CHAPTER XI. THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE.
Such were the men who became the heirs of the Romans, - races never subdued by arms or vices, among whom Christianity took a peculiar hold, and gradually developed among them principles of progress such as were never seen among the older nations. Can we wonder that such men should prevail? - men who loved war as the Romans did under the republic; men who gloried in their very losses, and felt that death in the field would secure future salvation and everlasting honor; men full of hope, energy, enthusiasm, and zeal; men who had, what the old races had not, - a soul, life, uncorrupted forces.
Yet, when they invaded the Roman world, it must not be forgotten that they were rude, ignorant, wild, fierce, and unscrupulous. They were held in absolute detestation, as the North American Indians, whom they resembled in many important respects, were held in this country two hundred years ago. Their object was pillage. They roamed in search of more fruitful lands and a more congenial sky. They were bent on conquest, rapine, and violence. They were called the Northern Hordes - barbarians - and even their vices were exaggerated. They were, indeed, most formidable and terrific foes; and when conquered in battle would rally their forces, and press forward with renewed numbers.
The first of these Teutonic barbarians who made successful inroads were the Goths. I do not now allude to the Celtic nations who were completely subdued and incorporated with the empire before the accession of the emperors. Nor do I speak of the Teutons whom Marius defeated one hundred years before the Christian era, nor yet of the Germanic tribes who made unsuccessful inroads during the reigns of the earlier emperors. Augustus must have had melancholy premonitions of danger when his general, Varus, suffered a disgraceful defeat by the sword of Arminus in the dark recesses of the Teuto-burger Wald, even as Charlemagne covered his face with his iron hands when he saw the invasion of his territories by the Norman pirates. For three centuries there was a constant struggle between the Roman armies and the barbarians beyond the Rhine. In the reign of Marcus Antoninus they formed a general union for the invasion of the Roman world, but they were signally defeated, and the great pillar of Marcus Aurelius describes his victories on the Danube, who died combating the Vandals, A.D. 180. In the year 241 A.D., the great Aurelian is seen fighting the Franks near Mayence, who, nevertheless, pressed forward until they made their way into Spain.
[Invasion of the Goths.]
The most formidable of the enemies of Rome were the Goths. When first spoken of in history they inhabited the shores of the Baltic. They were called by Tacitus, Gothones. In the time of Caracalla they had migrated to the coast of the Black Sea. Under the reign of Alexander Severus, 222-235, A.D., they threatened the peace of the province of Dacia. Under Philip, A.D. 244-249, they succeeded in conquering that province, and penetrated into Mosia. In the year 251, they encountered a Roman army under Decius, which they annihilated, and the emperor himself was slain. Then they continued their ravages along the coasts of the Euxine until they made themselves masters of the Crimea. With a large fleet of flat- boats they sailed to all the northern parts of the Euxine, took Pityus and Trapezus, attacked the wealthy cities on the Thracian Bosphorus, conquered Chalcedon, Nicomedia, and Nice, and retreated laden with spoil. The next year, with five hundred boats - they cannot be called ships, - they pursued their destructive navigation, destroyed Cyzicus, crossed the Aegean Sea, and landed at Athens, which they plundered. Thebes, Argos, Corinth, and Sparta were unable to defend their dilapidated fortifications. They advanced to the coasts of Epirus and devastated the whole Illyrian peninsula. In this destructive expedition they destroyed the famous temple of Diana at Ephesus, with its one hundred and twenty-seven marble columns sixty feet in height, and its interior ornamented with the choicest sculptures of Praxiteles. But they at length got wearied of danger and toil, and returned through Mosia to their own settlements. Though this incursion was a raid rather than a conquest, yet what are we to think of the military strength of the empire and the condition of society, when, in less than three hundred years after Augustus had shut the temple of Janus, fifteen thousand undisciplined barbarians, without even a leader of historic fame, were allowed to ravage the most populous and cultivated part of the empire, even the classic cities which had resisted the Persian hosts, and retire unmolested with their spoils? The Emperor Gallienus, one of the most frivolous of all the Caesars, received the intelligence with epicurean indifference, and abandoned himself to inglorious pleasures; and as Nero is said to have fiddled while his capital was in ashes, so he, in this great emergency, consumed his time in gardening and the arts of cookery, and was commended by his idolatrous courtiers as a philosopher and a hero.
In fact, this invasion of the Goths was not contemplated with that alarm which it ought to have excited, but rather as an accidental evil, like a pestilence or a plague. Moreover, it was lost sight of in the general misery and misfortunes of the times. The Emperor Valerian had just been defeated and taken prisoner by Sapor. Pretenders had started up in nineteen different places for the imperial purple. Banditti had spread devastation in Sicily. Alexandria was disturbed by tumults. Famine and the plague raged for ten years in nearly all parts of the empire. Rome lost by the pestilence five thousand daily, while half the inhabitants of Alexandria were swept away. Soldiers, tyrants, barbarians, and the visitation of God threatened the ruin of the Roman world.