2019. Sarus the Goth: from Imperial Commander to Warlord. Early Medieval Europe 27 (4)

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The genesis of the first western kingdoms in early medieval Europe has often been framed as the consequence of barbarian invasions bringing down the Roman empire in its western provinces. This article considers a considerably more corrosive factor in
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  Sarus the Goth: from imperialcommander to warlord  J EROEN  W.P. W  IJNENDAELE The genesis of the   󿬁  rst western kingdoms in early medieval Europe has oftenbeen framed as the consequence of barbarian invasions bringing down the Roman empire in its western provinces. This article considers a considerably more corrosive factor in the breakdown of western imperial structures, i.e.the warlordism of its own military personnel, via a case study of the Gothic aristocrat Sarus  ’    micro-politics of mobility. This article will show that Sarus is one of the earliest attested cases of men willing to opt out of imperial service and use violence to reintegrate themselves later. Re-examining the rapidly shifting political circumstances, it will demonstrate that Sarus was increasingly forced to move and take independent violent action, together with his men, in order to survive. This has major implications for a newly developing early medieval European phenomenon: the transformation of  regular imperial commanders into irregular warlords.  Warlordism and western Roman history  Inthesocialsciences,warlordsbecameacentralresearchdomainfollowing the collapse of the Chinese empire in the early twentieth century. 1 * An earlier version of this article was presented at Ghent University during a team meeting of the ERC  ‘ Memory of Empire ’  project, where I received helpful responses from my colleagues Peter Van Nuffelen and Maria Conterno. I would also like to express my gratitude to Julia Hillner for inviting me to the  ‘ Forced Movement in Late Antiquity  ’ conference in London, where I presented a similar paper and received constructive feedback from Ekaterina Nechaeva. This article has pro 󿬁 ted signi 󿬁 cantly from comments andcriticism by the anonymous peer-reviewers of   Early Medieval Europe  . The  󿬁 nal researchresults were made possible thanks to funding generously provided by the Research Councilof Flanders ( ‘ Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Vlaanderen ’  = FWO). Last but not least,some readers will be happy to hear Peter Heather  ’ s verdict on this paper, during the  ‘ ForcedMovement ’  conference, as containing   ‘ nothing he entirely disagreed with ’ . 1 For a summary of the modern debate and the merits of this concept for Roman and early medieval History, see J. Rich,  ‘  Warlords and the Roman Republic ’ , in T. Ñaco del Hoyoand F. López-Sánchez (eds),  War, Warlords and Interstate Relations in the Ancient  Mediterranean  (Leiden,  2018 ), pp.  429 – 51 , at pp.  266 – 9 ; J.W.P. Wijnendaele,  ‘  Warlordismand the Disintegration of the Western Roman Army  ’ , in J. Armstrong (ed.),  Circum Mare:Themes in Ancient Warfare   (Leiden,  2016 ), pp.  185 – 203 , at pp.  186 – 91 . Early Medieval Europe   2019  27  ( 4 )  469 – 493 ©  2019  John Wiley & Sons Ltd  The term was coined to denote imperial generals seizing power inperipheral provinces in the wake of the disintegrating centralgovernment, backed by military forces only loyal to them. Thephenomenon became notable again after the Cold War, especially incentral and eastern African countries labelled as  ‘ failed states ’ . Recentscholarship increasingly sees such agents as  ‘ non-state politico-military actors who have military legitimacy, but little or no political legitimacy  ’ . 