The Roman Empire: Revision - 1
Part III of Dmitry Galkovsky's series of blog posts on the history of Rome and Christianity. An original translation.
The word “revision” literally means "review" and is sometimes used to describe a financial audit. This procedure is bad, painful, and very much disliked. It is no coincidence that the word "revisionist," even in modern Europe, is a swear word and almost a criminal offense. In fact, in Gogol's "Revizor" (“The Government Inspector”) the main negative character is the Revizor himself. It is surprising that contemporaries somehow misunderstood this and Nicholas I blurted out: "Everyone here is in trouble, and above all me." On mature reflection he would have realized that his phrase is very ambiguous.
But in general, a revision is just an inspection, an inventory of what’s there. The government census in Imperial Russia was called “revision”. The purpose of this post is the most innocent, a description of a body of information about Roman history. How things happened from the official point of view.
At several junctures, the smoothness of the official description of ancient history is broken, things are spoken in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and in other places, gray-haired historians simply distort the knowledge. All generations of schoolchildren have gone through this distortion. Think back to when you studied the history of Rome. At the end of the school year you were told that the Roman Empire had perished, then came summer, soccer, swimming, campfires, fishing, and then in September, the sunburned and toughened-up boys and girls were told that Rome had safely survived the misery and even bifurcated. At the same time, they already remembered the old Rome only in general terms. Universities have a similar operation, although summer, of course, is not that long for the student. He remembers at least something. But even the parallel study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the case of history departments is not a coherent study.
So, what are we being told about the Roman Empire.
The process of the transformation of the Roman Republic into an Empire is shown well, with detail, and the process itself is fairly typical. What is atypical is the history of the European kingdoms. Therefore, the history of ancient France or Germany reads like a fairy tale (rather dull), while the history of ancient Rome is a treasure trove for real politics and excellent material for realistic works.
The empire that emerged evolved dynamically from -27 to 235. As new territories were annexed and civilized, natives of the provinces began to appear among the Roman emperors, but all of them were connected to Rome by blood ties and belonged to the nobility. Until the events of 193, when, as a result of three coups, Septimius Severus became emperor. He came from Libya and Latin was not his native language. His sister did not know the language at all and he banished her from Rome so she would not bring shame upon him. The southerner Severius (literally, "the severe one") began to instill the cult of Carthage. He built Hannibal a mausoleum. His successor Caracalla turned Hannibal into an element of state propaganda; monuments to him were erected everywhere.
That is why Hannibal is perceived by us in the context of Roman culture and his name sounds honorable to Europeans. No one would think of calling an outstanding military leader “Cyrus” or “Genghis Khan”. But “Hannibal” - easily.
It could be said that this is evidence of the general tolerance of Rome and the integration processes taking place in the empire. But this was the Chief Enemy. Carthage was destroyed and the territory was settled by Roman colonists. Hannibal was something like Hitler to that culture. Even Hitler from a Jewish perspective. Of course, Hitler will be hailed as a great personality in 50 years and included in the European Pantheon, but it is highly doubtful that this viewpoint will prevail among the Jews.
Heliogabalus, who followed Caracalla, was a foreigner even by name, and a direct descendant of Oriental priests. He generally transformed the traditional religion of Rome and put the Carthaginian solar deity cult at the head (which, by the way, included human sacrifices). It is interesting that visually the deity was personified in a special black stone brought to Rome from Syria.
This is all very strange, and doubly so. Firstly, it is strange how the Romans with their cult of order and racial selection allowed themselves to be ruled by aliens, and secondly, it is unclear why historians do not see the self-evident cause of the ensuing chaos.
The chaos came in 235 with the death of the last Severan - Alexander, also a priest of the Sun (though he was forced to cancel the cult in Rome).
The whole epoch from -27 to 235 is called "principate". Then came the so-called "crisis of the 3rd century," which lasted about fifty years.
It is generally believed that as early as under Hadrian (117-138) the Empire moved to a strategic defense; this seems to me to be incorrect.
It should be understood that such operations as Caesar's seizure of Gaul were largely decorative in nature. It is customary to sneer at Caracalla, who repeated Alexander the Great's campaign by "reconquering" what already belonged to Rome in the interior. But, all in all, this was an exaggeration of common practice. Huge spaces in Gaul, Germany, and Illyria were sparsely populated, there were no cities, no roads. First exchange trade was established with these areas, Roman scouts made drawings of the area, then local chieftains were bribed, and 1-2-3 legions were moved there with great pomp.
We misidentify the Legion as a modern military unit, like a regiment or division. The legion, in terms of technology and communications of the time, is a MOVING CITY.
After each day's crossing, the legion would set up a camp like this:
In the morning, the camp was dismantled and carried by the legionaries, sometimes without a wagon train. In the evening, camp again. There was never a case of a legion stopping for the night without setting up camp. Winter and summer, rain and snow. The camp was LAW. The Romans couldn't be caught off guard, nor could they stay at one point for more than the allotted time. This alone provided a HUGE advantage over the enemy. During the battle in the field, the camp was a rear base and a place of retreat.
But it was a daily camp. If a legion stayed in one place long enough (for example, for the winter or when a fortress was besieged), the Romans began to build a stationary camp. A double moat was dug around the tents, a rampart was poured, watchtowers were built, then walls. Inside - barracks. First of wood, then of stone. The work in the legion did not stop even for a day. The Romans were workaholics a la the Chinese. The legion was a factory; it kept working around the clock. Among other things, this kept the soldiers in great physical shape.
A legionary is largely not a soldier, but a construction worker (and... a bureaucrat - because service in the legion opened the way to coveted administrative positions). Most legions had been in existence for a long time and had a history of their own. Because of their semi-rural structure, the legion functioned constantly, rather than assembling from time to time. These land armadillos were Rome's know-how, and there was no defense against legions. They broke everything. The only problem that could stop these moving city-corporations was attrition from infectious diseases. It was this circumstance that prevented them from penetrating deep into Asia. Sooner or later in the unsanitary conditions of the East, the overcrowding of a military camp would lead to epidemics. But of course the Romans did everything they could. It was the legions, for example, that pioneered mass disinfection.
The conquest of new territory was more of an engineering operation for Rome. The legions built roads and bridges, then a system of small fortresses and a main "winter" camp, which quickly became a Roman colony. Then the imperial Limites were created - these were huge barriers with checkpoints, solid fences and even walls. In addition to the fantasy Limes in England, there is the very real Limes in Germany, the so-called "Devil's Wall.”
The Roman Limes is a much more serious construction than the Chinese wall. It is a deep-echelon fortification with an elaborate system of access roads, warehouses, outposts, abatisses, ditches, signal and watch towers. This system has not yet been fully explored.
In many ways, European armies never managed to replicate the level of organization of the legions. The Europeans began with condottieri, then moved on to a system of fortresses with garrisons. Then to mass armies operating in a well-supplied theater of war (Frederick the Great). But the European army, even during the Napoleonic Wars, was a parasitic army, perishing quickly outside the infrastructure of roads and plundered cities. Much was compensated for by greater specialization, i.e., special engineer and forage units, but, in general, one can see that compared to Rome, this was also a DECLINE. It is enough to visualize the 17th century gypsy trains, which were considered armies.
On the OUTSIDE the borders of the empire did stop expanding at a certain point, but this was just the Romans marking their territory. Next came the development of the secured territory, the population there rose by a factor of 20 within 100-200 years, there were large cities, a system of roads and aqueducts. All this time, the empire was expanding inland. Like the United States. You can't say that U.S. expansion stopped with the annexation of Alaska. In 1860 there were 30 million people, in 1900 there were 75, and in 2000 there were 275. A decade has passed and there are 312 million in America. The U.S. borders have not changed, but what kind of "stagnation and defense" is that?
But the 50 years of chaos of the "third century" is really a lost time, and the next hundred or two hundred years is really strategic defense and patching up holes.
During the fifty-year crisis (235-284), 42 emperors were replaced, plus 11 emperors existed in parallel. Almost all of them died violent deaths.
Frankly, it is hard to believe this. Such chaos is possible, but usually as the result of an iron selection a serious animal comes to power by the third or fifth time and makes everyone bend the knee.
There are no credible sources detailing this period. One of the main sources is a strange collection with the conventional title "Augustan History", supposedly written by six authors, but for some reason entirely in the same style, with obviously invented details, anachronisms, invented opponents (!) and, finally, a direct confession of disinformation. Even in this collection there is a huge lacuna from 238 to 253.
After the crisis comes a period of stabilization, the so-called "Dominate", but its mastermind Diocletian is clearly unsuited to the role of a tyrant. He was a typical figure of the principate with his populism and grand gestures. It is he who is credited with the famous phrase about cabbage (the old Diocletian, in response to an offer to take the throne again, in turn offered to look at the cabbage he had grown and to stop making idiotic suggestions). What cabbage can there be under a DOMINATE? People are chopped into cabbage, shredded to pieces and salted in barrels.
The strangest thing happens under the Dominate. The Roman empire is QUARTERED, with Rome not being the capital at all. Rome (the "eternal city") blooms and thrives, it is adorned with beautiful monuments, it is the bureaucratic, economic and cultural center of a vast empire... HOWEVER.
Suddenly they take the capital from Rome and move it to four places, and then they start to shuffle them around, and Rome in this flicker of thimbles is finally lost without a trace. It was there, but then it is gone. Why such punishments?
The four centers were Nicomedia (the main capital), Sirmium, Mediolanum, and Augusta Treverorum. These cities are known to modern times: Nicomedia is the Turkish Izmit, Mediolanum is Milan, Augusta Treverorum is Trier. There are indeed a lot of ancient monuments preserved there.
Sirmium raises questions. This little town really must have been the capital, which in turn gave birth to as many as 10 emperors, but it is strange that there is so little information about it and it has shrunk so much. Modern Sirmium is called Sremska Mitrovica. This is a very, very bad name. Such names make Europe's modern religious officials, who have learned to play the role of historians rather convincingly, fall into melancholy.
Original post by Dmitry Galkovsky, translation by RWA.