As the Roman Empire fell apart, various saviours appeared and failed, were despatched or swept aside.
As Rome’s aspirations solidified and became moribund, its citizens increasingly engaged in faddish cults and idiotic public spectacles – and it became increasingly difficult to make its citizens fight in the legions.
So Rome increasingly engaged non-Roman citizens as soldiers, promising them bounty and, more valuably, citizenship at the end of a term of service.
This was considered worthwhile, even when that term ran to decades.
As things went on and the empire declined even more, and with many ex-soldiers now subjects in turn producing reluctant ‘Roman citizen’ offspring, Rome resorted, in some cases, to employing mercenaries.
Mercenaries may be very professional, but even an excellent pay packet is easier to walk away from than a set of firmly held beliefs once the going gets tough.
Humans can do wondrous things for sets of beliefs; humans also do terrible things for sets of beliefs.
Around 400AD – when Christianity was starting to really gain a hold – some of these offshoots of Rome’s legionary machinations started gaining office in the struggling Empire.
Flavius Stilicho was the son of a Vandal father (albeit one who had served as a cavalry officer for the Romans) and a Roman mother.
His father wasn’t a bloke who tagged walls and broke things for the hell of it – he was a member of a Germanic tribe which famously sacked Rome – hence our modern appropriation.
(There are other Dark Age Germanic tribal names that have survived into modern times – France is named after the Germanic Franks who took over what had been called ‘Gaul’; the French name for Germany, ‘l’Allemagne’, comes from the Allomanni tribe; the Burgundians were a German tribe resettled, after defeat, in a desolate valley area they turned into the famous wine region; England is named after the Angles – Angle-Land – and so on.)
Stilicho considered himself a Roman. It appears he was a Nicene Christian like his patron Theodosius I, who had declared Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Stilicho joined the Roman army, was sent as an envoy to the court of the Persian king Shapur III to negotiate a peace settlement, and was then promoted to comes stabuli and later to general (magister militum) in the Roman Army.
Theodosius was impressed with the half-Vandal. He married his adopted niece Serena to Stilicho.
By this time, the Roman Empire was assailed from all quarters and was soon to divided into eastern and western halves, with separate emperors, for easier ruling.
Stilicho helped raise the army that Theodosius led to victory at the Battle of the Frigidus.
An ally in that campaign was the Visigothic warlord Alaric, who commanded a substantial number of Gothic auxiliaries. The tribe of the Goths (another modern day appropriation for you) was divided into eastern (Ostro-) and western (Visi-) wings themselves.
Stilicho distinguished himself further, and Theodosius quite wisely saw him as a man worthy of responsibility for the future safety of the Empire. He appointed Stilicho guardian of his own son, Honorius.
Honorius succeeded Theodosius as emperor of the Western Empire after its division. Stilicho ended up de facto commander-in-chief of the Roman armies in the West and proved his abilities energetically.
But political manoeuvrings by agents of both imperial courts hindered him.
I could go on – suffice to say, this mixed-blood general was becoming the great hope of an assailed empire, but he would not be allowed to succeed. Romans resented his power, his intelligence – and his mixed blood.
Eventually, the resistance mounted to such an extent that someone who was perhaps Rome’s best chance at success was captured, tried without resistance – and decapitated.
Stilicho was such a believer in Rome that he followed orders and the will of the people, even against his own better judgement.
Now, if you don’t see the parallels with the US and Obama, I sure as hell do.
The gunning down of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a first shot, if you’ll excuse so crass an allusion, from the kind of collective ignorance and stupidity that is conspiring to bring down Obama in a centuries-apart mirror to what brought down Stilicho.
And the world will be the worse for it.