10 – The East Were Experts in Diplomacy
In contrast to the ham-fistedness of the West, officials in the East had some grasp of diplomacy. One of the most prominent examples was how it dealt with the threat of Alaric. As soon as the Visigoth’s power was apparent, Rufinus entered into secret negotiations with him to put an end to Alaric’s march on Constantinople. As well as bestowing the rank of general upon Alaric, Rufinus ensured the followers of the Visigoth were well compensated with grain and gold. It is important to note that Alaric was only too happy to agree. His scouts realized that they didn’t have the special weaponry necessary for a successful siege.
Perhaps a better example is the negotiation between the Eastern Empire and the Sassanids. Although it seems as if the West faced the greater external threat in the fifth century, the Byzantines had the powerful Persian Empire on their doorstep. As dangerous as the barbarian tribes were, they consisted of a diverse range of tribes that were not organized as a collective. In contrast, the Sassanid Empire was a coordinated and mighty state.
It seemed as if there could be a war between the two empires when Sassanid Emperor Vahahran invaded in 421. Although Theodosius II started getting the better of his enemy in 422, he still agreed to a peace treaty because the empire was having problems in Thrace. It was peace that lasted, with the occasional break, for over 150 years. True, there were mitigating circumstances. For example, the Kushans were threatening Persia and the kingdom suffered from a seven-year famine in the 480s, followed by a wipeout of an army and the death of its King, Firuz, in 488 or 489. Even so, the Eastern Empire was forced to exercise diplomacy with the Persians on occasion. For example, Kavad I attacked Emperor Anastasius I in 502 but peace was quickly resumed.
In hindsight, the fall of the Western Roman Empire was practically a certainty when it split with the East in 395. The Eastern Empire had a few advantages that the West didn’t; namely the location of its capital and the relative lack of barbarian threats. However, the West signed its death warrant by allowing the military to hold an unhealthy amount of power. It also did nothing to prevent the infiltration of its army by barbarians, and it allowed corruption to eat away at the fabric of its society. While the East had many flaws, it had far less than its Western counterpart, which is why it survived for almost 1,000 years after Rome was taken in 476.