Edward Gibbon.

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 online

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substantial treasure of gold, and the holy vessels of the Jewish temple,
which after their long peregrination were respectfully deposited in
the Christian church of Jerusalem. A long train of the noblest Vandals
reluctantly exposed their lofty stature and manly countenance. Gelimer
slowly advanced: he was clad in a purple robe, and still maintained
the majesty of a king. Not a tear escaped from his eyes, not a sigh was
heard; but his pride or piety derived some secret consolation from the
words of Solomon, which he repeatedly pronounced, Vanity! vanity! all
is vanity! Instead of ascending a triumphal car drawn by four horses or
elephants, the modest conqueror marched on foot at the head of his brave
companions; his prudence might decline an honor too conspicuous for a
subject; and his magnanimity might justly disdain what had been so often
sullied by the vilest of tyrants. The glorious procession entered the
gate of the hippodrome; was saluted by the acclamations of the senate
and people; and halted before the throne where Justinian and Theodora
were seated to receive homage of the captive monarch and the victorious
hero. They both performed the customary adoration; and falling prostrate
on the ground, respectfully touched the footstool of a prince who had
not unsheathed his sword, and of a prostitute who had danced on the
theatre; some gentle violence was used to bend the stubborn spirit of
the grandson of Genseric; and however trained to servitude, the genius
of Belisarius must have secretly rebelled. He was immediately declared
consul for the ensuing year, and the day of his inauguration resembled
the pomp of a second triumph: his curule chair was borne aloft on the
shoulders of captive Vandals; and the spoils of war, gold cups, and rich
girdles, were profusely scattered among the populace.

Chapter XLI: Conquests Of Justinian, Character Of Balisarius. - Part III.

But the purest reward of Belisarius was in the faithful execution of a
treaty for which his honor had been pledged to the king of the Vandals.
The religious scruples of Gelimer, who adhered to the Arian heresy, were
incompatible with the dignity of senator or patrician: but he received
from the emperor an ample estate in the province of Galatia, where the
abdicated monarch retired, with his family and friends, to a life of
peace, of affluence, and perhaps of content. The daughters of Hilderic
were entertained with the respectful tenderness due to their age and
misfortune; and Justinian and Theodora accepted the honor of educating
and enriching the female descendants of the great Theodosius. The
bravest of the Vandal youth were distributed into five squadrons of
cavalry, which adopted the name of their benefactor, and supported
in the Persian wars the glory of their ancestors. But these rare
exceptions, the reward of birth or valor, are insufficient to explain
the fate of a nation, whose numbers before a short and bloodless war,
amounted to more than six hundred thousand persons. After the exile of
their king and nobles, the servile crowd might purchase their safety by
abjuring their character, religion, and language; and their degenerate
posterity would be insensibly mingled with the common herd of African
subjects. Yet even in the present age, and in the heart of the Moorish
tribes, a curious traveller has discovered the white complexion and long
flaxen hair of a northern race; and it was formerly believed, that the
boldest of the Vandals fled beyond the power, or even the knowledge,
of the Romans, to enjoy their solitary freedom on the shores of the
Atlantic Ocean. Africa had been their empire, it became their prison;
nor could they entertain a hope, or even a wish, of returning to the
banks of the Elbe, where their brethren, of a spirit less adventurous,
still wandered in their native forests. It was impossible for cowards
to surmount the barriers of unknown seas and hostile Barbarians; it was
impossible for brave men to expose their nakedness and defeat before the
eyes of their countrymen, to describe the kingdoms which they had lost,
and to claim a share of the humble inheritance, which, in a happier
hour, they had almost unanimously renounced. In the country between the
Elbe and the Oder, several populous villages of Lusatia are inhabited by
the Vandals: they still preserve their language, their customs, and
the purity of their blood; support, with some impatience, the Saxon
or Prussian yoke; and serve, with secret and voluntary allegiance, the
descendant of their ancient kings, who in his garb and present fortune
is confounded with the meanest of his vassals. The name and situation of
this unhappy people might indicate their descent from one common stock
with the conquerors of Africa. But the use of a Sclavonian dialect more
clearly represent them as the last remnant of the new colonies, who
succeeded to the genuine Vandals, already scattered or destroyed in the
age of Procopius.

