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

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Nile, embarked on the Red Sea, and safely landed at the African port
of Adulis. From Adulis to the royal city of Axume is no more than fifty
leagues, in a direct line; but the winding passes of the mountains
detained the ambassador fifteen days; and as he traversed the forests,
he saw, and vaguely computed, about five thousand wild elephants.
The capital, according to his report, was large and populous; and the
_village_ of Axume is still conspicuous by the regal coronations, by
the ruins of a Christian temple, and by sixteen or seventeen obelisks
inscribed with Grecian characters. But the Negus gave audience in
the open field, seated on a lofty chariot, which was drawn by four
elephants, superbly caparisoned, and surrounded by his nobles and
musicians. He was clad in a linen garment and cap, holding in his
hand two javelins and a light shield; and, although his nakedness was
imperfectly covered, he displayed the Barbaric pomp of gold chains,
collars, and bracelets, richly adorned with pearls and precious stones.
The ambassador of Justinian knelt; the Negus raised him from the ground,
embraced Nonnosus, kissed the seal, perused the letter, accepted the
Roman alliance, and, brandishing his weapons, denounced implacable war
against the worshipers of fire. But the proposal of the silk trade was
eluded; and notwithstanding the assurances, and perhaps the wishes, of
the Abyssinians, these hostile menaces evaporated without effect. The
Homerites were unwilling to abandon their aromatic groves, to explore a
sandy desert, and to encounter, after all their fatigues, a formidable
nation from whom they had never received any personal injuries. Instead
of enlarging his conquests, the king of Æthiopia was incapable of
defending his possessions. Abrahah, § the slave of a Roman merchant of
Adulis, assumed the sceptre of the Homerites; the troops of Africa
were seduced by the luxury of the climate; and Justinian solicited
the friendship of the usurper, who honored with a slight tribute the
supremacy of his prince. After a long series of prosperity, the power of
Abrahah was overthrown before the gates of Mecca; and his children were
despoiled by the Persian conqueror; and the Æthiopians were finally
expelled from the continent of Asia. This narrative of obscure and
remote events is not foreign to the decline and fall of the Roman
empire. If a Christian power had been maintained in Arabia, Mahomet must
have been crushed in his cradle, and Abyssinia would have prevented a
revolution which has changed the civil and religious state of the world.

Chapter XLIII: Last Victory And Death Of Belisarius, Death Of Justinian. - Part I.

Rebellions Of Africa. - Restoration Of The Gothic Kingdom By
Totila. - Loss And Recovery Of Rome. - Final Conquest Of Italy
By Narses. - Extinction Of The Ostrogoths. - Defeat Of The
Franks And Alemanni. - Last Victory, Disgrace, And Death Of
Belisarius. - Death And Character Of Justinian. - Comet,
Earthquakes, And Plague.

The review of the nations from the Danube to the Nile has exposed, on
every side, the weakness of the Romans; and our wonder is reasonably
excited that they should presume to enlarge an empire whose ancient
limits they were incapable of defending. But the wars, the conquests,
and the triumphs of Justinian, are the feeble and pernicious efforts of
old age, which exhaust the remains of strength, and accelerate the
decay of the powers of life. He exulted in the glorious act of restoring
Africa and Italy to the republic; but the calamities which followed the
departure of Belisarius betrayed the impotence of the conqueror, and
accomplished the ruin of those unfortunate countries.

From his new acquisitions, Justinian expected that his avarice, as
well as pride, should be richly gratified. A rapacious minister of the
finances closely pursued the footsteps of Belisarius; and as the old
registers of tribute had been burnt by the Vandals, he indulged his
fancy in a liberal calculation and arbitrary assessment of the wealth
of Africa. The increase of taxes, which were drawn away by a distant
sovereign, and a general resumption of the patrimony or crown lands,
soon dispelled the intoxication of the public joy: but the emperor was
insensible to the modest complaints of the people, till he was awakened
and alarmed by the clamors of military discontent. Many of the Roman
soldiers had married the widows and daughters of the Vandals. As their
own, by the double right of conquest and inheritance, they claimed the
estates which Genseric had assigned to his victorious troops. They heard
with disdain the cold and selfish representations of their officers,
that the liberality of Justinian had raised them from a savage or
servile condition; that they were already enriched by the spoils of
Africa, the treasure, the slaves, and the movables of the vanquished
Barbarians; and that the ancient and lawful patrimony of the emperors
would be applied only to the support of that government on which their
own safety and reward must ultimately depend. The mutiny was secretly
inflamed by a thousand soldiers, for the most part Heruli, who had
imbibed the doctrines, and were instigated by the clergy, of the Arian
sect; and the cause of perjury and rebellion was sanctified by the
dispensing powers of fanaticism. The Arians deplored the ruin of their
church, triumphant above a century in Africa; and they were justly
provoked by the laws of the conqueror, which interdicted the baptism
of their children, and the exercise of all religious worship. Of the
Vandals chosen by Belisarius, the far greater part, in the honors of the
Eastern service, forgot their country and religion. But a generous band
of four hundred obliged the mariners, when they were in sight of the
Isle of Lesbos, to alter their course: they touched on Peloponnesus,
ran ashore on a desert coast of Africa, and boldly erected, on Mount
Aurasius, the standard of independence and revolt. While the troops of
the provinces disclaimed the commands of their superiors, a conspiracy
was formed at Carthage against the life of Solomon, who filled with
honor the place of Belisarius; and the Arians had piously resolved
to sacrifice the tyrant at the foot of the altar, during the awful
mysteries of the festival of Easter. Fear or remorse restrained the
daggers of the assassins, but the patience of Solomon emboldened their
discontent; and, at the end of ten days, a furious sedition was kindled
in the Circus, which desolated Africa above ten years. The pillage of
the city, and the indiscriminate slaughter of its inhabitants, were
suspended only by darkness, sleep, and intoxication: the governor, with
seven companions, among whom was the historian Procopius, escaped to
Sicily: two thirds of the army were involved in the guilt of treason;
and eight thousand insurgents, assembling in the field of Bulla, elected
Stoza for their chief, a private soldier, who possessed in a superior
degree the virtues of a rebel. Under the mask of freedom, his eloquence
could lead, or at least impel, the passions of his equals. He raised
himself to a level with Belisarius, and the nephew of the emperor, by
daring to encounter them in the field; and the victorious generals were
compelled to acknowledge that Stoza deserved a purer cause, and a more
legitimate command. Vanquished in battle, he dexterously employed the
arts of negotiation; a Roman army was seduced from their allegiance, and
the chiefs who had trusted to his faithless promise were murdered by his
order in a church of Numidia. When every resource, either of force or
perfidy, was exhausted, Stoza, with some desperate Vandals, retired to
the wilds of Mauritania, obtained the daughter of a Barbarian prince,
and eluded the pursuit of his enemies, by the report of his death. The
personal weight of Belisarius, the rank, the spirit, and the temper, of
Germanus, the emperor's nephew, and the vigor and success of the second
administration of the eunuch Solomon, restored the modesty of the camp,
and maintained for a while the tranquillity of Africa. But the vices
of the Byzantine court were felt in that distant province; the troops
complained that they were neither paid nor relieved, and as soon as the
public disorders were sufficiently mature, Stoza was again alive, in
arms, and at the gates of Carthage. He fell in a single combat, but
he smiled in the agonies of death, when he was informed that his own
javelin had reached the heart of his antagonist. The example of Stoza,
and the assurance that a fortunate soldier had been the first king,
encouraged the ambition of Gontharis, and he promised, by a private
treaty, to divide Africa with the Moors, if, with their dangerous
aid, he should ascend the throne of Carthage. The feeble Areobindus,
unskilled in the affairs of peace and war, was raised, by his marriage
with the niece of Justinian, to the office of exarch. He was suddenly
oppressed by a sedition of the guards, and his abject supplications,
which provoked the contempt, could not move the pity, of the inexorable
tyrant. After a reign of thirty days, Gontharis himself was stabbed at
a banquet by the hand of Artaban; and it is singular enough, that an
Armenian prince, of the royal family of Arsaces, should reestablish
at Carthage the authority of the Roman empire. In the conspiracy
which unsheathed the dagger of Brutus against the life of Cæsar, every
circumstance is curious and important to the eyes of posterity; but the
guilt or merit of these loyal or rebellious assassins could interest
only the contemporaries of Procopius, who, by their hopes and fears,
their friendship or resentment, were personally engaged in the
revolutions of Africa.

