Friday, December 23, 2011

Francis Drake (1540-1596), Bitter Enemy of Spanish Armada

A 16th century oil on canvas portrait of Sir Francis Drake in Buckland Abbey, painting by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

Sir Francis Drake, circa 1581. This portrait may have been copied from Hilliard's miniature—note that the shirt is the same—and the somewhat oddly proportioned body added by an artist who did not have access to Drake. National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Francis Drake knighted by Queen Elizabeth. One of 4 bronze relief plaques on the base of the Drake statue in Tavistock, Devon. By Joseph Boehm (d.1890), donated by Hastings Russell, 9th Duke of Bedford (d.1891)

Sir Francis Drake buried at sea. One of 4 bronze relief plaques on the base of the Drake statue in Tavistock, Devon. By Joseph Boehm (d.1890), donated by Hastings Russell, 9th Duke of Bedford (d.1891)

Bronze statue of Sir Francis Drake in Tavistock, in the parish of which he was born. By Joseph Boehm (d.1890), donated by Hastings Russell, 9th Duke of Bedford (d.1891)

Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral (1540 – 27 January 1596) was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581. He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He also carried out the second circumnavigation of the world, from 1577 to 1580. He died of dysentery in January 1596 after unsuccessfully attacking San Juan, Puerto Rico.

His exploits were legendary, making him a hero to the English but a pirate to the Spaniards to whom he was known as El Draque, 'Draque' being the Spanish pronunciation of 'Drake'. His name in Latin was Franciscus Draco ('Francis the Dragon'). King Philip II was claimed to have offered a reward of 20,000 ducats, about £4,000,000 (US$6.5M) by modern standards, for his life!

Francis Drake was born in Tavistock, Devon, in February or March 1544 at the earliest, when his namesake godfather Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford was but age 17. Although Drake's birth is not formally recorded, it is known that he was born while the Six Articles were in force. "Drake was two and twenty when he obtained the command of the Judith" (1566). This would date his birth to 1544. As with many of Drake's contemporaries, the exact date of his birth is unknown and could be as early as 1535, the 1540 date being extrapolated from two portraits: one a miniature painted by Nicholas Hilliard in 1581 when he was allegedly 42, the other painted in 1594 when he was said to be 53.

He was the eldest of the twelve sons of Edmund Drake (1518–1585), a Protestant farmer, and his wife Mary Mylwaye. The first son was reportedly named after his godfather Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford.

Because of religious persecution during the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549, the Drake family fled from Devonshire into Kent. There the father obtained an appointment to minister to men in the King's Navy. He was ordained deacon and made vicar of Upnor Church upon the Medway. Drake's father apprenticed Francis to his neighbour, the master of a barque used for coastal trade transporting merchandise to France. The ship master was so satisfied with the young Drake's conduct that, being unmarried and childless at his death, he bequeathed the barque to Drake.

Francis Drake married Mary Newman in 1569. She died 12 years later, in 1581. In 1585, Drake married Elizabeth Sydenham—born circa 1562, the only child of Sir George Sydenham, of Combe Sydenham, who was the High Sheriff of Somerset. After Drake's death, the widow Elizabeth eventually married Sir William Courtenay of Powderham. As Sir Francis Drake had no children, his estate and titles passed on to his nephew (also named Francis).

At age twenty-three, Drake made his first voyage to the New World, sailing with his second cousin, Sir John Hawkins, on one of a fleet of ships owned by his relatives, the Hawkins family of Plymouth. In 1568 Drake was again with the Hawkins fleet when it was trapped by the Spaniards in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulúa. He escaped along with Hawkins.

Following the defeat at San Juan de Ulúa, Drake vowed revenge. He made two voyages to the West Indies, in 1570 and 1571, of which little is known.

In 1572, he embarked on his first major independent enterprise. He planned an attack on the Isthmus of Panama, known to the Spanish as Tierra Firme and the English as the Spanish Main. This was the point at which the silver and gold treasure of Peru had to be landed and sent overland to the Caribbean Sea, where galleons from Spain would pick it up at the town of Nombre de Dios. Drake left Plymouth on May 24, 1572, with a crew of 73 men in two small vessels, the Pascha (70 tons) and the Swan (25 tons), to capture Nombre de Dios.

His first raid was late in July 1572. Drake and his men captured the town and its treasure. When his men noticed that Drake was bleeding profusely from a wound, they insisted on withdrawing to save his life and left the treasure. Drake stayed in the area for almost a year, raiding Spanish shipping and attempting to capture a treasure shipment.

In 1573, he joined Guillaume Le Testu, a French buccaneer, in an attack on a richly laden mule train. Drake and his party found that they had captured around 20 tons of silver and gold. They buried much of the treasure, as it was too much for their party to carry. (An account of this may have given rise to subsequent stories of pirates and buried treasure). Wounded, Le Testu was captured and later beheaded. The small band of adventurers dragged as much gold and silver as they could carry back across some 18 miles of jungle-covered mountains to where they had left the raiding boats. When they got to the coast, the boats were gone. Drake and his men, downhearted, exhausted and hungry, had nowhere to go and the Spanish were not far behind.

At this point Drake rallied his men, buried the treasure on the beach, and built a raft to sail with two volunteers ten miles along the surf-lashed coast to where they had left the flagship. When Drake finally reached its deck, his men were alarmed at his bedraggled appearance. Fearing the worst, they asked him how the raid had gone. Drake could not resist a joke and teased them by looking downhearted. Then he laughed, pulled a necklace of Spanish gold from around his neck and said "Our voyage is made, lads!" By August 9, 1573, he had returned to Plymouth.

With the success of the Panama isthmus raid, in 1577 Elizabeth I of England sent Drake to start an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. He set out from Plymouth on 15 November 1577, but bad weather threatened him and his fleet. They were forced to take refuge in Falmouth, Cornwall, from where they returned to Plymouth for repair. After this major setback, he set sail again on the 13th of December, aboard Pelican, with four other ships and 164 men. He soon added a sixth ship, Mary (formerly Santa Maria), a Portuguese merchant ship that had been captured off the coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands. He also added its captain, Nuno da Silva, a man with considerable experience navigating in South American waters.

Drake's fleet suffered great attrition; he scuttled both Christopher and the flyboat Swan due to loss of men on the Atlantic crossing. He made landfall at the gloomy bay of San Julian, in what is now Argentina. Ferdinand Magellan had called here half a century earlier, where he put to death some mutineers. Drake's men saw weathered and bleached skeletons on the grim Spanish gibbets. They discovered that Mary had rotting timbers, so they burned the ship. Following Magellan's example, Drake tried and executed his own 'mutineer' Thomas Doughty. Drake decided to remain the winter in San Julian before attempting the Strait of Magellan.

The three remaining ships of his convoy departed for the Magellan Strait at the southern tip of South America. A few weeks later (September 1578) Drake made it to the Pacific, but violent storms destroyed one of the three ships in the strait and caused another to return to England, leaving only the Golden Hind. After this passage, the "Golden Hind" was pushed south and discovered an island which Drake called Elizabeth Island. Drake, like navigators before him, probably reached a latitude of 55°S (according to astronomical data quoted in Hakluyt's The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation of 1589) along the Chilean coast. Despite popular lore, it seems unlikely that he reached Cape Horn or the eponymous Drake Passage, because his descriptions do not fit the first and his shipmates denied having seen an open sea. The first report of his discovery of an open channel south of Tierra del Fuego was written after the 1618 publication of the voyage of Willem Schouten and Jacob le Maire around Cape Horn in 1616.

