KNIGHTS OF THE WESTERN EMPIRE
Western Roman Empire
Anno Domini 461
”The successor of Avitus presents the welcome discovery of a great and heroic character, such as sometimes arise, in a degenerate age, to vindicate the honor of the human species.”
-Gibbon, The Decline of the Roman Empire
”Majorian equalled the spirit and perseverance of the ancient Romans. The woods of the Apennine were felled; the arsenals and manufactures of Ravenna and Misenum were restored; Italy and Gaul vied with each other in liberal contributions to the public service; and the Imperial navy of three hundred large galleys, with an adequate proportion of transports and smaller vessels, was collected in the secure and capacious harbour of Ilici in Hispania.”
-Gibbon, The Decline of the Roman Empire
Julius Valerius Majorianus; Augustus, Caesar, Imperator, three times Consul; former Magister Militium of the Western Empire; former Magister Equitium to Flavius Aetius; conqueror of the Burgundii, the Visigothii and the Suevii; he was all those things, and more: he was the last, best hope of the crumbling Western Empire and what was worse, he knew it.
On nights such as this, when the apprehension before the coming battle came upon him, Julius wished desperately that he had been born in an earlier, happier time when even a disaster for the arms of Rome would have meant little more than his personal ruin – in a perverse way, he envied Publius Quinctilius Varus, who when all hope was lost could fall on his sword knowing that would be the end of it. Julius Majorianus would never dare to do that, for what would then happen to beloved, ancient and decrepit Roma Mater who depended so desperatly on the protective sword and inspired leadership of her First Son… no, he’d never desert her, not while there was life in his body, because he knew only too well the fate that awaited her in his absecence: the heartless ministrations of the Patrician Ricimer; his old friend Ricimer, the barbarian Magister Militium and, through his control of the barbarian-dominated army, the real power between Majorianus’s throne. He had been a good friend since the years they served together under Aetius and was not a bad sort, at least not any worse than many Romans that had been held in the highest honours. The great Aetius himself had been a ruthless schemer, far more so than good old Ricimer. No, the Patrician wasn’t the worst ruler Rome could have had, by far, but he did not love her.
For Julius, as it had been for Aetius, to rule was to always look for ways to restore her ailing health and bring back her old glory. For Ricimer, it meant only to further his own (and to be fair, also Majorianus’s) power and position. They had had endless arguments over that; Ricimer could never understand why his friend insisted on passing laws against the many forms of abuse of power and corruption through which the elite of Roman society enriched itself at the expense of the ordinary tax-crushed and opressed citizen. In his mind, that only served to turn those very elites against their rule. Furthermore, state income (which Ricimer equated with his and Majorianus’s own) depended on how much the tax collectors felt they could part with to be sure to avoid the scrutiny of a quaestor. Curtailing their depradations would only rob the Imperial coffers of desperately needed funds. So far, Ricimer had grudgingly accepted Julius’s claims that his reforms would eventually bring about an increase in tax revenue and in the meantime, the coffers would be filled with the loot and tributes payed by the defeated barbarian kingdoms formerly federated to Rome – first the Burgundians, then the Visigoths and finally, with Visigothic help, the Sueves of northwestern Hispania. All brought to heel and forced to swear fealty once more to the Western Empire as Foederatii.
Julius closed his eyes for an instant and tried to clear his mind of the worries of Government before opening them again, determined to enjoy the moment, knowing that he needed to relax if he was to function at his peak in the coming days. His present surroundings were pleasant enough: Oil lamps and torches spread a warm yellow light over the colourful mosaics of floor and wall, the wine in his golden cup was the best to be found in a region famed for its reds and the balmy night outside was bejewelled with the myriad of shining lights of the city of Ilici. A warm wind flowed in through the open arches of the Governor’s villa to caress Julius’s face like the hands of a lover. It carried the sweet, spicy fragrance of rockrose, wild thyme and rosemary along with the salty moisture from the sea. Once, it had been the Mare Nostrum, but no more…
With a sigh, Julius realised he had managed to spoil the mood for himself - again. For the sea that the Romans had called their own now belonged to Gaeseric, King of the Vandals and defiler of Rome. Only six years back, the Vandal horde had sacked the city on the seven hills, leaving her impoverished and bitterly reminiscent of happier days, when the world had trembled before her legions. Avenging that rape was Julius’s business now, and the reason why he had assembled a mighty fleet of three hundred warships in the harbour of Ilici, and why his armies, along with those of his now loyal ally Theoderic II of the Visigoths were camped outside the walls of the city. Majorianus was determined to put an end to the Vandal threat to Italy once and for all, and recover the rich African provinces with their abundant grain for Rome. This time, there would not be any offers to accept a role as foederatii – the Vandals, along with their King and Kingdom were to be annihilated. Only then, with Africa, Libya, Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily back under Roman rule would the shame of Rome be avenged and her glory somewhat restored.