domingo, 7 de abril de 2013

Post nº 72


Three days after emperor Petronius Maximus was stoned to death in the streets of Rome, Genseric
king of the Vandals conquered the city and looted it completely (455 DC) 

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On March 27 455 DC, eleven days after the emperor Valentinianus killing by his own guards, the Roman Senate and the local military garrison acclaimed senator Petronius Maximus the new Western Roman Emperor. According to respected historians, the appointment was bought with rivers of gold because Maximus was a close member of the Valentinianus’ gang and people had resisted his nomination as much as possible, refusing the official version given to the dirty anecdote that was circulating in the city at the time of the coup d’état.

Accordingly, Maximus had bet his wife in an attempt to recover a lot of money he had lost to Valentinianus gambling dices. Losing again, he had called the lady and paid his debt, but due to the following mockery he had become a secret enemy of his former Imperial buddy. However, what had been generally accepted as a shameless gambling bet among vicious drunkards was being presented now as a rape: “The villainous Valentinianus had used Maximus’ ring, gained playing dice to attract his wife to the Empress’ bedroom and outraged the virtuous lady, pretending to be her husband in the darkness. As a result, Maximus had plotted and commanded the coup to avenge his honour”.

No one had believed in this fairy tale, although, due to the teasing and mockery of the deceased Emperor and other members of the gang of the “outraged husband”, this one may have felt humiliated, this humiliation becoming an important factor for Maximus collaborating with the true conspirators, especially helping them to introduce in the Imperial Guard the general Aetius’ former soldiers who killed the rogue Valentinianus to avenge the murder of their dear commander.

So, was no surprise the overthrowing and killing of the corrupt Petronius Maximus in October 455, less than seven months after he put the Imperial Purple on his shoulders and less than a year after Aetius’ cowardly assassination by his gang. As everybody predicted, he was a useless leader and an incompetent administrator, who had remained on the Imperial throne as if he was seated at a private table, gambling, drinking and chatting with his equally perverted chums. His ashamed gorgeous wife, who had been object of the infamous bet, which had become the most celebrated dirty anecdote of the last years in town, had died of disgust and her scoundrel husband, now a widower, had quickly married the shameless Licinia Eudoxia, recent widow of his late buddy Valentinianus, whom he had conspired to assassinate only a few months before. As if this wasn’t enough, in an attempt to legitimate his crown by mixing with the Imperial Family, replacing Valentinianus in his family as he had replaced him on his throne, he married his son to Paladia, daughter of the assassinated Emperor.

Empress Licínia Eudoxia married Petronius Maximus straight after the
assassination of her husband Valentinianus III

The summary of the comedy was that the shameless widow had married the rascal murderer of her late rogue husband, and her barefaced daughter had married the barefaced son of her father’s killer.

It was very difficult to find someone who didn’t stink in the pigsty the Imperial Court had become, and everybody outside the pigsty was praying for the cleaner’s arrival. He came in the person of the old pirate Genseric, King of the Vandals, who had established a powerful empire in North Africa since conquering the province from the Romans twenty-four years earlier. While Aetius was alive he had refrained from attacking Italy, especially after failing in an attempt to conquer the great Sicilian island in 443 when his invading army was defeated and repelled by Aetius. However, after the demise of the Iron Wall, Genseric saw that the path was open and realised that his moment had finally arrived. So, he began preparing a massive invasion at the very heart of the ailing Western Empire: Rome!

When Genseric preparations for attack were known in Italy, the Pope and the Roman Senate demanded immediate military measures from the Emperor to face the grave situation, but he remained gambling, drinking, chatting and making love with his mistresses as if nothing was happening. Finally, when everybody knew that Genseric’s army was ready to embark in the enormous fleet he had rounded up in North African ports, the pathetic Petronius Maximus was obliged to face the terrible problem, from which he had tried to escape as much as he could. Nonetheless, instead of assembling a powerful army to fight the enemy, he remained aloof with his entourage of chums, certain that Pope Leo could do with Genseric the same as he had done with Attila three years before: pay a huge ransom and obtain the barbarians’ withdrawal.

Besides being corrupt and incompetent, Petronius Maximus was a coward and tried to flee when the
Vandals approached Rome. So, the indignant crowd stoned him to death

In his stupidity, ignorance and evil, which had made him and his gang support the calumnies and attempts to obliterate Aetius’ extraordinary military deeds, he and the other rascals of the Imperial Court were convinced that Attila had gone away because the Pope had bought his withdrawal from Italian soil, and not because he had been tirelessly combated, till he perceived the mortal military trap prepared by Aetius, which made him give up and return to Pannonia.

The fact was that everybody in Rome was indignant with the incompetence of the useless Petronius Maximus and he became the most despised guy in town. When the Pope informed him that the Church had run out of money after paying Attila the huge ransom three years before, he was desperate. Furthermore, Genseric answered the proposals of the ineffective Emperor saying arrogantly that, the invincible King of the Vandals will not accept leftovers when he can take the whole banquet!

The invading fleet was already on its way when Petronius Maximus appeared before the Roman Senate to say that there was no salvation and consequently he was going to flee: If you are intelligent  men you shall do the same, he barefaced advised the astonished Senators, who began booing and throwing objects at the gambling coward, as he was now scornfully called by the ordinary people.

He retired quickly, accompanied by his buddies and guards, but when he left the building he met a crowd outside already informed of his cowardly behaviour, and they also began booing and throwing stones at the Imperial Entourage, which tried to flee as fast as they could, leaving the useless Emperor on his own. He also tried to escape, but was grabbed and stoned to death. Afterwards, the crowd dragged his corpse through the streets and threw the bloody remains into the River Tiber. His corpse was never found and he never had a funeral, for no one mourned the scoundrel or bother about his dirty remains. His sad case was the first among roman emperors, because even Nero had a proper funeral and was mourned by many people.

Three days after Petronius Maximus amazing public stoning and humiliating “burial” in the waters of the river Tiber, Genseric disembarked in the nearby port of Ostia and entered Rome without resistance. Thanks to the intervention of the brave and holy Pope Leo, respected by everyone including the Arian Vandals, Genseric prohibited burning, destruction, killings and atrocities against the defenceless population, but the city was submitted to overwhelming looting. This time, contrary to what had occurred during the Goths invasion forty-five years before, no church, monastery, convent, palace or private house was spared from being thoroughly sacked, and when the Vandals retired two weeks later Rome was as bare of riches as the most humble peasant’s hut. In return, the Catholic Church transformed the substantive vandal into a perverse adjective and gave to the words vandal and vandalism the bad meaning they still have nowadays.

The sack of Rome by the Vandals in 455 DC was very much worse
than the sack by the Goths forty five years before
There were also humorous stories.

One of those funny anecdotes said that the shameless empress Licinia Eudoxia and her both no less shameless daughters, widow and orphans twice of Roman Emperors in only seven months, went to visit Genseric in luxurious dresses and covered with jewellery, despite their husband and father-in-law being cruelly killed less than a week before. He gently received the barefaced women, but while they were chatting merrily, a group of Vandal women encircled the visitors and began, silently but firmly, stripping off their jewellery under the Genseric amused eyes. The Imperial visitors protested, but when they tried to react they were dominated and stripped not only of their precious jewellery but also of their rich dresses and shoes. When they were barefoot and covered only by their underwear, Genseric gave them rough dresses and wooden sandals, ordering their arrest. Jokers said that they were carried off to the Vandals ships together with thousands of other prisoners chosen for their youth, vigour and good-looking, transported to Carthage and sold in auction as slaves. True or false, jokes were widespread saying that Genseric had carried out the auction personally, announcing, among the general laughing and mockery: Who gives more for a noble and beautiful woman, widow of two Roman Emperors, who died happy and in fast succession in the comfort of her tender arms!

Empress Licínia Eudoxia was a beautiful woman, but the story of her auction in Carthage
by Genseric is only a joke

The anecdote says that Genseric was very disappointed with the low price Eudoxia had reached in the auction, regardless of his intense propaganda, but accepted the bid after one of his ministers telling him that only a crazy man would buy such a barefaced bad luck woman. However, some days later, Genseric repented accepting so low a price for such a fine lady, refunded a small part of the money, for the biggest part of the payment was for the bidder enjoying a Roman Empress in bed for some nights, and got Eudoxia back. He did the same with her two daughters, and later he married them to his sons.

Apart from jokes, true history says that the ladies lived in Carthage in great style for several years till the old king, always thirsty for gold, freed and sent them to live in Constantinople with their imperial relatives, as part of a lucrative deal he had made with the Eastern Roman Emperor. For them, the tragedies of the rascal emperors Valentinianus and Petronius Maximus resulted in a life of pleasure and adventure.

A happy ending for an unhappy history!

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