He pushed onwards in his lone flagship, now renamed the Golden Hind in honour of Sir Christopher Hatton (after his coat of arms). The Golden Hind sailed north along the Pacific coast of South America, attacking Spanish ports and rifling towns. Some Spanish ships were captured, and Drake used their more accurate charts. Before reaching the coast of Peru, Drake visited Mocha Island, where he was seriously injured by hostile Mapuche. Later he sacked the port of Valparaíso further north in Chile where he also captured a ship full a Chilean wine.

Near Lima, Drake captured a Spanish ship laden with 25,000 pesos of Peruvian gold, amounting in value to 37,000 ducats of Spanish money (about £7m by modern standards). Drake also discovered news of another ship, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, which was sailing west towards Manila. It would come to be called the Cacafuego. Drake gave chase and eventually captured the treasure ship, which proved their most profitable capture. Aboard Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, Drake found 80 lb (36 kg) of gold, a golden crucifix, jewels, 13 chests full of royals of plate and 26 tons of silver.

On 17 June 1579, Drake landed somewhere north of Spain's northern-most claim at Point Loma. He found a good port, landed, repaired and restocked his vessels, then stayed for a time, keeping friendly relations with the natives. He claimed the land in the name of the Holy Trinity for the English Crown as called Nova Albion—Latin for "New Britain". Assertions that he left some of his men behind as an embryo "colony" are founded on the reduced number who were with him in the Moluccas.

The precise location of the port was carefully guarded to keep it secret from the Spaniards, and several of Drake's maps may have been altered to this end. All first-hand records from the voyage, including logs, paintings and charts, were lost when Whitehall Palace burned in 1698. A bronze plaque inscribed with Drake's claim to the new lands -Drake's Plate of Brass- fitting the description in his account, was discovered in Marin County, California, but was later declared a hoax. The generally accepted location of Drake's New Albion is Drakes Bay, California, although nearly a score of other notions have been offered.

Drake headed westward across the Pacific, and a few months later reached the Moluccas, a group of islands in the south west Pacific, in eastern modern-day Indonesia. While there, Golden Hind became caught on a reef and was almost lost. After the sailors waited three days for expedient tides and dumped cargo, they freed the barque. Befriending a sultan king of the Moluccas, Drake and his men became involved in some intrigues with the Portuguese there. He made multiple stops on his way toward the tip of Africa, eventually rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and reached Sierra Leone by 22 July 1580.

On 26 September, Golden Hind sailed into Plymouth with Drake and 59 remaining crew aboard, along with a rich cargo of spices and captured Spanish treasures. The Queen's half-share of the cargo surpassed the rest of the crown's income for that entire year. Drake was hailed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the Earth (and the second such voyage arriving with at least one ship intact, after Elcano's in 1520). The Queen ordered all written accounts of Drake's voyage to be considered classified information, and its participants sworn to silence on pain of death; she intended to keep Drake's activities away from the eyes of rival Spain. Drake presented the Queen with a jewel token commemorating the circumnavigation. Taken as a prize off the Pacific coast of Mexico, it was made of enameled gold and bore an African diamond and a ship with an ebony hull. For her part, the Queen gave Drake a jewel with her portrait, an unusual gift to bestow upon a commoner, and one that Drake sported proudly in his portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts, 1591. On one side is a state portrait of Elizabeth by the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, on the other a sardonyx cameo of double portrait busts, a regal woman and an African male. The "Drake Jewel", as it is known today, is a rare documented survivor among sixteenth-century jewels; it is conserved at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Queen Elizabeth awarded Drake a knighthood aboard Golden Hind in Deptford on 4 April 1581; the dubbing being performed by a French diplomat, Monsieur de Marchaumont, who was negotiating for Elizabeth to marry the King of France's brother, Francis, Duke of Anjou. By getting the French diplomat involved in the knighting, Elizabeth was gaining the implicit political support of the French for Drake's action. During the Victorian era, in a spirit of nationalism, the story was promoted that Elizabeth I had done the knighting.

In September 1581, Drake became the Mayor of Plymouth, and was a Member of Parliament in 1581, for an unknown constituency (possibly Camelford), and again in 1584 for Bossiney. and Plymouth in 1593. In 1580 Drake purchased Buckland Abbey, a large manor near Yelverton in Devon. He lived there for fifteen years, until his final voyage, and it remained in his family for several generations. Buckland Abbey is now in the care of the National Trust and a number of mementos of his life are displayed there.

War broke out between Spain and England in 1585. Drake sailed to the New World and sacked the ports of Santo Domingo and Cartagena in present-day Colombia. On the return leg of the voyage, he captured the Spanish fort of San Augustín in Spanish Florida. These acts encouraged Philip II of Spain to order planning for an invasion of England.

In a pre-emptive strike, Drake "singed the beard of the King of Spain" by sailing a fleet into Cadiz and also Corunna, two of Spain's main ports, and occupied the harbours. He destroyed 37 naval and merchant ships. The attack delayed the Spanish invasion by a year. Over the next month, Drake patrolled the Iberian coasts between Lisbon and Cape St. Vincent, intercepting and destroying ships on the Spanish supply lines. Drake estimated that he captured around 1600–1700 tons of barrel staves, enough to make 25,000 to 30,000 barrels (4,800 m3) for containing provisions.

Drake was vice admiral in command of the English fleet (under Lord Howard of Effingham) when it overcame the Spanish Armada that was attempting to invade England in 1588. As the English fleet pursued the Armada up the English Channel in closing darkness, Drake broke off and captured the Spanish galleon Rosario, along with Admiral Pedro de Valdés and all his crew. The Spanish ship was known to be carrying substantial funds to pay the Spanish Army in the Low Countries. Drake's ship had been leading the English pursuit of the Armada by means of a lantern. By extinguishing this for the capture, Drake put the fleet into disarray overnight.

On the night of 29 July, along with Howard, Drake organised fire-ships, causing the majority of the Spanish captains to break formation and sail out of Calais into the open sea. The next day, Drake was present at the Battle of Gravelines. He wrote as follows to Admiral Henry Seymour after coming upon part of the Spanish Armada, whilst aboard Revenge on 31 July 1588 (21 July 1588 O.S.):

"Coming up to them, there has passed some common shot between some of our fleet and some of them; and as far as we perceive, they are determined to sell their lives with blows".

The most famous (but probably apocryphal) anecdote about Drake relates that, prior to the battle, he was playing a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe. On being warned of the approach of the Spanish fleet, Drake is said to have remarked that there was plenty of time to finish the game and still beat the Spaniards. There is no known eyewitness account of this incident and the earliest retelling of it was printed 37 years later. Adverse winds and currents caused some delay in the launching of the English fleet as the Spanish drew nearer, perhaps prompting a popular myth of Drake's cavalier attitude to the Spanish threat.

