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Fine Line Between Fear in Courage in Book III of Procopius’s Vandalic Wars

Just got back from giving a paper in Kalamazoo Michigan. I have been very busy teaching and proofing some forthcoming articles so have neglected the blog. To remedy this I am attaching the paper given without the slide show. This is very much a work in progress and this version is missing footnotes, but enjoy anyway:

Having recently focused in a trio of articles on the mid-sixth century Byzantine historian Procopius literary approach and, and in particular his ideas on the links between masculinity, courage, and Romanitas in his Gothic Wars, when first approached me about a paper for Barbarian Kingdoms, I thought initially to apply a similar approach to Procopius’ account of the earlier campaigns in North Africa against the Vandals.

Yet, I soon discovered that, in the first book of Vandalic Wars, issues of courage and manliness take a back seat to the emotion of fear. Put more simply: the Byzantines seemed scared shitless throughout most of book III. I am certainly not the first to note this emphasis. Several scholars have drawn recent attention to Procopius’ stress on the Roman high-commands’ fears and trepidations after the Emperor Justinian announced the campaign to take North Africa from the Vandals only a year after agreeing to the Eternal Peace with the Persians. And indeed, only a year and a half after the Emperor’s near overthrow during an uprising known as the Nika Revolt. As we can see in this passage from Wars, Fear of the Vandals’ military prowess in the wake of their string of fifth-century triumphs over the Romans also played a part in this apprehension. Justinian’s magistrates and generals feared a repeat of the disastrous naval campaign in 468 against the Vandals, which had seen a formidable Roman naval force destroyed by Vandal fire-ships just off the shore of North Africa, and left the Empire finances in tatters. Yet, in Procopius telling, the Roman generals were too frightened to say anything to the emperor. Only the praetorian prefect John the Cappadocian— a man generally despised by the historian—had the nerve to warn the emperor about the financial and political ramifications of his venture. Heeding John’s advice, Justinian relented, abandoning his plan.

(slide 3)

It takes a religious vision to change the devout emperor’s mind. Procopius explains that a visiting bishop had advised the emperor that God had visited him in a dream and commanded the bishop to remind Justinian that “after undertaking the task of protecting Christians in Libya from tyrants” the emperor “for no good reason had become afraid”. God would be fighting on his side “and make him master of Libya”. With his confidence restored, Justinian assembled an invasion force with Belisarios in command.

Since Procopius probably included Belisarios in this original group of hesitant generals, some have seen it as a subtle effort by the historian, even at this early stage, to cast Belisarius in a disparaging light.[1] For these revisionists, it offers further proof that Procopius was against Justinian’s campaigns in the West from the beginning, and no toady of Belisarios even at this early stage. Today I hope to refute these claims, suggesting that such views simplify the role that the multifaceted Greek concept of fear plays in Procopius and other early Byzantine writers dealing with military matters. Far from just a negative trait, for Procopius fear, in a multitude of contexts, functions as an essential aspect of sound generalship and soldiering. In taking this stance, Procopius follows closely maxims found in Byzantine military manuals, a connection which I will highlight primarily via the PowerPoint.

Let us open by making some general observations on the role of fear in Wars and in Late Antique historiography and military manuals more generally.[2]

First the bad.

In battle, fear leads to panic, which not surprisingly leads to disaster. It is little surprise then that Late Antique armies wanted to limit their own fear while, at the same time, maximise their enemies’ fear. There were numerous ways to achieve this aim. With some qualifications, armies were encouraged to shout and make noise to rattle their enemies to panic.

(slide 4)

Certain tactics and strategies such as the bait and switch tactics favoured by the Hunnic cavalry were designed to induce the maximum amount of panic and fear in their foes.

(Slide 5)

A general needed to monitor his men’s fear levels before and during battle. His role was two-fold. Depending on the army’s mood he, could either boost their courage by easing their trepidation or regulate their ardour by instilling a bit of “needed” fear.

(slide 6)

Set-speeches before battle offered a general a means to ease his soldiers’ fears.

Managing his soldiers’ fear during the din and changing fortune of battle served as another vital duty for generals.

The Wars teems with instances of generals either controlling their soldiers fear or failing to do so. To take just two examples, At the battle of Mammes in 534, the Roman general Solomon’s quick thinking to dismount during a cavalry charge when he noticed his mount and men were terrified of the Berber camels changed tactics by dismounting and therefore obtained a notable victory for the Romans. Conversely, when the Gothic King Totila turned and fled at the fateful battle of Busta Gallorum, it proved devastating to the Gothic cause, as much for the psychological fear it caused to the remaining Gothic soldiers, as for the loss of a leader.

Overconfident troops could be just as dangerous as fearful troops. In the Persian Wars when Belisarios fails to quash his men’s eagerness for battle, a defeat follows.

We also find several accounts in Wars where Belisarius purposefully frightens his men to counter their dangerous zeal. Fear too could be used as a motivational tool, as when the Vandal King Gelimer warns his men that their wives would fall captive to the Romans if they did not defeat them at the fateful battle of Tricamerum in December of 533.

(slide 7)

An ideal Roman general needed to be feared both by the enemy and his own soldiers. A general’s reputation could strike such fear in the enemy that they could be cowed before a sword was drawn. We see an example of this paradigm, at the early stages of the Vandal campaign when Procopius suggests that part of the reason the Moors failed to ally with the Vandals against the Byzantines was out of “fear” of Belisarius’ reputation. Only when Belisarios returns to Constantinople do they recover their courage and attack the Romans, which in book 4 undermines many of Belisarius’ earlier accomplishments

(slide 8)

Lastly, as Byzantine war manuals continually harp on, a general needed to “fear” all the unknowns before and during battle. This fear could either overwhelm him or spur him to victory.

(slide 9)

Indeed, motivated by “fear”, a good general sweat the details that would prove the difference in battles where the sides were evenly matched. This helps to explain why we should not see Procopius’ depiction of Belisarios’ constant fretting before and after battles, as some modern scholars do, necessarily as criticisms, indeed, the opposite is likely true.

So, we see that Procopius and Byzantine military planners could see fear as a positive or a negative. Let us now examine more closely to how fear shapes Procopios’ narrative in the first book of his Vandal War.

Seeking an explanation for the Vandals’ successes and the Romans defeats during the fifth century, The Vandal Wars’ Prologue submits that Western decay originated during the reign of the Western Emperor Honorius (ruled 395-423) and escalated during the reigns of his successor Valentinian III and the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II. Procopius chooses to see this decline through a moral rather than a political lens. In sharp contrast to the soldier-emperor, Theodosius I (ruled 379-396), Honorius, Theodosius II, and Valentinian’s lack of traditional military virtues meant they were incapable of intimidating barbarian peoples in typical Roman fashion.[3] Consequently, the “Gothic nations”, which for Procopius included the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and Gepids ran amok and seized their lands, and in the case of Valentinian his close family members——it also foreshadows Belisarios coming victory over the Goths where many of the Vandal soldiers end up losing their wives and families to the Romans.[4]

In Procopius versions of events, the tides begin to shift back in the Roman’s favour, with the deaths of Theodosius and Valentinian in the 450s, and the return of a series of soldier-emperors in the East and the West. Despite their military debacles, The Western Emperor Majorian and in the Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I receive praise for at least standing up to the Vandals and becoming, to borrow Procopius’ own words,  “objects of phoberos “fear” to their enemies”.

Although the historian provides a muddled and inaccurate description of Majorian’s reign and  his aborted attempt to invade Vandalic North Africa in 460, he offers a much more accurate vision of Leo I’s ambitious campaign in 468. As a number of recent scholars have posited, Leo I’s shattering defeat in 468, provides the cipher for understanding the Romans’ surprising triumph in 533.[5]  The two campaigns have been described accurately as mirror images of each other.

In comparison to Belisarius’ rather modest force, Procopius describes Leo’s expedition as a large-scale affair. Combining forces from the Western and Eastern Empire, Leo and his high-command organised a three-prong operation—with his eyes on Carthage— a formerly independent Roman warlord Marcellinus took Sardinia from the Vandals.[6] Meanwhile, the commander and future emperor, Basiliscus sailed the bulk of the Roman navy just south of Carthage to Mercurium where they prepared to assault the Vandal capital; lastly, a small fleet led by the Eastern Comes rei militaris Heracleius successfully occupied the Vandal stronghold of Tripolis. Heracleius and his army then set out towards Byzacena to link up with Basiliscus’ troops when they arrived in Proconsular province.  Procopius, explained that in the face of such overwhelming strength even the formidable Vandal King Gaiseric was prepared to capitulate.[7] However, Basiliscus, either through treachery or cowardice delayed his attack on Carthage, granting Gaiseric the chance to launch his fire-ships. Even then, Procopius hints that, if Basiliscus had not abandoned his men to sail back to Constantinople, the Romans might have still won the day. The tale of Basiliscus thus serves as an internal exemplum by which to compare the actions and manly characters of the Vandalic Wars two main protagonists, Belisarios and Gelimer.

So, we can see that Procopius has already shown the reader that the fear that had gripped the capital in the summer of 533, while understandable, was largely based on the false premise of Vandalic military superiority. Consequently, while Procopius included himself amongst those stifled by fear when war was first declared; he also makes it clear that he was among the first to discover that such fears were misguided. Procopius explains that he had a dream, which made him eager to go on the campaign since it implied that the Romans would emerge triumphant. Though Anthony Kaldellis has plausibly pointed out this dream’s possible ambiguities, I believe with others that we should take it at face value. In fact, it is just one of many places where Procopios grants himself foresight that others in Wars besides Belisarios lack.

(slide 10)

It also seems significant to me that fear plays a largely positive role during the Romans’ arduous three-month journey to Vandalic North Africa, where almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Procopius provides a finely crafted tale advancing a step-by-step guide on how to transform terror into triumph.

First, Belisarios needs to harness fear to obtain control of his potentially insubordinate heterogeneous army during their nearly disastrous journey from Constantinople to Sicily.

Stalled by a lack of winds, the fleet anchors at Abydos. With discipline breaking down, shortly after making landfall Belisarius famously executes two allied Hunnic soldiers who had murdered a colleague in a drunken dispute. Rejecting the Huns pleas that Roman law did not apply to them as allies, he crucified the two Huns in plain view of his entire army. To explain Belisarios’ reasoning, Procopius has the commander deliver a speech to his army, where he declares that there can be no victory without one maintain the proper balance between courage and justice. Procopius then inserts a third factor into his narrative, noting that when the soldiers looked upon the two impaled men “an overwhelming fear washed over them” and, straight away the army’s discipline improves.

Things grow only graver for the Romans  after they set sail once more. Betrayed by the penny-pinching pratorean prefect John (whom I suspect has had a large influence on modern airline cuisine preparation), tainted water and bread leads to the spread of disease throughout the assault force. Barely staving off disaster, Belisarios and his still-terrified army manage to finally arrive to Sicily.

The foreboding ghosts of previous naval defeats at the hands of the Vandals, still looms large. Like any good Byzantine general, Belisarios frets about his lack of military intelligence concerning the Vandals military capabilities and their awareness about his impending attack.

(slide 11)

Procopius inserts himself once again into the narrative, explaining that Belisarios sent him to check the island for signs or information on enemy ambushes. Favoured once again with the gift of foresight, “fortune” (epiteekon) intervenes and Prokopios happens upon a child-hood friend involved in the shipping-business in Syracuse; the friend assures Procopius that the Vandals were completely unaware of the impending Byzantines and in fact the Vandal fleet was busy putting down an insurrection in Sardinia.

As Andy Merrills suggests, the merchant’s knowledge about the Vandalic navy’s whereabouts and the North-African regimes awareness of the impending invasion probably had to do with the regional merchant-sailing community’s connection to what we rather incorrectly describe as the Vandal navy, but probably consisted primarily of long-standing members of the North African merchant networks. Reassured that the Vandals were not expecting them, the Roman fleet prepares to depart Sicily and Belisarios, & Procopios, at least, head to North Africa with a bit more confidence.[8]

3.14

Back at sea, Belisarios mulls over an invasion strategy, which would equally surprise the Vandals and just as importantly alleviate his soldiers’ dual terror of the sea and the Vandals. As he does frequently in Wars, Procopius crafts a pair of set-speeches to cover the main issues. Following closely Basiliscus’ earlier route, the admiral Archeleus argues that since Gelimer and the Vandals were pre-occupied with other threats, the fleet should cut the head off the snake by heading straight to Carthage, where there was a safe-harbor just south of the city that could be used as a safe base, by which to swiftly capture  the Vandal’s capital.

 

(slide 13)

Belisarios rejects this plan primarily because of….surprise surprise… his soldiers’ terror of remaining on the ships, which he argues would cripple the campaign if a storm struck and/or the Vandal forces met them before they disembarked. As we can see once again following Byzantine military maxims, His strategy called instead for most his men land in a deserted territory 240 km south of Carthage, whilst the navy with a contingent of bowmen would shadow Belisarios for the advance North. This strategy also had the benefit of the element of surprise, splitting up potentially mutinous troops, and allowing Belisarios’ the needed time to restore his men’s courage.

(slide 14)

Belisarios prevails and the Roman soldiers hesitantly take their first steps onto Vandal territory.  Their unmolested landing, however, does little to quash their terror. Once again, however, Procopius shifts his focus to fear’s positive side. In the historian’s telling, spurred on by a combination of Belsiarios exhortations and their “fear” (τοι φόβου) of being left exposed to the enemy, the Roman soldiers’ enthusiastically make camp and while digging the trench miraculously strike water.[9] Procopius explains that at the time he had told Belisarios that it served as a further sign that God had preordained their victory. Now whether or not Procopios really believed this assertion, is an argument for another day.

Controlling his soldiers’ natural urges to indiscipline continues to be an issue and Belisarios once again must censor his soldiers’ for taking fruits from the local Libyan orchids.

After marching to the outskirts of the unwalled sea-side city of Syllectus, Belisarios attempted to coax those he describes as the local Libyans, whom Procopius describes as Romans of old, to accept a letter from Justinian which argued that the Byzantines were not making war on the Vandals by breaking the treaty signed in the previous century with Geiseric, but merely punishing the usurper Gelimer who had wrongfully overthrown the rightful Vandal rex. The locals, however, did not at this stage dare to publish emperor’s letter openly. The Libyan’s fear of Gelimer and the Vandals at this stage surpassed their fear of the strangers from Constantinople.

(slide 16)

Gelimer finally learns of Belsiarios impending arrival and after having his royal rivals murdered prepares what should have been a devastating and decisive counter-attack. The narrative that follows has been rightly described as some of the most complex and asymmetric in all of Wars. To sum up very simply, A combination of God, Fortune, Vandal missteps, and Belisarios’ sage decision to divide his army preserves the Byzantines from annihilation.

(slide 17)

Misjudging his arrival to Decimum, Gelimer’s brother Ammatta falls prey to a Roman ambush led by the general John the Armenian, which sees Ammatta and his force wiped out. At the same time, Gelimer’s nephew Gibamundus compounds the disaster. Here, Fear of the unknown turns the tide. Yet this time it works in the Romans advantage, having never seen a Hun, Gibamundus and his 2,000 men panic and are easily cut-down by the Roman allies.

The bulk of the Vandal forces, however, remained safely under Gelimer’s command. Procopius famously declares that Gelimer let an easy victory slip through his fingers when, instead of pushing his advantage and attacking Belisarios, he halted in order to mourn his slain brother.

(slide 18)

The narrative then shifts back to Belisarios, who remains ignorant of all of which had transpired above. Providing balance to the narrative, Procopius shows that the Romans fell prey to their fears, and barely escaped being routed by the Vandals who had taken the high ground.

(slide 19)

Here Belisarios saves the day once again, stepping in during the midst of their retreat, and by appealing to their honour quashes their fear and thus restores their courage.

(slide 19)

Fortune favours the brave, instead of scurrying away to fight another day (as Gelimer frequently does), Belisarius charges the Vandals raising up a large cloud of drifting dust that gave the impression of a much larger Roman force.  The Vandals who believed the fighting had finished, had dismounted and were inspecting the battlefield while Gelimer arranged his brother’s funeral rites. The Vandals wilted under the force of the Romans charge, and fled.
.
Procopius reported, “Now the Vandals were in flight, not to Carthage nor to Byzacium, whence they had come, but to the plain of Boulla and the road leading into Numidia.”

Book III closes with Gelimer’s other brother Tzazo upon learning in Sardinia of the Vandals defeat, hurrying back the entire Vandal fleet of 120 ships. Strangely not attacking the Byzantines in Carthage, a decision that Procopius fails to explain adequately Tzazo abandons the ships and marches overland with his army to join up with Gelimer on the plains of Bulla.

, let us close for today by jumping ahead to the conclusion of the battle of Tricamerum (15 December 533) covered in the opening of the fourth book of Wars, where after Tzazo’s death in battle, Gelimer famously fled when Belisarios attacked his line:

Gelimer realizing that Belisarius came suddenly towards him with his infantry and the rest of his army, neither saying nor ordering anything, Gelimer leapt upon his horse and fled onto the road to Numidia. And his kinsmen and a few of his servants followed him, shell-shocked (καταπεπληγμένοι ), keeping silent about what had happened.

Conclusion

It is surely no coincidence that in the set-speech Gelimer gives just before this battle, he appeals to his men by warning “that if they choose to be cowards” they will lose, not only their lands, but their wives to the Romans. As Peter Van Nuffelen comments in a forthcoming paper this is Gelimer’s

last speech and, virtually, his last spoken words in the Wars.[10] Indeed, the absence of their leader, and hence of orders, leads to the utter defeat of the Vandals, whereupon Gelimer continues his flight to the Papua mountain, among the Berbers.” As long as Gelimer speaks, he can exhort his soldiers and issue orders, he is capable of having an influence on the course of events. Mute, he becomes the mere play thing of others.

I agree with Peter, that Procopius’ attitude towards Gelimer, is therefore less flattering than some suggest. As we saw in the Strategikon, Idealised generals needed to control their men’s fear, be prepared for a defeat and, indeed, be lucky. Gelimer fails on all fronts. He leaves his cities without walls, fails to anticipate the Byzantines’ southern approach, and twice deserts his men when they need him most, and in another contrast to Belisarius, he never even tests his luck when things turn against him, instead he runs.  In my reading, Gelimer’s doomed exile on Mt Papua serves as a warning on how fear and the changing circumstances of battle can challenge even the bravest of men. Indeed, fear of watching his young relatives starve to death, in the end, leads to Gelimer’s decision to come down from the mountain and surrender to the Byzantines.

Were the Byzantines better fighters, lucky or blessed by God? All three factors, play a role in Procopius’ complex vision of causation. Yet, it is Belisarios who makes the real difference in 533.

As we have seen campaigns were frequently won and lost by the slimmest of margins. Belisarius’ ability to master the multifaceted aspects of “fear” discussed throughout Book 3, sows the seeds for his later victory. Though far from perfect, by neither fearing too much nor too little, Belisarios serves for Procopios in book III as an idealised andreios general and man.

Of course, as occurs regularly in Wars, through a combination of Belisarios’ recall to Constantinople, bad fortune and men’s propensity to moral depravity, the remainder of Bk IV shows the good times for the Romans in North Africa did not last. Yet, that is a story for another day or perhaps our next speaker.

[1] Ilias

[2] Whately, Battles and Generals, 157.

[3] Proc. Wars 3.2.25-26

[4] Proc. Wars 3.2.1-2. T

[5] Evans, Procopius, 63; Kaldellis, Procopius,179; Wood, ‘Becoming Roman’, 431; Whately, Battles and Generals, 131.

[6] The circumstances behind this campaign are disputed, I follow largely Merrills and Miles’ reconstruction (The Vandals, 121–23).

[7] Procopius, Wars 3.6.11.

[8] Peter Van Nuffellen

[9]For the role of miracles in Vandalic Wars, see Philip Wood, “Being Roman in Procopius’ Vandal Wars,” Byzantion

[10]  Gelimer is said to recite Eccl. 1.2 ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’ (4.9.11).

 

Justin I: Dumb Uncle or Byzantine Trump?

 

 

Inspired by the work of David Parnell on the complex social webs among Justinian’s generals, I am thinking of examining the social networks among generals during the reigns of Anastasios and Justin I. I have done a great deal of work on Leo I, Zeno, and Justinian… so this new work is only natural. The general Vitalian who rose up against the emperor Anastasios and for a while wielded power during the emperor Justin’s reign before being assassinated by a power-faction led by the future emperor Justinian is of particular interest to me. Indeed, one of the interesting things about these assassinated generals is that when they were purged it did not mean their social networks were culled. This explains why Vitalian’s and the Alan generalissimo Aspar’s (assassinated by Leo I) relatives continued to hold key military command in the Byzantine army long after the regime that killed them had disappeared. To explore these connections and explain the complex power-relationships in early Byzantium I will need to answer a number of questions. But first, I will need to do a great deal of research on the reigns of Anastasios and Justin I. I am familiar with these emperors and their periods, but the old consensus about a dullard Justin manipulated by his nephew Justinian has recently been challenged convincingly…so I am going to start digging into the primary sources again and form my own opinions, which brings me to Justin I.

 

The long-neglected reign of the Emperor Justin (ruled 517-527) has  received some much-needed attention in the past decade. Since the days of mid-sixth century historian Procopius, Justin has mostly been dismissed by historians as a dullard puppet of his ambitious adopted reletive, the future emperor Justinian (ruled 527-565). This paradigm has begun to shift. Far from an illiterate peasant, Justin has been portrayed as another in a long-line of Thracian generals who deftly manipulated contemporary religious and political disputes in the reign of Anastasios to their advantage.[1] Moreover, important articles by Brian Croke and Charles Pazdernik have convincingly shown that Justin’s relationship with Justinian was far more complex and, indeed, rocky than previous scholarship has recognised.[2] Far from being controlled from the beginning by his adopted son, Justin only gradually granted Justinian the power and offices that would lead to him becoming the most powerful Late Antique  Byzantine ruler. Indeed, Justinian’s close involvement with the circus factions almost led to his downfall. Certainly, as Croke points out, scholars have relied far too heavily upon Procopius scurrilous Anecdota for their portrait of Justin and the puissance of Justinian in the early 520s. One can only hope that one of these writers takes on the challenge of writing a new monograph on Justin.

 

So, as I did with Leo I, I will begin to blog on this research..hopefully it will lead to another published article.

 

[1] Geoffrey Greatrex, “Justin and the Arians” ;“The Early Years of Justin I’s Reign in the Sources,” Electrum 12 (2007): 99-113.

[2] Brian Croke, “Justinian under Justin: Reconfiguring a Reign,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 100. 1 (2007):13-56; Charles Pazdernik, “The Quaestor Proclus,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 55.1 (2015): 221-49.

Headed to the “Zoo

Ï am headed to give a paper in Kalamazoo next May. Jon Arnold was kind enough to invite me to his session on barbarians and barbarian kingdoms. I am also just finishing up with the final proofs of my forthcoming book The Soldier’s Life, which really look great. The editor has done a fine job, particularly with the images.Once this is finished, a project which lasted 15 years will be done and dusted. This should give me time to start on the Procopius book.

I am also busy with 220 or so students…December can not come soon enough. What follows is an abstract (draft) for my paper, enjoy!

 

The Fine Line between Fear and Courage in Book III of Procopius’s Vandalic Wars

ABSTRACT

Fear plays a vital if subtle role in the Wars of the mid sixth-century Byzantine historian Procopius. Book III, describing the East Roman’s attempts to wrest North Africa from the Vandals, particularly relies upon the Greek concept of fear as a narrative tool. Several important articles have recently stressed Procopius’ heavy emphasis on the Romans’ foreboding when the Emperor Justinian announced that he was readying to confront the Vandals. According to Wars, Justinian’s magistrates and generals acutely feared a repeat of the disastrous naval campaign in 468 against the Vandals under the Emperor Leo I, which had seen the Roman navy destroyed by Vandal fire-ships and East Rome nearly bankrupted. Only the praetorian prefect John the Cappadocian, however, had the nerve to warn the emperor about the “folly” of his venture. Following John’s advice, Justinian relented and abandoned temporally his plan for war. Only when a visiting bishop advised the emperor that God had visited him in a dream and commanded the bishop to remind Justinian that God would too fight on his side “and make him master of Libya”, was the emperor’s confidence in the invasion restored.

