Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire




Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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Chapter XLII: State Of The Barbaric World.


Part II.

In the rapid career of conquest, the Turks attacked and

subdued the nation of the Ogors or Varchonites ^* on the banks of the River Til, which derived the epithet of Black from its dark water or gloomy forests. ^31 The khan of the Ogors was slain with three hundred thousand of his subjects, and their bodies were scattered over the space of four days' journey: their surviving countrymen acknowledged the strength and mercy of the Turks; and a small portion, about twenty thousand warriors, preferred exile to servitude. They followed the well-known road of the Volga, cherished the error of the nations who confounded them with the Avars, and spread the terror of that false though famous appellation, which had not, however, saved its lawful proprietors from the yoke of the Turks. ^32 After a long and victorious march, the new Avars arrived at the foot of Mount Caucasus, in the country of the Alani ^33 and Circassians, where they first heard of the splendor and weakness of the Roman empire. They humbly requested their confederate, the prince of the Alani, to lead them to this source of riches; and their ambassador, with the permission of the governor of Lazica, was transported by the Euxine Sea to Constantinople. The whole city was poured forth to behold with curiosity and terror the aspect of a strange people: their long hair, which hung in tresses down their backs, was gracefully bound with ribbons, but the rest of their habit appeared to imitate the fashion of the Huns. When they were admitted to the audience of Justinian, Candish, the first of the ambassadors, addressed the Roman emperor in these terms: "You see before you, O mighty prince, the representatives of the strongest and most populous of nations, the invincible, the irresistible Avars. We are willing to devote ourselves to your service: we are able to vanquish and destroy all the enemies who now disturb your repose. But we expect, as the price of our alliance, as the reward of our valor, precious gifts, annual subsidies, and fruitful possessions." At the time of this embassy, Justinian had reigned above thirty, he had lived above seventy-five years: his mind, as well as his body, was feeble and languid; and the conqueror of Africa and Italy, careless of the permanent interest of his people, aspired only to end his days in the bosom even of inglorious peace. In a studied oration, he imparted to the senate his resolution to dissemble the insult, and to purchase the friendship of the Avars; and the whole senate, like the mandarins of China, applauded the incomparable wisdom and foresight of their sovereign. The instruments of luxury were immediately prepared to captivate the Barbarians; silken garments, soft and splendid beds, and chains and collars incrusted with gold. The ambassadors, content with such liberal reception, departed from Constantinople, and Valentin, one of the emperor's guards, was sent with a similar character to their camp at the foot of Mount Caucasus. As their destruction or their success must be alike advantageous to the empire, he persuaded them to invade the enemies of Rome; and they were easily tempted, by gifts and promises, to gratify their ruling inclinations. These fugitives, who fled before the Turkish arms, passed the Tanais and Borysthenes, and boldly advanced into the heart of Poland and Germany, violating the law of nations, and abusing the rights of victory. Before ten years had elapsed, their camps were seated on the Danube and the Elbe, many Bulgarian and Sclavonian names were obliterated from the earth, and the remainder of their tribes are found, as tributaries and vassals, under the standard of the Avars. The chagan, the peculiar title of their king, still affected to cultivate the friendship of the emperor; and Justinian entertained some thoughts of fixing them in Pannonia, to balance the prevailing power of the Lombards. But the virtue or treachery of an Avar betrayed the secret enmity and ambitious designs of their countrymen; and they loudly complained of the timid, though jealous policy, of detaining their ambassadors, and denying the arms which they had been allowed to purchase in the capital of the empire. ^34

[Footnote *: The Ogors or Varchonites, from Var. a river, (obviously connected with the name Avar,) must not be confounded with the Uigours, the eastern Turks, (v. Hammer, Osmanische Geschichte, vol. i. p. 3,) who speak a language the parent of the more modern Turkish dialects. Compare Klaproth, page 121. They are the ancestors of the Usbeck Turks. These Ogors were of the same Finnish race with the Huns; and the 20,000 families which fled towards the west, after the Turkish invasion, were of the same race with those which remained to the east of the Volga, the true Avars of Theophy fact. - M.] [Footnote 31: The River Til, or Tula, according to the geography of De Guignes, (tom. i. part ii. p. lviii. and 352,) is a small, though grateful, stream of the desert, that falls into the Orhon, Selinga, &c. See Bell, Journey from Petersburg to Pekin, (vol.

