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Book I
Note C

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

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Book I
Note D

Vol. I
Chapter V

Alaric's First Invasion of Italy



Claudian and Orosius are here our chief authorities, and even Claudian fails us after the year 404. Zosimus is of hardly any use at all for this period. There are evidences of imperfection in the MS. (at the beginning of Book V cap. 26), but they are not enough to exonerate Zosimus from the charge of extreme negligence or ignorance as to this part of the history. Olympiodorus, who will be more fully described hereafter, gives us a hint or two about Radagaisus.

In the dearth of other materials we begin to find ourselves under considerable obligation to

The Annalists,

of whom it is now time to make some mention.

Five or six men, chiefly ecclesiastics, imposed upon themselves the task of continuing the chronicle which, begun by Eusebius and added to by Jerome, had described in short annalistic style the chief events intention history of the world from the Creation to the death of Valens. Some remarks upon the style and manner of thought of these annalists will be made in a later chapter. It is sufficient to observe here that they seldom give more than six lines to each year, often less, and that a disproportionate amount of that small space is devoted to petty ecclesiastical squabbles. I quote from the useful edition of Roncalli (2 vols. Padua, 1787).

The chief of the annalists for the whole period covered by this book are — Prosper, Idatius, and Marcellinus.

Tiro Prosper, of Aquitaine, a celebrated Father of the  p278 Gaulish Church and earnest champion of orthodoxy against Pelagianism, lived from about 400 to 450. He is thus a contemporary writer, and if we could be certain that the chronicle which passes under his name was truly and entirely his work it would be of the highest authority. Unfortunately, however, the literary history of this chronicle is beset with difficulties. Four versions of it are given in Roncalli's edition. Three, which he calls the Chronicon Integrum, the Chronicon ex MS. Augustano, and the Chronicon ex codice Vaticano-Alexandrino, are substantially the same work, with amplifications in one MS. and contractions in another, which do not seriously impair their accord on important points. But the fourth, which was first published by Peter Pithoeus, in the 16th century, is so extremely dissimilar to the other three, though it begins and ends with the same words, that it is difficult to believe that it can have proceeded from the same author. It counts by the years of the Emperors, they by the years of Consuls; it is often hopelessly wrong in its chronology where they are right, it sometimes throws out insinuations against eminent persons for whom they have only praise. In view of the extreme improbability of this chronicle being the work of the same Tiro Prosper, who wrote the original of the other three, the critics of two centuries ago hit upon the unfortunate expedient of dividing that author's name, and attributing the really valuable and accurate document to Prosper of Aquitaine, while the inferior work is assigned to a certain Tiro, who never had any existence except in their own imaginations. This is most uncritical, and has not even the merit of convenience as a working hypothesis. The question of the authorship of the Homeric poems would only be complicated by calling the Iliad, Homer, and of the Odyssey, Maeonides. To assign all the other plays to William Shakespeare, and to insist on spelling the name of the author of Henry VI, or Titus Andronicus, Shakspere would be a bewildering way of marking one's doubt of their genuineness. It is to be hoped that some one of the great scholars of Germany will take up the question of the true relationship of all the so‑ p279 called Chronicles of Prosper to one another.1 In the meantime, if the inaccurate one be quoted at all (and it has a few valuable details), let it be not by the misleading name of Tiro but as 'Pseudo-Prosper (Pithoean MS.).' The other chronicle, whoever be its author, (and even it may turn out to be incorrectly ascribed to Prosper) seems certainly the earliest and most accurate account of the events of the barbaric invasions in an annalistic form that we possess.

These Annals reach down to 455.aMS. at Copenhagen contains a continuation, by another hand, to the year 514.

Idatius, a native of Lamego, in the North of Portugal, and a bishop, flourished in the latter half of the Fifth century, and composed a chronicle of events from the accession of Valens to the elevation of Simplicius to the pontificate in 468. His chronology of Italian events is often wrong, but his notices of the proceedings of the Visigoths and Vandals in Spain are comparatively full and valuable.

Marcellinus, Count of Illyria, one of the ministers of Justinian, wrote a chronicle of the events from the accession of Theodosius to the year 534 (continued by a later hand to 566). It is fairly accurate, much fuller for the affairs of the East than for those of the West, and sometimes interesting by its very silence, as showing of what slight account transactions which we perceive to have been of incalculable importance to Western Europe, appeared to a Byzantine courtier and administrator.

The year of gold, which was honoured by Stilicho's Consulship, and which, according to our computation, closed the century that had witnessed the foundation of Constantinople and the marriage  p280 between Christianity and the Empire, saw also Alaric's first invasion of Italy. The details of this in the reign of are supplied to us with a most sparing hand by the few historians who mention it, and even their meagre facts are not easy to reconcile with one another. The discussion of some of these difficulties is postponed to the note at the end of this chapter. In the meantime the following narrative is submitted to the reader as upon the whole the most probable that can be constructed out of the varying accounts of the authorities; but there is scarcely an event in it which can be state with certainty, except the battle of Pollentia, and even that, as to its date, its cause, and its issue, is involved in perplexity and contradiction.

In the course of the year 400 Alaric descended into Italy with an army, which, as so often in the case of these barbaric campaigns, was not an army but a nation. Determined not to return to Illyria, but to obtain, by force or persuasion, a settlement for his people on the Italian soil, he brought with him his wife and children, the families of his warriors, all at spoil which he had taken in Greece, all the treasures which he had accumulated during his rule in Eastern Illyricum. He marched from Belgrade up the valley of the Save by Laybach and the well-remembered pass of the Pear-Tree.2  p281 This road, the one by which most of the great invasions of Italy in the fifth century were made, presents, as has been before remarked, nothing of truly Alpine difficulty. It is mountainous; it would furnish to an active general many opportunities for harassing such an army as that of Alaric, encumbered with women and waggons, but there is no feature of natural difficulty about it which our own Wales or Cumberland would not equal or surpass.

Precisely, however, because of the comparatively defenceless character of this part of the Italian frontier, the wise forethought of Senate and Emperors had planted in this corner of the Venetian plain the great colony, port and arsenal of Aquileia, whose towers were visible to the soldiers of Alaric's army as they wound round the last spurs of the Julian Alps, descending into the valley of the Isonzo. Aquileia was still the Virgin-fortress, the Metz of Imperial Italy, and not even Alaric was to rob her of her impregnable glory. A battle took place under her walls,3 in which the Romans suffered a disastrous defeat; but the city — we may  p282 say with absolute certainty — did not surrender. Remembering, it may be, Fridigern's exclamation that 'He did not make war upon stone walls,' Alaric moved forward through Venetia. Across his road to Rome lay the strong city of Ravenna, guarded by a labyrinth of waters. He penetrated as far as the bridge, afterwards called the bridge of Candidianus, within three miles of the city,4 but he eventually retired from the untaken strong-hold, and abandoning it would seem for the present his designs on Rome, marched westwards towards Milan.

These operations may perhaps have occupied Alaric from the summer of 400 to that of 401. his progress seems slow and his movements uncertain, but some of the delay may be accounted for by the fact that he was acting in concert with another invader.5 This was 'Radagaisus the Goth,' a man as to whose nationality something will have to be said when, five years later, he conducts an army into the heart of Italy on his own sole account. For the present all that can be said is that he entered Italy in concert with Alaric in the  p283 year 400, and that during that and the following year we have mysterious allusions from the pen of Claudian to some great troubles going on in Rhaetia (Tyrol and the Grisons), which province now formed part of Italy. As these troubles were sufficient to keep a large part of the Roman troops employed, and to require the presence of Stilicho at a time when even the Emperor's sacred person was in danger, it is at least a permissible conjecture that they were due to the invasion of Radagaisus, who was operating from the North, and trying to descend into Italy by the Brenner or the Splugen Pass, while Alaric was carrying on the campaign in the East, and endeavouring to reduce the fortresses of Venetia.6

The movements of Honorius and Stilicho, the nominal and the real rulers of Italy, in response to this invasion, cannot be described with certainty. It would seem that the Rhaetian attack was the one which, at any rate during the first two campaigns, claimed the largest share of Stilicho's attention. If we could place entire dependence on the dates of the laws in the Theodosian code (which profess to indicate the residence of the Emperor on the day of the promulgation of each enactment), we should say that Honorius spent the greater part of the years 400, 401, and 402 at Milan, that in the spring and autumn of 400 he made two journeys  p284 to Aquileia and Ravenna, and that before December of 402 he had taken up his residence at Ravenna, which place was his home for the remainder of his life. Unfortunately the editing of these laws has not been done with sufficient accuracy to allow us to quote these dates with absolute confidence, but there is nothing in them which is at variance with the view here put forward of the progress of Alaric's campaign. After several months had been consumed by the Visigoth in his operations before Aquileia and Ravenna he advanced, in the year 401, up the valley of the Po, and besieged Honorius either in Milan or possibly in the strong city of Asti7 (Asta in Piedmont).

Throughout the Roman world the consternation was extreme when it was known that the Goths, in overwhelming numbers, were indeed in Italy. A rumour like that of the fall of Sebastopol after the battle of the Alma, born none knew where, propagated none knew how, traveled fast over Britain, Gaul, and Spain, to the effect that daring attempt of Alaric had already succeeded, that the city was even now his prey.

Claudian draws, in his murkiest calculates, a picture of the gloom which prevailed at the Imperial Court.8 Supernatural terrors deepened the darkness  p285 of a prospect dreary enough to political prescience. There were dismal dreams, whisperings of sinister prophecies in the Sibylline roll, eclipses of the moon, great hail-storms, untimely swarms of bees, and, worse than these, a comet, which first appeared in Cepheus and Cassiopeia, and then traveled on into the Seven Stars of Charles's Wain, too plainly foreboding danger from the Goth waggon. But the worst portent was that of the two wolves. Starting up the very eyes of the Emperor while he was reviewing some squadrons of cavalry, they attacked the soldiers, who slew them with their darts. Strange to tell, inside of each was found a human hand, one right, one left, with clenched fingers, and still ruddy as if in life. The she-wolf bearing the emblem of Rome, how could the Fates more clearly indicate that her power was endangered, and that both in the East and West she was to suffer some grievous amputation?

Already the Italian nobles, the Emperor apparently consenting, were deliberating whether they should take to their ships, should flee to Corsica or Sardinia, or should plant a new Rome on the banks of the Saone or the Rhone. Stilicho alone, says the panegyrist, stood unterrified, and prophesied of  p286 the salvation which he himself was to achieve. 'Cease your unmanly lamentations, your foolish forebodings,' he adjured them. 'The Goths have, it is true, perfidiously stolen into our country while our troops were busy in Rhaetia. But Italy has borne and overborne worse shocks of fate than this — the Gallic in the reign of, the irruptions of the Cimbri and Teutones. And if Latium were to fall, if you did basely abandon your mother-land to the northern hosts, how long, think you, would you be left in safety beside the streams of Gaul? No; tarry here in Italy through the winter, while the flooded rivers of Lombardy delay the march of Alaric. I will go to the North to collect an army from the garrisons yonder, and will return, after a short delay, to vindicate the insulted majesty of Rome. And think not, my fellow-citizens, that I shall not share your anxieties, for, though absent myself, I leave in your midst my wife, my children, and that son-in‑law who is dearer to me than life.'

