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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734-1801), Fall in the Moment of Victory

Sir Ralph Abercromby, by John Hoppner (died 1810), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1909

The National Library of Scotland has announced plans for a new online educational resource for Scottish schools. Featuring images from its own collection, as well as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the National Maritime Museum, it celebrates Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish pioneer medical missionary; Ralph Abercromby, the British lieutenant general who was noted for his services during the Napoleonic Wars; David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer; James Watt, a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer and Florence Nightingale, made famous by her pioneering work in nursing

Sir Ralph Abercromby and a Companion seated in a room with two maps of Grenada and Carriacou. Originally thought to be possibly with his son. Painting by John Downman (1750 - 1824)

The Death of General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K.G

Monument of Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby at Cathedral St. Paul

Sir Ralph Abercromby KCB (sometimes spelt Abercrombie) (7 October 1734 – 28 March 1801) was a Scottish soldier and politician. He rose to the rank of lieutenant-general in the British Army, was noted for his services during the Napoleonic Wars, and served as Commander-in-Chief, Ireland.

Sir Ralph Abercromby’s several important military victories were matched by his command of the British army, in which he restored discipline and morale. Historians Martin Windrow and Francis K. Mason write: “Although his career was crowned by several notable victories, Abercromby is remembered more as the restorer of high professional standards in the British Army than as a master of tactics.”

Abercromby was born in the village of Tullibody, in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, on 7 October 1734, the eldest son of George Abercromby. He was educated at the prestigious Rugby school and later studied law at the University of Leipzig and Edinburgh University. Entering into a military career, he was offered a cornet’s commission in the 3rd Dragoon Guards in March 1756. He saw action with this unit in the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) and rose to become a lieutenant colonel in 1773 and brevet colonel in 1780. In 1781, he was named a colonel in the King’s Irish Regiment. However, because he sympathized with the American colonists fighting for independence, he felt it better to leave the military than continue and possibly be forced to fight in a war in which he did not believe. He retired in 1783.

Abercromby decided to enter the political realm: He was elected to a seat in Parliament from Clackmannan, Scotland, but he quickly tired of his duties and left office; he was succeeded by his brother Robert (1740–1827), who also later served as a general in the British army. When France declared war on England in 1793, Ralph Abercromby again took up arms for England and was named as commander of a brigade under the duke of York, second son of George III. Serving for a time in Holland, he saw action at La Cateau (16 April 1794) and was wounded at Nijmwegen. He was in charge of the British withdrawal from Holland in the winter of 1794 and conducted this duty so well that he was honored with a Knighthood of the order of the Bath. In 1795, the king named him to succeed Sir Charles Grey as commander in chief of British forces in the West Indies.

In 1796, Abercromby once again went into battle, seizing the islands of Grenada, Trinidad, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and the then-French settlements of Demerara and Essequibo. He was then recalled to England, where in 1797 he was appointed as head of the English army in Ireland. However, the Irish government blocked his efforts to reform the army. Abercromby resigned his commission after less than a year in office. That same year, 1797, he was made second in command to the duke of York, with whom he had previously served, in the English drive to retake Holland, which ended in disaster and failure.

In 1801, Abercromby was sent to Egypt to help drive the French out of that country. When the English army landed at Aboukir Bay on 2 March 1801, 5,000 English soldiers faced a large French force under the command of General Louis Friant. Historian George Bruce writes: “The landing [of the English] was effected under a heavy musketry and artillery fire, which cost the assailants 1,100 killed and wounded. The French were driven from their positions with a loss of 500 men.”

Aboukir is known to historians as an important English military victory. After this success, Abercromby advanced to the important French threshold of Alexandria. In the midst of the battle on 21 March 1801, Abercromby was hit in the thigh by a rifle ball. He was taken from the field and placed on the English flagship Foudroyant, but surgeons were unable to remove the ball. As Abercromby lay dying, according to one account, one of his men placed a blanket under his head. “What is it you have placed under my head?” he inquired. When told it was a soldier’s blanket, he replied, “Only a soldier’s blanket? Make haste and return it to him at once!”

Seven days after being shot, Abercromby succumbed to his wound at the age of 66. His body was moved to Malta, and he was laid to rest there. The battle of Alexandria, where he lost his life, was a significant one for the French, who found the English troops to be their equal and whose casualties were extremely heavy. The English lost 1,464 men, including Abercromby.

His old friend and commander the Duke of York paid a tribute to the soldier's memory in general orders: "His steady observance of discipline, his ever-watchful attention to the health and wants of his troops, the persevering and unconquerable spirit which marked his military career, the splendour of his actions in the field and the heroism of his death, are worthy the imitation of all who desire, like him, a life of heroism and a death of glory." He was buried in the Commandery of the Grand Master, the Knights of St John, Malta.

By a vote of the House of Commons, a monument was erected in his honour in St Paul's Cathedral, Abercromby Square in Liverpool is named in his honour. His widow was created Baroness Abercromby of Tullibody and Aboukir Bay, and a pension of £2,000 a year was settled on her and her two successors in the title.

He had seven children. Of four sons, all four entered Parliament, and two saw military service!
  1. Hon. Anne Abercromby (d. 17 September 1844)
  2. Hon. Mary Abercromby (d. 1825)
  3. Hon. Catherine Abercromby (d. 7 May 1842)
  4. George Abercromby, 2nd Baron Abercromby (1770–1843)
  5. General Hon. Sir John Abercromby (1772–1817)
  6. James Abercromby, 1st Baron Dunfermline (1776–1858)
  7. Lt.-Col. Hon. Alexander Abercromby (1784–1853)
A public house in central Manchester, the 'Sir Ralph Abercrombie', is named after him

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Abbas The Great (1571-1629), The King Who Killed His Sons

The first of the images of Shah Abbas the Great shown here is an undated and unpublished portrait in a private collection. If its provenance can be confirmed, it is a unique and important representation: especially since it was apparently painted from life, and by an Italian artist. Abbas does indeed look very like John Cartwright’s 1600 description: the Shah was “of an indifferent stature, neither too high, neither too low. His countenance very stern, his eyes fierce and piercing, his colour fwaiffy [whatever that means!], his muftachees on his upper lip long, with his beard cut close to his chin, expressing his martial disposition, and inexorable nature, [so] that at the first a man would think to have nothing in him, but mischief and cruelty. And yet he is of nature courteous and affable, easy to be seen and spoken withal; his manner is to dine openly in the company of his greatest courtiers”.

Shah Abbas The Great

Abbas I of Persia in his court

Shah ‘Abbās King of the Persians. Copper engraving by Dominicus Custos, from his Atrium heroicum Caesarum pub. 1600-1602

Shah Abbas in later life with a page (wine boy). By Muhammad Qasim (1627)

Shāh ‘Abbās the Great (or Shāh ‘Abbās I) (Persian: شاه عباس بزرگ) (January 27, 1571 – January 19, 1629) was Shah (king) of Iran, and generally considered the greatest ruler of the Safavid dynasty. He was the third son of Shah Mohammad.

Abbas came to the throne during a troubled time for Iran. Under his weak-willed father, the country was riven with discord between the different factions of the Qizilbash army, who killed Abbas' mother and elder brother. Meanwhile, Iran's enemies, the Ottoman Empire and the Uzbeks, exploited this political chaos to seize territory for themselves. In 1587, one of the Qizilbash leaders, Murshid Qoli Khan, overthrew Shah Mohammed in a coup and placed the 16-year-old Abbas on the throne. But Abbas was no puppet and soon seized power for himself. He reduced the influence of the Qizilbash in the government and the military and reformed the army, enabling him to fight the Ottomans and Uzbeks and reconquer Iran's lost provinces. He also took back land from the Portuguese and the Mughals. Abbas was a great builder and moved his kingdom's capital from Qazvin to Isfahan. In his later years, the shah became suspicious of his own sons and had them killed or blinded.

Abbas the Great, known for his military exploits in the Persian Gulf and in what is now modern-day Iraq, was the grandson of Shah Tahmasp and the son of Shah Mohammed Mirza Khudabanda (d. 1595). Abbas may have been named after Abbas (d. 653), the uncle of Mohammed and of Caliph Ali. Abbas I was named as ruler of Khurasan (now modern Khorasan, Iran) in 1581, and six years later, he succeeded his father as shah when Mohammed abdicated.

As he took the throne of Persia (now Iran), Abbas’s reign was challenged by a revolt in Persia and the threat of an invasion by forces of the Ottoman Empire (centered in what is now modern Turkey). Abbas paid tribute to the Ottomans to forge a peace and end the threat of incursion; he was then given a free hand to turn on the rebellious forces within his country and defeat them. A military campaign against rebelling Uzbeks (now part of Uzbekistan) in Khurasan was also successful. In 1598, after a lengthy and protracted war, he ended the threat from the Uzbeks when his forces took control of the city of Moshad (now one of Iran’s major cities). As the first of the Safavid leaders, Abbas helped establish modern Persia—later renamed Iran—as a single state, and his advocacy of a single language—in this case, Farsi—unified that nation.

With internal dissent and rebellion crushed, Abbas turned back to the potential external enemy: the Ottoman Empire. He opened his attack in 1601, with his forces taking the city of Tabriz (now the capital of East Azerbaijan province, Iran) in 1604. The mountainous area in what is now known as the Caucasus also fell to Abbas’s forces, most notably Georgia and Shirvan. Although Abbas’s military exploits in this area were largely successful, Ottoman resistance caused the conflict to last until the end of his reign.

In 1606, Abbas fought off a major offensive by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Ahmed II, including a significant clash at Sis, where 20,000 Turks were killed in a single battle. Although Turkey sued for peace, they continued to fight Abbas and his empire in various clashes. However, for many years there was relative peace in his kingdom. It was not until 1616 that Abbas again moved against the Turks, fighting a two-year war that culminated in a major victory in 1618. In 1622, Abbas’s army marched on the island of Hormuz, in the Strait of Hormuz, and, with the assistance of the English East India Company, threw out the Portuguese merchants who controlled that island’s trade. Abbas then moved the center of trading activity to the city of Gombroon (now in Iran), renamed it Bandar Abbas, and established a foothold in the major markets of the Persian Gulf. In 1623, Abbas’s forces took Baghdad, now in modern Iraq, but when they tried to extend their hold on Mosul (in modern northern Iraq) and Basra (in modern southern Iraq, near the Persian Gulf ), his troops were thrown back and could not hold either city. In another clash, he took the city of Kandahar (also Qandahar, in modern Afghanistan), but it was lost to the Uzbeks in 1630, a year after Abbas’s death.

During his reign, Abbas was also known for his numerous public works projects, most notably at the Persian capital of Esfahan. He died in 1629 at the age of either 58 or 59. His tomb at Kashan, located in the Shrine of Habib ibn-Musa, is considered one of the marvels of that age.

Of Abbas' five sons, three had survived past childhood, so the Safavid succession seemed secure. He was on good terms with the crown prince, Mohammed Baqir Mirza (born 1587; better known in the West as Safi Mirza). In 1614, however, during a campaign in Georgia, the shah heard rumours that the prince was conspiring against his life with a leading Circassian, Fahrad Beg. Shortly after, Mohammed Baqir broke protocol during a hunt by killing a boar before the shah had chance to put his spear in. This seemed to confirm Abbas’ suspicions and he sunk into melancholy; he no longer trusted any of his three sons. In 1615, he decided he had no choice but to have Mohammed killed. A Circassian named Behbud Beg executed the Shah’s orders and the prince was murdered in a hammam in the city of Resht. The shah almost immediately regretted his action and was plunged into grief.

In 1621, Abbas fell seriously ill. His heir, Mohammed Khodabanda, thought he was on his deathbed and began to celebrate his accession to the throne with his Qizilbash supporters. But the shah recovered and punished his son with blinding, which would disqualify him from ever taking the throne. The blinding was only partially successful and the prince’s followers planned to smuggle him out of the country to safety with the Great Mughal whose aid they would use to overthrow Abbas and install Mohammed on the throne. But the plot was betrayed, the prince’s followers were executed and the prince himself imprisoned in the fortress of Alamut where he would later be murdered by Abbas’ successor, Shah Safi.

Imam Qoli Mirza, the third and last son, now became the crown prince. Abbas groomed him carefully for the throne but, for whatever reason, in 1627, he had him partially blinded and imprisoned in Alamut.

Unexpectedly, Abbas now chose as heir the son of Mohammed Baqir Mirza, Sam Mirza, a cruel and introverted character who was said to loathe his grandfather because of his father’s murder. It was he who in fact did succeed Shah Abbas at the age of seventeen in 1629, taking the name Shah Safi. Abbas’s health was troubled from 1621 onwards. He died at his palace in Mazandaran in 1629 and was buried in Kashan.

Modern historians remember Abbas not only for his unification of Persia but for his skillful use of the military to crush internal rebellion and meet external threats. His drafting of two English brothers, the mercenaries Sir Robert and Sir Anthony Sherley, to train the Persian army in modern fighting methods unknown to most of the Middle Eastern world, rank him as one of the lesser-known but more important military leaders in world history. Historian Tom Magnusson writes: “A remarkable monarch, Abbas was intelligent and farsighted but sometimes cruel and harsh; he was a skillful and energetic administrator and general, and his reform of
the Persian army made it very nearly the equal of the Ottoman army.”

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