A Short History of the Italian People - Janet Penrose Trevelyan - ebook


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Janet Penrose Trevelyan


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Copyright © 2016 by Janet Penrose Trevelyan

Published by Perennial Press

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ISBN: 9781518358791




































DIOCLETIAN’S REORGANIZATION OF THE EMPIRE — Reign of Constantine — Condition of Italy and Rome — Christianity — St. Ambrose — Advance of the Goths — Battle of Adrianople — Reign of Theodosius — His Conquest of Italy and Death.

WHEN the Emperor Diocletian, towards the end of the third century A.D., set himself to reorganize the government of the known world, his stout heart may well have quailed before the magnitude of the task before him. The preceding fourteen years had witnessed a succession of six Emperors, some of them men of exceptional courage and ability, of whom three had been assassinated by their troops, one had been killed by the hardships of campaigning, another by lightning on the borders of Persia, and the last still remained to be dealt with and removed. That task successfully accomplished, Diocletian turned his attention to the greater problem before him, and the conclusion at which he arrived was that in order to save the Empire its constitution must be fundamentally remodeled. His memorable division of the whole into four parts, together with his thorough reform of the administration, enabled the machine of government to run with comparatively little friction for another century and to resist the shattering blows of the barbarian wreckers for many years longer still.

The three associates to whom Diocletian deputed the sovereignty of Europe and Northern Africa were all men of considerable experience and capacity. The eldest of them, Maximian, an unlettered soldier better suited to carry out the suggestions of his patron than to initiate a policy of his own, received with the title of “Augustus” the “dioceses” of Italy, Spain, and Africa; Constantius Chlorus, the most popular of the younger generals, was made “Cæsar” of Gaul and Britain, while Galerius, a man of vigorous but cruel temper, was set to guard the Danube frontier with the title of “Cæsar” of Mœsia and Pannonia. Diocletian himself, an “Augustus” like Maximian, kept the whole of the East, with Egypt and Thrace, and was tacitly acknowledged by each of his three partners as the guiding spirit of the confederation. He was indeed one of the most accomplished bureaucrats that have ever left their mark on the world’s history. With the chaotic spectacle of the last hundred years before his eyes, he saw that the real danger lay in the abuse of power by independent generals, and he therefore initiated an elaborate system of divisions, in which the higher and lower officials should act as checks and counter-checks on one another, and thus prevent the abuse of authority. One of his first acts was to curtail the overgrown power of the Prætorian Prefect, an official who, originally the commander of the Prætorian Guards, had gradually become the general factotum and often the assassin of the Emperor, with practical control over military, judicial, and financial affairs. Diocletian divided this great office also into four, giving a Prætorian Prefect to each of his new quarters of the Empire, and at the same time considerably reducing the military power at his disposal.

The scheme of division was, however, carried much further than this. Thirteen great “dioceses,” each as large as a country of modern Europe, were carved out of the four Prefectures and placed each under its Vicarius or vice-prefect, while these were further subdivided into provinces, all of them far smaller than the ancient provinces, and administered by governors who were responsible to the Prætorian Prefect but were otherwise absolute within their respective districts. Thus Diocletian hoped by multiplying the holders to divide the substance of power, and, by this organized hierarchy of ranks, culminating in the Cæsars and the Augusti, to ensure a regular and peaceful development for the State. Nor was it an unreasonable hope in an age which had not yet learnt the rudiments of representative government, and amid the tumults of the years which succeeded the abdication of Diocletian the machine still ran, though with some groaning and stumbling. But it had one most serious defect — that it vastly increased the expenses of administration. Each of the provincial governors, as well as the Vicarii and the Prætorian Prefects, maintained an ostentatious court which had to be paid for out of the revenues of the province, and the multiplication of subordinate offices of all sorts was so enormous that the poet Claudian, at the end of the fourth century, complained that the receivers of public money almost outnumbered the payers of it.

To meet this immense burden of expense, every effort of the government was directed towards maintaining the system of taxation in all its terrible efficiency. The general principle of Imperial taxation in the fourth century was that the central government sent down an edict, or indiction (frequently followed by a superindiction), to the capital city of each diocese, stating the amount required from that area; that this total sum was then divided among the provinces and subdivided among the towns (the units of collection), while the unfortunate town-councilors, or decuriones, were made personally responsible for the sum required. This office, in common with many others, had already been made hereditary, simply because no sane man would voluntarily have undertaken the burdens it entailed, and the heaviest penalties were imposed upon the decurio who sought to evade his obligations. Thus the once coveted position of municipal senator had gradually become a mere object of terror, and the hapless decurio would frequently settle as a serf on the estate of some neighboring grandee, and implore his protection against the Imperial vengeance.

In the collection of the taxes, extortion and violence were the order of the day, especially in the levying of contributions in kind for the maintenance of the army; and until stopped by an edict of Constantine, torture was freely employed in extorting the impositions on trade and industry which were exacted every fourth year. Perhaps the best evidence of the exhaustion which the methods of Imperial taxation produced is the fact that we frequently find remissions of taxation granted to certain districts — a phenomenon which attests the complete inability to pay on the part of the regions in question.

Italy fared no better than other parts of the Empire in the matter of taxation, for the much-dreaded land tax, long the bane of the provinces alone, was imposed on her by Diocletian. Nor did she gain any compensating advantages under the new system. Rome was no longer the seat of empire, for Maximian fixed his residence at Milan, within striking distance of the barbarians beyond the Alps, and the Roman Senate, which ten years before had actually elected an Emperor from its own number, sank into complete insignificance. Nor was Maximian an easy master, for in the first year of his reign he quelled the mutinous spirit of the Romans by a series of executions and confiscations which struck terror into the hearts of any would-be leaders of rebellion. Not until the abdication of Diocletian and his elder colleague in 305 did the rising discontent break out in a revolt — headed by Maximian’s son Maxentius — against the new Cæsar appointed by Galerius. The remnant of the Prætorian Guards supported Maxentius; Severus, the unpopular Cæsar, was captured and forced to commit suicide [306], and the Romans enjoyed for six years the presence of an Emperor of their own choosing, — whose cruelty and licentiousness, however, soon made them regret their choice. A party among the Senate began to look for help towards the young ruler of Gaul, Constantine, son of Constantius Chlorus; Maxentius himself provoked a conflict, and in 312 the Gallic Cæsar decided to stake his fortune on an invasion of Italy. He met and defeated two armies sent forward by Maxentius at Turin and Verona, advanced on Rome by the Flaminian Way, and at the great battle of the Milvian Bridge annihilated the last army which his adversary could muster. Maxentius was drowned in the Tiber, and Constantine found himself master of the West.

He remained for two or three months in Rome, settling the affairs of Italy, exterminating the brood of Maxentius, giving magnificent games in the Colosseum, laying the foundations of the Basilica of St. Peter, and erecting a triumphal arch to himself — which, however, in the absence of contemporary talent, had to be adorned by stripping the reliefs from the Arch of Trajan. He made Rome obedient for the future by distributing the few remaining Prætorian Guards among the frontier legions, and the efficacy of this measure was proved by the absolute quiescence of the ancient capital during the remainder of the century. While Constantine was spending the rest of his energetic life on the frontiers, in civil war against his rival Licinius, in founding his “New Rome” on the Bosphorus, and in effecting his memorable revolution in the religion of the Empire, Old Rome relapsed into a state of inglorious peace, living on the mere shadow and sound of her ancient greatness. Even the consuls were no longer elected by the Roman rabble, but appointed by the Emperor, wherever he happened to be, and their sole duty towards their nominal capital was that of providing games in honor of their election in the Flavian amphitheater, a diversion which cost them some £20,000 apiece. All real power was in the hands of the Prætorian Prefect, whose duties were to maintain order, to preside at all meetings of the Senate and in his own supreme court of justice, to see to the upkeep of the public works — an immense item in such a city as Rome — and to superintend the enormous distributions of free corn by which the poorer population was fed and propitiated.

The condition of that population in Rome, and indeed in all Italy, was, as far as we can now ascertain it, one of the utmost degradation. Agriculture had been declining ever since the days of the early Empire, owing partly to the crushing-out of the peasant owner through the increase of large estates worked by slave labor, partly to the regular importation of slave grown corn from Sicily and Africa. Towards the end of the fourth century a emission of taxation was granted, on the ground of barrenness and depopulation, to 330,000 acres in the province of Campania, once the most fertile region in Southern Italy. Meanwhile the imported corn was used to feed the idle populace of Rome, and naturally the poorer inhabitants of the country flocked into the town to share this bounty, thus further denuding the soil of its proper cultivators. A glimpse into the life of Rome in the latter half of this century is given us by Ammianus Marcellinus, an honest officer of household troops who accompanied the Emperor Julian on his Persian campaign [362-3], and who years afterwards employed his leisure in writing the history of his times. His picture of the life of the Roman nobles is both curious and repulsive:

Followed by a train of fifty servants [he writes] and tearing up the pavement, they drive along the streets with the same impetuous speed as if they travelled with post horses; and the example of the Senators is boldly imitated by the matrons and ladies, whose covered carriages are continually driving round the immense space of the city and suburbs. . . . In their journeys into the country, the whole body of the household marches with their master. The baggage and wardrobe move in the front, and are immediately followed by a multitude of cooks and inferior servants, employed in the service of the kitchens and of the table. The main body is composed of a promiscuous crowd of slaves, increased by the accidental concourse of idle or dependent plebeians. The rear is closed by the favorite band of eunuchs, distributed from age to youth, according to the order of seniority. . . . When the lord has called for warm water, if a slave is tardy in his obedience, he is instantly chastised with three hundred lashes; but should the same slave commit a willful murder, the master will mildly observe that he is a worthless fellow, but that if he repeats the offence he shall not go unpunished.

The same writer then describes how the idle populace spent their days lounging in the baths and open spaces, discussing nothing but the prospects of the coming races, swearing that the State would fall if this or that color were victorious. The games indeed were still the one absorbing passion of Roman society, and although Constantine made some attempts to discourage the slaughter of gladiators in the arena, the practice continued right down to the end of the fourth century, and some writers think even far into the fifth.

Indeed, when we consider that besides the demoralizing effect of the games, the whole fabric of Roman society was rotten with slavery — that not only agriculture, but every industry in the towns and all domestic service was performed by slaves, and that the vices of the irresponsible upper class increased in proportion to their idleness, it is difficult to see any redeeming feature, any hope or promise in the Italy of the fourth century. Yet one new influence there was which seemed to contain the seed of better things. In the year 312, soon after the battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine had gone to Milan to meet his fellow-Emperor Licinius, and had there drawn up with him the celebrated Edict which gave peace to the Christians after the long and terrible persecution of Diocletian. Twelve years later, when he had crushed Licinius and become sole Emperor, he issued circular letters to the provinces calling upon all his subjects to embrace the religion of their ruler, and in 325 he summoned the famous Council of Nicæa to decide how that religion should truly be defined. The fourth century was therefore the first in which the Christian Church acquired political power, and it is interesting to see what effect the organization which embodied the new spirit of charity and brotherhood had on the existing social system. The final suppression of the gladiatorial shows is universally admitted to have been mainly the work of Christianity; the leaders of the Church constantly and vehemently denounced them as sinful (not merely as inhuman or brutalizing), forbade their flocks to attend the games under pain of exclusion from the Eucharist, and refused to admit into the Church any gladiator who would not swear to give up his profession. It is true that very many Christians failed to live up to these high standards, and the Fathers were continually complaining of the way in which the faithful could be seen flocking to the amphitheaters; but once the whole weight of the hierarchy was thrown into the scale against them, their suppression was only a question of time. It is said, indeed, that they were brought to a dramatic conclusion on the occasion of the Emperor Honorius’ visit to Rome in 404, when the heroic monk Telemachus sprang into the arena to try and part the combatants, and perished under a shower of stones from the angry spectators.

In this direction, then, and generally in the higher value it succeeded in attaching to human life, the Church of the fourth century gave a real lift to the civilization of its day. In the fundamental abuse of slavery, however, it does not appear to have been of much service, though here again the Fathers always inculcated kindness to the slave as to a fellow man. But the Church did not attack the system as such, and the weakness of its attitude is seen in the very slight improvement in the laws regarding slaves under Constantine and his successors. A master was still at liberty to torture his slave to death, if he had no intention of killing him, and a slave was still incapable of contracting a legal marriage.

Perhaps indeed the main contribution of the Christian Church to the life of Italy at this time was the interest which it gradually aroused in its own internal affairs — in elections to the Papacy, and in the doings of certain of its great men. Since the abandonment of Rome by the Emperors the old interest in political matters had completely died away, and it seemed as though Rome would sink to producing nothing but gladiators and charioteers. Yet little by little the innate political sense of the Romans began to express itself anew in the ardor with which they threw themselves into ecclesiastical affairs. The Arian Controversy — the central event of the fourth century throughout the East — though it never succeeded in convulsing Italy, was yet of immense importance to the rising power of the Papacy, for the Bishops of Rome emerged from it with a character for spotless orthodoxy, and the city of Rome had had the honor of sheltering within her walls the great Athanasius himself, during his second exile from Alexandria [341]. More than this, we seem for the first time to catch the tone of true Papal haughtiness in the answer of Pope Liberius to the Arian Emperor Constantius, when the latter sent to demand that he should renounce communion with Athanasius [356]. Liberius replied by pronouncing a solemn anathema against all Arian heretics, by casting the Emperor’s gifts out of St. Peter’s as polluted offerings, and by choosing exile rather than submission. So vehement was the clamor which his banishment aroused in Rome that in the next year Constantius was compelled to allow him to return. Ten years later, the position of Bishop of Rome had become so much coveted that a disputed election, between Damasus and Ursicinus, produced a civil war [366] extending over many months, and the successful candidate, Damasus, waded to the Papal throne through the slaughter of hundreds of his rival’s adherents in the basilicas of Rome.

But as yet the Papacy had produced no one commanding figure, for the great Jerome, long secretary to Pope Damasus, was disappointed in his hopes of succeeding his patron. The greatest Italian of the fourth century was, however, though not a Pope, a Churchman, for in 374 the clamorous voice of the Milanese called Ambrose, their civil governor, to fill the vacant Bishopric of Milan. In the character of Ambrose the virtues of the Roman administrator and of the Christian idealist are strangely blended. A man of high rank himself, being the son of a Prætorian Prefect of the Gauls, he had all the knowledge of the world necessary for the manifold duties of his position, and this was no doubt of great assistance to him in his dealings with the “Augusti” of Italy, whose residence at Milan frequently brought them into contact or conflict with their formidable Bishop. But in the most famous incidents of his life his Christian fervor — with all the limitations and exaltations of the fourth century — predominates over everything else. Now he is engaged in a bitter struggle with the Arian Empress-mother Justina for the possession of the basilicas of Milan, using such language as a later Pope might have used towards a rebellious Hohenstaufen; now he is prevailing upon the Emperor Theodosius to rescind an order he had issued for the punishment of certain riotous Christian monks in the East, who had destroyed a Jewish synagogue; now he is refusing, with a loftiness of soul that does him lasting honor, to hold communion with the Gaulish bishops who had ordered the execution of Priscilian — the first heretic to be put to death by Christian hands for the Christian faith which he held [385]. But, after all, Ambrose lives, and deserves to live, in the popular imagination by one episode alone — his infliction of penance on the great Theodosius for the massacre of Thessalonica [390]. In an access of rage the Emperor had sent the fatal order that the murder of the Governor of that city (a Goth named Botheric) should be avenged by an indiscriminate massacre, and seven thousand persons had been slaughtered at the games. No doubt the fact that the Governor had been an Arian heretic, while the Thessalonians were orthodox “Romans,” had its full influence on the mind of Ambrose; but in any case his action was as bold as it was dramatic. Theodosius was at that moment at Milan, and Ambrose sternly exhorted him to repentance, declaring that he could not celebrate the Eucharist in the presence of one with so great a load of blood-guiltiness upon his head. The Emperor submitted, and in the newly built basilica which we now know as the Church of Sant’ Ambrogio he humbled himself before the Christian Bishop, stripping himself of his Imperial insignia and imploring for absolution with many tears. It is the first of those memorable scenes of the abasement of the temporal before the spiritual power by which the Catholic Church has so well succeeded in striking the imagination of Europe.

So the life of Italy moved on in this last century of peace before the storm, its centers of interest gradually becoming wholly different from those of the old Imperial days. Emperors were proclaimed and died, but seldom came to visit Rome; the final division of the Empire into two parts, the East and the West, was effected under Valentinian I. and his brother Valens, without sensibly influencing the condition of Italy [365]; the campaigns on the Rhine, the Danube, or in Persia were discussed in the Baths of Caracalla much as we should discuss a “little war” on the Indian Frontier. But at last an event occurred which must have been received even in Rome with a feeling akin to panic: it was the crushing defeat inflicted on the Emperor Valens by the Goths in 378, at the battle of Adrianople.

Long the standing menace of the Empire in Trajan’s province of Dacia beyond the Danube, the Goths, who in their gradual migration from Scandinavia had split into three nations — Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Gepidæ — were now being hard pressed in their turn by the Huns; they had implored the Emperor Valens to grant them a passage across the Danube, and, once on the Roman side, had been stung to madness by the weak Emperor’s faithless policy towards them, had gathered their forces in overwhelming numbers and annihilated him and his army under the walls of Adrianople. Fortunately, however, the barbarians did not use their victory well, though they were able to advance up to the very gates of Constantinople; and the Romans still possessed two leaders who were capable of stemming the tide of disaster. These were Gratian, son of Valentinian I., who, when the battle was fought, was already on the march from Gaul to assist his uncle Valens, and the good soldier Theodosius, son of a Spanish general of that name who had been unjustly beheaded at the order of Justina, Valentinian’s widow, two years before the battle. These two now divided the Empire between them, all but Italy and Africa, which were already under Justina and her young son Valentinian II. Gratian took the West, Theodosius the East [379]. The Goths were partly harassed into submission, partly adopted into the body-politic and settled in the Balkan provinces as fœderati; and Italy breathed again.

But civil war brought her at length into the very vortex of affairs. Gratian was murdered in 383 by an usurper from Britain, Maximus, who, though at first content with the three Western “dioceses” of Britain, Gaul, and Spain, soon began to covet the inheritance of young Valentinian, and in 387 invaded Italy and forced the Emperor, his mother and sisters to fly in terror to seek the protection of Theodosius. Theodosius gallantly married the sister of his suppliant, advanced through Pannonia to the head of the Adriatic, found the usurper Maximus shut up in Aquileia, besieged him there, captured, and beheaded him. He restored Valentinian II. to the nominal Empire of the West, but left him really at the mercy of his barbarian army and of its Frankish chief, the ambitious Arbogast. When the time was ripe, Arbogast had his young master killed in some athletic games with the soldiers [392], invested his own secretary Eugenius with the purple, and sent ambassadors to Theodosius to acquaint him with the sad event of the death of Valentinian.

Theodosius bided his time, but at last he set forth once more to chastise the rebellious West [394], and this time, though the task was more difficult, he accomplished it more thoroughly. Again he crossed the spurs of the Julian Alps and saw the plain of Aquileia lying below him, but now it was filled with a vast army of Gauls and Franks, and in the first day’s battle his ten thousand Visigoths, who bore the brunt of the fight, were almost annihilated. But on the next day the Emperor, miraculously assisted by a sudden storm of wind that sprang up behind him and blew the blinding dust in the faces of the Franks, drove all before him. The puppet-Emperor Eugenius was seized by some of his own soldiers and dragged before Theodosius, who allowed one of his guards to behead him in his presence. Arbogast the Frank fled into the mountains and there fell on his own sword, leaving the stage clear for the conqueror.

This battle between East and West was significant for many reasons, but perhaps chiefly for this, that it was the last struggle in Italy between Paganism and Christianity. The rhetorician Eugenius, otherwise a mere respectable nonentity, goes down to fame as the last Emperor who favored the Olympian gods and allowed their worship to be celebrated with splendor in Rome. The altar of Victory, removed by the orthodox Gratian, was replaced in the Senate-house, and Eugenius set up, in the mountain passes by which Theodosius must march, bronze statues of Zeus armed with golden thunderbolts. But it was the last flicker of the Olympian lightning. Theodosius, the orthodox Spaniard, entered Rome, closed the newly opened temples, banished the priests, and extinguished the flame of Vesta. Paganism was condemned to live on underground, but it took its slow revenge on the new faith by bequeathing to it the spirit of polytheism, and after many days the rites of the ancient gods lived again in the worship of the saints.

So the great-hearted Theodosius conquered, reigned for four months alone, and died [395] in that very city of Milan which had witnessed his noble humiliation before St. Ambrose. He left the Roman world — though he knew it not — in the utmost peril. Only a strong man could have continued with success the policy he had so largely adopted of using the barbarians. Necessity had driven him to do so after the battle of Adrianople, but it is probable that he carried it too far. He loved his tall, fair-haired warriors, and among the ten thousand Visigoths whom he carried to the battle of the Julian Alps was a certain young chieftain of the name of Alaric. Most of the ten thousand were slain, but Alaric remained, and had cast his first glance upon the fair plains of Italy. And now the government of the world had passed into the hands of two spiritless boys, Arcadius at Constantinople, Honorius at Milan.



CAREER OF STILICHO — ALARIC’S Three Sieges of Rome — The Sack — Death of Alaric — Reign of Galla Placidia at Ravenna — Advance of the Huns — Attila’s Invasion of Italy — Sack of Rome by the Vandals — The Phantom Emperors — Fall of Romulus Augustulus.

THOUGH Theodosius himself was gone, he had bequeathed to his eleven-year-old son Honorius a guardian who, for thirteen years, made head against the enemies of Rome. This was the Vandal Stilicho, a soldier who had risen to fame and fortune under the fighting Emperor, had received his favorite niece, Serena, in marriage, had been appointed Master of the Horse and Foot, and was finally left as regent of the Western Empire. So long as he lived the Visigoths were held at bay, either by arms or by treaty; when he fell, Italy lay defenseless.

