Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire

Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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A.D. 1444, No. 8.)]

[Footnote 27: A critic will always distrust these spolia opima of a victorious general, so difficult for valor to obtain, so easy for flattery to invent, (Cantemir, p. 90, 91.) Callimachus (l. iii. p. 517) more simply and probably affirms, supervenitibus Janizaris, telorum multitudine, non jam confossus est, quam obrutus.]

[Footnote *: Compare Von Hammer, p. 463. -- M.]

[Footnote 28: Besides some valuable hints from Æneas Sylvius, which are diligently collected by Spondanus, our best authorities are three historians of the xvth century, Philippus Callimachus, (de Rebus a Vladislao Polonorum atque Hungarorum Rege gestis, libri iii. in Bel. Script. Rerum Hungaricarum, tom. i. p. 433--518,) Bonfinius, (decad.

  1. l. v. p. 460--467,) and Chalcondyles, (l. vii. p. 165--179.) The two first were Italians, but they passed their lives in Poland and Hungary, (Fabric. Bibliot. Latin. Med. et Infimæ Ætatis, tom. i. p. 324. Vossius, de Hist. Latin. l. iii. c. 8, 11. Bayle, Dictionnaire, Bonfinius.) A small tract of Fælix Petancius, chancellor of Segnia, (ad calcem Cuspinian. de Cæsaribus, p. 716--722,) represents the theatre of the war in the xvth century.]

Before I lose sight of the field of Warna, I am tempted to pause on the character and story of two principal actors, the cardinal Julian and John Huniades. Julian ^29 Cæsarini was born of a noble family of Rome: his studies had embraced both the Latin and Greek learning, both the sciences of divinity and law; and his versatile genius was equally adapted to the schools, the camp, and the court. No sooner had he been invested with the Roman purple, than he was sent into Germany to arm the empire against the rebels and heretics of Bohemia. The spirit of persecution is unworthy of a Christian; the military profession ill becomes a priest; but the former is excused by the times; and the latter was ennobled by the courage of Julian, who stood dauntless and alone in the disgraceful flight of the German host. As the pope's legate, he opened the council of Basil; but the president soon appeared the most strenuous champion of ecclesiastical freedom; and an opposition of seven years was conducted by his ability and zeal. After promoting the strongest measures against the authority and person of Eugenius, some secret motive of interest or conscience engaged him to desert on a sudden the popular party. The cardinal withdrew himself from Basil to Ferrara; and, in the debates of the Greeks and Latins, the two nations admired the dexterity of his arguments and the depth of his theological erudition. ^30 In his Hungarian embassy, we have already seen the mischievous effects of his sophistry and eloquence, of which Julian himself was the first victim. The cardinal, who performed the duties of a priest and a soldier, was lost in the defeat of Warna. The circumstances of his death are variously related; but it is believed, that a weighty encumbrance of gold impeded his flight, and tempted the cruel avarice of some Christian fugitives.

[Footnote 29: M. Lenfant has described the origin (Hist. du Concile de Basle, tom. i. p. 247, &c.) and Bohemian campaign (p. 315, &c.) of Cardinal Julian. His services at Basil and Ferrara, and his unfortunate end, are occasionally related by Spondanus, and the continuator of Fleury.]

[Footnote 30: Syropulus honorably praises the talent of an enemy, (p. 117:) toiauta tina eipen o IoulianoV peplatusmenwV agan kai logikwV, kai met episthmhV kai deinothtoV 'RhtprikhV.]

From an humble, or at least a doubtful origin, the merit of John Huniades promoted him to the command of the Hungarian armies. His father was a Walachian, his mother a Greek: her unknown race might possibly ascend to the emperors of Constantinople; and the claims of the Walachians, with the surname of Corvinus, from the place of his nativity, might suggest a thin pretence for mingling his blood with the patricians of ancient Rome. ^31 In his youth he served in the wars of Italy, and was retained, with twelve horsemen, by the bishop of Zagrab: the valor of the white knight ^32 was soon conspicuous; he increased his fortunes by a noble and wealthy marriage; and in the defence of the Hungarian borders he won in the same year three battles against the Turks. By his influence, Ladislaus of Poland obtained the crown of Hungary; and the important service was rewarded by the title and office of Waivod of Transylvania. The first of Julian's crusades added two Turkish laurels on his brow; and in the public distress the fatal errors of Warna were forgotten. During the absence and minority of Ladislaus of Austria, the titular king, Huniades was elected supreme captain and governor of Hungary; and if envy at first was silenced by terror, a reign of twelve years supposes the arts of policy as well as of war. Yet the idea of a consummate general is not delineated in his campaigns; the white knight fought with the hand rather than the head, as the chief of desultory Barbarians, who attack without fear and fly without shame; and his military life is composed of a romantic alternative of victories and escapes. By the Turks, who employed his name to frighten their perverse children, he was corruptly denominated Jancus Lain, or the Wicked: their hatred is the proof of their esteem; the kingdom which he guarded was inaccessible to their arms; and they felt him most daring and formidable, when they fondly believed the captain and his country irrecoverably lost. Instead of confining himself to a defensive war, four years after the defeat of Warna he again penetrated into the heart of Bulgaria, and in the plain of Cossova, sustained, till the third day, the shock of the Ottoman army, four times more numerous than his own. As he fled alone through the woods of Walachia, the hero was surprised by two robbers; but while they disputed a gold chain that hung at his neck, he recovered his sword, slew the one, terrified the other, and, after new perils of captivity or death, consoled by his presence an afflicted kingdom. But the last and most glorious action of his life was the defence of Belgrade against the powers of Mahomet the Second in person. After a siege of forty days, the Turks, who had already entered the town, were compelled to retreat; and the joyful nations celebrated Huniades and Belgrade as the bulwarks of Christendom. ^33 About a month after this great deliverance, the champion expired; and his most splendid epitaph is the regret of the Ottoman prince, who sighed that he could no longer hope for revenge against the single antagonist who had triumphed over his arms. On the first vacancy of the throne, Matthias Corvinus, a youth of eighteen years of age, was elected and crowned by the grateful Hungarians. His reign was prosperous and long: Matthias aspired to the glory of a conqueror and a saint: but his purest merit is the encouragement of learning; and the Latin orators and historians, who were invited from Italy by the son, have shed the lustre of their eloquence on the father's character. ^34

[Footnote 31: See Bonfinius, decad. iii. l. iv. p. 423. Could the Italian historian pronounce, or the king of Hungary hear, without a blush, the absurd flattery which confounded the name of a Walachian village with the casual, though glorious, epithet of a single branch of the Valerian family at Rome?]

[Footnote 32: Philip de Comines, (Mémoires, l. vi. c. 13,) from the tradition of the times, mentions him with high encomiums, but under the whimsical name of the Chevalier Blanc de Valaigne, (Valachia.) The Greek Chalcondyles, and the Turkish annals of Leunclavius, presume to accuse his fidelity or valor.]

[Footnote 33: See Bonfinius (decad. iii. l. viii. p. 492) and Spondanus,

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Fall of Roman Empire