Administratively, when dealing with so vast and varied a domain, that made most sense, with two co-Emperors governing each his respective half with far more efficiency than would one emperor over a single, vast entity.
There were linguistic, and cultural differences that also made it sensible to split the Empire along east and west lines.
Western Roma spoke Latin primarily. Eastern Roma spoke Greek primarily.
Constantinople was the eastern half’s capital. The culture of the Eastern empire was far more ancient than Roma’s, but politically the Western empire got going first.
Oddly, it was the older, more established Roman western half that fell first, a millennium before the eastern part finally succumbed to its enemies. Barbarian tribes, pouring across the borders, found nothing to stop them from entering and plundering Italia and threatening the city of Roma itself. Trickery and cupidity, with bribes passing this way and that, settled the matter when the Visigoths besieged Roma in ANNO 410.
They had demanded pepper, the most expensive commodity in the world market that even surpassed the value of gold, and got not only the whole pepper supply of Roma, but Roma instead!
Without a fight great, well-defended city gates opened to them and the barbarians poured through into the helpless capital of the Western Empire. Though sadly reduced in wealth, power, and population, Roma remained the greatest city in prestige and monuments and splendor the world had to offer at this time.
Everything important in it had been built on a grand scale, as if to accommodate a Titanic race and not mere men.
Astonished at the sights of the West’s preeminent metropolis, which had been the world’s queen city for something over half a millennium, the awed Visigoths and Vandals (ANNO 455) in turn took every valuable they could get their hands on but left the monuments and buildings intact.
Roma had destroyed and looted many cities and kingdoms in its long career-—all this treasure was in Roma for the taking.
In a thousand years of successful conquest of city after city, kingdom after kingdom, mountains of costly furniture, paintings, statuary, jewels, ivory, perfumes, marble, furs, and gold and silver coins as numerous as the sands of the sea had been accumulated in the capital.
There was so much booty, in fact, that it took extensive looting by quite a number of barbarian armies to carry it all off.
The imperial Queen of all cities and kingdoms and empires was far too great to be reduced in a sudden way, as pictured in later accounts of Roma’s fall, usually with abandoned Roman matrons clutching hapless infants as fires barbarians put Roman men to the sword and fires engulfed the monuments and temples as the city “fell.”
No such thing happened. Roma could wither away slowly, but certainly not vanish quickly. Something so stupendous could not be destroyed at one or even a dozen strokes. It required many, many decades and countless invasions and attacks, most of them unrecorded and unremembered.
The Forii, the Colisseum, the Circus Maximus, the imperial palaces on the Palatine, the Baths of Caracula, the Triumphal Arches of emperors and kings, the Pantheon, the pagan temples and the great basilicas of the Christians, the aqueducts, bridges, fortresses, the Golden Milestone set at the center of Roma’s world-ranging road system all radiating to that one point, the many Egyptian obelisks, the pools, gardens, and fountains beyond count, the palaces of the rich and the nobility, the innumerable temples, the vastness of such edifices and the sheer numbers of the citizenry thronging every part of the city, not to mention the vast plumbing systems begun by the Etruscans and the great defensive walls—it was utterly breathtaking to unsophisticated tribes who had known only small, coarse, frontier towns and forts of the Romans and could not have guessed what Roma was really like. They couldn’t have torn down all this in a day or a week or a month, and certainly not in a year, or in a decade or even half a century. And no tribe was able to do it alone. It took many hordes of barbarians to do the job over a long period of time.
Chief among the hordes that set about the gigantic task of tearing down Roma, the Visigoths and Vandals, loaded with unbelievable treasure that greatly taxed their ability to transport it away, left Roma somewhat poorer but relieved there was still a city to call home.
The state coffers were stripped, the temples were bare of gold and jewels, the leading families and bankers were penniless, but they had their lives—the barbarians hadn’t known what to do with so many people and, deciding to depart, took the most portable treasure and quite forgot about taking captives to sell to any buyer they could find. But who would buy them? Roma had always bought slaves in the past, but now Roma had no money.
The Visigoths had lost their chief slave market in this highly successful raid. So the Romans weren’t worth taking as slaves. Why bother feeding so many anyway, and get nothing in return? So they quitted Roma with every valuable that was portable—leaving the libraries, state records, art throves, and most of the statuary right where they were. Even without gold and silver, Roma remained the richest city on earth, and richer in a material, artistic way than any city would ever be again, unless you counted in Constantinople, the Second Roma in the East.
On to Spain the Western Goths poured, carving out a kingdom there that would stand until the 7th century, while the Eastern Goths established a Romanized kingdom in northern Italia, building their tombs and major buildings Roman-style and emulating everything Roman.
The Vandals, invited by a Roman to come and see how undefended the Romans were, took ship and landed in Africa, in the rich, highly populated provinces of the Roman coast, and set up in Hippo and Carthage and other chief cities. As in Italia, there was little or any fight in Africa, for the Roman army was virtually non-existent, and the last Roman emperor had fled with his court to Ravenna.
With the Visigoths and Vandals out of the way or settled upon captured lands, Italia was open for more pillaging, and Burgundians followed suit, using the same great Roman roads their barbaric predecessors had used.