The first years of his reign were occupied in a cautious game of fence between himself and Alaric (now acknowledged King of the Visigoths), who had taken up an advantageous position for harassing either Empire in the north-western corner of Illyricum. In the year 400 the Gothic King invaded Northern Italy with a whole nation at his back, but was eventually defeated by Stilicho and forced to retire again to his former point of vantage. Stilicho was inclined to treat with him and win him over to the service of the Empire, but his own position was beset with difficulties, for as a Vandal he was exposed to the jealous suspicion of Honorius’ Italian courtiers, and the rise of an upstart Emperor in Gaul had forced him to withdraw the legions from the Rhine and so to let in a flood of new barbarians [407]. At length a mutiny broke out against him among the Roman legions at Pavia [408]. Stilicho fled to Ravenna, the lagoon city at the mouth of the Po, which was to be the Empire’s last stronghold in Italy, but was there overtaken and beheaded by a troop of Imperial horse. Honorius had turned against his guardian, and had struck down the one bulwark that stood between Rome and the advancing tide.

Scarcely had the news of the murder reached the Gothic camp than Alaric set his army in motion, marched by the well-known route into Venetia, and this time struck straight for Rome. He did not waste men in an attack on the strong walls built by Aurelian against the Allemanni a hundred and forty years before, and repaired since his own first invasion, but immediately sat down to enforce a strict blockade. He soon had the city at his mercy, for no help came from the Imperial coward at Ravenna, and when the swarming population of Rome was almost reduced to cannibalism the Senate sent forth an humble embassy to enquire the besieger’s terms. The Goth simply demanded all the gold and silver in the city, all the precious movables, all the barbarian slaves. “What then,” asked the horrified ambassadors, “do you intend to leave to us?” “Your lives,” replied in disdain the honest conqueror. He was prevailed upon, however, to modify his demands to a more manageable figure, and on the receipt of 5000 pounds of gold, 30,000 of silver, 3000 scarlet hides, 4000 silken tunics, and 3000 pounds of pepper, he and his chieftains consented to raise the siege.

Then ensued a period of wearisome negotiations with Honorius, who would consent to none of the terms of peace proposed by Alaric, even though the Senate implored him to do so; and at last, when a conference to which he had been summoned at Rimini proved fruitless, Alaric lost patience, and returned to lay siege to Rome once more [409]. But this time the Senate was quite willing to come to terms, without any reference to Honorius, and accepted his request that the Prœtorian Prefect Attalus should be raised to the purple as his puppet-Emperor. An embassy was sent to Honorius to acquaint him with the fact, and he, who had just signed away Spain, Gaul, and Britain to the usurper Constantine, cheerfully acquiesced in this new insult. But Attalus was a Greek, and in his heart despised the yellow-haired barbarians, so that Alaric found his puppet growing more and more unsatisfactory. At last, after a ten months’ reign, he summoned him to his camp at Rimini, and there formally degraded him in sight of the Gothic veterans whom he had slighted. The diadem and purple robe were sent to Honorius, and it seemed as though the last obstacle to a reconciliation had been removed. But with incredible folly Honorius still rejected all Alaric’s fairest offers, and nothing was left to the barbarian but to turn south once more and wreak his vengeance in grim earnest on the Eternal City.

He had not long to wait. Probably the Senate again tried negotiation, but this time in vain, and within a few days of his arrival his men found a weak spot at the Salarian Gate, and broke in by it in irresistible swarms [Aug. 24, 410]. They set on fire the Palace of Sallust near the gate and then spread over the city to plunder and kill. But the meagre accounts of the sack which have survived expressly tell us that no systematic massacre was organized and that Alaric gave strict orders to his men to respect the right of sanctuary in Christian churches. The basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul especially were soon filled with a panic-stricken crowd of refugees, who remained there in trembling safety during the three days’ sack that Alaric allowed his army. But over the rest of the city the Goths roamed unchecked, giving vent to all those native passions which had been so painfully repressed during the marchings and countermarchings of the last two years. Temples, palaces, and private houses were ransacked for their treasures, no doubt with a joyous accompaniment of killing and outrage which had been too long denied to these half-tamed Teutons. St. Augustine, who saw and conversed with many of the fugitives in Carthage, speaks of “so great a carnage that the bodies could not even be buried,” but on the whole the ecclesiastical writers — practically our sole authorities for the events of the sack — dwell more upon the mitigations of its horrors produced by the barbarians’ awe of Christianity than upon those horrors themselves. At any rate it seems clear that no very great destruction of buildings occurred, for the burning of the Palace of Sallust is the only specific case mentioned by any contemporary historian. Yet the mere fact of the fall of the sacred city was sufficient to produce the direst consternation throughout Christendom. A multitude of fugitives who had fled both before and after the siege spread themselves over all parts of the Mediterranean coast. St. Jerome in his cave at Bethlehem gave shelter and commiseration to a large band of exiles, once members of the proudest families in Rome, now wanderers reduced to beggary. The pagans vehemently declared that the catastrophe was due to the insults heaped upon the ancient gods, and their clamor became so loud that Augustine himself was moved to answer them in his great work of Christian apologetics, The City of God.

Meanwhile the authors of all this panic and upheaval marched leisurely south along the Appian Way, encumbered with a long train of treasure-laden wagons and a horde of new-made slaves. Alaric probably intended to cross by Sicily to Africa and chastise the Governor of that province, who had been withholding the supplies of corn from Rome, ever since the unlucky Attalus had been raised to the purple. But he advanced no farther than the toe of Italy. There fever seized him, and he died, and his warriors turned aside the waters of the stream Busento, and buried him in its stony bed. They killed the slaves who dug the grave, that no human lip might betray the secret of his burial-place, and the bones of Alaric still rest unknown, far from his home by the broad Danube, beneath the murmur of that slender southern stream.

