We have contemplated the grandeur and the glory of the Roman empire; and we have also seen, in connection with the magnificent triumphs of art, science, literature, and philosophy, a melancholy degradation of society, so fatal and universal, that all strength was undermined, and nothing was left but worn-out mechanisms and lifeless forms to resist the pressure of external enemies. So vast, so strong, so proud was this empire, that no one dreamed it could ever be subverted. With all the miseries of the people, with that hateful demoralization which pervaded all classes and orders and interests, there was still a splendid external, which called forth general panegyrics, and the idea of public danger was derided or discredited. If Rome, in the infancy of the republic, had resisted the invading Gauls, what was there to fear from the half-naked barbarians who lived beyond the boundaries of the empire? The long-continued peace and prosperity had engendered not merely the vices of self-interest, those destructive cankers which ever insure a ruin, but a general feeling of security and self-exaggeration. The eternal city was still prosperous and proud, the centre of all that was grand in the civilization of the ancient world. Provincial cities vied with the capital in luxuries, in pomps, in sports, and in commercial wealth. The cultivated face of nature betokened universal prosperity. Nothing was wanting but energy, genius, and virtue among the people.
[Sidenote: Prosperity deceptive.]
But all this prosperity was deceptive. All was rotten and hollow at heart; and, had there not been universal delusion, it would have been apparent that the machine would break up at the first great shock. There was no spring in the splendid mechanism. It was broken, and society had really been retrograding from the time of Trajan--from the moment that it had completed its task of conquest. There was a strange torpor everywhere, so soon as external antagonism had ceased, and if the barbarians had not come the empire would have been disintegrated, and would scarcely have lasted two centuries longer.
[Sidenote: The empire had fulfilled its mission.]
Moreover, the empire had fulfilled its mission. It had conquered the world that a great centralization of power might be created, under which peace and plenty might reign, and a new religion might spread.
Still, whatever the plans of Providence may have been in allowing that imperial despotism to grow and spread from the banks of the Tiber to the uttermost parts of the civilized world, we cannot but feel that a great retribution was deserved for the crimes which Rome had committed upon mankind. He that takes the sword shall perish with the sword. Rome had drank of the blood of millions, and was foul with all the abominations of the countries she had subdued, and her turn must come, and a new race must try new experiments for humanity.
[Sidenote: War the instrument of punishment.]
The great instrument of God in punishing wicked nations and effecting important changes, is war. There are other forms or divine displeasure. Plague, pestilence, and famine are often sent upon degraded peoples. But these are either the necessary attendants on war itself, or they are limited and transient. They do not produce the great revolutions in which new ideas are born and new forms of social life arise.
But war seems to be the ultimate scourge of God, when he dooms nations to destruction, or to great changes. It combines within itself all kinds of evil and calamity--poverty, sickness, captivity, disgrace, and death. A conquered nation is most forlorn and dismal. The song of the conquered is--"By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept."
The passions which produce war are born in hell. They are pride, ambition, cruelty, avarice, and lust. These are the natural causes which array nation against nation, or people against people. But these are second causes. The primary cause is God, who useth the passions and interests of men, as his instruments of punishment.
[Sidenote: Illustrated by the history of nations.]
How impressive the history of the different civilized nations, which formed so large a part of the universal monarchy of the Romans. Assyria, Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor, Palestine, Greece, had successively been great empires and states--independent and conquering. They arose from the prevalence of martial virtues, of courage, temperance, fortitude, allied with ambition and poverty. Then monarchs craved greater power and possessions. Their passions were inexcusable; but they possessed men who were powerful and not enslaved to enervating vices. They made war on nations sunk in effeminacy and vile idolatries--men worse than they. The conquered nations needed chastisement and reconstruction; and, generally, by their blindness and arrogance, provoked the issue. Wealth and power had inflated them with false security, with egotistic aims; or else had enervated them and undermined their strength. They became subject to a stronger power. Their pride was buried in the dust. They became enslaved, miserable, ruined. They were punished in as signal, though not miraculous manner, as the Antediluvians, or the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The same hand, however, is seen in vengeance and in mercy. They regained in adversity the strength they had lost in prosperity, and civilization lost nothing by their sufferings.
[Sidenote: Wars over-ruled.]
The conquering powers, in their turn, became powerful, wealthy, and corrupt. Effeminacy and weakness succeeded; war came upon them, and they became the prey of the stronger. Their conquerors, again, were enslaved by their vices, and their empire passed away in the same gloom and despair.
We see, however, in each successive conquest, the destruction, not of civilization, but of men. Countries are overrun, thrones are subverted, the rich are made slaves, the proud utter cries of despair; but the land survives, and arts and science take a new direction, and the new masters are more interested in great improvements than the old tyrants. The condition of Babylonia was probably better for the Persian conquest, while the whole oriental world gained by the wars of Alexander. Grecian culture succeeded Persian misrule. The Romans came and took away from Grecian dynasties, in Asia and Egypt, when they became enfeebled by prosperity and self-indulgence, the powers they had usurped, without destroying Grecian civilization. That remained, and will remain, in some form, forever, as an heirloom of priceless value to all future nations. The Greeks, when they conquered the Persians, had also spared the most precious monuments of their former industry and genius. The Romans, also, when they conquered Greece itself, guarded and prized her peculiar contributions to mankind. And they gave to all these conquered territories, something of their own. They gave laws, and a good government. The Grecian and Asiatic cities were humiliated by what they regarded as barbaric inroads; for the culture of Athens, Corinth, Antioch, and Ephesus, was higher than that of Rome, at that time; but who can doubt a beneficent change in the administration of public affairs? Society was doubtless improved everywhere by the Roman conquests. It is not probable that Athens, after she became tributary to Rome, was equal to the Athens of Pericles and Plato; but it is probable that society in Athens was better than what it was for a century before her fall. But what if particular cities suffered? These did not constitute the whole country. Can it be doubted that Syria, as a province, enjoyed more rational liberty and more scope for energy, under the Roman rule, than under that of the degenerate scions of the old Grecian kings? We see a retribution in the conquest, and also a blessing in disguise.
[Sidenote: The Celtic nations.]
But still more forcibly are these truths illustrated in the conquest of the Celtic nations of Europe. They were barbarians; they had neither science, nor literature, nor art; they were given over to perpetual quarrels, and to rude pleasures. Ignorance, superstition, and unrestrained passions were the main features of society. Other rude warriors wandered from place to place, with no other end than pillage. They had fine elements of character, but they needed civilization. They were conquered. The Romans taught them laws, and language, and literature, and arts. Cities arose among them, and these conquered barbarians became the friends of order and peace, and formed the most prosperous part of the whole empire. It was from these Celtic nations that the Roman armies were recruited. The great men of Rome, in the second and third centuries, came from these Celtic provinces. They infused a new blood into the decaying body. Who can doubt the benefit to mankind by the conquests of Britain, of Gaul, and of Spain? The Romans proved the greatest civilizers of the ancient world, with all their arrogance and want of appreciation of those things which gave a glory to the Greeks. They introduced among the barbaric nations their own arts, language, literature, and laws; and the civilization which they taught never passed away. It was obscured, indeed, during the revolutions which succeeded the fall of the empire, but it was gradually revived, and beamed with added lustre when its merits were at last perceived.
Thus wars are not an unmixed calamity, since the evils are overruled in the ultimate good of nations. But they are a great calamity for the time, and they are sent when nations most need chastisement.
[Sidenote: Conquest of the Celts.]
The Romans triumphed, by their great and unexampled energy and patience and heroism, over all the world, and erected their universal empire upon the ruins of all the states of antiquity. They were suffered to increase and prosper, that great ends might be accomplished, either by the punishment of the old nations, or the creation of a new civilization.
But they, in their turn, became corrupted by prosperity, and enervated by peace. They had been guilty of the most heartless and cruel atrocities for eight hundred years. Their empire was built upon the miseries of mankind. They also must needs suffer retribution.
It was long delayed. It did not come till every conservative influence had failed. The condition of society was becoming worse and worse, until it reached a depravity and an apathy fatal to all genius, and more disgraceful than among those people whom they stigmatized as barbarians. Then must come revolution, or races would run out and civilization be lost.
[Sidenote: Barbaric conquests.]
God sent war--universal, cruel, destructive war, at the hands of unknown warriors; and they effected a total eclipse of the glory of man. The empire was resolved into its original elements. Its lands were overrun and pillaged; its cities were burned and robbed; and unmitigated violence overspread the earth, so that the cry of despair ascended to heaven, from the Pillars of Hercules to the Caspian Sea. Indeed, the end of the world was so generally believed to be at hand, on this universal upturning of society, that some of the best men fled to caves and deserts; and there were more monks that sought personal salvation by their austerities, than soldiers who braved their lives in battle.
It is this great revolution which I seek to present, this great catastrophe to which the Romans were subjected, after having conquered one hundred and twenty millions of people. It was probably the most mournful, in all its aspects, ever seen on the face of this earth since the universal deluge. Never, surely, were such calamities produced by the hand of man. The Greeks and Romans, when they had conquered a rebellious or enervated nation, introduced their civilization, and promoted peace and general security. They brought laws, science, literature, and arts, in the train of their armies; they did not sweep away ancient institutions; they left the people as they found them, only with greater facilities of getting rich; they preserved the pictures, the statues, and the temples; they honored the literature and revered the sages who taught it; they may have brought captives to their capitals as slaves, but they did not root out every trace of cultivation, or regarded it with haughty scorn. But, when their turn of punishment came, the whole world was filled with mourning and desolation, and all the relations of society were reversed.
[Sidenote: Infatuation of the Romans.]
It was a sad hour in the old capital of the world, when its blinded inhabitants were aroused from the stupendous delusion that they were invincible; when the crushing fact stared every one in the face, that the legions had been conquered, that province after province had been overrun, that proud and populous cities had fallen, that the barbarians were advancing, treading beneath their feet all that had been deemed valuable, or rare, or sacred, that they were advancing to the very gates of Rome,--that her doom was sealed, that there was no shelter to which they could fly, that there was no way by which ruin could be averted, that they were doomed to hopeless poverty or servitude, that their wives and daughters would be subject to indignities which were worse than death, and that all the evils their ancestors had inflicted in their triumphant march, would be visited upon them with tenfold severity. The Romans, even then, when they cast their eyes upon external nature, saw rich corn-fields, smiling vineyards, luxurious gardens, yea, villas and temples and palaces without end; and how could these be destroyed which had lasted for centuries? How could the eternal city, which had not seen a foreign enemy near its gates since the invasion of the Gauls, which had escaped all dangers, so rich and gay, how could she now yield to naked barbarians from unknown forests? They still beheld the splendid mechanism of government, the glitter and the pomp of armies, triumphal processions, new monuments of victory, the proud eagles, and all the emblems of unlimited dominion. What had they to fear? "_Nihil est, Quirites, quod timere possitis_."
[Sidenote: Fatal security of the Romans.]
