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Roman Empire 6th - 15th Centuries

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 11 months ago

Justinian's War for the Second Coming

The Roman Empire and Constantinople (Byzantium)

 

By 500 CE North Africa and Western Europe were occupied by the Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Vandals. From Constantinople a so-called Roman emperor still ruled the eastern half of the empire, to be known also as the Byzantine Empire. This empire included Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, which were tied together by trade. Constantinople was trading to the coasts of Gaul, Spain, Africa, India and China, and it remained a prosperous city, which drew diplomats, merchants, sailors and other travelers from many parts of the globe. It was a city populated by Greeks, Armenians, Syrians a few Arabs and others. Constantinople's soldiers were largely German, and some were Huns. By the 500s most of Constantinople spoke Greek, with Latin being used only for religious, formal and official occasions. And people of the city were united by their common Roman citizenship and their Christian faith.

 

The emperor at Constantinople, Justinian (527-65), saw himself as the rightful heir of a rule handed down from as far back as Augustus Caesar, a rule he claimed was created by God. God, he said, had displayed his love by bestowing two gifts: the priesthood and the imperial dignity. Faithful subjects described the emperor at Constantinople as God's vicar on earth and as ruling by divine right. The emperor's Germanic subjects seem to have been most impressed, viewing the emperor as almost a god in his own right.

 

As a Christian city, Constantinople had many churches, monasteries and convents. It had free hospitals for the sick, staffed by monks and nuns. There were alms houses for the needy and the old - free accommodation for the homeless. The city subsidized orphanages. And in times of increased need rationing was often introduced to help the poor.

 

Many of Constantinople's Christians saw the world as a vale of tears in which one should not place trust or hope. But the people of Constantinople were generally enthusiastic about chariot racing. From early in the morning, young and old people, "skin heads" and priests from all over Constantinople would converge on the city's circus to view and gamble on the chariot races.

Violence for Italy, North Africa and the Trinity

 

The Roman emperor Justinian outlawed paganism, including Plato's old academy at Athens, and he drove non-Christian philosophers into exile. Fearing that God might bring famine against his sinful subjects he outlawed blasphemy, sacrilege and homosexuality. He persecuted the religious community in Palestine known as the Samaritans, and he put restrictions on the religious and civil freedoms of Jews, including outlawing the Talmud, which he described as puerile fabrications, insulting and blasphemous.

Arian Christianity is derived from Bishop Arius, who led the Church in claiming that God and Jesus were separate beings. His view was rejected at the Church's first ecumenical (general) council, in A.D. 325.

 

Like other Christians, Justinian was expecting the second coming of Christ in the near future, and in preparing for this he wanted to unify what he saw as God's empire. He wished to liberate western Europe and North Africa from the non-Trinity, Arian branch of Christianity - the Christianity of the Vandals, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths.NOTE The Franks were his allies - Catholics who had converted a few decades before Justinian ascended the throne. Justinian believed that as God's chosen emperor it was his duty to create one state, one church and one law.

 

In the year 532 Justinian negotiated a peace treaty with the Persian Empire, centered at Ctesiphon, in order to wage war in the west - against the Vandals. The Vandals, some historians have claimed, had grown soft in the one hundred years since they had conquered North Africa. Perhaps they were enervated by the mild North African climate, by self-indulgence and by the new wealth that many of them had gained. Some have described the Vandal's military as having declined in efficiency, and their new king, Gelimer, as without military or diplomatic talent. Constantinople's historian, Procopius, was to attribute the coming Vandal defeat to God and fate. The Vandals, at any rate, were weaker than they might have been if they had formed an alliance with their fellow Arian Christians, the Ostrogoths of Italy. Instead, they had been warring against the Ostrogoths.

 

Rather than treat Justinian as a danger to themselves as well as to the Vandals, the Ostrogoths allowed Justinian's fleet of 500 ships, with 15,000 soldiers, to use their port in Sicily against the Vandals. That was in June, 533. From Sicily, Justinian's military, under the commander Belisarius, invaded North Africa, and victory came fast. Belisarius defeated the Vandals by December 533.