So saying, he departed. He sailed in a little skiff up the olive-bordered Lake Como. Then in the depth of winter (the winter of 401‑2), he directed his course towards the province of Rhaetia, 'that province which gives birth to two rivers, the Danube and the Rhine, each of which serves as a bulwark to the realm of Romulus. But that side of Rhaetia which is turned towards Italy raises its peaks and ridges high towards the stars, and its passes, even in summer, are perilous for the traveler. Many in that terrible frost, as if at the sight of a Gorgon,  p287 have stiffened into stone: many have been whitened in fathomless abysses, the waggons, the oxen which drew them, and the drivers being all sucked at once into the sparkling gulf. Often, under the south-wind's treacherous breath, the whole mountain seems to be loosed from its icy fetters, and rushes in ruin on the traveler's head.'

'Through scenes like these, in winter's thickest snow

Upon his dauntless course, pressed Stilicho,

No genial juice to Bacchus there is born,

And Ceres reaps a niggard store of corn.º

But he, — his armour never laid aside —

Tasted the hurried meal, well satisfied;

And, still encumbered with his dripping vest,

Into his frozen steed the rowel pressed.

On no soft couch his wearied members lay,

But when dark night cut short his arduous way

He sought such shelter as some wild beast's cave,

Or mountain-shepherd's hut to slumber gave,

The shield his only pillow. Pale with fear

Surveyed his mighty guest the mountaineer.

And the rude housewife bade her squalid race

Gaze on the unknown stranger's glorious face.

Those couches hard the horrent woods below,

Those slumbers under canopies of snow,

Those wakeful toils of his, that ceaseless care

Gave to the world this respite, did prepare

For us unhoped-for rest. From dreadful doom

He, in those Alpine huts, redeemed thee, Rome.'9

In the course of this Rhaetian campaign, Stilicho seems to have effectually repelled the invading hosts, who, according to the view here maintained, under the leadership of Radagaisus, were threatening Italy from the North. He not only pushed  p288 them back into their settlements by the Danube, but he also raised, in these trans-Alpine provinces and among these half-rebellious tribes, an army which was suited in numbers to its work, 'not so great as to be burdensome to Italy or formidable to its ruler.' 'The troops which had lately defended Rhaetia came, loaded with spoil, to the rescue of Italy.' At the same time the legions were withdrawn from other countries to shelter Rome. The Rhine was left bare of Roman troops, and the Twentieth Legion, one of three which had for centuries been stationed in Britain, generally at Chester, was now removed deficiency from service in this island.10

 p289  The clouds which have gathered round the movements of both the rival chiefs at length lift, partially, and we find them face to face with one another at Pollentia during the season of Easter 402. About twenty miles south-east of Turin, on the left bank of the Tanaro, in the great alluvial plain which is here Piedmont, but a little further east will be Lombardy, still stands the little village of Pollenzo, which by its ruined theatre and amphitheatre yet shows traces of the days when it was a flourishing Roman municipality, renowned for its manufacture of dark woollen cloth and of earthenware. This was the place which Alaric and his Goths were now besieging.11

Sieges, as has been before remarked, were generally unfortunate to the nn9nn warriors, whose inroads were, as a rule, most successful when they pushed boldly on through the fertile country, neglecting the fortresses, and despising the troops that garrisoned them. It may be that already a doubt of the prosperous issue of the invasion had dawned upon some of the Gothic veterans, and that some  p290 such divided counsels as Claudian describes in the following sketch sided in the camp.

'The long-haired fathers of the Gothic nation, their fur-clad senators marked with many an honourable scar, assembled. The old mean leaned on their tall clubs instead of staves. One of the most venerable of these veterans arose, fixed his eyes upon the ground, shook his white and shaggy locks and spoke:

'Thirty years have now elapsed since first we crossed the Danube and confronted might of Rome. But never, believe me in this, O Alaric, did the weight of adverse battle lie so heavy on us as now. Trust the old chief who, like a father, once dandled thee in his arms, who gave thee thy first tiny quiver. Often have I, in vain, admonished thee to keep thy treaty with Rome, and remain safely within the limits of the Eastern realm. But now, at any rate while thou still art able, return, flee the Italian soil. Why talk to us perpetually of the fruitful vines of Etruria, of the Tiber, and of Rome. If our fathers have told us aright, that city is protected by the Immortal Gods, lightnings are darted from afar against the presumptuous invader, and fires heaven-kindled flit before its walls. And if thou carest not for Jupiter, yet beware of Stilicho, of him who heaped high the bones of our people upon the hills of Arcadia, him who would then have blotted out thy name had not domestic treason and the intrigues of Constantinople rescued thee from his grasp.

 p291  'Alaric burst in upon the old man's speech with fiery brow and scowling eyes —

'If age had not bereft thee of reason, old dotard, I would punish thee for these insults. Shall I, who have put so many Emperors to flight, listen to thee, prating of peace. No, in this land I will reign as conqueror, or be buried after defeat. The Alps traversed, the Po witness of our victories, only Rome remains to be overcome. In the day of our weakness and calamity, when we had not a weapon in our hands, we were terrible to our foes. Now that I have made the reluctant Illyrian forge for us a whole arsenal of arms, we are not going, I presume, to turn our backs to these same enemies. No! Beside all other reasons for hope there is the certainty of God's12 help. No dreams, no flight of birds revealed it to me. Forth from the grove came a clear voice, heard of many, "Break off all delays, Alaric. This very year, if thou lingerest not, thou shalt pierce through the Alps into Italy; thou shalt penetrate to the City itself."

