[Footnote 26: The words of Jordanes (which are important on account of their bearing on the passage of Tacitus quoted below) are: "Ascitis certis ex satellitibus patris et ex populo amatores sibi clientesque consocians paene sex mille viros cum quibus inscio patre emenso Danubio super Babai Sarmatarum regem discurrit" (Getica, lv.).]
This incident of the early manhood of Theodoric is a good illustration of the Teutonic custom which Tacitus describes to us under the name of the comitatus, a custom which was therefore at least four centuries old (probably far older) in the days of Theodoric, and which, lasting on for several centuries longer, undoubtedly influenced if it did not actually create the chivalry of the Middle Ages. The custom was so important that it will be better to translate the very words of Tacitus concerning it, though they occur in one of the best-known passages of the "Germania".
"The Germans transact no business either of a public or private nature except with arms in their hands. But it is not the practice for any one to begin the wearing of arms until the State has approved his ability to wield them. When that is done, in the great Council of the nation one of the chiefs, perhaps the father or some near relation of the candidate, equips the youth with shield and spear. This is with them like the toga virilis with us, the first dignity bestowed on the young man. Before this he was looked upon as part of his father's household—now he is a member of the State. Eminently noble birth, or great merit on the part of their fathers, assigns the dignity of a chief even to very young men. They are admitted to the fellowship of other youths stronger than themselves, and already tried in war, nor do they blush to be seen among the henchmen. There is a gradation in rank among the henchmen, determined by the judgment of him whom they follow, and there is a great emulation among the henchmen, who shall have the highest place under the chief, and among the chiefs who shall have the most numerous and the bravest henchmen. This is their dignity, this their strength, to be ever surrounded by a band of chosen youths, an honour in peace, a defence in battle. And not only in his own nation, but among the surrounding states also, each chief's name and glory are spread abroad according to the eminence of his 'train of henchmen' in number and valour. Chiefs thus distinguished are in request for embassies, are enriched with costly presents, and often they decide a war by the mere terror of their name".
[Footnote 27: Dignationem principis; the true rendering of this sentence is very doubtful.]
[Footnote 28: I think upon the whole "henchmen" is the best translation of this difficult word "comites", "Companions" is too indefinite; "comrades" implies too much equality with the chief.]
[Footnote 29: Comitatus.]
"When they stand on the battle-field, it is held a disgraceful thing for the chief to be surpassed in bravery by his henchmen, for the henchmen not to equal the valour of their chief. Now too it will mark a man as infamous, and a target for the scorn of men for all the rest of his life, if he escapes alive from the battle-field where his chief needed his help. To defend him, the chief; to guard his person; to reckon up one's own brave deeds as enhancing his glory: this is the henchman's one great oath of fealty. The chiefs fight for victory, the henchmen for their chief. If the state in which they are born should be growing sluggish through ease and a long peace, most of the noble young men seek of their own accord those nations which are then waging war, both because a quiet life is hateful to this people, and because they can more easily distinguish themselves in perilous times, nor can they keep together a great train of henchmen, except by war and the strong hand. For it is from the generosity of their chief that each henchman expects that mighty war-horse which he would bestride, that gory and victorious spear, which he would brandish. Banquets, too, and all the rough but plentiful appliances of the feast are taken as part of the henchman's pay; and the means of supplying all this prodigality must be sought by war and rapine. You would not so easily persuade them to plough the fields and wait in patience for a year's harvest, as to challenge an enemy and earn honourable wounds; since to them it seems always a slow and lazy process to accumulate by the sweat of your brow what you might win at once by the shedding of blood".
[Footnote 30: Praecipuum sacramentum.]
These words of Tacitus, written in the year 98 after Christ, describe with wonderful exactness the state of Ostrogothic society in the year 472. We are not expressly told of Theodoric's assumption of the shield and spear in the great Council of the nation, but probably this ceremony immediately followed his return from Constantinople. Then we see the gathering together of the band of henchmen, the sudden march away from the peaceful land, growing torpid through two or three years of warlessness, the surprise of the Sclavonic king, the copious effusion of blood which was the preferred alternative to the sweat of the land-tiller, the return to the young chief's own land with spoils sufficient to support perhaps for many months the "generosity" expected by the henchmen.
There is one point, however, in which the description of the Germans given by Tacitus is probably not altogether applicable to the Goths of the fifth century: and that is, their invincible preference for the life of the warrior over that of the agriculturist. There are some indications that the Germans, when Tacitus wrote, had not long exchanged the nomadic life of a nation of shepherds and herdsmen (such as was led by the earlier generations of the Israelitish people) for the settled life which alone is consistent with the pursuits of the tiller of the soil. Hence the roving instinct was still strong within them, and this roving instinct easily allied itself with the thirst for battle and the love of the easy gains of the freebooter. Four centuries, however, of agriculture and of neighbourhood to the great civilised stable Empire of Rome had apparently wrought some change in the Goths and in many of the other Teutonic nations. The work of agriculture was now not altogether odious in their eyes; they knew something of the joys of the husbandman as well as of the joys of the warrior; they began to feel something of that "land-hunger" which is the passion of a young, growing, industrious people. Still, however, the songs of the minstrels, the sagas of the bards, the fiery impulses of the young princeps surrounded by his comitatus pointed to war as the only occupation worthy of freemen. Hence we can perceive a double current in the ambitions of these nations which often perplexes the historian now, as it evidently then perplexed their mighty neighbour, the Roman Augustus, and the generals and lawyers who counselled him in his consistory. Sometimes the Teutonic king is roused by some real or imagined insult; the minstrels sing their battle-songs; the fiery henchmen gather round their chief; the barbarian tide rolls over the frontier of the Empire: it seems as if it must be a duel to the death between civilisation and its implacable foes. Then suddenly
"he sinks To ashes who was very fire before".
Food, not glory, seems to be the supreme object of the Teuton's ambition. He begs for land, for seed to sow in it, for a legal settlement within the limits of the Empire. If only these necessary things are granted to him, he promises, and not without intending to keep his promise, to be a peaceable subject, yes and a staunch defender, of the Roman Augustus. Had the Imperial statesmen truly understood this strange duality of purpose in the minds of their barbarian visitors, and had they set themselves loyally and patiently to foster the peaceful agricultural instincts of the Teuton, haply the Roman Empire might still be standing. As it was, the statesmen of the day, men of temporary shifts and expedients, living only as we say "from hand to mouth", saw, in the changing moods of the Germans, only the faithlessness of barbarism, which they met with the faithlessness of civilisation, and between the two the Empire—which no one really wished to destroy—was destroyed.
Even such a change it was which now came over the minds of the Ostrogothic people. There was dearth in Pannonia, partly, perhaps, the consequence of the frequent wars with the surrounding nations which had occurred during the twenty years of the Ostrogothic settlement. But even the cessation of those wars brought with it a loss of income to the warrior class. As the Gothic historian expresses it: "From the diminution of the spoils of the neighbouring nations the Goths began to lack food and clothing, and to those men to whom war had long furnished all their sustenance peace began to be odious, and all the Goths with loud shouts approached their king Theudemir praying him to lead his army whither he would, but to lead it forth to war".
Here again it can hardly be doubted that Jordanes, writing about the fifth century, describes for us the same state of things as Tacitus writing about the first, and that this loudly shouted demand of the people for war was expressed in one of those national assemblies—the "Folc-motes" or "Folc-things" of Anglo-Saxon and German history—which formed such a real limitation to the power of the early Teutonic kings. "Concerning smaller matters", says Tacitus, "the chiefs deliberate; concerning greater matters, the whole nation; but in such wise that even those things which are in the power of the commonalty are discussed in detail by the chiefs. They come together, unless any sudden and accidental emergency have arisen, on fixed days determined by the new or full moon; for these times they deem the most fortunate for the transaction of business. An ill consequence flowing from their freedom is their want of punctuality in assembling; often two or three days are spent in waiting for the loiterers. When the crowd chooses, they sit down, arrayed in their armour (and commence business). Silence is called for by the priests, who have then the power even of keeping order by force. Then the king or one of the chiefs begins to speak, and is listened to in right either of his age, or his noble birth, or his glory in the wars, or his eloquence. In any case, he rather persuades than commands; not power, but weight of character procures the assent of his hearers."
[Footnote 31: Germania, xi.]
"If they mislike his sentiments they express their contempt for them by groans, if they approve, they clash their spears together. Applause thus expressed by arms is the greatest tribute that can be paid to a speaker".
Before such an assembly of the nation in arms, the question, not of Peace or War? but of War with whom? was debated. It was decided that the Empire should be the victim, and that East and West alike should feel the heavy hand of the Ostrogoths. The lot was cast (so said the national legend), and it assigned to Theudemir the harder but, as it seemed, more profitable task of warring against Constantinople, while his younger brother Widemir was to attack Rome.
