Been brought down this month by Never Trumpers and Trump betrayers? Disgusted with the buyer’s remorse of fellow Republicans? Wearied by impatient, knee-jerk emotionalism of right wingers outraged by the President’ s recent omnibus compromise?
It’s high time for a very special Easter story. This is a story of the last Roman victory. It was a brief moment of false hope that took place just before the hand of history decided to close the book on the Roman Empire once and for all.
The Romans – These folks are “our team.” I suppose it’s typical of Westerners to side with Rome historically, as we can most easily identify with their empire and compare it with our own.
Stilicho – Rome’s hero in this story. He was actually a Vandal who nevertheless was proud of his maternal Roman heritage. This man was commander-in-chief of the army of Honorius.
The Visigoths – This is “their team.” These were barbarian invaders who ended up gnawing the edges of the Roman empire until there was nothing left. Their invasion of the Roman lands have often been likened to modern-day waves of immigrants pushed upon Western countries by globalists. The Visigoths in this story were comprised of tribes known as Vandals, Suevi, and Alans. Their religion was Arian Christianity. (Fun Facts: Arianism was a heresy. It is well-known that St. Nicholas–“Santa Claus”–actually hit Arius in the face. Arianism has been compared to the ongoing modernist heresy that seems to have consumed the Catholic Church in our modern day, and many have speculated that today’s crisis has exceeded the Arian crisis.)
Alaric the Bold – This is the “bad guy,” the antagonist. He is responsible for delivering the death blow to the city of Rome itself. He was actually a Roman who did not want to go against Rome, but he had a hard time escaping a foretold prophecy which said: ” Penetrabis ad Urbem” or “You will penetrate The City.” An outlaw to the Romans who was stripped of his command, he was seen as a tribal leader by his own Visigoth people.
Arcadius and Honorius – Boy emperors of Rome. In those final days, Rome was an absolute mess. The previous Emperor Theodosius I had died, leaving his two young sons Arcadius and Honorius as emperors. These boys were far too inexperienced to run the state, and so had to have more experienced men step in and serve as consuls.
By 401 AD, Alaric was migrating his people westward, towards Gaul. He went over the Giulian Alps, entered Italy, and passed right through the town of Aquileia. There was not much resistance to Alaric. Emperor Honorius’ rule was weak and ineffective. Rome was ripe for invasion, and Alaric knew it.
During the Autumn of 401, Alaric breezed along the Postumia road through Verona, Cremona, and after coming into Milan, he turned south. Heading down the Italian peninsula, Alaric was on his way to Tuscany. However, the invading barbarian learned that he would meet with the famous high-ranking general, Flavius Stilicho–who was actually recruiting the same Alan and Vandal barbarians he had previously been fighting in other parts. In response to news of Stilicho’s approach, Alaric turned right around and went back north. The barbarians were forced to go north to Asti, where they besieged Honorius, hoping to capture him and turn him into a valuable hostage. But then, Stilicho raced across the Po river and drove Alaric and his barbarians out of Asti and away from the boy emperor, to the town of Pollentia. Honorius was saved.
What happy news for the Romans! They must have thought their world was saved. Stilicho came to their rescue, and he would show Alaric a thing or two. “It’s not the end of the world, after all,” they must have thought. Already, residents of Rome were hastily rebuilding their walls in preparation for a siege. It must have been a relief to hear that Alaric was being drawn away.
And then, on Sunday, April 6, 402, Stilicho surprised the barbarian Visigoths as they were celebrating Easter. The distracted Arian Christian Visigoths were caught off guard by Stilicho’s strategy. The battle was a hard “win.” Stilicho’s barbarian recruits, not being the brightest men in the world, actually permitted Alaric to flee.
In truth, the battle was a stalemate. Stilicho had to cobble together a hurried and ill-coordinated force to chase off Alaric. Neither general could recruit enough dependable men for a military advantage. Although, Stilicho did manage to capture Alaric’s wife, children, and other family members. Stilicho gave Alaric his family back, in exchange that the latter take his barbarian army out of Italy to Illyricum. Alaric agreed to leave, but having second thoughts in Verona, his pillaging habit forced Stilicho to force Alaric out of Italy…for a while at least.
The Aftermath: Celebration-Turned-Buyer’s Remorse
Rome had a hero. Stilicho had saved them all at the very last minute. His was the cavalry who came to the rescue. Though the defeat of Alaric at Pollentia was hard-won and not a clear victory, the poet Claudian wasted no time in bragging about the victory in his poem, The Gothic War:
Your glory, Pollentia, shall live forever; worthy is your name to be celebrated by my song, a fit theme for rejoicing and for triumph. Fate pre-ordained you to be the scene of our victory and the burial-place of the barbarians. Full often have your fields and plains seen ample vengance exacted for aggression against the descendants of Romulus. It was there, in that same countrysie, that the Cimbric hordes, bearing down upon Rome from Ocean’s farthest shore and crossing the Alps by another pass, suffered their final defeat. The coming generation should mingle the bons of these two races and engrave with this one inscription the monument which records our double victory: “Here beneath the soil of Italy lie the bodies of brave Getae: their death they owed to our famous generals Marius and Stilicho. Learn, presumptuous peoples, not to despise Rome.”
St. Ambrose had high respect for Stilicho. This affection was returned, when the general heard news of the saint’s impending death. Upon hearing of St. Ambrose’s illness, “Count Stilicho,” fearing that the saint’s death would mean the destruction of Italy itself, dispatched an embassy of community leaders to implore the saint to pray to God and ask for an extension of his life.
