Þrjótur History

Marius and the End of the Roman Republic
The Conquest of Scandinavia
The Fall of the Roman Empire

Marius and the End of the Roman Republic

To bring some light into the mysterious origin of Þrjótrunn I sent a request to the Institute of Parallel Histories to get some material about that issue. They sent back the following text. It seems to be an excerpt from a treatise of a local hobby historian. I added some footnotes, especially in the first part, with information that I thought might be useful for inhabitants of our particular corner of the multiverse.

Björn Markus , Apr. 8th, 2006
Gaivs Marivs
Gaivs Marivs

...The event that finally triggered the end of the Roman Republic at about 100 BCE was the invasion of the Cimbri and Tevtoni. When their march on Rome began in 104, the desperate members of the Senate appointed the newly elected Consvl Gaivs Marivs, hero of the Jugurthine War as Dictator ‘until the security of Rome would be restored’ to organize the defense. Still in 104, Marivs managed to stop and threw back the enemy north of Rome with troops that were a conglomerate of veteran soldiers, recruited Romans and citizens of allied cities, and freed slaves.[1] The danger was not over yet, as the enemy had been stopped but not ultimatively defeated and was gaining new strength through joining tribes of Celts. Marivs used the next years to finish his army reform, permanently opening the legions for poorer citizens that hadn't been eligible to enlist before. The well known tradition to reward veteran soldiers with a piece of land in the provinces also goes back to him.[2] Marivs managed to defeat Cimbri and Tevtoni in three decisive battles in 101 in Gallia Cisalpina.

Marivs' victories had gained him immense popularity and had allowed him to remain Dictator for three years. Large parts of the Roman aristocracy were worried now that he might not be willing anymore to return the power he had. His interpretation of the phrase about the ‘restoration of Rome's security’ was indeed a very generous one. After his victory he made an attempt for a land reform[3] to stabilize the Roman society and to satisfy the veterans of his war.

An intrigue was now started to destroy Marivs' almost unassailable status as war hero. Demagogues convinced the public that the threat of further invasions of Celtic and Germanic barbarians could best be averted by creating a Roman province in Gallia as a buffer zone. The expectations among Marivs' adversaries were that Marivs would probably refuse to undertake such an attempt or, less likely, try and fail.

Contrary to the expectations Marivs did indeed stand up to the challenge. The intrigue now fired back on its creators since it had given Marivs the perfect argument to prolong his dictatorship. In 99 BCE his legions crossed the border of free Gallia.

Marivs benefitted from the following Gallian War in various ways. Although this war was bloody and its fortune changed more than once, his supporters in Rome managed to paint a picture of a neverending sequence of glorious victories of his reformed troops. His promise to settle landless Romans in newfounded colonies in Gallia instead on the land of the aristocracy appeased the opposition in the Senate for some time. The immense loot allowed him to increase his support in Rome by buying off a couple of his enemies.

Marivs generously granted Roman citizenship to allied cities in Italia and beyond. Next to his troops, they became an important pillar of his reign, especially in the north, where the land had suffered under the Germanic invasions. In 95 all Italians became Roman citizens and Italian cities were granted the right to send their own representatives into the Senate.

In a last desperate attempt to restore the Republic and to preserve the Roman hegemony over Italia a group of conspirators under Lvcivs Cornelivs Svlla planned Marivs' assassination. Marivs was attacked in 94 while he was giving a report to the Senate. He could flee, but three Italian Senators that had tried to protect him were slain. This event was the begin of the Social War between Rome and the majority of her Italian allies, led by Marivs. This civil war lasted for two years. Supporters of the ‘traitor’ Marivs in the Senate were neutralized and some were killed.

Even though Rome's enemies controlled most of the supply routes, there had been a chance for Rome winning this war with Marivs' most loyal troops fighting in Gallia. Rome however had underestimated the well-organized structures that had been secretly created among her enemies. Although the war ended without an official victory and Rome was never been invaded by her former Italian allies, Marivs' supporters finally got the upper hand in the city after a series of important defeats. The extension of the Roman citizenship was confirmed, and Svlla and his group were sentenced to death. In the following cleansings over 400 members of the Roman nobility lost their lives.[4] One accusation against Marivs' enemies was that their actions had put the war in Gallia at risk. But in fact there had been only minor problems between Roman and Italian troops in Gallia where both were facing a common enemy. The civil war in Italia was fought with local troops; the relocation of one single legion from the Gallian to the Italian battlefield Marivs had ordered had been a symbolic gesture at best.

Marivs' involvement in the Gallian War became less and less important and ended in 87, when he decided that the Mithridatic War required his presence in Asia. He died in 84, most likely of a combination of a fever and his old age, although rumors were quickly spread that he had been poisoned. The General Lvcivs Sergivs Celer [5] to whom he had entrusted his affairs in Rome, declared himself his successor, but could secure his position only in 83 after smashing a new revolt in Rome. A new wave of executions followed.

Marivs is generally considered the first Emperor of Rome, although it was Sergivs who first took the title ‘Dictator et Imperator’ giving the title Imperator the present meaning. Until his deathbed, Marivs continued to claim that he wanted to restore the Roman Republic when things had changed for the better. Historians however believe that it was after the failed assassination attempt at the latest when be gave up his plans to return his power to the Senate which he, a homo novvs, i.e. a person without political traditions considered as unwilling and incapable to preserve and protect the Roman hegemony.

The conquest of Gallia was seen as his personal achievement, although the Gallian War ended only in 78 BCE when the Rhine became the border of the Empire for the next two decades.

Bjarne Mørk

The Conquest of Scandinavia

I just got some more material from the IPH, this time more obviously relevant to Þrjótrunn. (To tell the truth, at first I didn't have the slightest clue how the first text was related to our question – except that the Roman expansion in the north-west seems to have started a little bit earlier.) It seems that the current text is the first half of the main part whereas the first one was just meant as some additional, more detailed information about the point of divergence. The IPH said that they had wanted to send me all parts together but the translation of the second one from an obscure North Romance language (I don't remember the name but it wasn't Þrjótrunn.) to classical Latin to English took longer than anticipated. And they're still working on the last one. Well, the IPH and its (in)famous translation chains ... but I digress. I added a few footnotes again but otherwise left the text as it was.

Björn Markus , Jun. 1st, 2006
Roman Ruins in Scandinavia
Roman Ruins in Scandinavia

...By the mid of the first century CE the Roman Empire seemed to have reached its natural borders. Rome ruled over the whole Mediterranean basin, up to Oder and Danube in the north, the Sahara desert in the south, and the seemingly invincible Parthian Empire in the east. The inconsequent and hesitating course in the conquest of Britain (It took over 50 years, from 21 BCE to 33 CE, until the province Britannia had reached its final form) was already a sign of consolidation.

In retrospect, the conquest of Scandinavia beginning in 47 CE must therefore look like a complete folly. And indeed, it was already seen like this in the judgment of contemporaries. To understand its reasons one has to recall the state of the Roman Empire during that time.

Disregarding the small province of Germania Cisrhenania [6] the expansion into Germania began in 57 BCE with the conquests of the Roman Senator and General Gaivs Ivlivs Caesar. Caesar was a brilliant strategist and designated successor of Emperor Decimvs Marivs Tranqvillvs.[7] He was related to the Emperor's family.[8] The conquest of Germania was probably also a test of his aptitude. Caesar however died in 51 BCE, during the later stages of the Germanic War in an uprising in the already conquered areas. That his publicity extends well beyond the circles of historians is of course due to his unfinished Commentarii de Bello Germanico (‘Germania est omnis divisa ...’) most students of classical Latin will know. His involvement in the conquest of Moesia and Pannonia [9] is less well known.

The revolt was put down soon after Caesar's death. From 49 on the Elbe became border river of the Empire. As province Germania Transrhenania, the area between Rhine and Elbe would be Roman territory for the next centuries.

Germanic mercenaries had been no unusual view in the Roman military already since the Gallian War, when Marivs had occasionally formed alliances with Germanic tribes against the Gauls. After the conquest of a large part of Germania they became an important part of the Roman legions over the years. The Elbe, and later, from 7 BCE on, the Oder remained troubled borders and it wasn't unusual at all that a Germanic legionnaire would serve and finally settle in Germania.[10] Legionnaires from the Mediterranean provinces on the other hand would try to avoid having to settle in Germania at the end of their career, a province that was considered a remote region with a harsh climate. This resulted in a certain form of particularism, leaving the old tribal structures intact below the romanized surface. The success of a Proconsul in the Germanic provinces depended very much on his ability to understand these structures and to use them to the benefit of Rome (or at least to his own), playing out the different tribes against each other. Two bloody uprisings under less skilled Proconsuls in 40 BCE and 2 CE demonstrated that in a painful way.

In 45 Emperor Geminivs Flavvs was assassinated during a visit in Africa. Flavvs had been an eccentric and cruel ruler, who had emptied Rome's treasury to finance a great number of megalomanic buildings all over the Empire. At the end of the nine years of his reign he had lost two legions in an ill-prepared and futile war against Parthia, probably the straw that broke the camel's back.

His assassination had been planned by his own family who now declared his cousin Geminivs Lepidvs his successor, the Proconsul of Africa. Lepidvs was probably the best choice the Geminii could come up with but in the army his abilities were doubted. He was immediately challenged by rivals that were appointed by the legions in Syria and the Praetorian Guard in Rome. Lepidvs wouldn't survive the first six months of his emperorship.

A crisis of succession was nothing new for the Empire but until now such crises had only lasted for months at maximum. This time however it led to a period of instability that would last for eight years and would see about ten Emperors. The latter number is only approximate, considering the difficulty to distinguish between a legitimate ruler and a rebel leader during this time.

In Germania, lying in the backwaters of the Empire and the conflict, Eqvitivs Sabinvs had been Proconsul since 37 CE. During the time of his office he had to witness a growing tension in the North, between Germanic tribes inside and outside of the Empire, namely the Jutes and Suiones on one side and the Saxons and a couple of less important tribes on the other. The quarrel had begun with a series of small raids and similar provocations and was fuelled mainly by the Saxons, acting under the safe protection of the Roman legions. There were frequent demands for an ‘adequate’ Roman answer to the ‘Northern invasion’ together with barely disguised threats to go alone if necessary. When the succession crisis began the situation in the North had already escalated in a way that the outbreak of a full-scale war outside of Rome's control had become a real possibility.

But this was not the only grave problem Sabinvs had to face at that point. Soon after Flavvs' assassination, there had been growing voices in the army saying that the military power concentrated in the province – four legions were based in Germania at that time – were an asset that should be used in the fight for Emperorship, to support one of the competing factions. Some even demanded that Sabinvs should declare himself Emperor.

After all we know about Sabinvs and despite later accusations, he was a considerate man, and far was it from him to attempt such an adventure, especially at a time where a reduction of the Roman military presence would practically have been an invitation to the Northern tribes to act on their own. But facing pressure from two sides, he was convinced that staying passive would have made the situation in Germania go out of control rather sooner than later.

With his decision to give in to the Germanic demands and intervene in Scandinavia Sabinvs attempted to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand this action was aimed to appease the Germanic population in the province. On the other it should create military facts and bind forces, making it virtually impossible also to intervene in Rome.

Sabinvs integrated a large number of local troops into his campaign. He did this not only to strengthen his forces but also to cover his bases in the province, making sure that in the not unlikely case of a ultimate defeat it would appear not only as a Roman but also as a Germanic defeat, bringing further Saxon demands to silence. The number of auxiliary troops the Romano-Germans were able to deploy within merely a few weeks matched those of the two legions Sabinvs sent, a clear sign of the excellent functioning of the parallel tribal structures mentioned above.

Aquila Romana
Aqvila Romana caelvm Frigoriterrae circvmvolitat, sed ad nidificandvm locvm satis calidvm reperiet?

The war went much better than expected even by optimists. It ended in 51 CE with the establishment of the new Roman province Germania Borealis. In Rome however, only a small expansionist faction applauded Sabinvs. In general, the strategic uselessness of ‘Frigoriterra’ as Germania Borealis was mockingly called was clearly perceived. ‘The Roman Eagle now circles above Frigoriterra,’ as one senator put it, ‘but will he find a place warm enough to build a nest?’

It is interesting to note that the name ‘Frigoriterra’ stuck, even in Germania Borealis itself. Naturally, the term was disliked here and applied to the sparsely populated, barbarian (and much later one would add: heathen) Scandinavia north of the Roman border instead. In the Middle Ages, the meaning was expanded to include other not Romanized regions like Finland and even Siberia. Today, only the island Þrjótur reminds of this name.

Sabinvs was later blamed by Roman historians to have laid the foundations for later solo attempts like the eastern conquests up to the river Vistvla in 92 CE, that of Caledonia[11] in 114 CE and Hibernia[12] in 132 CE, and even the final breakaway of the Northern Roman Empire. He even was accused of having tried to build up his own Empire in the North, a second Rome around the Baltic Sea instead of the Mediterranean.

The latter accusation can be rejected as nonsense, a task beyond the military abilities of Rome, let alone Sabinvs' only four legions. But that Sabinvs had started a process that would end centuries later with the foundation of North Rome cannot be dismissed that easily. Although Sabinvs did not act on his own in theory he did so de facto, downplaying the extent of the ‘punishment action’ towards Rome and knowing that the Emperor would gladly allow it, also being aware about the military threat the legions in Germania could pose for him.

Present-day historians mostly agree that Sabinvs had acted in the best interest of the Empire, as we have tried to point out here. What would have happened if Sabinvs had decided not to intervene in the North? The temporary weakness of Rome was no secret and the Saxons received broad support among the Germanic tribal leaders. If they had come to the conclusion that the interests of Rome and Germania were diverging, a Germanic revolt both within the legions and the province itself would have been likely. It is also possible that Sabinvs would have been removed by the military leaders to clear the way for an intervention in Rome. In that case a following uprising would have been even more probable. In both cases, Rome would have temporarily lost her Germanic provinces, maybe even forever.

Still, it is true that Sabinvs' actions set a precedent in the eyes of the Germans, and his victory would soon be transfigured into a Germanic, not Roman success. During the time of the Northern Roman Empire the Italian Sabinvs even became a kind of Germanic national hero, to use a modern term. That even in Scandinavia the people began to identify themselves with his victory might seem paradoxical at first, but not anymore if one remembers that such an identification with the victors had always been a driving force of Romanization.

Bjarne Mørk

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Finally, the last part of the material I've ordered has arrived. The text deals mainly with the tripartition and fall of the Roman Empire. Although Þrjótrunn is mentioned only briefly the grand picture becomes clear, I think. We don't know if the colonization of the island we know as Iceland happened still in Roman times or afterwards (what I consider more likely), but I don't expect its course to contain any bigger surprises. That the Roman Empire of the Þrjótur world would finally go into decline despite its much greater size was already hinted at in the second part. Actually, the very existence of a living Romance language like Þrjótrunn already hints at that.

Björn Markus , Feb. 7th, 2007

...It has been said that ironically the Roman Empire might have lasted longer if it hadn't so successfully eliminated all potential external threats to its heartland, allowing the ruling class to abstain from politics and forget about the necessities of military defense.[13] Shielded by its Northern and Eastern flanks, and the great desert in Northern Africa, the Western Mediterranean enjoyed centuries of peace. Or so did the common Roman at least, who was hardly involved in the endless struggles for domination that concerned only the highest classes.

But not the whole Empire was peaceful, and not all internal frictions were restricted to a tiny power elite. The lines of fracture between the North, the West, and the East of the Empire were becoming clearly visible already at the beginning of the third century.

The cultural distance between the old East and the new, Germano-Roman centers in Northern Europe had always been almost too vast to be held together by Rome. Furthermore, both parts tended to look down on the West. The East considered itself as the inheritor of the older, superior Hellenic civilization, while the North saw itself as the defender of Roman culture and Empire at the always troubled border towards barbarian Eastern Europe, protecting the sunny, peaceful, and decadent ‘Roma Romana’.

At that time this was more self-perception than reality as large parts of the North enjoyed the same state of peace as the old Mediterranean provinces. But it was still true that it was the Northeastern region, and especially the Vistula border that required the largest concentration of troops and military expenses, although being closely followed by Mesopotamia, where Rome and Persia were almost constantly at or close to war, with full decades of unbroken ceasefire remaining the exception.[14]

The cultural tripartition of the Empire became institutionalized for the first time in 286 when Emperor Rvbellivs decided to divide the Empire into three Regiones Magnas, each responsible for financing the legions on their soil. This move was obviously meant to ensure the loyalty of the Western Roman nobility whose tax burden could now be reduced since the West had virtually no own military expenses whereas that of the East and North was rising at the time that was – as we know today – the beginning of an era of mass migrations.

Rvbellivs probably underestimated the long-term consequences of his politics. Indeed, the outcry in the North and East wasn't as vehement as one might expect as the distribution of the financial burden had already been very unequal before. But that he wasn't totally blind to the possible dangers was proven by the fact that he tried at the same time to revive the tradition of positioning legionnaires away from their home provinces such that their loyalty would continue to lie with the Empire and not with the Regiones.

But at a time where Roman citizenship was common the legions had lost their attraction to the lower classes, let alone the prospect of being stationed at an unknown corner of the Empire with very different cultural traditions and climate. Those people in the West who were actually willing to serve under such conditions were greeted with disrespect and mistrust in the other Regiones. So the new politics of deploying troops remained mostly theoretical and would be forgotten already only a few decades later.

The bureaucracy that was set up in the Regiones to organize the military spending on the other hand would later prove to have been the nucleus of an administration strong enough to carry a new empire in the East.

But the unity of the Empire was preserved for about another century until the formal split in 398. At that time the era of migrations had reached its peak as waves of new peoples, like Huns, Slavs, and Bulgars as well as free Germanic peoples were threatening the borders and the very existence of Rome. The defense of the Danube border stretched the military abilities of the Eastern Regio to the limit.

The situation in the North was even more desperate, with a partial breakdown of the Roman order in large areas of Central Europe as new peoples settled here. In the geographically isolated Scandinavia however Roman culture continued to flourish. The distinction between the almost Creole-like continental Northern Romance languages and the maritime branch, including the most archaic Þrjótrunn stems from this time.[15]

In the Western Regio the dangers to the Empire were mostly ignored or underestimated. After centuries of bloody feuds and quarrels the once ruling class of landowners was tired of politics and allowed the hereditary Emperors to rule freely as long as their numerous privileges weren't touched. With the absence of a class that would formulate political necessities and alternatives the Empire's borders seemed to be farther away than ever, and requests for help were routinely denied on the basis of the military independence of the Regiones.

According to Roman annalists the reason for the final breakaway of the Eastern Empire was a dispute over the succession of the late Emperor Pvblivs Cordivs. His oldest son Pvblivs had spent most of his life so far serving at the Persian Border and the family thus feared a shift of power towards the Eastern Regio. His younger brother Titvs became Emperor instead. Pvblivs actually had no interest in the Emperorship and saw his role as military strategist in the East. But his advisors convinced him to claim the title of Emperor for himself. Thus the era of two Roman Emperors began.

But in retrospect, it can be said that the struggle for the title was at best a trigger for the split, or simply a pretense. The situation in the East required a more centralized command than a headless administration could deliver, and a military leader of whatever form would have been installed sooner or later anyway. Pvblivs gave the breakaway a flavor of legitimacy, and his undeniable military abilities made him indeed an excellent choice.

The secession of the North followed only two years later. That this step was undertaken despite the grave situation the Regio was facing at that time clearly demonstrated how little hope the local proconsuls[16] had for support from the West. The Northern Empire however never became an Empire by anything but name. It lacked a capital, and an Emperor was never appointed. From the start its character was more that of a military alliance, assuring the mutual support between the governing proconsuls, who were by that time already deeply integrated into the local structures as their status began to slowly transform into that of the medieval prokonsels.[17]

The tripartition of the Roman Empire should not be exaggerated. All three parts continued to see each other as part of a Roman whole and a Western Roman for example would not have been considered a ‘foreigner’ in the North. It would have been unthinkable for an East Roman legionnaire to invade the West like enemy territory, something that might even have been possible despite the numerous wars the East was already involved in, considering that the West was probably already back then not really capable anymore to defend itself.

But it would still take almost three more centuries until the history of the Western Roman Empire ended. The power that would fulfill its fate came from a totally unexpected direction when in 642 parts of the Near East and especially the rich East Roman province of Egypt was conquered by the Muslim Arabs under Uthman.[18] Uthman's advance was well calculated. East Rome was facing a financial and military crisis at that time, fighting wars against both the Bulgars in the North and the Persians in the East. It also appears that the Emperor had underestimated the threat that the new religion emerging from the unregarded center of the Arabian Peninsula could pose.

Although East Rome had been weakened by the loss of Egypt and its Mesopotamian provinces to Persia slightly later, and would never be able to reclaim them, Uthman and his successors were wise enough not to push further into East Roman territory immediately, as the way to West Rome was now open.

In the following decades North Africa and Hispania were conquered by the Caliphate and this conquest was slowed down more by internal fights than by Roman resistance. The expansion was stopped only in 694 at the Pyrenees Mountains by an alliance of Romano-Germanic peoples led by the Langobards that established a short-living dynasty in Gallia (hence the name Lombardie[19] ).

What remained of the West Roman Empire was more or less only Italia itself. It became a de facto province of East Rome that now finally began to understand itself as a Hellenic Empire that would more and more forget about its Roman roots.

Ironically, it is the Northern ‘Empire’ that never found to a state of unity but continues a shadow existence until today, such that at least formally the Roman Empire never ceased to exist.[20] The spread of Roman culture remains the Empire's legacy. Romance languages are nowadays spoken virtually everywhere in the Western part of the European continent. The common culture facilitated the rise of Christianity, and the antagonism between North and East Rome does still manifest itself in the differences between the north-western Arianism and the south-eastern Orthodoxy.[21]

Bjarne Mørk


This seems to be the point of divergence. In our 104, Cimbri and Tevtoni were still fighting in Hispania and Gallia respectively. The invasion of Italia happened two years later and they never came close to Rome. Still, they were seen by contemporaries as the biggest threat since the Gauls had sacked Rome in 390. Marivs was elected Consul six times, in 107 and from 104 to 100 (a seventh time in 86 even, but he died a few days later), although only one Consulship had been allowed up to then. But he was never appointed as Dictator.
No differences to history here.
Without going into tedious details I might add that the problem of unequal land distribution and the attempts to solve that problem three decades earlier stood at the beginning of a period of instability that ended in our timeline only with Augustus.
Roman politicians being killed by their opponents was not unusual during this late phase of the Roman Republic. The Social War happened a few years later in our timeline. Rome won, but the price was the extension of Roman citizenship as described above. Both Marivs and Svlla fought for Rome. They were indeed enemies in later years. Svlla was the first to send Roman Legions into Rome and he, not Marivs, became the first Dictator since 216 BCE.
Never heard that name before.
Maybe roughly identical to the provinces Germania Svperior and Germania Inferior in our world.
Successor of Sergivs? I don't know. Relation to Gaivs Marivs? I don't know. I didn't recognize any of the names below either. We're probably too far from the divergence already.
Gaivs Marivs' wife was his aunt.
Provinces located south of the Danube, stretching from Bulgaria to Austria. In our world, they became Roman under Avgvstvs.
Our Emperors were wiser. Until Hadrian the policy was rather to avoid positioning troops in their home provinces.
The text contains a footnote by the IPH stating that ‘This hypothesis has been shown to be statistically wrong.’
Although this remark is quite vague and it is not clear which period of time it refers to exactly, it seems to me that the Romano-Persian relations were more strained than in our world.
I assume that the author, who is a historian and not a linguist, means ‘conservative’ where he says ‘archaic’. I also doubt that the continental branch is indeed ‘Creole-like’.
It seems that ‘proconsul’ was the generic name for the provincial governors, at least in the North. Our Imperial Rome knew a multitude of titles. Proconsuls were former consuls ruling in the senatorial provinces.
A sort of medieval king? Of course one should keep in mind that the author's understanding of the word ‘medieval’ might be drastically different from ours.
Uthmān ibn 'Affān was the name of the third Caliph in our world. His reign only began in 644 however. The name might of course be only a coincidence. The conquest of Egypt began four years earlier in our world.
Obviously the name of a geographical region or political entity somewhere in France, not Italy or maybe even the name for France as a whole.
Whatever that means. Is it a kind of defunct Commonwealth of Northern Romance speaking nations? Without more material from the IPH we will never know.
It seems that Catholicism and consequently Protestantism does either not exist (anymore?) or isn't important enough to be mentioned in this context. Again, one wishes the author had spoken to us, not to a historically interested audience in his own world.
February 28th, 2007
Comments? Suggestions? Corrections? You can drop me a line.