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The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David


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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





The Fall Of The Empire








After the death of Constantine, the decline was rapid, and new dangers
multiplied. Warlike emperors had staved off the barbarians, and done all
that man could do to avert ruin. But the seeds of ruin were planted, and
must bear their wretched fruit. The seat of empire was removed to a new
city, more able, from its position, to withstand the shock which was to
come. In the strife between new and hardy races, and the old corrupt
population, the issue could not be doubtful. The empire had fulfilled its
mission. Christianity was born, protected, and rendered triumphant.
Nothing more was wanted than the conversion of the barbarians to the new
faith before desolation should overspread the world--and a State prepared
for new ideas, passions, and interests.

Constantine left three sons and two daughters, by Fausta, the
daughter of Maximian,--Constantine, Constantius, Constans, Constantina, and
Helena. The imperial dignity was enjoyed by the sons, and the youngest
daughter, Helena, married the emperor Julian, grandson of Constantius
Chlorus. The three sons of Constantine divided the empire between them.
The oldest, at the age of twenty-one, retained the prefecture of Gaul;
Constantius, aged twenty, kept Thrace and the East; while Constans, the
youngest, at the age of seventeen, added the Italian prefecture with
Greece.

The ablest of these princes was Constantius, on whom fell the
burden of the Persian war, and which ultimately ended on the defeat of
Julian, in Sapor wresting from the emperor all the countries beyond the
Euphrates.

Constantine II. was dissatisfied with his share of the empire, and
compelled Constans to yield up Africa, but was slain in an expedition
beyond the Julian Alps, A.D. 340.

Constans held the empire of the West for ten years, during which
he carried on war with the Franks, upon the Rhine, and with the Scots and
Picts. His vices were so disgraceful that a rebellion took place, under
Magnentius, who slew Constans, A.D. 350, and reigned in his stead, the
seat of his government being Treves.

Constantius II. made war on the usurper, Magnentius, a rough
barbarian, and finally defeated him on the banks of the Danube, where
fifty-four thousand men perished in battle, soon after which the usurper
killed himself.

Constantius, by the death of his brother, and overthrow of
Magnentius, was now sole master of the empire, and through his permission
Athanasius was restored to the arch-bishopric of Alexandria, but was again
removed, the emperor being an Arian. This second removal raised a tumult
in Alexandria, and he was allowed to return to his see, where he lived in
peace until he died, A.D. 372--the great defender of the orthodox creed,
which finally was established by councils and the emperors.

The emperor Constantius was engaged in successive wars with the
barbarians,--with the Persians on the East, the Sarmatians on the Danube,
and the Franks and Alemanni, on the Rhine. During these wars, his
brother-in-law, Julian, was sent to the West with the title of Caesar,
where he restored order, and showed signal ability. On the death of
Constantius, he was recognized as emperor without opposition, A.D. 361.

Julian is generally called the Apostate, since he proclaimed a
change in the established religion, but tolerated Christianity. He was a
Platonic philosopher--a man of great virtue and ability, whose life was
unstained by vices. But his attempt to restore paganism was senseless and
ineffectual. As a popular belief, paganism had expired. His character is
warmly praised by Gibbon, and commended by other historians. He struggled
against the spirit of his age, and was unsuccessful. He was worthy of the
best ages of the empire in the exercise of all pagan virtues--the true
successor of Hadrian and the Antonines.

He was also a great general, and sought to crush the power of the
Persian kings and make Babylonia a Roman province. Here, too, he failed,
although he gained signal successes. He was mortally wounded while
effecting a retreat from the Tigris, after a short reign of twenty months.
With him ended the house of Constantine. The empire was conferred by the
troops on Flavius Claudius Jovianus, chief of the imperial household, A.D.
363--a man of moderate talents and good intentions, but unfit for such
stormy times. He restored Christianity, which henceforth was the national
religion. He died the following year, and was succeeded by Flavius
Valentinianus, the son of Count Gratian, a general who had arisen from
obscurity in Pannonia, to the command of Africa and Britain.

Valentinian was forty-four years of age when he began to reign,
A.D. 364, a man of noble character and person, and in a month associated
his brother Flavius Valens with him in the government of the empire.
Valentinian kept the West, and conferred the East on Valens. Thus was the
empire again formally divided, and was not reunited until the reign of
Theodosius. Valentinian chose the post of danger, rather than of pleasure
and luxury, for the West was now invaded by various tribes of the Germanic
race. The Alemanni were powerful on the Rhine; the Saxons were invading
Britain; the Burgundians were commencing their ravages in Gaul; and the
Goths were preparing for another inroad. The emperor, whose seat of power
was Milan, was engaged in perpetual, but indecisive conflicts. He reigned
with vigor, and repressed the barbarians. He bestowed the title of
Augustus on his son Gratian, and died in a storm of wrath by the bursting
of a blood-vessel, while reviling the ambassadors of the Quadi, A.D. 375.

The emperor Valens, at Constantinople, was exposed to no less
dangers, without the force to meet them. The great nation of the Goths,
who had been at peace with the empire for a generation, resumed their
hostilities upon the Danube. Hermanneric, the first historic name among
these fierce people, had won a series of brilliant victories over other
barbarians, after he was eighty years of age. His dominions extended from
the Danube to the Baltic, and embraced the greater part of Germany and
Scythia.

But the Goths were invaded by a fierce race of barbarians, more
savage than themselves, from the banks of the Don, called Scythians, or
Huns, of Sclavonic origin. Pressed by this new enemy, they sought shelter
in the Roman territory. Instead of receiving them as allies, the emperor
treated them as enemies. Hostages from the flower of their youth were
scattered through the cities of Asia Minor, while the corrupt governors of
Thrace annoyed them by insults and grievances. The aged Hermanneric,
exasperated by misfortune, made preparations for a general war, while
Sarmatians, Alans, and Huns united with them. After three indecisive
campaigns, the emperor Valens advanced to attack their camp near
Hadrianople, defended by Fritagern. Under the walls of this city was
fought the most bloody and disastrous battle which Rome ever lost, A.D.
378. Two-thirds of the imperial army was destroyed, the emperor was slain,
and the remainder fled in consternation. Sixty thousand infantry and six
thousand cavalry lay dead upon the fatal field. The victors, intoxicated
with their success, invested Hadrianople, but were unequal to the task,
being inexperienced in sieges. Laden with spoil, they retired to the
western boundaries of Thrace. From the shores of the Bosphorus to the
Julian Alps, nothing was seen but conflagration, murder, and devastation.
So great were the misfortunes of the Illyrian provinces, that they never
afterward recovered. Churches were turned into stables, palaces were
burned, works of art were destroyed, the relics of martyrs were
desecrated, the population decimated, and the provinces were overrun.

In this day of calamity a hero and deliverer was needed. The
feeble Gratian, who ruled in the West, cast his eyes upon an exile, whose
father, an eminent general, had been unjustly murdered by the emperor
Valentinian. This man was Theodosius, then living in modest retirement on
his farm near Valladolid, in Spain, as unambitious as David among his
sheep, as contented as Cincinnatus at the plow. Even Gibbon does not sneer
at this great Christian emperor, who revived for a while the falling
empire. He accepted the sceptre of Valens, A.D. 370, and the conduct of
the Gothic war, being but thirty-three years of age. One of the greatest
of all the emperors, and the last great man who swayed the sceptre of
Trajan, his ancestor, he has not too warmly been praised by the Church,
whose defender he was--the last flickering light of an expiring
monarchy,--although his character has been assailed by modern critics of
great respectability.

As soon as he was invested with the purple, he took up his
residence in Thessalonica, and devoted his energies to the task assigned
him by the necessities of the empire. He succeeded in putting a stop to
the progress of the Goths, disarmed them by treaties, and allowed them to
settle on the right bank of the Danube, within the limits of the empire.
He invited the aged Athanaric to his capital and table, who was astonished
by his riches and glory. Peace was favored by the death of Fritagern, and
forty thousand Goths were received as soldiers of the empire,--an impolitic
act.

At this period the Goths settled in Moesia were visited by Uphilas,
a Christian missionary and Arian bishop, who translated the Bible, and had
great success in the conversion of the barbarians to a nominal faith. This
is the earliest instance of the reception of the new faith by the Germanic
races.