Among the high-born captives whom the Goths carried with them from Rome was the princess Galla Placidia, daughter of the great Theodosius and halfsister of Honorius. This maiden of eighteen was beloved by Athaulf, Alaric’s brother-in-law, whom the Goths now proclaimed as King in place of the dead chieftain. Abandoning Alaric’s scheme of invading Africa, Athaulf remained for nearly two years in Italy, and then marched north [412] and across the Maritime Alps into Gallia Narbonensis, the future Provence. There he settled down with his nation and married his fair captive [414], thus uniting the noblest houses of “Gothia” and “Romania.” But within a year [415] they were wandering again, this time over the Pyrenees into Spain; their infant son Theodosius died, Athaulf was murdered, and his successor sent the widowed queen back with great pomp to the borders of Gaul, and there consigned her to the care of Rome. Behind her the Visigothic kingdom was soon firmly established on both sides of the Pyrenees, from the Loire to the Mediterranean, there to do good service when the time came against the invading hordes of the Huns.

After two years of widowhood Placidia married the general Constantius, Honorius’ latest favorite, and by him became the mother of the last and most worthless emperor of the Theodosian line, Valentinian III., and of that princess Honoria of whom the legend runs that her ring summoned Attila, the Scourge of God, to be her champion against Christendom.

Honorius dragged out his futile existence until 423, and after a brief usurpation on the part of one Joannes, Placidia was restored by the troops of the Eastern court, and reigned at Ravenna for five-and-twenty years in the name of her son Valentinian. Her memory pervades the beautiful dead city of the marshes, for she gathered to her court many holy men and many skillful workers in mosaic; and though much of her work has perished, here and there some gem-like fragment remains to give the traveler of today a glimpse of the piety and taste of that distant age. So important a part, indeed, does Ravenna play in the troublous century of which we are now speaking, that it may be well to try to reconstruct some image of the watery stronghold which Honorius first made the seat of Imperial government. In the first place Ravenna was then, as Venice is now, a city of lagoons, for at high tide the sea still flooded her streets, and at low tide they were filled with the muddy waters of the Po, one branch of which swept round the walls, while the other flowed through the city in a maze of canals. But the steady deposit of mud brought down by the sluggish river has in the course of centuries raised the whole level of that coast, so that now Ravenna stands high and dry, and the Adriatic can only be seen — six miles away — from the tops of the highest campalini. In Placidia’s day, too, the town was connected by a causeway with the port and arsenal of Classis, built by Augustus as the headquarters of the Adriatic fleet, and still a flourishing harbor-town as late as the ninth century. Go to it now, and you will find only the colossal sixth-century church of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, tenanted by one solitary custodian, while all around stretches the dead-flat marsh, green in spring with the rice-crops raised by the patient Romagnuols, and on the seaward side the view is closed by the black line of the Pineta. A melancholy place, fit to be connected in our minds with the passing away of an old order. For the days of the Empire of the West were numbered, and the reign of Galla Placidia sheds but a fitful light of peace and civilization over its closing years.

She died at Rome in 450, on the eve of the new storm. Her reign had been remarkable for two things — the conquest of Africa by the Vandals, a Teutonic people which in the general loosening of the nations had gradually pressed southward from its home by the Baltic across Gaul and the Pyrenees into Spain; and the rise to power of the general Aëtius, “the last of the Romans.” This man had gained his experience in long warfare against the Visigothic kingdom of Southern Gaul, but he was now confronted by a far greater danger, and had the wit to combine with his brave foes to ward it off. The Huns, that foul and savage people which inspired a greater sense of horror and disgust among their contemporaries than any other of the wandering nations, were on the move once more, and in their long march of 350 years from the north of China had now reached the gates of Roman Gaul. For seventy years they had been established in Dacia (the modern Roumania and Transylvania), having thence, as we have seen, driven out the Visigoths, and for eighteen they had been ruled by one of those born conquerors who, like Alexander, Akbar, Napoleon, appear from time to time and “haste stormfully across the astonished earth.” Attila made his power felt as far as the islands of the Baltic in the North, China in the East, Persia in the South-East, while towards the court of Constantinople under the feeble Theodosius II. his attitude was that of an insulting bully. Now, in 450, on the accession of a more manly Emperor at Byzantium, the soldier Marcian, Attila turned his thoughts towards an easier prey, the crumbling Empire of the West. Declaring as one of his pretexts for invasion that he was the betrothed of the princess Honoria, and as such claimed half the dominions of her brother Valentinian, he set his hordes in motion in the spring of 451, but for some obscure reason marched for the Rhine, not Italy, and burst with irresistible force into North-Eastern Gaul.

Unopposed he pressed on as far as Orleans, but there received his first check at the hands of Aëtius and the Visigoths; and it was during his retreat from this city that Aëtius and his allies — Visigoths, Franks, Armoricans, and Burgundians, came up with him in the Catalaunian Plain, between the Seine and the Aube, and there crippled him with so immense a slaughter that he was glad to retire in safety across the Rhine. He returned to his stronghold in Hungary for the winter, meditating schemes of revenge; the Goths marched south to their new capital, Toulouse; Aëtius to Italy.

With the spring of 452, Attila was again in motion, and this time he made for Italy. Marching by the road across the Julian Alps which had already served Theodosius and Alaric, he found his passage barred by the strong fortress of Aquileia, and was obliged to stop and lay siege to it. The garrison which Aëtius had placed there resisted bravely, but at last the Huns battered in the walls, burst into the trembling town, and destroyed it so completely that it was practically blotted out from the map of Italy. The same destruction was meted out to three more cities and probably many nameless villages along the Venetian coast; and it is no wonder that at the news of his approach the panic-stricken peasants fled in hot haste to that group of lagoon-guarded islands which was one day to be Venice. Attila passed on unopposed into Lombardy, marching along the foot of the Alps as far as Bergamo, and then down through Milan and Pavia to the Po, but there, strangely enough, he turned eastwards again, as though in doubt whether to press on to Rome or no. While in this state of indecision he was met on the banks of the Mincio by an illustrious embassy from Rome, headed by Bishop Leo — the first of those grand mediæ Popes with whose imposing figures we shall make a nearer acquaintance later on. Whether the barbarian was in truth awed by Leo’s saintly presence, whether there were rumors that Aëtius was bestirring himself in his rear, or whether the mysterious fate of Alaric filled his successor with a vague dread, the result of the interview was that Attila retired from Italy. And all who have visited the Stanze of Raphael in the Vatican will remember the famous legend which represents the defenders of the Holy See, St. Peter and St. Paul, appearing in the air with naked swords to ward off the barbarian from the Sacred City.

Thus Italy was saved from utter ruin, for in the next year Attila was cut off by an untimely death on the night of his nuptials with the damsel Ildico, and his empire immediately fell to pieces under the numerous sons whom he left to contest the sovereignty. As soon as the danger was passed away, the wretched Emperor Valentinian plucked up the courage to rid himself of the man whom he had only tolerated so long as he had need of him — Aëtius; he enticed him into his palace at Rome, and there murdered him with his own hand [454]. But Aëtius was soon avenged, for three months afterwards two soldiers of the Emperor’s guard, favorites of the dead general, stabbed Valentinian as he was watching the games in the Campus Martius, and not a hand was lifted to defend him. Worthless as he was, however, his death had a sensible effect in hastening the next catastrophe of Rome. Since the retreat of the Huns the most formidable disturbers of the Roman peace had been the Vandals, whose conquest of Africa under their King Gaiseric had been the chief event of Placidia’s reign. This very savage race was now let loose upon Rome by the folly of Valentinian’s successor, the elderly official Petronius Maximus, who insulted the dead Emperor’s widow Eudoxia by forcing her to marry him within a month of her husband’s death. In despair the proud Empress — herself a daughter of Theodosius II. — appealed to Gaiseric, and the astute Vandal needed no second summons. Just three months after the accession of Maximus the barbarian fleet arrived at Ostia [June, 455], and at the news the mob of Rome rose in wild fury, assaulted the Imperial palace, and tore the hapless Emperor limb from limb. Once more the defense of the city was undertaken by Pope Leo, but this time with only partial success. Gaiseric agreed that there should be no killing and no torturing of the captives to make them reveal their treasures, but whether these promises were kept or not, the Vandals certainly enjoyed a fourteen days’ pillage of the defenseless town, and loaded their galleys at leisure with the spoils which Alaric had left. They bore away with them to Carthage not only the Empress Eudoxia and her two daughters, but also the sacred vessels of the Temple of Jerusalem which Titus had brought in triumph to Rome, and a good half of the gilded copper tiles of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.

The period of twenty-one years between Gaiseric’s sack of Rome and the fall of the Western Empire is that to which posterity usually applies the name of the Phantom Emperors. It is an epithet that well suggests the mockery to which the Roman Empire had now sunk, though no doubt the full-blooded individuals to whom it is applied felt their own struggles to be hot and living enough. It is not our intention to enter into the details of their brief careers; but it may be well to state their names, their dates, and the manner in which they were severally driven from the stage. First, then, came the Gallo-Roman Avitus [August, 455-October, 456], made Emperor by the Visigoths and accepted by the Senate in the chaos which succeeded the retreat of Gaiseric; he was deposed after a reign of fourteen months by the “Patrician” Ricimer, a general of Suevo-Visigothic origin who had lately risen to the command of the forces. For sixteen years after the fall of Avitus, Ricimer wielded the supreme power in the State; a bold and unscrupulous soldier of fortune, playing only for his own hand, he was yet Rome’s sole bulwark against the Vandal, and never permitted while he lived another descent in force upon her coasts. He made and unmade successively three Emperors: (1) Majorian, soldier and lawgiver [457- 461], whose care for the harassed provincials sheds the one gleam of good government over this troubled epoch; he was however deposed and put to death at Ricimer’s order on his return from an unsuccessful expedition against the Vandals; (2) Severus, an absolute cipher, of whom it can only be said that he was made Emperor in November, 461, and died either naturally or by poison in 465; (3) Anthemius [467-472], a distinguished Byzantine general whom Ricimer accepted from the hands of the Eastern Emperor Leo in return for a solid contribution in ships and men towards a great expedition against the Vandals; he quarreled with Ricimer in 471, was besieged by him in Rome and put to death, July, 472. At the time of the siege Ricimer had already proclaimed a fourth Emperor — Olybrius, a Roman Senator who had married one of the daughters of the exiled Empress Eudoxia; but he did not live to destroy him, for he was himself carried off by a sudden illness but a month after he had slain Anthemius. Three more phantoms are still to pass before Italy will have learnt to acknowledge a barbarian ruler under his own name, without the expensive fiction of an Emperor to cover his actions.

On the death of Olybrius, two months after that of his patron, a long delay occurred before the Byzantine court again decided to send its nominee, one Julius Nepos, to assume the government of the West. In the interval, the Burgundian auxiliaries, headed by a nephew of Ricimer, had raised their puppet, a certain Glycerius, to the throne; but when Nepos landed at the port of Rome in the spring of 474 the poor puppet willingly submitted to be consecrated with the episcopal oil and sent to Illyricum as Bishop of Salona. His successor reigned but fourteen’ months, after which he too fell a victim to the commander of his troops, the “Patrician” Orestes, and was forced to fly from Ravenna to that very city of Salona to which he had consigned his predecessor. There he lived on for five years in a state of precarious royalty, while the last act in the drama of the Western Empire was being performed across the Adriatic.

