Editor’s note: This is the third of twelve lectures by Charles Kingsley, published as The Roman and the Teuton (1889).
PREFACE TO LECTURE III. — ON DR. LATHAM’S ‘GERMANIA’
If I have followed in these lectures the better known and more widely received etymology of the name Goth, I have done so out of no disrespect to Dr. Latham; but simply because his theory seems to me adhuc sub judice. It is this, as far as I understand it. That ‘Goth’ was not the aboriginal name of the race. That they were probably not so called till they came into the land of the Getæ, about the mouths of the Danube. That the Teutonic name for the Ostrogoths was Grutungs, and that of the Visigoths (which he does not consider to mean West-Goths) Thervings, Thüringer. That on reaching the land of the Getæ they took their name; ‘just as the Kentings of Anglo-Saxon England took name from the Keltic country of Kent;’ and that the names Goth, Gothones, Gothini were originally given to Lithuanians by their Sclavonic neighbours. I merely state the theory, and leave it for the judgment of others.
The principal points which Dr. Latham considers himself to have established, are—
That the area and population of the Teutonic tribes have been, on the authority of Tacitus, much overrated; many tribes hitherto supposed to be Teutonic being really Sclavonic, &c.
This need not shock our pride, if proved—as it seems to me to be. The nations who have influenced the world’s destiny have not been great, in the modern American sense of ‘big;’ but great in heart, as our forefathers were. The Greeks were but a handful at Salamis; so were the Romans of the Republic; so were the Spaniards of America; so, probably, were the Aztecs and Incas whom they overthrew; and surely our own conquerors and re-conquerers of Hindostan have shewn enough that it is not numbers, but soul, which gives a race the power to rule.
Neither need we object to Dr. Latham’s opinion, that more than one of the tribes which took part in the destruction of the Empire were not aboriginal Germans, but Sclavonians Germanized, and under German leaders. It may be so. The custom of enslaving captives would render pure Teutonic blood among the lower classes of a tribe the exception and not the rule; while the custom of chiefs choosing the ‘thegns,’ ‘gesitha,’ or ‘comites,’ who lived and died as their companions-in-arms, from among the most valiant of the unfree, would tend to produce a mixed blood in the upper classes also, and gradually assimilate the whole mass to the manners and laws of their Teutonic lords. Only by some such actual superiority of the upper classes to the lower can I explain the deep respect for rank and blood, which distinguishes, and will perhaps always distinguish, the Teutonic peoples. Had there even been anything like a primæval equality among our race, a hereditary aristocracy could never have arisen, or if arising for a while, never could have remained as a fact which all believed in, from the lowest to the highest. Just, or unjust, the institution represented, I verily believe, an ethnological fact. The golden-haired hero said to his brown-haired bondsman, ‘I am a gentleman, who have a “gens,” a stamm, a pedigree, and know from whom I am sprung. I am a Garding, an Amalung, a Scylding, an Osing, or what not. I am a son of the gods. The blood of the Asas is in my veins. Do you not see it? Am I not wiser, stronger, more virtuous, more beautiful than you? You must obey me, and be my man, and follow me to the death. Then, if you prove a worthy thane, I will give you horse, weapons, bracelets, lands; and marry you, it may be, to my daughter or my niece. And if not, you must remain a son of the earth, grubbing in the dust of which you were made.’ And the bondsman believed him; and became his lord’s man, and followed him to the death; and was thereby not degraded, but raised out of selfish savagery and brute independence into loyalty, usefulness, and self-respect. As a fact, that is the method by which the thing was done: done;—very ill indeed, as most human things are done; but a method inevitable—and possibly right; till (as in England now) the lower classes became ethnologically identical with the upper, and equality became possible in law, simply because it existed in fact.
But the part of Dr. Latham’s ‘Germania’ to which I am bound to call most attention, because I have not followed it, is that interesting part of the Prolegomena, in which he combats the generally received theory, that, between the time of Tacitus and that of Charlemagne, vast masses of Germans had migrated southward from between the Elbe and the Vistula; and that they had been replaced by the Sclavonians who certainly were there in Charlemagne’s days.
Dr. Latham argues against this theory with a great variety of facts and reasons. But has he not overstated his case on some points?
Need the migrations necessary for this theory have been of ‘unparalleled magnitude and rapidity’?
As for the ‘unparalleled completeness’ on which he lays much stress, from the fact that no remnants of Teutonic population are found in the countries evacuated:
Is it the fact that ‘history only tells us of German armies having advanced south’? Do we not find four famous cases—the irruption of the Cimbri and Teutons into Italy; the passage of the Danube by the Visigoths; and the invasions of Italy first by the Ostrogoths, then by the Lombards—in which the nations came with men, women, and children, horses, cattle, and dogs, bag and baggage? May not this have been the custom of the race, with its strong feeling for the family tie; and may not this account for no traces of them being left behind?
Does not Dr. Latham’s theory proceed too much on an assumption that the Sclavonians dispossest the Teutons by force? And is not this assumption his ground for objecting that the movement was effected improbably ‘by that division of the European population (the Sclavonic and Lithuanian) which has, within the historic period, receded before the Germanic’?
Are these migrations, though ‘unrepresented in any history’ (i.e. contemporaneous), really ‘unrepresented in any tradition’? Do not the traditions of Jornandes and Paulus Diaconus, that the Goths and the Lombards came from Scandinavia, represent this very fact?—and are they to be set aside as naught? Surely not. Myths of this kind generally embody a nucleus of truth, and must be regarded with respect; for they often, after all arguments about them are spent, are found to contain the very pith of the matter.
Are the ‘phenomena of replacement and substitution’ so very strange—I will not say upon the popular theory, but at least on one half-way between it and Dr. Latham’s? Namely—
That the Teutonic races came originally, as some of them say they did, from Scandinavia, Denmark, the South Baltic, &c.
That they forced their way down, wave after wave, on what would have been the line of least resistance—the Marches between the Gauls, Romanized or otherwise, and the Sclavonians. And that the Alps and the solid front of the Roman Empire turned them to the East, till their vanguard found itself on the Danube.
This would agree with Dr. Latham’s most valuable hint, that Markmen, ‘Men of the Marches,’ was perhaps the name of many German tribes successively.
That they fought, as they went, with the Sclavonian and other tribes (as their traditions seem to report), and rolled them back to the eastward; and that as each Teutonic tribe past down the line, the Sclavonians rolled back again, till the last column was past.
That the Teutons also carried down with them, as slaves or allies, a portion of this old Sclavonic population (to which Dr. Latham will perhaps agree); and that this fact caused a hiatus, which was gradually filled by tribes who after all were little better than nomad hunters, and would occupy (quite nominally) a very large tract with a small population.
Would not this theory agree at once tolerably with the old traditions and with Dr. Latham’s new facts?
The question still remains—which is the question of all. What put these Germanic peoples on going South? Were there no causes sufficient to excite so desperate a resolve?
(1) Did they all go? Is not Paulus Diaconus’ story that one-third of the Lombards was to emigrate by lot, and two-thirds remain at home, a rough type of what generally happened—what happens now in our modern emigrations? Was not the surplus population driven off by famine toward warmer and more hopeful climes?
(2) Are not the Teutonic populations of England, North Germany, and the Baltic, the descendants, much intermixed, and with dialects much changed, of the portions which were left behind? This is the opinion, I believe, of several great ethnologists. Is it not true? If philological objections are raised to this, I ask (but in all humility), Did not these southward migrations commence long before the time of Tacitus? If so, may they not have commenced before the different Teutonic dialects were as distinct as they were in the historic period? And are we to suppose that the dialects did not alter during the long journeyings through many nations? Is it possible that the Thervings and Grutungs could have retained the same tongue on the Danube, as their forefathers spoke in their native land? Would not the Moeso-Gothic of Ulfilas have been all but unintelligible to the Goth who, upon the old theory, remained in Gothland of Sweden?
(3) But were there not more causes than mere want, which sent them south? Had the peculiar restlessness of the race nothing to do with it? A restlessness not nomadic, but migratory: arising not from carelessness of land and home, but from the longing to found a home in a new land, like the restlessness of us, their children? As soon as we meet them in historic times, they are always moving, migrating, invading. Were they not doing the same in pre-historic times, by fits and starts, no doubt with periods of excitement, periods of collapse and rest? When we recollect the invasion of the Normans; the wholesale eastward migration of the Crusaders, men, women, and children; and the later colonization by Teutonic peoples, of every quarter of the globe, is there anything wonderful in the belief that similar migratory manias may have seized the old tribes; that the spirit of Woden, ‘the mover,’ may have moved them, and forced them to go ahead, as now? Doubtless the theory is strange. But the Teutons were and are a strange people; so strange, that they have conquered—one may almost say that they are—all nations which are alive upon the globe; and we may therefore expect them to have done strange things even in their infancy.
The Romans saw them conquer the empire; and said, the good men among them, that it was on account of their superior virtue. But beside the virtue which made them succeed, there must have been the adventurousness which made them attempt. They were a people fond of ‘avanturen,’ like their descendants; and they went out to seek them; and found enough and to spare.
(4) But more, had they never heard of Rome? Surely they had, and at a very early period of the empire. We are apt to forget, that for every discovery of the Germans by the Romans, there was a similar discovery of the Romans by the Germans, and one which would tell powerfully on their childish imagination. Did not one single Kemper or Teuton return from Marius’ slaughter, to spread among the tribes (niddering though he may have been called for coming back alive) the fair land which they had found, fit for the gods of Valhalla; the land of sunshine, fruits and wine, wherein his brothers’ and sisters’ bones were bleaching unavenged? Did no gay Gaul of the Legion of the Lark, boast in a frontier wine-house to a German trapper, who came in to sell his peltry, how he himself was a gentleman now, and a civilized man, and a Roman; and how he had followed Julius Cæsar, the king of men, over the Rubicon, and on to a city of the like of which man never dreamed, wherein was room for all the gods of heaven? Did no captive tribune of Varus’ legions, led with horrid shouts round Thor’s altar in the Teutoburger Wald, ere his corpse was hung among the horses and goats on the primæval oaks, turn to bay like a Roman, and tell his wild captors of the Eternal City, and of the might of that Cæsar who would avenge every hair upon his head with a German life; and receive for answer a shout of laughter, and the cry—‘You have come to us: and some day we will go to you?’ Did no commissary, bargaining with a German for cattle to be sent over the frontier by such a day of the week, and teaching him to mistranslate into those names of Thor, Woden, Freya, and so forth, which they now carry, the Jewish-Assyrian-Roman days of the se’nnight, amuse the simple forester by telling him how the streets of Rome were paved with gold, and no one had anything to do there but to eat and bathe at the public expense, and to go to the theatre, and see 20,000 gladiators fight at once? Did no German ‘Regulus,’ alderman, or king, enter Rome on an embassy, and come back with uplifted eyes and hands, declaring that he had seen things unspeakable—a ‘very fine plunder,’ as Blucher said of London; and that if it were not for the walls, they might get it all; for not only the ladies, but the noblemen, went about in litters of silver and gold, and wore gauze dresses, the shameless wretches, through which you might see every limb, so that as for killing them, there was no more fear of them than of a flock of sheep: but that he did not see as well as he could have wished how to enter the great city, for he was more or less the worse for liquor the whole time, with wondrous stuff which they called wine? Or did no captive, escaped by miracle from the butcheries of the amphitheatre, return to tell his countrymen how all the rest had died like German men; and call on them to rise and avenge their brothers’ blood? Yes, surely the Teutons knew well, even in the time of Tacitus, of the ‘micklegard,’ the great city and all its glory. Every fresh tribe who passed along the frontier of Gaul or of Noricum would hear more and more of it, see more and more men who had actually been there. If the glory of the city exercised on its own inhabitants an intoxicating influence, as of a place omnipotent, superhuman, divine—it would exercise (exaggerated as it would be) a still stronger influence on the barbarians outside: and what wonder if they pressed southwards at first in the hope of taking the mighty city; and afterwards, as her real strength became more known, of at least seizing some of those colonial cities, which were as superhuman in their eyes as Rome itself would have been? In the crusades, the children, whenever they came to a great town, asked their parents if that was not Jerusalem. And so, it may be, many a gallant young Teuton, on entering for the first time such a city as Cologne, Lyons, or Vienna, whispered half trembling to his lord—‘Surely this must be Rome.’
Some such arguments as these might surely be brought in favour of a greater migration than Dr. Latham is inclined to allow: but I must leave the question for men of deeper research and wider learning, than I possess.
Lecture III. — THE HUMAN DELUGE
‘I have taken in hand,’ said Sir Francis Drake once to the crew of the immortal Pelican, ‘that which I know not how to accomplish. Yea, it hath even bereaved me of my wits to think of it.’
And so I must say on the subject of this lecture. I wish to give you some notion of the history of Italy for nearly one hundred years; say from 400 to 500. But it is very difficult. How can a man draw a picture of that which has no shape; or tell the order of absolute disorder? It is all a horrible ‘fourmillement des nations,’ like the working of an ant-heap; like the insects devouring each other in a drop of water. Teuton tribes, Sclavonic tribes, Tartar tribes, Roman generals, empresses, bishops, courtiers, adventurers, appear for a moment out of the crowd, dim phantoms—nothing more, most of them—with a name appended, and then vanish, proving their humanity only by leaving behind them one more stain of blood.
And what became of the masses all the while? of the men, slaves the greater part of them, if not all, who tilled the soil, and ground the corn—for man must have eaten, then as now? We have no hint. One trusts that God had mercy on them, if not in this world, still in the world to come. Man, at least, had none.
Taking one’s stand at Rome, and looking toward the north, what does one see for nearly one hundred years? Wave after wave rising out of the north, the land of night, and wonder, and the terrible unknown; visible only as the light of Roman civilization strikes their crests, and they dash against the Alps, and roll over through the mountain passes, into the fertile plains below. Then at last they are seen but too well; and you discover that the waves are living men, women, and children, horses, dogs, and cattle, all rushing headlong into that great whirlpool of Italy: and yet the gulf is never full. The earth drinks up the blood; the bones decay into the fruitful soil; the very names and memories of whole tribes are washed away. And the result of an immigration which may be counted by hundreds of thousands is this—that all the land is waste.
The best authorities which I can give you (though you will find many more in Gibbon) are—for the main story, Jornandes, De Rebus Geticis. Himself a Goth, he wrote the history of his race, and that of Attila and his Huns, in good rugged Latin, not without force and sense.
Then Claudian, the poet, a bombastic panegyrist of contemporary Roman scoundrels; but full of curious facts, if one could only depend on them.
Then the earlier books of Procopius De Bello Gothico, and the Chronicle of Zosimus.
Salvian, Ennodius and Sidonius Apollinaris, as Christians, will give you curious details, especially as to South France and North Italy; while many particulars of the first sack of Rome, with comments thereon which express the highest intellects of that day, you will find in St. Jerome’s Letters, and St. Augustine’s City of God.
But if you want these dreadful times explained to you, I do not think you can do better than to take your Bibles, and to read the Revelations of St. John the Apostle. I shall quote them, more than once, in this lecture. I cannot help quoting them. The words come naturally to my lips, as fitter to the facts than any words of my own.
I do not come here to interpret the Book of Revelations. I do not understand that book. But I do say plainly, though I cannot interpret the book, that the book has interpreted those times to me. Its awful metaphors give me more living and accurate pictures of what went on than any that Gibbon’s faithful details can give.
You may see, if you have spiritual eyes wherewith to see, the Dragon, the serpent, symbol of political craft and the devilish wisdom of the Roman, giving authority to the Beast, the symbol of brute power; to mongrel Ætiuses and Bonifaces, barbarian Stilichos, Ricimers and Aspars, and a host of similar adventurers, whose only strength was force.
You may see the world wondering after the beast, and worshipping brute force, as the only thing left to believe in.
You may see the nations of the world gnawing their tongues for pain, and blaspheming God, but not repenting of their deeds.
You may see the faith and patience of the saints—men like Augustine, Salvian, Epiphanius, Severinus, Deogratias of Carthage, and a host more, no doubt, whose names the world will never hear—the salt of the earth, which kept it all from rotting.
You may see Babylon the great fallen, and all the kings and merchants of the earth bewailing her afar off, and watching the smoke of her torment.
You may see, as St. John warns you, that—after her fall, mind—if men would go on worshipping the beast, and much more his image—the phantom and shadow of brute force, after the reality had passed away—they should drink of the wine of the wrath of God, and be tormented for ever. For you may see how those degenerate Romans did go on worshipping the shadow of brute force, and how they were tormented for ever; and had no rest day or night, because they worshipped the Beast and his image.
You may see all the fowl of the heavens flocking together to the feast of the great God, to eat the flesh of kings and captains, horse and rider, bond and free.—All carrion-birds, human as well as brute—All greedy villains and adventurers, the scoundreldom of the whole world, flocking in to get their share of the carcass of the dying empire; as the vulture and the raven flock in to the carrion when the royal eagles have gorged their fill.
And lastly, you may see, if God give you grace, One who is faithful and true, with a name which no man knew, save Himself, making war in righteousness against all evil; bringing order out of disorder, hope out of despair, fresh health and life out of old disease and death; executing just judgment among all the nations of the earth; and sending down from heaven the city of God, in the light of which the nations of those who are saved should walk, and the kings of the earth should bring their power and their glory into it; with the tree of life in the midst of it, whose leaves should be for the healing of the nations.
Again, I say, I am not here to interpret the Book of Revelations; but this I say, that that book interprets those times to me.
Leaving, for the present at least, to better historians than myself the general subject of the Teutonic immigrations; the conquest of North Gaul by the Franks, of Britain by the Saxons and Angles, of Burgundy by the Burgundians, of Africa by the Vandals, I shall speak rather of those Teutonic tribes which actually entered and conquered Italy; and first, of course, of the Goths. Especially interesting to us English should their fortunes be, for they are said to be very near of kin to us; at least to those Jutes who conquered Kent. As Goths, Geats, Getæ, Juts, antiquarians find them in early and altogether mythic times, in the Scandinavian peninsula, and the isles and mainland of Denmark.
Their name, it is said, is the same as one name for the Supreme Being. Goth, Guth, Yuth, signifies war. ‘God’ is the highest warrior, the Lord of hosts, and the progenitor of the race, whether as an ‘Eponym hero’ or as the supreme Deity. Physical force was their rude notion of Divine power, and Tiu, Tiv, or Tyr, in like manner, who was originally the god of the clear sky, the Zeus or Jove of the Greeks and Romans, became by virtue of his warlike character, identical with the Roman Mars, till the dies Martis of the Roman week became the German Tuesday.
Working their way down from Gothland and Jutland, we know not why nor when, thrusting aside the cognate Burgunds, and the Sclavonic tribes whom they met on the road, they had spread themselves, in the third century, over the whole South of Russia, and westward over the Danubian Provinces, and Hungary. The Ostrogoths (East-goths) lay from the Volga to the Borysthenes, the Visigoths (West-goths?) from the Borysthenes to the Theiss. Behind them lay the Gepidæ, a German tribe, who had come south-eastward with them, and whose name is said to signify the men who had ‘bided’ (remained) behind the rest.
What manner of men they were it is hard to say, so few details are left to us. But we may conceive them as a tall, fair-haired people, clothed in shirts and smocks of embroidered linen, and gaiters cross-strapped with hide; their arms and necks encircled with gold and silver rings; the warriors, at least of the upper class, well horsed, and armed with lance and heavy sword, with chain-mail, and helmets surmounted with plumes, horns, towers, dragons, boars, and the other strange devices which are still seen on the crests of German nobles. This much we can guess; for in this way their ancestors, or at least relations, the War-Geats, appear clothed in the grand old song of Beowulf. Their land must have been tilled principally by slaves, usually captives taken in war: but the noble mystery of the forge, where arms and ornaments were made, was an honourable craft for men of rank; and their ladies, as in the middle age, prided themselves on their skill with the needle and the loom. Their language has been happily preserved to us in Ulfilas’ Translation of the Scriptures. For these Goths, the greater number of them at least, were by this time Christians, or very nearly such. Good Bishop Ulfilas, brought up a Christian and consecrated by order of Constantine the Great, had been labouring for years to convert his adopted countrymen from the worship of Thor and Woden. He had translated the Bible for them, and had constructed a Gothic alphabet for that purpose. He had omitted, however (prudently as he considered) the books of Kings, with their histories of the Jewish wars. The Goths, he held, were only too fond of fighting already, and ‘needed in that matter the bit, rather than the spur.’ He had now a large number of converts, some of whom had even endured persecution from their heathen brethren. Athanaric, ‘judge,’ or alderman of the Thervings, had sent through the camp—so runs the story—the waggon which bore the idol of Woden, and had burnt, with their tents and their families, those who refused to worship.
They, like all other German tribes, were ruled over by two royal races, sons of Woden and the Asas. The Ostrogoth race was the Amalungs—the ‘heavenly,’ or ‘spotless’ race; the Visigoth race was the Balthungs—the ‘bold’ or ‘valiant’ race; and from these two families, and from a few others, but all believed to be lineally descended from Woden, and now much intermixed, are derived all the old royal families of Europe, that of the House of Brunswick among the rest.
That they were no savages, is shewn sufficiently by their names, at least those of their chiefs. Such names as Alaric, ‘all rich’ or ‘all powerful,’ Ataulf, ‘the helping father,’ Fridigern, ‘the willing peace-maker,’ and so forth—all the names in fact, which can be put back into their native form out of their Romanized distortions, are tokens of a people far removed from that barbarous state in which men are named after personal peculiarities, natural objects, or the beasts of the field. On this subject you may consult, as full of interest and instruction, the list of Teutonic names given in Muratori.
They had broken over the Roman frontier more than once, and taken cities. They had compelled the Emperor Gratian to buy them off. They had built themselves flat-bottomed boats without iron in them and sailed from the Crimea round the shores of the Black Sea, once and again, plundering Trebizond, and at last the temple itself of Diana at Ephesus. They had even penetrated into Greece and Athens, plundered the Parthenon, and threatened the capitol. They had fought the Emperor Decius, till he, and many of his legionaries, were drowned in a bog in the moment of victory. They had been driven with difficulty back across the Danube by Aurelian, and walled out of the Empire with the Allemanni by Probus’s ‘Teufels-Mauer,’ stretching from the Danube to the Rhine. Their time was not yet come by a hundred years. But they had seen and tasted the fine things of the sunny south, and did not forget them amid the steppes and snows.
At last a sore need came upon them. About 350 there was a great king among them, Ermanaric, ‘the powerful warrior,’ comparable, says Jornandes, to Alexander himself, who had conquered all the conquered tribes around. When he was past 100 years old, a chief of the Roxolani (Ugrians, according to Dr. Latham; men of Ros, or Russia), one of these tribes, plotted against him, and sent for help to the new people, the Huns, who had just appeared on the confines of Europe and Asia. Old Ermanaric tore the traitor’s wife to pieces with wild horses: but the Huns came nevertheless. A magic hind, the Goths said, guided the new people over the steppes to the land of the Goths, and then vanished. They fought with the Goths, and defeated them. Old Ermanaric stabbed himself for shame, and the hearts of the Goths became as water before the tempest of nations. They were supernatural creatures, the Goths believed, engendered of witches and demons on the steppes; pig-eyed hideous beings, with cakes instead of faces, ‘offam magis quam faciem,’ under ratskin caps, armed with arrows tipped with bone, and lassos of cord, eating, marketing, sleeping on horseback, so grown into the saddle that they could hardly walk in their huge boots. With them were Acatzirs, painted blue, hair as well as skin; Alans, wandering with their waggons like the Huns, armed with heavy cuirasses of plaited horn, their horses decked with human scalps; Geloni armed with a scythe, wrapt in a cloak of human skin; Bulgars who impaled their prisoners—savages innumerable as the locust swarms. Who could stand against them?
In the year 375, the West Goths came down to the Danube-bank and entreated the Romans to let them cross. There was a Christian party among them, persecuted by the heathens, and hoping for protection from Rome. Athanaric had vowed never to set foot on Roman soil, and after defending himself against the Huns, retired into the forests of ‘Caucaland.’ Good Bishop Ulfilas and his converts looked longingly toward the Christian Empire. Surely the Christians would receive them as brothers, welcome them, help them. The simple German fancied a Roman even such a one as themselves.
Ulfilas went on embassy to Antioch, to Valens the Emperor. Valens, low-born, cruel, and covetous, was an Arian, and could not lose the opportunity of making converts. He sent theologians to meet Ulfilas, and torment him into Arianism. When he arrived, Valens tormented him himself. While the Goths starved he argued, apostasy was the absolute condition of his help, till Ulfilas, in a weak moment, gave his word that the Goths should become Arians, if Valens would give them lands on the South bank of the Danube. Then they would be the Emperor’s men, and guard the marches against all foes. From that time Arianism became the creed, not only of the Goths, but of the Vandals, the Sueves, and almost all the Teutonic tribes.
It was (if the story be true) a sinful and foolish compact, forced from a good man by the sight of his countrymen’s extreme danger and misery. It avenged itself, soon enough, upon both Goths and Romans.
To the Goths themselves the change must have seemed not only unimportant, but imperceptible. Unaccustomed to that accuracy of thought, which is too often sneered at by Gibbon as ‘metaphysical subtlety,’ all of which they would have been aware was the change of a few letters in a creed written in an unknown tongue. They could not know, (Ulfilas himself could not have known, only two years after the death of St. Athanasius at Alexandria; while the Nicæan Creed was as yet received by only half of the Empire; and while he meanwhile had been toiling for years in the Danubian wilds, ignorant perhaps of the controversy which had meanwhile convulsed the Church)—neither the Goths nor he, I say, could have known that the Arianism, which they embraced, was really the last, and as it were apologetic, refuge of dying Polytheism; that it, and not the Catholic Faith, denied the abysmal unity of the Godhead; that by making the Son inferior to the Father, as touching his Godhead, it invented two Gods, a greater and a lesser, thus denying the absoluteness, the infinity, the illimitability, by any category of quantity, of that One Eternal, of whom it is written, that God is a Spirit. Still less could they have guessed that when Arius, the handsome popular preacher (whose very name, perhaps, Ulfilas never heard) asked the fine ladies of Alexandria—‘Had you a son before that son was born?’—‘No.’ ‘Then God could have no son before that son was begotten, &c.’—that he was mingling up the idea of Time with the idea of that Eternal God who created Time, and debasing to the accidents of before and after that Timeless and Eternal Generation, of which it is written, ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.’ Still less could Ulfilas, or his Goths, have known, that the natural human tendency to condition God by Time, would be, in later ages, even long after Arianism was crushed utterly, the parent of many a cruel, gross, and stupid superstition. To them it would have been a mere question whether Woden, the All-father, was superior to one of his sons, the Asas: and the Catholic faith probably seemed to them an impious assumption of equality, on the part of one of those Asas, with Woden himself.
Of the battle between Arianism and Orthodoxy I have said enough to shew you that I think it an internecine battle between truth and falsehood. But it has been long ago judged by wager of battle: by the success of that duel of time, of which we must believe (as our forefathers believed of all fair duels) that God defends the right.
So the Goths were to come over the Danube stream: but they must give up their arms, and deliver their children (those of rank, one supposes), as hostages, to be educated by the Romans, as Romans.
They crossed the fatal river; they were whole days in crossing; those set to count them gave it up in despair; Ammianus says: ‘He who wishes to know their number,’
‘Libyci velit æquoris idem
Discere quam multæ Zephyro volvuntur arenæ.’
And when they were across, they gave up the children. They had not the heart to give up the beloved weapons. The Roman commissioners let them keep the arms, at the price of many a Gothic woman’s honour. Ugly and foul things happened, of which we have only hints. Then they had to be fed for the time being, till they could cultivate their land. Lupicinus and Maximus, the two governors of Thrace pocketed the funds which Valens sent, and starved the Goths. The markets were full of carrion and dogs’ flesh. Anything was good enough for a barbarian. Their fringed carpets, their beautiful linens, all went. A little wholesome meat cost 10 pounds of silver. When all was gone, they had to sell their children. To establish a slave-trade in the beautiful boys and girls was just what the wicked Romans wanted. At last the end came. They began to rise. Fridigern, their king, kept them quiet till the time was ripe for revenge. The Romans, trying to keep the West Goths down, got so confused, it seems, that they let the whole nation of the East Goths (of whom we shall hear more hereafter) dash across the Danube, and establish themselves in the north of the present Turkey, to the east of the West Goths.
Then at Marcianopolis, the capital of Lower Moesia, Lupicinus asked Fridigern and his chiefs to a feast. The starving Goths outside were refused supplies from the market, and came to blows with the guards. Lupicinus, half drunk, heard of it, and gave orders for a massacre. Fridigern escaped from the palace, sword in hand. The smouldering embers burst into flame, the war-cry was raised, and the villain Lupicinus fled for his life.
Then began war south of the Danube. The Roman legions were defeated by the Goths, who armed themselves with the weapons of the dead. Moesia was overrun with fire and sword. Adrianople was attacked, but in vain. The slaves in the gold mines were freed from their misery, and shewed the Goths the mountain-passes and the stores of grain. As they went on, the Goths recovered their children. The poor things told horrid tales; and the Goths, maddened, avenged themselves on the Romans of every age and sex. ‘They left,’ says St. Jerome, ‘nothing alive—not even the beasts of the field; till nothing was left but growing brambles and thick forests.’
Valens, the Emperor, was at Antioch. Now he hurried to Constantinople, but too late. The East Goths had joined the West Goths; and hordes of Huns, Alans, and Taifalæ (detestable savages, of whom we know nothing but evil) had joined Fridigern’s confederacy.
Gratian, Valens’ colleague and nephew, son of Valentinian the bear-ward, had just won a great victory over the Allemanni at Colmar in Alsace; and Valens was jealous of his glory. He is said to have been a virtuous youth, whose monomania was shooting. He fell in love with the wild Alans, in spite of their horse-trappings of scalps, simply because of their skill in archery; formed a body-guard of them, and passed his time hunting with them round Paris. Nevertheless, he won this great victory by the help, it seems, of one Count Ricimer (‘ever-powerful’), Count of the Domestics, whose name proclaims him a German.
Valens was jealous of Gratian’s fame; he was stung by the reproaches of the mob of Constantinople; and he undervalued the Goths, on account of some successes of his lieutenants, who had recovered much of the plunder taken by them, and had utterly overpowered the foul Taifalæ, transporting them to lands about Modena and Parma in Italy. He rejected Count Ricimer’s advice to wait till Gratian reinforced him with the victorious western legions, and determined to give battle a few miles from Adrianople. Had he waited for Gratian, the history of the whole world might have been different.
For on the ninth of August, A.D. 378, the fatal day, the second Cannæ, from which Rome never recovered as from that first, the young world and the old world met, and fought it out; and the young world won. The light Roman cavalry fled before the long lances and heavy swords of the German knights. The knights turned on the infantry, broke them, hunted them down by charge after charge, and left the footmen to finish the work.
Two-thirds of the Roman army were destroyed; four Counts of the Empire; generals and officers without number. Valens fled wounded to a cottage. The Goths set it on fire, and burned him and his staff therein, ignorant that they had in their hands the Emperor of Rome. Verily there is a God who judgeth the earth.
So thought the Catholics of that day, who saw in the fearful death of Valens a punishment for his having forced the Goths to become Arians. ‘It was just,’ says one, ‘that he should burn on earth, by whose counsels so many barbarians will burn in hell for ever.’ There are (as I have shewn) still darker counts in the conduct of the Romans toward the Goths; enough (if we believe our Bibles) to draw down on the guilty the swift and terrible judgments of God.
At least, this was the second Cannæ, the death-wound of Rome. From that day the end was certain, however slow. The Teuton had at last tried his strength against the Roman. The wild forest-child had found himself suddenly at death-grips with the Enchanter whom he had feared, and almost worshipped, for so long; and behold, to his own wonder, he was no more a child, but grown into a man, and the stronger, if not the cunninger of the two. There had been a spell upon him; the ‘Romani nominis umbra.’ But from that day the spell was broken. He had faced a Roman Emperor, a Divus Cæsar, the man-god by whose head all nations swore, rich with the magic wealth, wise with the magic cunning, of centuries of superhuman glory; and he had killed him, and behold he died, like other men. That he had done. What was there left for him now that he could not do?
The stronger he was, but not yet the cunninger of the two. The Goths could do no more. They had to leave Adrianople behind them, with the Emperor’s treasures safe within its walls; to gaze with childish wonder at the Bosphorus and its palaces; to recoil in awe from the ‘long walls’ of Constantinople, and the great stones which the engines thereon hurled at them by ‘arsmetricke and nigromancy,’ as their descendants believed of the Roman mechanicians, even five hundred years after; to hear (without being able to avenge) the horrible news, that the Gothic lads distributed throughout Asia, to be educated as Romans, had been decoyed into the cities by promises of lands and honours, and then massacred in cold blood; and then to settle down, leaving their children unavenged, for twenty years on the rich land which we now call Turkey in Europe, waiting till the time was come.
Waiting, I say, till the time was come. The fixed idea that Rome, if not Constantinople, could be taken at last, probably never left the minds of the leading Goths after the battle of Adrianople. The altered policy of the Cæsars was enough of itself to keep that idea alive. So far from expelling them from the country which they had seized, the new Emperor began to flatter and to honour them.
They had been heretofore regarded as savages, either to be driven back by main force, or tempted to enlist in the Roman ranks. Theodosius regarded them as a nation, and one which it was his interest to hire, to trust, to indulge at the expense of his Roman subjects.
Theodosius has received the surname of Great—seemingly by comparison; ‘Inter cæcos luscus rex;’ and it was highly creditable to a Roman Emperor in those days to be neither ruffian nor villain, but a handsome, highbred, courteous gentleman, pure in his domestic life, an orthodox Christian, and sufficiently obedient to the Church to forgive the monks who had burnt a Jewish synagogue, and to do penance in the Cathedral of Milan for the massacre of Thessalonica. That the morals of the Empire (if Zosimus is to be at all believed) grew more and more effeminate, corrupt, reckless; that the soldiers (if Vegetius is to be believed) actually laid aside, by royal permission, their helmets and cuirasses, as too heavy for their degenerate bodies; that the Roman heavy infantry, which had conquered the world, ceased to exist, while its place was taken by that Teutonic heavy cavalry, which decided every battle in Europe till the English yeoman, at Crecy and Poictiers, turned again the balance of arms in favour of the men who fought on foot; that the Goths became the ‘fœderati’ or allies of the Empire, paid to fight its battles against Maximus the Spaniard, and Arbogast the Frank, the rebels who, after the murder of young Gratian, attempted to set up a separate empire in the west; that Stilicho the Vandal was the Emperor’s trusted friend, and master of the horse; that Alaric the Balth, and other noble Goths, were learning to combine with their native courage those Roman tactics which they only needed to become masters of the world; that in all cities, even in the Royal Palace, the huge Goth swaggered in Roman costume, his neck and arms heavy with golden torcs and bracelets; or even (as in the case of Fravitta and Priulf) stabbed his enemy with impunity at the imperial table; that κινειν το Σκυθικον, to disturb the Goths, was a deadly offence throughout the Empire: all these things did not prevent a thousand new statues from rising in honour of the great Cæsar, and excited nothing more than grumblings of impotent jealousy from a people whose maxim had become, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’
Three anecdotes will illustrate sufficiently the policy of Theodosius toward his inconvenient guests. Towards the beginning of his reign, when the Goths, after the death of the great Fridigern, were broken up, and quarreling among themselves, he tempted a royal Amal, Modar by name, by the title of Master-General, to attack and slaughter in their sleep a rival tribe of Goths, and carry off an immense spoil to the imperial camp. To destroy the German by the German was so old a method of the Roman policy, that it was not considered derogatory to the ‘greatness’ of Theodosius.
The old Athanaric, the Therving—he who had sworn never to set foot on Roman soil, and had burnt them who would not fall down and worship before Woden’s waggon, came over the Danube, out of the forests of ‘Caucaland,’ and put himself at the head of the Goths. The great Cæsar trembled before the heathen hero; and they made peace together; and old Athanaric went to him at Constantinople, and they became as friends. And the Romani nominis umbra, the glamour of the Roman name, fell on the old man, too feeble now to fight; and as he looked, says Jornandes, on the site of the city, and on the fleets of ships, and the world-famous walls, and the people from all the nations upon earth, he said, ‘Now I behold what I have often heard tell, and never believed. The Kaiser is a God on earth, and he who shall lift his hand against him, is guilty of his own blood.’ The old hero died in Constantinople, and the really good-natured Emperor gave him a grand funeral, and a statue, and so delighted the simple Goths, that the whole nation entered his service bodily, and became the Emperor’s men.
The famous massacre of Thessalonica, and the penance of Theodosius, immortalized by the pencil of Vandyke, is another significant example of the relation between Goth and Roman. One Botheric (a Vandal or other Teuton by his name) was military commandant of that important post. He put in prison a popular charioteer of the circus, for a crime for which the Teutonic language had to borrow a foreign name, and which the Teutons, like ourselves, punished with death, though it was committed with impunity in any Roman city. At the public games, the base mob clamoured, but in vain, for the release of their favourite; and not getting him, rose on Botheric, murdered him and his officers, and dragged their corpses through the streets.
This was indeed κινειν το Σκυθικον; and Theodosius, partly in honest indignation, partly perhaps in fear of the consequences, issued orders from Milan which seem to have amounted to a permission to the Goths to avenge themselves. The populace were invited as usual to the games of the circus, and crowded in, forgetful of their crime, heedless of danger, absorbed in the one greed of frivolous, if not sinful pleasure. The Gothic troops concealed around entered, and then began a ‘murder grim and great.’ For three hours it lasted. Every age and sex, innocent or guilty, native or foreigner, to the number of at least 7,000, perished, or are said to have perished; and the soul of Botheric had ‘good company on its way to Valhalla.’
The Goths, doubtless, considered that they were performing an act of public justice upon villains: but the Bishops of the Church looked at the matter in another light. The circumstances of treachery, the confusion of the innocent with the guilty, the want of any judicial examination and sentence, aroused their sense of humanity and justice. The offence was aggravated by the thought that the victims were Roman and orthodox, the murderers barbarians and Arians; St. Ambrose, with a noble courage, stopped the Emperor at the door of the Basilica of Milan, and forbad him to enter, till he had atoned for the fatal order by public penance. The Cæsar submitted nobly to the noble demand; and the repentance of Theodosius is the last scene in the downward career of the Cæsars, which can call forth a feeling of admiration and respect.
In January 395 Theodosius died; and after him came the deluge.
The Empire was parted between his two worthless sons. Honorius had the west, Arcadius the east; while the real master of the Empire was Stilicho the Vandal, whose virtues and valour and mighty stature are sung (and not undeservedly) in the pompous verses of Claudian. Of the confusion which ensued; of the murder (well-deserved) of Rufinus, the infamous minister whose devout hypocrisy had so long cajoled Theodosius; of the revolt and atrocities of Gildo in Africa, you must read in the pages of Gibbon. These lectures confine themselves, at present, to the history of the Goths.
In January 395, I said, Theodosius died. Before the end of the winter the Goths were in arms, with Alaric the Balth at their head. They had been refused, at least for the time, the payment of their usual subsidy. He had been refused the command of the Roman armies. Any excuse was sufficient. The fruit was ripe for plucking. The wrongs of centuries were to be avenged. Other tribes crost the Danube on the ice, and joined the Goths; and the mighty host swept down through Greece, passing Thermopylæ unopposed, ransoming Athens (where Alaric enjoyed a Greek bath and a public banquet, and tried to behave for a day like a Roman gentleman); sacking Corinth, Argos, Sparta, and all the cities and villages far and wide, and carrying off plunder inestimable, and troops of captive women.
Stilicho threw himself into the Peloponnese at Corinth to cut off the Goths, and after heavy fighting, Alaric, who seems to have been a really great general, out-manoeuvred him, crost the Gulf of Corinth at Rhium, with all his plunder and captives, and got safe away into northern Greece.
There Arcadius, the terrified Emperor of the East, punished him for having devastated Greece, by appointing him Master-General of the very country which he had ravaged. The end was coming very near. The Goths lifted him on the shield, and proclaimed him King of the West Goths; and there he staid, somewhere about the head of the Adriatic, poised like an eagle in mid-air, watching Rome on one side, and Byzant on the other, uncertain on which quarry he should swoop.
He made up his mind for Rome. He would be the man to do the deed at last. There was a saga in which he trusted. Claudian gives it in an hexameter,
‘Alpibus Italiæ ruptis penetrabis ad urbem.’
Yes, he would take The City, and avenge the treachery of Valens, and all the wrongs which Teutons had endured from the Romans for now four centuries. And he did it.
But not the first time. He swept over the Alps. Honorius fled to Asta, and Alaric besieged him there. The faithful Stilicho came to the rescue; and Alaric was driven to extremities. His warriors counselled him to retreat. No, he would take Rome, or die. But at Pollentia, Stilicho surprised him, while he and his Goths were celebrating Easter Sunday, and a fearful battle followed. The Romans stormed his camp, recovered the spoils of Greece, and took his wife, decked in the jewels in which she meant to enter Rome. One longs to know what became of her.
At least, so say the Romans: the Goths tell a very different story; and one suspects that Pollentia may be one more of those splendid paper victories, in which the Teutons were utterly exterminated, only to rise out of the ground, seemingly stronger and more numerous than ever. At least, instead of turning his head to the Alps, he went on toward Rome. Stilicho dared not fight him again, and bought him off. He turned northward toward Gaul, and at Verona Stilicho got him at an advantage, and fought him once more, and if we are to believe Rosino and Claudian, beat him again. ‘Taceo de Alarico, sæpe victo, sæpe concluso, semperque dimisso.’ ‘It is ill work trapping an eagle,’ says some one. When you have caught him, the safest thing very often is to let him go again.
Meanwhile poured down into Italy, as far as Florence (a merely unimportant episode in those fearful days), another wave of German invaders under one Radogast, 200,000 strong. Under the walls of Florence they sat down, and perished of wine, and heat, and dysentery. Like water they flowed in, and like water they sank into the soil: and every one of them a human soul.
Stilicho and Honorius went to Rome, and celebrated their triumph over the Goths, with (for the last time in history) gladiatorial sports. Three years past, and then Stilicho was duly rewarded for having saved Rome, in the approved method for every great barbarian who was fool enough to help the treacherous Roman; namely, by being murdered.
Alaric rose instantly, and with him all the Gothic tribes. Down through Italy he past, almost without striking a blow. Ravenna, infamous, according to Sidonius, for its profligacy, where the Emperor’s court was, he past disdainfully, and sat down before the walls of Rome. He did not try to storm it. Probably he could not. He had no such machines, as those with which the Romans battered walls. Quietly he sat, he and his Goths, ‘as wolves wait round the dying buffalo;’ waiting for the Romans within to starve and die. They did starve and die; men murdered each other for food; mothers ate their own babes; but they sent out embassies, boasting of their strength and numbers. Alaric laughed,—‘The thicker the hay, the easier it is mowed.’ What terms would he take? ‘All your gold, all your silver, the best of your precious things. All your barbarian slaves.’ That last is significant. He would deliver his own flesh and blood. The Teuton man should be free. The trolls should drag no more of the forest children into their accursed den. ‘What then will you leave us?’ ‘Your lives.’
They bought him off with a quaint ransom: 5000 pounds weight of gold, 30,000 of silver, 4000 robes of silk, 3000 pieces of scarlet cloth, and 3000 lbs. of pepper, possibly spices of all kinds. Gold, and finery, and spices—gifts fit for children, such as those Goths were.
But he got, too, 40,000 Teuton slaves safe out of the evil place, and embodied them into his army. He had now 100,000 fighting men. Why did he not set up as king of Italy? Was it that the awe of the place, the prestige of the Roman name, cowed him? It cowed each of the Teutonic invaders successively. To make themselves emperors of Rome was a thing of which they dared not dream. Be that as it may, all he asked was, to be received as some sort of vassal of the Emperor. The Master-Generalship of Italy, subsidies for his army, an independent command in the Tyrolese country, whence he had come, were his demand.
Overblown with self-conceit, the Romans refused him. They would listen to no conditions. They were in a thoroughly Chinese temper. You will find the Byzantine empire in the same temper centuries after; blinded to present weakness by the traditions of their forefathers’ strength. They had worshipped the beast. Now that only his image was left, they worshipped that.
Alaric seized Ostia, and cut off their supplies. They tried to appease him by dethroning Honorius, and setting up some puppet Attalus. Alaric found him plotting; or said that he had done so; and degraded him publicly at Rimini before his whole army. Again he offered peace. The insane Romans proclaimed that his guilt precluded him for ever from the clemency of the Empire.
Then came the end. He marched on Rome. The Salarian gate was thrown open at midnight, probably by German slaves within; and then, for five dreadful days and nights, the wicked city expiated in agony the sins of centuries.
And so at last the Nibelungen hoard was won.
‘And the kings of the earth who had lived delicately with her, and the merchants of the earth who were made rich by her, bewailed her, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, and crying, Alas! alas, that great Babylon! for in one hour is thy judgment come.’
St. John passes in those words from the region of symbol to that of literal description. A great horror fell upon all nations, when the news came. Rome taken? Surely the end of all things was at hand. The wretched fugitives poured into Egypt and Syria—especially to Jerusalem; perhaps with some superstitious hope that Christ’s tomb, or even Christ himself, might save them.
St. Jerome, as he saw day by day patrician men and women who had passed their lives in luxury, begging their bread around his hermitage at Bethlehem, wrote of the fall of Rome as a man astonied.
St. Augustine, at Hippo, could only look on it as the end of all human power and glory, perhaps of the earth itself. Babylon the great had fallen, and now Christ was coming in the clouds of heaven to set up the city of God for ever. In that thought he wrote his De Civitate Dei. Read it, gentlemen—especially you who are to be priests—not merely for its details of the fall of Rome, but as the noblest theodicy which has yet proceeded from a human pen.
Followed by long trains of captives, long trains of waggons bearing the spoils of all the world, Alaric went on South, ‘with the native instinct of the barbarian,’ as Dr. Sheppard well says. Always toward the sun. Away from Muspelheim and the dark cold north, toward the sun, and Valhalla, where Odin and the Asas dwell in everlasting light.
He tried to cross into Sicily: but a storm wrecked his boats, and the Goths were afraid of the sea. And after a while he died. And the wild men made a great mourning over him. They had now no plan left; no heart to go south, and look for Odin over the sea. But of one thing they were resolved, that the base Romans should not dig up Alaric out of his barrow and scatter his bones to the winds. So they put no barrow over the great king; but under the walls of Cosenza they turned the river-bed, and in that river-bed they set Alaric, armed and mailed, upright upon his horse, with gold, and jewels, and arms, and it may be captive youths and maids, that he might enter into Valhalla in royal pomp, and make a worthy show among the heroes in Odin’s hall. And then they turned back the river into its bed, and slew the slaves who had done the work, that no man might know where Alaric lies: and no man does know till this day.
As I said, they had no plan left now. Two years they stayed in Campania, basking in the villas and gardens, drinking their fill of the wine; and then flowed away northward again, no one knows why. They had no wish to settle, as they might have done. They followed some God-given instinct, undiscoverable now by us. Ataulf, Alaric’s kinsman, married Placidia, the Emperor’s beautiful young sister, and accepted from him some sort of commission to fight against his enemies in Gaul. So to the south of Gaul they went, and then into Spain, crushing before them Alans, Sueves, and Vandals, and quarrelling among themselves. Ataulf was murdered, and all his children; Placidia put to shame. Then she had her revenge. To me it is not so much horrible as pitiful. They had got the Nibelungen hoard; and with it the Nibelungen curse.
A hundred years afterwards, when the Franks pillaged the Gothic palace of Narbonne, they found the remnants of it. Things inestimable, indescribable; tables of solid emerald; the Missorium, a dish 2500 lbs. weight, covered with all the gems of India. They had been in Solomon’s Temple, fancied the simple Franks—as indeed some of them may well have been. The Arabs got the great emerald table at last, with its three rows of great pearls. Where are they all now? What is become, gentlemen, of the treasures of Rome? Jewels, recollect, are all but indestructible; recollect, too, that vast quantities were buried from time to time, and their places forgotten. Perhaps future generations will discover many such hoards. Meanwhile, many of those same jewels must be in actual use even now. Many a gem which hangs now on an English lady’s wrist saw Alaric sack Rome—and saw before and since—What not? The palaces of the Pharaohs, or of Darius; then the pomp of the Ptolemies, or of the Seleucids—came into Europe on the neck of some vulgar drunken wife of a Roman proconsul, to glitter for a few centuries at every gladiator’s butchery in the amphitheatre; then went away with Placidia on a Gothic ox-waggon, to pass into an Arab seraglio at Seville; and then, perhaps, back from Sultan to Sultan again to its native India, to figure in the peacock-throne of the Great Mogul, and be bought at last by some Armenian for a few rupees from an English soldier, and come hither—and whither next? When England shall be what Alexandria and Rome are now, that little stone will be as bright as ever.—An awful symbol, if you will take it so, of the permanence of God’s works and God’s laws, amid the wild chance and change of sinful man.
Then followed for Rome years of peace,—such peace as the wicked make for themselves—A troubled sea, casting up mire and dirt. Wicked women, wicked counts (mayors of the palace, one may call them) like Aetius and Boniface, the real rulers of a nominal Empire.
Puppet Valentinian succeeded his father, puppet Honorius. In his days appeared another great portent—another comet, sweeping down out of infinite space, and back into infinite space again.—Attila and his Huns. They lay in innumerable hordes upon the Danube, until Honoria, Valentinian’s sister, confined in a convent at Constantinople for some profligacy, sent her ring to Attila. He must be her champion, and deliver her. He paused a while, like Alaric before him, doubting whether to dash on Constantinople or Rome, and at last decided for Rome. But he would try Gaul first; and into Gaul he poured, with all his Tartar hordes, and with them all the Teuton tribes, who had gathered in his progress, as an avalanche gathers the snow in its course. At the great battle of Châlons, in the year 451, he fought it out: Hun, Sclav, Tartar, and Finn, backed by Teutonic Gepid and Herule, Turkling, East Goth and Lombard, against Roman and West Goth, Frank and Burgund, and the Bretons of Armorica. Wicked Aetius shewed himself that day, as always, a general and a hero—the Marlborough of his time—and conquered. Attila and his hordes rolled away eastward, and into Italy for Rome.
That is the Hunnenschlacht; ‘a battle,’ as Jornandes calls it, ‘atrox, multiplex, immane, pertinax.’ Antiquity, he says, tells of nothing like it. No man who had lost that sight could say that he had seen aught worth seeing.—A fight gigantic, supernatural in vastness and horror, and the legends which still hang about the place. You may see one of them in Von Kaulbach’s immortal design—the ghosts of the Huns and the ghosts of the Germans rising from their graves on the battle-night in every year, to fight it over again in the clouds, while the country far and wide trembles at their ghostly hurrah. No wonder men remember that Hunnenschlacht. Many consider that it saved Europe; that it was one of the decisive battles of the world.
Not that Attila was ruined. Within the year he had swept through Germany, crossed the Alps, and devastated Italy almost to the walls of Rome. And there the great Pope Leo, ‘the Cicero of preaching, the Homer of theology, the Aristotle of true philosophy,’ met the wild heathen: and a sacred horror fell upon Attila, and he turned, and went his way, to die a year or two after no man knows how. Over and above his innumerable wives, he took a beautiful German girl. When his people came in the morning, the girl sat weeping, or seeming to weep; but Etzel, the scourge of God, lay dead in a pool of gore. She said that he had burst a blood-vessel. The Teutons whispered among themselves, that like a free-born Teuton, she had slain her tyrant. One longs to know what became of her.
And then the hordes broke up. Ardarich raised the Teuton Gepids and Ostrogoths. The Teutons who had obeyed Attila, turned on their Tartar conquerors, the only people who had ever subdued German men, and then only by brute force of overpowering numbers. At Netad, upon the great plain between the Drave and the Danube, they fought the second Hunnenschlacht, and the Germans conquered. Thirty thousand Huns fell on that dreadful day, and the rest streamed away into the heart of Asia, into the infinite unknown deserts from whence the foul miscreants had streamed forth, and left the Teutons masters of the world. The battle of Netad; that, and not Châlons, to my mind, was the saving battle of Europe.
So Rome was saved; but only for a few years. Puppet Valentinian rewarded Aetius for saving Rome, by stabbing with his own hand in his own palace, the hero of Châlons; and then went on to fill up the cup of his iniquity. It is all more like some horrible romance than sober history. Neglecting his own wife Eudoxia, he took it into his wicked head to ravish her intimate friend, the wife of a senator. Maximus stabbed him, retaliated on the beautiful empress, and made himself Emperor. She sent across the seas to Africa, to Genseric the Vandal, the cruel tyrant and persecutor. He must come and be her champion, as Attila had been Honoria’s. And he came, with Vandals, Moors, naked Ausurians from the Atlas. The wretched Romans, in their terror, tore Maximus in pieces; but it was too late. Eudoxia met Genseric at the gates in royal robes and jewels. He stript her of her jewels on the spot, and sacked Rome; and that was her reward.
This is the second sack. More dreadful far than the first—455 is its date. Then it was that the statues, whose fragments are still found, were hurled in vain on the barbarian assailants. Not merely gold and jewels, but the art-treasures of Rome were carried off to the Vandal fleet, and with them the golden table and the seven-branched candlestick which Titus took from the Temple of Jerusalem.
How had these things escaped the Goths forty years before? We cannot tell. Perhaps the Gothic sack, which only lasted five days, was less complete than this one, which went on for fourteen days of unutterable horrors. The plunderers were not this time sturdy honest Goths; not even German slaves, mad to revenge themselves on their masters: they were Moors, Ausurian black savages, and all the pirates and cut-throats of the Mediterranean.
Sixty thousand prisoners were carried off to Carthage. All the statues were wrecked on the voyage to Africa, and lost for ever.
And yet Rome did not die. She lingered on; her Emperor still calling himself an Emperor, her senate a senate; feeding her lazy plebs, as best she could, with the remnant of those revenues which former Emperors had set aside for their support—their public bread, public pork, public oil, public wine, public baths,—and leaving them to gamble and quarrel, and listen to the lawyers in rags and rascality, and to rise and murder ruler after ruler, benefactor after benefactor, out of base jealousy and fear of any one less base than themselves. And so ‘the smoke of her torment went up continually.’
But if Rome would not die, still less would she repent; as it is written—‘The remnant of the people repented not of their deeds, but gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven.’
As the century runs on, the confusion becomes more and more dreadful. Anthemius, Olybrius, Orestes, and the other half-caste Romans with Greek names who become quasi-emperors and get murdered; Ricimer the Sueve, the king-maker and king-murderer; even good Majorian, who as puppet Emperor set up by Ricimer, tries to pass a few respectable laws, and is only murdered all the sooner. None of these need detain us. They mean nothing, they represent no idea, they are simply kites and crows quarrelling over the carcase, and cannot possibly teach us anything, but the terrible lesson, that in all revolutions the worst men are certain to rise to the top.
But only for a while, gentlemen, only for a while. Villany is by its very essence self-destructive, and if rogues have their day, the time comes when rogues fall out, and honest men come by their own.
That day, however, was not come for wretched Rome. A third time she was sacked by Ricimer her own general; and then more villains ruled her; and more kites and crows plundered her. The last of them only need keep us a while. He is Odoacer, the giant Herule, Houd-y-wacker, as some say his name really is, a soubriquet perhaps from his war-cry, ‘Hold ye stoutly,’ ‘Stand you steady.’ His father was Ædecon, Attila’s secretary, chief of the little Turkling tribe, who, though Teutonic, had clung faithfully to Attila’s sons, and after the battle of Netad, came to ruin. There are strange stories of Odoacer. One from the Lives of St. Severinus, how Odoacer and his brothers started over the Alps, knapsacks at back, to seek their fortunes in Italy, and take service with the Romans; and how they came to St. Severinus’ cell near Vienna, and went in, heathens as they probably were, to get a blessing from the holy hermit; and how Odoacer had to stoop, and stand stooping, so huge he was. And how the saint saw that he was no common lad, and said, ‘Go into Italy, clothed in thy ragged sheep-skins: thou shalt soon give greater gifts to thy friends.’ So he went, and his brother with him. One of them at least ought to interest us. He was Onulf, Hunwulf, Wulf, Guelph, the Wolf-cub, who went away to Constantinople, and saw strange things, and did strange things likewise, and at last got back to Germany, and settled in Bavaria, and became the ancestor of all the Guelphs, and of Victoria, queen of England. His son, Wulfgang, fought under Belisarius against the Goths; his son again, Ulgang, under Belisarius against Persian and Lombard; his son or grandson was Queen Brunhilda’s confidant in France, and became Duke of Burgundy; and after that the fortunes of his family were mixed up with the Merovingian kings of France, and then again with the Lombards in Italy, till one of them emerges as Guelf, count of Altorf, the ancestor of our Guelphic line.
But to return to Odoacer. He came to Rome, seeking his fortune. There he found in power Orestes, his father’s old colleague at Attila’s court, the most unprincipled turn-coat of his day; who had been the Emperor’s man, then Attila’s man, and would be anybody’s man if needed: but who was now his own man, being king-maker for the time being, and father of the puppet Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, a pretty little lad, with an ominous name.
Odoacer took service under Orestes in the bodyguards, became a great warrior and popular; watched his time; and when Orestes refused the mercenaries, Herules, Rugians, Scyrings, Turklings and Alans—all the weak or half-caste frontier tribes who had as yet little or no share in the spoils of Italy—their demand of the third of the lands of Italy, he betrayed his benefactor; promised the mercenaries to do for them what Orestes would not, and raises his famous band of confederates. At last he called himself King of Nations, burnt Pavia, and murdered Orestes, as a due reward for his benefits. Stripped of his purple, the last Emperor of Rome knelt crying at the feet of the German giant, and begged not to be murdered like his father. And the great wild beast’s hard heart smote him, and he sent the poor little lad away, to live in wealth and peace in Lucullus’ villa at Misenum, with plenty of money, and women, and gewgaws, to dream away his foolish life looking out over the fair bay of Naples—the last Emperor of Rome.
Then Odoacer set to work, and not altogether ill. He gave his confederates the third of Italy, in fief under himself as king, and for fourteen years (not without the help of a few more murders) he kept some sort of rude order and justice in the wretched land. Remember him, for, bad man as he is, he does represent a principle. He initiated, by that gift of the lands to his soldiers, the feudal system in Italy. I do not mean that he invented it. It seems rather to be a primæval German form, as old as the days of Tacitus, who describes, if you will recollect, the German war-kings as parting the conquered lands among their ‘comites,’ thanes, or companions in arms.
So we leave Odoacer king of Italy, for fourteen years, little dreaming, perhaps, of the day when as he had done unto others so should it be done to him. But for that tale of just and terrible retribution you must wait till the next lecture.
And now, to refresh us with a gleam of wholesome humanity after all these horrors, let us turn to our worthy West Goth cousins for a while. They have stopt cutting each other’s throats, settled themselves in North Spain and South France, and good bishop Sidonius gets to like them. They are just and honest men on the whole, kindly, and respectable in morals, living according to their strange old Gothic Law. But above all Sidonius likes their king—Theodoric is his name. A man of blood he has been in his youth: but he has settled down, like his people; and here is a picture of him. A real photograph of a live old Goth, nearly 1400 years ago. Gibbon gives a good translation of it. I will give you one, but Sidonius is prolix and florid, and I have had to condense. A middle-sized, stout man, of great breadth of chest, and thickness of limb, a large hand, and a small foot, curly haired, bushy eye-browed, with remarkably large eyes and eyelids, hook-nosed, thin-lipped; brilliant, cheerful, impassioned, full of health and strength in mind and body. He goes to chapel before day-light, sits till eight doing justice, while the crowd, let into a latticed enclosure, is admitted one by one behind a curtain into the presence. At eight he leaves the throne, and goes either to count his money, or look at his horses. If he hunts, he thinks it undignified to carry his bow, and womanish to keep it strung, a boy carries it behind him; and when game gets up, he asks you (or the Bishop, who seems to have gone hunting with him) what you would wish him to aim at; strings his bow, and then (says Sidonius) never misses his shot. He dines at noon, quietly in general, magnificently on Saturdays; drinks very little, and instead of sleeping after dinner, plays at tables and dice. He is passionately fond of his game, but never loses his temper, joking and talking to the dice, and to every one round him, throwing aside royal severity, and bidding all be merry (says the bishop); for, to speak my mind, what he is afraid of is, that people should be afraid of him. If he wins he is in immense good humour; then is the time to ask favours of him; and, says the crafty bishop, many a time have I lost the game, and won my cause thereby. At three begins again the toil of state. The knockers return, and those who shove them away return too; everywhere the litigious crowd murmurs round; and follows him at evening, when he goes to supper, or gets its matters settled by the officers of the court, who have to stay there till bed-time. At supper, though there are but rarely ‘mimici sales,’ which I cannot translate—some sort of jesting: but biting and cruel insults (common at the feasts of the Roman Emperors) are never allowed. His taste in music is severe. No water-organs, flute-player, lyrist, cymbal or harp-playing woman is allowed. All he delights in is the old Teutonic music, whose virtue (says the bishop) soothes the soul no less than does its sound the ear. When he rises from table the guards for the night are set, and armed men stand at all the doors, to watch him through the first hours of sleep.