Chapter 26: 250-259 CE: A Barbarian Invasion Threatens Rome
The plague drew Raben out of his avoidance of public life. As an Ianuarian he could not sit by allowing people to die. For the next several years he traveled from outbreak to outbreak treating the ill. Unfortunately the plague was smallpox, a respiratory virus with an incubation period of twelve days and lasting two weeks. Thirty percent of those contracting the disease died, another fifteen to twenty percent, dehydrated or starved to death. Even with Raben’s skills he couldn’t stop or prevent the disease. The best that could be achieved was seeing the ill were nursed which helped save those who would have died by dehydration or starvation. He did recommend the wearing of a cloth mask to cut down on caregivers catching the disease.
It was common for ancient people to make offerings to many gods so as not to offend them. Many of the old religions laid blame on the plague on the Christians who refused to honor the old gods. The traditional religions prayed for relief, abandoning those who were sick as god cursed. The prayers of the old religions produced no relief. The Christians, however, went out of their way to minister to the ill, even non believers, thereby reducing the fatalities just as Raben recommended. Many of the common people, feeling abandoned by the old religions, turned to the new faith that actually helped the ill and promised an afterlife for those who died. In the face of this adversity, Christianity grew dramatically.
The shear number of deaths disrupted the entire economy. Numerous rebellions broke out. Philip offered to resign in 248 but the Senate refused designating Senator Decius to lead troops to the Danube area to crush rebellious legions who named their commander emperor. Before Decius arrived the usurpers own troops killed him ending the rebellion. Those he led as well as the Danube Legions then proclaimed Decius emperor. The two sides met in battle where Philip was killed in September 249.
In January 250 Emperor Decius issued an edict demanding all citizens Sacrifice to the Ancestral Gods of Rome in hopes of ending the plague as well as promoting unity. Anyone who refused faced arrest and death, Bishop of Rome Fabian was amongst the many Christians killed. Since it was known that Corvus Scriptorium made copies of Christian writings, Raben found himself swept up in the Christian oppression. The Rome office of Corvus Scriptorium at Mazbar was shut down by the Praetorian Guard and Raben arrested.
Raben, at his insistence, was brought before the Praetorian Prefect, commanding officer for the Guard and the man who ordered his arrest. They met in the prefect’s office. That alone told him this was not an imperial issue.
“I have complied with the Imperial Edict,” Raben began. “I quote: I have my certificate with me as do all the employees of Corvus Scriptorium. Why have I been arrested and Corvus Scriptorium shut down?”
“You have made the sacrifice but Corvus Scriptorium has been copying and distributing codexes for the Christians,” the prefect sneered. “That means you’re a Christian thus guilty.”
“I’m not a Christian although Corvus Scriptorium does copy and sell Christian writings. It’s a profit maker for the business. The edict does not condemn anyone for being Christian. It doesn’t even mention Christians. It was directed at those who will not honor the old gods thus drawing the their wrath upon the empire,” Raben answered. “That means you’ve specifically targeted me with the intention of extorting me.”
“So we understand each other,’ the Prefect smirked.
“Yes, unfortunately I do,” Raben replied with an equally smarmy smirk. Casually reaching inside his robe, he discreetly pull out a corked vial of poison that he kept hidden in the hem. Deftly he palmed the small but deadly vial. “What do you propose?”
“I want a 50% interest in Corvus Scriptorium,” the Prefect smiled smugly.
“That is simply too much,” Raben shook his head. “It wouldn’t leave me enough to make a profit. Giving you a 10% interest would provide you with a nice income while allowing me to still make a suitable profit.”
“That is not enough,” the Prefect smiled. “I’ll settle for 30%.”
“No,” Raben replied as he saw the arrogant smile fade on the Prefect. “Why don’t we meet in the middle at 20%.”
“You play me for a fool,” the Prefect snorted. “I could just kill you and take it all.”
“That is a possibility but won’t happen,” Raben unflinchingly looked him dead in the eye. “Without me the morale of the workers would collapse. Production would falter and in weeks the business would be unprofitable. They are freemen so if you try to force them to work they’ll leave. Plus you have no one who knows how to run the operation. On top of that everyone knows I own Corvus Scriptorium. It’s the biggest and best scriptorium in the Roman Empire. If I disappear and you take over, uncomfortable questions would be raised. However, I will go up to 25%.”
The Prefect knew Raben was correct in his reasoning but still felt his dignity had been insulted. After few moments of thought greed overcame his pride. He could always have someone learn the business then kill Raben later. With an oily smile he pointed to a tray on a table with a jug and several cups. “Let’s seal the deal with a drink.”
“As your new partner allow me to pour,” Raben smiled as he moved to the table. With the dexterity of a magician he removed the stopper of the palmed vial, unobtrusively pouring the contents into the jug of wine as he picked up the tray, After carrying it to the desk, he poured two cups of wine.
Letting the prefect choose his cup, Raben picked up the other cup. The duo saluted each other, then drank to a profitable relationship. As they discussed details, they emptied the jug of wine. A few moments later the Prefect realized something was wrong as he began to lose feeling in his hands and feet.
“Wa... Waz gon on,” he slurred as he looked at Raben clearly confused while a feeling of panic filled him.
“I decided I didn’t want you as a partner,” Raben smiled as he revealed the empty vial. “I put poison into the jug.”
“Bu... Bu yu drnk...” the Prefect managed to slur.
“Yes I did,” Raben chuckled. “It’s a good thing I’m not susceptible to poisons.”
The Prefect was clearly terrified and angry. With a great deal of effort he forced himself to stand leaning against the table. “Grds....,” he unsuccessfully tried to bellow. The effort proved too much and his legs buckled.
“Be sure to say hello to Charon for me,” Raben teased as he went to the fallen man. “GUARDS!” he called out.
By the time two guardsmen burst into the room, Raben had Prefect laid out on the floor with a cloak under his head.
“He’s having a stroke,” Raben explained. “I don’t have my med kit. Get a doctor. Quickly!”
By the time a doctor arrived the Prefect was dead. Although he had valiantly struggled to speak during his death throes he wasn’t able to make coherent sounds. The doctor confirmed the symptoms Raben and the guards described fit a stroke. Raben was released. The threat died with the greedy Prefect.
The surviving Christians in Rome were split as they selected the new Bishop of Rome. Many Christians had made the sacrifices to save their lives and were ejected from the church. Raben agreed with the Cornelius led majority who felt the sinners should only need to show contrition and true repentance to be welcomed back. The schism began when a vociferous minority refused to accept him so once more an anti-Bishop of Rome was selected, Novatianus, who believed the sinners had to be re-baptized to rejoin the church. Both were selected in March 251. Raben met both men, being mystified that such minute details about a faith that preached a loving and forgiving God created such harsh disagreement.
At the same time the Goth’s first major invasion of the empire killed many and defeated the depleted legions. Decius led the troops to push them back but was decisively defeated and killed in battle in June 251. Gallus, the governor of the invaded province, with his local troops, had joined the emperor’s forces and took command managing to save many Roman troops from the massacre. In thanks the legions declared Gallus Emperor succeeding Decius. He had no choice but to make peace with the Goths letting them keep all booty and captives not only allowing some to settle in Thrace and Moesia, but having to make yearly payments for them to stay away. In June 252 he began persecuting Christians. Bishop of Rome Cornelius was executed in June 253. There were revolts in Anatolia and Syria and the Persians invaded sacking much of Syria. In a battle with an usurper in August 253 the usurper and Gallus were killed. In October 253 Valerian succeeded Gallus. His reign was one of fighting invaders.
Over the preceding two hundred years the Germanic Goths had slowly migrated south from the Baltic Sea to the northern shores of the Black Sea. Having to fight the Romans on the borders proved cost a lot of lives. So in 255 they launched seaborne raids, making unsuccessful attack on the city of Pityus (PD Pitsunda, Georgia). In 256 they tried seaborne raids again, successfully sacking Pityus, as well as ravaging Trabzon in the Roman province of Pontus (Black Sea NE coast of Anatolia). The worst was in 257 when they devastated large areas of Bithynia (NE Anatolia) and the Sea of Marmara, sacking the cities of Chalcedon, Nicomedia, Nicaea, Apamea Myrlea, Cius and Bursa. By the end of the seaborne raids the Goths had seized control over Crimea and the Bosporus and captured several cities on the Black Sea coast including Olbia and Tyras, which enabled them to engage in widespread naval activities.
In 257 Valerian issued edicts persecuting Christians and pushed the Persians out of Syria. In 258 while he was fighting the Persians, his son and co-emperor, Gallienus, was keeping peace along the Rhine. Gallienus son, Valerian II, was sent to provide an imperial presence along the Danube. Valerian II died under mysterious circumstance and when Gallienus attempted to demote the governor, he rebelled declaring himself emperor. Gallenius stripped men from his legions along the Rhine to march to the Danube in early 259 to successfully crush the revolt. Long festering resentment of the Romans by the Alemanni and Juthingi, a Bavarian tribe, living along the Rhine, erupted in open rebellion with German auxiliaries joining the populace to rout their much reduced arrogant Roman occupiers. They defeated or pushed the Romans out of the three Roman mostly Germanic provinces and moved with their families to attack Rome itself crossing the Alps at the Brenner, Reschen and Poeninus Mons passes.
This led some of them right past Barmaz while proceeding through the upper Rhone valley past Monthey. With the exception of Clan Corvo all but 5% of the population in the valley were Romanized native Celts who had lived in the valley for over six hundred years. The only invasion they had ever faced was by the Romans nearly 300 years before when they became part of the Roman Empire. They had never faced a barbarian invasion. The non Celtic residents were Roman transplants including a few Senatorial families. The vast majority of the Celtic population lived just above subsistence levels. There was a small lower middle class in the towns and villages with a larger middle class a smattering of upper middle class in Forum Claudii Vallensium. The real kicker was that the few senatorial estates owned 90% of the prime farmland.
Fortunately Raben was in Barmaz when he learned of the Alemanni march so he headed out to meet the Alemanni at Lac Leman. Many of the leaders recognized Raben from his border trip twenty one years previously. They all knew he was the Demon Slayer so they were not surprised to see he had not changed. As such he had little difficulty explaining that it was in their best long term interests not to destroy the farms and settlements in the upper Rhone river valley. While they took supplies from the farmers they left enough for them to survive and continue farming.
The senatorial estates, specifically their extravagant mansions, were sacked and burned. None of the senators were present but they did have family there. The few who resisted were killed, the rest taken to be ransomed or sold as slaves. Raben let it be known he would purchase any captives intended for ransom or sale as slaves. This proved too good an opportunity for the traveling Alemanni to pass up. They would get immediate cash without the responsibility of feeding, transporting, and guarding the prisoners, especially the pampered elite. Raben bought them all, took them into Barmaz with orders that the Clan Corvo keep them comfortable. He had them write letters to the senatorial heads of their family.
With those letters Raben accompanied the Alemanni over the mountains. Fortunately by this time the entire route over Poeninus Mons had been widened and paved by the Romans. As they traveled Raben urged the Alemanni leaders not sack the countryside but to peacefully march on Rome to bring their frustrations before the Senate. Otherwise the Roman backlash would be unforgiving. While the leaders recognized the wisdom of the advice, after crossing the Alps they proved unable to hold pack their people once they saw the richness of the farms, vineyards, estates and cities. The fertile Po River Valley proved irresistible and was ransacked.
Raben shook his head, leaving them as he continue unmolested onward to Rome. The Roman Senate panicked, organizing an army of citizens to support Rome’s Praetorian Guard as they headed north in an effort to stop the invasion. The improvised army succeeded in stopping the Alemanni forces just north of Rome but did not defeat them. The invaders returned north to further plunder the Po valley.
Raben headed into Rome seeking the Senators whose estates had been ransacked in the Upper Rhone Valley. It was common knowledge amongst those senators that Raben had established an enclave for his Clan Corvo in Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae and that he was maternally descended from Germans which explained why his holdings hadn’t been plundered. They were more than grateful to learn their families had been saved from slavery by Raben’s intervention as the letters indicated.
With the Alemanni still ravaging the Po valley, there was no way the senators could return to their estates nor could Raben bring their families to them. The senators already owed Raben for ransoming their families and now they were obliged to pay for their upkeep in addition to rebuilding their estates. Raben wisely pointed out the repeated attacks across the borders of the Roman Empire had been growing more numerous and the legions were simply stretched too far to prevent such incursions. The Senators were only too aware of that truth. Thus when Raben offered to buy their destroyed estates using the ransom and upkeep of their families as part of the price, they eagerly accepted. The Senators needed the cash Raben offered to start local estates.
The senators were glad to be rid of the headache of foreign estates and get their family back. They didn’t know it had only been their personal estate homes that had been ravaged, not their surrounding farms and fields. Raben neglected to inform them of that fact or that their ransomed families had been too terrified to notice. Thus, in one fell swoop Raben snapped up 90% of the land in the fertile upper Rhone river valley.
While Raben was busy buying the land, Gallenius organized his legions and set out from the Danube for Italy, catching the much larger Alemanni force disorganized and by surprise. The cavalry forces thundered into the spread out and disorganized Alemanni forces. Since the Alemanni had to protect their families they couldn’t organize or mass to resist the mobile cavalry. They were herded and harassed until with their families, they were caught with their backs against Ticino River. They realized the only way they could seek better ground on which to fight would be to abandon their families who were certain to be taken by the Romans. The smaller disciplined Roman force crushed the distracted 60,000 Alemanni warriors. This was the Battle of Mediolanum (Milan) where 300,000 Alemanni were killed or captured. Those captured, about 270,000, were to be sold into slavery.
Raben traveled north from Mazbar to the holding camps. The captured 30,000 warriors were separated and sent to markets where strong slaves for heavy labor were wanted. It was the old men, old women and children no one wanted. The old would be difficult to train and not really worth the effort. The young children needed too much care and would take scarce resources until they reached workable ages. As for the women and children between those extremes, there were vastly more than the market could bear causing the prices to plummet to near worthlessness. After much negotiating and the promise not to put them on the market at a later date, Raben wrangled a cheap price for the entire lot.
A rider was dispatched over the Poeninus Mons telling them to prepare for the influx of people, to purchase as much food as they could to hold them over the winter. Buying rations for 240,000 people for two weeks as well as wagons and draft animals cost as much as what Raben spent buying the captive Alemanni.
“Some of you know that I am the Demon Slayer,” Raben addressed the gathered captives in a voice that carried across the crowd. “The Romans have sold your warriors into slavery, just as they intend to sell you into slavery. It took a great deal of negotiating but I have purchased all of you from the Romans. You are now MY slaves. You are no longer free people. Your allegiance to the Alemanni is broken. You are mine. I determine whether you live or die.”
The looks of despair and hopelessness seemed universal amongst the captives.
“It is my intent to take you back to my home in Barmaz which you passed on your way here,” Raben declared. “You burned the Roman Estates and captured their families to ransom or sell as slaves. I purchased them to use as ransom to purchase the destroyed Roman Estates, which I have done. I now own most of the land on the other side of the mountains. I will settle you on that land amongst the native Celtic peoples. If you cooperate, families will be allowed to stay together. Since I own you, you are now part of MY clan, the Clan Corvo. I will spread you out to farm the land. I can tell you I’ll need to purchase even more land so we can support ourselves. We will be setting out tomorrow to cross the mountains. We’ll need to travel rapidly since the winter snows usually close the Poeninus Mons in mid October. That gives us just 2 weeks. As we travel I will talk to each of you. You know I am an Ianuarian. In addition to being the Demon Slayer I am also an Acolyte of Ianuaria herself. I am the only living person she has visited. She granted me the ability to speak with animals and in all languages. I also received the ability to detect lies. I expect each of you to swear fealty to me and the Clan Corvo before Ianuaria. Any who refuse will remain slaves. I will kill any who make a false oath or break their oath.”
Raben looked about the assembled people. Most were confused. They had lost all hope of freedom but now had the chance to be free. The cost was a oath of fealty to the Demon Slayer, whom they respected but also feared. However they knew he was honest and honorable.
“We move out at dawn,” Raben declared. “Think deeply before you pledge fealty. I will know if you do so deceitfully and kill you on the spot.”
In the morning Raben immediately set out with the mass of humanity. The pace was tough and their spirits confused. Raben warned them to keep moving or freeze to death in the high mountains. The first snows of the coming winter began to fall by the time they crested Poeninus Mons. The last of the ragged, dispirited mass of humanity reached Barmaz by the end of October. The captive ex-Alemanni understood Raben had their best interests at heart. That they had an avenue to escape slavery gave them hope and strength. They knew they could trust the Demon Slayer. All pledged fealty to Raben and the Clan Corvo. Although he could sense doubt in some, none were killed
When Raben and the new members of the Clan Corvo moved into the upper Rhone valley, word quickly spread through the impoverished Celtic populus that Raben had purchased the Roman Estates from the Senators. The land upon which they lived and farmed was now owned by the Demon Slayer. Raben began distributing the Alemanni amongst the residents, doubling, sometimes tripling, the number of people in each household. The hard core Alemanni were settled inside Barmaz amongst his people just to make sure they understood their fealty. Food supplies were shared and additions made to homes and barns. Wagons were sent out around Lac Leman to purchase additional food for the massive influx of people.
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