Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The largest battle in the ancient world

On this day in 324 AD, the Battle of Chrysopolis was fought in a Roman civil war between the rival emperors Licinius (who controlled the eastern half of the Empire) and Constantine the Great (who controlled the western half).

It was a winner-take-all deal, and had essentially all the troops in the Empire on hand.  While ancient sources are notoriously inaccurate on army sizes - the chronicles tell us that Licinius had 170,000 men and Constantine 130,000 - we know that both the Rhein and Danube defensive limes had been stripped by Constantine, and the eastern legions all collected by Licinius.  We know this because there was no raiding into an undefended Empire by the barbarian tribes in the west, or by the Persian Empire in the east.

The reason is that both the barbarians and the Persians had been hired as mercenaries by the two rival Emperors, and so rather than raiding were being paid to fight for an Augustus.  Like I said, it was a winner-take-all deal, and neither Constantine nor Licinius were of a mind to not bring every sword in their field of influence to the party.

Of course, Constantine won, which is why we call him "Constantine the Great".  He went on to establish the christian religion in the Empire, which is why he is know as "Saint Constantine" in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy; indeed, he is counted there as "equal to the Apostles".

But it was a bloody day, with more men at arms gathered in a single place until likely Napoleon's day.  The Romans were excellent at organizing, and determined as all get out.


LSP said...

A monumental battle and perhaps a taste of things to come as the Roman Army barbarized.

Off topic, but weren't the Standards captured at Adrianople returned to Constantinople by Belisarius and paraded at his Triumph? I often wonder what became of them.

Borepatch said...

LSP, I don't remember the Adrianople standards being regained. Marcus Agripa negotiated the return of the Eagles lost with Crassus at Carae, Germanicus got the Eagles lost to Arminius at the Teutoberg forest, and the remains of Valentinian were recovered (IIRC, in the late 4th century). But I don't recall Belisarius recovering anything from the Ostrogoths. Maybe it's my memory getting worse, though.

And the Roman Army was pretty barbarized starting with Aurelian. After Theodosius, it was basically nothing but barbarian troops.

Tim Wolter said...

Two Imperial Standards and a unique Imperial sceptre were excavated in Rome a few years back. They are felt to have been the property of Maxentius and were stashed by his supporters after the defeat after his defeat at the Milvian Bridge.


Borepatch said...

Tim, that's very cool. I hadn't seen that when it happened.

LSP said...

Borepatch, it is obscure! But check this out:

"After Belisarius marched the captive Gelimer and the Vandal princes in chains for the occasion. After the Vandals came carts overflowing with captured treasure of gold, rich armor, precious stones, golden thrones and the chariots of state used by the Vandal Queen. The crowd noted a wagon led by barefoot monks bearing the treasures of Jerusalem: the seven-branched candlesticks, the shewbread table and the Seat of Mercy that had been in the temple of King Solomon. The relics had been brought to Rome by Titus and looted by the Vandals. The re-captured standards of long dead Roman Legions were put on display. Justinian announced that these standards were signs that the Romans would once again rule the West. "We hope," said Justinian "that God will grant us to regain the other lands that the ancient Romans possessed, as far as the two oceans."

The Vandal King Gelimer was not to die to make a spectacle for these Romans. But as he was led from the Hippodrome to the villa where he would spend his years as a pensioned enemy he repeated over and over: "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."

Remarkable. Here's a not very polished link: