Me encanta este The fall of rome: and the end of civilization de Bryan Ward-Perkins. Habla de ...la caída del imperio romano de occidente, retornando a las tesis clásicas con fundamentos y evidencias renovadas. Léase, que Roma no pudo pagar un ejército capaz de mantener a raya a los invasivos pueblos germanos, y que la integración con éstos lejos estuvo de ser pacífica. Toda diplomacia entablada era condicionada por el pago de tributos y la concesión de tierras. Las invasiones produjeron una espiral caracterizada por la devastación de la tierra, la subsecuente imposibilidad de recolectar tributos de los romanos empobrecidos, y por consiguiente de mantener un ejército de frontera permanente, panorama este que, agravado, generaba divisiones internas e inestabilidad política -los emperadores duraban en promedio 2 años-, consumiendo más recursos, económicos y militares. Copio las páginas 67-75 en que, entre tantas otras tratadas en el libro, se ven 3 cuestiones:
-la política de appeasement ante los bárbaros, vista desde Roma y vista desde el interior.
-sobre si la caída de Roma era inevitable
-¿cómo es que el imperio de oriente sí sobrevivió? El que le guste y quiera más, ya sabe.
Selling out the Provincials
Because the military position of the imperial government in the fifth century was weak, and because the Germanic invaders could be appeased, the Romans on occasion made treaties with particular groups, formally granting them territory on which to settle in return for their alliance. Four such agreements are recorded in fifth-century Gaul: with the Visigoths, who were given part of Aquitaine, centred on the valley of the Garonne, in 419; with the Burgundians, settled on the upper Rhone near Lake Geneva in about 443; with a group of Alans, granted ¡¥empty lands¡¦ around Valence in about 440; and with another Alan group some two years later, settled in an unspecified part of northern Gaul. In recent scholarship these treaties have received a disproportionate amount of attention, and have been paraded as evidence of a new-found spirit of cooperation between incoming Germanic peoples and the Romans, both those at the centre of power and those in the provinces. But is it really likely that Roman provincials were cheered by the arrival on their doorsteps of large numbers of heavily armed barbarians under the command of their own king? To understand these treaties, we need to appreciate the circumstances of the time, and to distinguish between the needs and desires of the local provincials, who actually had to host the settlers, and those of a distant imperial government that made the arrangements. I doubt very much that the inhabitants of the Garonne valley in 419 were happy to have the Visigothic army settled amongst them; but the government in Italy, which was under considerable military and financial pressure, might well have agreed this settlement, as a temporary solution to a number of pressing problems. It bought an important alliance at a time when the imperial finances were in a parlous condition. At the same time it removed a roving and powerful army from the Mediterranean heartlands of the empire, converting it into a settled ally on the fringes of a reduced imperial core. Siting these allies in Aquitaine meant that they could be called upon to fight other invaders, in both Spain and Gaul. They could also help contain the revolt of the Bacaudae, which had recently erupted to the north, in the region of the Loire. It is even possible that the settlement of these Germanic troops was in part a punishment on the aristocracy of Aquitaine, for recent disloyalty to the emperor. Some or all of these considerations may have weighed with the imperial government when settling the Visigoths in Aquitaine, particularly if the arrangement was envisaged as only temporary until the Roman military position improved. The 419 settlement was almost certainly modelled on earlier arrangements made with Gothic armies in the Balkans, none of which had proved permanent. The interests of the centre when settling Germanic peoples, and those of the locals who had to live with the arrangements, certainly did not always coincide. The granting to some Alans of lands in northern Gaul in about 442, on the orders of the Roman general Aetius, was resisted in vain by at least some of the local inhabitants: The Alans, to whom lands in northern Gaul had been assigned by the patrician Aetius to be divided with the inhabitants, subdued by force of arms those who resisted, and, ejecting the owners, forcibly took possession of the land. But, from the point of view of Aetius and the imperial government, the same settlement offered several potential advantages. It settled one dangerous group of invaders away from southern Gaul (where Roman power and resources were concentrated); it provided at least the prospect of an available ally; and it cowed the inhabitants of northern Gaul, many of whom had recently been in open revolt against the empire.40 All this, as our text makes very clear, cost the locals a very great deal. But the cost to the central government was negligible or non-existent, since it is unlikely that this area of Gaul was any longer providing significant tax revenues or military levies for the emperor. If things went well (which they did not), the settlement of these Alans might even have been a small step along the path of reasserting imperial control in northern Gaul. The imperial government was entirely capable of selling its provincial subjects downriver, in the interests of short-term political and military gain. In 475, despite earlier heroic resistance to the Visigoths, Clermont was surrendered to them by the imperial government, in exchange for the more important towns of Arles and Marseille. Sidonius Apollinaris, bishop of Clermont and a leader of the resistance to the Visigoths, recorded his bitterness: "We have been enslaved, as the price of other people's security." Sidonius' opposition to this policy of appeasement proved correct within a year, Arles and Marseille had fallen back into Visigothic hands, this time definitively.
It may have been the intention of the imperial government that Roman rule would continue within the territories where Germanic peoples were settled by treaty. For instance, this appears to have been the hope in Aquitaine in 419 the imperial government planned to go on ruling the Garonne valley through the normal structures of provincial civilian administration; the newly settled Visigoths were, in theory, a friendly and obedient force settled on territory that was still Roman.42 But, whatever the intention, the introduction of large numbers of heavily armed and experienced fighters under the rule of their own king in reality led to the rapid transfer of effective power. In the 420's, Paulinus of Pella, a Roman aristocrat from near Bordeaux, tried to regain some lost estates within the area of Visigothic settlement. He did not seek redress from the imperial government in Italy, nor from a Roman official in Bordeaux, but attempted to exploit his sons¡¦ personal contacts with the newly settled Goths and with the Gothic king. At about the same time, the Goths were also showing signs of a decidedly independent foreign policy.
They aided the Roman state on several occasions in campaigns against Vandals and Alans in Spain; but in the 420s and 430s they launched a series of attacks on Arles, the seat of the Roman Prefect of the Gauls, with the apparent aim of extorting more land or resources from the empire. Already in the 420s Aquitaine was an independent Visigothic state, rather than a Roman province that happened to be hosting an allied army. Whatever the original intentions of the imperial government, effective power had been ceded to the Visigoths, and, as it happened, this situation was never reversed.
Was the Fall of the West Inevitable?
All empires have, sooner or later, come to an end; so it is a reasonable assumption that the Roman empire was destined at some point to fall or to disintegrate. But this does not mean that the fall of the West had to occur during the fifth century; indeed, at a number of points along the line, things might have gone differently, and the Roman position might have improved, rather than worsened. Bad luck, or bad judgement, played a very important part in what actually happened. For instance, had the emperor Valens won a stunning victory at Hadrianopolis in 376 (perhaps by waiting for the western reinforcements that were already on their way), the 'Gothic problem' might have been solved, and a firm example would have been set to other barbarians beyond the Danube and Rhine. Similarly, had Stilicho in 402 followed up victories in northern Italy over the Goths with their crushing defeat, rather than allowing them to retreat back into the Balkans, it is much less likely that another Germanic group in 405-6, and the Vandals, Alans, and Sueves in 405, would have taken their chances within the western empire. Even after things had started to go seriously wrong for the West in 407, the downhill slide was not necessarily irreversible. A few successes could have begun an improvement in imperial fortunes, as they had done in the second half of the third century. Indeed, in the period 411-21, under the generalship of Constantius and before his premature death, there was a partial revival of Roman fortunes, with the pacification of Italy and the reassertion of imperial control over much of southern Gaul and parts of Spain. It is true that the subsequent Vandal attack on Africa in 429, the eventual fall of Carthage in 439, and the beginning of Vandal sea-raiding were devastating blows that removed the western empire's last secure and lucrative tax base. But even these events were not necessarily fatal major expeditions against the Vandals were planned in 441 and 468 with considerable eastern assistance, as well as an independent western effort in 460. All three failed miserably -that of 468 ending in a disastrous defeat at sea, but, had any of them succeeded, the recovery of African resources, and the reassertion of imperial prestige, might have enabled the empire to extend its successes into other regions (as indeed eventually happened when Justinian crushingly defeated the Vandals in 533, and went on to reconquer Italy). If events had fallen out differently, it is even possible to envisage a resurgent western empire under a successful Germanic dynasty. Theoderic the Ostrogoth ruled Italy and adjacent parts of the Danubian provinces and Balkans from 493; from 511 he also effectively controlled the Visigothic kingdom in Spain and many of the former Visigothic territories in southern Gaul, where he reinstated the traditional Roman office of 'Praetorian Prefect for the Gauls' based in Arles. This looks like the beginnings of a revived western empire, under Germanic kings. As things turned out, all this was brought to an end by Justinian's invasion of Italy in 535. But, given better luck, later Ostrogothic kings might have been able to expand on this early success; and who knows? might have revived the imperial title in the West centuries before Charlemagne in 800.
How did the East Survive?
The eastern half of the Roman empire survived the Germanic and Hunnic attacks of this period, to flourish in the fifth and early sixth centuries; indeed it was only a thousand years later, with the Turkish capture of Constantinople in 1453, that it came to an end. No account of the fall of the western empire can be fully satisfactory if it does not discuss how the East managed to resist very similar external pressure. Here, I believe, it was primarily good fortune, rather than innately greater strength, that was decisive. Certainly any theory that the East was always much stronger than the West is demolished by the fact that it was the eastern field army that was defeated and massacred at Hadrianopolis in 378. This defeat provoked a profound and immediate eastern crisis: the Balkans were devastated; Constantinople itself was threatened (though saved by the presence of some Arab troops); and Gothic soldiers within the Roman army were slaughtered as a precautionary measure. The loss with all its equipment of perhaps two-thirds of the eastern field army took years of expenditure and effort to repair. Indeed, until the Goths under Alaric entered Italy in 401, it was the eastern emperors, not the western, who occasionally needed military help from the other half of the empire (in 377, 378, 381, 395, and 397). In dealing with the Goths, after their entry into the empire in 376, the eastern emperors alternated between a policy of alliance and one of aggression; but their ambitions after 380 seem to have been limited to containing the Gothic menace, with little hope of destroying it or driving it right out of imperial territory.
The eastern empire was also notably unsuccessful against a fifth-century menace in the Balkans, the Huns, who brought with them the additional problem that they were good at storming cities. The eastern armies never convincingly defeated the Huns in open battle, and suffered some notable disasters, such as the fall and sack of the great fortress town of Naissus in 441; seven years later, an envoy from Constantinople found the city still depopulated and had difficulty finding a place to camp, because the area around was littered with the bones of those killed in the disaster. In 447 the Hunnic leader Attila was able to raise the rate of annual tribute paid to him by the eastern emperor to 2100 pounds of gold (with a further 6000 pounds of gold owing as arrears), a sum sufficient to build almost six churches a year the size of S. Vitale in Ravenna. According to our source for this raise in tribute, which is admittedly far from dispassionate, Roman taxpayers were driven to suicide by the resultant misery. It was in fact a western army, under Aetius, though at this date primarily made up of independent Germanic allies, that eventually inflicted a significant defeat on Attila, at the battle of the Catalaunian Fields in 451.
The decisive factor that weighed in favour of the East was not the greater power of its armies and their consequent greater success in battle, but a single chance of geography¡Xa thin band of sea (the Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara, and Dardanelles), in places less than 700 metres wide, that separates Asia from Europe. During the fifth century, this natural line of defence was given considerable human support, through the construction of fortifications that turned Constantinople into the greatest fortress of the Roman world. Standing on the Bosphorus¡¦s European shore, Constantinople became a bulwark against enemies in the Balkans, defended as it was by formidable defensive works Long Walls, sealing off the whole peninsula that led to the straits and to the city, and then the extraordinary triple land-walls of Constantinople itself . But it was the sea, and Roman naval domination, that were decisive for the survival of the eastern empire¡Xinvaders from the north could have bypassed Constantinople, to wreak havoc on the interior of the empire, except that the straits and the Roman navy presented an insurmountable obstacle. It is not surprising that in 419 a law was issued in the East threatening death to 'those who have betrayed to the barbarians the art, previously unknown to them, of building ships'.
The straits protected the largest part of the eastern empire’s tax base. Although the Goths and Huns were repeatedly able to devastate the Balkans and Greece, even as far as the Peloponnese, the presence of the sea meant that they were never able to cross into Asia Minor. Consequently the richest provinces of the East, from Constantinople to the Nile, were untouched by the troubles of the late fourth and fifth centuries, except for one daring raid in 395 by a group of Huns, over the Caucasus, through Armenia, and into Syria. By far the largest part of the eastern empire¡¦s tax base (probably well over two-thirds) was safe, and, indeed, during the fifth century enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. The loss of territory and security in the Balkans was serious, and always threatened Constantinople, which during the fifth and sixth centuries became the fixed residence and capital of the eastern emperors. But it was not disastrous. Within an eastern empire safely supplied by the secure provinces of Asia Minor, the Levant, and Egypt, there could even be a debate as to whether it was better to fight the invaders from the North, or to buy them off with gold and Balkan lands.
War and devastation might of course have been carried into the heart of the eastern empire by other means, and two further factors were needed to guarantee the survival of the East: freedom from civil war, which we have explored above; and peace on the Persian frontier. At the end of the fourth, and throughout the fifth century, the empire was at peace with Persia, except for brief periods of hostility in 421-2 and 441-2. This was partly through good fortune (the Persians often had their own serious problems elsewhere), but also partly through good management. In marked contrast to the experience of the third and fourth centuries, both the Persians and the Romans during the fifth century seem to have realized that war was not always in their best interests, and that negotiated and peaceful settlements over differences were both possible and desirable. The Romans even contributed intermittently to the cost of defence of the Persian 'Caspian Gates', a vital route through the Caucasus, which it was in the interest of both empires to hold against invaders from the steppes.
Peace with Persia, at the end of the fourth and through most of the fifth centuries, was undoubtedly of great importance to the survival and wellbeing of the eastern Roman empire, since, as we have seen, it was impossible to fight successfully on more than one front at a time. Indeed, the Huns took advantage of the two occasions when the empire did get embroiled in Persian wars, in 421-2 and in 442-2 (when there was also a major expedition against Vandal Africa), and immediately launched successful campaigns in the Balkans
The history of the eastern empire might have been completely different if there was no band of sea separating modern Europe and Asia. In fact, if the Goths had been able to follow up their stunning victory at Hadrianopolis in 378 with campaigns and raids deep into Asia Minor and Syria, the East might well have fallen long before the West. Geography, with a little human help, saved it. A similar advantage operated also in the western empire; but unfortunately to lesser effect, and for a much shorter period of time. Thanks to the sea, and Roman naval domination, Africa and the Mediterranean islands (including the rich island of Sicily) were protected from the initial devastation. After sacking Rome in 410, the Goths tried to reach Sicily, but were forced to retreat after marching right to the toe of Italy, where they were unable to cross the Straits of Messina. Five years later, they marched to the foot of Spain, hoping to cross to North Africa, but at the Straits of Gibraltar they were again forced to turn back. Roman naval power in the West could hold these narrow strips of sea as effectively as the eastern navy held the Bosphorus and Dardanelles. Unfortunately, however, the West's safe haven (Africa, Sicily, and the other islands) was very much smaller than the equivalent secure provinces in the East, and will have produced a much smaller income: whereas over two-thirds of the East¡¦s tax base was safe, in the West the figure was probably under a third. Even more unfortunately, this too was lost in the years following the successful crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar by the Vandals in 429. By 439 they had conquered Carthage and the richest provinces of Africa, and soon afterwards they began a period of conquest and raiding by sea that severely disrupted Sicily and the other West Mediterranean islands. At one level¡Xbecause it seems to mock human endeavour (as well as historians' attempts to impose order on the past). I am very reluctant to believe that a chance geographical difference is central to explaining the remarkable situation at the end of the fifth century (undreamed of only 100 years earlier): an eastern empire, richer and more powerful than ever before; and a western empire that had entirely disappeared. However, the evidence is very strong that a thin band of water, reinforced by sea power and supported by peace on other fronts, was the eastern empire's greatest defence. Whereas, without this advantage, a series of invasions at the start of the fifth century plunged the West into a vicious spiral of devastation, loss of revenue, and bitter internecine strife --from which it never recovered.
Como siempre prometo y nunca cumplo, más adelante comentaré el libro en mi propia prosa.