 

Despite their Christianity, Belisarius made slaves of the defeated Vandal warriors. Vandals were to return all estates that they had taken in conquering North Africa, a pronouncement that inspired many claims and much litigation. Churches confiscated by the Vandals were to be returned to Catholic worship, and anyone guilty of having been an Arian Christian was to be excluded from public office. Justinian's forces seized Gelimer's treasures, and Gelimer was taken to Constantinople and displayed in the victory parade. He refused to abandon Arianism, but Justinian was charitable and granted him an estate on which he was allowed to retire.

 

The conquest of North Africa, however, was not complete. Justinian's victory against the Vandals was followed by intermittent wars between his forces and the blue-eyed Berbers (also called Moors), from North Africa's hill country. The Berbers fought on horseback along a front that was too long for Justinian's troops, and Justinian's military tried to defend "Roman civilization" with defensive fortifications.

Justinian Versus the Ostrogoths

 

Continuing his drive to reunite the Roman Empire and to defeat Arianism, Justinian moved next against the Ostrogoths. In 536, his forces, led by Belisarius, landed in Italy near Naples, and in November Belisarius conquered that city. The Ostrogoths were threatened also by the Franks, to their north, and the Ostrogoths neutralized the Franks with a bribe, gold proving stronger than Frankish loyalty to the cause pursued by Justinian. With a group of Roman senators as hostages and an oath of fidelity from the Bishop of Rome, Pope Silvarius, the Ostrogoths abandoned Rome, and Belisarius' army arrived there in December. The city's Catholics viewed them as foreigners. They had suffered no discrimination under the Ostrogoths, but they were hopeful and filled with respect for the emperor Justinian. The Pope was also hopeful, and he broke his word to the Ostrogoths and went over to the side of Justinian.

 

The king of the Ostrogoths, Witigis, assembled an army of about 150,000 (mostly mailed cavalry), returned to Rome in March 537 and began a siege of the city. The Ostrogoths cut Rome's outside supply of water - the beginning of the end of Rome's great aqueducts and an end to its luxurious public baths, Rome now relying on its water wells and water from the Tiber river. The Ostrogoths tried storming Rome's wall, but failed, the city's defenders in one area throwing statues down upon the attackers. A secret group of anti-Catholics tried to open the gates for the Ostrogoths, but failed. Belisarius sent women, children and slaves from the city, whom the Ostrogoths allowed to leave unharmed. He drafted all able-bodied men in the city into his army, and joining his army were about sixteen hundred cavalrymen - mostly Huns and Slavs led by Romans - who managed to sneak into the city through the Ostrogoths.

 

The Ostrogoths had no navy, and Justinian's navy was giving him advantage in Italy. Not only did he ship food and reinforcements up the Tiber river and into Rome, he was able to blockade food from reaching the Ostrogoths. A little more than a year after the siege had begun the hungry Ostrogoths lifted their siege and returned north. There the Ostrogoths and their fellow Arians, the Burgundians, blockaded the city of Milan and reduced its inhabitants to eating dogs and mice. And when the Ostrogoths and Burgundians took the city they massacred all the city's adult males, estimated at 300,000, and the Burgundians took the city's women as slaves.

 

By 539, food production and distribution in Italy had diminished to the extent that many were dying of malnutrition. Cannibalism appeared. Unburied corpses littered the countryside. Taking advantage of Italy's vulnerability, the Franks invaded Italy in search of plunder, slaughtering along the way.

 

In 540, Justinian was troubled by renewed hostilities with Persia, and he felt that he needed to throw the full weight of his forces against the Persians. That year he sent instructions to Belisarius to make peace in Italy by offering the Ostrogoths territory north of the Po River in exchange for Justinian keeping all of Italy south of the Po. And the Ostrogoths agreed. Constantinople and surrounding areas were then attacked by bubonic plague. But the plague did not deter Justinian from continuing his efforts against the Persians.

More War in Italy

 

Justinian's generals south of the Po in Italy had taken advantage of their power to plunder the Italians, which turned many Italians against Justinian's effort in Italy. The Ostrogoths, under a new leader, resumed their war against Justinian's forces, and they pushed Justinian's forces southward, bypassing Rome. In the spring of 543 the Ostrogoths captured Naples, and the new leader of the Ostrogoth army, Totila, treated the city's inhabitants humanely.

 

The Ostrogoths advanced from town to town. The inhabitants of the town of Isaurius sided with the approaching Ostrogoths, and the town's garrison, loyal to Justinian's cause and to Catholicism, slaughtered them - passions and fear triumphing over Christian principle, as it would for centuries to come.

 

Totila sent an appeal to Rome's Senate, telling them that his rule of Rome would be better than Constantinople's, and he gave them his solemn oath not to harm Rome's inhabitants. The general in charge of Rome's defense responded by expelling the Arian clergy from Rome, fearing they were agents of Totila.

 

Around the first part of the year 546, another Ostrogoth siege of Rome began. The city's inhabitants went from eating nettles, dog and rodents to starvation. From Justinian's commander inside the city, starving Romans requested food, permission to abandon the city or that the army kill them. The commander replied that giving them food was impossible, letting the leave the city would be dangerous and that killing them would be criminal. Then after receiving payment from those who wanted to leave, he allowed them to do so, and all the civilians left except approximately five hundred. Some of those leaving dropped from the exhaustion. Some were cut down by the Ostrogoths, and some left unmolested.

 

In December, 546, a gate into Rome was opened from within, and Totila's forces rushed into the city. Justinian's troops and a few senators fled through another gate. Some within the city took refuge in churches, and a few were cut down by Totila's troops. Totila went to pray at St. Peter's Cathedral. He then had Rome destroyed, including a portion of the city's great walls.

 

Totila then went north to consolidate his strength there. Again naval superiority allowed Justinian to land troops in Italy, and his forces reoccupied Rome and rebuilt its walls. In 549 Totila and the Ostrogoths returned and began a third and final siege of the city. Bloody battles were fought, and the following year Totila took the city again.

 

In 551 the superiority of Greek seamanship and of Justinian's navy allowed Justinian's forces to obtain the upper hand in Italy. The following year Justinian's forces also seized two strongholds on the southern coast of Spain. And in 554 his armies finally defeated the Ostrogoths - the end of a costly and painful enterprise that had devastated Italy. The Pope and Catholicism now reigned supreme in Rome and central Italy - which was declared to be the work of God. The Trinity version of Christianity had won against Arianism, violence again deciding a matter of theology.

A weakened Constantinople (Byzantium)

 

The Trinity had triumphed in Italy, but Justinian's conquest of Italy had drained Constantinople's resources. Justinian's wars had weakened his ability to protect his empire's northern frontier along the Danube River and his frontier in the east. From the steppes just west of the Don River came Bulgars, who raided, ravaged towns and farms north of Constantinople, and left again. From grasslands north of Constantinople's empire, Slavic tribes, speaking an Indo-European language, invaded Constantinople's empire. Some of the Slavs turned from plunder to seizing the lands of Latin-speaking Byzantine provincials and settling into farming in sparsely populated areas and on what had been wasteland. The Slavs were followed by those who in theory are considered to be a Mongolian people - Avars - traditionally herders, bow legged from the constant riding on horseback They were warriors interested in plunder, like the Huns before them, fighting in cavalry formation, organized and disciplined.

 

By the time of Justinian's death in 565, much of Constantinople's imperial wealth had been spent. Justinian's successor, Justin II, was unable to prevent a Germanic people called Lombards from taking power in Italy. The Lombards had been moving south from around the Elbe River since the 400s. They reached Milan in 568, and soon after they took control of territory between Ravenna and Rome. They taxed those in Italy whom they had conquered, but they allowed the Catholics control of Rome and some surrounding territory - the Pope remaining the political leader of this area and the symbol of Roman tradition. Soon the usual assimilation between invaders and Romans took place, the Lombards adopting Latin as their language and Catholicism as their religion. And in 589 in Spain, the Visigoth king converted to Catholicism, soon followed by his subjects. Justianian had failed to reunify the old Roman Empire, but his vision of a Catholic western Europe was being realized.

 

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