Another fan of Stilicho was the Roman Christian poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens. In his work, Panegyric of Stilicho, the poet praises the general’s victory over Alaric at Pollentia in 402, claiming that he defends Rome under the protection of Christ, and proclaiming that the victory of the empire is guaranteed without pagan rituals. He holds Stilicho’s victory higher than the victory of Camillus’ victory over the Gauls in the early Republican years, and that the general’s prowess is greater than the repulse of Hannibal during the Punic wars.
But Stilicho’s fame faded quickly. Stilicho’s exploits and heroics would only prove to be a flash in the pan. They were brief and ephemeral. It is true that Stilicho quickly resumed fighting on the front lines against the barbarian hordes for Rome’s safety. He was becoming a legend. But at some point between 405 and 407, Stilicho attempted to pay Alaric not to attack Italy ever again. He was in his 40s, after all. A man gets tired with age.
Stilicho’s peaceful means of preventing war was seen as treason. Many Roman senators felt threatened by Stilicho’s popularity and his appearance of power. He certainly was a contrast to the young Emperor, who liked to luxuriate in his palace, wasting time feeding his pet chickens and pigeons. (In fact, historian Edward Gibbon once remarked: “In the eventful history of a reign of twenty-eight years, it will seldom be necessary to mention the name of the emperor Honorius.)
Even St. Jerome (in his letter to Ageruchia) had his doubts about Stilicho’s loyalty to Rome, calling him a half-barbarian:
For thirty years the barbarians burst the barrier of the Danube and fought in the heart of the Roman Empire. Long use dried our tears. For all but a few old people had been born either in captivity or during a blockade, and consequently they did not miss a liberty which they had never known. Yet who will hereafter credit the fact or what histories will seriously discuss it, that Rome has to fight within her own borders not for glory but for bare life; and that she does not even fight but buys the right to exist by giving gold and sacrificing all her substance? This humiliation has been brought upon her not by the fault of her Emperors who are both most religious men, but by the crime of a half-barbarian traitor who with our money has armed our foes against us.
Rutilius Namantianus’ A Voyage Home to Gaul also reflects on Stilicho’s deal with Alaric. Stilicho is seen as a betrayer, cursed, selfish, and deserving of suffering forever in Tartarus:
All the more grievous for this cause the crime
Of the stern Stilicho, that he betrayed
The Empire’s secret. While he strove to outlive
The Roman race, his cruel rage confounded
Both high and low; while that wherein he had made
Himself a fear he feared, barbaric arms
He loosed for Roman murder ; an armed foe
He in his country’s naked vitals hid.
His treachery freer by the ruin he wrought.
Rome to the skin-clad myrmidons lay wide,
And captive was ere taken prisoner.
Nor was it only by the Getic arms
The traitor made advances ; he erstwhile
Burned the decrees given by the Sibyl’s aid.
We hate Althaea for the death produced
By the burnt torch ; the birds are thought to weep
For Nisus’ lock ; the Empire’s fate-fraught pledges
And yet full-furnished distaff Stilicho
Was willing to destroy. Let all the pangs
Of Nero in Tartarus cease, a sadder spirit
Consume the Stygian torches !
In 408, Stilicho’s officers were ambushed and murdered in a coup d’etat. After an assassination attempt, Stilicho sought sanctuary in a church. Loyal to the end, he refused to start a civil war and set his troops upon his enemies. He eventually came out of the church willingly, and he was swiftly beheaded. His son was later killed after seeking refuge in Rome. His property was confiscated after his death. And even the families of his troops were massacred.
Rome’s reward for rooting out their object of hatred was for Alaric the Bold to invade Rome once more in 410, this time to succeed and destroy the empire forever.
There are clear lessons to be drawn from General Stilicho’ s Easter victory in 402 AD. These themes can be applied to the empire of our current day, the United States.
Rome during that time was running off of fumes and emotion. Their problems had compounded upon one another, creating a tangled civilizational mess that the Romans were intellectually incapable of dealing with. The Romans lacked cohesion as a society, and so it is no wonder that they had to rely upon a last-minute rescue by General Stilicho. Their predicament shows how completely unprepared they were for the cruel realities that faced them.
Today, the U.S. faces the same predicament. We have a population that feeds on the high-fructose-corn-syrup lies and rhetoric served to us by soft congressmen, a feral media, and a narcissistic Hollywood culture. Our military and political structure has been weakened for decades, and yet the citizenry can’t imagine American life being any different from what it is now. We are like the Romans who believed Italy was impregnable.
Just as Rome appeared saved from the barbarians at the last minute by Stilicho, so too does it appear that The Donald materialized out of thin air, promising to wall off the American City on the Hill from invading hordes of immigrants. We are under the impression that he will “drain the swamp” in Washington, that he will fearlessly take on an entrenched establishment, and that he will defeat the globalists at every turn.
In Rome, after General Stilicho came on the scene, he was lauded as a hero by pagans and Christians alike. But once he dared to make a deal with Alaric, he instantly became everyone’s enemy, deserving death and hell. Likewise, when President Trump makes some sort of compromise, he immediately becomes a traitor in the public mind, and everyone forgets the victories he won for the people.
Also, seeing as how Stilicho was a Christian, once he was perceived as a traitor to Rome, his Christianity was blamed for the fall of the empire. So, too, when President Trump is said to fall short of expectations, his red-pilled brand is vilified. The naysayers who’ve always been threatened by Trump are seemingly vindicated.
Both Stilicho and Trump are divisive characters. The citizens of their time have strong opinions that either favor or despise these men. Our advantage in this present age is that we can look back at history, recall what has happened before now, and prepare our minds and hearts for what may be a predictable pattern. In this way, we can take comfort that others have traveled on this path of history before, and we can have some sense of what we can do and what we can expect.