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H. B. Cotterill
Medieval Italy


THE FOUR PRAEFECTURAE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE The diocese of the Praefecturae were as follows: PRAEFECTURA GALLIARUM: Britannis, Galliae, Viennensis.  PRAEFECTURA ITALIAE: Italia, Hispania, Africa. (Spain is sometimes said to belong to the Prefecture of the Galliae.  PRAEFECTURA ILLYRICI: Thracia and all Greece, Moesiae, Pannonia.  PRAEFECTURA ORIENTIS: Asia, Pontus, the Orient, and Egypt — 'Asia' being western Asia Minor and the 'Orient' being Syria, Palestine, etc.


In 305 Diocletian abdicated and forced Maximian, a Pannonian soldier whom twenty years before he had elected as his imperial colleague (i.e. as an 'Augustus'), to do the same. He then left the Empire to Constantius Chlorus and to Galerius, who had been hitherto only 'Caesars,' that is heirs-apparent to the purple. As new 'Caesars' were elected Severus and Maximin.

Constantius in earlier life had married Helena, possibly of British birth, by whom he had a son, afterwards Constantine the Great. When elected a Caesar (293) he had been compelled to put aside Helena and to marry Theodora, daughter of the Emperor Maximian; and the young Constantine, probably feeling humiliated, had preferred to serve as soldier in the far East instead of remaining with his father, who was in command of Gaul and Britain. But fifteen months after his election as Emperor of the West Constantius died at York, and his son Constantine, who had travelled in great haste from Nicomedia in Bithynia to join his father on his expedition against the Caledonians, was saluted by the army at York as Augustus and Imperator.

Galerius had fancied that he would become sole Emperor on the death of Constantius, but when Constantine sent him notices of this election he was obliged to dissemble his rage and grudgingly allowed him the title of Caesar, while he advanced Severus to the dignity of an Augustus and assigned him the province of Italy.

But Maxentius, son of old Maximian (who with impotent p2resentment had been sulking in obscurity since his abdication), now raises the standard of revolt at Rome, and Severus takes flight to Ravenna, where he capitulates and is forced to put himself to death. Old Maximian visits Constantine in Gaul in order to explain and negotiate, and takes with him his daughter Fausta, whom Constantine marries, at Arles.1 In virtue of his former imperial authority Maximian then invests Constantine with the purple, thus giving sanction to his election by the army. Forthwith the Eastern Augustus, Galerius, hearing of the death of Severus, invades Italy, but is obliged to withdraw. He then elects Licinius as an Augustus for the Illyrian province. Hereupon the remaining 'Caesar,' Maximin, demands and is unwillingly granted the imperial title for Egypt and Syria, while at Rome Maxentius proclaims himself Emperor of Italy and persuades his father, the aged Maximian, to reassume the purple. Thus we have no less than six Emperors at the same time — a most confusing state of things!

Maxentius and his father now quarrel. The praetorian guard declares for the younger and Maximian retires to Illyricum, and when expelled thence by Galerius makes his way again to Arles, in Southern Gaul, and resigns his purple into the hands of his son-in‑law, Constantine. But while Constantine is absent on an expedition in Rhineland, irrepressible ambition incites the old man to seize the treasure at Arles and to persuade certain soldiers to proclaim him once more as Emperor. Constantine comes sweeping with his flotillas down the Saône and Rhone, and Maximian flees to Marseille, hoping to be rescued by the Roman fleet of his son Maxentius; but he is given up by the citizens and put to death by Constantine, Fausta 'sacrificing the sentiments of nature to her conjugal duties' and apparently approving of the death of her father.

Galerius soon afterwards (311) dies in his palace at Nicomedia — eaten of worms, it is said. He seems to have possessed a p3proud and fiery but a manly and enterprising character, and his reign was noted for many works of public utility, amongst which were the drainage of a vast swamp between the Drave and the Danube and the clearance of wide extents of forest-land.

There are now only four Emperors: Maximin in Asia and Egypt, Licinius in East Europe, Constantine in the West, while Maxentius plays the tyrant in Italy and North Africa.

But Italy and North Africa are too small an Empire for the ambition of Maxentius. He openly avows his intention of invading the dominions of Constantine, whose imperial titles he commands to be erased and whose statues he causes to be ignominiously overthrown. Whereupon Constantine, leaving half his army on the Rhine, with some 40,000 men to oppose 200,000, marches southwards and, having crossed Mont Cenis, takes Susa, Turin, Milan, and Verona, and with an eagle-like rapidity, such as that of the great Caesar himself, is ere long in the neighbourhood of Rome, where, at the battle of Saxa Rubra (the Red Rocks, near the Milvian Bridge), Maxentius is defeated, and is drowned in the Tiber (312).

In 313 Constantine's 'Edict of Milan' secured the so‑called 'Peace of the Church' and the recognition, at least in the Western Empire, of Christianity as a legal religion — possibly as the State religion, though Constantine himself remained a pagan, or unbaptized, until shortly before his death. In the same year Maximin (Nicomedia) makes war on Licinius (Byzantium and Illyricum), but he is defeated and flees to Tarsus, where he dies. Thus there are now only two Emperors, Constantine and Licinius, who for ten years (314‑24) divide the Roman Empire. They quarrel and are reconciled and again quarrel. Constantine then captures Byzantium and shortly afterwards puts Licinius (his brother-in‑law) to death, though on the supplication of his own sister he had promised to spare the life of her husband, 'after compelling him to lay himself and his purple at the feet of his lord and master and raising him from the ground with insulting pity' (Gibbon). So the Roman world is at last once more for a time united under a single Emperor. p4During the next six years Constantine plans and effects the transference of the seat of Empire from Rome to Byzantium, which he furnishes with new walls and public buildings. It is dedicated in 330 under its new name of Constantinopolis. It was during this period — a year after his capture of Byzantium and his murder of Licinius — that he summoned the famous Council at Bithynian Nicaea, where the Nicene Creed was composed and the doctrines of Arius were condemned. (Constantine, by the way, though legend and art picture his baptism by Bishop Silvester at Rome in 324, was first baptized on his death-bed by an Arian bishop.) Shortly after thus laying a foundation-stone of orthodoxy he puts to death his eldest son Crispus and his own wife Fausta (the story reminds one of Hippolytus and of Don Carlos), and his nephew, the young Licinius. Towards the end of his reign Constantine leads a campaign against the Goths, who are now beginning to drive the Scythian inhabitants of Central Europe, known in that age as 'Sarmatians,' across the Danube. He defeats the Goths in a great battle, but the Sarmatians (ancestors of the Bulgarians) are finally forced south of the Danube, and about 300,000 are given territory in Thrace, Macedonia, and Italy.

In 337 Constantine the Great dies at his palace near Nicomedia (Bithynia), and the Empire is divided among his three sons — twenty-one, twenty, and seventeen years of age — Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans. Of these the first (Emperor of Gaul and Britain and Spain) is killed when invading Italy, the province of his brother Constans; and Constans is murdered by an usurper named Magnentius. Then Constantius, who has massacred a dozen of his own cousins and uncles, hoping thus to extirpate rivals, becomes sole Emperor. He attacks and defeats Magnentius (at Mursa, on the Drave) and chases him from place to place. At last the usurper is overtaken near Lyon and falls on his sword.

Constantius, whose court (at Constantinople, and later at Milan) is dominated by palace officials, especially by an eunuch named Eusebius, adds to his family murders by executing Gallus, his cousin, whom he had married to his sister

Fig. 2 BATTLE OF SAXA RUBRA Arch of Constantine
p5Constantina (a human Fury) and had appointed as Caesar to the province of the far East. The brother of Gallus, the future Emperor Julian (many of whose writings have survived), tells us the shameful story of this tragic event. He too was imprisoned by Constantius, and barely escaped with his life by the favour of the Empress, the beautiful and amiable Eusebia. He is exiled to Athens, but by the influence of Eusebia is recalled to Milan, and married to Helena, another sister of Constantius, and receives the title of a Caesar and the administration of the West. How strife arises, how Julian is proclaimed Augustus by his soldiers, and how Constantius, hastening from the far East to chastise the usurper, dies near Tarsus, leaving Julian supreme in the Roman world, will be narrated more fully on a later occasion, when the character and reign of the 'Apostate' Emperor will be discussed.

Julian reigned only twenty months and was not yet thirty-two years of age at his death in 363. He died of an arrow wound in Persia, to the east of the Tigris, not far from where Bagdad now stands, at a moment when his army (as in earlier days in these regions the army of the ten thousand Greeks) was in imminent risk of annihilation. (Susan note) It is saved by the diplomacy rather than the strategy of Jovian, an officer of the Guard, who (after the honour had been refused by Sallust, the noble-minded Prefect of the eastern provinces) is acclaimed Emperor by the troops and accepts a humiliating peace offered by the Persian king, Sapor, ceding five provinces and many cities. The imperial army, after losing many men in the rivers and deserts of Mesopotamia, reaches Antioch, where, as on all the line of retreat, great indignation is excited by the cession of the eastern provinces. (On Jovian's coins, by the way, his portrait is accompanied by laurel crowns, winged Victories, and prostrate captives!)

During his six weeks' stay at Antioch and his hurried march through Asia Minor towards Constantinople Jovian issues proclamations enjoining toleration towards paganism, but re‑establishing Christianity and the 'Peace of the Church' — p6re‑establishing also the aged Athanasius on the patriarchal throne of Alexandria — an attempt at pacification which, while it brings him enthusiastic acclamation from the Catholic hierarchy, is soon followed by the outbreak of still bitterer fratricidal strife between the Christian sects. At Tarsus the body of the Emperor Julian is buried. Hence Jovian pushes forward, with the Christian standard (the Labarum) at the head of his army; but before reaching Nicaea he suddenly dies — poisoned perhaps by mushrooms, or perhaps by the effluvia of charcoal or of a newly plastered room.

In Jovian's stead (after the honour had been once more refused by the Prefect Sallust) is chosen Valentinian, a stalwart officer of Pannonian origin. As he ascends the tribune after investiture a clamour arises that he should elect a colleague. He makes no promise, but a month later, after his arrival at Constantinople, he confers the title of Augustus on his brother Valens, described as a feeble-minded, fat, short man. Thus the Empire is again divided (364), Valens being assigned the East, from the Danube to Persia, and residing chiefly at Antioch, while Valentinian retains Illyricum, Italy, North Gaul, and other western provinces, and chooses Milan as his imperial residence.

In 365‑66 take place the attempt of Procopius, a relative of Julian and a pagan, to make himself master of the Eastern Empire. He captures Constantinople and is acknowledged by troops in Thrace and on the Danube, and his generals subdue Bithynia. The timid Valens, now at Caesarea, wishes to abdicate, but his ministers will not allow it. The aged Sallust is re‑elected Prefect of the East, and Procopius, defeated at Thyatira (or in Lycia), escapes to the Phrygian mountains, but is betrayed and beheaded. Thus the cowardly and feeble Valens is re‑established on the throne of the Eastern Empire. He devotes most of his energies to persecuting the 'Athanasian Catholics,' being himself an Arian, baptized by the Arian patriarch of Constantinople. The aged Athanasius is, perhaps for the fifth time, forced to fly from Alexandria; but the people take up arms and reinstate their patriarch, who soon afterwards dies (373). p7Valentinian, whose person was tall and majestic and who at first gained respect and affection, seems to have passed useful laws — one of which restricted legacies made to the Church, now beginning to indulge in regal wealth and luxury — and to have instituted in many cities educational academies and universities, such as had for centuries existed in Athens. But before he had been long on the throne he appears to have been overmastered by an ungovernable ferocity which demanded many thousands of victims, especially in Rome and in Antioch — the verdicts being generally founded on charges of magic. (He is said to have kept two savage bears, Innocentia and Mica Aurea, to tear to pieces before his eyes those who were condemned.) His choleric temper was the immediate cause of his death, for when (in 375) envoys of the barbarous tribe of Quadi came into his presence in his palace at Trier (Trèves) he addressed them with such passionate violence that he burst a blood-vessel.

