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Ioviani Seniores

Late Roman Coin Collection of the Kunsthistorischesmuseum

The Coin Collection of the Kusnthistorischesmuseum in Vienna, Austria is one of the five largest and most important coin collections in the world. Its Münzkabinett owns over half a million objects which make it one of the largest collections of its kind, and it can be traced back until the 16th century. Most of the coins and medallions listed below are part of a special collection of the highest-carat gold pieces from the Vienna Coin Cabinet once-imperial collection. Many of the objects on display were honorific gifts to the emperor or were targeted acquisitions for the imperial collection.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Golden coin of Emperor Constantine the Great, a valiant general and the man responsible for the Edict of Toleration emanated in Milan in 313 AD.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Coin of Philip the Arab, one of the innumerable military emperors of the 3rd century AD.

 

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Coin of Eastern roman Emperor Theodosius II, author of the Codex Theodosianus, a compilation of general laws and edicts.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Medallion depicting emperor Constantius II, middle child of Constantine I and Fausta. Constantius is often underrated as a leader despite having successfully defended the Empire’s frontiers on various occasions.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Medallion of emperor Valentinian the Great. Soldier emperor, cultured man, excellent strategist and good administrator, Valentinian was one of the last strong political figures of the roman West.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Huge gold coin depicting the brother emperors, Valentinian the Great and Valens. Valentinian died of a stroke in 375 AD, in modern day Hungary. His brother Valens died in battle in 378 AD near Adrianople, modern day Edirne.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Splendid gold medallion depicting Eastern roman emperor Valens. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, Valens was a good looking man of medium height and with olive skin.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Another beautiful medallion of Valens. The emperor sternly defended the arian christian cause. Ammianus Marcellinus tells us that he was an extremely loyal friend.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Yet another medallion of Valens. Valens was the son of Gratian the Elder, a prominent military commander.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Guess who this is? That’s right, it’s our pal Valens. I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed being portrayed.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Valens my friend, how many times have I told you? Don’t be too narcissistic! The guy never listened…

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Medallion of Valens. The emperor began his career as a Protector Domesticus and was then elevated to the throne by his brother Valentinian I.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Amazing medallion of Constantine I, the emperor who built the city of Constantinople, modern day Instanbul.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Coin of emperor Constantine I, founder of the original Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

 Coin of Valentinian I, a legend of the Late Roman Era.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

 

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Coin of emperor Julian, also called “The Apostate”. He tried to revive the pagan cults in the mostly Christian roman empire.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Golden coin of Constans I, represented holding  a globe which symbolyzes power.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

 Coin of a byzantine emperor holding a cross.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Silver coin of emperor Constantine I, known as “Trachala” for his big neck.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Silver coin of Constantius II, wearing the imperial diadem.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett. 

Coin of Constantius II, the man who ordered the execution of Caesar Gallus.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Coin representing Valentinian and Valens seated on the throne. Barbarians or slaves are prostrating beneath them.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Golden solidus depicting Constantius II among his soldiers and officers.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Amazing and rare big medallion depicting emperor Valens on horseback.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Coin depicting emperors Carus and Carinus, military emperors of the 3rd century AD.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Golden bar which, on the left, depicts three emperors: Theodosius I, Valentinian II and Arcadius.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Golden bar issued by Theodosius I.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Coin of Constans I, youngest son of Constantine I.

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Wien, Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Münzkabinett.

Coin of emperor Maximian, soldier emperor and collegue of Diocletian. He is often portrayed as a violent and cruel man, especially by Christians. His real character was probably different, we will never know.

Federico II: Un Imperatore Medievale?

“La vostra fedeltà brilla come stella intorno a noi e invidiata da tutti i popoli risplende nel mondo” – Federico II di Svevia ai pugliesi

 

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Taglio dal Codex Manesse, conservato nella biblioteca universitaria di Heidelberg, raffigurante il cantore Konrad von Altstetten con la sua amante, spesso identificato con Federico II e Bianca Lancia di Agliano. 

Uomo, imperatore, mecenate, “anticristo”, “stupor mundi”, “puer Apuliae”, Federico II fu tutte queste cose e anche di più.

Seguito durante la sua infanzia e gioventù da tutori di prestigio, tra cui il Pontefice Innocenzo III, un Imam musulmano ed il futuro papa Onorio III, Federico diventerà un giovane uomo dalla forte personalità, saggio e sorprendentemente precoce nel raggiungere la maturità. Egli cresce in Italia e soprattutto in Sicilia, al tempo crocevia della cultura greco-bizantina, islamica e latina che Federico assorbirà totalmente. Sarà anche addestrato all’uso delle armi e alla cavalcata, abilità tipicamente riservate alle classi dirigenti medievali. Lo Svevo, nato dall’unione tra Costanza d’Altavilla, regina normanna, ed Enrico VI, imperatore germanico (figlio di Federico I “Barbarossa”), erediterà il Regno di Sicilia e si aggiudicherà il Regno di Germania, caratterizzato da una monarchia elettiva, con l’aiuto di Innocenzo III e Filippo II di Francia e con la vittoria sull’avversario politico, Ottone IV di Brunswick, a Bouvines nel 1214.

Convinto difensore della superiorità temporale dell’impero sulle altre autorità laiche e soprattutto sulla Chiesa di Roma, Federico attua politiche espansionistiche in Oriente attraverso le Crociate, diventando anche Re di Gerusalemme, ed in Italia settentrionale combattendo contro la seconda Lega Lombarda. Lo Svevo è in continuo contrasto sia con lo spirito universalistico della Chiesa di Roma che con i Comuni italiani, in buon numero coalizzati contro di lui e favorevoli alla politica papale, sui quali non riuscirà mai ad imporre la sua piena autorità.

L’imperatore è un uomo di grande cultura, un mecenate ed un poliglotta, animato da una forte curiosità scientifica. E’ autore attivo, patrono di una corrente letteraria siciliana, poeta e grande costruttore di edifici pubblici. Insieme con i suoi collaboratori, tra cui spicca la figura dell’amico Pier delle Vigne, sarà responsabile di un programma di accentramento del potere regio nel Regno di Sicilia, culminato con l’emanazione delle Costituzioni di Melfi nel 1231. Profondamente innamorato della Sicilia e soprattutto della Puglia, da lui considerata rifugio spirituale e definita “luce dei miei occhi”, Federico è considerato da molti come un sovrano illuminato, predecessore del Rinascimento.

Il mito federiciano è sempre stato al centro di un animato dibattito storiografico. Da un lato, autori quali David Abulafia, presentano il monarca come un sovrano puramente tradizionale e quindi medievale. Molti storici lo considerano un uomo radicato nel suo tempo perché legato ai principi della tradizione medievale quali la religiosità cristiana, il timore verso i papi, la scarsa tolleranza nei confronti delle fedi non cristiane e la concezione del re come come princeps romano. Dall’altro autori del calibro dello storico polacco Ernst Kantorowicz, tratteggiano la figura di Federico II come quella di un monarca illuminato, profondamente laico parchè uomo di scienza e avversario della Chiesa e precursore del pensiero Rinascimentale parchè uomo di cultura, mecenate e dagli interessi poliedrici.

A mio avviso, Federico fu entrambe le cose. Se da un lato intavolò rapporti amichevoli con le componenti islamiche del suo regno tanto da formare un suo corpo di guardia con militari provenienti da quelle regioni, atteggiamento insolito per quei tempi, dall’altro ordinò deportazioni di massa di cittadini islamici a Lucera dopo averne giustiziato i capi. In uno dei suoi scritti, lo stesso imperatore affermò di fare la guerra ai papi e non alla Chiesa, rivelandosi uomo profondamente cattolico, aspetto proprio della tradizione medievale. Allo stesso tempo, si dichiarava avversario della politica universale adottata dal Papato.

Federico è stato un grande uomo ma anche una figura eccessivamente idealizzata. Infatti, i pochi episodi di maltrattamenti di prigionieri di guerra nell’età medievale sono riconducibili proprio al sovrano Svevo. Ad esempio, quando nel 1237 a Cortenuova le sue truppe sconfissero l’esercito della seconda Lega Lombarda, una volta catturato il leader dell’esercito nemico Pietro Tiepolo, figlio del Doge di Venezia, l’Imperatore lo fece uccidere dopo averlo umiliato. Si tratta di un comportamento insolito da parte di un sovrano medievale, in quanto ai prigionieri di guerra veniva solitamente risparmiata la vita e riservato un trattamento d’onore.

Perno del suo Regno non sarà mai la Germania, terra politicamente instabile, bensì proprio l’Italia meridionale, resa potente a partire dalla dinasta normanna degli Altavilla, da cui Federico è discendente da parte di madre.

La vita sentimentale dello Svevo fu sempre soggetta alla necessità di stringere alleanze politiche, come dimostrano le sue unioni con Costanza d’Aragona, Jolanda di Brienne ed Isabella d’Inghilterra. Ci fu però una donna, Bianca Lancia, probabilmente di origine piemontese, che occupò il suo cuore dall’anno 1225 e che sposò sul letto di morte.

La sua dinastia si rivelò alquanto sfortunata poiché il primo figlio Enrico si suicidò dopo una ribellione contro il padre. Il figlio illegittimo Enzo, re di Sardegna, preso prigioniero dopo la battaglia di Fossalta, morì durante la prigionia senza che il padre lo riscattasse. Manfredi, invece, figlio di Bianca Lancia, morì durante la battaglia di Benevento nel 1266, sconfitto dalle truppe di Carlo d’Angiò. La morte violenta a Napoli del giovane nipote Corradino pose fine alla supremazia della dinastia Sveva che si era fatta portabandiera dell’universalità dell’impero.

Federico subisce da sempre il fascino dell’assolutismo degli imperatori romani. La nuova monetazione da lui introdotta, l’augustale, un chiaro riferimento alla romanità, riporta da un lato l’immagine dell’imperatore laureato e dall’altra l’aquila imperiale. Lo Svevo amava farsi ritrarre come sbarbato e laureato, similmente alla ritrattistica traianea, mantenendo i tratti giovanili anche in età matura. Questo aspetto propagandistico della sua immagine si può ritenere attinente al processo di accentramento del potere ed all’esaltazione della sua autorità.

Frate Salimbene da Parma, che conobbe l’imperatore di persona, lo descrive come un uomo di bell’aspetto e di media statura. Il francescano fu avversario dell’imperatore, e difatti lo descrisse come un uomo avaro, malvagio e lussurioso seppur poi ammettendo la presenza in lui di grandi qualità.

Federico II risulta a mio pare una figura estremamente affascinante. La sua personalità poliedrica, il suo carattere duro ma allo stesso tempo sensibile fanno di lui un monarca ideale, con il quale si può cacciare con il falco e dialogare di filosofia.

Bibliografia

Abulafia, D. (2015). Federico II. Einaudi.

Bocchieri, M. T. (2005). Federico II. Ragione e Fortuna. Laterza.

Houben, H. (2009). Federico II. Imperatore, uomo, mito. Il Mulino.

Di Svevia, F. De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus.

Kantorowicz, E. (2000). Federico II Imperatore. Garzanti.

Vellucci, L. (2016) Federico II. L’imperatore del mistero. Tipheret.

 

Gratian the Elder

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Unidentified male portrait, Villa dei Papiri, Ercolano. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.

Gratian the elder was born in Cibalae, modern day Croatia, a region known for providing military officers and personnel to the Empire. At an early age, his compatriots nicknamed him Funarius. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that he was a rope salesman and the second is that he prevented a group of soldiers from stealing a rope. Despite not being a member of the aristocracy, Gratian managed to enter the Protectores Domestici, an elite body of high ranking officers close to the emperor. Thanks to his physical prowess and military skills, Gratian was promoted to Comes Africae, commander of the Comitatenses, professional soldiers of North Africa. However, he was soon accused of embezzlement and forced to resign. Unfortunately, little is known about this incident. Around 340 AD, Gratian was recalled to military service under emperor Constans I as Comes Britanniae. Gratian rebuilt the frontier forts and fortified the island, demonstrating his military capabilities. During this time, he is likely to have worked in close cooperation with the Comes Litoris Saxonici and the Dux Britanniarum, respectively the commander of the coastal defenses and the commander of the Limitanei or Rparienses. After this last assignment, Gratian retired to his country villa in Pannonia. He had two sons, Valentinian and Valens, who would both become emperors. His property in Pannonia would be devastated during the civil conflict between Constantius II and Magnus Magnentius. He died in the year 367 AD. A brass statue of him was built in the Curia of Costantinople. Gratian is a really fascinating character as he came to power and to a prestigious position only through merit and not thanks to money or social status.

Giustina: A Late Roman Empress

Giustina was born in Picenum, Italy to Giusto, the governor of the city under the emperor Constantius II. She was famously beautiful and ambitious, marrying the usurper Magnus Magnentius, a commander of the Ioviani and HerculianiAfter his suicide in 353 AD, Giustina became the second wife of emperor Valentinian I, a man of complex personality and great military prowess. According to legend, Valentinian’s first wife, Marina Severa, was the one who, being struck by Giustina’s beauty, presented her to the emperor. She gave Valentinian a son, Valentinian II, and became the stepmother of the emperor’s first son Gratian. During Gratian’s reign, Giustina lived in Sirmium, Pannonia. As most Roman empresses, she wore elaborate jewels, sported eccentric hairstyles and long, rich earrings. When her son Valentinian II came to power at the age of four, Giustina ruled in his name, showing the full extent of her ambition and strong personality. Being a fervent Arian Christian, Giustina ferociously opposed the powerful and influential bishop of Milan, Ambrose who was a Nicean Christian. Giustina died in 387 AD while traveling. Lacking her protection, her son Valentinian II was assassinated soon after. Giustina demonstrated an impressive personality, able to control the political scene at court even when the odds were stacked against her. With her legendary beauty, she enchanted the late Roman courtiers while also dominating them with her iron personality.

