The Northern Way

The Roman and the Teuton

Lecture 3

Page 5

Followed by long trains of captives, long trains of waggons bearing the spoils of all the world, Alaric went on South, 'with the native instinct of the barbarian,' as Dr. Sheppard well says. Always toward the sun. Away from Muspelheim and the dark cold north, toward the sun, and Valhalla, where Odin and the Asas dwell in everlasting light.

He tried to cross into Sicily: but a storm wrecked his boats, and the Goths were afraid of the sea. And after a while he died. And the wild men made a great mourning over him. They had now no plan left; no heart to go south, and look for Odin over the sea. But of one thing they were resolved, that the base Romans should not dig up Alaric out of his barrow and scatter his bones to the winds.

So they put no barrow over the great king; but under the walls of Cosenza they turned the river-bed, and in that river-bed they set Alaric, armed and mailed, upright upon his horse, with gold, and jewels, and arms, and it may be captive youths and maids, that he might enter into Valhalla in royal pomp, and make a worthy show among the heroes in Odin's hall. And then they turned back the river into its bed, and slew the slaves who had done the work, that no man might know where Alaric lies: and no man does know till this day.

As I said, they had no plan left now. Two years they stayed in Campania, basking in the villas and gardens, drinking their fill of the wine; and then flowed away northward again, no one knows why. They had no wish to settle, as they might have done. They followed some God-given instinct, undiscoverable now by us. Ataulf, Alaric's kinsman, married Placidia, the Emperor's beautiful young sister, and accepted from him some sort of commission to fight against his enemies in Gaul. So to the south of gaul they went, and then into Spain, crushing before them Alans, Sueves, and Vandals, and quarrelling among themselves. Ataulf was murdered, and all his children; Placidia put to shame. Then she had her revenge. To me it is not so much horrible as pitiful. They had got the Nibelungen hoard; and with it the Nibelungen curse.

A hundred years afterwards, when the Franks pillaged the Gothic palace of Narbonne, they found the remnants of it. Things inestimable, indescribable; tables of solid emerald; the Missorium, a dish 2500 lbs. weight, covered with all the gems of India. They had been in Solomon's Temple, fancied the simple Franks---as indeed some of them may well have been. The Arabs got the great emerald table at last, with its three rows of great pearls. Where are they all now? What is become, gentlemen, of the treasures of Rome? Jewels, recollect, are all but indestructable; recollect, too, that vast quantities were buried from time to time, and their places forgotten. Perhaps future generations will discover many such hoards. Meanwhile, many of those same jewels must be in actual use even now. Many a gem which hangs now on an English lady's wrist saw Alaric sack Rome---and saw before and since---What not? The palaces of the Pharaohs, or of Darius; then the pomp of the Ptolemies, or of the Seleucids---came into Europe on the neck of some vulgar drunken wife of a Roman proconsul, to glitter for a few centuries at every gladiator's butchery in the amphitheatre; then went away with Placidia on a Gothic ox-waggon, to pass into an Arab seraglio at Seville; and then, perhaps, back from Sultan to Sultan again to its native India, to figure in the peacock-throne of the Great Mogul, and be bought at last by some Armenian for a few rupees from an English soldier, and come hither---and whither next? When England shall be what Alexandria and Rome are now, that little stone will be as bright as ever.---An awful symbol, if you will take it so, of the permanence of God's works and God's laws, amid the wild chase and change of sinful man.

Then followed for Rome years of peace,---such peace as the wicked make for themselves---A troubled sea, casting up mire and dirt. Wicked women, wicked counts (mayors of the palace, one may call them) like Aetius and Boniface, the real rulers of a nominal Empire.