Of Widemir's movements there is little to tell. He died in Italy, not having apparently achieved any brilliant exploits, and his son and namesake was easily persuaded to turn aside into Gaul, where he joined his forces to those of the kindred Visigoths, and became absorbed in their flourishing kingdom. This branch of Amal royalty henceforward bears no fruit in history.
More important, at any rate in its ultimate consequences, was the march of Theudemir and his people into the dominions of the Eastern Caesar. They crossed the Save, and by their warlike array terrified into acquiescence the Sclavonic tribes which were settled in the neighbourhood of Belgrade.
[Footnote 32: Kopke "Anfange des Konigthums", (p. 146) throws doubt on this story of the decision by lot, and there seems something to be said on his side.]
Having pushed up the valley of the Morava, they captured the important city of Naissus (now Nisch), "the first city of Illyricum". Here Theudemir tarried for a space, sending on his son with a large and eager comitatus farther up the valley of the Morava. They reached the head of that valley, they crossed the watershed and the plain of Kossova, and descended the valley of the Vardar. Monastir in Macedonia, Larissa in Thessaly were taken and sacked; and a way having thus been made by these bold invaders into the heart of the Empire, a message was sent to Theudemir, inviting him to undertake the siege of Thessalonica. Leaving a few guards in Naissus, the old king moved southward with the bulk of his army, and was soon standing with his men before the walls of the Macedonian capital. The Patrician Hilarianus held that city with a strong force, but when he saw it regularly invested by the Goths and an earthen rampart drawn all round it, he lost heart, and, despairing of a successful resistance, opened negotiations with the besiegers. The result of these negotiations (accompanied by handsome presents to the king) was that Theudemir abandoned the siege, resumed the often adopted, perhaps never wholly abandoned, position of a foederatus or sworn auxiliary of the Empire, and received for himself and his people the unquestioned possession of six towns and the surrounding country by the north-east corner of the AEgean, where the Vardar discharges itself into the Thermaic Gulf.
[Footnote 33: The best known of these towns are Pella, Pydna, and Bercea.]
Thus ingloriously, thus unprofitably ended the expedition into Romania, which had been proposed amid such enthusiastic applause at the great Council of the nation, and pressed with such loud acclamations and such brandishing of defiant spears upon the perhaps reluctant Theudemir. The Ostrogoths in 472 were an independent people, practically supreme in Pannonia. Those broad lands on the south and west of the Danube, rich in corn and wine, the very kernel of the Austrian monarchy of to-day, were theirs in absolute possession. Any tie of nominal dependence which attached Pannonia to the Empire was so merely theoretical, now that the Hun had ruled and ravaged it for a good part of a century, that it was not worth taking into consideration; it was in fact rather an excuse for claiming stipendia from the Emperor than a bond of real vassalage. But now in 474 this great and proud nation, crowded into a few cities of Macedonia, with obedient subjects of the Empire all round them, had practically no choice between the life of peaceful provincials on the one hand and that of freebooters on the other. If they accepted the first, they would lose year by year something of their old national character. The Teutonic speech, the Teutonic customs would gradually disappear, and in one or two generations they would be scarcely distinguishable from any of the other oppressed, patient, tax-exhausted populations of the great and weary Empire. On the other hand, if they accepted (which in fact they seem to have done) the other alternative, and became a mere horde of plunderers wandering up and down through the Empire, seeking what they might destroy, they abandoned the hope of forming a settled and stable monarchy, and, doing injustice to the high qualities and capacities for civilisation which were in them, they would sink lower into the depths of barbarism, and becoming like the Hun, like the Hun they would one day perish. Certainly, so far, the tumultuous decision of the Parliament on the shores of Lake Pelso was a false step in the nation's history.
STORM AND STRESS.
Death of Theudemir, and accession of Theodoric—Leo the Butcher—The Emperor Zeno—The march of Theodoric against the son of Trianus—His invasion of Macedonia—Defeat of his rear guard—His compact with the Emperor.
The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy, but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted.—(KEATS, Preface to "Endymion".)
The sentence thus written by the sensitive young poet, a child of London of the nineteenth century, was eminently exemplified in the history of the martial chief of the Ostrogoths. The next fourteen years in the life of Theodoric, which will be described in this chapter, were years of much useless endeavour, of marches and countermarches, of alliances formed and broken, of vain animosities and vainer reconciliations, years in which Theodoric himself seems never to understand his own purpose, whether it shall be under the shadow of the Empire or upon the ruins of the Empire, that he will build up his throne. Take the map of what is now often called "the Balkan peninsula", the region in which these fourteen years were passed; look at the apparently purpose, less way in which the mountain ranges of Haemus, Rhodope, and Scardus cross, intersect, run parallel, approach, avoid one another; look at the strange entanglement of passes and watersheds and table-lands which their systems display to us. Even such as the ranges among which he was manoeuvring—perplexed, purposeless, and sterile—was the early manhood of Theodoric.
About 474, soon after the great Southward migration, Theudemir died at Cyrrhus in Macedonia, one of the new settlements of the Ostrogoths. When he was attacked by his fatal sickness he called his people together and pointed to Theodoric as the heir of his royal dignity. Kingship at this time among the Germanic nations was not purely hereditary, the consent of the people being required even in the most ordinary and natural cases of succession, such as that of a first-born son, full grown and a tried soldier succeeding to an aged father. In such cases, however, that consent was almost invariably given. Theodoric, at any rate, succeeded without disputes to the doubtful and precarious position of king of the Ostrogoths.
Almost at the same time a change was being made by death in the wearer of the Imperial diadem. In order to illustrate the widely different character of the Roman and the Gothic monarchies it will be well to cease for a little time to follow the fortunes of Theodoric and to sketch the history of Leo, the dying Emperor, and of Zeno, who succeeded him.
Leo I., who reigned at Constantinople from 457 to 474, and who was therefore Emperor during the whole time that Theodoric dwelt there as hostage, was not, as far as we can ascertain, a man of any great abilities in peace or war, or originally of very exalted station. But he was "curator" or steward in the household of Aspar, the successful barbarian adventurer who has been already alluded to. As an Arian by religion, and a barbarian, or the son of a barbarian, by birth, Aspar could not himself assume the diadem, but he could give it to whom he would, and Leo the steward was the second of his dependants whom he had thus honoured. Once placed upon the throne, however, Leo showed himself less obsequious to his old master than was expected. The post of Prefect of the City became vacant; Aspar suggested for the office a man who, like himself, was tainted with the heresy of Arius. At the moment Leo promised acquiescence, but immediately repented, and in the dead of night privately conferred the important office on a Senator who professed the orthodox faith. Aspar in a rage laid a rough hand on the Imperial purple, saying to Leo: "Emperor! it is not fitting that one who wears this robe should tell lies". Leo answered with some spirit: "Neither is it fitting that an Emperor should be bound to do the bidding of any of his subjects, and so injure the State".
[Footnote 34: See p. 36.]
After this encounter there were thirteen years of feud between King-maker and King, between Aspar and Leo. At length in 471 Aspar and his three valiant sons fell by the swords of the Eunuchs of the Palace. The foul and cowardly deed was perhaps marked by some circumstances of especial cruelty, which earned for Leo the title by which he was long after remembered in Constantinople, "The Butcher".
[Footnote 35: Leo Macellus.]
In order to strengthen himself against the adherents of Aspar, Leo cultivated the friendship of a set of wild, uncouth mountaineers, who at this time played the same part in Constantinople which the Swiss of the Middle Ages played in Italy. These were the Isaurians, men from the rugged highlands of Pisidia, whose lives had hitherto been chiefly spent either in robbing or in defending themselves from robbery. At their head was a man named Tarasicodissa,—probably well born, if a chieftain from the Isaurian highlands could be deemed to be well born by the contemptuous citizens of Constantinople, no soldier, for we are told that even the picture of a battle frightened him, but a man whom the other Isaurians seem to have followed with clannish loyalty, like that which the Scottish Camerons showed even to the wily and unwarlike Master of Lovat.
With Tarasicodissa therefore the Emperor Leo entered into a compact of mutual defence. The Isaurian dropped his uncouth name and assumed the classical and philosophical-sounding name of Zeno; he received the hand of Ariadne, daughter of the Emperor, in marriage, and as Leo had no male offspring, the little Leo, offspring of this marriage and therefore grandson of the aged Emperor, was, in this monarchy which from elective was ever becoming more strictly hereditary, generally accepted as his probable successor.
As it had been planned so it came to pass. Leo the Butcher died (3d Feb. 474); the younger Leo, a child of seven years old, was hailed by Senate and People as his successor: Zeno came at the head of a brilliant train of senators, soldiers, and magistrates, to "adore" the new Emperor, and the child, carefully instructed by his mother in the part which he had to play, placed on the bowed head of his father the Imperial diadem. This act of "association" as it was called, generally practised upon a son or nephew by a veteran Emperor anxious to be relieved from some of the cares of reigning, required to be ratified by the acclamations of the soldiery; but no doubt these acclamations, which could generally be purchased by a sufficiently liberal donative, were not wanting on this occasion. Zeno, otherwise called Tarasicodissa the Isaurian, was now Emperor, and nine months after, when his child-partner died, he became sole ruler of the Roman world, except in so far as his dignity might be considered to be shared by the phantom Emperors of the West, who at this time were dethroning and being dethroned with fatal rapidity at Rome and Ravenna.
Thus mean and devious were the paths by which an adventurer could climb in the fifth century to that which was still looked upon as the pinnacle of earthly greatness. For however unworthy a man might feel himself to be, and however unworthy all his subjects might know him to be of the highest place in the Empire, when once he had obtained it his power was absolute and the honours rendered to him were little less than divine. All laws were passed by his "sacred providence"; all officers, military and civil, received their authority from him. In the edicts which he put forth to the world he spoke of himself as "My Eternity", "My Mildness", "My Magnificence", and of course these expressions, or, if it were possible, expressions more adulatory than these, were used by his subjects when they laid their petitions at the footstool of "the sacred throne". He lived, withdrawn from vulgar eyes, in the innermost recesses of the palace, a sort of Holy of Holies behind the first and the second veil. A band of pages, in splendid dress, waited upon his bidding; thirty stately silentiarii, with helmets and brightly burnished cuirasses, marched backwards and forwards before the second veil, to see that no importunate petitioner disturbed the silence of "the sacred cubicle". On the comparatively rare occasions when he showed himself to his subjects, he wore upon his head the diadem, a band of white linen, in which blazed the most precious jewels of the Empire. Hung round his shoulders and reaching down to his feet was that precious purple robe, for the sake of which so many crimes were committed, and which often proved itself a very "garment of Nessus" to him who dared to assume it without force sufficient to render his usurpation legitimate. On the feet of the Emperor were buskins which, like the diadem, were studded with precious stones, and like the robe were dyed with the Imperial purple. Thus gorgeously arrayed he took his place in the podium, the royal box in the Amphitheatre, and from thence, while gazed upon by his subjects, gazed himself upon the savage beast-fight, or in the Hippodrome, with difficulty restraining his eagerness for the success of the Blue or the Green faction, gave the sign for the chariot races to begin. Or he sat surrounded by his court in the purple presence-chamber to consult upon public affairs with his Consistory, a sort of Privy Council, composed of the great ministers of state. Conspicuous among these were the fifteen officers of highest rank, Generals, Judges, Grand Chamberlains, Finance Ministers, who had each the right to be addressed as "Illustrious". When any subject of the Emperor, were it one of these Illustrious ones himself, were it the son or brother of his predecessor, were it even a former patron, like Aspar, by whose favour he had been selected to wear the purple, was admitted to an audience of "Augustus" (that great name went as of right with the diadem), the etiquette of the court required that he should not merely bow nor kneel, but absolutely prostrate himself before the Sacred Majesty of the Emperor, who, if in a gracious mood, then with outstretched hand raised him from the earth and permitted him to kiss his knee or the fringe of his Imperial mantle.
To this dizzy height of greatness—for such, however small Marcian or Leo or Zeno may now seem to us by the lapse of centuries, it was felt to be by the contemporary generations—it was possible under the singular combination of election and inheritance which regulated the succession to the throne, for almost any citizen of the Empire, if not of barbarian blood or heretical creed, to aspire. Diocletian, the second founder of the Empire, was the son of a slave; Justinian—an even greater name—was the nephew of a Macedonian peasant, who with a sheepskin bag containing a week's store of biscuit, his only property, tramped down from his native highlands to seek his fortune in the capital Zeno, as we have seen, though perhaps better born than either Diocletian or Justinian, was only a little Isaurian chieftain. Thus the possibilities open to aspiring ambition were great in the Empire of the Caesars. As any male citizen of the United States, born between the St. Lawrence and the Rio Grande, may one day be installed in the White House as President, so any "Roman" and orthodox inhabitant of the Empire, whether noble, citizen, or peasant, might flatter himself with the hope that he too should one day wear the purple of Diocletian, be saluted as Augustus, and see Prefects and Masters of the Soldiery prostrating themselves before "His Eternity". This was, in a sense, the better, the democratic side of the Roman monarchy. Power which was supposed to be conveyed by the will of the people (as expressed by the acclamations of the army) might be wielded by the arm of any member of that people. On the other hand there was an evil in the habit thus engendered in men's minds, of humbling themselves before mere power without regard to the manner of its acquirement. When we compare the polity of Rome or Constantinople, where a century was a long time for the duration of a dynasty, with the far simpler polities of the Teutonic tribes which invaded the Empire, almost all of whom had their royal houses, reaching back into and even beyond the dawn of national history, supposed to be sprung from the loins of the gods, and rendered illustrious by countless deeds of valour recorded in song or saga, we see at once that in these ruder states we are in presence of a principle which the Empire knew not, but which Mediaeval Europe knew and glorified, the principle of Loyalty. This principle, the same that bound Bayard to the Valois, and Montrose to the Stuart, has been, with all the follies and even crimes which it may have caused, an element of strength and cohesion in the states which have arisen on the ruins of the Roman Empire. The self-respecting but loving loyalty, with which the Englishman of to-day cherishes the name of the descendant of Cerdic, of Alfred, and of Edward Plantagenet, who wields the sceptre of his country, is utterly unlike the slavish homage offered by the adoring courtiers of Byzantium to the pinchbeck divinity of Zeno Tarasicodissa.
Raised as Zeno had been to the throne by a mere palace intrigue, and destitute as he was of any of the qualities of a great statesman or general, it is no wonder that his reign, which lasted for seventeen years, was continually disturbed by conspiracies and rebellions. In most of these rebellions his mother-in-law, Verina, widow of Leo, an ambitious and turbulent woman, played an important part.
It was only a year after Zeno's accession to sole power by the death of his son (Nov., 475) when he was surprised by the outbreak of a conspiracy, hatched by his mother-in-law, the object of which was to place her brother Basiliscus on the throne. Zeno fled by night, still wearing the Imperial robes which he had worn, sitting in the Hippodrome, when the tidings reached him, and crossing the Bosphorus was soon in the heart of Asia Minor, safe sheltered in his native Isauria.
From thence,(July, 477) after nearly two years of exile, he was by a strange turn of the wheel of Fortune restored to his throne. Religious bigotry (for Basiliscus did not belong to the party of strict orthodoxy) and domestic jealousies and perfidies all contributed to this result. Zeno, who had fled twenty months before from the Hippodrome, returned to the Amphitheatre, and there, having commanded that the linen curtain should be drawn over the circus to exclude the too piercing rays of the July sun, gave the signal for the games to begin, while the populace shouted in Latin the regular official congratulations on his elevation and prayers for his continued triumph.
[Footnote 36: "Zeno Imperator Tu Vincas", would be, as we know from other similar instances, the most frequently uttered acclamation. It is a curious instance of "survival" that this was always shouted in Latin, though Greek was the vernacular tongue of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Constantinople.]
Meanwhile his fallen rival, less fortunate than Zeno himself in planning an escape, was crouching in the baptistery of the great Church of Saint Sophia, whither with his wife and children he had fled for refuge. After all the emblems of Imperial dignity had been rudely stripped from them, Basiliscus was induced, by a promise from Zeno, "that their heads should be safe", to come forth with his family from the sacred asylum. The Emperor "kept the word of promise to the ear", since no executioner with drawn sword entered the chamber of his rival. Basiliscus and they that were with him were sent away to a remote fortress in Cappadocia. The gate of the fortress was built up, a band of wild Isaurians guarded the enclosure, suffering no man to enter or to leave it, and in that bleak stronghold before long the fallen Emperor and Empress with their children perished miserably of cold and hunger.
Theodoric, who was at this time settled with his people, not on the shores of the AEgean, but in the region which we now call the Dobrudscha, between the mouths of the Danube and the Black Sea, had zealously espoused the cause of the banished Zeno, and lent an effectual hand in the counter-revolution which restored him to the throne (478). For his services in this crisis he was rewarded with the dignities of Patrician and Master of the Soldiery, high honours for a barbarian of twenty-four; and probably about this time he was also adopted as "filius in arma" by the Emperor. What the precise nature of this adopted "sonship-in-arms" may have been we are not able to say. It reminds us of the barbarian customs which in the course of centuries ripened into the mediaeval ceremony of knighthood, and the whole transaction certainly sounds more Ostrogothic than Imperial. Zeno's own son and namesake (the offspring of a first marriage before his union with Ariadne) was apparently dead before this time; and possibly therefore the title of son thus conferred upon Theodoric may have raised in his heart wild hopes that he too might one day be saluted as Roman Emperor. Any such hopes were probably doomed to inevitable disappointment. Any other dignity in the State, the "Roman Republic", as it still called itself, was practically within reach of a powerful barbarian, but the diadem, as has been already said, could in this age of the world, only be worn by one of pure Roman, that is, non-barbarian, blood.
At this time, and for the next three years, the position of our Theodoric, both towards the Emperor and towards his own people, was sorely embarrassed by the position and the claims of the other, the squinting Theodoric (son of Triarius), whom we met with seventeen years ago, and whose receipt of stipendia from the court of Constantinople, at the very time when their own were withheld, raised the wrath of Walamir and Theudemir. This Theodoric, it will be remembered, was of unkingly, perhaps of quite ignoble, birth, had risen to greatness by clinging to the skirts of Aspar, and had, so far as the Emperor's favour was concerned, fallen with his fall. Shortly before the death of Leo he had appeared in arms against the Empire, taking one city and besieging another, and had forced the Emperor to concede to him high rank in the army (that of General of the Household Troops,) a subsidy of; L80,000 a year for himself and his people, and lastly a remarkable stipulation, "that he should be absolute ruler of the Goths, and that the Emperor should not receive any of them who were minded to revolt from him". This strange article of the treaty shows us, on the one hand, how thoroughly fictitious and illegitimate was this Theodoric's claim to kinship; since assuredly neither Alaric, nor Ataulfus, nor Theudemir, nor any of the genuine kings of the Goths, ever needed to bolster up their authority over their subjects by any such figment of an Imperial concession; and on the other hand, as it coincides in date with the time of Theudemir's and his Theodoric's entrance into the Empire, it shows us the distracting influences to which the large number of Gothic settlers south of the Danube, settled there before Theudemir's migration, were exposed by that event. There can be little doubt that the Goths who were minded to revolt from the son of Triarius and who were not to be received into favour by the Emperor, were Ostrogoths, still dimly conscious of the old tie which bound them to the glorious house of Amala, and more than half disposed to forsake the service of their squinting upstart chief in order to follow the banners of the young hero, son of Theudemir.
[Footnote 37: Magister Equitum et Peditum Praesentalis.]
[Footnote 38: (Greek: autocrator.)]
Then came the death of Leo (478), Zeno's accession and the insurrection of Basiliscus, in which the son of Triarius took part against the Isaurian Emperor. Soon after this insurrection was ended and Zeno was restored to his precarious throne, there came an embassy from the foederati (as they called themselves) that is, from the unattached Goths who followed the Triarian standard, begging Zeno to be reconciled to their lord, and hinting that he was a truer friend to the Empire than the petted and pampered son of Theudemir. After a consultation with "the Senate and People of Rome", in other words, with the nobles of Constantinople and the troops of the household, Zeno decided that to take both the Theodorics into his pay would be too heavy a charge on the treasury; that there was no reason for breaking with the young Amal, his ally, and therefore that the request of his rival must be refused. Open war followed, consisting chiefly of devastating raids by the son of Triarius into the valleys of Moesia and Thrace. A message was sent to Theodoric the Amal, who was dwelling quietly with his people by the Danube. "Why are you lingering in your home? Come forth and do great deeds worthy of a Master of Roman Soldiery". "But if I take the field against the son of Triarius", was the answer, "I fear that you will make peace with him behind my back". The Emperor and Senate bound themselves by solemn oaths that he should never be received back into favour, and an elaborate plan of campaign was arranged, according to which the Amal marching with his host from Marcianople, (Shumla) was to be met by one general with twelve thousand troops, on the southern side of the Balkans, and by another with thirty thousand in the valley of the Hebrus (Maritza).
But the Roman Empire, in its feeble and flaccid old age, seemed to have lost all capacity for making war. Theodoric the Amal performed his share of the compact; but when with his weary army, encumbered with many women and children, he emerged from the passes of the Balkans he found no Imperial generals there to meet him, but, instead, Theodoric the Squinter with a large army of Goths encamped on an inaccessible hill. Neither chief gave the signal for combat; perhaps both were restrained by a reluctance to urge the fratricidal strife; but there were daily skirmishes between the light-armed horsemen at the foraging grounds and places for watering. Every day, too, the son of Triarius rode round the hostile camp, shouting forth reproaches against his rival, calling him "a perjured boy, a madman, a traitor to his race, a fool who could not see whither the Imperial plans were tending. The Romans would stand by and look quietly on while Goth wore out Goth in deadly strife". Murmurs from the Amal's troops showed that these words struck home. Next day the son of Triarius climbed a hill overlooking the camp, and again raised his voice in bitter defiance. "Scoundrel! why are you leading so many of my kinsmen to destruction? why have you made so many Gothic wives widows? What has become of that wealth and plenty which they had when they first took service with you? Then they had two or three horses apiece; now without horses and in the guise of slaves, they are wandering on foot through Thrace. But they are free-born men surely, aye, as free-born as you are, and they once measured out the gold coins of Byzantium with a bushel". When the host heard these words, all, both men and women, went to their leader Theodoric the Amal, and claimed from him with tumultuous cries that he should come to an accommodation with the son of Tnarius. The proposal must have been hateful to the Amal. To throw away the laboriously earned favour of the Emperor, to denude himself of the splendid dignity of Master of the Soldiery, to leave the comfortable home-like fabric of Imperial civilisation and go out again into the barbarian wilderness with this insolent namesake who had just been denouncing him as a perjured boy: all this was gall and wormwood to the spirit of Theodoric. But he knew the conditions under which he held his sovereignty—"king", as a recent French monarch expressed it, "by the grace of God and the will of the people", and he did not attempt to strive against the decision of his tumultuary parliament. He met his elderly competitor, each standing on the opposite bank of a disparting stream, and after speech had, they agreed that they would wage no more war on one another but would make common cause against Byzantium.
The now confederated Theodorics sent an embassy to Zeno, bearing their common demands for territory, stipendia and rations for their followers, and, in the case of Theodoric the Amal, charged with bitter complaints of the desertion which had exposed him to such dangers. The Emperor replied with an accusation (which appears to have been wholly unfounded) that Theodoric himself had meditated treachery, and that this was the reason why the Roman generals had feared to join their forces to his. Still the Emperor was willing to receive him again into favour if he would relinquish his alliance with the son of Triarius, and in order to lure him back the ambassadors were to offer him 1,000 pounds' weight of gold (L40,000), 10,000 of silver (L35,000), a yearly revenue of 10,000 aurei (L6,000), and the daughter of Olybrius, one of the noblest-born damsels of Byzantium, for his wife. But the Amal king, having stooped so low as to make an alliance with the son of Triarius, was not going to stoop lower by breaking it. The ambassadors returned to Constantinople with their purpose unaccomplished, and Zeno began seriously to prepare for the apparently inevitable war with all the Gothic foederati in his land, commanded by both the Theodorics. He summoned to the capital all the troops whom he could muster, and delivered to them a spirited oration, in which he exhorted them to be of good courage, declaring that he himself would go forth with them to war, and would share all their hardships and dangers. For nearly a hundred years, ever since the time of the great Theodosius, no Eastern Emperor apparently had conducted a campaign in person; and the announcement that this inactivity was to be ended and that a Roman Imperator was again, like the Imperators of old time, to march with the legions and to withstand the shock of battle, roused the soldiers to extraordinary enthusiasm. The very men who, a little while before, had been bribing the officers to procure exemption from service, now offered larger sums of money in order to obtain an opportunity of distinguishing themselves under the eyes of the Emperor. They pressed forward past the long wall which at about sixty miles from Constantinople crossed the narrow peninsula and defended the capital of the Empire; they caught some of the forerunners of the Gothic host, the Uhlans, if we may call them so, of Theodoric: everything foreboded an encounter, more serious and perhaps more triumphant than any that had been seen since the days of Theodosius. Then, as in a moment, all was changed. Zeno's old spirit of sloth and cowardice returned. He would not undergo the fatigue of the long marches through Thrace, he would not look upon the battle-field, the very pictures of which he found so terrible; it was publicly announced that the Emperor would not go forth to war. The soldiers, enraged, began to gather in angry groups, rebuking one another for their over-patience in submitting to be ruled by such a coward. "How? Are we men, and have we swords in our hands, and shall we any longer bear with such disgraceful effeminacy, by which the might of this great Empire is sapped, so that every barbarian who chooses may carve out a slice from it?"
These clamours were rapidly growing seditious, and in a few days an anti-Emperor would probably have been proclaimed; but Zeno, more afraid of his soldiers than even of the Goths, adroitly moved them into their widely-scattered winter-quarters, leaving the invaded provinces to take care of themselves for a little time, while he tried by his own natural weapons of bribery and intrigue to detach the other and older Theodoric from the new confederacy.
On this path he met with unmerited success. The son of Triarius, who had lately been uttering such noble sentiments about Gothic kinship, and the folly of Gothic warriors playing into the hands of their hereditary enemies, the crafty courtiers of Constantinople, soon came to terms with the Emperor, and on receiving the command of two brigades of household troops,(Scholse) his restoration to all the dignities which he had held under Basiliscus, the military office which his rival had forfeited, and rations and allowances for 13,000 of his followers, broke his alliance with Theodoric the Amal, and entered the service of the Emperor of New Rome.
