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  • Chasing Off Demons in Roman Slovenia April 6, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback

    Beach is coming back to the Battle of the Frigidus in 394, by all means click the link if you need to refresh your memory. As Theodosius is bringing his army up to fight Eugenius’s army something rather strange is described by the historian Rufinus.

    But the pagans [Eugenius’ army], who are always giving fresh life to their errors with new ones, renewed their sacrifices and stained Rome with blood of their accursed victims, examining the entrails of cattle, and from their foreknowledge based on these organs, announced that Eugenius was sure of victory. Flavian, who was prefect at the time, performed these rites according to his superstition and with enormous enthusiasm, and because of his assertions – for his reputation as a man of wisdom was very high – they were sure that Eugenius would prevail.


    But when Theodosius, confident in the assistance provided by true religion, began to force the Alpine passes, the first to flee were the demons, fearfully aware of how deceitfully they had received the many victims offered to them in vain. Next were those who taught and professed those errors, especially Flavian, who was weighted with more shame than guilt.

    Flavian was a prefect and a haruspex, a pagan priest who opened innards to decide on the advisability of events: for example, should we make battle today? He had previously advised Eugenius to fight, explaining that he would win, yet he now flees and Rufinus tells us that he subsequently committed suicide as he ‘judged that he deserved death because of his error rather than his crime’. Confusingly he killed himself before the battle in Rufinus’ version of events. There is likely something wrong with the text here as the different bits do not add up: even with Alan Cameron’s careful examination in 2011 (Last Pagans, 100-101).

    Beach wonders about the demons. There is no question that the ancients believed in demons: Peter Brown reminds us that otherworld creatures were as close as ‘adjacent rooms’ to our Greek and Roman ancestors. However, this is a very strange chance reference. How did Theodosius and co know that the demons were fleeing? Why put them in the narrative here? In parts of northern Europe mountain passes with unusual wind conditions are associated with various bogeys. Is it possible that the winds rising or not rising inspired this passage for the Alps? This would then explain the special interest in the winds in the battle of Frigidus in the next days…Had Rufinus promised that Theodosius would not be able to go over the mountains? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com   Not sure, but Beach suspects that there is more to bleed out of this little account.