The Northern Way

The Roman and the Teuton

Lecture 3

Page 3

In the year 375, the West Goths came down to the Danube-bank and entreated the Romans to let them cross. There was a Christian party among them, persecuted by the heathens, and hoping for protection from Rome. Athanaric had vowed never to set foot on Roman soil, and after defending himself against the Huns, retired into the forests of 'Caucaland,' Good Bishop Ulfilas and his converts looked longingly toward the Christian Empire. Surely the Christians would receive them as brothers, welcome them, help them. The simple German fancied a Roman even such a one as themselves.

Ulfilas went on embassy to Antioch, to Valens the Emperor. Valens, low-born, cruel, and covetous, was an Arian, and could not lose the opportunity of making converts. He sent theologians to meet Ulfilas, and torment him into Arianism. When he arrived, Valens tormented him himself. While the Goths starved he argued, apostasy was the absolute condition of his help, till Ulfilas, in a weak moment, gave his word that the Goths should become Arians, if Valens would give them lands on the South bank of the Danube. Then they would be the Emperor's men, and guard the marches against all foes. From that time Arianism became the creed, not only of the Goths, but of the Vandals, the Sueves, and almost all the Teutonic tribes.

It was (if the story be true) a sinful and foolish compact, forced from a good man by the sight of his countrymen's extreme danger and misery. It avenged itself, soon enough, upon both Goths and Romans.

To the Goths themselves the change must have seemed not only unimportant, but imperceptible. Unaccustomed to that accuracy of thought, which is too often sneered at by Gibbon as 'metaphysical subtlety,' all of which they would have been aware was the change of a few letters in a creed written in an unknown tongue. They could not know, (Ulfilas himself could not have known, only two years after the death of St. Athanasius at Alexandria; while the Nicæan Creed was as yet received by only half of the Empire; and while he meanwhile had been toiling for years in the Danubian wilds, ignorant perhaps of the controversy which had meanwhile convulsed the Church)---neither the Goths nor he, I say, could have know that the Arianism, which they embraced, was really the last, and as it were apologetic, refuge of dying Polytheism; that it, and not the Catholic Faith, denied the abysmal unity of the Godhead; that by making the Son inferior to the Father, as touching his Godhead, it invented two Gods, a greater and a lesser, thus denying the absoluteness, the infinity, the illimitability, by any category of quantity, of that One Eternal, of whom it is written, that God is a Spirit. Still less could they have guessed that when Arius, the handsome popular preacher (whose very name, perhaps, Ulfilas never heard) asked the fine ladies of Alexandria----'Had you a son before that son was born?'---'No.' 'Then God could have no son before that son was begotten, &c.'---that he was mingling up the idea of Time with the idea of the Eternal God who created Time, and debasing to the accidents of before and after that Timeless and Eternal Generation, of which it is written, 'Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.' Still less could Ulfilas, or his Goths, have known, that the natural human tendency to condition God by Time, would be, in later ages, even long after Arianism was crushed utterly, the parent of many a cruel, gross, and stupid superstition. To them it would have been a mere question whether Woden, the All-father, was superior to one of his sons, the Asas: and the Catholic faith probably seemed to them a impious assumption of equality, on the part of one of those Asas, with Woden himself.

Of the battle between Arianism and Orthodoxy I have said enough to shew you that I think it an internecine battle between truth and falsehood. But it has been long ago judged by wager of battle: by the success of that duel of time, of which we must believe (as our forefathers believed of all fair duels) that God defends the right.

So the Goths were to come over the Danube stream: but they must give up their arms, and deliver their children (those of rank, one supposes), as hostages, to be educated by the Romans, as Romans.

 They crossed the fatal river; they were whole days in crossing; those set to count them gave it up in despair; Ammianus says: 'He who wishes to know their number,'

      'Libyci velit æquoris idem
      Discere quam multæ Zephyro volvuntur arenæ.'

And when they were across, they gave up the children. They had not the heart to give up the beloved weapons. The Roman commissioners let them keep the arms, at the price of many a Gothic woman's honour. Ugly and foul things happened, of which we have only hints. Then they had to be fed for the time being, till they could cultivate their land. Lupicinus and Maximus, the two governors of Thrace pocketed the funds which Valens sent, and starved the Goths. The markets were full of carrion and dogs' flesh. Anything was good enough for a barbarian. Their fringed carpets, their beautiful linens, all went. When all was gone, they had to sell their children. To establish a slave-trade in the beauiful boys and girls was just what the wicked Romans wanted.

 At last the end came. They began to rise. Fridigern, their king, kept them quiet till the time was ripe for revenge. The Romans, trying to keep the West Goths down, got so confused, it seems, that they let the whole nation of the East Goths (of whom we shall hear more hereafter) dash across the Danube, and establish themselves in the north of the present Turkey, to the east of the West Goths.

Then at Marcianopolis, the capital of Lower Mœsia, Lupicinus asked Fridigern and his chiefs to a feast. The starving Goths outside were refused supplies from the market, and came to blows with the guards. Lupicinus, half drunk, heard of it, and gave orders for a massacre. Fridigern escaped from the palace, sword in hand. The smouldering embers burst into flame, the war-cry was raised, and the villain Lupicinus fled for his life.

Then began war south of the Danube. The Roman legions were defeated by the Goths, who armed themselves with the weapons of the dead. Mœsia was overrun with fire and sword. Adrianople was attacked, but in vain. The slaves in the gold mines were freed from their misery, and shewed the Goths the mountain-passes and the stores of grain. As they went on, the Goths recovered their children. The poor things told horrid tales; and the Goths, maddened, avenged themselves on the Romans of every age and sex. 'They left,' says St. Jerome, 'nothing alive---not even the beasts in the field; till nothing was left but growing brambles and thick forests.'

 Valens, the Emperor, was at Antioch. Now he hurried to Constantinople, but too late. The East Goths had joined the West Goths; and hordes of Huns, Alans, and Taifalæ (detestable savages, of whom we know nothing but evil) had joined Fridigern's confederacy.

Gratian, Valen's colleague and nephew, son of Valentinian the bear-ward, had just won a great victory over the Allemanni at Colmar in Alsace; and Valens was jealous of his glory. He is said to have been a virtuous youth, whose monomania was shooting. He fell in love with the wild Alans, in spite of their horsetrappings of scalps, simply because of their skill in archery; formed a body-guard of them, and passed his time hunting with them round Paris. Nevertheless, he won this great victory by the help, it seems, of one Count Ricimer ('ever-powerful'), Count of the Domestics, whose name proclaims him a German.

 Valens was jealous of Gratian's fame; he was stung by the reproaches of the mob of Constantinople; and he undervalued the Goths, on account of some successes of his lieutenants, who had recovered much of the plunder taken by them, and had utterly overpowered the foul Taifalæ, transporting them to lands about Modena and Parma in Italy. He rejected Count Ricimer's advice to wait till Gratian reinforced him with the victorious western legions, and determined to give battle a few miles from Adrianople. Had he waited for Gratian, the history of the whole world might have been different.

For on the ninth of August, A.D. 378, the fatal day, the second Cannæ, from which Rome never recovered as from that first, the young world and the old world met, and fought it out; and the young world won. The light Roman cavalry fled before the long lances and heavy swords of the German knights. The knights turned on the infantry, broke them, hunted them down by charge after charge, and left the footmen to finish the work.

Two-thirds of the Roman army were destroyed; four Counts of the Empire; generals and officers without number. Valens fled wounded to a cottage. The Goths set it on fire, and burned him and his staff therein, ignorant that they had in their hands the Emperor of Rome. Verily there is a God who judgeth the earth.

So thought the Catholics of that day, who saw in the fearful death of Valens a punishment for his having forced the Goths to become Arians. 'It was just,' says one, 'that he should burn on earth, by whose counsels so many barbarians will burn in hell for ever.' There are (as I have shewn) still darker counts in the conduct of the Romans toward the Goths; enough (if we believe our Bibles) to draw down on the guilty the swift and terrible judgments of God.

At least, this was the second Cannæ, the death-wound of Rome. From that day the end was certain, however slow. The Teuton had at last tried his strength against the Roman. The wild forest-child had found himself suddenly at death-grips with the Enchanter whom he had feared, and almost worshipped, for so long; and behold, to his own wonder, he was no more a child, but grown into a man, and the stronger, if not the cunninger of the two. There had been a spell upon him; the 'Romani nominis umbra.' But from that day the spell was broken. He had faced a Roman Emperor, a Divus Cæsar, the man-god by whose head all nations swore, rich witht he magic wealth, wise with the magic cunning, of centuries of superhuman glory; and he had killed him, and behold he died, like other men. That he had done. What was there left for him now that he could not do?

The stronger he was, but not yet the cunninger of the two. The Goths could do no more. They had to leave Adrianople behind them, with the Emperor's treasures safe within its walls; to gaze with childish wonder at the Bosphorus and its palaces; to recoil in awe from the 'long walls' of Constantinople, and the great stones which the engines thereon hurled at them by 'arsmetricke and nigromancy,' as their descendants believed of the Roman mechanicians, even five hundred years after; to hear (without being able to avenge) the horrible news, that the Gothic lads distributed throughout Asia, to be educated as Romans, had been decoyed into the cities by promises of lands and honours, and then massacred in cold blood; and then to settle down, leaving their children unavenged, for twenty years on the rich land which we now call Turkey in Europe, waiting till the time was come.

Waiting, I say, till the time was come. The fixed idea that Rome, if not Constantinople, could be taken at last, probably never left the minds of the leading Goths after the battle of Adrianople. The altered policy of the Cæsars was enough of itself to keep that idea alive. So far from expelling them from the country which they had seized, the new Emperor began to flatter and to honour them.

They had been heretofore regarded as savages, either to be driven back by main force, or tempted to enlist in the Roman ranks. Theodosius regarded them as a nation, and one which it was his interest to hire, to trust, to indulge at the expense of his Roman subjects.

Theodosius has received the surname of Great---seemingly by comparison; 'Inter cæcos luscus rex;' and it was highly creditable to a Roman Emperor in those days to be neither ruffian nor villain, but a handsome, highbred, courteous gentleman, pure in his domestic life, an orthodox Christian, and sufficiently obedient to the Church to forgive the monks who had burnt a Jewish synagogue, and to do penance in the Cathedral of Milan for the massacre of Thessalonica. That the morals of the Empire (if Zosimus is to be at all believed) grew more and more effeminate, corrupt, reckless; that the soldiers (if Vegetius is to be believed) actually laid aside, by royal permission, their helmets and cuirasses, as too heavy for their degenerate bodies; that the Roman heavy infantry, which had conquered the world, ceased to exist, while its place was taken by that Teutonic heavy cavalry, which decided every battle in Europe till the English yeoman, at Crecy and Poictiers, turned again the balance of arms in favour of the men who fought on foot; that the Goths became the 'fœderati' or allies of the Empire, paid to fight its battles against Maximus the Spaniard, and Arbogast the Frank, the rebels who, after the murder of young Gratian, attempted to set up a separate empire in the west; that Stilicho the Vandal was the Emperor's trusted friend, and master of the horse; that Alaric the Balth, and other noble Goths, were learning to combine with their native courage those Roman tactics which they only needed to become masters of the world; that in all cities, even in the Royal Palace, the huge Goth swaggered in Roman costume, his neck and arms heavy with golden torcs and bracelets; or even (as in the case of Fravitta and Priulf) stabbed his enemy with impunity at the imperial table; that kinein to Skuqikon, to disturb the Goths, was a deadly offence throughout the Empire: all these things did not prevent a thousand new statues from rising in honour of the great Cæsar, and excited nothing more than grumblings of impotent jealousy from a people whose maxim had become, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'

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