Wednesday, 29 October 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: off the reservation or roman gothic


H and I took advantage of a nice afternoon to take a stroll around our second-city of Wiesbaden. As we walked around the Kurpark, we thought about the Roman influence that is nearly forgotten jenseits the Rhine. Few obvious relics remain and though somewhat an idyll—like the trend, the conceit during Victorian times for English villages to Latinise their names, c.f., Weston-super-Mare rather than Weston-upon-the-Sea of Faulty Towers fame—this settlement did original appear on the map with the designation Aquis Mattiacis (Aquae Mattiacorum), by the Waters of the Mattiacæ, a branch tribe of the Germanic Chatti. The remote settlement, now known Spa-in-the-Meadows, within the defensible footprint of the larger fortifications of Mainz (Mogontiacum) just across the Rhein, did also gain renown for its thermal springs that were a source of pigment that Roman women, as was the fashion, could use to dye their hair red. These artfully arranged ruins are not Roman but remnants of the construction of the nearby opera house, and the interior of the casino is modeled with the grand opulence of a Roman bath house.
A true archeological leftover remains, however, in the form of the so-called Heidenmauer (ironically, the Heathens' Wall) which is the preserved part of a Roman-era aqueduct commissioned under the reign of Valens after he and his brother and co-emperor Valentinian finally some made gains on this frontier, the Limes Germanicus.
This headway in Germany by the Emperor of the West, however, was obscured by a more fateful entreaty and the way it was carried out on another distant fluvial border. A Gothic tribe pleaded with Rome to be allowed to ford the Danube in the Balkans and seek refuge from an even greater peril, the marauding Huns, which the Western Empire would not even survive to face. There was no Gothic invasion of Rome, but rather a horrible and snowballing misstep taken by abandoning established safeguards and protocols.
For centuries, Rome had been integrating barbarian refugees, transforming former enemies into citizens and soldiers, with carefully constructed plans for avoiding diaspora through redistribution, resettlement and conscription against common enemies—the Romans were also not above simply buying loyalty with bribes and pay-offs. But with attention vested in internal revolts and problems in the East, Rome bypassed the usual measures and empanelled the influx of Goths, primarily the Thervingii and the Greutungii under the leadership of Alavivus and Fritigern, to refugee camps with very austere conditions. The still-banded tribes reached the breaking point after chieftains were invited to a reconciliatory banquet and then held hostage and the starving people were offered grain in exchange for selling their offspring into slavery.
 A united Gothic people claimed the run of the Empire’s countryside but were unable to raid walled and fortified cities, lacking the resources and experience. The Eastern Emperor, Valens, finally had had enough of this nuisance, just at the gates, and took a stand on the fields of Adrianople (Edirne in Turkey). With superior fighting strength, however, the Gothic forces successfully routed the Romans, killing many key military figures and the Eastern Emperor himself and captured the city, which proved to be a gateway to controlling all of Thrace.

Peace proved even more costly to the Empire, with a settlement reached that essential established an autonomous Gothic kingdom within Roman territory. Though the Goths were temporarily pacified, external pressure set by this new precedent did not go unnoticed by all parties involved, a demoralized Rome, an emboldened bunch of barbarians—including the relatively tame and reliable Germanic tribes, and it did not take long for the Empire in the West to fracture into many such independent enclaves. The evidence left in Wiesbaden seems to invoke more tranquil times for Rome.