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Tuckahoe Joe’s Blog of the Week: Procopius on Top.

April 23, 2019

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Periodically, I like to peruse a site called, “The Fold of the Bards,” (http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/index.html) a blog dedicated primarily to translations of ancient Celtic poetry. It sometimes also contains bits of prose commentary on historical events often written by those who actually lived during the time the events occurred or shortly thereafter. The following, by Procopius, contains a brief history of the departure of the Romans from Britain in the Fifth Century written about one hundred years after the events described. It is interesting, and fascinating to me at least, in that it departs from the often laconic and unsatisfying descriptions found in most history books — namely one form or another of the statement, “The Romans left Britain in 410AD after 400 years of occupation.” It leaves so many questions unanswered — Do you mean a few bureaucrats packed up their documents and left? Why did the population decline so radically immediately after departure? Did they just get up and leave? Why? Was there a sudden and vast die off? From what? Did they just suddenly choose to migrate? Why they were not under serious military attack? And so on.

Here Procopius informs us that in the fifth century AD during the vast turmoil that affected the Roman Empire throughout the reign of the last Emperor of the West, Honorius, armed bands, tribes and the like saw an opportunity for profit by taking over (plundering?)  resource-rich and valuable sections of the Empire. After all, the Roman Empire had been organized and always was a profit-making enterprise for the benefit first of the Romans themselves and then of those they chose to make citizens. They acted much like corporations do today focused on producing a profit. They were not prescient. They did not know or suspect the Empire was ending. Like today’s corporations, they saw short term profit and did not recognize, appreciate or care whether or not a great historical era was ending.

It seems reasonable that the “corporate” leaders of 5th Century Britain saw the apparently far more valuable lands of Brittany and Galicia free for the taking and assembled their bands and their people and set off from dismal fog-shrouded Britain to conquer them. Sort of like a modern company moving their head office, administration and production to someplace that would increase short-term returns to their management and investors.

On Britain
From Procopius’ De Bellis
c. 540ts CE

[Years 408-450] And the island of Britain revolted from the Romans, and the soldiers there chose as their king Constantinus, a man of no mean station. And he straightway gathered a fleet of ships and a formidable army and invaded both Spain and Gaul with a great force, thinking to enslave these countries. But Honorius was holding ships in readiness and waiting to see what would happen in Libya, in order that, if those sent by Attalus were repulsed, he might himself sail for Libya and keep some portion of his own kingdom, while if matters there should go against him, he might reach Theodosius and remain with him. For Arcadius had already died long before, and his son Theodosius, still a very young child, held the power of the East. But while Honorius was thus anxiously awaiting the outcome of these events and tossed amid the billows of uncertain fortune, it so chanced that some wonderful pieces of good fortune befell him. For God is accustomed to succour those who are neither clever nor able to devise anything of themselves, and to lend them assistance, if they be not wicked, when they are in the last extremity of despair ; such a thing, indeed, befell this emperor. For it was suddenly reported from Libya that the commanders of Attalus had been destroyed, and that a host of ships was at hand from Byzantium with a very great number of soldiers who had come to assist him, though he had not expected them, and that Alaric, having quarreled with Attalus, had stripped him of the emperor’s garb and was now keeping him under guard in the position of a private citizen. And afterwards Alaric died of disease, and the army of the Visigoths under the leadership of Adaulphus proceeded into Gaul, and Constantinus, defeated in [411 a.d. ] battle, died with his sons. However the Romans never succeeded in recovering Britain, but it remained from that time on under tyrants. And the Goths, after making the crossing of the Ister, at first occupied Pannonia, but afterwards, since the emperor gave them the right, they inhabited the country of Thrace. And after spending no great time there they conquered the West. But this will be told in the narrative concerning the Goths.

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