The Last of The Romans

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Famous portrait of the Tetrarchic emperors. The first tetrarchs were Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus. Venice.

Emperor Majorian was born around the year 420 AD. Coming from a prominent military family, Majorian served as an officer under the Magister Militum Flavius Aetius, a very able commander. Majorian lived in a violent epoch in which most of the western Roman Empire was flooded by germanic tribes or dismembered by civil strife and economic collapse. The professional legions, the traditional core of the Roman army, were disintegrating and increasingly replaced by germanic warriors. The empire was led by Valentinian III, an ineffective emperor, mostly concerned with issues arising from the rapidly growing Christian church. Under Aetius, Majorian distinguished himself as a cavalry tribune against the Franks of King Chlodius. On June 20th 451 AD, the armies of Aetius clashed with the Huns and their allies, led by King Attila, on the plains of Chalons en Champagne in Gaul, modern day France. The Romans, aided by the Visigoths of King Torrismund, were victorious and Majorian managed to survive the bloody battle. In 454 AD, however, Majorian’s commander Aetius was brutally assassinated by emperor Valentinian III in Ravenna, Italy which had become the fortified capital of the western empire. 

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Coin of emperor Valentinian III depicted with spear and shield.

One year later, Valentinian himself was hacked to pieces by two gothic soldiers loyal to Aetius in the Campus Martius in Rome. The western empire was in disarray. The two most important men of the empire had been killed, and inevitably, a power vacuum soon followed, causing a calamitous situation in ancient Rome. First, a roman aristocrat by the name of Petronius Maximus was elevated to the imperial throne, though his reign lasted just sixty days. The gaul Avitus replaced him, and managed to hold onto power for fifteen months. He was ultimately deposed, however, by Majorian and by his germanic coconspirator, Ricimer. Majorian was subsequently proclaimed emperor by the troops in 457 AD. During his reign, Majorian successfully defended Italy from foreign threats, strengthened the army by recruiting german warriors, and reconquered Gaul with the use of arms and diplomacy. He failed, however, to recapture Northern Africa, which had been previously conquered by the Vandals, as his fleet was destroyed by traitors near Elche, Spain. 

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Coin of emperor Majorian depicted with full military regalia, Arles.

Apart from being a great soldier, Majoran was also a cultured man and an admirer of philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius. Majorian was also a stern legislator as he wrote the Novellae Maiorani, a collection of general laws. The emperor minted coins in gold, silver and bronze and was often depicted with a helmet in order to show his military background. He tried to cooperate with the senatorial elites by involving them in civil administration. He also had a keen interest in safeguarding public monuments which were suffering from looting. The successful reign of Majorian ended when his germanic Magister Militum, Ricimer, betrayed him. Ricimer met the emperor  with a band of troops near Tortona and arrested him. Majorian was deposed and on August 7th 461 AD, and was beheaded near the river Iria, in the Italian province of Liguria. Majorian can be considered the last truly successful western emperor as he was a keen reformer and an able military leader, truly deserving, in my opinion, the title of Last of the Romans.

 

 

Venice: Anatomy of a Thalassocratic Republic.

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The traditional Carnival of Venice has its roots in the classical Roman festivals and theatre performances.

We all know the floating city of Venice as the Most Serene Republic, one of the naval powers of the Mare Nostrum or Mediterranean Sea. How did Venice become this powerful? What are the origins of the city? The epic story of the Serenissima starts in the Late Roman Era. During Attila’s Hunnic invasion of Northern Italy in the 5th century AD, refugees from the conquered cities of Padua, Aquileia, Altino and Treviso took refuge in the marshy lagoons over which the city of Venetia or Venetia would later be built. These people became known as Incolae Lacunaeor lagoon dwellers. When the Italian Peninsula was reconquered by Emperor Giustinian’s armies in the 6th century AD, the region surrounding Venice was organized into the Exarchateof Ravenna, a province administered by a military governor, the Exarch, based in the previous imperial capital of Ravenna. Its distance from Constantinople as well as its strategic position made the city of Venice increasingly autonomous from the Eastern Romans. Early semi-independent forms of government like the Tribuni Maiores appeared in Venice during the 6th century AD. Governed by the Doge since the 8th century AD, the city soon became an empire capable of fielding entire transport fleets for the crusade movement.

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Venetian galley, 13th century. The Granger Collection, New York.

The Doge was aided by the Great Council or Maggior Consiglio, a political organ and council of noble elders exclusive to those enrolled in the Libro d’Oro or Golden Book, the formal directory of nobles in the Republic of Venice. An example of a patrician Venetian family is the distinguished Contarini family, one of the twelve that elected the first doge in 697 and later gave Venice eight doges as well as many other eminent citizens. Another noted clan was the Dandolo family, of which the famous “immortal” Doge Enrico Dandolo was a member. The Doge of Venice is strictly related to late roman military hierarchy. In fact, the term Doge comes from Dux, which in Latin means “military commander” and in the late roman world indicated the officer in charge of the Limitanei or Riparienses, semi-professional troops who guarded the Roman limes or frontier. The city also had its own order of knights: the Cavalieri di San Marco, famous for their insignadepicting the San Marco lion and the Cavalieri della stuola D’Oro. As Venice developed into a powerful thalassocracy, from “θαλασσα”, meaning sea and “κρατεῖν”, to rule, trade with the eastern Roman Empire and its capital Constantinople flourished. Trade with Constantinople granted access to the Aegean islands and the Muslim world to the powerful fleets of the Republic of Venice. Eastern Mediterranean trade routes made Venice on the most sprawling cities of Western Europe. Employment of mercenary bodies and companies was extensive in the Republic of Venice as the city and its dominions offered only a small quantity of manpower. For example, the “στρατιώται” or stradioti in Italian, were a body of Greek, Albanian and Dalmatian mercenaries who fought as light cavalry and skirmishers. Also, the use of capitani di ventura or venture captains, captains of mercenary companies, was extremely popular in Venice and in northern Italian cities from the late medieval ages and throughout the Renaissance. Bartolomeo D’Alviano was a famous venture captain employed by the Republic of Venice during the Italian wars.

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Map of the Venetian lagoon, 16th century. 

The Persian Sassanid Army

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Mail armoured cataphract.

The Persian army under the Sassanid dynasty of Late antiquity was an extremely efficient force, more loyal and reliable than its Parthian predecessor. The heavy cavalry or cataphracts, taken from the Azadan or minor Persian nobility (feudal nobles) were its core divisions. The 10.000 knights guarding the King of Kings, the Zhayedan or Immortals, were cataphracts as well.

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Persian mounted Zhayedan or Immortal.

The 1.000 elite Pushtigban were the same type of heavy cavalry and were based at the capital Ctesiphon. The charge of a shock unit like the cataphracts in battle produced massive damage to enemy divisions and also had great psychological impact on the enemy. In fact, these knights were completely encased in armor, including their faces. According to roman officer and author Amianus Marcellinus, cataphracts looked like “moving iron statues”. The military officers of the Sassanid army were drawn from the Wuzurgan nobility. Light cavalry such as skirmishers and horse archers was mostly supplied by the bellicose tribes of Central Asia like the Hepthalites and the Massagetae. Regiments of light Arab cavalry, mostly provided by the Lakhmids, were always present in Persian armies. The Sassanids also had infantry, though most of their footmen were not trained or professional soldiers but levied and seasonal troops, mostly being armed with spears and large wicker shields. However, an elite body of infantry troops also existed: the Daylamite warriors, Daylamig in Middle Persian.

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Daylamites and Sogdian were elite soldiers of the Sassanid army.

 

These warriors were drawn from the mountainous regions of Northern Iran, the Southern shores of the Caspian Sea. They reached such a high status that 4.000 of them were chosen as private bodyguards by Shah Khosrow II, thereby forming the Gond-i Shahanshah or Army of the King of Kings. The Sassanid army was a very efficient sieging force, using mining techniques, siege towers, catapults and battering rams to siege walled and well fortified cities like the roman fortress of Dura Europos. War elephants from India carried little fortified towers with archer support on top. The elephant corps was under a special chief, known as the Zend-hapet, or “Commander of the Indians”.

 

High Ranking Officers:

  • Erahn Spahbed – Commander in chief of the army, the equivalent of a Roman Magister Militum.
  • Spahbed – Army commander and field general, Middle Persian Spahpat.
  • Pushtigban Salar – Commander of the Pushtigban bodyguards based in Ctesiphon, Mesopotamia.
  • Eran Anbaraghdad – Officer responsible for the army supplies, of crucial importance while campaigning.
  • Stor-Bizeshk – Senior officer responsible for the health of the steeds, essential for the cataphracts and very knoledgiable about herbs.
  • Arghbed – Commander of a fort or castle.
  • Payghan Salar – Chief of an infantry division, guarded by elite Daylamites, Northern Iranian warriors.
  • Savaran Sardar – Head of a cavalry division.
  • Varhranighan Khvadhay – Commander of the 10.000 Zhayedan bodyguards (the Immortals).

 

Who were the Ioviani Seniores?

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Ioviani Seniores. Credit to Total War: Attila.

The Ioviani were created by soldier Emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD) as an elite guard unit. The name Ioviani derives from Iuppiter, the patron god of the legion. Later on, they became part of the Palatina Legions of the new Constantinian army as elite regiments led personally by the emperor. They served under emperor Valentinian the Great as Ioviani Seniores in his aggressive campaigns on the Rhine Frontier, taking part in the Battle of Solicinium in 368 AD.

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Gold solidus of Valentinian I, a man of complex temperament and great military prowess. Credit to Metropolitan Museum of Art.

They also served in the province of Britannia under Comes Theodosius against the Picts, the Franks and the Saxons. In the year 388 AD, the Ioviani fought again in Germany, losing their commander Heraclius in battle. They took part in the Battle of the Frigidus in 395 AD. They served under the Magister Militum Flavius Stilicho and in this period they were headquartered in Pisa, Tuscany. They fought against the rebellion of the Comes Gildo in North Africa alongside the Herculiani Seniores. At the beginning of the 5th century, the Ioviani Seniores were probably still based in Pisa and were one of the last units to dissolve in the west, remaining loyal to the emperor till the very end. The Ioviani were one of the most senior Palatina Legions in the west. They were proficient in the throwing of plumbata, a form of lead-weighted dart carried by heavy infantry. Their shield crest was a red eagle on a blue field. Before engaging in battle, the Ioviani would perform the barritus, a roman war chant of germanic origin that consisted in a crescendo of low pitched noises enhanced by putting the mouth close to the shield. They fought as heavy infantry, armed with a long spatha and an oval shield. They probably also carried short spears.

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The Herculiani Seniores, another elite Palatina Unit. Credit to Total War: Attila.

 

Alexander the Great and the loneliness of power

“There is nothing impossible to him who will try” – Alexander the Great

We all remember Alexander the Great as the ultimate hero who was able to achieve his dreams conquering half of the known world. Though, my essay will focus on a darker, less known aspect of his adventurous life: the dramatic consequences his almost unlimited power had on his behavior and the changes his character went through as he continued on his epic journey towards his dream of conquest. In this essay, I am going to analyze whether he had the potential to handle the greatness he achieved, concluding that he fell victim to power. In order to weigh the influence power had on Alexander’s life, I will embark on a great journey which starts from his first steps as a king.

During the 4th century BC, when Alexander was still a crown prince, his father Philip II tried to Hellenize his court because the Greeks considered Macedonian upper classmen barbarian and uncivilized. Also, he wanted to improve the relationships between Macedonian and Greek noblemen at his court. Alexander grew up in a court environment characterized by frequent intrigues. These led to a serious estrangement between Philip, Queen Olympias and Alexander himself, ultimately leading to Philip’s mysterious assassination in 336 BC. It is implied that Olympias and Alexander were heavily involved in the murder plot. In fact, Alexander was the one who profited the most from Philip’s death. With the help of Antipater, he secured his power. The king was safe but far from powerful. We must not think of this boy of less than twenty years old as the great leader he turned out to be. At the time, he was a youngster raised to power by a group of powerful nobles who certainly expected to rule through him. During this time, Alexander managed to overcome his numerous external problems such as barbarian invasions, insurrections and the newly started conflict against Persia as well as his most formidable domestic problem: gaining his independence as a king from the powerful influence of the Macedonian noble families such as those of Parmenio and Attalus.

When Alexander crossed to Asia in 334 BC, he brought with him a great army, led by his childhood friends. Most of them were tutored together with him by one of the most brilliant thinkers of the time, Aristotle. At the beginning of this journey, the young king could rely on his generals’ faith. The men were enthusiastic, motivated and ready to fight for their leader. Starting from the battle of the Granicus River, Anatolia in 334 BC, Alexander managed to open the path for the conquest of the Achemenid Persian Empire led by the great king Darius III. After the great victories at Issus in 333 BC, Gaugamela in 331 BC and endless siege battles such as those at Halicarnassus and Tyre, Darius was left as a fugitive and Alexander became the uncontested master of the lands west of the Euphrates.

Alexander was ably supported by his commanders and full of pride. However, despite showing exceptional qualities such as authority and courage, Alexander also began displaying a darker and more threatening side of his personality, undermining the life of his generals and followers and eliminating his political rivals to secure his great power. Why did he do that? Was something bothering him? As the glorious advance continued into Iran, the pulsating heart of the Persian Empire, tensions between Alexander the Great and the Greek-Macedonian allies grew because Alexander’s general did not have the same mindset as their king: in fact, they wanted glory, plunder and wealth.

On the other hand, Alexander had a greater, more glorious vision. He considered himself to be the new Persian king of kings, seeing Darius as an usurper. He wanted to push himself and his followers to the limit by reaching the ends of the empire, all the way up to India and its dusty royal palaces. This is not the way of thinking of an ordinary man. This is the tale of an individual who found himself alone with his dream of success and power. Moreover, he knew he had to conciliate his new Persian subjects and win over their support. This applied particularly to Persian aristocrats, who were the real administrators of the empire. Alexander started to behave like one of the great Persian kings. This policy could not have been carried out until Parmenio’s increasing power had been dealt with. His family and supporters were in fact among the strongest objectors to Alexander’s revolutionary policies because of their traditional Macedonian upbringing. It is hard to separate personal antagonism from political opposition in all this. As a result, tensions increased and conflict became inevitable.

In Media, Alexander took an important step; he left his general Parmenio behind, in charge of the supply lines. The general did not object this decision but the king had effectively got rid of his powerful presence. Soon after, Parmenio’s younger son died. A few days later, Philotas, the older brother and commander of the famous Macedonian noble cavalry called “Hetairoi”, was somehow implicated in a “conspiracy” against the king. A great description of it can be found in the writings of several Greek and Roman authors such as Arrian and Curtius Rufus. The king put him on trial for high treason before the army. Although no evidence of Philotas’ implications in the plot could be produced, Alexander demanded the death sentence for him. Now the king had another matter to deal with and wanted to do it using the army once again. It is incredible how both in politics and war, Alexander’s personality appears consistent and unmistakable. He never rushed things, always had a plan in mind and never missed the chance of finishing off an enemy leaving him with no hope of resistance or recovery because he was essentially insecure. Parmenio however, could not be tried before the army for actions there was no evidence he had committed. Aware of that, Alexander chose the swiftest and most efficient way of getting rid of him: assassination.

Having dealt with Parmenio’s influence, Alexander finally gained his long-wanted independence. A series of great trials of Parmenio’s supporters followed. All the Macedonian nobles somehow implicated in Parmenio’s faction were ruthlessly murdered. Alexander then assigned the command of the “Hetairoi” to his most trusted confidant and perhaps lover, Hephaestion. Though, discontent over the killings of generals and officers prevailed among soldiers. Shortly after, this bitterness led to a horrific incident at Samarkand, modern day Uzbekistan. At a banquet, common at the Macedonian court, Clitus the Black, a military officer, clashed with Alexander. Fueled by the alcohol, the king’s anger grew uncontrollably leading him to kill Clitus with his own hands and cry over his body afterwards. Alexander was becoming increasingly lonely in his position of absolute power, ruthlessly murdering and getting rid of his childhood friends and protectors he once loved and trusted. What followed Clitus’ death was of great importance as it proved Alexander’s ability to seize a chance and turn it to his advantage, not caring about his bad actions. Alexander locked himself up in his royal tent and proclaimed great remorse for what he had done. Did he really feel bad because of it? He probably used remorse to win back his shocked men as they realized that without their king, they would have faced defeat. In fact, on the third day after Alexander locked himself, army officers came to the tent begging for him to change his mind and pass a resolution convicting Clitus of treason, thereby legitimizing Alexander’s action.

The tragic death of Clitus marked a point of no return for the king’s degenerating mind. Now, Alexander wanted to tranform his court from a  Macedonian to a Persian-style one. His only probable supporter was Hephaestion, loyal to him till the end. Greek royal historian Callisthenes refused to submit to the new type of court by not making prostration, the usual way of saluting the Persian king. It was Alexander’s first defeat. The god king had lost the sympathy of most of his Greek supporters, even those who hailed him as monarch back in Macedonia. Callisthenes did not live much longer. He was executed by order of the king. This demonstration of absolute power on Alexander’s part was seen as a display of tyranny and violence even by his supporters. He now only had sympathy for Asiatics.

Alexander then used military success in India to cover up the memory of murder and purge from the minds of the soldiers. In his glorious Indian campaign, his war-tested men were united behind their great leader and the banner of the Argead dynasty. After the great victory at the Hydaspes river in 326 BC against king Porus came another huge disappointment for the great Alexander: the soldiers simply did not want to follow him any longer. The spokesman for the mutinous soldiers was Coenus, the very man who helped Alexander wipe out Parmenio’s power. The king who had once used the army as his main weapon now found himself in a condition of desperation because everyone he counted on was now turning against him. He was lonely, reduced to the status of a man who only relied on his unbreakable dream to go on. Alexander ultimately tried to threaten and intimidate his men but they would not yield this time. They knew that he could not do anything without them. Alexander finally gave up, a broken shell of his former self, retreating down the Indus valley to the sea. Thanks to the multiple sources we now have access to, we know that his soldiers did not follow him as eagerly as before. In a desperate attempt to regain his men’s loyalty, Alexander was always on the frontlines, and once, when storming the capital city of the Malli tribe, he was severely wounded and no one thought he could survive. After miraculously surviving the wound, Alexander understood that his power depended massively on others and that he had to be eternally vigilant to defend it. After innumerable executions, murders and increasing tensions, he realized that he could not count on the total submission of his nobles and men.

In the spring of 324, at Susa, Alexander and eighty of his principal courtiers and commanders married Iranian princesses in order to create an independent ruling class of mixed blood. What Alexander’s nobles thought of this decision became clear after the monarch’s death, when most of them repudiated their wives. Now a disillusioned man, with his glorious dream shattered, Alexander felt extremely vulnerable and insecure. His success in schemes and plotting only increased the resulting instability of his condition. In order to hide his fears, the great Alexander took refuge in the divine. Encouraging the myth of his own divinity as the son of god Ammon, he began to believe in his own godly status. Though, the enforced deification would not change the escalating situation. About this time, Alexander suffered his most serious blow. In the autumn of 324 BC, his most trusted friend and presumed lover, Hephaestion, the only man he fully trusted and who supported him, drank himself to death. At this point, Alexander approached insanity as he found himself completely alone, only surrounded by enemies who he once called friends. As Plutarch states in his “Parallel Lives”, Alexander also started to be negatively influenced by divine omens. Not even after celebrating his best friend’s funeral with full splendor, had Alexander given up on his dream. There is evidence of his great schemes such as the invasion of Arabia and Western Africa. To me, these ambitious plans represent the ultimate and desperate attempt by the great king to find his purpose again. He had won all the power he could, there was nothing left to do.

About midsummer of the year 323 BC, at the age of 32, Alexander fell ill. Whatever the nature of his illness, he aggravated it by drinking heavily until all hope was lost. Did ultimate power bring Alexander to his death? This, we will never know. The theory of poisoning suggested by historians can’t be proved. What we do know is that he was requested to designate a worthy successor on his death bed but refused to do so. According to a legend, as he was asked for the last time whom he wanted as a successor, he replied: “the κράτιστος”, the strongest. In my opinion, this quote ultimately proves that Alexander wasn’t, for the most part, interested in a future without himself and that he could not find anyone trustworthy nor powerful enough in his entourage to effectively succeed him.

My essay of course does not cover the whole adventurous life story of Alexander. His military and political skills are beyond question, as he continued to be the most powerful man of his time. Though, on an individual and psychological level, the life of Alexander the Great is that of a man who conquered the whole world using his determination and courage, only to lose his soul in the end. I personally believe that Alexander was brought to darkness only by his light, as he ultimately could not handle the power and success he achieved. After fighting, murdering and scheming against his own men and friends in a quest for absolute power, he found himself completely lonely on a pinnacle over darkness, with no actual use for his incredible power. His genius allowed him to end an époque and begin another one dominated by multiculturalism and peace. He however, never found peace. I consider Alexander to be the epitome of the tragic hero, illustrating with startling clarity the incredible success a man can achieve by following his own light and determination. Also, he shows the effects that supreme power can have on men. It can corrupt them and make them feel lonely and alienated. Alexander failed to achieve his dream but managed to change his world like no other great leader could have. Indeed, he revolutionized the ancient world by creating a concept which was unthinkable for his time: globalization. Although he is a controversial figure in the end, the legacy of his success was capable of reaching our times, shaping civilization for centuries. Many great men of ancient and modern history involuntarily followed Alexander in his footsteps towards absolute power ultimately finding themselves alone with their unbearable burden. Julius Caesar was killed by his countrymen because of it as he planned more conquests in Parthia and in the East as Alexander did; Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena because of his suffocating power and remained alone with his vision of glory and conquest.

 

Alexander_the_Great_mosaic.jpg

Alexander charging towards king Darius III at the battle of Issus. National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

Bibliography

Primary sources

Arrian of Nicomedia. The Anabasis of Alexander

Curtius Rufus. Historiae Alexandri Magni

Plutarch. Parallel Lives, Alexander the Great and Julius Ceaser

Secondary sources

Badian, Ernst. (2012) Collected papers on Alexander the Great, Routledge.

Freeman, Philip. (2011) Alexander the Great, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Holland, Tom. (2011) Persian fire, Abacus.

Manfredi, Valerio Massimo. (2011) Alèxandros, Oscar Mondadori.

Rodgers, Nigel. (2011) Alexander the Great, An illustrated military history, Anness Publishing Ltd. 

Videography

On the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Michael Wood, BBC.

Alexander the great, the man behind the legend, National Geographic.

 

 

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