Theodoric the Amal, who was now in his own despite (479) an outlaw from the Roman State, burst in fierce wrath into Macedonia, into the region where he and his people had been first quartered five years before. Again he marched down the valley of the Vardar, he took Stobi, putting its garrison to the sword, and threatened the great city of Thessalonica. The citizens, fearing that Zeno would abandon them to the barbarians, broke out into open sedition, threw down the statues of the Emperor, took the keys of the city from the Prefect and entrusted them to the safer keeping of their Bishop. Zeno sent ambassadors reproaching the Amal for his ungrateful requital of the unexampled favours and dignities which had been conferred upon him, and inviting him to return to his old fidelity. Theodoric showed himself not unwilling to treat, sent ambassadors to Constantinople, and ordered his troops to refrain from murder and conflagration, and to take only the absolute necessaries of life from the provincials. He then quitted the precincts of Thessalonica and moved westwards to the city of Heraclea (Monastir), which lies at the foot of the great mountain range that separates Macedonia from Epirus. While talking of peace he was already meditating a new and brilliant stroke of strategy, but he was for some time hindered from accomplishing it by the illness of his sister, who, perhaps fatigued by the hardships of the march, had fallen sick in the camp before Heraclea. This time of enforced delay was occupied by negotiations with the Emperor. But the Emperor had really nothing to offer worth the Ostrogoth's acceptance. A settlement on the Pantalian plain, a bleak upland among the Balkans, about forty miles south of Sardica (Sofia), and a payment of two hundred pounds' weight of gold (L8,000) as subsistence-money for the people till they should have had time to till the land and reap their first harvest, this was all that Zeno offered to the chief, who already in imagination saw the rich cities of the Adriatic lying defenceless at his feet. For during this time of inaction the Amal had opened communications with a Gothic landowner, named Sigismund, who dwelt near Dyrrhachium (Durazzo), and was a man of influence in the province of Epirus; and Sigismund, though nominally a loyal subject of the Emperor, was doing his best to sow fear and discouragement in the hearts of the citizens of Dyrrhachium and to prepare the way for the advent of his countrymen.
At length the Gothic princess died, and her brother, the Amal, having vainly sought to put Heraclea to ransom (the citizens had retired to a strong fortress which commanded it), burned the deserted city, a deed more worthy of a barbarian than of one bred up in the Roman Commonwealth. Then with all his nation-army he started off upon the great Egnatian Way, which, threading the rough passes of Mount Scardus, leads from Macedonia to Epirus, from the shores of the AEgean to the shores of the Adriatic. His light horsemen went first to reconnoitre the path; then followed Theodoric himself with the first division of his army. Soas, his second in command, ordered the movements of the middle host; last of all came the rear-guard, commanded by Theodoric's brother, Theudimund, and protecting the march of the women, the cattle, and the waggons. It was a striking proof both of their leader's audacity and of his knowledge of the decay of martial spirit among the various garrisons that lined the Egnatian Way, that he should have ventured with such a train into such a perilous country, where at every turn were narrow defiles which a few brave men might have held against an army.
The Amal and his host passed safely through the defiles of Scardus and reached the fortress of Lychnidus overlooking a lake now known as Lake Ochrida. Here Theodoric met with his first repulse. The fortress was immensely strong by nature, was well stored with corn, and had springing fountains of its own, and the garrison were therefore not to be frightened into surrender. Accordingly, leaving the fortress untaken, Theodoric with his two first divisions pushed rapidly across the second and lower range, the Candavian Mountains, leaving Theudimund with the waggons and the women to follow more slowly. In this arrangement there was probably an error of judgment which Theodoric had occasion bitterly to regret. For the moment, however, he was completely successful. Descending into the plain he took the towns of Scampae (Elbassan) and Dyrrhachium (Durazzo), both of which, probably owing to the discouraging counsels of Sigismund, seem to have been abandoned by their inhabitants.
Great was the consternation at Edessa (a town about thirty miles west of Thessalonica and the headquarters of the Imperial troops) when the news of this unexpected march of Theodoric across the mountains was brought into the camp. Not only the general-in-chief, Sabinianus, was quartered there, but also a certain Adamantius, an official of the highest rank, who had been charged by Zeno with the conduct of the negotiations with Theodoric, and whose whole soul seems to have been set on the success of his mission. He contrived to communicate with Theodoric, and advanced with Sabinianus through the mountains as far as Lychnidus in order to conduct the discussion at closer quarters. Propositions passed backwards and forwards as to the terms upon which a meeting could be arranged. Theodoric sent a Gothic priest; Adamantius in reply offered to come in person to Dyrrhachium if Soas and another Gothic noble were sent as hostages for his safe return. Theodoric was willing to send the hostages if Sabinianus would swear that they should return in safety. This, however, for some reason or other, the general surlily and stubbornly refused to do, and Adamantius saw the earnestly desired interview fading away into impossibility. At length, with courageous self-devotion, he succeeded in finding a by-path across the mountains, which brought him to a fort, situated on a hill and strengthened by a deep ditch, in sight of Dyrrhachium. From thence he sent messengers to Theodoric earnestly soliciting a conference; and the Amal, leaving his army in the plain, rode with a few horsemen to the banks of the stream which separated him from Adamantius' stronghold. Adamantius, too, to guard against a surprise, placed his little band of soldiers in a circle round the hill, and then descended to the stream, and with none to listen to their speech, commenced the long-desired colloquy. How Adamantius may have opened his case we are not informed, but the Ostrogoth's reply is worth quoting word for word: "It was my choice to live altogether out of Thrace, far away towards Scythia, where I should disturb no one by my presence, and yet should be ready to go forth thence to do the Emperor's bidding. But you having called me forth, as if for war against the son of Tnarius, first of all promised that the General of Thrace should immediately join me with his forces (he never appeared); and then that Claudius, the Steward of the Goth-money, should meet me with the pay of the mercenaries (him I never saw); and thirdly, you gave me guides for my journey, but what sort of guides? Men who, leaving untrodden all the easier roads into the enemy's country, led me by a steep path and along the sharp edges of cliffs, where, had the enemy attacked us, travelling as we were bound to do with horsemen and waggons and all the lumber of our camp, it had been a marvel if I and all my folk had not been utterly destroyed. Hence I was forced to make such terms as I could with the foes, and in fact I owe them many thanks that, when you had betrayed and they might have consumed me, they nevertheless spared my life".
[Footnote 39: (Greek: Ton tou Gothicu tamian.) Probably the Gothicum was a fund set apart for subsidising the Goths]
Adamantius went over the old story about the great benefits which the Emperor had bestowed on Theodoric, the Patriciate, the Mastership, the rich presents, and all the other evidences of his fatherly regard. He attempted to answer the charges brought by Theodoric, but in this even the Greek historian who records the dialogue thinks that he failed. With more show of reason he complained of the march across the mountains and the dash into Epirus, while negotiations were proceeding with Constantinople. He recommended him to make peace with the Empire while it was in his power, and assuring him that he would never be allowed to lord it over the great cities of Epirus nor to banish their citizens from thence to make room for his people, again pressed him to accept the Emperor's offer of "Dardania" (the Pantalian plain), "where there was abundance of land, beside that which was already inhabited, a fair and fertile territory lacking cultivators, which his people could till, so providing themselves in abundance with all the necessaries of life".
[Footnote 40: Malchus of Philadelphia.]
Theodoric refused with an oath to take his toil-worn people who had served him so faithfully, at that time of year (it was now perhaps autumn) into Dardania. No! they must all remain in Epirus for the winter; then if they could agree upon the rest of the terms he might be willing in spring to follow a guide sent by the Emperor to lead them to their new abode. But more than this, he was ready to deposit his baggage and all his unwarlike folk in any city which the Emperor might appoint, to give his mother and his sister as hostages for his entire fidelity, and then to advance at once with ten thousand of his bravest warriors into Thrace, as the Emperor's ally. With these men and the Imperial armies now stationed in the Illyrian provinces, he would undertake to sweep Thrace clear of all the Goths who followed the son of Triarius. Only he stipulated that in that case he should be clothed with his old dignity of Master of the Soldiery, which had been taken from him and bestowed on his rival, and that he should be received into the Commonwealth and allowed to live—as he evidently yearned to live—as a Roman citizen.
Adamantius replied that he was not empowered to treat on such terms while Theodoric remained in Epirus, but he would refer his proposal to the Emperor, and with this understanding they parted one from the other.