While Theodosius was restoring the eastern empire, Gratian
relapsed into indolent pleasures at Milan, which provoked a revolution.
Maximus was proclaimed emperor by the legions in Britain, and invaded
Gaul. Gratian fled, with a retinue of three hundred horse, and was
overtaken and slain. Theodosius recognized the claims of the usurper,
unwilling to waste the blood of the enfeebled soldiers in a new civil war,
provided that Italy and Africa were secured to Valentinian II., the
younger brother of Gratian. The young emperor made himself unpopular by
espousing Arianism, and for being governed by his mother Justina, and four
years after was obliged to flee to Thessalonica, on an invasion of Italy
by Maximus, and invoke the aid of Theodosius, who responded to his call,
won by the charms of the princess Galla, whom he married. Maximus was
defeated, put to death, and Valentinian II. was replaced upon his throne.

It was when Maximus was triumphant in Gaul that the celebrated
Ambrose, archbishop of Milan, was sent to the usurper's camp to demand the
dead body of the murdered Gratian. But this intrepid prelate made himself
still more famous for his defense of orthodoxy against the whole power of
Valentinian II. and his mother. He is also immortalized for the
chastisement he inflicted upon Theodosius himself for the slaughter of
Thessalonica. The emperor was in Milan when intelligence arrived of a
sedition in the city, caused by factions of the circus, during which
Boderic, the commander of the imperial troops, was killed. This outrage
was revenged by the wanton massacre of seven thousand people. The news of
this barbarity filled Ambrose with horror, and he wrote a letter to the
emperor, which led to his repentance; but as he was about to enter the
basilica, the prelate met him at the door, and refused admission until he
had expiated his crime by a rigorous penance, and the emperor submitted to
the humiliation--an act of submission to the Church which was much
admired--an act of ecclesiastical authority which formed a precedent for
the heroism of Hildebrand.

Under the influence of the clergy, now a great power, Theodosius
the same year promulgated an edict for the suppression of all acts of
pagan worship, private and public, under heavy penalties, and the Church,
in turn, became persecuting. At this lime the corruption of the Church
made rapid progress. Pretended miracles, pious frauds, the worship of
saints, veneration of relics, ascetic severities, monastic superstitions,
the pomp of bishops, and a secular spirit marked the triumph of
Christianity over paganism. The Church was united to the State, and the
profession of the new faith was made a necessary qualification for the
enjoyment of civil rights. But the Church was now distinguished for great
men, who held high rank, theologians, and bishops, like Augustine,
Ambrose, Chrysostom, Gregory, Nazianzin, Basil, Eusebius, and Martin of
Tours.

Theodosius died in Milan, in the arms of Ambrose, A.D. 395, and
with him the genius of Rome expired, and the real drama of the fall of the
empire began. He was succeeded by his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius, the
one in the East and the other in the West, the former being under the
tutelage of Rufinus, the latter under the care of Stilicho, master-general
of the armies. Both emperors were unworthy or unequal to maintain their
inheritances. The barbarians gained fresh courage from the death of
Theodosius, and recommenced their ravages. The soldiers of the empire were
dispirited and enervated, and threw away their defensive armor. They even
were not able to bear the weight of the cuirass and helmet, and the heavy
weapons of their ancestors were exchanged for the bow. Thus they were
exposed to the deadly missiles of their enemies, and fled upon the
approach of danger. Gainas the Goth, who commanded the legions, slew
Rufinus in the presence of Arcadius, who abandoned himself at
Constantinople to the influence of the eunuch Eutropius, most celebrated
for introducing Chrysostom to the court. The eunuch minister soon after
was murdered in a tumult, and Arcadius was then governed by his wife
Eudoxia, who secured the banishment of Chrysostom.

The empire was now finally divided. A long succession of feeble
princes reigned in the East, ruled by favorites and women, at whose courts
the manners and customs of Oriental kings were introduced. The Eastern
empire now assumes the character of an Eastern monarchy, and henceforth
goes by the name of the Greek empire, at first, embracing those countries
bounded by the Adriatic and Tigris, but gradually narrowed to the
precincts of Constantinople. It lasted for one thousand years longer,
before it was finally subdued by the Turks. The history of the Greek
empire properly belongs to the mediaeval ages. It is our object to trace
the final fall of the Western empire.

Under Honorius, the Visigoths, ruled by Alaric, appear in history
as a great and warlike people. Stilicho, the general of Honorius,
encountered them unsuccessfully in two campaigns, in Macedonia and
Thessaly, and the degenerate cities of Greece purchased their preservation
at an enormous ransom. In the year 402, Alaric crossed the Alps, and
Honorius fled to the marshes of Ravenna, where, protected by the shallow
sea, the Western emperors a long time resided. Stilicho gained, however, a
great victory over the Goths at Pollentia, near Turin, and arrested the
march of Alaric upon Rome. The defeated Goth rose, however, superior to
this defeat, celebrated by the poet Claudian, as the greatest victory
which Rome had ever achieved. He escaped with the main body of his
cavalry, broke through the passes of the Apennines, spread devastation on
the fruitful fields of Tuscany, resolved to risk another battle for the
great prize he aimed to secure, even imperial Rome. But Stilicho purchased
the retreat of the Goths by a present of forty thousand pounds of gold.
The departure of Alaric from Italy, which he had ravaged, was regarded by
the Roman people as a complete and final deliverance, and they abandoned
themselves to absurd rejoicings and gladiatoral shows.

But scarcely was Italy delivered from the Goths before an
irruption of Vandals, Suevi, and Burgundians, under the command of
Rodogast, or Rhadagast, two hundred thousand in number, issued from the
coast of the Baltic, crossed the Vistula, the Alps, and the Apennines,
ravaged the northern cities of Italy, and laid siege to Florence. The
victor of Pollentia appeared for the rescue with the last army which the
empire could raise, surrounded the enemy with strong intrenchments, and
forced them to retire. Stilicho again delivered Italy, but one hundred
thousand barbarians remained in arms between the Alps and the Apennines,
who crossed into Gaul, then the most cultivated of the Western provinces,
and completely devastated its fields, and villas, and cities. Mentz was
destroyed; Worms fell, after an obstinate siege; Strasburg, Spires,
Rheims, Tournay, Arras, and Amiens, all fell under the German yoke, and
Gaul was finally separated from the empire. The Vandals, Sueves, and
Alans, passed into Spain, while the Burgundians remained behind, masters
of the mountainous regions of Eastern Gaul, to which was given the name of
Burgundy, A.D. 409.

The troubles of the empire led to the final withdrawal of the legions from
Britain about the time that Gaul was lost, and about forty years before
the conquest of the island by the Saxons.

Italy, for a time delivered, forgot the services of Stilicho, the only man
capable of defending her. The jealousy of the timid emperor he served, and
the frivolous Senate which he saved, removed for ever the last hope of
Rome. This able general was assassinated at Ravenna, A.D. 408.

The Gothic king, in his distant camp, beheld with joy the
intrigues and factions which deprived the emperor of his best and last
defender, and prepared for a new invasion of Italy. He descended like an
avalanche upon the plains of Italy, and captured the cities of Aquileia,
Concordia, and Cremona. He then ravaged the coasts of the Adriatic, and
following the Flaminian way, crossed the Appennines, devastated Umbria,
and reached, without obstruction, the city which for six hundred years had
not seen a foreign enemy at her gates. Rome still contained within her
walls, twenty-three miles in circuit, a vast population, but she had no
warriors. She could boast of a long line of senatorial families, one
thousand seven hundred and eighty palaces, and two million of people,
together with the spoil of the ancient world, immense riches, and
innumerable works of art; but where were her defenders? It is a sad proof
of the degeneracy of the people that they were incapable of defense.

Alaric made no effort to storm the city, but quietly sat down, and
inclosed the wretched inhabitants with a cordon through which nothing
could force its way. He cut off all communication with the country and the
sea, and commanded the gates. Famine, added to pestilence, did the work of
soldiers. Despair seized the haughty and effeminate citizens, who invoked
the clemency of the barbarians. He derided the ambassadors, and insulted
them with rude and sarcastic jokes. "The thicker the hay, the easier it is
mowed," replied he, when warned not to drive the people to despair. He
condescended to spare the lives of the people on condition that they gave
up all their gold and silver, all their precious movables, and all
their slaves of barbaric birth. More moderate terms were afterward
granted, but the victor did not retreat until he had loaded his wagons
with precious spoil. He retired to the fertile fields of Tuscany, to make
negotiations with Honorius, intrenched at Ravenna; and it was only on the
condition of being appointed master-general of the imperial army, with an
annual subsidy of corn and money, the free possession of Dalmatia,
Noricum, and Venetia, that he consented to peace with the emperor. These
terms were disregarded, and the indignant barbarian once again turned his
face to the city he had spared. He took possession of Ostia, and Rome was
at his mercy, since her magazines were in his hands. Again the Senate,
fearful of famine, consented to the demands of the conqueror. He nominated
Atticus, prefect of the city, as emperor, and from him received the
commission of master-general of the armies of the West.