Valentinian I was succeeded by his son Gratian, whom he had proclaimed as Augustus when a child of nine, and who was now sixteen years of age. But a part of the army is in favour of his half-brother Valentinian, a mere babe of four, and Gratian good-naturedly accepts him as colleague, under the regency of the child's mother, Justina, assigning him the province of Italy and advising Milan as a residence.

About this time the weak-minded Eastern Emperor, Valens, the uncle of the boy rulers of the West, had allowed a great multitude of Visigoths, driven across the Danube by the Huns, to settle in Moesia and Thrace. These Visigoths, suffering terribly from famine and maltreated and enslaved by imperial officials, revolt and begin to devastate the country; whereupon Valens attacks them. A battle is fought not far from Hadrianople and some 40,000 Imperialists are slain — a disaster that has been compared with that of Cannae. Valens disappeared in the midst of the fray and was never seen again. A vague report asserted that a cottage in which he had taken refuge with his retinue was set on fire by the Goths and that all perished in the flames. Gratian now (378) elects as Emperor of the East p8the general Theodosius, of Spanish origin. He himself, a mild and sport-loving youth of nineteen years who had been brought up under the gentle influence of the poet Ausonius, excites the contempt of his army by devoting his time to hunting in his great preserves in Gaul, dressed in Scythian costume and attended by Scythian gillies and favourites. Ere long a revolt is incited in Britain by Maximus, a Roman exile who had married, it is said, a lady of Carnarvon. With a great army — 'afterwards remembered2 as the emigration of a considerable part of the British nation,' says Gibbon — he attacks Gratian, who flees to Lyon and is there taken and slain (383). Maximus proclaims himself Augustus. For four years he is de facto the Emperor of the West north of the Alps, and as such is recognized by Theodosius; but ere long he invades Italy, forcing Justina to flee with her son, Valentinian II, now a lad of fifteen, from Milan to Aquileia, and from Aquileia to Constantinople. Theodosius, the Eastern Emperor, receives the fugitives and falls in love with Galla, the sister of the boy-Emperor of the west. After marrying her he carries war into Italy, defeats and slays Maximus, restores Valentinian II to his throne (388), and spends three years in Rome and Milan. It was during this sojourn of his at Milan that Theodosius, who as ardent Catholic and exterminator of Arianism had enjoyed the special favour of St. Ambrose, was (it is said) excluded by the archbishop from the cathedral of Milan until he had publicly done penance for the massacre of the unsuspecting citizens of Thessalonica, which he had allowed to take place on account of a tumult.

Some two years later (392), not long after the return of Theodosius to Constantinople, the young Valentinian was murdered at Vienne in Gaul, probably by a Frank general named Arbogast. Thus Theodosius was left the sole legitimate Emperor. Arbogast set himself up as dictator and elected as rival Emperor of the West a rhetorician named Eugenius, and it was two years before Theodosius ventured a campaign against this second usurper, whom with great difficulty and p9peril he defeated on the Frigidus (Cold River) near Aquileia. Arbogast fell on his own sword, and Theodosius, thus rid of all rivals, was now practically, as well as nominally, the supreme lord of the Roman Empire.