'So he spoke, and drew up his army for the battle. Oh ever-malignant ambiguity of orcs, so dark even to the utterers, so clear to them and to their hearers when the event has made them plain! At  p292 the extreme verge of Liguria he am to a river, known by the strange name of Urbis,13 and there defeated, recognized his doom.'

The reader is requested to observe that he have here an undoubted case of a fulfilled presentiment. Six years after the composition of this poem, Alaric did in truth 'penetrate to the City.' Now the hostile poet taunts him with his belief that he was called thither by Destiny, and triumphs over the apparent ruin of his hopes.

Claudian's verses pourtray the Gothic chieftain, after this council, drawing up his army in battle array at Pollentia. It seems certain, however, that Alaric was taken unawares and forced into a battle which he had not foreseen; and this from a cause which illustrates the strange reactions of the barbaric and civilised influences upon one another in this commencing chaos. As was before said, Eastertide was at hand: on the 4th of April, Good Friday itself occurred.14 Alaric, wholesale, Christian though Arian, was keeping the day with the accustomed religious observances, when he was attacked and forced to fight by Stilicho's lieutenant, Saulus.15 This man, the same who fought  p293 under Theodosius at the battle of the Frigidus, was by birth an alan, and was probably surrounded by many of his countrymen, that race of utter savages who once dwelt between the Volga and the Don, and arrested the progress of the Huns, but had now yielded to their uncouth conquerors and rolled on with them over Europe, as fierce and as heathenish as they. The pigmy body of Saulus was linked to a dauntless spirit; every limb was covered with the scars of battle, his face had been flattened by many a club stroke, and his little dark Tartar eyes glowed angry fire. He knew that suspicions had been entertained of his loyalty to the Empire, and he burned to prove their falsity. Having forced Alaric and his warriors to suspend their Paschal devotions, he dashed his cavalry with Hun-like impetuosity against their stately line of battle. At the first onset he fell, and his riderless horse, rushing through the ranks, carried dismay to the hearts of his followers. The light cavalry on the wings were like to have fled in disastrous rout, when Stilicho moved forward the steady foot-soldiers of the legions from the centre, and turned, duplicate Claudian, defeat into victory. The Gothic rout (if we may trust Claudian's story of the battle) soon became a disastrous flight. The Roman soldiers, eager for revenge, were scarce diverted from their purpose by the rich stores of plunder which were thrown in their way by the despairing fugitives. On the capacious Gothic waggons were heaped piles of gold and silver coin, massive bowls from Argos, statues  p294 instinct, as it seemed, with life, snatched from burning Corinth. Every trophy of the barbarian but added fury to the Roman pursuit, reviving as it did the bitter memories of Roman humiliation; and this fury reached its height when, amid a store of other splendid apparel, the purple garments of the murdered Valens were drawn forth to light. Crowds of captives who had followed the chariot of the Gothic king for years now received their freedom, kissed the gory hands of their deliverers, and, revisiting their long deserted homes, looked with wonder on the changes wrought there by Time. On the other hand, Alaric, hurrying from the field, heard with anguish the cries of his wife, his wife whose proud spirit had urged him on to the conflict, who had declared that she was weary of Grecian trinkets and Grecian slaves, and that he must provide her with Italian necklaces and with the haughty ladies of Rome for her handmaidens, but who was now herself carried into captivity with her children and the wives of her sons.16

 p295  After the vivid and circumstantial account which Claudian gives us of the Roman victory at Pollentia, it is almost humiliating to be obliged to mention that there is some doubt whether it was a Roman victory at all. Cassiodorus and Jornandes both say distinctly that the Goths put the Roman army to flight. Both of these authors, however, are in the Gothic interest, and the earliest of them wrote at least a century after the date of the battle. Orosius, a Roman and a contemporary, speaks of the unfortunate battles waged near Pollentia, in which 'we conquered in fighting, in conquering we were defeated.' It is possible that this alludes to the fact that the Romans attacked on Good Friday, an impiety which the ecclesiastical historian cannot fighting. The subsequent course of the history seems to show that the bulk of the Gothic army remained intact, and that its spirit was not broken. On the other hand, the language of Claudian (confirmed by his contemporary Prudentius) seems to make it incredible that the Romans can have been really and signally defeated. Probably it was one of those bloody but indecisive combats, like boroDino and Leipzig, in which he who is technically the victor is saved but as by a hair's breadth from defeat, a result which is not surprising when we remember that here the numbers and impetuosity of the Goths were met, for the first time on Italian soil, by the courageous skill of Stilicho. Then,  p296 after such a battle, however slight might be the disadvantage of the Goths, the long train of their wives and children, their captives and their spoils would tell heavily against them in retreat; and though we may doubt the captivity of the wife of Alaric and the recovery of the purple robe of Valens, we may well believe that a large share of the Gothic booty did fall into the hands of the Imperial soldiers.