Atticus, after a brief reign, was degraded, and negotiations were
opened with Honorius. Repelled by fresh insults, which can not be
comprehended other than from that infatuation which is sent upon the
doomed, Alaric, vindictive and indignant, once more set out for Rome,
resolved on plunder and revenge. In vain did the nobles organize a
defense. Cowardice or treachery opened the Salarian gate. In the dead of
night the Goths entered the city, which now was the prey of soldiers. For
five days and five nights the "Eternal City" was exposed to every
barbarity and license, and only the treasures accumulated and deposited in
the churches of St. Paul and St. Peter were saved. A cruel slaughter of
the citizens added to the miseries of a sack. Forty thousand slaves were
let loose upon the people. The matrons and women of Rome were exposed to
every indignity. The city was given up to pillage. The daughters and wives
of senatorial families were made slaves. Italian fugitives thronged the
shores of Africa and Syria, begging daily bread. The whole world was
filled with consternation. The news of the capture of Rome made the tongue
of St. Jerome cleave to the roof of his mouth, in his cell at Bethlehem.
Sorrow, misery, desolation, and despair, were everywhere. The end of the
world was supposed to be at hand, and the great churchmen of the age found
consolation only in the doctrine of the second coming of our Lord amid the
clouds of heaven, A.D. 410.

After six days the Goths evacuated the city, and advanced on the
Appian way, to the southern provinces of Italy, destroying ruthlessly all
who opposed their march, and laden with the spoil of Rome. The beautiful
villas of the Campanian coast, where the masters of the world had
luxuriated for centuries, were destroyed or plundered, and the rude Goths
gave themselves up to all the license of barbaric soldiers.

At length, gorged with wine and plunder, they prepared to invade
Sicily, when Alaric sickened and died in Bruttium, and was buried beneath
the bed of a river, that the place of his sepulchre should never be found
out. He was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Adolphus, with whom Honorius
concluded peace, and whom he created a general of his armies. As such, he
led his forces into Gaul, and the southern part of the country became the
seat of their permanent settlement, with Toulouse for a capital. The
Visigoths extended their conquests on both sides of the Pyrenees;
Vandalusia was conquered by his son, Wallia, A.D. 418, on whom the emperor
bestowed Aquitania. His son, Theodoric, was the first king of the Goths.

The same year that saw the establishment of this new Gothic
kingdom, also witnessed the foundation of the kingdom of the Franks, by
Pharamund, and the final loss of Britain. Thus province after province was
wrested away from the emperor, who died, A.D. 423, and was succeeded by
Constantius, who had married his sister. He died the same year, leaving an
infant, called Valentinian. The chief secretary of the late emperor, John,
was proclaimed emperor; but he was dethroned two years after, and
Valentinian III. six years of age, reigned in his stead, favored by the
services of two able generals, Boniface and Aetius, who arrested by their
talents the incursions of the barbarians, But they quarreled, and their
discord led to the loss of Africa, invaded by the Vandals.

These barbarians also belonged to the great Teutonic race, and
their settlements were on the Elbe and the Vistula. In the time of Marcus
Aurelius they had invaded the empire, but were signally defeated. One
hundred years later, they settled in Pannonia, where they had a bitter
contest with the Goths. Defeated by them, they sought the protection of
Rome, and enlisted in her armies. In 406 they invaded Gaul, and advanced
to the Pyrenees, inflicting every atrocity. They then crossed into Spain,
and settled in Andalusia, A.D. 409, and resumed the agricultural life they
had led in Pannonia. The Roman governor of Spain intrigued with their old
enemies, the Goths, then settled in Gaul, to make an attack upon them,
under Wallia. Worried and incensed, the Vandals turned against the Romans,
and routed them, and got possession of the peninsula.

It was then that Aetius, the general of Valentinian III.,
persuaded the emperor,--or rather his mother, Placidia, the real ruler,--to
recall Boniface from the government of Africa. He refused the summons,
revolted, and called to his aid the Vandals, who had possession of Spain.
They were commanded by Genseric, one of those hideous monsters, who
combined great military talents with every vice. He responded to the call
of Boniface, and invaded Africa, rich in farms and cities, whose capital,
Carthage, was once more the rival of Rome, and had even outgrown
Alexandria as a commercial city. With fifty thousand warriors, Genseric
devastated the country, and Boniface, too late repenting of his error,
turned against the common foe, but was defeated, and obliged to cede to
the barbarians three important provinces, A.D. 432.

