Oldalképek
PDF
ePub
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

CONSEQUENCES OF THE FALL OF THE WEST.

ERN EMPIRE.

SECTION I.-The Gothic Kingdom of Italy.

There is no period in the annals of the human race which presents to the historical student a greater scene of confusion than the century succeeding the overthrow of the Western Empire. The different hordes of barbarians, following no definite plan, established separate monarchies in the dismembered provinces, engaged in sanguinary wars that had no object but plunder, and were too ignorant to form anything like a political system. There is consequently a want of unity in the narrative of a time when nations ceased to have any fixed relations toward each other, and history must appear desultory and digressive until some one state, rising into command, assume such importance, that the fate of all the rest may be connected with its destinies. It is necessary, before entering on the various incidents of this calamitous time, to take a geographical survey of the places occupied by the principal nations who succeeded the Romans in the sovereignty of Europe.

The Visigoths, after their establishment in Spain, began gradually to adopt the refinement of their new subjects; that peninsula had advanced rapidly in civilization under the Roman dominion, and had escaped from much of the corruption which had degraded Italy; the conquerors, more advanced than any other of the barbarians, soon learned to appreciate the advantages of social order, and began to cultivate the higher arts of life. In Pannonia, the Ostrogoths derived great improvement from their vicinity to Italy on the one side, and the court of Constantinople on the other; they were thus gradually trained to civilization, and their early adoption of Christianity secured them the benefits of literature, which was sedulously cultivated by the clergy.

Tribes of a very different character pressed into the empire from the German forests—the Burgundians, the Lombards, and the Franks, of whom the last were long distinguished for their hostility to all refinements, and their exclusive attention to the military virtues. Still more barbarous were the Saxons and Angles; they were not only strangers to the civilization and religion of the empire, but were kept in their rude state by the practice of piracy, for which their maritime situation afforded them great facilities; their government, divided among several petty chiefs, was favorable to personal independence, and furnished a striking contrast to the absolute despotism that had been established in the Roman empire. All the Germanic tribes were remarkable for the respect which they showed to the delicacy of the female character; they neither treated their women like slaves, as most other barbarians have done, nor did they degrade them into mere objects of sensual gratification, like the Romans and Byzantines. The German woman was the companion and counsellor of her husband; she shared his labors as an equal, not as a servant. It was from the sanctity of the domestic circle among the northern nations that races of conquerors derived the firmness and courage which ensured them victory.

The northeastern part of Europe was occupied by Sclavonic tribes, differing from the Germans in language, manners, and tactics; like the Tartars of more modern times, they placed their chief reliance on their cavalry; and they were more opposed to civilization than any of the Germanic nations. Their form of governmert was a kind of aristocratic republic, but in war the tribes generally united under a single leader. They were very averse to fixed residences, and when they occupied a country they rarely entered the cities, but remained in their camps or in rude circular fortifications called rings. The Sclavonians hated the Germans, and could rarely be induced to unite with them against their common enemy, the Romans.

After the fall of the Western Empire, the court of Constantinople sunk into obscurity, from which it did not emerge for half a century, when its supremacy was restored during the memorable reign of Justinian. The Isaurian Zeno, raised to the purple by his marriage with the princess Ariadne, was forced to fly into the mountains by a fierce revolt which his mother-in-law Verina had instigated. He was restored to the throne chiefly by the aid of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, who had been carefully educated as a hostage at the court of Constantinople. The turbulence of the Goths, and the faithlessness of the Byzantines, soon destroyed the amity of the two sovereigns; a desultory, but sanguinary warfare harassed the Eastern Empire, until Zeno purchased peace by ceding to Theodoric his right over Italy, or rather stimulated the Goth to undertake the conquest of that peninsula. The march of Theodoric was the emigration of an entire people; the Goths were accompanied by their wives, their children, and their aged parents, a vast multitude of wagons conveyed their most precious effects, and their store of provisions for a toilsome march undertaken in the depth of winter. Odoacer boldly prepared to meet this formidable invasion; he took post on the river Sontius (Isonzo) with a powerful host; but he was unable to resist the daring energy of the Goths, and his defeat gave Theodoric possession of the Venetian province as far as the walls of Verona (A. D. 489). Italy, however, was not won without further struggles: Ravenna alone sustained a siege of more than three years; but at length Odoacer capitulated (A. D. 493), and was soon after assassinated at a solemn banquet by his rival.

Theodoric secured his conquest by distributing one third of the lands of Italy to his soldiers in military tenures. This partition was effected with very little violence to the ancient possessors; the Goths were instructed to spare the people, to reverence the laws, and to lay aside their barbarous customs of judicial combats and private revenge. The Gothic sovereignty was soon extended from Sicily to the Danube, and from Sirmium (Sirmich) to the Atlantic ocean; thus including the fairest portion of the Western Empire. The monarch of this new ki:Igdom showed great wisdom and moderation in his civil government, but unfortunately his attachment to the Irian heresy led him to persecute the Catholics. The legal murder of the philosopher Boethius and she venerable Symmachus were crimes which admit of no palliation ; they hastened Theodoric's death, for remorse brought him to the grave in the thirty-third year of his reign (A. D. 526).

Section II.-Reign of Justinian. A DACIAN peasant, named Justin, who had travelled on foot to Constantinople in the reign of the emperor Leo, enlisted in the imperial guards, and, during the succeeding reigns, so distinguished himself by his strength and valor, that he was gradually raised to the command of the household troops. On the death of the emperor Anastasius, the eunuch Amantius, anxious to secure the throne for one of his creatures, intrusted Justin with a large sum of money to bribe the guards; but he used it to purchase votes for himself, and was thus elevated to the empire (A. D. 518). Totally ignorant himself, Justin was not insensible of the value of education ; he made his nephew Justinian his associate in the empire; and as this prince had been instructed in all the learning of the times, he soon obtained the whole power of the state.

After the death of Justin (A. D. 527), Justinian ruled alone ; but his first exercise of authority fixed a lasting stigma on his reign. He chose for his empress, Theodora, a woman of mean birth and infamous character, whose vices had disgusted even a capital so licentious as Constantinople. Among the most singular and disgraceful follies of the Eastern Empire were the factions of the circus, which arose from the colors worn by the charioteers who competed for the prize of swiftness. Green and blue were the most remarkable for their inveterate hostility, though white and red were the most ancient; all, however, soon acquired a legal existence, and the Byzantines willingly hazarded life and fortune to support their favorite color. Justinian was a partisan of the blues; his favor toward them provoked the hostility of the opposite faction, and led to a sedition which almost laid Constantinople in asłies. The disturbances first burst forth in the circus ; Justinian ordered the rioters to be secured; both factions immediately turned against the monarch, the soldiers were called out, but they were unable to contend against the citizens in the narrow streets. Assailed from the tops of the houses, the barbarian mercenaries flung firebrands in revenge, and thus kindled a dreadful conflagration, which destroyed a vast number

was unsuc

of public and private edifices. After the city had been for several days in the hands of the rioters, Justinian contrived to revive the ancient aniinosity between the greens and blues; the latter faction declared for the emperor, a strong body of veterans marched to the Hippodrome, or race-course, and tranquillity was restored by the slaughter of thirty thousand of the insurgents. While the internal state of the empire was thus disturbed by faction, a costly and unprofitable war was waged against the Persians, until the emperor purchased a disgraceful and precarious truce, which both he and his rival chose to designate as an endless peace.

The usurpation of the throne of the Vandals in Africa by Gelimer, who owed his success chiefly to the support of the Arian clergy, induced Justinian to undertake a war, in which he appeared both the generous friend of an allied sovereign and the protector of the Catholic faith. Belisarius, the best general of his age, was appointed to the command of the imperial forces, and a large fleet was assembled for the transport of the army in the harbor of Constantinople (A. D. 533). After the armament had been blessed by the patriarch it set sail; and, after a prosperous voyage, Belisarius effected a landing on the coast of Africa without opposition. He advanced toward Carthage, defeating the Vandals on his march, and became master of the city with little opposition. Gelimer nade one effort more to save his kingdom; it

accessful, his army was irretrievably ruined, and he was closely besieged in the castle where he sought refuge. The unfortunate king, after having borne the most dreadful extremities of fæmine, was forced to surrender unconditionally; he was carried captive to Constantinople, where he was led in the triumphal procession that honored the return of Belisarius. The dethroned monarch showed no sorrow for his fall, but consoled himself by Solomon's reflection on the instability of human greatness, frequently repeating. “ Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity."

The murder of Amalasontha, queen of the Goths, by her ungrateful husband Theodatus, afforded Belisarius a pretext for attacking the kingdom of Italy. He sailed from Constantinople to Sicily, and easily conquered that important island (A. D. 535). Theodatus, in great terror, hasted to avert danger, by declaring himself the vassal of Justinian; but hearing in the meantime that two Byzantine generals had been defeated in Dalmatia by the Gothic troops, he passed suddenly from extreme despair to the height of presumption, and withdrew his allegiance. Belisarius soon appeared to chastise his perfidy; he transported his army across the Sicilian strait, and effected a landing at Rhegium (Reggio). The greater part of southern Italy, including the important city of Naples, was speedily subdued by the imperial forces; while Theodatus, secure within the walls of Rome, made no effort to protect his subjects. At length the Goths, disgusted by the incapacity and weakness of their sovereign, removed him from the throne, and chose the valiant Vitiges for their king. But Vitiges was forced to commence his reign by abandoning Rome, of which Belisarius took possession without encountering any opposition (A. D. 537). During the ensuing winter, the Goths assembled from every quarter to save, if possible, their kingdom in Italy: a powerful army, animated by dauntless spirit,

« ElőzőTovább »