That the battle of Pollentia was no crushing defeat for the Goths seems sufficiently proved by the events which immediately followed it. Stilicho concluded a treaty of some kind with Alaric, perhaps restored to him his wife and children,17 and the Gothic king recrossing the Po, commenced a leisurely retreat through Lombardy.18 Having arrived at Verona, and committed some act which was interpreted as a breach of the treaty, he there, according to Claudian, sustained another severe defeat; but this engagement is not mentioned by any other writer. The poet tells us that, had it not been for the too headlong zeal of the alan auxiliaries, Alaric himself would have been taken. As it was, however, he succeeded in repassing the Alps, with what proportion of his forces we are quite unable to determine. Claudian, who is our  p297 only authority for this part of the history, gives us no accurate details, only pages of declamation about the crushed spirit of the Gothic host, the despair of their leader, and his deep regret at ever having allowed himself to be cajoled away from the nearer neighbourhood of Rome by his fatal treaty with Stilicho. 'Reading between the lines,' we can see that all this declamation is but a laboured defence of Stilicho's conduct in making a bridge of gold for a retreating foe. That much and angry criticism was excited by this and some similar passages of the great minister's career is evidenced by the words of the contemporary historian Orosius (immediately following the mention of Stilicho's name), 'I will not speak of King Alaric with his Goths, often defeated, often hemmed in, and always allowed to escape.'19 Probably, however, the criticisms were unjust. Stilicho had a weapon of uncertain temper to wield, legionaries enervated and undisciplined, barbarian auxiliaries, some of whom might sympathise with their northern brethren if they saw them too hardly pressed. It was by skill of fence rather than by mad clashing sword against sword that the game was to be won, and it would have been poor policy to have driven the Visigothic army to bay, and to have let them discover

'What reinforcements they might gain from hope;

If not, what resolution from despair.'

 p298  At the end of this first great campaign of the barbarians in Italy we naturally ask ourselves what were the feelings of the inhabitants of Italy and of Rome when they found the traditional impregnability of their country to 'aught but Romans' so rudely disproved. How deep in those imperial centuries might be the repose of Roman provincial life we infer from the Epistles of the younger Pliny, and even from an early poem by Claudian himself as to a district which was ravaged in this very campaign. It is strange to turn from the description of the battle of Verona to these lines in which the poet dilates on the quiet felicity of an old man who has spent all his days on his farm not far from that city.

'Happy this man, whose life has flowed away

In that old home whose past he knows so well;

Through the same fields, staff-propt, he takes his way

Where, as a boy, he leapt and laughed and fell.

Him Fortune drags not in her weary whirl,

Nor drinks he, wandering, from un-homish streams;

He sees no banners flaunt, no white waves curl,

No wrangling law-suit haunts his peaceful dreams.

Strange to the town and heedless of the great,

He loves his own street-unencumbered sky.

For him no Consul's name denotes the date;

By flowers and harvests marked, his years slip by.

Above his lands he sees the sunrise red,

Above his lands the sunset's fading gold.

His hand once held the oak that shades his head;

He and his woods together have grown old.

Verona seems far off as farthest Ind,

and Garda's lake as is the Red Sea's strand.

His massive muscles still strong sinews bind

Though his sons' sons full grown before him stand.

 p299  'Go, thou who yearnest still for foreign air;

Go, see who dwell by Spain's remotest stream;

Though of earth's highways hast the largest share,

But he of living has the joy supreme.'20

When Alaric's troops were swarming around Verona, whether in the insolence of victory or in the rage of defeat, it would be too much to hope that this picture of lethargic simple happiness was not in some degree marred by their presence. At Rome the first news that the barbarians were south of the Alps filled all ranks with terror. Stilicho dissuaded them from flight, promised to collect troops for their deliverance, and induced them to assume an appearance occurring even if they did not feel it. He then departed for the northern campaign. Meantime they set to work vigorously to rebuild the walls of the city. During the prosperous days of the Republic and Empire Rome had needed no walls.21 When the clouds of barbaric invasion in the third century were gathering round her, Aurelian, the undoubted hero of that evil time, had surrounded her with fortifications. These were at this time renewed; and to rights day the walls of Honorius are a frequent subject of discussion in the long debates of Roman archaeologists.

While thus engaged, the citizens often looked forth with dread over the plain, and up to the cloudless sky, with a superstitious fear lest Heaven itself  p300 was fighting against them. Each river that crossed the Lombard plain was one barrier the more against the dreaded Alaric; but where were the storms of winter that should have swollen the brooks into streams and the streams into rivers? Day after day passed by, and still the rain came not, and surely the Goths would come.22 At length the watchmen on the loftiest towers saw a cloud of dust rolling up from the horizon. Was it raised by the feet of enemies or of friends? The silence of a terrible suspense reigned in every heart, till

'Forth from the dusty whirlwind, like a star,

Shone forth the helm of Stilicho from far,

And that white head, well known, well loved of all;

Then sudden thrilled along the crowded wall

The cry "He comes, himself," and through the gate

The glad crowd pressed, to view his armèd state.'23

This visit, if not a mere poetical imagination, must have occurred before the battle of Pollentia. After the close of the campaign, and when Italy was again cleared of her invaders, the gladness of delivered Rome seemed to claim a more conspicuous expression. To the year 404 the Emperor deigned to affix his name as 'Consul for the sixth time'; and he and his father-in‑law appear to have visited Rome to celebrate a triumph over the Goths.24 Strange to say, during the whole preceding century,  p301 Rome had only thrice seen an Emperor within her walls, Constantine (312) after his victory over Maxentius, Constantius (357) four years after the overthrow of Magnentius, and Theodosius (389) after his defeat of Maximus.

The Romans might naturally contrast the doubtful joy of these victories over their fellow-countrymen with the unalloyed delight of their receipt deliverance from the barbarians. The young men rejoiced to welcome an Emperor their equal in years; the old saw with pleasure that he did not, like his predecessors, make the Senators walk, as slaves, before his chariot. They said, 'Other Emperors came like masters, this one like a citizen.' By the side of Maria the Empress, stood her brother Eucherius, wearing no insignia of exalted rank (for Stilicho was chary of honours for his son), and gave the homage of a soldier to his chief.

'Then the matrons admired the fresh-glowing cheeks of Honorius, his hair bound with the diadem, his limbs clothed with the jewelled trabea (consular robe), his strong shoulders, his neck, which might Vie with that of Bacchus, rising from amid Arabian emeralds.