If Belisarius had been tempted to hesitate in his allegiance, he might
have urged, even against the emperor himself, the indispensable duty of
saving Africa from an enemy more barbarous than the Vandals. The origin
of the Moors is involved in darkness; they were ignorant of the use of
letters. Their limits cannot be precisely defined; a boundless continent
was open to the Libyan shepherds; the change of seasons and pastures
regulated their motions; and their rude huts and slender furniture were
transported with the same case as their arms, their families, and their
cattle, which consisted of sheep, oxen, and camels. During the vigor of
the Roman power, they observed a respectful distance from Carthage and
the sea-shore: under the feeble reign of the Vandals, they invaded the
cities of Numidia, occupied the sea-coast from Tangier to Cæsarea, and
pitched their camps, with impunity, in the fertile province of Byzacium.
The formidable strength and artful conduct of Belisarius secured the
neutrality of the Moorish princes, whose vanity aspired to receive,
in the emperor's name, the ensigns of their regal dignity. They were
astonished by the rapid event, and trembled in the presence of their
conqueror. But his approaching departure soon relieved the apprehensions
of a savage and superstitious people; the number of their wives allowed
them to disregard the safety of their infant hostages; and when the
Roman general hoisted sail in the port of Carthage, he heard the
cries, and almost beheld the flames, of the desolated province. Yet he
persisted in his resolution, and leaving only a part of his guards to
reënforce the feeble garrisons, he intrusted the command of Africa to
the eunuch Solomon, who proved himself not unworthy to be the successor
of Belisarius. In the first invasion, some detachments, with two
officers of merit, were surprised and intercepted; but Solomon speedily
assembled his troops, marched from Carthage into the heart of the
country, and in two great battles destroyed sixty thousand of the
Barbarians. The Moors depended on their multitude, their swiftness, and
their inaccessible mountains; and the aspect and smell of their camels
are said to have produced some confusion in the Roman cavalry. But as
soon as they were commanded to dismount, they derided this contemptible
obstacle: as soon as the columns ascended the hills, the naked and
disorderly crowd was dazzled by glittering arms and regular evolutions;
and the menace of their female prophets was repeatedly fulfilled,
that the Moors should be discomfited by a _beardless_ antagonist. The
victorious eunuch advanced thirteen days journey from Carthage, to
besiege Mount Aurasius, the citadel, and at the same time the garden,
of Numidia. That range of hills, a branch of the great Atlas, contains,
within a circumference of one hundred and twenty miles, a rare variety
of soil and climate; the intermediate valleys and elevated plains abound
with rich pastures, perpetual streams, and fruits of a delicious taste
and uncommon magnitude. This fair solitude is decorated with the ruins
of Lambesa, a Roman city, once the seat of a legion, and the residence
of forty thousand inhabitants. The Ionic temple of Æsculapius is
encompassed with Moorish huts; and the cattle now graze in the midst
of an amphitheatre, under the shade of Corinthian columns. A sharp
perpendicular rock rises above the level of the mountain, where the
African princes deposited their wives and treasure; and a proverb is
familiar to the Arabs, that the man may eat fire who dares to attack
the craggy cliffs and inhospitable natives of Mount Aurasius. This hardy
enterprise was twice attempted by the eunuch Solomon: from the first,
he retreated with some disgrace; and in the second, his patience and
provisions were almost exhausted; and he must again have retired, if he
had not yielded to the impetuous courage of his troops, who audaciously
scaled, to the astonishment of the Moors, the mountain, the hostile
camp, and the summit of the Geminian rock A citadel was erected to
secure this important conquest, and to remind the Barbarians of their
defeat; and as Solomon pursued his march to the west, the long-lost
province of Mauritanian Sitifi was again annexed to the Roman empire.
The Moorish war continued several years after the departure of
Belisarius; but the laurels which he resigned to a faithful lieutenant
may be justly ascribed to his own triumph.

