The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians
DEATH OF STILICHO
Alaric cared not at all for the difficulties of his paymaster, and chafed under the intolerable delay. Early in A.D. 408, threatened perhaps by preparations which the eastern government was making to reassert its authority in Illyricum, he marched northward and followed the high road from Sirmium to Emona. He halted there, and, instead of marching across the Julian Alps to Aquileia and Italy, he turned northward by the road which led across the Loibl Pass to Virunum. Here in the province of Noricum he encamped, and sent an embassy to Rome demanding compensation for all the trouble he had taken in the interest of the government of Honorius. Four thousand pounds of gold (180,000) was named. The Senate assembled, and Stilicho's influence induced it to agree to the monstrous demand. The money was paid to Alaric, and he was retained in the service against the usurper in Gaul.
But Stilicho's position was not so secure as it seemed. His daughter, the Empress Maria, was dead, but Honorius had been induced to wed her sister Aemilia Materna Termantia, and Stilicho might think that his influence over the Emperor was inpregnable, and might still hope for the union of his son with Placidia. But any popularity he had won by the victory over Gildo, by the expulsion of Alaric from Italy, by the defeat of Radagaisus, was ebbing away. The misfortunes in Gaul, which had been occupied by a tyrant and was being plundered by barbarians, were attributed to his incapacity or treachery, and his ambiguous relations with Alaric had only resulted in a new danger for Italy. It was whispered that his designs on eastern Illyricum only covered the intention of a triple division of the Empire, in which his own son Eucherius should be the third imperial colleague. Both he and his wife Serena were detested by the pagan families of Rome who still possessed predominant influence in the capital. Nor was his popularity with the army unimpaired. While he and Honorius were at Rome in the spring of A.D. 408, a friend warned him that the spirit of the troops stationed at Ticinum was far from friendly to his government.
Honorius was at Bononia (Bologna), on his way back to Ravenna, when the news of the death of his brother Arcadius reached him (May). He entertained the idea of proceeding to Constantinople to protect the interests of his child-nephew, Theodosius; and he summonded Stilicho for consultation. Stilicho dissuaded him from this plan, urging that it would be fatal for the legitimate Emperor to leave Italy while a usurper was in possession of Gaul. He undertook himself to travel to the eastern capital, arguing that during his absence there would be no danger from Alaric, if he were given a commission to march against Constantine. The death of Arcadius had presented to Stilicho too good an opportunity to be lost for prosecuting his design on Illyricum. Honorius agreed, and official letters were drafted, signed, and sent, on the one hand to Alaric instructing him to restore the Emperor's authority in Gaul, and, on the other hand, to Theodosius regarding Stilicho's mission to Constantinople.
But Stilicho's career was at an end. The Emperor proceeded to Ticinum (Pavia), and there a plot was woven for the destruction of the powerful and unsuspecting minister. Olympius, a palace official, who had opportunities of access to Honorius on the journey, let fall calumnious suggestions that Stilicho was planning to do away with Theodosius and place his own son on the eastern throne. At Ticinum he sowed the same suspicions among the troops, who were discontented and mutinous. His efforts brought about a military revolt, in which nearly all the highest officials who were in attendance on the Emperor, including the Praetorian Prefects of Italy and Gaul, were slain (August 13).
The first thought of Stilicho---when the confused story of these alarming occurrences reached him at Bononia, and it was doubtful whether the Emperor himself had not been killed---was to march at the head of the barbarian troops who were with him and punish the mutineers. But when he was reassured that the Emperor was safe, reflexion made him hesitate to use the barbarians against Romans. His German followers, conspicuous among them Sarus the Goth, were eager to act and indignant at the change of his resolve. He went himself to Ravenna, probably to assure himself of the loyalty of the garrison; but Honorius, at the instigation of Olympius, wrote to the commander instructions to arrest the great Master of Soldiers. Stilicho under cover of night took refuge in a church, but the next day allowed himself to be taken forth and imprisoned on the assurance that the imperial order was not to put him to death, but to detain him under guard. Then a second letter arrived, ordering his execution. The foreign retainers of his household, who had accompanied him to Ravenna, attempted to rescue him, but he peremptorily forbade them to interfere, and was beheaded (August 22, A.D. 408). His executioner, Heraclian, was rewarded by the post of Count of Africa. His son Eucherius was put to death soon afterwards at Rome, and the Emperor hastened to repudiate Thermantia, who was resotred a virgin to her mother. The estates of the fallen minister were confiscated as a matter of course. There had been no pretence of a trial, his treason was taken for granted; but after his execution there was an inquisition to discover which of his friends and supporters were implicated in his criminal designs. Nothing was discovered; it was quite clear that if Stilicho meditated treason he had taken no one into his confidence.
The fall of Stilicho caused little regret in Italy. For thirteen and a half years this half-Romanised German had been master of Western Europe, and he had signally failed in the task of defending the inhabitants and the civilisation of the provinces against the greedy barbarians who infested its frontiers. He had succeeded in driving Alaric out of Italy, but had not prevented him from invading it. He had annihilated the host of Radagaisus, but Radagaisus had first laid northern Italy waste. It was while the helm of state was in his hands that, as we have yet to see, Britain was nearly lost to the Empire, and Gaul devastated far and wide by barbarians who were presently to be lords in Spain and Africa. The difficulties of the situation were indeed enormous; but the minister who deliberately provoked and prosecuted a domestic dispute over the government of eastern Illyricum, and allowed his policy to be influenced by jealousy of Constantinople, when all his energies and vigilance were needed for the defence of the frontiers, cannot be absolved from responsibility for the misfortunes which befell the Roman state in his own lifetime and for the dismemberment of the western realm which soon followed his death. Many evils would have been averted, and particularly the humiliation of Rome, if he had struck Alaric mercilessly---and Alaric deserved no mercy---as he might have done more than once, and as a patriotic Roman general would not have hesitated to do. The Roman provincials might well feel bitter over the acts and policy of this German, whom the unfortunate favour of Theodosius had raised to the supreme command. When an imperial edict designated him as a public brigand who had worked to enrich and to excite the barbarian races, the harsh words probably expressed the public opinion.
The death of the man who had been proclaimed a public enemy at Constantinople altered the relations between the two imperial governments. Concord and friendly co-operation succeeded coldness and hostility. The edict which Stilicho had caused Honorius to issue, excluding eastern traders from western ports, was rescinded. The Empire was again really, as well as nominally, one. The Romans of the west, like the Romans of the east, had shown that they did not wish to be governed by men of German roce, and the danger did not occur again for forty years.