Puppet Valentinian succeeded his father, puppet Honorius. In his days appeared another great portent---another comet, sweeping down out of infinite space, and back into infinite space again.---Attila and his Huns. They lay in innumerable hordes upon the Danube, until Honoria, Valentinian's sister, confined in a convent at Constantinople for some profligacy, sent her ring to Attila. He must be her champion, and deliver her. He paused a while, like Alaric before him, doubting whether to dash on Constantinople or Rome, and at last decided on Rome. But he would try Gaul first; and into Gaul he poured, with all his Tartar hordes, and with them all the Teuton tribes, who had gathered in his progress, as an avalanche gathers the snow in its course. At the great battle of Châlons, in the year 451, he fought it out: Hun, Sclav, Tartar, and Finn, backed by Teutonic Gepid and Herule, Turkling, East Goth and Lombard, against Roman and West Goth, Frank and Burgund, and the Bretons of Armorica. Wicked Aetius shewed himself that day, as always, a general and a hero---the Marlborough of his time---and conquered. Attila and his hordes rolled away eastward, and into Italy for Rome.

That is the Hunnenschlact; 'a battle,' as Jornandes calls it, 'atrox, multiplex, immane, pertinax.' Antiquity, he says, tells of nothing like it. No man who had lost that sight could say that he had seen aught worth seeing.----A fight gigantic, supernatural in vastness and horror, and the legends which still hang about the place. You may see one of them in Von Kaulbach's immortal design---the ghosts of the Huns and the ghosts of the Germans rising from their graves on the battle-night in every year, to fight it over again in the clouds, while the country far and wide trembles at their ghostly hurrah. No wonder men remember that Hunnenschlact. Many consider that it saved Europe; that it was one of the decisive battles of the world.

Not that Attila was ruined. Within the year he had swept through Germany, crossed the Alps, and devastated Italy almost to the walls of Rome. And there the great Pope Leo, the Cicero of preaching, the Homer of theology, the Aristotle of true philosophy,' met the wild heathen: and a sacred horror fell upon Attila, and he turned, and went his way, to die a year or two after no man knows how. Over and above his innumerable wives, he took a beautiful German girl. When his people came in the morning, the girl sat weeping, or seeming to weep; but Etzel, the scourge of God, lay dead in a pool of gore. She said that he had burst a blood-vessel. The Teutons whispered among themselves, that like a free-born Teuton, she had slain her tyrant. One longs to know what became of her.

And then the hordes broke up. Ardarich raised the Teuton Gepids and Ostrogoths. The Teutons who had obeyed Attila, turned on their Tartar conquerors, the only people who had ever subdued German men, and then only by brute force of overpowering numbers. At Netad, upon the great plain between the Drave and the Danube, they fought the second Hunnenschlacht, and the Germans conquered. Thirty thousand Huns fell on that dreadful day, and the rest streamed away into the heart of Asia, into the infinite unknown deserts from whence the foul miscreants had streamed forth, and left the Teutons masters of the world. The battle of Netad; that, and not Châlons, to my mind, was the saving battle of Europe.

So Rome was saved; but only for a few years. Puppet Valentinian rewarded Aetius for saving Rome, by stabbing with his own hand in his own palace, the hero of Châlons; and then went on to fill up the cup of his iniquity. It is all more like some horrible romance than sober history. Neglecting his own wife Eudoxia, he took it into his wicked head to ravish her intimate friend, the wife of a senator. Maximus stabbed him, retaliated on the beautiful empress, and made himself Emperor. She sent across the seas to Africa, to Genseric the Vandal, the cruel tyrant and persecutor. He must come and be her champion as Attila had been Honoria's. And he came, with Vandals, Moors, naked Ausurians from the Atlas. The wretched Romans, in their terror, tore Maximus in pieces; but it was too late. Eudoxia met Genseric at the gates in royal robes and jewels. He stript her of her jewels on the spot, and sacked Rome; and that was her reward.

This is the second sack. More dreadful far than the first---455 is its date. Then it was that the statues, whose fragments are still found, were hurled in vain on the barbarian assailants. Not merely gold and jewels, but the art-treasures of Rome were carried off to the Vandal fleet, and with them the golden table and the seven-branched candlestick which Titus took from the Temple of Jerusalem.