Peace was not of long duration, and the Vandals renewed the war,
on the retreat of Boniface to Italy, where he was killed in a duel, by
Aetius. All Africa was overrun, and Carthage was taken and plundered, and
met a doom as awful as Tyre and Jerusalem, for her iniquities were
flagrant, and called to heaven for vengeance. In the sack of the city, the
writings of Augustine, bishop of Hippo, were fortunately preserved as a
thesaurus of Christian theological literature, the influence of which can
hardly be overrated in the dark period which succeeded, A.D. 439.

The Vandals then turned their eyes to Rome, and landed on the
Italian coast. The last hope of the imperial city, now threatened by an
overwhelming force, was her Christian bishop--the great Leo, who hastened
to the barbarians' camp, and in his pontifical robes, sought the mercy of
the unrelenting and savage foe. But he could secure no better terms, than
that the unresisting should be spared, the buildings protected from fire,
and the captives from torture. But this promise was only partially
fulfilled. The pillage lasted fourteen days and fourteen nights, and all
that the Goths had spared was transported to the ships of Genseric. The
statues of the old pagan gods, which adorned the capitol, the holy vessels
of the Jewish temple, which Titus had brought from Jerusalem, the shrines
and altars of the Christian churches, the costly ornaments of the imperial
palace, the sideboards of massive silver from senatorial mansions,--the
gold, the silver, the brass, the precious marbles,--were all transported to
the ships. The Empress Eudoxia, herself, stripped of her jewels, was
carried away captive, with her two daughters, the sole survivors of the
family of Theodosius.

Such was the doom of Rome, A.D. 455, forty-five years after the
Gothic invasion. The haughty city met the fate which she had inflicted on
her rivals, and nothing remained but desolation and recollections.

While the Vandals were plundering Rome, the Huns--a Sclavonic race,
hideous and revolting barbarians, under Attila, called the scourge of God,
were ravaging the remaining provinces of the empire. Never since the days
of Xerxes was there such a gathering of nations as now inundated the Roman
world--some five hundred thousand warriors, chiefly Asiatic, armed with
long quivers and heavy lances, cuirasses of plaited hair, scythes, round
bucklers, and short swords. This host, composed of Huns, Alans, Gepidae,
and other tribes, German as well as Asiatic, from the plains of Sarmatia,
and the banks of the Vistula and Niemen, extended from Bash to the mouth
of the Rhine. The great object of attack was Orleans--an important
strategic position.

The leader of the imperial forces was Aetius, banished for the
death of Boniface, composed of Britains, Franks, Burgundians, Sueves,
Saxons, and Visigoths. It was not now the Romans against barbarians, but
Europe against Asia. The contending forces met on the plains of Champagne,
and at Chalons was fought the decisive battle by which Europe was
delivered from Asia, and the Gothic nations from the Mongol races, A.D.
451. Attila was beaten, and Gaul was saved from Sclavonic invaders. It is
said that three hundred thousand of the barbarians, on both sides, were
slain.

The discomfited king of the Huns led back his forces to the Rhine,
ravaging the country through which he passed. The following year he
invaded Italy.

Aetius had won one of the greatest victories of ancient times, and
alone remained to stem the barbaric hosts. But he was mistrusted by the
emperor at Ravenna, whose daughter he had solicited in marriage for his
son, and was left without sufficient force. Aquileia, the most important
city in Northern Italy, fell into the hands of Attila. He then resolved to
cross the Apennines and give a last blow to Rome. Leo, the intrepid
bishop, sought his camp, as he had once before entreated Genseric. The Hun
consented to leave Italy for an annual tribute, and the hand of the
princess Honoria, sister of the Emperor Valentinian. He retired to the
Danube by the passes of the Alps, and spent the winter in bacchanalian
orgies, but was cut off in his career by the poisoned dagger of a
Burgundian princess, whose relations he had slain.

