led to the third event. Only a year later the foederatii swiched their allegiance to  Odoacer, a junior member of the Visigothic/ Sueve royal family, who defeated Orestes. Odoacer did give the Foederatii what they wanted.

The fourth event was perhaps most important.

The Senate of Rome told the Eastern Emporer that they no longer wanted a seperate Emperor in the West, that they would prefer to be ruled directly from the East.  Thus the senate itself had publicly announced the end of the Western Empire.

The Church of Rome.

The Church of Rome was not exactly disinterested in these proceedings.

A decisionin 476 by the Roman Senate in to accept direct authority of the Eastern Emperor was extremely challenging to the Bishop of Rome. In AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon held that the the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome was only honorific , that the Bishop of Constantinople was equal in every other sense, and that changes to church litergy could only be made through a Council of the Church.

If the Emperor of the East now accepted the invitation of the senate to rule the West then the power of the Bishop of Rome, now calling himself Pope would be seriously undermined. The alternative was however almost equally unacceptable.

In 476 the only remaining contenders as Emperor of the West would be one or other of the Foedeterii.

Both the Visigoths,Valdals, Sueves and Burgundians were Arians, a completely different form of Christianity. The British  And citizens of northern Gaul were Celtic Christians, again unaffiliated to the Roman Church and with different beliefs and liturgy. Amongst the original Celts along the whole atlantic seaboard Celtic Christianity had many adherents. Many others were Pagans. retaining a belief in the tradition Celtic Gods . The Alamanii and the Franks were also Pagan, though as there would be many Arian’s amongst their ranks.

Most historians accept the Church’s own claims that the majority of the people of Gaul were members of the Church of Rome.  However consider this; that the oldest known Christian church in Gaul is St Peters in Metz was built as part of a Roman Spa in 380 and was only converted to a church around 550.

Notre Dame De La Daurade

Or alternatively consider the basilica of Notre Dame du Daurade in central Toulouse which started life as a temple of Apollo.  It’s use as a Christian church was only authorised by the Emperor Honorarius after he allocated the Visigoths this territory as as Foederatii in 410, coincident  with the time that his sister Galla Placida ran away to marry Autulf. The only reason it has never been considered the the oldest church in Gaul is that it has been rebuilt several times. What variant of Christianity was followed here in 410? It is a large Temple, was it only the Visigothic rulers who worshipped here? Probably not. Surely if the Church of Rome had been so strong in Gaul there would have been earlier churches, specifically designed as churches? The technology to build them was available.

The lack of earlier churches must mean that the church of rome did not have as many adherents as it has since claimed.  The other versions of christianity placed less importance on displays of wealth and elaborate structures they often gathered to pray in each others homes.

Ignore the re-writing of history,  In 476 the situation for the Bishop of Rome looked bleak.

Local Government

Thus in about 481 Western Europe was subdivided into eight major subdivisions of the Roman Empire. In North Africa the Vandals had created a separate state and a navy which controlled the Mediterranean. On the eastern border the Alamanii had also created an independent state.  Riothemus in Britain And Brittany, Syragius in Northern Gaul, Odoacer in Italy who all in all in their own different ways supported the Eastern Emporer.  In the South West, the Visigoths ran their territories as if they were still the Empire but a different empire with a Gothic aristocracy performing the role of the Senate and government. In the East and North East the Burgundians and the Franks created kingdoms and their leaders called themselves Kings. Did they still consider themselves part of the empire? Probably so.

Nowhere had the Foedaterii eliminated the empire of it’s administration. They had simply taken it over In every area there were Counts Owners of the principles of defence in depth the construction of fortified dwellings and the training of cavalry on which that principle depended.  From 476 onwards, there was no certainty of the outcome

However it was in these kingdoms that the feudal system was invented. Unsure of the level of support which could be received from individual landowners, the Kings assumed ownership of all land and then reallocated it to known supporters who often included some of those who had previously possessed the land. In return for the favour of the grant of land the “Feuar” promised loyalty, financial and military support. Many of these feuars were the Dukes and Comptes from the previous era.  Eventually central control ceased. For their own survival, The Dukes and Comptes, had to negotiate arrangements with competing interests. Some Dukes pushed for total independence but found this to be a very dangerous policy. Most opted for swearing allegiance to one of the major developing powers.  Near Fronyiers between Kingdoms, relationships were often short lived. Both Dukes and Comptes became adept at switching allegiances frequently as the balance of power changed,

The hierarchy of the Church of Rome, up to now totally separate from the state, was severely disrupted. By default local bishops aligned themselves to the nearest duke for protection. It was soon realised that dukes were too high profile, often attacked and replaced. Most bishops chose a safer option of aligning themselves with Comptes. The bishops first had to convince Individual Comptes that the church of Rome still had a role to play. It was in this period that the tradition originated that a Compte had the right to choose the Bishop whose diocese was located within his own territory. Naturally each Compte would choose a bishop whose views, religious and otherwise, coincided most closely with his own!

The reconfiguration

In each area Decisions were made about security and defence. It was obvious the Pax Romana was finally over. The was no standard formula. Different geography demanded different solutions selected on the advice of the Comitas in each district. However as a general rule, classical towns and cities with their wide open streets were replaced with much smaller walled towns.  The classical structures; public buildings, markets, baths and stadia were used as quarries to provide stone for the new facilities.

The Dux and Comites ceased to be state andministrators, they became landowners. their future lay with the success or failure of the local community.

The breakdown in trade meant that many who lived in towns were unable to make a living and migrated to the countryside to find work. Near frontiers they could find themselves working alongside Limitanei.  In any case they were expected to arm themselves and become an essential part of the local defensive system. Some villas were fortified. The ones in the best locations, most easily defensible, were taken over as a base for the Cavalry, the Comitatenses.

Improved security often demanded control of an area wider that one Comes could personally cover. A new rank, the Baro, (Free warrior) was devised, a feuar of the Comes and in control of sub districts.

The Fortified Villa

It was not possible to fortify every Villa, Some were simply abandoned. Those which were defensible attempted to become self sufficient. This required a significant population who could not always be accommodated within the inner defences. Outer defences were required, to accommodate larger numbers of people.

Walled Villages.

Soon an extra external fortification was added to enclose the total populace of the of the estate.

Initially the structures had the same style of architecture as the villas they enclosed.  Had experience taught that more sophisticated defensive features were required.

Experience led to the development of the “Motte and Bailey”. There is a common belief that these were all wood and earth structures because that is what the normans used when they first came to england in 1066. The Normans, were however a very small number of invaders trying to control a large antagonistic population. The Normans used wood to allow the rapid construction of fortifications when they really needed them, most of which were replaced in stone within fifty years.

In Gaul in 500 the problem was not a population in revolt but occasional cross border raids or territorial wars. In many places the construction of the defences was not so urgent and stone was used as the original construction material.

The Pope of the time developed the concept of right to rule.  He maintained that Roman Emperor Constantine the Great had given the Popes of Rome the right to the temporal rule of the Western Empire. This was ultimately supported by documentation known as the “Donation of Constantine” (which much later was proved to be one of the greatest forgeries and therefore frauds, of all time). Nevertheless the Pope used this concept to intervene and appoint the untrustworthy devious, murderous, teenage leader of the Frankish tribe to be his Magister Militarum. A cursory examination of the titles chosen for the new Church of Rome hierachy shows that it was the Church itself which was intended to provide the civil governance.

The leader of the Franks was called Clovis and the Dynasty he founded the Merovingians.

There are many legends about why the Pope, chose Clovis, but it was really because he permitted the Church of Rome to adopt, at least in the short term, the role it had assigned to itself – to become the spiritual and temporal ruler of the Western Empire.  Clovis became the classic Client King. His job was simply to use his ruthless political and military skills to eliminate the opposition, which he did, with brutal efficiency.

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

Table Of Contents



List of Places

Table of Contents

Pseudo History