Scandinavians, they moved from the south shore of the Baltic under pressure from the Getae tribes. They weren’t quite so awed by Roman civilization, and did all they could to wipe it out wherever they passed.
They burned down the villas, the elegant, productive country places of the rich gentry, took whatever had been left by the Visigoths and Vandals that they wanted, torching the rest.
They attacked towns and cities, that however thriving and populace, were left smoking ruins without a living soul in them. At last the Roman dominion began to look like the popularized accounts of Roma’s fall.
Strangely enough, even while they smashed the fine buildings, tearing down aqueducts (though they were extremely difficult to demolish) to disrupt the water supplies flowing to all the chief cities, broke up the piping systems that fed the great fountains and baths the Romans loved, and everywhere did all the havoc they could think of, the civilization they destroyed exerted a growing fascination upon their barbarian senses and unformed imagination.
Roma, in its last gasp, imprinted itself indelibly upon its destroyers. When the Burgundians retired from a ruined, starving, dying Italia with all the plunder they could load into wagons and onto horses, they did not leave Roma behind, they carried an ever more glorious image of Roma with them.
Never again would they see anything that compared with what they had destroyed. The Burgundian king was a Christian, and he formulated a law based upon Roma’s for his realm—this legal system endured for hundreds of years in their settlements and cities and kept the Burgundian state from disintegrating like so many tribal states and kingdoms did when there was nothing more than plunder and warrior culture to hold them together while they were still roaming about.
Meanwhile, back in Roma, the bishop, gathering more power, was the only ruler left of any authority who could stand up to the barbarian invaders. By the time the Lombards arrived, the Bishop, now the primary head of all the Church, could call upon Pepin, a German king styled “Holy Roman Emperor”, and the king came to Roma’s rescue and drove out the Lombards.
In the desolated depths of depopulated Gallia, and in the northern countries that lay beyond, the Burgundians seized territories and settled with their Roman goods, half-Romanized ways, and new Christian-Roman legal system. They were rich now, and using Roman means subdued the land and became farmers, townsfolk, and aristocracy—all very Roman in style and rank. Their crude barbarian ways dropped away, and they civilized themselves, using the ways and means of the civilization they had tried to wipe off the surface of the earth!
Growing richer as the centuries passed, the Burgundians increased their holdings, learning, and numbers. A millennium passed, and they were to be found possessors of a great and flourishing Duchy that included Belgium, the Netherlands, and a good portion of northern France. This was a solid enough basis for real imperial expansion, if their able dukes ever entertained the notion. They were, indeed, poised, as far as position, to gain possession of most or even all of Europe north of Italia. It was Burgundia’s hour.
Unfortunately, Burgundia was not prepared for the awesome responsibility, at least not at the level of the dukedom. The Burgundians failed to take the side of right in the matter of Joan of Arc. The Maid of Orleans, as she was called, was not a warrior herself but stood up to inspire and lead the Franks against the English who had taken half the French dominions.
Thanks to her victories and success in saving France, Joan was tried by an English court and burned at the stake as a heretic, though she was innocent of every charge and all involved knew it.
Thanks to their role, the Burgundians would find themselves sidestepped by destiny as a new, revitalized France, saved by Joan of Arc at a critical moment, arose to dominate that portion of Western Europe.3>
It was a sheer irony, not lost on the well-educated Burgundians, that East Roma would be reduced to begging help from the Burgundians who had help destroy West Roma—for it was a Burgundian king who had exiled the last West Roman emperor, the young Romulus Augustulus, to the Island of Elba in ANNO 476. It had taken one thousand years, but high and mighty Constantinople, capital of East Roma, was also humbled, with bowl in hand, pleading for money and arms and soldiery. What a spectacle to feast their eyes upon! How events repeat themselves, over and over! The last Roman emperor of a long, long lineage now come kneeling before them! Out of over eighty eight emperors, Michael Paleologus was the last to present to Europe the cause of imperiled East Roma.
Well, not exactly kneeling! Everyone who saw him pass through the ducal dominions or appear at the court to speak his case, saw a rather dignified gentleman—not attired in splendid robes, to be sure, but decent enough clothes for a nobleman.
Greek in language, yet he was well-educated and knew his Latin too, and could parley with any priest or noble on any subject offered. There was much talk with him, to be sure. Everyone wanted to meet him at least once, for the record. But no help of any real sort was given, and the emperor passed on, turning from the cold, empty greetings of northern Europe and heading back east to his besieged city and wretchedly shrunken empire.
Yes, Burgundians all got to see the crowned, reigning Emperor of East Roma, but what did the emperor see in return gaze? No doubt he saw all the same kind of people, whatever kingdom he was passing through. They were half-literate Western “Latins,” (called Latins because they spoke a barbarous Latin) with a Church bishop at Roma that had blessed and sent a crusading army from Venice right into his own city during the 11th century and sacked and torched it just as any barbarian tribe would have done if given the chance. In other words, he saw barbarians who called themselves Christians but who had proven themselves over and over nominally Christian and utterly treacherous. But what choice had he but to turn to them for help? The East had fallen to the infidel, and only the kingdoms of the West remained free of the Turk and strong enough to resist with arms.
He saw nothing but false smiles and false manners in these Romanized Goths, Franks, and Burgundians—but the little children, it was their innocent faces that told a different story. They alone were different from the run of Western humankind. Untainted by hypocrisy and evil, their eyes were open, honest, and tender. The children might well have gone to his aid, if they could have found means to do so. They alone might have flocked to his standard and followed him to fight the Turk, if only he had given them the call. But he knew the vast dangers ahead. Children must not be put in such danger, however great the cause. So, upon leaving Dijon the capital of the duchy without one offer of help, he looked out upon the green fruitful fields of Burgundia and pronounced them fit for only producing wild mustard—since their owners refused Christian duty to go to the aid of the Christian East.
Yet the emperor was, perhaps, too swift in categorizing his false friends. He missed a certain musician at the court of the Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. The musician had availed himself of the opportunity to see the emperor, and something about the fall of Constantinople, when it came, stirred the musician’s soul to the depths. We know this because Guillaume Dufay, the leader and most oustanding composer of the Burgundians, wrote music commemorating the fall of Christendom’s queen city.
The music? “Lamentations For the Church at Constantinople,” was a two-part song accompanied with a primitive trombone of the period, using a text from Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet, which said, “all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her.”
The music compared Constantinople with Jerusalem, and it was a close comparison, since everybody knew about Constantinople’s hundreds of monasteries, churches, and supreme mother church, St. Sophia. No city was so crowded with religious artifacts and religious monuments as this city. Yet they had allowed the infidel to attack and take it for their own, turning the churches into granaries, Turkish baths, or mosques, while enslaving all the Christians who weren’t able to buy their freedom, forcing conversions wherever convenient, and killing the priests and monks.
All this the Burgundians knew, and shed no tears. Ever since the great religious schism in the Church, that divided Christendom between the Pope in Roma and the Archbishop in Constantinople, the two halves regarded each other with equal suspicion and resentment. Constantinople was, of course, a far off place outside the purlieu of the Pope reigning at Roma (whom the more devout Burgundians considered the Pope the legitimate head of the Church), and the Turks, at the moment, posed no threat to Burgundy.
Why should they allow the fall of the “schismatic” Orthodox East Romans to dampen their joy of life. Life was good, very good, in Burgundia. The soil was rich, the trade was lively, and the music-—all but this piece of Dufy’s concerning Constantinople’s fall—uplifting.
The faces of his audience, long in expression as the sacqueboutes, reflected how little they liked the Dufy piece. It also struck a worst note than guilt. While it played upon their beringed and perfumed ears, it could not have failed to whisper: “So it may happen with you as it did to them—beware!”
Was this the infamous vale of decision, that all similarly thankless and smug nations and peoples at one time or another must enter and pass through?
The great Duchy of Burgundia-—could it claim no patriots such as France could claim in Joan of Arc or a Charles Martel? Would no native son or daughter fight and offer his or her life to save her from becoming nothing more in the world but a pot of bitter mustard?
Perhaps not. Only twenty years later in 1477 , the pride and glory of Burgundia had all but vanished, its territories, wealth, culture, and people absorbed by Charles I, king of Spain and known also as Charles V, Holy Roman emperor. A small portion later survived the fall in turn of the Holy Roman Empire and was assimulated as a French province, it is true-—but the great and grand Duchy that held promise to rival the greatest European powers? It had flown away, ingloriously, and unlike Constantinople, without tears, without lamentation. Constantinople’s fall to Christ-less religionists has been mourned for over five and an half centuries. Nobody mourns for Burgundia. Instead tipsy tourists and local Burgundians tour the celebrated wine cellars and vineyards of the modern province by the thousands, savoring the best brands—but really the curse of the emperor has held true to this day, for it is mustard, not wine, by which the whole world knows Burgundia-—a fact that is just as certain as the bitter and mournful fact of Burgundia’s lost sovereignty.
As for Maestro Guilliame Dufy’s music, it remained popular for many years, all but the singular piece titled “Lamentations With Sacqueboutes.” How could this happen? It is unique in the chronicles of mankind, for a nation to disappear so utterly and, it appears, so uncontested. There have not been any separatist “Free Burgundy” insurgents, and there will be none.
Yet even the scent of water, God’s word proclaims, can revive a tree cut down at the base of its trunk, that is circled even with a band of iron to prevent new growth.
If the Burgundians ever awaken to their lost opportunity, and seek to make things right, who knows what the Almighty may do? He has seemingly forgotten Burgundia, and the memory of its greatness fades between the pages of centuries-old books. But the scent of water, the tears of Burgundians, may yet cause the Lord to remember that lost people and its lost destiny during his coming Thousand Year Reign on Earth.
Tears may yet prove sufficient to revive the sleeping roots, which will then put forth tender new growth at the base of the dead tree that was once a mighty and flourishing oak in the forest of nations. Down with Dijon’s Mustard, though the wonders of it be extolled by sacqueboutes! Viva the New Burgundia of the Millennium!