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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

March Of Cyrus And Retreat Of The Ten Thousand Greeks Roman Conquests From The Fall Of Carthage To The Times Of The Gracchi facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail