Theodoric the Goth - Barbarian Champion of Civilisation
by Thomas Hodgkin
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse



Theodoric's visit to Rome—Disputed Papal election—Theodoric's speech at the Golden Palm—The monk Fulgentius—Bread-distributions—Races in the Circus—Conspiracy of Odoin—Return to Ravenna—Marriage festivities of Amalaberga—Description of Ravenna—Mosaics in the churches—S. Apollinare Dentro—Processions of virgins and martyrs—Arian baptistery—So-called palace of Theodoric—Vanished statues.

The death of Anastasius was followed by changes in the attitude towards one another of Pope and Emperor, which embittered the closing years of Theodoric and caused his sun to set in clouds. But before we occupy ourselves with these transactions, we may consider a little more carefully the relations between Theodoric and his subjects in the happier days, the early and middle portion of his reign, and for this purpose we will first of all hear what the chroniclers have to tell us of a memorable visit to Rome which he paid in the eighth year after his accession, that year which, according to our present chronology, is marked as the five hundredth after the birth of Christ.[113]

[Footnote 113: The chronology now in use, invented by the monk Dionysius Exiguus, a friend of Cassiodorus, was not adopted till some years after the death of Theodoric. Consequently, 500 a.d. would be known in Rome only as 1252 A.U.C. (from the foundation of the City), and would have no special interest attaching to it.]

Rome had been for more than two centuries strangely neglected by the rulers who in her name lorded it over the civilised world. Ever since Diocletian's reconstruction of the Empire, it had been a rare event for an Augustus to be seen within her walls. Even the Emperor who had Italy for his portion generally resided at Milan or Ravenna rather than on the banks of the Tiber. Constantine was but a hasty visitor before he went eastward to build his marvellous New Rome beside the Bosphorus. His son Constantius in middle life paid one memorable visit(357). Thirty years later Theodosius followed his example. His son Honorius celebrated there(403) his doubtful triumph over Alaric, and his grandson, Valentinian III., was standing in the Roman Campus Martius when he fell under the daggers of the avengers of Aetius. But the fact that these visits are so pointedly mentioned shows the extreme rarity of their occurrence; nor was any great alteration wrought herein by Theodoric, for this visit to Rome, which we are now about to consider, and which lasted for six months, seems to have been the only one that he ever paid in the course of his reign of thirty-three years.

He came at an opportune time, when there was a lull in the strife, amounting almost to civil war, caused by a disputed Papal election. Two years before, two bodies of clergy had met on the same day (22d. November) in different churches, in order to elect the successor to a deceased pope. The larger number, assembled in the mother-church, the Lateran, elected a deacon of Sardinian extraction, named Symmachus. The smaller but apparently more aristocratic body, backed by the favour of the majority of the Senate and supported by the delegates of the Emperor, met in the church now called by the name of S. Maria Maggiore and voted for the arch-presbyter Laurentius.

The effect of this contested election was to throw Rome into confusion. Parties of armed men who favoured the cause of one or the other candidate paraded the City, and all the streets were filled with riot and bloodshed. It seemed as if the days of Marius and Sulla were come back again, though it would have been impossible to explain to either Marius or Sulla what was the nature of the contest, a dispute as to the right to be considered successor to a fisherman of Bethsaida. When the anarchy was becoming intolerable, the Senate, Clergy, and People determined to invoke the mediation of Theodoric, thus furnishing the highest testimony to the reputation for fairness and impartiality which had been earned by the Arian king. Both the rival bishops repaired to Ravenna, and having laid the case before the king, heard his answer. "Whichsoever candidate was first chosen, if he also received the majority of votes, shall be deemed duly elected". Both qualifications were united in Symmachus, who was therefore for a time recognised as lawful Pope even by Laurentius himself.

The disturbances broke out again later on; charges, probably false charges, of gross immorality were brought against Symmachus, who fled from Rome, returned, was tried by a Synod, and acquitted. It was not till after nearly six years had elapsed and six Synods had been held, that Laurentius and his party gave up the contest and finally acquiesced in the legitimacy of the claim of Symmachus to the Popedom.

But most of these troubles were still to come: there was a lull in the storm, and it seemed as if the king's wise and righteous judgment had settled the succession to the Papal chair, when in the year 500 Theodoric visited Rome, seeing for the first time, in full middle life, the City whose name he had doubtless often heard with a child's wonder and awe in his father's palace by the Platten See. His first visit was paid to the great basilica of St. Peter, outside the walls, where he performed his devotions with all the outward signs of reverence which would have been exhibited by the most pious Catholic.[114]

[Footnote 114: Et occurrit Beato Petro devotissimus ac si Catholicus (Anon. Valesn, 65).]

Before he entered the gates of the City he was welcomed by the Senate and People of Rome, who poured forth to meet him with every indication of joy. Borne along by the jubilant throng, he reached the Senate-house, which still stood in its majesty overlooking the Roman Forum. Here, in some portico attached to the Senate-house, which bore the name of the Golden Palm, he delivered an oration to the people. The accent of the speech may not have been faultless,[115] the style was assuredly not Ciceronian, but the matter was worthy of the enthusiastic acclamations with which it was received. Recognising the continuity of his government with that of the Emperors who had preceded him, he promised that with God's help he would keep inviolate all that the Roman Princes in the past had ordained for their people. So might a Norman or Angevin king, anxious to re-assure his Saxon subjects, swear to observe all the laws of the good King Edward the Confessor.

[Footnote 115: It is possible that historians somewhat underrate the degree of Theodoric's acquaintance with Latin as a spoken language. There was a great deal of Latin used in the Pannonian and Mesian regions, in which his childhood and youth were passed; and some, though certainly not so much, at Constantinople, where he spent his boyhood.]

This speech of Theodoric's at the Golden Palm was listened to by an obscure African monk, whose emotions on the occasion are described to us by his biographer. Fulgentius, the grandson of a senator of Carthage, had forsaken what seemed a promising official career, and had accepted the solitude and the hardships of a monastic life, at a time when, owing to the severe persecution of the Catholics by the Vandal kings, there was no prospect of anything but ignominy, exile, and perhaps death for every eminent confessor of the Catholic faith. Fulgentius and his friends had suffered many outrages at the hands of Numidian freebooters and Vandal officers, and they meditated a flight into Egypt, where they might practise a yet more rigid monastic rule undisturbed by the civil power. In his search after a suitable resting-place for his community, Fulgentius, who was in the thirty-third year of his age, had visited Sicily, and now had reached Rome in this same summer of 500, which was made memorable by Theodoric's visit. "He found", we are told, "the greatest joy in this City, truly called 'the head of the world,' both the Senate and People of Rome testifying their gladness at the presence of Theodoric the King. Wherefore the blessed Fulgentius, to whom the world had long been crucified, after he had visited with reverence the shrines of the martyrs and saluted with humble deference as many of the servants of God as he could in so short a time be introduced to, stood in that place which is called Palma Aurea while Theodoric was making his harangue. There, as he gazed upon the nobles of the Roman Senate marshalled in their various ranks and adorned with comely dignity, and as he heard with chaste ears the favouring shouts of the people, he had a chance of knowing what the boastful pomp of this world resembles. Yet he looked not willingly upon aught in this gorgeous spectacle, nor was his heart seduced to take any pleasure in these worldly vanities, but rather kindled thereby to a more vehement desire for Jerusalem above. And thus with edifying discourse did he ever admonish the brethren who were present: 'How fair must be that heavenly Jerusalem, if the earthly Rome be thus magnificent! And if in this world such honour is paid to the lovers of vanity, what honour and glory shall be bestowed on the Saints who behold the Eternal Reality.' With many such words as these did the blessed Fulgentius debate with them in a profitable manner all that day, and now with his whole heart earnestly desiring to behold his monastery again, he sailed swiftly to Africa, touching at Sardinia, and presented himself to his monks, who, in the excess of their joy, could scarcely believe that the blessed Fulgentius was indeed returned".

Besides his promises of good government according to the old laws of Empire, Theodoric recognised the duty which, according to long-established usage, devolved upon the supreme ruler to provide "panem et circenses" [116] for the citizens of Rome. The elaborate machinery, part of the crowned Socialism of the Empire, by which a certain number of loaves of bread had been distributed to the poorer householders of the City, had probably broken down in the death-agony of the Caesars of the West, and had not been again set going by Odovacar. We are told that Theodoric now distributed as rations "to the people of Rome and to the poor" 120,000 modii of corn yearly. As this represents only 30,000 bushels, and as in the flourishing days of the Empire no fewer than 200,000 citizens used to present themselves, probably once or twice a week, to receive their rations, it is evident that (if the chronicler's numbers are correct) we have here no attempt to revive the wholesale distribution of corn to the citizens—an expenditure with which the finances of Theodoric's kingdom were probably quite unable to cope. What was now done was more strictly a measure of "out-door relief" for the absolutely destitute classes, and was therefore a more legitimate employment of the energies of the State than the socialistic attempt to feed a whole people, which had preceded it.

[Footnote 116: Bread and circus-shows.]