2 In other words, their accountability is with the military class and their entrance into politics is the result of an evolutionary process within a state ’ s armed forces (usually, but not exclusively, the withering of centralized authority). While their power is often maintained via aneconomy of violence, such as the pillaging of local communities falling under their sway, this is not done purely for the sake of pro 󿬁 teering butrather in the pursuit of their political goals. Even though the term ‘  warlord ’  linguistically refers to a single person, one of the most usefulapproaches to the phenomenon is to look beyond warlords as individualsand focus instead on warlord-organizations, since it is the organizationover which an individual holds authority that enables his power base.This can be taken one step further by downplaying the territorial aspectemphasized in more traditional warlord de 󿬁 nitions. Another de 󿬁 nitionof a warlord, which this article adopts, is that of   ‘ the leader of an armedgroup that uses military power and economic exploitation to maintain 󿬁 efdoms which are autonomous and independent from the state andsociety  ’ . 3 Therefore, it is  󿬁 rst and foremost his military organization,rather than his control over a speci 󿬁 c territory, that forms the basis of a warlord ’ s authority. Using these approaches from modern con 󿬂 ictstudies sheds welcome light on the behaviour of a new type of westernRoman power-broker that emerged at the very end of the fourthcentury. 4  2  A. Giustozzi,  ‘ The Debate on Warlordism: The Importance of Military Legitimacy  ’ ,  Crisis States Discussion Papers   13  (London,  2005 ), p.  9 . 3  A. Vinci,  ‘“ Like Worms in the Entrails of a Man ” : A Conceptual Analysis of Warlords ’ ,  Review of African Political Economy   34 . 112  ( 2007 ), pp.  313 – 31 , at p.  328 . 4  For a survey of the western Roman empire ’ s general history, see E. Stein,  Histoire du bas-empire vol.  1  , de l  ’   état romain à l  ’   état byzantin,  284  –  476  , ed. and trans. J.-R. Palanque (Amsterdam, 1968 ); A. Demandt,  Geschichte der Spätantike. Das Römische Reich von Diocletian bis Justinian 284  –  565   n.Chr  . (Munich,  1998 ); P. Heather,  The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of  Rome and the Barbarians   (London,  2005 ); G. Halsall,  Barbarian Migrations and the RomanWest,  376  –  568   (Cambridge,  2007 ); H. Börm,  Westrom. Von Honorius bis Justinianus  (Stuttgart,  2013 ); A.D. Lee,  From Rome to Byzantium AD   363 –  565  : The Transformation of   Ancient Rome   (Edinburgh,  2013 ). For Gothic history in particular, see H. Wolfram,  History of  the Goths   (Berkeley,  1988 ); J.H.W.G. Liebeschüetz,  Barbarians and Bishops: Army, Church,and State in the Age of Arcadius and Chrysostom  (Oxford,  1990 ); P.J. Heather,  Goths and Romans  ,  AD   332  –  489   (Oxford,  1991 ); M. Kulikowski,  Rome  ’   s Gothic Wars: From the Third Century to Alaric   (Cambridge,  2007 ); C. Delaplace,  La   󿬁  n de l  ’   Empire romain d  ’   Occident:Rome et les Wisigoths de   382   à   531   (Rennes,  2015 ). 470  Jeroen W.P. Wijnendaele Early Medieval Europe   2019  27  ( 4 )©  2019  John Wiley & Sons Ltd  From a different angle, the deterioration of western imperial authority has been seen as resulting from the emergence of generalissimos, i.e.senior commanders (mostly   magistri militum ) who gradually assumedresponsibility for conducting governmental policies on behalf of a succession of child-emperors ( c  .  375 – 455 ). 5 This generalissimo concept,however, fails to account for an important aspect of western Romanmilitary leadership. The generalissimo ’ s lack of a constitutionally de 󿬁 nedposition created a critical fault line in military authority: what wouldprevent a subordinate of  󿬁 cer from professing outward loyalty to the state(i.e. the emperor and his dynasty) whilst simultaneously trying to bring down its generalissimo? 6 From Honorius ’  reign ( 393 – 423 ) onwards, lower-ranking western Roman commanders started withdrawing support fromtheir superiors, and organizing a new type of armed revolt that was notaimed at claiming the purple. 7 These incidents formed part of a distinctivepattern of   ‘  warlordism ’ . Compared to usurpation, challenging a generalissimo was ef  󿬁 cient and low-risk: it offered rebellious of  󿬁 cers a chance of claiming loyalty to the ruling regime even while undermining itssenior personnel. At worst, a challenger could protect himself from thecharge of treason; at best, he could become the new generalissimo himself.Consequently, generals and of  󿬁 cers effectively waged miniature civil warsagainst each other. These methods of opposition, and the acquisition of force through private means, ultimately contributed decisively to thebreakdown of the state ’ s monopoly on violence. It is in this context that weshould approach and understand Sarus ’  prominence in the history of theearly   󿬁 fth-century west. Origins Sarus  󿬁 rst appears in the sources at the time of Stilicho ’ s campaignagainst Radagaisus. From late  405  to summer   406 , the imperial heartof Italy was penetrated by this Gothic  rex  ’ s forces, which numbered inthe tens of thousands. 8 The situation was particularly grim considering  5 The term has gained prominence through J.M. O ’ Flynn,  Generalissimos of the Western RomanEmpire   (Edmonton,  1983 ). 6  J.W.P. Wijnendaele,  ‘ Generalissimos and Warlords in the Late Roman West ’ , in T. Ñaco delHoyo and F. López-Sánchez (eds),  War, Warlords and Interstate Relations in the Ancient  Mediterranean  (Leiden,  2018 ), pp.  429 – 51 , at p.  434 . 7 This process can already be seen in the actions of Gildo in  397 – 8 , see J.W.P. Wijnendaele,  ‘ TheCareer and  “ Revolt ”  of Gildo,  comes et magister utriusque militae per Africam ’ ,  Latomus   76 . 2 ( 2017 ), pp.  385 – 402 . 8  Addit. ad Prosp. Haun . (marg.),  s.a  .  405  = Copenhagen Continuation of Prosper: ed. T.Mommsen,  Chronica Minora   1  (Berlin,  1892 – 8 ), pp.  249 – 339 ; translation: S. Muhlberger, ‘ The Copenhagen Continuation of Prosper: A Translation ’ ,  Florilegium  6  ( 1984 ), pp.  71 – 95 .Oros. VII. 37 . 4  = Orosius: ed. C. Zangemeister,  Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri VII  (Leipzig,  1889 ); translation: A.T. Fear,  Orosius: Seven Books of History against the Pagans  (Liverpool,  2010 ). Zos. V. 26 . 3  = Zosimus: ed. F. Paschoud,  Zosime. Histoire Nouvelle   (Paris, 1971 – 89 ); translation: R.T. Ridley,  Zosimus: New History   (Canberra,  1982 ). 471 Sarus the Goth Early Medieval Europe   2019  27  ( 4 )©  2019  John Wiley & Sons Ltd  Radagaisus ’  󿬁 nal defeat was only brought about near Florence;an alarming sign that the traditional defensive system had brokendown. 9 The Christian historiographer Orosius credits Sarus and theHunnic leader Uldin with the victory over Radagaisus, but omits Silicho ’ srole in this because of a bias against him. 10  Jordanes and Marcellinus comes   copied Orosius ’  information, but raised the status of Sarus andUldin to that of   ‘ kings ’  ( reges  ). 11  A few modern scholars have repeated thisdescription of Sarus. 12 However, there is no proof that he ever held such a position. Kingship was a recent concept among the Goths previously settled in the Balkans. Alaric was the  󿬁 rst to use it, but only did so whenhe found himself without an imperial command, as he did from  400 – 5 and  408 – 10 . 13 Olympiodorus tells us that after Athaulf  ’ s murder in  415 ,the latter was succeeded as  rex   of the Goths in Spain by Sengeric (or Sigeric), a brother of Sarus. 14   Yet there is no proof Sarus himself ever borethis title. Indeed, while Olympiodorus describes Sarus in glowing terms,he never refers to him as a   ‘ king  ’ . 15 9 Paulin.  V. Amb  .  10 . 50  = Paulinus of Milan: ed. M. Pellegrino,  Paolino di Milano, Vita di S. Ambrogio  (Rome,  1961 ); translation: F.R. Hoare,  Lif   e  of Ambrose. The Western Fathers  (London,  1954 );  Addit. ad Prosp. Haun . (marg.),  s.a  .  406 . See now J.W.P. Wijnendaele, ‘ Stilicho, Radagaisus and the so-called  “ Battle of Faesulae ”  ( 406  CE ) ’ ,  Journal of Late  Antiquity   9 . 1  ( 2016 ), pp.  267 – 84  for a new revision of this war, but where I omitted thesigni 󿬁 cance of the location of Radagaisus ’  defeat. Late imperial Italy  ’ s defences werecentred on the Alps and Venetia, with a secondary layer around the great cities of thePo Valley, as most recently explored by M. Vannesse,  La défense de l  ’   Occident romain pendant l  ’    Antiquité tardive: recherches géostratégiques sur l  ’   Italie de   284   à   410   ap. J.-C  .(Brussels,  2010 ). The moment an invading army managed to break through this zone,the way to all of Italy lay open. For similar observations on the importance of Constantine I ’ s victories over Maxentius ’  generals in the Po Valley, and the comparativemarginal importance of the battle of the Milvius bridge, see M. Kulikowski,  ‘ TheFailure of Roman Arms ’ , in J. Lipps, C. Machado and P. vom Rummel (eds),  The Sack of Rome in  410   AD  : The Event, its Context and its Impact   (Wiesbaden,  2013 ), pp.  77 – 86 ,at p.  78 . 10 Oros.  7 . 37 . 12 . B. Croke,  The Chronicle of Marcellinus: A Translation and Commentary   (Sydney, 1995 ), pp.  68 – 9 ; A.T. Fear,  Orosius: Seven Books of History against the Pagans   (Liverpool,  2010 ),p.  398  (n.  445 ). 11 Marcell. Com.,  s.a  .  406  ( 3 ) = Marcellinus Comes: ed. and trans. B. Croke,  The Chronicle of   Marcellinus: A Translation and Commentary   (Sydney,  1995 ). Jord.  Rom .  321  = Jordanes, Romana  : ed. T. Mommsen,  Iordanis Romana et Getica   (Berlin,  1882 ), pp.  3 – 52 . 12 Demandt,  Geschichte der Spätantike  , p.  115 ; Halsall,  Barbarian Migrations  , p.  590 ; Delaplace,  La   󿬁  n de l  ’   Empire romain , p.  146 . 13 T.S. Burns,  Barbarians within the Gates of Rome: A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians, ca.  375  –  425   (Bloomington and Indianapolis,  1994 ), pp.  176 – 9 ; Halsall,  Barbarian Migrations  , pp.  202 – 6 ; Kulikowski,  Rome  ’   s Gothic Wars  , pp.  167 – 8 ,  170 – 1 . 14  Olympiod.  Fr  .  26  (see Appendix) = Olympiodorus, Fragments: ed. and trans. R.C.Blockley,  The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire  , vol.  2 (Liverpool,  1983 ). 15 Contra   J.O. Maenchen-Helfen,  The World of the Huns   (Berkeley,  1973 ), p.  196 ; R.C. Blockley, The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire  , vol.  2  (Liverpool,  1983 ), p. 217  (n.  57 ); Delaplace,  La   󿬁  n de l  ’   Empire romain , p.  146 . See Appendix. 472  Jeroen W.P. Wijnendaele Early Medieval Europe   2019  27  ( 4 )©  2019  John Wiley & Sons Ltd  Modern scholars often describe Sarus as a   ‘ (Visi)Gothic chieftain ’ , 16 but while he may have held such leadership among the Goths hepreviously hailed from (though this cannot be attested), from the timehe entered imperial service, his career became entirely Roman, as hadthose of so many other barbarian magnates before him. 17 Peter Heather notes several Gothic leaders, men such as Munderic, Modares, andFravitta, who, when pushed from Gothic society, managed to obtainhigh commands in the Roman army. 18 It is instructive that all of thesemen, including Sarus, remained in imperial service without ever trying to reclaim Gothic leadership. The safest thing to be said about Sarus ’ background, therefore, is that he was just a Gothic  optimas   or nobleman. 19  As I have recently demonstrated, he proved his loyalty and worth to the Romans during the  󿬁 nal stages of this campaign, 20 andthis best explains why Stilicho entrusted to him the command of another critical campaign in  407 . 16 Stein,  Bas-empire  , p.  250 ; A.H.M. Jones,  The Later Roman Empire,  284  –  602  : A Social,Economic, and Administrative Survey  , vol.  1  (Oxford,  1964 ), p.  186 ; Wolfram,  Goths  , p.  165 ;R.C. Blockley,  ‘ The Dynasty of Theodosius ’ , in A. Cameron and P. Garnsey (eds),  The Cambridge Ancient History vol.  13 . The Late Empire,  A . D  .  337  –  425   (Cambridge,  1998 ), pp.  111 – 37 , at p.  122 ; W. Goffart,  Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire  (Philadelphia,  2006 ), p.  371 ; Fear,  Orosius  , p.  398  (n.  445 ); M.A. McEvoy,  Child-Emperor Rule in the Late Roman West,  AD   367  –  455   (Oxford,  2013 ), p.  365 . 17 One may also note here H. Wolfram ’ s poetic description of Sarus during the Radagasiuscampaign as  ‘ a Roman Goth [who] defeated the Gothic enemy of Rome in the decisivebattle ’  ( The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples   (Berkeley,  1997 ), p.  126 ). 18  A.H.M. Jones, J.R. Martindale and J. Morris (eds),  The Prosopography of the Later RomanEmpire   [hereafter   PLRE  ] ,  3  vols (Cambridge,  1971 – 91 ), vol.  1 :  ‘ Flavius Fravitta  ’ , pp.  372 – 3 ; ‘ Modares ’ , p.  605 ;  ‘ Munderichus ’ , p.  610 . P.J. Heather,  ‘ The Creation of the Visigoths ’ , inP. Heather (ed.),  The Visigoths from the Migration Period to the Seventh Century: AnEthnographic Perspective   (San Marino,  1999 ), pp.  41 – 92 , at p.  63  (n.  29 ). See also the astutecomment of Delaplace,  La   󿬁  n de l  ’   Empire romain , p.  105 , who regards such men as homines novi  . 19 H. Elton,  Warfare in Roman Europe:  AD   350  –  425   (Oxford,  1996 ), p.  34 . E.A. Thompson,  ‘ The Visigoths from Fritigern to Euric ’ ,  Historia   12 . 1  ( 1963 ), pp.  105 – 26 , at p.  112 ; Jones,  Later Roman Empire  , p.  200 ; Wolfram,  Goths  , p.  152 ; M. Cesa,  ‘ Römisches Heer und barbarischeFöderaten: Bemerkungen zur weströmischen Politik in den Jahren  402 – 412 ’ ,  Bonner  Jahrbücher   193  ( 1993 ), pp.  203 – 17 , at p.  207  and Delaplace,  La   󿬁  n de l  ’   Empire romain , p.  146 believe that Sarus entered imperial service after Alaric ’ s retreat from Italy in  402 . Wolfram, Germanic Peoples  , p.  126  similarly speaks of   ‘ the Sarus Goths who had broken away from Alaric ’  without specifying a point in time. Claud.  Bell. Goth  .  95 – 6  = Claudian, Gothic War:ed. and trans. M. Platnauer,  Claudian , vol.  2  (Cambridge,  1922 ) relates how Alaric wasdeserted by some of his men during this retreat, and it is believed that Sarus may have beenamong these. However, if that was the case, and given Sarus ’  high status among the Goths, itseems surprising that Claudian does not mention this defection in  De Bello Gothico . On the whole, therefore, it seems safer to accept that Sarus  󿬁 rst entered into imperial service during the war against Radagaisus. 20  Wijnendaele,  ‘ Stilicho, Radagaisus ’ , pp.  274 – 5 . 473 Sarus the Goth Early Medieval Europe   2019  27  ( 4 )©  2019  John Wiley & Sons Ltd
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