In 1589, the year after defeating the Armada, Drake and Sir John Norreys were given three tasks. They were ordered to first seek out and destroy the remaining ships, second they were to support the rebels in Lisbon, Portugal against King Philip II (then king of Spain and Portugal), and third they were to take the Azores if possible. Drake and Norreys destroyed a few ships in the harbour of La Coruña in Spain but lost more than 12,000 lives and 20 ships. This delayed Drake, and he was forced to forgo hunting the rest of the surviving ships and head on to Lisbon.

Drake's seafaring career continued into his mid-fifties. In 1595, he failed to conquer the port of Las Palmas, and following a disastrous campaign against Spanish America, where he suffered a number of defeats, he unsuccessfully attacked San Juan de Puerto Rico, eventually losing the Battle of San Juan (1595).

The Spanish gunners from El Morro Castle shot a cannonball through the cabin of Drake's flagship, and he survived; but a few weeks later, in January 1596, he died of dysentery when he was about 55, while anchored off the coast of Portobelo, Panama, where some Spanish treasure ships had sought shelter. Following his death, the English fleet withdrew.

Before dying, he asked to be dressed in his full armour. He was buried at sea in a lead coffin, near Portobelo. Divers continue to search for the coffin this days!

Drakes Bay and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard of Marin County, California are both named after him, as well as the high school in San Anselmo, California. The boulevard runs between Drakes Bay at Point Reyes to Point San Quentin on San Francisco Bay. A large hotel in Union Square, San Francisco also bears his name. In Devon, England there are various places named after him, especially in Plymouth, where a roundabout has been named Drake Circus. Additionally, the Sir Francis Drake Channel in the British Virgin Islands bears his name.

Drake's will was the focus of a vast confidence scheme which Oscar Hartzell perpetrated in the 1920s and 1930s. He convinced thousands of people, mostly in the American Midwest, that Drake's fortune was being held by the British government, and had compounded to a huge amount. If their last name was Drake they might be eligible for a share if they paid Hartzell to be their agent. The swindle continued until a copy of Drake's will was brought to Hartzell's mail fraud trial and he was convicted and imprisoned.

Modern workings of stories involving Drake include the 1961 British television series Sir Francis Drake, and the 2009 US television movie The Immortal Voyage of Captain Drake.

Nathan Drake, a fictional descendant of Sir Francis Drake, searches for lost treasure supposedly found by Sir Francis during his circumnavigation in the video game Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and again in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.

Drake accompanied his second cousin Sir John Hawkins in making the third English slave-trading expeditions, making fortunes through the abduction and transportation of West African people, and then exchanging them for high-value goods. The first Englishman recorded to have taken slaves from Africa was John Lok, a London trader who, in 1555, brought to England five slaves from Guinea. A second London trader taking slaves at that time was William Towerson whose fleet sailed into Plymouth following his 1556 voyage to Africa and from Plymouth on his 1557 voyage. Despite the exploits of Lok and Towerson, John Hawkins of Plymouth is widely acknowledged to be an early pioneer of the English slave trade. While Hawkins made only three such trips, ultimately the English were to dominate the trade.

Around 1563 Drake first sailed west to the Spanish Main, on a ship owned and commanded by John Hawkins, with a cargo of people forcibly removed from the coast of West Africa. The Englishmen sold their African captives into slavery in Spanish plantations. In general, the kidnapping and forced transportation of people was considered to be a criminal offence under English law at the time, although legal protection did not extend to slaves, non-Protestants or criminals. Hawkins' own account of his actions (in which Drake took part) cites two sources for their victims. One was military attacks on African towns and villages (with the assistance of rival African warlords), the other was attacking Portuguese slave ships.

During his early days as a slave-trader, Drake took an immediate dislike to the Spanish, at least in part due to their Catholicism and inherent distrust of non-Spanish. His hostility is said to have increased over an incident at San Juan de Ulúa in 1568, when Drake was sailing with the fleet of his second cousin John Hawkins. Whilst negotiating to resupply and repair at the Spanish port, the fleet were attacked by Spanish warships, with all but two of the English ships lost. Drake survived the attack by swimming. The most celebrated of Drake's adventures along the Spanish Main was his capture of the Spanish Silver Train at Nombre de Dios in March 1573. With a crew including many French privateers and Maroons—African slaves who had escaped the Spanish—Drake raided the waters around Darien (in modern Panama) and tracked the Silver Train to the nearby port of Nombre de Dios. He made off with a fortune in gold, but had to leave behind another fortune in silver, because it was too heavy to carry back to England. It was during this expedition that he climbed a high tree in the central mountains of the Isthmus of Panama and thus became the first Englishman to see the Pacific Ocean. He remarked as he saw it that he hoped one day an Englishman would be able to sail it—which he would do years later as part of his circumnavigation of the world.

When Drake returned to Plymouth after the raids, the government signed a temporary truce with King Philip II of Spain and so was unable to acknowledge Drake's accomplishment officially.

Drake was considered a hero in England and a pirate in Spain for his raids.

In 1575, Drake was present at Rathlin Island, part of the English plantation effort in Ulster where 600 men, women, and children were massacred after surrendering.

Francis Drake was in charge of the ships which transported John Norreys' troops to Rathlin Island, commanding a small frigate called Falcon, with a total complement of 25. At the time of the massacre, he was charged with the task of keeping Scottish vessels from bringing reinforcements to Rathlin Island. The people who were massacred were, in fact, the families of Sorley Boy MacDonnell's followers.

“ And after this holy repast, they dined also at the same table together, as cheerfully, in sobriety, as ever in their lives they had done aforetime, each cheering up the other, and taking their leave, by drinking each to other, as if some journey only had been in hand. ”
—Francis Fletcher in his account of the Communion

In 1578 Drake accused his co-commander Thomas Doughty of witchcraft in a shipboard trial. Doughty was charged with mutiny and treason. Drake then denied his requests to see Drake's commission from the Queen to carry out such acts and was denied a trial in England. The two main pieces of evidence against Doughty were the testimony of the ship's carpenter, Edward Bright, and also that Doughty admitted to telling Lord William Burghley of the voyage. Drake consented to his request of Communion and dined with him. Thomas Doughty was beheaded on 2 July 1578.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

José de Urrea (1797-1849), Undefeated In Battle During Texas Revolution

José de Urrea

José de Urrea (March 19, 1797 – August 1, 1849) was a noted general for Mexico. He fought under General Antonio López de Santa Anna during the Texas Revolution. Urrea's forces were never defeated in battle during the Texas Revolution. His most notable success was that of the Goliad Campaign, in which James Fannin's 300 soldiers were surrounded and induced to capitulate under terms, but were massacred in Urrea's absence on the orders of Santa Anna.

Urrea was born at El Presidio de San Augustín de Tucson (present day Tucson, Arizona). Despite being born on the northern frontier of Mexico, his family had deep roots in the state of Durango.

In 1807 Urrea entered the Spanish army. In 1824 he rose to the rank of captain, but he resigned from the army and entered private life. In 1829 he rejoined the military as a major and helped to liberate the city of Durango, allying himself with Antonio López de Santa Anna. He was promoted to colonel for his actions. In 1835 he reluctantly took part in Santa Anna's attack on the state of Zacatecas (the state had openly rebelled against his rise to power). He was promoted to Brigadier General for his role in this.

