Most of the
4th and 5th century Roman emperors were remarkably young an inevitable
consequence of combining the notion of hereditary monarchy with
of violence as a legitimate instrument of ambition. Across the Roman world, in every
imperial court and there were now several a coterie
of bishops, female regents and eunuchs vied for influence and
power. For two hundred years, seemingly limitless funds had poured into the coffers
of the Church, much of it plundered from the treasuries of pagan sanctuaries. The bonanza intensified
the ferocious infighting that had always characterised
Christianity Trinitarian versus Arian, Donatist versus Catholic,
Alexandria versus Constantinople, Monophysitism versus Nestorianism, Milan versus Rome. Christianity,
far from unifying the Roman world with a single faith, rent division
and civil conflict throughout the empire.
Rotting from the head
After the ascendancy of Emperor Constantine, Roman civilisation gravitated increasingly towards the new Christian capital on the Bosphorus. Members of the court and the imperial bureaucracy moved east with their emperor to the "New Rome". Throughout the eastern empire, pagan cities and sanctuaries were robbed out to embellish the Christian metropolis with appropriate, albeit counterfeit, grandeur.
In Constantinople, for the next thousand years, divine emperors and illustrious patriarchs would reign
in oriental splendour as lords of the earth and viceroys of God in Heaven. Neither the sons of Constantine, nor most
of the 4th century emperors that followed, had much in common with the military
strongmen who had so often seized power a century earlier. The
feeble sons of Constantine were followed by the equally feeble
of Valentinian and Theodosius. Tutored from infancy by scheming
churchmen, these vicious and pious adolescent emperors essentially
waged civil war on their own subjects. Spending their
days at court, replete with wig and face make-up, these simple-minded
monarchs with a bishop at their
ear displayed their martial prowess by issuing
increasingly vindictive edicts against heretics and unbelievers. As they laboured tirelessly (but in luxury) over such pressing
issues as to whether Christ was actually God and just how virtuous
was virginity, the provinces were taxed into destitution, the tax-base actually diminishing as citizens fled the towns to avoid
the rapacious tax collectors.
In the menagerie of eunuchs and regents, courtiers and attendants, the fiercely competitive Christian bishops, themselves habituées of the imperial palaces, established mind-control over the weak and superstitious scions of dynastic monarchy. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan 374-397, in particular, is notable in "guiding" no fewer than four monarchs,
all of whom were complicit in the disintegration of the western
"Old" Rome was reduced to the status of a provincial city and entered a protracted period of neglect and decline. What remained of the old senatorial class looked askance at the new Jewish god that had captured the imperial enthusiasm and whose votaries claimed an exclusivity of divine favour. Throughout much of the 4th century the more enlightened of the polytheists offered determined resistance to Christianization. But disheartened by the failure of Emperor Julian's pagan "counter-revolution" (360-363), and the rout of Eugenius at the head of the last pagan
legions (September 394), the Roman patrician
class moved wholesale into the higher ranks of the Church. Financial penalties made it prudent, and penal legislation made
it imperative, to abandon paganism.
And it was not all bad. The Church offered "the officer class" an alternative
career to that of the marching camp or frontier garrison, one superior
in rewards of status, wealth and power and all in safety
and comfort. Not for nothing did the Church model its hierarchy
on that of the army; it was a fine career for a bright young Roman
who preferred to fight the hordes of Satan to the horsemen of Germany
or Asia. Thanks to Constantine's "religious revolution" and
the subsequent establishment of a state-endorsed Catholic Church, the manpower that might have defended the
empire was drawn increasingly into the ranks of the priesthood.
Within the church, these high-born hierarchs often clashed with and drove out puritan and "heretical" intellectuals. At the same time, they brought into the church much of the familiar ritual and regalia of paganism. Thus entrenched, the new Christian grandees became the recipients of imperial largesse, took up residence in palaces and appeared resplendent in the finest costumes. By and large, the bishops of
western Europe were the old Roman aristocracy wearing a new hat.
Until the latter half of the 4th century the bishops of Rome had been shadowy, inconsequential figures. But in the time of pope Damasus I (366-384) – a Spaniard, suggested by some sources, related to the imperial family of Theodosius – the faith became an acceptable aristocratic affectation, with wealthy converts commandeering all the higher ranks of the church.
The successor to Damasus, Siricius (384-99) – possibly the son of Damasus – was the first Roman bishop to adopt the title "pope", an honorific shared by all bishops in the eastern church..
What was different
after the triumph of Christianity?
With the willingness
of the Roman elite to engage the invader seriously eroded, the
alternative defender was the hired barbarian, one under increasingly
autonomous tribal chiefs. When these mercenaries failed to stem the tide lapping at the frontiers, the
was bribed into a temporary quiescence.
A degenerate age used the
accumulated wealth of a millennium to buy time and then spent that time on building a plethora of churches, on convening
protracted councils to resolve hairsplitting nuances of theology,
and on the persecution of internal dissent. The
soldiery, secondary to the clergy, often went unpaid, and barbarians raided unopposed.
Again and again, supposed heresies,
pagan religions and "philosophies" (that is rational thought
and science) were criminalized with the severest
of penalties. The repetition of the legislation itself gives evidence
of widespread resistance. The populace of the empire had to be brought kicking and screaming
to the Church of Christ.
Yet the fanatical
intolerance rampaged on, with increasingly more severe rescripts. Every new measure designed
to crush and stamp out non-Catholic belief met with renewed resistance,
disaffection from the imperial cause and civil commotion. At a time when
a regeneration of the legions was most urgent, the Church/State
apparatus devoted ever more resources to the persecution of its
own people. In time, many would
prefer the more tolerant rule of a barbarian king to the adolescent
fanatics in Milan, Ravenna and Constantinople.
The campaign to wipe
out heterodox opinion reached a zenith with the reign of Theodosius
I, late in the 4th century. Less than twenty years after Theodosius' prohibition of paganism, the city of Rome
fell to the barbarians. By then, the parasitic Christian religion had fatally
weakened the host body; yet as the western empire died, the psychosis
of "Christian faith" had already migrated to the newcomers. The barbarian tribesmen that sacked Rome and other major cities of the empire were, notionally at least, "Christian".
view of Vandals sacking Rome 455.
Convenient to be True...
image of "rape and pillage". The melodrama
hides the insidious and corrosive influence of
the Church on several generations of weak-minded
now clear that the migrating tribes, often desperate
and on the verge of starvation, had a code of morality
and humanity superior to the degenerate Romans.
With wagons and cattle, their movement was less
of an "onslaught" than a pitiful trek.
Blame the Barbarians?
barbarians (were) eager to settle down and savor the fruits of
civilization: to defeat the enemy, tax him, visit his doctors,
marry his daughters."
– R. Wright (Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny)
The Christians have always lied and one of their biggest
lies remains that of "blaming the barbarians" for the
destruction of ancient civilization which they themselves caused.
is familiar enough: barbarians "pouring in" ... Rome sacked ...
havoc wreaked everywhere. Words like "horde" and "onslaught" are
bandied about, conjuring up images of a human flood of bloodthirsty
and predatory warriors, hell-bent on rape and pillage. The only
light, we are asked to believe, comes from the flickering lamps
of Christian monks in remote fastnesses, keeping alive the dim
of civilization until a bright new dawn, centuries into the future.
To put things in perspective,
in 410, the Visigoths of Alaric (a Christian) pillaged
Rome for precisely three days before withdrawing. A generation later,
in 455, Gaiseric (a Christian) and his Vandals spent just fourteen
days in the city, taking what they could.
'wisdom' is a travesty, written by the winning side. The barbarians
3rd – 5th centuries AD like the barbarians of the
1st century AD or 2nd century BC had wanted a share of
the good life, not the common ruination of everyone.
What was different in
the age of Constantine and Theodosius, compared to the age of Augustus
and Hadrian, was the degenerate nature of the Roman state which opposed them.
The barbarians, in the
passage of centuries, had learnt from the empire: the practical
skills of agriculture and horticulture; the value of armour; the
exercise of power within a framework of law; even a version the
new Christian religion of the Romans.
But the empire, for
its part, had turned in on itself, had wasted its energies on the
indulgences of a theocratic tyranny, had narrowed its vision,
had ruined itself a process that began with Constantine
and his plans for a Christian dynasty. The One True Catholic and Orthodox Faith, made secure by its establishment as the state religion, expropriated for its own purposes
more and more of the wealth of the empire. Yet ultimately
it became indifferent to the fate of the empire; Holy Mother Church
was all that mattered.
Emperors who ruined the world
at Accession and Death [BOLD] ARIAN
of Constantine Scramble for Power
I (307 - 337) 34 (west) 52 (whole
empire). With less than five per cent of his subjects professing
to be Christian, Constantine endorsed Christianity as the most favoured religion. Though his Council of Nicaea
was ever after hailed as the lodestone of Catholic orthodoxy, he died an Arian (at 65).
Constantine II (337 - 340) 21.
On accession in Gaul, freed the fiery "Trinitarian" Bishop
Athanasius from exile and allowed him to return
to Alexandria, causing problems for his brother Constantius
II, an Arian. He was killed at 24 in battle with brother Constans,
trying to seize more territory.
Constans I (337 - 350) 17.
Under influence of Athanasius, banned pagan
sacrifice and waged a campaign against the Donatists in
North Africa. Called Council of Serdica to deal with
Arianism. He sold government posts to the highest
bidder and was murdered by his army chief at 30.
II (337 - 361) 20.
On accession, he murdered many of his own family.
Early in life influenced by presbyter
Arius and his supporters.
"Vain & stupid...
he bankrupted the courier service by frequent calls
for Church Councils." (Ammianus).
of sorcery, Constantius persecuted soothsayers
and Hellenists. However, shortly before his death at the age of 44, Christian monks were exempted from
all public obligations.
Julian the Apostate (360-363) 29. As a boy, escaped the murder of his family at the hands of his cousin Constantius. Instructed by bishops but, in secret, rejected Christianity. Made Caesar in 355, Augustus in 360. In vain, Julian attempted to restore religious
tolerance and the 'old gods.' Assassinated at 32.
House of Valentinian Retreat
Valentinian I (364
- 375) 43. With
Julian's murder (and the death of Jovian), this
stolid soldier made emperor. Issued edict forbidding
pagan officers to command Christian soldiers.
He was impressed by Ambrose, whom he made
praetorian prefect of Italy, governor of Milan
and bishop. Little interested in religion but hostile
to the old pagan aristocracy, which cleared
the way for Christian ascendancy. Died in a fit
of anger, at 54.
mistake was making his obtuse brother Valens (364
- 378) co-ruler in the east (at 36). A zealous
Arian, Valens ordered mass book-burning and
persecution of non-Christians throughout the
Eastern Empire. His arrogance led him to defeat and death at the hands of
the Goths in 378 (aged 50).
Gratian (367 -383) 8. Elder son of Valentinian. Tutored
by Ausonius, a Christian poet from Gaul. No interest
in the rigours of military life; withdrew his capital
from Trier to the relative safety of Milan; held
in contempt by army; murdered at 24 by Magnus
Maximus (usurper emperor of the western provinces). Catspaw
of Ambrose while he lived (abolished
Vestal Virgins, removed Altar of Victory). Preferred
hunting to ruling.
Valentinian II (375
-392) 4. (Regent: Empress Justina ).
This child prince, the younger son of Valentinian I, relied on Ambrose to negotiate
with Maximus and remained a pawn in the power struggle
between the Catholic bishop and his Arian mother.
Intervention by Theodosius saved his throne, only
to leave him under the thumb of generalissimo Arbogastes.
Refused appeal to restore Altar of Victory. Murdered
(suicide?) at 19.
of Theodosius Dissolute and Dissolution
I (379 - 395) 32. Sacked
from the army by Valentinian I for cowardice;
his seniority led a desperate 19-year-old Gratian
to appoint him co-ruler for the east after death
of his uncle Valens at Adrianople. After a near-death experience
at 34, he emerged as Catholic fanatic. Manipulated
by Ambrose he issued draconian anti-pagan
laws (any disagreement with Christian dogma
was declared "insane"). Libraries
looted and burned. Temples closed and burned. Appointed
general Stilicho as 'governor' in the west for
his younger son Honorius. Died at 49. Disastrous legacy.
Arcadius (395 - 408) 18. Elder son of Theodosius ruled
ineffectually under praetorian prefects Tatian, Rufinus
and Anthemius, chamberlain Eutropius (who appointed John
Chrysostom patriarch) and forceful wife Eudoxia
(who deposed Chrysostom). 'Withdrew' on her death,
rarely leaving palace. Urged the Goths to invade
Italy to save his own skin. Compensated for weak
character with pious acts of religious intolerance (ordered
that paganism be treated as "high
treason" and any remaining temples be demolished);
died at 31.
Honorius (395 - 423) 10. Younger son of Theodosius murdered
his protector, the brilliant general Stilicho, in
408, out of petulance and envy, paving the way for
capitulation to German tribes migrating into Spain,
Visigoths into southwest Gaul, and the loss of Britain.
The feckless and timid youth abandoned Milan and
Italy to the Goths while he cowed in Ravenna.
Stirred himself to call a synod of bishops and rule
in favour of Boniface against rival pope Eulalius
and tried to get Theodosius to return Illyricum sees
to papal authority. A synod in Carthage declared
the study of pagan books prohibited and issued
an approved "canon" of the Church.
Honorius died at 38.
Theodosius II (408 - 450) 7. (Regent: Empress Pulcheria) Early life of the only son of Arcadius was dominated
by his resolute and pious sisters, his ambitious and
pious wife Eudoxia (whom he married in 421), and the prefect Anthemius
(who built the walls of Constantinople). Many edicts
of intolerance were issued in his name.
While the young
Theodosius pondered the nature of Christ, his eldest sister, the Empress Pulcheria, did much to advance
the cult of "imperial mystique", and in her brother's name banned
pagans from public and military posts, and ordered destruction of synagogues
and temples. She also deposed Nestorius and returned the bones of John Chrysostom to Constantinople. In June 423 Pulcheria declared
that the religion of the pagans was nothing more than demon worship and
ordered all those who persisted in practicing it to be punished by
imprisonment and torture.
Her emerging rival, the emperor's wife Eudoxia (ironically, daughter of a pagan philosopher) not to be outflanked in
piety, went off to the Holy Land in 439 and returned with "important
relics" to boost her own prestige. Eudoxia was eventually forced
into exile in Jerusalem, where, in a new tactic, she embraced the cause
of "monophysitism" later adopted by Theodosius II. When Theodosius finally
escaped female fetters, he disastrously gave
in to demands from the Huns for ever more gold and conceded
to the Vandals a fully independent kingdom in North
Concentrating on really important
matters, Theodosius convened the Council at Ephesus in 449
("The Robber Council") and declared for
the monophysitic position that "Christ
had only one nature and it was divine" alienating
Pope Leo I. This infamous book-burner died
at 49 falling from his horse! The Codex
Theodosianus preserved his name. His scheming widow, Pulcheria, married his successor, Marcian.
Valentinian III (425 - 455) 6 (Regent: his mother
Empress Galla Placidia). Owed his throne to
intervention of Theodosius II in western politics.
A religious fanatic, under the influence
of astrologers, he was subservient in turns to his
mother, generalissimo Aetius and Pope Leo I. Lost the provinces
of Africa, part of Spain, much of Gaul. He
murdered Aetius, the last able general in the west,
and was himself murdered at 36.
Western Emperors barely ruled Italy itself.