Nor to the eye of contemporaries was the great change, which had gradually taken place since the reign of Trajan, apparent. Cowardice and weakness were veiled from the view of men. In proportion to the imbecility of the troops, were the richness of their uniform, and the insolence of their manners. It was the day of boasts and pomps. All forms and emblems had their ancient force. All men partook of the vices and follies which were praised. In their levity and delusion, they did not see the real emptiness and hollowness of their institutions. A blinded generation never can see the signs of the times. Only a few contemplative men hid themselves in retired places, but were denounced as croakers or evil minded. Every body was interested in keeping up the delusion. Panics seldom last long. The world is too fond of its ease to believe the truths which break up repose and gains. All felt safe, because they had always been protected. Ruin might come ultimately, but not in their day. "_Apres moi le deluge_" No one would make sacrifices, since no one feared immediate danger. Moreover, public spirit and patriotism had fled. If their cities were in danger, they said, better perish here with our wives and children than die on the frontiers after having suffered every privation and exposure. There must have been a universal indifference, or the barbarians could not have triumphed. The Romans had every inducement which any people ever had to a brave and desperate resistance. Not merely their own lives, but the security of their families was at stake. Their institutions, their interests, their rights, their homes, their altars, all were in jeopardy. And they were attacked by most merciless enemies, without pity or respect, and yet they would not fight, as nations should fight, and do sometimes fight, when their country is invaded. Why did they offer no more stubborn resistance? Why did the full-armed and well-trained legions yield to barbaric foes, without discipline and without the most effective weapons? Alas, dispirited and enervated people will never fight. They prefer slavery to death. Thus Persia succumbed before Alexander, and Asia Minor before the Saracen generals. Martial courage goes hand in hand with virtue. Without elevation of sentiment there will be no self-sacrifice. There is no hope when nations are abandoned to sensuality or egotism.
[Sidenote: Weakness of the empire.]
We must believe in a most extraordinary degeneracy of society, or Rome would not have fallen. With any common degree of courage, the empire should have resisted the Goths and Vandals. They were not more numerous than those hordes which Marius and Caesar annihilated even in their own marshes and forests. It was not like the Macedonians, with their impenetrable phalanx, and their perfected armor, contending with semi- barbarians. It was not like the Spaniards, marching over Peru and Mexico. It was not like the English, with all the improved weapons of our modern times, firing upon a people armed with darts and arrows. But it was barbarians, without defensive armor, without discipline, without prestige, attacking legions which had been a thousand years learning the art of war. Proh Pudor! The soldiers of the empire must have lost their ancient spirit. They must have represented a most worthless people. We lose our pity in the strength of our indignation and disgust. A civilized nation that will yield to barbarians must deserve their fate. Noble as were the elements of character among the Germanic tribes, they were yet barbarians in arts, in manners, in knowledge, in mechanisms. They had nothing but brute force. Science should have conquered brute force; but it did not. We cannot but infer a most startling degeneracy. It is to be regretted that we have no more satisfactory data as to the precise state of society. I am inclined to the opinion that society was much more degraded than it is generally supposed. When for two centuries the whole empire scarcely produced a poet, or a philosopher, or an historian; when even the writings of famous men in the time of Augustus were lost or unread; when, from Trajan to Honorius, a period of three hundred and fifty years, scarcely a work of original genius appeared, it must be that society was utterly demoralized, and all life and vigor had fled.
[Sidenote: Conquerors of Rome.]
Then it was time for the empire to fall. And it is our work to sketch the ruin--and such a ruin. The bloody conquerors were Goths and Vandals, and other Teutonic tribes--Franks, Sueves, Alans, Heruli, Burgundians, Lombards, Saxons. They came originally from Central Asia, in the region of the Caspian Sea, and were kindred to the Medes and Persians. They drove before them older inhabitants, probably Celtic nations, and ultimately settled in the vast region between the Baltic and the Danube, the Rhine and the Vistula, embracing those countries which are now called Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany.
[Sidenote: The Germanic nations.]
All these tribes were probably similar in manners, habits, tastes, and natural elements of character. Tacitus has furnished us with the most authentic record of their customs and peculiarities. [Footnote: Tacitus, De Moribus Germanorum.] Their eyes were stern and blue, their hair red, their bodies large, their strength great. They were ruled by kings, but not with unlimited power. The priests had also an extraordinary influence, which they shared with the women, who were present in battles, and who were characterized for great purity and courage. Even the power to predict the future was ascribed to women. The Germans were superstitious, and were given to divinations by omens and lots, by the flight of birds and the neighing of horses. They transacted no business, public or private, without being armed. They were warlike in all their habits and tastes, and the field of battle was the field of glory. Their chief deity was an heroic prince. Odin, the type-man of the nation, was a wild captain, who taught that it was most honorable to die in battle. They hated repose and inactivity, and, when not engaged in war, they pursued with eagerness the pleasures of the chase; yet, during the intervals of war and hunting, they divided their time between sleeping and feasting. They loved the forests, and dangerous sports, and adventurous enterprises. They abhorred cities, which they regarded as prisons of despotism. A rude passion for personal independence was one of their chief characteristics, as powerful as veneration for the women and religious tendency of mind. They would brook no restraint on their wills or their passions. Their wills were stern and their passions impetuous. They only yielded to the voice of entreaty or of love. They were ordinarily temperate, except on rare occasions, when they indulged in drunken festivities. Chastity was a virtue which was rigorously practiced. There were few cases of adultery among them, and the unfaithful wife was severely punished. Men and women, without seductive spectacles or convivial banquets, were fenced around with chastity, and bound together by family ties. Polygamy was unknown, and the marriage obligation was sacred. The wife brought no dowry to her husband, but received one from him, not frivolous presents, but oxen, a caparisoned steed, a shield, spear, and sword, to indicate that she is to be a partner in toil and danger, to suffer and to dare in peace and war. Hospitality was another virtue, extended equally to strangers and acquaintances, but, at the festive board, quarrels often took place, and enmities once formed were rarely forgiven. Vindictive resentments were as marked as cordial and frank friendships. They drank beer or ale, instead of wine, at their feasts, although their ordinary drink was water. Their food was fruits, cheese, milk, and venison. They had an inordinate passion for gambling, and would even stake their very freedom on a throw. Slavery was common, but not so severe and ruthless as among the Romans. They had but little commerce, and were unacquainted with the arts of usury. Their agriculture was rude, and corn was the only product they raised. They had the ordinary domestic animals, but their horses were neither beautiful nor swift.
[Sidenote: The native elements of character of the barbarians.]
It is easy to see that, in their manners and traits, they had a great resemblance to the Celts, before they were subdued and civilized, but were not so passionate, nor impulsive, nor thoughtless, nor reckless as they. Nor were they so much addicted to gluttony and drunkenness. They were more persevering, more earnest, more truthful, and more chaste. Nor were they so much enslaved by the priesthood. The Druidical rule was confined to the Celts, yet, like the Celts, they worshiped God in the consecrated grove. Their religion was pantheistic: they saw God in the rocks, the rain, the thunder, the clouds, the rivers, the mountains, the stars. He was supposed to preside everywhere, and to be a supreme intelligence. Their view of God was quite similar to the early Ionic philosophers of Greece: "_Regnator omnium deus, coetera subjecta atque parentia_." They Were never idol-worshipers; they worshiped nature, and called its wonders gods. But this worship of nature was modified by the worship of a hero. In Odin they beheld strength, courage, magnanimity, the attributes they adored. To be brave was an elemental principle of religion, and they attributed to the Deity every thing which could inspire horror as the terrible,--the angry god who marked out those destined to be slain. Hence their groves, where he was supposed to preside, were dark and mysterious. We adore the gloom of woods, the silence which reigns around. "_Lucos atque in iis silentia, ipsa adoremus_." While the priests of this awful being were not so despotic as the Druids, they still exercised a great ascendency: they conjured the storms of internal war; they pronounced the terrible anathema; they imparted to military commanders a sacred authority; and they carried at the head of their armies the consecrated banner of the Deity. In short, they wielded those spiritual weapons which afterward became thunderbolts in the hands of the clergy, and which prepared the way for the autocratic reign of the popes, in whom the Germanic nations ever recognized the vicegerent of their invisible Lord. They were most preeminently a religious people, governed by religious ideas--by which I mean they recognized a deity to whose will they were to be obedient, and whose favor could only be purchased by deeds of valor or virtue. Their morality sprung out of veneration for the Great Unseen, in whose hands were their destinies.
This trait is the most remarkable and prominent among the Germans, next to their fierce passion for war, their veneration for woman, and their love of personal independence, to which last Guizot attaches great importance. The feeling one's self a man in the most unrestricted sense, was the highest pleasure of the German barbarian. There was a personality of feeling and interest hostile to social forms and municipal regulations. They cared for nothing beyond the gratification of their inclinations. To be unrestrained, to be free in the wildest sense, to do what they pleased under the impulse of the moment, this was their leading characteristic. Who cannot see that such a trait was hostile to civilization, and would prevent obedience to law--would make the uncultivated warrior unsocial and solitary, and lead him, in after- times, when he got possession of the lands of the conquered Romans, to build his castle on inaccessible heights and rugged rocks? Hence isolated retreats, wild adventures, country life, the pleasures of the chase, characterized the new settlers. They avoided cities, and built castles.
[Sidenote: National traits.]
[Sidenote: Character of the Germanic nations.]
This passion for liberty, accompanied with the spirit of daring, adventure, and war, would have been fatal but for the rule of priests, and the great influence of woman. In this latter element of character, the barbarians from Scandinavia stand out in interesting contrast with the civilized nations whom they subverted. They evidently had a greater respect for woman than any of the nations of antiquity, not excepting the Jews. In her they beheld something sacred and divine. In her voice was inspiration, and in her presence there was safety. There was no true enthusiasm for woman in Greece even when Socrates bowed before the charms of Aspasia. There was none at Rome when Volumnia screened the city from the vengeance of her angry son. But the Germans worshiped the fair, and beheld in her the incarnation of all virtue and loveliness. And thus, among such a race, arose the glorious old institution of chivalry, which could not have existed among the Romans or the Greeks, even after Christianity had softened the character and enlarged the heart. In the baronial mansion of the Middle Ages this natural veneration was ripened into devotion and gallantry. Among the knights, zeal for God and the ladies was enjoined as a single duty; and "he who was faithful to his mistress," says Hallam, "was sure of salvation, in the theology of castles, if not of cloisters." This devotion was expressed in the rude poetry of barbarous ages, in the sports of the tournament and tilt, in the feasts of the castle, in the masculine pleasures of the chase, in the control of the household, in the education of children, in the laws which recognized equality, in the free companionship with man, in the trust reposed in female honor and virtue, in the delicacy of love, and in the refinements of friendship. This trait alone shows the superior nature of the Germanic races, especially when taught by Christianity, and makes us rejoice that the magnificent conquests of the Romans were given to them for their proud inheritance.
Such were the men who became the heirs of the Romans,--races never subdued by arms or vices, among whom Christianity took a peculiar hold, and gradually developed among them principles of progress such as were never seen among the older nations. Can we wonder that such men should prevail?--men who loved war as the Romans did under the republic; men who gloried in their very losses, and felt that death in the field would secure future salvation and everlasting honor; men full of hope, energy, enthusiasm, and zeal; men who had, what the old races had not,--a soul, life, uncorrupted forces.
Yet, when they invaded the Roman world, it must not be forgotten that they were rude, ignorant, wild, fierce, and unscrupulous. They were held in absolute detestation, as the North American Indians, whom they resembled in many important respects, were held in this country two hundred years ago. Their object was pillage. They roamed in search of more fruitful lands and a more congenial sky. They were bent on conquest, rapine, and violence. They were called the Northern Hordes-- barbarians--and even their vices were exaggerated. They were, indeed, most formidable and terrific foes; and when conquered in battle would rally their forces, and press forward with renewed numbers.