Orestes, a man of some courage and ability, who in the course of a varied career had once been Attila’s Secretary of State, kept the allegiance of his turbulent troops — the real masters of Italy — for just a year from the flight of Nepos, and caused them to acclaim as Emperor his young son, Romulus. They nicknamed him Augustulus, and so it happens that the handsome boy who closed the long line of Roman Emperors united in himself the names of the first King and of the first Emperor of Rome. The immediate cause of his downfall was a demand on the part of the troops to have one third of the land of Italy made over to them — a demand which Orestes flatly refused. They mutinied against him, choosing for their chief a young barbarian adventurer named Odovacar; besieged him in Pavia, captured the town, and dispatched the luckless Patrician [Aug., 476]. Romulus was found cowering at Ravenna, but the conqueror spared his life and assigned to him the beautiful villa reared long ago by Lucullus on the Bay of Naples, with a liberal allowance for his youthful needs. One thing only was required of him: to signify his abdication to the Senate, and to authorize that body to send the Imperial insignia to Constantinople, with a humble message to the Emperor Zeno stating that in future one Emperor would be sufficient both for East and West.



REIGN OF ODOVACAR — INVASION of the Ostrogoths under Theodoric — The Ostrogothic Settlement — Theodoric’s Visit to Rome — Cassiodorus — Boëthius — Execution of Boëthius and Symmachus — Death of Theodoric — Reign and Fall of Amalasuntha — War between the Ostrogoths and Justinian — Belisarius — The Gothic Siege of Rome — Their Retreat — Reign of Totila — Campaign of Narses — Extinction of the Gothic Kingdom.

THE tall barbarian who had thus risen with little trouble to be ruler in Italy was sprung from one of the lesser Teutonic tribes which had owned the sway of Attila, and had then won their freedom at his death. The son of a Scyrian chief named Edécon, Odovacar lives in history as the first man who had the courage to brush away the fiction of a Western Empire, while keeping tight hold on the substance of Imperial authority. He had called himself king even before the murder of Orestes, but being anxious to stand well with Byzantium he sent the above-mentioned embassy to the Emperor Zeno, together with a request that the latter would bestow on him the title of Patrician. Zeno had no wish to quarrel with the leader of so many seasoned warriors, but with true Byzantine trickery he declared that such a title was not his to give while the rightful Emperor of the West, Julius Nepos, still lived; and at the same time addressed the letter in which he stated this opinion “to the Patrician Odovacar.” More than this shadowy recognition Odovacar never received, but his relations with Byzantium were not unfriendly for the first ten years of his reign, since he refrained from all aggressive acts, and Zeno’s vanity had no doubt been flattered by the gift of the Imperial insignia.

Within his new kingdom Odovacar’s first action was to make his promised grant to the troops of one third of the land of Italy. This was in reality but an extension of the existing right of the soldiers to occupy one third of the houses in which they were quartered; but it was naturally not carried out without a great deal of discontent on the part of the ousted proprietors — a discontent which bore evil fruit for Odovacar in his time of need. For the rest, he upheld all the elaborate machinery of Roman government, and made use of certain excellent ministers, such as Cassiodorus senior, Pelagius, and Liberius; he ruled in fact as one of the later Emperors might have wished to rule — by the arms of barbarians over a peaceful and tax-paying land. Yet he is branded as “tyrannus” by all Roman writers; unwelcomed by the Italian people, unacknowledged by the Eastern Emperor, his throne was secure only so long as Byzantium had not the strength or the opportunity to crush him; and that breathing space did not even last his lifetime.

For after the Visigoths and the Vandals, it was now the turn of the next great Teutonic nation, the Ostrogoths, to descend upon Italy, and to found there a kingdom whose splendor and whose fall have made it one of the grand tragedies of history. Long subject to the all-conquering Huns, the Ostrogoths had actually fought against their Visigothic brethren at the battle of the Catalaunian Plain, but on the break-up of Attila’s empire they had won for themselves the region of Pannonia, between Danube and Save, and under their kings of the god-descended “Amal” lineage had proved troublesome neighbors enough to the Empire of the East. At last, after one of their fierce raids across the Save, the Emperor Leo agreed to pay them all their arrears of tribute on condition that the sole heir of their kingship, a boy of seven named Theodoric, should be sent as hostage to Constantinople [461]. Thus for ten years the future King lived at the court of Byzantium, much favored by the Emperor, learning the value of civilization and its ways, but yet too true a Goth to waste his time in bookish studies. Years afterwards, when he had come into his kingdom, he used to trace his signature through a gold plate perforated with the letters THEO, and there is no evidence that he ever knew how to read.

He returned home in 471, became sole king of the Goths three years later, transferred his people’s quarters to the rich land at the mouth of the Danube [474], and lived for fourteen years on terms of uneasy neighborhood with Byzantium — now in high favor at court, now burning and harrying up to the very gates of Constantinople. Zeno bestowed on him the titles of Patrician and Consul, and at last, in 488, the much harassed Emperor bethought him of the old expedient of setting one barbarian to crush another. “He exhorted Theodoric,” says Procopius, “to march to Italy, and, coming to grips with Odovacar, to win the western kingdom for himself and the Goths.” Theodoric closed with the offer, set forth in the late autumn of 488 with his whole nation, — amounting perhaps to 250,000 souls, — beat the Gepidae on the way in his own old lair between Drave and Save, and in August, 489, descended on the Isonzo, the frontier of Italy, and there found Odovacar and his host drawn up to dispute the passage.