At the same time that he granted these annonae, Theodoric also set aside, from the proceeds of a certain wine-tax, two hundred pounds of gold (L8,000) yearly for the restoration of the Imperial dwellings on the Palatine, and for the repair of the walls of Rome. Little did he foresee that a time would come when those walls, battered and breached as they were, would be all too strong for the fortunes of the Gothic warriors who would dash themselves vainly against their ramparts.

It was now thirty years since Theodoric, returning from his exile at Constantinople, had been hailed by his Gothic countrymen as a partner of his father's throne. In memory of that event, from which he was separated by so many years of toil and triumph, so many battles, so many marches, so many weary negotiations with emperors and kings, Theodoric celebrated his Tricennalia at Rome. On this occasion the gigantic Flavian Amphitheatre—the Colosseum as we generally call it—seems not to have been opened to the people. The old murderous fights with gladiators which once dyed its pavement with human blood had been for a century suppressed by the influence of the Church, and the costly shows of wild beasts which were the permitted substitute would perhaps have taxed too heavily the still feeble finances of the State. But to the Circus Maximus all the citizens crowded in order to see the chariot-races which were run there, and which recalled the brilliant festivities of the Empire. The Circus, oval in form, notwithstanding its name, was situated in the long valley between the Palatine and Aventine Hills. High above, on the north-east, rose the palaces of the Caesars already mouldering to decay, but one of which had probably been furbished up to make it a fitting residence for the king of the Goths and Romans. On the south-west the solemn Aventme still perhaps showed side by side the decaying temples of the gods and the mansions of the holy Roman matrons who, under the preaching of St. Jerome, had made their sumptuous palaces the homes of monastic self-denial. In the long ellipse between the two hills the citizens of Rome were ranged, not too many now in the dwindled state of the City to find elbow-room for all. A shout of applause went up from senators and people as the Gothic king, surrounded by a brilliant throng of courtiers, moved majestically to his seat in the Imperial podium.

At one end of the Circus were twelve portals (ostia), behind which the eager charioteers were waiting. In the middle of it there rose the long platform called the spina, at either end of which stood an obelisk brought from Egypt by an Emperor. (One of these obelisks now adorns the Piazza del Popolo, and the other the square in front of the Lateran.) At a signal from the king the races began. Whether the first heat would be between bigae or quadrigae (two-horse or four-horse chariots), we cannot say; but, of one kind or the other, twelve chariots bounded forth from the ostia the moment that the rope which had hitherto confined them was let fall. Seven times they careered round and round the long spina, of course with eager struggles to get the inside turn, and perhaps with a not infrequent fall when a too eager charioteer, in his desire to accomplish this, struck against the protecting curbstone. Ac each circuit was completed by the foremost chariot, a steward of the races placed a great wooden egg in a conspicuous place upon the spina to mark the score; and keen was the excitement when, in a match between two well-known rivals, six eggs announced to the spectators that the seventh, the deciding circuit, had begun. The entire course thus traversed seven times in each direction made a race of between three and four miles, and each heat would probably occupy nearly a quarter of an hour.[117] The number of heats (missus) was usually four and twenty, and we may therefore imagine Theodoric and his people occupying the best part of a summer day in watching the galloping steeds, the shouting, lashing drivers, and the fast-flashing chariot wheels.

[Footnote 117: I take this calculation from Friedlander (Sittengeschichte Roms, II., 329), but I cannot find the precise figures on which he bases his calculation We know the length of the Circus, but of course for our purpose the length of the spina round which the chariots careered is the important factor.]

At Rome, as at Constantinople, though not in quite so exaggerated a degree, partisanship with the charioteers was more than a passing fancy; it was a deep and abiding passion with the multitude, and it sometimes went very near to actual madness. Four colours, the Blue and the Green, the White and the Red, were worn respectively by the drivers, who served each of the four joint-stock companies (as we should call them) that catered for the taste of the race-loving multitude. Red and White had had their day of glory and still won a fair proportion of races, but the keenest and most terrible competition was between Blue and Green. At Constantinople, a generation later than the time which we have now reached, the undue favour which an Emperor (Justinian.) was accused (532) of showing to the Blues caused an insurrection which wrapped the city in flames and nearly cost that Emperor his throne. No such disastrous consequences resulted from circus-partisanship in Rome: but even in Rome that partisanship was very bitter, and, in the view of a philosopher, supremely ridiculous. As the sage Cassiodorus remarked: "In these beyond all other shows, men's minds are hurried into excitement, without any regard to a fitting sobriety of character. The Green charioteer flashes by: part of the people is in despair. The Blue gets a lead: a larger part of the City is in misery. The populace cheer frantically when they have gained nothing; they are cut to the heart when they have received no loss; and they plunge with as much eagerness into these empty contests as if the whole welfare of their imperilled country depended upon them". In two other letters Theodoric is obliged seriously to chide the Roman Senate for its irascible temper in dealing with one of the factions of the Circus. A Patrician and a Consul, so it was alleged, had truculently assaulted the Green party, and one man had lost his life in the fray. The king ordered that the matter should be enquired into by two officials of "Illustrious" rank, who had special jurisdiction in cases wherein nobles of high position were concerned. He then replied to a counter-accusation which had been brought by the Senators against the mob for assailing them with rude clamours in the Hippodrome. "You must distinguish", says the king, "between deliberate insolence and the festive impertinences of a place of public amusement. It is not exactly a congregation of Catos that comes together at the Circus. The place excuses some excesses. And moreover you must remember that these insulting cries generally proceed from the beaten party: and therefore you need not complain of clamour which is the result of a victory that you earnestly desired". Again the king had to warn the Senators not to bring disgrace on their good name and do violence to public order by allowing their menials to embroil themselves with the mob of the Hippodrome. Any slave accused of having shed the blood of a free-born citizen was to be at once given up to justice; or else his master was to pay a fine of L400, and to incur the severe displeasure of the king. "And do not you, O Senators, be too strict in marking every idle word which the mob may utter in the midst of the general rejoicing. If any insult which requires special notice should be offered you, bring it before the Prefect of the City. This is far wiser and safer than taking the law into your own hands".

The festivities which celebrated Theodoric's visit to the Eternal City were perhaps somewhat discordantly interrupted by the discovery of a conspiracy against him, set on foot by a certain Count Odoin, about whom we have no other information, but the form of whose name at once suggests that he was of Gothic, not Roman, extraction. It is possible that this conspiracy indicates the discontent of the old Gothic nobility with the increasing tendency to copy Roman civilisation and to assume Imperial prerogatives which they observed in the king who had once been little more than chief among a band of comrades. But we have not sufficient information as to this conspiracy to enable us to fix its true place in the history of Theodoric, nor can we even say with confidence that it was directed against the king and not against one of his ministers. The result alone is certain. Odoin's treachery was discovered and he was beheaded in the Sessorian palace, a building which probably stood upon the patrimony of Constantine, hard by the southern wall of Rome, and near to the spot where we now see the Church of Santa Croce.

At the request of the people, the words of Theodoric's harangue on his entrance into the City were engraved on a brazen tablet, which was fixed in a place of public resort, perhaps the Roman Forum. Even so did the Joyeuse Entree of a Burgundian duke into Brussels confirm and commemorate the privileges of his good subjects the citizens of Brabant. Upon the whole, there can be little doubt that the half-year which Theodoric spent in Rome was really a time of joyfulness both to prince and people, and that the tiles which are still occasionally turned up by the spade in Rome, bearing the inscription "Domino Nostro Theodorico Felix Roma", were not merely the work of official flatterers, but did truly express the joy of a well-governed nation. After six months Theodoric returned to that city, which, during the last thirty years of his life, he probably regarded as his home—Ravenna by the Adriatic,—and there he delighted the heart of his subjects by the pageants which celebrated the marriage of his niece Amalaberga with Hermanfrid, the king of the distant Thuringians. This young prince, whom Theodoric had adopted as his "son by right of arms" [118] had sent to his future kinsman a team of cream-coloured horses of a rare breed,[119] and Theodoric sent in return horses, swords and shields, and other instruments of war, but, as he said, "the greatest requital that we make is joining you in marriage to a woman of such surpassing beauty as our niece".

[Footnote 118: Filius per arma.]

[Footnote 119: Perhaps it might be safe to call these horses cobs; but let Cassiodorus describe their points. They were "horses of a silvery colour, as nuptial horses ought to be. Their chests and thighs are adorned in a becoming manner with spheres of flesh. Their ribs are expanded to a certain breadth; their bellies are short and narrow. Their heads have a likeness to the stag's, and they imitate the swiftness of that animal. These horses are gentle from their extreme plumpness; very swift, for all their bigness, pleasant to look upon, yet more pleasant to ride. For they have gentle paces and do not fatigue their riders with insane curvetings. To ride them is rest rather than labour; and being broken in to a delightfully steady pace, they have great staying power and lasting activity". These sleek and easy-paced cobs are not at all the ideal present from a rough barbarian of the North to his "father in arms".]

