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In the year 476 an unfortunate young man, mocked with the great names of the founders of the City and of the Empire, Romulus Augustus, nicknamed Augustulus, was deposed from the throne of the Cæsars by a Barbarian general in the Imperial service, and the Roman Empire in Italy came to its end. This act was but the outward sign that the power of Italy was utterly gone, and that in the West at least the Barbarians were indisputably conquerors in the long struggle which they had carried on for centuries with the Roman Empire.That Empire, at the period of its greatness, embraced all the countries around the Mediterranean Sea; it was the political embodiment of the Mediterranean civilization. In Europe, to the northeast, it reached as far as the Rhine and the Danube; it included England. Beyond the Rhine and the Danube dwelt the Barbarians. Europe was thus divided into two parts, the civilized and the Barbarian: one, a great Latin empire which rested upon slavery, and was governed by a highly centralized bureaucracy; the other, a collection of tribes of Teutonic blood, bound together in a very simple form of society, and essentially democratic in character...
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Copyright © 2015 by Henry Sedgwick
Published by Perennial Press
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THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE IN THE WEST (476 A. D.)
THE OSTROGOTHS (489-553)
THE LOMBARD INVASION (568)
THE CHURCH (568-700)
THE COMING OF THE FRANKS (726-768)
FROM CHARLEMAGNE TO NICHOLAS I (814-867)
THE DEGRADATION OF ITALY (867-962)
THE REVIVAL OF THE PAPACY (962-1056)
THE STRUGGLE OVER INVESTITURES (1059-1123)
TRADE AGAINST FEUDALISM (1152-1190)
TRIUMPH OF THE PAPACY (1198-1216)
ST. FRANCIS (1182-1226)
THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE (1216-1250)
THE FALL OF THE MEDIÆVAL PAPACY (1303)
LAST FLICKER OF THE EMPIRE (1309-1313)
A REVIEW OF THE STATES OF ITALY (ABOUT 1300)
THE TRANSITION FROM THE MIDDLE AGES TO THE RENAISSANCE
THE INTELLECTUAL DAWN AFTER THE MIDDLE AGES (1260-1336)
THE DESPOTISMS (1250-1350)
THE CLASSICAL REVIVAL (1350)
THE ILLS OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY
A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW (1350-1450)
THE EARLY RENAISSANCE (1400-1450)
THE RENAISSANCE (1450-1492)
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS (1494-1537)
PAPAL MONARCHY (1471-1527)
THE HIGH RENAISSANCE (1499-1521)
ITALY AND THE CATHOLIC REVIVAL (1527-1563)
THE CINQUECENTO (16th Century)
IN THE YEAR 476 AN unfortunate young man, mocked with the great names of the founders of the City and of the Empire, Romulus Augustus, nicknamed Augustulus, was deposed from the throne of the Cæsars by a Barbarian general in the Imperial service, and the Roman Empire in Italy came to its end. This act was but the outward sign that the power of Italy was utterly gone, and that in the West at least the Barbarians were indisputably conquerors in the long struggle which they had carried on for centuries with the Roman Empire.
That Empire, at the period of its greatness, embraced all the countries around the Mediterranean Sea; it was the political embodiment of the Mediterranean civilization. In Europe, to the northeast, it reached as far as the Rhine and the Danube; it included England. Beyond the Rhine and the Danube dwelt the Barbarians. Europe was thus divided into two parts, the civilized and the Barbarian: one, a great Latin empire which rested upon slavery, and was governed by a highly centralized bureaucracy; the other, a collection of tribes of Teutonic blood, bound together in a very simple form of society, and essentially democratic in character.
The Empire, composed of many races, Etruscan, Ligurian, Iberian, Celtic, Basque, Greek, Egyptian, and divers others, had been created and maintained by the military and administrative genius of Rome. Over all these people Roman law and Roman order prevailed. All enjoyed the Pax Romana. From Cadiz to Milan, from Milan to Byzantium, from Byzantium to Palmyra, stretched the great Roman roads. Coins, weights, and measures were everywhere the same. The inhabitants of Africa, Asia, and Europe, enfranchised by an Imperial edict, were thankful to be Roman citizens. To this day Roman law, the Romance languages, and the Roman Catholic Church testify to the vigour and solidity of Roman dominion. The city of Rome was, and had been for centuries, the head of the world. From east and west, from north and south, booty, spoils, taxes, tribute had flowed into Rome. Even after the seat of government had been removed to Constantinople (A. D. 330), visitors from the new capital were astounded to behold the Roman temples, baths, amphitheatres, forums, circuses, and palaces, all glittering with marble and bronze. But the riches acquired by conquest and tribute had brought seeds of evil with them. Society was divided into the very rich and the very poor; the simple laborious life of the freemen of ancient Rome was gone; the regular occupations of production had been abandoned to serfs and slaves; moderate incomes and plain living had disappeared. The middle class had been thrust down to the level of the plebs. In the country the small proprietors had been reduced to a position little better than that of the serfs, while the great landlords had got vast tracts of land into their hands. Nearly half the population were slaves. Taxes had become heavier and heavier as the exigencies of the Empire grew; great numbers of officials were maintained, and great mercenary armies. The rich controlled the government, and shifted almost the whole burden of taxation from their own shoulders to those of the poor. In the cities, each imitating Rome so far as it could, had grown up a vicious unemployed class, living on the distribution of bread which was paid for out of the public revenues.
