The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians
DECLINE OF THE ROMAN POWER IN THE WEST
INFLUENCE OF THE VANDAL OCCUPATION OF AFRICA---RICIMER AND THE LAST PHANTOM EMPERORS IN THE WEST---GUNDOBAD AND ORESTES IN ITALY---DEPOSITION OF ROMULUS AUGUSTULUS AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE---ODOVACAR, PATRICIAN AND KING IN ITALY
INFLUENCE OF THE VANDAL OCCUPATION OF AFRICA
The collapse of the Huns at the battle of Nedao (A.D. 454) was immediately followed by the settlement of the Ostrogoths in Pannonia, from which they were soon to repeat, in some sort, the part of their old brethren the Visigoths and assist in the disintegration of Roman dominion. The Gepids established their kingdom in Dacia, and we may mark this as the fifth stage in the history of that country, which had been successively submitted to the Dacians, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Huns, and now the Gepids. The Rugians, another East German people, settled along the Danube, probably between Linz and Vienna.
The forty years succeeding the collapse of the Empire of the Huns, from about 454 to 493, were marked by the gradual advance of the German power in Gaul and Spain; while before 493 Italy itself had become a German kingdom. Now the steady increase of the barbarian power, and the steady decline of the imperial power, in the west during these years was largely conditioned (as was noted in an earlier lecture) by the existence and hostility of the Vandal power in north Africa. The Vandal king Gaiseric had formed a strong fleet with which he was able to attack and plunder Italy, as well as to occupy Sicily and Sardinia. I may here make a remark on the general significance of the Vandals in European history. Thier kingdom lasted for just a hundred years. Then it was reconquered by the Empire, and the Vandal name disappeared from among the nations. What, then, was the historical significance of this people? Apart from devastation and destruction, what did they contribute, did they contribute anything, towards the permanent shaping of Europe? The destinies of Spain were not seriously affected by their settlement, which in the case of that country amounted to little more than a transit. The fortunes of Spain could not have been very different if the Vandals had never set foot in the peninsula. Nevertheless I conceive that the Vandals were an important factor, though they built up no abiding kingdom. Their occupation of Africa; the strong and formidable, though only temporary power which Gaiseric established at Carthage, supported by the sea-power which he organised in the Mediterranean---these were circumstances of inestimable consequence for the development of events in Europe. The presence of this enemy in Africa---and Gaiseric proved an enemy more irreconcilable than any other German foe---immeasurably weakened the Roman power in all the western provinces. It had the direct result of controlling the corn supply of Italy, and it prevented the Roman government from acting with effectual vigour in either Gaul or Spain. If the Romans had continued to hold Africa---if the Vandals had not been there---there can be little doubt that the imperial power would have maintained itself for a far longer period in Italy, and would have offered far more effective opposition to the expansion of the Germans in Gaul and Spain. In my view, therefore, the contribution which the Vandals made to the shaping of Europe was this: the very existence of their kingdom in Africa, and of their naval power in the Mediterranean, acted as a powerful protection for the growth of the new German kingdoms in Gaul and Spain, and ultimately helped the founding of a German kingdom in Italy, by dividing, diverting, and weakening the forces of the Empire. The Vandals had got round, as it were, to the rear of the Empire; and the effect of their powerful presence there was enhanced by the hostile and aggressive attitude which they continuously adopted.
RICIMER AND THE LAST PHANTOM EMPERORS IN THE WEST
Even if there had been united councils in Italy, the task of ubiquitous defence would have been beyond the power of the government; but the government went to pieces, and thereby hastened the dismemberment. I need not here enter at all into the history of the short-reigned emperors who were set up and knocked down in Italy after the murder of Valentinian III. in 455. I would invite your attention to two main points: first, the Vandal danger which embarrassed the Italian government during these years; and, secondly, the power behind the imperial throne. This power behind the throne is of great significance for our present purpose. It was wielded by a German general, Ricimer, of Suevian race. He was the successor of the German Stilicho and of the Roman Aetius as the defender of the Empire. The circumstances in which Ricimer had to act were indeed different from the circumstances of Stilicho and of Aetius. They differed in two main particulars. First, as I have already mentioned, while the activity of Stilicho and of Aetius reached beyond Italy to the other western provinces, the activity of Ricimer was practically confined to Italy and the Italian seas: this was due to the powerful hostility of the Vandals. Secondly, Stilicho and Aetius had been the ministers of emperors who belonged to the well-established dynasty of Theodosius; and although those emperors, Honorius and Valentinian III., were personally weak and worthless, yet their legitimacy gave their thrones stability; so that Stilicho and Aetius could feel that, though they might fall themselves, they had a secure throne behind them. It was not so in the case of Ricimer. The male line of Theodosius was extinct; Valentinian III. had left no sons: and it devolved upon Ricimer to provide the imperial authority which he was to serve. He became through circumstances an emperor-maker; and his difficulty was this. If he set up too strong a man, his own power would have probably been overridden; his own fall would have been the consequence; while on the other hand weak upstarts were unable to maintain their position for any length of time, since public opinion did not respect them. In estimating the part played by Ricimer, I think that hard and unjust measure is sometimes dealt out to him. The difficulties of his position can hardly be overstated, and he may be held to have made a serious and honest attempt to perform the task of preserving a government in Italy and defending the peninsula against its formidable enemies.
