CHAPTER XLII. INVASIONS AND DISTRIBUTION OF THE BARBARIANS.
The sieges and captures of Rome by the Barbarians we present in a separate chapter, instead of in the narrative of the Emperors, because by this plan a better idea of the operations can be given; and especially because we can thus obtain a clearer and more comprehensive conception of the rise of the nations, which, tearing in pieces the Roman Empire, have made up Modern Europe.
The HUNS, who originated the movement which overthrew the Western Empire, came, it is supposed, from the eastern part of Asia. As they moved westward, their march was irresistible. In 395 they met and defeated the GOTHS, a powerful tribe that lived to the north of the Danube, and who were ruled by a king named Hermanric.
The Gothic nation consisted of two branches, the OSTROGOTHS, Eastern Goths, and the VISIGOTHS, Western Goths, Of these the Ostrogoths were the more powerful, but on the approach of the Huns they were obliged to submit. The Huns moved on, and found but little trouble in overrunning the country of the Visigoths, who were so terrified by the hideous appearance and wild shouts of the Huns that they fled to the Danube, and besought the Romans to allow them to cross the river and take refuge in their territory. The favor was granted, but the refugees were treated with indignity, and compelled to undergo every privation.
Subsequently a remnant of the Ostrogoths arrived at the Danube, also desiring to cross. To them permission was refused, but they seized shipping and crossed, despite the prohibition of the Romans. They found the condition of their brethren, the Visigoths, so sad, that they united with them in open revolt, defeated a Roman army sent against them, and ravaged Thrace. The Emperor Valens took the field in person, and was defeated (378). The Goths then moved southward and westward into Greece, everywhere pillaging the country.
When Theodosius became Emperor, he acted cautiously, fortifying strong points from which to watch the enemy and select a favorable moment for an attack. At length he surprised their camp and gained a complete victory. The Goths were taken into the service of the Empire, and the first chapter of the barbarian invasion of the Empire was brought to a close.
We now meet two of the great names connected with the fall of Rome, ALARIC and STILICHO.
Theodosius was succeeded by Arcadius, and before the end of the year the Goths broke into open revolt under their leader, Alaric. Athens was compelled to pay a ransom; Corinth, Argos, and Sparta were taken and plundered. No place was strong enough to offer effectual resistance. At this juncture, Stilicho, General of the Western Empire, hastened to the scene, and succeeded in surrounding the Goths, but Alaric burst through his lines and escaped. He then made peace with Constantinople, and the office of Master-General of Illyricum was bestowed upon him. How sincere the barbarian was in his offers of peace may be seen from the fact that in two years he invaded Italy (400).
Honorius, who was then Emperor of the West, was a man so weak that even the genius of Stilicho could not save him. No sooner did he hear of the approach of Alaric, than he hastened to a place of safety for himself, leaving Stilicho to defend Rome. Troops were called from Britain, Gaul, and the other provinces far and near, leaving their places vacant and defenceless. Honorius, who had attempted to escape to Gaul, was surprised by Alaric, and, taking refuge in the fortified town of Asta, was there besieged until the arrival of the brave Stilicho, who attacked the besiegers, and after a bloody fight utterly routed them. In his retreat, Alaric attempted to attack Verona, but he was again defeated, and escaped only by the fleetness of his horse. Honorius returned home (404), and enjoyed a triumph.
Rome had scarcely time to congratulate herself upon her escape from the Goths, when she was threatened by a new enemy.
The Huns, pushing westward, had dislodged the northern tribes of Germany who dwelt on the Baltic. These were the Alans, Sueves, Vandals, and Burgundians. Under the leadership of RADAGAISUS, these tribes invaded Italy with about two hundred thousand men. They were met near Florence by Stilicho, and totally defeated (406). Radagaisus himself was killed. The survivors turned backward, burst into Gaul, ravaged the lower portion of the country, and finally separated. One portion, the Burgundians, remained on the frontier, and from their descendants comes the name of Burgundy.
The Alans, Sueves, and Vandals pushed on into Spain, where they established kingdoms. The Alans occupied the country at the foot of the Pyrenees, but were soon after subdued by the Visigoths. The Sueves settled in the northwest of Spain, but met the same fate as the Alans. The Vandals occupied the southern part, and from there crossed over to Africa, where they maintained themselves for nearly a century, and at one time were powerful enough, as we shall see, to capture Rome itself.
Rome was now for a time delivered from her enemies, and the Emperor, no longer needing Stilicho, was easily persuaded that he was plotting for the throne. He was put to death, with many of his friends.
With Stilicho Rome fell. Scarcely two months after his death, Alaric again appeared before Rome. He sought to starve the city into submission. Famine and pestilence raged within its walls. Finally peace was purchased by a large ransom, and Alaric withdrew, but soon returned. The city was betrayed, and after a lapse of eight centuries became the second time a prey to the barbarians (24 August, 410).