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our civilisation, and our Faith, but ensured them to us that they
should always endure. They established for ever the great lines upon
which our art was to develop, to change, and yet not to suffer
annihilation or barrenness. They established the supremacy of the
idea, so that it might always renew our lives, our culture, and our
polity, and that we might judge everything by it and fear neither
revolution, defeat, nor decay. They, and they alone, established us in
the secure possession of our own souls so that we alone in the world
might develop from within, to change but never to die, and to be - yes,
alone in the world - Christians.

The almost incredible strength and well being of those years must be
seized also. There was not a town in Italy and the West that did not
expand and increase in a fashion almost miraculous during that period.
It was then the rivers were embanked, the canals made, the great roads
planned and constructed, and our communications established for ever.
There was no industry that did not grow marvellously in strength,
there is not a class that did not increase in wealth and well-being
beyond our dreams of progress. There is scarcely anything that is
really fundamental in our lives that was not then created that it
might endure. It was then our religion, the soul of Europe, was born.

Christianity, the Faith, which, little by little, absorbed the empire,
till it became the energy and the cause of all that undying but
changeful principle of life and freedom which rightly understood is
Europe, is thought to have been brought first to Ravenna by S.
Apollinaris, a disciple as we are told of S. Peter, who made him her
first bishop. So at least his acts assert; and though little credence
may, I fear, be placed in them, that he was the first bishop of
Ravenna, and in the time of S. Peter, is not at variance with what we
know of that age, is attested by the traditions of the city, and is
supported by later authorities. S. Peter Chrysologus (_c_. 440), the
most famous of his successors, for instance, assures us of it. This
great churchman calls S. Apollinaris martyr, and in that there is
nothing strange, but he asserts that though he often spilt his blood
for the Faith, yet God preserved him a long time, not less than twenty
years, to his church, and that his persecution did not take away his

[Footnote 1: His relics lay for many years in the church dedicated in
his honour at Classis; but in 549 they were removed from their great
tomb and placed in a more secret spot in the same church. Cf.
Agnellus. _Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis_ (Ed. Holder - Egger
in _Monumenta Germanicae Historica_) and S. Peter Chrysologus, Sermon
128 in Migne.]

The empire which it had taken more than a millenium to build, which
was the most noble and perhaps the most beneficient experiment in
government that has ever been made, was in obvious economic and
administrative decay by the middle of the fourth century. Christianity
perhaps was already undermining the servile state, which in its effort
of self-preservation adopted an economic system hopelessly at variance
with the facts of the situation; while the weakness of its frontiers
offered a military problem which the empire was unable to face.
Diocletian had attempted to solve it by dividing the empire, but the
division he made was rather racial that strategic, for under it the
two parts of the empire, East and West, met on the Danube. The eastern
part, by force of geography, was inclined to an Asiatic point of view
and to the neglect of the Danube; the western was by no means strong
enough either financially or militarily to hold that tremendous line.

We read, in the letters of S. Ambrose among others, of the decay of
the great cities of Cisalpine Gaul,[1] of the failure of agriculture
in that rich countryside, of the poverty and misery that were
everywhere falling upon that great state. It is possible that in the
general weakening of administrative power even the roads, the canals,
the whole system of communications were allowed to become less perfect
than they had been; everywhere there was a retreat. The frontiers were
no longer inviolate, and it is probable that in the general decay the
port of Classis, the city of Ravenna, suffered not less than their

[Footnote 1: See S. Ambrose, _Ep_. 39, written in 388, quoted by
Muratori, _Dissertazioni_, vol. i. 21. "De Bonomensi veniens Urbe, a
tergo Claternam, ipsam Bononiam, Mutinam, Regium derelinquebas; in
dextera erat Brixillum; a fronte occurrebat Placentia.... Te igitur
semirutarum Urbium cadavera, terrarumque sub eodem conspectu exposita
funera non te admonent...."]

Indeed already in 306 it is rather as a refuge than as a great and
active naval base that Ravenna appears to us, when Severus, destitute
of force, "retired or rather fled" thither from the pursuit of
Maximian. He flung himself into Ravenna because it was impregnable and
because he expected reinforcements from Illyricum and the East, but
though he held the sea with a powerful fleet he made no use of it, and
the emissaries of Maximian easily persuaded him to surrender. Already
perhaps, a century later, when Honorius retired from Milan on the
approach of Alaric and the first of those barbarian invasions which
broke up the decaying western empire had penetrated into Cisalpine
Gaul, the great works of Augustus and Trajan at Ravenna, the canals,
the mighty Fossa, and the port itself had fallen into a sort of decay
which the fifth century was to complete, till that marvellous city,
once the base of the eastern fleet and one of the great naval ports of
the world, became just a decaying citadel engulfed in the marshes,
impregnable it is true, but for barbarian reasons, lost in the fogs
and the miasma of her shallow and undredged lagoons.




When Honorius left Milan on the approach of Alaric he went to Ravenna.

Gibbon, whom every writer since has followed without question, tells
us, in one of his most scornful passages, that "the emperor Honorius
was distinguished, above his subjects, by the pre-eminence of fear, as
well as of rank. The pride and luxury in which he was educated had not
allowed him to suspect that there existed on the earth any power
presumptuous enough to invade the repose of the successor of Augustus.
The acts of flattery concealed the impending danger till Alaric
approached the palace of Milan. But when the sound of war had awakened
the young emperor, instead of flying to arms with the spirit, or even
the rashness, of his age, he eagerly listened to those timid
counsellors who proposed to convey his sacred person and his faithful
attendants to some secure and distant station in the provinces of
Gaul.... The recent danger to which the person of the emperor had been
exposed in the defenceless palace of Milan urged him to seek a retreat
in some inaccessible fortress of Italy, where he might securely remain
while the open country was covered by a deluge of barbarians."

No historian of Ravenna, and certainly no writer upon the fall of the
empire, has cared to understand what Ravenna was. Gibbon complains
that he lacks "a local antiquarian and a good topographical map;" yet
it is not so much the lack of local knowledge that leads him
unreservedly to censure Honorius for his retreat upon Ravenna, as the
fact that he has not perhaps really grasped what Ravenna was, what was
her relation to Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, and especially how she stood
to the sea, and what part that sea played in the geography and
strategy of the empire.

For my part I shall maintain that, whatever may be the truth as to the
private character of Honorius, which would indeed be difficult to
defend, he was wisely advised by those counsellors who conceived his
retreat from Milan to Ravenna; that this retreat was not a mere
flight, but a consummate and well thought out strategical and
political move, and that any other would have been for the worse and
would probably have involved the West in an utter destruction.

Cisalpine Gaul, at this crisis, as always both before and since, was
the great and proper defence of Italy; not the Alps nor the Apennines
but Cisalpine Gaul broke the barbarians, and, in so far as it could be
materially saved, saved Italy and our civilisation, of which Rome was
the soul. There Stilicho met Alaric and broke his first and worst
enthusiasm; there Leo the Great turned back Attila; there the fiercest
terror of the Lombard tide spent itself.

Now, as we have seen, Cisalpine Gaul, in its relation to Italy, was
best held and contained from Ravenna, which commanded, whenever it was
in danger, the narrow pass between them. Therefore the retreat of
Honorius upon Ravenna was a consummate strategical act, well advised
and such as we might expect from "the successor of Augustus." Its
results were momentous and entirely fortunate for Italy, and indeed,
when the truth about Ravenna is once grasped, any other move would
appear to have been craven and ridiculous.

But there is something more that is of an even greater importance.

The best hope of the West in its fight with the barbarian undoubtedly
lay in its own virility and arms, but it had the right to expect that
in such a fight it would not be unaided by the eastern empire and the
great civilisation whose capital was that New Rome upon the Bosphorus.
If it was to receive such assistance, it must receive it at Ravenna,
which held Cisalpine Gaul and was the gate of the eastern sea.

When Honorius then retreated upon Ravenna, he did so, not merely
because Ravenna was impregnable, though that of course weighed too
with his advisers, for the base of any virile and active defence must,
or should, be itself secure; but also because it held the great pass
and the great road into Italy, and as the eastern gate of the West
would receive and thrust forward whatever help and reinforcement the
empire in the East might care or be able to give.


