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Johannes

Usurper in the West A. D. 423 - 425

This image is of the reverse of a gold solidus struck by the Western emperor Honorius but it is typical of the reverses on solidi of the time of Johannes, which are all extremely rare.

Johannes was the chief imperial secretary at the time of Honorius' death. Castinus, who had been Honorius' Magister Militum or Master of Soldiers, lusted after imperial power and had Johannes proclaimed augustus after the death of Honorius. Honorius' closest relative and the most legitimate heir to the throne was the six-year old Valentinian. Valentinian was living with his mother Galla Placidia in Constantinople under the protection of his cousin Theodosius II at the time of Johannes' usurpation.

Theodosius immediately dispatched troops under the leadership of the able Ardaburius, an imperial general of barbarian ancestry. Ardaburius sailed with an invasion force for the coast of Italy while his son Aspar led a detachment of cavalry by a land route over the Julian Alps to attack Aquileia in northern Italy. Aspar was to later play a prominent role as a powerful master general under the Eastern emperors Theodosius II, Marcian, and Leo.

In the meantime, another able general had come to the aid of Johannes by hiring a force of 60,000 Hun warriors and leading them towards Italy in support of Johannes' rebellion. This was Flavius Aetius who was later to play such a crucial role in defending the Western empire against barbarians, rebels, and marauding bandits. In this instance, Aetius almost chose to support the wrong side.

Ardaburius' fleet was scattered in a storm and Ardaburius was himself captured by Johannes' troops as he came ashore with his tow remaining ships. Things did not appear to be going too well for the force sent to depose and punish Johannes.

Just as it seemed that the invasion would bog down, Aspar took Aquileia with almost no loss of blood by a brilliant surprise attack. Ardaburius was also busy. He befriended his captors and gradually persuaded them to abandon the cause of the usurper and support the legitimate emperor. Johannes believed he was safe behind the walls of Ravenna, which itself was protected by being surrounded by the marshy ground at the mouth of the Po river. Any invading army would surely bog down if they didn't know the secret paths through the morass.

A shepherd (Legend says that the shepherd was an angel of God in disguise) showed Aspar's army how to get through Aquileia's protective marshes. After a quick fight, Aspar captured the city and Johannes was his prisoner. Johannes was sentenced to death by the empress Galla Placidia. His right hand was cut off, and then the hapless rebel was tied to an ass and paraded around the circus at Aquileia to the insults and derision of the people before he was beheaded.


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