When the Mexican state of Texas also revolted against Santa Anna's Centralist government, Urrea was sent there to help put down the colonists. He defeated the Texas forces at the Battle of San Patricio, Battle of Refugio, Goliad and Battle of Coleto. The last, also known as the "Goliad Massacre", included the deliberate slaughter of Texans who had surrendered. The execution of prisoners, however, was not Urrea's choice, but an order by General Santa Anna.

Due to Urrea's string of victories, Santa Anna decided to stay in Texas and personally finish off the rebellious Texas government. His motives were personal and political as Urrea was getting all the headlines and would be seen back in Mexico as a more popular figure.

The military defeat of Santa Anna's forces at the Battle of San Jacinto resulted in Santa Anna's capture, and him being forced to order all Mexican forces to withdraw from Texas soil. Urrea was infuriated and after linking up with Vicente Filisola's forces, wanted to continue the war against the Texans since the Mexicans still had over 2,500 troops in Texas against less than 900 of Sam Houston's Texans. But Urrea and Filisola had no choice but to comply with Santa Anna's orders, and by June, Urrea and all Mexican forces had withdrawn from Texas. In 1837, Urrea turned against Santa Anna upon his return to Mexico, and fought against him at the Battle of Mazatlán in 1838. The attempted uprising resulted in his eventual arrest, and he was sent to Perote Prison. He later revived his military career with the invasion of French forces into Mexico, and another failed coup attempt followed.

The Mexican-American War saw Urrea leading a cavalry division against invading American troops. Urrea died in 1849 of cholera shortly after the war ended.

Diary of the Military Operations of the Division which under the Command of General José Urrea Campaigned in Texas February to March 1836:

".......I was unable, therefore, to carry out the good intentions dictated by my feelings.....overcome by the difficult circumstances that surrounded me. I authorized the execution.....of thirty adventurers taken prisoners......setting free those who were colonists or Mexicans

.....These orders always seemed to me harsh, but they were the inevitable result of the barbarous and inhuman decree which declared outlaws those whom it wished to convert into citizens of the republic......I wished to elude these orders as far as possible without compromising my personal responsibility......They doubtlessly surrendered confident that Mexican generosity would not make their surrender useless, for under any other circumstances they would have sold their lives dearly, fighting to the last. I had due regard for the motives that induced them to surrender, and for this reason I used my influence with the general-in-chief to save them, if possible, from being butchered......"

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Flavius Stilicho (359-408)

Stilicho Parleying with the Goths--Drawn by H. Leutemann. Depicts Roman general Flavius Stilicho in conversation with Goth commanders. Image published: 1901

Goths leaving Italy

Germanic-Roman general Stilicho with his wife Serena and his son Eucherius. Copy of an ivory carving. The original dyptich, carved circa 395, is in Monza (Italy)

Flavius Stilicho (occasionally written as Stilico) (ca. 359 – August 22, 408) was a high-ranking general (magister militum), Patrician and Consul of the Western Roman Empire, notably of Vandal birth. Despised by the Roman population for his Germanic ancestry and Arian beliefs, Stilicho was in 408 executed along with his wife and son. The subsequent massacre of tens of thousands of Gothic civilians in Italy provoked Alarics invasion of the country the same year.

Stilicho was the son of a Vandal father and a Roman mother. Despite his father's origins there is little to suggest that Stilicho considered himself anything other than a Roman, and his high rank within the Empire suggests that he was probably not Arian like many Germanic Christians but rather a Nicene Christian like his patron Theodosius I, who declared Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Empire. Stilicho joined the Roman army and rose through the ranks during the reign of Theodosius I, who ruled the Eastern half of the Roman Empire from Constantinople, and who was to become the last Emperor to rule both the Eastern and Western halves of the Empire jointly. In 383, Theodosius sent him as an envoy to the court of the Persian king Shapur III in Ctesiphon to negotiate a peace settlement relating to the partition of Armenia. Upon his return to Constantinople at the successful conclusion of peace talks, Stilicho was promoted (to comes stabuli) and later to general (magister militum). The Emperor recognized that Stilicho could be a valuable ally, and to form a blood tie with him, Theodosius married his adopted niece Serena to Stilicho. The marriage took place around the time of Stilicho's mission to Persia, and ultimately Serena gave birth to a son, who was named Eucherius, and two daughters, Maria and Thermantia.

After the death of the Western Emperor Valentinian II in 392, Stilicho helped raise the army that Theodosius would lead to victory at the Battle of the Frigidus, and was one of the Eastern leaders in that battle. One of his comrades during the campaign was the Visigothic warlord Alaric, who commanded a substantial number of Gothic auxiliaries. Alaric would go on to become Stilicho's chief adversary during his later career as the head of the Western Roman armies. Stilicho distinguished himself at the Frigidus, and Theodosius, exhausted by the campaign, saw him as a man worthy of responsibility for the future safety of the Empire. The last emperor of a united Rome appointed Stilicho guardian of his son, Honorius, shortly before his death in 395.

Following the death of Theodosius, Honorius became emperor of the Western Roman Empire, and his brother Arcadius of the Eastern Roman Empire. Neither proved to be effective emperors, and Stilicho came to be the de facto commander-in-chief of the Roman armies in the West while his rival Rufinus became the power behind the throne in the East. In this capacity, Stilicho proved his abilities energetically, although political manoeuverings by agents of the two imperial courts would hinder him throughout his career.

His first brush with such court politics came in 395. The Visigoths living in Lower Moesia had recently elected Alaric as their king. Alaric broke his treaty with Rome and led his people on a raid into Thrace. The army that had been victorious at the Frigidus was still assembled, and Stilicho led it toward Alaric's forces. The armies of the eastern Empire were occupied with Hunnic incursions in Asia Minor and Syria so Rufinus attempted to negotiate with Alaric in person. The only results were suspicions in Constantinople that Rufinius was in league with the Goths. Stilicho now marched east against Alaric. According to Claudian, Stilicho was in a position to destroy the Goths, when he was ordered by Arcadius to leave Illyricum. Soon after Rufinus was hacked to death by his own soldiers.

Two years later, in 397, Stilicho defeated Alaric's forces in Macedonia, although Alaric himself escaped into the surrounding mountains. The same year saw him successfully quell the revolt of comes Gildo in Africa. The year 400 saw Stilicho accorded the highest honour within the Roman state by being appointed Consul.

Around this time Stilicho may have campaigned successfully against the Scots, Picts, and Saxons in Britain.

In 401, two barbarian leaders planned the joint invasion of the Roman Empire - Alaric and the Ostrogoth, Radagaisus. Radagaisus, with Alans, Sueves, and Vandals, attacked first, and invaded Raetia (Rhaetia). Stilicho rushed his soldiers to the area, crossed the Danube River, and crushed Radagaisus. Wasting no time, Stilicho turned his attention towards Alaric and his Visigoths, who had invaded Italy. Bravely hastening on in advance of his main body of troops (30,000), he hurled his crack units in a surprise night attack against Alaric's position around Milan. Alaric had to raise the siege of the city. One of his chieftains implored him to retreat, but Alaric refused.
On Easter Sunday in 402, Stilicho defeated Alaric at the Battle of Pollentia, capturing his camp and his wife. Alaric managed to escape with most of his men. This battle was the last victory celebrated in a triumphal march in Rome, which was saved for the time being. In 403 at Verona, Stilicho again bested Alaric, who as Gibbon said only escaped by the speed of his horse. A truce was made and Alaric went to Illyricum. In late 406, Stilicho demanded the return of the eastern half of Illyricum ( which had been transferred to the administrative control of Constantinople by Theodosius), threatening war if the Eastern Roman Empire resisted. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but it is possible that Stilicho planned to employ Alaric and his battle-hardened troops as allies against the bands of Alans, Vandals and Sueves that were threatening to invade the West. To do so, Stilicho may have needed to legitimize Alaric's control of Illyricum.

