What caused the fall of the Roman Empire? The first reply that occurs to us is this: That the Romans were corrupt and enfeebled by corruption; the Barbarians, while rougher, were also stronger and less corrupt. When the latter had once crossed the Rhine and the Danube, their ultimate victory was assured; the Empire was bound to fall, new social conditions were bound to arise. But what had corrupted and weakened a people that had been for so many centuries a model of discipline, virtue, and strength - a people that had conquered the world? Its corruption was a consequence, not a cause, and was the first symptom of the decline that had already begun. The Empire that Livy had seen bending beneath the burden of its own greatness could not last for ever...
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Liczba stron: 701
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Thank you for reading. If you enjoy this book, please leave a review.
All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.
Copyright © 2016 by Pasquale Villari
Published by Jovian Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
BOOK I. FROM THE DECLINE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE TO ODOVACAR
BOOK II.GOTHS AND BYZANTINES
BOOK III.THE LONGOBARDS
BOOK IV.THE FRANKS AND THE FALL OF THE LONGOBARD KINGDOM
THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE
What caused the fall of the Roman Empire? The first reply that occurs to us is this: That the Romans were corrupt and enfeebled by corruption; the Barbarians, while rougher, were also stronger and less corrupt. When the latter had once crossed the Rhine and the Danube, their ultimate victory was assured; the Empire was bound to fall, new social conditions were bound to arise. But what had corrupted and weakened a people that had been for so many centuries a model of discipline, virtue, and strength—a people that had conquered the world? Its corruption was a consequence, not a cause, and was the first symptom of the decline that had already begun. The Empire that Livy had seen bending beneath the burden of its own greatness could not last for ever.
The Empire had brought into being that moral and civil unity of the ancient world which was a necessary preliminary towards the formation of nationalities. Nationalities, in fact, can neither live nor thrive unless so closely inter-related as to feel themselves members of the same family. But their rise put an end to the existence of that ancient world which recognised the absolute predominance of one civilisation alone, outside of which were only barbarians. Therefore while, on the one hand, and seen from afar, the fall of the Empire may appear an extraordinary, an unexpected event; on the other we are positively moved to amazement by the length of its duration. In fact, under one or another form, we witness its posthumous survival throughout the Middle Ages. Later still, we see vain attempts made to restore it to life, first by Charles V. and then by Napoleon Buonaparte. The truth is that the unity of Europe and the diversity of the nations within its borders are two equally undeniable facts of which the vicissitudes of modern history are the results.
Rome was a city—a commune that began by conquering and assimilating all neighbouring populations, and conquering Italy by their means, and, with Italy, in like manner mastered nearly the whole of the then known world. Naturally, however, the rule of one city over so vast a territory, over such diverse races, all subject to the same government, the same laws, and the same official language, encountered greater difficulties as it extended more widely. The assimilation of the Roman populations had proved comparatively easy, but Africa, Spain, Rhoetia, and Gaul opposed an increasingly obstinate resistance. Then fresh obstacles had to be faced in Asia Minor and in Greece, where the Romans encountered, for the first time, a higher civilisation than their own. After conquering the country by force of arms, they were conquered in their turn by the culture of Greece, and were obliged to fuse their own with it in order to spread both through the world. Thus, by the time the Empire reached to the Rhine and the Danube, it no longer possessed any real kernel of unity corresponding with its outer shell. The Empire was neither a state nor a nation; it was a compound of different races, held together by force and subject to the same civilisation. Beyond its frontiers stretched a very vast country, inhabited by militant barbaric tribes, who were pressing; to the front with the terrible rush of a river in flood.
Roman society was deeply shaken by this state of things. First of all, the constitution of the army was fundamentally changed. But the army was the chief engine of conquest, chief basis of the Empire. Formerly, as Gibbon justly observed, the armies of the Republic consisted of owners and cultivators of the soil, who sat in public councils, voted the laws, and defended Rome by force of arms. The welfare of their country was bound up in their own welfare. A battle won was their fortune, a battle lost their personal ruin. All material and moral interests, consecrated by religion, combined to make them heroic soldiers and citizens, who, when war was over, returned quietly and modestly to their fields. Who could suppose that the inhabitants of Rhoetia, Spain, and the African coast would fight with the same faith and ardour in defence of a power to which they were often alien and hostile?
These armies, sent to guard distant and ever-extended frontiers exposed to continual attack, necessarily became standing armies. The men of whom they were composed had been called away from their homes and their land, if they had any. This often remained untilled, while the owners were forced to serve in foreign parts as long as their strength lasted. Accordingly, to meet the pressing need and growing difficulty of obtaining fresh recruits, it was necessary to tempt them to take service by offering higher pay and additional privileges. Hence the custom of allowing even slaves to be enrolled, and especially barbarian slaves, who speedily formed the bulk of the Roman legions. In this manner war was reduced to a trade, and the strength of the army consisted in its discipline rather than its patriotism. Yet such was the force of its discipline, such the magic effect of the sacred names of Rome and the Empire on the minds of men, that even from all those incongruous elements was welded the formidable host that continued to do wonders for several centuries longer.
The maintenance of this huge army in distant parts was an enormous expense. Consequently the country was more and more heavily taxed. Little by little the chief mission of the Curia and Decurions of the communes became that of squeezing more coin from the already impoverished people. As those magistrates were held responsible for the contributions demanded, even when the inhabitants were unable to pay them, official posts were no longer positions of honour to be eagerly sought, but burdens which every one tried to shirk, even by flight into voluntary exile. Thus private interest, formerly identical with the public good, was now opposed to it, which in all states of society is an unfailing symptom of moral decadence and weakness.
Continual wars led to continual increase in the number of slaves. The leaders of armies as well as purveyors and governors of provinces amassed enormous fortunes. Wealthy men became always richer, poor men more impoverished and crushed down by usury. The latter were usually reduced to becoming dependants of rich landowners as tenants more or less attached to the soil, and paying rent for land that had been formerly their own property. This gave rise to a genuine social-agrarian question that became a considerable factor in promoting civil war and general decadence. The middle class being destroyed, there arose a class holding large estates—the so-called latifundia—men owning many tens of thousands of slaves, and possessing estates from thirty to forty square miles in extent—almost whole provinces, in short. A latifundium, or estate of this size, naturally tends to increase, by absorbing neighbouring bits of land and, establishing the system of cultivation on a large scale, also quickly exhausts the soil and diminishes its produce. Thus Italy could no longer feed either her inhabitants or her armies, for even the grain-supply from Sicily had decreased. Accordingly the country began to depend on Africa for its food stuffs, and ran the risk of starving for lack of help from that quarter.
Throughout the vast territories of the Empire numerous cities were scattered, many of which were military or civilian colonies. These cities were organised on the pattern of the capital, having their own assemblies, magistrates, schools, baths and temples, aqueducts, barracks, and amphitheatres. They spread in a thousand different directions, from the central point—the Roman Forum—to the extreme limits of the Empire. Everywhere—and never more than five or six miles apart—were stations with a sufficient number of horses to maintain rapid communication with every part of the Empire. Country houses and farms were thinly sprinkled about the almost deserted rural districts, which were cultivated by slaves and tenants (both classes being nearly on the same footing), who went back to their cities and farmhouses at night. Trade, which was very limited, was also in the hands of slaves, of whom there was a multitude. Gibbon states that in Claudius’s reign the population of the Empire amounted to 120,000,000, of whom 60,000,000 were slaves. But although this estimate is open to doubt, it is an undeniable fact that revolts of the slaves more than once brought the Empire to the verge of destruction.
An absolute sovereign was at the head of this complicated social fabric, and under him the army and the great landowners exercised a tyrannous rule. Before long, the army claimed the right of making, unmaking or, at least, of approving the Emperors, and when split into parties would proclaim several different men at the same time, thereby causing very serious, and often bloody, conflicts. The great landowners held the highest offices of the State, as by hereditary right, and were the chiefs of an enormous bureaucracy. They lived in the cities, together with a mob of slothful paupers, who could only be prevented from rioting and kept in good temper by abundant doles of corn, and plenty of public games and entertainments: panem et cir censes. When we also remember that in this vast, divided, and disorganised Empire, the same barbarian tribes who were actually threatening its frontiers, already supplied the majority of its soldiers and slaves, we shall easily understand that no power on earth could now avail to arrest the impending catastrophe.
Besides all these factors—civil, military, and economic—of division and weakness, another and by no means inconsiderable one, was furnished by the religious question. Christianity was advancing victoriously from the East, announcing the advent of a new revelation, a new morality. It is true that its theology was the result of a mixture of Greek philosophy engrafted on the Gospel; but it aimed at the destruction of Paganism, which was the real basis of the Empire. Monotheism was the negation of polytheism; revelation was not in agreement with the old philosophy. Christianity condemned all violence and force, declared all men and all nations to be equal before God, whereas it was by violence and force that the Empire had subjected all nations to Rome. Christianity, likewise, made the earthly city, the work of men’s hands, subject to the heavenly city, the work of God. For Christianity, the social life of this world was of no account, save as a preparation for the life beyond the tomb. Everything constituting the grandeur of Rome, i.e., the social fabric, patriotism and glory, the very aim of its existence, and all that it held most dear, were now reduced to nullity. Thus the question was not merely that of substituting one religion for another, but of demolishing the fundamental principles of philosophy, of literature, of all civilisation, of a whole moral world, to erect others in their place. It may be easily imagined what profound consternation this caused in Rome, what cruel wounds it inflicted! Thus we can understand the ferocious persecutions which ensued, and why the most ferocious of all was ordered by the best and most conscientious Emperors. But the blood of martyrs seemed to nourish the new plant, and only served to increase the luxuriance of its growth. All who were oppressed turned with ardour to the new faith which, profiting by old Roman institutions, founded a universal Church that rapidly gained possession of every class of society. It overthrew pagan altars to erect others in their place; it transformed ancient temples; it founded charitable institutions, hospitals, and schools, which were practically strongholds destined to aid in destroying the old order of things. The fall of the Empire was no terror to Christians, seeing that it implied the fall of Paganism. Even the irruption of barbarians—for the most part already converted to the faith—was regarded by them as providential, since it was destined for the chastisement of those who still clung to “the false, lying gods,” and kept open the doors of the temple of Janus.
That all this should reduce morality to chaos, that men of the old order should abandon themselves to scepticism, to despair, or even to the worst and most obscene forms of vice, cannot cause surprise. Nevertheless, the Empire must still have had enormous vitality, seeing that it continued to exist for several centuries longer, steadily repulsing the repeated attacks of powerful barbarian hordes. We have proofs of its mental, as well as its material, vitality in the diffusion and importance throughout the Empire of the Stoic philosophy that, although imported from Greece, practically acquired a special character in Rome by seeking to assume the guidance of human life, and well-nigh took the place of religion. Throughout the world’s history it would be hard to find any nobler, more heroic, yet at the same time more hopeless attempt than this of the Stoics. In the midst of an arbitrary conglomeration of so many different peoples, the forced fusion and confusion of so many creeds and so many different forms of the Paganism that was everywhere tottering to its fall, they sought to revive the old religion and save it from Christianity’s victorious attacks, by inculcating the conception and worship of the purest, most disinterested virtue. Renouncing all hope of a future life, all hope of reward, either here on earth or hereafter, despising posthumous glory, and careless of contemporary opinion, they inculcated virtue as an end in itself; and virtue as the sole purpose of life, its own self-contained reward, flowed freely and irresistibly from the heart of man. The serene tranquillity with which the Stoics faced death in the cause of justice was at one time so contagious that they appeared to be creating a new race of heroes, destined to revive the glories of ancient Rome. Unfortunately, it was merely a philosophic experiment, only to be achieved by a few chosen spirits. There was no hope that it could penetrate to the masses, or have the same elevating effect upon them as Christianity, which appealed to all men, and took hold of all. It was a brief flash of lightning, as it were, illuminating the Empire with a fugitive radiance, and this flash seemed once more repeated by the spread of neo-Platonism, as taught by Porphyry and Plotinus.
Marcus Aurelius was the living and most splendid personification of the Stoic creed, which reigned with him on the Imperial throne. Indifferent to glory, contemptuous of all material and visible grandeur, a friend of virtue and justice, he was opposed to war. But when the borders of the Empire were threatened by the Marcomans, who crossed the Danube in junction with other tribes, he took command of the army, and, fighting to the death with the skill of a trained general, finally repulsed and routed the foe. Even while the conflict was going on he did not neglect his philosophic meditations, for on retiring to his tent at night, he continued to write the Thoughts which have immortalised his name, “No one,” says Renan, “has ever written with equal simplicity, and so entirely for his own use, desiring no witness save God. His pure morality, free from every tie of dogma or system, rose to a height that has never been surpassed. His book—the most purely human ever written—has an undying youth,” Nor was he the last of the really great Emperors. From the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus (96-180 a.d.), we find in Nerva, Trajan, and the two Antonines, a series of sovereigns possessed of fitting justice, wisdom, and virtue for the government of the world. The republican Machiavelli, the bitter enemy of Caesar and ardent eulogist of Brutus, regarded that period of the Empire with the most enthusiastic admiration. Gibbon tells us that were he asked to state at what time during the world’s history mankind had been happiest, he could point to no other than that very period. Nevertheless, even while carefully slurring over the cruel persecutions dealt to Christians by some of the Emperors in question, he is yet obliged to add that, in those times, all depended on the will of the autocrat and the army. In fact, before and after that period, some extremely bad Emperors occupied the throne. Then the disorganising forces which could only He dormant for a short space, quickly burst forth, bringing to the surface all the social decomposition and corruption, which could be no longer arrested, and which was inevitably bound to open the road to the barbarians.
The sudden attack delivered by the Cimbri (114 b.c.), their unexpectedly furious advance and repeated success, opened the Romans’ eyes for the first time to the peril threatening them from Germany. It is true that C. Marius had completely routed the foe in two great battles (102 and 101 b.c.), so that for about fifty years the Roman frontiers were left in peace. But even Julius Caesar, after winning many victories, was faced by a Germanic host led by Ariovistus, which, passing the Rhine, poured into Gaul, and fought its way on with desperate valour. Caesar drove back this horde, and pursued it across the river. There, however, he found a new world, as it were: a numerous, warlike, and semi-nomad population; a state of society entirely different from that of Rome; a very severe climate; a land of bogs and forests, incapable of affording supplies and stubbornly opposing the advance of the Roman army. His keen observation and remarkably practical mind made him recognise at once that it was hopeless to think of permanently conquering, much less Romanising, those northern tribes, and accordingly he again retreated across the Rhine.
But when this valiant chief was dead the Romans forgot to imitate his caution. They once more crossed the Rhine, penetrated into the heart of Germany, and imported there their own laws, taxes, and administrative system. Consequently there was a formidable insurrection, headed by Arminius, which annihilated an army composed of three legions. The Consul Varus and his principal officers died by their own hands to avoid outliving such disaster and disgrace (9 a.d.). Arminius, and also his brother, had been trained in the Roman army, had fought bravely in its ranks, and had been loaded with honours. Suddenly, however, he returned to his own people, assumed the leadership of the revolt, and, feigning friendship with his former comrades in arms, lured them into an ambuscade, and then fell upon them with the utmost ferocity. His Roman prisoners were mutilated, slaughtered, and hung. The eyes and tongues of many were torn out, and all were treated with the most cruel insult. The dead body of Varus was exhumed and ignominiously treated. Even Marbodius, the chief of the Marcomanni, a foe of Arminius, and who had tried to found a kingdom with institutions copied from the Romans by whom he had been trained, and of whom he feigned to be a faithful ally, became their declared enemy in the hour of peril. Hence it was clear that the Germanic tribes regarded the Romans with an instinctive and inextinguishable hatred, that neither training nor military discipline could in any way abate. Germanicus was sent to avenge Varus’s defeat, but this brave leader’s victories were won at a heavy cost. In the climate, the forests, morasses, and, above all, in the persistent hostility of the inhabitants, he found ever-growing obstacles. Also, a tremendous storm destroyed a considerable portion of his force during his retreat towards the sea-coast.
In the closing years of his life Augustus became convinced that the Empire should not be pushed beyond the Rhine or the Danube, should renounce all idea of fresh conquests, and gave advice to that effect in his will. In fact, a line of fortifications was erected on the bank of either river, and, generally speaking, the Empire adhered to this wise course. Trajan alone, intoxicated by visions of glory, crossed over the Danube, and made a victorious advance. And although later on he, too, saw the wisdom of prudence and retraced his steps, Dacia, on the farther side of the river, still remained a Roman province, although this was afterwards seen to be a serious mistake. In fact the easily fortified line for the defence of the Danube was left neglected, inasmuch as it no longer marked the Imperial frontiers, which were now pushed on into eastern Dacia where it was less easy to hold them securely. Nevertheless, for about two hundred and fifty years after the defeat of Varus all barbarian attacks were successfully repulsed. Indeed, the defence of the frontiers became the Empire’s constant occupation, almost its chief raison d’etre.
Who were these barbarians, and what was the object of their persistently renewed attacks? As it is generally admitted, they once inhabited Asia, together with the tribes who later became Greeks and Romans, and in junction with them formed part of what is known in modern parlance as the Aryan family. After a period of existence in common they divided, and migrated in different directions. Those who pushed on to Greece and Italy made rapid progress owing to the milder climate, more fertile soil, more fortunate geographical position, and also to the facility of intercourse with Phoenicians and Egyptians. But those who settled in Germany were deprived of these advantages, and living isolated from all contact with civilised nations in a sterile land, where the climate was severe, had developed in the course of many centuries a strange form of society which, to Roman eyes, seemed that of mere savages. Yet these barbarian tribes were not savages, and in altered conditions of life, as they proved on being brought into touch with civilisation, were capable of rapid improvement.
Julius Caesar was the first to give exact particulars concerning these northern tribes. He found them, so he tells us, leading a semi-nomadic life, tilling the ground in the roughest way. They lived by fishing, hunting, and, above all, by the produce of their herds, which formed their chief care. Their usual diet consisted of meat, cheese, and milk. They worshipped the sun and moon, fire, the forces of nature, all things they could see, and that benefited them. With gross superstitions and cruel customs, they had as yet no order of priesthood. But what seemed to him most remarkable of all was the fact that these nomadic tribes had no individual ownership of the soil, which was always the collective property of villages, or rather of clans, Cognationes, according to his term, or Sippen as they are called by the Germans. Wherever these wandering clans came to a halt their magistrates, or chiefs, divided the occupied ground among them. After one year they were ordered to move elsewhere, and again share the ground in the same manner. Their dwellings consisted of wooden and wicker huts, which could be easily pulled to pieces and carried away as portable property on carts, together with their household gear, their old folks and children. This mode of life was an admirable training for war. Hunting, raiding, and attacking their neighbours to gain fresh land were the continual and necessary employments of a people whose primitive agriculture speedily exhausted the soil. Caesar was much surprised by the spectacle of a mode of life so utterly different from that of the Romans, and asked the barbarians the reason of it. The explanation he received was that they lived in that way for fear lest a more settled cultivation of the soil should make them lose the habit of fighting, and lest dwelling in better and more solidly built houses should unfit them to support heat and cold. Likewise, too, lest inequality of fortune and lust of gain should enrich the powerful and impoverish the weak, they endeavoured to avoid the cupidity that gives rise to factions and civil wars, so that the populace, noting that their own fields were equal to those of their leaders, should be satisfied with the justice awarded them. It is hard to believe that the barbarians should have expressed themselves exactly in this style. But doubtless it expressed more or less the views taken by all in those days when comparing the barbarian order of life with that of Rome.
The same idea predominates even more clearly in the “Germania” of Tacitus, our principal authority for a somewhat closer knowledge of the northern tribes. The particulars Caesar gives us, although few and fragmentary, are clear, precise, and drawn from his own observation and experience. On the other hand, Tacitus gives us a short but thorough treatise on the country, although we have no assurance that he had ever been there. In any case he can have seen only a small portion of it, and most of his information was acquired second-hand, either from Caesar, the “summus auctor,” as he styles him, or from others who had crossed the Rhine. In addition to this, his “Germania” has a set purpose, and its moral and political tendency is very marked. He had a fixed idea (in which he resembled eighteenth-century writers) that primitive peoples, being nearer to man’s natural state, are, therefore, even as the ancient Romans, braver, purer, and more honest than races who had been corrupted, like the Romans of his time, by a refined and artificial civilisation. Burning with patriotic ardour, and inspired by an almost prophetic sense of the ruin with which the Empire was threatened, he sought to obviate the peril by reconverting his countrymen to their former rectitude. Hence his enthusiastic description of the barbarian customs, his lofty idealisation of the barbarian mode of life. Undeniably he is a great historian, a great thinker; but, unlike Caesar, who is always soberly clear and precise, Tacitus is also a mannerist, whose style, for all its vigour, is often so obscure as to admit of many and diverse interpretations. Accordingly, his work has been the subject of infinite disputes, especially when, as often occurs, it does not quite accord with that of Caesar, Nevertheless, such divergence may be very easily explained. Tacitus wrote a hundred and fifty years after Caesar, and by that time Germany was considerably changed. During the intervening period, the barbarians had been long in contact with the Romans, and the passage of the Danube and Rhine had been closed to them exactly when other tribes perhaps were pressing against them from the east. Therefore the semi-nomadic life they had led in Caesar’s time was fast becoming impossible for them, and compelled them to settle more or less permanently on the lands they had seized.
However this may be, even Tacitus describes the inhabitants of Germany as living in a state of barbarism, totally illiterate, knowing so little of metals as scarcely to use them even for weapons, and generally ignorant of money, although certain border tribes had learnt the convenience of it from the Romans. Mainly employed, like their forefathers, in hunting and fighting, all household duties and tillage of the soil was left as much as possible to their old folks and women. Nevertheless, the produce of their flocks and herds was their chief sustenance. They grew wheat, and extracted a beverage from it that took the place of wine. They were temperate in everything save drink and play, no longer wore solely skins of beasts, but also woollen robes. Their ancient shadowy divinities were now endued with personality, and Tacitus tries to establish their resemblance with the gods of Rome. Their Tius (the Vedic Dyaus), supreme god of the clear sky, also become, from the bellicose nature or the people, the god of war, is confused by him with Mars, and consequently placed in the second rank, while he assigns the highest position to Wustan (the Odin of the Edda), the god of air and storm, and names him Mercury. Donar, Wustan’s son, the god of thunder and lightning, and endued with prodigious strength (the Norse Thor), is sometimes confused with Hercules, at other times with Jove. These and the few other divinities have human passions, fight among themselves and take part in human disputes. There were also numbers of spirits or demons haunting the earth, air, and water, the forests and mountains. A priestly order, non-existent in Caesar’s day, had now been established. Even human sacrifices were offered by the barbarians to propitiate their gods. Hence it is impossible to give credence to what Tacitus presently states, i.e., that they built no temples to their gods, almost as though unwilling to profane them by a material form of worship, but spiritually adored them in the forests where these invisible divinities were ever present.
As we have already said, these barbarian tribes now abode somewhat permanently in the tracts they occupied; but were still without cities, which they regarded as prisons in which “even the fiercest beasts would grow weak.” Their dwellings were no longer movable huts of wood alone, but the use of bricks and mortar was still unknown. The houses, as in Swiss, Tirolese, and German villages at the present time, stood detached from one another, on small plots of cultivated ground, also owned by the inmates of the dwelling. This may be noted as a first step towards private possession of fixed estate. Land, nevertheless, was still the collective property of the now almost permanent village. The tribe no longer changed ground every year, but only when migration became a necessity, either because the soil was too far exhausted to provide for the population, or because some mishap in war obliged the tribe to seek refuge elsewhere. But within the territory held by the village, or “mark,” as it is sometimes called, there was a continual rotation of occupancy. Tacitus has something to say at one point regarding the mode of dividing the occupied ground, the mutation of crops, and the interchange of land among the families who cultivated it; but the passage is excessively obscure, and has been interpreted in no less than six different ways. The confusion of all these contradictory renderings has been also much increased by the efforts to discover not only what the writer intended to say, but also various points on which he was silent and possibly knew nothing.
After stating that the barbarians were ignorant of the practice of usury that had wrought so much evil among the Romans, Tacitus goes on to say that “the lands are occupied by all, according to the number of the cultivators among whom they are divided; this mode of division being simplified by the vast extent of the occupied tract. Every year the tilled fields are changed, and always some portion is left unused (probably that reserved for grazing). As they (the inhabitants) are not confined to narrow limits, they take no trouble to promote the fertility of the soil. They are content to grow corn alone, have no orchards, no artificially irrigated pastures, no gardens.”
Accordingly, the barbarian village was no longer so mobile as in Caesar’s time; but within its limits there was perpetual change, for no one cultivated the same field for more than twelve months. Such part of the ground as was turned into pasture was always for the general use, since the collective ownership of the land was still maintained. Tacitus gives no further particulars, and it were useless to seek for more. But a clearer idea may be obtained of the state of things he describes by glancing at the constitution of the Teutonic Mark at a much later period, in the Middle Ages, The latter state of things was undoubtedly different from that of Tacitus’s time, but nevertheless had been slowly developed from it by natural evolution, and therefore retained some evident traces of its origin. Part of the land was occupied by houses scattered among the fields, with gardens about them as described by Tacitus. Another part was reserved for a common pasture ground. Lastly, a third portion was cultivated according to very minute and fixed rules, such as would have been impracticable at the early period of which we are writing. This third portion was distributed among the various heads of families, who were bound to work their respective fields in such wise that a third of them should be left fallow each year, so that at the end of three years every part should have had its due term of rest. Although in course of time these fields came to be assigned to the same families for increasingly long terms, yet the shares of ground converted into pasture were always for the public use, thus recording the ancient origin of the still existent rule of holding property in common. This state of things, if not exactly that described by Tacitus, was evidently derived from it, and helps us to understand it more clearly.
These barbarians, to whom cities were unknown, were even more ignorant of the meaning of a State. Both Caesar and Tacitus found them divided into many different peoples, every one of which was arranged and subdivided into what those writers named in Latin style the Vicus, Pagus, and Civitas. The Vicus, or village, was a most elementary and vague form of association, based upon the ties of blood forming clanships (Cognationes, Sippen, Sippschaften), with which they were often confused. Several Vici conjoined formed the Pagus, in German, the Gau, resembling a Swiss canton, forming the strongest nucleus and almost the organic unit of barbarian society. Several Pagi in union constituted the Civitas, the people or race, as some say, the chief barbarian social entity, which, in Caesar’s time, seems to have been far weaker than in that of Tacitus.
Barbarian society was constituted on an entirely military basis, so that populus and exercitus, freeman and man-at-arms, meant one and the same thing. Here, one might say, we already find the first germ of what was to develope, centuries later, into the compulsory military service, and district organisation of the German army. In those early days, the army was formed on the decimal system into hundreds or centuries of villagers recruited and organised in the Pagi, and united by the bonds of kindred, under the command of the heads of either their villages or their clans, since even in such matters the ties of blood were always held predominant. Consequently, several modern writers have given the name of Hundred or Hundertschaft to the Pagus, or Gau. But in fact the Gau varied very much in extent, being sometimes almost the size of a Civitas, when, naturally, the centuries being formed in smaller centres, there was a tendency to attribute the title of Hundreds to the villages themselves and confound the latter with their trained bands. This has given rise to endless controversies. Yet the civil and military organisations, although so closely connected, could not be then, and indeed never had been, identical. Hence, were it even absolutely proved that the century was organised solely in the Vicus, or solely in the Pagus, that would by no means imply that the century and the Vicus or Pagus should be confused with each other. It should also be noted that in spite of the great similarity in those days of the numerous Germanic tribes and in the general character of their civil and military systems, there was always much variety as to details between different localities and different tribes. Only an exact knowledge of those details such as we still lack and, perhaps, may never obtain, could enable us precisely to define and determine the general character of a state of things that was so entirely different from our own, and therefore must remain, at least on some points, uncertain and obscure to us.
The Germanic village was under the rule of the Majoresnatu, i.e., of the heads of families or clans, who on all serious matters consulted the people, of whom they took command in time of war. The Gau was governed by one or several Principes, who were also styled Magistratus, and sometimes Reges, by the Roman writers. They were chosen from the leading families of the different villages, since even among the Germans there was a class of nobles and a class of slaves. The first was composed either of the oldest families who had formed the first nucleus of the village and gathered other families about them, or individuals who had won special distinction in the field. Slavery was comparatively mild; every slave receiving an arable field from his master, and paying rent for it in produce or cattle. Subordinate to the Principes were the village headmen, who constituted a species of Privy Council and decided on all minor affairs. On graver matters, above all as to making war, the advice of the people was always asked. At certain fixed periods of the year both ordinary and special assemblies were convened. In time of peace the Principes administered justice in the Gau and the village; during war they commanded the army. In Caesar’s day they seemed to exercise religious functions also, but these had disappeared in that of Tacitus, when a sacerdotal order, hitherto unknown, had come into existence.
As we have previously remarked, the Civitas seems to have been originally constituted in a very defective manner. In fact, Caesar declares that in times of peace he found it to have no civil government (in pace nullus est communis magistratus). For the council of the Civitas (Consilium Civitatis), to which Tacitus attributed so much importance, is so rarely mentioned by him as to make us doubt whether it were really a vital element of the Germanic society of his time. Therefore the Gau or Pagus had greater independence in Cesar’s day; could undertake forays on its own account, without paying much heed to the wishes or prohibitions of the Civitas, from which indeed it sometimes separated outright in order to join another Gau. The Principes, at the head of every Civitas formed a species of Senate, which decided on minor matters, and discussed the preliminaries or weightier points which had to be submitted to the popular assembly, who signified approval by clashing of swords, and disapproval by tumultuous cries. This general assembly held its ordinary meetings either at the new or full moon, and its special meetings at irregular intervals as necessity imposed. The Principes were elected by it, and there is reason to believe that the function consisted in confirming the election of those previously proposed by the Pagi. The same assembly conferred the right to bear arms on youths who had attained the legal age, which, as Tacitus expresses it, was the toga virilis, or first honour, conferring on them the right of having a share in the republic, or as we should put it, in “public affairs.”
The government of the Civitas appears to have been usually carried on in a republican manner, although on many occasions its head seems to have ruled as a monarch, especially when any Gau attained predominance over the rest. But what chiefly gave strength and unity to the Civitas, drawing to it not only Pagi, but even Civitates of different tribes, and thus constituting a confederation bearing the name of the leading Civitas, was the outbreak of war. Naturally, for any campaign a military chief or Dux, was required, on the pattern of an Ariovistus or Arminius—a military dictator, in fact, exercising absolute power, who often retained his position after peace was concluded, and then became a real sovereign, such as we occasionally find appearing, more particularly in eastern Germany. The Dux was naturally chosen for his military qualifications, but the princes for the nobility of their birth: Reges ex nobilitate, duces ex virtuie sumunt.
Another prevailing institution among these barbarians was the so-called Comitatus (Gefolgschaft) gathered round the Princeps as well as the Dux. It was composed of youths of the highest birth and courage, who formed a bodyguard as of paladins to one of their chiefs and were his inseparable companions-at-arms. And as it was a dishonour for any one of them to survive his chief in battle, so, too, it was a dishonour for the chief to let them surpass him in valour.
If on reviewing the preceding statements we now proceed to draw a comparison between barbarian and Roman society the contrast between them will be plainly seen. The latter was composed of an urban population spread over a large number of cities connected by highways, with stretches of open country tilled by slaves or tenants. The former, on the other hand, was a rural population scattered over land that it cultivated according to its own pleasure. Although even this population comprised both nobles and slaves, far more equality prevailed in it. Differences of fortune mainly consisted in the differing number of flocks and herds. The collective ownership of the soil greatly assisted in uniting the interests of all who fought for the defence of the common territory and deliberated side by side in the popular assemblies. The action of the State was nil, since it had no practical existence and everything bore a personal stamp. Crime was punished by allowing the injured party or his kindred to avenge it, and all was arranged by giving satisfaction to individuals instead of to the community. Ties of blood constituted the real basis of society, and partly, too, of the army, which was formed of family groups. In Rome, on the contrary, the State predominated over all, and society was entirely based on legal bonds. Also, the Romans were the first to create private property, by freeing it from its archaic form, thus giving an energetic impulse to individual activity and social progress. But in the struggle for existence the stronger and more fortunate despoiled the weaker, and by abolishing small holdings caused the creation of latifundia.
But here on the one side there was enormous wealth, on the other a howling multitude of starving paupers, while all were cruelly taxed for the maintenance of the army.
If we now tried for a moment to imagine a fusion of these two different social worlds, we should see, on the one hand, how the idea of the State, of law, and of impersonal rights, gave birth to greater order and discipline; on the other, we should see the revival of small holdings and the land populated anew by free tillers of the soil. But in real life chemical combinations of this kind can be only produced by war and brute force; consequently when these societies came into violent collision, one of the two, however modified, would necessarily conquer and crush the other. Which would be the victor? Roman society was a vast and marvellous organisation of great expansive force and power of assimilation. Had it not been threatened by internal decay it would have certainly continued to subject, bind together, and absorb fresh races, and repulse all assaults. It had done this for many centuries. But its victories served to foster the elements of decomposition within and of weakness without the State. Meanwhile the Germanic tribes continually renewed their attacks, urged on by the irresistible need of fresh land that drove them all towards the West. They advanced in tumultuous and ever-increasing hordes like the waves of a storm-lashed sea.
Fortunately for the Empire, this Teuton flood, being split up into a multitude of different races always at strife with one another, had no national unity. This was shown by the fact that while demanding new territory they voluntarily offered to serve under the banners of the Empire, and fought valiantly against their own countrymen. Many battles with barbarians were decided for the Romans by their German legionaries. This may have created the idea that by means of discipline it would be possible to master and assimilate many of the tribes and thus reduce all the others to subjection. But the example of Arminius proved this to be a mere dream. Barbarians trained under the Roman standard became excel lent soldiers, excellent captains; but, always retaining their Germanic character, were fiercely hostile to the Roman name and Empire despite their admiration for it. Thus, even more than by their common origin, they were kept united by a common hatred. No matter what benefits they received, this hatred was never extinguished. Rome’s greatest enemies—those who destroyed the Empire—Alaric, Odovacar, Theodoric—had been trained in the Roman legions. And although in quiet times their racial antipathy slackened, yet in face of any general danger, and, above all, when they found a valiant chief to lead them, it blazed up in full strength, and with the speed of lightning united them in huge confederations, all burning with the same fury. At such times they rushed forward like one man and with irresistible impetus. This was seen even in the days of the Cimbrians, of Ariovistus and Arminius, and was repeated time after time. It is true that this united action never continued for long. The moment of peril passed, it melted away; but while it lasted it might at any time deal a death-blow to the Empire, especially on account of the vast number of tribes that Germany could bring into the field, and the enormous number of barbarians already enrolled in the Roman army and included among the bondsmen of Rome. Nevertheless, the passage of the Rhine or Danube once achieved and the West flooded with their hordes, it would have been difficult, or indeed impossible, for the barbarians to organise any settled scheme of action. This they instinctively divined, and it proved an added source of weakness by considerably diminishing their confidence in themselves as opposed to the Empire. For they recognised that the Empire was still very strong, both in its civil and its military constitution; consequently they admired it as something sacred and eternal, even in the heat of their fiercest assaults.
But, as we have already seen, their foes were exposed to even greater disadvantage. If at any time that marvellous unity, binding and concentrating all the varied forces of the Empire, were even momentarily disorganised by some furious barbarian assault, and suffered heavy disaster at any point, everything threatened to fall to ruin at once, precisely because everything was linked together and owed its vitality and strength to this closeness of cohesion. The individual trained to live for the State alone, and under its protection, could conceive no possibility of existence without it. When abandoned to his own resources he felt like a stray atom in chaos; he could imagine no possibility of withstanding those Germanic hordes of which every unit pressed forward, maddened with bloodthirsty zeal. He felt as one who suddenly beholds houses thrown down by an earthquake, and finds the ground yielding under him, or as one trapped in a burning theatre. Among the barbarians, on the contrary, such sensations were unknown, inasmuch as they formed part of a society divided and subdivided not only into separate nations, but also into separate groups, or cantons, which could be very easily united, disjoined, and again brought together. Whenever some Civitas was vanquished and split up into Pagi, the latter could either stand by themselves or be fused with the Pagi of another Civitas without feeling any dismay. If, by reason of the destruction of his village or of the group to which he belonged, any individual barbarian was suddenly isolated and thrown on his own resources, being accustomed, by forest life, to rely on his own courage and strength of arm, he had no feeling of alarm and readily joined the first tribe he fell in with. All this made the barbarians often believe, and, later, caused many to repeat, that the Romans were terror-struck at sight of them, and trembled like women. This too, in spite of the fact that the Romans had routed them a short time before, and as soon as broken links were mended, defeated them again and drove them to precipitous flight.
Thus, for about two centuries and a half, the Empire was not only continuously busied in repelling partial inroads from across the Rhine and Danube, but was more than once assailed by formidable hordes of confederated tribes, who penetrated so far into the interior that truly Titanic struggles were required to secure the safety of the Empire. One of these conflicts was the great battle fought by Marcus Aurelius, to which we have already referred. Suddenly, for some unexplained reason—possibly because ousted by other races—an immense multitude of Germanic tribes were seen advancing, led by the Marcomanni and Ouadi. They poured into Dacia, passed the Danube, invaded the Empire, and for the first time the sacred Italian soil was trampled by the feet of Teuton warriors (167 a.d.). It was then that Marcus Aurelius forsook his studies, assumed command of the army, and with the skill of a great captain, won repeated victories, thrust the enemy back over the border, and carried on the campaign until his death, on the 17th of March, 180. But in the course of this long and glorious struggle it was seen that the strength of the Empire was becoming exhausted. It had proved necessary to pit barbarians against barbarians, even to the point of admitting certain tribes within the frontiers—a dangerous example that led to fatal results later on. Nevertheless, for the next hundred years matters went smoothly enough, until the same course of events being repeated again and again on an increasingly vaster scale, finally produced far graver consequences.
In fact another serious battle had to be fought with the Goths, regarding whom a few words must now be said, inasmuch as it was this race that eventually struck the deathblow of the Empire. There is a widely spread belief that the Goths were originally inhabitants of Scandinavia, whence, for reasons unknown to us, they pressed forward in a southerly direction. In the days of the Antonines we find them in East Prussia, at the mouth of the Vistula; towards the end of the third century they were in South Russia, in the vicinity of the Black Sea, together with the Gepidae, and divided into Ostrogoths and Visigoths, i.e., Eastern and Western Goths. But their Scandinavian derivation and their lengthy march southwards are considered doubtful by other authorities, who hold to the theory that the Goths were really of East German origin, and rather than one distinct race were a mixture of various tribes who spread from north to south and then advanced towards the west. Some writers again consider them derived from the Getae, and would confound them with that tribe. But these are questions upon which it is difficult to form a decisive opinion, and the more so as during the Middle Ages many different races were indiscriminately styled Goths.
But in any case those particular tribes, moving from Southern Russia towards the west, began to hurl themselves against the frontier posts of the Empire, which, as we have said before, had been greatly weakened on this side since Dacia had been annexed. After many sanguinary attacks the Goths finally attempted a genuine invasion (268 a.d.) with a very formidable host, and bringing their old folk and women in their train. But they again encountered a determined resistance from the Roman legions commanded by the Emperor Claudius. The latter informed the Senate that notwithstanding the disorder in which the Empire had been left by his predecessors, and in spite of the lack of arms and of all that was needed for war, he was marching to defend his territories against a host of 320,000 Goths, who were already across the frontier, and was resolved to conquer them or perish on the field. The numbers of the foe were probably exaggerated, or may have also comprised the non-combatants. Likewise the fleet of 6,000 ships attributed by some writers to the Goths may be considered preposterous, and indeed other authorities reduce the number to 2,000. In any case it was an invasion on a scale such as had never been seen before, yet Claudius successfully repulsed and routed the foe in the two great battles of 268 and 269 a.d. The first of the two was fought at Naissus, in Servia, and was not a decisive victory. Nevertheless, even those who declared it to be a Roman defeat, admitted that 50,000 Goths were left dead on the field. In the second campaign the Roman cavalry kept the Goths hemmed in among the Balkan Mountains, where nearly all of them perished either by the sword, plague, or famine. A portion of the survivors found safety in flight, others were made prisoners or slaves, while some accepted service in the Roman ranks.
Much booty was captured, and such a host of women that every legionary had two or three to his share. This is an additional proof that the Goths had planned a veritable invasion and not a mere raid. Then Claudius wrote again to the Senate saying: “I have routed an army of 320,000 Goths; I have sunk 2,000 of their vessels.” These successes gained him the surname of Gothicus. But the great number of unburied corpses caused a violent epidemic of plague, to which he succumbed—a sacrifice, as it were, to his own prowess.
This victory was undeniably a fresh proof of the enormous strength still retained by the Empire. But it also proved the inexhaustible strength of the barbarians, seeing that, in spite of such enormous loss of life, they continued their attacks without intermission. It is plain that their dead were quickly replaced by other tribes of different races, who flocked to their army from all parts. Claudius’ successor, the Emperor Aurelian (270-75), a good soldier as well as a skilled politician, after opposing a valiant resistance to the Goths, finally came to terms with them and yielded Dacia to them of his own accord, on condition that they should keep to their own side of the Danube. The cession to the barbarians of this fertile and, by that time, almost thoroughly Romanised province, compelled the emigration of a great part of its inhabitants. Nevertheless, as Augustus had advised, the frontiers of the Empire could be now withdrawn to the stronger line of defence on the Danube. In fact Aurelian’s action was generally approved; and there ensued a whole century of comparative peace with the Goths, only interrupted, during the reign of Constantine, by three wars, in which the barbarians were continually beaten, and finally with a loss, it is said, of 100,000 men by the sword, starvation, and cold.
This line of the Danube, however, having been so long left unfortified, was still the most vulnerable point of the Empire. The Goths in Dacia were already in great force, and their numbers always on the increase, from the continual accretion of fresh tribes—this, too, while there was likewise a growing contingent of barbarians in the army appointed to defend the Danubian frontier against other Germanic tribes.
REFORM OF THE EMPIRE—DIOCLETIAN AND CONSTANTINE—RELIGIOUS DISTURBANCES—ARIANS AND ATHANASIANS—NEO-PLATONISM—JULIAN THE APOSTATE—BISHOP ULFILAS AND THE CONVERSION OF THE GOTHS.
The continual dangers to which the Empire was exposed had frequently shown the urgent need of thorough reforms, which were actually carried out by Diocletian (284-305) and by Constantine (323-337). The first improvement required was the creation of firmer administrative and military unity, by concentrating all power in the hands of the Emperor, making him a genuine autocrat, and likewise endowing him with sacred attributes. In order to lighten the labours of the government, and, above all, to avoid the continual peril of a contested succession, Diocletian had summoned Maximian to a share in the government, with the title of Augustus, and then chose two other partners, Constantine and Galerius, with the lower title of Caesars. This division of government implied no division of the Empire, over which Diocletian still retained supreme sway. On the decease of any one of the four rulers, the three survivors were bound to name his successor, and thus prevent, it was hoped, continual shocks and agitations. But in this respect the reform proved a failure; for on Diocletian’s abdication the Empire was plunged in continual disturbances (from 305-323) until Constantine was elected sole Emperor and completed the most useful and essential part of Diocletian’s scheme of reform.
The Empire was divided into four Prefectures, i.e., of Italy, Gaul, Illyricum, and the East. The civil power was clearly separated from the military, and both were worked on parallel lines and equally in subordination to the supreme authority of the Emperor, who, with his attendant ministers, ruled over all. The Praetorian Prefects, having entirely resigned what military powers they had formerly possessed, were placed with exclusively civil functions at the head of the Prefectures, which were divided in Dioceses ruled by Vicars, and these Dioceses subdivided in Provinces under Presidents (Praeses), as Consular Governors, or Correctors.
Then followed a long string of subordinate officials whose rank and attributes were most precisely defined, and who were distributed all over the Empire to supervise the administration of affairs and, above all, to accelerate the collection of taxes. The army was organised on the same system: with Magistri militum (peditum ed equitum) under whom were the Duces and Comites, and so on down to the lowest petty officer. This reform undoubtedly prolonged the existence of the Empire by strengthening the army and improving the discipline, order, and unity of every branch of the government. But it also led to heavier taxes, and to a more oppressive method of levying them; it involved the Empire in a vast network of bureaucracy of which the evil and unavoidable consequences soon began to be felt. Rome had a special Prefect of its own (Praefectus Urbi
Tysiące ebooków i audiobooków
Ich liczba ciągle rośnie, a Ty masz gwarancję niezmiennej ceny.
Napisali o nas:
Nowy sposób na e-księgarnię
Czytelnicy nie wierzą
Legimi idzie na całość
Projekt Legimi wielkim wydarzeniem
Spotify for ebooks