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Ancient Rome and Today's Migrant Crisis

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An interesting article that possibly smacks of elitism by an author I respect:

 

post-3665-0-34041600-1445214288_thumb.jpg

 

All the same, Romans would have been puzzled by our modern problems with migration and asylum, and probably horrified by the carnage we have seen near Mediterranean beaches, by the battles over our boundaries, and by the walls we eagerly erect to keep the desperate or the unwanted out of our privileged countries. The Roman Wall built by the emperor Hadrian across the north of England in the second century A.D. is often seen as the precursor of these modern barriers. But whatever its function—whether bombastic marker of Roman power, communication corridor or elaborate customs post—it was certainly not a defensive structure that would have succeeded in keeping out any but the feeblest “barbarians.” Much of “the wall” was not even in masonry but merely a bank of turf.


According to the author:

The Romans would have been puzzled by today’s hostility to migrants—and the EU’s lack of political unity

 

http://www.wsj.com/articles/ancient-rome-and-todays-migrant-crisis-1445005978



guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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I don't think the Romans would have been puzzled at all. The Rioman Empire was never fully united since it depended on political loyalty in the provinces which was often lacking, and we see plenty of occaisions when provincial garrisons turned toward Rome to start a civil war or coup detat. The problem here is that most people see the empire as some sort of monolithic state that effectively assimilated provinces and made them in some way fully Roman. That was not the case. Provinces may have been technically loyal to Rome, adopted many latin features, and paid their taxes, but they were effectively self governing regions whose governor, sent by the Roman government, did not ordinarily interfere in (though several made good use of the posting to squeeze the province for cash). Provinces were hybrid societies, so for instance we do not see British Romans, but Romano-Britons. The latin culture lived alongside its native neighbours throughout the occupation.

 

Migrant populations were nothing unusual in ancient times either. That was why the Romans built walls in various places around the empire, to obstruct the passage of horsemen and extract tolls from entrants.

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Although many migrant groups potentially wanted to be allied with the Romans and even to be incorporated into the empire, some groups (such as the Huns) certainly did not. Many barbarian groups prided themselves on their independence and maintaining their culture, thriving on mayhem and destruction. They did not have some dream of assimilation and enculturation with the Roman Empire.

 

 

 

guy also known as gaius 

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People drifted toward the empiure, aggressively, speculatively, or desperately, because of the perception that the empire was wealthy, which is more or less the same as today, albeit that aggression cannot compete with Europes military strength aside from terrorism. The classic example in antiquity was the arrival of the Goths. Fritigern, who had already made a peace treaty with Valens, asked the Roman emperor for permission to cross the Danube and settle in Roman territory. Valens allowed this, but the governors of Thrace, where the refugees were crossing the river, were not best pleased at having to support a migrant ppulation. So Lupicinius and Maximus encouraged the most shameful exploitation of the Goths.

 

When the barbarians who had been conducted across the river were in great distress from want of  provisions,  those  detested  generals  conceived  the  idea  of  a  most  disgraceful  traffic: and  having  collected  hounds  from  all  quarters  with  the  most  insatiable  rapacity,  they  exchanged them for an equal number of slaves, among whom were several sons of men of noble birth.
Ammianus Marcellinus

 

Soon famine and want came upon them, as often happens to a people not yet well settled in a country. Their  princes  and  the  leaders  who  ruled  them  in  place  of  kings,  that  is  Fritigern, Alatheus  and  Safrac,  began  to  lament  the  plight  of  their  army  and  begged  Lupicinus  and       Maximus, the Roman commanders, to open a market. But to what will not the "cursed lust for gold" compel men to assent? The generals, swayed by avarice, sold them at a high price not only the flesh of sheep and oxen, but even the carcasses of dogs and unclean animals, so that a slave would be bartered for a loaf of bread or ten pounds of meat. When their  goods and chattels failed, the greedy trader demanded their sons in return for the necessities of life. And the parents consented even to this, in order to provide for the safety of their children, arguing that it was better to lose liberty than life; and indeed it is better that one be sold, if he will be mercifully fed, than that he should be kept free only to die.
Jordanes

 

Not content with this activity, the two Roman governors perceived there might be trouble ahead and so hatched a plot...

 

Now it came to pass in that troubIous time that Lupicinus, the Roman general, invited Fritigern, a chieftain of the Goths, to a feast and, as the event revealed, devised a plot against him. But Fritigern, thinking  no  evil,  came  to the feast with  a  few  followers.  While  he  was  dining  in  the  praetorium he heard the dying cries of his ill-fated men, for, by order of the general, the soldiers were slaying his companions who were shut up in another part of the house. The loud cries of  the  dying  fell  upon  ears  already  suspicious,  and  Fritigern  at  once  perceived  the  treacherous trick. He  drew  his  sword  and  with  great  courage  dashed  quickly  from  the  banqueting-hall, rescued his men from their threatening doom and incited them to slay the Romans. Thus these valiant  men  gained  the  chance  they  had  longed  for--to  be  free  to  die  in  battle  rather  than  to perish of hunger--and immediately took arms to kill the generals Lupicinus and Maximus.
Jordanes

 

And so a refugee crisis became a full blown rebellion against Rome.

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Although the Roman mistreatment of the Goths would be an excellent example of Roman greed and malicious dealings with a potential ally and immigrant group, I don't think that all the warm cuddles in the world would have dissuaded the Huns and Sassanians, for example, from their belligerent ways.

 

Remember, by the time of mistreatment of the Goths mentioned above, the Goths were mostly Christians (although mostly Arians) and ready for a more settled life within the Empire. The Huns were more nomadic and the Sassanians were both intolerant and more rigidly ideological. These two groups would have never assimilated into the Empire. 

 

 

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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The Goths had converted to Arianism previously as part of the peace deal offered by valens in the war that had already taken place.

 

Assimilation? There was never any attempt to assimilate the Goths, even those officially allowed to cross the Danube (a second group of the same order of size saw what was going on and decided to cross the river too, without permission, thus in all fairness, despite the Roman governors attitude toward those requesting assistance they were in fact faced with a far larger refugee crisis than Valens had authorised). What  those two villains did was create a situation where the refugees were forced into slavery and so the problem went away with everyone else making a tidy profit out of it. Had the attitude of the Roman province been more benign, these Goths were allowed to settle. That did not require they became somehow 'Roman', only that they obeyed Roman law as well as their own and paid taxes. The only stipulation had already been met - that they converted to Arianism. However, what is clear that Fritigerns people, amnd quite possibly those of his rivals in Roman territory, had every intention of settling peacefully. It must have have been abubndantly clear to them having lost a war already that the Romans would not tolerate bolshiness or rebellion - but that was the path they were eventually forced down. And far from not assimilating, it ought to be remembered that Gotjhic culture was for a while quite fashionable in the Roman world - Gratian had been criticised for wearing a gothic cloak as a fashion statement.

 

The Huns were of course the danger of the time, aggressors whose lightning fast raids were terrifying to those who thought they would be next. Sebastianus' predecessor in command, Trajanus, had already built a wall across the border somewhere to fend off their potential raiding. It was the both the pressure from the Huns, and the internal competition within the Gothic tribes, that had forced them to consider appealing to Valens for help.

 

As for the Sassanids, they would continue to question the arid no-mans land between them and Roman territory. Neither would fully defeat the other. Two different cultures that basically did not get along too well.

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The Goths had converted to Arianism previously as part of the peace deal offered by valens in the war that had already taken place.

Thank you for reading my post and thank you for the very thoughtful reply.

 

I would strongly disagree with the above statement, however.

 

The above statement is the more popular pro-Catholic, anti-Arian rendition of history. With that version of history, it could only be “the will of God” that the heretical Emperor Valens would die at the Battle of Adrianople in AD 378 at the hands of those Goths. According to this history, he had only recently corrupted the Goths with his promulgation of Arianism. But maybe reality is not so neat and tidy.

 

Let’s think about events. The Arian missionary Ulfilas had preached Arianism to the Goths and translated the Bible into the Gothic language several decades before Adrianople and before Valens became Emperor. Ulfilas found a very receptive audience in a tribe probably previously exposed to Arian teachings.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulfilas

 

post-3665-0-69794400-1445649483_thumb.jpg

 

But according to the pro-Catholic views, however, the Goths were converted only later (AD 376) to Arianism by Valens. Of course, these barbarians, with their newly-found heretical faith, turned around and destroyed the Arian Valens and his Roman army. Obviously, this is divine retribution for promoting such a heretical belief as Arianism. Like Julian before him, Emperor Valens would face the wrath of (a Catholic) God.

 

Then, again, maybe Valen's defeat at Adrianople was not divine intervention after all. Maybe it was bad timing, bad diplomacy, and bad luck.

 

Thank you, again, for the responses.

 

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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Valens army was not destroyed. True, it suffered an enormous casualty rate during the afternoon of prolongued fighting and the subsequent escape in darkness (some caused by fighting each other in confusion) amounting to an estimated two thirds of their number. It is of course questionable how united Valens force was to begin with. Their leadership was squabbling over policy and status, and clearly the shambolic arrival of Roman troops at the battlefield left something to be desired, never mind that the battle itself started as a kneejerk reaction and not by order of Valens, who was busy organising swaps of hostages and negotiations to bring the rebel Goths into line without bloodshed, though it also has to be admitted Valens was being a bit haughty and at one stage refused to speak to the Gothic representatives because they weren't noble enough. It may have been that he wanted to speak to Fritigern personally, who he already knew.