  1. p. 124;) yet his own description of the Keat, down which he sailed into the Oby, represents the name and attributes of the black river, (p. 139.)

Note: M. Klaproth, (Tableaux Historiques de l'Asie, p. 274)

supposes this river to be an eastern affluent of the Volga, the Kama, which, from the color of its waters, might be called black.

  1. Abel Remusat (Recherchea sur les Langues Tartares, vol. i. p. 320) and M. St. Martin (vol. ix. p. 373 consider it the Volga, which is called Atel or Etel by all the Turkish tribes. It is called Attilas by Menander, and Ettilia by the monk Ruysbreek (1253.) See Klaproth, Tabl. Hist. p. 247. This geography is much more clear and simple than that adopted by Gibbon from De Guignes, or suggested from Bell. - M.] [Footnote 32: Theophylact, l. vii. c. 7, 8. And yet his true Avars are invisible even to the eyes of M. de Guignes; and what can be more illustrious than the false? The right of the fugitive Ogors to that national appellation is confessed by the Turks themselves, (Menander, p. 108.)] [Footnote 33: The Alani are still found in the Genealogical History of the Tartars, (p. 617,) and in D'Anville's maps. They opposed the march of the generals of Zingis round the Caspian Sea, and were overthrown in a great battle, (Hist. de Gengiscan,
  1. iv. c. 9, p. 447.)]

[Footnote 34: The embassies and first conquests of the Avars may be read in Menander, (Excerpt. Legat. p. 99, 100, 101, 154, 155,) Theophanes, (p. 196,) the Historia Miscella, (l. xvi. p. 109,) and Gregory of Tours, (L iv. c. 23, 29, in the Historians of France, tom. ii. p. 214, 217.)]

Perhaps the apparent change in the dispositions of the

emperors may be ascribed to the embassy which was received from the conquerors of the Avars. ^35 The immense distance which eluded their arms could not extinguish their resentment: the Turkish ambassadors pursued the footsteps of the vanquished to the Jaik, the Volga, Mount Caucasus, the Euxine and Constantinople, and at length appeared before the successor of Constantine, to request that he would not espouse the cause of rebels and fugitives. Even commerce had some share in this remarkable negotiation: and the Sogdoites, who were now the tributaries of the Turks, embraced the fair occasion of opening, by the north of the Caspian, a new road for the importation of Chinese silk into the Roman empire. The Persian, who preferred the navigation of Ceylon, had stopped the caravans of Bochara and Samarcand: their silk was contemptuously burnt: some Turkish ambassadors died in Persia, with a suspicion of poison; and the great khan permitted his faithful vassal Maniach, the prince of the Sogdoites, to propose, at the Byzantine court, a treaty of alliance against their common enemies. Their splendid apparel and rich presents, the fruit of Oriental luxury, distinguished Maniach and his colleagues from the rude savages of the North: their letters, in the Scythian character and language, announced a people who had attained the rudiments of science: ^36 they enumerated the conquests, they offered the friendship and military aid of the Turks; and their sincerity was attested by direful imprecations (if they were guilty of falsehood) against their own head, and the head of Disabul their master. The Greek prince entertained with hospitable regard the ambassadors of a remote and powerful monarch: the sight of silk-worms and looms disappointed the hopes of the Sogdoites; the emperor renounced, or seemed to renounce, the fugitive Avars, but he accepted the alliance of the Turks; and the ratification of the treaty was carried by a Roman minister to the foot of Mount Altai. Under the successors of Justinian, the friendship of the two nations was cultivated by frequent and cordial intercourse; the most favored vassals were permitted to imitate the example of the great khan, and one hundred and six Turks, who, on various occasions, had visited Constantinople, departed at the same time for their native country. The duration and length of the journey from the Byzantine court to Mount Altai are not specified: it might have been difficult to mark a road through the nameless deserts, the mountains, rivers, and morasses of Tartary; but a curious account has been preserved of the reception of the Roman ambassadors at the royal camp. After they had been purified with fire and incense, according to a rite still practised under the sons of Zingis, ^* they were introduced to the presence of Disabul. In a valley of the Golden Mountain, they found the great khan in his tent, seated in a chair with wheels, to which a horse might be occasionally harnessed. As soon as they had delivered their presents, which were received by the proper officers, they exposed, in a florid oration, the wishes of the Roman emperor, that victory might attend the arms of the Turks, that their reign might be long and prosperous, and that a strict alliance, without envy or deceit, might forever be maintained between the two most powerful nations of the earth. The answer of Disabul corresponded with these friendly professions, and the ambassadors were seated by his side, at a banquet which lasted the greatest part of the day: the tent was surrounded with silk hangings, and a Tartar liquor was served on the table, which possessed at least the intoxicating qualities of wine. The entertainment of the succeeding day was more sumptuous; the silk hangings of the second tent were embroidered in various figures; and the royal seat, the cups, and the vases, were of gold. A third pavilion was supported by columns of gilt wood; a bed of pure and massy gold was raised on four peacocks of the same metal: and before the entrance of the tent, dishes, basins, and statues of solid silver, and admirable art, were ostentatiously piled in wagons, the monuments of valor rather than of industry. When Disabul led his armies against the frontiers of Persia, his Roman allies followed many days the march of the Turkish camp, nor were they dismissed till they had enjoyed their precedency over the envoy of the great king, whose loud and intemperate clamors interrupted the silence of the royal banquet. The power and ambition of Chosroes cemented the union of the Turks and Romans, who touched his dominions on either side: but those distant nations, regardless of each other, consulted the dictates of interest, without recollecting the obligations of oaths and treaties. While the successor of Disabul celebrated his father's obsequies, he was saluted by the ambassadors of the emperor Tiberius, who proposed an invasion of Persia, and sustained, with firmness, the angry and perhaps the just reproaches of that haughty Barbarian. "You see my ten fingers," said the great khan, and he applied them to his mouth. "You Romans speak with as many tongues, but they are tongues of deceit and perjury. To me you hold one language, to my subjects another; and the nations are successively deluded by your perfidious eloquence. You precipitate your allies into war and danger, you enjoy their labors, and you neglect your benefactors. Hasten your return, inform your master that a Turk is incapable of uttering or forgiving falsehood, and that he shall speedily meet the punishment which he deserves. While he solicits my friendship with flattering and hollow words, he is sunk to a confederate of my fugitive Varchonites. If I condescend to march against those contemptible slaves, they will tremble at the sound of our whips; they will be trampled, like a nest of ants, under the feet of my innumerable cavalry. I am not ignorant of the road which they have followed to invade your empire; nor can I be deceived by the vain pretence, that Mount Caucasus is the impregnable barrier of the Romans. I know the course of the Niester, the Danube, and the Hebrus; the most warlike nations have yielded to the arms of the Turks; and from the rising to the setting sun, the earth is my inheritance." Notwithstanding this menace, a sense of mutual advantage soon renewed the alliance of the Turks and Romans: but the pride of the great khan survived his resentment; and when he announced an important conquest to his friend the emperor Maurice, he styled himself the master of the seven races, and the lord of the seven climates of the world. ^37 [Footnote 35: Theophanes, (Chron. p. 204,) and the Hist. Miscella, (l. xvi. p. 110,) as understood by De Guignes, tom. i. part ii. p. 354,) appear to speak of a Turkish embassy to Justinian himself; but that of Maniach, in the fourth year of his successor Justin, is positively the first that reached Constantinople, (Menander p. 108.)]

[Footnote 36: The Russians have found characters, rude hieroglyphics, on the Irtish and Yenisei, on medals, tombs, idols, rocks, obelisks, &c., (Strahlenberg, Hist. of Siberia, p.


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Fall of Roman Empire
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