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Ciao a Giacomo Caruso…


Quando una persona splendida, che hai frequentato in luoghi frequentati insieme, se ne va nel momento di massimo splendore, è una tragedia immane. Giacomo Caruso non c’è più, stroncato stamani dal Covid, e tutto l’entourage del caffè letterario Mangiaparole di Roma lo ricorda e lo piange.

Non ho davvero altre parole, il dispiacere è enorme. Ciao Giacomo, averti visto poche settimane fa in un caso che è diventato un epitaffio mi lascia ancora più sbigottito. Mi stringo ai suoi cari, e a tutti i numerosi amici che aveva.

Flavius Belisarius: The African campaign – The first Italian campaign – Novo Scriptorium


Su NovoScripitorium un lungo articolo che dettaglia la campagna militare di Belisario, generale di Giustiniano I.

Justinian declared war on King Gelimer the moment that he had made peace with Persia, using as his casus belli, not a definite re-assertion of the claim of the empire over Africa—for such language would have provoked the rulers of Italy and Spain to join the Vandals, but the fact that Gelimer had wrongfully deposed Hilderic, the Emperor’s ally. In July, 533, Belisarius, who was now at the height of his favour for his successful suppression of the “Nika” rioters, sailed from the Bosphorus with an army of 10,000 foot and 5,000 horse. He was accompanied, luckily for history, by his secretary, Procopius, a very capable writer, who has left a full account of his master’s campaigns. Belisarius landed at Tripoli, at the extreme eastern limit of the Vandal power. The town was at once betrayed to him by its Roman inhabitants. From thence he advanced cautiously along the coast, meeting with no opposition; for the incapable Gelimer had been caught unprepared, and was still engaged in calling in his scattered warriors. It was not till he had approached within ten miles of Carthage that Belisarius was attacked by the Vandals. After a hard struggle he defeated them, and the city fell into his hands next day. The provincials were delighted at the rout of their masters, and welcomed the imperial army with joy; there was neither riot nor pillage, and Carthage had not the aspect of a conquered town.

The triumphal entry of Belisarius into Constantinople with his captives and his spoils, encouraged Justinian to order instant preparations for an attack on the second German kingdom, on his western frontier. He declared war on the wretched King Theodahat in the summer of A.D. 435, using as his pretext the murder of Queen Amalasuntha, whom her ungrateful spouse had first imprisoned and then strangled within a year of their marriage. The king of the Goths, whether he was conscience-stricken or merely cowardly, showed the greatest terror at the declaration of war. He even wrote to Constantinople offering to resign his crown, if the Emperor would guarantee his life and his private property. Meanwhile he consulted sooth-sayers and magicians about his prospects, for he was as superstitious as he was incompetent.

Next spring King Witiges came down with the main army of the Goths—more than 100,000 strong—and laid siege to Rome. The defence of the town by Belisarius and his very inadequate garrison forms the most interesting episode in the Italian war. For more than a year the Ostrogoths lay before its walls, essaying every device to force an entry. They tried open storm; they endeavoured to bribe traitors within the city; they strove to creep along the bed of a disused aqueduct, as Belisarius had done a year before at Naples. All was in vain, though the besiegers outnumbered the garrison twenty-fold, and exposed their lives with the same recklessness that their ancestors had shown in the invasion of the empire a hundred years back. The scene best remembered in the siege was the simultaneous assault on five points in the wall, on the 21st of March, 537. Three of the attacks were beaten back with ease; but near the Praenestine Gate, at the south-east of the city, one storming party actually forced its way within the walls, and had to be beaten out by sheer hard fighting ; and at the mausoleum of Hadrian, on the north-west, another spirited combat took place. Hadrian’s tomb—a great quadrangular structure of white marble, 300 feet square and 85 feet high—was surmounted by one of the most magnificent collections of statuary in ancient Rome, including four great equestrian statues of emperors at its corners. The Goths, with their ladders, swarmed at the foot of the tomb in such numbers, that the arrows and darts of the defenders were insufficient to beat them back. Then, as a last resource, the Imperialists tore down the scores of statues which adorned the mausoleum, and crushed the mass of assailants beneath a rain of marble fragments. Two famous antiques, that form the pride of modern galleries—the “Dancing Faun” at Florence, and the “Barberini Faun” at Munich—were found, a thousand years later, buried in the ditch of the tomb of Hadrian, and must have been among the missiles employed against the Goths. Thorough usage which they then received proved the means of preserving them for the admiration of the modern world.

