The Byzantine Empire (Serapis Classics) - Charles Oman - ebook

The Byzantine Empire (Serapis Classics) ebook

Oman Charles



Two thousand five hundred and fifty-eight years ago a little fleet of galleys toiled painfully against the current up the long strait of the Hellespont, rowed across the broad Propontis, and came to anchor in the smooth waters of the first inlet which cuts into the European shore of the Bosphorus. There a long crescent-shaped creek, which after-ages were to know as the Golden Horn, strikes inland for seven miles, forming a quiet backwater from the rapid stream which runs outside. On the headland, enclosed between this inlet and the open sea, a few hundred colonists disembarked, and hastily secured themselves from the wild tribes of the inland, by running some rough sort of a stockade across the ground from beach to beach. Thus was founded the city of Byzantium...

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I. Byzantium

II. The Foundation Of Constantinople (a.d. 328-330.)

III. The Fight With The Goths

IV. The Departure Of The Germans

V. The Reorganization Of The Eastern Empire (a.d. 408-518.)

VI. Justinian

VII. Justinian's Foreign Conquests.

VIII. The End Of Justinian's Reign

IX. The Coming Of The Slavs

X. The Darkest Hour

XI. Social And Religious Life (a.d. 320-620.)

XII. The Coming Of The Saracens

XIII. The First Anarchy

XIV. The Saracens Turned Back

XV. The Iconoclasts (a.d. 720-802.)

XVI. The End Of The Iconoclasts (a.d. 802-886.)

XVII. The Literary Emperors And Their Time (a.d. 886-963.)

XVIII. Military Glory

XIX. The End Of The Macedonian Dynasty

XX. Manzikert (1057-1081.)

XXI. The Comneni And The Crusades

XXII. The Latin Conquest Of Constantinople

XXIII. The Latin Empire And The Empire Of Nicaea (1204-1261.)

XXIV. Decline And Decay (1261-1328.)

XXV. The Turks In Europe

XXVI. The End Of A Long Tale (1370-1453.)

Table Of Emperors

Interior of St. Sophia

I. Byzantium

Two thousand five hundred and fifty-eight years ago a little fleet of galleys toiled painfully against the current up the long strait of the Hellespont, rowed across the broad Propontis, and came to anchor in the smooth waters of the first inlet which cuts into the European shore of the Bosphorus. There a long crescent-shaped creek, which after-ages were to know as the Golden Horn, strikes inland for seven miles, forming a quiet backwater from the rapid stream which runs outside. On the headland, enclosed between this inlet and the open sea, a few hundred colonists disembarked, and hastily secured themselves from the wild tribes of the inland, by running some rough sort of a stockade across the ground from beach to beach. Thus was founded the city of Byzantium.

The settlers were Greeks of the Dorian race, natives of the thriving seaport-state of Megara, one of the most enterprising of all the cities of Hellas in the time of colonial and commercial expansion which was then at its height. Wherever a Greek prow had cut its way into unknown waters, there Megarian seamen were soon found following in its wake. One band of these venturesome traders pushed far to the West to plant colonies in Sicily, but the larger share of the attention of Megara was turned towards the sunrising, towards the mist-enshrouded entrance of the Black Sea and the fabulous lands that lay beyond. There, as legends told, was to be found the realm of the Golden Fleece, the Eldorado of the ancient world, where kings of untold wealth reigned over the tribes of Colchis: there dwelt, by the banks of the river Thermodon, the Amazons, the warlike women who had once vexed far-off Greece by their inroads: there, too, was to be found, if one could but struggle far enough up its northern shore, the land of the Hyperboreans, the blessed folk who dwell behind the North Wind and know nothing of storm and winter. To seek these fabled wonders the Greeks sailed ever North and East till they had come to the extreme limits of the sea. The riches of the Golden Fleece they did not find, nor the country of the Hyperboreans, nor the tribes of the Amazons; but they did discover many lands well worth the knowing, and grew rich on the profits which they drew from the metals of Colchis and the forests of Paphlagonia, from the rich corn lands by the banks of the Dnieper and Bug, and the fisheries of the Bosphorus and the Maeotic Lake. Presently the whole coastland of the sea, which the Greeks, on their first coming, called Axeinos—“the Inhospitable”—became fringed with trading settlements, and its name was changed to Euxeinos—“the Hospitable”—in recognition of its friendly ports. It was in a similar spirit that, two thousand years later, the seamen who led the next great impulse of exploration that rose in Europe, turned the name of the “Cape of Storms” into that of the “Cape of Good Hope.”

The Megarians, almost more than any other Greeks, devoted their attention to the Euxine, and the foundation of Byzantium was but one of their many achievements. Already, seventeen years before Byzantium came into being, another band of Megarian colonists had established themselves at Chalcedon, on the opposite Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus. The settlers who were destined to found the greater city applied to the oracle of Delphi to give them advice as to the site of their new home, and Apollo, we are told, bade them “build their town over against the city of the blind.” They therefore pitched upon the headland by the Golden Horn, reasoning that the Chalcedonians were truly blind to have neglected the more eligible site on the Thracian shore, in order to found a colony on the far less inviting Bithynian side of the strait.

Early Coin Of Byzantium.

Late Coin Of Byzantium Showing Crescent And Star.

From the first its situation marked out Byzantium as destined for a great future. Alike from the military and from the commercial point of view no city could have been better placed. Looking out from the easternmost headland of Thrace, with all Europe behind it and all Asia before, it was equally well suited to be the frontier fortress to defend the border of the one, or the basis of operations for an invasion from the other. As fortresses went in those early days it was almost impregnable—two sides protected by the water, the third by a strong wall not commanded by any neighbouring heights. In all its early history Byzantium never fell by storm: famine or treachery accounted for the few occasions on which it fell into the hands of an enemy. In its commercial aspect the place was even more favourably situated. It completely commanded the whole Black Sea trade: every vessel that went forth from Greece or Ionia to traffic with Scythia or Colchis, the lands by the Danube mouth or the shores of the Maeotic Lake, had to pass close under its walls, so that the prosperity of a hundred Hellenic towns on the Euxine was always at the mercy of the masters of Byzantium. The Greek loved short stages and frequent stoppages, and as a half-way house alone Byzantium would have been prosperous: but it had also a flourishing local trade of its own with the tribes of the neighbouring Thracian inland, and drew much profit from its fisheries: so much so that the city badge—its coat of arms as we should call it—comprised a tunny-fish as well as the famous ox whose form alluded to the legend of the naming of the Bosphorus.

As an independent state Byzantium had a long and eventful history. For thirty years it was in the hands of the kings of Persia, but with that short exception it maintained its freedom during the first three hundred years that followed its foundation. Many stirring scenes took place beneath its walls: it was close to them that the great Darius threw across the Bosphorus his bridge of boats, which served as a model for the more famous structure on which his son Xerxes crossed the Hellespont. Fifteen years later, when Byzantium in common with all its neighbours made an ineffectual attempt to throw off the Persian yoke, in the rising called the “Ionic Revolt,” it was held for a time by the arch-rebel Histiaeus, who—as much to enrich himself as to pay his seamen—invented strait dues. He forced every ship passing up or down the Bosphorus to pay a heavy toll, and won no small unpopularity thereby for the cause of freedom which he professed to champion. Ere long Byzantium fell back again into the hands of Persia, but she was finally freed from the Oriental yoke seventeen years later, when the victorious Greeks, fresh from the triumph of Salamis and Mycale, sailed up to her walls and after a long leaguer starved out the obstinate garrison [b.c. 479]. The fleet wintered there, and it was at Byzantium that the first foundations of the naval empire of Athens were laid, when all the Greek states of Asia placed their ships at the disposal of the Athenian admirals Cimon and Aristeides.

During the fifth century Byzantium twice declared war on Athens, now the mistress of the seas, and on each occasion fell into the hands of the enemy—once by voluntary surrender in 439 b.c., once by treachery from within, in 408 b.c.But the Athenians, except in one or two disgraceful cases, did not deal hardly with their conquered enemies, and the Byzantines escaped anything harder than the payment of a heavy war indemnity. In a few years their commercial gains repaired all the losses of war, and the state was itself again.

We know comparatively little about the internal history of these early centuries of the life of Byzantium. Some odd fragments of information survive here and there: we know, for example, that they used iron instead of copper for small money, a peculiarity shared by no other ancient state save Sparta. Their alphabet rejoiced in an abnormally shaped Β, which puzzled all other Greeks, for it resembled a Π with an extra limb. The chief gods of the city were those that we might have expected—Poseidon the ruler of the sea, whose blessing gave Byzantium its chief wealth; and Demeter, the goddess who presided over the Thracian and Scythian corn lands which formed its second source of prosperity.

The Byzantines were, if ancient chroniclers tell us the truth, a luxurious as well as a busy race: they spent too much time in their numerous inns, where the excellent wines of Maronea and other neighbouring places offered great temptations. They were gluttons too as well as tipplers: on one occasion, we are assured, the whole civic militia struck work in the height of a siege, till their commander consented to allow restaurants to be erected at convenient distances round the ramparts. One comic writer informs us that the Byzantines were eating young tunny-fish—their favourite dish—so constantly, that their whole bodies had become well-nigh gelatinous, and it was thought they might melt if exposed to too great heat! Probably these tales are the scandals of neighbours who envied Byzantine prosperity, for it is at any rate certain that the city showed all through its history great energy and love of independence, and never shrank from war as we should have expected a nation of epicures to do.

It was not till the rise of Philip of Macedon and his greater son Alexander that Byzantium fell for the fifth time into the hands of an enemy. The elder king was repulsed from the city's walls after a long siege, culminating in an attempt at an escalade by night, which was frustrated owing to the sudden appearance of a light in heaven, which revealed the advancing enemy and was taken by the Byzantines as a token of special divine aid [b.c. 339]. In commemoration of it they assumed as one of their civic badges the blazing crescent and star, which has descended to our own days and is still used as an emblem by the present owners of the city—the Ottoman Sultans. But after repulsing Philip the Byzantines had to submit some years later to Alexander. They formed under him part of the enormous Macedonian empire, and passed on his decease through the hands of his successors—Demetrius Poliorcetes, and Lysimachus. After the death of the latter in battle, however, they recovered a precarious freedom, and were again an independent community for a hundred years, till the power of Rome invaded the regions of Thrace and the Hellespont.

Byzantium was one of the cities which took the wise course of making an early alliance with the Romans, and obtained good and easy terms in consequence. During the wars of Rome with Macedon and Antiochus the Great it proved such a faithful assistant that the Senate gave it the status of a civitas libera et foederata, “a free and confederate city,” and it was not taken under direct Roman government, but allowed complete liberty in everything save the control of its foreign relations and the payment of a tribute to Rome. It was not till the Roman Republic had long passed away, that the Emperor Vespasian stripped it of these privileges, and threw it into the province of Thrace, to exist for the future as an ordinary provincial town [a.d. 73].

Though deprived of a liberty which had for long years been almost nominal, Byzantium could not be deprived of its unrivalled position for commerce. It continued to flourish under the Pax Romana, the long-continued peace which all the inner countries of the empire enjoyed during the first two centuries of the imperial régime, and is mentioned again and again as one of the most important cities of the middle regions of the Roman world.

But an evil time for Byzantium, as for all the other parts of the civilized world, began when the golden age of the Antonines ceased, and the epoch of the military emperors followed. In 192 a.d., Commodus, the unworthy son of the great and good Marcus Aurelius, was murdered, and ere long three military usurpers were wrangling for his blood-stained diadem. Most unhappily for itself Byzantium lay on the line of division between the eastern provinces, where Pescennius Niger had been proclaimed, and the Illyrian provinces, where Severus had assumed the imperial style. The city was seized by the army of Syria, and strengthened in haste. Presently Severus appeared from the west, after he had made himself master of Rome and Italy, and fell upon the forces of his rival Pescennius. Victory followed the arms of the Illyrian legions, the east was subdued, and the Syrian emperor put to death. But when all his other adherents had yielded, the garrison of Byzantium refused to submit. For more than two years they maintained the impregnable city against the lieutenants of Severus, and it was not till a.d. 196 that they were forced to yield. The emperor appeared in person to punish the long-protracted resistance of the town; not only the garrison, but the civil magistrates of Byzantium were slain before his eyes. The massive walls “so firmly built with great square stones clamped together with bolts of iron, that the whole seemed but one block,” were laboriously cast down. The property of the citizens was confiscated, and the town itself deprived of all municipal privileges and handed over to be governed like a dependent village by its neighbours of Perinthus.

Caracalla, the son of Severus, gave back to the Byzantines the right to govern themselves, but the town had received a hard blow, and would have required a long spell of peace to recover its prosperity. Peace however it was not destined to see. All through the middle years of the third century it was vexed by the incursions of the Goths, who harried mercilessly the countries on the Black Sea whose commerce sustained its trade. Under Gallienus in a.d. 263 it was again seized by an usurping emperor, and shared the fate of his adherents. The soldiers of Gallienus sacked Byzantium from cellar to garret, and made such a slaughter of its inhabitants that it is said that the old Megarian race who had so long possessed it were absolutely exterminated. But the irresistible attraction of the site was too great to allow its ruins to remain desolate. Within ten years after its sack by the army of Gallienus, we find Byzantium again a populous town, and its inhabitants are specially praised by the historian Trebellius Pollio for the courage with which they repelled a Gothic raid in the reign of Claudius II.

The strong Illyrian emperors, who staved off from the Roman Empire the ruin which appeared about to overwhelm it in the third quarter of the third century, gave Byzantium time and peace to recover its ancient prosperity. It profited especially from the constant neighbourhood of the imperial court, after Diocletian fixed his residence at Nicomedia, only sixty miles away, on the Bithynian side of the Propontis. But the military importance of Byzantium was always interfering with its commercial greatness. After the abdication of Diocletian the empire was for twenty years vexed by constant partitions of territory between the colleagues whom he left behind him. Byzantium after a while found itself the border fortress of Licinius, the emperor who ruled in the Balkan Peninsula, while Maximinus Daza was governing the Asiatic provinces. While Licinius was absent in Italy, Maximinus treacherously attacked his rival's dominions without declaration of war, and took Byzantium by surprise. But the Illyrian emperor returned in haste, defeated his grasping neighbour not far from the walls of the city, and recovered his great frontier fortress after it had been only a few months out of his hands [a.d. 314]. The town must have suffered severely by changing masters twice in the same year; it does not, however, seem to have been sacked or burnt, as was so often the case with a captured city in those dismal days. But Licinius when he had recovered the place set to work to render it impregnable. Though it was not his capital he made it the chief fortress of his realm, which, since the defeat of Maximinus, embraced the whole eastern half of the Roman world.

It was accordingly at Byzantium that Licinius made his last desperate stand, when in a.d. 323 he found himself engaged in an unsuccessful war with his brother-in-law Constantine, the Emperor of the West. For many months the war stood still beneath the walls of the city; but Constantine persevered in the siege, raising great mounds which overlooked the walls, and sweeping away the defenders by a constant stream of missiles, launched from dozens of military engines which he had erected on these artificial heights. At last the city surrendered, and the cause of Licinius was lost. Constantine, the last of his rivals subdued, became the sole emperor of the Roman world, and stood a victor on the ramparts which were ever afterwards to bear his name.

II. The Foundation Of Constantinople (a.d.328-330.)

When the fall of Byzantium had wrecked the fortunes of Licinius, the Roman world was again united beneath the sceptre of a single master. For thirty-seven years, ever since Diocletian parcelled out the provinces with his colleagues, unity had been unknown, and emperors, whose number had sometimes risen to six and sometimes sunk to two, had administered their realms on different principles and with varying success.

Constantine, whose victory over his rivals had been secured by his talents as an administrator and a diplomatist no less than by his military skill, was one of those men whose hard practical ability has stamped upon the history of the world a much deeper impress than has been left by many conquerors and legislators of infinitely greater genius. He was a man of that self-contained, self-reliant, unsympathetic type of mind which we recognize in his great predecessor Augustus, or in Frederic the Great of Prussia.

Constantine the Great

Though the strain of old Roman blood in his veins must have been but small, Constantine was in many ways a typical Roman; the hard, cold, steady, unwearying energy, which in earlier centuries had won the empire of the world, was once more incarnate in him. But if Roman in character, he was anything but Roman in his sympathies. Born by the Danube, reared in the courts and camps of Asia and Gaul, he was absolutely free from any of that superstitious reverence for the ancient glories of the city on the Tiber which had inspired so many of his predecessors. Italy was to him but a secondary province amongst his wide realms. When he distributed his dominions among his heirs, it was Gaul that he gave as the noblest share to his eldest and best-loved son: Italy was to him a younger child's portion. There had been emperors before him who had neglected Rome: the barbarian Maximinus I. had dwelt by the Rhine and the Danube; the politic Diocletian had chosen Nicomedia as his favourite residence. But no one had yet dreamed of raising up a rival to the mistress of the world, and of turning Rome into a provincial town. If preceding emperors had dwelt far afield, it was to meet the exigencies of war on the frontiers or the government of distant provinces. It was reserved for Constantine to erect over against Rome a rival metropolis for the civilized world, an imperial city which was to be neither a mere camp nor a mere court, but the administrative and commercial centre of the Roman world.

For more than a hundred years Rome had been a most inconvenient residence for the emperors. The main problem which had been before them was the repelling of incessant barbarian inroads on the Balkan Peninsula; the troubles on the Rhine and the Euphrates, though real enough, had been but minor evils. Rome, placed half way down the long projection of Italy, handicapped by its bad harbours and separated from the rest of the empire by the passes of the Alps, was too far away from the points where the emperor was most wanted—the banks of the Danube and the walls of Sirmium and Singidunum. For the ever-recurring wars with Persia it was even more inconvenient; but these were less pressing dangers; no Persian army had yet penetrated beyond Antioch—only 200 miles from the frontier—while in the Balkan Peninsula the Goths had broken so far into the heart of the empire as to sack Athens and Thessalonica.

Constantine, with all the Roman world at his feet, and all its responsibilities weighing on his mind, was far too able a man to overlook the great need of the day—a more conveniently placed administrative and military centre for his empire. He required a place that should be easily accessible by land and sea—which Rome had never been in spite of its wonderful roads—that should overlook the Danube lands, without being too far away from the East; that should be so strongly situated that it might prove an impregnable arsenal and citadel against barbarian attacks from the north; that should at the same time be far enough away from the turmoil of the actual frontier to afford a safe and splendid residence for the imperial court. The names of several towns are given by historians as having suggested themselves to Constantine. First was his own birth-place—Naissus (Nisch) on the Morava, in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula; but Naissus had little to recommend it: it was too close to the frontier and too far from the sea. Sardica—the modern Sofia in Bulgaria—was liable to the same objections, and had not the sole advantage of Naissus, that of being connected in sentiment with the emperor's early days. Nicomedia on its long gulf at the east end of the Propontis was a more eligible situation in every way, and had already served as an imperial residence. But all that could be urged in favour of Nicomedia applied with double force to Byzantium, and, in addition, Constantine had no wish to choose a city in which his own memory would be eclipsed by that of his predecessor Diocletian, and whose name was associated by the Christians, the class of his subjects whom he had most favoured of late, with the persecutions of Diocletian and Galerius. For Ilium, the last place on which Constantine had cast his mind, nothing could be alleged except its ancient legendary glories, and the fact that the mythologists of Rome had always fabled that their city drew its origin from the exiled Trojans of Æneas. Though close to the sea it had no good harbour, and it was just too far from the mouth of the Hellespont to command effectually the exit of the Euxine.

Byzantium, on the other hand, was thoroughly well known to Constantine. For months his camp had been pitched beneath its walls; he must have known accurately every inch of its environs, and none of its military advantages can have missed his eye. Nothing, then, could have been more natural than his selection of the old Megarian city for his new capital. Yet the Roman world was startled at the first news of his choice; Byzantium had been so long known merely as a great port of call for the Euxine trade, and as a first-class provincial fortress, that it was hard to conceive of it as a destined seat of empire.

When once Constantine had determined to make Byzantium his capital, in preference to any other place in the Balkan lands, his measures were taken with his usual energy and thoroughness. The limits of the new city were at once marked out by solemn processions in the old Roman style. In later ages a picturesque legend was told to account for the magnificent scale on which it was planned. The emperor, we read, marched out on foot, followed by all his court, and traced with his spear the line where the new fortifications were to be drawn. As he paced on further and further westward along the shore of the Golden Horn, till he was more than two miles away from his starting-point, the gate of old Byzantium, his attendants grew more and more surprised at the vastness of his scheme. At last they ventured to observe that he had already exceeded the most ample limits that an imperial city could require. But Constantine turned to rebuke them: “I shall go on,” he said, “until He, the invisible guide who marches before me, thinks fit to stop.” Guided by his mysterious presentiment of greatness, the emperor advanced till he was three miles from the eastern angle of Byzantium, and only turned his steps when he had included in his boundary line all the seven hills which are embraced in the peninsula between the Propontis and the Golden Horn.

The rising ground just outside the walls of the old city, where Constantine's tent had been pitched during the siege of a.d. 323, was selected out as the market-place of the new foundation. There he erected the Milion, or “golden milestone,” from which all the distances of the eastern world were in future to be measured. This “central point of the world” was not a mere single stone, but a small building like a temple, its roof supported by seven pillars; within was placed the statue of the emperor, together with that of his venerated mother, the Christian Empress Helena.

The south-eastern part of the old town of Byzantium was chosen by Constantine for the site of his imperial palace. The spot was cleared of all private dwellings for a space of 150 acres, to give space not only for a magnificent residence for his whole court, but for spacious gardens and pleasure-grounds. A wall, commencing at the Lighthouse, where the Bosphorus joins the Propontis, turned inland and swept along parallel to the shore for about a mile, in order to shut off the imperial precinct from the city.

The Heart of Constantinople

North-west of the palace lay the central open space in which the life of Constantinople was to find its centre. This was the “Augustaeum,” a splendid oblong forum, about a thousand feet long by three hundred broad. It was paved with marble and surrounded on all sides by stately public buildings. To its east, as we have already said, lay the imperial palace, but between the palace and the open space were three detached edifices connected by a colonnade. Of these, the most easterly was the Great Baths, known, from their builder, as the “Baths of Zeuxippus.” They were built on the same magnificent scale which the earlier emperors had used in Old Rome, though they could not, perhaps, vie in size with the enormous Baths of Caracalla. Constantine utilized and enlarged the old public bath of Byzantium, which had been rebuilt after the taking of the city by Severus. He adorned the frontage and courts of the edifice with statues taken from every prominent town of Greece and Asia, the old Hellenic masterpieces which had escaped the rapacious hands of twelve generations of plundering proconsuls and Cæsars. There were to be seen the Athene of Lyndus, the Amphithrite of Rhodes, the Pan which had been consecrated by the Greeks after the defeat of Xerxes, and the Zeus of Dodona.

Adjoining the Baths, to the north, lay the second great building, on the east side of the Augustaeum—the Senate House. Constantine had determined to endow his new city with a senate modelled on that of Old Rome, and had indeed persuaded many old senatorial families to migrate eastward by judicious gifts of pensions and houses. We know that the assembly was worthily housed, but no details survive about Constantine's building, on account of its having been twice destroyed within the century. But, like the Baths of Zeuxippus, it was adorned with ancient statuary, among which the Nine Muses of Helicon are specially cited by the historian who describes the burning of the place in a.d. 404.

Linked to the Senate House by a colonnade, lay on the north the Palace of the Patriarch, as the Bishop of Byzantium was ere long to be called, when raised to the same status as his brethren of Antioch and Alexandria. A fine building in itself, with a spacious hall of audience and a garden, the patriarchal dwelling was yet completely overshadowed by the imperial palace which rose behind it. And so it was with the patriarch himself: he lived too near his royal master to be able to gain any independent authority. Physically and morally alike he was too much overlooked by his august neighbour, and never found the least opportunity of setting up an independent spiritual authority over against the civil government, or of founding an imperium in imperio like the Bishop of Rome.

The Atmeidan Hippodrome And St. Sophia.

All along the western side of the Augustaeum, facing the three buildings which we have already described, lay an edifice which played a very prominent part in the public life of Constantinople. This was the great Hippodrome, a splendid circus 640 cubits long and 160 broad, in which were renewed the games that Old Rome had known so well. The whole system the chariot-races between the teams that represented the “factions” of the Circus was reproduced at Byzantium with an energy that even surpassed the devotion of the Romans to horse racing. From the first foundation of the city the rivalry of the “Blues” and the “Greens” was one of the most striking features of the life of the place. It was carried far beyond the circus, and spread into all branches of life. We often hear of the “Green” faction identifying itself with Arianism, or of the “Blue” supporting a pretender to the throne. Not merely men of sporting interests, but persons of all ranks and professions, chose their colour and backed their faction. The system was a positive danger to the public peace, and constantly led to riots, culminating in the great sedition of a.d. 523, which we shall presently have to describe at length. In the Hippodrome the “Greens” always entered by the north-eastern gate, and sat on the east side; the “Blues” approached by the north-western gate and stretched along the western side. The emperor's box, called the Kathisma, occupied the whole of the short northern side, and contained many hundreds of seats for the imperial retinue. The great central throne of the Kathisma was the place in which the monarch showed himself most frequently to his subjects, and around it many strange scenes were enacted. It was on this throne that the rebel Hypatius was crowned emperor by the mob, with his own wife's necklace for an impromptu diadem. Here also, two centuries later, the Emperor Justinian II. sat in state after his reconquest of Constantinople, with his rivals, Leontius and Apsimarus, bound beneath his footstool, while the populace chanted, in allusion to the names of the vanquished princes, the verse, “Thou shalt trample on the Lion and the Asp.”

Down the centre of the Hippodrome ran the “spina,” or division wall, which every circus showed; it was ornamented with three most curious monuments, whose strange juxtaposition seemed almost to typify the heterogeneous materials from which the new city was built up. The first and oldest was an obelisk brought from Egypt, and covered with the usual hieroglyphic inscriptions; the second was the most notable, though one of the least beautiful, of the antiquities of Constantinople: it was the three-headed brazen serpent which Pausanias and the victorious Greeks had dedicated at Delphi in 479 b.c., after they had destroyed the Persian army at Platæa. The golden tripod, which was supported by the heads of the serpents, had long been wanting: the sacrilegious Phocians had stolen it six centuries before; but the dedicatory inscriptions engraved on the coils of the pedestal survived then and survive now to delight the archæologist. The third monument on the “spina” was a square bronze column of more modern work, contrasting strangely with the venerable antiquity of its neighbours. By some freak of chance all three monuments have remained till our own day: the vast walls of the Hippodrome have crumbled away, but its central decorations still stand erect in the midst of an open space which the Turks call the Atmeidan, or place of horses, in dim memory of its ancient use.

Along the outer eastern wall of the Hippodrome on the western edge of the Augustaeum, stood a range of small chapels and statues, the most important landmark among them being the Milion or central milestone of the empire, which we have already described. The statues, few at first, were increased by later emperors, till they extended along the whole length of the forum. Constantine's own contribution to the collection was a tall porphyry column surmounted by a bronze image which had once been the tutelary Apollo of the city of Hierapolis, but was turned into a representation of the emperor by the easy method of knocking off its head and substituting the imperial features. It was exactly the reverse of a change which can be seen at Rome, where the popes have removed the head of the Emperor Aurelius, and turned him into St. Peter, on the column in the Corso.

Building A Palace (from a Byzantine MS.)

North of the Hippodrome stood the great church which Constantine erected for his Christian subjects, and dedicated to the Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia). It was not the famous domed edifice which now bears that name, but an earlier and humbler building, probably of the Basilica-shape then usual. Burnt down once in the fifth and once in the sixth centuries, it has left no trace of its original character. From the west door of St. Sophia a wooden gallery, supported on arches, crossed the square, and finally ended at the “Royal Gate” of the palace. By this the emperor would betake himself to divine service without having to cross the street of the Chalcoprateia (brass market), which lay opposite to St. Sophia. The general effect of the gallery must have been somewhat like that of the curious passage perched aloft on arches which connects the Pitti and Uffizi palaces at Florence.

The edifices which we have described formed the heart of Constantinople. Between the Palace, the Hippodrome, and the Cathedral most of the important events in the history of the city took place. But to north and west the city extended for miles, and everywhere there were buildings of note, though no other cluster could vie with that round the Augustaeum. The Church of the Holy Apostles, which Constantine destined as the burying-place of his family, was the second among the ecclesiastical edifices of the town. Of the outlying civil buildings, the public granaries along the quays, the Golden Gate, by which the great road from the west entered the walls, and the palace of the praetorian praefect, who acted as governor of the city, must all have been well worthy of notice. A statue of Constantine on horseback, which stood by the last-named edifice, was one of the chief shows of Constantinople down to the end of the Middle Ages, and some curious legends gathered around it.

Fifteenth-Century Drawing Of The Equestrian Statue Of Constantine.

It was in a.d. 328 or 329—the exact date is not easily to be fixed—that Constantine had definitely chosen Byzantium for his capital, and drawn out the plan for its development. As early as May 11, 330, the buildings were so far advanced that he was able to hold the festival which celebrated its consecration. Christian bishops blessed the partially completed palace, and held the first service in St. Sophia; for Constantine, though still unbaptized himself, had determined that the new city should be Christian from the first. Of paganism there was no trace in it, save a few of the old temples of the Byzantines, spared when the older streets were levelled to clear the ground for the palace and adjoining buildings. The statues of the gods which adorned the Baths and Senate House stood there as works of art, not as objects of worship.

To fill the vast limits of his city, Constantine invited many senators of Old Rome and many rich provincial proprietors of Greece and Asia to take up their abode in it, granting them places in his new senate and sites for the dwellings they would require. The countless officers and functionaries of the imperial court, with their subordinates and slaves, must have composed a very considerable element in the new population. The artizans and handicraftsmen were enticed in thousands by the offer of special privileges. Merchants and seamen had always abounded at Byzantium, and now flocked in numbers which made the old commercial prosperity of the city seem insignificant. Most effective—though most demoralizing—of the gifts which Constantine bestowed on the new capital to attract immigrants was the old Roman privilege of free distribution of corn to the populace. The wheat-tribute of Egypt, which had previously formed part of the public provision of Rome, was transferred to the use of Constantinople, only the African corn from Carthage being for the future assigned for the subsistence of the older city.

On the completion of the dedication festival in 330 a.d. an imperial edict gave the city the title of New Rome, and the record was placed on a marble tablet near the equestrian statue of the emperor, opposite the Strategion. But “New Rome” was a phrase destined to subsist in poetry and rhetoric alone: the world from the first very rightly gave the city the founder's name only, and persisted in calling it Constantinople.

III. The Fight With The Goths

Constantine lived seven years after he had completed the dedication of his new city, and died in peace and prosperity on the 22nd of May, a.d. 337, received on his death-bed into that Christian Church on whose verge he had lingered during the last half of his life. By his will he left his realm to be divided among his sons and nephews; but a rapid succession of murders and civil wars thinned out the imperial house, and ended in the concentration of the whole empire from the Forth to the Tigris under the sceptre of Constantius II., the second son of the great emperor. The Roman world was not yet quite ripe for a permanent division; it was still possible to manage it from a single centre, for by some strange chance the barbarian invasions which had troubled the third century had ceased for a time, and the Romans were untroubled, save by some minor bickerings on the Rhine and the Euphrates. Constantius II., an administrator of some ability, but gloomy, suspicious, and unsympathetic, was able to devote his leisure to ecclesiastical controversies, and to dishonour himself by starting the first persecution of Christian by Christian that the world had seen. The crisis in the history of the empire was not destined to fall in his day, nor in the short reign of his cousin and successor, Julian, the amiable and cultured, but entirely wrongheaded, pagan zealot, who strove to put back the clock of time and restore the worship of the ancient gods of Greece. Both Constantius and Julian, if asked whence danger to the empire might be expected, would have pointed eastward, to the Mesopotamian frontier, where their great enemy, Sapor King of Persia, strove, with no very great success, to break through the line of Roman fortresses that protected Syria and Asia Minor.

But it was not in the east that the impending storm was really brewing. It was from the north that mischief was to come.

Gothic Idols. (From the Column of Arcadius.)

For a hundred and fifty years the Romans had been well acquainted with the tribes of the Goths, the most easterly of the Teutonic nations who lay along the imperial border. All through the third century they had been molesting the provinces of the Balkan Peninsula by their incessant raids, as we have already had occasion to relate. Only after a hard struggle had they been rolled back across the Danube, and compelled to limit their settlements to its northern bank, in what had once been the land of the Dacians. The last struggle with them had been in the time of Constantine, who, in a war that lasted from a.d. 328 to a.d. 332, had beaten them in the open field, compelled their king to give his sons as hostages, and dictated his own terms of peace. Since then the appetite of the Goths for war and adventure seemed permanently checked: for forty years they had kept comparatively quiet and seldom indulged in raids across the Danube. They were rapidly settling down into steady farmers in the fertile lands on the Theiss and the Pruth; they traded freely with the Roman towns of Moesia; many of their young warriors enlisted among the Roman auxiliary troops, and one considerable body of Gothic emigrants had been permitted to settle as subjects of the empire on the northern slope of the Balkans. By this time many of the Goths were becoming Christians: priests of their own blood already ministered to them, and the Bible, translated into their own language, was already in their hands. One of the earliest Gothic converts, the good Bishop Ulfilas—the first bishop of German blood that was ever consecrated—had rendered into their idiom the New Testament and most of the Old. A great portion of his work still survives, incomparably the most precious relic of the old Teutonic tongues that we now possess.

The Goths were rapidly losing their ancient ferocity. Compared to the barbarians who dwelt beyond them, they might almost be called a civilized race. The Romans were beginning to look upon them as a guard set on the frontier to ward off the wilder peoples that lay to their north and east. The nation was now divided into two tribes: the Visigoths, whose tribal name was the Thervings, lay more to the south, in what are now the countries of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Southern Hungary; the Ostrogoths, or tribe of the Gruthungs, lay more to the north and east, in Bessarabia, Transylvania, and the Dniester valley.

But a totally unexpected series of events were now to show how prescient Constantine had been, in rearing his great fortress-capital to serve as the central place of arms of the Balkan Peninsula.

About the year a.d. 372 the Huns, an enormous Tartar horde from beyond the Don and Volga, burst into the lands north of the Euxine, and began to work their way westward. The first tribe that lay in their way, the nomadic race of the Alans, they almost exterminated. Then they fell upon the Goths. The Ostrogoths made a desperate attempt to defend the line of the Dniester against the oncoming savages—“men with faces that can hardly be called faces—rather shapeless black collops of flesh with little points instead of eyes; little in stature, but lithe and active, skilful in riding, broad shouldered, good at the bow, stiff-necked and proud, hiding under a barely human form the ferocity of the wild beast.” But the enemy whom the Gothic historian describes in these uninviting terms was too strong for the Teutons of the East. The Ostrogoths were crushed and compelled to become vassals of the Huns, save a remnant who fought their way southward to the Wallachian shore, near the marshes of the Delta of the Danube. Then the Huns fell on the Visigoths. The wave of invasion pressed on; the Bug and the Pruth proved no barrier to the swarms of nomad bowmen, and the Visigoths, under their Duke Fritigern, fell back in dismay with their wives and children, their waggons and flocks and herds, till they found themselves with their backs to the Danube. Surrender to the enemy was more dreadful to the Visigoths than to their eastern brethren; they were more civilized, most of them were Christians, and the prospect of slavery to savages seems to have appeared intolerable to them.

Pressed against the Danube and the Roman border, the Visigoths sent in despair to ask permission to cross from the Emperor. A contemporary writer describes how they stood. “All the multitude that had escaped from the murderous savagery of the Huns—no less than 200,000 fighting men, besides women and old men and children—-were there on the river bank, stretching out their hands with loud lamentations, and earnestly supplicating leave to cross, bewailing their calamity, and promising that they would ever faithfully adhere to the imperial alliance if only the boon was granted them.”

At this moment (a.d. 376) the Roman Empire was again divided. The house of Constantine was gone, and the East was ruled by Valens, a stupid, cowardly, and avaricious prince, who had obtained the diadem and half the Roman world only because he was the brother of Valentinian, the greatest general of the day. Valentinian had taken the West for his portion, and dwelt in his camp on the Rhine and Upper Danube, while Valens, slothful and timid, shut himself up with a court of slaves and flatterers in the imperial palace at Constantinople.

The proposal of the Goths filled Valens with dismay. It was difficult to say which was more dangerous—to refuse a passage to 200,000 desperate men with arms in their hands and a savage foe at their backs, or to admit them within the line of river and fortress that protected the border, with an implied obligation to find land for them. After much doubting he chose the latter alternative: if the Goths would give hostages and surrender their arms, they should be ferried across the Danube and permitted to settle as subject-allies within the empire.

The Goths accepted the terms, gave up the sons of their chiefs as hostages, and streamed across the river as fast as the Roman Danube-flotilla could transport them. But no sooner had they reached Moesia than troubles broke out. The Roman officials at first tried to disarm the immigrants, but the Goths were unwilling to surrender their weapons, and offered large bribes to be allowed to retain them: in strict disobedience to the Emperor's orders, the bribes were accepted and the Goths retained their arms. Further disputes soon broke out. The provisions of Moesia did not suffice for so many hundred thousand mouths as had just entered its border, and Valens had ordered stores of corn from Asia to be collected for the use of the Goths, till they should have received and commenced to cultivate land of their own. But the governor, Lupicinus, to fill his own pockets, held back the food, and doled out what he chose to give at exorbitant prices. In sheer hunger the Goths were driven to barter a slave for a single loaf of bread and ten pounds of silver for a sheep. This shameless extortion continued as long as the stores and the patience of the Goths lasted. At last the poorer immigrants were actually beginning to sell their own children for slaves rather than let them starve. This drove the Goths to desperation, and a chance affray set the whole nation in a blaze. Fritigern, with many