Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change

Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change

Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change

Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change


As globalization rips at old ways of life and forces disparate peoples to redefine their identities, many have found a common opponent in the United States. Vlahos examines these ongoing trends and suggests ways in which emerging adversaries may be successfully countered in their efforts to challenge the United States.


How do war, identity, and the sacred link up and intertwine? How does new identity
emerge so strong in globalization times? How do we unwittingly work to help realize
the very rising identities we fight?


The Romans called this river the Frigidus, in a place we now call Bosnia. The time: autumn, A.D. 394. Two emperors are at war, with the world in the balance—where the armies of the West must meet the armies of the East. The West has the better general, but the East has fighters with more heart: Alaric’s Gothic tribal militia.

These are armies in true imperial tradition, in a yet undiminished Roman world. But to our eyes the scene would look all wrong. We might gasp, “But these look like medieval armies, in their barbaric pants and spangelhelms and big round shields, and with the Western armies’ stronghold a wagon laager!” But the Visigoths feel right at home. They are perhaps no more than what we would call a militia, but they fight like trained shock troops. Again and again on the first day they storm the laager, taking enormous losses. They become the decisive force behind Theodosius’s miraculous defeat of the Western armies—reuniting the empire.

But in the aftermath of victory, the Goths do not get the reward they feel they deserve. Soon they take on the imperial state itself, raiding and threatening, pushed and beaten but always pushing back for the next thirty years—like an insurgency in the heart of the Western Empire. Rome contains them only when the great emperor’s sister Galla Placidia is wed to the Gothic leader, and Visigoths are finally, as they always wanted, made Roman in Aquitaine. As Roman foederatii they become loyal and even steadfast allies for the life of the western Roman State. They were truly the empire’s very own nonstate actors. “The Goths themselves . . .

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