Thursday, February 16, 2017

Recapping the Fall of Rome: Game of Thrones

Lots of caption here, because credit where credit is due. This is Abdelratif Reda's fresh goat cheese, served with apricot jam on a bagel in the medina of Rabat, Morocco.. The photograph is by Eloise Schieferdecker (imputed c. 2015), and appears in an article by Zoë Hu, running in the online lifestyles magazine Zester Daily 

Did Rome have a crisis? The basic outline of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire is Decadent First Century-Golden Second Century-Third Century Crisis-Fourth Century Dominate-Fifth Century Fall-Sixth Century-

Cliche, but good point. Let's just stay the heck away from the Byzantine Empire or whatever it is. 

The confusing thing here is that the crisis comes in the middle. There's an elaborate theory of politics in which governments pass through cycles of development. Domitian's government is a "Dominate," replacing an earlier "Principate." Yes, the restored empire is a different, and lesser thing, rather like the old Chinese Western and Eastern dynasties, but it is restored.

In this analysis, it is all about politics. A number of specific factors make the Empire politically infeasible: the government is badly structured; The location of the Roman capital is bad; it is overspending to buy army support; changing elites mean that new groups will have to seize control of the imperial office, whatever the short term cost of political stability. Etc. Not a single mention of cream cheese for breakfast!

Since I am on record as arguing that the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west is due to a breakdown in long-distance trade causing a shortage of money and local deflation in the far west, it might be time to go through the long, long list of emperors and usurpers and highlight the factors that, I think, make a purely political explanation inadequate.
Crisis means, above all, the imperial office. All the emperors, and there were a lot of them. 

A note on method: Individuals ranking from 10 down to 1 on the "Could, Like, Totally Be An Emperor" Scale issued coinage with their faces on it. Thanks to the incredibly high find-rate of Imperial coinage, we know their names, and, no doubt, so did the author of the fascinatingly unreliable Historia Augusta who gives us our list of the Thirty Tyrants. So that's my list! I've only had to add in Amandus and Aelianus, the leaders of the Baguadae/Bacaudae, but there is some (fascinating) controversy here. They "do not escape the suspicion of being forgeries,

Do primitive rebels and social bandits thrust, then parry; or parry, then thrust? Scholarly debate continues.

but if they are not forgeries, it is more than a little significant that they were made on dies previously used to issue the coins of the Gallic Empire. If they are forgeries, it is an especially fun fact that the coin in question came to the Ashmolean Museum from the collection of Arthur Evans.) 

Getting these two (and the "British emperors," Carausius and Allectus) means going past Domitian's accession to the indefinite moment later in the reign when his Tetrarchy was formalised, but that's as good a date for "ending" the crisis as is Domitian's actual accession, so we're good to go.

I also push my list back to Marcus Aurelius. That's because we need a hypothesis that will explain the sudden irruption of barbarian invaders at the height of the Third Century crisis. It might be that a top-down crisis of governance suffices. Weakness at the top attracts prey from beyond the frontier. My sense is that this doesn't really cut it. Bandit armies do not cross the Alps, nor barbarian fleets penetrate the Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara and Dardanelles without a serious socio-military breakdown. Maybe that's top down, but it happens first under Marcus Aurelius, not normally seen as a weak ruler. And that's why I'm including him!

