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Chapter 26




With eye of flame, and voice of fear, He comes, the breaker of the spear, The scorner of the shield!--Anon.


1. The memory of their father's virtues protected the feeble youth of Arca'dius and Hono'rius, the sons of Theodo'sius; by the unanimous consent of mankind, they were saluted emperors of the East and West, and between them was made the final and permanent division of the Roman empire. Though both parts were never re-united under a single ruler, they continued for several centuries to be considered as one empire, and this opinion produced important consequences even in a late period of the middle ages. The dominions of Arca'dius extended from the lower Danube to the confines of Ethiopia and Persia; including Thrace, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. Hono'rius, a youth in his eleventh year, received the nominal sovereignty of Italy, Africa, Gaul, Spain, and Britain, with the provinces of No'ricum, Panno'nia, and Dalma'tia. The great and martial prefecture of Illyr'icum was divided equally between the two princes, the boundary line of whose dominions consequently nearly coincided with that which separates the Austrian states from the Turkish provinces. 2. The Western empire, to the history of which we must now confine ourselves, though equal to the Eastern in extent, wealth, and population, was incomparably weaker, and already appeared rapidly tending to decay. The Caledonians in Britain, and the German tribes on the northern frontiers, harassed the imperial troops by frequent incursions; on the east, the Goths were hourly becoming more formidable, and the African provinces were threatened by the Moors. 3. The internal state of the empire furnished little ground for hope that these various enemies could be subdued; the principle of union no longer existed; the proud title of Roman citizen was an empty name, Rome itself had ceased to be the metropolis, and was now only protected by the memory of her former greatness.

4. Stil'icho, a general of superior abilities, and a statesman of profound wisdom, acted as the guardian of Hono'rius. He was descended from the perfidious race of the Vandals, and unfortunately possessed, in an eminent degree, the cunning, treachery, and cruelty that characterised his nation. The administration of the Eastern empire was entrusted by Arca'dius, to Rufi'nus, who possessed all the bad qualities of Stil'icho without his redeeming virtues. The ministers of the two empires hated each other most cordially, and each secretly sought to remove his powerful rival; but the superior craft of Stil'icho, and his great influence over the soldiers, made him conqueror. 5. He was ordered to lead into the East a fair proportion of the army which Theodo'sius had assembled, and in obedience to the requisition, he marched towards Constantinople, at the head of the Gothic legions. The approach of his great rival with a powerful army alarmed the timid Rufi'nus; he obtained a peremptory edict from Arca'dius, commanding Stil'icho to return to Italy, and the promptitude with which the order was obeyed lulled the Eastern minister into fatal negligence. The troops arrived near Constantinople, under the guidance of Gai'nas a Gothic leader, and the emperor, accompanied by his minister, came out to welcome and review the soldiers. As Rufi'nus rode along the ranks, endeavouring to conciliate favour by studied courtesy, the wings gradually advanced, and enclosed the devoted victim within the fatal circle of their arms. Before he was aware of his danger, Gai'nas gave the signal of death; a soldier rushing forward plunged his sword into his breast, and the bleeding corpse fell at the very feet of the alarmed emperor. 6. His mangled body was treated with shocking indignity, and his wife and daughter would have shared his fate, had they not placed themselves under the protection of religion, and sought refuge in the sanctuary.

7. Stil'icho derived no advantage from this crime which he had planned, but not executed; Arca'dius chose for his new minister, Eutro'pius, one of his servants, and Gai'nas declared himself the determined enemy of his former general.

8. The national hatred between the Greeks and the Romans was excited by the rival ministers, and thus at a moment when union alone would delay ruin, the subjects of Arca'dius and Hono'rius were induced to regard each other not only as foreigners, but as enemies. 9. The revolt of Gil'do, in Africa, under the pretence of transferring his allegiance from the Western to the Eastern empire, was sanctioned by the court of Constantinople. Such an event was peculiarly alarming, as Italy at the time imported most of the corn necessary to the subsistence of the people, from the African provinces. The vigour of Stil'icho warded off the danger; he sent a small but veteran army into Africa, before which Gildo's hosts of unarmed and undisciplined barbarians fled almost without a blow. The usurper was taken and executed; his partizans were persecuted with merciless impolicy.