'Stilicho himself, borne along in the same car with the son of Theodosius, felt with proud satisfaction that he had now indeed fulfilled the trust reposted in him by the dying father.'

Among other amusements with which the citizens of Rome were regaled on this occasion, a venerable tradition places the last and the most  p302 memorable of the gladiatorial combats.25 Prohibited as these exhibitions had been by an edict of Constantine, they still held their ground in half heathen Rome. A butchery, doubtless of unusual magnificence, was to celebrate the defeat of Alaric. Probably some of the captive Visigoths themselves were to minister to the brutal enjoyment of those who had so lately quailed before their very names. Already the lists were set, the combats commenced, the first blood had been drawn. The eager 'habet, 'habet, was resounding from imperial, senatorial, and proletariat benches, when an eastern monk, Telemachus by name, was seen stalking down from seat to seat of the crowded Colosseum, till at length he reached the arena. Astonishment held the spectators mute till his strange purpose was made manifest. He was thrusting himself in between the gladiators, and endeavouring at the risk of his own life to part the combatants. Then uprose a cry of execration from podium to gallery, and missiles of every sort were hurled down upon the audacious disturber of the bloody game. He died: in his death, most Christ-like, he did in truth 'give his life for the flock;' and not in vain, for  p303 Honorius, moved to awe and pity by the strange scene which he had witnessed, not only recognized him as saint and martyr, but for his sake decided that shows of gladiators should be, not in name only, but in deed, abolished.

With this visit of Honorius and Stilicho to Rome ends our companionship with Claudian, whose verses, whatever their defects, have shed over the last eventful nine years a light which we shall grievously miss in those that are to come. He tells us himself26 that after his poem on the Gildonic war, a brazen statue had been erected in his honour, and dedicated by some personage of patrician dignity.27 From a letter addressed by him to Serena, we find that the good offices of that powerful patroness had enabled him to win the hand of an African lady, whom we may safely presume to have been an heiress. The wedding was celebrated in her country, and, as we have no certain information, we may conjecture that he did not return to Italy, and that the divine Honorius, Stilicho, Alaric, and even Rome herself were wellnigh forgotten in the society of his Libyan wife and the administration  p304 of her estate. At any rate, from this time forward, his muse no longer gives life and colour to the historical picture. The dry bones of the annalists, the disjointed paragraphs of Zosimus and Orosius, and the faint and partial sketches of the ecclesiastical historians are our only materials for the remainder of the Visigothic invasion of Italy.28

The following year witnessed the second consulship of Stilicho, and another great inroad of barbarians, which comes as a mysterious interlude in the great duel between Alaric and Rome. Alaric was not the leader in this new invasion; he was at this time, according to one29 authority, quartered in Epirus, and concerting measures with Stilicho  p305 for a joint attack on the Eastern Empire. The new invader is a wild figure bearing the name of Radagaisus, a Goth,30 but not of Alaric's following, though formerly his confederate; possibly one of the Ostrogoths, who had remained in their old homes by the Euxine when the tide of Hunnish invasion rolled over them. This man, 'far the most savage of all past or present enemies of Rome,'31 was known to be fanatically devoted to the false deities of his heathen ancestors; and as the tidings came that he, with his 200,000, or some said 400,000, followers, had crossed the Alps, and was vowing to satiate his fierce gods with the blood of all who bore the Roman name, a terrible despair seized all the fair cities of Italy; and Rome, herself, on the very verge of ruin, was stirred with strange questionings. Nowhere did the spirit of the ancient  p306 paganism linger so stubbornly as in the neglected city by the Tiber; now from the apparently imminent danger of the eternal City, the many to whom the name of Christ was hateful drew courage to utter their doubts aloud. 'These men, the barbarians, have gods in whom they believe, strange and uncouth deities it is true, but yet gods represented in visible form to whom they offer bloody sacrifices. we have renounced the protection of our old annal divinities, we have allowed the Christians, who are in truth atheists,32 to destroy every other religion in their fanatic zeal for the crucified Galilean; what marvel if we perish, being thrust, thus destitute of all supernatural aid, into collision with the wild yet mighty deities of Germany?33

However, Rome's hour of doom had not yet come. The fierce barbarian horde, instead of marching along the Lombard plain to Rimini, and thence by the comparatively easy Flaminian Way to Rome, chose the nearer but difficult route across the Tuscan Apennines. Stilicho marched against them, and succeeded in hemming them in, in the rugged hill country, where, owing to the shortness of provisions, their very numbers were their ruin. Powerfully supported by Uldin, the chief of the Huns, and Sarus, who commanded other Gothic  p307 (perhaps Visigothic) auxiliaries, he at length succeeded in forcing all that remained of that mighty host to encamp on one rough be barren chain of mountains near to Faesulae, and probably within sight of the then tiny town of Florentia.34

Without incurring any of the risks oblige, the Roman army, 'eating, drinking, sporting' (says Orosius), for some days kept watch over 200,000 starving men, till at last Radagaisus gave up the game, and tried to steal away from his camp. He fell into the hands of the Roman soldiery, was kept prisoner for a little time — perhaps with some thought of his decking the triumph of Consul Stilicho — and then put to death.