[Sidenote: The Goths.]
The first of these Teutonic barbarians who made successful inroads were the Goths. I do not now allude to the Celtic nations who were completely subdued and incorporated with the empire before the accession of the emperors. Nor do I speak of the Teutons whom Marius defeated one hundred years before the Christian era, nor yet of the Germanic tribes who made unsuccessful inroads during the reigns of the earlier emperors. Augustus must have had melancholy premonitions of danger when his general, Varus, suffered a disgraceful defeat by the sword of Arminus in the dark recesses of the Teuto-burger Wald, even as Charlemagne covered his face with his iron hands when he saw the invasion of his territories by the Norman pirates. For three centuries there was a constant struggle between the Roman armies and the barbarians beyond the Rhine. In the reign of Marcus Antoninus they formed a general union for the invasion of the Roman world, but they were signally defeated, and the great pillar of Marcus Aurelius describes his victories on the Danube, who died combating the Vandals, A.D. 180. In the year 241 A.D., the great Aurelian is seen fighting the Franks near Mayence, who, nevertheless, pressed forward until they made their way into Spain.
[Sidenote: Invasion of the Goths.]
The most formidable of the enemies of Rome were the Goths. When first spoken of in history they inhabited the shores of the Baltic. They were called by Tacitus, Gothones. In the time of Caracalla they had migrated to the coast of the Black Sea. Under the reign of Alexander Severus, 222-235, A.D., they threatened the peace of the province of Dacia. Under Philip, A.D. 244-249, they succeeded in conquering that province, and penetrated into Mosia. In the year 251, they encountered a Roman army under Decius, which they annihilated, and the emperor himself was slain. Then they continued their ravages along the coasts of the Euxine until they made themselves masters of the Crimea. With a large fleet of flat- boats they sailed to all the northern parts of the Euxine, took Pityus and Trapezus, attacked the wealthy cities on the Thracian Bosphorus, conquered Chalcedon, Nicomedia, and Nice, and retreated laden with spoil. The next year, with five hundred boats--they cannot be called ships,--they pursued their destructive navigation, destroyed Cyzicus, crossed the Aegean Sea, and landed at Athens, which they plundered. Thebes, Argos, Corinth, and Sparta were unable to defend their dilapidated fortifications. They advanced to the coasts of Epirus and devastated the whole Illyrian peninsula. In this destructive expedition they destroyed the famous temple of Diana at Ephesus, with its one hundred and twenty-seven marble columns sixty feet in height, and its interior ornamented with the choicest sculptures of Praxiteles. But they at length got wearied of danger and toil, and returned through Mosia to their own settlements. Though this incursion was a raid rather than a conquest, yet what are we to think of the military strength of the empire and the condition of society, when, in less than three hundred years after Augustus had shut the temple of Janus, fifteen thousand undisciplined barbarians, without even a leader of historic fame, were allowed to ravage the most populous and cultivated part of the empire, even the classic cities which had resisted the Persian hosts, and retire unmolested with their spoils? The Emperor Gallienus, one of the most frivolous of all the Caesars, received the intelligence with epicurean indifference, and abandoned himself to inglorious pleasures; and as Nero is said to have fiddled while his capital was in ashes, so he, in this great emergency, consumed his time in gardening and the arts of cookery, and was commended by his idolatrous courtiers as a philosopher and a hero.
In fact, this invasion of the Goths was not contemplated with that alarm which it ought to have excited, but rather as an accidental evil, like a pestilence or a plague. Moreover, it was lost sight of in the general misery and misfortunes of the times. The Emperor Valerian had just been defeated and taken prisoner by Sapor. Pretenders had started up in nineteen different places for the imperial purple. Banditti had spread devastation in Sicily. Alexandria was disturbed by tumults. Famine and the plague raged for ten years in nearly all parts of the empire. Rome lost by the pestilence five thousand daily, while half the inhabitants of Alexandria were swept away. Soldiers, tyrants, barbarians, and the visitation of God threatened the ruin of the Roman world.
But the ruin was staved off one hundred years by the labors and genius of a series of great princes, who traced their origin to the martial province of Illyricum. And all that was in the power of the emperors to do was done to arrest destruction. No empire was ever ruled by a succession of better and greater men than the calamities of the times raised up on the death of Gallienus, A.D. 268. But what avail the energy and talents of rulers when a nation is doomed to destruction? We have the profoundest admiration for the imperial heroes who bore the burdens of a throne in those days of tribulation. They succeeded in restoring the ancient glories--but glories followed by a deeper shame. They attempted impossibilities when their subjects were sunk in sloth and degradation.
[Sidenote: Success and the defeat of the Goths.]
Claudius, one of the generals of Gallienus, was invested with the purple at the age of fifty-four. He restored military discipline, revived law, repressed turbulence, and bent his thoughts to head off the barbaric invasions. The various nations of Germany and Sarmatia, united under the Gothic standard, and in six thousand vessels, prepared once more to ravage the world. Sailing from the banks of the Dniester, they crossed the Euxine, passed through the Bosphorus, anchored at the foot of Mount Athos, and assaulted Thessalonica, the wealthy capital of the Macedonian provinces. Claudius advanced to meet these three hundred and twenty thousand barbarians. At Naissus, in Dalmatia, was fought one of the most memorable and bloody battles of ancient times, but not one of the most decisive. Fifty thousand Goths were slain in that dreadful fight. Three Gothic women fell to the share of every imperial soldier. The discomfited warriors fled in consternation, but their retreat was cut off by the destruction of their fleet; and on the return of spring the mighty host had dwindled to a desperate band in the inaccessible parts of Mount Hemus.
[Sidenote: Victories of Claudius.]
Claudius survived his victory but two years, and was succeeded, A.D. 270, by a still greater man--his general Aurelian, whose father had been a peasant of Sirmium. Every day of his short reign was filled with wonders. He put an end to the Gothic war; he chastised the Germans who invaded Italy; he recovered Gaul, Spain, and Britain, from the hands of an usurper; he destroyed the proud monarchy which Zenobia had built up in the deserts of the East; he defeated the Alemanni who, with eighty thousand foot and forty thousand horse, had devastated the country from the Danube to the Po; and, not least, he took Zenobia herself a prisoner --one of the most celebrated women of antiquity, equaling Cleopatra in beauty, Elizabeth in learning, and Artemisia in valor--a woman who blended the popular manners of the Roman princes with the stately pomp of oriental kings.
Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, the widow of Odenatus, ruled a large portion of Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, and with a numerous army she advanced to meet the imperial legions. Conquered in two disastrous battles, she retired to the beautiful city which Solomon had built, shaded with palms, ornamented with palaces, and rich in oriental treasure. Then again, attacked by her persevering enemy, she mounted the fleetest of her dromedaries, but was overtaken on the banks of the Euphrates, and brought a captive to the tent of the martial emperor, while Palmyra, her capital, with all its riches, fell into the hands of the conqueror.
[Sidenote: Successes of Aurelian.]
Aurelian, with the haughty queen who had presumed to rise up in arms against the empire, returned to successes of Rome, and then was celebrated the most magnificent triumph which the world had seen since the days of Pompey and of Caesar. And since the foundation of the city, no conqueror more richly deserved a triumph than this virtuous and rugged soldier of fortune. And as the august procession, with all the pomp and circumstance of war, moved along the Via Sacra, up the Capitoline Hill, and halted at the Temple of Jupiter, to receive the benediction of the priests, and to deposit within its sacred walls the treasures of the East, it would seem that Rome was destined to surmount the ordinary fate of nations, and reign as mistress of the world per secula seculorum.
But this grand pageant was only one of the last glories of the setting sun of Roman greatness. Aurelian had no peace or repose. "The gods decree," said the impatient emperor, "that my life should be a perpetual warfare." He was obliged to take the field a few months after his triumph, and was slain, not in battle, but by the hands of assassins-- the common fate of his predecessors and successors--"the regular portal" through which the Caesars passed to their account with the eternal Judge. He had boasted that public danger had passed--"Ego efficiam ne sit aliqua solicitudo Romana. Nos publicae necessitates teneant; vos occupent voluptates." But scarcely had this warlike prince sung his requiem to the agitations of Rome before new dangers arose, and his sceptre descended to a man seventy-five years of age.
Tacitus, the new emperor, was however worthy of his throne. He was selected as the most fitting man that could be found. Scarcely was he inaugurated, before he was obliged to march against the Alans, who had spread their destructive ravages over Pontus, Cappadocia, Cilicia, and Galatia. He lost his life, though successful in battle, amid the hardships of a winter campaign, and Probus, one of his generals, who had once been an Illyrian peasant, was clothed with the imperial purple, A.D. 278.
[Sidenote: The successes of Probus.]
This vigorous monarch was then forty-five years of age, in the prime of his strength, popular with the army, and patriotic and enlarged in his views. He reigned six years, and won a fame equal to that of the ancient heroes. He restored peace and order in every province of the empire; he broke the power of the Sarmatian tribes; he secured the alliance of the Gothic nation; he drove the Isaurians to their strongholds among the mountains; he chastised the rebellious cities of Egypt; he delivered Gaul from the Germanic barbarians, who again inundated the empire on the death of Aurelian; he drove back the Franks into their morasses at the mouth of the Rhine; he vanquished the Burgundians, who had wandered in quest of booty from the banks of the Oder; he defeated the Lygii, a fierce tribe from the frontiers of Silesia, and took their chieftain Semno alive; he passed the Rhine and pursued his victories to the Elbe, exacting a tribute of corn, cattle, and horses, from the defeated Germans; he even erected a bulwark against their future encroachments--a stone wall of two hundred miles in length, across valleys and hills and rivers, from the Danube to the Rhine--a feeble defense indeed, but such as to excite the wonder of his age; he, moreover, dispersed the captive barbarians throughout the provinces, who were afterward armed in defense of the empire, and whose brethren were persuaded to make settlements with them, so that, at length, "there was not left in all the provinces," says Gibbon, "a hostile barbarian, a tyrant, or even a robber."
After having destroyed four hundred thousand barbarians, the victor returned to Rome, and, like Aurelian, celebrated his successes in one of those gorgeous triumphs to which modern nations have no parallel. Then he again, like the conqueror of Zenobia, mounted the Pisgah of hope, and descried the Saturnian ages which, in his vision of Peace, he fancied were to follow his victories. "Respublica orbis terrarum, ubique secura, non arma fabricabit. Boves habebuntur aratro; equus nasciter ad pacem. Nulla erunt bella; nulla captivitas. Aeternes thesauros haberet Romana respublica." But scarcely had the paeans escaped him, before, in his turn, he was assassinated in a mutiny of his own troops--a man of virtue and abilities, although his austere temper insensibly, under military power, subsided into tyranny and cruelty.
Without the approbation of the Senate, the soldiers elected a new emperor, and he too was a hero. Carus had scarcely assumed the purple, A.D. 282, before he marched against the Persians, through Thrace and Asia Minor, in the midst of winter, and the ambassadors of the Persian king found the new emperor of the world seated on the grass, at a frugal dinner of bacon and pease, in that severe simplicity which afterward marked the early successors of Mohammed. But before he could carry his victorious arms across the Tigris, he suddenly died in his tent, struck, as some think, by lightning. His son Carinus was unworthy of the throne to which he succeeded, and his reign is chiefly memorable for the magnificence of his games and festivals. His reign, and that of his brother Numerian, was however short, and a still greater man than any who had mounted the throne of the Caesars since Augustus, took the helm at the most critical period of Roman history, A.D. 285.
