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The Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization online

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with undissembled joy, the intrigues and factions which deprived the
emperor of his best defender, and which placed over his last army
incompetent generals. So, hastening his preparations, he again descends
like an avalanche upon the plains of Italy. Aquileia, Altinum,
Concordia, and Cremona, yielded to his arms, and increased his forces.
He then ravaged the coasts of the Adriatic; and, following the Flaminian
way, crossed the passes of the Apennines, ravaged the fertile plains of
Umbria, and reached without obstruction the city which for six hundred
years had not been violated by the presence of a foreign enemy. But Rome
was not what she was when Hannibal led his Africans to her gates. She
was surrounded with more extensive fortifications, indeed, and contained
within her walls, which were twenty-one miles in circuit, a large
population. But where were her one hundred and fifty thousand warriors?
Where were even the three armies drawn out in battle array, that had
confronted the Carthaginian leader? She could boast of senators who
traced their lineage to the Scipios and the Gracchi; she could enumerate
one thousand seven hundred and eighty palaces, the residence of wealthy
and proud families, many of which were equal to a town, including within
their precincts, markets, hippodromes, temples, fountains, baths,
porticoes, groves, and aviaries; she could tell of senatorial incomes of
four thousand pounds of gold, about eight hundred thousand dollars
yearly, without computing the corn, oil, and wine, which were equal to
three hundred thousand dollars more - men so rich that they could afford
to spend five hundred thousand dollars in a popular festival, and this
at a time when gold was worth at least eight times more than its present
value; she could point with pride to her Christian saints, one of whom,
the illustrious Paula, the friend of St. Jerome, was the sole proprietor
of the city of Nicopolis, which Augustus had founded to commemorate his
victory over Antony; she could count two millions of inhabitants,
crowded in narrow streets, and four hundred thousand pleasure-seekers
who sought daily the circus or the theatre, and three thousand public
female dancers, and three thousand singers who sought to beguile the
hours of the lazy rabble who were fed at the public expense, and who,
for a small copper coin, could wash their dirty bodies in the marble
baths of Diocletian and Caracalla; but where were her defenders - where
were her legions?

[Sidenote: Alaric beseiges Rome.]

[Sidenote: Disgraceful terms of peace.]

The day of retribution had come, and there was no escape. Alaric made no
efforts to storm the city, but quietly sat down and inclosed the
wretched citizens with a cordon through which nothing could force its
way. He cut off all communications with the country, intercepted the
navigation of the Tiber, and commanded the twelve gates. The city,
unprovided for a siege, and never dreaming of such a calamity, soon felt
all the evils of famine, to which those of pestilence were added. The
most repugnant food was eagerly devoured, and even mothers are said to
have tasted the flesh of their murdered children. Thousands perished
daily in the houses, and the public sepulchres infected the air. Despair
at last seized the haughty citizens, and they begged the clemency of the
Gothic king. He derided the ambassadors who were sent to treat, and
insulted them with rude jests. At last he condescended to spare the
lives of the people, on condition that they gave up _all_ their
gold and silver, _all_ their precious movables, and _all_ their
slaves of barbaric birth. More moderate terms were afterward
granted; but the victor did not retreat until he had loaded his wagons
with more wealth and more liberated captives than the Romans had brought
from both Carthage and Antioch. He retired to the fertile fields of
Tuscany to make negotiations with Honorius; and it was only on condition
that he were appointed master-general of the armies of the emperor, with
an annual subsidy of corn and money, and the free possession of the
provinces of Dalmatia, Noricum, and Venetia, for the seat of his
kingdom, that he would grant peace to the emperor, who had entrenched
himself at Ravenna. These terms were disregarded, and once more Alaric
turned his face to Rome. He took possession of Ostia, one of the most
stupendous works of Roman magnificence, and the port of Rome secured,
the city was once again at his mercy. Again the Senate, fearful of
famine and impelled by the populace, consented to the demands of the
conqueror. He nominated Atticus, prefect of the city, emperor instead of
the son of Theodosius, and received from him the commission of master-
general of the armies of the West.

[Sidenote: Alaric takes Rome.]

[Sidenote: The miseries of the Romans.]

The new emperor had a few days of prosperity, and the greater part of
Italy submitted to his rule, backed by the Gothic forces. But he was
after all a mere puppet in the hands of Alaric, who used him as a tool,
and threw him aside when it suited his purposes. Atticus, after a brief
reign, was degraded, and renewed negotiations took place between Alaric
and Honorius. The emperor, having had a temporary relief, broke finally
with the barbarians, who held Italy at their mercy, and Alaric,
vindictive and indignant, once again set out for Rome, now resolved on
plunder and revenge. In vain did the nobles organize a defense.
Cowardice and treachery opened the Salarian gate. No Horatius kept the
bridge. No Scipio arose in the last extremity. In the dead of night the
Gothic trumpet rang unanswered in the streets. The Queen of the World,
the Eternal City, was the prey of savage soldiers. For five days and
nights she was exposed to every barbarity and license. Only the
treasures collected in the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul were
saved. Although the captor had promised to spare the lives of the
people, a cruel slaughter was made, and the streets were filled with the
dead. Forty thousand slaves were let loose by the bloody conquerors to
gratify their long-stifled passions of lust and revenge. The matrons and
virgins of Rome were - exposed to every indignity, and suffered every
insult. The city was abandoned to pillage, and the palaces were stripped
even or their costly furniture. Sideboards of massive silver, and
variegated wardrobes of silk and purple, were piled upon the wagons. The
works of art were destroyed or injured. Beautiful vases were melted down
for the plate. The daughters and wives of senatorial families became
slaves - such as were unable to purchase their ransom. Italian fugitives
thronged the shores of Africa and Syria, begging daily bread. They were
scattered over various provinces, as far as Constantinople and
Jerusalem. The whole empire was filled with consternation. The news made
the tongue of old St. Jerome to cleave to the roof of his mouth in his
cell at Bethlehem, which even was besieged with beggars. "For twenty
years," cried he, "Roman blood has been flowing from Constantinople to
the Julian Alps. Scythia, Thrace, Macedonia, Dacia, Epirus, Dalmatia,
Achaia, the two Pannonias," yea, he might have added, Gaul, Britain,
Spain, and Italy, "all belong to the barbarians. Sorrow, misery,
desolation, despair, death, are everywhere. What is to be seen but one
universal shipwreck of humanity, from which there is no escape save on
the plank of penitence." The same bitter despair came from St.
Augustine. The end of the world was supposed to be at hand, and the
great churchmen of the age found consolation only in the doctrine that
the second coming of our Lord was at hand to establish a new
dispensation of peace and righteousness on the earth, or to appear as a
stern and final judge amid the clouds of heaven.

[Sidenote: The Goths in Italy.]

After six days the Goths evacuated the city they had despoiled, and
advanced along the Appian way into the southern provinces of Italy,
destroying ruthlessly all who opposed their march, and loading
themselves with still greater spoils. The corn, wine, and oil of the
country were consumed within the barbarian camp, and the beautiful
villas of the coast of Campania were destroyed or plundered. The rude
inhabitants of Scythia and Germany stretched their limbs under the shade
of the Italian palm-trees, and compelled the beautiful daughters of the
proud senators of the fallen capital to attend on them like slaves,
while they quaffed the old Falernian wines from goblets of gold and
gems. Nothing arrested the career of the Goths. Their victorious leader
now meditated the invasion of Africa, but died suddenly after a short
illness, and the world was relieved, for a while, of a mighty fear.

[Sidenote: Ravages in other provinces.]

His successor Adolphus suspended the operations of war, and negotiated
with the emperor a treaty of peace, and even enlisted under his standard
to chastise his enemies in Gaul. But the oppressed provincials were
cruelly ravaged by their pretended friends, who occupied the cities of
Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, and spread from the Mediterranean to
the Ocean. Adolphus espoused Placidia, a sister of Honorius, to the
intense humiliation of the ministers of Honorius. But the marriage
proved fortunate for the empire, and the Goths settled down in the
fertile provinces they had conquered, and established a Gothic kingdom.
Among the treasures which the Goths carried to Narbonne, was a famous
dish of solid gold, weighing five hundred pounds, ornamented with
precious stones, and exquisitely engraved with the figures of men and
animals. But this precious specimen of Roman luxury was not to be
compared with the table formed from a single emerald, encircled with
three rows of pearls, supported by three hundred and sixty-five feet of
gems and massive gold, which was found in the Gothic treasury when
plundered by the Arabs, and which also had been one of the ornaments of
a senatorial palace. [Footnote: This emerald table was probably colored
glass. It was valued at five hundred thousand pieces of gold.] The favor
of the Franks was, in after times, purchased with this golden dish by a
Spanish monarch, who stole it back, but compensated by a present of two
hundred thousand pieces of gold, with which Dagobert founded the Abbey
of St. Denys. [Footnote: Gibbon, chap. xxx.]

[Sidenote: New barbaric invasions.]

[Sidenote: Permanent settlements of the Goths in Spain.]

The sack of Rome by the Goths was followed by the successful inroads of
other barbaric tribes. The Suevi, the Alans, and the Vandals invaded
Spain, which for four hundred years had been prosperous in all the arts
of peace. The great cities of Corduba, Merida, Seville, Bracara, and
Barcelona, testified to her wealth and luxury, while science and
commerce both elevated and enfeebled the people. Yet no one of the Roman
provinces suffered more severely. Gibbon thus quotes the language of a
Spanish historian. "The barbarians exercised an indiscriminate cruelty
on the fortunes of both Spaniards and Romans, and ravaged with equal
fury the cities and the open country. Famine reduced the miserable
inhabitants to feed on the flesh of their fellow-creatures, and
pestilence swept away a large portion of those whom famine spared. Then
the barbarians fixed their permanent seats in the country they had
ravaged with fire and sword; Galicia was divided between the Suevi and
the Vandals; the Alani were scattered over the provinces of Carthagenia
and Lusitania, and Botica was allotted to the Vandals." But he adds, and
this is a most impressive fact, "that the greater part of the Spaniards
preferred the condition of poverty and barbarism to the severe
oppressions of the Roman government." [Footnote: Gibbon, chap. xxx.]

The successors of Alaric, A.D. 419, established themselves at Toulouse,
forty-three years after they had crossed the Danube, which became the
seat of the Gothic empire in Gaul. About the same time the Burgundians
and the Franks obtained a permanent settlement in that distracted but
wealthy province, and effected a ruin of all that had been deemed
opulent or fortunate.

[Sidenote: The Romans leave Britain.]

Meanwhile, Britain had been left, by the withdrawal of the legions, to
the ravages of Saxon pirates, and the savages of Caledonia. The island
was irrevocably lost to the empire, A.D. 409, although it was forty
years before the Saxons obtained a permanent footing, and secured their
conquest.

But a more savage chastisement than Rome received from the Goths - the
most powerful and generous of her foes - was inflicted by the Vandals,
whose name is synonymous with all that is fierce and revolting.

[Sidenote: The Vandals.]

These barbarians belonged to the great Teutonic race, although some
maintain that they were of Slavonic origin. Their settlements were
between the Elbe and the Vistula; and, during the reign of Marcus
Aurelius, they had, with other tribes, invaded the Roman world, but were
defeated by the Roman emperor. One hundred years later they settled in
Pannonia, where they had a bitter contest with the Goths. Defeated by
them, they sought the protection of Rome, and enlisted in the imperial
armies. In 406, they crossed the Rhine and invaded Gaul, and it was not
in the power of the Franks to resist them. They advanced to the very
foot of the Pyrenees, inflicting every atrocity upon the Celtic and
Roman inhabitants. Neither age, nor sex, nor condition was spared, and
the very churches were given to the flames. They then crossed into
Spain, A.D. 409, and settled in Andalusia, and under its sunny skies
resumed the agricultural life they had led in Pannonia. [Footnote:
Sheppard's _Fall of Rome_, p. 364.] The land now wore an aspect of
prosperity; rich harvests covered the plains, while the hills were white
with flocks. They seem to have lived in amity with the Romans, so that
"there were found those who preferred freedom with poverty among the
barbarians, to a life rendered wretched by taxation among their own
countrymen." [Footnote: Orosious, vii. 41.] This testimony is confirmed
by Salvian, who declares, "they prefer to live as freemen under the
guise of captivity, rather than as captives under the guise of freedom."
[Footnote: _De Gub. Dei_, v.] If this be true, it would seem that
the rule of the barbarians was preferred to the taxation and oppression
with which they were ground down by the Roman officials. And this
conclusion is legitimate, when we remember the indifference and apathy
that seized the old inhabitants when the empire was seriously
threatened. It may have been that the irruptions of the barbarians were
not regarded as so great a calamity after all, if they should break the
bondage and alleviate the misery which filled the Roman world.

[Sidenote: Success of the Vandals.]

The Roman government, it would seem, [Footnote: Sheppard, p. 364.] would
not tolerate the Vandals in Spain, and intrigued with the Goths, their
hereditary enemies, to make an attack upon them, perhaps with the view
of weakening the strength of the Goths themselves, A.D. 416. Wallia,
king of the Goths, was successful, and the Vandals were worried. The
Romans also sent an army to reconquer Spain from their grasp, which
drove the Vandals into Andalusia. But the Vandals turned upon their
enemies and entirely discomfited them, and twenty thousand men were left
dead upon the field. Spain was now entirely at the mercy of these
infuriated barbarians, who might have peacefully settled had it not been
for the jealousy of the imperial government, which, in those days, drew
upon itself evils by its own mismanagement. For two years "Vandalism"
reigned throughout the peninsula, which was pillaged and sacked.

[Sidenote: Genseric.]

The king of these Vandals was Genseric, the worthy rival of Alaric and
Attila, as a "scourge of God." If we may credit the writers who belonged
to the people whom he humbled, [Footnote: Procopious, _Bell.
Vand._, i. 3.] he was one of the most hideous monsters ever clothed
with power. He was ambitious, subtle, deceitful, revengeful, cruel, and
passionate. But he was temperate, of clear vision, and inflexible
purpose.

[Sidenote: The Vandals Threaten Africa.]

He cast his eyes on Africa, the granary of Rome, and the only province
which had thus far escaped the ravages of war. In the hour of triumph,
and in the plenitude of power, he resolved on leaving Spain, which he
held by uncertain tenure, since he was only an illegitimate son of the
late monarch Gunderic, and founding a new kingdom in Africa. It was rich
in farms and cities, whose capital, Carthage, had arisen from her ashes,
and was once again the rival of Rome in majesty and splendor. She had
even outgrown Alexandria, and her commerce was more flourishing than
that of the capital of Egypt. She was even famous for schools and chairs
of philosophy; but more for those arts which material prosperity ever
produces.

[Sidenote: Dissensionsof Roman generals.]

There were, at that time, two distinguished generals in the service of
the empire - Boniface and Aetius, the former of whom was governor of
Africa. They were, unfortunately, rivals, and their dissensions and
jealousies compromised the empire. United, they could have withstood,
perhaps, the torrent which was about to sweep over Africa and Italy.
Aetius persuaded the emperor to recall Boniface, while he advised the
Count to disobey the summons, representing it as a sentence of death.
Boniface put himself in the attitude of a rebel, and fearing the
imperial forces, invited Genseric and his Vandals to Africa, with the
proposal of an alliance and an advantageous settlement. Doubtless he was
driven to this grand folly by the intrigues of Aetius.

Genseric gladly availed himself of an invitation which held out to him
the richest prize in the empire. With fifty thousand warriors he landed
on the coast of Africa, formed an alliance with the Moors, and became as
dangerous an ally to Count Boniface, as Lord Clive was to the native
princes of India. Africa was then disturbed by the schism of the
Donatists, and these fanatical people were taken under the
_protection_ of the Vandals. The Moors always hated their Roman
masters. With Vandals, Moors, and Donatists, leagued together, Africa
was in serious danger.

[Sidenote: The Vandals invade Africa.]

The landing of the Vandals, who, of all barbarians, bore the most
terrible name, was the signal of head-long flight. Consternation seized
all classes of people. The gorges and the caverns of Mount Atlas were
crowded with fugitives. The Vandals burned the villages through which
they marched, and sacked the cities, and destroyed the harvests, and cut
down the trees. The Moors swelled the ranks of the invaders, and
indulged their common hatred of civilization and of Rome. Boniface, too
late, perceived his mistake, and turned against the common foe; but was
defeated in battle, and forced to cede away three important provinces as
the price of peace, A.D. 432. But peace was not of long duration. The
Vandals continually encroached upon more valuable territory. Moreover,
they had been nominally converted to Christianity, and were bitter
zealots of the Arian faith, and most relentlessly persecuted the
Catholic Christians who adhered to the Nicene Creed.

[Sidenote: Genseric at Carthage.]

[Sidenote: Fate of the city.]

At last (439 A.D.), the storm burst out, and the world was thunderstruck
with the intelligence that Genseric had seized and plundered Carthage.
Suddenly, without warning, in a day looked not for, this magnificent
city was plundered, and her inhabitants butchered by the most faithless
and perfidious barbarians, who trampled out the dying glories of the
empire. Her doom was like that pronounced upon Tyre and Sidon. The
bitter cry which went up from the devastated city proclaimed the
retribution of God for sins more hideous than those of Antioch or
Babylon. Of all the cities of the world, Carthage was probably the
wickedest - a seething caldron of impurities and abominations, the home
of all the vices which disgraced humanity - so indecent and scandalous as
to excite the disgust of the barbarians themselves. According to one of
the authors of those times, as quoted by Sheppard, [Footnote: Salvian,
_De Gub. Dei_, vii. 251.] "they were notorious for drunkenness,
avarice, and perjury - the peculiar sins of degenerate commercial
capitals. The Goths are perfidious but chaste, the Franks are liars but
hospitable, the Saxons are cruel but continent; but the Africans are a
blazing fire of impurity and lust; the rich are drunk with debauchery,
the poor are ground down with relentless oppression, while other vices,
too indecent to be named, pollute every class. Who can wonder at the
fall of Roman society? What hope can there be for Rome, when barbarians
are more chaste and temperate than they?"

In the sack of Carthage, the voluminous writings of Augustine, then
breathing his last in prayer to God that the fate of Sodom might be
averted, were fortunately preserved, and have doubtless done more to
instruct, and perhaps civilize, the western nations, than all the arts
and sciences of the commercial metropolis. It is singular how little
remains of the commercial cities of antiquity, which we value as
trophies of civilization. A few sculptured ruins are all that attest
ancient pride and glory. The poems of a blind schoolmaster at Chios, and
the rhapsodies of a wandering philosopher on the hills of Greece, have
proved greater legacies to the world than the combined treasures of
Africa and Asia Minor. Where is the literature of Carthage, except as
preserved in the writings of Augustine, the influence of which in
developing the character of the barbarians cannot be estimated.

[Sidenote: Renewed dangers of Rome.]

The cry of agony which went from Carthage across the Mediterranean,
announced to Rome that her turn would come. She looked in vain to every
quarter for assistance. Every city and province had need of their own
forces. Theodoric, king of the Visigoths, was contending with Aetius; in
Spain the Sueves were extending their ravages; Attila menaced the
eastern provinces; the Emperor Valentinian was forced to hide in the
marshes of Ravenna, and see the second sack of the imperial capital, now
a prostrate power - a corpse in a winding-sheet.

[Sidenote: The Vandals in Italy.]

The Vandals landed on the Italian coast. They advanced to the Tiber's
banks. The Queen of Cities wrapped around her the faded folds of her
imperial purple, rent by faction, pierced with barbaric daggers, and
trampled in the dust. Yet not with the dignity of her great Julius did
she die. She begged for mercy, not proud and stately amid her
executioners, but like a withered hag, with the wine-cup of sorceries in
her hand, pale, haggard, ghastly, staggering, helpless.

[Sidenote: Sack and fall of Rome.]

The last hope of Rome was her Christian bishop, and the great Leo, who
was to Rome what Augustine had been to Carthage, in his pontifical
robes, hastened to the barbarians' camp. But all he could secure was the
promise that the unresisting should be spared, the buildings protected
from fire, and the captives from torture. Even this promise was only
partially fulfilled. The pillage lasted fourteen days and fourteen
nights, and all that the Goths had spared was transported to the ships
of Genseric. Among the spoils were the statues of the old pagan gods
which adorned the capitol, the holy vessels of the Jewish temples which
Titus had brought away from Jerusalem, and the shrines and altars of the
Christian churches enriched by the liberality of popes and emperors. The
gilding of the capitol had cost Domitian twelve million dollars, or
twelve thousand talents, but the bronze on which it was gilt was carried
away. The imperial ornaments of the palace, the magnificent furniture
and wardrobe of senatorial mansions, and the sideboards of massive
plate, gold, silver, brass, copper, whatever could be found, were
transported to the ships. The Empress Eudoxia herself was stripped of
her jewels, and carried away captive with her two daughters, the only
survivors of the great Theodosius. Thousands of Romans were forced upon
the fleet, while wives were separated from their husbands, and children
from their parents, and sold into slavery. [Footnote: Gibbon, chap.
xxxvi.]

[Sidenote: The doom of Rome.]

[Sidenote: The heroism of the Pope.]

Such was the doom of Rome, A.D. 455, forty-five years after the Gothic
invasion. The haughty city had met the fate she had inflicted upon her
rivals. And she never would probably have arisen from her fall, but



Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 39 of 50)