Meanwhile, important, and for the Goths disastrous, events had been taking place in the Candavian mountains. Over these the rear-guard of Theodoric's army, with the waggons and the baggage, had been slowly making its way, in a security which was no doubt chiefly caused by the facility of the previous marches, but to which the knowledge of the negotiations going forward between King and Emperor may partly have contributed. In any case, security was certainly insecure with such a fort as Lychnidus untaken in their rear. The garrison of that fort had been reinforced by many cohorts of the regular army who had flocked thither at the general's signal, and with these Sabinianus prepared a formidable ambuscade. He sent a considerable number of infantry round by unfrequented paths over the mountains, and ordered them to take up a commanding but concealed position, and to rush forth from thence at a given signal. He himself started with his cavalry from Lychnidus at nightfall, and rode rapidly along the Egnatian Way. At dawn the pursuing horsemen attacked the Goths, who were just descending the last mountain slopes into the plain. Theudimund, with his mother, was riding near the head of the long line of march. Too anxious perhaps for her safety, and fearing to meet the reproachful looks of Theodoric if aught of harm happened to her, he hurried her across the last bridge, spanning a deep defile, which intervened between the mountains and the plain, and then broke down the bridge behind him to prevent pursuit. Pursuit was indeed rendered impossible, and the mother of Theodoric was saved, but at what a cost! The Goths turned back to fight, with the courage of despair, the pursuing cavalry. At that moment the infantry in ambush, having received the signal, began to attack them from the rocks above. The position was a terrible one, and many brave men fell in the hopeless battle. Quarter, however, was given by the Imperial soldiers, for we are told that more than five thousand of the Goths were taken prisoners. The booty was large; and all the waggons of the barbarians, two thousand in number, were of course captured, but the soldiers, misliking the toil of dragging them back over all those jagged passes to Lychnidus, burned them there as they stood upon the Candavian mountains.
I have copied with some minuteness the account given us by the Greek historian of this mountain march of Theodoric, because it brings before us with more than usual vividness the conditions under which the campaigns of the barbarians were conducted. It will have been noticed that the Gothic army is not only an army but a nation, and that the campaign is also a migration. The mother and the sister of Theodoric are accompanying him. There is evidently a long train of non-combatants, old men, women, and children, following the army in those two thousand Gothic waggons. The character attributed by Horace to the
Campestres Scythae, Quorum plaustra vagas rite trahunt domos
"The waggon holds the Scythian's wandering home".
The Goth, a terrible enemy to those outside the pale of his kinship, is a home-lover at heart, and even in war will not separate himself from his wife and children. This makes his impact slow, his campaigns unscientific. It prepares for him frequent defeats, such as that of the Candavian mountains, which a celibate army would have avoided. But it makes his conquests, when he does conquer, more enduring, while it explains those perpetual demands for land, for a settlement within the Empire, almost on any terms, with which, as was before shown, the barbarian inroads so often close. We need not follow the tedious story of the negotiations with Adamantius, which were interrupted by this sudden success of the Imperial arms. In fact at this point our best authority, who has been unusually full and graphic for the events of 478 and 479, suddenly fails us, and we have scarcely anything but dry and scanty annalistic notices for the next nine years of the life of Theodoric. He seems not to have maintained his footing in Epirus, but to have returned to the neighbourhood of the Danube, where he fought and conquered the king of the Bulgarians, a fresh horde of barbarians who at this time made their first appearance in "the Balkan peninsula" Whether the much desired reconciliation with the Empire took place we know not. It seems probable that this may have been the case, as in the year 481 we find his rival, the other Theodoric, in opposition, and planning an invasion of Greece. But the career of the son of Triarius was about to come to an untimely close. Marching westwards, he had reached a station on the Egnatian Way, near the frontiers of Thrace and Macedonia, called "The Stables of Diomed", and there pitched his camp. One morning he would fain mount his horse for a gallop across the plain, but before he was securely seated in the saddle the horse reared. The rider, afraid to grasp the bridle firmly lest he should pull the creature over upon him, clung tightly to his seat, but could not guide the horse, which, in its dancing and prancing, came sidling past the door of the tent. There was hanging, in barbarian fashion, a spear fastened by a thong. The horse shied up against the spear, whose point gored his master's side. He was not killed on the spot, but died soon after of the wound. After some domestic dissensions and bloodshed, the leadership of his band passed to his son Recitach, apparently a hot-tempered and tyrannical youth.
[Footnote 41: Malchus of Philadelphia, from whose history certain "Extracts concerning Embassies" were made by order of the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogemtus.]
Three years after his father's death (484), Recitach, now an enemy of the Empire, was put to death by Theodoric the Amal, acting under the orders of Zeno. The band of Triarian Goths, thirty thousand fighting men in number, was joined to the army of Theodoric, an important addition to his power, but also to his cares, to the ever-present difficulty of finding food for his followers.
(481-487) Backwards and forwards between peace and war with the Empire, Theodoric wavered during the six years which followed his rival's death. The settlement of his people at this time seems to have been on the southern shore of the Danube, in part of the countries now known as Servia and Wallachia, with Novae (Sistova) for his headquarters. One year (482) he is making a raid into Macedonia and Thessaly and plundering Larissa. The next (483) he is again clothed with his old dignity of Master of the Soldiery and keeps his Goths rigidly within their allotted limits. The next (484) he is actually raised to the Consulate, an office which, though devoid of power, is still so radiant with the glory of the illustrious men who have held it for near a thousand years, from the days of Brutus and Collatinus, that Emperors covet the possession of it and the mightiest barbarian chiefs in their service long for no higher reward.
Two years after this (486) he is again in rebellion, ravaging Thrace; the next year (487) he has broken through the Long Walls and penetrates within fourteen miles of Constantinople. In all this wearisome period of Theodoric's life his action seems to be merely destructive; there is nothing constructive, no fruitful or fertilising thought to be found in it. Had this been a fair sample of his life, there could be no reason why he should not sink into the oblivion which covers so many forgotten freebooters. But in 488 a change came over the spirit of his dream. A plan was agreed upon between him and the Emperor (by which of them it was first suggested we cannot now say) for the employment of all this wasted and destructive force in another field, where its energies might accomplish some result beneficent and enduring.
That new field was Italy, and in order to understand the conditions of the problem which there awaited Theodoric, we must briefly recount the chief events which had happened in that peninsula since Attila departed from untaken Rome in compliance with the petition of Pope Leo.
ITALY UNDER ODOVACAR.
Condition of Italy—End of the line of Theodosius—Ricimer the Patrician—Struggles with the Vandals—Orestes the Patrician makes his son Emperor, who is called Augustulus—The fall of the Western Empire and elevation of Odovacar—Embassies to Constantinople.
In former chapters I have very briefly sketched the fortunes of the Italian peninsula during two great barbarian invasions—that of Alaric (407-410) and that of Attila (452). The monarch who ruled the Western Empire at the date of the last invasion was Valentinian III., grandson of the great Theodosius. He dwelt sometimes at Rome, sometimes at Ravenna, which latter city, protected by the waves of the Adriatic and by the innumerable canals and pools through which the waters of two rivers  flowed lazily to the sea, was all but impregnable by the barbarians. A selfish and indolent voluptuary, Valentinian III. made no valuable contribution to the defence of the menaced Empire, some stones of which were being shaken down every year by the tremendous blows of the Teutonic invaders. Any wisdom that might be shown in the councils of the State was due to his mother, Galla Placidia, who, till her death in 451, was the real ruler of the Empire. Any strength and valour that was displayed in its defence was due to the great minister and general, Aetius, a man who had himself, probably, many drops of barbarian blood in his veins, though he has been not unfitly styled "the last of the Romans". It was Aetius who, as we have seen, in concert with the Visigothic king, fought the fight of civilisation against Hunnish barbarism on the Catalaunian battle-plain. It was to "Aetius, thrice Consul", that "the groans of the Britons" were addressed when "the Barbarians drove them to the sea, and the sea drove them back on the Barbarians".
[Footnote 42: The Ronco and the Montone.]
When Attila was dead, the weak and worthless Emperor seems to have thought that he might safely dispense with the services of this too powerful subject. Inviting Aetius to his palace, he debated with him a scheme for the marriage of their children (the son of the general was to wed the daughter of the Emperor), and when the debate grew warm, with calculated passion he snatched a sword from one of his guardsmen, and with it pierced the body of Aetius. The bloody work was finished by the courtiers standing by, and the most eminent of the friends and counsellors of the deceased statesman were murdered at the same time.
The foul assassination of this great defender of the Roman State was requited next year by two barbarians of his train, men who no doubt cherished for Aetius the same feelings of personal loyalty which bound the members of a Teutonic "Comitatus" to their chief, and who deemed life a dishonour while their leader's blood remained unavenged. On a day in March, while Valentinian was watching intently the games in the Campus Martius of Rome, these two barbarians rushed upon him and stabbed him, slaying at the same time the eunuch, who had been his chief confederate in the murder of Aetius.
With Valentinian III. the line of Theodosius, which had swayed the Roman sceptre for eighty-six years, came to an end. None of the men who after him bore the great title of Augustus in Rome (I am speaking, of course, of the fifth century only) succeeded in founding a dynasty. Not only was no one of them followed by a son: scarcely one of them was suffered to end his own reign in peace. Of the nine Emperors who wore the purple in Italy after the death of Valentinian, only two ended their reigns in the course of nature, four were deposed, and three met their death by violence. Only one reigned for more than five years; several could only measure the duration of their royalty by months. Even the short period (455-476) which these nine reigns occupy is not entirely filled by them, for there were frequent interregna, one lasting for a year and eight months. And the men were as feeble as their kingly life was short and precarious. With the single exception of Majorian, (457-461), a brave and strong man, and one who, if fair play had been given him, would have assuredly done something to stay the ruin of the Empire, all of these nine men (with whose names there is no need to burden the reader's memory) are fitly named by a German historian "the Shadow Emperors".