The papers mentioned above, have used this and subsequent episodes in book III of Wars, which accentuate  Belisarius and Procopius’ concerns for the prospects of the impending campaign, to suggest that not only was the historian not the general’s apologist, but, indeed, sought to paint Belisarius and the East Roman army in a hostile light. For these revisionists, it offers further proof that Procopius was against Justinian’s reconquest from the beginning. This paper will refute all of these claims. It will suggest that the views discussed above simplify not only the role that fear plays in Procopius and other early Byzantine writers, but misunderstand the complex early Byzantine concept of fear. Far from a negative trait, fear represented an essential aspect of sound generalship and soldiering in Wars. Procopius, in fact, echoes notions found in Aristotle and early Byzantine military manuals that demonstrate that fear when properly controlled represented an essential quality for good generals and manly soldiers to possess. Indeed, in Wars courageous and manly men—both Roman and non-Roman—were often those who followed Aristotle’s famous adage that andreios men feared neither too much nor too little.

 

 

Climate, Plague, and the End of the Middle Ages

Okay, that title sounds a bit dramatic. At the moment I am teaching the medieval and early Modern World. Since it is outside of my specialty I am writing a short introduction to each lecture. I hate reading things out in lecture, but I am using this as a tool. I have not edited this too much or used any citations.

Introduction to Lecture 2

 

The fourteenth century was a watershed period in European and Medieval History. Although it is difficult to draw a sharp line between the Medieval and the early Modern worlds, events in the 1300s would play a key part in this transition. Though few would have guessed it in 1300, the coming century would witness disasters and challenges that many contemporaries would compare with the Biblical Days of Noah and the flood. In fact, in the aftermath of multiple famines and waves of devastating plague that culled perhaps half of Europe’s population, devout medieval people cannot be blamed for believing that the end of days foretold in the New Testament was at hand.

In large part to famine and disease, Europe’s 300 years of dramatic demographic growth from 1000-1300 came not only to a screeching halt, but careened into a tailspin that would not see the population return to its previous levels until, at least, the 17th century.

As we can see by this slide (5), the population between Sicily and Scandinavia and Russia and Ireland had increased significantly from around 40 million in the eleventh century to around 75 million in the fourteenth century. This population growth was matched by an emergent and increasingly confident Europe on the world stage. Next to China, the globe’s economic heartland in this period centred on the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Despite rapid gains, in comparison to the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate, Europe remained an economic and cultural backwater. The magnificent Christian-Byzantine city of Constantinople and the Muslim Caliphate’s capital in Baghdad, were at least ten-times larger and far more monetarily and culturally richer than the pride of Europe…Paris.  Despite this economic and demographic disparity, a deft blend of religious conviction teetering on fanaticism and martial capabilities and military innovations acquired warring amongst themselves, had allowed the Europeans to create a powerful war-machine that took a largely divided Muslim world by surprise. This led to a relatively united Western Christendom under the banner of the Pope in Rome recapturing Jerusalem in 1099 after nearly 500 years of Muslim rule. Though increasingly bickering amongst  themselves, the Western Crusaders had managed in a few short years to carve out a series of kingdoms in the Biblical— and more recently Muslim and Byzantine—heartlands in the Levant. Though subsequent crusades would never match the success of the first, the crusader’s triumphs, though ephemeral have had long-lasting impacts that continue to resonate.

Slide 7

 

More lasting were the Christians gradual absorption of Muslim Spain. Though largely a local movement, outside crusaders had played a role in the successful Christian Reconquista that culminated with the unification of the formerly independent Christian Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in 1469 and the defeat of the Emirate of Granada in 1492.

Slide 8

We know some of the reasons behind the sharp rise in population and, as a result, Western Christendom’s wealth and power. Advancements in agricultural techniques, technology, urbanisation, wealth through the growth of medieval trade and commerce, and a warmer climate all contributed to expansion.

In England, the population increased over these three centuries from about 2 to 5 million

In France, from 6 to 14 million

In Germany, the estimates are from 4 to 11 million

By modern standards, Europe in 1300 was not overpopulated at all. But it was fully populated in relation to the existing technology and patterns of soil exploitation. That is, there were more people than the soil could care for – over-stretched resources. Like medieval Donald Trumps, one finds contemporary authors continually complaining about over-population…..those damn Frisians and Venetians they are eating all of our grain!

Indeed, population increased rapidly in rural areas especially, and the subsequent overpopulation in the countryside generated a steady stream of migration from these rural areas to the emerging cities that had begun sprouting up since the new millennium. In the twelfth-century half of most city’s or town’s population came from somewhere else.

Slide 9

Though filthy, crowded, fire-prone and dangerous, these urban areas offered an escape from the power of the local lord and church…and for some a chance to find a craft or skill that could lead to service in one the many guilds that was changing the social and economic structure of northern and southern Europe in the High Middle Ages. Indeed, most major towns had severed feudal obligations to secular and ecclesiastical lords alike. In these urban areas techniques had improved to create taller buildings…though mostly windowless and cramped these residences contained fewer people than the typical filled to the brim rural housing of the age. Moreover, from the 11th century larger settlements had taken the first steps to improve fire safety and sanitation. London established public latrines by 1100. After 1212, London required that roofs be made of tile rather than highly flammable thatch and straw. Despite these advances, fertility rates remained much lower in these urban areas than the countryside.

Slide. 10

The city in the High Middle Age was like a castle on a grander scale. As we can see in this slide of medieval Genoa most urban areas in Western Europe were highly fortified. Particularly in the Italian city-states, wealthier families constructed great towers which dominated the skyline. Like castles in the country side, these medieval skyscrapers both protected the urban elites interests and advertised their wealth and position in hierarchal local society. As John Cots posits, while beautiful to look at, these towers “testify to the relative weakness of public authority in some urban areas” in Western Europe in the High Middle Ages.

 

These growing populations in the cities and country-side in Western Christendom of course needed to be fed. By the dawn of the fourteenth century, technological advance, however, often failed to keep pace with increasing demands for food. In an attempt to grow more food, fields were frequently over-exploited and yields fell. Consequently, the price of grain in the first half of the 14th century skyrocketed. As we see in Hatcher’s book, this caused a real problem for the majority of the population who was dirt poor. Moreover, for those new migrants to the towns and cities things could be even worse, since most produced no food of their own, so were particularly vulnerable to shortages and famine.

 

As we can see in this slide, Western Europe’s population declined sharply after 1300. Famine in the early decades. contributed perhaps to a 10% decline, whilst as we discussed above, in the middle of the century, plague culled a further 30 to 50%.

Slide 11

An important factor to consider here is the climate. As we can see here, the years from 1000 to 1250 had been unusually warm. Indeed, grapes are reported being grown in Southern England.

Agriculture is always subject to climatic conditions, and a gradual change in the environment directly influenced levels of agrarian production. Even small drops of temperature can lead to shorter growing seasons and thus smaller yields. Of course, climatic condition occurred only gradually, as we recognise today with the modern issue of Global Warming. But one thing is for sure: The climate played a major part in the mischief 70 or 80 years before the Black Death.

Slide 12

Climatologists have described the period from the early 14th to the late 19th centuries, as the Little Ice Age. According to recent research, volcanic eruptions just before the year 1300 triggered the expansion of Arctic sea ice, setting off a chain reaction that lowered temperatures worldwide. Europe bore the brunt of its ill effects, experiencing harsh and fickle weather for several centuries.

Intense cold led to advances of polar and Alpine glaciers; high rainfall caused a rise in the Caspian Sea. Wheat, vine, and cereals were crippled and virtually extinguished in places like Iceland, England, and Denmark. Greenland, which had been settled by the Norsemen in the late tenth century had to be abandoned by the 15th. This colder and wetter weather led to a number of disastrous harvests, particularly in England, where famine was reported in 1272, 1277, 1283, 1292, and 1311.

But the great calamity struck between 1315-1317, when a great famine struck Western Europe. In 1316, when the harvest seriously failed, and almost every country in Europe lost the whole of their harvest

After a reported 150 days of straight rain, followed by draught, we can understand why this might have happened. Just as many today live pay check to pay check. In the fourteenth century people lived harvest to harvest…..there were no tinned foods or Woolworths!

Consequently, in the winter, many people died of starvation and from diseases commonly afflicting a starving population. These conditions would have serious consequences for the generation that grew up in the shadow of famine. In fact, as we will discuss in greater detail in a future lecture, some modern scientists conclude that this frailty may help to explain, in part, the plagues’ devastating effect on an already weakened population.

 

Let us now look at how the people we find in Hatcher’s book survived in this period.

.

A Cry Against Anti Intellectualism.

viceandvirtueblog

Toffs and Toughs - The photo that illustrates the class divide in pre-war Britain, 1937 July 9th, 1937 ‘Toffs and Toughs’ Harrow School Boys beside local working class (credit: Rare Historical Photos)

I live in a house divided. But that house is an entire incredulous country. Outside of London there are no hordes of rampaging leavers, or glorified celebration parties. Instead there is only fear, quiet terror and disbelief – on all sides. Those who we think should be celebrating instead woke to the news that the pound had dropped lower than in living memory, that Scotland seeks a second referendum which will see it leave the United Kingdom, and that the promise to end freedom of movement and immigration was a lie. We live in a country of ruins, shattered by an elite political class that sought to undermine and stigmatise education, encourage division, and vilify external forces for internal problems. It was a simple game of smoke and mirrors, a magic trick carried…

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Love and Sex in the High Middle Ages

In, Ennobling Love: In Search of a New Sensibility, C. Stephen Jaeger famously explores the gradual transformation of the concept of love in Western Europe in the High Middle Ages. Jaeger argues that, from the early to the High Middle Ages, the Western European aristocracy had developed two distinct forms of love. The first form, “Ciceronian” or old love, was based on Greco-Roman ideals that were adapted by the early medieval courts. This love was based on the nobility of a person’s mind and soul. So although the language may seem sexual to the modern observer, this shared love was chaste and a reflection of both parties’ superior virtue. The individuals were not in love with the other’s physical beauty, but with their inner worth, which made these relationships predominantly non-sexual.

To express this feeling of mutual excellence, this form of love needed to be a public affair, which perhaps explains the need by late antique and medieval men to record these exchanges. Such bonds between men had always been prevalent in warrior societies, where comradeship was vital for both the individual’s and the society’s survival. Jaeger observes a new pattern of courtly love emerging in the twelfth century, that of “Ovidian” or “new love”. He argues that this development reflected the increased inclusion of women in society and the proliferation, in learned society, of the sensuous poems of the Roman poet Ovid and the racy new literature of courtly love. This form of love differed greatly from its chaste Ciceronian counterpart, in that it involved women, and was sexual in nature. In this form of love the woman became the reward for the man’s moral improvement. Unlike the logical relationships between males, Ovidian love was highly passionate, and at times illogical. Love was portrayed as part of the natural world and came to be seen as beyond the control of human beings.

In a world where, following Biblical precedent, sexuality was viewed with suspicion, courtly literature sought to reconcile this physical love with ennobling love. For historians of sexuality, Jaeger presents the challenge of whether the study of “homosexuality” is even valid. He argues that modern scholars are too influenced by Freudian thinking and fail to comprehend the different mindset and aims of the medieval individual. So where John Boswell famously read in Anselm’s intense and emotive letters to his fellow monks and male students a sexual subtext, Jaeger, to my mind rightly, sees a typically chaste Ciceronian “love-affair” among like-minded men. Yet, as one observes in the letters of Abelard and Heloise, similarly emotive language may also be used by our medieval writers to describe both physical and spiritual love. Surely then, the language of Ciceronian love could be used to mask more physical, and by the twelfth century standards, more illicitly sexual relationships between men.

Somewhat ironically in an age where an increasingly centralised and reformed Catholic Church sought to monitor men and women’s relationships, there came to be a greater acceptance of the value of passionate love and, indeed, the sexual act. As Sally Vaughn has recently argued, the clergy played a part in this change. She shows that Anselm’s friendships extended to woman. Here, Anselm was more revolutionary. Vaughn suggests that the increasing adulation in the twelfth century of the Virgin Mary’s role as the theotokos had a somewhat unintended consequence. To borrow Vaughn’ words, “the union of God and Mary into one flesh, an analogy to the biblical metaphor for sexual union”, helped to redeem humanity from original sin. “In the recreation of the universe”, Vaughn continues, “perhaps sexual love was also transformed, because human beings sharing God’s nature, were freed from sin.”[1]

[1] Sally Vaughn, “Saint Anselm and His Students Writing About Love: A Theological Foundation for the Rise of Romantic Love in Europe,” Journal of Sexuality 19.1 (2010): 54-73.

 

 

 

Justinian’s Eunuch-General Solomon

 

Narses gets all the press but Solomon was another of Justinian’s eunuch generals. This is a little piece I am working on at the moment…so enjoy…

The magister militum and two-time praetorian prefect Africae (534-6, 539-44) Solomon (c. 480-90-544) was the first of three eunuchs to command Byzantine armies during Justinian’s reign. Another castrate, Scholasticus, served as commander of an army sent against the Sklavenoi in 551. While the most famous eunuch-commander of all, Narses (c. 480-573)  had achieved major victories over the Goths in 552 at the battle of Taginae (Busto Gallorum) and versus the Franks and Alamanni in 554 at the battle of Casilunus that helped to secure the Emperor Justinian I’s (ruled 527-565) retaking of Italy from the Goths after an arduous nineteen-year struggle. Perhaps as result of the successful precedents set by Solomon and Narses, the number of eunuch-generals in Byzantium rose in subsequent centuries.[1]

We first hear of Solomon serving under Belisarius.  The Monophysite Chronicle of Pseudo- Zachariah records:

Accompanying him (Belisarius) was Solomon, a eunuch, from the fortress of Idriphthon. He was an astute man, capable in the affairs of the world, having been a notarius to the dux Felicissimus [Felicissimo duci notarius Fureat] and having been attached to the rest of the governors, and he had become cunning through training by [tackling] problems.

 

Felicissimus had been dux of Mesopotamia in 505/506, so Solomon’s career in the intervening two decades remains a mystery. It is likely by 527 Solomon was already an experienced soldier. Belisarius probably chose Solomon for his previous experience as a secretary and  soldier who knew the politics and main players in and about the dangerous Eastern border with Persia.[2]

We do not hear much about Solomon’s service in the Persian campaigns, but he had obviously gained Belisarius’ trust, and the Vandal war in 533 found him serving as Belisarius’ domesticus (the protectores domestici were an elite guard unit of the early Byzantine Army, who functioned as both body guards and staff officers). The sixth-century historian of Justinian’s military campaigns in the East and the West, Procopius, memorably introduced Solomon as one of two commanders of Belisarius’ foederarti[3]: This Solomon was a eunuch, but it was not by the intent of any man that his genitals had been severed: some accident imposed this lot upon him when he was a child’. [4] Though differentiated from other eunuchs in this passage, Byzantines like Procopius placed accidental eunuchs in the same category of man-made castrates and ‘born eunuchs’—those individuals who either had undescended testes, or were born without them’.[5]

Solomon’s status as a eunuch did nothing to inhibit his rapid advancement within the East Roman army. When Belisarius headed to Sicily to organise his impending invasion of southern Italy, he named Solomon as the supreme commander (praetorian prefect) of North Africa, a role that combined military and political leadership.[6] The command of this newly reconquered region points to the faith both Belisarius and the emperor Justinian placed in Solomon’s capabilities.[7] Solomon indeed represents the rare individual in Wars whom Belisarius, Procopius, and Justinian trusted and admired.[8] That Belisarius’ assessor Procopius knew and seemingly had a close relationship with Solomon, helps to explain why in Wars, Solomon comes off more as a genuine human-being.[9] Certainly, Procopius’ depicted Solomon’s trials and tribulations during his two tenures in North Africa in a highly sympathetic light. Though far from perfect, Solomon is loyal, intelligent, restrained, innovative, and courageous. In fact, Solomon has been described “as the most highly praised person in Vandal War.”[10]

Although, it is not within this paper’s scope to provide a detailed account of Procopius’ portrait of Solomon, a few anecdotes from Wars concerning his career should offer evidence that both Romans and non-Romans in North Africa seemed to have cared little about Solomon’s status as eunuch. After his introduction, Procopius only rarely mentions Solomon’s eunuchism.[11] Instead, Procopius cast him as an idealised battle-hardened leader, a man’s man. Unquestionably, Solomon’s selfless courage and adroit generalship are on display throughout the narrative.[12] For just one example of several in Wars, at the battle of Mammes in 534, when directing his cavalry against the Berbers, Solomon astutely observing the panic of his men’s horses because of the Berbers’ use of camels, leapt of his horse, and ordering his men to do the same, formed a fulcum of 500 men and won the day by slaughtering the camels that were protecting the enemy camp.[13]

Even Solomon’s setbacks were largely explained away by Procopius. Solomon’s failure during his first command in North Africa, according to Procopius, resulted from his fierce loyalty to Justinian and his policies. Following an imperial edict Solomon refused to permit the Roman soldiers who had taken Vandal wives to inherit these women’s lands. Moreover, adhering to Justinian’s religious policies for the newly conquered province, he would not allow the 1,000 Arians in his army to practice their religion. Solomon’s devotion to Justinian nearly got him killed. Whipped up by the Vandal clergy and the soldier’s Vandal wives, Solomon narrowly escaped a plot by a group of these men to assassinate him on Easter Sunday (23 March) 536, fleeing along with Procopius to Sicily, where the pair then sought Belisarius’ assistance to put down the revolt.[14] For the next three years, North Africa would be wracked by internal and external rebellion.

After his return to Africa in 539, Procopius presented Solomon as a leader who had learned from his previous mistakes. He wrote: “Solomon sailed to Carthage and, having rid himself of Stotzas (the rebel Byzantine general) he ruled with moderation and setting the army in order. . . .Libya became powerful under his rule. [15] In a series of swift campaigns, Solomon stamped out the rebellion’s remnants and drove the Berbers from Numidia. As many idealised generals before him, Solomon treated his defeated enemies Roman and non-Roman with respect. Procopius described the aftermath of Solomon’s sage policies: “As a result of this all the Libyans who were subjects of the Romans, coming to enjoy secure peace and finding the rule of Solomon wise and very moderate, no longer had any thought of war in their minds, and seemed the most fortunate of all men.”[16]

As occurs regularly in Wars, through a combination of bad fortune and men’s propensity to moral depravity, the good times did not last. Justinian, probably out of good will towards Solomon, in 544, assigned the eunuch’s nephews Sergius and Cyrus to key commands in North Africa. Such nepotism was common in the early Byzantine army, [17] but Procopius, perhaps seeking to shift blame away from his hero Solomon, lamented, “And this man (Sergius) became the chief cause of great ruin to the people of Libya.” In these few words, Procopius emphasised the vital role that men’s virtues played in determining the fate of Justinian’s reconquest. According to Wars, the dux Tripolitaniae Sergius’ unjust murder of eighty of Berber envoys leads to a dangerous uprising and the defection of most of Solomon’s key Berber allies.

The subsequent uprising by the Berbers enraged by their heinous treatment at the hands of Sergius leads ultimately to Solomon’s downfall. Defections by Solomon’s Berber allies swings the balance of power back into the favour of the rebels. Solomon’s death, as described by Procopius, is heroic and tragic in the best Roman literary fashion.[18] Abandoned by the majority of his Roman and non-Roman soldiers, and overwhelmed by the Berber’s superior numbers, Solomon and his loyal bodyguards at the battle of Cillium in Byzancena make a hasty retreat. On the cusp of escaping danger, Solomon’s horse stumbles in a ravine, throwing its rider to the ground. Injured and unable to remount, Solomon is cut down while making a heroic last-stand.  A suiting end for a man Procopius revered throughout Wars as an idealised Roman soldier.[19]

What should attract our interest, however, is the vocabulary that Procopius wields in Secret History and Wars to describe Sergius in the aftermath of his uncle’s death. Out of loyalty to Solomon and respect for the eunuch’s heroic death, Justinian named Sergius as Solomon’s successor.[20] Procopius attributed Sergius’ subsequent failures in North Africa on his ‘unmanly, [ἄνανδρος] ‘soft’ [μαλθακòς] and ‘effeminate nature’ [γνáθους φυσων], gendered epithets that critics had long deployed to undermine eunuchs in positions of authority.[21] Whether consciously or not, Procopius inverts the old-trope of the unmanly eunuch undermining the rule of a noble Roman. While, the eunuch Solomon died nobly in battle, the non-eunuch Sergius’ deceit and unmanliness in his two short years as magister militum Africae nearly destroyed everything his uncle had achieved for the restored province.[22] Having served under Belisarius and Solomon, one suspects that few men could have met the historian’s expectations.  Therefore, the more pessimistic vision of Vandalic North Africa found at the close of book four of Wars, may not reflect Procopius’ general disillusionment with Justinian’s North African reconquest as a whole, as suggested by one recent scholar, but should perhaps be better seen as a symptom of the historian’s anguish over the loss of a man, Solomon, he respected equally as a leader, man, and probable friend.[23]

[1] For a select prosopography of eunuchs in Byzantine civilisation, see Tougher, 2008, 133-71.

[2] Moving up from the position of notarius (secretary, scribe) occurred rather frequently in the Early Byzantine Empire. Indeed, two sixth-century emperors, Tiberius II (ruled 574-582) and Maurice (ruled 582-602) had begun their careers as notarius. So to, in the fifth century, had the primicerius notarium (chief secretary of the Western court) John, had seized the throne (20 November 423).

[3]In the fourth century, foederati consisted primarily of non-Roman groups who had agreed to fight on the Roman’s behalf. Yet, as Procopius explained (Wars 3.11.3-5.), by the sixth century the φοιδερᾶτοι consisted of Romans and non-Romans.

[4] Procopius, Wars (trans. Kaldellis):  ‘ὁ δὲ Σολόμων οὕτος εὐνοῦχος μὲν ἦν, οὐκ ἐξ ἐπιβουλῆς δὲ ἀνθρώπου τὰ αἰδοῖα ἐτύγχανεν ἀποτμηθείς, ὰλλά τις αὐτῷ τύχη ἐν σπαργάνοις ὄντι τοῦτο ἐβράβευσε.

[5]Tougher, 2008, 31

[6] Procopius, Wars 4.8.23

[7] Conant, 2012, 204-205: Conant posits reasonably that Justinian and Solomon probably had a close relationship.

[8] E.g., Procopius, Wars 3.29.19, 4.8, 4.22.11

[9] Procopius, Wars

[10] Kaldellis, 2004, 189.

[11] Procopius, Wars 4.12.28, where Procopius describes a Berber prophecy where ‘their nation would be destroyed by a beardless man [ὡς ἄρα τὸγένος αὐτοῖς προς ἀνδρὸς ἀγνείου ὀλεῖται].

[12] Whately, 2016, 138.

[13] Procopius, Wars 4.11.47-56.

[14] Procopius, Wars 4.14.30-37. That Procopius was one of only six individuals who escaped with Solomon, points to the pair’s close relationship. In Secret History (18.9-13), Procopius harshly criticised Justinian’s policies against Arians and native landowners. He was, however, clearly hostile to the rebels. Cf. Marcellinus, Chron. s.a. 535, which predates the rebellion by one year.

[15] Procopius, Wars 4.21.28.

[16] Procopius, Wars 4.20.33. Cf. Marcellinus, Chron. s.a. 540.

[17] It is just as likely that Solomon pushed for these appointments, since early Byzantine magister militum frequently appointed their own subordinate officers, see Conant, 2012,

[18] For a discussion of these idealised deaths in battle in Greco-Roman literature, see Eckstein, 1995, 42-43.

[19] Procopius Wars 4.21-22.1. Cf. Victor of Tonnena, Chron.  s.a. 543 (11, 201); Marcellinus, Chron. s.a. 541.3; Corippus, Iohannis 3.417-41.

[20] It was common practice in the early Byzantine army for magister militum to appoint close relatives as their successors, see Conant, 2012, 227-229.

[21] Procopius, Secret History 4.32-3, Wars 4.22.2: οἱ δὲ στρατιῶται, ὅτι δὲ ἄναδρός τε καὶ μαλθακòς παντάπασιν ἦν. For Procopius’ terminology to describe ‘good’ and ‘bad’ generals and political leaders, see Stewart, 2013, 200-207.

[22] Procopius (Secret History criticised Sergius’ successor in North Africa, the blue-blooded Easter senator Areobindus, with similar gendered language.

[23] Kaldellis, 2016, 15.