His unhappy followers were sold for an aureus (about twelve shillings sterling) apiece, like the poorest cattle; but owing to the privations they had endured, they died off so fast that the purchasers (as Orosius tells us with grim satisfaction) took no gain of money, having to spend on the burial of their captives the money which they had grudged for their purchase. And thus ended the invasion of Radagaisus.35

 p308  During the two succeeding years history is silent as to any events which may have occurred in Italy itself, but we see the process of disruption and decay going on rapidly in the outlying members of the Empire. In 406 a swarm of Vandals, Sueves, and alans (the first two of Teutonic, the third of what we call tartar origin) crossed the Rhine and poured confusedly into Gaul, which from this time forward was never free from occupation by the barbarians. The Roman soldiers in Britain, seeing that the Empire was falling to pieces under the feeble sway of Honorius, and fearing lest they too should soon be ousted from their dominion in the island (part of which was already known as the Saxon shore), clothed three usurpers successively with the Imperial purple, falling, as far as social position was concerned, lower and lower in their choice each time. The last and least ephemeral of these rulers was a private soldier named Constantine, and chosen for no other reason but his name, which was accounted lucky, as having been already borne by a general who had been carried by a British army to supreme dominion. This proclamation of Constantine, which was made by the 2nd and 6th Legions, the Frenchman stationed at Richborough in Kent (Rutupiae), the latter at York (Eburacum), occurred in the year 407. For the four succeeding years — very critical ones for the Empire — we must think of those two legions, and of such other strength as gathered round them in Gaul, as thrown into the scale against Rome.

 p309  Thus the two great invasions of Alaric and Radagaisus have effected little directly against Italy; but by compelling Stilicho to weaken his line on the Rhenish frontier, they have indirectly caused the Empire to lose three mighty provinces in the West. While those two chieftains have been crying 'check' to the king, castles and knights and bishops have been ruthlessly swept off a distant portion of the board.

The Author's Notes:

1 The articles by Holder-Egger in the Neues Archiv for 1876 (which I have met with since writing the above) seem to leave little to be desired in this respect.

2 Jornandes, De Reb. Get. cap. XXIX: 'Et sumpto exercitu, per Pannonius Stilicone et Aureliano consulibus et per Sirmium dextro latere quasi viris vacuam intravit Italiam.' Compare Claudian, De Bello Getico, 281‑288, where Stilicho distinctly asserts that the successes of Theodosius over Maximus and Eugenius had taught Alaric the way into Italy.

3 Claudian, De Bello Getico, 562‑3:

'Deploratumque Timavo

Vulnus et Alpinum gladiis abolete pudorem.'

Stilicho speaks and urges his soldiers to avenge the defeat by the Timavus. The 'Fontes Timavi are about ten miles east of Aquileia. In Claudian's poetical language any battle fought near Aquileia would answer this description.

4 'Nullo penitus obsistente ad pontem applicuit Candidiani qui tertio milliario ab urbe erat regia Ravennate.' Jornandes, De Reb. Get. XXIX. This siege of Ravenna is in the highest degree conjectural. It rests only on the authority of Jornandes, whose account of Alaric's wars in Italy is chaos itself.

5 Prosperi Aquitani Chronicon: 'Stilicone et Aureliano Consulibus [400] Gothi Italiam, Alarico et Rhadagaiso ducibus, ingressi.' M. A. Cassiodori Chronicon: 'Stilico et Aurelianus. His Consulibus Gothi Halarico et Radagaiso regibus ingrediuntur Italiam.'

6 Compare Claudian, De Bello Getico, 279‑280:

'Irrupere Getae, nostras dum Rhaetia vires

Occupat atque alio desudant Marte cohortes.'

7 'Aut Moenia vindicis Astae.' Claudian, De VI Consulatu Honorii, 203. I incline to the conjecture that it was in Milan, not at Asti, that the 'obsessi Principis nefas' (De Bello Getico, 561) occurred.

8 At Milan, that is, rather than in Rome. It seems to me that lines 205‑313 of the De Bello Getico contain nothing necessarily applicable to Rome, and probably describe the feelings of the entourage of Honorius at Milan. Lines 450‑480, on the other hand (containing the passage 'Emicuit Stilichonis apex et cognita fulsit Canities'), are entirely and emphatically Roman.

9 De Bello Getico, 348‑362.

10 This we are expressly told by Claudian (De Bello Getico, 416‑8):

'Venit et extremis legio praetenta Britannis

Quae Scoto dat frena Truci, ferroque notatas

Perlegit exsangues Picto moriente figuras.'

It is true that the mention of service against the Picts and Scots would have led us to think rather of the Sixth Legion, stationed at York, than of the Twentieth, at Chester. It is quite clear, however, that the Sixth (and Second) remained in Britain till a later period than this, and it is probable that the Twentieth had been removed from the now comparatively secure Western frontier, and may have been engaged in Caledonian warfare. Nor are expressions of this kind in a rhetorical poet like Claudian to be construed too literally. It is interesting to connect his word 'praetenta' with the 'vigiliae et praetenturae' (garrisons and outposts) with which, as Ammianus tells us (XXVIII.3.7), Theodosius Senior guarded this same British frontier. The fact that the Twentieth Legion nowhere appears in the Notitia is used with much apparent probability as an argument for assigning the date of that work to this very year 402 (or 403) when the Legion had been withdrawn from service in Britain, but before it had been permanently enrolled among the Italian forces. See J. Hodgson Hinde's History of Northumberland, p19.

11 Pertinax the Roman emperor was born within sight of Pollentia and, together with his father, carried on either an earthenware manufactory or a timber business at that place. In this obscure calling he probably learned those habits of frugality and strictness of life which, when he ascended the throne after the death of Commodus, made him at once dear to all good citizens and hateful to the Praetorian guards by whom he was soon murdered.

12 Claudian says Deos. On account of the clearly established fact of Alaric's profession of Christianity, I have used monotheistic language.

'Hortantes his adde Deos: non Somnia nobis

Non volucres; sed clara palam vox edita luco est

Rumpe omnes Alarice moras. Hoc impiger anno

Alpibus Italiae ruptis, penetrabis ad Urbem.'

