Edward Gibbon.

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

. (page 30 of 49)
Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 30 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

or his own promise. The factions of the hippodrome demanded, with some
impatience, the name of their new empress: both the people and Sophia
were astonished by the proclamation of Anastasia, the secret, though
lawful, wife of the emperor Tiberius. Whatever could alleviate the
disappointment of Sophia, Imperial honors, a stately palace, a numerous
household, was liberally bestowed by the piety of her adopted son; on
solemn occasions he attended and consulted the widow of his benefactor;
but her ambition disdained the vain semblance of royalty, and the
respectful appellation of mother served to exasperate, rather than
appease, the rage of an injured woman. While she accepted, and repaid
with a courtly smile, the fair expressions of regard and confidence,
a secret alliance was concluded between the dowager empress and her
ancient enemies; and Justinian, the son of Germanus, was employed as the
instrument of her revenge. The pride of the reigning house supported,
with reluctance, the dominion of a stranger: the youth was deservedly
popular; his name, after the death of Justin, had been mentioned by
a tumultuous faction; and his own submissive offer of his head with a
treasure of sixty thousand pounds, might be interpreted as an evidence
of guilt, or at least of fear. Justinian received a free pardon, and the
command of the eastern army. The Persian monarch fled before his arms;
and the acclamations which accompanied his triumph declared him worthy
of the purple. His artful patroness had chosen the month of the vintage,
while the emperor, in a rural solitude, was permitted to enjoy the
pleasures of a subject. On the first intelligence of her designs, he
returned to Constantinople, and the conspiracy was suppressed by his
presence and firmness. From the pomp and honors which she had abused,
Sophia was reduced to a modest allowance: Tiberius dismissed her train,
intercepted her correspondence, and committed to a faithful guard the
custody of her person. But the services of Justinian were not considered
by that excellent prince as an aggravation of his offences: after a mild
reproof, his treason and ingratitude were forgiven; and it was commonly
believed, that the emperor entertained some thoughts of contracting
a double alliance with the rival of his throne. The voice of an angel
(such a fable was propagated) might reveal to the emperor, that he
should always triumph over his domestic foes; but Tiberius derived a
firmer assurance from the innocence and generosity of his own mind.

With the odious name of Tiberius, he assumed the more popular
appellation of Constantine, and imitated the purer virtues of the
Antonines. After recording the vice or folly of so many Roman princes,
it is pleasing to repose, for a moment, on a character conspicuous
by the qualities of humanity, justice, temperance, and fortitude; to
contemplate a sovereign affable in his palace, pious in the church,
impartial on the seat of judgment, and victorious, at least by his
generals, in the Persian war. The most glorious trophy of his victory
consisted in a multitude of captives, whom Tiberius entertained,
redeemed, and dismissed to their native homes with the charitable spirit
of a Christian hero. The merit or misfortunes of his own subjects had a
dearer claim to his beneficence, and he measured his bounty not so
much by their expectations as by his own dignity. This maxim, however
dangerous in a trustee of the public wealth, was balanced by a principle
of humanity and justice, which taught him to abhor, as of the basest
alloy, the gold that was extracted from the tears of the people. For
their relief, as often as they had suffered by natural or hostile
calamities, he was impatient to remit the arrears of the past, or the
demands of future taxes: he sternly rejected the servile offerings of
his ministers, which were compensated by tenfold oppression; and the
wise and equitable laws of Tiberius excited the praise and regret
of succeeding times. Constantinople believed that the emperor had
discovered a treasure: but his genuine treasure consisted in the
practice of liberal economy, and the contempt of all vain and
superfluous expense. The Romans of the East would have been happy, if
the best gift of Heaven, a patriot king, had been confirmed as a proper
and permanent blessing. But in less than four years after the death of
Justin, his worthy successor sunk into a mortal disease, which left him
only sufficient time to restore the diadem, according to the tenure
by which he held it, to the most deserving of his fellow-citizens.
He selected Maurice from the crowd, a judgment more precious than the
purple itself: the patriarch and senate were summoned to the bed of
the dying prince: he bestowed his daughter and the empire; and his last
advice was solemnly delivered by the voice of the quæstor. Tiberius
expressed his hope that the virtues of his son and successor would erect
the noblest mausoleum to his memory. His memory was embalmed by the
public affliction; but the most sincere grief evaporates in the tumult
of a new reign, and the eyes and acclamations of mankind were speedily
directed to the rising sun.

The emperor Maurice derived his origin from ancient Rome; but his
immediate parents were settled at Arabissus in Cappadocia, and their
singular felicity preserved them alive to behold and partake the fortune
of their august son. The youth of Maurice was spent in the profession of
arms: Tiberius promoted him to the command of a new and favorite legion
of twelve thousand confederates; his valor and conduct were signalized
in the Persian war; and he returned to Constantinople to accept, as his
just reward, the inheritance of the empire. Maurice ascended the throne
at the mature age of forty-three years; and he reigned above twenty
years over the East and over himself; expelling from his mind the
wild democracy of passions, and establishing (according to the quaint
expression of Evagrius) a perfect aristocracy of reason and virtue. Some
suspicion will degrade the testimony of a subject, though he protests
that his secret praise should never reach the ear of his sovereign, and
some failings seem to place the character of Maurice below the purer
merit of his predecessor. His cold and reserved demeanor might be
imputed to arrogance; his justice was not always exempt from cruelty,
nor his clemency from weakness; and his rigid economy too often exposed
him to the reproach of avarice. But the rational wishes of an absolute
monarch must tend to the happiness of his people. Maurice was endowed
with sense and courage to promote that happiness, and his administration
was directed by the principles and example of Tiberius. The
pusillanimity of the Greeks had introduced so complete a separation
between the offices of king and of general, that a private soldier, who
had deserved and obtained the purple, seldom or never appeared at
the head of his armies. Yet the emperor Maurice enjoyed the glory of
restoring the Persian monarch to his throne; his lieutenants waged a
doubtful war against the Avars of the Danube; and he cast an eye of
pity, of ineffectual pity, on the abject and distressful state of his
Italian provinces.

From Italy the emperors were incessantly tormented by tales of misery
and demands of succor, which extorted the humiliating confession of
their own weakness. The expiring dignity of Rome was only marked by the
freedom and energy of her complaints: "If you are incapable," she said,
"of delivering us from the sword of the Lombards, save us at least from
the calamity of famine." Tiberius forgave the reproach, and relieved the
distress: a supply of corn was transported from Egypt to the Tyber; and
the Roman people, invoking the name, not of Camillus, but of St. Peter
repulsed the Barbarians from their walls. But the relief was accidental,
the danger was perpetual and pressing; and the clergy and senate,
collecting the remains of their ancient opulence, a sum of three
thousand pounds of gold, despatched the patrician Pamphronius to lay
their gifts and their complaints at the foot of the Byzantine throne.
The attention of the court, and the forces of the East, were diverted by
the Persian war: but the justice of Tiberius applied the subsidy to
the defence of the city; and he dismissed the patrician with his best
advice, either to bribe the Lombard chiefs, or to purchase the aid of
the kings of France. Notwithstanding this weak invention, Italy was
still afflicted, Rome was again besieged, and the suburb of Classe, only
three miles from Ravenna, was pillaged and occupied by the troops of a
simple duke of Spoleto. Maurice gave audience to a second deputation
of priests and senators: the duties and the menaces of religion were
forcibly urged in the letters of the Roman pontiff; and his nuncio,
the deacon Gregory, was alike qualified to solicit the powers either of
heaven or of the earth. The emperor adopted, with stronger effect, the
measures of his predecessor: some formidable chiefs were persuaded
to embrace the friendship of the Romans; and one of them, a mild and
faithful Barbarian, lived and died in the service of the exarchs: the
passes of the Alps were delivered to the Franks; and the pope encouraged
them to violate, without scruple, their oaths and engagements to the
misbelievers. Childebert, the great-grandson of Clovis, was persuaded
to invade Italy by the payment of fifty thousand pieces; but, as he had
viewed with delight some Byzantine coin of the weight of one pound of
gold, the king of Austrasia might stipulate, that the gift should be
rendered more worthy of his acceptance, by a proper mixture of these
respectable medals. The dukes of the Lombards had provoked by frequent
inroads their powerful neighbors of Gaul. As soon as they were
apprehensive of a just retaliation, they renounced their feeble and
disorderly independence: the advantages of real government, union,
secrecy, and vigor, were unanimously confessed; and Autharis, the son of
Clepho, had already attained the strength and reputation of a warrior.
Under the standard of their new king, the conquerors of Italy withstood
three successive invasions, one of which was led by Childebert himself,
the last of the Merovingian race who descended from the Alps. The first
expedition was defeated by the jealous animosity of the Franks and
Alemanni. In the second they were vanquished in a bloody battle, with
more loss and dishonor than they had sustained since the foundation of
their monarchy. Impatient for revenge, they returned a third time with
accumulated force, and Autharis yielded to the fury of the torrent.
The troops and treasures of the Lombards were distributed in the walled
towns between the Alps and the Apennine. A nation, less sensible of
danger than of fatigue and delay, soon murmured against the folly of
their twenty commanders; and the hot vapors of an Italian sun infected
with disease those tramontane bodies which had already suffered the
vicissitudes of intemperance and famine. The powers that were inadequate
to the conquest, were more than sufficient for the desolation, of the
country; nor could the trembling natives distinguish between their
enemies and their deliverers. If the junction of the Merovingian and
Imperial forces had been effected in the neighborhood of Milan, perhaps
they might have subverted the throne of the Lombards; but the Franks
expected six days the signal of a flaming village, and the arms of the
Greeks were idly employed in the reduction of Modena and Parma, which
were torn from them after the retreat of their transalpine allies. The
victorious Autharis asserted his claim to the dominion of Italy. At
the foot of the Rhætian Alps, he subdued the resistance, and rifled the
hidden treasures, of a sequestered island in the Lake of Comum. At the
extreme point of the Calabria, he touched with his spear a column on
the sea-shore of Rhegium, proclaiming that ancient landmark to stand the
immovable boundary of his kingdom.

During a period of two hundred years, Italy was unequally divided
between the kingdom of the Lombards and the exarchate of Ravenna.
The offices and professions, which the jealousy of Constantine had
separated, were united by the indulgence of Justinian; and eighteen
successive exarchs were invested, in the decline of the empire, with the
full remains of civil, of military, and even of ecclesiastical, power.
Their immediate jurisdiction, which was afterwards consecrated as the
patrimony of St. Peter, extended over the modern Romagna, the marshes
or valleys of Ferrara and Commachio, five maritime cities from Rimini to
Ancona, and a second inland Pentapolis, between the Adriatic coast and
the hills of the Apennine. Three subordinate provinces, of Rome, of
Venice, and of Naples, which were divided by hostile lands from the
palace of Ravenna, acknowledged, both in peace and war, the supremacy
of the exarch. The duchy of Rome appears to have included the Tuscan,
Sabine, and Latin conquests, of the first four hundred years of the
city, and the limits may be distinctly traced along the coast, from
Civita Vecchia to Terracina, and with the course of the Tyber from
Ameria and Narni to the port of Ostia. The numerous islands from
Grado to Chiozza composed the infant dominion of Venice: but the more
accessible towns on the Continent were overthrown by the Lombards, who
beheld with impotent fury a new capital rising from the waves. The power
of the dukes of Naples was circumscribed by the bay and the adjacent
isles, by the hostile territory of Capua, and by the Roman colony of
Amalphi, whose industrious citizens, by the invention of the mariner's
compass, have unveiled the face of the globe. The three islands of
Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily, still adhered to the empire; and the
acquisition of the farther Calabria removed the landmark of Autharis
from the shore of Rhegium to the Isthmus of Consentia. In Sardinia,
the savage mountaineers preserved the liberty and religion of their
ancestors; and the husbandmen of Sicily were chained to their rich and
cultivated soil. Rome was oppressed by the iron sceptre of the exarchs,
and a Greek, perhaps a eunuch, insulted with impunity the ruins of the
Capitol. But Naples soon acquired the privilege of electing her own
dukes: the independence of Amalphi was the fruit of commerce; and the
voluntary attachment of Venice was finally ennobled by an equal alliance
with the Eastern empire. On the map of Italy, the measure of the
exarchate occupies a very inadequate space, but it included an ample
proportion of wealth, industry, and population. The most faithful and
valuable subjects escaped from the Barbarian yoke; and the banners of
Pavia and Verona, of Milan and Padua, were displayed in their respective
quarters by the new inhabitants of Ravenna. The remainder of Italy was
possessed by the Lombards; and from Pavia, the royal seat, their
kingdom was extended to the east, the north, and the west, as far as the
confines of the Avars, the Bavarians, and the Franks of Austrasia and
Burgundy. In the language of modern geography, it is now represented by
the Terra Firma of the Venetian republic, Tyrol, the Milanese, Piedmont,
the coast of Genoa, Mantua, Parma, and Modena, the grand duchy of
Tuscany, and a large portion of the ecclesiastical state from Perugia
to the Adriatic. The dukes, and at length the princes, of Beneventum,
survived the monarchy, and propagated the name of the Lombards. From
Capua to Tarentum, they reigned near five hundred years over the
greatest part of the present kingdom of Naples.

In comparing the proportion of the victorious and the vanquished
people, the change of language will afford the most probably inference.
According to this standard, it will appear, that the Lombards of Italy,
and the Visigoths of Spain, were less numerous than the Franks or
Burgundians; and the conquerors of Gaul must yield, in their turn, to
the multitude of Saxons and Angles who almost eradicated the idioms of
Britain. The modern Italian has been insensibly formed by the mixture
of nations: the awkwardness of the Barbarians in the nice management
of declensions and conjugations reduced them to the use of articles
and auxiliary verbs; and many new ideas have been expressed by Teutonic
appellations. Yet the principal stock of technical and familiar words is
found to be of Latin derivation; and, if we were sufficiently conversant
with the obsolete, the rustic, and the municipal dialects of ancient
Italy, we should trace the origin of many terms which might, perhaps, be
rejected by the classic purity of Rome. A numerous army constitutes but
a small nation, and the powers of the Lombards were soon diminished
by the retreat of twenty thousand Saxons, who scorned a dependent
situation, and returned, after many bold and perilous adventures, to
their native country. The camp of Alboin was of formidable extent, but
the extent of a camp would be easily circumscribed within the limits of
a city; and its martial in habitants must be thinly scattered over
the face of a large country. When Alboin descended from the Alps, he
invested his nephew, the first duke of Friuli, with the command of the
province and the people: but the prudent Gisulf would have declined
the dangerous office, unless he had been permitted to choose, among
the nobles of the Lombards, a sufficient number of families to form a
perpetual colony of soldiers and subjects. In the progress of conquest,
the same option could not be granted to the dukes of Brescia or Bergamo,
of Pavia or Turin, of Spoleto or Beneventum; but each of these, and each
of their colleagues, settled in his appointed district with a band of
followers who resorted to his standard in war and his tribunal in
peace. Their attachment was free and honorable: resigning the gifts
and benefits which they had accepted, they might emigrate with their
families into the jurisdiction of another duke; but their absence from
the kingdom was punished with death, as a crime of military desertion.
The posterity of the first conquerors struck a deeper root into the
soil, which, by every motive of interest and honor, they were bound to
defend. A Lombard was born the soldier of his king and his duke; and the
civil assemblies of the nation displayed the banners, and assumed the
appellation, of a regular army. Of this army, the pay and the rewards
were drawn from the conquered provinces; and the distribution, which was
not effected till after the death of Alboin, is disgraced by the foul
marks of injustice and rapine. Many of the most wealthy Italians were
slain or banished; the remainder were divided among the strangers, and
a tributary obligation was imposed (under the name of hospitality) of
paying to the Lombards a third part of the fruits of the earth. Within
less than seventy years, this artificial system was abolished by a more
simple and solid tenure. Either the Roman landlord was expelled by
his strong and insolent guest, or the annual payment, a third of the
produce, was exchanged by a more equitable transaction for an adequate
proportion of landed property. Under these foreign masters, the business
of agriculture, in the cultivation of corn, wines, and olives, was
exercised with degenerate skill and industry by the labor of the slaves
and natives. But the occupations of a pastoral life were more pleasing
to the idleness of the Barbarian. In the rich meadows of Venetia, they
restored and improved the breed of horses, for which that province
had once been illustrious; and the Italians beheld with astonishment a
foreign race of oxen or buffaloes. The depopulation of Lombardy, and the
increase of forests, afforded an ample range for the pleasures of
the chase. That marvellous art which teaches the birds of the air to
acknowledge the voice, and execute the commands, of their master, had
been unknown to the ingenuity of the Greeks and Romans. Scandinavia and
Scythia produce the boldest and most tractable falcons: they were tamed
and educated by the roving inhabitants, always on horseback and in the
field. This favorite amusement of our ancestors was introduced by the
Barbarians into the Roman provinces; and the laws of Italy esteemed the
sword and the hawk as of equal dignity and importance in the hands of a
noble Lombard.

Chapter XLV: State Of Italy Under The Lombards. - Part III.

So rapid was the influence of climate and example, that the Lombards of
the fourth generation surveyed with curiosity and affright the portraits
of their savage forefathers. Their heads were shaven behind, but
the shaggy locks hung over their eyes and mouth, and a long beard
represented the name and character of the nation. Their dress consisted
of loose linen garments, after the fashion of the Anglo-Saxons, which
were decorated, in their opinion, with broad stripes or variegated
colors. The legs and feet were clothed in long hose, and open sandals;
and even in the security of peace a trusty sword was constantly girt to
their side. Yet this strange apparel, and horrid aspect, often concealed
a gentle and generous disposition; and as soon as the rage of battle
had subsided, the captives and subjects were sometimes surprised by the
humanity of the victor. The vices of the Lombards were the effect of
passion, of ignorance, of intoxication; their virtues are the more
laudable, as they were not affected by the hypocrisy of social manners,
nor imposed by the rigid constraint of laws and education. I should not
be apprehensive of deviating from my subject, if it were in my power
to delineate the private life of the conquerors of Italy; and I shall
relate with pleasure the adventurous gallantry of Autharis, which
breathes the true spirit of chivalry and romance. After the loss of
his promised bride, a Merovingian princess, he sought in marriage the
daughter of the king of Bavaria; and Garribald accepted the alliance of
the Italian monarch. Impatient of the slow progress of negotiation, the
ardent lover escaped from his palace, and visited the court of Bavaria
in the train of his own embassy. At the public audience, the unknown
stranger advanced to the throne, and informed Garribald that the
ambassador was indeed the minister of state, but that he alone was the
friend of Autharis, who had trusted him with the delicate commission of
making a faithful report of the charms of his spouse. Theudelinda was
summoned to undergo this important examination; and, after a pause
of silent rapture, he hailed her as the queen of Italy, and humbly
requested that, according to the custom of the nation, she would present
a cup of wine to the first of her new subjects. By the command of
her father she obeyed: Autharis received the cup in his turn, and, in
restoring it to the princess, he secretly touched her hand, and drew his
own finger over his face and lips. In the evening, Theudelinda imparted
to her nurse the indiscreet familiarity of the stranger, and was
comforted by the assurance, that such boldness could proceed only from
the king her husband, who, by his beauty and courage, appeared worthy of
her love. The ambassadors were dismissed: no sooner did they reach the
confines of Italy than Autharis, raising himself on his horse, darted
his battle-axe against a tree with incomparable strength and dexterity.
"Such," said he to the astonished Bavarians, "such are the strokes of
the king of the Lombards." On the approach of a French army, Garribald
and his daughter took refuge in the dominions of their ally; and the
marriage was consummated in the palace of Verona. At the end of one
year, it was dissolved by the death of Autharis: but the virtues of
Theudelinda had endeared her to the nation, and she was permitted to
bestow, with her hand, the sceptre of the Italian kingdom.

From this fact, as well as from similar events, it is certain that
the Lombards possessed freedom to elect their sovereign, and sense to
decline the frequent use of that dangerous privilege. The public revenue
arose from the produce of land and the profits of justice. When the
independent dukes agreed that Autharis should ascend the throne of
his father, they endowed the regal office with a fair moiety of their
respective domains. The proudest nobles aspired to the honors of
servitude near the person of their prince: he rewarded the fidelity
of his vassals by the precarious gift of pensions and _benefices_; and
atoned for the injuries of war by the rich foundation of monasteries and
churches. In peace a judge, a leader in war, he never usurped the
powers of a sole and absolute legislator. The king of Italy convened the
national assemblies in the palace, or more probably in the fields, of

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 30 of 49)