10. The Goths, who had remained quiet during the reign of the great Theodo'sius, disdained submission to his unwarlike successors; under the pretence that the subsidy prudently paid them by the late emperor was withheld, they raised the standard of revolt, and chose for their leader Al'aric, the most formidable enemy that the Romans had hitherto encountered. Instead of confining his depredations to the northern provinces, already wasted by frequent incursions, Alaric resolved to invade Greece, where the din of arms had not been heard for centuries. 11. The barbarian encountered little or no resistance, the memorable pass of Thermop'yl was abandoned by its garrison; Athens purchased inglorious safety by the sacrifice of the greater part of its wealth; the Corinthian isthmus was undefended, and the Goths ravaged without opposition the entire Peloponne'sus. Unable to protect themselves, the Greeks sought the aid of Stilicho, and that great leader soon sailed to their assistance; he inflicted a severe defeat on the Goths, but neglected to improve his advantages; and before he could retrieve his error, news arrived that the faithless court of Constantinople had concluded a treaty of peace with Al'aric. Stilicho, of course, returned to Italy; while the eastern emperor, with incomprehensible folly, nominated the Gothic leader, master-general of eastern Illyr'icum.

12. Italy soon excited the ambition and cupidity of Alaric; he determined to invade that country, and, after surmounting all impediments, appeared with his forces before the imperial city of Milan. The feeble Hono'rius would have fled with his effeminate court into some remote corner of Gaul, had not the indignant remonstrances of Stil'icho induced him to remain, until he could assemble forces sufficient to protect the empire. For this purpose the brave general hurried into Gaul, assembled the garrisons from the frontier towns, recalled a legion from Britain, and strengthened his forces by taking several German tribes into pay. 13. But before Stil'icho could return, the empire had been brought to the very brink of ruin; Hono'rius, affrighted by the approach of the Goths, fled from Milan to As'ta, and was there closely besieged. When the town was on the point of capitulating, the emperor was saved by the opportune arrival of Stil'icho, before whom Alaric retired. He was closely pursued, and the armies of the Romans and barbarians came to an engagement nearly on the same ground where Marius had so many years before defeated the Cimbri. 14. The Goths were completely beaten, and a second victory obtained over them near Vero'na seemed to insure the deliverance of Italy; but Al'aric was still formidable, and the favourable terms granted him by Stil'icho, proved, that in the opinion of that general, the Gothic king, though defeated, was unconquered.

15. The late invasion so alarmed the timid Hono'rius, that he resolved to fix his residence in some remote and strong fortress; and for this purpose he selected Raven'na, an ancient city, but which had not previously obtained notoriety. 16. Before Italy had recovered from the terrors of the Gothic invasion, a new host of barbarians rushed from the shores of the Baltic, bore down before them all opposition in Germany and Gaul; and had passed the Alps, the Po, and the Apennines, ere an army could be assembled to resist them. 17. Radagai'sus, the leader of these hordes, was a more formidable enemy even than Alaric; the Goths had embraced Christianity, and their fierce passions were in some degree moderated by the mild precepts of the gospel; but Radagai'sus was a stranger to any religion but the cruel creed of his fathers, which taught that the favour of the gods could only be propitiated by human sacrifices. 18. The wealthy city of Florence was besieged by the barbarians, but its bishop, St. Ambrose, by his zealous exhortations, and by holding out the hope of divine assistance, prevented the garrison from yielding to despair. Stil'icho a second time earned the title of the deliverer of Italy; Radagai'sus was defeated and slain; but the remains of his forces escaped into Gaul, and spread desolation over that entire province, from which the garrisons had been withdrawn for the defence of Italy. 19. An usurper, named Constantine, about this time appeared in Britain, and soon established his minority both in Gaul and Spain, which had been virtually deserted by the emperor. Al'aric offered his services to repress the rebellion, and to purchase either his assistance or his forbearance, a large subsidy was voted to him by the senate, through the influence of Stil'icho. 20. But the reign of this great man was drawing fast to a close; Olym'pius, a miserable favourite, who owed his first elevation to Stil'icho, filled the emperor's mind with suspicion, and a secret resolution to destroy the minister was adopted. 21. By exciting the jealousy of the legions against the auxiliary forces that Stil'icho employed, Olym'pius was enabled to gain the army to his side, and the last great supporter of the Roman name fell by the swords of those soldiers whom he had so often led to victory. His friends, including the best and bravest generals of the army, shared his fate; many of them were racked, to extort from them a confession of a conspiracy which never existed; and their silence under the tortures at once proved their own innocence and that of their leader.


Questions for Examination.

1. What division was made of the Roman empire between the sons of Theodosius?

2. By what enemies was the Western empire assailed?

3. What was the internal condition of the state?

4. To what ministers did the emperors trust the administration?

5. How did Stilicho prevail over Rufinus?

6. What instances of savage cruelty were exhibited by the murderers of Rufinus?

7. Did Stilicho derive any advantage from the death of his rival?

8. What rivalry broke out between the subjects of the eastern and western empire?

9. How did the revolt of Gildo in Africa end?

10. Why did the Goths attack the eastern empire?

11. How did the Gothic invasion of Greece end?

12. Did the western emperor display any courage when Italy was invaded?

13. How was Honorius saved from ruin?

14. Was this defeat destructive of the Gothic power?

15. Where did Honorius fix the seat of his government?

16. What new hordes invaded Italy?

17. Why were the northern barbarians more formidable than the Goths?

18. How was Florence saved?

19. On what occasion was a subsidy voted to Alaric?

20. Who conspired against Stilicho?

21. In what manner was Stilicho slain?




Time's immortal garlands twine O'er desolation's mournful shrine. Like youth's embrace around decline.--Malcolm.


1. Al'aric, posted on the confines of Italy, watched the distractions of the peninsula with secret joy; he had been unwisely irritated by the delay of the subsidy which had formerly been promised him, and when payment was finally refused, he once more led his followers into Italy.

[Sidenote: A.D. 408.]

2. The feeble successors of Stil'icho had made no preparations for resistance; they retired with their master into the fortress of Raven'na, while the Goths, spreading ruin in their march, advanced to the very walls of Rome. Six hundred years had now elapsed since an enemy had appeared to threaten THE ETERNAL CITY; a worse foe than Hannibal was now at their gates, and the citizens were more disabled by luxury from attempting a defence, than their ancestors had been by the carnage of Can'n.[1] 3. The strength of the walls deterred the Goth from attempting a regular siege, but he subjected the city to a strict blockade. Famine, and its usual attendant, pestilence, soon began to waste the miserable Romans; but even the extreme of misery could not induce them to sally forth, and try their fortune in the field. They purchased the retreat of Al'aric by the sacrifice of their wealth; and the victorious Goth formed his winter quarters in Tuscany, where his army was reinforced by more than forty thousand of his countrymen who had been enslaved by the Romans.

4. The presence of a victorious leader, with one hundred thousand men, in the very centre of Italy, ought to have taught the imperial court at Raven'na prudence and moderation; but such was their incredible folly that they not only violated their engagements with Al'aric, but added personal insult to injury. Rome was once more besieged, and as Al'aric had seized the provisions at Os'tia, on which the citizens depended for subsistence, the Romans were forced to surrender at discretion. 5. At the instigation of the Gothic king, At'talus, the prefect of the city, was invested with the imperial purple, and measures were taken to compel Hono'rius to resign in his favour. But At'talus proved utterly unworthy of a throne, and after a brief reign was publicly degraded; the rest of his life was passed in obscurity under the protection of the Goths. 6. A favourable opportunity of effecting a peace was now offered, but it was again insolently rejected by the wretched Hono'rius, and a herald publicly proclaimed that in consequence of the guilt of Al'aric, he was for ever excluded from the friendship and alliance of the emperor.

7. For the third time Al'aric proceeded to revenge the insults of the emperor on the unfortunate city of Rome. The trembling senate made some preparations for defence but they were rendered ineffectual by the treachery of a slave, who betrayed one of the gates to the Gothic legions. That city which had been for ages the mistress of the world, became the prey of ruthless barbarians, who spared, indeed, the churches and sanctuaries, but placed no other bound to their savage passions. For six successive days the Goths revelled in the sack of the city; at the end of that period they followed Al'aric to new conquests and new devastations. 8. The entire south of Italy rapidly followed the fate of the capital, and Al'aric determined to add Sicily to the list of his triumphs. Before, however, his army could pass the Strait, he was seized with an incurable disease, and his premature death protracted for a season the existence of the Western empire.[2] 9. Al'aric was succeeded by his brother Adol'phus, who immediately commenced negociations for a treaty; the peace was cemented by a marriage between the Gothic king and Placid'ia, the sister of the emperor. The army of the invaders evacuated Italy, and Adol'phus, leading his soldiers into Spain, founded the kingdom of the Visigoths. 10. Adolphus did not long survive his triumphs; Placid'ia returned to her brother's court, and was persuaded to bestow her hand on Constan'tius, the general who had suppressed the rebellion of Constan'tine. Britain, Spain, and part of Gaul had been now irrecoverably lost; Constan'tius, whose abilities might have checked the progress of ruin, died, after the birth of his second child; Placid'ia retired to the court of Constantinople, and at length Hono'rius, after a disgraceful reign of twenty-eight years, terminated his wretched life.

11. The next heir to the throne was Valenti'nian, the son of Placid'ia; but John, the late emperor's secretary, took advantage of Placid'ia's absence in the east, to seize on the government. The court of Constantinople promptly sent a body of troops against the usurper, and John was surprised and taken prisoner at Raven'na. 12. Valenti'nian III., then in the sixth year of his age, was proclaimed emperor, and the regency entrusted to his mother, Placid'ia. The two best generals of the age, 'tius and Bon'iface, were at the head of the army, but, unfortunately, their mutual jealousies led them to involve the empire in civil war.

13. Bon'iface was recalled from the government of Africa through the intrigues of his rival, and when he hesitated to comply, was proclaimed a traitor. Unfortunately the African prefect, unable to depend on his own forces, invited the Vandals to his assistance. Gen'seric, the king of that nation, passed over from Spain, which his barbarous forces had already wasted, and the African provinces were now subjected to the same calamities that afflicted the rest of the empire. 14. Bon'iface became too late sensible of his error; he attempted to check the progress of the Vandals, but was defeated, and Africa finally wrested from the empire. He returned to Italy, and was pardoned by Placid'ia; but the jealous 'tius led an army to drive his rival from the court; a battle ensued, in which 'tius was defeated; but Bon'iface died in the arms of victory. Placid'ia was at first determined to punish 'tius as a rebel; but his power was too formidable, and his abilities too necessary in the new dangers that threatened the empire; he was not only pardoned, but invested with more than his former authority.

15. The hordes of Huns that had seized on the ancient territory of the Goths, had now become united under the ferocious At'tila, whose devastations procured him the formidable name of "The Scourge of God." The Eastern empire, unable to protect itself from his ravages, purchased peace by the payment of a yearly tribute, and he directed his forces against the western provinces, which promised richer plunder. He was instigated also by secret letters from the princess Hono'ria, the sister of the emperor, who solicited a matrimonial alliance with the barbarous chieftain. 'tius being supported by the king of the Goths, and some other auxiliary forces, attacked the Huns in the Catalaunian plains, near the modern city of Chalons in France. 16. After a fierce engagement the Huns were routed, and it was not without great difficulty that At'tila effected his retreat. The following year he invaded Italy with more success; peace, however, was purchased by bestowing on him the hand of the princess Hono'ria, with an immense dowry. Before the marriage could be consummated, At'tila was found, dead in his bed, having burst a blood-vessel during the night.

17. The brave 'tius was badly rewarded by the wretched emperor for his eminent services; Valentinian, yielding to his cowardly suspicions, assassinated the general with his own hand. 18. This crime was followed by an injury to Max'imus, an eminent senator, who, eager for revenge, joined in a conspiracy with the friends of 'tius; they attacked the emperor publicly, in the midst of his guards, and slew him.

19. The twenty years which intervened between the assassination of Valentinian, and the final destruction of the Western empire, were nearly one continued series of intestine revolutions. 20. Even in the age of Cicero, when the empire of Rome, seemed likely to last for ever, it was stated by the augurs that the _twelve vultures_ seen by Romulus,[3] represented the _twelve centuries_ assigned for the fatal period of the city. This strange prediction, forgotten in ages of peace and prosperity, was recalled to the minds of men when events, at the close of the twelfth century, showed that the prophecy was about to be accomplished. It is not, of course, our meaning, that the ominous flight of birds, the prophetic interpretation, and its almost literal fulfilment, were any thing more than an accidental coincidence; but, it must be confessed, that it was one of the most remarkable on record.

21. Maximus succeeded to the imperial throne, and found that the first day of his reign was the last of his happiness. On the death of his wife, whose wrongs he had so severely revenged, he endeavoured to compel Eudox'ia, the widow of the murdered emperor, to become his spouse. In her indignation at this insulting proposal, Eudox'ia did not hesitate to apply for aid to Gen'seric, king of those Vandals that had seized Africa; and the barbarian king, glad of such a fair pretence, soon appeared with a powerful fleet in the Tiber. 22. Max'imus was murdered in an insurrection, occasioned by these tidings; and Gen'seric, advancing to Rome, became master of the city, which was, for fourteen days pillaged by the Moors and Vandals. Eudox'ia had reason to lament her imprudent conduct; she was carried off a captive by the ferocious Vandal, along with her two daughters, the last of the family of the great Theo'dosius and many thousand Romans were at the same time dragged into slavery.

23. The army in Gaul saluted their general, Avi'tus, emperor, and the Roman senate and people at first acquiesced in the choice. Rut Avi'tus was soon found unfit to hold the reins of power at a time of so much danger and difficulty; the senate, influenced by Ri'cimer, the commander of the barbarian auxiliaries, voted his deposition. He died shortly after, whether by disease or violence is uncertain.

24. The powerful Ri'cimer now placed upon the throne Ju'lian Majo'rian, who united in an eminent degree the qualities of a brave soldier and a wise statesman. The coasts of Italy had long been wasted by Gen'seric, king of the Vandals, and in order to put an end to their incursions, the emperor determined to attack the pirates in Africa, the seat of their power. The judicious preparations which he made were disconcerted by treason; Ri'cimer, who had hoped to rule the empire while Majo'rian enjoyed the empty title of monarch, was disappointed by the abilities which the new emperor displayed. Some of his creatures betrayed the Roman fleet to the torches of the Vandals; and Ri'cimer took advantage of the popular discontent occasioned by this disaster, to procure the dethronement of his former friend. Majo'rian died five years after his deposition, and the humble tomb which covered his remains was consecrated by the respect and gratitude of succeeding generations.

25. Ri'cimer's next choice was more prudent; at his instigation the obsequious senate raised to the throne Lib'ius Sev'erus, of whom history records little more than his elevation, and his death, which occurred in the fifth year after his election. During the nominal reign of Sev'erus and the interregnum that followed, the entire power of the state was possessed by Ri'cimer, whom barbarian descent alone prevented from being acknowledged emperor. He was unable, however, to protect Italy from the devastations of the Vandals; and to obtain the aid of Le'o, the Eastern emperor, he was forced to acknowledge Anthe'mius, who was nominated to the throne of the West by the court of Constantinople.

26. The perfidious Ricimer soon became dissatisfied with Anthe'mius, and raised the standard of revolt. Marching to Rome he easily became master of the city, and Anthe'mius was slain in the tumult. The unhappy Romans were again subjected to all the miseries that military licentiousness could inflict; for forty days Ricimer exulted in the havoc and ruin of the imperial city; but a disease, occasioned by excessive intemperance, seized on his vitals, and death freed Rome from the tyrant.

27. Olyb'ius, the successor of Anthe'mius, dying after a short reign of three months, Glyce'rius, an obscure soldier, assumed the purple at Raven'na, but was soon dethroned by Ju'lius Ne'pos, whom the court of Constantinople supported. A treaty by which the most faithful provinces of Gaul were yielded to the Visigoths, produced so much popular discontent, that Ores'tes, a general of barbarian auxiliaries, was encouraged to revolt, and Ne'pos, unable to defend the throne, abdicated, and spent the remainder of his unhonoured life in obscurity.

[Sidenote: A.D. 476.]

28. Ores'tes placed the crown on the head of his son Rom'ulus Momyl'lus, better known in history by the name of Augus'tulus. He was the last of the emperors; before he had enjoyed his elevation many months, he was dethroned by Odoa'cer, a leader, of the barbarian troops, and banished to a villa that once belonged to the wealthy Lucul'lus, where he was supported by a pension allowed him by the conqueror[4]. 29. Odoa'cer assumed the title of king of Italy, but after a reign of fourteen years, he was forced to yield to the superior genius of Theod'oric, king of the Ostrogoths, under whose prudent government Italy enjoyed the blessings of peace and prosperity, to which the country had been long a stranger.

30. Thus finally fell the Roman empire of the west, while that of the east survived a thousand years, notwithstanding its fierce internal dissensions, which alone would have sufficed to destroy any other; and the hosts of barbarians by which it was assailed. The almost impregnable situation of its capital, whose fate usually decides that of such empires, joined to its despotism, which gave unity to the little strength it retained, can alone explain a phenomenon unparalleled in the annals of history. At length, on the 29th of May, 1453, Constantinople was taken by Mohammed the Second, and the government and religion established by the great Constantine, trampled in the dust by the Moslem conquerors.


Questions for Examination.

1. What induced Alaric to invade Italy a second time?

2. Did the emperor and his ministers make adequate preparations for resistance?

3. How was Alaric induced to raise the siege of Rome?

4. Why did Alaric besiege Rome a second time?

5. Whom did the Goths make emperor?

6. What favourable opportunity of making peace did Honorius lose?

7. By what means did the Goths become masters of Rome?

8. Where did Alaric die?

9. What events marked the reign of Adolphus?

10. What remarkable persons died nearly at the same time?

11. What was the fate of the usurper John?

12. To whom was the government entrusted during Valentinian's minority?

13. By whom were the Vandals invited to Africa?

14. What was the fate of Boniface?

15. How were the Huns instigated to invade Italy?

16. Under what circumstances did Attila die?

17. Of what great crimes was Valentinian III. guilty?

18. How was Valentinian slain?

19. 20. What strange prophecy was now about to be fulfilled?

21. What terminated the brief reign of Maximus?

22. Had Eudoxia reason to lament her invitation to the Vandals?

23. Why was the emperor Avitus dethroned?

24. How did Ricimer procure the deposition of Majorian?

25. What changes followed on the death of Majorian?

26. How did Ricimer terminate his destructive career?

27. What changes took place after the death of Arthemius?

28. Who was the last Roman emperor?

29. What kingdoms were founded on the ruins of the western empire?

20. How was the existence of the eastern empire prolonged?



[1] See Chapter xv. Sect. ii.

[2] The ferocious character of the barbarians was displayed in the funeral of their chief. The unhappy captives were compelled to divert the stream of the river Busenti'nus, which washed the walls of Consen'tia, (now Cosenza, in farther Cala'bria, Italy,) in the bed of which the royal sepulchre was formed: with the body were deposited much of the wealth, and many of the trophies obtained at Rome. The river was then permitted to return to its accustomed channel, and the prisoners employed in the work were inhumanly massacred, to conceal the spot in which the deceased hero was entombed. A beautiful poem on this subject, entitled, The Dirge of Alaric the Visigoth, has appeared, which is attributed to the honourable Edward Everett.

[3] See Chapter i.

[4] See Chapter xxvii.

Oliver Goldsmith