Aulus Hectorius created an elite, mobile strike force based on Roman cavalry able to respond to threats anywhere in Britain. Britain is not a terribly large island, but this is the beginning of the Heroic Age. The very biggest armies are measured in the thousands, not the tens, much less the hundreds, of thousands. Small warbands are all that are needed to topple kingdoms or change the course of history.
Current Issue: Generations of War
Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, sowed the seeds of its destruction. He brought peace to Italy by moving the military to the provincial frontiers, exporting Italy’s violence to the edges of the empire. He underestimated the difficulty in disentangling military power and political power. The armies on the borders produced rival emperors — Britain, on the empire’s northern frontier, produced Constantine, Carausius, Magnus Maximus, and Constantine III.
The ethnic groups that lived just beyond those borders were small agrarian societies. Rome seemed almost magical to them, a place of seemingly infinite knowledge and prosperity. Romanitas became the greatest source of prestige. To become Roman was something just short of becoming a god. Rome’s wealth and power overwhelmed them, pulling them into a cycle of violence that created a warrior aristocracy dependent on Rome’s support for their continued existence.
Though each imperial claimant detested it in others, each did it themselves: they offered barbarians land, food, and money if they agreed to fight for them as foederati. They incited them to attack their rivals. The civilian society in Italy had no respect for these “barbarians,” and often refused to honor the agreements made by the emperors. In response, the warlords did all they could do — they attacked the empire to force them to live up to their agreement. That was what happened in 410, when Alaric sacked Rome.
In Britain, the cycle of civil war led to the Revolution, the rise of Constantine III, and the end of Roman rule in the island. The petty politics between feuding rulers led to the revolt of Saxon foederati. The war has raged, sometimes more and sometimes less, for over 40 years. Two generations have lived and died as the conflict has continued on.
Face: Aulus Hectorius
Impending Issue: Apocalypse
After Alaric sacked Rome in 410, Jerome wrote, “the whole world perished in one city.” While the pagans claim that the current state of affairs proves that the old gods have punished the empire for its infidelity, the Christians see the signs of the apocalypse in the fall of the empire. Since, according to Psalms 90:4, a day to the Lord is a 1,000 years, many holy men have said that creation will last for 6,000 years; then, on the millennial Sabbath, Christ will return to reign over the earth for 1,000 years. Many have calculated that date to 500 AD. As Augustine preached, “Behold, from Adam all the years have passed, and behold, the 6,000 years are completed, and now comes the Day of Judgment!”
A similarly apocalyptic fervor has gripped even more secular Romans. After the emperor Aurelian defeated the barbarians on Rome’s borders as well as his rivals in Gaul and Palmyra to reunite the empire and end the third century crisis, the Senate honored him with the title Restitutor Orbis, or “Restorer of the World.” Since that time, Romans have become accustomed to a cycle of crisis and recovery. With Rome now ruled by a Gothic king, they look for the next messianic ruler, one who will restore the empire.
In Britain, the Saxons who have lived in and defended the island for generations find themselves drawn into a new sort of total war. Warlords from the continent, who share language, laws, traditions, and religion with them, arrive to tell them not only that their Brythonic-speaking neighbors will never accept them as fellow countrymen, but that as the island’s chief defenders, they are the rightful heirs of Rome as rulers of Britain. With each insurrection, the Britons become more suspicious of their Germanic-speaking neighbors. They look at each Saxon village and wonder when they, too, will rise against them. Their priests say that the Saxons are a scourge sent from God to punish them for their sins. As their suspicion grows, it seems to confirm what the warlords say. Britons and Saxons seem pulled into a new sort of total war, one that draws a sharp line between them, and can only end when one has annihilated the other. But who really counts as Briton, and who as Saxon?
The world seems to be unraveling. Can the Day of Judgment be far behind? Or, might the end of Rome’s world herald the beginning of a new one?