Yitzhak Hen - Roman Barbarians - Music Of The Heart

February 28 2018

This chapter could’ve been titled “Who’s your Daddy?”, because it is all about Sisebut’s struggle to come to terms with the Arianism (the belief that Jesus is begotten, thus more than man but less than God) of his fellow Barbarians and the burden of being both a ruler and a believer.

Music Of The Heart: The Unusual Case of King Sisebut

Firstly, the scene is set in Spain between the 5th century until 711. The Visigothic Kingdom lasted for 300 years (after they sacked the area from the Romans) but it wasn’t exactly popular.

Their lack of historians meant that most opinions were coloured heavily in favour of the Romans before them, who understandingly thought them loose in morals (they had plundered and killed mercilessly) and easy on disposing their kings.

It didn’t help that dictator Franco was a real fan, due to the notion that the Visigoths were supposedly very anti-semitic.

As with the rest of this book, Hen ventures to at least soften such ideas to a more likely reality - he does so, by examining Sisebut.

Sisebut had ascended the Visigothic throne in 612 and promptly expunged, defeated and captured various enemies and territories.

Despite his military prowess, he was torn. Sisebut was a devout Catholic and struggled to justify his duty as a ruler - especially his duties to conquer - with his Christian conscience.

He somewhat solved this problem by being especially harsh to Arian Christians and Jews.

Question 8 = Was Sisebut’s piety responsible for his animosity towards Arianism and Judaism, or was it a need to be the “right” kind of Christian ruler?

While he was cruel to those who opposed his religious views, he was not foolish.

Hen gives us examples of his intelligence by pointing out that he wrote his own letters, dispersed by biblical quotations and quotes from Christian poets and a hagiography on Desidorius (a Frankish Saint), plus a treatise of a poem on lunar eclipses inspired by Lucretius.

{I happen to be a big Lucretius fan, so head over here if you want to know more}

Sisebut was also fond of a man named Isidore of Seville, who started what is now known as the Isidorian Renaissance.

Isidore, born around 560 in Cartagena, was a strict Catholic and joined the Toledo council in 633.

He shared with the council his vision of a reorganized Visigothic church and produced plenty of literature (his biggest hit was the Ethymologiae, a collection of knowledge in the vein of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History), because he believed that only a unified clergy could ensure salvation.

Up until then, the council had tried hard to marry (the new Catholic) religion with political authority. There was considerable disagreement and the Visigothic kings had to redefine various parameters later on. Isidore contributed to a change in moral and political ideology.

The lunar eclipse poem Sisebut had written was likely dedicated to Isidore and an early version of Isidore’s Ethymologiae was dedicated to Sisebut.

A Catholic king between rule and devotion and a Catholic reformer between the need for salvation and politics come together to make sacerdotium et regnum (church and state) a reality.