Personages Issuing Coins Portraying Themselves as Emperors Between Marcus Aurelius and the Consolidation of the Tetrarchy (Uncertain facts --read "scurrilous rumour-mongering") is noted with an asterisk)
Emperor and Co-Emperors
Dates; Dates of Co-Emperors
Cause of Death
Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus
121—180; 130--169
Spanish-Roman senatorial aristocracy
Natural Causes*
Son of M. Aurelius
Court coup, Rome
Senator, “new man,”
Praetorian mutiny, Rome
Didius Julianus
Maghreb-Roman senatorial aristocracy
Executed/assassinated at instigation of Senate
Pescennius Niger
c. 145—50--194
Italian equestrian nobility
Executed/assassinated at instigation of S. Severus in Syria
Clodius Albinus
c. 150--197
Italian senatorial aristocracy
Executed by S. Severus in northern Italy
Septimius Severus
Maghrebi senatorial aristocracy
Natural causes
Caracalla (Geta)
Son of S. Severus
Assassinated by disappointed office seeker on campaign in Middle East*
Maghrebi equestrian nobility
Executed at instigation of Elagabalus in Turkey
Syrian equestrian nobility; relative of S. Severus
Praetorian mutiny* in Rome
Severus Alexander
Relative of S. Severus
Mutiny by 22 Primigenia in Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Maximinius Thrax
c. 173--238
“Thraco-Roman” new man
Mutiny by 2 Parthica, Aquileia, Friulia, Italy
“tribune of the Moors,” married to Calpurnia of the Caesonia*
Executed by Maximinus somewhere in North Africa
Gordian I and Gordian II
c. 159—238; 192--238
Equestrian nobility of unknown (Turkish?) origins, “Said to be related to prominent senators.” Sempronia? Son.
Suicide after military defeat in Tunisia; Died in battle near Tunis, leading militia army
Pupienus and Balbinus
c.165/170—238; c. 178--238
Senatorial aristocracy*
Praetorian mutiny, Rome
Gordian III
Maternal grandson of Gordian I
Died in battle in Iraq*
Philip the Arab
c. 204--249
Syrian new man
Executed/assassinated/mutiny at instigation of Decius
c. 201--251
Danubian-Roman senatorial aristocracy
Killed in battle by “Goths”*
Gallus; Hostilian
206—251; 230?—251
Senatorial aristocracy; Son of Decius
Mutiny at instigation of Aemilianus at Terni, Umbria, Italy; Natural Causes
c. 207/213--253
Maghrebi of contested station
Mutiny at instigation of Valerian, Umbria, Italy
193/195/200-260 or 264 (left office 260)
Senatorial aristocracy
Died Iranian prisoner of war at contested date
c. 218—268
Son of Valerian
Killed in army coup, Milan, Italy
Macrianus Major; Macrianus; Quietus
d. 261
Equestrian nobility; sons of M. Major
Various sordid ends after failed bid for power
Ingenuus; Regalianus
d. 260; 260
Unknown; Illyrian new man
KIA near Osijek, Croatia; KIA somewhere in Baden-Wurttemberg;
Postumus (“Gallic Emperor”)
d. 270
Mutiny by 22 Primagenia, Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate
Valens or Julius Valens Lincianus
d. 250
Senator or unknown

Marius; Victorinus; Tetricus I and II; Domitianus II (“Gallic Emperors”)
d. 270; 270 or 271; later dates; 274 (presumably)
Unknown; provincial “of great wealth”; Gallic senatorial nobility; unknown
Victorinus was killed in a private quarrel in Cologne; Marius and Domitianus I are obscure; Tetricus abdicated and retired successfully, with his son going on to be a provincial governor J
Laelianus (Gallic emperor-claimant)
d. 269
Related to Marcus Aurelius
Killed in action at Mainz, Rhine-Palatinate, Germany
Claudius II Gothicus
10 May 210—270
Danubian new man
Natural Causes
Censorinus (probably spurious)
Senatorial aristocracy
Mutiny, Bologna, Italy
c. 212—270
Brother of Claudius
Suicide at Aquileia, Friulia, Italy
9 September 214 or 215—275
Danubian new man
Army coup near Sinekli, Istanbul Province, Turkey
c. 200—276
Senatorial aristocracy*
Natural Causes at Tyana (near Kemerhisar, Nigde Province, Central Anatolia, Turkey)
d. 276
Brother of Tacitus
Assassinated/Mutiny at instigation of Probus, near Tarsus (Mersin, Mersin Province, Turkey)
Danubian new man
Assassinated/Mutiny at instigation of Carus
Julius Saturninus, Proculus, Bonosus
d. 280; 281; 281
Egyptian governor of unknown origin; Frank-Roman “accounted a noble, his ancestors had been brigands and were the source of his vast wealth”; British/Gallic new man
Mutiny, Israel;  Executed by Probus; suicide.
c. 222—283
Gallo-Roman senatorial aristocracy
Died on campaign in Iraq*
Carinus and Numerian
Sons of Carus
Private quarrel in wake of defeat at river crossing in southern Serbia*; Natural cacuses*

Amandus and Aelianus
d. 286
Leaders of the Bagaudae, issued imperial coinage
“Crushed” by “Caesar Maximian and his subordinate, Carausius”
Carausius and Allectus (‘British Emperors”)
d. 293; 296
Gallic new man; unknown
Assassinated by Allectus, perhaps in London; killed in action at Silchester, Hampshire, United Kingdom

1. Marcus has a pretty solid reputation, and he is the first Roman emperor to have an adult lifespan typical of an early modern king (who died about 6--10 years earlier than their contemporaries, who made it to Bismarck's 64.) I have it on the authority of Ridley Scott that he was actually murdered by his son, and Lucius Verus' death doesn't quite pass the sniff test, either. 