In 405, according to Rutilius Namatianus, De Reditu 51-60, Stilicho ordered the destruction of the Sibylline Books. The reasons for this are unknown, and the story cannot be verified.

Despite his successes against the Goths he failed to stop the barbarians from crossing of the Rhine on 31 December 406. This crossing initiated a wave of destruction of Roman cities and military revolt in Britannia and Gaul. Stilicho persuaded the Roman Senate to approve a gold payment to Alaric (who again was threatening to invade Italy since Stilicho had been unable to provide economic and military support in 406/407 as promised) since he wanted to send the Goths to Gaul as foederati. His unsuccessful attempts to deal with usurper Constantine III, rumors that he had earlier planned the assassination of Rufinus and that he planned to place his son on the Byzantine throne following the death of Emperor Arcadius in 408 caused a revolt. The Roman army at Ticinum mutinied on August 13, killing at least seven senior imperial officers (Zosimus 5.32). This was followed by events which John Matthews observed "have every appearance of a thoroughly co-ordinated coup d'état organized by Stilicho's political opponents." Stilicho retired to Ravenna, where he was taken into captivity. Although it was within his ability to contest the charges, Stilicho did not resist, either because of loyalty to Rome or for fear of the consequences to the already precarious state of the Western Empire. He was decapitated on August 22, 408. His son Eucherius was murdered in Rome shortly afterwards.

In the disturbances which followed the downfall and execution of Stilicho, the wives and children of barbarian foederati throughout Italy were slain by the local Romans. The natural consequence was that these men (estimates describe their numbers as perhaps 30,000 strong) flocked to the protection of Alaric, clamoring to be led against their cowardly enemies. The Visigothic warlord accordingly crossed the Julian Alps and began a campaign through the heart of Italy. By September 408, the barbarians stood before the walls of Rome.

Without a strong general like Stilicho to control the by-now mostly barbarian army, Honorius could do little to break the siege, and adopted a passive strategy trying to wait out Alaric, hoping to regather his forces to defeat the Visigoths in the meantime. What followed was two years of political and military manoeuvering, Alaric, king of the Goths, attempting to secure a permanent peace treaty and rights to settle within Roman territory. He besieged Rome three times without attacking while the Roman Italian Army watched helplessly, but it was not until the deal had fallen through a fourth time that he attacked and sacked the city in August 410. The removal of Stilicho was the main catalyst leading to this monumental event, the first barbarian capture of the city in nearly eight centuries and a presage of the final collapse of the imperial west!

Sources :

Alaric I (370-410), The Barbarian King Who Sacked Rome

Alaric I, king of Visigoth

Alaric in Athens by Ludwig Thiersch, 1894

Sack of Rome by Alaric

The Sack of Rome by the Visigoths on 24 August 410 by J-N Sylvestre (1890)

Captioned as "The burial of Alaric in the bed of the Busentinus". Drawing of Alaric I being buried in the bed of the Busento River. Lithograph published in 1895

Alaric I (Gothic: Alareiks; 370 - 410) was the King of the Visigoths from 395–410, whose sack of Rome in 410 marked a decisive event in the decline of the Roman Empire.

Alaric was born the son of a nobleman about a.d. 370 on Peuce Island, an island in the delta of the Danube River now in Romania. Although it is unknown exactly when he became the leader of the Visigothic tribe, for some time he served as the chief of Gothic forces serving in the Roman army. In 394, it was first noted that he was named as a military leader of the foederati (Visigoth regular troops), and in this capacity he fought for the emperor Theodosius I in crushing the forces of Eugenius, a usurper to the Roman throne, at the battle of the Frigidus (394). However, following the death of Theodosius in 395, Alaric left the service of Rome and shortly thereafter was named as head of the Visigoths. Almost immediately, Alaric turned on his old employer. Charging that Rome had failed to pay the Goths for serving the emperor, he decided to exact tribute by capturing Roman property and marched with the Visigothic army toward Constantinople, then the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. When Roman forces in that city seemed ready to overwhelm him, he turned south, marching into Greece, sacking the Piraeus at Athens, and striking the cities of Argos, Megara, and the former capital of Sparta. In 396, however, Flavius Stilicho, a Roman general, succeeded in trapping Alaric’s force in Greece, though Alaric himself escaped. In a surprising turn of fortune, Alaric regained power when the Eastern Roman emperor Arcadius, probably fearful of the growing influence of the Western Empire based in Rome, made him governor of Illyria (part of today’s Yugoslavia), and named him magister militum (master of soldiers).

After gathering troops and weapons, Alaric turned his army west and invaded Italy, where he was again met and defeated by the Roman general Stilicho at Pollentia (now Pollenza, Italy) on 6 April 402. Alaric subsequently attempted a second invasion of Italy but again met with defeat. It was not until after Flavius Stilicho was murdered in 408 and many Roman troops defected to Alaric’s side that the tide turned. By this time tired of warfare, Alaric offered peace to the Western Roman emperor Flavius Honorius, but the emperor refused, and in 408 Alaric marched on Rome. This time he could not be stopped, and he laid siege to the city until the Roman Senate agreed to his request for land and tribute. However, Honorius held his position, and in 409 Alaric again invaded Italy and surrounded Rome. When Honorius again refused to meet his demands, Alaric named Attalus, a Roman noble, as the western emperor, in exchange for which Attalus appointed Alaric as magister utriusque militum (literally, “master of both services”). However, when Attalus refused to let Alaric move his army into Africa, Alaric again besieged Rome, deposing Attalus, whose enemies opened Rome’s gates to him. When Alaric marched in on 24 August 410, he became the first foreign military leader to occupy that city in over 800 years.

Alaric was now free to march into Africa, whose corn both Rome and Alaric badly needed, but he was seriously ill. The Visigoths left Rome and marched north through Italy, and he died at Cosentia, Bruttium (modern-day Cosenza, Italy). He was buried by his comrades, but his grave is now lost.

Sources on the life of Alaric are scant; the chief authorities for any information are the historians Orosius and the poet Claudian, whose contemporary works have been studied thoroughly. Jordanes, a Visigothic historian who lived in the a.d. sixth century, wrote a history of the Visigoths and included information on Alaric not seen in other publications.

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus ( ? -31 BC), The Best of His Family

Ahenobarbus achieved considerable naval success against the Second Triumvirate in the Ionian theater, where this denarius was certainly minted

The Battle of Actium, 2 September 31 BC

Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (died 31 BC) was a general and politician of ancient Rome in the 1st century BC.

