Time on My Hands Chapter 58 - 401-407 CE: Troubles with Goths

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Time on My Hands
Chapter 58: 401-407 CE: Troubles with Goths

In the latter months of 401, General Stilicho had just reached Raetia to repulse invading Alemanni, when the Visigoths led by Alaric, suddenly marched west from Illyricum into Italy with a large army accompanied by their women and children. Alaric’s original intention was to petition to settle his people closer to Rome since he had a fascination for the 'golden age' of Rome. The governmental officials bluntly spurned his effort so the offended Visigoths were soon spreading desolation through North Italy and striking terror into the citizens of Rome. Italy itself contained no forces with which to resist the Goths. The Imperial court at Milan was immediately threatened by the invasion, but Stilicho, thinking that the emperor's flight would demoralize his subjects, persuaded Honorius to stay put while he gathered troops from along the Rhine and crossed back across the Alps. The Alemanni, who had been invading Raetia, were persuaded to stop raiding and instead be hired as mercenaries by Stilicho. The Alemanni joined the Gaulic legions, whom they had been fighting, in Stilicho's effort to save the emperor.

Stilicho had hoped the spring flooding of the rivers of northern Italy would delay the barbarians long enough for his return; however, spring was late in arriving and the snow-pack melts hadn’t fully started which left the rivers shallow and an insufficient barrier to Alaric's approach. Honorius fled Milan before the Gothic march fleeing south to cross the Po river then followed the Tanaro River upstream into the low mountains of the Piedmont. A contingent of Visigothic cavalry overtook the fleeing emperor forcing he and his court to take refuge in the city of Asti. Alaric brought up his main army and baggage train besieging Honorius in the city.

While that was happening Stilicho hurried back to Italy leaving bare bones garrisons manning the Rhine forts. As the head of the military of the western empire and regent for Emperor Honorius, Stilcho ordered Barmaz to provide provincial troops. Raben lead two mounted divisions of Raven Raiders, 13,572 men and women, 5582 ravens, 2 tigers, 18 eagles, 162 wolves and 18 artillery squads down the Rhone to link with the troops marshaling from Gaul at Lugdunum {PD Lyon}. The presence of the Raven Raiders and their animals unnerved the Gaulish Roman troops and mercenary Alemanni. They felt the ability to control animals was witchcraft and the presence of so many ravens was a bad omen. While Stilicho wanted the troops from Barmaz, the fact they unsettled the rest of his troops did not please him but after summoning them he couldn’t send them back. Raben recognized the issue and volunteered the Raven Raiders to serve as an advance recon cavalry force for the army. Stilicho gladly accepted the offer. Stilicho marched the troops through the southwestern Alpes from Lyons in Gaul through Barmaz via the Col du Mont Cenis to Turin. Learning that Honorius was besieged in Asti, Stilicho quick marched his troops southeast, the shortest route to Asti. At the same time he dispatched the faster mounted Raven Raiders to follow the Po river east then turn up the Tanaro to block the exit of the Visigoths, nearly 3 times the distance.

Stilicho’s march to relieve Asti forced the Visigoths to break their siege. As they were preparing to flee down the river they discovered the disciplined Raven Raiders were approaching. The tales of Raven Raiders battle acumen were well known. Seeing the thousands of ravens flying above the Raven Raiders spooked the Visigoths, as did the eagles, wolves and tigers. They fled upstream away from Stilicho’s troops and the Raven Raiders.

While many of his men wanted to continue fleeing, Alaric determined to stand and fight a pitched battle in the flat land around Pollentia. Both sides knew Stilicho and his men were weary from the weeks long march through Barmaz and over the Alpes through the Col du Mont Cenis pass then the long forced march to rescue Honorius.

Stilicho, hoping to take Alaric by surprise, chose to attack on April 6th, Easter Sunday, in 402, when the Arian Christian Visigoths would be occupied with religious celebration. Stilicho’s troops were not happy about fighting on Easter but since most were only nominally Christian they followed orders. As Stilicho’s main forces attacked, the Raven Raiders were dispatched to swing wide around the battlefield and take out the Visigothic baggage train.

The Raven Raiders flanked the battle and tore through the Visigothic camp with such surprise and speed they captured nearly everyone, including Alaric's wife. Half the wolves and handlers were delegated to guard the prisoners. Needless to say the terrified prisoners were quite compliant. They quickly organized the captured women, children and old men taking names and relationships. The main body of the Raven Raiders set themselves up between the camp and the Visigoth warriors.

Alaric rallied his unprepared army with skill and courage to meet the sneaky Roman attack, routing the Roman auxiliary Alani cavalry, whose king fell in the battle. Ultimately the bloodied Visigoths retreated from the field of battle with heavy losses. However, the Romans suffered equally. Alaric retreated towards his camp only to see thousands of ravens flying above the Visigoth camp. At once he and his men realized the dreaded Raven Raiders had captured the camp and those in it. As they continued forward the Visigoths saw the Raven Raiders were formed up outside the camp ready for battle. The Visigoth warriors turned and fled into the mountains where the horses of the Raven Raiders would be less effective. Raben obeyed his orders to the letter. He was told to capture and hold the Visigoth baggage train so did not pursue them. Stilicho knew his forces were too weary and bloodied to effectively pursue the Visigoths so they secured the battlefield and saw to the security of Honorius thus allowing the Visigoths to escape.

As night fell Raben entered Stilicho’s camp to report. The fact he’d captured so many non combatants concerned the general. They would be useful as hostages to bring Alaric to negotiations but the cost in guards and food would be high. Raben volunteered the Raven Raiders to handle the hostages if he could keep the baggage train using it’s food and tents to support the prisoners. Stilicho, more concerned about the warriors who escaped, quickly agreed. Raben was ordered to move the prisoners away from the Visigoths towards Milan. Raben had neglected to inform Stilicho that in addition to their families and supplies, the baggage train also included the wealth the Visigoths had plundered from Greece and northern Italy during the past 5 years.

Alaric decided to move south towards the undefended Rome. Defending against previous barbarian invasions into north Italy had stripped the city of most troops. With the empire wide chronic troop shortage, they had not been replaced leaving the city virtually undefended. The Visigoth warriors raided as they moved south. Stilicho slowly pursued them but felt he was too shorthanded to fight to a decisive victory because he’d had to send a large contingent of troops to escort and protect Honorius and his court. Their destination was the coastal city of Ravenna along the Adriatic Sea. Ravenna was protected by a ring of marshes and strong fortifications. While the new capital was easier to defend, it was poorly situated to allow it’s troops to sally forth to protect Central Italy from the increasingly regular threat of barbarian incursions. (The city would remain the capital of the western empire until it fell.)

Stilicho followed the Visigoths, finally intercepting them north of the capital. Instead of risking another battle, Stilicho offered to release the captive non-combatants along with a substantial subsidy in return for the prompt departure of the Goths from Italy. Alaric's chieftains and common soldiers eagerly grasped at so easy a prospect of safety, retrieving their loved ones and riches. Alaric was forced to reluctantly comply, in spite of his hopes of capturing Rome.

Moving slowly because of the number of prisoners, Raben reached Milan, then turned aside moving west to the city of Turin, the beginning of the route over the Col du Mont Cenis back into Barmaz. Just before they headed out of Turin heading to the pass, a courier brought word of the treaty which included the release of the hostages. Raben gave the non-combatants their tents and food before releasing them to head east toward Illyricum whence they’d came. The message from Stilicho also dismissed the Raven Raiders once the hostages were released. Raben led the Raven Raiders northwest crossing back into Barmaz, much wealthier than they’d left.

With the Roman financial payoff, which partially made up for his losses with the baggage train, Alaric led his warriors north crossing the Po, closely shadowed by a cautious Stilicho. Once across the river he picked up their non-combatants released by Raben. As soon as the non-combatants were safely sent back to Illyricum, Alaric began plotting a new invasion of the Western Empire, this time to cross the Alps through Raetia into Gaul. Stilicho, kept informed of Alaric's plans and movements by traitors in the Gothic camp, considered the treaty broken. Moving some troops on a swift march along an alternate route to get ahead of the Visigoths, he laid a crafty ambush for the treacherous Visigoths in the mountains leading to the Reschen Pass from Northern Italy into Raetia, Alaric's route north, while Stilicho continued following with his main force. The Visigoths found themselves trapped in the mountain valleys near Verona, surrounded on all sides by Stilicho's forces. In the June 402 Battle of Verona Alaric's army suffered very heavy casualties. Alaric and a loyal core group managed to break through the Roman lines to erect his standard on an adjacent hill, joined by his bravest soldiers. Instead of exterminating the Visigoth threat, Stilicho allowed them to escape to join the noncombatants in Illyricum. The Roman Senate was furious about the inexcusable escape accusing the general of taking a bribe from the Visigoths from their payoff.

By the time Stilicho realized that Raben and the Raven Raiders had made off with so much treasure and wealth from the Visigoth baggage train, it was too late to pursue. Knowing he’d been hoodwinked, Stilicho wisely kept quiet. With all the complaints being directed at him about repeatedly allowing Alaric to repeatedly escape, Stilicho did not need any more flak. For his part Raben kept the Clan Corvo windfall under wraps. Bragging about capturing the treasure would be detrimental to the Clan. He had bigger plans and the extra wealth would assist accomplishing those goals.

In Alexandria, several things happened in 405 that showed the city was deteriorating in arrogant Nicene Christian bigotry. Theon, father of Hypatia, became ill. Although not a Christian he respected Christianity. He was also revered and respected as a wise conciliatory man by the varying factions. As such he often served as a buffer and neutral mediator for disputes, many of which resulted from deeply held religious beliefs. Raven mail notified Raben of the wise man’s failing mortality. Knowing his death would result in more turmoil, Fiach rushed to Egypt.

She arrived in Alexandria 2 weeks after Theon’s death. The entire city was like a pressure cooker. Although mourning the loss of her father, Hypatia who was as knowledgeable and widely respected as her father, did her best to relieve the pressure before it exploded. Fiach was also well known in the city amongst all factions as a respected healer and as the respected co-owner of Corvus Scriptorium in nearby Zamrab. Most people were aware of the legendary story of how Fiach’s great great grandmother, also named Fiach, had helped save the city during the Palmyrene Invasion over 125 years before. Many recalled the Tsnami of 365 after which Fiach’s grandmother with Zamrab stepped forward to help with food or money. She was also well known for her encyclopedic knowledge of the scriptures. No one could best her at quoting scripture nor refute her scriptural reasoning. Working together, Hypatia and Fiach managed to safely release the steam from the pressure cooker. Both understood the issues were far from being resolved.

Fiach could see how things were heading and warned Hypatia about the dangers of going against the patriarchal Nicene Christians. She even offered a teaching position at the University of Corvo in Barzam. Hypatia was flattered but felt an allegiance to her home city and felt compelled to stay to try to mediate disagreements.

In Zamrab Fiach personally checked through the books and writings in the library that did not wholly support Nicene Christianity. Although they had previously been told to box up and ship all such writings to Barmaz, she wanted to be sure it had been done. She did find some tomes that were questionable and explained why to the staff. The library at Zamrab was thus much depleted. The policy on copying scrolls for customers was unchanged, in that whatever was brought in was copied. While a second copy was sent to Barmaz, none were kept in Zamrab. If the Christian zealots ever demanded to search Zamrab, they would find nothing they might consider heretical in their library.

If the zealots discovered they were copying heretical works, they would simply say they had, as a business, been commissioned to copy the work while in no way condoning the contents and allow the zealots to destroy the works. However, the copying of such works was done solely on the top floor of the scriptorium with the scribe working by a window through the adobe walls. All windows in the building were framed in wood. On the top floor the adobe walls had small hollow spaces hidden by the wooden sill. Those spaces were just big enough to conceal the heretical original and copy. If the zealots arrived demanding to search the premises, the top floor scribes had enough time to hide the illicit works.

Satisfied she’d done all she could to relieve the tension in Alexandria, Fiach sailed on to Constantinople to visit the Corvus Scriptorium site at Marzab. The island site {PD Sivri Ada} was well constructed with a small harbor protected by a rocky breakwater. With a staff of 500 on the island, it was not possible to adequately guard the waterless island. Except for the harbor, the rest of the beachless rocky shore was rendered extremely hostile to landings. A massive walled Fort with a single entrance was built. The staff lived and worked inside the defensive walls. Most of the island was channeled to capture and direct rainfall into cisterns which in turn were connected to cisterns deep under fort. The stored water and stored food would last nearly a year. If they came under siege, Raven mail would summon aid from Zarbam. After completing the inspection, it was Raben who returned to Barmaz.

The Danube and Rhine were still only guarded by local auxiliary troops since the legions had been withdrawn to Italy by Stilicho when Alaric had invaded. He kept the legions in the centrally situated city of Pavia along the Ticino River just above it's confluence with the Po River. Pressured by the Huns from the steppes of the east, Radagaisus, leader of the Ostrogoths with 20,000 warriors accompanied by 80,000 women and children as well as their livestock, crossed the relatively unguarded middle Danube in late 405. While most raids prior to 400 were done solely by the warriors, because of the threat of the Huns, they copied the Visigoths bringing their families and livestock with them with no intent of returning.

At the time Stilicho was in Pavia attempting to rebuild and organize his troops. As a result the Ostrogoth invaders stayed closer to the Adriatic Sea avoiding the weaker but still deadly Romans. It took Stilicho 6 months to strip the few remaining legions from Gaul and the Rhine as well as to recruit Alani, Goth and even some Hun fighters to combine with the limited Italian based troops to insure victory. As had become normal procedure in Barmaz, Raven Raiders escorted the recruited troops as they crossed the walled province of Barmaz to Italy.

Stilicho was so desperate for men he actively accepted slaves with the promise of freedom if they enlisted. Naturally the slave owners were not happy about losing their slaves with no recompense. The senate and wealthy landowners were quite upset as they lost crucial workers. That combined with the forced payoff of the Visigoths was the start of the wealthy Romans openly turning against Stilicho. By the spring of 406 Stilicho began moving against the invaders. Many skirmishes were fought but since the barbarians were a mobile force there were no pitched battles. While Stilicho was successful in the skirmishes, he never seemed able to decisively crush his opponents.

What really worried the Christian populous of Italy was that Radagaisus was an enthusiastic egotistical pagan. A large part of his invasion plans were to sack Rome and to sacrifice the nobility of Rome and the Christian leadership to his Pagan Germanic Gods in a reactionary fanaticism born out of resentment to the rapid spread of Christianity amongst other Germanic barbarian groups.

The pressure by the Huns was felt by everyone beyond the eastern and northern borders of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. Many non affiliated Ostrogoths, Alans, Suebi, Vandals, Quadi and Burgundians, about 100,000 warriors along with 500,000 non combatants and livestock, crossed the Danube in Radagaisus' wake to invade northern Italy through the eastern Alps. The massive onslaught brought additional devastation to the heart of the Empire ravaging the Italian north for months.

Radagaisus had crossed the Apennines Mountains to besiege Florence before heading on to Rome. The city was on the verge of falling to the barbarians encamped outside their walls forcing Stilicho to strike in August 406. As soon as Stilicho arrived with his army of relief, he managed to punch a column of supplies and reinforcements through the Ostrogoth lines into the beleaguered city. However, instead of attempting to crush Radagaisus' army in open battle, Stilicho surrounded the invaders and brought in thousands of the local people to construct a systematic entrenchment surrounding Radagisus' camp. Although the encircled invaders repeatedly tried to break out while the work was still in progress, the Romans were able to repulse every attempt. This was because instead of coordinated mass attacks, the surrounded barbarians attacked in uncoordinated independent actions by tribal groups which were easily repulsed by the well organized Romans. After the fortified lines were completed, with no supplies remaining, with no hope of escape and with a vast number of non-combatants, on August 23, 406 Radagaisus left his camp to negotiate surrender. Stilicho disregarded his promise of safe passage for the barbarian leader by seizing him and had him publicly beheaded as his people helplessly watched. Starving and disheartened, all resistance collapsed. The surviving 12,000 warriors were forcibly drafted into the Roman army.

The captured 80,000 non combatants were sold into slavery with the result that the slave market collapsed. The non-combatant men were old, the women unsuited to do heavy farm work, and the children had to be housed, fed and clothed until they were old enough to work. Added to that was that most could speak no Latin. None were ideal slaves.

When the separately raiding Ostrogoths, Alans, Suebi, Vandals, Quadi and Burgundians who had followed Radagaisus across the Danube heard of his fate, they fled north across the Alpes through the Brenner Pass into Raeta before Stilicho could attack them. The presence of the Huns east of the Danube prevented them from returning to where they’d come from.

The fact Radagaisus had been crushed was welcomed by the general Roman Empire population. The upper class, however, was once more irritated that Stilicho had allowed the other invaders to freely escape. He'd only eliminated 100,000 of the invaders while allowing the other 600,000 to escape with their loot. On top of that the collapse of the slave market hit the upper class merchants in the pocketbook. Not only had landowners lost their prime slaves due to Stilicho's open recruitment, slaves they were able to secure from the overflowing slave market were untrained and of low quality who couldn't speak Latin.

Stilicho had purposely not asked Barmaz to send troops to combat Radagaisus. The Raven Raiders with their bizarre assortment of animals, admittedly well disciplined and crack troops, were simply too extreme to combine with the legions, auxiliaries, and feoderati troops who were awed and fearful as well as distracted when serving with the Clan Corvo troops. Since Raben was personae non gratia to Stilicho since the Visigoth baggage train, Fiach stepped forward. The Romans were overwhelmed with the volume of slaves so when Fiach showed up with an offer to buy, at rock bottom prices, those who were not prime slave material. There were 45,000 children aged 10 and under including nursing mothers and pregnant women as well as 5000 elder women and men. By mid September, the deal was done. Those purchased were taken to the port of Livorno as the slave market began to rebound. Thanks to raven mail, ships from Zarbam picked them up. The ages of the kids had been communicated so their placement throughout Barmaz could be made since the province could absorb the unexpected influx of children. The older people, nearly all had relatives amongst the rescued kids and were placed together.

On New Years Eve 407 the Ostrogoths, Alans, Suebi, Vandals, Quadi and Burgundians crossed the frozen Rhine and invaded Gaul. Some groups headed south towards Barmaz. When they discovered the walls of Barmaz they were stunned by the immensity of the defenses. When they learned it was the home of the Demon Slayer and Raven Raiders, they wisely headed back the way they came to rejoin the other invaders. This invasion was different from previous cross Rhine incursions in that due to the incessant pressure from the Huns, entire tribes invaded with their women, children and livestock with no intent to ever return whence they’d come. With 100,000 warriors and 500,000 non combatants, they blew through the much depleted Frankish defenders, wisely avoiding fortified settlements and border forts.

These people were not raiding, they were quite literally migrating. Never the less they proceeded to devastate the provinces of Gaul, as well as triggering military revolts in Britannia and Gaul. Stilicho was unable to gather enough troops to force them out. The destruction that occurred in Gaul and the lack of an effective response from the western imperial court holed up in Ravenna left Britannia abandoned. The remaining garrisons in the provinces of Britannia, feeling abandoned by the Western Roman Empire, revolted. The garrisons had not been paid for many months. The Franks, Saxons and Angles were continually raiding the southeast coasts and began establishing settlements. Fearful of a massive Germanic invasion and desperate for some sense of security in a world rapidly falling apart, the troops choose their own leader. Their first two choices did not meet their expectations and were quickly killed. In early 407, Constantine {Who would be known as Constantine III} was their third choice. Learning from the deadly blunders of his predecessors, he moved quickly further reducing the bare bones garrison troops in Britannia. They crossed the English Channel to the continent at Bononia {PD Boulogne}. Constantine III secured the Rhine frontier behind the invaders knowing it was too late to attempt to force them out. Stilicho sent troops under a subordinate to stop Constantine III. After some initial success, a relief force drove Stilicho’s general back and saved the rebellion. Stilicho decided to seal off the passes through the Alps to prevent Constantine III from threatening Italy. Barmaz was ordered to keep the rebellious troops out to which the governor agreed. In turn Constantine III garrisoned the entrances from Gaul into Barmaz from his side to prevent Stilicho from attacking. Raben wanted to visit the new world but the continual crises popping up around Barmaz made him loath to take an extended trip.

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Friday must read

We are still here waiting for the new chapter every Friday. Please keep them coming.

Thanks for the story,

Didn't Expect...

...Clan Corvo to be forced to take sides in both the Eastern and Western Roman empires; I thought they'd be self-sufficient enough to tell all the combatants in the West and religious partisans in the East that they weren't going to get involved, and that the current leaders would be better off not trying to force them.

I suppose only keeping Nicean tracts publicly is easier on the Clan than forcing the issue, especially if most of the Raven Raiders are or will be needed in the West and the New World.

And Raben is still nominally a loyal Roman senator, though he probably hasn't bothered with the group in a generation or more, so if there's a Roman government that asks for the Clan's help against foreign invaders, he may feel obligated or even want to comply. (On the other hand, being dragged into a civil war...)


Clan Corvo is almost free and clear

Beoca's picture

Fortunately for Raben, Stilicho's going to be killed by the Romans in not too long here. The Huns are likely going to test Barzam's defenses; if they can handle that test, and can keep Zamrab up once Alexandria slips from Roman hands permanently, then they should be able to weather anything that comes up all the way until gunpowder.

The Eastern Roman Empire won't be able to get Clan Corvo nearly as entangled due to distance, although Raben could probably do quite a bit to help Justinian I out with his conquests. This will eventually settle down.