Sunday, August 20, 2017

The End Of Rome

So, let's talk about Theodosuis II, the son of Arcadius, a man who ruled for more than 40 years, taking office at the unripe young age of 7.


If he's remembered for anything, it's for taking the time to collect all of the Imperial Laws (from the days of Constantine onward) and binding them all together into something we've come to call the Theodosian Code.  Also, in an effort to keep Constantinople safe from Huns and other invaders, he fortified the city with the impregnable Theodosian Walls.

In fact, those walls remained unbreached until the Ottomans came along in 1453.  They were constructed when little Theo was only about 12 or 13 and was still under the care of his older sister (Pulcheria) and the Praetorian prefect Anthemius, so I guess they could just as well been called the Pulcherianthemian Walls (or the Arcadian Walls, since it was he who supposedly got the whole project underway).

In 423, when Honorius (emperor of the West) died of swelling, Theo II was thinking of going old school and running both halves of the empire on his own.  As he pondered his decision, a civil servant named Johannes stepped up and took the western throne for himself.


Johannes suspected this was going to put him at odds with Theodosius II and the east and so he tried to reach out to the Huns for help, but before any Hunnic help could arrive, the eastern army showed up.  They cut off Johannes' usurping hands, dragged his usurping body around the horse racing arena, and finally cut off his usurping head.

Then Theo II's man Valentinian III (a six-year-old) was installed as emperor...


...and placed under the guidance of Aetius, a commander who'd served under Johannes and worked out a deal for himself with Theo II.

It was around this time that Theo II began paying the Huns large sums of gold to keep them away.  In 424, the Huns accepted 350 pounds of gold.  In 433, Attila convinced Rome to double that amount and collected 700 pounds of gold.  In 443, after the Huns defeated a couple of Roman armies, they demanded 2,100 pounds of gold.  And in 450, Theodosius II fell off of his horse and died.

Meanwhile, out west, Valentinian III's general Aetius had teamed up with a Visigothic king and they led an army out to face the Huns in 451.  At the Catalaunian Fields, they managed to do something no one had previously been able to do:  they stopped the Huns.

I mean, the Huns were still able to ransack much of Gaul, and the Roman/Visigothic army was reduced to life support, but a stop is a stop.

However, Valentinian III, a hedonistic ruler who fancied sorcery and astrology and wading face-first into Christian controversies (in 445 he passed a law that recognized the primacy of whichever bishop happened to be in charge of Rome) felt threatened by the success of Aetius.  One day, when Aetius showed up in court to present a report, Val III accused him of drunkeness, rushed him all at once, and gave him a terminal sword stroke to the side of the head.

Two years later, two of Aetius' supporters responded in kind and killed Valentinian III.

If you look a bit closer, you'll see that the man who incited Valentinian III to kill Aetius is the same man who later persuaded the two Aetian supporters to kill Valentinian III; the wealthy senator Petronius Maximus.


There's a murky story about how perhaps the lusty Val III seduced Pet Max's wife and Pet Max had been plotting his revenge ever since.  Whatever the backstory, after Val III's assassination, Petronius found himself in charge of Rome... tentatively.  The thing is, he didn't have much in the way of support, so when the Vandals rode on Rome in 455, his people abandoned him.  He tried to sneak out of the city but, as soon as he got outside of the city walls, an angry mob spotted him and stoned him to death.  Then they mutilated his corpse and threw it in the Tiber.

When the Vandals showed up, they spent two full weeks sacking the city, but out of respect for Pope Leo, they agreed to refrain from any excessive arson or murder.  On their way out, they took the empress (formerly married to Valentinian III and then Petronius Maximus) and her daughter.

Over in Gaul, the Visigothic king Theodoric II saw an opportunity to install his own man on the Roman throne and promoted his pal Avitus.

AVITUS  455-456

When Avitus arrived in Rome (from Gaul) to officially take his seat, a powerful Romanized Germanic commander named Ricimer (stationed at Ravenna) promptly rebelled.  Ricimer rode out against Avitus and defeated him, but decided to spare his life.  Instead of killing Avitus, Ricimer made him become a bishop, which effectively took him out of the game (of thrones).

Ricimer's man was a senator/general named Majorian.

MAJORIAN  457-461

Majorian managed to reconquer parts of Spain and Gaul after strengthening his forces with barbarian mercenaries.

...but Ricimer got nervous about Majorian's growing power and decided the best thing to do would be to arrest him and torture him and cut off his head.

Ricimer replaced Majorian with a puppet named Severus III.

SEVERUS III  461-465

Severus III was docile and malleable and managed to die of natural causes.  Ricimer liked Severus III, but not many other people did.  Severus III was never recognized as a legitimate emperor by most of the west (or the east) and really only controlled a small portion of Italy.

At this point, Ricimer needed eastern military aid but the east would only help him under the condition that they be allowed to choose the next western emperor.  They chose Anthemius.

ANTHEMIUS  467-472

Anthemius was a general who'd proven himself capable in the past, fighting successfully against Goths and Huns.  When he rode against Vandals and Visigoths in 467 and 470, however, success was elusive.  Ricimer, not a fan of Anthemius in the first place, rode on Rome in 472 and beheaded Anthemius in St Peter's Basilica.

Having done away with Anthemius, Ricimer installed another Roman noble.  This one was named Olybrius.


Olybrius had all the makings of a willing puppet but Ricimer died in 472 and Olybrius quickly followed in kind, succumbing to dropsy only a few months later.

Ricimer's nephew Gundobad took over as puppet master and installed the Imperial Commander Glycerius as his Pinocchio.

GLYCERIUS  473-474

The eastern empire did not recognize Glycerius and sent out their own man, Julius Nepos, to take over.


Julius Nepos, former governor of Dalmatia, deposed Glycerius without a fight and sent him to Dalmatia to be a bishop.

But Julius Nepos' own commander, Orestes, deposed him and forced him to flee to Dalmatia where he is thought to have been killed by Glycerius and/or his own men around the year 480.

Orestes installed his own son, the appropriately named Romulus Augustulus, as emperor in 475.


Both Orestes and Romulus Augustulus were dominated by Odoacer and the Germanic mercenaries who eventually demanded Italian land for themselves.  Orestes balked, so they killed him and deposed Romulus, allowing the boy to retire to Naples with a modest pension.  He was so unimportant that no one took the trouble to make note of how or when he died.

And that's it.  That was the end of the Roman Empire and the men who sat on the throne as rulers.  It was a pretty gradual thing and nobody living at the time made any real fuss about Romulus Augustulus.  The empire had been catatonic for years and it ended not with a scream but with a whisper, a whisper so quiet that it wasn't even noticed.

Kind of anticlimactic, no?  The eastern empire kept on going (we call it the Byzantine Empire) until 1453 when the Ottoman's took over, but the western chunk of the Roman Empire was done.  Some people believe it stopped being the Roman Empire long before 476.  Some say it ended with the death of Commodus or during the Third Century Crisis or when Constantine came to power or when Rome itself was sacked...  the point is, for me, that it ended and that, in its wake, it left a fascinating legacy.


Monday, August 14, 2017

For Your Enjoyment, Several Recent Drawings

...recent book illustrations.  Here's a guy on a train contemplating his life decisions:'s a drawing of a warrior:

...and here is a sketch I did of a lion approaching a guy who puts boots on vehicles, even when those vehicles are correctly parked in the space designated for loading/unloading and the concierge told the driver that he doesn't need to put any kind of validation on the dashboard because the vehicle is clearly marked as a commercial delivery vehicle...


Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Group of Philistines Goes For A Walk

"...and after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel..."
                                                                        -Judges 3:31

Okay, so we know Shamgar killed 600 Philistines, but suppose he didn't do his oxgoading all at once...  Suppose he did it over a period of time...

Today, Shamgar kills Philistine #210 and Philistine #211 and Philistine #212

These Philistines don't stand a chance.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Jovian and Valentinian I and Valens and Gratian and Valentinian II and Theodosius I and Eugenius the Usurper and Arcadius and Honorius

When last we spoke, Julian the Apostate had just been stabbed to death with a(n assassin's?) spear and died.  Which brings us to Jovian.

JOVIAN  363-364

Jovian, like his father before him, was an imperial bodyguard.  And he was a Christian, which means the anti-Christian Julian was either willing to employ Christians as long as they didn't act all You Should Be A Christian Too, or Jovian (and everyone else who believed in Jesus) kept his faith a secret.

Jovian wasn't anyone's first choice for emperor following Julian's death.  The officers originally offered the position to an old Praetorian who, after considering what a lousy job being emperor actually is, respectfully declined.  Jovian, having no such inhibition, accepted the job as soon as it was offered.

It turned out that most of the troops misheard the announcement.  Some of them, apparently, heard the name "Jovian" as "Julian" and thought the Apostate had recovered from his wound.  Others thought they'd announced that a notable notary named Jovianus had been chosen.  Instead of either of those men, they got Jovian.

If you'll recall, all of this took place in 363, in the middle of a large military expedition against the Persians.  And things hadn't been going well.  In fact, Julian was leading the army on a strategic retreat when he was fatally struck down.  Jovian's first task was to complete the retreat, and he secured safe passage for the Roman forces by paying the Persians a bunch of cash and agreeing to give back a bunch of land.  Under the circumstances, this was probably the wisest thing to do, but it made Jovian unpopular.

Another thing that made Jovian unpopular was when he burned down the Library of Antioch.  He meant it to be a strike against paganism, but Christians (the literate ones who were keen on books) didn't like it anymore than the pagans.

But Jovian didn't end up having much opportunity to leave a lasting impression on anyone; in 364, whilst en route to Constantinople, he died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a fire he'd kindled in his tent.

The next man up was Valentinian I, commonly thought of as the last great western emperor.


Valentinian I had been a commander under Julian without a great deal of success but Jovian kept him around anyway and promoted him.  When Jovian died in his tent, Valentinian I was closer than any of the other likely candidates for the throne and so power passed to him.

He accepted the position, elevated his brother Valens to co-emperorship, and (per custom) split the empire into two parts.  Valentinian I set up court in Milan and controlled the West.  Valens set up in Constantinople and controlled the East.

Valentinian I spent all of his time fighting Gallic raiders and Sarmatians and the Quadi.  In 375, a group of Quadi met with Valentinian I to parlay.  Valentinian I, an intemperate man given to frequent outbursts of anger, found their attitude to be so insolent and discourteous that he flew into a rage:

..and then promptly had a stroke and died.

Meanwhile, Valens was doing his best to keep things together in the east.

VALENS  364-378

He'd had to put down a revolt led by Julian's cousin (Procopius) and Gothic tribes were starting to to move into Roman territory in order to escape the Huns.  Valens thought the best thing to do would be to let some of them settle in Roman territory.  But the local Roman officials mistreated the foreigners and, in response, the tribesmen banded together into a formidable army (mostly Visigoths and Ostrogoths) and eventually met Valens in battle.  At Hadrianople in 378, Valens took an arrow in the face...

...and died along with more than half of the Roman forces in the eastern army.

Now, around the year 367, Valentinian I promoted his son Gratian (aged 8) to the rank of junior emperor with him in the west.  When Valentinian I died of a stroke, Gratian (now aged 16) took over the job of western emperor.

GRATIAN  367-383

Valentinian's other son, the 4-year-old Valentinian II was named Gratian's juior emperor.


Gratian, in matters of religion, was led by Ambrose, the inordinately powerful Bishop of Milan.  He set out to repress paganism, famously removing the Altar of Victory from the Roman senate house.

In Britain, a Roman general named Magnus Maximus revolted against the unaccountably unpopular Gratian and led the army down to attack Roman Gaul.  Gratian's men abandoned him and he was captured and killed at Lyons in 383.

Remember when Valens died in 378?  That's when Gratian named Theodosius I, a Spanish officer, emperor of the east.


So, just to be clear, we now have Valentinian II in the west and Theodosius I in the east.

The young Valentinian II was now the sole emperor of the west but found himself dominated by a man named Arbogast, the commander of his armies.  Valentinian began to resent Arbogast and attempted to dismiss him from his position. Arbogast, unmoved, replied, "You can't fire me because I don't work for you.  I work for Theodosius."

And shortly thereafter, Valentinian was found hanged.

Arbogast, really feeling himself at this point, decided to nominate a former grammar & rhetoric teacher named Eugenius (known to posterity as "The Usurper") for the position of emperor of the west.


Eugenius was a Christian, but he used public money to support pagan building projects which put him at odds with Theodosius I who, in 391, outlawed paganism and declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Theodosius killed Mag Max in 388 and in 394 he made time to kill Eugenius and Arbogast.  But before that, Theo had all kinds of adventures.  In 382, he signed a peace treaty with the Visigoths which allowed them to occupy Roman territory under the authority of their own king.  In 390, he massacred a bunch of Thessalonian citizens after they killed one of his commanders.  Ambrose, Bishop of Milan was so incensed by this act of violence that he formally excommunicated Theodosius and wouldn't let him back into the church until he'd repented by sitting outside the church and crying for 8 months.

Theodosius died from severe edema in 395 and left the empire to his two sons; Arcadius (17 yrs) was given the eastern half and Honorius (10 yrs) was given the western half.

Let's get Arcadius out of the way first.

ARCADIUS  395-408

There's not a whole not to say about him.  He wasn't an especially effective emperor and was controlled by ministers and eunuchs and his wife, Eudoxia.  In 399, he issued an edict that called for the demolition of all remaining pagan temples.

Arcadius died in 408 at the age of 31.

Now, on to Honorius.

HONORIUS  395-423

Honorius was only a boy when he became emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire and, as such, he fell under the guardianship of his general, Stilicho.  Around 401, Alaric, king of the Visigoths, began raiding Italy and  Stilicho managed to push him back.  Honorius, convinced that Stilicho was plotting to overthrow him, had Stilicho arrested and executed and when Alaric returned in 410 he was able to successfully march all the way to Rome.  And when he arrived, he sacked the city.

Rome hadn't been sacked since about 390 BC.  The emperor's court was no longer located in Rome (it had moved on to Ravenna), but the fact that Rome was sacked was unimaginable.  The whole thing really gave Honorius' reign a black eye.

He spent the rest of his reign dealing with the fallout from the sack of Rome, fighting against rebellion, and trying to make deals with the various tribes and people groups invading the western empire.

In 423, Honorius died of edema and the unstable empire was juggled between the hands of Theodosius II, Johannes (the other Usurper), and Valentinian III.

Be sure and come back next time to find out if the empire is able to get back on its feet!

(it isn't able to get back on its feet, it just falls apart completely)