Sunday 3 July 2016

Written in Water #9b: A Brexit Story

This book? Every bit as awful as you'd expect.
Ends with him saying Turkey should join the EU.
Draw your own conclusions.
Yeah, all right, I wasn't going to talk about Brexit, seeing as how it's turned out worse than we could ever imagine, a horrifically compromised mess that has more in common with the plot of The Producers than actual politics ("I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast.... where did I go right?") but then I remembered the Roman Brexit and how it wound up, and how it falls into the same period of historical collapse that I've been writing about, which seems appropriate seeing how history is collapsing around our ears as I write.

Let's talk about how well Brexit went back in the day, back in the collapse of history.

OK, so in 260CE, Brexit happened, the first time. Britain seceded from the Roman Empire and France and Spain went with it. I mean, OK, it might have been the other way round, but a. it's funnier this way, and b. usually in Roman history when someone wanted to secede it was Britain's idea, seriously, always Britain, and c. go with me, OK? OK.

The evidence for this period is sketchy as hell. We have the Historia Augusta, which is largely fiction, Orosius, who has like ten lines that are the same as the Augustan History more or less verbatim and a bunch of coins... and that's really about it.

Everyone's economy was collapsing at this point, what with plagues, foreign wars, migrants, tribal invasions and everything, and the Celtic Nations as they were then just decided to go it alone (historians actually call it the Gallic Empire). For about thirteen years, we think there was a series of short-lived breakaway emperors. After Victorinus, who didn't last very long at all, we come to the events of 273 (thanks, Orosius) and the fourth and last of them, Tetricus. The account below has to be largely fictional (most obviously the part that says "a long time") but it is literally nearly all we have.

Oh, and Aurelian was the legitimate Roman emperor from 270 to 275, and he was a scary, scary man.
Victorinus and his son were assassinated. Consequently, Victorinus's mother Victoria (or maybe Vitruvia) encouraged Tetricus, a Roman Senator with a mandate over Gaul to take up power. A lot of people say that this was because he was a relative. So, she arranged it so that he was crowned Augustus and his son Caesar. But although he'd ruled for a long time and had been pretty successful, he was defeated by Aurelian. He couldn't take the insults and insubordination of his army, so he surrendered of his own free will to that most severe and terrifying of emperors. Here is a line from a poem, quoted from the letter he had sent secretly to Aurelian: "Save me, invincible one, from these troubles." 

This was why Aurelian, who normally didn't plan on doing anything that wasn't cunning or violent, led this man – who'd been a senator, Prime Minister even, and who had been in charge of Gaul – in the same triumphal parade that had Queen Zenobia the wife of Odaenathus... Aurelian, maybe out of a sense of shame, made the man who he had paraded as a prisoner the chief official over Italy... and he didn't just let Tetricus live, but appointed him to a very high position. He even called Tetricus "colleague", "comrade" and even sometimes "Emperor."
"Trebellius Pollio", The Thirty Tyrants (Life of Tetricus), in the Augustan History. 
That's the entire Life of Tetricus aside from the list of who was in the triumphal parade and the list of regions Tetricus governed after going back to Rome (presumably because he couldn't show his face in Britain again). It's all we know about him, and it is so vague! "Pollio" doesn't even know for sure the name of Victorinus's mother.

Zenobia's another interesting character, but we'll talk about her another time.

Of course Tetricus reminds me of Boris Johnson. Of course he does. The guy who's asked to come in and take over the Brexit strategy and then bottles it for his own personal gain? This guy.

Tetricus got to be Prime Minister, of course.

Which Boris is never going to manage.

(Edit, 13th July. But of course now he's the Foreign Secretary, which is weird.)
(Edit, Autumn 2019. Well, this has aged well.)