How had these things escaped the Goths forty years before? We cannot tell. Perhaps the Gothic sack, which only lasted five days, was less complete than this one, which went on for fourteen days of unutterable horrors. The plunderers were not this time sturdy honest Goths; not even German slaves, mad to revenge themselves on their masters; they were Moors, Ausurian black savages, and all the pirates and cut-throats of the Mediterranean.

Sixty thousand prisoners were carried off to Carthage. All the statues were wrecked on the voyage to Africa, and lost for ever.

And yet Rome did not die. She lingered on; her Emperor still calling himself an Emperor, her senate a senate; feeding her lazy plebs, as best as she could, with the remnant of those revenues which former Emperors had set aside for their support---their public bread, public pork, public oil, public wine, public baths,---and leaving them to gamble and quarrel, and listen to the lawyers in rags and rascality, and to rise and murder ruler after ruler, benefactor after benefactor, out of base jealousy and fear of any one less base than themselves. And so 'the smoke of her torment went up continually.'

But if Rome would not die, still less would she repent; as it is written---'The remnant of the people repented not of their deeds, but gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven.'

As the century runs on, the confusion becomes more and more dreadful. Anthemius, Olybrius, Orestes, and the other half-caste Romans with Greek names who become quasi-emperors and get murdered; Ricimer the Sueve, the king-maker and king-murderer; even good Majorian, who as puppet Emperor set up by Ricimer, tries to pass a few respectable laws, and is only murdered all the sooner. None of these need detain us. They mean nothing, they represent no idea, they are simply kites and crows quarrelling over the carcase, and cannot possibly teach us anything, but the terrible lesson, that in all revolutions the worst men are certain to rise to the top.

But only for a while, gentlemen, only for a while. Villany is by its very essence self-destructive, and if rogues have their day, the time comes when rogues fall out, and honest men come by their own.

That day, however, was not come for wretched Rome. A third time she was sacked by Ricimer her own general; and then even more villains ruled her; and more kites and crows plundered her. The last of them only need keep us a while. He is Odoacer, the giant Herule, Hound-y-wacker, as some say his name really is, a soubriquet perhaps from his war-cry, 'Hold ye stoutly,' 'Stand you steady.' His father was Ædecon, Attila's secretary, chief of the little Turkling tribe, who, though Teutonic, had clung faithfully to Attila's sons, and after the battle of Netad, came to ruin. There are strange stories of Odoacer. One from the Lives of St. Severinus, how Odoacer and his brothers started over the Alps, knapsacks at back, to seek their fortunes in Italy, and take service with the Romans; and how they came to St. Severinus' cell near Vienna, and went in heathens as they probably were, to get a blessing from the holy hermit; and how Odoacer had to stoop, and stand stooping, so huge he was. And how the saint saw that he was no common lad, and said, 'Go into Italy, clothed in thy ragged sheep-skins: thou shalt soon give greater gifts to thy friends.' So he went, and his brother with him. One of them at least ought to interest us. He was Onulf, Hunwulf, Wulf, Guelph, the Wolf-cub, who went away to Constantinople, and saw strange things, and did strange things likewise, and at last got back to Germany, and settled in Bavaria, and became the ancestor of all the Guelphs, and of Victoria, queen of England. His son, Wulfgang, fought under Belisarius against the Goths; his son again, Ulgang, under Belisarius against Persian and Lombard; his son or grandson was Queen Brunhilda's confidant in France, and became Duke of Burgundy; and after that the fortunes of his family were mixed up with the Merovingian kings of France, and then again with the Lombards of Italy, till one of them emerges as Guelf, count of Altorf, the ancestor of our Guelphic line.

But to return to Odoacer. He came to Rome, seeking his fortune. There he found in power Orestes, his father's old colleague at Attila's court, the most unprincipled turn-coat of his day; who had been the Emperor's man, then Attila's man, and would be anybody's man if needed: but who was now his own man, being king-maker for the time being, and father of the puppet Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, a pretty little lad, with an ominous name.

Odoacer took service under Orestes in the bodyguards, became a great warrior and popular; watched his time; and when Orestes refused the mercenaries, Herules, Rugians, Scyrings, Turklings and Alans---all the weak or half-caste frontier tribes who had as yet little or no share in the spoils of Italy---their demand of the third of the lands of Italy, he betrayed his benefactor; promised the mercenaries to do for them what Orestes would not, and raised his famous band of confederates. At last he called himself King of Nations, burnt Pavia, and murdered Orestes, as a reward for his benefits. Stript of his purple, the last Emperor or Rome knelt crying at the feet of the German giant, and begged not to be murdered like his father. And the great wild beast's hard heart smote him, and he sent the poor little lad away, to live in wealth and peace in Lucullus' villa at Misenum, with plenty of money, and women, and gewgaws, to dream away his foolish life looking out over the fair bay of Naples---the last Emperor of Rome.

Then Odoacer set to work, and not altogether ill. He gave his confederates the third of Italy, in fief under himself as king, and for fourteen years (not without some help of a few more murders) he kept some sort of rude order and justice in the wretched land. Remember him, for, bad man as he is, he does represent a principle. He initiated, by that gift of the lands to his soldiers, the feudal system in Italy. I do not mean that he invented it. It seems rather to be a primæval German form, as old as the days of Tacitus, who describes, if you will recollect, the German war-kings as parting the conquered lands among their 'comites,' thanes, or companions in arms.

So we leave Odoacer king of Italy, for fourteen years, little dreaming, perhaps, of the day when as he had done unto others so should it be done to him. But for that tale of just and terrible retribution you must wait till the next lecture.

And now, to refresh us with a gleam of wholesome humanity after all these horrors, let us turn to our worthy West Goth cousins for a while. They have stopt cutting each other's throats, settled themselves in North Spain and South France, and good bishop Sidonius gets to like them. They are just and honest men on the whole, kindly, and respectable in morals, living according to their strange old Gothic Law. But above all Sidonius likes their king---Theodoric is his name. A man of blood he has been in his youth: but he has settled down, like his people; and here is a picture of him. A real photograph of a live old Goth, nearly 1400 years ago. Gibbon gives a good translation of it. I will give you one, but Sidonius is prolix and florid, and I have had to condense.

A middle-sized, stout man, of great breadth of chest, and thickness of limb, a large hand, and a small foot, curly haired, bushy eye-browed, with remarkably large eyes and eyelids, hook-nosed, thin-lipped; brilliant, cheerful, impassioned, full of health and strength in mind and body. He goes to chapel before day-light, sits till eight doing justice, while the crowd, let into a latticed enclosure, is admitted one by one behind a curtain into the presence. At eight he leaves the throne, and goes either to count his money, or look at his horses. If he hunts, he thinks it undignified to carry his bow, and womanish to keep it strung, a boy carries it behind him; and when game gets up, he asks you (or the Bishop, who seems to have gone hunting with him) what you would wish him to aim at; strings his bow, and then (says Sidonius) never misses his shot. He dines at noon, quietly in general, magnificently on Saturdays; drinks very little, and instead of sleeping after dinner, plays at tables and dice. He is passionately fond of his game, but never loses his temper, joking and talking to the dice, and to every one round him, throwing aside royal severity, and bidding all be merry (says the bishop); for, to speak my mind, what he is afraid of is, that people should be afraid of him. If he wins he is in immense good humour; then is the time to ask favours of him; and, says the crafty bishop, many a time have I lost the game, and won my cause thereby. At three begins again the toil of state. The knockers return, and those who shove them away return too; everywhere the litigious crowd murmurs round; and follows him at evening, when he goes to supper, or gets its matters settled by the officers of the court, who have to stay there till bed-time. At supper, though there are but rarely 'mimici sales,' which I cannot translate---some sort of jesting: but biting and cruel insults (common at the feasts of Roman Emperors) are never allowed. His taste in music is severe. No water-organs, flute-players, lyrists, cymbal or harp-playing woman is allowed. All he delights in is the old Teutonic music, whose virtue (says the bishop) soothes the soul no less than does its sound the ear. When he rises from table the guards for the night are set, and armed men stand at all the doors, to watch him through the first hours of sleep.

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