- The Last of the Romans. Bonifatius—Warlord and Comes Africae by Jeroen W.P. Wijnendaele
The end of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century ce was one of the marquee events of antiquity, and in this regard several individuals have been given the sobriquet "the last of the Romans." In antiquity, Procopius (Bell. Vand.1.3.14–15) suggested two candidates as Ῥωμαίων ὕστατος: the western generalissimo Fl. Aëtius, and the rather less well known Count Boniface, whose primary distinction is to be blamed for allowing the Vandals to cross from Africa to Spain in 429. Wijnendaele's objective is to correct the impression that "Bonifatius should not be included in the same list of people as Stilicho, Constantius (III), Aëtius, and Ricimer," (2) and to give Boniface a place at the table, so to speak, in discussions of the pre-eminent generals of the final fifty years of the western Roman Empire. "What is presented here," writes Wijnendaele, "will … re-examine the concept of late Roman warlords. This study will demonstrate that Bonifatius was the first successful one" (3). Given the lack of source material, one cannot write a detailed biography of Boniface. Disjecta membra must be quarried from disparate sources such as Olympiodorus and Prosper of Aquitaine, all cited only in translation. Wijnendaele deals with the massive lack of information about Boniface by resorting to equally massive speculation. Thus, in a single paragraph, "might have stayed … might have joined … might have had … would have been compatible … I suspect that … could have been …" (36).
After a survey of imperial history (9–27), Wijnendaele suggests that "Bonifatius was … likely to have been of African or Romano-Punic stock" (29–30) and that in 413, "Boniface made his first known public appearance" when, according to Olympiodorus, he wounded king Athaulf during a failed Visigothic attack on Marseille. Observing that Boniface "was only a tribune when Augustine met him" in North Africa in 417, Wijnendaele suggests, "a fair guess would be that he was just a regular soldier at the time of his brawl with Athaulf" (31). Perhaps, but with some caveats. First of all, Olympiodorus refers to Boniface as "most noble" (gennaiotatos) something that might not apply to an "ordinary soldier" (31). Furthermore, the office of military tribune was far removed from a common soldier. Jerome indicates there were seven intervening ranks, nor was there any skipping ranks: Numquid ex tribuno statim fit tiro? Non (Jer. C. Ioh. [End Page 524] Hierosol. episc. 19 [PL 23.370]). Thus, Boniface was not a late antique version of Bernard Cornwell's Lieutenant Sharpe, rising from common soldier to mid-level officer in one fell swoop (cf. 119).
This also may not have been Boniface's first appearance in history, especially if Wijnendaele is right about the African connection. The imperial officials present at the Council of Carthage in 411 included, in rank order, "The viri devotissimi Sebastian, Maximianus, and Petrus, protectores domestici; Ursus, Petronius and Libosus, ducenarii; and also Bonifatius and Evasius apparitores of illustrious and eminent powers" (Mansi, Collectio 4: 149). Officials typically described as being both "illustrious" and "eminent" included the Praetorian and Urban Prefects and the Master of Soldiers (CTh 6.8.1; NTh 24.3). In addition, the Proconsul of Achaea excepted, in the Notitia dignitatum only Masters of Soldiers have apparitores on their staff (Not. Dig. occ. 5, 6, 7; Not. Dig. or. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Thus, as an apparator of the newly appointed Master of Both Services, Constantius, young Boniface could have been posted to Carthage in 411 because of his North African connections. Then, still under Constantius and as rather more than a common soldier, he engaged in the "brawl" at Marseille two years later.
Boniface is next attested in 417 (32) or 416/417 (37) on the Numidian frontier as a Military tribune commanding foederati. Five years later, he resurfaced in Italy: Prosper (s.a. 422) reports that the Master of soldiers Castinus rejected the participation of Boniface, whom Wijnendaele supposes...