This man was Diocletian, rendered infamous in ecclesiastical history, as the most bitter persecutor the Christians ever had; a man of obscure birth, yet of most distinguished abilities, and virtually the founder of a new empire. He found it impossible to sustain the public burdens in an age so disordered and disorganized, when every province was menaced by the barbarians, and he associated with himself three colleagues who had won fame in the wars of Aurelian and Carus, and all of whom had rendered substantial services--Galerius, Maximian, and Constantius. These four Caesars, alive to the danger which menaced the empire, took up their residence in the distant provinces. They were all great generals; and they won great victories on the banks of the Rhine and the Danube, in Africa and Egypt, in Persia and Armenia. Their lives were spent in the camp; but care, vexation, and discontent pursued them. The barbarians were continually beaten, but they continually advanced. Their progress reminds one of the rising tide on a stormy and surging beach. Wave after wave breaks upon the shore, recedes, returns, and nothing can stop the gradual advance of the waters. So in the hundred years after Gallienus, wave after wave of barbaric invasion constantly appeared, receded, returned, with added strength. The heroic emperors were uniformly victors; but their victories were in vain. They were perpetually reconquering rebellious provinces, or putting down usurpers, or punishing the barbarians, who acquired strength after every defeat, and were more and more insatiable in their demands, and unrelenting in their wills. They were determined to conquer, and the greatest generals of the Roman empire during four hundred years could not subdue them, although they could beat them.
The empire is again united under Constantine, after bloody civil wars, A.D. 324, thirty-four years after Diocletian had divided his power and provinces with his associates. He renews the war against the Goths and Sarmatians, severely chastises them as well as other enemies of Rome, and dies leaving the empire to his son, unequal to the task imposed upon him. The inglorious reigns of Constantius and Gallus only enabled the barbarians to renew their strength. They are signally defeated by the Emperor Julian, A.D. 360, who alone survives of all the heirs of Constantius Chlorus. The studious Julian, who was supposed to be a mere philosopher, proves himself to be one of the most warlike of all the emperors. He repulses the Alemanni, defeats the Franks, delivers Gaul, and carries the Roman eagles triumphantly beyond the Rhine. His victories delay the ruin of the empire; they do not result in the conquest of Germany, and he dies, mortally wounded, not by a German spear, but by the javelin of a Persian horseman, beyond the Tigris, in an unsuccessful enterprise against Sapor, A.D. 363.
[Sidenote: New invasions of barbarians.]
After his death the ravages of the barbarians became still more fearful. The Alemanni invade Gaul, A.D. 365, the Persians recover Armenia, the Burgundians appear upon the Rhine, the Saxons attack Britain, and spread themselves from the Wall of Antoninus to the shores of Kent, the Goths prepare for another invasion; in Africa there is a great revolt under Firmus. The empire is shaken to its centre.
Valentinian, a soldier of fortune, and an able general, now wears the imperial purple. Like Diocletian, he finds himself unable to bear the burdens of his throne. He elects an associate, divides the empire, and gives to Valens the eastern provinces. All idea of reigning in peace, and giving the reins to pleasure, has vanished from the imperial mind. The office of emperor demands the severest virtues and the sternest qualities and the most incessant labors. "Uneasy sits the head that wears a crown," can now be said of all the later emperors. The day is past for enjoyment or for pomp. The emperor's presence is required here and there. Valentinian rules with vigor, and gains successes over the barbarians. He is one of the great men of the day. He reserves to himself the western provinces, and fixes his seat at Milan, but cannot preserve tranquillity, and dies in a storm of wrath, by the bursting of a blood-vessel, while reviling the ambassadors of the Quadi, A.D. 375, at the age of fifty-four.
[Sidenote: Disasters of Valens.]
His brother, Valens, Emperor of the East, had neither his talents nor energy; and it was his fate to see the first great successful inroads of the Goths. For thirty years the Romans had secured their frontiers, and the Goths had extended their dominions. Hermanric, the first historic name of note among them, ruled over the entire nation, and had won a series of brilliant victories over other tribes of barbarians after he was eighty years of age. His dominions extended from the Danube to the Baltic, including the greater part of Germany and Scythia. In the year 366 his subjects, tempted by the civil discords which Procopius occasioned, invaded Thrace, but were resisted by the generals of Valens. The aged Hermanric was exasperated by the misfortune, and made preparations for a general war, while the emperor himself invaded the Gothic territories. For three years the war continued, with various success, on the banks of the Danube. Hermanric intrusted the defense of his country to Athanaric, who was defeated in a bloody battle, and a hollow peace was made with Victor and Arintheus, the generals of Valens. The Goths remained in tranquillity for six years, until, driven by the Scythians, who emerged in vast numbers from the frozen regions of the north, they once more advanced to the Danube and implored the aid of Valens. [Footnote: See Ammianus Marcellinus, b. xxi., from which Gibbon has chiefly drawn his narratives.] The prayers of the Goths were answered, and they were transported across the Danube--a suicidal act of the emperor, which imported two hundred thousand warriors, with their wives and children, into the Roman territories. The Goths retained their arms and their greed, and pretended to settle peaceably in the province of Mosia. But they were restless and undisciplined barbarians, and it required the greatest adroitness to manage them in their new abodes. They were insolent and unreasonable in their demands and expectations, while the ministers of the emperor were oppressive and venal. Difficulties soon arose, and, too late, it was seen by the emperor that he had introduced most dangerous enemies into the heart of the empire.
[Sidenote: Fritigern, leader of the Goths.]
[Sidenote: Death of the Emperor Valens.]
The great leader of these Goths was Fritigern, who soon kindled the flames of war. He united under his standard all the various tribes of his nation, increased their animosities, and led them to the mouth of the Danube. There they were attacked by the lieutenants of Valens, and a battle was fought without other result than that of checking for a time the Gothic progress. But only for a time. The various tribes of barbarians, under the able generalship of Fritigern, whose cunning was equal to his bravery, advanced to the suburbs of Hadrianople. Under the walls of that city was fought the most disastrous battle, A.D. 378, to the imperial cause which is recorded in the annals of Roman history. The emperor himself was slain with two thirds of his whole army, while the remainder fled in consternation. Sixty thousand infantry and six thousand cavalry were stretched in death upon the bloody field--one third more than at the fatal battle of Cannae. The most celebrated orator of the day, though a Pagan, [Footnote: Libanius of Antioch.] pronounced a funeral oration on the vanquished army, and attributed the catastrophe, not to the cowardice of the legions, but the anger of the gods. "The fury of the Goths," says St. Jerome, "extended to all creatures possessed of life: the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea." The victors, intoxicated with their first great success, invested Hadrianople, where were deposited enormous riches. But they were unequal to the task of taking so strong a city; and when the inhabitants aroused themselves in a paroxysm of despair, they raised the siege and departed to ravage the more unprotected West. Laden with spoils, they retired to the western boundaries of Thrace, and thence scattered their forces to the confines of Italy. From the shores of the Bosphorus to the Julian Alps nothing was to be seen but conflagration and murders and devastations. Churches were turned into stables, palaces were burned, works of priceless value were destroyed, the relics of martyrs were desecrated, the most fruitful provinces were overrun, the population was decimated, the land was overgrown with forests, cultivation was suspended, and despair and fear seized the minds of all classes. So great was the misfortune of the Illyrian provinces that they never afterward recovered, and for ten centuries only supplied materials for roving robbers. The empire never had seen such a day of calamity.
[Sidenote: Desperate condition of the Romans.]
This melancholy state of affairs, so desperate and so general, demanded a deliverer and a hero; but where was a hero to be found? Nothing but transcendent ability could now arrest the overthrow. Who should succeed to the vacant throne of Valens?
[Sidenote: His character and illustrious deeds.]
The Emperor Gratian, who wielded the sceptre of Valentinian in the West, in this alarming crisis, cast his eyes upon an exile, whose father had unjustly suffered death under his own sanction three years before. This man was Theodosius, then living in modest retirement on his farm in Spain, near Valladolid, as unambitious as David among his sheep, as contented as Cincinnatus at the plough. Great deliverers are frequently selected from the most humble positions; but no world hero, in ancient or modern times, is more illustrious than Theodosius for modesty and magnanimity united with great abilities. No man is dearer to the Church than he, both for his services and his virtues. The eloquent Flechier has emblazoned his fame, as Bossuet has painted the Prince of Conde. Even Gibbon lays aside his sneers to praise this great Christian Emperor, although his character was not free from stains. He modestly but readily accepted the vacant sceptre and the conduct of the Gothic war. He was thirty-three years of age, in the pride of his strength, and well instructed in liberal pursuits. No better choice could have been made by Gratian. He was as prudent as Fabius, as magnanimous as Richard, as persevering as Alfred, as comprehensive as Charlemagne, as beneficent as Henry IV., as full of resources as Frederic II. One of the greatest of all the emperors, and the last great man who swayed the sceptre of Trajan his ancestor, his reign cannot but be too highly commended, living in such an age, exposed to so many dangers, invested with so many difficulties. He was the last flickering light of the expiring monarchy, beloved and revered by all classes of his subjects. "The vulgar gazed with admiration on the manly beauty of his face and the graceful majesty of his person, which they were pleased to compare with the pictures and medals of the Emperor Trajan; while intelligent observers discovered, in the qualities of the heart and understanding, a more important resemblance to the best and greatest of the Roman emperors." [Footnote: Gibbon, chap. xxvi.]
Mr. Long, of Oxford, in a fine notice of Theodosius, thinks that the praises of Gibbon are extravagant, and that the emperor was probably a voluptuary and a persecutor. But Gibbon is not apt to praise the favorites of the Church. Tillemont presents him in the same light as Gibbon. [Footnote: Tillemont, Hist, des Emp. vol. v.] A man who could have submitted to such a penance as Ambrose imposed for the slaughter of Thessalonica, could not have been cast in a different mould from old David himself. For my part I admire his character and his deeds.
[Sidenote: Defeat of the Goths.]
Soon as he was invested with the purple, he gave his undivided energies to the great task intrusted to him; but he never succeeded in fully revenging the battle of Hadrianople, which was one of the decisive battles of the world in its ultimate effects. He had the talents and the energy and the prudence, but he was beset with impossibilities. Still, he staved off ruin for a time. The death of Fritigern unchained the passions of the barbarians, and they would have been led to fresh revolts had they not submitted to the authority of Athanaric, whom the emperor invited to his capital and feasted at his table, and astonished by his riches and glory. The Visigoths, won by the policy or courtesy of Theodosius, became subjects of the empire. The Ostrogoths, who had retired from the provinces of the Danube four years before, returned recruited with a body of Huns, and crossed the Danube to assail the Roman army, but were defeated by Theodosius; and a treaty was made with them, by which they were settled in Phrygia and Lydia. Forty thousand of them were kept in the service of the emperor; but they were doubtful allies, as subsequent events proved, even in the lifetime of the magnanimous emperor. [Footnote: Zosimus, i. 4.]
[Sidenote: Honorius and Arcadius.]
Theodosius died at Milan in the arms of Ambrose, A.D. 395, and with his death the real drama of the fall of Rome begins. His empire was divided between his two sons, Honorius and Arcadius, who were unworthy or unequal to maintain their great inheritance. The barbarians, released from the restraint which the fear of Theodosius imposed, recommenced their combinations and their ravages, while the soldiers of the empire were dispirited and enervated. About this time they threw away their defensive armor, not able to bear the weight of the cuirass and the helmet; and even the heavy weapons of their ancestors, the short sword and the pilum, were supplanted by the bow,--a most remarkable retrograde in military art. Without defensive armor, not even the shield, they were exposed to the deadly missiles of their foes, and fled at the first serious attacks, especially of cavalry, in which the Goths and Huns excelled.
[Sidenote: Alaric, king of the Visigoths.]
History has taken but little notice of the leaders of the various tribes of barbarians until Alaric appeared, the able successor of Fritigern. He belonged to the second noblest family of his nation, and first appears in history as a general of the Gothic auxiliaries in the war of Theodosius against Eugenius, A.D. 394. In 396, stimulated by anger or ambition, or the instigation of Rufinus, [Footnote: Socrates, Eccles. Hist., vii. 10.] he invaded Greece at the head of a powerful body, and devastated the country. He descended from the plains of Macedonia and Thessaly, and entered the classic land, which for a long time had escaped the ravages of war, through the pass of Thermopylae. Degenerate soldiers, half armed, now defended the narrow passage where three hundred heroes had once arrested the march of the Persian hosts. But Greece was no longer Greece. The soldiers fled as Alaric advanced, and the fertile fields of Phocis and Boeotia were at once covered with hostile and cruel barbarians, who massacred the men and ravished the women in all the villages through which they passed. Athens purchased her preservation by an enormous ransom. Corinth, Argos, Sparta, yielded without a blow, but did not escape the fate of vanquished cities. Their palaces were burned, their works of art destroyed, their women subjected to indignities which were worse than death, and their families were enslaved. [Footnote: Gibbon, chap. xxx.]
[Sidenote: Succeses of the Goths.]
Only one hope remained to the feeble and intimidated Arcadius, and that was the skill and courage of Stilicho, by birth a Vandal, but who had risen in the imperial service until he was virtually intrusted by Theodosius with the guardianship of his sons and of the empire. He was the lieutenant of Honorius, who had espoused his daughter, but summoned by the dangers of Arcadius, he advanced to repulse the invaders of Greece, who had not met with any resistance from Thermopylae to Corinth. A desperate campaign followed in the woody country where Pan and the Dryads were fabled to reside in the olden times. The Romans prevailed, and Alaric was in imminent peril of annihilation, but was saved by the too confident spirit of Stilicho, and his indulgence in the pleasures of the degenerate Greeks. He effected his release by piercing the lines of his besiegers and performing a rapid march to the Gulf of Corinth, where he embarked his soldiers, his captives, and his spoil, and reached Epirus in safety, from which he effected a treaty with the ministers of Arcadius, which he never intended to keep, and was even made master- general of Eastern Illyricum. Successful war brings irresistible eclat equally among barbarians and civilized nations. There is no fame like the glory of a warrior. Poets and philosophers drop their heads in the presence of great military chieftains; and those people who rest their claims to the gratitude or the admiration of the world on their intellectual and moral superiority, are among the first to yield precedence to conquering generals, whether they are ignorant, or unscrupulous, or haughty, or ambitious. The names of warriors descend from generation to generation, while the benefactors of mind are forgotten or depreciated. Who can wonder at military ambition when success in war has been uniformly attended with such magnificent rewards, from the times of Pompey and Caesar to those of Marlborough and Napoleon?
The Gothic robber and murderer was rewarded by his nation with all the power and glory it could bestow. He was made a king, and was assured of unlimited support in all his future enterprises.
[Sidenote: Danger of Italy.]
He cast his eyes on Italy, for many generations undefiled by the presence of a foreign enemy, and enriched with the spoils of three hundred triumphs. He marched from Thessalonica, through Pannonia to the Julian Alps; passed through the defiles of those guarded mountains, and appeared before the walls of Aquileia, one of the most important cities of Northern Italy, enriched by the gold mines of the neighboring Alps, and a prosperous trade with the Illyrians and Pannonians. Here the great Julius had made his head-quarters when he made war upon Illyria, and here the younger Constantine was slain. It was the capital of Venetia, and had the privilege of a mint. It was the ninth city of the whole empire, inferior in Italy to Rome, Milan, and Capua alone. It was situated on a plain, and was strongly fortified with walls and towers. And it seems to have resisted the attacks of Alaric, who retired to the Danube for reinforcements for a new campaign.
[Sidenote: Stilicho commands the Romans.]
The Emperor Honorius, weak, timid, and defenseless at Milan, was overwhelmed with fear, and implored the immediate assistance of his only reliable general. Stilicho responded to the appeal, and appreciated the danger. He summoned from every quarter the subjects or the allies of the emperor. The fortresses of the Rhine were abandoned; the legions were withdrawn from Britain; the Alani were enlisted as auxiliaries, and Stilicho advanced to the relief of his fugitive sovereign, who had fled from Milan to a town in Piedmont, just in time to rescue him from the grasp of Alaric, who, in his turn, became besieged by the troops which issued from all the passes of the Alps. The Goths were attacked in their intrenchments at Pollentia, and were obliged to retreat, leaving the spoils of Corinth and Argos, and even the wife of Alaric. The poet Claudian celebrated the victory as greater than even that achieved by Marius over the Cimbri and Teutones. The defeated Goth, however, rose superior to misfortune and danger. He escaped with the main body of his cavalry, broke through the passes of the Apennines, and spread devastation on the fruitful fields of Tuscany, and was resolved to risk another battle for the great prize which he coveted--the possession of Rome itself. He was, however, foiled by Stilicho, who purchased the retreat of the enemy for forty thousand pounds of gold. But the Goths respected no treaties. Scarcely had they crossed the Po, before their leader resolved to seize Verona, which commanded the passes of the Rhaetian Alps. Here he was again attacked by Stilicho, and suffered losses equal to those incurred at Pollentia, and was obliged to retreat from Italy, A.D. 404.
[Sidenote: Infatuation of the Romans.]
The conqueror was hailed with joy and gratitude; too soon succeeded by envy and calumny, as is usual with benefactors in corrupt times. The retreat of Alaric was regarded as a complete deliverance; and the Roman people abandoned themselves to absurd rejoicings, gladiatorial shows, and triumphant processions. In the royal chariots, side by side with the emperor, Stilicho was seated, and the procession passed under a triumphal arch which commemorated the complete destruction of the Goths. For the last time, the amphitheatre of Rome was polluted with the blood of gladiators, for Honorius, exhorted by the poet Claudian, abolished forever the inhuman sacrifices.
[Sidenote: New hordes of barbarians.]
[Sidenote: Devastation of Gaul.]
Yet scarcely was Italy delivered from the Goths, before an irruption of Vandals, Suevi, and Burgundians, under Rodogast or Rhadagast, two hundred thousand in number of fighting men, beside an equal number of women and children, issued from the coast of the Baltic. One third of these crossed the Alps, the Po, and the Apennines, ravaged the cities of Northern Italy, and laid siege to Florence, which was reduced to its last necessity, when the victor of Pollentia appeared beneath its walls, with the last army which the empire could furnish, and introduced supplies. Moreover, he surrounded the enemy in turn with strong intrenchments, and the barbaric host was obliged to yield. The leader Rodogast was beheaded, and the captives were sold as slaves. Stilicho, a second time, had delivered Italy; but one hundred thousand barbarians still remained in arms between the Alps and the Apennines. Shut out of Italy, they invaded Gaul, and never afterward retreated beyond the Alps. Gaul was then one of the most cultivated of the Roman provinces; the banks of the Rhine were covered with farms and villas, and peace and plenty had long accustomed the people to luxury and ease. But all was suddenly changed, and changed for generations. The rich corn-fields and fruitful vineyards became a desert. Mentz was destroyed and burned. Worms fell after an obstinate siege, and experienced the same fate. Strasburg, Spires, Rheims, Tournay, Arras, Amiens, passed under the German yoke, and the flames of war spread over the seventeen provinces of Gaul. The country was completely devastated, and all classes experienced a remorseless rigor. Bishops, senators, and virgins were alike enslaved. No retreat was respected, and no sex or condition was spared. Gaul ceased to exist as a Roman province.
[Sidenote: Assassination of Stilicho.]
Italy, however, had been for a time delivered, and by the only man of ability who remained in the service of the emperor. He might possibly have checked the further progress of the Goths, had the weak emperor intrusted himself to his guidance. But imperial jealousy, and the voice of faction, removed forever this last hope of Rome. The frivolous Senate which he had saved, and the timid emperor whom he had guarded, were alike demented. The savior of Italy was an object of fear and hatred, and the assassin's dagger, which cut short his days, inflicted a fatal and suicidal blow upon Rome herself.
[Sidenote: Alaric ravages Italy.]
[Sidenote: Rome without defenders.]
The Gothic king, in his distant camp on the confines of Italy, beheld with undissembled joy, the intrigues and factions which deprived the emperor of his best defender, and which placed over his last army incompetent generals. So, hastening his preparations, he again descends like an avalanche upon the plains of Italy. Aquileia, Altinum, Concordia, and Cremona, yielded to his arms, and increased his forces. He then ravaged the coasts of the Adriatic; and, following the Flaminian way, crossed the passes of the Apennines, ravaged the fertile plains of Umbria, and reached without obstruction the city which for six hundred years had not been violated by the presence of a foreign enemy. But Rome was not what she was when Hannibal led his Africans to her gates. She was surrounded with more extensive fortifications, indeed, and contained within her walls, which were twenty-one miles in circuit, a large population. But where were her one hundred and fifty thousand warriors? Where were even the three armies drawn out in battle array, that had confronted the Carthaginian leader? She could boast of senators who traced their lineage to the Scipios and the Gracchi; she could enumerate one thousand seven hundred and eighty palaces, the residence of wealthy and proud families, many of which were equal to a town, including within their precincts, markets, hippodromes, temples, fountains, baths, porticoes, groves, and aviaries; she could tell of senatorial incomes of four thousand pounds of gold, about eight hundred thousand dollars yearly, without computing the corn, oil, and wine, which were equal to three hundred thousand dollars more--men so rich that they could afford to spend five hundred thousand dollars in a popular festival, and this at a time when gold was worth at least eight times more than its present value; she could point with pride to her Christian saints, one of whom, the illustrious Paula, the friend of St. Jerome, was the sole proprietor of the city of Nicopolis, which Augustus had founded to commemorate his victory over Antony; she could count two millions of inhabitants, crowded in narrow streets, and four hundred thousand pleasure-seekers who sought daily the circus or the theatre, and three thousand public female dancers, and three thousand singers who sought to beguile the hours of the lazy rabble who were fed at the public expense, and who, for a small copper coin, could wash their dirty bodies in the marble baths of Diocletian and Caracalla; but where were her defenders--where were her legions?
[Sidenote: Alaric beseiges Rome.]
[Sidenote: Disgraceful terms of peace.]
The day of retribution had come, and there was no escape. Alaric made no efforts to storm the city, but quietly sat down and inclosed the wretched citizens with a cordon through which nothing could force its way. He cut off all communications with the country, intercepted the navigation of the Tiber, and commanded the twelve gates. The city, unprovided for a siege, and never dreaming of such a calamity, soon felt all the evils of famine, to which those of pestilence were added. The most repugnant food was eagerly devoured, and even mothers are said to have tasted the flesh of their murdered children. Thousands perished daily in the houses, and the public sepulchres infected the air. Despair at last seized the haughty citizens, and they begged the clemency of the Gothic king. He derided the ambassadors who were sent to treat, and insulted them with rude jests. At last he condescended to spare the lives of the people, on condition that they gave up all their gold and silver, all their precious movables, and all their slaves of barbaric birth. More moderate terms were afterward granted; but the victor did not retreat until he had loaded his wagons with more wealth and more liberated captives than the Romans had brought from both Carthage and Antioch. He retired to the fertile fields of Tuscany to make negotiations with Honorius; and it was only on condition that he were appointed master-general of the armies of the emperor, with an annual subsidy of corn and money, and the free possession of the provinces of Dalmatia, Noricum, and Venetia, for the seat of his kingdom, that he would grant peace to the emperor, who had entrenched himself at Ravenna. These terms were disregarded, and once more Alaric turned his face to Rome. He took possession of Ostia, one of the most stupendous works of Roman magnificence, and the port of Rome secured, the city was once again at his mercy. Again the Senate, fearful of famine and impelled by the populace, consented to the demands of the conqueror. He nominated Atticus, prefect of the city, emperor instead of the son of Theodosius, and received from him the commission of master- general of the armies of the West.
[Sidenote: Alaric takes Rome.]
[Sidenote: The miseries of the Romans.]
The new emperor had a few days of prosperity, and the greater part of Italy submitted to his rule, backed by the Gothic forces. But he was after all a mere puppet in the hands of Alaric, who used him as a tool, and threw him aside when it suited his purposes. Atticus, after a brief reign, was degraded, and renewed negotiations took place between Alaric and Honorius. The emperor, having had a temporary relief, broke finally with the barbarians, who held Italy at their mercy, and Alaric, vindictive and indignant, once again set out for Rome, now resolved on plunder and revenge. In vain did the nobles organize a defense. Cowardice and treachery opened the Salarian gate. No Horatius kept the bridge. No Scipio arose in the last extremity. In the dead of night the Gothic trumpet rang unanswered in the streets. The Queen of the World, the Eternal City, was the prey of savage soldiers. For five days and nights she was exposed to every barbarity and license. Only the treasures collected in the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul were saved. Although the captor had promised to spare the lives of the people, a cruel slaughter was made, and the streets were filled with the dead. Forty thousand slaves were let loose by the bloody conquerors to gratify their long-stifled passions of lust and revenge. The matrons and virgins of Rome were--exposed to every indignity, and suffered every insult. The city was abandoned to pillage, and the palaces were stripped even or their costly furniture. Sideboards of massive silver, and variegated wardrobes of silk and purple, were piled upon the wagons. The works of art were destroyed or injured. Beautiful vases were melted down for the plate. The daughters and wives of senatorial families became slaves--such as were unable to purchase their ransom. Italian fugitives thronged the shores of Africa and Syria, begging daily bread. They were scattered over various provinces, as far as Constantinople and Jerusalem. The whole empire was filled with consternation. The news made the tongue of old St. Jerome to cleave to the roof of his mouth in his cell at Bethlehem, which even was besieged with beggars. "For twenty years," cried he, "Roman blood has been flowing from Constantinople to the Julian Alps. Scythia, Thrace, Macedonia, Dacia, Epirus, Dalmatia, Achaia, the two Pannonias," yea, he might have added, Gaul, Britain, Spain, and Italy, "all belong to the barbarians. Sorrow, misery, desolation, despair, death, are everywhere. What is to be seen but one universal shipwreck of humanity, from which there is no escape save on the plank of penitence." The same bitter despair came from St. Augustine. The end of the world was supposed to be at hand, and the great churchmen of the age found consolation only in the doctrine that the second coming of our Lord was at hand to establish a new dispensation of peace and righteousness on the earth, or to appear as a stern and final judge amid the clouds of heaven.
[Sidenote: The Goths in Italy.]
After six days the Goths evacuated the city they had despoiled, and advanced along the Appian way into the southern provinces of Italy, destroying ruthlessly all who opposed their march, and loading themselves with still greater spoils. The corn, wine, and oil of the country were consumed within the barbarian camp, and the beautiful villas of the coast of Campania were destroyed or plundered. The rude inhabitants of Scythia and Germany stretched their limbs under the shade of the Italian palm-trees, and compelled the beautiful daughters of the proud senators of the fallen capital to attend on them like slaves, while they quaffed the old Falernian wines from goblets of gold and gems. Nothing arrested the career of the Goths. Their victorious leader now meditated the invasion of Africa, but died suddenly after a short illness, and the world was relieved, for a while, of a mighty fear.
[Sidenote: Ravages in other provinces.]
His successor Adolphus suspended the operations of war, and negotiated with the emperor a treaty of peace, and even enlisted under his standard to chastise his enemies in Gaul. But the oppressed provincials were cruelly ravaged by their pretended friends, who occupied the cities of Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, and spread from the Mediterranean to the Ocean. Adolphus espoused Placidia, a sister of Honorius, to the intense humiliation of the ministers of Honorius. But the marriage proved fortunate for the empire, and the Goths settled down in the fertile provinces they had conquered, and established a Gothic kingdom. Among the treasures which the Goths carried to Narbonne, was a famous dish of solid gold, weighing five hundred pounds, ornamented with precious stones, and exquisitely engraved with the figures of men and animals. But this precious specimen of Roman luxury was not to be compared with the table formed from a single emerald, encircled with three rows of pearls, supported by three hundred and sixty-five feet of gems and massive gold, which was found in the Gothic treasury when plundered by the Arabs, and which also had been one of the ornaments of a senatorial palace. [Footnote: This emerald table was probably colored glass. It was valued at five hundred thousand pieces of gold.] The favor of the Franks was, in after times, purchased with this golden dish by a Spanish monarch, who stole it back, but compensated by a present of two hundred thousand pieces of gold, with which Dagobert founded the Abbey of St. Denys. [Footnote: Gibbon, chap. xxx.]
[Sidenote: New barbaric invasions.]
[Sidenote: Permanent settlements of the Goths in Spain.]
The sack of Rome by the Goths was followed by the successful inroads of other barbaric tribes. The Suevi, the Alans, and the Vandals invaded Spain, which for four hundred years had been prosperous in all the arts of peace. The great cities of Corduba, Merida, Seville, Bracara, and Barcelona, testified to her wealth and luxury, while science and commerce both elevated and enfeebled the people. Yet no one of the Roman provinces suffered more severely. Gibbon thus quotes the language of a Spanish historian. "The barbarians exercised an indiscriminate cruelty on the fortunes of both Spaniards and Romans, and ravaged with equal fury the cities and the open country. Famine reduced the miserable inhabitants to feed on the flesh of their fellow-creatures, and pestilence swept away a large portion of those whom famine spared. Then the barbarians fixed their permanent seats in the country they had ravaged with fire and sword; Galicia was divided between the Suevi and the Vandals; the Alani were scattered over the provinces of Carthagenia and Lusitania, and Botica was allotted to the Vandals." But he adds, and this is a most impressive fact, "that the greater part of the Spaniards preferred the condition of poverty and barbarism to the severe oppressions of the Roman government." [Footnote: Gibbon, chap. xxx.]
The successors of Alaric, A.D. 419, established themselves at Toulouse, forty-three years after they had crossed the Danube, which became the seat of the Gothic empire in Gaul. About the same time the Burgundians and the Franks obtained a permanent settlement in that distracted but wealthy province, and effected a ruin of all that had been deemed opulent or fortunate.
[Sidenote: The Romans leave Britain.]
Meanwhile, Britain had been left, by the withdrawal of the legions, to the ravages of Saxon pirates, and the savages of Caledonia. The island was irrevocably lost to the empire, A.D. 409, although it was forty years before the Saxons obtained a permanent footing, and secured their conquest.
But a more savage chastisement than Rome received from the Goths--the most powerful and generous of her foes--was inflicted by the Vandals, whose name is synonymous with all that is fierce and revolting.
[Sidenote: The Vandals.]
These barbarians belonged to the great Teutonic race, although some maintain that they were of Slavonic origin. Their settlements were between the Elbe and the Vistula; and, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, they had, with other tribes, invaded the Roman world, but were defeated by the Roman emperor. One hundred years later they settled in Pannonia, where they had a bitter contest with the Goths. Defeated by them, they sought the protection of Rome, and enlisted in the imperial armies. In 406, they crossed the Rhine and invaded Gaul, and it was not in the power of the Franks to resist them. They advanced to the very foot of the Pyrenees, inflicting every atrocity upon the Celtic and Roman inhabitants. Neither age, nor sex, nor condition was spared, and the very churches were given to the flames. They then crossed into Spain, A.D. 409, and settled in Andalusia, and under its sunny skies resumed the agricultural life they had led in Pannonia. [Footnote: Sheppard's Fall of Rome, p. 364.] The land now wore an aspect of prosperity; rich harvests covered the plains, while the hills were white with flocks. They seem to have lived in amity with the Romans, so that "there were found those who preferred freedom with poverty among the barbarians, to a life rendered wretched by taxation among their own countrymen." [Footnote: Orosious, vii. 41.] This testimony is confirmed by Salvian, who declares, "they prefer to live as freemen under the guise of captivity, rather than as captives under the guise of freedom." [Footnote: De Gub. Dei, v.] If this be true, it would seem that the rule of the barbarians was preferred to the taxation and oppression with which they were ground down by the Roman officials. And this conclusion is legitimate, when we remember the indifference and apathy that seized the old inhabitants when the empire was seriously threatened. It may have been that the irruptions of the barbarians were not regarded as so great a calamity after all, if they should break the bondage and alleviate the misery which filled the Roman world.
[Sidenote: Success of the Vandals.]
The Roman government, it would seem, [Footnote: Sheppard, p. 364.] would not tolerate the Vandals in Spain, and intrigued with the Goths, their hereditary enemies, to make an attack upon them, perhaps with the view of weakening the strength of the Goths themselves, A.D. 416. Wallia, king of the Goths, was successful, and the Vandals were worried. The Romans also sent an army to reconquer Spain from their grasp, which drove the Vandals into Andalusia. But the Vandals turned upon their enemies and entirely discomfited them, and twenty thousand men were left dead upon the field. Spain was now entirely at the mercy of these infuriated barbarians, who might have peacefully settled had it not been for the jealousy of the imperial government, which, in those days, drew upon itself evils by its own mismanagement. For two years "Vandalism" reigned throughout the peninsula, which was pillaged and sacked.
The king of these Vandals was Genseric, the worthy rival of Alaric and Attila, as a "scourge of God." If we may credit the writers who belonged to the people whom he humbled, [Footnote: Procopious, Bell. Vand., i. 3.] he was one of the most hideous monsters ever clothed with power. He was ambitious, subtle, deceitful, revengeful, cruel, and passionate. But he was temperate, of clear vision, and inflexible purpose.
[Sidenote: The Vandals Threaten Africa.]
He cast his eyes on Africa, the granary of Rome, and the only province which had thus far escaped the ravages of war. In the hour of triumph, and in the plenitude of power, he resolved on leaving Spain, which he held by uncertain tenure, since he was only an illegitimate son of the late monarch Gunderic, and founding a new kingdom in Africa. It was rich in farms and cities, whose capital, Carthage, had arisen from her ashes, and was once again the rival of Rome in majesty and splendor. She had even outgrown Alexandria, and her commerce was more flourishing than that of the capital of Egypt. She was even famous for schools and chairs of philosophy; but more for those arts which material prosperity ever produces.
[Sidenote: Dissensionsof Roman generals.]
There were, at that time, two distinguished generals in the service of the empire--Boniface and Aetius, the former of whom was governor of Africa. They were, unfortunately, rivals, and their dissensions and jealousies compromised the empire. United, they could have withstood, perhaps, the torrent which was about to sweep over Africa and Italy. Aetius persuaded the emperor to recall Boniface, while he advised the Count to disobey the summons, representing it as a sentence of death. Boniface put himself in the attitude of a rebel, and fearing the imperial forces, invited Genseric and his Vandals to Africa, with the proposal of an alliance and an advantageous settlement. Doubtless he was driven to this grand folly by the intrigues of Aetius.
Genseric gladly availed himself of an invitation which held out to him the richest prize in the empire. With fifty thousand warriors he landed on the coast of Africa, formed an alliance with the Moors, and became as dangerous an ally to Count Boniface, as Lord Clive was to the native princes of India. Africa was then disturbed by the schism of the Donatists, and these fanatical people were taken under the protection of the Vandals. The Moors always hated their Roman masters. With Vandals, Moors, and Donatists, leagued together, Africa was in serious danger.
[Sidenote: The Vandals invade Africa.]
The landing of the Vandals, who, of all barbarians, bore the most terrible name, was the signal of head-long flight. Consternation seized all classes of people. The gorges and the caverns of Mount Atlas were crowded with fugitives. The Vandals burned the villages through which they marched, and sacked the cities, and destroyed the harvests, and cut down the trees. The Moors swelled the ranks of the invaders, and indulged their common hatred of civilization and of Rome. Boniface, too late, perceived his mistake, and turned against the common foe; but was defeated in battle, and forced to cede away three important provinces as the price of peace, A.D. 432. But peace was not of long duration. The Vandals continually encroached upon more valuable territory. Moreover, they had been nominally converted to Christianity, and were bitter zealots of the Arian faith, and most relentlessly persecuted the Catholic Christians who adhered to the Nicene Creed.
[Sidenote: Genseric at Carthage.]
[Sidenote: Fate of the city.]
At last (439 A.D.), the storm burst out, and the world was thunderstruck with the intelligence that Genseric had seized and plundered Carthage. Suddenly, without warning, in a day looked not for, this magnificent city was plundered, and her inhabitants butchered by the most faithless and perfidious barbarians, who trampled out the dying glories of the empire. Her doom was like that pronounced upon Tyre and Sidon. The bitter cry which went up from the devastated city proclaimed the retribution of God for sins more hideous than those of Antioch or Babylon. Of all the cities of the world, Carthage was probably the wickedest--a seething caldron of impurities and abominations, the home of all the vices which disgraced humanity--so indecent and scandalous as to excite the disgust of the barbarians themselves. According to one of the authors of those times, as quoted by Sheppard, [Footnote: Salvian, De Gub. Dei, vii. 251.] "they were notorious for drunkenness, avarice, and perjury--the peculiar sins of degenerate commercial capitals. The Goths are perfidious but chaste, the Franks are liars but hospitable, the Saxons are cruel but continent; but the Africans are a blazing fire of impurity and lust; the rich are drunk with debauchery, the poor are ground down with relentless oppression, while other vices, too indecent to be named, pollute every class. Who can wonder at the fall of Roman society? What hope can there be for Rome, when barbarians are more chaste and temperate than they?"
In the sack of Carthage, the voluminous writings of Augustine, then breathing his last in prayer to God that the fate of Sodom might be averted, were fortunately preserved, and have doubtless done more to instruct, and perhaps civilize, the western nations, than all the arts and sciences of the commercial metropolis. It is singular how little remains of the commercial cities of antiquity, which we value as trophies of civilization. A few sculptured ruins are all that attest ancient pride and glory. The poems of a blind schoolmaster at Chios, and the rhapsodies of a wandering philosopher on the hills of Greece, have proved greater legacies to the world than the combined treasures of Africa and Asia Minor. Where is the literature of Carthage, except as preserved in the writings of Augustine, the influence of which in developing the character of the barbarians cannot be estimated.
[Sidenote: Renewed dangers of Rome.]
The cry of agony which went from Carthage across the Mediterranean, announced to Rome that her turn would come. She looked in vain to every quarter for assistance. Every city and province had need of their own forces. Theodoric, king of the Visigoths, was contending with Aetius; in Spain the Sueves were extending their ravages; Attila menaced the eastern provinces; the Emperor Valentinian was forced to hide in the marshes of Ravenna, and see the second sack of the imperial capital, now a prostrate power--a corpse in a winding-sheet.
[Sidenote: The Vandals in Italy.]
The Vandals landed on the Italian coast. They advanced to the Tiber's banks. The Queen of Cities wrapped around her the faded folds of her imperial purple, rent by faction, pierced with barbaric daggers, and trampled in the dust. Yet not with the dignity of her great Julius did she die. She begged for mercy, not proud and stately amid her executioners, but like a withered hag, with the wine-cup of sorceries in her hand, pale, haggard, ghastly, staggering, helpless.
[Sidenote: Sack and fall of Rome.]
The last hope of Rome was her Christian bishop, and the great Leo, who was to Rome what Augustine had been to Carthage, in his pontifical robes, hastened to the barbarians' camp. But all he could secure was the promise that the unresisting should be spared, the buildings protected from fire, and the captives from torture. Even this promise was only partially fulfilled. The pillage lasted fourteen days and fourteen nights, and all that the Goths had spared was transported to the ships of Genseric. Among the spoils were the statues of the old pagan gods which adorned the capitol, the holy vessels of the Jewish temples which Titus had brought away from Jerusalem, and the shrines and altars of the Christian churches enriched by the liberality of popes and emperors. The gilding of the capitol had cost Domitian twelve million dollars, or twelve thousand talents, but the bronze on which it was gilt was carried away. The imperial ornaments of the palace, the magnificent furniture and wardrobe of senatorial mansions, and the sideboards of massive plate, gold, silver, brass, copper, whatever could be found, were transported to the ships. The Empress Eudoxia herself was stripped of her jewels, and carried away captive with her two daughters, the only survivors of the great Theodosius. Thousands of Romans were forced upon the fleet, while wives were separated from their husbands, and children from their parents, and sold into slavery. [Footnote: Gibbon, chap.
[Sidenote: The doom of Rome.]
[Sidenote: The heroism of the Pope.]
Such was the doom of Rome, A.D. 455, forty-five years after the Gothic invasion. The haughty city had met the fate she had inflicted upon her rivals. And she never would probably have arisen from her fall, but would have remained ruined and desolate, had not her great bishop, rising with the greatness of the crisis, and inspired with the old imperishable idea of national unity, which had for three hundred years sustained the crumbling empire, exclaimed to the rude spoliators, now converted to his faith, while all around him were desolation and ruin, weeping widows, ashes, groans, lamentations, bitter sorrows--nothing left but recollections, nothing to be seen but the desolation spoken of by Jeremy the prophet, as well as the Cumean Sybil; all central power subverted, law and justice by-words, literature and art crushed, vice rampant multiplying itself, the contemplative hiding in cells, the rich made slaves, women shrieking in terror, bishops praying in despair, the heart of the world bleeding, barbarians everywhere triumphant--in this mournful crisis, did Leo, the intrepid Pontiff, alone and undismayed, and concentrating within himself all that survived of the ambition and haughty will of the ancient capital, exclaim to the superstitious victors, in the spirit if not in the words of Hildebrand, "Beware, I am the successor of St. Peter, to whom God has given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and against whose church the gates of hell cannot prevail; I am the living representative of divine power upon the earth; I am Caesar, a Christian Caesar, ruling in love, to whom all Christians owe allegiance; I hold in my hands the curses of hell, and the benedictions of heaven; I absolve all subjects from allegiance to kings; I give and take away, by divine right, all thrones and principalities of Christendom--beware how you desecrate the patrimony given me by your invisible king, yea, bow down your necks to me, and pray that the anger of God may be averted." And the superstitious conquerors wept, and bowed their faces to the dust, in reverence and in awe, and Rome again arose from her desolation--the seat of a new despotism more terrible than the centralized power of the emperors, controlling the wills of kings, priests, and people, and growing more majestic with the progress of ages; a vital and mysterious power which even the Reformation could not break, and which even now gives no signs of decay, and boldly defies, in the plenitude of spiritual power, a greater prince than he who stood in the winter time three days and nights before the gates of the castle of Canossa, bareheaded and barefooted, in abject submission to Gregory VII.
[Sidenote: Renewed invasion of barbarians.]
[Sidenote: The Huns.]
While the Vandals were thus plundering Rome, a still fiercer race of barbarians were trampling beneath their feet the deserted sanctuaries of the empire. The Huns, a Slavonic race, most hideous and revolting savages, Tartar hordes, with swarthy faces, sunken eyes, flat noses, square bodies, big heads, broad shoulders, low stature, without pity, or fear, or mercy--equally the enemies of the Romans and the Germans--races thus far incapable of civilization, now spread themselves from the Volga to the Danube, from the shores of the Caspian to the Hadriatic. They were a nomadic people, with flocks and herds, planting no seed, reaping no harvest, wandering about in quest of a living, yet powerful with their horses and darts. For fifty years after they had invaded Southern Europe, their aid was sought and secured by the rash court of Constantinople, as a counterpoise to the power of the Goths and other Germanic tribes. They were obstinate pagans, and had an invincible hatred of civilization. They had various fortunes in their migrations and wars, and experienced some terrible defeats. But they had their eyes open to the spoil of the crumbling empire--"ripe fruit" for them to pluck, as well as for the Goths and Vandals.
The leader of the Huns at this period was Attila--a man of great astuteness and military genius, who succeeded in conquering, one after another, every existing tribe of barbarians beyond the Danube and the Rhine, and then turned his arms against the eastern empire. This was in the year 441. They ravaged Pannonia, routed two Roman armies, laid Thessaly in waste, and threatened Constantinople. The Emperor Theodosius, A.D. 446, purchased peace by an ignominious tribute, so great as to reduce many leading families to poverty. "The scourge of God" then turned his steps to the more exhausted fields of the western provinces, and invaded Gaul. The Visigoths had there established a kingdom, hostile to the Vandal power. The Huns and the Vandals united, with all the savage legions which could be collected from Lapland to the Indus, against the Goths and imperial forces under the command of Aetius. "Never," says Thierry, [Footnote: Histoire d'Attilla, vol. i.
[Sidenote: The Roman general Aetius.]
[Sidenote: Retreat of Attila.]
Aetius alone remained to stem the barbaric hosts. He had won one of the greatest victories of ancient times, and sought for a reward. And considering the brilliancy of his victory, and the greatness of his services, the marriage of his son with the princess Eudoxia was not an unreasonable object of ambition. But his greatness made him unpopular with the debauched court at Ravenna, and he was left without a sufficient force to stem the invasion of the Huns. Aquileia, the most important and strongly fortified city of Northern Italy, for a time stood out against the attack of the barbarians, but ultimately yielded. Fugitives from the Venetian territory sought a refuge among the islands which skirt the northern coast of the Adriatic--the haunts of fishermen and sea-birds. There Venice was born, which should revive the glory of the West, and write her history upon the waves for a thousand years. Attila had spent the spring in his attack on Aquileia, and the summer heats were unfavorable for further operations, and his soldiers clamored for repose; but, undaunted by the ravages which sickness produced in his army, he resolved to cross the Apennines and give a last blow to Rome. Leo again sought the barbarians' camp, and met with more success than he did with the Vandals. Attila consented to leave Italy in consideration of an annual tribute, and the promise of the hand of the princess Honoria, sister of the Emperor Valentinian, who, years before, in a fit of female spitefulness for having been banished to Constantinople, had sent her ring as a gage d'amour to the repulsive barbarian. He then retired to the Danube by the passes of the Alps, where he spent the winter in bacchanalian orgies and preparations for an invasion of the eastern provinces. But his career was suddenly cut off by the avenging poniard of Ildigo, a Bactrian or Burgundian princess, whom he had taken for one of his numerous wives, and whose relations he had slain.
[Sidenote: Disasters of the Huns.]
On his death, the German tribes refused longer to serve under the divided rule of his sons, and after a severe contest with the more barbarous Huns, the empire of Attila disappeared as one of the great powers of the world, and Italy was delivered forever from this plague of locusts. The battle of Netad, in which they suffered a disastrous defeat, was perhaps as decisive as the battle of Chalons. They returned to Asia, or else were gradually worn out in unavailing struggles with the Goths.
[Sidenote: The Avars.]
The Avars, a tribe of the great Turanian race, and kindred to the Huns, a few years after their retreat, crossed the Danube, established themselves between that river and the Save, invaded the Greek empire, and ravaged the provinces almost to the walls of Constantinople. It would seem from Sheppard that the Avars had migrated from the very centre of Asia, two thousand miles from the Caspian Sea, fleeing from the Turks who had reduced them to their sway. [Footnote: Sheppard, Lect.
[Sidenote: Final disasters of the empire.]
[Sidenote: Imbecile emperors.]
The real drama of the fall of Rome closes with the second sack of the city by the Vandals, since the imperial power was nearly prostrated in the West, and shut up within the walls of Ravenna. But Italy was the scene of great disasters for twenty years after, until the last of the emperors--Augustulus Romulus; what a name with which to close the series of Roman emperors!--was dethroned by Odoacer, chief of the Heruli, a Scythian tribe, and Rome was again stormed and sacked, A.D. 476. During these twenty years, the East and the West were finally severed, and Italy was ruled by barbaric chieftains, and their domination permanently secured. Valentinian, the last emperor of the race of Theodosius, was assassinated in the year 455 (at the instigation of the Senator Maximus, of the celebrated Anician family, whose wife he had violated), a man who had inherited all the weaknesses of his imperial house, without its virtues, and under whose detestable reign the people were so oppressed with taxes and bound down by inquisitions that they preferred the barbarians to the empire. The successive reigns of Maximus, Avitus, Majorian, Severus, Anthemius, Olybrius, Glycerius, Nepos, and Augustulus, nine emperors in twenty--one years, suggests nothing but disorder and revolution. The murderer of Valentinian reigned but three months, during which Rome was sacked by the Vandals. Avitus was raised to his vacant throne by the support of the Visigoths of Gaul, then ruled by Theodoric, a majestic barbarian, and the most enlightened and civilized of all the leaders of the Gothic hosts who had yet appeared. He fought and vanquished the Suevi, who had established themselves in Spain, in the name of the emperor whom he had placed upon the throne, but he really ruled on both sides of the Alps, and Avitus was merely his puppet, and distinguished only for his infamous pleasures, although, as a general, he had once saved the empire from the Huns.
[Sidenote: Last days of Rome.]
He was in turn deposed by Count Ricimer, a Sueve, and generalissimo of the Roman armies, and Majorian, whom Ricimer thought to make a tool, was placed in his stead. But he was an able and good man, and attempted to revive the traditions of the empire, and met the fate of all reformers in a hopeless age, doubtless under the influence of Ricimer, who substituted Severus, a Lucanian, who perished by poison after a reign of four years, so soon as he became distasteful to the military subordinate, who was all-powerful at Rome, and who ruled Italy for six years without an emperor with despotic authority. During these six years Italy was perpetually ravaged by the Vandals, who landed and pillaged the coast, and then retired with their booty. Ricimer, without ships, invoked the aid of the court of Constantinople, who imposed a Greek upon the throne of Italy. Though a man of great ability, Anthemius, the new emperor, was unpopular with the Italians and the barbarians, and he, again, was deposed by Ricimer, and Olybrius, a senator of the Anician house, reigned in his stead, A.D. 472. It was then that Rome for the third time was sacked by one of her own generals. Olybrius reigned but a few months, and Glycerius, captain of his guard, was selected as his successor--an appointment disagreeable to the Greek Emperor Leo, who opposed to him Julius Nepos--a distinguished general, who succeeded in ejecting Glycerius. The Visigoths, offended, made war upon Roman Gaul. Julius sent against them Orestes, a Pannonian, called the Patrician, who turned a traitor, and, on the assassination of Julius, entered Ravenna in triumph. His son, christened Romulus, the soldiers elevated upon a shield and saluted Augustus; but as he was too small to wear the purple robe, they called him Augustulus--a bitter mockery, recalling the battle of Actium, and the foundation of Rome. He was the last of the Caesars. It was easier to make an emperor than keep him in his place. The bands of Orestes clamored for lands equal to a third of Italy. Orestes hesitated, and refused the demand. The soldiers were united under Odoacer--chief of the Heruli, a general in the service of the Patrician--one of the boldest and most unscrupulous of those mercenaries who lent their arms in the service of the government of Ravenna. The. standard of revolt was raised, and the barbarian army marched against their former master. Leaving his son in Ravenna, Orestes, himself an able general trained in the service of Attila, went forth to meet his enemy on the Lombard plains. Unable to make a stand, he shut himself up in Pavia, which was taken and sacked, and Orestes put to death. The barbarians then marched to Ravenna, which they took, with the boy who wore the purple, who was not slain as his father was, but pensioned with six thousand crowns, and sent to a Campanian villa, which once belonged to Sulla and Lucullus. The throne of the Caesars was hopelessly subverted, and Odoacer was king of Italy, and portioned out its lands to his greedy followers, A.D. 476. He was not unworthy of his high position, but his kingdom was in a sad state of desolation, and after a reign of fourteen years he was in turn supplanted by the superior genius of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, under whom a new era dawned upon Italy and the West, A.D. 490.
[Sidenote: Dismemberment of the empire.]
The Roman empire was now dismembered, and the various tribes of barbarians, after a contest of two hundred years were fairly settled in its provinces.
[Sidenote: The settlement of the Ostrogoths in Italy.]
In Italy we find the Ostrogoths as a dominant power, who, migrating from the mouth of the Danube, with all the barbarians they could enlist under the standard of Theodoric, prevailed over Odoacer, and settled in Italy. The Gothic kingdom was assailed afterward by Belisarius and Narses, the great generals of Justinian, also by the Lombards under Alboin, who maintained themselves in the north of Italy.
[Sidenote: The settlement of the franks in Gaul.]
Gaul was divided among the Franks, the Burgundians, and the Visigoths, whose perpetual wars, and whose infant kingdom, it is not my object to present.
[Sidenote: The settlement of the Saxons in Britain.]
Britain was possessed by the Saxons, Spain by the Vandals, Suevi, and Visigoths, and Africa by the Vandals, while the whole eastern empire fell into the hands of the Saracens, except Constantinople, which preserved the treasures of Greek and Roman civilization, until the barbarians, elevated by the Christian religion, were prepared to ingraft it upon their own rude laws and customs.
It would be interesting to trace the various fortunes of these Teutonic tribes in the devastated provinces which they possessed by conquest. But this would lead us into a boundless field, foreign to our inquiry. It is the fall of Rome, not the reconstruction by the new races, which I seek to present. It would also be interesting to survey the old capital of the world in the hands of her various masters, pillaged and sacked by all in turn; but her doom was sealed when Alaric entered the gates which had been closed for six hundred years to a foreign enemy, and the empire fell, virtually, when the haughty city, so long a queen among the nations, yielded up her palaces as spoil. The eastern empire had a longer life, but it was inglorious when Rome was no longer the superior city.
[Sidenote: Reflections on the fall of the empire.]
The story of the fall of the grandest empire ever erected on our earth is simple and impressive. Genius, energy, and patience led to vast possessions, which were retained by a uniform policy which nothing could turn aside. Prosperity and success led to boundless self-exaggeration and a depreciation of enemies, while the vices of self-interest undermined gradually all real strength. Society became utterly demoralized and weakened, and there were no conservative forces sufficiently, strong to hold it together. Vitality was destroyed by disproportionate fortunes, by slavery, by the extinction of the middle classes, by the degradation of woman, by demoralizing excitements, by factitious life, by imperial misrule, by proconsular tyranny, by enervating vices, by the absence of elevated sentiments, by an all- engrossing abandonment to money-making and the pleasures it procured, so that no lofty appeal could be made to which the degenerate people would listen, or which they could understand. The empire was rotten to the core--was steeped in selfishness, sensuality, and frivolity, and the poison pervaded all classes and orders, and descended to the extremities of the social system. What could be done? There was no help from man. The empire was on the verge of dissolution when the barbarians came. They only gave a shock and hastened the fall. The empire was ripe fruit, to be plucked by the strongest hand.
Three centuries earlier a brave resistance would have been' made, and the barbarians would have been overthrown and annihilated or sold as slaves. But they were now the stronger, even with their rude weapons, and without the arts of war which the Romans had been learning for a thousand years. Yet they suffered prodigious losses before they became ultimately victorious. But they persevered, driven by necessity as well as the love of adventure and rapine. Wave after wave was rolled back by desperate generals; but the tide returned, and swept all away.
Fortunately, they reconstructed after they had once destroyed. They were converts of Christianity, and had sympathy with many elements of civilization. "Some solitary sparks fell from the beautiful world that was passed upon the night of their labors." These kindled a fire which has never been extinguished. They had, with all their barbarism, some great elements of character, and in all the solid qualities of the heart, were superior to the races they subdued. They brought their fresh blood into the body politic, and were alive to sentiments of religion, patriotism, and love. They were enthusiastic, hopeful, generous, and uncontaminated by those subtle vices which ever lead to ruin. They made innumerable mistakes, and committed inexcusable follies. But, after a long pilgrimage, and severely disciplined by misfortunes, they erected a new fabric, established by the beautiful union of German strength and Roman art, on the more solid foundations of Christian truth.
* * * * *
The authorities for this chapter are not numerous. They are the historians of the empire in its decline and miseries. Gibbon's history is doubtless the best in English. He may be compared with Tillemont's Hist, des Emperors. Sheppard has written an interesting and instructing book on this period, but it pertains especially to the rise of the new barbaric states. Tacitus' chapter on the Manners of the Germans should be read in connection with the wars. Gibbon quotes largely from Ammianus Marcellinus, who is the best Latin historian of the last days of Rome. Zosimus is an authority, but he is brief. Procopius wrote a history of the Vandal wars. Gregory of Tours describes the desolations in Gaul, as well as Journandes. The writings of Jerome, Augustine, and other fathers, allude somewhat to the miseries and wickedness of the times. But of all the writers on this dark and gloomy period, Gibbon is the most satisfactory and exhaustive; nor is it probable he will soon be supplanted in a field so dreary and sad.
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