During sixteen years of this time (456-472), supreme power in the Empire was virtually wielded by a nobleman of barbarian origin, but naturalised in the Roman State, the proud and stern "Patrician" Ricimer. This man, descended from the chiefs of the Suevi, grandson of a Visigothic king, and brother-in-law of a king of the Burgundians, was doubtless able to bring much barbaric influence to support the cause which, from whatever motives, he had espoused,—the cause of the defence of that which was left to Rome of her Empire in the West of Europe.
[Footnote: 43 widely spread German nation, the largest fragment of which was at this time settled in the west of Spain and in Portugal.]
Many Teutonic tribes had by this time settled themselves in the Imperial lands. Spain was quite lost to the Empire: some fragments of Gaul were still bound to it by a most precarious tie; but the loss which threatened the life of the State most nearly was the loss of Africa. For this province, the capital of which was the restored and Romanised city of Carthage, had been for generations the chief exporter of corn to feed the pauperised population of Rome, and here now dwelt and ruled, and from hence (428-432) sallied forth to his piratical raids against Italy, the deadliest enemy of the Roman name, the king of the Vandals, Gaiseric. The Vandal conquest of Africa was, at the time which we have now reached, a somewhat old story, nearly a generation having elapsed since it occurred, but the Vandal sack of Rome, which came to pass immediately after the death of Valentinian III., and which marked the beginning of the period of the "Shadow Emperors" was still near and terrible to the memories of men. No Roman but remembered in bitterness of soul how in June, 455, the long ships of the Vandals appeared at the mouth of the Tiber, how Gaiseric and his men landed, marched to the Eternal City, and entered it unopposed, how they remained there for a fortnight, not perhaps slaying or ravishing, but with calm insolence plundering the city of all that they cared to carry away, stripping off what they supposed to be the golden roof of the Capitol, removing the statues from their pedestals, transporting everything that seemed beautiful or costly, and stowing away all their spoils in the holds of those insatiable vessels of theirs which lay at anchor at Ostia.
[Footnote 44: Commonly but incorrectly called Genseric. The form used above, which is that found in nearly all contemporary historians, is now almost universally employed by German scholars.]
[Footnote 45: The capture of Carthage, which completed the conquest, did not take place till 439.]
The remembrance of this humiliating capture and the fear that it might at any moment be repeated, probably with circumstances of greater atrocity, were the dominant emotions in the hearts of the Roman Senate and people during the twenty-one years which we are now rapidly surveying. It was doubtless these feelings which induced them to submit more patiently than they would otherwise have done to the scarcely veiled autocracy of an imperfectly Romanised Teuton such as Ricimer. He was a barbarian, it was true; probably he could not even speak Latin grammatically; but he was mighty with the barbarian kings, mighty with the foederati the rough soldiers gathered from every German tribe on the other side of the Alps, who now formed the bulk of the Imperial army; let him be as arrogant as he would to the Senate, let him set up and pull down one "Shadow Emperor" after another, if only he would keep the streets of Rome from being again profaned by the tread of the terrible Vandal.
(456-468) To a certain extent the confidence reposed in Ricimer was not misplaced. He inflicted a severe defeat on the Vandals in a naval engagement near the island of Corsica; he raised to the throne the young and valiant Majorian, who repelled a Vandal invasion of Campania; he planned, in conjunction with the Eastern Emperor, a great expedition against Carthage, which failed through no fault of his, but by the bad generalship of Basiliscus, whose brother-in-law, Leo, had appointed him to the command. But the rule of a barbarian like Ricimer exercised on the sacred soil of Italy, and the brutal arrogance with which he dashed down one of his puppet-Emperors after another when they had served his purpose, must have done much to break the spirit of the Roman nobles and the Roman commonalty, and to prepare the way for the Teutonic revolution which occurred soon after his death. Above all, we have reason to think that, during the whole time of Ricimer's ascendancy, the barbarian foederati were becoming more absolutely dominant in the Roman army, and with waxing numbers were growing more insolent in their demeanour, and more intolerable In their demands.
The ranks of the foederati were at this time recruited, not from one of the great historic nationalities—Visigoth, Ostrogoth, Frank, or Burgundian,—but chiefly from a number of petty tribes, known as the Rugii, Scyri, Heruli, and Turcilingi, who have failed to make any enduring mark in history. These tribes, which upon the break-up of Attila's Empire had established themselves on the shore of the Middle Danube, north and west of the lands occupied by the Ostrogoths, were continually sending their young warriors over the passes of Noricum (Salzburg, Styria, and Carinthia) to seek their fortune in Italy. One of these recruits, on his southward journey, stepped into the cave of a holy hermit named Severinus, and stooping his lofty stature in the lowly cell, asked the saint's blessing. When the blessing was given, the youth said: "Farewell". "Not farewell, but fare forward", answered Severinus. "Onward into Italy: skin-clothed now, but destined before long to enrich many men with costly gifts". The name of this young recruit was Odovacar.
[Footnote 46: "Vale". "Vade".]
[Footnote 47: This is the form of the name used by contemporary historians; Odoacer is a later and less authentic form.]
Odovacar probably entered Italy about 465. He attached himself to the party of Ricimer, and before long became a conspicuous captain of foederati After the death of Ricimer (18th August, 472), there was a series of rapid revolutions in the Roman State. Olybrius, the then reigning nonentity, died in October of the same year.
(June, 474) After five months' interregnum, a yet more shadowy shadow, Glycerius, succeeded him, and after fifteen months of rule was thrust from the throne by Julius Nepos, who had married the niece of Verina, the mischief-making Augusta of the East, and who was, therefore, supported by all the moral influence of Constantinople.
Nepos, after fourteen months of Empire, in which he distinguished himself only by the loss of some (Oct.,475) Gaulish provinces to the Visigoths, was in his turn dethroned by the Master of the Soldiery, Orestes, who had once held a subordinate situation in the court of Attila. Nepos fled to Dalmatia, which was probably his native land, and lived there for four years after his dethronement, still keeping up some at least of the state which belonged to a Roman Emperor.
We know very little of the pretexts for these rapid revolutions, or the circumstances attending them, but there cannot be much doubt that the army was the chief agent in what, to borrow a phrase from modern Spanish politics, were a series of pronunciamentos. For some reason which is dim to us, Orestes, though a full-blooded Roman citizen, did not set the diadem on his own head, but placed it on that of his son, a handsome boy of some fourteen or fifteen years, named Romulus, and nicknamed "the little Augustus". For himself, he took the dignity of "Patrician", which had been so long worn by Ricimer, and was associated in men's minds with the practical mastery of the Empire. But a ruler who has been raised to the throne by military sedition soon finds that the authors of his elevation are the most exacting of masters. The foederati, who knew themselves now absolute arbiters of the destiny of the Empire, and who had the same craving for a settlement within its borders which we have met with more than once among the followers of Theodoric, presented themselves before the Patrician Orestes, and demanded that one-third of the lands of Italy should be assigned to them as a perpetual inheritance. This was more than Orestes dared to grant, and, on his refusal, Odovacar said to the mercenaries: "Make me king and I will obtain for you your desire".
(23d Aug., 476) The offer was accepted; Odovacar was lifted high on a shield by the arms of stalwart barbarians, and saluted as king by their unanimous acclamations.
When the foederati were gathered out of the "Roman" army, there seems to have been nothing left that was capable of making any real defence of the Empire. The campaign, if such it may be called, between Odovacar and Orestes was of the shortest and most perfunctory kind. Ticinum (Pavia), in which Orestes had taken refuge, was taken, sacked, and partly burnt by the barbarians. The Master of the Soldiery himself fled to Placentia, but was there taken prisoner and beheaded, only five days after the elevation of Odovacar. A week later his brother Paulus, who had not men enough to hold even the strong city of Ravenna, was taken prisoner, and slain in the great pine-forest outside that city. At Ravenna the young puppet-Emperor, Romulus, was also taken prisoner. The barbarian showed himself more merciful, perhaps also more contemptuous, towards his boy-rival than was the custom of the Emperors of Rome and Constantinople towards the sons of their competitors. Odovacar, who pitied the tender years of Augustulus, and looked with admiration on his beautiful countenance, spared his life and assigned to him for a residence the palace and gardens of Lucullus, the conqueror of Mithridates, who five and a half centuries before had prepared for himself this beautiful home (the Lucullanum) in the very heart of the lovely Bay of Naples. The building and the fortifying of a great commercial city have utterly altered the whole aspect of the bay, but in the long egg-shaped peninsula, on which stands to-day the Castel dell' Ovo, we can still see the outlines of the famous Lucullanum, in which the last Roman Emperor of Rome ended his inglorious days. His conqueror generously allowed him a pension of L3,600 per annum, but for how long this pension continued to be a charge on the revenues of the new kingdom we are unable to say. There is one doubtful indication of his having survived his abdication by about thirty years, but clear historical notices of his subsequent life and of the date of his death are denied us; a striking proof of the absolute nullity of his character.
[Footnote 48: I allude here to a letter in the Vanarum of Cassiodorus (iii., 35), written between 504 and 525, and addressed to Romulus and his mother. But we can by no means prove that this is Romulus Augustulus.]
This then was the event which stands out in the history of Europe as the "Fall of the Western Empire" The reader will perceive that it was no great and terrible invasion of a conquering host like the Fall of the Eastern Empire in 1453; no sudden overthrow of a national polity like the Norman Conquest of 1066; not even a bloody overturning of the existing order by demagogic force like the French Revolution of 1792. It was but the continuance of a process which had been going forward more or less manifestly for nearly a century,—the recognition of the fact that the foederati, the so-called barbarian mercenaries of Rome, were really her masters. If we had to seek a parallel for the event of 476, we should find it rather in the deposition of the last Mogul Emperor at Delhi, and the public assumption by the British Queen of the "Raj" over the greater part of India, than in any of the other events to which we have alluded.
Reflecting on this fact, and seeing that the Roman Empire still lived on in the East for nearly a thousand years, that the Eastern Caesar never for many generations reliquished his claim to be considered the legitimate ruler of the Old Rome, as well as of the New, and sometimes asserted that claim in a very real and effective manner, and considering too that Charles the Great, when he (in modern phrase) "restored the Western Empire" in 800, never professed to be the successor of Romulus Augustulus, but of Constantine VI., the then recently deposed Emperor of the East; the latest school of historical investigators, with scarcely an exception, minimise the importance of the event of 476, and some even object to the expression "Fall of the Western Empire" as fitly describing it. The protest is a sound one and was greatly needed. Perhaps now the danger is in the other direction, and there is a risk of our making too little of an event in which after all the sceptre did manifestly depart from Rome. During the whole interval between Odovacar's accession and Belisarius' occupation of Rome (476-536), no Roman, however proud or patriotic, could blind himself to the fact that a man of barbarian blood was the real, and in a certain sense the supreme, ruler of his country. Ricimer might be looked upon as an eminent servant of the Emperor who had the misfortune to be of barbarian birth. Odovacar and Theodoric were, without all contradiction, kings; if not "kings of Italy", at any rate "kings in Italy", sometimes actually making war on the Caesar of Byzantium, and not caring, when they did so, to set up the phantom of a rival Emperor in order to legitimise their opposition. But in a matter so greatly debated as this it will be safer not to use our own or any modern words, This is how Count Marcellinus, an official of the Eastern Empire, writing his annals about fifty-eight years after the deposition of Romulus, describes the event: "Odovacar killed Orestes and condemned his son Augustulus to the punishment of exile in the Lucullanum, a castle of Campania. The Hesperian (Western) Empire of the Roman people, which Octavianus Augustus first of the Augusti began to hold in the 709th year of the building of the city (B.C. 44), perished with this Augustulus in the 522d year of his predecessors (A.D. 476), the kings of the Goths thenceforward holding both Rome and Italy".
[Footnote 49: "Orestem Odoacer llico trucidavit, Augustulum filium Orestis Odoacer in Lucullano Campania castello exilii poena damnavit. Hesperium Romana gentis imperium, quod septingentesimo nono urbis condita anno primus Augustorum Octavianus Augustus tenere coepit, cum hoc Augustulo periit, anno decessorum regni Imperatorum DXXII. Gothorum dehinc regibus Romam tenentibus". It will be seen that there is an error of two years in the calculation.]
Of the details of Odovacar's rule in Italy we know very little. Of course the foederati had their will, at any rate in some measure, with reference to the assignment of land in Italy, but no historian has told us anything as to the social disorganisation which such a redistribution of property must have produced. There are some indications that it was not thoroughly carried into effect, at any rate in the South of Italy, and that the settlements of the foederati were chiefly in the valley of the Po, and in the districts since known as the Romagna.
The old Imperial machinery of government was taken over by the new ruler, and in all outward appearance things probably went on under King Odovacar much as they had done under Count Ricimer. No great act of cruelty or oppression stains the memory of Odovacar. He lost Provence to the Visigoths, but, on the other hand, he by judicious diplomacy recovered Sicily from the Vandals. Altogether it is probable that Italy was, at any rate, not more miserable under the sway of this barbarian king than she had been at any time since Alaric's invasion, in 408, proclaimed her helplessness to the world.
One piece of solemn comedy is worth relating, namely, the embassies despatched to Constantinople by the rival claimants to the dominion of Italy. It was probably towards the end of 477, or early in 478, that Zeno, then recently returned from exile after the usurpation of Basiliscus, received two embassies from two deposed Emperors of the West. First of all came the ambassadors of Augustulus, or rather of the Roman Senate, sent nominally by the orders of Augustulus, really by those of Odovacar. These men, great Roman nobles, represented "that they did not need an Emperor of their own. One absolute ruler was sufficient to guard both East and West; but they had, moreover, chosen Odovacar, who was well able to protect their interests, being a man wise in counsel and brave in war. They therefore prayed the Emperor to bestow on him the dignity of Patrician, and to entrust to him the administration of the affairs of Italy". At the same time (apparently) they brought the ornaments of the Imperial dignity, the diadem, the purple robe, the jewelled buskins, which had been worn by all the "Shadow Emperors" who flitted across the stage, and requested that they might be laid up in the Imperial palace at Constantinople.
Simultaneously there came ambassadors from Nepos, the Imperial refugee, the nephew by marriage of Verina. From his Dalmatian exile he congratulated his kinsman Zeno on his recent restoration to the throne, and begged him to lend men and money to bring about the like happy result for him by replacing him on the Western throne.
To these embassies Zeno returned ambiguous answers, which seemed to leave the question as to the legitimacy of Odovacar's rule an open one. The Senate were sharply rebuked for having acquiesced in the dethronement of Nepos, and a previous Emperor who had been sent to them from the East. Odovacar was recommended to seek the coveted dignity from Nepos, and to co-operate for his return. At the same time, the moderation of Odovacar's rule, and his desire to conform himself to the maxims of Roman civilisation, received the Emperor's praise. The nature of the reply to Nepos is not recorded, but it was no doubt made plain to him that sympathy and good wishes were all that he would receive from his Eastern colleague. The letters addressed to Odovacar bore the superscription "To the Patrician Odovacar", and that was all that the barbarian really cared for. With such a title as this, every act, even the most high-handed, on the part of the barbarian king was rendered legitimate. Nepos and Augustulus were equally excluded as useless encumbrances to the state, and the kings de jure and de facto became practically one man, and that man Odovacar.
[Footnote 50: Anthemius.]
THE CONQUEST OF ITALY.
Odovacar invades Dalmatia—Conducts a successful campaign against the Rugians—Theodoric accepts from Zeno the commission to overthrow Odovacar—He invades Italy, overthrowing the Gepidse, who attempt to bar his passage—Battles of the Isonzo and Verona—Odovacar takes refuge in Ravenna—The treachery of Tufa—Gundobad, king of the Burgundians, comes to Italy to oppose Theodoric, while Alaric II, king of the Visigoths, comes as his ally—The battle of the Adda, and further defeat of Odovacar—Surrender of Ravenna—Assassination of Odovacar.
The friendly relations between Odovacar and the Eastern Emperor which had been established by the embassy last described were gradually altered into estrangement. In the year 480, Nepos, the dethroned Emperor of Rome, was stabbed by two treacherous courtiers in his palace near Salona. Odovacar led an army into Dalmatia, and avenged the murder, but also apparently annexed the province of Dalmatia to his dominion, thus coming into nearer neighbourhood with Constantinople (487-488) This may have been one cause of alienation, but a more powerful one was the negotiation which was commenced in the year 484 between Odovacar and Illus, the last of the many insurgent generals who disturbed the reign of Zeno. At first Odovacar held himself aloof from the proposed confederacy, but afterwards (486) he was disposed, or Zeno believed that he was disposed, to accept the alliance of the insurgent general. In order to find him sufficient occupation nearer home, the Emperor fanned into a flame the smouldering embers of discord between Odovacar and Feletheus, king of the Rugians, the most powerful ruler of those Danubian lands from which the Italian king himself had migrated into Italy. The Rugian war was short, and Odovacar's success was decisive. In 487 he vanquished the Rugian army and carried Feletheus and his wife prisoners to Ravenna. In 488 an attempt to raise again the standard of the Rugian monarchy, which was made by Frederic, the son of Feletheus, was crushed, and Frederic, an exile and a fugitive, betook himself to the camp of Theodoric, who was then dwelling at Novae(Sistova?), on the Danube.