Le opinioni del reale


Quando le distanze si rendono dinastie, il senso del reale diviene ancor di più un’opinione.

The Manliness of War in the Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) Empire – Novo Scriptorium


Su NovoScriptorium un lungo post – in inglese, obviously – che tratteggia lo sviluppo storico degli eserciti romani e bizantini rispettivamente nel tardo impero e nei primi secoli ancora romani dell’Impero d’Oriente. Tutto ciò è messo in relazione col concetto di virilità e mascolinità vigente allora nelle file delle armate imperiali. Un estratto:

By the second and the third centuries, however, Roman men’s military roles were being redefined. What scholars call the crisis of the third century played a part in this transformation. The twofold threats of external invasions and crippling civil wars ignited by rival claimants to the purple, challenged the Empire’s military capabilities and created the necessity for reform. Establishing control over the frequently rebellious Roman forces represented a key step in quashing this chaos. Those in power entrusted the states’ defence to a professional army of mixed descent that fought its battles mostly on the Empire’s outer fringes. The imperial authorities also sought to curtail the threat presented by mutinous regional military commanders.

The Emperor Diocletian (ruled 284-305), carved the provinces into smaller more manageable administrative units and increased the number of imperial leaders, first to two then to four. In a further effort to curb the threat of usurpation and create a more effective fighting force, the “senatorial amateurs”, who had often used their military commissions merely as an obligatory step in their political careers, were no longer required to fulfil their military duties. Sometime during Diocletian’s reign, serving in the army became hereditary, and the sons of soldiers and veterans were obligated to follow their fathers’ example. Though not strictly enforced, a law from 364 (Codex Theodosianus 15.15) forbade all Roman civilians the use of weapons.

Even though men from the upper classes continued to serve as officers and provide a vital reserve of civil and military leadership upon whom the government could call in time of crisis, many wealthy aristocrats chose instead to pursue comfortable lives in one of the Empire’s major cities or on their provincial estates. In the fourth century, “elite” citizens’ roles in the military decreased even further, and to meet its recruitment needs the army, at times, depended on the enrolment of foreign troops.

While it is notoriously difficult to determine with any certainty either the size of the Late Roman/Early Byzantine army or the percentage of Romans serving compared to non-Romans –particularly within the non-officer corps– the foreign component was never as high as some historians suggest. The majority of soldiers throughout the Byzantine period were “Roman”.

Estimates vary on the Late Roman and Early Byzantine armies’ exact numbers. Recent suggestions for approximately 500,000 as the total for the combined forces of the fourth-century army and 300,000 for the sixth-century Byzantine forces—including frontier troops, fleet, and the field army—seem reasonable (Whitby, “Emperors and Armies”, W. Treadgold, “Byzantium and Its Army”). Whatever the exact tallies, we are dealing with a significant number of eligible Romans serving in the military. The non-Roman element in the Eastern Roman army in positions of command held steady at less than a third during the fourth and the fifth centuries. After the fifth century, the foreign component of the Byzantine army declined to perhaps a fifth of the overall total. This shift was due to a combination of legislative efforts to monitor recruitment and financial reforms undertaken during the reign of Anastasius I, which made military service much more attractive. Indeed, conscription which had been prevalent in the fourth century, by the close of the fifth century had been abandoned.

The idea of the emperor as the embodiment of Roman martial prowess and idealised manliness in the Later Empire was ubiquitous. The relationship between masculinity, military virtues, and the emperors’ divine right to rule were never far beneath the surface of this imagery. By concentrating notions of heroic masculinity into the figure of the emperor, imperial ideology fashioned a portrait of the ideal emperor as a model of “true” manliness for all aspiring men to emulate. This paradigm reflected the increasing domination of state ideology by the imperial family and its direct supporters, and it helps to highlight the Later Roman emperors’ growing autocratic power. Though far from a move towards the “Oriental despotism” argued for in the older historiographical tradition, the reigns of Diocletian and his successors witnessed the growth of a more elaborate court ceremonial, along with an increased promotion of the emperor in literary and visual portrayals as an authority reliant predominantly upon divine assistance (at first that of pagan divinities, and then the Christian God) for his clout.

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