 

The defeat at Adrianople was due, basically, to Roman ineptitude and a gothic tactic of playing for time to ensure their cavalry had returned from a foraging expedition, which was why Roman spies thought the Goths had far less numbers (they weren't all at the camp at the time). The weather was well hot, the Romans had marched for eight miles at midday to get there, and the Goths had added to their discomfort by starting fires where smoke would drift into them.

 

As for Arianism, it's well known that the Goths had adopted Arianism and would remain arians afterward, supporting a rival church. Valens was arian and insisted that the Goths remained so as part of the conditions of their settlement in Thrace. The Goths had converted to arian christianity for some time before the events leading to Adrianople.

 

And since at that time the Emperor Valens, who was infected with the Arian perfidy, had closed all the churches of our party, he sent as preachers to them those who favored his sect. They came and straightway filled a rude and ignorant people with the poison of their heresy. Thus the Emperor Valens made the Visigoths Arians rather than Christians

Res gaetica (Jordanes)

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And since at that time the Emperor Valens, who was infected with the Arian perfidy, had closed all the churches of our party, he sent as preachers to them those who favored his sect. They came and straightway filled a rude and ignorant people with the poison of their heresy. Thus the Emperor Valens made the Visigoths Arians rather than Christians

Res gaetica (Jordanes)

Thank you for this interesting quote from Jordanes. It appears that he also denigrates the Arian "heresy" and (mistakenly) blames Emperor Valens for the Gothic conversion to Arianism. Jordanes has a very anti-Arian viewpoint, indeed.

 

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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It's not a question of appearances - he is denigrating Arianism, which had been declared a heresy since the Council of Nicaea (apart from a short period during which the Gothic Revolt took place, in the reign of Valens, known to have been an Arian. Theodosius effectively ended any arian sympathy among the upper classes of Roman society although their churches endured for a lot longer, leaving the Roman world with two seperate religious hierarchies. Please note examples such as the Church of St Agatha of Rome, originally an arian temple and associated with the Goths.

 

The Germanic leaders in the post Roman world were arian whilst their subjects more or less nicene. Such religious competition was not unusual in that era - witness the tussle between Nicene Christianity and Mithraism, both of whom claimed the other was copying them.

 

it is noticeable that the death of Valens, taken by loyal men to refuge in a house and then burned alive surrounded by Goths unaware of his presence, is not unique to any single account and indeed, as far as I can see, is a byword for divine retribution for his arian folly.

 

And in any case, Valens was not responsible for spreading Arianism to the Germans even though he encouraged it - one of his predecessors, Constantius II, was also Arian and had actively sought conversion of the Germanic peoples to his religion, largely successfully.  The evangelist Arian, Ulfila, often quoted as the major missionary in the conversion of Goths to Arianism, is a tale supported both by Nicene and Arian literature of the early medieval period, the only difference being that the Catholics claimed was was not an Arian until later in life.

 

I see no real evidence to support your assertion of mistaken religious creed.

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I think that common perceptions concerning relations between Arians and Nicenes (Catholics) is much more complicated than is usually portrayed.  The notion that after Theodosius Catholicism was triumphant and the Arians and Pagans almost completely eliminated is a mistake.  There were Arian generals and probably Pagans in the administration for a long time after Theodosius.  A good point of reference is the work of Peter Brown.

 

As to the 'conversion' of the Goths to Arianism, it is likely that a large number of the Goths that arrived on the banks of the Danube had remained Pagan despite the missionary practices of Ulfila.  This would explain the confusion in Jordanes' ascription of the conversion to Valens:  Valens may have demanded that ALL Goths be converted, rather than just a part. 

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I see no real evidence to support your assertion of mistaken religious creed.

 

Thank you for your response. I agree with everything you wrote.

 

I agree that Valens was Arian. I only disagreed with the nortion that it was Valens who converted the Goths. At least a large segment of Goths had almost certainly converted sometime before Valens and that it was pro-Catholic anti-Arian propaganda that suggested that it was the heretical Valens who converted the Goths to Arianism.  

 

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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The notion that after Theodosius Catholicism was triumphant and the Arians and Pagans almost completely eliminated is a mistake.  There were Arian generals and probably Pagans in the administration for a long time after Theodosius.

Christianity was never united, but there were strong tendencies. Since Theodosius had ruled against Arianisnm and that it had once again become a heresy, it's influence in high places - whatever the beliefs of the individual - was reduced severely if not eliminated. After all, one needed only to point at someones heresy to blacken their name, a common practice in Roman times generally where public image was everything. Nonetheless, it's as well to notice that after Odoacer pushed poor Romulus into retirement at the tender age of 15 and had himself crowned king of Rome, the germanic elite were generally more arian than not. However, subsesequent history does rather show a very strong domination by early catholicism. irish christianity, with it's hard edged austerity, was pushed well back on its heels as the Roman church assumed something of the empires inheritance right under the noses of their social betters.

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