During the heyday of the Roman Empire, it was possible to send a letter–or even a parcel containing a pair of knitted socks!–from Mesopotamia to a fort on Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland. After Rome fell, it would not again become possible to do that for another fifteen hundred years.
Note the comments by Cicero and Abraham Lincoln, posted by “Watchman.”
***On a higher note, last night we listened to President Trump’s speech at the UN. Wow! How badly and for how long we’ve needed a president like that! The only thing he could’ve said that would’ve made it even better would have been, “And as of now, the United States will no longer fund this ridiculous institution.”
In any lifelong search for the reality of King Arthur, one is bound to stumble over someone called “Riothamus,” or “Rigotamus.” In the ancient British language it means “great king,” so it might not have been his name. We might not know his name.
Riothamus is a historical figure, in the sense that historians are confident that he really existed, they know certain particulars of his career, he was mentioned by other historical figures, and he was most active around the year 470–which would put him in the generation preceding Arthur’s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riothamus). We think, we are pretty sure, that he and his army invaded the European mainland to help the Romans against the Goths: and he then either settled in what is now Brittany, or returned to Britain and was killed by traitors there, or else was ambushed by overwhelming numbers of Goths and killed on that battlefield.
He might have been Aurelianus Ambrosius, who preceded Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, as the war-leader of the Britons. Ambrosius had much success against the invading Saxon tribes–until he was murdered.
This period of European history, when Rome was falling and tribes, not yet nations, were on the move, is a chaotic jumble and very hard to reconstruct. Arthur could have been Riothamus, if you adjust the dates accordingly. But then where do you put Uther, if you put him anywhere at all?
We live in hope that someday a few more ancient parchments will turn up in unlikely places, and provide some of the information that we lack.
All we can say for sure is that someone in Britain checked the invaders thoroughly enough so that a new nation, England, a Christian nation, could be born strong enough to survive in turbulent times. And that accomplishment has never been linked to any name but Arthur’s.
That was the nickname given to Stilicho by historian Edward Gibbon.
“The last of the Romans,” and commander of what was left of all the Roman armies in the West, Stilicho was half-Vandal and related by marriage to the imperial family. In 408 A.D. he was judicially murdered as the result of a coup within the imperial household. Two years later, Alaric and the Goths sacked Rome. That was the end of the Roman Empire in the West.
Stilicho won battle after battle with armies he was forced to scrape together at short notice, a small hard core of veterans, and barbarian allies who sometimes didn’t stay allies for long. He was the last Roman general to be awarded a triumph, in 402, after beating back another Gothic invasion of Italy. In 406 a confederation of several barbarian nations burst into Italy. Stilicho raised 30 “legions” totalling some 30,000 men and drove off the invaders. Once upon a time, a Roman legion was 6,000 men, plus allies and auxiliaries–for all practical purposes, ten thousand. For Stilicho, a legion was a single thousand.
But there were no legions available to defend the Rhine frontier. The confederation swarmed across the frozen river and ravaged the provinces of Gaul–which led also to a revolt in Britain.
Gibbon marveled at what Stilicho was able to do, militarily, with so little–a very far cry from the armies Rome placed at the disposal of Scipio or Augustus Caesar.
What ought to be remembered is this: Stilicho’s strength was stretched so thin, his resources of money and manpower so limited, that he could not afford to lose a battle: he could never lose and live to fight another day. His political enemies in Rome lived for that single defeat that would mean the end of Stilicho. When he was unable to stop the invasion of Gaul, they framed him on a trumped-up charge of treason and had him put to death. That was the reward he got for all his victories. That was the one defeat, the one failure, he was not allowed to suffer.
Does that remind you of any leader currently in office, in our own time?
I ordered this book last week, and have been devouring it. Just can’t put it down.
All right, I’m a King Arthur buff. It’s my mother’s fault for telling me stories of Sir Lancelot. She could’ve had no idea how intently I was listening–what was I, three years old? When I was a few years older, I read my King Arthur picture book over and over again until it fell apart.
Two things make Mr. Saklatvala’s 1967 book stand out from the crowd.
First, it’s really cool! He delves into the messy, jumbled records of Dark Age Britain and the Middle Ages and ties things together that I never saw tied together before. The fragmentary records left of the last gasps of the Western Roman Empire are especially illuminating. True, the confused state of the record makes it impossible to prove any definite conclusions about Arthur. But Beram Saklatvala makes me nod my head and say to myself, “Hmm! Y’know, it really might’ve been that way!” Anyhow, who doesn’t love an enduring historical mystery?
The other thing is the mystery of Saklatvala himself. He’s almost as shadowy a figure as King Arthur. All I’ve been able to find out about him is a) he wrote some two dozen books, mostly on English history, and b) he sometimes used the pseudonym, “Henry Marsh.” Oh–and his middle name was Shapurji–is that Indian, Parsee, or Iranian? But his writing style is a comfortable read. It makes me wish his book were longer.
So it’s raining really hard today, but I’ve got a door into the year 500 A.D. and I can easily escape before the Saxons get me, just by closing the book.
I am amazed by the number of primary or close-to-primary sources Mr. Saklatvala brings to bear, some of which I’ve seen no other writer use.
This has got to be the coolest book I’ve read this year.
The disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when shall these things be?” And Jesus said, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24: 3,36)
And when the Pharisees demanded an answer to the same question, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” (Luke 17:20)
So my short answer to the question can only be, “How could I possibly know?”
I would say most of my fellow Christians believe that these are, if not the last days themselves, then at least their precursor. It’s not my place to say they’re right or wrong, because I don’t know.
But this fallen world has known other ages that must certainly have convinced people that the end was right around the corner.
*The fall of Rome in A.D. 410 and the ensuing collapse of Roman civilization throughout Western Europe.
*The seemingly irresistible aggressions of Islam during the 7th and 8th centuries, culminating in the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
*The Black Death in the 1300s.
*The Thirty Years’ War, in the 1600s.
*Most of the Twentieth Century, including two world wars, several holocausts (such as Mao’s Great Leap Forward, which forced untimely death on at least 40 million Chinese in just five years), the use of nuclear weapons, and the flowering of most of the toxic, pernicious follies that afflict our 21st century.
Like many of you, I pray every day that the Lord would deliver us out of this evil age, which is more evil, more monstrous, and more insane than anything I could ever have imagined.
We are all enjoined by Our Lord to watch, and be found at our posts when He comes. If He comes tomorrow, we will all rejoice. If He comes a thousand years from now, we’ll have to watch from Heaven, and do our rejoicing there.
If anyone demands of us a date for Christ’s return, they’re only doing it to find an excuse to laugh at us. Let’s not give them one. Let’s watch and be ready, as Our Lord commanded. Do the work He has given us, hope, pray… and love.