But his life is threatened by dropsy, caused or aggravated by luxurious habits, and having nominated his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius, as his successors, the first in the East and the second in the West, he summons the younger, Honorius, a boy of ten years, to Milan (395) to receive the western sceptre from his dying hands; and he entrusts the tutorship of the lad to the chief of his army, Stilicho. To Arcadius, a feeble youth of eighteen years and, according to Gibbon, of a malignant and rapacious spirit, was committed the Eastern Empire, and as his guardian or regent was selected by Theodosius the chief minister of State, Rufinus, a Gaul of obscure birth and odious character. This partition of the Empire proved final, except for an interval of two years after the death of Honorius. Henceforth, therefore, Italy alone will occupy most of our attention.

Honorius, who reigned for twenty-eight years, was of such mean intellect, ungovernable temper, and unnatural instincts that he may justly be suspected of insanity. During his reign, however, events took place of supreme importance for the future of Italy.

The chief actor in this scene of the drama is Stilicho, the Vandal general already mentioned, at first the guardian and afterwards the father-in‑law of Honorius, and known to literature as the hero of the servile muse of Claudian, the last of the classic Latin poets. In 395 he succeeds in procuring the assassination of his rival Rufinus by means of Gothic troops devoted to his cause, and for about thirteen years he is the real ruler of both Empires.

In 402, after having rescued Honorius, who had abandoned Milan in terror at the invading hosts of Visigoths under Alaric and of Vandals under Radegast, Stilicho persuaded him to transfer the seat of Empire to Ravenna; and this city remained for many years the capital of Italy. p10Again and again Stilicho now defeats Alaric — near Turin and then near Verona — and at length (405) captures and kills Radegast, who with a huge army of Vandals and other barbarians from Rhaetia is besieging Florence. But in order to oppose these invaders he withdraws legions from the Rhine, thus letting into Gaul a deluge of savage Vandals and other German tribes, who spread devastation over seventeen provinces. Also from Britain troops are withdrawn, and ere long Roman occupation comes here finally to an end, so that the Britons, thus left to the ravages of the Picts and Scots, begin to call on the 'English' sea-rovers for help — the help that came some forty years later with Hengist and Horsa! But to return: In 407, one of the last years of the Roman occupation, a private soldier, Constantine by name, is elevated by the soldiery in Britain to the dignity of Emperor, and for some time he terrifies Honorius by extending his conquests3 over Gaul and Spain, 'from the wall of Antoninus to the columns of Hercules.'

The popularity and power of Stilicho suffer eclipse by reason of these occurrences. He is accused of treason, and in 408 at Ravenna, where he had sought sanctuary in a church, he is killed by the orders or the connivance of Honorius. The death of Stilicho opens the floodgates to the Visigoth invaders. Thirty thousand Goths, hitherto in the service of Stilicho and the Empire, join Alaric, who, after seizing the port of Ostia and thrice investing Rome and bringing it to dire extremities by famine, enters it with his army in 410 — the first time that the city had been entered by a foreign foe since its capture by the Gauls in 390 B.C. Alaric remained only three days — or perhaps six — in Rome, where the bloodshed and pillage were apparently less than might have been expected. He then marched southward, perhaps intending to invade Sicily, but died at Cosenza and was buried, it is said, beneath the water of the Busento, whose stream was diverted for a time to allow p11a sepulchre and cairn to be built in the river's bed. The retreat of the Visigoths from Italy under Athaulf (Adolf), the foundation of their great kingdom in South Gaul, and the remarkable fortunes of the princess Galla Placidia, whom Alaric captured in Rome, will be more fully described later (Chapter V).

Here it will suffice to say that this daughter of the Eastern Emperor, Theodosius the Great, is taken to Gaul by Athaulf, who soon after marrying her is murdered. She is ransomed by her half-brother Honorius (for 600,000 measures of corn),º and on her return to Italy marries Constantius, a celebrated general, who receives the title of Augustus from Honorius, but soon after dies (421). She then quarrels with Honorius and withdraws with her son Valentinian, scarcely four years of age, to Constantinople. At Constantinople the Emperor was now Theodosius II, her (half-) nephew. He had succeeded Arcadius in 408 when a child of seven years, and had been till now under the regency of his sister, Pulcheria, who long after he came of age, indeed during all his reign (especially after the retirement of his wife, Eudocia, to Palestine), was the real ruler of the Eastern Empire, and after his death in 450 was acknowledge as Empress, but was induced or allowed to take as her imperial consort, nominally her husband, a fine old soldier and senator named Marcian.

But to return to Placidia and her little son: they are kindly received by Pulcheria and Theodosius, and after the death of Honorius a few months later (and a further interval of about two years, during which Theodosius suppresses an usurper, John by name, at Ravenna and thus becomes the sole Emperor) the title of Augustus of the West is given to the child Valentinian, now some six years of age, the regency being confided to his mother, Thus the whole Roman Empire is now practically under the rule of two women, of whom one holds the reins of government for about fifteen years (425‑40), and the other (Pulcheria) for about forty.

The long reign of Valentinian III (425‑55) is notable for two most important barbarian invasions — that of the Huns and that of the Vandals.

p12 At his, or rather his mother Placidia's, court at Ravenna the rivalry of two distinguished generals, Aëtius and Boniface, greatly influences the course of events.

Boniface, an old and faithful supporter of Placidia in her days of exile, had been made governor of the province of Africa, where he became a great friend of St. Augustine. Aëtius, who had sided with the usurper John, and had even summoned a great army of Huns to support the insurrection, was clever enough to explain matters and gain the favour of Placidia, whose chief adviser he became at the Ravenna court. By the intrigues of Aëtius Boniface was, it seems, summoned home from his command in Africa; but he refused to obey, and it is said — perhaps falsely — that in a fit of indignant anger he invited the Vandals to Africa. In 429 their king Gaiseric (Genseric) crossed from Spain with a large army, and in spite of the desperate resistance of Boniface, who too late had repented of his error (if indeed he had ever committed it), they laid waste the whole of the country and captured Hippo after a long siege — during which siege St. Augustine, who was with Boniface in the beleaguered city, died. Boniface escapes and returns to Ravenna, where he fights a duel (or perhaps a battle) with Aëtius and dies of his wounds in 432. Aëtius is thereupon — some relate — proclaimed a rebel by Placidia. He takes refuge with his friends, the Huns, and once more brings a great army of these barbarians to overawe Ravenna. By this means (says Gibbon — though others doubt it) he established himself as a kind of dictator, 'assuming with the title of master of the cavalry and infantry the whole military power of the State.'

Meanwhile Gaiseric and his Vandals waste Africa with fire and sword. In 439 they capture Carthage and soon after attack and overrun Sicily, and Placidia is compelled to sign a treaty conceding them the conquered province and thus securing a period of peace. So things continued until 450, when Placidia, who for the last ten years had withdrawn into private life at Ravenna, died — at Rome, though her tomb is at Ravenna. p13The period 450‑52 is notable for the terror caused by Attila the Hun, the 'Scourge of God,' who like a thunderbolt falls on the Empire of the West, but is defeated, or at least checked, by Aëtius and his Visigoth allies at a great battle near Châlons — a battle that decided the fate of Europe, and is worthy to be remembered with that of Salamis, of Himera, or of Tours. Then Attila, enraged, swoops down upon Italy and captures many towns, among them Padua and Aquileia. (The fugitives from these and other places settle at Grado and on the lagune islands and lidi where Venice afterwards arises.) At the south end of Lacus Benăcus (Lago di Garda) Attila is now met by an embassy from Rome, led by Pope Leo the great. What was said, or what happened, to cause such a marvel is unknown, but it is certain that after his interview with Leo the savage Hun monarch withdrew his army; and shortly afterwards he dies suddenly — perhaps of haemorrhage.

Valentinian III had promised Aëtius his daughter in marriage, but after Attila's death he becomes more self-reliant, and in a fit of fury, when Aëtius importunately urges his suit, assassinates him. In the following year (455) Valentinian himself, while looking on at athletic games at Rome, is assassinated by two soldiers, in revenge for the murder of Aëtius, or possibly, as we shall see, for another reason. Thus the dynasty of Theodosius is extinguished (for Pulcheria had died two years before at Constantinople), and we might perhaps reasonably regard this year, 455, which also brought ruin and desolation on the city of Rome, as the end of the Western — that is, the ancient — Roman Empire; for, although in the next twenty-one years no less than nine so‑called Emperors arose and fell in Rome, they are mere shadows in the great procession of Augustan monarchs — puppets, most of them, of barbarian princes or generals.

Valentinian's assassination was perhaps an act of revenge not only for the murder of Aëtius but also for insult offered by the Emperor to the wife of a Roman senator, Petronius Maximus. However that may be, Maximus was now elected Emperor, and he, devising what seems a strange method of p14avenging the insult offered to his own wife, tries to force the young widow of the murdered Valentinian to marry him. She, Eudoxia, daughter of the late Eastern Emperor Theodosius II, in her indignation, it is said, against her husband's murderer, invites the Vandal king to attack Rome. Perhaps however she had scarce time to do this — for her husband was killed early in 455 and by June Gaiseric and his Vandals were at the mouth of the Tiber. A few days afterwards they enter Rome, where the new Emperor has been stoned to death in a tumult when trying to flee from the city — 'a Burgundian soldier claiming the honour of the first wound.' The sack of Rome by the Vandals will be described in one of the following chapters; here, it will suffice to add that when Gaiseric returned to Sicily and Africa, carrying with him innumerable treasures (among which were the spoils of the Temple of Jerusalem), he took with him as prisoner this Empress who is said to have invited him to Italy, together with her two daughters, one of whom (Eudocia) married his son, the Vandal king Hunneric.4

Rome is for some months paralysed by the disaster, At last Theoderic II, the Visigoth king whose father had fought and fallen in the battle of Châlons, take upon him, in conclave with the chief Romans and Goths of Gaul assembled at Arles, to elect as Emperor the commandant of the army in Gaul, a native of Auvergne named Avitus. He is accepted, though unwillingly, by the Senate and people of Italy, and his election is sanctioned by the Eastern Emperor, Marcian.

But the reign of Avitus was short. His chief military officer, Ricimer, a barbarian — his mother being a Visigoth princess and his father a Suevian noble — inflicts a crushing naval defeat on the Vandals near Corsica, and, having thus gained popularity, seizes the reins of government, and for the next sixteen years (456‑72) plays the rôle of King-Maker. First he deposes Avitus, who when attempting to escape is p15seized by him at Placentia and suffers a fate that afterwards befell other deposed magnates: he is forced to take the tonsure and is — made a bishop! (Others assert that he was killed, or died of the plague.) After an interregnum Ricimer selects Majorian as Emperor — a brave and energetic soldier; but his fleet of 300 ships is destroyed by Gaiseric off the coast of Spain — and on his return he is slain by soldiers of Ricimer's — or abdicates and dies.

Then follows another puppet — Libius Severus — during whose nominal reign (461‑65) Ricimer rules supreme. But on account of the great increase of the Vandal power on the sea Ricimer is forced, on the death of Severus and after a further interregnum of eighteen months, to appeal to the Eastern Emperor, now Leo I, called the 'Thracian' — himself also the puppet of a barbarian general, Aspar by name, who at Constantinople is playing a rôle similar to that of Ricimer. Leo proposes Anthemius, whom Ricimer accepts, marrying his daughter (467). A great expedition of more than 1000 ships is then sent by Leo and Anthemius to crush the Vandals, but it fails, and Gaiseric (who lives on till 477) becomes all-powerful in the Mediterranean, dominating Sardinia and Sicily and ravaging at his ease the coasts of Italy.

Anthemius had become too popular. Ricimer therefore, collecting in Milan a large force of barbarians, besieges and sacks Rome, murders his father-in‑law, and elects as Emperor a Roman noble, Olybrius, who had married the princess Placidia, Valentinian's daughter above mentioned.

A few weeks after the murder of Anthemius the King-Maker Ricimer succumbs to an haemorrhage, and two months later Olybrius dies (472).

On Ricimer's death his nephew Gundobald, a Burgundian prince, takes his place and at Ravenna proclaims as Emperor a captain of the Imperial Household Brigade (Comes Domesticorum) named Glycerius. But the Empress Verina at Constantinople, ever ready to meddle, profits by the fatal illness of her husband, Leo the Thracian, to nominate as Emperor of the West a relative of hers called Julius Nepos. p16When Nepos arrives in Italy Gundobald withdraws to his home in Burgundy, and Glycerius, fugitive from Ravenna, consents to be consecrated as Bishop of Salona, in Dalmatia; for a deposed magnate in these ages was fortunate if he could choose tonsure and ordination, or even episcopal consecration, instead of having his tongue cut out and his eyes blinded by means of a basin of red-hot metal (a process called in Italian abbacinamento).

But a rebellion now breaks out among the Gothic troops in Rome. Led by their general Orestes, they march upon Ravenna. Nepos takes flight and reaches Salona, where he probably meets his former rival, ex-Emperor Bishop Glycerius. Here he assumes the government of Dalmatia and rules for years, recognized as Roman Emperor by the court of Constantinople.

Orestes, the third of these Emperor-Makers, was probably a Roman patrician, though born in Illyricum. He had served in Attila's army and been sent, as we shall see, by the Hun king as ambassador to Constantinople — possibly as fellow-envoy with Edeco, the father of Odovacar, who will soon appear on the stage. Himself a Roman — that is, an Italian and not a northern barbarian — he had to wife the daughter of Count Romulus, a Roman noble resident in Noricum, and this claim of his family to Roman lineage was probably the reason why he dared what not even Ricimer himself would have dared to do — namely to proclaim his own son as Emperor. The youth's name, inherited or assumed on his accession, combined the names of the first King and the first Emperor of Rome. He is generally known as Romulus Augustulus, though the contemptuous or affectionate diminutive is not found on his coins.

One might have expected that the fact of the Roman blood and Roman sympathies of the youthful Emperor and of Orestes himself would have secured the stability of their rule. But this very fact seems to have caused its overthrow. Stilicho and other barbarians who rose to power had been ruined by the patriotic hatred of the Romans, i.e. the native Italians. p17Orestes is ruined by refusing the demand of his barbarian troops — mostly Scirians and Herulians, formidable in their numbers and influence. Their demand was that one-third of the land should be given over to them — which meant that Italy would henceforth be to a large extent populated by barbarians.

A rebellion hereupon breaks out under the leadership of Odovacar (Odoacer), an officer of the Herulian troops and probably the son of Edeco, the Scirian barbarian already mentioned as one of Attila's envoys to the Byzantine court of Theodosius II. Orestes flees to Ticinum (later Pavia), which is captured and sacked. He escapes to Placentia (Piacenza), but is there overtaken and slain. The life of Augustulus, who had taken refuge in Ravenna, is spared by Odovacar. What befell him has already been told in the Preface, and a fuller description of the place of his imprisonment will be found elsewhere.5 With the fall of Augustulus in 476 may be considered to have fallen the Western Empire — that is, the ancient Imperium Romanum.

The Author's Notes:

1 He thus marries his stepmother's sister. His first wife, Minervina, seems to have died.

2 For the story of St. Ursula in this connexion see Index.

3A little later there were again six nominal Emperors, viz.  Honorius, Theodosius II, Constantine and his son Constans, Attalus (Rome), and Maximus (Spain). Some of the usurpers I have omitted from my narrative.

4 The Empress was after seven years allowed to return to Constantinople with her other daughter, Placidia, who in 472 married Olybrius, Emperor of the West.

5 See end of Part I.







Page updated: 19 Nov 04