Little is known of Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, including his exact birth date. What is known is that he was the scion of a family of distinguished Roman citizens; historian William Smith outlined his genealogical chart in his famed Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology (1844). According to Smith, Ahenobarbus was a direct descendant great-grandson of the first Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (?–196 b.c.), a Roman consul and legate to Scipio Africanus in the war against Antiochus the Great. His father, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, took his son to the battle at Pharsalia (better known as the battle of Pharsalus, 48 b.c.), and it appears that they sided with the forces of the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, better known as Pompey. Pompey was defeated at Pharsalia by Julius Caesar, and Lucius Ahenobarbus was killed in flight after the battle. Cnaeus Ahenobarbus survived, though he could not return to his native Italy until he was pardoned by Caesar in 46 b.c.

Two years later, on 15 March 44 b.c., Caesar was murdered by a group of conspirators, including his own adopted son, Marcus Junius Brutus. Some historians believe that Ahenobarbus, seeking revenge for Pompey’s defeat, was one of the conspirators, but the evidence is conflicting, and he was not one of the assassins. However, once the murder had been committed, Ahenobarbus left Rome and followed Brutus when the latter fled to what is now Macedonia. Rome then began to hunt down the assassins and conspirators. In 42 b.c., when the Roman Domitius Calvinus tried to sail his fleet from Brundisium (modern Brindisi, southern Italy), Ahenobarbus, commanding some 50 ships in the Ionian Sea, met and defeated him. However, on land at Philippi (in Macedonia, northwest of Mount Pangea, near the Aegean Sea), 100,000 men under Brutus and Cassius fought the Roman legions under Octavian (later Augustus) and Mark Antony, with the Roman army victorious. Brutus committed suicide following the defeat, and Ahenobarbus became a pirate, plundering the coast of the Ionian Sea.

In 40 b.c., Mark Antony agreed to pardon Ahenobarbus, naming him as the governor of Bithynia (now in modern Turkey), where he took part in Antony’s Parthian campaign. He was given the title of consul in 32 b.c. That same year, though, Octavius and Antony severed all ties and became sworn enemies. Ahenobarbus sided with Antony, who was having an affair with Cleopatra. Because of that affair, many of Antony’s officers felt he should step aside and allow Ahenobarbus to command them. Instead, Ahenobarbus crossed over to Octavian, who destroyed Antony’s forces at the battle of Actium. Even though he was suffering from a fever, he took a small boat to Augustus's side. Even though Antony was greatly upset, he still sent him all his gear, his friends and his attendants! Ahenobarbus was not involved in that battle, having died mysteriously days before it happened. The exact date and manner of his death, as well as his place of burial, remain a mystery. Plutarch suggests that his death was due to "the shame of his disloyalty and treachery being exposed." Suetonius says that he was the best of his family. His great-grandson, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (a.d. 37–68) became Nero, emperor of Rome.

Ahenobarbus's father Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus had been Consul in 54 BC. His mother was Porcia Catones, sister of Cato the Younger and half-sister of the two Servilias; Servilia Caepionis Major (Caesar's mistress) and Servilia Caepionis Minor (second wife of Lucullus).

His wife was Aemilia Lepida and their son and only child Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus was married to Antonia Major, daughter of Mark Antony by Octavia. They became parents to a younger Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, and grandparents of the Roman Emperor Nero.

The character of Domitius Enobarbus in the play Antony and Cleopatra is loosely based on this man. He is Antony's friend who deserts Antony for Caesar (Act3 scene 13), is stricken with remorse, (Act 4 scene 6), and dies (Act 4 scene 10).

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

Friday, November 18, 2011

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63 BC-12 BC), The Winner at Actium

Bust of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa from the Forum of Gabii, currently in the Louvre, Paris

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Plaster cast in Pushkin Museum after the head Ma 1208 in the Louvre

Agrippa depicted in a relief of the "Altar of Peace," the Ara Pacis, with Oriental royalty

Hadrian's Pantheon was built to replace the previous temple that had been built during Agrippa's rule. Hadrian retained the legend M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT, which means "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built this"

Statue of Agrippa at the Archaeological Museum of Venice

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (c. 63 BC – 12 BC) was a Roman statesman and general. He was a close friend, son-in-law, lieutenant and defense minister to Octavian, the future Emperor Caesar Augustus. He was responsible for most of Octavian’s military victories, most notably winning the naval Battle of Actium against the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

He was the son-in-law of the Emperor Augustus, father-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius, maternal grandfather of the Emperor Caligula, and maternal great-grandfather of the Emperor Nero.

Little is known of Marcus Agrippa’s beginnings. He was born in 63 b.c. to parents of a lower class, although some historians doubt this; his schooling and upbringing remain unknown. At some point in his life he became friends with Octavian (later Augustus), whose uncle, Julius Caesar, became the great Roman general and statesman. Agrippa was at Octavian’s side when the latter was informed in March 44 b.c. that Caesar had been assassinated in Rome, and Agrippa went with him to Rome to claim the throne of the Roman Empire. When Caesar’s enemies blocked Octavian, Agrippa aided his friend in forming a private army to fight them. Although the two were close during this period, no mention of Agrippa is made in any of the histories of the famous battles between Octavian and his enemies, most notably Philippi (42 b.c.). However, during the so-called War of Perusia (40 b.c.), a year-long siege of what is today Perugia, Agrippa took a leading role, and Octavian rewarded him by naming him governor of Gaul (modern France).

In 38 b.c., while still governor of Gaul, Agrippa led an army to annihilate a force of rebel tribes from Aquitane; he followed this victory by crossing the Rhine River in a punitive expedition against the German tribes, a service for which he was named consul. At the same time, Octavian had been defeated by Sextus Pompeius, the son of the famed Roman general Pompey, at the battle of Cumæ (38 b.c.). Agrippa took control of Octavian’s army in what is known as the War of the Second Triumvirate. At Naucholus on 3 September 36 b.c., Agrippa and some 300 ships met Sextus Pompeius with a navy of equal strength. Agrippa won a decisive victory, and Pompeius fled after losing more than 380 of his ships. That same year, in a second battle at Mylae (no exact date), Agrippa again defeated Pompeius’s forces; Sextus Pompeius was captured and, a year later, put to death. These victories aided Octavian in taking power, and he made peace with his enemies, most notably Mark Antony. Eventually, however, this peace broke down, and the two parties went to war. Augustus put Agrippa in charge of his fleet, and the defeat of Antony at Actium
(2 September 31 b.c.) made Octavian ruler of the entire Roman Empire. For this service Agrippa was again made a consul, and when Octavian—now called Augustus—consolidated his rule in Rome, Agrippa became the emperor’s deputy in all but name. When Marcellus, Augustus’s nephew, died, the emperor gave the hand of his widow, Julia, to his friend and closest adviser, Agrippa.

In 19 b.c., Agrippa put down a rising in Spain. The following year, he was named tribunicia potestas (tribune of the plebs), an official who oversaw the workings of the Roman Senate and had the power to veto senatorial legislation. His two sons, Gaius and Lucius, were named as possible successors to Emperor Augustus. Agrippa was sent to the eastern part of the Roman Empire to oversee the defense of the eastern provinces, and he stayed there from 17 to 13 b.c. He returned to lead the Roman armies in a bloodless suppression of a Pannonian insurrection in Illyricum. However, he became ill and returned to Rome, where he died sometime in 12 b.c. Little known today, Agrippa helped to lay firm foundations for the Roman Empire. His descendants included the “crazy” emperors Nero and Caligula!

