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Alternate History Vivat Stilicho!

Circle of Willis

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December 31, the Year of Our Lord 406

Respendial[1] grimaced as he surveyed the carnage before him. Thousands of corpses law strewn across the snowy riverbank, not one of them having made it across the frozen water before being felled by an arrow, spear or ax. All were stripped of their armor and arms, if not their clothes, and more than a few were missing their heads as well. The bloody outlines from which other bodies had clearly been moved must have belonged to the Frankish enemies who died felling them, the Alan surmised. He should have guessed something like this had happened from the fell wind that had been blowing in his face the entire way here. Truly, a disaster for his Vandal allies – and yet the loss of so many warriors was not, in his estimation, as grave a loss as those of the three men whose heads decorated the three tall stakes their enemies had erected at the very edge of the Rhine[2].

The Alan king knew well who the head on the tallest stake belonged to: Godigisel, the Hasding king of the Vandals whom he had considered a valuable ally in the war with the Romans. Not so valuable after all, clearly. Why did Tabiti[3] see fit to curse me with such reckless allies? Fool, you should have waited for me instead of running into the teeth of their defenses alone, Respendial thought grimly. He didn’t look so noble now, his shaggy straw hair matted with dried blood and eyes reduced to hollows after the birds had been at them. Still, no matter how imbecilic he thought Godegisel had been for rushing into battle without him, the man had still been an ally and Respendial could not fault his courage; so out of respect, the Alan removed his helm and bowed his head for just a moment, allowing his tawny curls to whip about freely in the winter winds.

Next Respendial scrutinized the heads flanking Godigisel’s. To his right rested the head of his son and heir, the gallant Gunderic who revered his One God so greatly in life[4], and to his left that of a younger man Respendial struggled to recognize at first. Ah yes, it came to him as he narrowed his eyes to focus on the latter’s features; one of Godigisel’s sons by a slave concubine. Gaiseric[5]. He remembered now, in life that head had belonged to a young and overeager warrior who insisted on attending their war council despite his low birth and who his father favored enough to allow to sit at his left hand. Not that that favor seemed to have done him any more good than his brother’s faith in the One God.

“My…my king,” One Alan nobleman to his side finally uttered as Respendial replaced his helmet, his nervous voice breaking the grim silence. Despite the splendid scale armor he was dressed in, his apparent fear ensured his stature would be less than impressive. “It is obvious that our allies have been dealt a crushing defeat. Still, our scouts report that the army which did this have retired to their camp a ways to the west, far enough from this riverbank that we will not have to fight them on the ice if we pursue. Shall – shall we still cross as the sun sets?”

“Nay,” Respendial huffed, shaking his head. To his mute annoyance, the nobleman asking him this question seemed visibly relieved at his decision. “I will not fight them without mighty allies of my own. Take down the heads of my friend Godegisel and his sons, and see to it that he and all his warriors are put to rest honorably. Search for any surviving stragglers and their families as well, those who wish to join us will find themselves welcome. Then we will turn back.”

“But, father!” A younger noble cried out on his other side, clearly disappointed in the choice the king had made unlike the lily-livered nobleman across from him. “Surely our foes are themselves exhausted and bloodied, thanks to the valiant efforts of our fallen friends. If we cross now, we might be able to take them by surprise and avenge the Vandals – “

“And die at the hands of whatever reinforcements they might have at hand, as surely as Godegisel and his kin did at their own hands?” Respendial shot back, cutting off the over-bold words of his son Attaces[6]. “I say once again, nay. I will not needlessly risk our own lives; any enemy powerful enough to defeat the Vandals on their own can do the same to us, now that we are alone. We will cross and search for more fertile pastures past this accursed river only when I have found a replacement for Godegisel and his host.”

There was still time, the Alan ruler decided as he turned his steed around. He could cross some other year, when the risk of defeat and annihilation was less great. Surely the ravening demons from the far east who drove them from their native Sarmatia were still many years away from where they stood now, such had been the haste of their flight from their homeland. Equally surely, one of these days the Romans would become less watchful on this particular frontier or another, and then he would show them why they should fear the Alans vastly more than the Vandals they’d dealt with today. For now though, he would have to reach out to those Suebi tribes behind him and sacrifice generously to appease the gods, if he was to have any better luck next time.

---------------------------------------------

Some 600 miles to the southeast, another Vandal – by blood at least, if not quite in manner – sat in his tent outside Salona and intently pored over a map, completely unaware of the massive bullet ballista bolt he and the empire he served had just dodged. The Rhenish frontier was the furthest thing from Flavius Stilicho’s mind that day; as far as the magister militum[7] knew, he had left the defense of the Western Roman Empire’s northernmost continental border in the capable hands of Arigius, Comes Treverorum and redeemed son of his old enemy Arbogast[8], and his Frankish foederati[9]. Last he’d heard a month prior, Arigius was reporting that the Vandals were massing on the far bank of the Rhine but that he was confident he had the strength to repel whatever incursion they dared make, and with greater concerns on his mind Stilicho had been quite happy to just take his lieutenant’s word for it.

No, on this cold last day of the year, the Romano-Vandalic commander was busy planning out his offensive against the Eastern Roman Empire with his generals and pondering the events that had led him to this point as he traced his fingers over the map and mentally calculated his next moves. The court of Constantinople had betrayed him again and again, and so he had no love for them – indeed just the thought of their many stabs-in-the back made him taste bile and narrow his eyes in cold anger. First that vain and treacherous Rufinus had dared spit on their master Theodosius’ will, denying him the regency over the Eastern Emperor Arcadius[10] who was then promptly corrupted into (even more of) a worthless sot by the decadent ways of the Orient, and they’d even kept him from crushing the vile Goth warlord Gainas when he had the latter dead to rights. Gainas appropriately rewarded Rufinus with a sword in the back, but that worm had been succeeded by an even greedier and more insidious eunuch, Eutropius, who was all painted smiles as he further undermined Stilicho and even incited the Moor Gildo to rise against him.

And now this prefect Anthemius[11] came with honeyed words, claiming to want to reconcile the two Augusti and their courts? Fat chance, Stilicho would not be taken for a fool a third time. He would march east and at minimum tear the half of the Praetorian prefecture of Illyrium assigned to Constantinople away from Arcadius’ slack grip, at most cast this Anthemius into the grave and finally assert his right to steward the other half of the Roman Empire as Theodosius had dictated he should. Of course Arcadius was by now too old, and still too sane, to have a regent; but Stilicho could make do with being named the East’s magister militum, as he already was in the West[12]. Honorius, Arcadius’ younger brother and the Western Emperor under his power, had been quite content to let Stilicho do all the work of defending his half of the empire; he had little reason to suspect Arcadius would be any less pliant once left with no other choice, if such a man could be so easily bossed around by eunuchs and his late wife Eudoxia.

“We have strength enough to strike all across the border with the East,” Stilicho decided out loud, beginning to draw lines from legionary bases in Illyria to cities in the Moesian and Dacian provinces with his finger. “I will cross the Savus[13] and assail Singidunum myself with Eucherius[14] at my right hand. Alaric[15], you and your warriors are to strike ahead of us and lay siege to Viminacium. Sarus[16], I trust you can navigate the mountains to the south and take Diocleia. Once we have overcome the fortress-cities on the border, we will march to unite our armies around Naissus; with any luck Anthemius, not being a eunuch like Eutropius as far as I know, will face us on the field of battle like a man, and so spare us the need to devastate the rest of the Peninsula of Haemus[17] to bring him to heel.” The general tapped a finger on the lost province of Dacia Traiana[18], now inhabited by the Ostrogoths and subjugated by the Huns. “I will also call upon my friend Uldin[19] to harry Thrace, forcing Anthemius to choose between dividing his forces or allowing the Huns to ravage as far as those walls he’s building around Constantinople.”

“Seems a rather cautious strategy to me, great general.” Came Alaric’s gravelly voice, the Latin marred by his thick Germanic accent. “While you and Sarus reduce the border fortresses, your fleet could simply sail around the Peloponnese and deliver me to Attica. You fear this Anthemius may be reluctant to fight us, and that there’s a chance he might cower behind those walls he’s building? I’ll leave him no choice by taking Athens. Better still, he’ll have to divide his forces to deal with us on separate ends of the prefecture, and so we’ll be able to crush him more easily.” The russet-haired Gothic king crossed his arms and looked Stilicho in the eye, his gray locking with his overlord’s amber ones. Behind him his student, a half-Goth teenager who Stilicho remembered was named Aetius[20], watched both men like a hawk.

“That course is too reckless, Alaric.” Stilicho shook his head without breaking eye contact. “You are assuming too little of Anthemius. If he saw us divide our forces over such a distance, and was not as great a fool as Rufinus and Eutropius before him, he would take the full might of the Orient and march against our separate armies before we can consolidate. Then it will be us who will be defeated in detail.” With his other hand, he began tracing lines from Italy’s ports to those of the Eastern Empire. In truth, he wasn’t just thinking about the strategic risks of Alaric’s suggestion, but also concerned that the Visigothic king might rise against him yet again if left to his own devices. Flaxen-haired Sarus, as physically imposing and magnificently bearded as the other Goth standing across from him, smirked at the sight of Stilicho beginning to shoot his rival down, while Alaric’s annoyance began to show on his own face.

“Nay, the fleet will keep Anthemius’ ships bottled up in their harbors, but I will not have them ferry your Goths into Attica or beyond. Instead, we will strictly march overland, and closely enough that Anthemius will never get a chance to pick our armies off one by one. If anything, it should be him who must choose whether to divide his forces or concentrate against either us or Uldin. Any objections?” None came. Alaric huffed and puffed but said nothing, and young Eucherius was paying close attention in silence just like the younger Aetius, intent on learning strategy at his father’s table. That was a good sign, as far as Stilicho was concerned, as good as the lad’s appearance: his tall stature, blond curls and similarly golden eyes not only highlighted his Vandal blood, leaving little trace of his dark-haired and dark-eyed mother Serena[21] in him other than his total lack of a Germanic accent, but also rendered him the spitting image of his father back in the latter’s younger days. Though Stilicho knew he would feel prouder still when, and if, Eucherius proved himself in battle; and he was also aware, from his own experience, that no amount of studying and training at arms could completely prepare a man for his first personal taste of combat.

“It is decided, then!” Stilicho declared, rising from his chair. “Rest well this winter, friends. Once the weather permits it, we will march to chasten the Eastern snakes who have betrayed and stolen from us again and again. With God as my witness, I declare that I will not rest again until we have retaken the half of Illyricum which rightly belongs to us and – better still – that Arcadius recognizes the authority which I was vested with by his father. Dismissed!”


Flavius Stilicho, illustrated based on his family diptych

====================================================================================

[1] Respendial was the king of the Alans who crossed the Rhine in 406.

[2] This is the POD: historically the Hasdingi Vandals were nearly defeated by Roman-allied Franks before they could cross the Rhine in the winter of 406, with King Godigisel being among their casualties, but were saved at the last minute by Respendial’s Alans. Here Respendial arrived too late, by which point the Vandals have been utterly shattered and Godigisel’s eldest sons have joined him in death.

[3] A prominent Scythian goddess also worshiped by the Alans.

[4] Historically, the devoutly Arian Gunderic was Godigisel’s initial successor and king of the Vandals until 428, when he reportedly died while trying to convert a Chalcedonian church in Spain.

[5] Gunderic’s OTL successor, who brought the Vandals to Africa and established a kingdom there with both ruthless intrigue and warfare against the Romans and Moors.

[6] Respendial’s successor as King of the Alans, who was historically defeated and killed by the Visigoths in 418. Afterward, the remainder of his people joined the Vandals and migrated to Africa with them.

[7] Commander-in-chief of the Late Roman army, second only to the Emperor himself and increasingly often the true power behind the latter.

[8] This Arigius was indeed a son of the very same Arbogast who fought against Stilicho and Theodosius the Great at the Frigidus in 394, and father to another Arbogast who would govern Trier as its Roman count into the 470s. Ironically his family stubbornly held to the Church the first Arbogast had undermined, among other Roman traditions, for which they were praised by Bishop Sidonius Apollinaris.

[9] A term for barbarian troops in Roman service.

[10] When Emperor Theodosius the Great died in 395, the Roman Empire was split in two once more between his underage sons: the elder Arcadius inherited the East and ruled from Constantinople, while the younger Honorius inherited the West and ruled from Ravenna. It is doubtful that anyone at the time thought the split would be permanent, considering Theodosius had just reunited the empire the year before. Stilicho was ostensibly named their guardian and regent in his will (unambiguously in Honorius’ case, he may have made up his claim to the regency over Arcadius), but only succeeded in asserting this claim over Honorius – Rufinus frustrated his efforts to do the same with Arcadius.

[11] Historically, Anthemius (as the Praetorian Prefect) became the most important person at the Eastern Roman court after Eutropius’ downfall and the death of Empress Aelia Eudoxia. He oversaw the completion of Constantinople’s famous Theodosian Walls. His wishes to reconcile with the Western Roman court seem to have been genuine, but both ITL and IOTL, his predecessors have simply built up too much bad blood for Stilicho to be willing to simply take him at his word & forgive the Orient.

[12] At the time of the barbarians’ Crossing of the Rhine and the dominoes of disaster it unleashed, Stilicho really was planning a campaign against the Eastern Roman Empire to take the half of the Praetorian Prefecture of Illyricum (stretching from what we now know as Serbia to the Peloponnese) which had been assigned to them, as it was a valuable recruiting ground and would also be a place where he could settle Alaric’s Goths. With no crossing to distract him, he can follow through on his plans.

[13] The Sava River in modern-day Serbia.

[14] Eucherius was Stilicho’s only son, who rose to the esteem of a vir clarissimus (the third comital rank in the late imperial period) under his wing. Historically, he was executed soon after his father’s death, at which time he was a young man no older than 20.

[15] Alaric was the king of the Visigoths who infamously sacked Rome in 410, though at present he is but a subdued vassal of the Western Roman Empire (having been beaten back into line several times by Stilicho before 406) and leader of their Gothic foederati.

[16] Sarus was another Gothic commander in Stilicho’s service. He was quite loyal to Rome, but highly hostile to Alaric – indeed, him attacking Alaric out of the blue (probably without orders) directly caused the final breakdown in negotiations between Alaric & Honorius in 410, which in turn immediately led to the former sacking Rome that year.

