Which Historical Figure was Most 'Sugar-Coated' Post Factum?

Feb 2019
217
Pennsylvania, US
#1
I just read author Ron Chernow debunk Mary Ball Washington's almost saint-like facade... describing her as "crude", "slovenly", "illiterate" and hurling a "steady stream of criticism at her son". It's not surprising G.W. or his mom would have been sugar-coated in order to fit the expectations put on the "Father of Our Country"... But I got me wondering...

What is the best/worst example of a individual who has been whitewashed, dissimulated, sugar-coated, spin-doctored, etc., by history???
 
#2
I can't say I'm very familiar with Mary Ball Washington, but US history is not one of my strong suits.

One could make an argument for Claudius Gothicus.

The Context:

In 310 Constantine falsely claimed that Claudius Gothicus was his ancestor. He did so in order to give himself a dynastic leg-up over his imperial colleagues/rivals: Maxentius, Galerius, Maximinus and Licinius. Claudius, emperor from 268 to 270, was renowned as one of the few emperors of the late third century who did not get killed by his own army or overthrown by a usurper, and who defeated the Goths in the Battle of Naissus (269). He was thus a tempting choice for fictionalized ancestor among the third-century emperors available.

The Presentation:

This of course meant that Claudius could do no wrong in the subsequent source traditions. Since very little in the way of written history survives from the late third century, we are dependent on Constantinian and post-Constantinian sources for our literary presentation of Claudius. According to their presentation, Claudius was one of the greatest emperors to have ever reigned. He was a paragon of virtue, and he saved the Roman Empire by defeating the Goths in such a decisive manner that they did not harass the empire again until the 320s!

As for his predecessor Gallienus, it was his lazy and luxurious lifestyle that allowed Gothic raiders to stream into the empire, and it was under him that Athens was sacked and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was destroyed. Gallienus was eventually assassinated, and indeed deserved to be assassinated, but Claudius, then a military officer, played no part. Rather, other military officers killed their emperor and then gave the empire to Claudius, the most deserving man to take the helm. In another version, the dying Gallienus even designated Claudius as his successor, to the delight of the army.

Claudius then accepted with mercy the surrender of the usurper Aureolus, whom Gallienus had been busy trying to defeat when he was killed. But the ungrateful Aureolus soon turned against Claudius and was killed by his own troops when he attempted another usurpation against the great emperor. Another version of events claims that overly zealous troops in Claudius' retinue cut Aureolus down as he was surrendering to the new emperor, before Claudius could protect him.

The Reality:

Modern scholars have done a great job of uncovering some inconvenient truths through their detective work:

1. Gallienus was no slouch. He became sole ruler in a time of crisis, but he defeated numerous usurpers and foreign aggressors through military campaigns, and he secured the Upper Danube and Eastern frontiers through clever diplomacy. He also instituted major reforms to the Roman army. He established a mobile cavalry reserve and he appointed career soldiers/military professionals over senators when appointing generals, thus the hostility within the pro-senatorial sources, and thus why a non-aristocratic man like Claudius was a general in the first place.
2. The Goths did invade the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean during Gallienus' reign (specifically during the years 267-268), but he won a major victory in the Battle of Nessos and managed to bring some order to the situation. The Goths then invaded a second time during Claudius' reign (during the years 269-270). The sources appear to have back-dated much of the destruction that occurred during Claudius' reign to the reign of Gallienus, making Gallienus' reign the period of disaster and Claudius' the period of recovery.
3. A Greek source tradition has survived that names Claudius as a conspirator in the assassination of Gallienus.
4. Gallienus was so popular with the army that Claudius had to bribe the troops in order to calm them down. Two sources specify as much, although they don't admit that Claudius did the bribing, but rather the general Marcianus. Claudius was also obliged to deify Gallienus and to prevent the senate from killing the partisans of Gallienus after they had already begun doing so.
5. Aureolus surrendered to Claudius, but it has been conjectured that Claudius ordered his execution, because the sources that explain Aureolus' death are not in agreement with regards to what happened and are perhaps coming up with excuses. Excuses are perhaps warranted, since Aureolus had rebelled against Gallienus, not Claudius.
6. When Claudius came to the throne, Gaul, Britain and Spain were under the control of the so-called Gallic emperors. The assassination of the Gallic emperor Postumus in 269 (and his replacement by Victorinus) brought an opportunity to reunite the empire's north-west with the central empire under Claudius. Spain declared allegiance to Claudius, and Claudius' general Placidianus seized Narbonese Gaul for his emperor. Believing that Claudius and his generals would push deeper into Gaul, the city of Autun declared allegiance to Claudius. However, Claudius did not exploit the opportunity, and Victorinus besieged the city. Claudius did not come to the city's salvation, and eventually Victorinus brutally sacked the city. The Gallic regime would remain in power for another five years before being overthrown by Aurelian.
7. Claudius' campaign against the Goths was not a quick affair. Thanks to the Greek writer Zosimus, we know about some of the imperfections that the Latin sources do not divulge. He did win the Battle of Naissus, but the campaign was a drawn-out war that lasted from 269 well into 270.
8. Claudius' campaign was not a decisive affair. Claudius certainly made important progress against the Goths in the Balkans and significantly reduced the numbers within their army, but the campaign ground to a halt when Roman and Goth alike were hit by the Cyprian Plague. Claudius died from the plague before the campaign ended. Indeed, in 271 the emperor Aurelian had to fight the Goths yet again, and this time crossed the Danube and devastated their homeland. The Goths would not raid the Balkans in significant numbers again until the reign of Constantine, although the Black Sea Goths again raided the Eastern Mediterranean in 275-276.
9. Claudius' campaign was not a wholly successful affair. Claudius' army took heavy casualties at Naissus. Later, when Claudius trapped the Goths in the Haemus Mountains, the Goths made an attempt at breaking free. Claudius sent in the infantry to stop the breakout without providing cavalry support. The Goths butchered much of the infantry, who were only saved when the future emperor Aurelian, at that time the commander of the cavalry, rushed in with his horsemen. Regardless, the Goths had won enough of a victory to break free and prolong the war. In fact, Aurelian played a major role in Claudius' successes against the Goths. He won the first victory over the Goths with his cavalry alone and later harassed them incessantly, diminishing their numbers, slaughtering stragglers and breaking up the Gothic army into smaller, manageable groups. This shouldn't surprise, considering Aurelian's highly impressive military record as an emperor.
10. It was under Claudius that Palmyra, under Zenobia, conquered Arabia, Egypt and much of Asia Minor. Claudius appears to have sent the praetorian prefect Heraclianus to deal with Palmyra, but he was defeated. Zenobia probably saw the assassination of Gallienus, the ongoing war with the Gallic regime and the ongoing hostilities with the Goths as a sign of weakness. The sources do not specify that these things happened under Claudius, but modern scholars have used source analysis, numismatics, inscriptions and papyri to uncover the temporal reality.

I'm not suggesting that all of this happened because of Claudius' failings. That would be highly reductive. He may have been way too distracted with barbarians to deal properly with Gaul and Palmyra. I'm also not saying that he was a bad emperor. Winning the Battle of Naissus probably was an impressive achievement. Apparently the Romans tricked the Goths into an ambush by a feigned flight. We also know from one source that he defeated an incursion of the Alemanni into Italy. But the almost-hagiographical depiction of Claudius and his reign that we receive from most of the Roman sources (all of the Latin sources) is certainly not the complete picture.
 
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Nov 2010
7,404
Cornwall
#4
El Cid.

One of the most fearsome warriors ever for sure but history has treated him in a very bizarre way, alleging him to be a hero of Spain, threw out 'The Moors' etc (whoever they were). It's not just Hollywood to blame, the film was based on the bizarre Spanish legend.

Just to make it clear he is one of my greatest historical heroes, but a contrasting summary to the legend is roughly as follows:

Born into minor Castillian nobility, he was a childhood friend of the Infante Sancho. He first makes a mark on history at the siege of Graus in 1064 or 65. He was thought to be present in the Castillian army attending Zaragoza to relieve a siege by Aragon - this situation was ended by the assassination of the King of Aragon in his tent and everybody went home. The name Campeador likely comes from winning 2 one on one combats with 'a muslim of Medinaceli' and someone else I forget (Aragonese?)

One of his most famous incidents is that, when collecting parias (tributes) from the King of Sevilla, Seville was attcked by Granada and the nobles collecting their pariah. The battle of Cabra led to El Cid and his troops capturing Garcia Ordonez (to become his lifelong enemy) and others, holding them for 3 days and releasing them ignominiously back to Castille. the fate of the Granada tributes is never made clear - they seem to have disappeared

Some people think that was one cause of his exiles and that the other was failing to attend the battle of Sagrajas/Zalaqa (which would have been ridiculous). Martinez Diaz asserts that the 2 exiles were due to:

1) When Toledo kingdom had come under Castillian control a group of unknown bandits attacked Cid's lands around Gormaz to the north. In retaliation he led hie men into Toledo lands attacking and ransacking the farms of innocent citizens
2) Much later he failed to join up with the Castillians at Aledo under threat from a large Almoravid army . Though the battle never materialised his non-attendance seems to have been bloody-minded and the reasons for both exiles seem reasonable

On the first exile he went into the employ of the muslim King of Zaragoza, under pressure from Aragon and from the king's brother the Emir of Lerida, also Barcelona, with his now prvate army. It is likley he got the nae Cid (Sidi) from the muslim troops of Zaragoza during this time. He repeatedly defeated and embarrassed the armies of Aragon, Lerida and Barcelona. In time he set up his own fiefdoms toward Valencia, getting tribultes from all the towns around

In time the African berber empire of the Almoravids invaded and thrashed the castillians at Sagrajas. By coup they took over the muslim now-Castillian city of Valencia. El Cid developed a long, bloody and ruthless siege. People who escaped the city were burned alive, that sort of thing. Eventually Cid took Valencia and ended up ruling it, with much of the hinterland, nominally in the name of Castilla but with his own professional army and revenues. The Almoravids would besiege and were spectatcularly defeated by Cid at Cuarte and at Bairen (Cid's army plus the new king of Aragon, PedroI)

He held Valencia while he lived as a buffer to protect all Northern Spain and the Kingdom of Zaragoza from the Almoravids. During this time his old enemy Garcia Ordonez conspired against him with the castillian king Alfonso VI - Cid retaliated by raiding Ordonez's lands in La Rioja and devastating them. Shortly after this Alfonso of Castille makes up with Cid - it's not clear why. Popular thought is that Cid was always loyal above all else to Alfonso and Castille. personally I think he was a bit of a difficult character, with a very powerful professional army and funds to match, unbeatable in battle and Alfonso needed him to have any chance of success against the Almoravids. Cid sent his son Diego and a troop of Knights to help Alfonso at Consuegra (whilst Cid was involved in defending Valencia). Diego was put under the left wing of Garcia Ordonez (old enemy) and the troop was wiped out. Strong rumour has it they were deliberately left exposed when the castillians retreated into another ignominious defeat, by Garcia Ordonez

Cid was badly wounded outside Albarracin, when the muslim city triubutary to him defected to the Almoravids, the throat injury may have never left him and with the grief on his son's death, contributed to his quite young death - probably around 56 years of age. His death was July 10th 1099 but his birth is not recorded. With his death his widow Jimena with his troops tried to hold Valencia but evetually support from castilla was not practical and Alfonso evacuated the city. This eventually led to the fall of all lands up to and including muslim Zaragoza, the peak of the Almoravid Empire around 1112.

Footnote - at another catastrophic Castillian defeat at Ucles, 1108, the castillian army under Alvar Fanez was defeated and retreated. Alfonso VI had been too old to attend but sent his son the Infante Sancho, nominally in command but under the guidance of Garcia Ordonez. During the retreat this small party took refuge in the town of Belinchon on the route Ucles-Toledo. Belinchon was amuslim town in the Kingdom of Toledo, under Castillian control for 20 years. The townsfolk let them through the gates, then slaughtered the party, Garcia Ordonez, Infante Sancho and all - presumably in the anticipation of a great Almoravid sweep up of the lands. Due to the common problems of army extension and supply the Almoravids ravished lands around then fell back. Either way the Prince was dead and Alfonso died soon after 'of a broken heart' (or old age)

El Cid fought for himself, he fought against Christians, he fought against muslims, he had a very powerful army and a lot of money. Most of his army, interestingly, ended up employed in Aragon after his death, though they were mainly Castillians. He fought the Almoravids because they came and threatened his doorstep!
 
Feb 2019
217
Pennsylvania, US
#5
Apologies for writing an essay! I only realised as I was writing just how much I had to say on the topic.
I like essays! :) Thanks for this - really interesting! I hope someone can do as much PR for my existence to posterity...
"She was the sort of person to throw marvelous parties, for which she baked exquisite French pastries and dressed in a mode that reflected her easy-going nature...."

"Actually, we NOW KNOW, she mostly hung out with her cats watching Netflix documentaries and ate ice cream.... in her pajamas...." :confused:
 
Feb 2019
217
Pennsylvania, US
#6
I'm not suggesting that all of this happened because of Claudius' failings. That would be highly reductive. He may have been way too distracted with barbarians to deal properly with Gaul and Palmyra. I'm also not saying that he was a bad emperor. Winning the Battle of Naissus probably was an impressive achievement. Apparently the Romans tricked the Goths into an ambush by a feigned flight. We also know from one source that he defeated an incursion of the Alemanni into Italy. But the almost-hagiographical depiction of Claudius and his reign that we receive from most of the Roman sources (all of the Latin sources) is certainly not the complete picture.
It's hard to accept authority figures as being multi-faceted (strengths / weaknesses... or heaven forbid, motivated by self-interest) and still keep in step with the expectations put on someone with a divine right to rule or an Imperial cult to worship them ... makes Claudius II sound more like... a King! <Roman gasp> :eek:
 
Nov 2015
1,674
Kyiv
#7
Stalin in nowadays Russia

In 2017-2018 from 40 to 46% of Russians felt admiration and respect to Stalin.



A huge role in this was played by the Russian media and especially Russian cinema, where Stalin many times was presented in high positive. As far as I remember, the cinematic rehabilitation of Stalin began with the Soviet blockbuster Liberation (Освобождение) of 5 films shot in 1968-1971 together with Defa (GDR). The Central Committee of the CPSU supervised the filming. The first film is about the Battle of Kursk, the last one is about the battle for Berlin. In this blockbuster Stalin was shown in the most positive form.

Nowadays the majority of war films (including those with Stalin) are shot in Russia by financing from the state budget, and some of them are commissioned by the Ministry of Defense.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2009
3,435
San Diego
#8
I just read author Ron Chernow debunk Mary Ball Washington's almost saint-like facade... describing her as "crude", "slovenly", "illiterate" and hurling a "steady stream of criticism at her son". It's not surprising G.W. or his mom would have been sugar-coated in order to fit the expectations put on the "Father of Our Country"... But I got me wondering...

What is the best/worst example of a individual who has been whitewashed, dissimulated, sugar-coated, spin-doctored, etc., by history???
Ronald Reagan
 
Feb 2019
8
Turtle Island
#9
Winston Churchill.
Churchill was more or less and outright fascist, an open white supremacist, imperialist, and war monger. Reading his journal entries will make any morally sound person want to vomit. He's given so much respect and admiration today and it makes me sick. He's far worse than Stalin could ever hope to be, and yet he's painted as a hero.
Most of the US "Founding Fathers" as well, but that's an easy one.
 
Feb 2019
217
Pennsylvania, US
#10
Winston Churchill.
Churchill was more or less and outright fascist, an open white supremacist, imperialist, and war monger. Reading his journal entries will make any morally sound person want to vomit. He's given so much respect and admiration today and it makes me sick. He's far worse than Stalin could ever hope to be, and yet he's painted as a hero.
Most of the US "Founding Fathers" as well, but that's an easy one.

This thread has me gasping like a 80 year old woman over a General Hospital episode...

I have to read more about this one myself! Who would have known... Winston!
 
Likes: Futurist

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