The Northern Way

The Roman and the Teuton

Lecture 4

Page 2

The men cried out that it was true. He must make peace with the One-eyed, or they would do it themselves; and peace was made. They both sent ambassadors to Zeno; the Amal complaining of treachery; the One-eyed demanding indemnity for all his losses. The Emperor was furious. he tried to buy off the Amal by marrying him to a princess of the blood royal, and making him a Cæsar. Dietrich would not consent; he felt that it was a snare. Zeno proclaimed the One-eyed an enemy to the Empire; and ended by reinstating him in his old honours, and taking them from the Amal. The Amal became furious, burnt villages, slaughtered the peasants, even (the Greeks say) cut off the hands of his captives. He had broken with the Romans at last. The Roman was astride of him, and of all Teutons, like Sindbad's old man of the sea. The only question, as with Sindbad, was whether he should get drunk, and give them a chance of throwing the perfidious tyrant. And now the time was come. He was compelled to ask himself, not---what shall I be in relation to myself: but what shall I be in relation to the Kaiser of the Romans----a mercenary, a slave, or a conqueror---for one of the three I must be?

So it went on, year after year---sometimes with terrible reverses for Dietrich, till the year 480. Then the old One-eyed died, in a strange way. Mounting a wild horse at the tent-door, the beast reared before he could get his seat; afraid of pulling it over by the curb, he let it go. A lance, in Gothic fashion, was hanging at the tent-door, and the horse plunged the One-eyed against it. The point went deep into his side, and the old fighting man was at rest for ever.

And then came a strange peripeteia for the Amal. Zeno, we know not why, sent instantly for him. He had been ravaging, pursuing, defeating Roman troops, or being defeated by them. Now he must come to Rome. His Goths should have the Lower Danube. He should have glory and honour to spare. He came. His ideal, at this time, seems actually to have been to live like a Roman citizen in Constantinople, and help to govern the Empire. Recollect, he was still a little more than five and twenty years old.

So he went to Constantinople, and I suppose with him the faithful mother, and faithful sister, who had been with him in all his wanderings. He had a triumph decreed him at the Emperor's expense, was made Consul Ordinarius ('which,' saith Jornandes, 'is accounted the highest good and chief glory in the world') and Master-general, and lodged in the palace.

What did it all mean? Dietrich was dazzled by it, at least for a while. What it meant, he found out too soon. He was to fight the Emperor's battles against all rebels, and he fought them, to return irritated, complaining (justly or unjustly) of plots against his life; to be pacified, like a child, with the honour of an equestrian statue; then to sink down into Byzantine luxury for seven inglorious years with only one flashing out of the ancient spirit, when he demanded to go alone against the Bulgars and killed their king with his own hand.

 What woke him from his dream? The cry of his starving people.

The Goths, settled on the lower Danube, had been living, as wild men and mercenaries live, recklessly from hand to mouth, drinking and gambling till their families were in want. They send to the Amal. 'While thou art revelling at Roman banquets, we are starving---come back ere we are ruined.'

They were jealous, too, of the success of Odoacer and his mercenaries. He was growing now to be a great power; styling himself 'King of nations,' (2) giving away to the Visigoths the Narbonnaise, the last remnant of the Western Empire; collecting round him learned Romans like Symmachus, Boethius, and Cassiodorus; respecting the Catholic clergy; and seemingly doing his best to govern well. His mercenaries, however, would not be governed. Under their violence and oppression agriculture and population were both failing; till Pope Gelasius speaks of 'Æmilia, Tuscia, ceteræque provinciæ in quibus nullus prope hominum existit.'

Meanwhile there seems to have been a deep hatred on the part of the Goths to Odoacer and his mercenaries. Dr. Sheppard thinks that they despised him himself as a man of low birth. But his father Ædecon had been chief of the Turklings, and was most probably of royal blood. It is very unlikely, indeed, that so large a number of Teutons would have followed any man who had not Odin's blood in his veins. Was there a stain on Odoacer from his early connexion with Attila? Or was the hatred against his men more than himself, contempt especially of the low-caste Herules,---a question of race, springing out of those miserable tribe-feuds, which kept the Teutons always divided and weak? Be that as it may, Odoacer had done a deed which raised this hatred to open fury. He had gone over the Alps into Rugiland (then Noricum, and the neighbourhood of Vienna) and utterly destroyed those of the Rugier who had not gone into Italy under his banner. They had plundered, it is said, the cell of his old friend St. Severinus, as soon as the saint died, of the garments laid up for the poor, and a silver cup, and the sacred vessels of the mass. Be that as it may, Odoacer utterly exterminated them, and carried their king Feletheus, or Fava, back to Italy with Gisa his 'noxious wife;' and with them many Roman Christians, and (seemingly) the body of St. Severinus himself. But this had been a small thing, if he had not advised himself to have a regular Roman triumph, with Fava, the captive king, walking beside his chariot; and afterwards, in the approved fashion of the ancient Romans on such occasions, to put Fava to death in cold blood.

The records of this feat are to be found, as far as I know them, in one short chapter (I. xix.) of Paulus Diaconus, and in Muratori's notes thereto; but however small the records, the deed decided the fate of Italy. Frederic, son of Fava, took refuge with the Ostrogoths, and demanded revenge in the name of his royal race; and it is easy to conceive that the sympathies of the Goths would be with him. An attack (seemingly unprovoked) on an ancient Teutonic nation by a mere band of adventurers was---or could easily be made---a grievous wrong, and clear casus belli, over and above the innate Teutonic lust for fighting and adventures, simply for the sake of 'the sport.'

 Dietrich went back, and from that day, the dream of eastern luxury was broken, and young Dietrich was a Goth again, for good and for evil.

 He assembled the Goths, and marched straight on Constantinople, burning and pillaging as he went. So say, at least, the Greek historians, of whom, all through this strange story, no one need believe more than he likes. Had the Goths had the writing of the life of Dietrich, we should have heard another tale. As it is, we have, as it were, a life of Lord Clive composed by the court scribes of Delhi.

To no Roman would he tell what was in his mind. Five leagues from Constantinople he paused. Some say that he had compassion on the city where he had been brought up. Who can tell? He demanded to speak to Zeno alone, and the father in arms and his wild son met once more. There was still strong in him the old Teutonic feudal instinct. He was 'Zeno's man,' in spite of all. He asked (says Jornandes) Zeno's leave to march against Odoacer, and conquer Italy. Procopius and the Valesian Fragment say that Zeno sent him, and that in case of success, he was to reign there till Zeno came. Zeno was, no doubt, glad to get rid of him at any price. As Ennodius well says, 'Another's honour made him remember his own origin, and fear the very legions which obeyed him---for that obedience is suspected which serves the unworthy.' Rome was only nominally under Zeno's dominion; and it mattered little to him whether Herule or Gothic adventurer called himself his representative.

Then was held a grand function. Dietrich, solemnly appointed 'Patrician,' had Italy ceded to him by a 'Pragmatic' sanction, and Zeno placed on his head the sacrum velamen, a square of purple, signifying in Constantinople things wonderful, august, imperial---if they could only be made to come to pass. And he made them come to pass. He gathered all Teutonic heroes of every tribe, as well as his own; and through Roumelia, and through the Alps, a long and dangerous journey, went Dietrich and his Goths, with their wives and children, and all they had, packed on waggons; living on their flocks and herds, grinding their corn in hand-mills, and hunting as they went, for seven hundred miles of march; fighting as they went with Bulgars and Sarmatians, who had swarmed into the waste marches of Hungary and Carniola, once populous, cultivated, and full of noble cities; fighting a desperate battle with the Gepidæ, up to their knees in a morass; till over the passes of the Julian Alps, where icicles hung upon their beards, and their clothes cracked with frost, they poured into the Venetian plains. It was a daring deed; and needed a spirit like Dietrich's to carry it through.

Odoacer awaited him near the ruins of Aquileia. On the morning of the fight, as he was arming, Dietrich asked his noble mother to bring him some specially fine mantle, which she had embroidered for him, and put it over his armour, 'that all men may see how he goes gayer into the fight than ever he did into feast. For this day she shall see whether she have brought a man-child into the world, or no.'

And in front of Verona (where the plain was long white with human bones), he beat Odoacer, and after a short and sharp campaign, drove him to Ravenna. But there, Roman fortifications, and Roman artillery, stopped, as usual, the Goth; and Odoacer fulfilled his name so well, and stood so stout, that he could only be reduced by famine; and at last surrendered on terms, difficult now to discover.

Gibbon says, that there was a regular compact that they should enjoy equal authority, and refers to Procopius: but Procopius only says, that they should live together peaceably 'in that city.' Be that as it may, Odoacer and his party were detected, after awhile, conspiring against Dietrich, and put to death in some dark fashion. Gibbon, as advocatus diaboli of course gives the doubt against Dietrich, by his usual enthymeme---All men are likely to be rogues, ergo, Dietrich was one. Rather hard measure, when one remembers that the very men who tell the story are Dietrich's own enemies. By far the most important of them, the author of the Valesian Fragment, who considers Dietrich damned as an Arian, and the murderer of Boethius and Symmachus, says plainly that Odoacer plotted against his life. But it was a dark business at best.

Be that as it may, Dietrich the Amal found himself in one day king of all Italy, without a peer. And now followed a three and thirty years' reign of wisdom, justice, and prosperity, unexampled in the history of those centuries. Between the days of the Antonines and those of Charlemagne, I know no such bright spot in the dark history of Europe.

As for his transferring the third of the lands of Italy, which had been held by Odoacer's men, to his own Goths,---that was just or unjust (even putting out of the question the rights of conquest), according to what manner of men Odoacer's mercenaries were, and what right they had to the lands. At least it was done so, says Cassiodorus, that it notoriously gave satisfaction to the Romans themselves. One can well conceive it. Odoacer's men had been lawless adventurers; and now law was installed as supreme. Dietrich, in his long sojourn at the Emperor's court, had discovered the true secret of Roman power, which made the Empire terrible even in her fallen fortunes; and that was Law. Law, which tells every man what to expect, and what is expected of him; and so gives, if not content, still confidence, energy, industry. The Goths were to live by the Gothic law, the Romans by the Roman. To amalgamate the two races would have been as impossible as to amalgamate English and Hindoos. The parallel is really tolerably exact. The Goth was very English; and the over-civilized, learned, false, profligate Roman was the very counterpart of the modern Brahmin. But there was to be equal justice between man and man. If the Goths were the masters of much of the Roman soil, still spoliation and oppression were forbidden; and the remarkable edict or code of Theodoric, shews how deeply into his great mind had sunk the idea of the divineness of Law. It is short, and of Draconic severity, especially against spoliation, cheating, false informers, abuse by the clergy of the rights of sanctuary, and all offences against the honour of women. I advise you all to study it, as an example of what an early Teutonic king thought men ought to do, and could be made to do.

The Romans were left to their luxury and laziness; and their country villas (long deserted) were filled again by the owners. The Goths were expected to perform military service, and were drilled from their youth in those military evolutions which had so often given the disciplined Roman the victory over the undisciplined Goth, till every pomœrium (boulevard), says Ennodius, might be seen full of boys and lads, learning to be soldiers. Everything meanwhile was done to soothe the wounded pride of the conquered. The senate of Rome was still kept up in name (as by Odoacer), her nobles flattered by sonorous titles, and the officers of the kingdom and the palace bore the same names as they would have done under Roman emperors. The whole was an attempt to develop Dietrich's own Goths by the only civilization which he knew, that of Constantinople: but to engraft on it an order, a justice, a freedom, a morality, which was the 'barbarian' element. The treasures of Roman art were placed under the care of government officers; baths, palaces, churches, aqueducts, were repaired or founded; to build seems to have been Dietrich's great delight; and we have left us, on a coin, some image of his own palace at Verona, a strange building with domes and minarets, something like a Turkish mosque; standing, seemingly, on the arcades of some older Roman building. Dietrich the Goth may, indeed, be called the founder of 'Byzantine' architecture throughout the Western world.


2. Had he actually taken the name of Theodoric, Theuderic, Dietrich, which signifies much the same thing as 'King of nations'? Back

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