Due to the very short playing time (3 years) of this session, I write of events that happened last week.
Shall we speak of heroes?
Shall we let the martial trumpets and cornicens be sounded, and orate movingly of the thunder of heavy cavalry, of the glitter of kataphrakt armour? Shall we speak of the clash of arms, of the stolid courage of the infantry that stands to receive the crusaders’ charge? Shall we narrate the flow of battle, the movement of brave silken banners and the dust-clouds of the fleet-footed columns?
Such, indeed, is the custom in barbarian lands; how could it be otherwise? When the ruler sits a throne of spears, respected only for his force of arms, then his arms must of necessity be glorious; and if no great battles send his fame skywards, why then any skirmish will do, so be it only that it was fought in faraway lands against a powerful foe. So does necessity make an amateur of every ruler who comes to his throne by force or fraud; and although his experience might incline him otherwise, he speaks only of the glory of tactics.
But this is Rome; and we remember.
We remember Hannibal, supreme on every field; and his retreat from Italy, his army broken by years of victory.
We remember Julian the Apostate, who laid siege to Ctesiphon after crushing all before him; who was conquered, not by a pale Galilean, but by the swarthy Persians when they burned the fields that might have fed his army.
We remember Attila, who turned back within sight of Rome’s walls; and although we venerate the memory of the Saint, Pope Leo, still we hold that the state of the Hunnish horses is more to be looked towards, than the intervention of God in so black and devilish a human heart as Attila’s.
The Augustus, the Basileus Romaion, does not take his seat by the strength of his guards, but is acclaimed by the Senate and the People. His power does not blow in the wind, rising and falling with every passing incident, but rests on the firm foundation of legitimacy; and for this reason he is not obliged to speak always and triumphantly of the close and the personal, of the glorious clash of arms.
In Rome, we speak of logistics; and we do not glorify a border skirmish into a great triumph, no matter who was favoured by fortune on any particular field.
If our enemy brings to the field a force greater than the land can support, and by their numbers overwhelms an army proportioned to the just aims of the struggle, we are not discomfited by the loss of a few outposts; we know that a border is not eternal, and flows one way as easily as the other.
If our enemy makes peace while his heralds still trumpet every skirmish as were it the very battle of Armageddon, we are not surprised; for we know the state of his treasury and his granaries, as we know our own.
Rome has stood a thousand years, while her foes rose and fell; on every border there are, or were, people who can lay claim to this or that great disaster for the Eagles. Yet Rome endures; where are now the Celts, the Goths, the Huns? Carthaginian, Macedonian, Diadochoi, Sassanid; all have passed into the realm of shadows, and only their enemy remembers their name. In this generation the foe is called Fatimid, and he gloats at the conquest of Aleppo; but we are not discontent. In another century the barbarian will carry another name, but we shall still be Rome. And only Rome will remember the Fatimids, who now vaunt their hour upon the stage, and have forgot the names of those that went before.
There was a man once, who lived in these lands before Rome ruled them; and he wrote wisely. And as with all wisdom, his words came to Rome, and were judged, and found good; for as any man of discipline can become a citizen, so also we gather lessons from all the world, to add to our treasures. And therefore we look not only to the present day, or this decade, or to our own lifetimes; but plan for all time to come, and say of misfortunes, this, too, shall pass.