Agrippa was also known as a writer, especially on the subject of geography. Under his supervision, Julius Caesar's dream of having a complete survey of the Empire made was carried out. He constructed a circular chart, which was later engraved on marble by Augustus, and afterwards placed in the colonnade built by his sister Polla. Amongst his writings, an autobiography, now lost, is referred to.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, along with Gaius Maecenas and Octavian, was a central person in the establishing of the Principate system of emperors, which would govern the Roman Empire up until the Crisis of the Third Century and the birth of Dominate system. His grandson Gaius is known to history as the Emperor Caligula, and his great-grandson Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus would rule as the Emperor Nero.

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gnaeus Julius agricola (40-93), Conqueror of Britain

Julius Agricola

Statue of Gnaeus Julius Agricola erected in 1894 at the Roman Baths

British Campaigns of Agricola, 78 – 84

In AD84 the expeditionary force led by Agricola, including the men of the Ninth, finally met the Caledonian tribes in open battle, under the Picts' own brilliant commander, Calgacus, 'The Swordsman'

Gnaeus Julius Agricola (June 13, 40 – August 23, 93) was a Roman general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain. His biography, the De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, was the first published work of his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, and is the source for most of what is known about him.

Although Gnaeus Agricola is remembered for his conquests of the British Isles, most of the information on him comes from notes taken by his son-in-law, the famed Roman historian Tacitus, which appeared in the work Agricola. He was born on 13 June a.d. 37 in Forum Julii, in the province of Gallia Narbonensis (now Frejus, in the area of Provence, France), the son of Julius Graecinus, a praetor (a magistrate with judicial duties). When he was 18, he was made a tribunus laticlavius (military tribune) on the military staff of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who served as governor of Britain from a.d. 58 to 61. He also served on the staff of Paulinus’s successor, Publius Petronius Turpilianus. After marrying, Agricola was made a quaestor (a magistrate with financial powers), considered the first step in a career in the Roman governmental hierarchy. In 66 he was advanced to the office of people’s tribune, and two years later he became a praetor peregrinus (a judicial magistrate who decided cases between foreigners).

In a.d. 69, when a civil war broke out in Rome, Agricola sided with Vespasian against the Emperor Vitellius. Vespasian was victorious, and he rewarded Agricola by naming him legatus legionis (commander of a legion [today’s general]). He commanded the 20th Legion in Britain, serving under the governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis. Agricola was given the status of a patrician when he returned to Rome in 73 and served for a short time as governor of Aquitania (a.d. 74–77). In 77, he was named a consul as well as legatus augusti pro-praetore, or governor, of Britain. It was during this period that Agricola rose to become a major military leader. From 78 until 84, he fought numerous tribes in England and Wales. In 78, Roman forces decisively defeated the Ordovices tribe in northern Wales and routed the Druids on the island of Ynys Mon (today’s Anglesey) off the northwestern coast of Wales. Using these victories, Agricola colonized England with a series of garrisons. Marching northward and westward into Scotland and Wales, his forces took more territory under their control, and he established a frontier of posts between the firths of Clota and Bodotria (now the Clyde and Forth rivers). In 83, the Caledonians tried to destroy Roman forces, but the Romans crossed the Forth and Agricola defeated them at Mons Graupius (now Ardock) in 84. A legacy of Agricola’s campaign is the Roman fortress at Inchtuthil (near Dunkeld), built that year.

Agricola was recalled from Britain in 85, after an unusually long tenure as governor. Tacitus claims that Domitian ordered his recall because Agricola's successes outshone the Emperor's own modest victories in Germany. The relationship between Agricola and the Emperor is unclear: on the one hand, Agricola was awarded triumphal decorations and a statue (the highest military honours apart from an actual triumph); on the other, Agricola never again held a civil or military post, in spite of his experience and renown. He was offered the governorship of the province of Africa, but declined it, whether due to ill health or (as Tacitus claims) the machinations of Domitian. In 93 Agricola died on his family estates in Gallia Narbonensis aged fifty-three.

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

TIMELINE: 400 - 500

  1. Alaric I
  2. Flavius Aetius
  3. Flavius Stilicho

Flavius Aetius (396-454), The Last of the Romans

FLAVIUS AETIUS Roman commander in the West, notable for his defeat of Attila and the Huns at Chalons, 451

The Huns at the battle of Châlonssur-Marne. By Alphonse de Neuville

Flavius Aetius in 447

Flavius Aëtius (c. 396–454), dux et patricius, was a Roman general of the closing period of the Western Roman Empire. He was an able military commander and the most influential man in the Western Roman Empire for two decades (433-454). He managed policy in regard to the attacks of barbarian peoples pressing on the Empire. Notably, he gathered a large Roman and barbarian army to win the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, ending the famous Hunnic invasion of Attila in 451.

Flavius Aetius was born at Dorostolus, in the province of Moesia (now near the Black Sea in the Balkans). He was the son of Gaudentius, who is identified simply as a master-general in the Roman army cavalry, later to become master of the horse and count of Africa. Moesia was a Roman stronghold in the Balkan area when Aetius was born. At some point in his youth, he was kidnapped by barbarians and raised as one of them, first by the Goths and later by the Huns; he was raised personally by Rhuas, the king of the Huns. Aetius acquired the knowledge of barbarian tactics, and in 424 he commanded a force of some 60,000 barbarians into what is now Italy.

Following the death of the Roman emperor Honorius on 15 August 423, there was a fierce struggle to succeed him. Although Honorius’s relative Valentinian had positioned himself to become emperor, the throne was seized by Ioannes (also called Johannes), the primicerius notatiorum (chief notary), who was backed by ambassadors Aetius and the Huns. The Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II sent ambassadors to Rome, and they persuaded some of Ioannes’s aides to betray him; he was arrested, taken to a small village, and executed. When word of Ioannes’s arrest (but not his execution) arrived at the Huns’ camp, Aetius set out with a force to rescue him. Valentinian, taking control of Rome, offered Aetius a pardon and named him the count of Italy in exchange for his ending any war against Ioannes’s killers. Aetius accepted this offer, which led to his becoming one of the most important generals in the Western Roman Empire. In 429, he was named a magister utriusque militum (master of the soldiers).

One of Aetius’s chief rivals for power was Count Bonifacius (Boniface), the comes (count) of Africa, who, siding with the Vandals in Africa, marched on Rome to end Aetius’s influence. When the Hunnic and Vandal armies met in battle at Rimini (432), Aetius killed Bonifacius with his own javelin!

From 433, Aetius was involved in the Roman wars in Gaul (modern France) against many of the barbarian tribes there, including the Visigoths and Franks. However, few of his military accomplishments are noted by historians. In 436, Aetius and a Hunnic army defeated the Burgundians, a group of East Germanic tribesmen, after they had invaded Upper Belgica (now north and east of the River Loire in modern France). Aetius’s victory against this tribe was so complete—more than 20,000 Burgundians died in battle, as opposed to few Romans and Huns—that the clash is remembered in history in The Nibelungenlied, an epic poem written in Middle High German around 1200!

Aetius’s greatest military victory is that of Châlonssur-Marne, also called the battle of Maurica or Campus Mauriacus, or the battle of the Catalunian Plains. On 20 September 451, Aetius, commanding groups of barbarian soldiers, including Visigoths and Burgundians— both of whom he had previously defeated—faced Attila and the Huns, Aetius’s former allies. Attila had turned against the Roman Empire to rampage across Rome-controlled Europe, devastating the Balkans and exacting tribute from the Eastern Roman Empire. When the Huns turned on Gaul, Western Roman emperor Marcian called on Aetius to defeat his former allies. At Châlons-sur-Marne, Attila gathered the forces of many barbarian tribes, including the Ostrogoths, the Gepids, the Thuringians, and the Franks. To start the battle, Aetius dispatched Thorismund, the son of King Theodoric of the Visigoths, and his forces to seize an area that overlooked the whole field; Thorismund battled back the Hunnic forces to take the area. The Huns joined the Ostrogoths to assault the main Visigothic regiment, but the Visigoths held despite the death of King Theodoric. A contingent of Gepids attacked a position held by Romans and Franks, but they, too, could not break through. The battle lasted throughout the day; it is estimated that perhaps 300,000 men died, although many historians dispute this number. The end of the fight came when, in the darkness, Thorismund and his men charged down the hill from the heights he had seized and drove the Huns and Ostrogoths into flight.

Edward Creasy, who named Châlons as one of the 15 most decisive battles in world history, writes: “But when the morning broke and revealed the extent of the carnage with which the plains were heaped for miles, the successful allies saw also and respected the resolute attitude of their antagonist. Neither were any measures taken to blockade him in his camp, and so to extort by famine that submission which it was too plainly perilous to enforce with the sword. Attila was allowed to march back the remnants of his army without molestation, and even with the semblance of success.” The battle was critically important in the history of Europe since it halted the advancement of the Huns to France and broke the hitherto unstoppable Attila, who died two years later. As a result, the Huns were never the power they had been before Châlons-sur-Marne.

Aetius’s dreams of victory were short-lived. In September 454, he was about to marry one of his sons to the daughter of Roman emperor Valentinian III. However, during an argument over whether Aetius’s son could become emperor, Valentinian drew a dagger and murdered the general. The foul deed would cost the Roman Empire its very existence: Lacking a reliable military commander to stave off outside threats, Rome would be invaded and destroyed in two decades’ time. Aetius’s death was avenged when one of his friends accosted Valentinian at the Campus Martius in Rome and stabbed him to death.

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Athelstan (893/894-939), King of All Britain

Athelstan, c.895-939. Detail of stained glass window, All Souls College Chapel, Oxford. Originally obtained from Warden and Fellows of All Souls, Oxford. According to this, "The large stained glass window [containing this image] in the west wall is known as the Royal Window. Dating from the mid-15th-century but much restored, it was originally located in the Old Library of All Souls."

Athelstan in "Child's Book of Warriors"

Carrying Prince Hakon in his arms, Hauk stepped before the King Athelstan. in "Stories of the Vikings"

The tomb of King Athelstan in Malmesbury Abbey, Malmesbury, England. There is nothing in the tomb beneath the statue, the relics of the king having been lost in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Perhaps the remains were destroyed by the Kings Commissioners or they were hidden before the Commissioners arrived to close down the Abbey. Taken by Adrian Pingstone in February 2005 and released to the public domain

Coronation Stone of the Saxon Kings of England, Kingston Upon Thames, showing the name of Athelstan

Athelstan (or Æthelstan) (Old English: Æþelstan, Æðelstān) (c. 893 / 894 – 27 October 939), called the Glorious, was the King of England from 924 or 925 to 939. He was the son of King Edward the Elder, grandson of Alfred the Great and nephew of Æthelflæd of Mercia. Æthelstan's success in securing the submission of Constantine II, King of Scots, at the Treaty of Eamont Bridge in 927 through to the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 led to his claiming the title "king of all Britain".[2] His reign is frequently overlooked, with much focus going to Alfred the Great before him, and Edmund after. However, it was of fundamental importance to political developments in the 10th century. Athelstan was the first King of a unified England from 927 A.D.

Crowned on the King’s Stone at Kingston-upon-Thames (with a claim to be the first undisputed king of all England), Æthelstan is most remembered for his warfare against the Scots and Welsh. According to several sources, he was born in either 894 or 895, the son of Edward the Elder (870–924), who served as king of England from 899 to 924, and Edward’s wife Egwina (or Ecgwyn). Edward’s father was Alfred the Great (ca. 849–899), the great Saxon king whose battles to save England from Danish invasions culminated in the capture of London and victory at the battle of Edington (878). When Edward the Elder died, his son Æthelstan succeeded on 4 September 924, and he was crowned at Kingston-upon-Thames shortly afterward. A year later, the new monarch signed a treaty with Sihtric of York, to avoid warfare for Northumbria. However, when Sihtric died in 927, Æthelstan expelled Sihtric’s brother, Guthfrith, and as his forces moved into Northumbria. He met with several tribes, including the Northumbrians and Strathclyde Britons, who agreed to allow him to take control, the first southern English king to do so. Thereafter he called himself rex totius Britanniae (king of all Britain).

In 934, Æthelstan’s forces invaded Scotland by land and sea; his land forces quickly moved as far north as Dunottar, while the navy seized Caithness. He took control over Scotland, but three years later a mighty confederation formed by King Constantine III of Scotland, the Welsh of Strathclyde, Owen of Cumberland, and two Norwegian leaders, Anlaf Godfredsson and Anlaf Sihtricsson, set out to end his reign. These forces confronted Æthelstan’s army—which was supported by his half brother Edmund—at Brunanburh. Since the 12th century, historians have tried to locate the exact site of the battle, to no avail; many historians believe it was fought in either northwestern England or southwestern Scotland, near the Solway Firth. What little information that exists comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 937:

In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors,
ring-giver to men, and his brother also,
Prince Eadmund, won eternal glory
in battle with sword edges
around Brunanburh. They split the shield-wall,
they hewed battle shields with
the remnants of hammers.
The sons of Eadweard, it was only befitting
their noble descent
from their ancestors that they should often
defend their land in battle against
each hostile people,
horde and home. The enemy perished,
Scots men and seamen,
fated they fell. The field flowed
with blood of warriors, from sun up
in the morning, when the glorious star
glided over the earth, God’s bright candle,
eternal lord, till that noble creation
sank to its seat. There lay many a warrior
by spears destroyed;
Northern men
shot over shield, likewise Scottish as well,
weary, war sated.

It remains unknown whether this “account” was written by an observer or a mere writer wishing to catalog this great battle. Few historians mention the casualties inflicted at Brunanburh; historian George Bruce reports that there was “great slaughter.” In any event, Æthelstan prevailed.

Æthelstan lived for two years following his great victory at Brunanburh. He died on 27 October 939, was buried at Malmesbury Abbey, just south of Wiltshire, and was succeeded by his half brother Edmund. His reign had lasted a short 15 years, but in that time he established himself as a significant figure in English history. Æthelstan was the first English king to develop relations with other European rulers, and his half sisters married into the royal families of France and the Holy Roman Empire.

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman