William Denison McCrackan.

The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

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18 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

but no drawings of them. Owing to the fact that most of the
lake dwellings were burned down, a number of perishable arti-
cles were carbonized and thus preserved for inspection much
in the same way as similar remains excavated at Pompeii. In
this manner antiquarians have been able to identify samples of
wheat, oats, millet, flax, poppy, etc., as well as apples, hazelnuts,
plums, strawberries, raspberries, peas, lentils and other vegeta-
ble substances ; they have also found the bones of horses, cat-
tle, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs and cats, and of bears, deer, beaver,
swans, geese and various species of fish.

For a long time there was a great deal of speculation about
the appearance of the lake dwellings, until the fortunate dis-
covery of a hut at Schussenried in Wurttemberg in a very fair
state of preservation, threw light upon the subject It is a
rectangular wooden structure, measuring some ten by seven
meters, divided into two rooms, one of which only had a door
giving access to the exterior. In the first and smaller room
were discovered the remains of a stone hearth ; the flooring was
made of round logs laid side by side, while the walls were con-
structed of split logs. During the stone age the platforms
upon which these huts rested were considerably smaller and
nearer the land than in the succeeding ages. Narrow bridges
connected the platforms with the land, and ladders led down to
the water's surface.

Of human remains there is not a very large collection, but
the few skulls and skeletons found in the cemeteries or in the
deposits, reveal that the race of the Lake Dwellers was proba-
bly smaller than our own, although well formed, and in no
sense inferior to us in anatomical structure.

Many questions naturally arise in regard to the origin and
fate of this curious people, which cannot be answered with
, absolute certainty. There is still room for endless speculation.
Dr. Ferdinand Keller was of the opinion that the remnants he
examined at Obermeilen were of Celtic origin, but his theory
has not been confirmed by subsequent discoveries. It is now
generally conceded that the earliest Lake Dwellers at all events.



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THE LAKE DWELLERS. 19

belonged to a more primitive race. Mr. Robert Munro states
it as his conclusion that the original founders of the settle-
ments were immigrants who penetrated into Europe from the
East during the neoUthic period. He thinks that they spread
from the regions surrounding the Black Sea and the shores of
the Mediterranean, up the Danube and its tributaries into
Styria, into the valley of the Po, and to the Swiss lakes, and
that the Scotch and Irish crannogs with analogous remains in
other countries are cases of the system cropping up in out-of-
the-way comers after the great lake dwelling centres had
already collapsed. Alth6ugh it is impossible to fix upon pre-
cise dates for this lake dwelling era, the approximate age of
the earliest settlements has been computed as perhaps 2000 or
3000 B. C. and tl^e latest as 800 or 1000 B. C.

No very definite explanation has yet been given of the rea^
son why these people invariably built their homes over the
water. Some writers ascribe this practice to a desire for pro-
tection ; others to the primeval forests which covered the avail-
able land, or to the facilities for communication and for fishing.
Personally I am inclined to think that it was a racial custom
which they brought with them from their homes in the swamps
of Asia, and which had become a fixed tradition amongst them.

As for the subsequent history of the Lake Dwellers, it is
shrouded in complete mystery, for when we next hear of the
territory occupied by modem Switzerland, it is described as
inhabited by Celts, living in towns and villages on the land.
This strange race, therefore, retums to the darkness from
which the discoveries of Obermeilen momentarily caused it to
emerge.



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CHAPTER II.

HELVETIA AND THE ROMAN OCCUPATION.

A GREAT historical gap exists between the time when the
lake dwellings ceased to be inhabited and the period
in which the country is first mentioned in literature. The
earliest written information is derived from Latin authors who
described the country as it appeared in the century which pre-
ceded the birth of Christ, and who had either themselves come
into contact with the land and people, or had noted down
what they had heard from others. They represent the coun-
try as inhabited almost exclusively by Celts, grouped into
three nations or Confederations, and six independent tribes^
overlapping on all sides into territory not now comprised by
Switzerland, so that the picture they offer is not that of a
political unit by any means, but rather a conglomeration of
numerous hostile states.

Of the six independent tribes, the AUobroges occupied
Savoy and the region around Geneva; the Sequani dwelt in
the Jura and a part of the Franche Comti; the Raurici in
Southern Elsass and the region around Basel ; the Viberi and
Lepontii, of Ligurian origin, in the Upper Valais and Ticino;
and the Vindelici upon the shores of Lake Constance and in
the adjacent districts. As these tribes do not play a signifi-
cant part in history, they may with safety be set aside. Of
the three nations, that of the Raeti, containing Etruscan ele-
ments, was in possession of the modern Canton of Grisons
and the neighboring Tyrol; the Gaesatae consisted of three
small but warlike tribes in the lower Valais ; and the Helvetii^

20



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HELVETIA AND THE ROMAN OCCUPATION. 21

the most powerful of all, held all the rest of the territory
between the lakes of Geneva and Constance on the one hand»
and the Alps and the Jura on the other.

These Helvetii had already made an appearance in history
before they became inhabitants of Swiss territory, while the
main body of the nation still dwelt in the regions between the
Main and the Rhine. Two of their clans, the Tigorini and
Tougenes, had joined the Cimbri and Teutones, when the latter
swept into Gaul in the second century before Christ on their
way to Italy, and under an enthusiastic chief, Divico, had
inflicted a disastrous blow upon a Roman army at Agen on the
Garonne, forcing the surviving enemy to submit to the shame
of passing under the yoke.

It was probably soon after this invasion of the Cimbri and
Teutones that the Helvetii crossed the Rhine into what was
destined to become Swiss territory, being no longer able to
withstand the pressure of the German tribes at their back.
But they had not been long in their new habitations when a
combination of unfavorable circumstances induced them to
hazard another expedition into Gaul. The story of this unsuc-
cessful migration is told by Julius Caesar in his Commentaries
on the Gallic War^ ; it is much to be regretted that no infor-
mation whatever has come down to us from the Helvetian side,
as Caesar's account, however great his desire to be impartial,
could not fail to be incomplete, if not actually prejudiced. Let
me simply recapitulate the principal incidents.

Being continually at war with the Germans, and unable to
extend their raids into neighboring countries, as was their
wont, on account of the great natural barriers which enclosed
them, the Helvetii were easily persuaded by an ambitious noble-
man in their midst, a certain Orgetorix, to emig^te into fer-
tile Gaul. Although their leader died before they could
complete their preparations, they were not deterred from their
purpose, and after entering into friendly compacts with neigh*
boring tribes, providing themselves with food for the journey,

iBook I, Chap. 1-29.



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22 THE RISE OF THE SWISS KEPUBLIC.

and burning their twelve towns and four hundred villages
behind them, they gave the rendezvous to all the clansmen at
Geneva for the 28th of March, B. C. 58. But here an unex-
pected obstacle presented itself ; the way was barred by Julius
Caesar, just entering upon his great career of conquest in Gaul.
His motive for thus arresting the progress of the Helvetii was
a well-founded apprehension lest they might extend their dep-
redations into the Roman Province, and the much-dreaded Ger-
mans, moving into the land thus left vacant, might reach the
frontier of the Roman possessions. After deluding them by
repeated negotiations, until he had intrenched himself and col-
lected reinforcements, Caesar finally refused point blank to let
them pass at all. Outwitted by these tactics the Helvetii made
some fruitless efforts to force a passage across the Rhone, and
then turned aside to reach Gaul by the modem Pas de TEcluse.
In the meantime Caesar hurried back to Italy, collected five
legions, and returned in time to catch the slow moving
train of the Helvetii, just as they were crossing the river
So&ne. Here he managed to inflict a severe blow upon the
clan of the Tigorini, commanded by their old chieftain Divico,
and following closely, at length engaged the whole force in a
decisive battle at Bibracte, the modern Autun in Burgundy.
His well disciplined legions and superior generalship triumphed
over the bravery of the desperate Helvetii, but only after a
struggle which lasted from about one o'clock till sunset. As a
last resort the Helvetii had built a fort out of their ox-carts,
within which they sold their lives as dearly as possible, per-
forming prodigies of valor to the last. According to writings
which were found in the camp of the conquered, the whole
number of men, women, and children of the Helvetii and their
allies was 368,000 souls at the beginning of the ill-fated
expedition, but Caesar counted only 110,000, which he sent
back that they might rebuild their former homes before the
German tribes should advance into the vacant territory.

This is the naked outline of a movement which is not devoid
of a certain epic grandeur and gloom, and is eminently suited



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HELVETIA AND THE MOMAN OCCUPATION. 23

for poetic treatment at the hands of some one who could appre-
ciate the barbaric pathos of the theme.

From henceforth the Helvetii were bound to Rome by an
alliance, the terms of which have unfortunately not been
handed down to us. They were not mere subjects of the
Romans, for they continued to enjoy a certain amount of self-
government, nor were they on the other hand merely allies,
since their country was held by the armed forces of their con-
querors. Mommsen is of the opinion that the Helvetii were
in possession of the highest degree of liberty which was con-
sistent with their position as a conquered people. Their duties
seem to have consisted principally in paying a share of the
yearly tribute which was Jevied from Gaul, in watching the
German frontier, and submitting to the small duties imposed
upon their commerce ; for the rest they were free to keep their
national customs, their language and religion.

In the next year, 57 B. C, the three tribes in the Valais also
succumbed to the Romans, and about the same time Caesar
founded an important military stronghold on the lake of Geneva,
the Colonia Julia Equestris, now Nyon. In 15 B. C, the con-
quest of the whole of what is now Swiss territory was completed
by the victory of Tiberius and Drusus, the stepsons of the
Emperor Augustus, over the warlike Raeti. It is this latter
victory which Horace celebrates in an ode^ addressed to
Augustus, where, with somewhat transparent flattery, he ascribes
the honor as due to the emperor instead of his generals. In
the division of the empire, instituted by Augustus, the whole of
Eastern Switzerland was assigned to the province of Raetia,
the Valais formed a separate district known as Vallis Poeninus,
Ticino remained with Italy, and all the rest was counted to Gaul,
so that the country retained to a certain extent the motley
political appearance which had characterized it in pre-Roman
times.

The flrst care of the Romans after acquiring new possessions
was to provide them with a complete system of roads, which.



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24 THE BISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

though built primarily for military purposes, eventually also
became the highways of commerce, and the arteries of civiliza-
tion. Helvetia, Raetia and the Valais formed no exception to
this rule, especially as the positions of these provinces made
them of first importance as connecting links between the sys-
tems of defence upon the Rhine and the Danube on the one
hand and Italy, the mother country, on the other.

Of the numerous roads which traversed the country, one
started from Milan (Mediolanum), passed to the head of the
lake of Como, over the Spliigen Pass to Chur (Curia) and the
lake of Constance; another from Aosta (Augusta Praetoria)
over the Great St. Bernard (In summo Pennino) to Martigny
(Octodurum), running thence along the northern shore of Lake
Leman to Nyon (Colonia Equestris), to Geneva and thus into
France ; and a third branched off from the latter road at Vevey
(Viviscus), and passed by Avenches (Aventicum), the chief city
of the Helvetii, to Solothurn (Salodurum), just beyond which
place it divided in two, one part going to Augst (Augusta
Raurica) and thus down the Rhine, while the other followed
the Aar to Windisch (Vindonissa). This place, now an insig-
nificant village near Brugg in the Canton of Aargau, was chosen
for the centre of the whole military system of Helvetia, being
well adapted for the purpose by its situation at the juncture
of the Aar, the Reuss and the Limmat, three small rivers which
gave access to the interior. It was connected with the military
stations dotted along the Rhine from the lake of Constance to
Cologne, and with Raetia and the Danube by means of a road
running through Baden (Aquae), Zurich (Turicum) and along
the Wallensee to Chur. It was the duty, therefore, of the
legion stationed at Windisch to guard the communication
between the two great divisions of the Roman army, on the
Rhine and the Danube.

That this standing army was at times anything but welcome
to the native population, is illustrated by a conflict which broke
out in 69 A. D., between the Helvetii and the arrogant soldiery
in their midst. Tacitus relates that after the murder of the



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HELVETIA AND THE ROMAN OCCUPATION. 25

emperor Galba and the accession of Vitellius, a certain Alienus
Caecina, officer of Vitellius, passed through Helvetia, where the
people who had not yet heard of Galba's assassination, refused
to acknowledge the authority of Vitellius. Thirsting for
war, Caecina seized the first pretext to attack the Helvetii;
they resisted and were massacred by the thousands in an
uneven contest, escaping complete annihilation only by abject
submission and through the eloquence of one of their
orators.^

Switzerland is much richer in Roman remains than is popu-
larly supposed. Extensive discoveries have been made in many
places, notably at Nyon on the lake of Geneva, which the
traveller will remember as a little castled town, with terrace
and arbored walks, from whence Mont Blanc is seen in all its
grandeur; also at Augst near Basel, now an insignificant ham-
let, but once a stronghold of Roman civilization. Baden near
Zurich has proved equally attractive to archeologists. It is
described by Tacitus in his day as " a place which during long
years of peace had grown to be like a city, much frequented on
account of the attraction of its salubrious waters." This place
is still a favorite resort for invalids, with its long rows of hotels,
and the picturesque medieval ruin surmounting all. But the
principal Roman remains are to be found at Avenches, the
modem successor of ancient Aventicum, the chief city of
the Helvetii.

Like many another place of historic interest in Switzerland,
Avenches lies ofiF the beaten track, so that in order to visit it,
one must turn aside and make it the object of a special journey.
It is charmingly situated upon a hill, in sight of the lake of
Morat and the Jura mountains, and surrounded by fertile lands
under cultivation — altogether a miniature town of medieval
aspect with castle, wall and gate. Old Aventicum, however,
occupied much more ground than modem Avenches ; it lay for
the most part in the plain to the east enclosed by a great wall
some four miles in circumference. The present town is perched

^ History, Book I., Chap. 67-69.



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26 THE RISE OF THE SWISS EEPUBLIC.

upon what was formerly the Castellum. On alighting at the
railroad station the visitor immediately perceives the remnants
of the old wall, which can be readily traced through its entire
length ; in fact one of its numerous towers still remains standing
to bear witness to the formidable proportions it must have
possessed. From the site of the ancient Forum, now a field of
grass, there rises an architectural fragment of great beauty
some forty feet in height, at once massive and graceful. It
resembles a column, but has now been identified as part of an
arcade which formerly flanked the Forum. This ruin is known
locally as the Cigognievy because it used to be a favorite place
for storks (French cigogne) to build their nests upon. Travel-
ing from the Rhine to the lake of Geneva, Byron passed
through Avenches, and it is to the Cigognier that he refers
in his "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" :

** By a lone wall a lonelier column rears

A grey and grief-worn aspect of old days,
'Tis the last remnant of the wreck of years.

And looks as with the wild bewildered gaze

Of one to stone converted by amaze.
Yet still with consciousness ; and there it stands,

Making a marvel that it not decays.
When the coeval pride of human hands,
Levell'd Aventicum, hath strew'd her subject lands.** *

The poet has been very successful in rendering t^e impres-
sion which this ruin produces upon the mind, and it is unfortu-
nate that in the next stanza he should dilate with enthusiastic
praise upon the story of a certain Julia Alpinula, which is now
known to have been invented out of whole cloth by a forger of
inscriptions. It seems to have been Byron's fate to immortal-
ize unwittingly many a falsehood or a half-truth.

A few fragments of fluted columns and stray bits of ornament,
still lying on the ground or gathered into the local museum,
alone attest the ancient beauty of the Forum. Against the
hillside, across the Forum, and partly hidden by brushwood, are

1 Third Canto, Stanza LX V.



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HELVETIA AND THE ROMAN OCCUPATION. 27

the concrete substructure of a theatre. Near by also are indi-
cations of four Guild Houses, one belonging to a fraternity of
boatmen, and at the Eastern entrance to the modem town there
is an oblong depression which reveals the former presence of
an amphitheatre. Finally in the extensive fields beyond, in the
direction of the wall-tower, the remains of baths have been
found, as well as an unusually rich collection of mosaic floors,
statuettes, amphorae, drainage pipes, and all the usual evidences
of Roman civilization.

Aventicum reached its period of greatest prosperity under
Vespasian and Titus, who both favored it with their imperial
protection, doubtless because according to Suetonius, Vespa-
sian's father, surnamed Sabinus, had "turned usurer [or
banker, as we should say] amongst the Helvetii, and there
died." 1

When under Domitian and Trajan the Roman empire
received the greatest extension to which it ever attained, Hel-
vetia ceased to be a frontier province, the soldiery were pushed
forward across the Rhine, and a long period of peace set in,
which lasted not far from one hundred and fifty years. The
land advanced many degrees in the knowledge of the peaceful
arts and of a wider culture, Roman gods and goddesses sub-
planted the Celtic divinities, the theatre and gymnasium flour-
ished, and the barbarians were to all appearances completely
Romanized. It is doubtful, however, whether the best side of
this superimposed civilization became in any sense an organic
part of the character of the Helvetii, whether they did not
rather absorb too readily its vices without comprehending its
higher aspects, and in assuming the Roman did not often bury
the best qualities of the Helvetian. All national enthusiasm
vanished forever to gfive place to a skind-deep and uncertain pol-
ish, for, as even Tacitus in his day says, " Of late years the his-
tory of their ancestors was their only glory."

This welcome era of peace came to an end durfhg the reign
of Valerianus and Gallienus, when the German hordes, taking

^ Lives of the Twelve Caesars.



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28 THE EISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

advantage of the confusion into which the empire had been
plunged by the claims of rivals to the throne, succeeded in
breaking through the Roman system of defence. The Alam-
anni, who were later to play so great a part in the destinies of
Switzerland, invaded Helvetia and destroyed Aventicum, which
was never after rebuilt. With a mighty effort the Romans
under Aurelian and Diocletian reoccupied some of their for-
mer strongholds and maintained the line of defence upon the
Rhine, but everything beyond that river was lost to them.
Helvetia once more became a frontier province full of soldiers,
and exposed to continual ravages from marauding German
tribes ; the land became as unsafe as it had been before the
Roman occupation. Ammianus Marcellinus, traveling through
Gaul in the suite of the emperor Julian, enumerates amongst
other cities, " Aventicum also, now a deserted city, but once of
no mean account, as the half ruined buildings even now testify."^

Modern Avenches, an insignificant country town with
perhaps a tenth of old Aventicum's population, visited at
most by a stray archeologist, and forgotten by the g^eat world
outside, admirably illustrates the decay which overtook that
ephemeral civilization the Romans had tried to graft upon
the Celtic Helvetii. The fall of Helvetia is best symbolized
by the column whose "g^ey and grief-worn aspect" appealed
so strongly to the poet.

But there was a ray of light in all this gloom, one great
mitigating circumstance in this shame and degredation, for it
was just about this time that Christianity made its appearance
in the regions north of the Alps.

Such was the confusion of the period that it is impossible to
find perfectly trustworthy documentary evidence in regard to
this introduction of Christianity. The only testimony of any
sort is derived from a number of legends and traditions pre-
served by the Catholic Church. Unfortunately they are so much
distorted by miraculous interpolations that the task of extracting
the historical germs they may contain, is well nigh hopeless.

iXV, II.



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HELVETIA AND THE ROMAN OCCUPATION. 29

There is a tradition, perhaps the least authenticated of all,
though singularly beautiful in its details, concerning a St.
Beatus whose cave and ruined chapel are shown to travelers
at a spot above the carriage road which flanks the northern
shore of Lake Thun ; another connects a St. Lucius with the
city of Chur; but the most important and, on the whole, best
supported legend is that of St. Maurice. The story goes that
a Christian legion, recruited from Thebats in Egypt, and com-
manded by an officer Maurice, was massacred while at Agaunum
in the Lower Valais, by command of the Emperor Maximianus,
who was just then carrying on a vigorous persecution of the
Christians throughout the Empire. In memory of this mar-
tyrdom the name of the place was changed to St. Maurice.
This particular legend has been much discussed because it
forms the starting point for a number of othei;s, whose authen-
ticity, therefore, depends upon it. After the persecutions in
the Valais, namely, many Christians are supposed to have fled
to other parts ; notably the Sts. Felix and Regula to Zurich and
Ursus and Victor to Solothum. It is significant that the first
Bishop on Swiss territory, mentioned by reliable records, was a
certain Theodor or Theodul, resident in the Lower Valais, at
Martigny, in 381.

But whatever may be the historical importance of the
legends, it is likely that the most potent influence was exerted,
not by regular missionaries, but by Christianized officials, mer-
chants and soldiers who came into contact with the people.
In other words Christianity was introduced as civilization had
been, by a multitude of unrecorded acts, and by a process of
infiltration rather than of inundation — from Gaul into Geneva,



Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 2 of 32)