26 December 2011

Who does this remind you of?

I've long thought the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was based on/inspired by the Second Siege of Vienna.

Now this fascinating lecture provides me with the basis for another piece of epic fiction:

...In 410 a.d. the Visigoths broke in, they sacked Rome, and not just that: they took with them a very big prize: Galla Placidia herself; puella nobilissima. The chroniclers don't mention anything like Placidia being dragged away from her palace, kicking and screaming – actually they are totally silent on this point. Probably, that means something. We don't have to think that Placidia was happy to join the Barbarians but, again, she didn't try to avoid the unavoidable. We can't even exclude that she may have felt safer with the Barbarians than with the treacherous Roman Senators. At least, as far as we know, the Visigoths treated Galla Placidia with all the honors due to apuella nobilissima, sister of the ruling Emperor.

The Visigoths left Rome and headed South, with the idea of crossing the sea, to Africa, and of settling there. They arrived to the southernmost tip of the Italian peninsula, but they couldn't cross to Africa because a storm destroyed the ships they had assembled on the coast. Then, King Alaric died and legend has that he was buried under the riverbed of the Busento river, together with his share of the gold sacked in Rome. Another event that rings of legend. People are still looking for that treasure, today!

At this point, stranded in Southern Italy and short of food, the Visigoths had no choice but to go back, slowly retracing their road. They were led by their new king, Athaulf, half brother of Alaric. The travel to Southern Italy had weakened them considerably and, when they arrived close to Rome, they couldn't even dream to sack the city again. They kept moving on and, eventually, they stopped in Southern France, by then largely abandoned by the Roman Empire. And, on the way, Placidia married Athaulf, perhaps in Italy, or perhaps in Narbonne, in France. That was in 414, four years after the fall of Rome. Placidia was around 25 at that time.


Galla Placida, the Roman Princess, now gladly took for herself the title of “Queen of the Goths”. I say “gladly” because she never reneged that title later in life, no matter what happened to her – and we'll see that a lot of things happened. But why that? I mean, she already had the title of Roman Princess, she had good possibility to marry a would-be emperor and become Empress herself. Why would she want to become Queen of a Barbarian nation? In addition, think that Athaulf was the brother of Alaric, the king who had sacked Rome. If you can imagine the daughter of an American president marrying the brother of Osama Bin Laden, well, then you can get some idea of what kind of decision Placidia took.

Of course, 1500 years after the event, we can't say what passed in the mind of Galla Placidia and we can't exclude that there was a romantic element in her decision.


In marrying Athaulf, Placidia may simply have ceded to the unavoidable; as it was her typical style. But in following her destiny, Placidia may also have had a specific plan and she had a way to seize an opportunity when she saw one. You see, she was a Roman princess and she had this potential of becoming Empress. She couldn't do that as long as her half brother, Honorius, was alive, but Honorius was childless. So, Placidia surely had something in mind when she named her son "Theodosius", the same name of his grand-father, Theodosius “The Great.” From what the chroniclers tell us, it seems clear that Placidia's idea was nothing less than taking over the throne from her half-brother, Honorius, and starting a Gothic-Roman dynasty that would have ruled the Empire. A bold plan, if ever there was one.


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