Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Roman Empire Faces Unprecedented Vicissitudes (AD 400-700)

The Roman Empire: Hellenia, Anatolia, Levantia, Egypt (395)
Theodosius was the last person to rule both western and eastern halves of the Roman state. He also established Trinitarian Christianity as its sole official religion. Following his death in 395, various Germanian groups took control of the geocultural provinces of what had been the western half of the Roman Empire by 476. The eastern half, however, ruled from Constantinople, remained intact.

Justinian became ruler of the Roman Empire in 527. He was the last ruler of it to speak Latin as his first language. Justinian was a restorative; that is, he wanted to restore the Roman state's control over lands it had lost during the 400s.

To begin with, in 532 he bought 50 years of peace with the Persian state in Incognita to the east for 5,000 kg (11,000 pounds) of gold. With his eastern border secure, he could focus on recovering lands lost to Roman control in the west.

Gain of Carthaginia (534)
Justinian's general Belisarius took control of Carthaginia for the Byzantine state in 534 after a year's battles.

Gain of Latinia (535-552)
Theodoric had established Ostrogothic control of Latinia and most of Alpinia by 493. He ruled from his capital in Ravenna until his death in 526.

In 535 Belisarius led his Roman army from Carthaginia to Sicily and up the Latinian peninsula where he took Rome in December 536. He himself had to withstand a year's siege of Rome by an Ostrogothic army in 537 but managed to keep control of the city. He eventually took the Ostrogothic capital of Ravenna and finished reimposing Roman control of Latinia by 540. Justinian then sent Belisarius to fight the Persians who had broken their promise of peace.

In the absence of Belisarius, the Ostrogoths quickly started retaking control of Latinia. Justinian sent Belisarius back to it in 544. The Ostrogoths recaptured Rome in 546 but lost control of it again in 547. Starved of supplies and reinforcements by a jealous Justinian, an ineffective Belisarius was recalled to Constantinople in 548. The Ostrogoths retook Rome again in 550.

In June 552 a new general commanding a new Roman army returned to Latinia. It reasserted Roman control of Latinia by the end of the year. Latinia, however, was a province significantly damaged and depopulated by 17 years of gratuitous war.

Loss of Latinia (572)
Germanian Lombards entered southern Alpinia in 568, took control of several important cities including Milan in 569, and extended their control to the southern end of Latinia by 572. The Roman state hung onto control only of the cities of Ravenna and Rome and the island of Sicily.

Senseless Battles with Persians (230-627)
The Parthian empire (227 BC-AD 224) was always centered in the region of Incognita east of Olympia known as Persia. It had always challenged Roman control of the eastern Levantian region of Mesopotamia. After the first Persian ruler killed the last ruler of Parthia and took control of Mesoptomia, he happily continued this tradition starting with raids in 230.

In 260 a Persian army under the command of Shapur actually captured the Roman emperor during a battle outside Edessa in western Mesopotamia. In the long history of Rome, that's the only time that happened ever. Shapur, Persian ruler from 242 to 272, also welcomed into his realm Christians and Jews persecuted for nonconformist beliefs and practices back home in the Roman state. That tolerance was also rare.

Battles between Romans and Persians—destructive, deadly, and inconclusive for almost 400 years—reached a new level of absurdity in the early 600s. Invading Roman territory, the Persians captured Antioch in 611 and Jerusalem in 614. They even carried what Christian tradition regarded as the cross of Jesus back to the Persian capital of Ctesiphon. In 619 they seized control of central Anatolia and captured the city of Chalcedon on the Sea of Marmara just opposite Constantinople itself. Continuing into Egypt, the Persian army took Alexandria in 619 and the rest of the province by 621.

But just as inconclusive as before. In December 627 an army commanded by the Roman ruler Heraclius decisively defeated a major Persian army in battle just outside of Nineveh. The Persian ruler was then murdered by his son who withdrew all Persian armies from Anatolia, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. In 629, in a magnificent ceremony, a joyous Heraclius returned the cross of Jesus back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

But just as inclusive as before. In less than ten years, Muslim armies pouring out of Arabia would permanently change everything. Neither Romans nor Persians even imagined the possibility.

The Caliphate Takes Control (634-718)
In 632 Muhammad, founder of Islam, died in the southern Levantian city of Medina. Conquests by Muslim armies began soon thereafter. The Muslims who came to rule the Islamic state, and lead these conquests, were called “caliphs” or “successors” of Muhammad and the state they ruled was called the Caliphate.

Of Levantia (634-637)
In December 634, Muslim armies captured the Roman city of Damascus in central Levantia. During a six-day period in August 636, a Roman army fought a much smaller Muslim army in the Battle of Yarmouk (near the Sea of Galilee) and lost control of all central Levantia to it. Jerusalem, to which Heraclius had only just returned the cross of Jesus in 629, irreversibly surrendered to the Muslims in 637. Because of this catastrophic and inexplicable reversal of fortune, Heraclius died a broken man in Constantinople in 641.

In 636, a Muslim army took control of eastern Levantia from the Persians following the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah.

Of Egypt (639-641)
In December 639 a Muslim army entered the geocultural province of Egypt. In 641 it captured Alexandria and with it took control of Egypt from the Roman state.

Of Carthaginia (648-709)
The Muslim conquest of Carthaginia took place in three successive waves. Between the first and second wave, civil war split the Caliphate itself. In 661, the Umayyad dynasty established its control over the Caliphate and moved the capital of it from Medina to Damascus.

In a third wave of invasion, a Muslim army captured Carthage in 695 but soon lost control of it to a Roman army arriving from Constantinople. When Muslim armies recaptured it in 698, they destroyed it. With that, Roman control of the geocultural province of Carthaginia, established by Belisarius in 534, ended.

By 400 the western and eastern halves of the Roman state had permanently separated. By 476, the western Roman state had ceased to exist. The eastern Roman state continued to exist and prosper under rulers who made Constantinople their capital. Of the 10 geocultural provinces of Olympia once controlled by the Roman state, in 534 the Byzantine state still controlled only 3½ of them: Hellenia, Anatolia, central Levantia, and Egypt.

In 534 the Roman state retook control of Carthaginia. Between 535 and 552, it reasserted its control over Latinia. It now controlled 5½ of the 10 Olympian provinces once controlled by the Roman state.

Its success in Latinia was short-lived. The Lombards took control of almost all of it a mere 20 years later.

For 400 years the Roman and Persian states had indulged in border conflicts that were as destructive as they were inconclusive. The new Muslim Caliphate ended that foolishness. In 637 it took central Levantia, including Jerusalem, from the Romans and by 641 it had done the same with Egypt. By 698, with the destruction of Carthage, it had ended Roman control of Carthaginia reestablished in 534.

By 700, the Roman Empire was confined to just 2 Olympian provinces: Hellenia and Anatolia. In reality, in 700 its control of even Hellenia had been temporarily eclipsed by a powerful Bulgarian state. Nonetheless after 700 the Romans, heirs of a once almost universal Roman state, would control just two Olympian provinces and even that control would expand and contract over the next several centuries.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.