That country was rapidly sinking into the state of barbarism from whence
it had been raised by the Phnician colonies and Roman laws; and every
step of intestine discord was marked by some deplorable victory of
savage man over civilized society. The Moors, though ignorant of
justice, were impatient of oppression: their vagrant life and boundless
wilderness disappointed the arms, and eluded the chains, of a conqueror;
and experience had shown, that neither oaths nor obligations could
secure the fidelity of their attachment. The victory of Mount Auras had
awed them into momentary submission; but if they respected the character
of Solomon, they hated and despised the pride and luxury of his two
nephews, Cyrus and Sergius, on whom their uncle had imprudently bestowed
the provincial governments of Tripoli and Pentapolis. A Moorish tribe
encamped under the walls of Leptis, to renew their alliance, and receive
from the governor the customary gifts. Fourscore of their deputies were
introduced as friends into the city; but on the dark suspicion of a
conspiracy, they were massacred at the table of Sergius, and the clamor
of arms and revenge was reëchoed through the valleys of Mount Atlas from
both the Syrtes to the Atlantic Ocean. A personal injury, the unjust
execution or murder of his brother, rendered Antalas the enemy of the
Romans. The defeat of the Vandals had formerly signalized his valor; the
rudiments of justice and prudence were still more conspicuous in a Moor;
and while he laid Adrumetum in ashes, he calmly admonished the emperor
that the peace of Africa might be secured by the recall of Solomon and
his unworthy nephews. The exarch led forth his troops from Carthage:
but, at the distance of six days' journey, in the neighborhood of
Tebeste, he was astonished by the superior numbers and fierce aspect of
the Barbarians. He proposed a treaty; solicited a reconciliation; and
offered to bind himself by the most solemn oaths. "By what oaths can he
bind himself?" interrupted the indignant Moors. "Will he swear by the
Gospels, the divine books of the Christians? It was on those books that
the faith of his nephew Sergius was pledged to eighty of our innocent
and unfortunate brethren. Before we trust them a second time, let us
try their efficacy in the chastisement of perjury and the vindication of
their own honor." Their honor was vindicated in the field of Tebeste, by
the death of Solomon, and the total loss of his army. The arrival of
fresh troops and more skilful commanders soon checked the insolence of
the Moors: seventeen of their princes were slain in the same battle;
and the doubtful and transient submission of their tribes was celebrated
with lavish applause by the people of Constantinople. Successive inroads
had reduced the province of Africa to one third of the measure of Italy;
yet the Roman emperors continued to reign above a century over Carthage
and the fruitful coast of the Mediterranean. But the victories and the
losses of Justinian were alike pernicious to mankind; and such was the
desolation of Africa, that in many parts a stranger might wander whole
days without meeting the face either of a friend or an enemy. The nation
of the Vandals had disappeared: they once amounted to a hundred and
sixty thousand warriors, without including the children, the women, or
the slaves. Their numbers were infinitely surpassed by the number of
the Moorish families extirpated in a relentless war; and the same
destruction was retaliated on the Romans and their allies, who perished
by the climate, their mutual quarrels, and the rage of the Barbarians.
When Procopius first landed, he admired the populousness of the cities
and country, strenuously exercised in the labors of commerce and
agriculture. In less than twenty years, that busy scene was converted
into a silent solitude; the wealthy citizens escaped to Sicily and
Constantinople; and the secret historian has confidently affirmed, that
five millions of Africans were consumed by the wars and government of
the emperor Justinian.

The jealousy of the Byzantine court had not permitted Belisarius to
achieve the conquest of Italy; and his abrupt departure revived the
courage of the Goths, who respected his genius, his virtue, and even the
laudable motive which had urged the servant of Justinian to deceive and
reject them. They had lost their king, (an inconsiderable loss,) their
capital, their treasures, the provinces from Sicily to the Alps, and
the military force of two hundred thousand Barbarians, magnificently
equipped with horses and arms. Yet all was not lost, as long as Pavia
was defended by one thousand Goths, inspired by a sense of honor, the
love of freedom, and the memory of their past greatness. The supreme
command was unanimously offered to the brave Uraias; and it was in his
eyes alone that the disgrace of his uncle Vitiges could appear as
a reason of exclusion. His voice inclined the election in favor of
Hildibald, whose personal merit was recommended by the vain hope that
his kinsman Theudes, the Spanish monarch, would support the common
interest of the Gothic nation. The success of his arms in Liguria and
Venetia seemed to justify their choice; but he soon declared to the
world that he was incapable of forgiving or commanding his benefactor.
The consort of Hildibald was deeply wounded by the beauty, the riches,
and the pride, of the wife of Uraias; and the death of that virtuous
patriot excited the indignation of a free people. A bold assassin
executed their sentence by striking off the head of Hildibald in the
midst of a banquet; the Rugians, a foreign tribe, assumed the privilege
of election: and Totila, the nephew of the late king, was tempted, by
revenge, to deliver himself and the garrison of Trevigo into the
hands of the Romans. But the gallant and accomplished youth was easily
persuaded to prefer the Gothic throne before the service of Justinian;
and as soon as the palace of Pavia had been purified from the Rugian
usurper, he reviewed the national force of five thousand soldiers, and
generously undertook the restoration of the kingdom of Italy.

The successors of Belisarius, eleven generals of equal rank, neglected
to crush the feeble and disunited Goths, till they were roused to action
by the progress of Totila and the reproaches of Justinian. The gates
of Verona were secretly opened to Artabazus, at the head of one hundred
Persians in the service of the empire. The Goths fled from the city. At
the distance of sixty furlongs the Roman generals halted to regulate
the division of the spoil. While they disputed, the enemy discovered the
real number of the victors: the Persians were instantly overpowered, and
it was by leaping from the wall that Artabazus preserved a life which
he lost in a few days by the lance of a Barbarian, who had defied him to
single combat. Twenty thousand Romans encountered the forces of Totila,
near Faenza, and on the hills of Mugello, of the Florentine territory.
The ardor of freedmen, who fought to regain their country, was opposed
to the languid temper of mercenary troops, who were even destitute
of the merits of strong and well-disciplined servitude. On the first
attack, they abandoned their ensigns, threw down their arms, and
dispersed on all sides with an active speed, which abated the loss,
whilst it aggravated the shame, of their defeat. The king of the Goths,
who blushed for the baseness of his enemies, pursued with rapid steps
the path of honor and victory. Totila passed the Po, traversed the
Apennine, suspended the important conquest of Ravenna, Florence, and
Rome, and marched through the heart of Italy, to form the siege or
rather the blockade, of Naples. The Roman chiefs, imprisoned in their
respective cities, and accusing each other of the common disgrace, did
not presume to disturb his enterprise. But the emperor, alarmed by the
distress and danger of his Italian conquests, despatched to the relief
of Naples a fleet of galleys and a body of Thracian and Armenian
soldiers. They landed in Sicily, which yielded its copious stores
of provisions; but the delays of the new commander, an unwarlike
magistrate, protracted the sufferings of the besieged; and the succors,
which he dropped with a timid and tardy hand, were successively
intercepted by the armed vessels stationed by Totila in the Bay of
Naples. The principal officer of the Romans was dragged, with a rope
round his neck, to the foot of the wall, from whence, with a trembling
voice, he exhorted the citizens to implore, like himself, the mercy of
the conqueror. They requested a truce, with a promise of surrendering
the city, if no effectual relief should appear at the end of thirty
days. Instead of _one_ month, the audacious Barbarian granted them
_three_, in the just confidence that famine would anticipate the term
of their capitulation. After the reduction of Naples and Cumæ, the
provinces of Lucania, Apulia, and Calabria, submitted to the king of
the Goths. Totila led his army to the gates of Rome, pitched his camp
at Tibur, or Tivoli, within twenty miles of the capital, and calmly
exhorted the senate and people to compare the tyranny of the Greeks with
the blessings of the Gothic reign.

The rapid success of Totila may be partly ascribed to the revolution
which three years' experience had produced in the sentiments of the
Italians. At the command, or at least in the name, of a Catholic
emperor, the pope, their spiritual father, had been torn from the Roman
church, and either starved or murdered on a desolate island. The virtues
of Belisarius were replaced by the various or uniform vices of eleven
chiefs, at Rome, Ravenna, Florence, Perugia, Spoleto, &c., who abused
their authority for the indulgence of lust or avarice. The improvement
of the revenue was committed to Alexander, a subtle scribe, long
practised in the fraud and oppression of the Byzantine schools,
and whose name of _Psalliction_, the _scissors_, was drawn from the
dexterous artifice with which he reduced the size without defacing the
figure, of the gold coin. Instead of expecting the restoration of peace
and industry, he imposed a heavy assessment on the fortunes of the
Italians. Yet his present or future demands were less odious than a
prosecution of arbitrary rigor against the persons and property of all
those who, under the Gothic kings, had been concerned in the receipt and
expenditure of the public money. The subjects of Justinian, who escaped
these partial vexations, were oppressed by the irregular maintenance
of the soldiers, whom Alexander defrauded and despised; and their hasty
sallies in quest of wealth, or subsistence, provoked the inhabitants of
the country to await or implore their deliverance from the virtues of
a Barbarian. Totila was chaste and temperate; and none were deceived,
either friends or enemies, who depended on his faith or his clemency. To
the husbandmen of Italy the Gothic king issued a welcome proclamation,
enjoining them to pursue their important labors, and to rest assured,
that, on the payment of the ordinary taxes, they should be defended by
his valor and discipline from the injuries of war. The strong towns he
successively attacked; and as soon as they had yielded to his arms, he
demolished the fortifications, to save the people from the calamities
of a future siege, to deprive the Romans of the arts of defence, and to
decide the tedious quarrel of the two nations, by an equal and honorable
conflict in the field of battle. The Roman captives and deserters were
tempted to enlist in the service of a liberal and courteous adversary;
the slaves were attracted by the firm and faithful promise, that they
should never be delivered to their masters; and from the thousand
warriors of Pavia, a new people, under the same appellation of Goths,
was insensibly formed in the camp of Totila. He sincerely accomplished
the articles of capitulation, without seeking or accepting any sinister
advantage from ambiguous expressions or unforeseen events: the garrison
of Naples had stipulated that they should be transported by sea; the
obstinacy of the winds prevented their voyage, but they were generously
supplied with horses, provisions, and a safe-conduct to the gates of
Rome. The wives of the senators, who had been surprised in the villas
of Campania, were restored, without a ransom, to their husbands; the
violation of female chastity was inexorably chastised with death; and
in the salutary regulation of the edict of the famished Neapolitans, the
conqueror assumed the office of a humane and attentive physician. The
virtues of Totila are equally laudable, whether they proceeded from
true policy, religious principle, or the instinct of humanity: he often
harangued his troops; and it was his constant theme, that national vice
and ruin are inseparably connected; that victory is the fruit of moral
as well as military virtue; and that the prince, and even the people,
are responsible for the crimes which they neglect to punish.

The return of Belisarius to save the country which he had subdued, was
pressed with equal vehemence by his friends and enemies; and the Gothic
war was imposed as a trust or an exile on the veteran commander. A hero
on the banks of the Euphrates, a slave in the palace of Constantinople,
he accepted with reluctance the painful task of supporting his own
reputation, and retrieving the faults of his successors. The sea was
open to the Romans: the ships and soldiers were assembled at Salona,
near the palace of Diocletian: he refreshed and reviewed his troops at
Pola in Istria, coasted round the head of the Adriatic, entered the
port of Ravenna, and despatched orders rather than supplies to the
subordinate cities. His first public oration was addressed to the Goths
and Romans, in the name of the emperor, who had suspended for a while
the conquest of Persia, and listened to the prayers of his Italian
subjects. He gently touched on the causes and the authors of the recent
disasters; striving to remove the fear of punishment for the past, and
the hope of impunity for the future, and laboring, with more zeal than
success, to unite all the members of his government in a firm league of
affection and obedience. Justinian, his gracious master, was inclined
to pardon and reward; and it was their interest, as well as duty, to
reclaim their deluded brethren, who had been seduced by the arts of
the usurper. Not a man was tempted to desert the standard of the Gothic
king. Belisarius soon discovered, that he was sent to remain the idle
and impotent spectator of the glory of a young Barbarian; and his own
epistle exhibits a genuine and lively picture of the distress of a noble
mind. "Most excellent prince, we are arrived in Italy, destitute of all
the necessary implements of war, men, horses, arms, and money. In our
late circuit through the villages of Thrace and Illyricum, we have
collected, with extreme difficulty, about four thousand recruits, naked,

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 19 of 49)