That the defence which was made with Ravenna for its citadel was not
wholly victorious, that the attack which the eastern empire planned
and delivered from Ravenna, perhaps too late, was not completely
successful, were the results of many and various causes, but not of
any want of Judgment in the choice of Ravenna as their base. That base
was rightly and consummately chosen without hesitation and from the
first; and because it was chosen, the hope of the restoration never
quite passed away and seemed to have been realised at last when
Charlemagne, following Pepin into Italy, was crowned emperor in S.
Peter's Church on Christmas Day in the year 800.

It will readily be understood, then, that the most important and the
most interesting part of the history of Ravenna begins when Honorius
retreated upon her before the invasion of Alaric, and not only the
West, but Italy and Rome, the heart and soul of it, seemed about to be
in dispute.

But first amid all the loose thought and confusion of the last three
hundred years let us make sure of fundamentals.

I shall take for granted in this book that Rome accepted the Faith not
because the Roman mind was senile, but because it was mature; that the
failure of the empire is to be regretted; that the barbarians were
barbarians; that not from them but from the new and Christian
civilisation of the empire itself came the strength of the
restoration, the mighty achievements of the Middle Age, of the
Renaissance, of the Modern world. The barbarian, as I understand it,
did nothing. He came in naked and ashamed, without laws or
institutions. To some extent, though even in this he was a failure, he
destroyed; it was his one service. He came and he tried to learn; he
learnt to be a Christian. When the empire re-arose it was Roman not
barbarian, it was Christian not heathen, it was Catholic not
heretical. It owed the barbarian nothing. That it re-arose, and that
as a Roman and a Catholic state, is due largely to the fact that
Honorius retreated upon Ravenna.

If we could depend upon the dates in the Theodosian Code we should be
able to say that Honorius finally retreated upon Ravenna before
December 402;[1] unhappily the dates we find there must not be relied
upon with absolute confidence. We may take it that Alaric entered
Venetia in November 401, and that at the same time Radagaisus invaded
Rhaetia. Stilicho, Honorius' great general and the hero of the whole
defence, advanced against Radagaisus. Upon Easter Day in the following
year, however, he met Alaric at Pollentia and defeated him, but the
Gothic king was allowed to withdraw from that field with the greater
part of his cavalry entire and unbroken. Stilicho hoping to annihilate
him forced him to retreat, overtook him at Asta (Asti), but again
allowed him to escape and this time to retreat into Istria.

[Footnote 1: Cf. Hodgkin, _Italy and her Invaders_, vol. i. pt. 2, p.

In the summer of 403 Alaric again entered Italy and laid siege to
Verona; Stilicho, however, met him and defeated him, but again allowed
him to retreat. Well might Orosius, his contemporary, exclaim that
this king with his Goths, though often hemmed in, often defeated, was
always allowed to escape.

The battle of Verona was followed by a peace of two years duration.
But in 405 the other barbarian Radagaisus came down into Cisalpine
Gaul as Alaric had done, and Stilicho, knowing that the pass through
which the great road entered Italy was secured by Ravenna, assailed
him at Ticinum (Pavia). Radagaisus, however, did a bold and perhaps an
unexpected thing. He attempted to cross the Apennines themselves by
the difficult and neglected route that ran over them and led to
Fiesole.[2] But the Romans had been right in their judgment. That way
was barred by nature. It needed no defence. Before the barbarian had
quite pierced the mountains Stilicho caught him, slew him, and
annihilated his already starving bands at Fiesole. Cisalpine Gaul and
the fortress of Ravenna, its key, still held Italy secure.

[Footnote 2: Livy asserts that C. Flamimus, the colleague of M.
Aemilius Lepidus in B.C. 187, built a road direct from Arezzo to
Bologna across the Tuscan Apennines. This road early fell into disuse
and ruin. We hear nothing of it (but see Cicero, _Phil_. xii. 9) till
this raid of Radagaisus. Later, Totila came this way to besiege Rome.
Cf. Repetti, _Dizionavio della Toscana_, vol. v. 713-715.]

Honorius and his great general and minister now essayed what perhaps
should have been attempted earlier, namely, to employ Alaric in the
service of Rome, as the East had known how to employ him, at a
distance from the capital. He was first offered the province of
Illyricum; but the senate refused to hear of any such treaty, and
though at last it consented to pay the Goth 4000 pounds in gold "to
secure the peace of Italy and conciliate the friendship of the Gothic
king," Lampadius, one of the most illustrious members of that
assembly, asserted that "this is not a treaty of peace but of
servitude." Thus the senate was alienated from Stilicho, and not the
senate only but the army also, which was exasperated by his affection
for the barbarians. Nor was the great general more fortunate with the
emperor, who had come of late under the influence of Olympius, a man
who, Zosimus tells us, under an appearance of Christian piety,
concealed a great deal of rascality. Stilicho had promoted him to a
very honourable place in the household of the emperor; nevertheless he
plotted against him. At his suggestion Honorius proposed to show
himself to the army at Pavia, already at enmity with Stilicho. The
result was disastrous. For the occasion was seized for a revolt in
which the best officers of the empire perished. Stilicho, not daring
to march his barbarians from Bologna upon the Roman army, and by this
refusal incurring their enmity also, flung himself into Ravenna and
took refuge in the great church there. On the following day, however,
he was delivered up by the bishop to Count Heraclian and slain.

Thus perished in the great fortress of the defence the great defender,
leaving the whole of Italy in confusion. He was not long to go

[Illustration: Colour Plate S. AGATA]

Stilicho was slain in Ravenna upon August 23rd, 408. In October of
that year Alaric, who had watched the appalling revolution that
followed his own defeat and the annihilation of Radagaisus, after
fruitless negotiations with Honorius, descended into Italy, passed
Aquileia, and coming into the Aemilian Way at Bologna found the pass
open and without misadventure entered Italy at Rimini, and, without
attacking Ravenna, marched on "to Rome, to make that city desolate."
He besieged Rome three times and pillaged it, taking with him, when he
left it, hostages. As we know he never returned, but died at Cosentia
in southern Italy, and was buried in the bed of the Buxentius, which
had been turned aside, for a moment, by a captive multitude, to give
him sepulture.

Among those hostages which Alaric had claimed from the City and taken
with him southward was the sister of the two emperors, the daughter of
the great Theodosius, Galla Placidia.

This great lady had been born, as is thought, in Rome about 390; she
had, however, spent the first seven years of her life in
Constantinople, but had returned to Italy on the death of Theodosius
with her brother Honorius, in the care of the beautiful Serena, the
wife of Stilicho. She does not seem to have followed her brother
either to Milan or to Ravenna, for indeed his residence in both these
cities was part of the great defence. She remained in Rome, probably
in the house of her kinswoman Laeta, the widow of Gratian. That she
had a grudge against Serena seems certain, though the whole story of
the plot to marry her to Eucherius, Serena's son, would appear
doubtful. That she initiated her murder, as Zosimus[1] asserts, is
extremely improbable and altogether unproven. However that may be,
after one of his three sieges of Rome, Alaric carried Galla Placidia
off as a hostage. He seems, according to Zosimus, to have treated her
with courtesy and even with an exaggerated reverence, as the sister of
the emperor and the daughter of Theodosius, but she was compelled to
follow in his train and to see the ruin of Lucania and Calabria. For,
as a matter of fact and reality, Galla Placidia was the one hope of
the Goths and this became obvious after the death of Alaric.

[Footnote 1: Zosimus, v. 38. Zosimus was a pagan. Placidia was a
devout and enthusiastic Catholic.]

The Gothic army was in a sort of trap; it could not return without the
consent of Ravenna, and if it were compelled to remain in Italy it was
only a question of time till it should be crushed or gradually wasted
away. It is probable that Alaric was aware of this; it is certain that
it was well appreciated by his successor Ataulfus. He saw that his one
chance of coming to terms with the empire lay in his possession of
Galla Placidia. Moreover, Italy and Rome had worked in the mind and
the spirit of this man the extraordinary change that was to declare
itself in the soul of almost every barbarian who came to ravage them.
He began dimly to understand what the empire was. He felt ashamed of
his own rudeness and of the barbarism of his people. Years afterwards
he related to a citizen of Narbonne, who in his turn repeated the
confession to S. Jerome in Palestine in the presence of the historian
Orosius, the curious "conversion" that Italy had worked in his heart.
"In the full confidence of valour and victory," said Ataulfus, "I once
aspired to change the face of the universe; to obliterate the name of
Rome; to erect on its ruins the dominion of the Goths; and to acquire,
like Augustus, the immortal fame of the founder of a new empire. By
repeated experiments I was gradually convinced that laws are
essentially necessary to maintain and regulate a well constituted
state, and that the fierce untractable humour of the Goths was
incapable of bearing the salutary yoke of laws and civil government.
From that moment I proposed to myself a different object of glory and
ambition; and it is now my sincere wish that the gratitude of future
ages should acknowledge the merit of a stranger who employed the sword
of the Goths not to subvert but to restore and maintain the prosperity
of the Roman Empire."[1]

[Footnote 1: Orosius, vii. c. 43. Gibbon, c. xxxi.]

With this change in his heart and the necessity of securing a retreat
upon the best terms he could arrange, Ataulfus looked on Placidia his
captive and found her perhaps fair, certainly a prize almost beyond
the dreams of a barbarian. He aspired to marry her, and she does not
seem to have been unready to grant him her hand. Doubtless she had
been treated by Alaric and his successor with an extraordinary respect
not displeasing to so royal a lady, and Ataulfus, though not so tall
as Alaric, was both shapely and noble.[1] There seems indeed to have
been but one obstacle to this match. This was the ambition of
Constantius, the new minister of Honorius, who wished to make his
position secure by marrying Placidia himself.

[Footnote 1: Jornandes, c. xxxi.]

Italy, however, needed peace as badly as the Goths needed a secure
retreat. And when negotiations were opened it was seen that their
success depended entirely upon this question of Placidia. A treaty was
drawn up of friendship and alliance between the Goths and the empire.
The services of Ataulfus were accepted against the barbarians who were
harrying the provinces beyond the Alps, and the king, with Galla
Placidia a willing captive, began his retreat from Campania into Gaul.
His troops occupied the cities of Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux,
and in spite of the protests and resistance of the harassed
provincials soon extended their quarters from the Mediterranean to the

To hold the Goth to his friendship and to secure his absence from
Italy nothing remained but to accord him the hand of Placidia; and in
the year 414 at Narbonne their marriage was solemnised.[2]

[Footnote 2: Olympiodorus and Idatius say the marriage took place at
Narbonne, but Jornandes, _op cit_. c. 31, asserts that it took place
at Forli before Ataulfus left Italy. Perhaps there were two
ceremonies, or perhaps the ceremony at Narbonne was but the
celebration of an anniversary.]

With the retreat of the Goth and the treaty sealed by the marriage of
Placidia, the sister of Honorius, and the Gothic king, Italy secured
herself a peace and a repose which endured for some forty-two years,
only broken by the raid of Heraclian from Africa in 413.

But Ataulfus did not long survive his marriage. Having crossed the
Pyrenees and surprised in the name of Honorius the city of Barcelona,
he was assassinated in the palace there, and in the tumult which
followed, Singeric, the brother of his enemy and a stranger to the
royal race, was hailed as king. This revolution made Placidia once
more a fugitive, and we see the daughter of Theodosius "confounded
among a crowd of vulgar captives, compelled to march on foot above
twelve miles before the horse of a barbarian, the assassin of a
husband whom Placidia loved and lamented." On the seventh day of his
reign, however, Singeric was himself assassinated and Wallia, who then
became king of the Goths, after repeated representations backed at
last by the despatch of an army surrendered the princess to her
brother in exchange for 600,000 measures of wheat.

That must have been a strange home-coming for Placidia. Bought and
sold twice over, twice a fugitive, the companion of the rude Goth, she
is the most pathetic figure in all that terrible fifth century, and
never does she appear more pitiful than on her return from the camps
and the triumphs of the barbarians to the decadent splendour and the
corruption of the imperial court of Ravenna, and again as a captive, a
prize, booty.

For the man who had been at the head of that army whose approach, real
or supposed, had decided the Goths to deliver up the sister of the
emperor was Constantius, her old lover, he who had delayed her
marriage with Ataulfus and who now determined to marry her himself.

It was in 416 that Placidia returned to Ravenna. In the following year
Honorius gave her to Constantius, then his colleague in the consular
office for the second time. The marriage ceremony of very great
splendour took place in Ravenna; and in the same year was born of that
marriage Honoria, who was to offer herself to Attila, and in 419

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Online LibraryEdward HuttonRavenna, a Study → online text (page 3 of 21)