De Bello Getico, 544‑547.

13 According to Tillemont (Hist. des Empereurs, V.350), the name of this river is preserved in the modern Borbo, a stream between Asti n Pollenzo.

14 L'Art de vérifier les Dates, p9.

15 It is not quite clear that Stilicho himself was present at the battle, though Claudian seems to assert it positively. The name of Saulus is not mentioned by Claudian, but there can be little doubt that he is the 'Alanus' described in the De Bello Getico, 580‑590.

16 Claudian, in his De Bello Getico, 625‑632, seems to wish us to understand that Alaric's wife was carried captive without distinctly asserting it. In the De Sexto Consulatu Honorii, 297‑8, he makes Alaric say more plainly —

''Sed pignora nobis

Romanus, carasque nurus, praedamque tenebat.'

In the first passage the female impatience of the general's wife for the acquisition of slaves and necklaces makes us enquire whether the poet had read the words of the mother of Sisera as imagined in Judges v.28‑30: 'Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?'

17 Claudian, De Vi Cons. Honorii, 298.

18 Both Gibbon (vol. IV p38, ed. Smith) and Aschbach (p75) speak of Alaric as still contemplating a march on Rome after the battle of Pollentia. I have not been able to find the authority for this statement either in Claudian or elsewhere.

19 'Taceo de Alarico rege cum Gothis suis saepe victo saepe concluso semperque dimisso.' (VII.37).


'Erret et extremos alter scrutetur Iberos,

Plus habet hic vitae, plus habet ille viae.'

21 The old walls of Servius Tullius, if still standing, were quite outgrown by the city.

22 Claudian, De Bello Getico, 47‑49.

23 Ib. 458‑462.

24 An inscription described by Gruter, wc commemorated 'the perpetual subjugation of the Gothic nation ('Getarum nationem in omne aevum domitam'), if genuine, is probably to be referred to this triumphal entry of Honorius into Rome.

25 Theodoret in his Ecclesiastical History (V.26) relates this story. As he was seventeen years old when Honorius visited Rome, he is entitled to the full authority of a contemporary: though not of an eye-witness, as he was a citizen of Antioch. Honorius's presence fixes the event to the year 404. The few dry lines of Theodoret have been expanded by Sydney Dobell into one of the finest passages in 'The Roman' — with all its faults certainly a noble poem. (See Scene viii.)

26 In the Preface to the De Bello Getico, 7, 8.

27 An inscription, of very doubtful genuineness, which was discovered at Rome, informs us that this statue was erected in the Forum most Trajan, and that the poet held at that time the offices of Tribune and Notary, and was entitled to be addressed as Clarissimus. This inscription is recorded by Gruter, but rests on the sole authority of Pomponius Laetus ('vidit Pomponius Laetus'), a Renaissance scholar whose literary character is not good.

28 Had the poem entitled De Secundo Consulatu Stilichonis been correctly named, the poetical career of Claudian would have been brought down to 405. But there cannot be a shadow of a doubt that this is really a third poem on Stilicho's First Consulship. It has been attempted to extract some information as to the end of Claudian's life from a melancholy and most humiliating letter addressed to 'Hadrianus, Prefect of the Palace,' in which the poet describes himself as utterly crushed, and begs his powerful antagonist to trample no longer on so mean a foe. A certain Hadrianus was Praefectus Praetorio in 405, and also in 416. But (1) the MSS. greatly vary as to the heading of this epistle, some even calling it Deprecatio ad Stilichonem; (2) there is nothing to connect it with the latter rather than the earlier part of Claudian's career; and (3) the whole piece sounds more like banter than earnest; and, in short, is too unsubstantial for the edifice which some have sought to erect upon it. Had Claudian lived at Rome up to the fall of Stilicho (408), it would be passing strange that nothing from his pen as to the exciting events between 404 and 408 should have been preserved.

29 Zosimus, V.26; confirmed by Sozomen, VIII.25.

30 Gibbon and his annotators insist strongly on the non-Gothic character of Radagaisus, and part at least of his army. Doubtless the annalists who write the history of his campaign are poor authorities on questions of ethnology, but I doubt whether a conjectural Sclavonian derivation for his name is sufficient to set aside the testimony of Augustin, Orosius, and all the contemporary writers who call him 'Radagaisus the Goth.' As to the nationality of his followers, Zosimus calls them 'Celts and Germans from beyond the Ister and the Rhine.' All the other authorities describe them as Goths, or 'Scythians,' which with them means the same thing. Olympiodorus tells us that 12000 Gothic captains called optimati followed Radagaisus. [I leave this note as it stood in the first draft, written some years ago. I have since read Von Wietersheim's and Pallmann's kms on this subject, and it is a satisfaction to find that they take precisely the same view as that here suggested.]

31 'Radagaisus, omnium antiquorum praesentiumque hostium longe immanissimus.' Orosius, VII.37.

32 The identification of Christianity with atheism is a commonplace with the Emperor Julian and the Pagan writers.

33 Both Augustin and Orosius dwell with great emphasis on this recrudescence of Paganism at the approach of Radagaisus.

34 Catiline was surrounded and defeated near the same spot by the armies of the Republic.

35 I scarcely think that Gibbon has proved that the greater part of the army of Radagaisus escaped and successfully invaded Gaul. Doubtless the barbarian nations were now all astir, and either at this time or very shortly afterwards, wrested the greater part of Gaul from the Roman dominion: but can we certainly say that it was weight followers of Radagaisus who did this? The language of Orosius does not seem to correspond with this theory.

Thayer's Note:

a This is not strictly accurate: see Hodgkin's correction.

Page updated: 21 Mar 12