The retreat of the Huns did not deliver the wasted provinces of a
now fallen empire from renewed ravages. For twenty years longer, Italy was
subject to incessant depredations. Valentinian, the last emperor of the
family of Theodosius, was assassinated A.D. 455, at the instigation of
Maximus--a senator of the Anician family, whose wife had been violated by
the emperor. The successive reigns of Maximus, Avitus, Majorian, Severus,
Anthemius, Olybrius, Glycerins, Nepos,and Augustulus--nine emperors in
twenty-one years, suggest nothing but ignominy and misfortune. They were
shut up in their palaces, within the walls of Ravenna, and were unable to
arrest the ruin. Again, during this period, was Rome sacked by the
Vandals. The great men of the period were Theodoric--king of the
Ostrogoths, who ruled both sides of the Alps, and supported the crumbling
empire, and Count Ricimer, a Sueve, and generalissimo of the Roman armies.
It was at this disastrous epoch that fugitives from the Venetian territory
sought a refuge among the islands which skirt the northern coast of the
Adriatic--the haunts of fishermen and sea-birds. There Venice was born--to
revive the glory of the West, and write her history upon the waves for one
thousand years.

The last emperor was the son of Orestes--a Pannonian, who was
christened Romulus. When elevated by the soldiers upon a shield and
saluted Augustus, he was too small to wear the purple robe, and they
called him Augustulus!--a bitter mockery, recalling the foundation and the
imperial greatness of Rome. This prince, feeble and powerless, was
dethroned by Odoacer--chief of the Heruli, and one of the unscrupulous
mercenaries whose aid the last emperor had invoked. The throne of the
Caesars was now hopelessly subverted, and Odoacer portioned out the lands
of Italy among his greedy followers, but allowed Augustulus to live as a
pensioner in a Campanian villa, which had once belonged to Sulla, A.D.
476. Odoacer, however, reigned but fourteen years, and was supplanted by
Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, A.D. 490. The barbarians were now
fairly settled in the lands they had invaded, and the Western empire was
completely dismembered.

In Italy were the Ostrogoths, who established a powerful kingdom,
afterward assailed by Belisarius and Narses, the generals of Justinian,
the Eastern emperor, and also by the Lombards, under Alboin, who secured a
footing in the north of Italy. Gaul was divided among the Franks,
Burgundians, and Visigoths, among whom were perpetual wars. Britain was
possessed by the Saxons. Spain became the inheritance of Vandals, Suevi,
and Visigoths. The Vandals retained Africa. The Eastern empire, with the
exception of Constantinople, finally fell into the hands of the Saracens.

It would be interesting to trace the various fortunes of the
Teutonic nations in their new settlements, but this belongs to mediaeval
history. The real drama of the fall of Rome was ended when Alaric gained
possession of the imperial city. "The empire fell," says Guizot, "because
no one would belong to it." At the period of barbaric invasion it had lost
all real vigor, and was kept together by mechanism--the mechanism of
government which had been one thousand years perfecting. It was energy,
patriotism, patience, and a genius for government which built up the
empire. But prosperity led to luxury, self-exaggeration, and enervating
vices. Society was steeped in sensuality, frivolity, and selfishness. The
empire was rotten to the core, and must become the prey of barbarians, who
had courage and vitality. Three centuries earlier, the empire might have
withstood the shock of external enemies, and the barbarians might have
been annihilated. But they invaded the provinces when central power was
weak, when public virtue had fled, when the middle classes were extinct,
when slavery, demoralizing pleasures, and disproportionate fortunes
destroyed elevation of sentiment, and all manly energies. A noble line of
martial emperors for a time arrested ruin, but ruin was inevitable.
Natural law asserted its dignity. The penalty of sin must be paid. Nothing
could save the empire. No conservative influences were sufficiently
strong--neither literature, nor art, nor science, nor philosophy, nor even
Christianity. Society retrograded as the new religion triumphed, a
mysterious fact, but easily understood when we remember that vices were
universal before a remedy could be applied. The victories of Christianity
came not too late for the human race, but too late for the salvation of a
worn-out empire.

The barbarians were advancing when Constantine was converted. The
salvation of the race was through these barbarians themselves, for, though
they desolated, they reconstructed; and, when converted to the new faith,
established new institutions on a better basis. The glimmering life-sparks
of a declining and miserable world disappeared, but new ideas, new
passions, new interests arose, and on the ruins of the pagan civilization
new Christian empires were founded, which have been gaining power for one
thousand five hundred years, and which may not pass away till civilization
itself shall be pronounced a failure in the present dispensations of the
Moral Governor of the World.






Previous: The Decline Of The Empire



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