Saturday, 30 April 2016

Hivernian Soldiers

Gratillonius' first sight of the High King Niall:

"There was no mistaking the enemy chief, a tall, golden-haired man, like some pagan God of war." (Roma Mater, pp. 282-283)

Gratillonius means to eliminate the enemy chief first but the chaos of battle and something more keep them apart. The Morrigu intervenes. On the human level, this means that the Scoti kill many and escape. Gratillonius reflects:

"If Rome had civilized Hivernia, long ago when that was possible, what soldiers for her its sons would be!" (p. 284)

Here is another parallel between the Roman and British Empires. In 1914-1918, many Irishmen fought for Britain. In 1916, some Irishmen rose against Britain.

"'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky
"Than at Sulva or Sud El Bar..." (See here and here)

The point of these lines is that it would be better to die at home fighting against the Empire than abroad fighting for it. Gratillonius' regret that the Hivernians are not fighting for Rome reminded me of the ballad-singer's regret that many Irishmen did fight for Britain. History resonates.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Again, I too remember how Gratillonius wished Rome had conquered and civilized Hivernia. Probably the best time for doing that would have been in the reigns of either Domitian and Trajan. I think the historian Tacitus wrote in his biography of his father-in-law Agricola that this governor of Roman Britain believed he could conquer Ireland with two legions. One wonders how history would have changed if Hivernia had been annexed by Rome!


David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:

Yes, Tacitus is quoted as saying that about two legions being enough to do the job. But that's *hubris*, and if smart, the Romans would've gone with overwhelming force. "There is no overkill. There is only 'Open fire' and 'I need to reload.'"

I've actually toyed with the notion of such a story (though I knew I don't have the capability to really write it). I considered as a necessary precondition, though, that the Teutoburgerwald massacre of three Roman legions didn't happen, for whatever reason, so the Romans never shifted to a "hold what we have" mode.

I envisioned them pushing further east and north into Germany for a while, maybe even taking part or all of the Danish peninsula in such a surge, then using their positions there to support northward movement in Britannia that brought it all under the eagles.

And THEN, once what would never be known as Scotland was firmly Roman, a multi-pronged strike across the Irish Sea from Islay and Kintyre, from Man and Ynys Mon (Anglesey) and Dyfed ... and AVE CAESAR HIBERNICUS!

Considering how piratical the Irish (like everyone else) were at about that time (and even more so in the Empire's waning days), it wouldn't have been unjustified aggression....

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, David!

Very interesting comments from a former soldier who has studied war and strategy more deeply than most civilians like me can. Yes, if the disaster of the Teutoberger Forest had not occurred, Rome most likely would have advanced at least as far east as the Elbe River, and probably overrun Denmark as well. Given that, the complete conquest of Scotland would probably have followed. Given all that, Hivernia would most likely have been conquered.

Yes, the sheer brutality of the barbarian pirate raids on the waning Empire of the late fourth century would have justified Rome taking such aggressively preemptive action in its high days. I would only add that we don't see much mentioned of similar Irish banditry in the first and second centuries AD because the Irish princes and chieftains were too smart to goad the Empire when it was at the height of its power. Pirate expeditions of the kind plotted by Niall would merely have provoked lethally effective counteraction by Rome--which was not in the habit of using only ineffectual half measures when the Empire really decided to DO something.