2. There's not much to say about Commodus, if you're not into taking the kind self-justificatory slander seriously. It's unlikely that he was a particularly effective executive, but he died in what looks like a typical Roman palace coup. These look internally political, in the sense that emperors who live in, and rule from, Rome, get 6--8 years before they have to face a "time for a change" murdering. 

3. Ditto Pertinax. Herodian liked him, which makes me suspicious of the story about "restoring the discipline of the Praetorian Guard." There's nothing that aristocratic Roman readers liked better than stories about soldiers being made to drill bash and dig ditches as a means of asserting social dominance, and if Pertinax really pushed it to the point of mutiny, we're well within "Upper Class Twit of the Year" territory.

4. Didius is the guy who won an auction for control of the Praetorian Guard. Conspicuously absent in discussions of this episode (and Pertinax's death) is the officers of the Guard. One assumes that they were members of the Roman ruling class. This might tell us how their agency in these events gets obscured. (Good book!) It's noted that Didius reversed Pertinax's decision to increase the bullion content of the silver coinage, which shows a grip on reality not illustrated by his last words to his killers, which, per Cassius Dio, were, "What evil have I done? Whom have I killed?" Dio, a hard money hawk, probably meant this to be read ironically. Septimius Severus is going to make a point about Imperial confirmed kill lists and longevity of reign. 

5--6. So Severus dealt with rivals named "the White," and "the Black." If we didn't know these guys existed --. More importantly, not only do we know that they existed, but the names indicate that they are members of well-established Roman aristocratic families. These lineages will disappear from historical reconstruction by the end of the century, a fascinating phenomena. While genealogy (and genealogical fabrication) isn't nearly as universal a phenomena of human history as is sometimes suggested, the moment when aristocrats stop pushing their family trees is going to be an interesting conjuncture. Just saying. 
Cute and horrifying.

No, seriously, this is important. In 200 AD, you've got rich and famous members of many of the great gentes running around. by 300 AD, they're just gone. This isn't an issue of a Stalinist purge, either. Even if all the Calpurnii were killed, there's no particular reason why some up-and-comer can't claim to be descended from them. (Not surprisingly, these families re-emerge in Medieval Rome. The general assumption is that this is all ass-pulling. Why not in 300? I'm thinking that it was not a good idea. So, why not? Good question!)

7. David Potter thinks that Severus was the leading edge in a movement away from a strictly Roman interpretation of the Roman Empire, that his civil wars show that the Roman army as then constituted was dangerously out of step with the modern world;

and that his government prefigures the new way of Roman rule. Which is to say, palace officials, equestrian officials --basically the modern, non-judgmental repurposing of the old "rule by eunuchs/rule by the harem" stuff. 

8. Caracalla is another colourful emperor. He gets extra credit for starting a pretty solid trend, in which emperors who go east to campaign against the Iranians end up dead. I'm still going to treat him as a victim of a "wave of change" murdering. (If only he'd had the sense to make Sarah Palin his vice-emperor. ) Also of note here is his attempt to raise a "phalanx" corps within the Roman army. Usually treated as impractical antiquarianism, which it may well have been, it was actually a pretty solid move, tactically speaking. As far as I'm concerned, the tercios of the Gran Capitano are the culmination of pre-musket infantry orders of battle, and it is another of those interesting historical points that it took two thousand years to get from the Diadochi to the Battle of Pavia. Maybe it's because Caracalla stopped to take a dump?

9. Macrinus was a lawyer of distinctly non-Roman origin, but it is hard to argue that there is a political breakdown implicit in this social background when his emperorship was made in the army, which did not have access to any Roman politicians not tainted by the Severans--

10-11. Who promptly came back with Elagabalus and Alexander Severus. Of Elagabalus, the less said the better, because many others have said far more. In spite of being another worst Roman Emperor Ever, the length of Elagabalus' reign falls well within a "wave of change" model. That is, I am going with the idea that he was killed because the out-of-office group achieved political ascendancy over the satisfied in-group, not because he was a transsexual. Alexander Severus is another matter, not because his reign was not long enough to meet a "wave of change" criteria, but because he was killed in Mainz, the city where the river Main falls into the Rhine. The Main is a wide and navigable river all the way to Bamberg, almost on the Danube, making it an important trade route in post-Roman, and presumably Roman times, as well. Apart from leading on down the Danube, these Early Modern routes carry on into and over the Alps to Italy, a point that, you'd think, would be salient to the ancient Romans. Unfortunately, in the current state of knowledge, we know that there were Roman customs barriers in the Alpine passes, but not roads. 

Technically, the routes obviously existed. It was mostly a case of improving them to the point where you could get wagons across them. The Via Claudia Augusta was turned into a wagon road by Drusus in 47AD, giving the Romans access to the province of Raetia at Augsburg. The Brenner Pass was given a carriageway in Severan times, the central Alpine passes not until much later. Nevertheless, archaeologists have found a customs house of the Quadragesima Galliarum at Zurich. The vast lack of interest in this institution shown by people who like to speculate about the role of long-distance trade in the Roman economy is a bit disheartening, I have to say.
I've buried the lead a bit in the "caption" above, but the point remains that Alexander Severus abandoned a campaign from Raetia into the Alemanni territories in favour of paying them a subsidy.  I'm suggesting that this broadly indicates that the logistical lines of campaign, which tend to follow economic routes, run north-south across the Alps, not east-west across the "Roman limes." I don't think that there is anything particularly mysterious here, because I like talking about the economic importance of long-distnace cattle drives, but I feel like the case for trans-Alpine cattle drives from Germany to Rome has not exactly been proven yet. What we do know is that  the tribal name of Alexander's frenemies is usually read as "Algemein." This never-before attested group with a readily-readable name, normally intepreted as the "All-Men," are evidence of some kind of ethnogenesis taking place over in the Black Forest country. Whether it is a new tribal group, soon to be endowed with its own myth-historical roots, or just a simple confederation, is another question. The point is, however we choose to understand "ethnogenesis," this is undoubtedly a political fact, of real relevance to Roman politics when we consider the role of the army precisely in politics. For example, in killing Elagabalus and Alexander Severus. Some of the murderers were "Germans," and, back in the Old Country, their relatives were turning into a new people.

13 (yes, I've lost a number here). Maximinus Thrax is announced at the head of his Wikipedia article as a "barracks emperor" of the Third Century. This is fine, taken by itself. He was a general. He was proclaimed as emperor by the army. There's no particular reason to doubt that his origins lay in the Danubian provinces. The problem is that he predates the other "barracks emperors" we want to compare him with by a generation or more. He's also supposed to be a "Goth," which makes him very, very premature. Unless, you know, "Goth" is a constantly repurposed label indicating no ethnic continuity whatsoever, and I can't say that, or Peter Heather will be sad.  Maximinus launched a campaign against the Alamanni, defeated them at a marshy battlefield somewhere in the Agri Decumates, and then moved down to the Pannonian basin, taking winter quarters near Sirmium (that is, near Belgrad) after fighting groups identified as Dacians and Sarmatians. At this point, he learned of trouble in Rome that led him to lead his army across the Dalmatic Alps to Aquileia, which he found closed to him. He was soon killed by someone army-related.

14-15. Titus was a local rebel in North Africa; but he seems to have emitted a coinage. Gordian I and II followed in his footsteps. "The landowners armed their clients and their agricultural workers and entered Thysdrus (modern El Djem), where they murdered the offending official and his bodyguards[22] and proclaimed the aged governor of the province, Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus (Gordian I), and his son, Gordian II, as co-emperors.[23This seems like a drastic step to take, and the militia army raised by the Gordians was no match for the regular garrison. The complicating issue is that the Gordians seem to have been very well connected in Rome. There's a weird convergence between Roman and African issues going on here, and this is probably as good as any a point to note that the Severans seem to have shifted Rome's olive oil procurement from Spain to North Africa, greatly enriching their native region. Archaeological evidence indicates that North Africa, and especially Tunisia, would be an industrial/agricultural powerhouse right into the late Empire, although it is somewhat questionable whether or not this really reflects the genuine enrichment of the province.

The twelve Sicilian martyrs come up when you image search "Circumcellions." Among other things. What the heck, let's go with 'vore-inspired art instead of, you know, the other thing.

16. Pupienus and Balbinus were elected emperors by the Senate to deal with Maximinus, who apparently did not win Miss Congeniality at any point in his career. While they were away, attending to his convenient murder, Rome had riots, fires, and mutinies. When they got back to the city, the Praetorian Guard showed them just how much fun it had been while they were away. The usual interpretation is that this was also intended to show the Senate who was boss. 

17. If so, it was not entirely convincing, as a groundswell of opinion brought Gordian III to office. Gordian lasted six years, which would fit his reign into a "wave of change" model if he hadn't decided to change things up and wedge into the "Killed on campaign against the Iranians" model, instead.

18, Everyone loves Philip the Arab as a signpost of crisis. Arabs can't be emperor! (Whether he was an actual Arab is another question.) Philip hurried back to Rome, through a colossal version of the Secular Games, got news that a general he had sent to deal with the "Goths" in Pannonia had proclaimed their leader, Decius, emperor, and was killed shortly after. As with Elagabalus, the implicit verdict that he was not proper imperial material is contradicted by a "wave of change"-length reign. A spectacular Secular Games, I will note here, involves obtaining a lot of sacrificial victims of the "spotless white kine" variety. In my monomaniac version of Roman history, of course I see them being driven over the Alpine passes. The fact that trouble promptly broke out up in cattle country is . . . interesting.
19. Decius is, after Maximinus, the second Danubian to become emperor. The disappointingly small size of Roman Sirmium suggests that there wasn't much going on in Roman provincial civil life on the banks of the Sava, Drava, Danube and Moravan rivers, so the concentration of emperors born in Sirmium and Nis over the next century is, to my mind, a concentration of army brats as well as  army officers. Decius, however, is an enormously wealthy senator, as well as being from Pannonia. He also issues an edict on collective worship that can be intepreted as recognising that the Roman Empire's ideological foundations need some refurbishing. It's a troubling indication of problems ahead, although not nearly as troubling as Decius getting himself killed in battle against some "Goths" or (equal and opposite anachronism) "Scythians" engaged in driving a train of Roman captives out of the province after a raid. And while this was standard practice for the Crimean Tatars of much later days, the Tatars were slave-raiding to meet the demands of the Istanbul market. I'm not clear where these "Scythians" were driving their captives. I am going to gesture in the direction of James Scott. Scott isn't surprised to find the common people fleeing into "Barbaricum." It is, rather, a strong indicator of a failing state.
Crimean Tatars are in your grill. Source. Though I have it on reliable authority that you can't use a lance on horseback without stirrups, which were invented in, oh, say, the middle-Carolingian period.  That's for not getting me an academic job on the strength of your (undead) reputation, academic Stammvater!


20--21. Gallus represents a return to rule by the senatorial aristocracy. Dexippus says that he also colluded with the "Goths" to get Decius killed. The general consensus (Wikipedia quotes Potter, my authority, too), is that Dexippus is full of it --but, let's face it, Dexippus is the guy who would know! "Gallus made peace with the Goths. Peace terms allowed the Goths to leave the Roman territory while keeping their captives and plunder. In addition, it was agreed that they would be paid an annual subsidy." What the fuck, Gallus? I think maybe the takeaway here is that the people being herded out of the Roman Empire by assorted barbarians weren't actually that eager to be rescued? Fetish fantasies aside, this has  the pretty strong implication that life in the Roman provinces is not going well for some groups.  

Without endorsing these morons, I can kind of see their point, even if their proposed solution is counterproductive.
It's after the treaty that things really start going wrong for Decius. Iraniansinvade, The Scythians invade again, and, somehnow, manage to burn the Temple of Athena at Ephesus,and the high priest of Emesa (Homs) raises a private army, fights the Iranians, declares himself emperor and mints coins, so it's not clear to me why my authorities don't put him on the emperor list I'm following, At this point, both Aemilianus and the next entry on the list proclaim themselves emperor. Valerian wins out.

22--3. A minimalist interpretation of the crisis would say that it's certainly happening by now. Valerian promptly associated his son and grandsons with him in the imperial office. This is a fairly common practice by now, and clearly an important one. Diocletian's break from it, perhaps for no better reason than not having a son to associate with, is a key factor in the emergence of the Tetrarchy, so this is a good time to mention the leading explanation for it, which is that the cause of all of this Imperial instability is that officeholders remote from the Emperor have increasingly little motive to participate in the imperial reign. One way of looking at this is the more recent idea, applied to Holy Roman Emperors, of Kaisernahe --proximity to the Emperor. According to this argument, the Austrian aristocracy is fine with the Habsburgs, because they live next door, while the Elector of Brandenburg is revolting all the time, because Berlin is so far from Vienna. 
Subtext --We kan haz it!

You can also argue that the Roman Empire is too big, and needs to be divided; or that it is an artificial (economic) unity, or what have you, because it is quite possible that we wouldn't know Gallienus any better than Hostilian had Valerian not managed to be taken prisoner with his entire army by Shapur. 

Shapur  is not a big fan of hunblebragging.
24--9. So. Crisis. Gallienus doesn't just face an embarrassing number of pretenders and usurpers. His entire empire comes apart as a breakaway "Gallic Empire" emerges in the west, while the Palmyrenes take over in the east. There's nothing like the complete collapse of central authority to suggest that a state is in trouble! A top-down political analysis is (barely) sustainable here. Valerian's epic battlefield failure causes everyone to lose faith in the Imperial institution, maybe? Although it is odd that Postumus presents himself as an emperor in the west, while Odenathus does not, in the East. In fact, arguably, Odenathus is more interested in presenting himself as the proper successor to the Parthian Great Kings, in rivalry with Shapur, than he is in contesting the Roman imperial office. Also, the Alpine passes come into play again, as yet another new Germanic group, the Juthungi, erupt across the mountains, seize yet more captives, and make off across the mountains, where the captives may well have ended up being enslaved and sold on the Roman market at Mainz, in an episode involving yet more Roman emperors getting killed at Mainz. 

Troubling. Also, more evidence that would-be Roman emperors should stay away from Iraq and Mainz. 

30. Claudius Gothicus. Dexippus' history ends with Claudius. We don't know how it ends, because only small extracts survive, but Dexippus is making a choice here, and what Dexippus thought of Claudius II is going to be key to Dexippus' whole narratice. That we don't have. Sigh. Anyway, Gallienus provoked an officer-led coup in 268, perhaps because he refused to act against the Gallic Empire due to the distraction of a rebellion by one of his generals, and this pissed the Palmyrenes off. The idea that the Roman army was acting at the instigation of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra is an . . .odd one, but I'm not the guy making it. It really does look as though the arrogant world view of the old Roman has taken a serious enough beating that Romans are willing to look at the world in a new way. 

Claudius is a good example of this, in that he is a Danubian general, again, but this time of no recorded ancestry. That doesn't mean that he doesn't have parents, and that those parents aren't perhaps rich and influential. (This is my argument here.) It's just that he can't acknowledge them. As I say, my idea here is that he's the son of a prominent Roman family via a "country marriage." It's a well-known frontier phenomena. 
Simon Fraser Tolmie was Premier of British Columbia for a hot minute in the 30s. Frankly, his older brother, the long-time Deputy Minister of Mines, was a more important player in provincial history, but he didn't get a remarkably steep street just outside the University gates named after him. Oh, and he is the son of Jane Tolmie, nee Work, daughter of Josette Legace, a Metis Spokane Indian "princess." This makes Tolmie at least an eighth (more likely a quarter) First Nations, which I find amazing considering the social climate of the province in those days, and telling as to what its racist climate actually implies. (That it's about class, not race. I know, I know, I'll show myself to the "brogressive" table.)

The only problem with it as an argument is that I just pulled it out of my ass. On the other hand, it works well enough the other way. The Constantinids claim Claudius as an ancestor, and whether this is true or not, that makes them the oldest attested family in the Western tradition. (Because I am a cynic about genealogy, and am content to conflate "claim" and "fact." The general consensus is that Claudius is not the actual grandfather of Constantius I.)

Claudius Gothicus appears in Dexippus defeating the "Scythians" (or, later, "Goths"), acccepting their surrender, enrolling them in the Roman army, and, in general, forging a new relationship with the barbarians, greatly at variance with what had come before. So, good on him. Then he died.

31. Aurelian has appeared in this blog before, although considering that it's 3:30 on a short rest day already, I'm not going to be linking to it, "intellectual capital" and all. He's the guy who defeated the Juthungi (again), built a wall around Rome, put down a revolt by the Roman minters, who were seriously upset at him, extended the free distribution of provisions to the citizens of Rome to include salt pork and wine; and commuted the former grain issue into bread, taking control of its milling. He also issued a new coinage. This, in Potter's interpretation, unleashed a disastrous inflation and decoupled the gold and silver coinage, leading in short order to the collapse of the silver standard in the Roman Empire. Others have a kinder interpretation of Aurelian's monetary reform. At least the one thing we can agree on is that he introduced taxation in kind on a much more extensive scale, especially in the West, and tied the provision of the frontier units of the army to this form of taxation -- a huge step in the direction of "feudalising" the army, although the actual military reforms that divided the Roman armed forces into a land-tied militia and much smaller, mobile, "professional" force were implemented by either Diocletian or Constantine. In any case, there's a great book by Hendrik Dey on just what Aurelian accomplished with his walls, and what he might have been trying to do.

32--7. Maximinus might well represent the floating of a trial balloon about the suitability of a presumably small in-group of Daubian army officers as a natural group from which to select emperors. On the other hand, it might just be about the fact that the Danubian army was the only place Gallienus had left to recruit generals from, due to the loss of the rest of the empire. This is Potter's theory. I'm more inclined to attribute a special importance to the Danubian armies. Perhaps it is down to the fact that the road to the east runs through Pannonia? When armies are constantly marching from the West to Iraq, the contractors who get it from the Alps to the Bosphorus have a chance to make bank. In any case, the immediate reaction to Aurelian's death was a revival of senatorial candidates for Imperial office, which only came to an end when Carus died on campaign against the Iranians when a lightning bolt struck his tent. 
38--9. There's colourful stories about the fate of Carus' sons and the rise of Diocletian, but Potter notes an underappreciated aspect of the story, which is that the general staff of the army agreed to put a junior colonel forward as emperor. Did no-one else want the job? If not, what does that tell us? Probably nothing good. And, yet, Diocletian put the empire back together. Either it is all due to his invention of the Tetrarchy, which finally gave the Empire enough emperor to go around --which seems really dubious given Constantine's long and successful lone reign, or the transition was already in the cards (Aurelian did it); or, most provocatively, it is because the Emperor stopped going to Rome. 

40--1. I've already, obliquely, noted the idea of Roman "social bandits" by referencing Herodian's digression from his court-centred narrative to describe a Roman "Robin Hood" active on the road to Brutium in the days of Caracalla. I also couldn't resist quoting the Hostoria Augusta's capsule biography of the pretender Proculus, "[W]hose ancestors had been brigands." The recent discovery of a "barbaric radiate" of Proculus tends to confirm that he actually existed, and was a western usurper of the period in which the Gallic Empire was just collapsing. Which brings me to Amandus and Aelianus, associated with the Bagaudae, definitively, and perhaps claimants to the imperial office. 

The Bagaudae ("The Fighters") come down to us, described in the most explicit possible terms as "social rebels." 
I c Long Live the Fighters of Muad'Dib!

They were --well, let's go with the original quotation, embedded in a cut and paste from Wikipedia:

The Panegyric of Maximian, dating to AD 289 and attributed to Claudius Mamertinus, relates that during the bagaudae uprisings of AD 284–285 in the districts around Lugdunum (Lyon), "simple farmers sought military garb; the plowman imitated the infantryman, the shepherd the cavalryman, the rustic harvester of his own crops the barbarian enemy". In fact they shared several similar characteristics with the Germanic Heruli people. Mamertinus also called them "two-shaped monsters" (monstrorum biformium), emphasising that while they were technically Imperial farmers and citizens, they were also marauding rogues who had become foes to the Empire.

I'm doing the cut-and-paste here because of the reference to the "German Heruli:" little known-fact. "Heruli" dates from a century later. Our contemporary source is Dexippus, and he refers to the "Heluri," not the "Heruli." Yes, a consonant swap is perfectly plausible, but, well, Wikipedia again:

 Linguists have associated the word with the root ϝελ-wel-, as in ἁλίσκομαιhalískomai, "to be captured, to be made prisoner". In fact, some ancient authors did not consider the term ethnic, but rather an indication of servitude: Antiochus of Syracuse writes: "those of the Lacedaemonians who did not take part in the expedition were adjudged slaves and were named helots",[10] while Theopompus (fragment 122), cited by Athenaeus (VI, 416c), states, "...and the one nation called their slaves helots and the others called them penestae..." [11]

That is, I'm going with some drive-by historical linguistics, associating "Helot" with "Heluri," and suggesting that we're confusing Germanic barbarians from beyond the Black Sea with social rebels tearing up Athens back in the late 250s, twenty years ahead of this Bagaudae outbreak in France. The modern reinterpretation is that the Bagaudae were not social rebels, and given a choice between the oft-overclaiming E. P. Thompson and the careful John F. Drinkwater, I am persuaded. The Bagaudae were not a coherent social movement "aiming to effect clearly formulated socio-political changes through violence." They were just pissed about something. And if they were pissed enough to provoke Diocletian to raise Maximian to the status of co-emperor, this is rural unrest of possibly world-historical importance. What they were pissed about is another matter.

42--3. Carausius and Allectus, the "British emperors" appear to us in two guises. Carausius commanded land units in the campaign against the Bagaudae. He also appears as a man raised in the maritime service of the state in northwestern Europe. Given command of a fleet, with which to suppress piracy, he instead colluded with the pirates and profited from their activities. Getting word that he was to be removed from office and punished for this, he instead raised the Roman garrison in Britain, and also in Bolougne, in revolt. The revolt lasted long enough (286--93) for the breakaway state's ruling elite to get tired of Carausius and replace him with Allectus. 

In general, the emergence of a British separatist sea-emperor gives English historians funny feelings down there. It's all so rogueishly Elizabethan. 
If by Tudor spirit you mean a series of fiascos in the Western seas, then, yes. That is where we're going.

The two of them also issued a very nice coinage. Solid money! Sea power! Rexit! I'm actually a bit amazed that Carausius isn't a national hero. Maybe it's the fact that the two men's coinage has been found in connection with garrisons in Rouen and Boulogne at a fairly late date, showing that their support in western France was suspiciously deep? 

There's probably garlic and frog legs involved, too.

Or that the "British fleet" doesn't seem to have actually existed by this point? I know that this makes it a bit difficult to understand just what Carausius was commanding. The biggest leap here assigns Carausius's fleet to the "Saxons" he was allegedly fighting --presumably, settled on the "Saxon shore" as military auxiliaries. Awkward. 

The argument is that, a few years later, Diocletian had to raise Constantius to imperial colleague in order to get enough stacked leadership bonus to allow his fleets-and-armies to reconquer Britain. On the one hand, this led to the final establishment of the Tetrarchy. On the other, it ensured that Constantius was in York when his son, Constantine arrived, thereby ensuring that Constantine would launch his successful bid to take over the Roman Empire from a British base. Rule, Britannia! 

And, finally, the relative success of Carausius/Allectus shows that the factors that led to the end of Roman Britain were, in fact, in place a century before the actual withdrawal. This argument works a little better than pure handwaving once an amazing number of Third Century British revolts are added in, but I don't have the time for that, today. 

In (long-delayed) conclusion, I hope that I've shown that some key factors are in play that are hard to explain in political terms. The disproportionate mortality of Roman emperors in Mainz and Rome is not a joke. These are trouble spots, indications of a failing system, Yes, a failing political system, but a system that no human politician can master is not a functional system. Outbreaks of social upheaval don't point to a single explanation, but they do point to a system that can easily go off the rails and fail to provide for the social welfare --in the west. Problems with the coinage go well beyond local shortages of bullion. Death in the east is frequent enough that I cannot see Roman campaigning there as voluntary, even if the wars are chosen. Factors are driving Roman emperors east to their death --I am going to conclude that the alternative is also their likely death. The idea that the imperial office ends up in the hands of a group of Danubian soldiers of obscure family origin because only soldiers can rule the Empire, and, for some reason, only Danubian soldiers will do, is . . unconvincing. It seems to me more likely that they are an in-group of some kind. The career of the Gordians is evidence of an (invisible) social in-group that can place an emperor on the throne without any obvious argument for the candidate. The question is, what in-group relations act behind the Danubian emperors?

The problem with putting the hypothesis ahead of the tediously detailed examination of the (political) evidence is that you already know my answer, which circles back again to the problem of producing provisions, horses, and horsemen for the army. But that's the progression of ideas I've adopted here, and the fact remains that I haven't got the time to write Postblogging Technology, February 1947 this week. (Largely, I admit, because I spent the better part of two productive days playing Civ V, but that's my problem.)

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