[17] An old name for the Balkans.

[18] What is now southwestern Romania and the Banat.

[19] An early Hunnic king, known to have ruled several decades before the infamous Attila (who incidentally is already alive, though but a child, in 407). He was indeed an ally of Stilicho’s and aided him in crushing Radagaisus, a Gothic warlord who threatened Italy in mid-406.

[20] None other than the future Flavius Aetius, who at this point is still far from being a ‘terror to the barbarians’. He’s around fifteen years old in this scene, and since 405 he has served as a prominent hostage in the court of Alaric.

[21] Serena was the niece of Theodosius the Great, who arranged her marriage to Stilicho in 384, and cousin to Emperors Arcadius & Honorius. With Stilicho she had three children: Maria, Thermantia (both of whom were wed to Honorius) and Eucherius. Historically she too was killed not long after the deaths of her husband and son, with the connivance of Honorius’ sister Galla Placidia (who Serena cared for after the death of their mother Justina) no less.
 
Last edited:
407 AD: Stilicho vs. the East

Circle of Willis

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The winter of 406-407 passed by quietly for both halves of the Roman Empire, much to their relief. Though the Rhine had iced over thanks to the unusually cold weather, the Western Empire’s limitanei[1] and Frankish foederati put a decisive stop to the Germanic Vandals’ attempt to cross the frozen river and intimidated their Alan allies into turning back, preventing what could easily have spiraled into an uncontrollable barbarian invasion over the Rhenish frontier. Arigius son of Arbogast, the border general who commanded said Frankish troops, received magister militum Flavius Stilicho’s congratulations at the end of February; it is unlikely that either man knew then, or ever would know, of the full magnitude of the disaster the former had just averted.

Far to the south – with no barbaric invasion or consequent internal crises to attend to – Stilicho browbeat his nominal superior, the Emperor Honorius into approving his campaign against the East and promptly set it in motion. Just as planned, 20,000 Western Roman troops (mostly the comitatenses[2] of the western Illyrian provinces and Stilicho’s bucellarii corps[3]) crossed the Sava in March, battling rain and mud to lay siege to Singidunum[4] under his personal direction while another 10,000 Visigoths under King Alaric crossed further to the east to blockade Viminacium[5]. Alaric’s rival Sarus led another 10,000 through the Dinaric Alps to make their way toward Dioclea[6], harrying western Moesia as they went. Anthemius, Praetorian Prefect of the East and the latest power behind the weak Emperor Arcadius, had purposely not reinforced the border fortresses over the last autumn & winter, thinking it unwise to antagonize Stilicho even further while trying to reach out to the latter; as it turned out, the truly foolish idea was thinking Stilicho was still interested in reconciling with the East at all after his predecessors had spent practically every waking moment spitting at him.

All of Stilicho’s targets fell before the end of spring, Singidunum and Dioclea surrendering in a hurry while Viminacium held out until Stilicho’s own army joined Alaric’s. Uldin too had answered Stilicho’s summons and joined the fight, leading thousands of swift Hunnic warriors in an incursion into Thrace and placing Tomis under siege while pillaging the countryside and threatening Marcianopolis. With the border broken through, the Western Romans marched to unite around Naissus even as Anthemius was frantically gathering his own legions for a counterattack. In an attempt to stop Stilicho from consolidating his forces, the Prefect sent his son-in-law Procopius[7] with some 7,000 cavalry and Gothic foederati to attack the host of Sarus, who was the first to arrive at Naissus and consequently laid siege to it when the governor refused to open his gates. In this Procopius succeeded, driving Sarus to retreat between his own army and the sallying garrison; but when he scouted out the combined forces of Alaric and Stilicho which were fast descending from the north, he realized he had no chance on his own against such a massive army and fell back to Thessalonica.

As said army arrived to rendezvous with the scattered remnants of Sarus’ force, Naissus finally surrendered. While Sarus himself was still angered by his embarrassing defeat and sought permission to sack the city, Stilicho accepted the governor’s submission and forbade him from harming Naissus or its inhabitants, much to the amusement of his archenemy Alaric. The consolidated Western Roman host of about 35,000 (the rest having either been left as garrisons in the conquered Eastern Roman cities or lost in battle or from attrition) departed from Naissus at the end of April, intent on meeting the East’s own forces on the battlefield between Naissus and Thessalonica.

To fend off Stilicho, Anthemius had amassed around Thessalonica an army of some 20,000 Eastern legionaries – a mix of his own bucellarii, comital troops and limitanei pulled from the border with the lost province of Dacia Traiana – backed by another 12,000 barbarian foederati of his own, mostly Ostrogoths and Alans. He also engaged in secret negotiations with Uldin, buying him off with a hefty amount of gold; little trouble to the East’s larger coffers. With the Huns lifting their siege of Tomis and going home, he would be free to focus fully on Stilicho. Neither he nor his Western counterpart wanted a drawn-out war of attrition and sieges, which they knew would severely damage the Illyric prefecture they were fighting over, so both sides came to an unspoken agreement of sorts to fight their problems out in pitched battle – the more decisive, the better, so as to bring a quick end to this latest round of fratricidal warfare between the two Romes.

The first opportunity came in the early summer, as Stilicho advanced directly down the Via Militaris[8] toward Serdica[9]. Anthemius formed his army up outside the city and waited for Stilicho to come, which he did on May 1. The battle which followed was neither decisive nor excessively sanguinary; Stilicho executed an orderly withdrawal after finding that Anthemius’ forces were pressuring his flanks with sufficient severity to break through in a few more hours, and his son Eucherius distinguished himself in the rearguard action. Still, it was a victory for Anthemius and the Eastern Empire, who held the field at the end of the day and had stopped Stilicho’s advance down the most obvious road to Constantinople.

Stilicho would not be deterred, however. He next marched his army off-road and through a forested gap in the mountains to his south, catching Anthemius (who expected him to try again along the Via Militaris) off-guard. The two armies would meet again a few months later around the banks of the river Strymon[10]; Anthemius had marched to the town of Pautalia[11] where he’d set up his field headquarters, and his scouts reported that Stilicho’s forces were marching downriver and straight at him. For his part, Stilicho’s own scouts had reported Anthemius’ presence, and he was just as happy to give battle there & then as Anthemius was. Both sides began to draw up in battle formations a few miles north of Pautalia, and came to blows as noon approached on September 3.

The resulting Battle of the Strymon was hard-fought, as could be expected from such massive armies helmed by competent commanders. Stilicho consolidated the bulk of his troops in his center with his best and fiercest fighters organized along the front of his lines, leaving Alaric with the Gothic cavalry to guard his right and trusting that the Strymon would help Sarus (who had the smallest contingent out of the Western Roman army) protect his left. Meanwhile, Anthemius had spread out his marginally smaller army, extending their lines with the hope of enveloping Stilicho’s own just as he almost had at Serdica. This time, with Stilicho deep in the Strymon’s river valley, there would be no retreat if he were to be defeated again. As Stilicho’s army advanced directly alongside the Strymon, Anthemius was forced to detach elements of his army and have them cross over the river further south to get them into position for a flanking attack on his rival’s left wing.

After several hours of combat, it became apparent that Anthemius had miscalculated in his deployments. Led by Stilicho himself and Eucherius, the larger Western Roman center had – after the usual initial exchange of plumbata[12] and other missiles – barreled through his own even as Procopius led his left wing to victory over Alaric’s Goths, and over on the Western Roman left Sarus held back Anthemius’ flanking maneuver on the fords of the Strymon, just as his boss had hoped. Anthemius himself was forced to retreat as Stilicho’s infantry smashed through his center lines, and Procopius soon followed to avoid being rolled up by the main body of the Western army or Alaric’s reforming warriors, leaving the Eastern footmen at the mercy of Stilicho and his captains. About 5,000 men died on both sides before the Orient’s forces broke, but another 10,000 Eastern Romans were taken prisoner by the victorious Occident. Worse still for Anthemius, Stilicho pursued him closely, marching into Pautalia before the sun set on that day and constantly preventing him from regrouping as he fell back to the southeast.


Anthemius commands his men to hold firm as Eucherius & the Western Romans charge home

Although Anthemius eventually did make it safely back to Amphipolis, his army did not. Many of his troops, particularly the barbarians, had dispersed into the nearby mountains or fell prey to Stilicho’s relentless pursuit. A few weeks after the battle, an attempt to delay the Western Roman offensive organized by Procopius outside Scaptopara[13] was frustrated by lead elements of the Western army under Eucherius’ direction: the Western Romans fell upon their weary and bloodied Eastern cousins with great haste, preventing them from catching anything resembling a break and sending them fleeing again after a short, sharp clash. Procopius was captured and presented, unbound but clearly a prisoner, to Stilicho by his ecstatic son. As days turned to weeks and Anthemius found himself with well below half the army he used to have, he found he had no choice but to sue for peace and try to argue for the most lenient terms he could get away with.

In that regard, the Eastern Prefect found a bit of luck. Stilicho decided not to press for mastery over the East after all, having driven his own army to crippling exhaustion with the march through the mountains and then by pursuing Anthemius’ with such unrelenting ferocity. Instead he settled for his minimal war aims: the transfer of Constantinople’s half of the Prefecture of Illyricum, from Singidunum to Thessalonica to Athens, as well as a handsome indemnity which would double as a ransom for Procopius and the other Eastern Roman prisoners. Per the terms of this ‘Peace of Amphipolis’, Stilicho’s Visigoth allies were also to be settled in the new Western Roman gains, with Alaric’s people being granted land in the Diocese of Dacia which constituted its northern half and Sarus’ followers receiving territories in the southern Diocese of Macedonia. Furthermore, Alaric was restored to his previous dignity of magister militum per Illyricum, or supreme regional commander of Roman forces in the Illyric prefecture, which he had briefly held under the Eastern Empire’s authority from 395 to 399.

While Anthemius and Procopius returned to Constantinople in defeat, expecting to face the sort of music only a furious imperial court could play, Stilicho sent a missive to Ravenna to inform Honorius of his victory and moved to consolidate the Western Roman Empire’s authority over eastern Illyricum. As the falling leaves of autumn were replaced by the snows of winter, Stilicho could finally rest…or so he thought. No sooner had he stretched his legs and warmed his hands by a nice fire did dire news come from Ravenna. Back west, a minister named Olympius – whose grasping ambition and avarice knew no limit, and who had long felt bitterly jealous at the rise of the half-barbarian Stilicho – had successfully turned Honorius against the magister militum, having spent the past months whispering that Stilicho sought to carve out a kingdom for himself in Illyricum and depose Honorius even as Stilicho himself was fighting for control of the prefecture[14]. That Honorius’ wife Maria, Stilicho’s eldest daughter, had passed away from illness in autumn further contributed to the breakdown of relations between the two, whether Stilicho knew it or not.

At Olympius’ advice and with the support of the Senate (which similarly regarded Stilicho with jealousy, suspicion or both), Honorius sacked Stilicho from his office; declared him hostis publicus or an enemy-of-the-people and put a bounty on his head; and incited the Western Roman armies in the peninsula to mutiny against their pro-Stilicho officers, murdering those whose loyalty to Honorius and only Honorius was in doubt. These soldiers then took not just his wife and other daughter Thermantia hostage but also the families of the Gothic foederati in Western Roman service who happened to be living in Italy, regardless of whether their fathers, husbands and brothers were in Stilicho’s army or serving elsewhere – including Italy itself. This unsurprisingly drove those Gothic warriors who hadn’t been killed in their sleep or over supper to rebellion, flooding the Italian countryside with thousands of heavily armed and professionally trained brigands hellbent on protecting or recovering their families and to whom all non-Goths were potential enemies; to suppress these numerous and deadly new rebels, Olympius had to scatter his own loyal forces throughout the peninsula. In Africa Stilicho’s brother-in-law, Bathanarius, found himself stripped of legal authority and under attack by a rival named Heraclianus, who Honorius had named the new Comes Africae at Olympius’ suggestion[15]. The Emperor and his new, twisted right hand further demanded Stilicho surrender himself on charges of conspiring against the former or else risk the execution of all the aforementioned hostages.

In an ill omen for what potentially awaited Stilicho, it was around this time that the disgraced Anthemius was also arrested and put to death by rival power-players in the Eastern Roman court. Procopius survived, but only in prison. The urban prefect of Constantinople, Aemilian[16], seized power and was officially designated Anthemius’ successor by the Emperor Arcadius, who by now was in ailing health and never had a particularly strong constitution in the first place. Fortunately for the East he had a clear heir in his six-year-old son Theodosius, but long regencies over immature monarchs were unlikely to make for peaceful and stable times if Arcadius’ own and his brother Honorius’ early years were any indicator, especially not so soon after a defeat as stinging as the one Stilicho just dealt to Anthemius.

Over in Thessalonica, Eucherius and the generals of Stilicho’s army were all in an uproar at the news. The two Visigoth leaders, as well as the captains of the Gothic veterans more thoroughly integrated into Stilicho’s army, demanded he march west immediately to free their captive kin. Eucherius sought to do the same to free his mother and sister from Olympius’ clutches. But there were problems with such a course of action: first and worst, Stilicho had given the Goths leave to settle their newly-granted homeland immediately after concluding the Peace of Amphipolis, which meant that thousands of his foederati had already dispersed – it would take a long while to call them back to Alaric’s and Sarus’ side, if many of them even cared to do so just after being demobilized. Alaric himself, though certainly eager to rebuild his esteem among the Visigoths by liberating their families from Olympius after years of defeat and subjugation under Stilicho, had already left to set up his court in Serdica, and so hadn’t even gotten the news until a week and a half after Stilicho had. Second, Stilicho himself was reluctant to do battle with his mentor’s son, and genuinely concerned that Honorius – feeble as he was – might actually follow through on his, or rather Olympius’, threat to kill the hostages.

Thus did Stilicho debate sailing to Rome alone to make his case personally to Honorius, nevermind that Olympius was already busy tearing his powerbase out from under his feet: as Eucherius bluntly pointed out, without his army he would most likely be walking into his own execution. But then came more news that the court in Ravenna had recalled an old friend of his – an almost equally formidable general known as Constantius of Moesia[17] – from over the Alps to reinforce the defense of Italy against any potential attack from Illyricum. And then Uldin of the Huns sent him messengers bearing gifts and an apology for taking Anthemius’ bribe, asserting that he simply couldn’t resist the amount of gold the latter was dangling before him but that he remained the Romano-Vandal’s ‘stalwart ally’ and would be willing to help him again if needed. With a new plan to secure victory as rapidly as, and hopefully far less bloodily than, he had done over Anthemius formulating in his mind, Stilicho resolved to fight for his life, his family and his office at the dawn of the new year…



1. Western Roman Empire
2. Visigoths
3. Franks
4. Eastern Roman Empire
5. Huns
6. Lazica
7. Caucasian Iberia
8. Caucasian Albania
9. Sassanid Empire
10. Ghassanids
11. Lakhmids
12. Alans, Silingi Vandals and Suebi
13. Garamantians

====================================================================================

[1] Late Roman border garrisons.

[2] Troops of the Late Roman field armies, typically better-paid and considered to be of a higher standard than the limitanei.

[3] Soldiers privately hired by, and exclusively loyal to, an individual general rather than the Roman state.

[4] Belgrade.

[5] Near Kostolac, Serbia.

[6] Podgorica.

[7] A future magister militum per Orientem and father of Anthemius, who was historically Western Roman Emperor 467-472.

[8] The ‘military road’ stretching from Belgrade to Istanbul today.

[9] Sofia.

[10] Now known as the Struma River, it flows through Bulgaria and Greece.

[11] Modern Kyustendil, Bulgaria.

[12] Leaden war-darts, which were among the Late Roman replacements of the earlier pilum javelin.

[13] Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. The battle between Eucherius and Procopius was actually fought outside the city, in the Kresna Gorge.

[14] IOTL, Olympius took advantage of Stilicho’s inability to immediately deal with the double crisis of the barbarians who had crossed the Rhine and Constantine III’s British rebellion (which directly followed, and was strengthened by, said barbarians’ arrival) to engineer his downfall. Here his excuse is different, but was still something used against Stilicho in life: namely that Stilicho had royal or even imperial ambitions of his own, and that that was why he wanted the eastern half of Illyricum so badly.

[15] Heraclianus historically killed Bathanarius a year later, as part of the purge of Stilicho’s allies and relatives.

[16] The predecessor of Monaxius, who also succeeded Anthemius as Prefect of the East in 414 IOTL.

[17] The historical Constantius III: future husband of Honorius’ sister Galla Placidia, co-emperor of the West with Honorius, father of Valentinian III and a highly capable suppressor of barbarians and rebels in his own right.
 

Circle of Willis

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That he most certainly did. Virtually all of the 'Last Romans' did, truthfully - I've always found it tragicomic how the Western Romans kept backstabbing pretty much every guy who stepped up to save them from a crisis that would've destroyed most other empires, and eventually just any half-competent and well-intentioned figure they happened to luck into. Not just Stilicho but also Aetius, Avitus, Majorian...I think only Constantius III avoided getting betrayed, and that was because he died almost immediately after becoming co-emperor.
 

stevep

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Very interesting. I wonder if we're going to end up with a new Stilichoian [sp?] dynasty as assuming he wins he's going to have a lot of power and influence? Despite his 'barbarian' bloody it wouldn't be the 1st time an outsider had gained the purple. Plus it looks like some talented younger generals might be coming through, including his son and Aetius.

Could still be problems with the Goths given the hostility between their two leaders and also the Rhine border is likely to come under further pressure sooner or later.

Looking forward to seeing how this develops. :)
 
408: No rest for the weary

Circle of Willis

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As 408 dawned, Stilicho began to set his plan in motion. He did, indeed, sail to Ravenna without an army (only several dozen unarmed servants) as soon as the weather permitted; upon landing at the swamp-city’s port, he was immediately confronted by a party including Honorius himself and placed under arrest. However, while Olympius wanted him killed on the spot, the ex-magister militum personally appealed to the emperor to first be allowed to say his goodbyes to his family and best friend Constantius. Perhaps still grateful for the addition of Illyricum to his half of the Roman Empire, or motivated by sentimentality toward the man who practically raised him after his father’s death – and certainly in defiance of all common sense and Olympius’ desperate arguments – Honorius inexplicably agreed to this apparent last request[1].

The emperor was most likely the only person shocked when, later that night, Constantius and his army mutinied within Ravenna’s walls. Although Olympius’ loyalists did their best to cut Stilicho down in the fracas, they were foiled by the ‘servants’ of Stilicho – in truth, his Hunnic bodyguards, who had been provided with weapons by Constantius – and Stilicho himself, who managed to survive (despite being shackled) long enough to be rescued by the former. Honorius and Olympius fled to Rome while their remaining supporters in Ravenna surrendered soon after, leaving the liberated Stilicho (together with his family) and Constantius in control of the capital. Around the same time, Eucherius landed outside Bari with 3,000 of his father’s soldiers and 2,000 Huns lent to him by Uldin, the largest army he could sail with quickly; however, as he moved up toward Ravenna his ranks were quickly swelled by the Goth auxiliaries still in Italy, determined to rescue their families from the Roman court and smite their treacherous superiors.

While Honorius was in a complete panic and considered fleeing to Hispania or Africa, Olympius advised him not to do so, arguing that if he did that Stilicho could simply march into Rome and declare himself emperor without opposition. He further advised to not kill the hostages immediately, under the reasoning that eliminating them would remove the imperial court’s only remaining leverage and Stilicho would probably put his head on a pike to appease those hostages’ Gothic relatives; now it was Honorius’ turn to be surprised, for taking and potentially executing the hostages had been Olympius’ idea. Instead, they would retain the hostages to deter a direct attack on the capital, while summoning reinforcements to their side: surely time was on their side, not Stilicho’s, and the latter would be at risk of having said Goths mutiny against him if he couldn’t free their families quickly enough.

Unfortunately for both men, the largest army they had called in was led by another incredible fool named Valens[2]. This general decided to instead confront Eucherius’ army – by now joined by Stilicho himself, while Constantius remained behind to keep Ravenna under control – under the belief that he’d be honored for presenting the rebels’ heads to the court. It soon became apparent that he had grossly overestimated his own army and ability while underestimating those of his foes, as he marched some 6,000 men to face Stilicho’s and Eucherius’ 30,000 on the uppermost banks of the Tiber without even bothering to scout out how many reinforcements they had picked up, still determined to believe they only had the 5,000 that Eucherius was reported to have landed with[3]. On April 30 the father-and-son team crushed him as easily as an elephant would crush a termite, then continued on their merry way toward Rome without even slowing down, proclaiming that they were not in rebellion against Honorius but rather only against the illegitimate and poisonous regime of Olympius as they marched. Meanwhile, thanks to Valens’ foolhardy rush into an early grave, Olympius and Honorius were left with far too few reinforcements to possibly stand against them.

When Stilicho and Eucherius appeared before Rome – their army swelled to nearly 40,000 strong by further Gothic reinforcements they’d picked up on the road to the Eternal City and the occasional Roman sympathizers – Olympius had the thousands of Visigoth women, children, elders and invalids he’d taken hostage paraded atop the Aurelian Walls (not too difficult when he had so few actual soldiers to man said walls), threatening to have them thrown off one by one if the rebels came any closer. Stilicho bluntly called his bluff and informed him that his life was forfeit no matter what he did from this point on, but that if he chose to die like a man, he could at least allay the Goths’ vengeful wrath and prevent them from rampaging once they got past the walls. He finished his challenge thusly: “If you are truly a Roman, Olympius – if you have ever, in that long life for which you have so little to show, cared for Rome – you will fall on your sword or die fighting me on those walls, instead of continuing to hide behind defenseless women and children!”

Olympius, of course, was not a man of honor and had no intention of going out like one, so at that moment he ordered Rome’s badly outnumbered garrison to begin killing the hostages. But Honorius had changed his mind, unnerved by Stilicho’s threats and the visibly far greater power of his army, and publicly countermanded that order for fear of his own life if Stilicho should actually storm Rome. Instead, he had Olympius thrown off the walls when the latter snapped at him for this abrupt decision, then asked to negotiate with his former guardian; Stilicho duly indulged this request. The emperor agreed to surrender on the condition that he be allowed to retain his life and crown, neither of which Stilicho was seriously planning to deprive him of anyway, and Stilicho in turn demanded not only his restoration to all the honors he’d been unjustly deprived of but also the names of the high officials who supported Olympius’ coup, which Honorius was happy to grant to ensure he’d continue breathing.

The Romano-Vandalic magister militum promptly marched his troops into Rome, allowing his Gothic auxiliaries to joyfully reunite with their families but expressly maintaining discipline and preventing even the slightest looting & murdering. He also made a public show of reconciliation with Honorius, wholly blaming Olympius for having poisoned the latter against him and arranging a double marriage: his second daughter Thermantia to the emperor, replacing the late Maria, and Honorius’ sister Galla Placidia to Eucherius, not only restoring but doubling the ties between his family and the Theodosian dynasty.

Stilicho was less merciful toward the imperial bureaucracy and officer corps, purging their ranks (especially the latter) of as many of Olympius’ allies as he could get his hands on – publicly executing the most openly hateful and irreconcilable of his foes, and expelling others to their estates – and ensuring they’d be replaced by men he could trust to not backstab him at the earliest opportunity. Meting out this treatment to the officers of the Roman army in Italy who had turned against him and murdered their pro-Stilicho comrades and subordinates would, by necessity, mean paralyzing these forces for some time until he could install new, more loyal men to replace the ones he executed. Honorius could continue to tend to his chickens in luxurious peace, but he was (as before) an insignificant puppet while Stilicho consolidated his prominence as power-beside-the-throne yet again, and this time his handler would make absolutely sure nobody else could influence him.


The Emperor Honorius doing what he did best: tending to his pet fowl while someone else runs his empire for him

No sooner had Stilicho dealt with Olympius and begun purging the high ranks of the army & government of his enemies did another crisis fall into his lap. Around the same time that he and Olympius were shouting at each other in front of Rome the Alans were now attacking across the Rhine as said Vandals had done, and they weren’t alone: with them came the Suebi and the Silingi cousins of the Hasdingi, led respectively by their kings Hermeric[4] and Fredebal[5], as well as the remnants of the Hasdingi who by now had joined either the Alans themselves or the Silingi[6]. These other Germanic savages had previously trailed behind their advance and were now swayed to reinforce their invasion, tripling the threat they posed. This time, Arigius and his Franks could not withstand such a multitude and were defeated when they tried to head the invaders off between Bingium[7] and Mogontiacum, forcing them to fall back to Augusta Treverorum and appeal for help from the capital. Stilicho obliged and sent Constantius with 15,000 men, many of them Goths, to defend Gaul from this newest barbarian horde; along the way, they were joined by another 6,000 Huns sent by Uldin at Mediolanum, and collected further reinforcements from the Gallic legions as they marched northward.

By autumn when Constantius got into position to confront the Alans, they had bypassed Augusta Treverorum – leaving behind some 10,000 warriors to keep Arigius under siege there – and were aggressively raiding in all directions, burning down much of Argentoratum[8] to the east and pillaging as far as Aurelianum[9] to the west. Now leading an army of over 25,000 Constantius obliterated several isolated raiding parties which had driven too far south, including an especially large one of 4,000 men at Vesontio[10], but their scattered survivors alerted the Alan king Respendial of his approach and the rest of their peers hurriedly consolidated around Divodorum[11] to face him. As the besiegers of Augusta Treverorum departed, Arigius decided to leave the city and start to carefully shadow them, hoping to catch the barbarians between his own depleted-but-still-considerable army and Constantius’ much larger one.

After several weeks of increasingly intense skirmishing, Constantius and Respendial clashed just south of the town of Nanciacum[12] on November 9. The Alan and Vandal cavalry formed up in-between the river Meurthe and great forested slopes where Respendial’s footmen, mostly Vandals and Suebi, lay in wait. Meanwhile the Western Romans deployed in a dense conventional formation, their right protected by the Meurthe and their left by 2,000 Gothic cavalry, with several thousand more cavalry split off into a separate detachment that he intended to go around the slopes and attack the barbarian army from behind. However as Constantius’ main body advanced, pushing past the bitterly cold winds and heavy Alan arrow fire to meet the thundering charge of Respendial’s cavalry, his own cavalry commander misinterpreted his orders and moved into the wooded hills to the Romans’ left instead of around them; there he was promptly engaged and put to flight by the hidden barbarian infantry.

As Constantius’ horsemen fled to the southwest, those barbaric warriors turned to attack the Western Roman left flank. Numerous and bloodthirsty as they were, they pushed past his remaining cavalry and threatened to drive him into the Meurthe. But it was at this moment that, as the Western Romans began to despair, Arigius arrived from the north: with not a moment to lose, he led his own men – Roman and Frank alike – in throwing themselves into the rear of Respendial’s army. Now it was the barbarians who were encircled and filled with fear: what discipline they still had soon dissolved, and their vast horde began to unravel despite Respendial’s attempts to rally them. When the sun set over Nanciacum, some 16,000 barbarians lay dead or else were taken captive between Western Roman blades and the current of the Meurthe, the Alan and Suebi kings among them; meanwhile Constantius had lost 6,000 of his own men and 3,000 more from Arigius’ army. Not insignificant, but still well worth the scale of his victory, especially as the survivors – now led by Fredebal, Respendial’s son Attaces and Hermeric’s son Rechila[13] – raced back over the Rhine with such haste that almost all of the spoils & slaves they had gathered was left behind for the victors to recover. Only the Western Romans’ own fairly heavy losses and their commanders’ need to reorganize the survivors after such a hard-fought victory prevented them from pursuing and totally annihilating the defeated barbarians.


Survivors of Respendial's alliance retreating through the wintry Gallic countryside after their defeat at Nanciacum

Though the utter defeat of the Alan-Vandal-Suebi coalition bought Stilicho room to breathe, if he thought he could finally sit back and relax that winter, he would soon be proven wrong yet again. In Moesia and Dacia, the blood-feud between Alaric and Sarus had flared into open hostility once more, and their warbands began to attack the other’s newly-built outposts and settlements across Illyricum. And over in Africa, though Heraclianus had finally prevailed over Bathanarius and killed him, by the time he did so Stilicho had already retaken power in Rome & Ravenna; aware that the magister militum was unlikely to forgive him for executing his brother-in-law and ally, and that Honorius was firmly back under his thrall, Heraclianus declared himself emperor in Carthage instead[14], jeopardizing Rome’s grain supply – something which Stilicho urgently needed to deal with but couldn’t (at least not before the end of the year) between the barbarian invasion across the Rhine, his Gothic feudatories feuding, and his own purge of the Senate & Italian officer corps. Truly, there would be no rest for the weary in these trying times.

Outside of the Western Roman Empire and its struggles, over in its Eastern counterpart Emperor Arcadius passed away on May 1 this year. His son was duly acclaimed as Theodosius II, though neither his uncle Honorius nor Stilicho could visit the new boy-emperor all year on account of their civil war and its fallout. Aemilian, as Praetorian Prefect of the East, remained the power-behind-the-throne and expected to rule through Theodosius for many years more; for now though, his need to continue consolidating his power just a year after Anthemius’ downfall and the damage done to the Eastern Roman army prevented him from taking advantage of the Occident’s troubles to retake Illyricum. Theodosius’ succession was further guaranteed by the Persian Shah Yazdgerd, who was remarkably friendly to the Romans – with whom he had never warred, unlike his father Shapur III – and Arcadius specifically: considering himself a guardian of sorts over his deceased friend’s heir, the Sassanid ruler arranged for a Persian eunuch named Antiochus (whom he’d sent to the court in Constantinople as a gift four years prior) to be made into Theodosius’ tutor, and even went so far as to proclaim that anyone who dared challenge the young emperor’s right to rule would have to deal with his wrath as well.

====================================================================================

[1] Historically, Honorius actually did have Stilicho killed immediately: their relationship had collapsed entirely between Maria’s death (as ITL), Stilicho telling him not to go to Constantinople to greet his newly enthroned nephew only to go there himself, the aforementioned claim by Olympius that he was looking to conquer Illyricum for himself, and also his inability to immediately resolve all of Rome’s problems with the barbarians crossing the Rhine & the usurper Constantine III. Their relationship isn’t quite as bad ITL, and that Stilicho had not – contrary to Olympius’ claims – declared himself or Eucherius emperor in Thessalonica also helped (along with Honorius’ own considerable natural foolishness) in guiding the emperor to fall for such a transparent ploy.

[2] This Valens was not, as far as I know, related to the one from the Valentinianic dynasty. Historically he led a relief army to Rome in 409 while Alaric threatened it, but insisted on marching directly into and through the Visigoth army which, by this time, was known to have swelled to almost seven times the size of his own thanks to all those former auxiliaries whose families Olympius had just killed and Gothic slaves released by the Romans to get Alaric to lift his first siege the year prior. He & his men were promptly annihilated.

[3] Near the town of Sansepolcro, which didn’t exist yet in 408.

[4] IOTL Hermeric was indeed a Suebi king and founder of their kingdom in Hispania Gallaecia (modern-day NW Spain and northern Portugal).

[5] Historically, Fredebal led the Silingi branch of the Vandals into a part of Spain and ruled there until the Visigoths captured him by trickery in 416. Like the Alans, what was left of his people then merged with the dominant Hasdingi Vandals and moved to Africa with them.

[6] A reversal of OTL, where it was the Vandals absorbed the Alans after they were utterly defeated.

[7]Modern Bingen am Rhein, Germany.

[8] Strasbourg.

[9] Orleans.

[10] Besancon.

[11] Metz.

[12] Nancy.

[13] Rechila was historically Hermeric’s son and heir, who succeeded him after the latter abdicated in 438 due to severe illness. He expanded the Suebi’s reach across western Iberia and was noted to have remained a pagan to his dying day.

[14] Heraclianus actually did challenge Honorius for the imperial throne IOTL, but in 412 (and after Honorius had rewarded him with consulship no less) rather than 408. Instead, he was initially loyal to Honorius and Olympius as he is ITL, having benefited handsomely from the anti-Stilicho purge.
 
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stevep

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Basically its the problem later Rome had, especially in the west, a game of wack a mole as new problems are continually popping up and draining the resources.

There might be a good side to not being able to wipe out the defeated barbarians. They might be unwilling to try an attack again until their regained some strength and as such might serve as something of a buffer to further waves, as well as a deterrent by the clear signal of Roman power it could display.

A Sassanid emperor who shows such friendship to the eastern empire. Why does that make me think about the latter Shah Khosrow II? I hope not as that could be a serious problem for everybody.
 

Circle of Willis

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Basically its the problem later Rome had, especially in the west, a game of wack a mole as new problems are continually popping up and draining the resources.

There might be a good side to not being able to wipe out the defeated barbarians. They might be unwilling to try an attack again until their regained some strength and as such might serve as something of a buffer to further waves, as well as a deterrent by the clear signal of Roman power it could display.

A Sassanid emperor who shows such friendship to the eastern empire. Why does that make me think about the latter Shah Khosrow II? I hope not as that could be a serious problem for everybody.
Indeed, all of those are very valid reasons to not exterminate the barbarian hordes turned back by legionary swords. Stilicho himself should know that, given how precarious the WRE's geopolitical situation is, yesterday's enemies can be made into tomorrow's friends - that perfectly describes his own relationship with Alaric the Goth - or at least tomorrow's useful meat-shields.

Heh, well the Eastern Romans had better hope nobody whacks the young Theodosius II. As I understand it, the similar killing of Maurice and his family was what Khosrow used as the casus belli to start the greatest and final war between their empires.
I wonder how much Christianity changes since here Saint Augustine won't have the main reason(at least for now) to write City of God...
That's a very good question, and one I have been thinking about for some time. One alternative avenue I've considered is having Augustine support the idea of a strong state to protect and nurture the faith: the Earthly City being a subject to and 'borderland' of the City of God, rather than its enemy. This would have its grounding in the reign of Theodosius the Great and, of course, how Stilicho has been ably keeping the Western Empire afloat without any dramatic sack of its symbolic heart even as it careens from crisis to crisis (strictly speaking, the WRE hasn't had a year of peace since 395). Such a work would lend itself well to a Nicene/Chalcedonian Church that's even more closely tied to the Roman Empire(s), more than it already is since it definitively became the Roman state religion and Saint Ambrose asserted the church's power over Theodosius.

It's occurred to me that I wouldn't even have to change the name of his work if it takes on this light. De civitate Dei contra paganos, 'On the City of God against the Pagans' - well, Theodosius led the forces of Christianity to their final victory over Roman paganism at the Frigidus River in 394, overthrowing the latter for all time and thereby completing the religious journey that Constantine set the empire on, and Stilicho himself has been relentlessly battling pagan barbarians for a very long while. Not to mention he's also going to have various heretics to worry about (including in Augustine's native Africa), and the good bishop & other churchmen might argue those are even worse & more accursed than pagans.

On an unrelated note, I've very slightly edited the opening post. Nothing major, just saw one formatting error in the transfer from my Word doc that I initially forgot to fix.
 

gral

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That's a very good question, and one I have been thinking about for some time. One alternative avenue I've considered is having Augustine support the idea of a strong state to protect and nurture the faith: the Earthly City being a subject to and 'borderland' of the City of God, rather than its enemy. This would have its grounding in the reign of Theodosius the Great and, of course, how Stilicho has been ably keeping the Western Empire afloat without any dramatic sack of its symbolic heart even as it careens from crisis to crisis (strictly speaking, the WRE hasn't had a year of peace since 395). Such a work would lend itself well to a Nicene/Chalcedonian Church that's even more closely tied to the Roman Empire(s), more than it already is since it definitively became the Roman state religion and Saint Ambrose asserted the church's power over Theodosius.
But would it fit within what he had written before? I ask this because my knowledge of Augustinean thought/theology is virtually non-existant; however, it does look to me that the City of God Augustine wrote in OTL is a logical conclusion from his previous work and frame of mind(as well as we can determine the frame of mind of a 4th century Roman, anyway), especially the opposition between the Earthly City and the City of God. Would an Earthly City subordinate, instead of in opposition, to the City of God be a natural conclusion for Saint Augustine to reach?
 

Circle of Willis

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But would it fit within what he had written before? I ask this because my knowledge of Augustinean thought/theology is virtually non-existant; however, it does look to me that the City of God Augustine wrote in OTL is a logical conclusion from his previous work and frame of mind(as well as we can determine the frame of mind of a 4th century Roman, anyway), especially the opposition between the Earthly City and the City of God. Would an Earthly City subordinate, instead of in opposition, to the City of God be a natural conclusion for Saint Augustine to reach?
No worries, I certainly wouldn't consider myself an Augustinian scholar either. To my understanding Augustine rejected the Manichaean and Gnostic belief that the material world (to which the Earthly City belongs, of course) was inherently evil when he left the former to rejoin his mother's Church; it's been a while since I so much as glanced at his Confessions, but I remember a passage in the first book (IIRC) where he was talking about his infancy, and explicitly praised God for creating humans as they were from infancy and for ordering the world according to His natural law. So at the very least it doesn't necessarily seem impossible to me for the saint to imagine a different role for earthly powers, just as he had thought the earth and all on it wasn't inherently evil as he formerly did while a Manichaean, had events unfolded differently from the course of our history, as they did ITL.

Moreover, one of his most important mentors was Saint Ambrose of Milan. That bishop is most famous for bringing Theodosius the Great to heel after the Massacre of Thessalonica - something that can easily be spun into a symbol of the need for clerical supremacy and moral guidance over errant secular governments, even if that government spent a lot of time and energy smiting the enemies of the Church (as Theodosius did). Augustine himself seemed to be pretty supportive of the idea that governments were set in place by God, wielded their authority by His grace, and thus should be obeyed by their subjects AFAIK - in line with general Catholic thinking, he plainly wasn't an anarchist; he just focused a lot more on the corruption and inevitable decay & collapse of these governments in The City of God because, well, that sure looked to be exactly what was doing the WRE in to him after OTL's 410.

Of course I could be dead wrong, and if I am, I welcome the correction from those better-versed in Augustinian thought than myself, of which I'm sure there's some on this forum. Without getting too deeply into the details, my current line of thought is that in a world with a still-unsacked Rome (so far) Augustine might decide to formally divide the Earthly City we know into a 'City of Man' (the lawful earthly regimes to which he ascribes all the good things and divine sanction, making it a still-fallible entity but one worth abiding by and possibly the ideal form of earthly government in his thinking) and the 'City of the Devil' (the font of sin and corruption that stands in incorrigible opposition to God and His City), making it a tale of three 'cities' rather than two. But that's definitely not set in stone and rather open to revision, we're still a long way away from 426 after all.
 
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gral

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I see. A 'City of the Devil' in opposition to the City of God, with the Earthly City being in-between these two cities(and therefore, being able to fall under the sphere of either, depending on the circumstances) does make sense to me.
 
409: Of heretics and Goths

Circle of Willis

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Come 409, Stilicho had some difficult decisions to make in regards to the Western Roman Empire’s newest problems. His purge of the officers opposed to him, not all of whom he could replace on such short notice, left the Italian legions largely leaderless and paralyzed a year later; moreover the common soldiers were unlikely to be capable of operating alongside the Gothic auxiliaries who they had betrayed and fought, and whose families they had kidnapped on Olympius’ orders, just a year ago. At the same time the necessity of keeping those Gothic auxiliaries in Italy to prevent the aforementioned Italian legionaries from mutinying again & murdering him, the internecine feuding between Alaric and Sarus in the east, and the battering Constantius’ army took at the Battle of Nanciacum left Stilicho with a terrible lack of manpower with which to deal with Heraclianus’ revolt. And yet he could not delay in fighting this latest African usurper, because without the African grain supply Rome would surely starve; the inevitable mob would likely prop up yet another usurper against him and Honorius if he couldn’t fill their bellies.

It was in this context that Stilicho reached out to the barbarians Constantius had just defeated. To the Alans, the Suebi and the Silingi Vandals he offered the same terms he had offered Alaric in 405: fight against Heraclianus for him, and he would allow them to settle in Africa as foederati. Badly bloodied from their battle at Nanciacum but desperately freezing and starving on the far side of the Rhine after having to leave their spoils and supplies behind in the retreat, kings Attaces, Rechila and Fredebal agreed. In Stilicho’s estimation, the three of them put together still had strength enough to take down Heraclianus, and must be in sufficiently desperate straits to fight to the death after their devastating defeat and the harsh winter that followed; furthermore, the heavy losses Constantius inflicted on them (compounded by any further ones Heraclianus would inflict) had surely rendered them more controllable and less likely to rebel against Western Roman authority, so in theory this was a win-win for both sides.

So the much-diminished barbarian horde returned to Roman soil in February, not as invaders but as foederati in Stilicho’s service. They were provided with sufficient food and drink to keep them alive, and the army of Constantius – now firmly established as magister equitum per Gallias[1] – escorted them to the port city of Arelate[2] to ensure they couldn’t just run off and begin harrying the countryside after making it past the Limes Germanicus[3]. Once they reached Arles, as a token of good faith Stilicho released back to them the non-combatant slaves Constantius and Arigius had managed to take in their disorganized efforts to pursue the three kings last November: women, children, the elderly and infirm. Of course the strong and healthy men of fighting age, most of whom were warriors taken captive directly at Nanciacum, could not be offered this mercy and were actually sold into slavery if they or their relatives couldn’t first buy their way out of Constantius’ chains, which almost nobody could after the loss of their plunder over the winter – but Stilicho wasn’t foolish enough to replenish the barbarian horde before it left Gaul. All this done, the Western Roman fleet went on to defeat Heraclianus’ off the coast of Sardinia and transport the barbarians to Africa along with a 4,000-strong contingent from Constantius’ army, led by his Romano-Frankish lieutenant Edobichus, both to keep them in line and as an alternative way of shoring up their fighting strength[4].

Of course, Heraclianus had not been idle in the past year. To shore up his position he made overtures to the local Mauri[5] and the ever-persistent Donatist heretics[6], offering the former land to settle inside the African provinces and the latter religious toleration if they should back him in his war with Ravenna. Thus, when the 15,000-strong Western Roman army landed outside Hippo Regius[7] in early June and were joined there by Honorius’ secretary Marcellinus[8] – a man of culture whose connections to the African nobility and high clergy, in particular Hippo’s bishop Augustine[9], were deemed to be of great value by Stilicho – Heraclianus had greatly strengthened his own army with thousands of Berber auxiliaries and fanatical Circumcellions[10]. While the largely orthodox population of Hippo were disgusted by Heraclianus’ alignment with the Donatists and not only opened their gates under Augustine’s guidance but contributed a few thousand more men to the Western Roman army, Edobichus and his men increasingly suffered from constant Berber and Donatist raids, as well as a lack of food to forage thanks to the latter’s scorched-earth policy, as they marched out into the Numidian plains.

Edobichus and the kings decided to march directly along the coast toward Carthage, avoiding straying deep into the African hinterland where the Berbers and Circumcellions knew the terrain far better than they did; in addition, by sticking to the shoreline they could be supplied by sea, instead of having to rely on foraging the scorched countryside or lengthy supply lines vulnerable to Heraclianus’ raiders. Heraclianus meanwhile trusted in the strength of his coalition and led them to battle outside Utica in August, clashing with Edobichus shortly after the Western Roman loyalists had compelled the surrender of Hippo Zarytus[11].

It was a sweltering summer day when the two armies met in full, and Heraclianus’ army was both larger and better-fed, so he was quite confident of a triumph here. When Edobichus was felled in the Moorish archers’ first volley immediately after the battle began, he ordered his army to simply charge at the Western Roman army and called it a day. But Heraclianus miscalculated and declared victory too early: Marcellinus rallied the faltering Western Romans while the new barbarian foederati were determined to win or die – just as the magister militum had predicted – drawing a desperate will to fight from their need to secure a new homeland for their people and awareness that defeat meant extermination under the blazing African sun, either at the hands of the Berbers whose land they sought to take or those of a vengeful Stilicho. The numerous but disorganized and lightly-armed Mauri cavalry and Circumcellion mobs crashed against their shield-wall to no avail, eventually breaking before the determination and suicidal ferocity of the foederati; Marcellinus himself would praise the furor Teutonicus demonstrated by his barbaric allies in his report of the battle, though strictly speaking only two-thirds of the barbarian coalition were actual Teutons (the Alans were an Iranian people). As the Western Romans who had stood their ground for so long went on the offensive, Heraclianus was unable to rally his own men and found himself being swept away in the rout.


Figurine depicting a lightly-equipped Berber warrior; possibly either one of the lesser citizens of Hippo Regius who joined Edobichus, or a Donatist Circumcellion fighting for Heraclianus

Heraclianus’ army disintegrated (the vast majority of the Moors and Donatists simply retreated into the countryside, to once again live as they had before) and he himself fled back to Carthage, only to find the gates barred against him: the city’s mostly Nicene population had revolted in his absence and declared for Honorius, much as the people of Hippo had. The usurper was promptly caught by a Vandal scouting party and executed on Marcellinus’ order. The grain supply to Rome was restored, and just in time – any longer and the food riots would have likely become completely uncontrollable, as the urban masses were eating through the last of their stockpiles. As for the barbarians, Stilicho kept his word and settled them as proper foederati in Africa’s frontier regions: the Silingi Vandals were settled in and around Capsa[12], the Alans in Tripolitania along the border with the Garamantians[13], and the Suebi in the Aures Mountains. Not the most hospitable lands, but each of them had enough to subsist on and while the local Mauri & Circumcellions were a nuisance, they were not as threatening as the barbarians’ old neighbors.

While Edobichus, Marcellinus and the barbarian coalition were dealing with Heraclianus and the grain crisis, Stilicho was also attempting to mediate in the Gothic civil war consuming Illyricum. It took him until May to persuade both Alaric and Sarus to sit down and negotiate in Ravenna, with him as the arbiter. They hashed out an agreement: as nobody could agree on who was at fault or what even started this round of fighting, Alaric was required to pay Sarus a subsidy while Sarus was to swear fealty to Alaric as King of the Visigoths, the title which he had lost to Alaric in said Visigoths’ last royal election. Both Alaric and Sarus left, visibly unsatisfied but having committed to Stilicho’s terms, while the magister militum breathed a sigh of relief and thought the matter was settled.

Not even a week later, Stilicho received word that Sarus’ men had waylaid Alaric almost immediately after he landed in Dyrrhachium[14] and tried to kill him. Alaric in turn fought his way out of the ambush and marshaled his army for a full invasion of the Diocese of Macedonia where Sarus dwelt, swearing that he would not rest until he had his archenemy’s head in his hands[15].

Recognizing that further neutrality was impossible and that Sarus had broken the peace, Stilicho sided with Alaric and summoned Sarus back to Ravenna. Sarus refused, knowing he would assuredly face severe justice for what he’d just done, and instead decided to switch his allegiance to the Eastern Roman court. He sent a missive to Constantinople, offering Theodosius II’s regents Aemilian and Pulcheria[16] at least the southern half of Illyricum if they would protect him. Unfortunately for him, around this time a delay in Egyptian grain shipments to the Eastern capital sparked food riots there similar to what Rome had experienced, but Aemilian had the additional misfortune of catching a piece of rubble with his head while directing riot suppression efforts and died a day later[17]. The East, still weak from Stilicho’s thrashing of Anthemius and now effectively leaderless, was unable to respond, though Pulcheria wrote back words of encouragement and was plenty willing to try to snatch Illyricum back from Stilicho’s grip once a replacement for Aemilian had been found.

In the meantime, Stilicho declared Sarus an outlaw, sent Eucherius to assist Alaric with 2,000 trusted men and further leaned on Uldin once more to help him & Alaric restore order in Illyricum. The Hun warlord agreed to send some 10,000 horsemen to join Eucherius and Alaric’s army in exchange for a right to the choicest plunder and a third of Sarus’ followers as slaves, and together they proceeded to devastate the Diocese of Macedonia. With his magisterial authority, Alaric commanded Roman garrisons in his way to stand down or outright join his army, and for all cities in the Macedonian half of Illyricum to resist Sarus by any means possible. Sarus was decidedly unamused by this development: as he marched northward he extorted heavy ransoms to leave cities in his way such as Athens & Thebes alone, sacked those which would not pay up in either goods or slaves such as Lamia, Pharsalus[18] & Larissa, and lived off the land – laying waste to the Greek countryside and driving thousands of refugees toward those cities which he hadn’t attacked.

After devastating Thessaly, Sarus moved to engage Alaric & Eucherius in a gap in the Olympus mountain range which separated Thessaly from Macedonia proper, counting on the narrow and rugged terrain to counter his rival’s cavalry advantage. Little did he know, Alaric had detached the Hunnic cavalry and sent them through a different mountain pass to the west while marching to the battlefield. The resulting Battle of Mount Olympus, fought in the shadow of that famous mountain, proved to be a slaughter for Sarus’ Visigoths, who were attacked from behind by the Huns late in the fighting and slaughtered almost to the last man.


Uldin's Huns attack the rear of Sarus' army, sealing his fate

One of those last men was Sarus himself, who managed to crawl out from that massacre and fled south. But quite understandably, there was no city in Greece willing to open its gates to him. By this time the Eastern Romans had sorted out the matter of Aemilian’s successor, appointing the urban prefect Monaxius[17] to be Praetorian Prefect of the East. Monaxius in turn restored order to the capital, redirected food shipments away from other parts of the empire to feed Constantinople’s citizenry, and was beginning to marshal an army to aid Sarus – but all this had come too late to do Sarus himself any good. The defeated and desperate Gothic chief was finally cornered on Mount Pelion, where his few remaining followers were mercilessly cut down and he himself lassoed by a Hunnic horseman before he could kill himself. Only his brother Sigeric[19] escaped, having hidden in a cave where Achilles’ parents were said to have married in the Homeric age and later making his way to Constantinople, where he placed himself at the Eastern court’s service. The Eastern court, disheartened by this turn of events, quietly canceled their expedition against the West.

On September 20, Alaric finished dragging the captive Sarus all the way back to Serdica and had his treacherous nemesis publicly tortured to death, while Eucherius oversaw the far more pleasant task of returning the Roman possessions and freeing the slaves Sarus had taken. Stilicho sent both men his congratulations, but warned that Uldin expected them to keep the Romans’ end of the deal and he could not afford to antagonize the Hun chief at this point, so they had better give the khagan what he wants. In exchange, Alaric would be recognized as overlord of Sarus’ remaining followers (as was his right as the undisputed King of the Visigoths, anyway) and granted right-of-settlement over the Macedonian Diocese where the latter had previously reigned. Stilicho wouldn’t (and arguably couldn’t, not peaceably) even strip him of the office of magister militum per Illyricum.

The Visigoth king (himself exhausted and quite satisfied with finally offing his loathed enemy) agreed to these terms, allowing Uldin to pick for himself the best loot from Sarus’ hoard and to carry 15,000 of his late rival’s followers (including his most noble subordinates and their families) off in chains, and Stilicho praised God for His mercy. Perhaps now, finally, the Western Roman Empire would enjoy some degree of stability without another rebellion or barbarian invasion popping off somewhere. That the year ended with a major Saxon incursion into Britain, only for the reavers to be repulsed by a local legate named Constantine[20] before Stilicho even learned of it – for which he and Honorius rewarded the man by promoting him to Comes Littoris Saxonici after the previous one retired – certainly suggested that might be the case.

====================================================================================

[1] Top regional commander of the Western Roman armies in Gaul.

[2] Arles.

[3] The WRE’s northern border defenses, running from the North Sea to the Alps.

[4] Historically, Edobichus fought for the usurper Constantine III against Honorius and was killed in 411. Without Britain rising in rebellion, he remains loyal to the Western imperial court.

[5] Latin term for the ‘Moors’ – Berbers native to the Maghreb who weren’t already under Roman rule.

[6] Donatism was one of the early Christian heresies, originating in the 310s immediately following the definitive end of Diocletian’s Great Persecution. They were named after their candidate for the Bishopric of Carthage, Donatus Magnus, and were based in the African countryside. The Donatists were known for being an unforgiving and puritanical bunch, believing that the traditores or lapsi – Christians who cracked under the Great Persecution and turned their scriptures over to the authorities – could never again administer valid sacraments; that there were some sins severe enough that no amount of penance could make up for them; and that the Christian church in general must be led by morally perfect saints rather than imperfect sinners.

[7] Annaba.

[8] The OTL Saint Marcellinus of Carthage, who did indeed correspond extensively with Saint Augustine (among others) and was a zealous supporter of Nicene orthodoxy. Ironically given how important Augustine was to countering Donatism, Marcellinus persecuted the heretics with such bloody fervor that the other saint criticized him for it.

[9] The future Saint Augustine, an important Church Father whose works (especially on original sin and predestination) inspired Calvinism long after his passing. Without Rome being sacked by the Visigoths ITL he probably wouldn’t write The City of God, one of his most famous works, or else write it entirely differently compared to its OTL version.

[10] Donatist militias who operated as bandits in the African countryside. They put an especially high value on martyrdom, to the point that some Circumcellions would attack legionary patrols or random travelers with nothing more than clubs just to get themselves killed, and often incited uprisings against landlords & creditors. Some Circumcellion bands also advocated non-Donatist positions such as free love and the abolition of slavery.

[11] Gafsa.

[12] The Garamantians were a Berber people in the Libya’s Fezzan region. Theirs was an agricultural and sedentary civilization using an extensive irrigation system to water their fields, where they grew wheat and figs (among other things). However, overuse of their limited groundwater and/or changes in the climate desertified their homeland (which is why we now know the Fezzan is a huge desert) and caused the decline of their kingdom. The last Garamantian remnants were finished off by Islamic invaders in the 7th century.

[13] Durres.

[14] IOTL, Sarus inexplicably attacking Alaric while the latter had just reached an accord with the Romans had much worse consequences: his ambush came just as Alaric agreed to negotiate with Honorius for the umpteenth time, and was the catalyst for the Visigoths’ sack of Rome. The latter interpreted it as yet another Western Roman betrayal (whether Sarus was actually acting on Honorius’ orders is unknown) and the last straw on top of two years’ worth of chronic backstabs, failed talks and battles (in which he routinely trounced the now-Stilicho-less Western Romans) after which he attacked the Eternal City for the final time.

[15] Theodosius II’s older sister, primary guardian and a major influence on his reign. On account of her piety, vow of celibacy and strong support for Christian orthodoxy, she is considered a saint by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

[16] There was in fact a major food riot in Constantinople in 409, in which the urban prefect Monaxius was (non-fatally) attacked – his carriage was ransacked and office burned down.

[17] Farsala.

[18] Aemilian’s historical successor as Constantinople’s urban prefect 408-409, and Praetorian Prefect of the East 414 & 416-420.

[19] IOTL the murderer of Alaric’s own brother, Ataulf, and usurper of the Visigothic kingship for seven days in 415.

[20] This Constantine was historically the usurper Constantine III; he arose in challenge to Honorius after the Crossing of the Rhine, succeeding his much shorter-lived fellow British usurpers Marcus and Gratian. He was one of the more successful 5th century usurpers, even briefly forcing Honorius to recognize him as co-emperor in the West in 409. However, he was unable to keep up with the various challenges to his rule and fell from power within two years. Comes Littoris Saxonici, or Count of the Saxon Shore, was the title of the Roman commander in charge of the forts from Norfolk to Hampshire which had served as Britain’s primary defense against Germanic pirates since the 4th century.
 
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stevep

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So the Vandals still end up in N Africa, but in a markedly less destructive way. Possibly going to mean their name isn't carried on in such a way, unless they cause problems later.

Stilicho and the western empire deserves some peace but whether they will get it or not is a different issue.
 
410-418: Peace in our time?

Circle of Willis

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410 proved to be the first peaceful, crisis-free year for the Western Roman Empire in the entirety of Honorius’ reign. Although barbaric raids on the empire’s frontiers were still frequent – by now a new tribe, the Burgundians, had come to harry the Rhineland, and over in Britain the Irish had begun to strike at the Roman provinces’ western shores while Saxons continued to assail the east – none of these escalated to the point of a true invasion. The barbarians settled within the empire – the Visigoths, (Silingi) Vandals, Alans and Suebi – were all so thoroughly bloodied and exhausted by the events of the last few years that they were in no shape to rebel against Ravenna. And for once, no new conspirator or open rebel arose to take the place of Olympius and Heraclian. Evidently God had seen fit to answer Stilicho’s prayers and those of the long-suffering Roman citizenry, for they could finally catch a breath, unwind and focus on rebuilding their depleted strength for this brief moment in time.

A year later, imperial and clerical authorities called an ecumenical council in Carthage to decide once and for all the fate of Donatism. Presided over by Marcellinus (now the proconsular governor of Africa) in the name of Emperor Honorius, this council predictably ruled against Donatists just as every other past church council had, and Honorius himself issued an edict reaffirming the outlawing of Donatism soon after with the support of Stilicho. Many thousands of Donatist rebels had marched for Heraclian previously, and dispersed back into the countryside to continue the struggle underground as they had for the past century. For his part Marcellinus set about enforcing the council’s decision with a zeal that disturbed even his friend Augustine of Hippo, no stranger to combating Donatism himself, killing and/or torturing many of the Donatist clergy and seizing what meager wealth & churches they still had for the orthodox Nicene Church. Only Augustine’s personal appeal saved a few Donatists from death at Marcellinus’ hands every now and then[1].

This latest Council of Carthage also had an unintended side-effect: while it was ongoing, Augustine and Bishop Aurelius of Carthage also took some time to denounce the teachings of Pelagius, a British ascetic, and his disciple Celestinus. The two had advocated against the doctrines of original sin and predestination of which Augustine was a fervent defender, dismissing it as something Manichaean in origin and accepting no limit on human free will; to them (and particularly the more extreme Celestinus) humans could achieve salvation through their own good works, sin was a result of free choice rather than an inevitable result of humanity’s fallen nature, and God predestined nothing for man. Obviously, to defenders of orthodoxy like Augustine, Pelagius and Celestinus seemed to be essentially cutting God out of the process for human salvation and reducing Christ to purely a role model rather than an actual divine savior, for what need was there of his sacrifice if all humans were not tainted with original sin?

Though not immediately excommunicated, Pelagius and Celestinus were ordered by Pope Innocent to forsake their erroneous beliefs and spend some years in penance in the former’s native Britain[2]. Instead, the two not only kept their doctrines but actively taught these to the Britons; the new teachings spread like wildfire among these long-independent-minded and relatively isolated people. While overlooked at the time – the Roman authorities would soon have bigger problems to worry about than a pair of controversial clerics preaching in one of their remotest provinces – in the long term, the growth of this ‘Pelagianism’ did not bode well for the continued loyalty of Britannia to the imperial court.


Bishop Augustine of Hippo debates heretics at the Council of Carthage

In 412, Stilicho’s mostly-faithful Hunnic ally Uldin died, and the Eastern Empire decided it was time for a rematch over Illyricum. Uldin had been succeeded by his brother Charaton, who did not share his friendship with Stilicho; he was receptive to the embassy of Olympiodorus, an ambassador of the Eastern court, who sought to win him over to Constantinople with gleaming gifts that put the West’s much smaller bounty to shame[3]. The new Hunnic khagan[4] publicly rebuffed Stilicho’s own diplomats shortly after, and cognizant of the danger he was now facing to the east, the Western magister militum accordingly prepared for war once more.

In happier news for Stilicho, his first grandson was born this year. Galla Placidia gave birth to Eucherius’ son in the spring: the infant was duly named Romanus, signifying his family’s continuing efforts to gain the acceptance of the Roman elite despite their Vandal origins. Of course, that young Romanus represented yet another descendant of Stilicho with strong blood ties to the Theodosian dynasty did not escape the notice of said Roman elite, upping the pressure on the still-childless Honorius to try to father children of his own. Alas, disappointingly for both those aristocrats and his wife (also Eucherius’ sister) Thermantia, he was simply not up for the task.

War between the two Romes finally broke out again in 413, as Monaxius decided to strike immediately after the completion of Constantinople’s newest and strongest walls yet – christened the ‘Theodosian’ Walls after his young overlord. The 30,000-strong Eastern army, led by generals Ursus[5] and Taurus[6], marched straight toward Thessalonica, while the Huns crossed the Danube and burned down Ratiaria[7] almost immediately. While Stilicho was transporting the Western Empire’s legions to Illyricum by land and sea, it fell to Alaric to organize the prefecture’s defense against the Eastern Romans and Charaton, which he did from Thessalonica. His brother Ataulf was defeated on the border with the Eastern Empire at Philippi on May 13, after which Ursus and Taurus continued on to Thessalonica without further resistance and occupied Amphipolis along the way.

Alaric and Ataulf marched with some 18,000 Goths and Western Romans to confront the Easterners by Lakes Koroneia and Volvi, a few miles east of Thessalonica. Though the Eastern army was larger, the lakes and streams inhibited their maneuvers and the heavy rain – both on the day of the clash and for the two days before – had further muddied the ground, something which the Visigoth brothers knew and took full advantage of. The normally devastating charge of the Eastern Roman cataphracts and clibinarii[8] floundered in the mud of the battlefield, the worsening rain made it difficult to impossible for either side (but particularly the East, which fielded more missile troops and particularly horse archers) to use their missile weapons to any effect, and the Western infantry lines were formed into dense shield-walls and further reinforced by the dismounted Gothic heavy cavalry, allowing them to easily resist the onslaught of their Eastern counterparts after the cavalry retreated. After several hours of bloody, insensible wrestling in the downpour and mud which left some 2,000 men dead total, Ursus and Taurus called it quits; ironically the adverse weather, coupled with the Visigoths’ decision to dismount their own cavalry, prevented the victorious West from pursuing them.


The Visigoth infantry acquitted themselves well against the Eastern Roman army in the bloody melee near Lake Koroneia

After the rain let up and the men had had a good few days’ rest, Alaric divided his forces. He moved to pursue the Eastern Romans to Philippi with the larger part of the army, while sending Ataulf with 6,000 men (and orders to collect reinforcements along the way) northward to deal with the incursion of their old enemies, the Huns. Alaric defeated Taurus’ rearguard in a small battle outside Amphipolis on May 25 and recaptured the town, but found the main Eastern Roman army to still be too large for him to face alone and so settled for holding the line around Amphipolis until Stilicho reinforced him.

Elsewhere Charaton had burned and pillaged the Dacian provinces, razing Naissus and laying siege to the Visigothic capital at Serdica. While theoretically it may have made sense to hole up in the Pirin Mountains and leave everything to the north at the Huns’ nonexistent mercy, Ataulf had neither the sense nor the opportunity to do so, as even if he had he’d have been denounced by his brother and people for cowardice and punished by Stilicho for allowing Charaton to lay waste to northern Illyricum unopposed. So instead he decided to march directly against Charaton’s last-known whereabouts, hoping to catch Charaton before he could call his many raiding parties back to his side.

But the Visigoth prince would enjoy no such luck. Though Charaton had dispersed the greater part of his strength into many smaller bands of raiders so that they could cover more ground & devastate the Dacian countryside more thoroughly in a shorter time, the Huns’ mounts allowed them to communicate and move more quickly than Ataulf’s infantry-heavy army, and move back to their master’s side they did. By the time Ataulf got into position to face Charaton outside Serdica on June 30 with some 10,000 men, Charaton was ready and awaited him with well over three times his number. In the battle that followed, the Western Romans had reason to feel optimistic as the first Hunnic charge broke against their lines and fell back seemingly in disarray, enticing no small number of legionaries and Visigoth warriors to pursue; but the Huns quickly stole their fleeting hope away, for in no time they revealed the ‘rout’ to be no more than a feigned retreat and turned to crush the Western Roman troops who broke formation to chase them. The greatly-outnumbered Roman and Visigoth cavalry was driven away by the Huns’ own heavy horsemen around the same time, leaving Ataulf and the infantry to be completely enveloped and destroyed.

After hearing news of his brother’s demise, Alaric fell back to shelter behind Thessalonica’s walls, allowing Ursus and Taurus to advance and retake Amphipolis once more. By the time Stilicho’s forces, whether traveling down the Dalmatian coast or sailing to ports in Epirus, were able to concentrate around Diocleia, Alaric was besieged within the prefecture’s capital by both the Eastern Romans and Huns, the latter of whom taunted him with the sight of Ataulf’s head on a lance. Stilicho’s march to relieve the siege did not go unnoticed by Ursus, the senior Eastern Roman general, who advised Charaton to counter him while the Eastern Romans made preparations to storm Thessalonica.

On August 18 the 33,000-strong Western Roman army met the Huns east of Edessa[9]. Since Stilicho occupied the high ground, Charaton decided to lure him downhill with another feigned retreat. At first it seemed this tactic wouldn’t take, as the Western Romans maintained discipline and held their ground despite the Huns charging uphill into their defenses, seemingly floundering and then racing back down several times; however, after the third such charge-and-retreat routine, Eucherius – in command of the Western Roman right – either lost his patience, thought the Huns were routing for real, or more likely felt a bit of both, and ordered his men to pursue. Charaton grew excited, sensing victory (or at least a concrete step toward it) was at hand, and committed his reserves to smash Eucherius on the low ground.

However, Stilicho had not been blind to what his son had done, nor to what danger the latter was in now. Instead of doing what Charaton expected – to futilely call Eucherius back before he was crushed beneath the hooves of the Huns’ horses, or to abandon his son and focus on shoring up his own defenses – he ordered a general offensive, directing the rest of the Western Roman army off their hills in pursuit of the still-‘retreating’ Huns. This unforeseen downhill charge caught Charaton off-guard and turned his men’s feigned retreat into a real one, while his reserves proved insufficient to stem the tide. By the end of the day, the Huns were scattered and Charaton sent fleeing back north over the mountains, clearing Stilicho’s road to Thessalonica.


Stilicho's cavalry prepare to charge in support of Eucherius' reckless downhill attack outside Edessa

Meanwhile Ursus and Taurus had been trying, and failing, to take Thessalonica by storm. The city had been fortified to counter frequent Gothic and Hunnic raids over the past decades, and its new defenses were no easier for the Eastern Romans to crack in a head-on attack. Alaric and his army had also fought with an incredible ferocity, the Visigoth king in particular was motivated by a volcanic rage over his brother’s death, and time and again the Eastern Romans’ siege towers and rams were repulsed. A last-ditch night attack involving escalades and an effort to tunnel beneath Thessalonica’s walls was foiled by the defenders on September 14, after which Stilicho’s army came too close for the Eastern Romans’ comfort. Ursus and Taurus lifted the siege and retreated back onto Eastern Roman territory, while Stilicho gave chase and once more recovered Amphipolis, then Philippi; however, he did not chase his enemies any further than that, wary of Charaton’s regrouping Huns to the north and doubtful of his own ability to attack the new Theodosian Walls.

The rest of 413 and the first months of 414 passed with little action between the two empires to speak of, just frequent low-intensity skirmishes along the Macedonian border and the Huns’ continued occupation of the northern Dacian provinces. Another major Saxon raid on Britain over the winter was repulsed again thanks to the efforts of Constantine, the Count of the Saxon Shore. Soon after Ursus and Taurus moved against Stilicho once they’d finished collecting reinforcements from Anatolia, while the Western magister militum prepared to face them – having raised new troops of his own from across the non-occupied parts of Illyricum over the previous fall and winter – and Charaton’s reordered horde descended on Thessalonica, where Alaric was still holding fast with a reinforced garrison. Thus this year’s campaign was shaping up to be a reversal from the last’s, where the Eastern Romans had been responsible for the siege and the Huns for the field battles.

On June 1 Stilicho and the Eastern Romans met in pitched battle directly outside of Philippi, where Octavian and Mark Antony smote Caesar’s assassins and drove them to suicide half a millennium ago. This time it was the forces of the Orient that sought to circumvent those of the Occident by attacking through the marshes in the south end of the battlefield, as Ursus led the Eastern cavalry through those swamps to outflank Stilicho. Eucherius was tasked by his father with leading the Western Roman response, and much as he had at Lake Koroneia Ursus found his extremely heavily armored troops ill-adapted to combat in the marshes; he fled the field himself when he saw the younger and fitter Eucherius cutting a path directly toward him, and his horsemen followed suit. Meanwhile Stilicho had concentrated all of his own remaining cavalry into an iron fist of a formation in the dead center of his army ahead of his infantry, and smashed through Taurus’ own center just as he had done to Anthemius seven years earlier. The Eastern Romans fell back toward the border in disorder, taking more casualties in the retreat than they had in the battle itself as was often the case.

While Stilicho reorganized his army, received a request for an armistice from Monaxius and prepared to relieve the siege of Thessalonica, Charaton continued to sit outside the city even after hearing of his Eastern Roman allies’ defeat, while sending raiding parties to pillage towns and kidnap civilians as far south as Attica. Apparently confident in the strength and numbers of his horde, he refused to retreat back to the Danube and instead attempted to take Thessalonica by storm when it became clear that, thanks to the movement of supplies by sea which he could not cut off without a navy of his own, starving Alaric into submission (as if the Gothic king wouldn’t cut his own throat first anyway) was impossible. Without the sophisticated siege weapons Ursus and Taurus could field in their own siege, his attacks were limited to dusk and night-time escalades which consistently proved even less successful.

Stilicho returned to Thessalonica a full month after the Battle of Philippi, by which time Charaton was still camped outside the city and still futilely trying to break through its defenses. Thanks to his scouts he wasn’t blind to Stilicho’s approach, but – fueled by confidence in his numbers, which still slightly surpassed Stilicho’s, and lingering anger over having been bested by the Romano-Vandal last year – he decided on a rematch with the magister militum, rather than retreating as he probably should have. In preparation for the confrontation he recalled all but the furthest ranging of his raiders and allowing his troops six days of rest without further attacks on Alaric’s defenses. When Stilicho finally arrived, the khagan drew his own army up on the fields outside Thessalonica to meet him man-to-man.

The battle did not seem to favor either side at first. Although Charaton put the Western Roman cavalry to flight early on, he was unable to crack Stilicho’s infantry formations either with feigned retreats or serious charges. Alaric sallied forth from Thessalonica partway through the clash, forcing Charaton to personally respond with his reserves; however, thanks to the khagan’s personal intervention, the Visigoth attack did not prove to be as decisive as either Alaric or Stilicho had hoped. The battle seesawed back and forth for several frantic, bloody hours until Alaric’s own son, a young man named Theodoric[10], chanced upon Charaton himself and drove a lance through the Hun warlord’s heart. The death of their khagan threw the Huns into a panic, and despite the efforts of his nephews Octar, Rugila and Mundzuk[11] to rally them, they still suffered heavy casualties in the rout that followed. An exultant Alaric hacked off Charaton’s head and, after he got tired of parading it around on a spear as Charaton had done with Ataulf's, eventually had it fashioned into a drinking cup.


The Goths and Western Romans defeat Charaton's Huns between them outside Thessalonica

With the Huns in full flight back over the Danube and the Ostrogoths rising in revolt against them (for which the Western Romans sent them boats full of weapons), Stilicho turned to make his armistice with the East into a more permanent arrangement. He demanded no further territory from them or control over their court, for they still had unspent strength on the other side of the Bosporus: instead he demanded a significant indemnity in gold, and tribute over the next five years. Thus once more, Stilicho and the Occident had triumphed over the Orient. Ursus – as the more senior of the two Eastern Roman generals who took to the field – bore most of the shame for their defeat, for which he was demoted and banished to govern a few towns in the Egyptian province of Thebais; Taurus and Monaxius, meanwhile, survived with bruised esteem.

After their latest bout 415, 416 and 417 were all mercifully quiet years for both halves of the Roman Empire. The Huns were too preoccupied with suppressing the Ostrogoth revolts and those of their other vassals to pose a threat to either East or West: in 415 the sons of Uldin reached a formal peace agreement with the Western imperial court in which they promised to contribute foederati on demand and further send a hostage, Mundzuk’s younger son Attila[12], to Ravenna in exchange for Honorius and Stilicho dropping their support for the Ostrogoths, resulting in the latter finally being subdued once more two years later. As a sign of the Romans’ own goodwill Stilicho sent a hostage of his own (albeit one far less valuable to him personally), an up-and-coming officer named Aetius, to spend three years among the Huns. Other than that, the most notable events of these three years (at least within the Roman world) were the 415 lynching of the Neoplatonic philosopher Hypatia by a Christian mob in Alexandria amid a chaotic power struggle between Bishop Cyril, the urban prefect Orestes, and the local Jews, as well as the formal declaration of Pelagianism to be a heresy in 417 (immediately followed by the death of Pope Innocent that same year).

But 418 would prove to be another story entirely. Perhaps determined to prove his independence and masculinity after so many years under Stilicho’s thumb, Emperor Honorius insisted on touring the streets of Ravenna in the dead of winter over the objections of his wife and father-in-law – if anything, their concern for his health only made him want to attempt such an ill-considered venture even more. He promptly came down with pneumonia and died before seeing the next spring, much less finally fathering a child of his own. As Honorius lay on his sickbed, Stilicho – keenly aware that his own survival, both in a political and physical sense, depended on securing the succession to someone he could be absolutely sure didn’t want him dead, which necessarily excluded Theodosius II and every Roman aristocrat he could think of – worked to pressure the dying emperor into formally appointing Eucherius his successor. Feverish, delirious and purposefully kept isolated from everyone except his wife and in-laws who all kept advising him to this, Honorius finally gave in and awarded his brother-in-law the title of Caesar on January 24, a full week before his death. He would have turned 34 had he lived eight more months.

As can be easily guessed, Honorius’ proclamation – as announced through Stilicho and his agents – was not exactly met with universal approval. If anything, it went about as smoothly as attempting to sail through a typhoon on a raft made of lead would. One could say that the increasingly gray-haired Stilicho, for all the challenges he’d overcome on the road to this point, would now have to face his greatest crisis yet…

====================================================================================

[1] All this was pretty much as IOTL, with the exception of Stilicho still being alive to contribute to the Western imperial edict on Donatism.

[2] Historically, Pelagius instead went to Palestine, where he argued with Saint Jerome.

[3] Olympiodorus actually did visit Charaton’s court around this time IOTL, although his purpose was to appease the latter with gifts following the murder of a ‘Donatus’ who was of some uncertain importance to the Huns rather than to create a Hun-ERE alliance.

[4] It’s not entirely clear what ethnicity the Huns were – they may have been Turkic, Mongolic, Yeniseian or even Indo-European – much less what they called their kings, though Attila at least was described as having East Asian physical features by the contemporary diplomat Priscus. For the purposes of this timeline I’ve settled on having the Huns themselves being a Turkic people and to call their rulers khans or khagans, as was the case with the Utrigurs, Kutrigurs & Onogurs after them, though their vast empire is of course still ethnically heterogenous with subjects ranging from Germanic peoples such as the Ostrogoths & Gepids to descendants of the (probably) proto-Mongolic Xiongnu.

[5] Urban prefect of Constantinople, 415-416.

[6] Son of Aurelian, who was Praetorian Prefect of the East from 399 to 400 and also Consul in the year 400, and nephew to another Taurus who held the consular dignity in 361. This particular Taurus was Consul in 428 and Praetorian Prefect twice, in 433-434 and again in 445.

[7] Near Vidin.

[8] Another category of Persian-inspired, ultra-heavy cavalry similar to the cataphracts.

[9] No relation to the more famous Edessa in the Middle East; this Edessa is located in Macedonia, at the entrance of the Pindus Mountains.

[10] The future Theodoric I, who historically allied with Aetius to oppose Attila and was killed at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451.

[11] Historically, Octar and Rugila succeeded Charaton as joint rulers of the Huns after his death. Their brother Mundzuk was the father of the more famous Bleda and Attila.

[12] Attila was reportedly sent as a hostage to the WRE as part of a treaty in his childhood IOTL.
 
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stevep

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410 proved to be the first peaceful, crisis-free year for the Western Roman Empire in the entirety of Honorius’ reign. Although barbaric raids on the empire’s frontiers were still frequent – by now a new tribe, the Burgundians, had come to harry the Rhineland, and over in Britain the Irish had begun to strike at the Roman provinces’ western shores while Saxons continued to assail the east – none of these escalated to the point of a true invasion. The barbarians settled within the empire – the Visigoths, (Silingi) Vandals, Alans and Suebi – were all so thoroughly bloodied and exhausted by the events of the last few years that they were in no shape to rebel against Ravenna. And for once, no new conspirator or open rebel arose to take the place of Olympius and Heraclian. Evidently God had seen fit to answer Stilicho’s prayers and those of the long-suffering Roman citizenry, for they could finally catch a breath, unwind and focus on rebuilding their depleted strength for this brief moment in time.

A year later, imperial and clerical authorities called an ecumenical council in Carthage to decide once and for all the fate of Donatism. Presided over by Marcellinus (now the proconsular governor of Africa) in the name of Emperor Honorius, this council predictably ruled against Donatists just as every other past church council had, and Honorius himself issued an edict reaffirming the outlawing of Donatism soon after with the support of Stilicho. Many thousands of Donatist rebels had marched for Heraclian previously, and dispersed back into the countryside to continue the struggle underground as they had for the past century. For his part Marcellinus set about enforcing the council’s decision with a zeal that disturbed even his friend Augustine of Hippo, no stranger to combating Donatism himself, killing and/or torturing many of the Donatist clergy and seizing what meager wealth & churches they still had for the orthodox Nicene Church. Only Augustine’s personal appeal saved a few Donatists from death at Marcellinus’ hands every now and then[1].

This latest Council of Carthage also had an unintended side-effect: while it was ongoing, Augustine and Bishop Aurelius of Carthage also took some time to denounce the teachings of Pelagius, a British ascetic, and his disciple Celestinus. The two had advocated against the doctrines of original sin and predestination of which Augustine was a fervent defender, dismissing it as something Manichaean in origin and accepting no limit on human free will; to them (and particularly the more extreme Celestinus) humans could achieve salvation through their own good works, sin was a result of free choice rather than an inevitable result of humanity’s fallen nature, and God predestined nothing for man. Obviously, to defenders of orthodoxy like Augustine, Pelagius and Celestinus seemed to be essentially cutting God out of the process for human salvation and reducing Christ to purely a role model rather than an actual divine savior, for what need was there of his sacrifice if all humans were not tainted with original sin?

Though not immediately excommunicated, Pelagius and Celestinus were ordered by Pope Innocent to forsake their erroneous beliefs and spend some years in penance in the former’s native Britain[2]. Instead, the two not only kept their doctrines but actively taught these to the Britons; the new teachings spread like wildfire among these long-independent-minded and relatively isolated people. While overlooked at the time – the Roman authorities would soon have bigger problems to worry about than a pair of controversial clerics preaching in one of their remotest provinces – in the long term, the growth of this ‘Pelagianism’ did not bode well for the continued loyalty of Britannia to the imperial court.


Bishop Augustine of Hippo debates heretics at the Council of Carthage

In 412, Stilicho’s mostly-faithful Hunnic ally Uldin died, and the Eastern Empire decided it was time for a rematch over Illyricum. Uldin had been succeeded by his brother Charaton, who did not share his friendship with Stilicho; he was receptive to the embassy of Olympiodorus, an ambassador of the Eastern court, who sought to win him over to Constantinople with gleaming gifts that put the West’s much smaller bounty to shame[3]. The new Hunnic khagan[4] publicly rebuffed Stilicho’s own diplomats shortly after, and cognizant of the danger he was now facing to the east, the Western magister militum accordingly prepared for war once more.

In happier news for Stilicho, his first grandson was born this year. Galla Placidia gave birth to Eucherius’ son in the spring: the infant was duly named Romanus, signifying his family’s continuing efforts to gain the acceptance of the Roman elite despite their Vandal origins. Of course, that young Romanus represented yet another descendant of Stilicho with strong blood ties to the Theodosian dynasty did not escape the notice of said Roman elite, upping the pressure on the still-childless Honorius to try to father children of his own. Alas, disappointingly for both those aristocrats and his wife (also Eucherius’ sister) Thermantia, he was simply not up for the task.

War between the two Romes finally broke out again in 413, as Monaxius decided to strike immediately after the completion of Constantinople’s newest and strongest walls yet – christened the ‘Theodosian’ Walls after his young overlord. The 30,000-strong Eastern army, led by generals Ursus[5] and Taurus[6], marched straight toward Thessalonica, while the Huns crossed the Danube and burned down Ratiaria[7] almost immediately. While Stilicho was transporting the Western Empire’s legions to Illyricum by land and sea, it fell to Alaric to organize the prefecture’s defense against the Eastern Romans and Charaton, which he did from Thessalonica. His brother Ataulf was defeated on the border with the Eastern Empire at Philippi on May 13, after which Ursus and Taurus continued on to Thessalonica without further resistance and occupied Amphipolis along the way.

Alaric and Ataulf marched with some 18,000 Goths and Western Romans to confront the Easterners by Lakes Koroneia and Volvi, a few miles east of Thessalonica. Though the Eastern army was larger, the lakes and streams inhibited their maneuvers and the heavy rain – both on the day of the clash and for the two days before – had further muddied the ground, something which the Visigoth brothers knew and took full advantage of. The normally devastating charge of the Eastern Roman cataphracts and clibinarii[8] floundered in the mud of the battlefield, the worsening rain made it difficult to impossible for either side (but particularly the East, which fielded more missile troops and particularly horse archers) to use their missile weapons to any effect, and the Western infantry lines were formed into dense shield-walls and further reinforced by the dismounted Gothic heavy cavalry, allowing them to easily resist the onslaught of their Eastern counterparts after the cavalry retreated. After several hours of bloody, insensible wrestling in the downpour and mud which left some 2,000 men dead total, Ursus and Taurus called it quits; ironically the adverse weather, coupled with the Visigoths’ decision to dismount their own cavalry, prevented the victorious West from pursuing them.


The Visigoth infantry acquitted themselves well against the Eastern Roman army in the bloody melee near Lake Koroneia

After the rain let up and the men had had a good few days’ rest, Alaric divided his forces. He moved to pursue the Eastern Romans to Philippi with the larger part of the army, while sending Ataulf with 6,000 men (and orders to collect reinforcements along the way) northward to deal with the incursion of their old enemies, the Huns. Alaric defeated Taurus’ rearguard in a small battle outside Amphipolis on May 25 and recaptured the town, but found the main Eastern Roman army to still be too large for him to face alone and so settled for holding the line around Amphipolis until Stilicho reinforced him.

Elsewhere Charaton had burned and pillaged the Dacian provinces, razing Naissus and laying siege to the Visigothic capital at Serdica. While theoretically it may have made sense to hole up in the Pirin Mountains and leave everything to the north at the Huns’ nonexistent mercy, Ataulf had neither the sense nor the opportunity to do so, as even if he had he’d have been denounced by his brother and people for cowardice and punished by Stilicho for allowing Charaton to lay waste to northern Illyricum unopposed. So instead he decided to march directly against Charaton’s last-known whereabouts, hoping to catch Charaton before he could call his many raiding parties back to his side.

But the Visigoth prince would enjoy no such luck. Though Charaton had dispersed the greater part of his strength into many smaller bands of raiders so that they could cover more ground & devastate the Dacian countryside more thoroughly in a shorter time, the Huns’ mounts allowed them to communicate and move more quickly than Ataulf’s infantry-heavy army, and move back to their master’s side they did. By the time Ataulf got into position to face Charaton outside Serdica on June 30 with some 10,000 men, Charaton was ready and awaited him with well over three times his number. In the battle that followed, the Western Romans had reason to feel optimistic as the first Hunnic charge broke against their lines and fell back seemingly in disarray, enticing no small number of legionaries and Visigoth warriors to pursue; but the Huns quickly stole their fleeting hope away, for in no time they revealed the ‘rout’ to be no more than a feigned retreat and turned to crush the Western Roman troops who broke formation to chase them. The greatly-outnumbered Roman and Visigoth cavalry was driven away by the Huns’ own heavy horsemen around the same time, leaving Ataulf and the infantry to be completely enveloped and destroyed.

After hearing news of his brother’s demise, Alaric fell back to shelter behind Thessalonica’s walls, allowing Ursus and Taurus to advance and retake Amphipolis once more. By the time Stilicho’s forces, whether traveling down the Dalmatian coast or sailing to ports in Epirus, were able to concentrate around Diocleia, Alaric was besieged within the prefecture’s capital by both the Eastern Romans and Huns, the latter of whom taunted him with the sight of Ataulf’s head on a lance. Stilicho’s march to relieve the siege did not go unnoticed by Ursus, the senior Eastern Roman general, who advised Charaton to counter him while the Eastern Romans made preparations to storm Thessalonica.

On August 18 the 33,000-strong Western Roman army met the Huns east of Edessa[9]. Since Stilicho occupied the high ground, Charaton decided to lure him downhill with another feigned retreat. At first it seemed this tactic wouldn’t take, as the Western Romans maintained discipline and held their ground despite the Huns charging uphill into their defenses, seemingly floundering and then racing back down several times; however, after the third such charge-and-retreat routine, Eucherius – in command of the Western Roman right – either lost his patience, thought the Huns were routing for real, or more likely felt a bit of both, and ordered his men to pursue. Charaton grew excited, sensing victory (or at least a concrete step toward it) was at hand, and committed his reserves to smash Eucherius on the low ground.

However, Stilicho had not been blind to what his son had done, nor to what danger the latter was in now. Instead of doing what Charaton expected – to futilely call Eucherius back before he was crushed beneath the hooves of the Huns’ horses, or to abandon his son and focus on shoring up his own defenses – he ordered a general offensive, directing the rest of the Western Roman army off their hills in pursuit of the still-‘retreating’ Huns. This unforeseen downhill charge caught Charaton off-guard and turned his men’s feigned retreat into a real one, while his reserves proved insufficient to stem the tide. By the end of the day, the Huns were scattered and Charaton sent fleeing back north over the mountains, clearing Stilicho’s road to Thessalonica.


Stilicho's cavalry prepare to charge in support of Eucherius' reckless downhill attack outside Edessa

Meanwhile Ursus and Taurus had been trying, and failing, to take Thessalonica by storm. The city had been fortified to counter frequent Gothic and Hunnic raids over the past decades, and its new defenses were no easier for the Eastern Romans to crack in a head-on attack. Alaric and his army had also fought with an incredible ferocity, the Visigoth king in particular was motivated by a volcanic rage over his brother’s death, and time and again the Eastern Romans’ siege towers and rams were repulsed. A last-ditch night attack involving escalades and an effort to tunnel beneath Thessalonica’s walls was foiled by the defenders on September 14, after which Stilicho’s army came too close for the Eastern Romans’ comfort. Ursus and Taurus lifted the siege and retreated back onto Eastern Roman territory, while Stilicho gave chase and once more recovered Amphipolis, then Philippi; however, he did not chase his enemies any further than that, wary of Charaton’s regrouping Huns to the north and doubtful of his own ability to attack the new Theodosian Walls.

The rest of 413 and the first months of 414 passed with little action between the two empires to speak of, just frequent low-intensity skirmishes along the Macedonian border and the Huns’ continued occupation of the northern Dacian provinces. Another major Saxon raid on Britain over the winter was repulsed again thanks to the efforts of Constantine, the Count of the Saxon Shore. Soon after Ursus and Taurus moved against Stilicho once they’d finished collecting reinforcements from Anatolia, while the Western magister militum prepared to face them – having raised new troops of his own from across the non-occupied parts of Illyricum over the previous fall and winter – and Charaton’s reordered horde descended on Thessalonica, where Alaric was still holding fast with a reinforced garrison. Thus this year’s campaign was shaping up to be a reversal from the last’s, where the Eastern Romans had been responsible for the siege and the Huns for the field battles.

On June 1 Stilicho and the Eastern Romans met in pitched battle directly outside of Philippi, where Octavian and Mark Antony smote Caesar’s assassins and drove them to suicide half a millennium ago. This time it was the forces of the Orient that sought to circumvent those of the Occident by attacking through the marshes in the south end of the battlefield, as Ursus led the Eastern cavalry through those swamps to outflank Stilicho. Eucherius was tasked by his father with leading the Western Roman response, and much as he had at Lake Koroneia Ursus found his extremely heavily armored troops ill-adapted to combat in the marshes; he fled the field himself when he saw the younger and fitter Eucherius cutting a path directly toward him, and his horsemen followed suit. Meanwhile Stilicho had concentrated all of his own remaining cavalry into an iron fist of a formation in the dead center of his army ahead of his infantry, and smashed through Taurus’ own center just as he had done to Anthemius seven years earlier. The Eastern Romans fell back toward the border in disorder, taking more casualties in the retreat than they had in the battle itself as was often the case.

While Stilicho reorganized his army, received a request for an armistice from Monaxius and prepared to relieve the siege of Thessalonica, Charaton continued to sit outside the city even after hearing of his Eastern Roman allies’ defeat, while sending raiding parties to pillage towns and kidnap civilians as far south as Attica. Apparently confident in the strength and numbers of his horde, he refused to retreat back to the Danube and instead attempted to take Thessalonica by storm when it became clear that, thanks to the movement of supplies by sea which he could not cut off without a navy of his own, starving Alaric into submission (as if the Gothic king wouldn’t cut his own throat first anyway) was impossible. Without the sophisticated siege weapons Ursus and Taurus could field in their own siege, his attacks were limited to dusk and night-time escalades which consistently proved even less successful.

Stilicho returned to Thessalonica a full month after the Battle of Philippi, by which time Charaton was still camped outside the city and still futilely trying to break through its defenses. Thanks to his scouts he wasn’t blind to Stilicho’s approach, but – fueled by confidence in his numbers, which still slightly surpassed Stilicho’s, and lingering anger over having been bested by the Romano-Vandal last year – he decided on a rematch with the magister militum, rather than retreating as he probably should have. In preparation for the confrontation he recalled all but the furthest ranging of his raiders and allowing his troops six days of rest without further attacks on Alaric’s defenses. When Stilicho finally arrived, the khagan drew his own army up on the fields outside Thessalonica to meet him man-to-man.

The battle did not seem to favor either side at first. Although Charaton put the Western Roman cavalry to flight early on, he was unable to crack Stilicho’s infantry formations either with feigned retreats or serious charges. Alaric sallied forth from Thessalonica partway through the clash, forcing Charaton to personally respond with his reserves; however, thanks to the khagan’s personal intervention, the Visigoth attack did not prove to be as decisive as either Alaric or Stilicho had hoped. The battle seesawed back and forth for several frantic, bloody hours until Alaric’s own son, a young man named Theodoric[10], chanced upon Charaton himself and drove a lance through the Hun warlord’s heart. The death of their khagan threw the Huns into a panic, and despite the efforts of his nephews Octar, Rugila and Mundzuk[11] to rally them, they still suffered heavy casualties in the rout that followed. An exultant Alaric hacked off Charaton’s head and, after he got tired of parading it around on a spear as Charaton had done with Ataulf's, eventually had it fashioned into a drinking cup.


The Goths and Western Romans defeat Charaton's Huns between them outside Thessalonica

With the Huns in full flight back over the Danube and the Ostrogoths rising in revolt against them (for which the Western Romans sent them boats full of weapons), Stilicho turned to make his armistice with the East into a more permanent arrangement. He demanded no further territory from them or control over their court, for they still had unspent strength on the other side of the Bosporus: instead he demanded a significant indemnity in gold, and tribute over the next five years. Thus once more, Stilicho and the Occident had triumphed over the Orient. Ursus – as the more senior of the two Eastern Roman generals who took to the field – bore most of the shame for their defeat, for which he was demoted and banished to govern a few towns in the Egyptian province of Thebais; Taurus and Monaxius, meanwhile, survived with bruised esteem.

After their latest bout 415, 416 and 417 were all mercifully quiet years for both halves of the Roman Empire. The Huns were too preoccupied with suppressing the Ostrogoth revolts and those of their other vassals to pose a threat to either East or West: in 415 the sons of Uldin reached a formal peace agreement with the Western imperial court in which they promised to contribute foederati on demand and further send a hostage, Mundzuk’s younger son Attila[12], to Ravenna in exchange for Honorius and Stilicho dropping their support for the Ostrogoths, resulting in the latter finally being subdued once more two years later. As a sign of the Romans’ own goodwill Stilicho sent a hostage of his own (albeit one far less valuable to him personally), an up-and-coming officer named Aetius, to spend three years among the Huns. Other than that, the most notable events of these three years (at least within the Roman world) were the 415 lynching of the Neoplatonic philosopher Hypatia by a Christian mob in Alexandria amid a chaotic power struggle between Bishop Cyril, the urban prefect Orestes, and the local Jews, as well as the formal declaration of Pelagianism to be a heresy in 417 (immediately followed by the death of Pope Innocent that same year).

But 418 would prove to be another story entirely. Perhaps determined to prove his independence and masculinity after so many years under Stilicho’s thumb, Emperor Honorius insisted on touring the streets of Ravenna in the dead of winter over the objections of his wife and father-in-law – if anything, their concern for his health only made him want to attempt such an ill-considered venture even more. He promptly came down with pneumonia and died before seeing the next spring, much less finally fathering a child of his own. As Honorius lay on his sickbed, Stilicho – keenly aware that his own survival, both in a political and physical sense, depended on securing the succession to someone he could be absolutely sure didn’t want him dead, which necessarily excluded Theodosius II and every Roman aristocrat he could think of – worked to pressure the dying emperor into formally appointing Eucherius his successor. Feverish, delirious and purposefully kept isolated from everyone except his wife and in-laws who all kept advising him to this, Honorius finally gave in and awarded his brother-in-law the title of Caesar on January 24, a full week before his death. He would have turned 34 had he lived eight more months.

As can be easily guessed, Honorius’ proclamation – as announced through Stilicho and his agents – was not exactly met with universal approval. If anything, it went about as smoothly as attempting to sail through a typhoon on a raft made of lead would. One could say that the increasingly gray-haired Stilicho, for all the challenges he’d overcome on the road to this point, would now have to face his greatest crisis yet…

====================================================================================

[1] All this was pretty much as IOTL, with the exception of Stilicho still being alive to contribute to the Western imperial edict on Donatism.

[2] Historically, Pelagius instead went to Palestine, where he argued with Saint Jerome.

[3] Olympiodorus actually did visit Charaton’s court around this time IOTL, although his purpose was to appease the latter with gifts following the murder of a ‘Donatus’ who was of some uncertain importance to the Huns rather than to create a Hun-ERE alliance.

[4] It’s not entirely clear what ethnicity the Huns were – they may have been Turkic, Mongolic, Yeniseian or even Indo-European – much less what they called their kings, though Attila at least was described as having East Asian physical features by the contemporary diplomat Priscus. For the purposes of this timeline I’ve settled on having the Huns themselves being a Turkic people and to call their rulers khans or khagans, as was the case with the Utrigurs, Kutrigurs & Onogurs after them, though their vast empire is of course still ethnically heterogenous with subjects ranging from Germanic peoples such as the Ostrogoths & Gepids to descendants of the (probably) proto-Mongolic Xiongnu.

[5] Urban prefect of Constantinople, 415-416.

[6] Son of Aurelian, who was Praetorian Prefect of the East from 399 to 400 and also Consul in the year 400, and nephew to another Taurus who held the consular dignity in 361. This particular Taurus was Consul in 428 and Praetorian Prefect twice, in 433-434 and again in 445.

[7] Near Vidin.

[8] Another category of Persian-inspired, ultra-heavy cavalry similar to the cataphracts.

[9] No relation to the more famous Edessa in the Middle East; this Edessa is located in Macedonia, at the entrance of the Pindus Mountains.

[10] The future Theodoric I, who historically allied with Aetius to oppose Attila and was killed at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451.

[11] Historically, Octar and Rugila succeeded Charaton as joint rulers of the Huns after his death. Their brother Mundzuk was the father of the more famous Bleda and Attila.

[12] Attila was reportedly sent as a hostage to the WRE as part of a treaty in his childhood IOTL.
Well when skimming down to read the 1st footnote I did see the image about the battle of Edessa and a quick double take followed. What the hell is Stilicho's forces doing in Syria! :eek: Glad it was something a lot more realistic.

He's now bitten the bullet and has his son going for the purple, which was probably necessary with Honorius's impending death. Its going to cause a hell of a storm and I would expect many opponents, not just the eastern empire to fish in troubled waters. However if he can come through this crisis and secure Eucherius's claim to the throne then the succession could be secure. Although Eucherius's rashness could cause issues.

I would point out a storm wouldn't cause much problems to a lead raft, as its great density would mean the storm is unlikely to divert it from its path much. Unfortunately the problem would be that path is straight downwards!:p

Interesting to see what happens in Britain with Pelagius's ideas, which I personally find a lot more attractive and moral than the Augustine ideas, taking deep root there. At the very least you could see a new attempt to break away, although the continued threats from east, west and north could discourage that. At worse you might have a Pelagian 'crusade' to spread the 'true' faith into Gaul.

Anyway looking forward to the next chapter{s}. :)
 

Circle of Willis

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Further interesting times ahead for the Roman world, indeed. Rest assured that the various figures & developments mentioned so far will be coming back to play a role in the coming chapters, and of course they'll be joined by several newcomers too.

I've cleaned up this entry a little earlier this morning. Made fewer mistakes than I thought I would for something I finished just before 1 AM here, but one was really egregious - a reference to Constantine the Briton being made Count of the Saxon Shore when I had had that happen at the end of the chapter before, but forgot to excise it from my draft before posting. Fortunately that's been taken care of now.

Two other things, as well:

1) I've decided that the next chapter will be a narrative interlude, including the perspectives of not just Eucherius & Stilicho but also the first inevitable challengers for the crown the former now wears as they all prepare to go to war with one another. This will probably be a long one as a result, but I'll divide them using spoilers to make it easier to read.

2) You might, at times, run into passages describing something that can be interpreted as supernatural. This will more often than not be intentional on my part. I can promise they won't be big flashy events, nor will they happen frequently - so there's no need to worry about a host of angels bailing Stilicho out of his next difficult battle or anything nearly as ridiculous as that, haha. But on rare occasions things like a guy proclaiming God or the gods can smite him if he fails to do something, then failing to do that thing and dying immediately afterward, or a conveniently dramatically timed eclipse/other omen on the eve of a major siege, will be on the table; stuff both the in-universe people and you out-of-universe readers can wonder about, even though they'll be vague enough that they can also be explained as natural phenomena or the result of sheer bad/good luck.
 
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