Now you must observe that the fact of Ricimer's being a German was a significant and determining factor in the situation. If he had not been a German, the situation would have been much simpler; for he could have assumed the imperial purple himself; the real and the nominal power would have been combined in the same hands; and the problem of government would have been solved. His German birth excluded this solution. This is a very remarkable thing. Germans like Stilicho and Ricimer, who attained to the highest posts in the imperial service, who might even intermarry with the imperial house, could not venture to take the last great step and mount the imperial throne. Just so much, just at the pinnacle, they were still outsiders. And they fully recognised this disability themselves. An Emperor Ricimer would have seemed to all men, and to Ricimer himself, impossible. This disability still resting upon men of pure German descent within the Empire, and their own deference to the prevailing sentiment, are highly significant.
It is also to be noted that in the intervals between the reigns of the emperors whom Ricimer set up and pulled down, when there was no emperor regnant in Italy, it did not mean that there was no emperor at all. At such times the imperial authority was entirely invested in the eastern emperor who reigned at Constantinople, the Emperor Leo; and this, too, was fully acknowledged by Ricimer, who indeed selected two of his emperors by arrangement with Leo.
GUNDOBAD AND ORESTES IN ITALY
Ricimer died in 472 and the march of affairs after his death shows how difficult his task had been. The events of these next few years have often been misconceived in respect of the exact nature of their importance. Ricimer's nephew Gundobad seemed marked out to succeed to the place of his uncle---as the head of the military forces in Italy, and as the power behind the throne. Gundobad belonged to the royal family of the Burgundians and was a son of the reigning Burgundian king; but he had entered the imperial service. The Emperor Olybrius, Ricimer's last creation, recognised Gundobad's position and raised him to the rank of patrician. But Olybrius died before the end of the year, and a crisis ensued. For Gundobad and the Emperor Leo could not agree as to whom should succeed to the purple. Leo's candidate was Julius Nepos, and Gundobad set up an obscure person named Glycerius. This situation illustrates, I think, a great merit of Ricimer, viz. his diplomatic success in dealing with the court of Constantinople, and in keeping on good terms with Leo. The importance of this part of his policy is conditioned by the common danger from the Vandals, which the eastern provinces had to fear as well as the western, though to a smaller extent.
But hardly had the deadlock arisen between Gundobad and the Emperor Leo, when Gundobad disappeared from the scene. A new ambition was suddenly opened to him, more alluring than the government of Italy, viz. the government of his father's Burgundian realm---a realm which was still nominally an imperial dependency. His father had died, and Gundobad withdrew to Burgundy to endeavour to secure his own election. He succeeded, and we shall meet him hereafter on the Burgundian throne. After his departure the Emperor Julius Nepos, Leo's candidate, landed in Italy and deposed Glycerius. But Nepos was not equal to the situation. He very wisely negotiated a peace with Euric, king of the West Goths, of whose reign I shall presently have to speak; and he then appointed a certain Roman, Orestes by name, to be commander-in-chief, magister militum, in Gaul, to defend the Roman territory there. Orestes had been in Attila's service: he had lived much with barbarians of all kinds, and Nepos thought that he was making a very clever choice in selecting Orestes to command an army of barbarian soldiers. I may point out that after the break-up of Attila's empire there had been an immense influx of barbarian mercenaries into the Roman service. The army which Orestes now commanded was composed not only of Germans drawn from families long settled in the Empire but also of these new adventurers who had drifted into Italy through Noricum and Pannonia. Nepos was deceived in Orestes; Orestes was ambitious, and instead of going to Gaul, as he had been told, he marched on Ravenna. Nepos immediately fled to Dalmatia. Italy was for the moment in the power of Orestes. He did not seize the Empire himself, he preferred the double arrangement which had prevailed in the time of Ricimer, though there was not now the same necessity for it. Keeping the military power himself, he invested his child-son Romulus Augustulus with the imperial purple. But before Orestes had established his government he was surprised by a new situation. His host of barbarian soldiers, who were largely Heruls, suddenly formulated a demand. They were dissatisfied with the arrangements for quartering them. Their wives and children lived in the garrison towns in their neighbourhood, but they had no proper homes or hearths. The idea occured to them that arrangements might be made in their behalf in Italy similar to those which had been made in Gaul, for instance, in behalf of the Visigoths and the Burgundians. Why should not they obtain permanent quarters, abiding homes, on the large estates, the latifundia, of Italy? This feeling prevailed in the host, and the officers formulated a demand which they laid before Orestes. The demand simply was that the normal system of hospitalitas should be adopted in Italy for their benefit, i.e. that a third part of the Italian soil should be divided among them. The sympathies or prejudices of Orestes were too Roman to let him entertain this demand; Italy had so far been sacrosanct from barbarian settlements. He refused, and his refusal led to a revolution. The mercenary soldiers found a leader in an officer who was thoroughly representative of themselves, an adventurer who had come from beyond the Danube to seek his fortunes, and had entered the service of the Empire. This was Odovacar: he was probably a Scirian, possibly a Rugian (there is a discrepancy in the authorities), at all events he belonged to one of the smaller East German peoples who had originally come from regions on the lower Oder, had formed part of Attila's empire, and had partly settled on the middle Danube, partly entered Roman service after the fall of that empire. odovacar now undertook to realise the claim of the soldiers, and consenquently there was a revolution. Orestes was put to death, and his son the Emperor Romulus Augustulus abdicated. The power in Italy was in the hands of Odovacar. We are in the year 476.