A vain, old, rich senator, named Didius Julianus, was at supper with his family when he heard that the Praetorians were selling the empire by auction, and out he ran, and actually bought it at the rate of about L200 to each man. The Emperor being really the commander-in-chief, with other offices attached to the dignity, the soldiers had a sort of right to the choice; but the other armies at a distance, who were really fighting and guarding the empire, had no notion of letting the matter be settled by the Praetorians, mere guardsmen, who stayed at home and tried to rule the rest; so each army chose its own general and marched on Rome, and it was the general on the Danube, Septimius Severus, who got there first; whereupon the Praetorians killed their foolish Emperor and joined him.
THE PRAETORIAN INFLUENCE.
Septimus Severus was an able Emperor, and reigned a long time. He was stern and harsh, as was needed by the wickedness of the time; and he was very active, seldom at Rome, but flashing as it were from one end of the empire to the other, wherever he was needed, and keeping excellent order. There was no regular persecution of the Christians in his time; but at Lyons, where the townspeople were in great numbers Christians, the country-folk by some sudden impulse broke in and made a horrible massacre of them, in which the bishop, St. Irenaeus, was killed. So few country people were at this time converts, that Paganus, a peasant, came to be used as a term for a heathen.
Severus was, like Trajan and Hadrian, a great builder and road-maker. The whole empire was connected by a network of paved roads made by the soldiery, cutting through hills, bridging valleys, straight, smooth, and so solid that they remain to this day. This made communication so rapid that government was possible to an active man like him. He gave the Parthians a check; and, when an old man, came to Britain and marched far north, but he saw it was impossible to guard Antonius' wall between the Forth and Clyde, and only strengthened the rampart of Hadrian from the Tweed to the Solway. He died at York, in 211, on his return, and his last watchword was "Labor!" His wife was named Julia Domna, and he left two sons, usually called Caracalla and Geta, who divided the empire; but Geta was soon stabbed by his brother's own hand, and then Caracalla showed himself even worse than Commodus, till he in his turn was murdered in 217.
His mother, Julia Domna, had a sister called Julia Saemias, who lived at Antioch, and had two daughters, Saemias and Mammaea, who each had a son, Elagabalus—so called after the idol supposed to represent the sun, whose priest at Emesa he was—and Alexander Severus. The Praetorian Guard, in their difficulty whom to chose Emperor, chose Elagabalus, a lad of nineteen, who showed himself a poor, miserable, foolish wretch, who did the most absurd things. His feasts were a proverb for excess, and even his lions were fed on parrots and pheasants. Sometimes he would get together a festival party of all fat men, or all thin, all tall, or short, all bald, or gouty; and at others he would keep the wedding of his namesake god and Pallas, making matches between the gods and goddesses all over Italy; and he carried on his service to his god with the same barbaric dances in a strange costume as at Emesa, to the great disgust of the Romans. His grandmother persuaded him to adopt his cousin Alexander, a youth of much more promise, who took the name of Severus. The soldiers were charmed with him; Elagabalus became jealous, and was going to strip him of his honors; but this angered the Praetorians, so that they put the elder Emperor to death in 222.
Alexander Severus was a good and just prince, whose mother is believed to have been a Christian, and he had certainly learned enough of the Divine Law to love virtue, and be firm while he was forbearing. He loved virtue, but he did not accept the faith, and would only look upon our Blessed Lord as a sort of great philosopher, placing His statue with that of Abraham, Orpheus, and all whom he thought great teachers of mankind, in a private temple of his own, as if they were all on a level. He never came any nearer to the faith, and after thirteen years of good and firm government he was killed in a mutiny of the Praetorians in 235.
These guards had all the power, and set up and put down Emperors so rapidly that there are hardly any names worth remembering. In the unsettled state of the empire no one had time to persecute the Christians, and their numbers grew and prospered; in many places they had churches, with worship going on openly, and their Bishops were known and respected. The Emperor Philip, called the Arabian, who was actually a Christian, though he would not own it openly, when he was at Antioch, joined in the service at Easter, and presented himself to receive the Holy Communion; but Bishop Babylas refused him, until he should have done open penance for the crimes by which he had come to the purple, and renounced all remains of heathenism. He turned away rebuked, but put off his repentance; and the next year celebrated the games called the Seculae, because they took place every Seculum or hundredth year, with all their heathen ceremonies, and with tenfold splendor, in honor of this being Rome's thousandth birthday.
Soon after, another general named Decius was chosen by the army on the German frontier, and Philip was killed in battle with him. Decius wanted to be an old-fashioned Roman; he believed in the gods, and thought the troubles of the empire came of forsaking them; and as the Parthians molested the East, and the Goths and Germans the North, and the soldiers seemed more ready to kill their Emperors than the enemy, he thought to win back prosperity by causing all to return to the old worship, and begun the worst persecution the Church had yet known. Rome, Antioch, Carthage, Alexandria, and all the chief cities were searched for Christians. If they would not throw a handful of incense on the idol's altar or disown Christ, they were given over to all the horrid torments cruel ingenuity could invent, in the hope of subduing their constancy. Some fell, but the greater number were firm, and witnessed a glorious confession before, in 251, Decius and his son were both slain in battle in Maesia.
The next Emperor whose name is worth remembering was Valerian, who had to make war against the Persians. The old stock of Persian kings, professing to be descended from Cyrus, and, like him, adoring fire, had overcome the Parthians, and were spreading the Persian power in the East, under their king Sapor, who conquered Mesopotamia, and on the banks of the Euphrates defeated Valerian in a terrible battle at Edessa. Valerian was made prisoner, and kept as a wretched slave, who was forced to crouch down that Sapor might climb up by his back when mounting on horseback; and when he died, his skin was dyed purple, stuffed, and hung up in a temple.
The best resistance made to Sapor was by Odenatus, a Syrian chief, and his beautiful Arabian wife Zenobia, who held out the city of Palmyra, on an oasis in the desert between Palestine and Assyria, till Sapor retreated. Finding that no notice was taken of them by Rome, they called themselves Emperor and Empress. The city was very beautifully adorned with splendid buildings in the later Greek style; and Zenobia, who reigned with her young sons after her husband's death, was well read in Greek classics and philosophy, and was a pupil of the philosopher Longinus. Aurelian, becoming Emperor of Rome, came against this strange little kingdom, and was bravely resisted by Zenobia; but he defeated her, made her prisoner, and caused her to march in his triumph to Rome. She afterwards lived with her children in Italy.
Aurelian saw perils closing in on all sides of the empire, and thought it time to fortify the city of Rome itself, which had long spread beyond the old walls of Servius Tullus. He traced a new circuit, and built the wall, the lines of which are the same that still enclose Rome, though the wall itself has been several times thrown down and rebuilt. He also built the city in Gaul which still bears his name, slightly altered into Orleans. He was one of those stern, brave Emperors, who vainly tried to bring back old Roman manners, and fancied it was Christianity that corrupted them; and he was just preparing for a great persecution when he was murdered in his tent, and there were three or four more Emperors set up and then killed almost as soon as their reign was well begun. The last thirty of them are sometimes called the Thirty Tyrants. This power of the Praetorian Guard, of setting up and pulling down their Emperor as being primarily their general, lasted altogether fully a hundred years.
THE DIVISION OF THE EMPIRE.
A Dalmatian soldier named Diocles had been told by a witch that he should become Emperor by the slaughter of a boar. He became a great hunter, but no wild boar that he killed seemed to bring him nearer to the purple, till, when the army was fighting on the Tigris, the Emperor Numerianus died, and an officer named Aper offered himself as his successor. Aper is the Latin for a boar, and Diocles, perceiving the scope of the prophecy, thrust his sword into his rival's breast, and was hailed Emperor by the legions. He lengthened his name out to Diocletianus, to sound more imperial, and began a dominion unlike that of any who had gone before. They had only been, as it were, overgrown generals, chosen by the Praetorians or some part of the army, and at the same time taking the tribuneship and other offices for life. Diocletian, though called Emperor, reigned like the kings of the East. He broke the strength of the Praetorians, so that they could never again kill one Emperor and elect another as before; and he never would visit Rome lest he should be obliged to acknowledge the authority of the Senate, whose power he contrived so entirely to take away, that thenceforward Senator became only a complimentary title, of which people in the subdued countries were very proud.
He divided the empire into two parts, feeling that it was beyond the management of any one man, and chose an able soldier of low birth but much courage, named Maximian, to rule the West from Trier as his capital, while he himself ruled the East from Nicomedia. Each of the two Emperors chose a future successor, who was to rule in part of his dominions under the title of Caesar, and to reign after him. Diocletian chose his son-in-law Galerius, and sent him to fight on the Danube; and Maximian chose, as Caesar, Constantius Chlorus, who commanded in Britain, Gaul, and Spain; and thus everything was done to secure that a strong hand should be ready everywhere to keep the legions from setting up Emperors at their own will.
Diocletian was esteemed the most just and kind of the Emperors; Maximian, the fiercest and most savage. He had a bitter hatred of the Christian name, which was shared by Galerius; but, on the other hand, the wife of Diocletian was believed to be a Christian, and Helena, the wife of Constantius, was certainly one. However, Maximian and Galerius were determined to put down the faith. Maximian is said to have had a whole legion of Christians in his army, called the Theban, from the Egyptian Thebes. These he commanded to sacrifice, and on their refusal had them decimated—that is, every tenth man was slain. They were called on again to sacrifice, but still were staunch, and after a last summons were, every man of them, slain as they stood with their tribune Maurice, whose name is still held in high honor in the Engadine. Diocletian was slow to become a persecutor, until a fire broke out in his palace at Nicomedia, which did much mischief in the city, but spared the chief Christian church. The enemies of the Christians accused them of having caused it, and Diocletian required every one in his household to clear themselves by offering sacrifice to Jupiter. His wife and daughter yielded, but most of his officers and slaves held out, and died in cruel torments. One slave was scourged till the flesh parted from his bones, and then the wounds were rubbed with salt and vinegar; others were racked till their bones were out of joint, and others hung up by their hands to hooks, with weights fastened to their feet. A city in Phrygia was surrounded by soldiers and every person in it slaughtered; and the Christians were hunted down like wild beasts from one end of the empire to the other, everywhere save in Britain, where, under Constantius, only one martyrdom is reported to have taken place, namely, that of the soldier at Verulam, St. Alban. It was the worst of all the persecutions, and lasted the longest.
The two Emperors were good soldiers, and kept the enemies back, so that Diocletian celebrated a triumph at Nicomedia; but he had an illness just after, and, as he was fifty-nine years old, he decided that it would be better to resign the empire while he was still in his full strength, and he persuaded Maximian to do the same, in 305, making Constantius and Galerius Emperors in their stead. Constantius stopped the persecution in the West, but it raged as much as ever in the East under Galerius and the Caesar he had appointed, whose name was Daza, but who called himself Maximin. Constantius fought bravely, both in Britain and Gaul, with the enemies who tried to break into the empire. The Franks, one of the Teuton nations, were constantly breaking in on the eastern frontier of Gaul, and the Caledonians on the northern border of the settlement of Britain. He opposed them gallantly, and was much loved, but he died at York, 305, and Galerius passed over his son Constantine, and appointed a favorite of his own named Licinius. Constantine was so much beloved by the army and people of Gaul that they proclaimed him Emperor, and he held the province of Britain and Gaul securely against all enemies.
Old Maximian, who had only retired on the command of Diocletian, now came out from his retreat, and called on his colleague to do the same; but Diocletian was far too happy on his little farm at Salona to leave it, and answered the messenger who urged him again to take upon him the purple with—"Come and look at the cabbages I have planted." However, Maximian was accepted as the true Emperor by the Senate, and made his son Maxentius, Caesar, while he allied himself with Constantine, to whom he gave his daughter Fausta in marriage. Maxentius turned out a rebel, and drove the old man away to Marseilles, where Constantine gave him a home on condition of his not interfering with government; but he could not rest, and raised the troops in the south against his son-in-law. Constantine's army marched eagerly against him and made him prisoner, but even then he was pardoned; yet he still plotted, and tried to persuade his daughter Fausta to murder her husband. Upon this Constantine was obliged to have him put to death.
Galerius died soon after of a horrible disease, during which he was filled with remorse for his cruelties to the Christians, sent to entreat their prayers, and stopped the persecution. On his death, Licinius seized part of his dominions, and there were four men calling themselves Emperors—Licinius in Asia, Daza Maximin in Egypt, Maxentius at Rome, and Constantine in Gaul.
There was sure soon to be a terrible struggle. It began between Maxentius and Constantine. This last marched out of Gaul and entered Italy. He had hitherto seemed doubtful between Christianity and paganism, but a wonder was seen in the heavens before his whole army, namely, a bright cross of light in the noon-tide sky with the words plainly to be traced round it, In hoc signo vinces—"In this sign thou shalt conquer." This sight decided his mind; he proclaimed himself a Christian, and from Milan issued forth an edict promising the Christians his favor and protection. Great victories were gained by him at Turin, Verona, and on the banks of the Tiber, where, at the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, Maxentius was defeated, and was drowned in crossing the river. Constantine entered Rome, and was owned by the Senate as Emperor of the West.
CONSTANTINE THE GREAT.
Constantine entered Rome as a Christian, and from his time forward Christianity prevailed. He reigned only over the West at first, but Licinius overthrew Daza, treating him and his family with great barbarity, and then Constantine, becoming alarmed at his power, marched against him, beat him in Thrace, and ten years later made another attack on him. In the battle of Adrianople, Licinius was defeated, and soon after made prisoner and put to death. Thus, in 323, Constantine became the only Emperor.
He was a Christian in faith, though not as yet baptized. He did not destroy heathen temples nor forbid heathen rites, but he did everything to favor the Christians and make Christian laws. Churches were rebuilt and ornamented; Sunday was kept as the day of the Lord, and on it no business might be transacted except the setting free of a slave; soldiers might go to church, and all that had made it difficult and dangerous to confess the faith was taken away. Constantine longed to see his whole empire Christian; but at Rome, heathen ceremonies were so bound up with every action of the state or of a man's life that it was very hard for the Emperor to avoid them, and he therefore spent as little time as he could there, but was generally at the newer cities of Arles and Trier; and at last he decided on founding a fresh capital, to be a Christian city from the first.
The place he chose was the shore of the Bosphorus, where Asia and Europe are only divided by that narrow channel, and where the old Greek city of Byzantium already stood. From hence he hoped to be able to rule the East and the West. He enlarged the city with splendid buildings, made a palace there for himself, and called it after his own name—Constantinople, or New Rome, neither of which names has it ever lost. He carried many of the ornaments of Old Rome thither, but consecrated them as far as possible, and he surrounded himself with Bishops and clergy. His mother Helena made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to visit the spots where our blessed Lord lived and died, and to clear them from profanation. The churches she built over the Holy Sepulchre and the Cave of the nativity at Bethlehem have been kept up even to this day.
There was now no danger in being a Christian, and thus worldly and even wicked men and women owned themselves as belonging to the Church. So much evil prevailed that many good men fled from the sight of it, thinking to do more good by praying in lonely places free from temptation than by living in the midst of it. These were called hermits, and the first and most noted of them was St. Anthony. The Thebaid, or hilly country above Thebes in Egypt, was full of these hermits. When they banded together in brotherhoods they were called monks, and the women who did the like were called nuns.
At this time there arose in Egypt a priest named Arius, who fell away from the true faith respecting our blessed Lord, and taught that he was not from the beginning, and was not equal with God the Father. The Patriarch of Alexandria tried to silence him, but he led away an immense number of followers, who did not like to stretch their souls to confess that Jesus Christ is God. At last Constantine resolved to call together a council of the Bishops and the wisest priests of the whole Church, to declare what was the truth that had been always held from the beginning. The place he appointed for the meeting was Nicea, in Asia Minor, and he paid for the journeys of all the Bishops, three hundred and eighteen in number, who came from all parts of the empire, east and west, so as to form the first Oecumenical or General Council of the Church. Many of them still bore the marks of the persecutions they had borne in Diocletian's time: some had been blinded, or had their ears cut off; some had marks worn on their arms by chains, or were bowed by hard labor in the mines. The Emperor, in purple and gold, took a seat in the council as the prince, but only as a layman and not yet baptized; and the person who used the most powerful arguments was a young deacon of Alexandria named Athanasius. Almost every Bishop declared that the doctrine of Arius was contrary to what the Church had held from the first, and the confession of faith was drawn up which we call the Nicene Creed. Three hundred Bishops at once set their seals to it, and of those who at first refused all but two were won over, and these were banished. It was then that the faith of the Church began to be called Catholic or universal, and orthodox or straight teaching; while those who attacked it were called heretics, and their doctrine heresy, from a Greek word meaning to choose.
The troubles were not at an end with the Council and Creed of Nicea. Arius had pretended to submit, but he went on with his false teaching, and the courtly Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had the ear of the Emperor, protected him. Athanasius had been made Patriarch, or Father-Bishop, of Alexandria, and with all his might argued against the false doctrine, and cut off those who followed it from the Church. But Eusebius so talked that Constantine fancied quiet was better than truth, and sent orders to Athanasius that no one was to be shut out. This the Patriarch could not obey, and the Emperor therefore banished him to Gaul. Arius then went to Constantinople to ask the Emperor to insist on his being received back to communion. He declared that he believed that which he held in his hand, showing the Creed of Nicea, but keeping hidden under it a statement of his own heresy.
"Go," said Constantine; "if your faith agree with your oath, you are blameless; if not, God be your judge;" and he commanded that Arius should be received to communion the next day, which was Sunday. But on his way to church, among a great number of his friends, Arius was struck with sudden illness, and died in a few minutes. The Emperor, as well as the Catholics, took this as a clear token of the hand of God, and Constantine was cured of any leaning to the Arians, though he still believed the men who called Athanasius factious and troublesome, and therefore would not recall him from exile.
The great grief of Constantine's life was, that he put his eldest son Crispus to death on a wicked accusation of his stepmother Fausta. On learning the truth, he caused a silver statue to be raised, bearing the inscription, "My son, whom I unjustly condemned;" and when other crimes of Fausta came to light, he caused her to be suffocated.
Baptism was often in those days put off to the end of life, that there might be no more sin after it, and Constantine was not baptized till his last illness had begun, when he was sixty-four years old, and he sent for Sylvester, Pope or Bishop of Rome, where he then was, and received from him baptism, absolution, and Holy Communion. After this, Constantine never put on purple robes again, but wore white till the day of his death in 337.
Constantine the Great left three sons, who shared the empire between them; but two were slain early in life, and only Constantius, the second and worst of the brothers, remained Emperor. He was an Arian, and under him Athanasius, who had returned to Alexandria, was banished again, and took refuge with the Pope Liberius at Rome. Pope—papa in Latin—is the name for father, just as patriarch is; and the Pope had become more important since the removal of the court from Rome; but Constantius tried to overcome Liberius, banished him to Thrace, and placed an Arian named Felix in his room. The whole people of Rome rose in indignation, and Constantius tried to appease them by declaring that Liberius and Felix should rule the Church together; but the Romans would not submit to such a decree. "Shall we have the circus factions in the Church?" they said. "No! one God, one Christ, one Bishop!" In the end Felix was forced to fly, and Liberius kept his seat. Athanasius found his safest refuge in the deserts among the hermits of the Thebaid in Egypt.
Meantime Sapor, king of Persia, was attacking Nisibis, the most Eastern city of the Roman empire, where a brave Catholic named James was Bishop, and encouraged the people to a most brave resistance, so that they held out for four months; and Sapor, thinking the city was under some divine protection, and finding that his army sickened in the hot marshes around it, gave up the siege at last.
Constantius was a little, mean-looking man, but he dressed himself up to do his part as Emperor. He had swarms of attendants like any Eastern prince, most of them slaves, who waited on him as if he was perfectly helpless. He had his face painted, and was covered with gold embroidery and jewels on all state occasions, and he used to stand like a statue to be looked at, never winking an eyelid, nor moving his hand, nor doing anything to remind people that he was a man like themselves. He was timid and jealous, and above all others, he dreaded his young cousin Julian, the only relation he had. Julian had studied at Athens, and what he there heard and fancied of the old Greek philosophy seemed to him far grander than the Christianity that showed itself in the lives of Constantius and his courtiers. He was full of spirit and ability, and Constantius thought it best to keep him at a distance by sending him to fight the Germans on the borders of Gaul. There he was so successful, and was such a favorite with the soldiers, that Constantius sent to recall him. This only made the army proclaim him Emperor, and he set out with them across the Danubian country towards Constantinople, but on the way met the tidings that Constantius was dead.
This was in 361, and without going to Rome Julian hastened on to Constantinople, where he was received as Emperor. He no longer pretended to be a Christian, but had all the old heathen temples opened again, and the sacrifices performed as in old times, though it was not easy to find any one who recollected how they were carried on. He said that all forms of religion should be free to every one, but he himself tried to live like an ancient philosopher, getting rid of all the pomp of jewels, robes, courtiers, and slaves who had attended Constantius, wearing simply the old purple garb of a Roman general, sleeping on a lion's skin, and living on the plainest food. Meantime, he tried to put down the Christian faith by laughing at it, and trying to get people to despise it as something low and mean. When this did not succeed, he forbade Christians to be schoolmasters or teachers; and as they declared that the ruin of the Temple of Jerusalem proved our Lord to have been a true Prophet, he commanded that it should be rebuilt. As soon as the foundations were dug, there was an outburst of fiery smoke and balls of flame which forced the workmen to leave off. Such things sometimes happen when long-buried ruins are opened, from the gases that have formed there; but it was no doubt the work of God's providence, and the Christians held it as a miracle.
Julian hated the Catholic Christians worse than the Arians, because he found them more staunch against him. Athanasius had come back to Alexandria, but the Arians got up an accusation against him that he had been guilty of a murder, and brought forward a hand in a box to prove the crime; and though Athanasius showed the man said to have been murdered alive, and with both his hands in their places, he was still hunted out of Alexandria, and had to hide among the hermits of the Thebaid again. When any search was threatened of the spot where he was, the horn was sounded which called the hermits together to church, and he was taken to another hiding-place. Sometimes he visited his flock at Alexandria in secret, and once, when he was returning down the Nile, he learned that a boat-load of soldiers was pursuing him. Turning back, his boat met them. They called out to know if Athanasius had been seen. "He was going down the Nile a little while ago," the Bishop answered. His enemies hurried on, and he was safe.
Julian was angered by finding it impossible to waken paganism. At one grand temple in Asia, whither hundreds of oxen used to be brought to sacrifice, all his encouragement only caused one goose to be offered, which the priest of the temple received as a grand gift. Julian expected, too, that pagans would worship their old gods and yet live the virtuous lives of Christians; and he was disappointed and grieved to find that no works of goodness or mercy sprang from those who followed his belief. He was a kind man by nature, but he began to grow bitter with disappointment, and to threaten when he found it was of no use to persuade; and the Christians expected that there would be a great persecution when he should return from an expedition into the East against the king of Persia.
He went with a fine army in ships down the Euphrates, and thence marched into Persia, where King Sapor was wise enough to avoid a battle, and only retreat before him. The Romans were half starved, and obliged to turn back. Then Sapor attacked their rear, and cut off their stragglers. Julian shared all the sufferings of his troops, and was always wherever there was danger. At last a javelin pierced him under the arm. It is said that he caught some of his blood in his other hand, cast it up towards heaven, and cried, "Galilean, Thou hast conquered." He died in a few hours, in 363, and the Romans could only choose the best leader they knew to get them out of the sad plight they were in—almost that of the ten thousand Greeks, except that they knew the roads and had friendly lands much nearer. Their choice fell on a plain, honest Christian soldier named Jovian, who did his best by making a treaty with Sapor, giving up all claim to any lands beyond the Tigris, and surrendering the brave city of Nisibis which had held out so gallantly—a great grief to the Eastern Christians. The first thing Jovian did was to have Athanasius recalled, but his reign did not last a year, and he died on the way to Constantinople.
VALENTINIAN AND HIS FAMILY.
When Jovian died, the army chose another soldier named Valentinian, a stout, brave, rough man, with little education, rude and passionate, but a Catholic Christian. As soon as he reached Constantinople, he divided the empire with his brother Valens, whom he left to rule the East, while he himself went to govern the West, chiefly from Milan, for the Emperors were not fond of living at Rome, partly because the remains of the Senate interfered with their full grandeur, and partly because there were old customs that were inconvenient to a Christian Emperor. He was in general just and honest in his dealings, but when he was angry he could be cruel, and it is said he had two bears to whom criminals were thrown. His brother Valens was a weaker and less able man, and was an Arian, who banished Athanasius once more for the fifth time; but the Church of Alexandria prevailed, and he was allowed to remain and die in peace. The Creed that bears his name is not thought to be of his writing, but to convey what he taught. There was great talk at this time all over the cities about the questions between the Catholics and Arians, and good men were shocked by hearing the holiest mysteries of the faith gossiped about by the idlers in baths and market-places.
At this time Damasus, the Pope, desired a very learned deacon of his church, named Jerome, to make a good translation of the whole of the Scriptures into Latin, comparing the best versions, and giving an account of the books. For this purpose Jerome went to the Holy Land, and lived in a cell at Bethlehem, happy to be out of the way of the quarrels at Rome and Constantinople. There, too, was made the first translation of the Gospels into one of the Teutonic languages, namely, the Gothic. The Goths were a great people, of the same Teutonic race as the Germans, Franks, and Saxons—tall, fair, brave, strong, and handsome—and were at this time living on the north bank of the Danube. Many of their young men hired themselves to fight as soldiers in the Roman army; and they were learning Christianity, but only as Arians. It was for them that their Bishop Ulfilas translated the Gospels into Gothic, and invented an alphabet to write them in. A copy of this translation is still to be seen at Upsal in Sweden, written on purple vellum in silver letters.
Another great and holy man of this time was Ambrose, the Archbishop of Milan, who was the guide and teacher of Gratian, Valentinian's eldest son, a good and promising youth so far as he went, but who, after the habit of the time, was waiting to be baptized till he should be further on in life. Valentinian's second wife was named Justina; and when he died, as it is said, from breaking a blood-vessel in a fit of rage, in 375, the Western Empire was shared between her little son Valentinian and Gratian.
Justina was an Arian, and wanted to have a church in Milan where she could worship without ascribing full honor and glory to God the Son; but Ambrose felt that the churches were his Master's, not his own to be given away, and filled the Church with Christians, who watched there chanting Psalms day and night, while the soldiers Justina sent to turn them out joined them, and sang and prayed with them.
Gratian did not choose to be called Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest of all the Roman idols, as all the Emperors had been; and this offended many persons. A general named Maximus rose and reigned as Emperor in Britain, and Gratian had too much on his hands in the north to put him down.
In the meantime, a terrible wild tribe called Huns were coming from the West and driving the Goths before them, so that they asked leave from Valens to come across the Danube and settle themselves in Thrace. The reply was so ill managed by Valens' counsellors that the Goths were offended, and came over the river as foes when they might have come as friends; and Valens was killed in battle with them at Adrianople in 378.
Gratian felt that he alone could not cope with the dangers that beset the empire, and his brother was still a child, so he gave the Eastern Empire to a brave and noble Spanish general named Theodosius, who was a Catholic Christian and baptized, and who made peace with the Goths, gave them settlements, and took their young men into his armies. In the meantime, Maximus was growing more powerful in Britain, and Gratian, who chiefly lived in Gaul, was disliked by the soldiers especially for making friends with the young Gothic chief Alaric, whom he joined in hunting in the forests of Gaul in a way they thought unworthy of an Emperor. Finding that he was thus disliked, Maximus crossed the Channel to attack him. His soldiers would not march against the British legions, and he was taken and put to death, bitterly lamenting that he had so long deferred his baptism till now it was denied to him.
Young Valentinian went on reigning at Milan, and Maximus in Gaul. This last had become a Christian and a Catholic in name, but without laying aside his fierceness and cruelty, so that, when some heretics were brought before him, he had them put to death, entirely against the advice of the great Saint and Bishop then working in Gaul, Martin of Tours, and likewise of St. Ambrose, who had been sent by Valentinian to make peace with the Gallic tyrant.
It was a time of great men in the Church. In Africa a very great man had risen up, St. Augustine, who, after doubting long and living a life of sin, was drawn to the truth by the prayers of his good mother Monica, and, when studying in Italy, listened to St. Ambrose, and became a hearty believer and maintainer of all that was good. He became Bishop of Hippo in Africa.
But with the good there was much of evil. All the old cities, and especially Rome, were full of a strange mixture of Christian show and heathen vice. There was such idleness and luxury in the towns that hardly any Romans had hardihood enough to go out to fight their own battles, but hired Goths, Germans, Gauls, and Moors; and these learned their ways of warfare, and used them in their turn against the Romans themselves. Nothing was so much run after as the games in the amphitheatres. People rushed there to watch the chariot races, and went perfectly wild with eagerness about the drivers whose colors they wore; and even the gladiator games were not done away with by Christianity, although these sports were continually preached against by the clergy, and no really devout person would go to the theatres. Much time was idled away at the baths, which were the place for talk and gossip, and where there was a soft steamy air which was enough to take away all manhood and resolution. The ladies' dresses were exceedingly expensive and absurd, and the whole way of living quite as sumptuous and helpless as in the times of heathenism. Good people tried to live apart. More than ever became monks and hermits; and a number of ladies, who had been much struck with St. Jerome's teaching, made up a sort of society at Rome which busied itself in good works and devotion. Two of the ladies, a mother and daughter, followed him to the Holy Land, and dwelt in a convent at Bethlehem.
Maximus after a time advanced into Italy, and Valentinian fled to ask the help of Theodosius, who came with an army, defeated and slew Maximus, and restored Valentinian, but only for a short time, for the poor youth was soon murdered by a Frank chief in his own service named Arbogastes.
THEODOSIUS THE GREAT.
The Frank, Arbogastes, who had killed Valentinian did not make himself Emperor, but set up a heathen philosopher called Eugenius, who for a little while restored all the heathen pomp and splendor, and opened the temples again, threatening even to take away the churches and turn the chief one at Milan into a stable. They knew that Theodosius would soon come to attack them, so they prepared for a great resistance in the passes of the Julian Alps, and the image of the Thundering Jupiter was placed to guard them.
Theodosius had collected his troops and marched under the Labarum—that is to say, the Cross of Constantine, which had been the ensign of the imperial army ever since the battle of the Milvian Bridge. It was the cross combined with the two first Greek letters of the name Christ, [Symbol: Greek chi & rho combined], and was carried, as the eagles had been, above a purple silk banner. The men of Eugenius bore before them a figure of Hercules, and in the first battle they gained the advantage, for the more ignorant Eastern soldiers, though Christians, could not get rid of the notion that there was some sort of power in a heathen god, and thought Jupiter and Hercules were too strong for them.
But Theodosius rallied them and led them back, so that they gained a great victory, and a terrible storm and whirlwind which fell at the same time upon the host of Eugenius made the Christian army feel the more sure that God fought on their side. Eugenius was taken and put to death, and Arbogastes fell on his own sword.
Theodosius thus united the empires of the East and West once more. He was a brave and gallant soldier, and a good and conscientious man, and was much loved and honored; but he could be stern and passionate, and he was likewise greatly feared. At Antioch, the people had been much offended at a tax which Theodosius had laid on them; they rose in rebellion, overthrew his statues and those of his family, and dragged them about in the mud. No sooner was this done than they began to be shocked and terrified, especially because of the insult to the statue of the Empress, who was lately dead after a most kind and charitable life. The citizens in haste sent off messengers, with the Bishop at their head, to declare their grief and sorrow, and entreat the Emperor's pardon. All the time they were gone the city gave itself up to prayer and fasting, listening to sermons from the priest, John—called from his eloquence Chrysostom, or Golden Mouth—who preached repentance for all the most frequent sins, such as love of pleasure, irreverence at church, etc. The Bishop on his way met the Emperor's deputies who were charged to enquire into the crime and punish the people; and he redoubled his speed in reaching Constantinople, where he so pleaded the cause of the people that Theodosius freely forgave them, and sent him home to keep a happy Easter with them. This was while he was still Emperor only of the East.
But when he was in Italy with Valentinian, three years later, there was another great sedition at Thessalonica. The people there were as mad as were most of the citizens of the larger towns upon the sports of the amphitheatre, and were vehemently fond of the charioteers whom they admired on either side. Just before some races that were expected, one of the favorite drivers committed a crime for which he was imprisoned. The people, wild with fury, rose and called for his release; and when this was denied to them, they fell on the magistrates with stones, and killed the chief of them, Botheric, the commander of the forces. The news was taken to Milan, where the Emperor then was, and his wrath was so great and terrible that he commanded that the whole city should suffer. The soldiers, who were glad both to revenge their captain and to gain plunder, hastened to put his command into execution; the unhappy people were collected in the circus, and slaughtered so rapidly and suddenly, that when Theodosius began to recover from his passion, and sent to stay the hands of the slayers, they found the city burning and the streets full of corpses.
St. Ambrose felt it his duty to speak forth in the name of the Church against such fury and cruelty; and when Theodosius presented himself at the church door to come to the Holy Communion, Ambrose met him there, and turned him back as a blood-stained sinner unfit to partake of the heavenly feast, and bidding him not add sacrilege to murder.
Theodosius pleaded that David had sinned even more deeply, and yet had been forgiven. "If you have sinned like him, repent like him," said Ambrose; and the Emperor went back weeping to his palace, there to remain as a penitent. Easter was the usual time for receiving penitents back to the Church, but at Christmas the Emperor presented himself again, hoping to win the Bishop's consent to his return at once; but Ambrose was firm, and again met him at the gate, rebuking him for trying to break the rules of the Church.
"No," said Theodosius; "I am not come to break the laws, but to entreat you to imitate the mercy of God whom we serve, who opens the gates of mercy to contrite sinners."
On seeing how deep was his repentance, Ambrose allowed him to enter the Church, though it was not for some time that he was admitted to the Holy Communion, and all that time he fasted and never put on his imperial robes. He also made a law that no sentence of death should be carried out till thirty days after it was given, so as to give time to see whether it were hasty or just.
During this reign another heresy sprang up, denying the Godhead of God the Holy Ghost, and, in consequence, Theodosius called together another Council of the Church, at which was added to the Nicene Creed those latter sentences which follow the words, "I believe in the Holy Ghost." In this reign, too, began to be sung the Te Deum, which is generally known as the hymn of St. Ambrose. It was first used at Milan, but whether he wrote it or not is uncertain, though there is a story that he had it sung for the first time at the baptism of St. Augustine.
Theodosius only lived six months after his defeat of Eugenius, dying at Milan in 395, when only fifty years old. He was the last who really deserved the name of a Roman Emperor, though the title was kept up, and Rome had still much to undergo. He left two young sons named Arcadius and Honorius, between whom the empire was divided.
ALARIC THE GOTH.
The sons of the great Theodosius were, like almost all the children of the Roman Emperors, vain and weak, spoiled by growing up as princes. Arcadius, who was eighteen, had the East, and was under the charge of a Roman officer called Rufinus; Honorius who was only eleven, reigned at Rome under the care of Stilicho, who was by birth a Vandal, that is to say, of one of those Teutonic nations who were living all round the northern bounds of the empire, and whose sons came to serve in the Roman armies and learn Roman habits. Stilicho was brave and faithful, and almost belonged to the imperial family, for his wife Serena was niece to Theodosius, and his daughter Maria was betrothed to the young Honorius.
Stilicho was a very active, spirited man, who found troops to check the enemies of Rome on all sides of the Western Empire. Rufinus was not so faithful, and did great harm in the East by quarrelling with Arcadius' other ministers, and then, as all believed, inviting the Goths to come out of their settlements on the Danube and invade Greece, under Alaric, the same Gothic chief who had been a friend and companion of Gratian, and had fought under Theodosius.
They passed the Danube, overran Macedon, and spread all over Greece, where, being Arian Christians, they destroyed with all their might all the remaining statues and temples of the old pagans; although, as they did not attack Athens, the pagans, who were numerous there, fancied that they were prevented by a vision of Apollo and Pallas Athene. Arcadius sent to his brother for aid, and Stilicho marched through Thrace; Rufinus was murdered through his contrivance, and then, marching on into the Peloponnesus, he defeated Alaric in battle, and drove him out from thence, but no further than Epirus, where the Goths took up their station to wait for another opportunity; but by this time Arcadius had grown afraid of Stilicho, sent him back to Italy with many gifts and promises, and engaged Alaric to be the guardian of his empire, not only against the wild tribes, but against his brother and his minister.
This was a fine chance for Alaric, who had all the temper of a great conqueror, and to the wild bravery of a Goth had added the knowledge and skill of a Roman general. He led his forces through the Alps into Italy, and showed himself before the gates of Milan. The poor weak boy Honorius was carried off for safety to Ravenna, while Stilicho gathered all the troops from Gaul, and left Britain unguarded by Roman soldiers, to protect the heart of the empire. With these he attacked Alaric, and gained a great victory at Pollentia; the Goths retreated; he followed and beat them again at Verona, driving them out of Italy.
It was the last Roman victory, and it was celebrated by the last Roman triumph. There had been three hundred triumphs of Roman generals, but it was Honorius who entered Rome in the car of victory and was taken to the Capitol, and afterwards there were games in the amphitheatre as usual, and fights of gladiators. In the midst of the horrid battle a voice was heard bidding it to cease in the name of Christ, and between the swords there was seen standing a monk in his dark brown dress, holding up his hand and keeping back the blows. There was a shout of rage, and he was cut down and killed in a moment; but then in horror the games were stopped. It was found that he was an Egyptian monk named Telemachus, freshly come to Rome. No one knew any more about him, but this noble death of his put an end to shows of gladiators. Chariot races and games went on, though the good and thoughtful disapproved of the wild excitement they caused; but the horrid sports of death and blood were ended for ever.
Alaric was driven back for a time, but there were swarms of Germans who were breaking in where the line of boundary had been left undefended by the soldiers being called away to fight the Goths. A fierce heathen chief named Radegaisus advanced with at least 200,000 men as far as Florence, but was there beaten by the brave Stilicho, and was put to death, while the other prisoners were sold into slavery. But Stilicho, brave as he was, was neither loved nor trusted by the Emperor or the people. Some abused him for not bringing back the old gods under whom, they said, Rome had prospered; others said that he was no honest Christian, and all believed that he meant to make his son Emperor. When he married this son to a daughter of Arcadius, people made sure that this was his purpose. Honorius listened to the accusation, and his favorite Olympius persuaded the army to give up Stilicho. He fled to a church, but was persuaded to come out of it, and was then put to death.
And at that very time Alaric was crossing the Alps. There was no one to make any resistance. Honorius was at Ravenna, safe behind walls and marshes, and cared for nothing but his favorite poultry. Alaric encamped outside the walls of Rome, but he did not attempt to break in, waiting till the Romans should be starved out. When they had come to terrible distress, they offered to ransom their city. He asked a monstrous sum, which they refused, telling him what hosts there were of them, and that he might yet find them dangerous. "The thicker the hay, the easier to mow," said the Goth. "What will you leave us then?" they asked. "Your lives," was the answer.
The ransom the wretched Romans agreed to pay was 5000 pounds' weight of gold and 30,000 of silver, 4000 silk robes, 3000 pieces of scarlet cloth, and 3000 pounds of pepper. They stripped the roof of the temple in the Capitol, and melted down the images of the old gods to raise the sum, and Alaric drew off his men; but he came again the next year, blocked up Ostia, and starved them faster. This time he brought a man named Attalus, whom he ordered them to admit as Emperor, and they did so; but as the governor of Africa would send no corn while this man reigned, the people rose and drove him out, and thus for the third time brought Alaric down on them. The gates were opened to him at night, and he entered Rome on the 24th of August, 410, exactly eight hundred years after the sack of Rome by Brennus.
Alaric did not wish to ruin and destroy the grand old city, nor to massacre the inhabitants; but his Goths were thirsty for the spoil he had kept them from so long, and he gave them leave to plunder for six days, but not to kill, nor to do any harm to the churches. A set of wild, furious men could not, of course, be kept in by these orders, and terrible misfortunes befell many unhappy families; but the mischief done was much less than could have been expected, and the great churches of St. Peter and St. Paul were unhurt. One old lady named Marcella, a friend of St. Jerome, was beaten to make her show where her treasures were; but when at last her tormentors came to believe that she had spent her all on charity, they led her to the shelter of the church with her friends, soon to die of what she had undergone. After twelve days, however, Alaric drew off his forces, leaving Rome to shift for itself. Bishop Innocent was at Ravenna, where he had gone to ask help from the Emperor; but Honorius knew and cared so little that when he was told Rome was lost, he only thought of his favorite hen whose name was Rome, and said, "That cannot be, for I have just fed her."
Alaric marched southward, the Goths plundering the villas of the Roman nobles on their way. At Cosenza, in the extreme south, he fell ill of a fever and died. His warriors turned the stream of the river Bionzo out of its course, caused his grave to be dug in the bed of the torrent, and when his corpse had been laid there, they slew all the slaves who had done the work, so that none might be able to tell where lay the great Goth.
One good thing came of the Gothic conquest—the pagans were put to silence for ever. The temples had been razed, the idols broken, and no one set them up again; but the whole people of Rome were Christian, at least in name, from that time forth; and the temples and halls of justice began to be turned into churches.
Honorius still lived his idle life at Ravenna, and the Bishop—or, as the Romans called him, Papa, father, or Pope—came back and helped them to put matters into order again. Alaric had left no son, but his wife's brother Ataulf became leader of the Goths. At Rome he had made prisoner Theodosius' daughter Placidia, and he married her; but he did not choose to rule at Rome, because, as he said, his Goths would never bear a quiet life in a city. So he promised to protect the empire for Honorius, and led his tribe away from Italy to Spain, which they conquered, and began a kingdom there. They were therefore known as the Visigoths, or Western Goths.
Arcadius, in the meantime, reigned quietly at Constantinople, where St. John Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed preacher of Antioch, was made Patriarch, or father-bishop. The games and races in the circus at Constantinople were as madly run after as they had ever been at Rome or Thessalonica; there were not indeed shows of gladiators, but people set themselves with foolish vehemence to back up one driver against another, wearing their colors and calling themselves by their names, and the two factions of the Greens and the Blues were ready to tear each other to pieces. The Empress Eudoxia, Arcadius' wife, was one of the most vehement of all, and was, besides, a vain, silly woman, who encouraged all kinds of pomp and expense. St. Chrysostom preached against all the mischiefs that thus arose, so that she was offended, and contrived to raise up an accusation against him and have him driven out of the city. The people of Constantinople still showed so much love for him that she insisted on his being sent further off to the bleak shores of the Black Sea, and on the journey he died, his last words being, "Glory be to God in all things."
Arcadius died in 408, leaving a young son, called Theodosius II., in the care of his elder sister Pulcheria, under whom the Eastern Empire lay at peace, while the miseries of the Western went on increasing. New Emperors were set up by the legions in the distant provinces, but were soon overthrown, while Honorius only remained at Ravenna by the support of the kings of the Teuton tribes; and as he never trusted them or kept faith with them, he was always offending them and being punished by fresh attacks on some part of his empire, for which he did not greatly care so long as they let him alone.
Ataulf died in Spain, and Placidia came back to Ravenna, where Honorius gave her in marriage to a Roman general named Constantius, and she had a son named Valentinian, who, when his uncle died after thirty-seven years of a wretched reign, became Emperor in his stead, under his mother's guardianship, in 423.
Two great generals who were really able men were her chief supporters—Boniface, Count or Commander of Africa; and Aetius, who is sometimes called the last of the Romans, though he was not by birth a Roman at all, but a Scythian. He gained the ear of the Empress Placidia, and persuaded her that Boniface wanted to set himself up in Africa as Emperor, so that she sent to recall him, and evil friends assured him that she meant to put him to death as soon as he arrived. He was very much enraged, and though St. Augustine, now an old man, who had long been Bishop of Hippo, advised him to restrain his anger, he called on Genseric, the chief of the Vandals, to come and help him to defend his province.
The Vandals were another tribe of Teutons—tall, strong, fair-haired, and much like the Goths, and, like them, they were Arians. They had marauded in Italy, and then had followed the Goths to Spain, where they had established themselves in the South, in the country called from them Vandalusia, or Andalusia. Their chief was only too glad to obey the summons of Boniface, but before he came the Roman had found out his mistake; Placidia had apologized to him, and all was right between them. But it was now too late; Genseric and his Vandals were on the way, and there was nothing for it but to fight his best against them.
He could not save Carthage, and, though he made the bravest defence in his power, he was driven into Hippo, which was so strongly fortified that he was able to hold it out a whole year, during which time St. Augustine died, after a long illness. He had caused the seven penitential Psalms to be written out on the walls of his room, and was constantly musing on them. He died, and was buried in peace before the city was taken. Boniface held out for five years altogether before Africa was entirely taken by the Vandals, and a miserable time began for the Church, for Genseric was an Arian, and set himself to crush out the Catholic Church by taking away her buildings and grievously persecuting her faithful bishops.
Valentinian III, made a treaty with him, and even yielded up to him all right to the old Roman province of Africa; but Genseric had a strong fleet of ships, and went on attacking and plundering Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Italy and the coasts of Greece.
Britain, at the same time, was being so tormented by the attacks of the Saxons by sea, and the Caledonians from the north, that her chiefs sent a piteous letter to Aetius in Gaul, beginning with "The groans of the Britons;" but Aetius could send no help, and Gaul itself was being overrun by the Goths in the south, the Burgundians in the middle, and the Franks in the north, so that scarcely more than Italy itself remained to Valentinian.
The Eastern half of the Empire was better off, though it was tormented by the Persians in the East, on the northern border by the Eastern Goths or Ostrogoths, who had stayed on the banks of the Danube instead of coming to Italy, and to the south by the Vandals from Africa. But Pulcheria was so wise and good that, when her young brother Theodosius II. died without children, the people begged her to choose a husband who might be an Emperor for them. She chose a wise old senator named Marcian, and when he died, she again chose another good and wise man named Zeno; and thus the Eastern Empire stood while the West was fast crumbling away. The nobles were almost all vain, weak cowards, who only thought of themselves, and left strangers to fight their battles; and every one was cowed with fear, for a more terrible foe than any was now coming on them.
ATTILA THE HUN
The terrible enemy who was coming against the unhappy Roman Empire was the nation of Huns, a wild, savage race, who were of the same stock as the Tartars, and dwelt as they do in the northern parts of Asia, keeping huge herds of horses, spending their life on horseback, and using mares' milk as food. They were an ugly, small, but active race, and used to cut their children's faces that the scars might make them look more terrible to their enemies. Just at this time a great spirit of conquest had come upon them, and they had, as said before, driven the Goths over the Danube fifty years ago, and seized the lands we still call Hungary. A most mighty and warlike chief called Attila had become their head, and wherever he went his track was marked by blood and flame, so that he was called "The Scourge of God." His home was on the banks of the Theiss, in a camp enclosed with trunks of trees, for he did not care to dwell in cities or establish a kingdom, though the wild tribes of Huns from the furthest parts of Asia followed his standard—a sword fastened to a pole, which was said to be also his idol.
He threatened to fall upon the two empires, and an embassy was sent to him at his camp. The Huns would not dismount, and thus the Romans were forced to address them on horseback. The only condition upon which he would abstain from invading the empire was the paying of an enormous tribute, beyond what almost any power of theirs could attempt to raise. However, he did not then attack Italy, but turned upon Gaul. So much was he hated and dreaded by the Teutonic nations, that all Goths, Franks, and Burgundians flocked to join the Roman forces under Aetius to drive him back. They came just in time to save the city of Orleans from being ravaged by him, and defeated him in the battle of Chalons with a great slaughter; but he made good his retreat from Gaul with an immense number of captives, whom he killed in revenge.
The next year he demanded that Valentinian's sister, Honoria, should be given to him, and when she was refused, he led his host into Italy and destroyed all the beautiful cities of the north. A great many of the inhabitants fled into the islands among the salt marshes and pools at the head of the Adriatic Sea, between the mouths of the rivers Po and Adige, where no enemy could reach them; and there they built houses and made a town, which in time became the great city of Venice, the queen of the Adriatic.
Aetius was still in Gaul, the wretched Valentinian at Ravenna was helpless and useless, and Attila proceeded towards Rome. It was well for Rome that she had a brave and devoted Pope in Leo. I., who went out at the head of his clergy to meet the barbarian in his tent, and threaten him with the wrath of Heaven if he should let loose his cruel followers upon the city. Attila was struck with his calm greatness, and, remembering that Alaric had died soon after plundering Rome, became afraid. He consented to accept of Honoria's dowry instead of herself, and to be content with a great ransom for the city of Rome. He then turned to his camp on the Danube with all his horde, and soon after his arrival he married a young girl whom he had made prisoner. The next morning he was found dead on his bed in a pool of his own blood, and she was gone; but as there was no wound about him, it was thought that he had broken a blood-vessel in the drunken fit in which he fell asleep, and that she had fled in terror. His warriors tore their cheeks with their daggers, saying that he ought to be mourned only with tears of blood; but as they had no chief as able and daring as he, they gradually fell back again to their north-eastern settlements, and troubled Europe no more.
Valentinian thought the danger over, and when Aetius came back to Ravenna, he grew jealous of his glory and stabbed him with his own hand. Soon after he offended a senator named Maximus, who killed him in revenge, became Emperor, and married his widow, Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodosius II. of Constantinople, telling her that it was for love of her that her husband was slain. Eudoxia sent a message to invite the dreadful Genseric, king of the Vandals, to come and deliver her from a rebel who had slain the lawful Emperor. Genseric's ships were ready, and sailed into the Tiber; while the Romans, mad with terror, stoned Maximus in their streets. Nobody had any courage or resolution but the Pope Leo, who went forth again to meet the barbarian and plead for his city; but Genseric being an Arian, had not the same awe of him as the wild Huns, hated the Catholics, and was eager for the prey. He would accept no ransom instead of the plunder, but promised that the lives of the Romans should be spared. This was the most dreadful calamity that Rome, once the queen of cities, had undergone. The pillage lasted fourteen days, and the Vandals stripped churches, houses, and all alike, putting their booty on board their ships; but much was lost in a storm between Italy and Africa. The golden candlestick and shew-bread table belonging to the Temple at Jerusalem were carried off to Carthage with the spoil, and no less than sixty thousand captives, among them the Empress Eudoxia, who had been the means of bringing in Genseric, with her two daughters. The Empress was given back to her friends at Constantinople, but one of her daughters was kept by the Vandals, and was married to the son of Genseric. After plundering all the south of Italy, Genseric went back to Africa without trying to keep Rome or set up a kingdom; and when he was gone, the Romans elected as Emperor a senator named Avitus, a Gaul by birth, a peaceful and good man.
His daughter had married a most excellent Gaulish gentleman named Sidonius Apollinaris, who wrote such good poetry that the Romans placed his bust crowned with laurel in the Capitol. He wrote many letters, too, which are preserved to this time, and show that, in the midst of all this crumbling power of Rome, people in Southern Gaul managed to have many peaceful days of pleasant country life. But Sidonius' quiet days came to an end when, layman and lawyer as he was, the people of Clermont begged him to be their Bishop. The Church stood, whatever fell, and people trusted more to their Bishop than to any one else, and wanted him to be the ablest man they could find. So Sidonius took the charge of them, and helped them to hold out their mountain city of Clermont for a whole year against the Goths, and gained good terms for them at last, though he himself had to suffer imprisonment and exile from these Arian Goths because of his Catholic faith.
THEODORIC THE OSTROGOTH.
Avitus was a good man, but the Romans grew weary of him, and in the year 457 they engaged Ricimer, a chief of the Teutonic tribe called Suevi, to drive him out, when he went back to Gaul, where he had a beautiful palace and garden. After ten months Ricimer chose another Sueve to be Emperor. He had been a captain under Aetius, and had the Roman name of Majorian. He showed himself brave and spirited; led an army into Spain and attacked Genseric; but he was beaten, and came back disappointed. Ricimer was, however, jealous of him, forced him to resign, and soon after poisoned him.
After this, Ricimer really ruled Italy, but he seemed to have a sort of awe of the title of Caesar Augustus, the Emperor, for he forbore to use it himself, and gave it to one poor weak wretch after another until his death in 472. His nephew went on in the same course; but at last a soldier named Orestes, of Roman birth, gained the chief power, and set up as Emperor his own little son, whose Christian name was Romulus Augustus, making him wear the purple and the crown, and calling him by all the titles; but the Romans made his name into Augustulus, or Little Augustus. At the end of a year, a Teutonic chief named Odoacer crossed the Alps at the head of a great mixture of different German tribes, and Orestes could make no stand against him, but was taken and put to death. His little boy was spared, and was placed at Sorrento; but Odoacer sent the crown and robes of the West to Zeno, the Eastern Emperor, saying that one Emperor was enough. So fell the Roman power in 476, exactly twelve centuries after the date of the founding of Rome. It was thought that this was meant by the twelve vultures seen by Romulus, and that the seven which Remus saw denoted the seven centuries that the Republic stood. It was curious, too, that it should be with the two names of Romulus and Augustus that Rome and her empire fell.
Odoacer called himself king, and, indeed, the Western Empire had been nearly all seized by different kings—the Vandal kings in Africa, the Gothic kings in Spain and Southern Gaul, the Burgundian kings and Frank kings in Northern Gaul, the Saxon kings in Britain. The Ostro or Eastern Goths, who had since the time of Valens dwelt on the banks of the Danube, had been subdued by Attila, but recovered their freedom after his death. One of their young chiefs, named Theodoric, was sent as a hostage to Constantinople, and there learned much. He became king of the Eastern Goths in 470, and showed himself such a dangerous neighbor to the Eastern Empire that, to be rid of him the Emperor Zeno advised him to go and attack Odoacer in Italy. The Ostrogoths marched seven hundred miles, and came over the Alps into the plains of Northern Italy, where Odoacer fought with them bravely, but was beaten. They besieged him even in Ravenna, till after three years he was obliged to surrender and was put to death.
Rome could make no defence, and fell into Theodoric's hands with the rest of Italy; but he was by far the best of the conquerors—he did not hurt or misuse them, and only wished his Goths to learn of them and become peaceful farmers. He gave them the lands which had lost their owners; about thirty or forty thousand families were settled there by him on the waste lands, and the Romans who were left took courage and worked too. He did not live at Rome, though he came thither and was complimented by the Senate, and he set a sum by every year for repairing the old buildings; but he chiefly lived at Verona, where he reigned over both the Eastern and Western Goths in Gaul and Italy.
He was an Arian, but he did not persecute the Catholics, and to such persons as changed their profession of faith to please him he showed no more favor, saying that those who were not faithful to their God would never be faithful to their earthly master. He reigned thirty-three years, but did not end as well as he began, for he grew irritable and distrustful with age; and the Romans, on the other hand, forgot that they were not the free, prosperous nation of old, and displeased him. Two of their very best men, Boethius and Symmachus, were by him kept for a long time prisoners at Rome and then put to death. While Boethius was in prison at Pavia, he wrote a book called The Consolations of Philosophy, so beautiful that the English king Alfred translated it into Saxon four centuries later. Theodoric kept up a correspondence with the other Gothic kings wherever a tribe of his people dwelt, even as far as Sweden and Denmark; but as even he could not write, and only had a seal with the letters [Greek: THEOD] with which to make his signature, the whole was conducted in Latin by Roman slaves on either side, who interpreted to their masters. An immense number of letters from Theodoric's secretary are preserved, and show what an able man his master was, and how well he deserved his name of "The Great." He died in 526, leaving only two daughters. Their two sons, Amalric and Athalaric, divided the Eastern and Western Goths between them again.
Seven Gothic kings reigned over Northern Italy after Theodoric. They were fierce and restless, but had nothing like his strength and spirit, and they chiefly lived in the more northern cities—Milan, Verona, and Ravenna, leaving Rome to be a tributary city to them, where there still remained the old names of Senate and Consuls, but the person who was generally most looked up to and trusted was the Pope. All this time Rome was leavening the nations who had conquered her. When they tried to learn civilized ways, it was from her; they learned to speak her tongue, never wrote but in Latin, and worshipped with Latin prayers and services. Far above all, these conquerors learned Christianity from the Romans. When everything else was ruined, the Bishop and clergy remained, and became the chief counsellors and advisers of many of these kings.
It was just at this time that there was living at Monte Casino, in the South of Italy, St. Benedict, an Italian hermit, who was there joined by a number of others who, like him, longed to pray for the sinful world apart rather than fight and struggle with bad men. He formed them into a great band of monks, all wearing a plain dark dress with a hood, and following a strict rule of plain living, hard work, and prayers at seven regular hours in the course of the day and night. His rule was called the Benedictine, and houses of monks arose in many places, and were safe shelters in these fierce times.
The Teutonic nations soon lost their spirit when they had settled in the luxurious Roman cities, and as they were as fierce as ever, their kings tore one another to pieces. A very able Emperor, named Justinian, had come to the throne in the East, and in his armies there had grown up a Thracian who was one of the greatest and best generals the world has ever seen. His name was Belisarius, and strange to say, both he and the Emperor had married the daughters of two charioteers in the circus races. The Empress was named Theodora, the general's wife Antonina, and their acquaintance first made Belisarius known to Justinian, who, by his means, ended by winning back great part of the Western Empire.
He began with Africa, where Genseric's grandson was reigning over the Vandals, and paying so little heed to his defences that Belisarius landed without any warning, and called all the multitudes of old Roman inhabitants to join him, which they joyfully did. He defeated the Vandals in battle, entered Carthage, and restored the power of the empire. He brought away the golden candlestick and treasures of the Temple, and the cross believed to be the true one, and carried them to Constantinople, whence the Emperor sent them back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.
Just as Belisarius had returned to Constantinople, a piteous entreaty came to Justinian from Amalosontha, the daughter of Theodoric, who had been made prisoner by Theodotus, the husband she had chosen. It seemed to be opening a way for getting back Italy, and Justinian sent off Belisarius; but before he had sailed, the poor Gothic queen had been strangled in her bath. Belisarius, however, with 4500 horse and 3000 foot soldiers, landed in Sicily and soon conquered the whole island, all the people rejoicing in his coming. He then crossed to Rhegium, and laid siege to Naples. As usual, the inhabitants were his friends, and one of them showed him the way to enter the city through an old aqueduct which opened into an old woman's garden.
Theodotus was a coward as well as a murderer, and fled away, while a brave warrior named Vitiges was proclaimed king by the Goths at Rome. But with the broken walls and all the Roman citizens against him, Vitiges thought it best not to try to hold out against Belisarius, and retreated to Ravenna, while Rome welcomed the Eastern army as deliverers. But Vitiges was collecting an army at Ravenna, and in three months was besieging Rome again. Never had there been greater bravery and patience than Vitiges showed outside the walls of Rome, and Belisarius inside, during the summer of 536. There was a terrible famine within; all kinds of strange food were used in scanty measure, and the Romans were so impatient of suffering, that Belisarius was forced to watch them day and night to prevent them betraying him to the enemy. Indeed, while the siege lasted a whole year, nearly all the people of Rome died of hunger and wretchedness; and the Goths, in the unhealthy Campagna around, died of fevers and agues, until they, too, had all perished except a small band, which Vitiges led back to Ravenna, whither Belisarius followed him, besieged him, made him prisoner, and carried him to Constantinople. Justinian gave him an estate where he could live in peace.
The Moors in Africa revolted, and Belisarius next went to subdue them. While he was there, the Goths in Italy began to recover from the blow he had given them, and chose a brave young man named Totila to be their king. In a very short time he had won back almost all Italy, for there really were hardly any men left, and even Justinian had only two small armies to dispose of, and those made up of Thracians and Isaurians from the shores of the Black Sea. One of these was sent with Belisarius to attack the Goths, but was not strong enough to do more than just hold Totila in check, and Justinian would not even send him all the help possible, because he dreaded the love the army bore to him. After four years of fighting with Totila he was recalled, and a slave named Narces, who had always lived in the women's apartment in the palace, was sent to take the command. He was really able and skilled, and being better supported, he gained a great victory near Rome, in which Totila was killed, and another near Naples, which quite overcame the Ostrogoths, so that they never became a power again. Italy was restored to the Empire, and was governed by an officer from Constantinople, who lived at Ravenna, and was called the Exarch.
Belisarius, in the meantime, was sent to fight with the king of Persia, Chosroes, a very warlike prince, who had overrun Syria and carried off many prisoners from Antioch. Belisarius gained victory after victory over him, and had just driven him back over the rivers, when again came a recall, and Narses was sent out to finish the war. Theodora, the Empress, wanted to reign after her husband, and had heard that, on a report coming to the army of his death, Belisarius had said that he should give his vote for Justin, the right heir. So she worked on the fears all Emperors had—that their troops might proclaim a successful general as Emperor, and again Belisarius was ordered home, while Narses was sent to finish what he had begun.
There was one more war for this great man when the wild Bulgarians invaded Thrace, and though his soldiers were little better than timid peasants, he drove them back and saved the country. But Justinian grew more and more jealous of him, and, fancying untruly that he was in a plot for placing Justin on the throne, caused him to be thrown into prison, and sent him out from thence stripped of everything, and with his eyes torn out. He found a little child to lead him to a church door, where he used to sit with a wooden dish before him for alms. When it was known who the blind beggar was, there was such an uproar among the people that Justinian was obliged to give him back his palace and some of his riches; but he did not live much longer.
Though Justinian behaved so unjustly and ungratefully to this great man and faithful servant, he is noted for better things, namely, for making the Church of St. Sophia, or the Holy Wisdom, which Constantine had built at Constantinople, the most splendid of all buildings, and for having the whole body of Roman laws thoroughly overlooked and put into order. Many even of the old heathen laws were very good ones, but there were others connected with idolatry that needed to be done away with; and in the course of years so many laws and alterations had been made, that it was the study of a lifetime even to know what they were, or how to act on them. Justinian set his best lawyers to put them all in order, so that it might be more easy to work by them. The Roman citizens in Greece, Italy, and all the lands overrun by the Teutonic nations were still judged by their own laws, so that this was a very useful work; and it was so well done that the conquerors took them up in time, and the Roman law was the great model studied everywhere by those who wished to understand the rules of jurisprudence, that is, of law and justice. Thus in another way Rome conquered her conquerors.
Justinian died in 563, and was succeeded by his nephew Justin, whose wife Sophia behaved almost as ill to Narses as Theodora had done to Belisarius, for while he was doing his best to defend Italy from the savage tribes who were ready at any moment to come over the Alps, she sent him a distaff, and ordered him back to his old slavery in the palace.
POPE GREGORY THE GREAT.
No sooner was Narses called home than another terrible nation of Teutones, who had hitherto dwelt in the North, began to come over the Alps. These were the Longbeards, or Lombards, as they were more commonly called; fierce and still heathen. Their king, Alboin, had carried off Rosamond, the daughter of Kunimund, king of the Gepids, another Teutonic tribe. There was a most terrible war, in which Kunimund was killed and all his tribe broken up and joined with the Lombards. With the two united, Alboin invaded Italy and conquered all the North. Ravenna, Verona, Milan, and all the large towns held out bravely against them, but were taken at last, except Venice, which still owned the Emperor at Constantinople. Alboin had kept the skull of Kunimund as a trophy, and had had it set in gold for a drinking-cup, as his wild faith made him believe that the reward of the brave in the other world would be to drink mead from the skulls of their fallen enemies. In a drunken fit at Verona, he sent for Rosamond and made her pledge him in this horrible cup. She had always hated him, and this made her revenge her father's death by stabbing him to the heart in the year 573. The Lombard power did not, however, fall with him; his nephew succeeded him, and ruled over the country we still call Lombardy. Rome was not taken by them, but was still in name belonging to the Emperor, though he had little power there, and the Senate governed it in name, with all the old magistrates. The Praetor at the time the Lombards arrived was a man of one of the old noble families, Anicius Gregorius, or, as we have learned to call him, Gregory. He had always been a good and pious man, and while he took great care to fulfil all the duties of his office, his mind was more and more drawn away from the world, till at last he became a monk of St. Benedict, gave all his vast wealth to build and endow monasteries and hospitals, and lived himself in an hospital for beggars, nursing them, studying the Holy Scriptures, and living only on pulse, which his mother sent him every day in a silver dish—the only remnant of his wealth—till one day, having nothing else to give a shipwrecked sailor who asked alms, he bestowed it on him.
He was made one of the seven deacons who were called Cardinal Deacons, because they had charge of the poor of the principal parishes of Rome; and it was when going about on some errand of kindness that he saw the English slave children in the market, and planned the conversion of their country; but the people would not let him leave Rome, and in 590, the Senate, the clergy, and the people chose him Pope. It was just then that a terrible pestilence fell on Rome, and he made the people form seven great processions—of clergy, of monks, of nuns, of children, of men, of wives, and of widows—all singing litanies to entreat that the plague might be turned away. Then it was that he beheld an angel standing on the tomb of Hadrian, and the plague ceased. Ever after, the great old tomb has been called the Castle of St. Angelo.
It was a troublous time, but Gregory was so much respected that he was able to keep Rome orderly and safe, and to make peace between the Emperor Maurice and the Lombards' king, Agilulf, who had an excellent wife, Theodolinda. She was a great friend of the Pope, wrote a letter to him, and did all she could to support him. The Eastern Empire was still owned at Rome, but when there was an attempt to make out that the Patriarch of Constantinople was superior to the Pope, Gregory upheld the principle that no Patriarch had any right to be above the rest, nor to be called Universal Bishop. Gregory was a very great man, and the justice and wisdom of his management did much to make the Romans look to their Pope as the head of affairs even after his death in 604.
The Greek Empire sent an officer to govern the extreme South of Italy, which, like Rome and Venice, still owned the Emperor; but all the troops that could be hired were soon wanted to fight with the Arabs, whose false prophet Mahommed had taught them to spread religion with the sword. There was no one capable of making head against the Lombards, and the Popes only kept them off by treaties and good management; and at last, in 741, Pope Gregory III. put himself under the protection of Charles Martel, the great Frank captain who had beaten the Mahometans at the battle of Tours. Charles Martel was rewarded by being made a Roman senator, so was his son Pippin, who was also king of the Franks, and his grandson Charles the Great, who had to come often to Italy to protect Rome, and at last broke up the Lombard kingdom, was chosen Roman Emperor as of old, and crowned by Pope Leo III. in the year 800. From that time there was again the Western Empire, commonly called the Holy Roman Empire, the Emperor, or Caesar—Kaisar, as the Germans still call him—being generally also king of Germany and king of Lombardy. Rome was all this time chiefly under the power of the Popes, who grew in course of years to be more and more of princes, and at the same time to claim more power over the Church, calling themselves Universal Bishops contrary to the teaching of St. Gregory the Great. All this, however, belongs to the history of Europe in modern times, and will be found in the history of Germany, since there were many struggles between the Popes and Emperors. For Rome has really had two histories, and those who visit Rome and study the wonderful buildings there may dwell on the old or the new, the pagan or the Christian, as their minds lead them, or else on that strange middle time when idolatry and Christianity were struggling together.