Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Centurionum Addendum I: The Golden Gate

So you really thought I had finished this series? Where's your history then, lads? ;-)
Granted, at school I was taught Antiquity ended on the 4th of September 476 AD. On this day (as I'm typing this just 1535 years ago) a Germanic warrior in Roman services named Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor, Romulus, nicknamed Augustulus. In fact, however, that's not even half the truth: Romulus had been merely a puppet like many of his predecessors. Both Odoacer, a high-ranking military, and the Senate of Rome simply thought it superfluous to sustain such a meaningless institution any longer. So they sent the Imperial insignia to Zeno - surprisingly another Roman emperor ruling the empire's Eastern parts. It's not even true that by this transfer the Western Empire ceased to exist - it was just thought as a 'reunification' long overdue. And, of course, for centuries to come, the Eastern emperors saw themselves and were undoubted as the only Roman ones.

In order not to forgo this continuation of Roman history then, I'm stretching this series a little further - and a bit beyond the actual focus, admittedly. Anyway, here comes Flavius Focas, hekatontarchos in Emperor Maurice's Balkan army, c. 602 AD.


Eastern Roman respectively Byzantine history is nothing I've been much into. Therefore, what follows comes from my superficial grasp, and I'd happily stand corrected by anyone better informed. And there might be quite a lot, for Byzantium has been (and probably still is) promoted at university as the subject of up-to-date research in Classics par excellence. Part of this rediscovery is, of course, the rehashed debate of where to actually make a cut with literal Ancient history then. With the reign of Justinian I (527-565) who reconquered large parts of the former Western empire? Or with Phokas (602-610) who abandoned most of it? With Maurikios (582-602) who initiated reforms that would lead to the - particular "Byzantine" - Thematic military organisation? Or with Heraclius (610-641) who established Greek as the empire's official language and finally subdued the Sassanids, only to leave both empires exhausted and exposed to Muslim Arab conquest? Or, putting it all aside, not until the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453? You get the drift.


Matters aren't obviously any clearer with military history. Since the 4th century there's a lot of change going on we don't necessarily understand in all detail. The disinterest in and disregard of all things military by most Late Roman/Early Byzantine authors and artisans leaves us with fragmentary information at best. Depictions are often highly stylised, in the case of literature imitating classical works, while art resembling rather court dress than actual field habit. Therefore one cannot be sure if the term of hekatontarchos (leader of a hundred) translates the Latin centurio not only quite literally but also in terms of actual rank.


Also, the soldiers' appearance of Focas' time might have been quite similar to 5th century military look. Or it might, however, have turned already into a fashion that was considered "majestically ancient" by 10th century artists - a period which the model (as the whole Byzantine range from Crusader Miniatures) is actually meant for. That said, the somewhat ceremonial dress raises the question of adequacy regarding the relatively low position of centurions/hekatontarches in the later Byzantine army.


Thus, in order to avoid further trouble, I betook myself to the story of Flavius Focas. You might have noticed the similar name of Emperor Phokas above - actually it's the same person, just in its Latin or Greek version each. When Emperor Maurice ordered his army to take up the fight against the Slavs in mid winter 602 AD, the soldiers revolted. Soon, according to our sources, a certain centurion named Focas took the lead, and finally, after Maurice was overthrown, became the new emperor. A state of transition could well be resembled by the model's mixed dress. A badge of rank is the mace (probably a decendant of the vitis shown before) as well as the crest I've attached to the blackened iron helmet.


Focas' reign, however, was considered one of the worst of all times - at least by authors reviling in the times of Emperor Heraclius who, in turn, had overthrown the aforementioned himself but was more fortunate in founding a new Imperial dynasty. Thus Focas could be held responsible for all the losses the empire suffered during and even after his reign. Of unknown origin (I opted for a Middle Eastern influence here), risen from the ranks and so with little in common with the more subtle inhabitants of the metropolitan areas, naturally Focas was seen inapt to ruling an empire. However, one could argue that he simply followed a certain pragmatism: In reducing the empire's presence in the West he tried to free up resources for the Balkan and Persian theatres. Ultimately these plans didn't succeed, at least partly due to powers wasted for and against Heraclius' uprising.

After all, Focas' reign is certainly not THE turning point from Roman to Byzantine history. As said before, it's just impossible to draw a definite line between a 'real' Roman Empire and its reputed Byzantine successor. Most likely, there simply is no such one single dividing factor, for people keep changing, adopting and adapting quite constantly.
So, if anything, this little series about a particular Roman type of officer might have shown this only constancy not only in Roman history but in history in general: the constancy of change.

Painted August 2011. Miniature by Crusader Miniatures, plastic crest by Wargames Factory.

10 comments:

Willie Anderson said...

He looks fantastic well done!

Inkub said...

Excellent read and miniature, as usual. Well done Sire:)

Dalauppror said...

Very nice mini, realy like the pattern on the back of the cloak.

Best regards Dalauppror

BigRedBat said...

Lovely painting again, especially the patches.

Simon

Brummie said...

Excellent read and another fantastic paintjob. keep up t he good work!

The Doc said...

Beautifully done, mr. T! The cloak makes up for the missing shield. Nice freehand.

Coincidentally I am listening to the "12 Byzantine rulers" podcast by Lars Brownworth at the moment and he starts his podcast series with similar thoughts and questions. It's a very interesting subject, especially if you consider the perception of the empire about itself at every given time. Roman, Romaioi, Romioi or Greek... These words all appear here and there and the amalgam of cultures is so complex and strong that you cannot use past and future categories to describe it while the transition from roman to "Byzantine" happens so smoothly that the end of one and beginning of the other are not discernible. And it's a pity that this situation drove many early scholars of Byzantium to consider it second class culturally and even morally.

Nevertheless... That's one cracking paintjob! And I like your use of Wargames Factory. They seem to be great for spare parts.

Ubique said...

Lovely paint job (as always) and a very interesting write up.

Regards,
Matt

Giles said...

Terrificainting, Sire G. The cloak is exceptional.

Best wishes
Giles

Tank Girl said...

Lovely work and agree with the above comments on the cloak.

Thank you for inspring us with your take on the Roman history and painting.

Cheers,

Helen

Joel said...

Hi, I came across your site and wasn’t able to get an email address to contact you. Would you please consider adding a link to my website on your page. Please email me.

Thanks!

Joel Houston
JHouston791@gmail.com

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