The experience of past faults, which may sometimes correct the mature
age of an individual, is seldom profitable to the successive generations
of mankind. The nations of antiquity, careless of each other's safety,
were separately vanquished and enslaved by the Romans. This awful lesson
might have instructed the Barbarians of the West to oppose, with timely
counsels and confederate arms, the unbounded ambition of Justinian. Yet
the same error was repeated, the same consequences were felt, and the
Goths, both of Italy and Spain, insensible of their approaching danger,
beheld with indifference, and even with joy, the rapid downfall of the
Vandals. After the failure of the royal line, Theudes, a valiant and
powerful chief, ascended the throne of Spain, which he had formerly
administered in the name of Theodoric and his infant grandson. Under
his command, the Visigoths besieged the fortress of Ceuta on the African
coast: but, while they spent the Sabbath day in peace and devotion, the
pious security of their camp was invaded by a sally from the town; and
the king himself, with some difficulty and danger, escaped from the
hands of a sacrilegious enemy. It was not long before his pride and
resentment were gratified by a suppliant embassy from the unfortunate
Gelimer, who implored, in his distress, the aid of the Spanish monarch.
But instead of sacrificing these unworthy passions to the dictates of
generosity and prudence, Theudes amused the ambassadors till he was
secretly informed of the loss of Carthage, and then dismissed them with
obscure and contemptuous advice, to seek in their native country a
true knowledge of the state of the Vandals. The long continuance of the
Italian war delayed the punishment of the Visigoths; and the eyes
of Theudes were closed before they tasted the fruits of his mistaken
policy. After his death, the sceptre of Spain was disputed by a civil
war. The weaker candidate solicited the protection of Justinian, and
ambitiously subscribed a treaty of alliance, which deeply wounded the
independence and happiness of his country. Several cities, both on
the ocean and the Mediterranean, were ceded to the Roman troops, who
afterwards refused to evacuate those pledges, as it should seem, either
of safety or payment; and as they were fortified by perpetual supplies
from Africa, they maintained their impregnable stations, for the
mischievous purpose of inflaming the civil and religious factions of
the Barbarians. Seventy years elapsed before this painful thorn could be
extirpated from the bosom of the monarchy; and as long as the emperors
retained any share of these remote and useless possessions, their vanity
might number Spain in the list of their provinces, and the successors of
Alaric in the rank of their vassals.

The error of the Goths who reigned in Italy was less excusable than that
of their Spanish brethren, and their punishment was still more immediate
and terrible. From a motive of private revenge, they enabled their most
dangerous enemy to destroy their most valuable ally. A sister of the
great Theodoric had been given in marriage to Thrasimond, the African
king: on this occasion, the fortress of Lilybæum in Sicily was resigned
to the Vandals; and the princess Amalafrida was attended by a martial
train of one thousand nobles, and five thousand Gothic soldiers, who
signalized their valor in the Moorish wars. Their merit was overrated
by themselves, and perhaps neglected by the Vandals; they viewed the
country with envy, and the conquerors with disdain; but their real
or fictitious conspiracy was prevented by a massacre; the Goths were
oppressed, and the captivity of Amalafrida was soon followed by her
secret and suspicious death. The eloquent pen of Cassiodorus was
employed to reproach the Vandal court with the cruel violation of every
social and public duty; but the vengeance which he threatened in the
name of his sovereign might be derided with impunity, as long as Africa
was protected by the sea, and the Goths were destitute of a navy. In
the blind impotence of grief and indignation, they joyfully saluted the
approach of the Romans, entertained the fleet of Belisarius in the ports
of Sicily, and were speedily delighted or alarmed by the surprising
intelligence, that their revenge was executed beyond the measure of
their hopes, or perhaps of their wishes. To their friendship the emperor
was indebted for the kingdom of Africa, and the Goths might reasonably
think, that they were entitled to resume the possession of a barren
rock, so recently separated as a nuptial gift from the island of Sicily.
They were soon undeceived by the haughty mandate of Belisarius, which
excited their tardy and unavailing repentance. "The city and promontory
of Lilybæum," said the Roman general, "belonged to the Vandals, and I
claim them by the right of conquest. Your submission may deserve the
favor of the emperor; your obstinacy will provoke his displeasure, and
must kindle a war, that can terminate only in your utter ruin. If
you compel us to take up arms, we shall contend, not to regain the
possession of a single city, but to deprive you of all the provinces
which you unjustly withhold from their lawful sovereign." A nation of
two hundred thousand soldiers might have smiled at the vain menace of
Justinian and his lieutenant: but a spirit of discord and disaffection
prevailed in Italy, and the Goths supported, with reluctance, the
indignity of a female reign.

The birth of Amalasontha, the regent and queen of Italy, united the two
most illustrious families of the Barbarians. Her mother, the sister of
Clovis, was descended from the long-haired kings of the _Merovingian_
race; and the regal succession of the _Amali_ was illustrated in the
eleventh generation, by her father, the great Theodoric, whose merit
might have ennobled a plebeian origin. The sex of his daughter excluded
her from the Gothic throne; but his vigilant tenderness for his family
and his people discovered the last heir of the royal line, whose
ancestors had taken refuge in Spain; and the fortunate Eutharic was
suddenly exalted to the rank of a consul and a prince. He enjoyed only
a short time the charms of Amalasontha, and the hopes of the succession;
and his widow, after the death of her husband and father, was left the
guardian of her son Athalaric, and the kingdom of Italy. At the age
of about twenty-eight years, the endowments of her mind and person had
attained their perfect maturity. Her beauty, which, in the apprehension
of Theodora herself, might have disputed the conquest of an emperor,
was animated by manly sense, activity, and resolution. Education and
experience had cultivated her talents; her philosophic studies were
exempt from vanity; and, though she expressed herself with equal
elegance and ease in the Greek, the Latin, and the Gothic tongue,
the daughter of Theodoric maintained in her counsels a discreet and
impenetrable silence. By a faithful imitation of the virtues, she
revived the prosperity, of his reign; while she strove, with pious
care, to expiate the faults, and to obliterate the darker memory of his
declining age. The children of Boethius and Symmachus were restored
to their paternal inheritance; her extreme lenity never consented to
inflict any corporal or pecuniary penalties on her Roman subjects; and
she generously despised the clamors of the Goths, who, at the end of
forty years, still considered the people of Italy as their slaves or
their enemies. Her salutary measures were directed by the wisdom, and
celebrated by the eloquence, of Cassiodorus; she solicited and deserved
the friendship of the emperor; and the kingdoms of Europe respected,
both in peace and war, the majesty of the Gothic throne. But the future
happiness of the queen and of Italy depended on the education of her
son; who was destined, by his birth, to support the different and almost
incompatible characters of the chief of a Barbarian camp, and the first
magistrate of a civilized nation. From the age of ten years, Athalaric
was diligently instructed in the arts and sciences, either useful or
ornamental for a Roman prince; and three venerable Goths were chosen to
instil the principles of honor and virtue into the mind of their young
king. But the pupil who is insensible of the benefits, must abhor
the restraints, of education; and the solicitude of the queen, which
affection rendered anxious and severe, offended the untractable nature
of her son and his subjects. On a solemn festival, when the Goths were
assembled in the palace of Ravenna, the royal youth escaped from his
mother's apartment, and, with tears of pride and anger, complained of
a blow which his stubborn disobedience had provoked her to inflict. The
Barbarians resented the indignity which had been offered to their
king; accused the regent of conspiring against his life and crown; and
imperiously demanded, that the grandson of Theodoric should be rescued
from the dastardly discipline of women and pedants, and educated, like a
valiant Goth, in the society of his equals and the glorious ignorance of
his ancestors. To this rude clamor, importunately urged as the voice
of the nation, Amalasontha was compelled to yield her reason, and the
dearest wishes of her heart. The king of Italy was abandoned to wine,
to women, and to rustic sports; and the indiscreet contempt of the
ungrateful youth betrayed the mischievous designs of his favorites and
her enemies. Encompassed with domestic foes, she entered into a secret
negotiation with the emperor Justinian; obtained the assurance of a
friendly reception, and had actually deposited at Dyrachium, in Epirus,
a treasure of forty thousand pounds of gold. Happy would it have been
for her fame and safety, if she had calmly retired from barbarous
faction to the peace and splendor of Constantinople. But the mind of
Amalasontha was inflamed by ambition and revenge; and while her ships
lay at anchor in the port, she waited for the success of a crime which
her passions excused or applauded as an act of justice. Three of the
most dangerous malecontents had been separately removed under the
pretence of trust and command, to the frontiers of Italy: they were
assassinated by her private emissaries; and the blood of these noble
Goths rendered the queen-mother absolute in the court of Ravenna, and
justly odious to a free people. But if she had lamented the disorders of
her son she soon wept his irreparable loss; and the death of Athalaric,
who, at the age of sixteen, was consumed by premature intemperance,
left her destitute of any firm support or legal authority. Instead of
submitting to the laws of her country which held as a fundamental maxim,
that the succession could never pass from the lance to the distaff, the
daughter of Theodoric conceived the impracticable design of sharing,
with one of her cousins, the regal title, and of reserving in her own
hands the substance of supreme power. He received the proposal with
profound respect and affected gratitude; and the eloquent Cassiodorus
announced to the senate and the emperor, that Amalasontha and Theodatus
had ascended the throne of Italy. His birth (for his mother was the
sister of Theodoric) might be considered as an imperfect title; and the
choice of Amalasontha was more strongly directed by her contempt of
his avarice and pusillanimity which had deprived him of the love of
the Italians, and the esteem of the Barbarians. But Theodatus was
exasperated by the contempt which he deserved: her justice had repressed
and reproached the oppression which he exercised against his Tuscan
neighbors; and the principal Goths, united by common guilt and
resentment, conspired to instigate his slow and timid disposition. The
letters of congratulation were scarcely despatched before the queen of
Italy was imprisoned in a small island of the Lake of Bolsena, where,
after a short confinement, she was strangled in the bath, by the order,
or with the connivance of the new king, who instructed his turbulent
subjects to shed the blood of their sovereigns.

Justinian beheld with joy the dissensions of the Goths; and the
mediation of an ally concealed and promoted the ambitious views of
the conqueror. His ambassadors, in their public audience, demanded the
fortress of Lilybæum, ten Barbarian fugitives, and a just compensation
for the pillage of a small town on the Illyrian borders; but they
secretly negotiated with Theodatus to betray the province of Tuscany,
and tempted Amalasontha to extricate herself from danger and perplexity,
by a free surrender of the kingdom of Italy. A false and servile epistle
was subscribed, by the reluctant hand of the captive queen: but the
confession of the Roman senators, who were sent to Constantinople,
revealed the truth of her deplorable situation; and Justinian, by the
voice of a new ambassador, most powerfully interceded for her life and
liberty. Yet the secret instructions of the same minister were adapted
to serve the cruel jealousy of Theodora, who dreaded the presence and
superior charms of a rival: he prompted, with artful and ambiguous
hints, the execution of a crime so useful to the Romans; received the
intelligence of her death with grief and indignation, and denounced,
in his master's name, immortal war against the perfidious assassin. In
Italy, as well as in Africa, the guilt of a usurper appeared to
justify the arms of Justinian; but the forces which he prepared, were
insufficient for the subversion of a mighty kingdom, if their feeble
numbers had not been multiplied by the name, the spirit, and the
conduct, of a hero. A chosen troop of guards, who served on horseback,
and were armed with lances and bucklers, attended the person of
Belisarius; his cavalry was composed of two hundred Huns, three hundred
Moors, and four thousand _confederates_, and the infantry consisted of
only three thousand Isaurians. Steering the same course as in his former
expedition, the Roman consul cast anchor before Catana in Sicily, to
survey the strength of the island, and to decide whether he should
attempt the conquest, or peaceably pursue his voyage for the African
coast. He found a fruitful land and a friendly people. Notwithstanding
the decay of agriculture, Sicily still supplied the granaries of Rome:
the farmers were graciously exempted from the oppression of military
quarters; and the Goths, who trusted the defence of the island to the
inhabitants, had some reason to complain, that their confidence was
ungratefully betrayed. Instead of soliciting and expecting the aid
of the king of Italy, they yielded to the first summons a cheerful
obedience; and this province, the first fruits of the Punic war, was
again, after a long separation, united to the Roman empire. The Gothic
garrison of Palermo, which alone attempted to resist, was reduced, after
a short siege, by a singular stratagem. Belisarius introduced his ships
into the deepest recess of the harbor; their boats were laboriously
hoisted with ropes and pulleys to the top-mast head, and he filled them
with archers, who, from that superior station, commanded the ramparts
of the city. After this easy, though successful campaign, the conqueror
entered Syracuse in triumph, at the head of his victorious bands,

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 11 of 49)