CHAPTER XI. THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE.
The sack of Rome by the Goths was followed by the successful inroads of other barbaric tribes. The Suevi, the Alans, and the Vandals invaded Spain, which for four hundred years had been prosperous in all the arts of peace. The great cities of Corduba, Merida, Seville, Bracara, and Barcelona, testified to her wealth and luxury, while science and commerce both elevated and enfeebled the people. Yet no one of the Roman provinces suffered more severely. Gibbon thus quotes the language of a Spanish historian. "The barbarians exercised an indiscriminate cruelty on the fortunes of both Spaniards and Romans, and ravaged with equal fury the cities and the open country. Famine reduced the miserable inhabitants to feed on the flesh of their fellow-creatures, and pestilence swept away a large portion of those whom famine spared. Then the barbarians fixed their permanent seats in the country they had ravaged with fire and sword; Galicia was divided between the Suevi and the Vandals; the Alani were scattered over the provinces of Carthagenia and Lusitania, and Botica was allotted to the Vandals." But he adds, and this is a most impressive fact, "that the greater part of the Spaniards preferred the condition of poverty and barbarism to the severe oppressions of the Roman government." [Footnote: Gibbon, chap. xxx.]
The successors of Alaric, A.D. 419, established themselves at Toulouse, forty-three years after they had crossed the Danube, which became the seat of the Gothic empire in Gaul. About the same time the Burgundians and the Franks obtained a permanent settlement in that distracted but wealthy province, and effected a ruin of all that had been deemed opulent or fortunate.
[The Romans leave Britain.]
Meanwhile, Britain had been left, by the withdrawal of the legions, to the ravages of Saxon pirates, and the savages of Caledonia. The island was irrevocably lost to the empire, A.D. 409, although it was forty years before the Saxons obtained a permanent footing, and secured their conquest.
But a more savage chastisement than Rome received from the Goths - the most powerful and generous of her foes - was inflicted by the Vandals, whose name is synonymous with all that is fierce and revolting.
These barbarians belonged to the great Teutonic race, although some maintain that they were of Slavonic origin. Their settlements were between the Elbe and the Vistula; and, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, they had, with other tribes, invaded the Roman world, but were defeated by the Roman emperor. One hundred years later they settled in Pannonia, where they had a bitter contest with the Goths. Defeated by them, they sought the protection of Rome, and enlisted in the imperial armies. In 406, they crossed the Rhine and invaded Gaul, and it was not in the power of the Franks to resist them. They advanced to the very foot of the Pyrenees, inflicting every atrocity upon the Celtic and Roman inhabitants. Neither age, nor sex, nor condition was spared, and the very churches were given to the flames. They then crossed into Spain, A.D. 409, and settled in Andalusia, and under its sunny skies resumed the agricultural life they had led in Pannonia. [Footnote: Sheppard's Fall of Rome, p. 364.] The land now wore an aspect of prosperity; rich harvests covered the plains, while the hills were white with flocks. They seem to have lived in amity with the Romans, so that "there were found those who preferred freedom with poverty among the barbarians, to a life rendered wretched by taxation among their own countrymen." [Footnote: Orosious, vii. 41.] This testimony is confirmed by Salvian, who declares, "they prefer to live as freemen under the guise of captivity, rather than as captives under the guise of freedom." [Footnote: De Gub. Dei, v.] If this be true, it would seem that the rule of the barbarians was preferred to the taxation and oppression with which they were ground down by the Roman officials. And this conclusion is legitimate, when we remember the indifference and apathy that seized the old inhabitants when the empire was seriously threatened. It may have been that the irruptions of the barbarians were not regarded as so great a calamity after all, if they should break the bondage and alleviate the misery which filled the Roman world.
[Success of the Vandals.]
The Roman government, it would seem, [Footnote: Sheppard, p. 364.] would not tolerate the Vandals in Spain, and intrigued with the Goths, their hereditary enemies, to make an attack upon them, perhaps with the view of weakening the strength of the Goths themselves, A.D. 416. Wallia, king of the Goths, was successful, and the Vandals were worried. The Romans also sent an army to reconquer Spain from their grasp, which drove the Vandals into Andalusia. But the Vandals turned upon their enemies and entirely discomfited them, and twenty thousand men were left dead upon the field. Spain was now entirely at the mercy of these infuriated barbarians, who might have peacefully settled had it not been for the jealousy of the imperial government, which, in those days, drew upon itself evils by its own mismanagement. For two years "Vandalism" reigned throughout the peninsula, which was pillaged and sacked.
The king of these Vandals was Genseric, the worthy rival of Alaric and Attila, as a "scourge of God." If we may credit the writers who belonged to the people whom he humbled, [Footnote: Procopious, Bell. Vand., i. 3.] he was one of the most hideous monsters ever clothed with power. He was ambitious, subtle, deceitful, revengeful, cruel, and passionate. But he was temperate, of clear vision, and inflexible purpose.
[The Vandals Threaten Africa.]