Gothic wars against Constantine’s political advances

Michael Kulikowski

Michael Kulikowski

As previously explained in ‘The Imperial Fall Of The Tetrarchy Northern Frontiers,’ it was between 313 and 316, that Constantine and Licinius maintained the cordial neutrality that had allowed them to work together during the last years of the civil wars, but their truce was uneasy and they came to blows in 316. The western Balkans fell to Constantine in this war. He took over Licinius’ residence at Sirmium, dividing his time between that city and Serdica, and leaving his son and Caesar Crispus in Trier to guard the Rhine frontier and campaign against the Franks and Alamanni. Constantine’s eastern ambitions were now clear, as his choice of residence could hardly fail to demonstrate, and he used the old tactic of disciplining the barbarians to provoke a final confrontation with Licinius.

In 323, Constantine campaigned against the Sarmatians on the frontiers of Pannonia, winning one battle, over a king called Rausimod, at Campona in the Pannonian province of Valeria, and a second considerably further downstream at the confluence of the Danube and Morava in Moesia Superior. Coins issued at Trier, Arles, Lyons and Sirmium celebrated the success with the legend Sarmatia devicta (“Sarmatia conquered”) and Constantine took the victory title Sarmaticus. He may also have instituted new celebratory gladiatorial games, as an epigraphic reference to Ludi Sarmatici, Sarmatian games, suggests. Regardless, the campaigns were a provocation of Licinius, into whose territory Constantine had marched while attacking the Sarmatians. Almost certainly intentional, this violation of his fellow Emperor’s sovereignty led to the final break between Constantine and Licinius — the latter supposedly melting down Constantinian gold coins celebrating the victory in order to make the point as publicly as possible.

In the ensuing civil war, both sides made substantial use of barbarian soldiers. Licinius had won a victory over the Goths before 315 and peace terms may have included Gothic service in his army. In the war against Constantine, Goths fought on the side of Licinius, probably under a general named Alica. Constantine had used Frankish auxiliaries in his earlier campaigns and by the time of the war with Licinius, the Frankish General Bonitus had reached a position of rank in Constantine’s army. As we have seen, barbarians had always served in Imperial armies, but there is some reason to think that the buildup to war between Constantine and Licinius represents a new phase in this phenomenon.

For one thing, the early 320s were the first period since the onset of the military crisis in the third century during which rival Emperors had ample leisure to recruit troops for themselves. For another, both Constantine and Licinius were competing for roughly the same pool of manpower, that is to say, barbarians from the middle and lower Danube — Sarmatians and Goths, generically “Scythians” — and such competition almost always increases both supply and demand. This increasing reliance on barbarian recruits is partly hypothetical but is probably confirmed by the testimony of the Caesars, a satire on his predecessors written by Emperor Julian, which is scathing about Constantine’s recruitment and subsidy of barbarians. Certainly, as the fourth century progressed, Emperors made more and more use of barbarians in filling up the ranks of the army. That being the case, it seems likely that the precedent set by Constantine and Licinius in the early 320s was validated by its very success: Constantine routed Licinius.

That victory allowed Constantine a free hand in the Balkans, which he used partly for grandiose construction schemes. The manpower which these projects required is attested by a dramatic increase in the region’s supply of bronze coinage in the late 320s. In the valley of the Porecka near the Iron Gates, a major wall system was put up to control threats from across the river. That was eminently practical, but a more spectacular venture was a new bridge over the Danube from Oescus to Sucidava, which in 328 established a real and a symbolic bridgehead onto what one source now calls the ripa Gothica.

Constantine also continued the tetrarchic program of constructing quadriburgia along the Danube. These small forts, enclosing less than one hectare, were a new development in the early fourth century. They were characterised by a tower at each of their four corners (hence their name) and were built both on the right bank of the river in the Roman provinces of Moesia Secunda and Scythia, and also on the barbarian left bank. Primarily useful for keeping the barbarians under observation, quadriburgia could also serve as advance posts for Roman military action. Although the whole Danube frontier received this sort of Imperial attention, the lower stretch of the river, and hence presumably the Tervingi beyond it, was the main focus. Thus in parallel to the Oescus-Sucidava Bridge, Constantine built a new quadriburgium at Daphne, on the left bank of the Danube across from Transmarisca.

How should we account for this focus on the stretch of the Danube opposite the lands of the Gothic Tervingi? Perhaps the most obvious explanation is the fact that Goths had fought on Licinius’ side in the recent civil war. But the support which the tetrarchs and Licinius seem to have given to the rise of Tervingian power in the region probably also worried Constantine.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Discussions
View all discussions

Opinions

digest of the most read and current commentary pieces

Starting a Band: The Four Cities You Should Visit for Inspiration

Starting a Band: The Four Cities You Should Visit for Inspiration

Black Metal takes Norway’s Everyday Racisms to the Extreme

Black Metal takes Norway’s Everyday Racisms to the Extreme

The Strange Connection Between Politics and Extreme Metal

The Strange Connection Between Politics and Extreme Metal

Damsels and Demons: Transgressive Females from Clarissa to Carmilla

Damsels and Demons: Transgressive Females from Clarissa to Carmilla

Events

& Venues

Festival Rock al Parque Endurance for Cultural Diversity

Festival Rock al Parque Endurance for Cultural Diversity

John Martin and the Promethean Theatre of Subversion

John Martin and the Promethean Theatre of Subversion

Tattoo artist

The Moscow Tattoo Convention returns June, in Russia

‘Vampyr, Der Traum des Allan Grey’ Review

‘Vampyr, Der Traum des Allan Grey’ Review

‘Between Two Worlds’ (‘Der Müde Tod’) Review

‘Between Two Worlds’ (‘Der Müde Tod’) Review

‘Witchcraft Through the Ages’ (‘Häxan’) Review

‘Witchcraft Through the Ages’ (‘Häxan’) Review

Reviews

& Critics

Impact

& Visual

Medicine, Martyrs, and the Photographic Image 1860–1910

Medicine, Martyrs, and the Photographic Image 1860–1910

Distinguishing Early Nineteenth-Century Modes of Cameras

Distinguishing Early Nineteenth-Century Modes of Cameras

A Scanty Post-Mortem History Of Spirit Photography

A Scanty Post-Mortem History Of Spirit Photography

Updated

& Recent

The Scottish Crown, the Protestant Church, and Witch Trials

The Scottish Crown, the Protestant Church, and Witch Trials

Lesbianism and the Vampire in “Christabel”and Carmilla

Lesbianism and the Vampire in “Christabel”and Carmilla

The Enduring Sexual Appeal of Vampires

The Enduring Sexual Appeal of Vampires

Introduction to the Monstrous Women of Dracula and Carmilla

Introduction to the Monstrous Women of Dracula and Carmilla

Blogs

Voices

Delighted with Horror: Reconfigurations of the Everyday

Delighted with Horror: Reconfigurations of the Everyday

Awe-inspiring festivals that revere the gothic subculture

Awe-inspiring festivals that revere the gothic subculture

Festival Rock al Parque Endurance for Cultural Diversity

The cultural divulges injected in the world’s music

01. Special
Edition
Bloody Serial Killers of History’s Worst Murder Sprees

Bloody Serial Killers of History’s Worst Murder Sprees

This article discusses how serial killers do not resemble those we see in cinema or literary works. In truth, the percentage of female serial killers has been...

The Vile Atrocities of Blood Countess Erzsébet Báthory

The Vile Atrocities of Blood Countess Erzsébet Báthory

Countess Erzsébet Báthory continues to draw the interest of historians, critics, artists, and in the process, one could argue, the victimising of...

‘Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural’

‘Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural’

‘Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural’ is an attempt to explain, as accurately and in the simplest terms as one can...

Share to...