The later fortunes of the Ostrogothic princess who thus migrated from Ravenna to the banks of the Elbe were not happy. A proud and ambitious woman, she is said to have stimulated her husband to make himself, by fratricide and civil war, sole king of the Thuringians. The help of one of the sons of Clovis had been unwisely invoked for this operation. So long as the Ostrogothic hero lived, Thuringia was safe under his protection, but soon after his death dissensions arose between Franks and Thuringians; a claim of payment was made for the ill-requited services of the former. Thuringia was invaded, (531) her king defeated, and after a while treacherously slain. Amalaberga took refuge with her kindred at Ravenna, and after the collapse of their fortunes retired to Constantinople, where her son entered the Imperial service. In after years that son, "Amalafrid the Goth", was not the least famous of the generals of Justinian. The broad lands between the Elbe and the Danube, over which the Thuringians had wandered, were added to the dominions of the Franks and became part of the mighty kingdom of Austrasia.

I have had occasion many times in the preceding pages to write the name of Ravenna, the residence of most of the sovereigns of the sinking Empire, and now the home of Theodoric. Let me attempt in a few paragraphs to give some faint idea of the impression which this city, a boulder-stone left by the icedrift of the dissolving Empire amid the green fields of modern civilisation, produces on the mind of a traveller.

Ravenna stands in a great alluvial plain between the Apennines, the Adriatic, and the Po. The fine mud, which has been for centuries poured over the land by the streams descending from the mountains, has now silted up her harbour, and Classis, the maritime suburb of Ravenna, which, in the days of Odovacar and Theodoric, was a busy sea port on the Adriatic, now consists of one desolate church—magnificent in its desolation—and two or three farm-buildings standing in the midst of a lonely and fever-haunted rice-swamp. Between the city and the sea stretches for miles the glorious pine-forest, now alas! cruelly maimed by the hands of Nature and of Man, by the frost of one severe winter and by the spades of the builders of a railway, but still preserving some traces of its ancient beauty. Here it was that Theodoric pitched his camp when for three weary years he blockaded his rival's last stronghold, and here by the deep trench (fossatum), which he had dug to guard that camp, he fought the last and not the least deadly of his fights, when Odovacar made his desperate sortie from the famine-stricken town. Memories of a gentler kind, but still not wanting in sadness, now cluster round the solemn avenues of the Pineta. There we still seem to see Dante wandering, framing his lay of the "selva oscura", through which lay his path to the unseen world, and ever looking in vain for the arrival of the messenger who should summon him back to ungrateful Florence. There, in Boccaccio's story, a maiden's hapless ghost is for ever pursued through the woods by "the spectre-huntsman", Guido Cavalcanti, whom her cruelty had driven to suicide. And there, in our fathers' days, rode Byron, like Dante, an exile, if self-exiled, from his country, and feeding on bitter remembrances of past praise and present blame, both too lightly bestowed by his countrymen.

We leave the pine-wood and the desolate-looking rice-fields, we cross over the sluggish streams—Ronco and Montone—and we stand in the streets of historic Ravenna. Our first thoughts are all of disappointment. There is none of the trim beauty of a modern city, nor, as we at first think, is there any of the endless picturesqueness of a well-preserved mediaeval city. We look in vain for any building like Giotto's Campanile at Florence, for any space like that noble, crescent-shaped Forum, full of memories of the Middle Ages, the Piazzo del Campo of Siena. We see some strange but not altogether beautiful bell-towers and one or two brown cupolas breaking the sky-line, but that seems to be all, and our first feeling as I have said, is one of disappointment. But when we enter the churches, if we have leisure to study, them, if we can let their spirit mingle with our spirits, if we can quietly ask them what they have to tell us of the Past, all disappointment vanishes. For Ravenna is to those who will study her attentively a very Pompeii of the fifth century, telling us as much concerning those years of the falling Empire and the rising Mediaeval Church as Pompeii can tell us of the social life of the Romans in the days of triumphant Paganism.

Not that the record is by any means perfect. Many leaves have been torn out of the book by the childish conceit of recent centuries, which vainly imagined that they could write something instead, which any mortal would now care to read. The destroying hand of the so-called Renaissance has passed over these churches, defacing sometimes the chancel, sometimes the nave. One of the most interesting of the churches of Ravenna[120] has "the cupola disfigured by wretched paintings which mislead the eye in following the lines of the building". Another[121] has its apse covered with those gilt spangles and clouds and cherubs which were the eighteenth century's ideal of impressive religious art. The Duomo, which should have been one of the mosf interesting of all the monuments of Ravenna, was almost entirely rebuilt in the last century, and is now scarcely worth visiting. Still, enough remains in the un-restored churches of Ravenna to captivate the attention of every student of history and every lover of early Christian art. It is only necessary to shut our eyes to the vapid and tasteless work of recent embellishers, as we should close our ears to the whispers of vulgar gossipers while listening to some noble and entrancing piece of sacred music.

[Footnote 120: S. Vitale. The quotation is from Prof. Freeman, "Historical and Architectural Sketches", p. 53.]

[Footnote 121: S. Apollinare Dentro.]

Thus concentrating our attention on that which is really interesting and venerable in these churches, while we admire their long colonnades, their skilful use of ancient columns—some of which may probably have adorned the temples of Olympian deities in the days of the Emperors,—and the exceedingly rich and beautiful new forms of capitals, of a design quite unknown to Vitruvius, which the genius of Romanesque artists has invented, we find that our chief interest is derived from the mosaics with which these churches were once so lavishly adorned. Mosaic, as is well-known, is the most permanent of all the processes of decorative art. Fresco must fade sooner or later, and where there is any tendency to damp, it fades with cruel rapidity. Oil painting on canvas changes its tone in the long course of years, and the boundary line between cleaning and repainting is difficult to observe. But the fragments out of which the mosaic picture is formed, having been already passed through the fire, will keep their colour for centuries, we might probably say for millenniums. Damp injures them not, except by lessening the cement with which they are fastened to the wall, and therefore when restore tion of a mosaic picture becomes necessary, a really conscientious restorer can always reproduce the picture with precisely the same form and colour which it had when the last stone was inserted by the original artist. And thus, when we visit Ravenna, we have the satisfaction of feeling that we are (in many cases) looking upon the very same picture which was gazed upon by the contemporaries of Theodoric. Portraits of Theodoric himself, unfortunately we have none; but we have two absolutely contemporary portraits of Justinian, the overturner of his kingdom, and one of Justinian's wife, the celebrated Theodora. These pictures, it is interesting to remember, were considerably older when Cimabue found Giotto in the sheepfolds drawing sheep upon a tile, than any picture of Cimabue's or Giotto's is at the present time.

Let us enter the church which is now called "S. Apollinare within the Walls", but which in the time of Theodoric was called the Church of S. Martin, often with the addition "de Caelo Aureo", on account of the beautiful gilded ceiling which distinguished it from the other basilicas of Ravenna. This church was built by order of Theodoric, who apparently intended it to be his own royal chapel. Probably, therefore, the great Ostrogoth many a time saw "the Divine mysteries" celebrated here by bishops and priests of the Arian communion. Two long colonnades fill the nave of the church. The columns are classical, with Corinthian capitals, and are perhaps brought from some older building. A peculiarity of the architecture consists in the high abacus—a frustum of an inverted pyramid—which is interposed between the capital of the column and the arch that springs from it, as if to give greater height than the columns alone would afford. Such in its main features was the Church of "St. Martin of the Golden Heaven", when Theodoric worshipped under its gorgeous roof. But its chief adornment, the feature which makes more impression on the beholder than anything else in Ravenna, was added after Theodoric's death, yet not so long after but that it may be suitably alluded to here as a specimen of the style of decoration which his eyes must have been wont to look upon. About the year 560, after the downfall of the Gothic monarchy, Agnellus, the Catholic Bishop of Ravenna, "reconciled" this church, that is, re-consecrated it for the performance of worship by orthodox priests, and in doing so adorned the attics of the nave immediately above the colonnades with two remarkable mosaic friezes, each representing a long procession.

On the north wall of the church we behold a procession of Virgin Martyrs. They are twenty-four in number, a little larger than life, and are chiefly those maidens who suffered in the terrible persecution of Diocletian. The place from which they start is a seaport town with ships entering the harbour, domes and columns and arcades showing over the walls of the city. An inscription tells us that we have here represented the city of Classis, the seaport of Ravenna. By the time that we have reached the last figure in this long procession we are almost at the east end of the nave. Here we see the Virgin-mother throned in glory with the infant Jesus on her lap, and two angels on each side of her. But between the procession and the throne is interposed the group of the three Wise Men, in bright-coloured raiment, with tiara-like crowns upon their heads, stooping forward as if with eager haste[122] to present their various oblations to the Divine Child.

[Footnote 122: So Milton in his "Ode on the Nativity":

"See how from far along the Eastern road, The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet. Oh run, present them with thy humble ode, And lay it lowly at His blessed feet".]

On the right, or south wall of the church, a similar procession of martyred men, twenty-six in number, seems to move along, in all the majesty of suffering, bearing their crowns of martyrdom as offerings to the Redeemer. The Christ is here not an infant but a full-grown man, the Man of Sorrows, His head encircled with a nimbus, and two angels are standing on either side. The martyr-procession starts from a building, with pediment above and three arches resting upon pillars below. The intervals between the pillars are partly filled with curtains looped up in a curious fashion and with bright purple spots upon them. An inscription on this building tells us that it is PALATIUM, that is Theodoric's palace at Ravenna.

In both these processions the representation is, of course, far from the perfection of Art. Both the faces and the figures have a certain stiffness, partly due to the very nature of mosaic-work. There is also a sort of child-like simplicity in the treatment, especially of the female figures, which an unsympathetic critic would call grotesque. But, I think, most beholders feel that there is something indescribably solemn in these two great mosaic pictures in S. Apollinare Dentro. From the glaring, commonplace Italian town with its police-notices and its proclamation of the number of votes given to the government of Vittorio Emmanuele, you step into the grateful shade of the church and find yourself transported into the sixth century after Christ. You are looking on the faces of the men and maidens who suffered death with torture rather than deny their Lord. For thirteen centuries those two processions have seemed to be moving on upon the walls of the basilica, and another ceaseless procession of worshippers, Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, Franks, Italians, has been in reality moving on beneath them to the grave. And then you remind yourself that when the artist sketched those figures on the walls, he was separated by no longer interval than three long lives would have bridged over, from the days of the persecution itself, that there were still men living on the earth who worshipped the Olympian Jupiter, and that the name of Mohammed, son of Abdallah, was unknown in the world. So, as you gaze, the telescope of the historic imagination does its work, and the far-off centuries become near.

One or two other Arian churches built during Theodoric's reign in the northern suburb of the city have now entirely disappeared. There still remains, however, the church which Theodoric seems to have built as the cathedral of the Arian community, while leaving the old metropolitan church (Ecclesia Ursiana, now the Duomo) as the cathedral of the Catholics. This Arian cathedral was dedicated to St. Theodore, but has in later ages been better known as the church of the Holy Spirit. Tasteless restoration has robbed it of the mosaics which it doubtless once possessed, but it has preserved its fine colonnade consisting of fourteen columns of dark green marble with Corinthian capitals, whose somewhat unequal height seems to show that they, like so many of their sisters, have been brought from some other building, where they have once perhaps served other gods.

Through the court-yard of the Church of San Spirito, we approach a little octagonal building known both as the Oratory of S. Maria in Cosmedia and as the Arian Baptistery. The great octagonal font, which once stood in the centre of the building, has disappeared, but we can easily reconstruct it in our imaginations from the similar one which still remains in the Catholic Baptistery. The interest of this building consists in the mosaics of its cupola. On the disk, in the centre, is represented the Baptism of Christ. The Saviour stands, immersed up to His loins, in the Jordan, whose water flowing past Him is depicted with a quaint realism. The Baptist stands on His left side and holds one hand over His head. On the right of the Saviour stands an old man, who is generally said to represent the River-god, and the reed in his hand, the urn, from which water gushes, under his arms, certainly seem to favour this supposition. But in order to avoid so strange a medley of Christianity and heathenism it has been suggested that the figure may be meant for Moses, and in confirmation of this theory some keen-eyed beholders have thought they perceived the symbolical horned rays proceeding from each side of the old man's forehead.

Round this central disk are seen the figures of the twelve Apostles. They are divided into two bands of six each, who seem marching, with crowns in their hands, towards a throne covered with a veil and a cushion, on which rests a cross blazing with jewels. St. Peter stands on the right of the throne, St. Paul on the left; and these two Apostles carry instead of crowns, the one the usual keys, and the other two rolls of parchment. The interest of these figures, though they have something of the stern majesty of early mosaic-work, is somewhat lessened by the fact that they have undergone considerable restoration. It is suggested, I know not whether on sufficient grounds, that the figures of the Apostles were added when the Baptistery was "reconciled" to the Catholic worship after the overthrow of the Gothic dominion.

Two more buildings at Ravenna which are connected with the name of Theodoric require to be noticed by us,—his Palace and his Tomb. The story of his Tomb, however, will be best told when his reign is ended. As for the Palace, which once occupied a large space in the eastern quarter of the city, we have seen that there is a representation of it in mosaic on the walls of S. Apollinare Dentro. Closely adjoining that church, and facing the modern Corso Garibaldi, is a wall about five and twenty feet high, built of square brick-tiles, which has in its upper storey one large and six small arched recesses, the arches resting on columns. Only the front is ancient—it is admitted that the building behind it is modern. Low down in the wall, so low that the citizens of Ravenna, in passing, brush it with their sleeves, is a bath-shaped vessel of porphyry, which in the days of archaeological ignorance used to be shown to strangers as "the coffin of Theodoric", but the fact is that its history and its purpose are entirely unknown.

This shell of a building is called in the Ravenna Guide-books "the Palace of Theodoric". Experts are not yet agreed on the question whether its architectural features justify us in referring it to the sixth century, though all agree that it does not belong to a much later age.[123] It does not agree with the representation of the Palatium in the Church of S. Apollinare Dentro, and if it have anything whatever to do with it, it is probably not the main front, nor even any very important feature of the spacious palace, which, as we are told by the local historians,[124] and learn from inscriptions, was surrounded with porticoes, adorned with the most precious mosaics, divided into several triclinia, surmounted by a tower which was considered one of the most magnificent of the king's buildings, and surrounded with pleasant and fruitful gardens, planted on ground which had been reclaimed from the morass.[125] But practically almost all the monuments of the Ostrogothic hero except his tomb and the three churches already described, have vanished from Ravenna. Would that we could have seen the great mosaic which once adorned the pediment of his palace. There Theodoric stood, clad in mail, with spear and shield. On his left was a female figure representing the City of Rome, also with a spear in her hand and her head armed with a helmet, while towards his right Ravenna seemed speeding with one foot on the land and the other on the sea. How this great mosaic perished is not made clear to us. But there was also an equestrian statue of Theodoric raised on a pyramid six cubits high. Horse and rider were both of brass, "covered with yellow gold", and the king here too had his buckler on his left arm, while the right, extended, pointed a lance at an invisible foe.

[Footnote 123: Gally Knight ("Ecclesiastical Architecture of Italy", i., 7) seems to accept it without hesitation as belonging to the age of Theodoric. Freeman ("Historical, etc., Sketches", p. 47) expresses considerable doubt: "The works of Theodoric are Roman; this palace is not Roman but Romanesque, though undoubtedly a very early form of Romanesque".]

[Footnote 124: Agnellus and others, as quoted by Corrado Ricci, "Ravenna ei suoi Dintorni", p. 139. I cannot verify all Ricci's quotations, but take the result of them on his authority.]

[Footnote 125: An inscription quoted by Ricci tells us this:


This statue was carried off from Ravenna, probably by the Frankish Emperor Charles, to adorn his capital at Aachen, and it was still to be seen there when Agnellus wrote his ecclesiastical history of Ravenna, three hundred years after the death of Theodoric.



Clouds in the horizon—Anxiety as to the succession—Death of Eutharic, son-in-law of Theodoric—His son Athalaric proclaimed as Theodoric's heir—Pope and Emperor reconciled—Anti-Jewish riot at Ravenna—Strained relations of Theodoric and his Catholic subjects—Leaders of the Roman party—Boethius and Symmachus—Break-down of the Arian leagues—Cyprian accuses Albinus of treason—Boethius, interposing, is included in the charge—His trial, condemnation, and death—The "Consolation of Philosophy".

Hithero the career of Theodoric has been one of almost unbroken prosperity, and the reader who has followed his history has perhaps grown somewhat weary of the monotonous repetition of the praises of his mildness and his equity. Unfortunately he will be thus wearied no longer. The sun of the great Ostrogoth set in sorrow, and what was worse than in sorrow, in deeds of hasty wrath and cruel injustice, which lost him the hearts of the majority of his subjects and which have dimmed his fair fame with posterity.

Many causes combined to sadden and depress the king's heart, as he felt old age creeping upon him. Providence had not blessed him with a son; and while his younger rival, Clovis, left four martial sons to defend (and also to partition) his newly formed kingdom, Theodoric's daughter Amalasuentha was the only child born of his marriage with Clovis' sister.

In order to provide himself with a male heir (for the customs of the Goths did not favour, if they did not actually exclude, female sovereignty), Theodoric summoned to his court a distant relative, a young man named Eutharic, descended from the mighty Hermanric, who was at the time living in Spain. Eutharic, who was well reported of for bodily vigour and for statesmanlike ability, came to the Ostrogothic court, married Amalasuentha (515), four years afterwards received the honour of a consulship, which he held along with the Emperor Justin, and exhibited games and combats of wild beasts to the populace of Rome and Ravenna on a scale of unsurpassed magnificence. But he died, probably soon after his consulship, leaving two children—a boy and a girl,—and thus Theodoric's hope of bequeathing his crown to a mature and masculine heir was disappointed. Still, however, he would not propose a female ruler to his old Gothic comrades; and the little grandson, Athalaric, though under ten years of age, was solemnly presented by him to an assembly of Gothic counts and the nobles of the nation as their king.

The proclamation of Athalaric was made when the king felt that he should shortly depart this life, probably in the summer of 526. I have mentioned it here in order to complete my statement as to the succession to the throne, but we will now return to an earlier period-to the events which immediately followed Eutharic's consulship. Coming as he did from Spain, the Visigothic lords of which were still an aristocracy of bitter Arians in the midst of a cowed but Catholic Roman population, Eutharic, who, as we are expressly told, "was too harsh and hostile to the Catholic faith", may have to some extent swayed the mind of his father-in-law away from its calm balance of even-handed justice between the rival Churches. But the state of affairs at Constantinople exercised a yet more powerful influence. Anastasius, who, though no Arian, had during his long reign been always in an attitude of hostility towards the Papal See, was now dead, and had been succeeded by Justin. This man, a soldier of fortune, who had as a lad tramped down from the Macedonian highlands into the capital, with a wallet of biscuit over his shoulder for his only property, had risen, by his soldierly qualities, to the position of Count of the Guardsmen, and by a judicious distribution of gold among the soldiers—gold which was not his own, but had been entrusted to him for safe-keeping,—he won for himself the diadem, and for his nephew,[126] as it turned out, the opportunity of making his name forever memorable in history. Justin was absolutely illiterate—the story about the stencilled signature is told of him as well as of Theodoric,—but he was strictly orthodox, and his heart was set on a reconciliation with the Roman See. This measure was also viewed with favour by the majority of the populace of Constantinople, with whom the heterodoxy of Anastasius had become decidedly unpopular. Thus the negotiations for a settlement of the dispute went prosperously forward. The anathemas which were insisted upon by the Roman pontiff were soon conceded, the names of Zeno, of Anastasius, and of five Patriarchs of Constantinople who had dared to dissent from the Roman See were struck out of the "Diptychs" (or lists of those men, living or dead, whom the Church regarded as belonging to her communion); and thus the first great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches—a schism which had lasted for thirty-five years—was ended.

[Footnote 126: Justinian.]

It was probably foreseen by the statesmen of Ravenna that this reconciliation between Pope and Emperor, a reconciliation which had been celebrated by the enthusiastic shout of the multitude in the great church of the Divine Wisdom at Constantinople, would sooner or later bring trouble to Theodoric's Arian fellow-worshippers. In point of fact, however, an interval of nearly six years elapsed before any actual persecution of the Arians of the Empire was attempted. The first cause of alienation between the Ostrogothic king and his Catholic subjects seems to have arisen in connection with the Jews. Theodoric, on account of some fear of invasion by the barbarians beyond the Alps, was dwelling at Verona. That city, the scene of his most desperate battle with Odovacar, commanding as it does the valley of the Adige and the road by the Brenner Pass into the Tyrol, was probably looked upon by Theodoric as the key of north-eastern Italy, and when there was any danger of invasion he preferred to hold his court there rather than in the safer but less convenient Ravenna. There too he may probably have often received the ambassadors of the Northern nations, who went back to their homes with those stories of the might and majesty of the Ostrogothic king which made "Dietrich of Bern" (Theodoric of Verona) a name of wonder and a theme of romance to many generations of German minstrels. While Theodoric was dwelling in the city of the Adige, tidings came to him, apparently from his son-in-law Eutharic, whom he had left in charge at Ravenna, that the whole city was in an uproar. The Jews, of whom there was evidently a considerable number, were accused of having made sport of the Christian rite of baptism by throwing one another into one of the two muddy rivers of Ravenna, and also, in some way not described to us, to have mocked at the supper of the Lord.[127] The Christian populace of the city were excited to such madness by these rumours that they broke out into rioting, which neither the Gothic vicegerent, Eutharic, nor their own bishop, Peter III., was able to quell, and which did not cease till all the Jewish synagogues of the city were laid in ashes.

[Footnote 127: The passage of the "Anonymus Valesii" which describes these events is so corrupt that it is hardly possible to make sense of it.]

When tidings of these events were brought to Verona by the Grand Chamberlain Triwan (or Trigguilla) who, as an Arian, was suspected of favouring the Jews, and when the Hebrews came themselves to invoke the justice of the King, Theodoric's righteous indignation was kindled against these flagrant violations of civilitas. It was not, indeed, the first time that his intervention had been claimed on behalf of the persecuted children of Israel. At Milan and at Genoa they had already appealed to him against the vexations of their neighbours, and at Rome the mob, excited by some idle story of harsh punishments inflicted by the Jews on their Christian servants, had burned their synagogue in the Trastevere to the ground. The protection claimed had always been freely conceded. Theodoric, while expressing or permitting Cassiodorus to express his pious wonder that a race which wilfully shut itself out from the eternal rest of Heaven should care for quietness on earth, was strong in declaring that for the sake of civilitas justice was to be secured even for the wanderers from the right religious path, and that no one should be forced to believe in Christianity against his will. Nor was this willingness to protect the Jews from popular fanaticism peculiar to Theodoric. Always, so long as the Goths, either the Western or Eastern branch, remained Arian, the Jews found favour in their eyes, and Jacob had rest under the shadow of the sons of Odin. Now, therefore, the king sent an edict addressed to Eutharic and Bishop Peter, ordaining that a pecuniary contribution should be levied on all the Christian citizens of Ravenna, out of which the synagogues should be rebuilt, and that those who were not able to pay their share of this contribution should be flogged through the streets, the crier going behind them and in a loud voice proclaiming their offence. The order was doubtless obeyed, but from that day there was a secret spirit of rebellion in the hearts of the Roman citizens of Ravenna.

From this time onward occasions of difference between Theodoric and his Roman subjects were frequently arising. For some reason which is not explained to us, he ordered the Catholic church of St. Stephen in the suburbs of Verona to be destroyed. Then came suspicion, the child of rancour. An order was put forth forbidding the inhabitants of Roman origin to wear any arms, and this prohibition extended even to pocket-knives. In the excited state of men's minds earth and heaven seemed to them to be full of portents..There were earthquakes; there was a comet with a fiery tail which blazed for fifteen days; a poor Gothic woman lay down under a portico near Theodoric's palace at Ravenna and gave birth (so we are assured) to four dragons, two of which, having one head between them, were captured, while the other two, sailing away eastward through the clouds, were seen to fall headlong into the sea.

More important than these old wives' fables was the changed attitude and the wavering loyalty of the Roman Senate. From the remarks made in an earlier chapter,[128] it will be clear that a conscientious Roman citizen might truly feel that he owed a divided allegiance to the Ostrogoth, his ruler de facto, and to the Augustus at Constantinople, his sovereign de jure. Through the years of religious schism this conflict of duties had slumbered, but now, with the enthusiastic reconciliation between the see of Rome and the throne of Constantinople, it awoke; and in that age when, as has been already said, religion was nationality, an orthodox Eastern emperor seemed a much more fitting object of homage than an Arian Italian king.

[Footnote 128: See p. 155.]

There were two men, united by the ties of kindred, who seemed marked out by character and position as the leaders of a patriotic party in the Senate, if such a party could be formed. These men were Boethius and his father-in-law Symmachus, both Roman nobles of the great and ancient Anician gens. Boethius, whose name we have already met with as the skilful mechanic who was requested to construct a water-clock and a sun-dial for the king of the Burgundians, was a man of great and varied accomplishments—philosopher, theologian, musician, and mathematician. He had translated thirty books of Aristotle into Latin for the benefit of his countrymen; his treatise on Music was for many centuries the authoritative exposition of the science of harmony. He had held the high honour of the consulship in 510; twelve years later he had the yet higher honour of seeing his two sons, Symmachus and Boethius, though mere lads, arrayed in the trabea of the consul.

Symmachus the other leader of the patriotic party in the Roman Senate had memories of illustrious ancestors behind him. A century before, another Symmachus had been the standard-bearer of the old Pagan party, and had delivered two great orations in order to prevent the Christian Emperors from removing the venerable Altar of Victory from the Senate-house. Now, his descendant and namesake was an equally firm adherent of Christianity, a friend and counsellor of Popes, a man who was willing to encounter obloquy and even death in behalf of Nicene orthodoxy. He had been consul so long ago as in the reign of Odovacar, he had been an "Illustrious" Prefect of the City under Theodoric; he was now Patrician and Chief of the Senate (Caput Senatus). The last two titles conferred honour rather than power; the headship of the Senate especially being generally held by the oldest, and if not by the oldest, by the most esteemed and venerated member of that body. Such was Symmachus, a man full of years and honours, a historian, an orator, and a generous contributor of some portion of his vast wealth for the adornment of his native city.

Boethius, left an orphan in childhood, had enjoyed the wise training of his guardian Symmachus. When he came to man's estate he married that guardian's daughter Rusticiana. Though there was the difference of a generation between them, a close friendship united the old and the middle-aged senators, and the young consuls sprung from this alliance, who were the hope of their blended lines, bore, as we have seen, the names of both father and grandfather.

Up to the year 523, Boethius appears to have enjoyed to the full the favour of Theodoric. From a chapter of his autobiography[129] we learn that he had already often opposed the ministers of the crown when he found them to be unjust and rapacious men. "How often" says he, "have I met the rush of Cunigast, when coming open-mouthed to devour the substance of the poor! How often have I baffled the all but completed schemes of injustice prepared by the chamberlain Trigguilla! How often have I interposed my influence to protect the unhappy men whom the unpunished avarice of the barbarians was worrying with infinite calumnies! Paulinus, a man of consular rank, whose wealth the hungry dogs of the palace had already devoured in fancy, I dragged as it were out of their very jaws". But all these acts of righteous remonstrance against official tyranny, though from the names given they seem to have been chiefly directed against Gothic ministers, had not forfeited for Boethius the favour of his sovereign. The proof of this is furnished by the almost unexampled honour conferred upon him—certainly with Theodoric's consent—by the elevation of his two sons to the consulship. The exultant father, from his place in the Senate, expressed his thanks to Theodoric in an oration of panegyric, which is now no longer extant, but was considered by contemporaries a masterpiece of brilliant rhetoric.

[Footnote 129: Contained in the "Consolation of Philosophy".]

So far all had gone well with the fortunes of Boethius; but now, perhaps about the middle of 523, there came a great and calamitous change. We must revert for a few minutes to the family circumstances of Theodoric, in order to understand the influences which were embittering his spirit against his Catholic—that is to say, his Roman—subjects. The year before, his grandson Segeric, the Burgundian, had been treacherously assassinated by order of his father, King Sigismund, who had become a convert to the orthodox creed, and after the death of Theodoric's daughter had married a Catholic woman of low origin. In the year 523 itself, Thrasamund, king of the Vandals, died and was succeeded by his cousin Hilderic, son of one of the most ferocious persecutors of the Catholic Church, but himself a convert to her creed. Notwithstanding an oath which Hilderic had sworn to his predecessor on his death-bed, never to use his royal power for the restoration of the churches to the Catholics, Hilderic had recalled the Bishops of the orthodox party and was in all things reversing the bitter persecuting policy of his ancestors, amalafrida, the sister of Theodoric and widow of Thrasamund, who had been for nearly twenty years queen of the Vandals, passionately resented this undoing of her dead husband's work and put herself at the head of a party of insurgents, who called in the aid of the Moorish barbarians, but who were, notwithstanding that aid, defeated by the soldiers of Hilderic at Capsa. Amalafrida herself was taken captive and shut up in prison, probably about the middle of 523.

Thus everywhere the Arian League, of which Theodoric had been the head, and which had practically given him the hegemony of Teutonic Europe, was breaking down; and in its collapse disaster and violent death were coming upon the members of Theodoric's own family. If Eutharic himself, as seems probable, had died before this time, and was no longer at the King's side to whisper distrust of the Catholics at every step, and to put the worst construction on the actions of every patriotic Roman, yet even Eutharic's death increased the difficulties of Theodoric's position, and his doubts as to the future fortunes of a dynasty which would be represented at his death only by a woman and a child. And these difficulties and doubts bred in him not depression, but an irascible and suspicious temper, which had hitherto been altogether foreign to his calm and noble nature.

Such was the state of things at the court of Ravenna when, in the summer or early autumn of 523, Cyprian, Reporter in the King's Court, accused the Patrician Albinus of sending letters to the Emperor Justin hostile to the royal rule of Theodoric. Of the character and history of Albinus, notwithstanding his eminent station, we know but little. He was not only Patrician, but Illustris—that is, in modern phraseology, he had held an office of cabinet-rank. On the occasion of some quarrel between the factions of the Circus, Theodoric had graciously ordered him to assume the patronage of the Green Faction, and to conduct the election of a pantomimic performer for that party. He had also received permission to erect workshops overlooking the Forum on its northern side, on condition that his buildings did not in any way interfere with public convenience or the beauty of the city. Evidently he was a man of wealth and high position, one of the great nobles of Rome, but perhaps one who, up to this time, had not taken any very prominent part in public affairs. His accuser, Cyprian, still apparently a young man, was also a Roman nobleman. His father had been consul, and he himself held at this time the post of Referendarius (or, as I have translated it, Reporter) in the King's Court of Appeal. His ordinary duty was to ascertain from the suitor what was the nature of his plea, to state it to the king, and then to draw up the document, which contained the king's judgment. It was an arduous office to ascertain from the flurried and often trembling suitor, in the midst of the hubbub of the court, the precise nature of his complaint, and a responsible one to express the king's judgment, neither less nor more, in the written decree. There was evidently great scope for corrupt conduct in both capacities, if the Referendarius was open to bribes; and in the "Formula", by which these officers were appointed, some stress is laid on the necessity of their keeping a pure conscience in the exercise of their functions. Cyprian seems to have been a man of nimble and subtle intellect, who excelled in his statement of a case. So well was this done by him, from the two opposite points of view, that plaintiff and defendant in turn were charmed to hear each his own version of the case so admirably presented to the king. Of later years, Theodoric, weary of sitting in state in the crowded hall of justice, had often tried his cases on horseback. Riding forth into the forest he had ordered Cyprian to accompany him, and to state in his own lively and pleasing style the "for" and "against" of the various causes that came before him on appeal. Even, we are told, when Theodoric was roused to anger by the manifest injustice of the plea that was thus presented, he could not help being charmed by the graceful manner in which the young Referendarius, the temporary asserter of the claim, brought it under his notice. Thus trained to subtle eloquence, Cyprian had been recently sent on an embassy to Constantinople, and had there shown himself in the word-fence a match for the keenest of the Greeks. Lately returned, as it should seem, from this embassy, he came forward in the Roman Senate and accused the Patrician Albinus of outstepping the bounds of loyalty to the Ostrogothic King in the letters which he had addressed to the Byzantine Emperor.

In this accusation was Cyprian acting the part of an honest man or of a base informer? The times were difficult: the relations of a Roman Senator to Emperor and King were, as I have striven to show, intricate and ill-defined; it was hard for even good men to know on which side preponderated the obligations of loyalty, of honour, and of patriotism. On the one hand Cyprian may have been a true and faithful servant of Theodoric, who had in his embassy at Constantinople discovered the threads of a treasonable intrigue, and who would not see his master betrayed even by Romans without denouncing their treason. As a real patriot he may have seen that the days of purely Roman rule in Italy were over, that there must be some sort of amalgamation with these new Teutonic conquerors, who evidently had the empire of the world before them, that it would be better and happier, and in a certain sense more truly Roman, for Italy to be ruled by a heroic "King of the Goths and Romans" than for her to sink into a mere province ruled by exarchs and logothetes from corrupt and distant Constantinople. This is one possible view of Cyprian's character and purposes. On the other hand, he may have been a slippery adventurer, intent on carving out his own fortune by whatever means, and willing to make the dead bodies of the noblest of his countrymen stepping-stones of his own ambition. In his secret heart he may have cared nothing for the noble old Goth, his master, with whom he had so often ridden in the pine-wood; nothing, too, for the great name of Rome, the city in which his father had once sat as consul. Long accustomed to state both sides of a case with equal dexterity, and without any belief in either, this nimble-tongued advocate, who had already found that Greece had nothing to teach him that was new, may have had in his inmost soul no belief in God, in country, or in duty, but in Cyprian alone. Both views are possible; we have before us only the passionate invectives of his foes and the stereotyped commendations of his virtues penned by his official superiors, and I will not attempt to decide between them.

When Cyprian brought his charge of disloyalty against Albinus, the accused Patrician, who was called into the presence of the King, at once denied the accusation. An angry debate probably followed, in the course of which Boethius claimed to speak The attention of all men was naturally fixed upon him, for by the King's favour, the same favour which in the preceding year had raised his two sons to the consulship, he was now filling the great place of Master of the Offices.[130] "False", said Boethius in loud, impassioned tones, "is the accusation of Cyprian; but whatever Albinus did, I and the whole Senate of Rome, with one purpose, did the same. The charge is false, O King Theodoric".The inter-position of Boethius was due to a noble and generous impulse, but it was not perhaps wise, in view of all that had passed, and without in any way helping Albinus, it involved Boethius in his ruin. Cyprian, thus challenged, included the Master of the Offices in his accusation, and certain persons, not Goths, but Romans and men of senatorial rank, Opilio (the brother of Cyprian), Basilius, and Gaudentius, came forward and laid information against Boethius.

[Footnote 130: See p. 150.]

Here the reader will naturally ask, "Of what did these informers accuse him?" but to that question it is not possible to give a satisfactory answer. He himself in his meditations on his trial says: "Of what crime is it that I am accused? I am said to have desired the safety of the Senate. 'In what way?' you may ask. I am accused of having prevented an informer from producing certain documents in order to prove the Senate guilty of high treason. Shall I deny the charge? But I did wish for the safety of the Senate and shall never cease to wish for it, nor, though they have abandoned me, can I consider it a crime to have desired the safety of that venerable order. That posterity may know the truth and the real sequence of events, I have drawn up a written memorandum concerning the whole affair. For, as for these forged letters upon which is founded the accusation against me of having hoped for Roman freedom, why should I say anything about them? Their falsehood would have been made manifest, if I could have used the confession of the informers themselves, which in all such affairs is admitted to have the greatest weight. As for Roman freedom, what hope is left to us of attaining that? Would that there were any such hope. Had the King questioned me, I would have answered in the words Canius, when he was questioned by the Emperor Caligula as to his complicity in a a conspiracy formed against him. If I, said he, had known, thou shouldest never have known."

These words, coupled with some bitter statements as to the tainted character of the informers against him, men oppressed by debt and accused of peculation, constitute the only statement of his case by Boethius which is now available. The memorandum so carefully prepared in the long hours of his imprisonment has not reached posterity. Would that it might even yet be found in the library of some monastery, or lurking as a palimpsest under the dull commentary of some mediaeval divine! It could hardly fail to throw a brilliant, if not uncoloured light on the politics of Italy in the sixth century. But, trying as we best may to spell out the truth of the affair from the passionate complaints of the prisoner, I think we may discern that there had been some correspondence on political affairs between the Senate and the Emperor Justin, correspondence which was perfectly regular and proper if the Emperor was still to them "Dominus Noster" (our Lord and Master), but which was kept from the knowledge of "the King of the Goths and Romans", and which, when he heard of it, he was sure to resent as an act of treachery to himself. That Boethius, the Master of the Offices under Theodoric, should have connived at this correspondence, naturally exasperated the master who had so lately heaped favours on this disloyal servant. But in addition to this he used the power which he wielded as Master of the Offices, that is, head of the whole Civil Service of Italy, to prevent some documents which would have compromised the safety of the Senate from coming to the knowledge of Theodoric. All this was dangerous and doubtful work, and though we may find it hard to condemn Boethius, drawn as he was in opposite directions by the claims of historic patriotism and by those of official duty, we can hardly wonder that Theodoric, who felt his throne and his dynasty menaced, should have judged with some severity the minister who had thus betrayed his confidence.

The political charge against Boethius was blended with one of another kind, to us almost unintelligible, a charge of sacrilege and necromancy. At least this seems to be the only possible explanation of the following words written by him: "My accusers saw that the charge 'of desiring the safety of the Senate' was no crime but rather a merit; and therefore, in order to darken it by the mixture of some kind of wickedness, they falsely declared that ambition for office had led me to pollute my conscience with sacrilege. But Philosophy had chased from my breast all desire of worldly greatness, and under the eyes of her who had daily instilled into my mind the Pythagorean maxim 'Follow God,' there was no place for sacrilege. Nor was it likely that I should seek the guardianship of the meanest of spirits when Divine Philosophy had formed and moulded me into the likeness of God. The friendship of my father-in-law, the venerable Symmachus, ought alone to have shielded me from the suspicion of such a crime. But alas! it was my very love for Philosophy that exposed me to this accusation, and they thought that I was of kin to sorcerers because I was steeped in philosophic teachings".

The only reasonable explanation that we can offer of these words is that mediaeval superstition was already beginning to cast her shadow over Europe, that already great mechanical skill, such as Boethius was reputed to possess when his king asked him to manufacture the water-clock and the sun-dial, caused its possessor to be suspected of unholy familiarity with the Evil One; perhaps also that astronomy, which was evidently the favourite study of Boethius, was perilously near to astrology, and that his zeal in its pursuit may have exposed him to some of the penalties which the Theodosian code itself, the law-book of Imperial Rome, denounced against "the mathematicians".

This seems to be all that can now be done towards re-writing the lost indictment under which Boethius was accused. The trial was conducted with an outrageous disregard of the forms of justice. It took place in the Senate-house at Rome; Boethius was apparently languishing in prison at Pavia, where he had been arrested along with Albinus.[131] Thus at a distance of more than four hundred miles from his accusers and his judges was the life of this noble Roman, unheard and undefended, sworn away on obscure and preposterous charges by a process which was the mere mockery of a trial. He was sentenced to death and the confiscation of his property; and the judges whose trembling lips pronounced the monstrous sentence were the very senators whose cause he had tried to serve. This thought, the remembrance of this base ingratitude, planted the sharpest sting of all in the breast of the condemned patriot. It is evident that the Senate themselves were in desperate fear of the newly awakened wrath of Theodoric, and the fact that they found Boethius guilty cannot be considered as in any degree increasing the probability of the truth of the charges made against him. But it does perhaps somewhat lessen his reputation for far-seeing statesmanship, since it shows how thoroughly base and worthless was the body for whose sake he sacrificed his loyalty to the new dynasty, how utterly unfit the Senate would have been to take its old place as ruler of Italy, if Byzantine Emperor and Ostrogothic King could have been blotted out of the political firmament.

[Footnote 131: Boethius complains thus: "Now, at a distance of nearly five hundred miles, unheard and undefended, I have been condemned to death and proscription for my too enthusiastic love to the Senate". Pavia, where he seems to have been first confined, was, according to the Antonine Itinerary, 455 Roman miles from the capital.]

Boethius seems to have spent some months in prison after his trial, and was perhaps transferred from Pavia to "the ager Calventianus", a few miles from Milan. There at any rate he was confined when the messenger of death sent by Theodoric found him. There is some doubt as to the mode of execution adopted. One pretty good contemporary authority says that he was beheaded, but the writer whom I have chiefly followed, who was almost a contemporary, but a credulous one, says that torture was applied, that a cord was twisted round his forehead till his eyes started from their sockets, and that finally in the midst of his torments he received the coup de grace from a club.

In the interval which elapsed between the condemnation and the death of this noble man, who died verily as a martyr for the great memories of Rome, he had time to compose a book which exercised a powerful influence on many of the most heroic spirits of the Middle Ages. This book, the well-known, if not now often read, "Consolation of Philosophy", was translated into English by King Alfred and by Geoffrey Chaucer, was imitated by Sir Thomas More (whose history in some respects resembles that of Boethius), and was translated into every tongue and found in every convent library of mediaeval Europe. There is a great charm, the charm of sadness, about many of its pages, and it may be considered from one point of view as the swan's song of the dying Roman world and the dying Greek philosophy, or from another, as the Book of Job of the new mediaeval world which was to be born from the death of Rome. For like the Book of Job, the "Consolation" is chiefly occupied with a discussion of the eternal mystery why a Righteous and Almighty Ruler of the world permits bad men to flourish and increase, while the righteous are crushed beneath their feet: and, as in the Book of Job, so here, the question is not, probably because it cannot be, fully answered.

It is the consolation of philosophy, not of religion, or at any rate not of revealed religion, which is here administered. So marked is the silence of Boethius on all those arguments, which a discussion of this kind inevitably suggests to the mind of a believer in the Crucified One, that scholars long supposed that he was not even by profession a Christian. A manuscript which has been lately discovered[132] seems to prove beyond a doubt that Boethius was a Christian, and wrote orthodox treatises on disputed points of theology; but for some reason or other he fell back on his early philosophical studies, rather than on his formal and conventional Christianity, when he found himself in the deep waters of adversity and imminent death. He represents himself in the "Consolation" as lying on his dungeon-couch, sick in body and sad at heart, and courting the Muses as companions of his solitude. They come at his call, but are soon unceremoniously dismissed by one nobler than themselves, who asserts an older and higher right to cheer her votary in the day of his calamity. This is Philosophy, a woman of majestic stature, whose head seems to touch the skies, and who has undying youth and venerable age mysteriously blended in her countenance. Having dismissed the Muses, she sits by the bedside of Boethius and looks with sad and earnest eyes into his face. She invites him to pour out his complaints; she sings to him songs first of pity and reproof, then of fortitude and hope; she reasons with him as to the instability of the gifts of Fortune, and strives to lead him to the contemplation of the Summum Bonum, which is God Himself, the knowledge of whom is the highest happiness. Then, in order a little to lighten his difficulties as to the permission of evil by the All-wise and Almighty One, she enters into a discussion of the relation between Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free-will, but this discussion, a thorny and difficult one, is not ended when the book comes to an abrupt conclusion, being probably interrupted by the arrival of the messengers of Theodoric, who brought the warrant for the writer's execution.

[Footnote 132: Called the "Anecdoton Holderi", from the German scholar who has edited it.]

The "Consolation of Philosophy" is partly in prose, partly in verse. The prose is generally strong, clear, and comparatively pure in style, wonderfully superior to the vapid diffusiveness of Cassiodorus and most writers of the age. The interspersed poems are sometimes in hexameters, but more often in the shorter lines and more varied metres of Horace, and are to some extent founded upon the tragic choruses of Seneca. It is of course impossible in this place to give any adequate account of so important a work and one of such far-reaching influence as the "Consolation" but the following translation of one of the poems in which the prisoner makes his moan to the Almighty may give the reader some little idea of the style and matter of the treatise.


Oh Thou who hast made this starry Whole, Who hast fixed on high Thy throne; Who biddest the Blue above us roll, And whose sway the planets own!

At Thy bidding she turns, the changing Moon To her Brother her full-fed fire, Dimming the Stars with her light, which soon Wanes, as she draws to him nigher.

Thou givest the word, and the westering Star, The Hesper who watched o'er Night's upspringing, Changing his course, shines eastward far, Phosphor now, for the Sun's inbringing.

When the leaves fall fast, 'neath Autumn's blast, Thou shortenest the reign of light. In radiant June Thou scatterest soon The fast-flown hours of night.

The leaves which fled from the cruel North Are with Zephyr's breath returning, And from seeds which the Bear saw dropped in earth Springs the corn for the Dog-star's burning.

Thus all stands fast by Thine old decree, Nothing wavers in Nature's plan: In all her changes she bows to Thee: Yea, all stands fast but Man.

Oh! why is the wheel of Fortune rolled, While guilt Thy vengeance shuns? Why sit the bad on their thrones of gold, And trample Thine holy ones?

Why doth Virtue skulk where none may see In the great world's corners dim? And the just man mark the knave go free, While the penalty falls on him?

No storm the perjurer's soul o'erwhelms, Serene the false one stands: He flatters, and Kings of mighty realms Are as clay in his moulding hands.

Oh Ruler! look on these lives of ours, Thus dashed on Fortune's sea. Thou rulest the calm eternal Powers, But thine handiwork, too, are we.

Ah! quell these waves with their tossings high; Let them own Thy bound and ban: And as Thou rulest the starry sky Rule also the world of Man!



Embassy of Pope John to Constantinople—His imprisonment and death—Execution of Symmachus—Opportune death of Theodoric—Various stones respecting it—His mausoleum—Ultimate fate of his remains.

The death of Boethius[133] occurred probably about the middle of 524, and in the same year, as it would seem, Theodoric left Verona and returned to his old quarters at Ravenna. The danger from the barbarians on the northern frontier had apparently been averted, but a far greater danger, the hatred and the terror of his subjects of Roman origin, had entered his kingdom. It was probably during this same year 524 that the zeal of the orthodox Emperor Justin began to flame out against the Arians. Their churches were taken from them and given to the Catholics, and, as we hear that several Arians at this time embraced the Catholic faith, we may conjecture that the usual methods of conversion in that age, confiscation, imprisonment, and possibly torture, had been pretty freely employed. These measures, coming close after the alleged conspiracy of the Senators, or perhaps simultaneously with it, completed the exasperation of Theodoric, He sent for the Pope, John I., a Tuscan, who had been lately elevated to the Papal chair, and when the successor of St. Peter appeared at Ravenna commanded him, with some haughtiness in his tone, to proceed to Constantinople, to the Emperor Justin, and tell him that "he must in no wise attempt to win over those whom he calls heretics to the Catholic religion". The Pope is said to have made some protestations, distinguishing between his duty to God and his duty to his king, but nevertheless accepted a commission of some kind or other to treat with the Emperor on the subject of mutual toleration between Catholics and Arians.

[Footnote 133: Possibly of Albinus also, but he disappears from the story, according to the tantalising manner of the annalists from whom we get our information.]

(525) He set forth at the head of a brilliant train, accompanied by Ecclesius, Bishop of Ravenna, and Eusebius, Bishop of Fano, by Senator Theodorus, who had been consul in 505, by Senator Importunus, consul in 509, who was descended from the historic family of the Decii, and from whom his coevals expected deeds worthy of that illustrious name, by Senator Agapetus, who had been consul along with the Eastern Emperor in 517, and by many other noblemen and bishops.

The visit of a pope to Constantinople, an event which had not occurred since the very earliest days of the new capital, created profound sensation in that city and was the very thing to cement that union between the Papacy and the Empire which constituted Theodoric's greatest danger. The whole city poured forth with crosses and candles to meet the Pope and his companions at the twelfth milestone, and to testify with shouts their veneration for the Apostles Peter and Paul, whose representative they deemed that they saw before them. "Justinus Augustus", the fortunate farm-lad, before whom in his old age all the great ones of the earth prostrated themselves in reverence, now saluted the Vicar of St. Peter with the same gestures of adoration. The coronation of the Emperor, who had already been for six years on the throne, was celebrated with the utmost magnificence, the Roman Pontiff himself placing the diadem on his head. Then the Pope and all the Senators with tears besought the Emperor that their embassy might be acceptable in his sight. In the private interviews which were held, the Pope probably hinted to his orthodox ally the dangers which might result to the Catholic cause in Italy, if Theodoric, hitherto so tolerant a heretic, should be provoked to measures of retaliation on behalf of his Church. There does seem to have been some modification of the persecuting edicts against the Arians, and at least some restoration of churches to the heretics, though certain Papal historians, unwilling to admit that a pope can have pleaded for any concession to misbelievers, endeavour to represent the Pope's mission as fruitless, while the Pope's person was greeted with enthusiastic reverence. But that which is upon the whole our best authority declares that "the Emperor Justin having met the Pope on his arrival as if he were St. Peter himself, and having heard his message, promised that he would comply with all his demands except that the converts who had given themselves to the Catholic faith could by no means be restored to the Arians".

This last exception does not seem an unreasonable one. Surely Theodoric could hardly have expected that Justin would exert his Imperial power in order to force any of his subjects back into what he deemed a deadly heresy. But for some cause or other, probably because he perceived the mistake which he had committed in giving to the world so striking a demonstration of the new alliance between Emperor and Pope, Theodoric's ambassadors, on their return to Ravenna, found their master in a state of wrath bordering on frenzy. All, both Pope and Senators, were cast into prison and there treated with harshness and cruelty. The Pope, who was probably an aged and delicate man, began to languish in his dungeon, and there he died on the 25th of May, 526.

In the meantime, while the Papal embassy had been absent on its mission to Constantinople, Theodoric had perpetrated another crime under the influence of his maddening suspicions. Symmachus, father-in-law of Boethius, the venerable head of the Senate, a man of saintly life and far advanced in years, had probably dared to show that he condemned as well as lamented the execution of his brilliant son-in-law. Against him, therefore, a charge, doubtless of treason, was brought by command of the king. To be accused was of course to be condemned, and Symmachus was put to death in one of the prisons at Ravenna.

After the deaths of these three men, Boethius, Symmachus, and Pope John, all chance of peace between Theodoric and his subjects, and what was worse, all chance of peace between Theodoric and his nobler and truer self was over, and there was nothing left him but to die in misery and remorse. It was probably in these summer days of 526 that (as before stated) he presented his young grandson Athalaric to his faithful Goths as their king. An edict was issued—and the faithful groaned when they saw that it bore the counter-signature of a Jewish Treasury-clerk—that on Sunday the 30th of August all the Catholic churches of Italy should be handed over to the Arians. But this tremendous religious revolution was not to be accomplished, nor was an insurrection of the Catholics to be required in order to arrest it. The edict was published on Wednesday the 26th of August. On the following day the King was attacked by diarroea, and after three days of violent pain he died on the 30th of August, the very day on which the churches were to have been handed over to the heretics and ninety-seven days after the death of the Pope.[134]

[Footnote 134: The disease and death, of Theodoric are thus described by the chief contemporary authority, the "Anonymous Valesii": "Sed qui non patitur fideles cultores suos ab alienigenis opprimi, mox intulit in eum sententiam Arrii, auctoris religionis ejus: fluxum ventris incurrit, et dum intra triduo evacuatus fuisset, eodem die, quo se gaudebat ecclesias invadere, simul regnum et animam amisit".]

There is certainly something in this account of Theodoric's death which suggests the idea of arsenical poisoning. No hint of this kind is given by any of the annalists, but they are all hostile to Theodoric and disposed to see in his rapid illness and most opportune death a Divine judgment for his meditated persecution of the Church. On the other hand it is impossible to read the account of his strange incoherent deeds and words during the last three years of his life, without suspecting that his brain was diseased and that he was not fully responsible for his actions. As bearing on this question it is worth while to quote the story of his death given by a Greek historian[135] who wrote twenty-four years after his death. It is, perhaps, only an idle tale, but it shows the kind of stories which were current among the citizens of Ravenna as to the last days of their great king. "When Theodoric was dining, a few days after the death of Symmachus and Boethius,[136] the servants placed on the table a large fish's head. This seemed to Theodoric to be the head of Symmachus, newly slain. The teeth seemed to gnaw the lower lip, the eyes glared at him with wrath and frenzy, the dead man appeared, to threaten him with utmost vengeance. Terrified by this amazing portent and chilled to the bone with fear, he hastily sought his couch, where, having ordered the servants to pile bed-clothes upon him, he slept awhile. Then sending for Elpidius, the physician, he related all that had happened to him, and wept for his sins against Symmachus and Boethius. And with these tears and with bitter lamentations for the tragedy in which he had taken part, he soon afterwards died, this being the first and last injustice which he had committed against any of his subjects. And it proceeded from his not carefully sifting, as he was wont to do, the evidence on which a capital charge was grounded".

[Footnote 135: Procopius. He was present with Belisarius in Ravenna in 540, and wrote his history of the Gothic war (first three books) probably in 550.]

[Footnote 136: This is, of course, an error. Theodoric's death was about two years after that of Boethius, and many months after that of Symmachus.]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse