The Historia

Seeking Veracity

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Historical Excerpts on the 4th & 5th Century  Arbogast  Family Origins

 

THE BATTLE OF THE FRIGIDUS - SEPTEMBER 394

"The first day (5 September 394) of battle fell heavily on the foederati of Theodosius, half of whom were left dead upon the field.  It seemed as if the West were going once more to triumph over the East, as if heathenism might even once more gain the ascendant over Christianity.  That night, however, in prayer Theodosius had a vision of the Apostles John and Philip, who cheered him on with the assurance of victory.  Next day (6 September 394) Theodosius succeeded in detaching part of the army of his rival from their allegiance; and even the elements seemed eager to aid his victory.  The impetuous Bora, a wind well known in that region, sprang up from the hills  in the rear of his army and carried their arrows and their javelins with resistless force into the ranks of the enemy, whose own missiles recoiled helplessly on themselves.  The battle was won after a terrible struggle.  Eugenius was taken prisoner and carried bound into the presence of Theodosius, who upbraided him with his heathenism and his share in the murder of Valentinian.  While he was groveling at the proud conqueror's feet and begging for mercy, a soldier cut off his head and carried it round the field of battle on a pole to show the vanquished army that their Emperor was slain.  Arbogast wandered about for some days among the rugged mountain-defiles, and then fell upon his sword and perished." - 19,  p.  131

"At about an equal distance between Aemona and Aquileia, on the stream of the Frigidus (Wipbach), the decisive battle took place.  The Western army was encamped in the plain, awaiting the descent of Theodosius from the heights; Arbogast had posted Arbitio in ambush with orders to fall upon the unsuspecting troops as they left the higher ground.  The Goths led the van and were the first to engage the enemy.  Despite their heroic valour, the attack was unsuccessful; Bacurius was slain and 10,000 Goths lost their lives.  Eugenius, as he rewarded his soldiers, considered the victory decisive, and the generals of Theodosius counseled retreat.  Through the hours of the night the Emperor prayed alone and in the morning (6 September) with the battle-cry of "Where is the God of Theodosius?" he renewed the struggle.  Arbitio played the traitor's part and leaving his hiding-place joined the Eastern army.  But it was to no human aid which decided the issue of the day.  A tempestuous hurricane swept down upon the enemy;  blinded by the cloud of dust, their shields wrenched from their grasp, their missiles carred back upon themselves, the troops of Eugenius turned in panic flight.  Theodosius had called on God, and Heaven had answered.  The moral effect was overwhelming.  Eugenius was surrendered by his own soldiers and slain; Arbogast fled into the mountains and two days later fell by his own hand." - 18,  p.  247

" . . . the 'Bora', blew down from the hills into the face of Eugenius' army; and this circumstance of nature, which could readily be interpreted as a piece of divine intervention, decided the outcome.  Eugenius was captured, led into the presentce of Theodosius, and put to death;  his head was paraded on the end of a long spear before the armies and then throughout Italy, as a gruesome publication of Theodosius' victory.  Nicomachus Flavianus, upon the defeat and humiliation of his gods, committed suicide; while Arbogastes was said to have wandered in the hills for two days, before he too ended his own life." - 8,  p.  246

"Theodosius gave the order to descend into the valley and join battle.  Owing to the roughness of the ground over which they were moving, the baggage-train broke down.  A long and vexatious halt ensued.  Theodosius, to whose mind the religious aspect of this war was ever present, and whose enthusiasm was at least as strongly stirred as was that of Constantine at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, rode forward to the head of his column, and in words borrowed from the old Hebrew Prophet, exclaimed, ' Where is the Lord God of Theodosius?'  The troops caught the fervour of his spirit, the obstacle was quickly surmounted, and the army descended to the conflict." - 14,  p.  572

"The weight of that day's battle fell upon the Teutonic auxiliaries of the Emperor, and they were not successful.  Bacurius, the brave and loyal-hearted Armenian, fell; 10,000 of the barbarians perished, and the remnant, with their leaders, retired, but not in disorder, from the battle-field.  When night fell, Theodosius was not indeed absolutely routed, but his position had become one of extreme peril.  Eugenius, considering the victory as good as won, passed the night in feasting and in distributing largesse to the officers and soldiers who had most distinguished themselves in the encounter.  Theodosius was advised by his generals to retreat during the night, and adjourn the campaign till next spring.  But the soldier could not bear to retire before his grammarian rival, and the Christian refused to allow the standard of the Cross to confess itself vanquished by the figure of Hercules, which adorned the banners of Eugenius.  He found a solitary place in a hill behind his army, and there he spent the night in earnest prayer to the Lord of the Universe.  When the dawn was creeping over the Brinbaumer Wald he fell asleep.  In his vision two men mounted on white steeds and clothed in white raiment appeared to him.  They were not the great twin brethern who stood by Aulus on the margin of the Lake Regillus; they were the Apostles St. John and St. Philip, and they bade Theodosius be of good courage, since they were sent to fight for him in the coming day.  The Emperor awoke and resumed his devotions yet more earnestly.  While he was thus engaged a centurion came to inform him of a remarkable dream which had visited one of the soldiers in his company.  The dream of the soldier was the very same as that of the Augustus, and the marvelous coincidence of course gladdened all hearts.  Yet when in the early dawn the Emperor began again to move his troops down towards the scene of yesterday's encounter, he saw a sight which boded little good.  Far back amid the recesses of the mountains were soldiers of the enemy, in ambush though imperfectly concealed, and threatening his line of retreat.  The peril seemed more urgent than ever, but he contrived to call a parley with the officers of these troops, invisible probably to Eugenius, though seen by his antagonist, and he found them willing, almost eager, to enter his service, if they could be assured of pay and promotion.  The contract (not one of which either party had reason to be proud) was soon concluded, and Theodosius recorded on his tablets the height military offices which he bound himself to bestow on Count Arbitrio, the leader of the ambuscade, and on his staff. - 14,  p.  573

Note: It seems probable, though I do not think it is distinctly stated by any authority, that the Prefect Flavianus was with these troops, and that, being unable to prevent their desertion, he perished by his own hand. 

Strengthened by this reinforcement he made the sign of the cross, which was the concerted signal of battle, and his soldiers clashed against the foe, who in the security of victory were perhaps hardly ready for the onset.  Yet the second day's battle was obstinately fought, and was at length decided by an event which may well have seemed miraculous to minds already raised to fever-heat by this terribly even contest between the new faith and the old.  In the very crises of the battle a mighty wind arose from the north, that is to say from behind the troops of Theodosius, who were standing on the slopes of the Tarnovaner Wald.  The impetuous gusts blew the dust into the faces of the Eugenians, and not only thus destroyed their aim, but even carried back their own weapons upon themselves and made it impossible to wound one of their adversaries with dart or with pilum.  The modern traveller, without condisdring himself bound to acknowledge a miraculous interposition, has no difficulty in admitting the general truth of this narrative, which is strongly vouched for by contemporary authors.  All over the Karst (as the high plateau behind Trieste is called)  the ravages of the "Bora", or north-east wind, have long been notorious. 

Note: Is the fury of the Bora owing to the abrupt termination here of the great Alpine wall, or to some conflict between the climate of the Adriatic shores and that of the valleys of the affluents of the Danube?

Heavily-laden wagons have been overturned by its fury, and where no shelter is afforded from its blasts houses are not built, and trees will not grow. 

Note:  I take the following account of a recent outbreak of the Bora from the Standard of 31 December, 1890: -- ' But it is at Trieste that the South has most completely belied its conventional reputation.  For there, as our Vienna correspondent informs us, the "Bora" has been blowing with a violence which the Illyrians had begun to regard as a thing of the past.  For many years it has not been found necessary to stretch ropes along the streets of Trieste for pedestrians to hold on by, and it was the exception rather than the rule for vessels to be prevented from communicating with the shore, even when the Bora was blowing with its utmost strength.  The diminutation of its force was attributed to the gradual afforesting of the Darst, the upland plateau over which it swept unchecked in former times.  But the ferocity of the present gale showed no abatement of its vigour.  The ropes had again toa be streched along the streets, and, ships in the harbour were covered with ice, and several slipped their anchors, or even had their cables broken.'

From the fruitful and well-clothed aspect of the Wipbach Thal it might be supposed that it was sheltered by its mountain bulwarks from this terrible visitation.  But it is not so.  All the way up from the village of Heidenschafft to the crest of the pass which bounds the Wipbach Thal, the Bora rages.  Not many years ago the commander of a squadron of Austrian cavalry was riding with his men past the very village which probably marks the site of the battle.  An old man well versed in the signes of the weather warned him not to proceed, because he saw that the Bora was about to blow.  'No, indeed,' laughed the captain.  'What would people say if soldiers on horseback stopped because of the wind?'  He continued his march, the predicted storm arose, and he lost eight men and three horses, swept by its fury into the waters of the Wipbach.

Note:  It was interesting to hear this story (unsolicited by any question on my part, but which at once recalled Claudian's well-known lines) from the mouth of 'Michele il Tedesco,' the vetturino who drove me from Gorizia to Adelsberg (1878).

The same cause which in our lifetime struck those eight men off the muster-rolls of the imperial-royal army, decided the battle of the Frigidus near fifteen centuries ago, and gave the whole Roman world to the family of Theodosius and the dominion of the Catholic faith."

"The poet Claudian, describing the events of this memorable day, with all the audacity of a courtier makes them redound to the glory of his patron Honorius, son of Theodosius, a boy in the eleventh year of his age, who was a thousand miles away from the fighting, but to whose auspices, as he was Consul for the year, his father's victory might, be a determined flatterer, be ascribed. - 14,  p.  577

                        ' Down from the mountain, summoned by thy name

                        Upon your foes the chilling north wind came;

                        Back to the sender's heart his javelin hurled,

                        And from his powerless grasp the spear-staff whirled.

                        Oh greatly loved of heaven!  from forth his caves

                        Aeolus sends his armŽd Storms, thy slaves.

                        Aether itself obeys thy sovereign will,

                        And conscript Winds move to thy bugles shrill.

                        The Alpine snows grew ruddy: the Cold Stream

                        Now, with changed waters, glided dank with steam,

                        And, but that every wave was swoln with gore,

                        Had fainted 'neath the ghastly load she bore.'

                            Eugenius, who seems not to have been in the thick of the fight, and who still deemed himself secure of victory, saw some of his soldiers running swiftly towards him.  'Are you bringing me Theodosius in bonds,' he shouted, 'according to my orders?'  'By no means, they answered; 'he is conqueror, and we are pardoned on condition of carrying you to him.'  They then loaded him with chains and bore him into the presence of Theodosius, who upbraided him with the murder of Valentinian, and, almost as if it were an equal crime, with setting up the statue of Hercules for worship.  Eugenius grovelled at the feet of his rival, begging for life, but his entreaties were cut short by a sholdier who severed his head from his body with a sword.  This ghastly proof of failure carried round the camp upon a pole determined the last waverers to throw themselves on the mercy of Theodosius, who was now, at any rate, the only legitimate Roman Emperor.  This mercy was easily extended to them, policy as well as religion making it incumbent of the Emperor to convert his late foes as speedily as possible into loyal soldiers.  The barbarian Arbogast, of whose generalship on the second day of the battle we hear nothing, fled to the steepest and most rugged part of the mountains (perhaps the Nanos Berg), and after wandering about for two days, finding every gorge which led down into the plain carefully watched, fell upon his sword, like King Saul among the mountains of Gilboa, and so perished.  Thus fell the last of the antagonists of Theodosius.

Note:  The question of the exact site of the battle of Frigidus should be determined after a careful examination of the topography, such as no historian seems yet to have thought it worh while to institute.  The slight consideration whch I have been able to give to the subject on the spot leads me to believe that the battle was fought near Heidenschafft; the forces of Theodosius being, as I have said, on the lower slopes of the Tarnovaner Wald, and those of Eugenius in the valley and upon the range of lower hills opposite.  There are three names of towns or villages in the valley, all of which might possibly be connected with the battle.  Battuglia,  about an hour below Heidenschafft, might be a corruption of Battaglia.   The town of Heiligenkreuz, conspicuous on its pedestal of rock jutting out into the valley, may perhaps have derived its name originally from some erection by the Emperor in honor of the Holy Cross, which was his battle-signal, and allusions to which were so constantly on his lips during those two critical days.  And is it too much to suggest that Heidenschafft itself may, either as a corruption of Heidenschlacht or in some other way, be connected with 'the overthrow of the Heathens'?  Three languages, Italian, German, and Slovenic, are jammed up against one another in this corner of Austria, and probably no one of them is spoken with accuracy."

"As after the defeat of Maximus, so now, Theodosius showed himself humane and moderate in the hour of victory.  There was no proscription of the adherents of Eugenius or confiscation of their property.  The children of Eugenius and Arbogast, though not members of the Christian Church, had taken refuge in the Basilica at Milan.  Ambrose, true to the noble instincts of his nature, at once addressed a letter to Theodosius beseeching him to have mercy on the fallen.  The Emperor's reply consigned them provisionally to the protection of an Imperial notary,

  Note:  'Johnannes, tunc tribunus et notarius, qui nunc praefectus est' (Paulinus, Vita Ambrosii, 51).  Compare also Augustine, De Civitate Dei, v. 26.

and, before long a full and complete amnesty arrived at Milan, granted to the petition of Ambrose who had visited the Emperor at Aquileia, and had been assured that no reward was too great for the prayers which had earned the fateful victory." - 14,  p.  579    

 

 

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