The Northern Way

The Roman and the Teuton

Lecture 6

Page 2

Then he sends for the wretched remnant of the senators and tells them the plain truth:---How the great Dietrich and his successors had heaped them with honour and wealth; and how they had returned his benefits by bringing in the Greeks. And what had they gained by changing Dietrich for Justinian? Logothetes, who forced them by blows to pay up the money which they had already paid to their Gothic rulers; and revenue exacted alike in war and in peace. Slaves they deserve to be; and slaves they shall be henceforth.

Then he sends to Justinian. He shall withdraw his army from Italy, and make peace with him. He will be his ally and his son in arms, as Dietrich had been to the Emperors before him, or if not, he will kill the senate, destroy Rome, and march into Illyricum.

Justinian leaves it to Belisarius.

Then Totila begins to destroy Rome. He batters down the walls, he is ready to burn the town. He will turn the evil place into a sheep-pasture. Belisarius flatters and cajoles him from his purpose, and he marches away with all his captives, leaving not a living soul in Rome.

But Totila shews himself a general unable to cope with that great tactician. He divides his forces, and allows Belisarius to start out of Ostia and fortify himself in Rome. The Goths are furious at his rashness: but it is too late, and the war begins again, up and down the wretched land, till Belisarius is recalled by some fresh court intrigue of his wicked wife, and another and even more terrible enemy appears on the field, Narses the eunuch, avenging his wrong upon his fellow-men by cunning and courage almost preternatural. He comes upon them with a mighty host: but not of Romans alne. He has gathered the Teuton tribes;---Herules, the descendants probably of Odoacer's confederates; Gepids, who have a long blood-feud against the Goths; and most terrible of all, Alboin with his five thousand more Burgundians, of whom you will hear enough hereafter. We read even of multitudes of Huns, and even of Persian deserters from the Chosroo. But Narses' policy is the old Roman one---Teuton must destroy Teuton. And it succeeds.

 In spite of some trouble with the Franks, who are holding Venetia, he marches down victorious through the wasted land, and Totila marches to meet him in the Apennines. The hero makes his last speech. He says, 'There will be no need to talk henceforth. This day will end the war. They are not to fear these hired Huns, Herules, Lombards, fighting for money. Let them hold together like desperate men.' So they fight it out. The Goths depending entirely on the lance, the Romans on a due use of every kind of weapon. The tremendous charge of the Gothic knights is stopped by showers of Hun and Herule arrows, and they roll back again and again in disorder on the foot: but in spite of the far superior numbers of the Romans, it is not till nightfall that Narses orders a general advance of his line. The Goths try one last charge; but appaled by the numbers of the enemy, break up, and, falling back on the foot, throw them into confusion, and all is lost.

The foot are cut down flying. The knights ride for their lives. Totila and five horsemen are caught up by Asbad the Gepid chief. Asbad puts his lance in rest, not knowing who was before him. 'Dog,' cries Totila's page, 'wilt thou strike thy lord?' But it is too late. Asbad's lance goes through his back and he drops on his horse's neck. Scipwar (Shipward) the Goth wounds Asbad, and falls wounded himself. The rest carry off Totila. He dies that night, after reigning eleven stormy years.

The Goths flee across the Po. There is one more struggle for life, and one more hero left. Teia by name, 'the slow one,' slow, but strong. He shall be king now. They lift him on the shield, and gather round him desperate, but determined to die hard. He finds the treasure of Totila, hid in Pisa. He sends to Theudebald and his Franks. Will they help him against the Roman, and they shall have the treasure; the last remnant of the Nibelungen hoard. No. The Luegenfelden will not come. They will stand by and see the butchery, on the chance of getting all Italy for themselves. Narses storms Rome---or rather a little part of it round Hadrian's Mole, which the Goths had fortified; and the Goths escape down into Campania, mad with rage.

That victory of Narses, says Procopius, brought only a more dreadful destruction on the Roman senate and people. The Goths, as they go down, murder every Roman they meet. The day of grace which Totila had given them is over. The Teutons in Narses' army do much the same. What matter to Burgunds and Herules who was who, provided they had any thing to be plundered of? Totila has allowed many Roman senators to live in Campania. They hear that Narses has taken Rome, they begin to flock to the ghastly ruin. Perhaps there will be once again a phantom senate, phantom consuls, under the Romani nominis umbram. The Goths catch them, and kill them to a man. And there is an end of the Senatus Populusque Romanus.

The end is near now. And yet these terrible Goths cannot be killed out of the way. On the slopes of Vesuvius, by Nuceria, they fortify a camp; and as long as they are masters of the neighbouring sea, for two months they keep Narses at bay. At last he brings up an innumerable fleet, cuts off their supplies; and then the end comes. The Goths will die like desperate men on foot. They burst out of camp, turn their horses loose, after the fashion of German knights---One hears of the fashion again and again in the middle age,---and rush upon the enemy in deep solid column. The Romans have hardly time to form some sort of line; and then not the real Romans, I presume, but the Burgunds and Gepids, turn their horses loose like the Goths. There is no need for tactics; the fight is hand to hand; every man, says Procopius, rushing at the man nearest him.

For a third of the day Teia fights in front, sheltered by his long pavisse, stabbing with a mighty lance at the mob which makes at him, as dogs at a boar at bay. Procopius is awed by the man. Most probably he saw him with his own eyes. Second in valour, he says, to none of the Heroes.

Again and again his shield is full of darts. Without moving a foot, without turning an inch right or left, says Procopius, he catches another from his shield-bearer, and fights on. At last he has twelve lances in his shield, and cannot move it: coolly he calls for a fresh one, as if he were fixed to the soil, thrusts back the enemy with his left hand, and stabs at them with his right. But his time is come. As he shifts his shield for a moment his chest is exposed, and a javelin is through him. And so ends the last hero of the East Goths. They put his head upon a pole, and carry it round the lines to frighten the Goths. The Goths are long past frightening.

All day long, and all the next day, did the Germans fight on, Burgund and Gepid against Goth, neither giving nor taking quarter, each man dying where he stood, till human strength could bear up no longer, while Narses sat by, like an ugly Troll as he was, smiling to see the Teuton slay the Teuton, for the sake of their common enemy. Then the Goths sent down to Narses. They were fighting against God. They would give in, and go their ways peaceably, and live with some other Teuton nations after their own laws. They had had enough of Italy, poor fellows, and of the Nibelungen hoard. Only Narses, that they might buy food on the journey back, must let them have their money, which he had taken in various towns of Italy.

Narses agreed. There was no use fighting more with desperate men. They should go in peace. And he kept his faith with them. Perhaps he dared not break it. He let them go, like a wounded lion crawling away from the hunter, up through Italy, and over the Po, to vanish. They and their name became absorbed in other nations, and history knows the East Goths no more.

So perished, by their own sins, a noble nation; and in perishing, destroyed utterly the Roman people. After war and famine followed as usual dreadful pestilence, and Italy lay waste for years. Henceforth the Italian population was not Roman, but a mixture of all races, with a most powerful, but an entirely new type of character. Rome was no more Senatorial, but Papal.

And why did these Goths perish, in spite of their valour and patriotism, at the hands of mercenaries?

They were enervated, no doubt, as the Vandals had been in Africa, by the luxurious southern climate, with its gardens, palaces, and wines. But I have indicated a stronger reason already:---they perished because they were a slave-holding aristocracy.

We must not blame them. All men then held slaves: but the original sin was their ruin, though they knew it not. It helped, doubtless, to debauch them; to tempt them to the indulgence of those fierce and greedy passions, which must, in the long run, lower the morality of slaveholders; and which, as Totila told them, had drawn down on them the anger of heaven. But more; though they reformed their morals, and that nobly, under the stern teaching of affliction, that could not save them. They were ruined by the inherent weakness of all slaveholding states; the very weakness which had ruined, in past years, the Roman Empire. They had no middle class, who could keep up their supplies, by exercising for them during war the arts of peace. They had no lower class, whom they dare entrust with arms, and from whom they might recruit their hosts. They could not call a whole population into the field, and when beaten in that field, carry on, as Britain would when invaded, a guerilla warfare from wood to wood, and hedge to hedge, as long as a coign of vantage-ground was left. They found themselves a small army of gentlemen, chivalrous and valiant, as slaveholders of our race have always been; but lessening day by day from battle and disease, with no means of recruiting their numbers; while below them and apart from them lay the great mass of the population, helpless, unarmed, degraded, ready to side with any or every one who would give them bread, or let them earn it for themselves (for slaves must eat, even though their masters starve), and careless of, if not even hostile to, their masters' interests, the moment those masters were gone to the wars.

In such a case, nothing was before them, save certain defeat at last by an enemy who could pour in ever fresh troops of mercenaries, and who had the command of the seas.

I may seem to be describing the case of a modern and just as valiant and noble of people. I do not mention its name. The parallel, I fear, is too complete, not to have already suggested itself to you.

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