On the farther side of the Rhine and the Danube, in marked contrast with this society, the Teutonic Barbarians tilled their lands and herded their flocks. They dwelt in little communities which were banded together into tribes; and these in turn were united in a sort of loose confederation, which assumed the semblance of a nation only when under the necessity of military action, and then the adult male population constituted the army. Their buildings were of the humblest character, their clothes rude, their arts primitive; they could neither read nor write, and their men cared for little besides hunting and fighting. They were, however, a free, self-respecting, self-governing people, electing their king, and meeting in one great assembly to enact their laws. On the Roman borders the Barbarians had become Christians, unfortunately not Trinitarians, but mere Arians, heretics in the eyes of the orthodox Catholics; so their Christianity hardly served to smooth their relations with the Romans.
The differences between these two divisions of Europe were about as great as between ourselves and the Don Cossacks. A Roman gentleman living in Gaul, for example, would have a villa in Auvergne, built high upon the hills in order to get the breezes and the view. Here was a bath-house, a fish-pond, separate apartments for the women, a pillared portico that overlooked a lake, a winter drawing-room, a summer parlour, etc. In this agreeable place, in his times of leisure, the owner would stroll about his grounds, play tennis, cultivate his garden, read Virgil and Claudian, compose epigrams, write letters to his friends in the vein of Horace’s Satires, gossip about the doings at the Imperial court or talk philosophy. The pleasant, luxurious life of Roman gentlemen was not very different from luxurious life in America to-day.
The Barbarians in their native forests were hardly aware of Roman civilization; and those on the border made a marked contrast with the Romans. The young kings were superb athletes, sparing at table, and attentive to their kingly duties. The Barbarian elders admired Roman civilization, but were “stiff and lumpish in body and mind.” The young men, six feet or more in height, with long, yellow hair, were great eaters of garlic and indelicate viands; they went about bare-legged, booted with rough ox-leather, and wore short-sleeved garments of divers colours, belted tight, with swords dangling at their backs, shields at side, and battle-axes in their hands.
It would be a mistake, however, to draw a very sharp line between these two opposing divisions of Europe. The Teutons were called Barbarians because they were not Romans, but many of them had been trained in the Roman armies and had lived in Constantinople, Trier, or Milan, and were well accustomed to Roman military arts and discipline; in fact, the Roman army was recruited mainly from among the Barbarians. Roman traders dealt with them regularly. In one way and another the Barbarians, especially their leaders, had come under the educating influence of Roman civilization, and they regarded that civilization with an amazement and a respect that at times deepened into awe.
But though a sharp line cannot be drawn, yet at bottom Romans and Barbarians were far apart. It was impossible that two societies of such divergent civilization should exist side by side in peace; one must conquer the other. The struggle between the Empire and its enemies had been almost continuous since the days of Julius Cæsar, and for several centuries the Empire had prevailed; but social disintegration within had proceeded rapidly, and by the beginning of the fifth century the Empire’s doom had come. Rome herself, the original home of empire, lay “nerveless, dead, unsceptred,” open to any takers; and takers came. The Visigoths, under Alaric, captured the city in 410 and were merciful; the Vandals, under Genseric, captured it in 455 and were cruel.
The fall of Rome, which we now see to have been inevitable, came, however, with a terrible shock to the civilized world. St. Jerome, who had gone to the wilderness near Bethlehem in order to meditate upon the prophets, wrote: “My voice is choked and my sobs interrupt the words which I write; the city is subdued which subdued the world.... Who could believe that Rome, which was built of the spoils of the whole earth, would fall, that the city could, at the same time, be the cradle and grave of her people; that all the coasts of Asia, Egypt, and Africa should be filled with the slaves and maidens of Rome? That holy Bethlehem should daily receive, as beggars, men and women who formerly were conspicuous for their wealth and luxury?”
The city of Rome had been deemed immortal; it had become almost sacred from long veneration; and when Rome fell, the Empire in the West had not a prop to rest upon. Spain was taken by the Suevi and the Visigoths, Gaul by the Franks, Burgundians, and Alemanni, England by Angles and Saxons, Africa by the Vandals; and, with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, Italy, too, became the prize of a Barbarian general.
The succeeding period of European history, in Gaul, Spain, Africa, and Italy, is the mingling or attempted mingling of the old populations of the Empire with the Barbarian conquerors. The process had, indeed, as I have intimated, begun before the fall of the Empire. For several generations Barbarians had not only been received as colonists and taken as soldiers, but even whole tribes had been admitted within the Roman boundaries. Imperial statesmen had realized that the Empire could only be upheld by an infusion of Barbarian virility, and they had favoured the process. But assimilation had not taken place, and now that the Empire had passed into the hands of the Barbarians there were two social strata,—the rude martial conquerors on top, and the civilized, feeble, subject race, ten times as numerous, underneath. It was obvious to the wiser Barbarian chiefs, trained as they were in Roman ways, that if they were to get stable dominion and civilized government, they must adopt the complicated Imperial machinery. They saw that unless the Barbarians learned Roman civilization, they would need hundreds of years to create any such civilization of their own. This was especially true in Italy. Odoacer, the general who deposed Romulus Augustulus, well knew that a state which had its military service all Barbarian and its civil service all Roman could not stand firm. Barbarian sovereignty needed support, especially legal support, in the eyes of the subject population. Such legitimacy could only come from the Empire. Odoacer and other intelligent Barbarians turned instinctively to Constantinople for recognition. They did not think that they had overturned or suppressed the Empire. Nobody thought that there were two Empires, one Eastern and one Western, one enduring and one destroyed in 476. To the Roman world the Empire had always been single, had always been a unit. The division into eastern and western parts had been made for convenience of administration; the Empire itself had never been divided. Even after the western countries of Europe had been overrun by the Barbarians, the Emperor at Constantinople remained the supreme and sole source of authority and law. The very Barbarians could not free themselves from this theory, however little heed they paid to it in practice. Odoacer acknowledged the sovereignty of the Empire without question. He merely wished to control the civil and military administration in Italy.
Before beginning a sketch of the attempts to found a permanent Barbarian government in Italy and to combine Barbarians and Romans in one people, it is necessary to speak of a rising power which already constituted the most important element in the situation. The Church was not only the one vigorous body in Italy, but it had already begun to foreshadow its future greatness. In the time of Constantine (323-337) and his immediate successors, the bishops of Rome had no primacy over other bishops, but they had claims to precedence, which they soon put to good use. Their city was the cradle and home of Roman dominion. St. Paul had lived and died there. Above all, as was universally acknowledged, the apostle Peter had founded their bishopric. Theirs, in an especial sense, was the Church to which Christ referred when He said to the apostle, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The bishops of Rome also derived immense advantage from the absence of a temporal prince; whereas their chief rivals, the patriarchs of Constantinople, were wholly eclipsed by the presence of the Emperor. The removal of the great offices of government to Constantinople and the absence of any real civil life, had left Rome even then a mere ecclesiastical city, and the head of the Church became the most important personage there. It was so generally acknowledged that Roman bishops were entitled to that precedence in rank over other bishops, which Rome enjoyed over other cities, that in 344 an Ecumenical Council submitted a most important question to the decision of the Roman See. One hundred years later the great pope, Leo I, merely gave utterance to the general opinion when he said: “St. Peter and St. Paul are the Romulus and Remus of the new Rome, as much superior to the old as truth is to error. If ancient Rome was at the head of the pagan world, St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, came to teach in the new Rome, so that from her the light of Christianity should be shed over the world.”
The Roman Church gathered to herself whatever remained of the administrative ability of ancient Rome. With acute practical sense she condemned those subtle doctrines that kept springing up in the East, late flashes of Greek metaphysics; and though she may have cut herself off from certain spiritual Neoplatonic thought, and have set her heart too much upon domination, yet by her very adherence to dogma, by her very insistence upon uniform law and obedience, by steadfastly maintaining the purity and the unity of the Faith, she became the great cohesive force in Europe, and by creating Christendom contributed immensely to the cause of European civilization. Partly by good fortune, partly by her success in making her cause prevail, Rome was always orthodox. She remained staunchly Trinitarian. She fought the Arians, who believed that the Son, created by the Father, could not be identical with Him and could not have existed from the beginning. She fought the Nestorians, who alleged that the Virgin was the mother of Christ only in so far as He was man. She fought the Monophysites, who denied that Christ had two distinct natures, human and divine. She fought always gallantly, and always, or almost always, in the end triumphantly. In those days ecclesiastical affairs were inseparable from political affairs; no man dreamed of severing them either in fact or in theory; the State and the Church were one fabric under a double aspect. The idea of the State apart from the Church, or the Church apart from the State, was no more imagined than the Darwinian theory.
If we now go back to Odoacer, and to his Barbarian successors, we shall find that in their endeavours to establish an Italian kingdom they were confronted by a threefold task,—to blend the Barbarian conquerors and the subject Latins, to establish friendly relations with the Empire, and to win the confidence and support of the Orthodox Church. In all the long period of Barbarian dominion, each Barbarian chief in turn had to face the imminent danger that these three political powers, the subject people, the Church, and the Empire, should make common cause against him. The Barbarians, in fact, were always unsuccessful. They never were able to make Italy into one kingdom. These three enemies were too strong for them. The inherent difficulties of the situation appear at once on the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, and give whatever interest there is to Odoacer’s brief career. Over that career, which bridges the years 476 to 489, we need not pause, for Odoacer’s attempt to establish a permanent government over all Italy was so ephemeral, and also so similar in all essential features to that of the Ostrogoths, his successors, that an account of their attempt may serve for his as well.
THE OSTROGOTHS WERE A FINE people; and historians have speculated sadly on the immense advantage, the vast saving of ills, that would have accrued to Italy had they succeeded in their attempt to establish a kingdom. Such a union of strength and vigour with the gifted Italian nature might well have produced a happy result. But my business is merely to indicate why and how the attempt failed.
The Ostrogoths (East Goths), one branch of the great Gothic nation, of which the Visigoths (West Goths) were the other, immediately prior to their invasion of Italy inhabited Pannonia (now Austria) on the south side of the Danube. They were a warlike people, and had given much trouble to the Eastern Emperors, who had been obliged not only to bestow upon them territory, but also to pay tribute. The reigning Emperor eagerly seized the first opportunity to rid himself of them. He suggested to their king, Theodoric,—hunter, soldier, statesman, a big-limbed, heroic man, passionate but just,—that he should lead his people into Italy, conquer Odoacer, and rule as Imperial lieutenant. As Italy was far pleasanter than Pannonia, Theodoric gladly accepted the suggestion.
The Goths, not more than two or three hundred thousand persons all told, effected their tedious emigration in 488-489. It was an easy matter to defeat the unstable Odoacer, and the Latins made no resistance. Theodoric, now master of Italy, both by right of conquest and by Imperial commission, set himself, in his turn, to the task of uniting Barbarians and Romans throughout the peninsula under one stable government. His difficulties were great. In the first place the immigrating people whom he led, though mainly Goths, were a medley of various tribes, and constituted an alien army of occupation in the midst of an unfriendly population, perhaps ten times their number. This Roman population, which had completely given up the use of arms, and never took part in any fight more formidable than a riot, was largely urban and lived in the cities which were scattered over Italy, almost the same that exist to this day. In the north were Turin, Pavia, Ferrara, Milan, Bergamo, Verona, Aquileia; on the east coast, Ravenna, Rimini, Ancona; on the west coast and in the centre, Genoa, Pisa, Lucca, Perugia, Spoleto, Rome, Benevento, Naples, Salerno, Amalfi; and in the south, the old Greek cities. All the ordinary business of life was in Roman hands; lawyers, physicians, weavers, spinners, carpenters, masons, cobblers, were Roman. Many of the workmen on great estates were also Roman. The Goths were primarily men-at-arms, and only exercised such rude crafts as were required in village communities. The leaders became military landowners. Naturally each race looked upon the other with suspicion, dislike, and contempt. It is obvious that there was need of both time and statesmanship before the two races would understand each other, share occupations, inter-marry, and feel themselves countrymen.
Theodoric’s policy falls under three heads,—relations with the subject population, with the Emperor, and with the Church. With the Romans Theodoric was just and considerate; he limited the division of lands among his followers, so far as he could, to those lands which Odoacer’s followers had had; he left civil administration chiefly in Roman hands; he let Romans live under Roman law and Goths under Gothic law. He employed as his chief counsellor Cassiodorus, a great Roman noble of wealth and learning; he issued a code compiled from the Imperial codes; he reduced the taxation. Following the custom of the late Western Emperors, he dwelt in Ravenna, where S. Apollinare Nuovo, S. Spirito, a baptistery, and a mausoleum still testify to his presence. When the State had been put in order, Theodoric made a royal progress to Rome (500), where he was welcomed with Imperial honours. He promised to uphold all the institutions established by Roman Emperors, and showed himself as much interested in the city as if he had been a Roman. He provided carefully for the preservation of all the monuments of antiquity, repaired the walls, the aqueducts, the cloacae, and drained the Pontine Marshes. He spoke of Rome as “the city which is indifferent to none, since she is foreign to none; the fruitful mother of eloquence, the spacious temple of every virtue, comprising within herself all the cherished marvels of the universe, so that it may in truth be said, Rome is herself one great marvel.” He renewed the distribution of bread, celebrated games in the circus, and treated the Senate with great distinction. In fact, until his breach with the Church, which turned all the orthodox population against him, he walked closely in the Imperial footsteps and was very successful in his relations with the Latin people.
Dealings with the Emperor were more difficult. Immediately after his victory over Odoacer, Theodoric had asked the Emperor for the regalia (the crown jewels and Imperial vestments) of the West, which had been sent to Constantinople upon the deposition of Romulus Augustulus. This embassy had been at first fobbed off, but finally the regalia were sent him in token of full recognition of his authority. In the mean time Theodoric’s army without waiting for permission from the Emperor had proclaimed him king; and in practice Theodoric always acted as an independent king. In theory, however, he accepted the inclusion of Italy in the Empire as a fundamental principle, and acknowledged that his position was merely that of ruler of one of the Imperial provinces. The Emperors, compelled by impotence to acquiesce in Theodoric’s lieutenancy of Italy, wished him in their hearts all possible bad luck, and bided their time to make trouble for him. But this ill will was concealed beneath the surface, and for about thirty years his relations with the Empire, with some interruptions, were amicable enough.
Before speaking of Theodoric’s relations with the Church, which were a matter of politics, and had to be considered by him on general grounds of policy, it is necessary to speak of the relations between the Church and the Emperor, for the latter affected the former. There were always difficulties, active or latent, between the Roman Church and the Empire. There was jealousy between old Rome and new Constantinople. There was misunderstanding between the Latin and Greek mind. There was friction between Papal and Imperial authority. These troubles will appear more clearly as we proceed. At this time it is only necessary to say that during the first thirty years of Theodoric’s reign, his period of success and prosperity, there was discord between Pope and Emperor, a kind of schism. The Byzantine Emperors, often men of cultivation, living in the most civilized city of the world, interested themselves in theology, and liked nothing better than to tinker with the Faith. To this, also, they were pushed by political needs. Their subjects were divided into the orthodox and the heterodox; and this diversity of belief was always a menace to political unity. To heal the breach, the reigning Emperor devised a scheme of compromise, a via media, on which he hoped all would unite. The Papacy, incensed by this trifling with orthodoxy, and by the assumption of an Imperial right to interfere in matters of faith, denounced the compromise. A schism was the consequence, which lasted until the reign of the Emperor Justin (518-527), when the crafty statesman who guided Justin’s policy, his nephew, the famous Justinian, effected a reconciliation. For Justinian already cherished an ambition to win back Italy for the Empire; and he knew that that could not be done without the support of the Papacy. In 519 a papal embassy bearing the olive branch was warmly welcomed at Constantinople; both Emperor and nephew condemned the compromise and accepted the orthodox Catholic faith. Thus the breach was healed.
During the period of this breach between Empire and Papacy, the Gothic king had managed his relations with the Church very prudently. Although an Arian (like all Barbarians except the Franks), he was exceedingly just to the Catholics. He carefully refrained from taking part in the domestic affairs of the Church, until he was compelled to do so in the interest of order. While in Rome he maintained a most correct attitude. But though he acted with great moderation and only followed Imperial precedents, the Church resented his interference. Do what Theodoric would, the Papacy was his natural enemy. It felt instinctively that a king of Italy must always overshadow the Pope, just as at Constantinople the Emperor eclipsed the Patriarch, and that only upon condition of keeping Italy without a strong government within its borders could the Church attain its full stature. The ecclesiastical power was already inimical to civil authority. The attitude of the Church toward Theodoric presaged the history of the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, and the kingdom of Italy in our day. Nevertheless, until the reconciliation of Emperor and Pope, Theodoric had no serious trouble.
About the year 524 the crafty Justinian, strong in his complete reconciliation with the Papacy, felt the time ripe to set about the recovery of the lost provinces of the West, and made the first hostile move. Perhaps, however, it is unjust to assign a purely political motive to Justinian’s action, for in his active Byzantine brain, policy, theology, law, art, and ambition were curiously blended. An Imperial edict was issued, persecuting Arians in various ways, and in particular commanding that all Arian churches throughout the Empire should be handed over to Catholics. This action of course received the approval of the Pope, and was most effective in alienating the Arian Goths from the Catholic Latins. Theodoric, who had been consistently tolerant to Catholics, was very angry and threatened to retaliate by suppressing the Catholic ritual throughout Italy. This threat threw the Papacy into closer alliance with the Emperor, and aggrieved the Latin people. A new generation had grown up in peace and comparative prosperity under Theodoric’s rule, and, forgetful that for these blessings it was indebted to the Goths, began to give free play to its Latin prejudices. Thus the three natural enemies of Gothic rule gradually drew together: the Empire, from desire to recover Italy; the Papacy, to be rid of a ruler; and the Latins, out of national prejudice.
Intrigues were started between Constantinople and some leading men in Rome. How far the conspiracy went nobody knew. The king was in no mood to act judicially. Several senators were arrested on the charge of high treason, tried before partial or irregular tribunals, and put to death. Of these senators the most famous was Boethius, who stands at the end of Roman civilization, as Dante stands at the beginning of modern civilization. The long centuries between the two constitute the Middle Ages. It is interesting to note that Dante in his desolation after the death of Beatrice took to console him the book which Boethius wrote in prison, the “Consolations of Philosophy.”
Boethius came of the most distinguished family in Rome. He and both his sons had been consuls. He was a student of Plato, Aristotle, and of the Neoplatonists; he had translated treatises on mathematics from the Greek, and had written on philosophy and theology. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge; when a hydraulic watch was wanted, or an especially magnificent sundial, or a test to detect counterfeit money, or a musician to be sent to a foreign potentate, he was the man to be consulted. His “Consolations of Philosophy,” which had immense vogue all through the Middle Ages in every language, furnishes his apology, his case against Theodoric, and gives the Latin view of the Barbarians. He says: “The hatred against me was incurred while I was in office, because I opposed the acts of oppression to which the Romans were subjected. The greed of the Barbarians for the lands of the Romans, always unpunished, grew greater day by day; they sought men’s lives in order to get their goods. How often have I protected and defended wretches from the innumerable calumnies of the Barbarians who wished to devour them.”To this Roman defence must be opposed the statement of a contemporary historian: “Everything about the Barbarians, even the very smell of them, was hateful to the Romans; nevertheless it often happened that they, especially the poor, preferred the oppression of the Barbarians to that of the Imperial officials. The rich Romans impose taxes but they do not pay them; they make the poor pay them. And when peradventure the taxes are diminished the relief goes not to the poor but to the rich; so that, when it is a matter of paying it concerns the people, and when it comes to the matter of reducing taxes it is as if the rich were the only persons taxed at all. Not Franks, Huns, Vandals, nor Goths behave so shamelessly.”
In spite of trials and executions Theodoric’s anger and suspicion increased; he compelled the Pope to go to Constantinople to ask that the Arians be treated fairly and the Arian churches restored. The Pope returned having obtained some favours for the Catholics, but nothing for the Arians; whereupon Theodoric threw him into prison, and kept him there till he died (526). He then nominated a successor, who was promptly elected by the frightened Romans. This high-handed action stimulated discontent so much that it seemed as if the time for a Byzantine invasion had come, but Justinian, not having fully spun his web, delayed. Perhaps he feared Theodoric and wished to wait for his death. He did not have to wait long. That summer Theodoric died, and with him Italy’s best hopes died too.
With Theodoric’s death ended the possibility of a Gothic monarchy. Even in his reign a process of deterioration had set in among the young generation. The decadent civilization of Italy wrought with fatal effect upon the simple Goths; the luxurious ways, the idle habits, even the refinements of the Latins, robbed them of their vigour and independence of character. The conquerors became divided among themselves; some inclined to the old Gothic traditions, some to the Latin ways. The royal house affords a conspicuous instance of this deterioration; the boy king succumbed to debauchery, his mother fell a victim to her Latin sympathies, and his cousin, last of the royal line, a student of literature and philosophy, showed himself perfectly incapable of action and was deposed by his soldiers. Justinian, the spider, had been biding his opportunity; now it had surely come. The Goths were disintegrated; the Papacy and Latin people were with him; and his great general, Belisarius, fresh from the brilliant conquest of the Vandal kingdom in Africa, was ready for the task. In 535 the war for the reconquest of Italy began.
The Goths were confused, divided, and without a leader, whereas Belisarius was a man of military genius, and his army was composed of veterans. The issue could not remain long in doubt. Naples, Rome, and finally Ravenna, fell, and the reconquest would have been complete, but that Justinian, jealous of a too successful general, recalled Belisarius. The Goths improved their respite, and their king, Totila, a very valiant soldier, for a time retrieved their falling fortunes. Justinian, however, who had a remarkable knowledge of men, appointed general-in-chief an extraordinary little old man, Narses, who, devoid of all military experience, had passed his life in the Imperial civil service. Narses handled his men as if he had been born and bred in a camp, and, after a comparatively brief campaign in which Totila was killed, compelled the last remnant of the Gothic army to surrender (553).
Thus ended the first attempt to erect a Barbarian kingdom in Italy. Its failure proved that without the support of the Catholic Church it was impossible to establish a kingdom of Italy, for the Church controlled the Latin people, and though these never fought, they had an hundred ways of helping friends and hindering foes.
THE IMPERIAL DOMINION OVER ALL Italy had lasted scarce a dozen years before another Barbarian nation, the Lombards, came and repeated the experiment in which the Goths had failed. The period of Lombard dominion lasted two hundred years (568-774). It is rather an uninteresting time; nevertheless, like most history, it has a dramatic side. It makes a play for four characters. The Lombards occupy the larger part of the stage, but the protagonist is the Papacy. The Empire is the third character. Finally, the Franks come in and dispossess the Lombards. The plot, though it must spread over several chapters, is simple.
The scene of the play was pitiful. For nearly twenty years (535-553) Italy had been one perpetual battlefield; whichever side won, the unfortunate natives had to lodge and feed a foreign army, and endure all the insolence of a brutal soldiery. Plague, pestilence, and famine followed. The ordinary business of life came to a stop. Houses, churches, aqueducts went to ruin; roads were left unmended, rivers undiked. Great tracts of fertile land were abandoned. Cattle roamed without herdsmen, harvests withered up, grapes shrivelled on the vines. From lack of food came the pest. Mothers abandoned sick babies, sons left their fathers’ bodies unburied. The inhabitants of the cities fared no better. Rome, for instance, had been captured five times. Before the war her population had been 250,000; at its close not one tenth was left. It is said that in one period every living thing deserted the city, and for forty days the ancient mistress of the world lay like a city of the dead. With peace came some respite; but the frightful squeeze of Byzantine taxation was as bad as Barbarian conquest. Italy sank into ignorance and misery. The Latin inhabitants hardly cared who their masters were. They never had spirit enough to take arms and fight, but meekly bowed their heads. Such was the scene on which these three great actors, the Lombards, the Papacy, and the Empire, played their parts. It is now time to describe the actors. We give precedence to the Empire, as is its due.
This remnant of the Roman Empire, with its capital on the confines of Europe and Asia, was an anomalous thing. It is a wonder that it continued to exist at all. In fact, there is no better evidence of the immense solidity of Roman political organization than the prolonged life of the Eastern Empire. The countries under its sway, Thrace, Illyria, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, had no bond to hold them together, except common submission to one central authority. By the end of the sixth century, the Roman Empire was really Greek. The Greek language was spoken almost exclusively in Constantinople, Latin having dropped even from official use. Yet the Empire was still regarded as the Roman Empire, and was looked up to by the young Barbarian kingdoms of Europe with the respect which they deemed due to the Empire of Augustus and Trajan. For instance, a king of the Franks addresses the Emperor thus: “Glorious, pious, perpetual, renowned, triumphant Lord, ever Augustus, my father Maurice, Imperator,” and is content to be called in return, “Childipert, glorious man, king of the Franks.” Yet it must be remembered that Constantinople at this time was the chief city of Europe. Greek thought and Greek art lingered there. Justinian had just built St. Sophia. In fact, Constantinople continued for centuries to be the most civilized city in the world.
The Imperial government was an autocracy; all the reins, civil, military, ecclesiastical, were gathered into the hands of the Emperor. Its foreign policy was to repel its enemies, Persians to the east, Avars to the north, Arabs to the south; its domestic policy was to hold its provinces together and to extort money. The Emperors, many of whom were able men, usually spent such time as could be spared from questions of national defence and of finance in the study of theology, for at Constantinople the problems of government were in great measure religious. Next to the actual physical needs of life, the main interest of the people was religion. A statesman who sought to preserve the Empire whole, of necessity endeavoured to hold together its incohesive parts by means of religious unity. This political need of religious unity is the explanation, in the main, of the frequent theological edicts and enactments.
The Emperors governed Italy, after the reconquest, by an Imperial lieutenant, the Exarch, who resided at Ravenna, under a system of administration preserved in mutilated form from times prior to the fall of Romulus Augustulus. An attempt was made to keep civil and military affairs separate, but the pressure of constant war threw all the power into military hands. The peninsula, or such part of it as remained Imperial after the Lombard invasion, was divided for administrative and military purposes into dukedoms and counties, which were governed by dukes and generals. The Byzantine officials were usually Greeks, bred in Constantinople and trained in the Imperial system; they regarded themselves as foreigners, and had neither the will nor the skill to be of use to Italy. Their public business was to raise money for the Empire, their private business to raise money for themselves.
In spite of these oppressions the Latin people preferred the Greeks to the Lombards, partly because of their common Greco-Roman civilization, partly because the Empire was still the Roman Empire; and this popular support stood the Empire in good stead in the long war which it waged with the Lombards. The Latin people did not fight, but they gave food and information. The Empire, however, was ill prepared for a contest. The recall of Narses removed from Italy the last bulwark against Barbarian invasion. The Imperial army was weak, cities were poorly garrisoned, fortifications badly constructed; and, but for the control of the sea which enabled the Empire to hold the towns on the sea-coast, the whole of Italy would have fallen, like a ripe apple, into the hands of the invaders. The Empire, in fact, was exhausted by the effort of reconquest and had neither moral nor material strength to spare from its home needs.
The Lombards, if inferior in dignity to the Empire, played a far more active part in this historic drama. They came originally from the mysterious North, and after wandering about eastern Europe had at last settled near the Danube, where part of them were converted to Arian Christianity. Discontented with their habitation, and pressed by wilder Barbarians behind them, they were glad to take advantage of the defenceless condition of Italy. They knew how pleasant a land it was, for many of them had served as mercenaries under Narses. The whole nation, with a motley following from various tribes, amounted to about two or three hundred thousand persons. They crossed the Alps in 568.
There were many points of difference between these invaders and the Goths. The Lombards had had little intercourse with the Empire, and were far less civilized than their predecessors, and far inferior in both military and administrative capacity. Their leader, Alboin, cannot be compared in any respect with Theodoric. Moreover, Theodoric came, nominally at least, as lieutenant of the Emperor, and affected to deem his sovereignty the continuation of Imperial rule; whereas the Lombards regarded only the title of the sword and invariably fought the Empire as an enemy.
The invaders met little active resistance; if they had had control of the sea, they would readily have conquered the whole peninsula. They overran the North and strips of territory down the centre within a few years, and afterwards gradually spread little by little; but they never conquered the South, the duchy of Rome, or the Adriatic coast. For the greater part of the two hundred years during which the Lombard dominion existed, the map of Italy bore the following aspect: the Empire retained the little peninsula of Istria; the long strip of coast from the lowlands of Venetia to Ancona, protected by its maritime cities, Ravenna, Rimini, Pesaro, Sinigaglia; and the duchy of Rome, which spread along the Tyrrhene shore from Civita Vecchia to Gaeta; Naples and Amalfi; the territories of the heel and toe; and also Sicily and Sardinia. The boundaries were never fixed. Of the Lombard kingdom all one need remember is that it was a loose confederation of three dozen duchies; and that of these duchies, Spoleto, a little north of Rome, and Benevento, a little northeast of Naples, were the most important, as well as the most detached from the kingdom. In fact, these two were independent duchies, and rarely if ever took commands from Pavia, the king’s capital, except upon compulsion.
At the time of the invasion the Lombards were barbarians; and they did not make rapid progress in civilization. Fond of their native ways, of hunting and brawling, they were loath to adopt the arts of peace, and left most forms of craft and industry to the conquered Latins. Nevertheless, it was impossible to avoid the consequences of daily contact with a far more developed people, and their manners became more civilized with each generation. The royal house affords an indication of the change which was wrought during the two hundred years. Alboin, the original invader (died 573), killed another Barbarian king, married his daughter, and forced her to drink from a cup made of her father’s skull. The last Lombard king, Desiderius (died about 780), cultivated the society of scholars, and his daughter learned by heart “the golden maxims of philosophy and the gems of poetry.” Each advance of the Lombards in civilization was a gain to the Latins, who, especially in the country where they worked on farms, were little better than serfs. The two races drew together slowly. The conversion of the Lombards from Arian to Catholic Christianity (600-700) diminished the distance between them. Intermarriage must soon have begun; but not until the conquest by the Franks does there seem to have been any real blending of the races.
The most conspicuous trait in the Lombard character was political incompetence. It would have required but a little steadiness of purpose, a little political foresight, a little spurt of energy, to conquer Ravenna, Rome, Naples and the other cities held by the Byzantines, and make Italy into one kingdom. Failure was due to the weakness of the central government, which was unable to weld the petty dukedoms together. This cutting up of Italy into many divisions left deep scars. Each city, with the territory immediately around it, began to regard itself as a separate state, with no sense of duty towards a common country; each cultivated individuality and jealousy of its neighbours, until these qualities, gradually growing during two hundred years, presented insuperable difficulties to the formation of an Italian national kingdom.
In spite of their political incompetence the Lombards left their mark on Italy, especially on Lombardy and the regions occupied by the strong duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. For centuries Lombard blood appears in men of vigorous character; and Lombard names, softened to suit Italian ears, linger on among the nobility. In fact, the aristocracy of Italy from Milan to Naples was mainly Teutonic, and the principal element of the Teutonic strain was Lombard.
ONE GREAT POLITICAL EFFECT OF the Lombard conquest was the opportunity which it gave the Papacy, while Lombard and Byzantine were buffeting each other, to grow strong and independent. Had Italy remained a Greek province the Pope would have been a mere provincial bishop, barely taking ceremonial precedence of the metropolitans of Ravenna, Aquileia, and Milan; had Italy become a Lombard kingdom, the Pope would have been a royal appointee; but with the Lombard kings fighting the Byzantine Exarchs, each side needing papal aid and sometimes bidding for it, the Pope was enabled to become master of the city and of the duchy of Rome, and the real head of the Latin people as well as of the Latin clergy. In fact, the growth of the Roman Catholic Church is the most interesting development in this period. The Lombards gave it the opportunity to grow strong and independent, but the power to take advantage of the opportunity came from within. This power was compact of many elements, secular and spiritual. From the ills of the world men betook themselves with southern impulsiveness to things religious; they sought refuge, order, security in the Church. In the greater interests of life among the Latins the rising ecclesiastical fabric had no competitor. Paganism had vanished before Christianity, philosophy before theology. Literature, art, science had perished. Italy had ceased to be a country. The ancient Empire of Rome had faded into a far-away memory. The wreck of the old nobility left the ecclesiastical hierarchy without a rival. In the midst of the general ruin of Roman civilization the Church stood stable, offering peace to the timid, comfort to the afflicted, refinement to the gentle, a home to the homeless, a career to the ambitious, power to the strong. By a hundred strings the Church drew men to her; in a hundred modes she sowed the prolific seeds of ecclesiastical patriotism. She was essentially Roman, and gathered to herself whatever was left of life and vigour in the Roman people. With a structure and organization framed on the Imperial pattern, she slowly assumed in men’s minds an Imperial image; and Rome, a provincial town whose civil magistrates busied themselves with sewers and aqueducts, again began to inspire men with a strange confidence in a new Imperial power.
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