The Fall of Stilicho
Almost our only authorities for this difficult portion of history are Zosimus and Orosius. The latter is aglow with the fierceness of religious hatred. The former has apparently two or three different accounts before him, and his attempts to piece them together produce an incoherent story, the chief actors in which behave with childish inconsistency. It is impossible to construct a really satisfactory narrative out of such miserable materials.
The year 407 closed upon a strangely helpless jumble of ambitions and incapacities. The ministers of the Eastern and Western courts were in a state of scarcely dissembled hostility. Alaric and Stilicho were watching one another, each evidently fearing what the next move of his only capable antagonist might be. In Italy there was lamentation over the loss of the Gauls; in Gaul there was the will but not the power to proceed to the conquest of Italy. Sarus the Goth had been sent by Stilicho to oppose the further progress of the usurper Constantine, had killed one of his generals in fair fight and another by treachery at a private interview, and then had been compelled to retreat ignominiously across the Alps, leaving all his baggage in the hands of the wild tribes of the mountains. Everywhere there was a feeling of insecurity, and p315 yet for the moment the forces which were ruining the Empire were neutralising one another.
Such was the state of affairs when the scene was suddenly changed by the death of Arcadius, the Emperor of the East. the last few years of this prince's life had been chiefly marked by the persecution of St. John Chrysostom, to which he had been stirred up by the Empress Eudoxia, whose hot Frankish blood resented the outspoken freedom of the golden-mouthed prelate. Notwithstanding this persecution, of which in truth he was the instrument rather than the author, Arcadius died in what may be termed a faint odour of sanctity. The cause is thus described by his contemporary, the ecclesiastical historian Socrates:
'Shortly after the death of John, the Emperor Arcadius departed this life: a quiet and courteous man he was, who in the latter part of his life was thought to be a very godly man upon such an occasion as followeth. In Constantinople there is a great pallace called Carya, and in the porch there stands a hazell tree, on the which report goeth that Acacius, the martyr, was hanged. Wherefore there was a church erected at that tree: the Emperor passing by was desirous to see it, went in, after he had said his prayers came forth againe. All the neighbours ran forth to see the Emperor: some left their houses and tooke up their standing in the open street, thinking verily to see the Emperor's face as he passed by with all his port and traine: other some followed the Emperor out of the church, p316 untill that both men, women, and children had all gone out of the house, which adjoined unto the church. They were no sooner gone but the house where they flocked together fellow downe. Immediately the fame of the Emperor was spread abroad with great admiration, that so great a multitude of people was saved by the meanes of his prayers.'
The vapidity of the anecdote is worthy of its hero. To this depth of folly had descended the great Art of Greek history which had once been represented by the strong sentences of Thucydides.
Arcadius died in the thirty-first year of his age, and was succeeded by his son Theodosius II, a boy of seven years old, who was one day to give his name to the Theodosian Code. For some months, perhaps years, before the death of Arcadius, strange and unintelligible transactions had taken place between Stilicho and Alaric. Stung by the repeated insults, and embittered by the persistent hostility of the Eastern court, anxious also to repay them in kind for their attempt, by means of Gildo's treason, to separate Africa the dominions of his master, the Roman general appears to have actually contemplated the design of joining the Gothic king in the invasion of Epirus, and thus by barbarian aid uniting Eastern Illyricum to the Western Empire. This invasion, if ever in truth projected, was stopped by a false report of the death of Alaric, and by the too true intelligence of the revolt of the British army under Constantine. Now, after the death of Arcadius had taken place, but before it p317 was certainly known in Rome, Alaric, who had actually entered Epirus, but whether as invader or ally neither he himself nor any contemporary statesman could perhaps have accurately explained, marched northwards to Emona (Laybach), passed without difficulty the unguarded defines of the Julian Alps, and appearing on the north-eastern horizon of Italy, demanded pay for his unfinished enterprise. The Emperor, the Senate, Stilicho, assembled at Rome to consider what answer should be given to the ambassadors of the Visigoth. Many senators advised war rather than peace purchased by such Adjutant-General concessions. Stilicho's voice, strange to say, was all for an amicable settlement. 'It was true that Alaric had spent many months in Epirus. It was for the interest of the Emperor that he had gone thither; here was the letter of Honorius which had forbidden the enterprise, a letter which he must confess he attributed to the unwise interference of his own wife Serena, unwilling as she was to see her two adopted brethren at war with each other.' Partly persuaded that Alaric really deserved some reparation for the loss she had sustained through the fluctuation of the Imperial counsels, but more unwilling to oppose a courageous 'no' to the advice of his all-powerful Minister, the senate acquiesced in his decision, and ordered payment of 4000 pounds of gold (about £160,000 sterling) to the ambassadors of Alaric. The Senator Lampridius, a man of high birth and character, exclaimed indignantly, 'Non est ista pax p318 sed pactio servitutis' (That is no peace, but a mere selling of yourselves into slavery). But, fearing the punishment of his too free speech, as soon as the senate left the Imperial palace, he took refuge in a neighbouring Christian church.
The position of Stilicho was at this time one of great apparent stability. Though his daughter, the Empress Maria, was dead, her place had been supplied by another daughter, Thermantia, who, it might reasonably be supposed, could secure her feeble husband's loyalty to her father. With Alaric for his friend, with Arcadius, who had been drilled by his ministers into hostility, dead, it might have seemed that there was no quarter from whence danger could menace the supremacy of the great minister.
This security, however, was but in appearance. Honorius was beginning to chafe under the yoke; perhaps even his brother's death made Stilicho seem less necessary to his safety. An adverse influence too of which the minister suspected nothing, had sprung up in the Imperial court. Olympius, a native of some town on the Euxine shore, had ascended, through Stilicho's patronage, to some high position in the household. This man, who, according to Zosimus, 'under the appearance of Christian piety concealed a great deal of rascality,' was now whispering away the character of his benefactor. With him seem to have co-operated the clergy, who sincerely disapproved of Honorius's marriage with the sister of the late Empress, and who also had p319 imbibed a strange notion that Eucherius, the son of Stilicho, was a Pagan at heart, and meditated, should he one day succeed to power, the restoration of the ancient idolatry.
Strange to say, the Pagans also had their reasons for disliking the same all-powerful family. They still muttered to one another an old story of the days of the first Theodosius. When he, after his defeat of Eugenius,1 visited Rome, he suppressed many of the sacrifices which had hitherto been maintained at the public expense, and turned out the priests from many of the temples. Serena, with haughty contempt for the votaries of the fallen faith, visited, in curious scorn, the temple of Rhea, the Great Mother of Gods. Seeing a costly necklace hung around the neck of the goddess, she took it off and placed it on her own. One old woman, the last left of the Vestal Virgins, saw and loudly blamed the sacrilegious deed. Serena bade her attendants remove the crone, who, while she was being hurried down the steps of the temple, loudly prayed that all manner of misfortunes might light upon the head of the despiser of the goddess, on her husband, and her children. And in many a night vision, so said the Pagans, from that day forward, Serena had warnings of some inevitable doom. Nor was Stilicho free from like blame, for he had stripped off the massive gold plates p320 from the doors of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and he, too, had had his warning, for the workmen to whom the task was allotted had found engraven on the inner side of the plates, 'Misero regi servantur' (Reserved for an unhappy ruler).
Thus did the two religions, the old and the new, unite in muttered discontent against the great captain. The people also, wounded and perplexed by the strange scene in the Senate, and the consequent payment to Alaric, had perhaps lost some of their former confidence in the magic of his name. On the other hand, the army, whose demoralised condition was probably the real cause of his policy of non-resistance, and whom his stern rule had alone made in any measure efficacious against the barbarian, were some of them growing restive under the severity of his discipline. Partially too we can discern the workings of a spirit of jealousy among the Roman legionaries against the Teutonic comrades by whom they found themselves surrounded, and often outstripped in the race for promotion. Stilicho's own Vandal origin would naturally exacerbate this feeling, and would render unpardonable in him preferences which might have been safely manifested by Theodosius. At Ticinum (the modern Pavia) the troops were thoroughly alienated from Stilicho; and at Bologna, whither Honorius had journeyed from Ravenna, the soldiers broke out into open mutiny. Stilicho, being summoned by the Emperor, suppressed the revolt, and either threatened or actually inflicted the dread p321 punishment of decimation, the ultima ratio of a Roman general.
In the midst of this quicksand of suspicions and disaffections three facts were clear and solid. The usurper Constantine (Britain's contribution to the difficulties of Rome) was steadily advancing through Gaul towards the capital, and had, in fact, already established himself at Arles. Alaric, though he had received the 4000 golden librae, hovered still near the frontier, and was evidently wearying for a fight with some enemy. Arcadius was dead: the guardianship of the little Theodosius was a tempting prize, and one which the dying words of his grandfather might possibly be held to confer upon the great Vandal minister. Honorius proposed to journey to the East, and assume this guardianship himself; but Stilicho drew out so formidable an account of the expenditure necessary for the journey of so majestic a being, that the august cipher, who was probably at heart affd of the dangers of the way, abandoned his project. Stilicho's scheme, we are told, was to employ Alaric in suppressing the revolt of Constantine, while he himself went eastwards to settle the affairs of the young Emperor at Constantinople. Honorius gave his consent to both parts of the scheme, wrote the needed letters for Alaric and Theodosius, and then set off with Olympius for Ticinum. The minister, conscious that he was beset by some dangers, but ignorant of the treachery of Olympius, neither removed the mutinous soldiery from Ticinum, nor set p322 forth to assume the command of the armies of the East, but, with strange irresolution, lingered on still at Ravenna. That irresolution proved his ruin.
For Olympius, having now sole access to the ear of Honorius, and being surrounded by an army already sore and angry at the very mention of the name of Stilicho, had found exactly the opportunity for which he had long been watching. Although the one point in his enemy's life which was least open to hostile comment was his conduct in reference to his son, though Eucherius had never been promoted beyond the modest office of Tribune of the Notaries,2 Olympius persuaded both the Emperor and the army that Stilicho aimed at nothing less than placing his son on the Eastern throne, to which presumably his own barbarian parentage prevented him from aspiring. It is easy to imagine how the courtier, who, 'under an appearance of Christian piety veiled every kind of wickedness,' would enlarge to the Emperor on the horror of seeing the young pagan Eucherius on the throne of the holy Arcadius; — to the soldiers on the prospect of endless hardships under the stern discipline of Stilicho when he should have made himself master of both realms.
The bonds of military obedience, hard to bind, are easy to unloose when Authority itself is foolish p323 enough to invite to mutiny. The soldiers at Ticinum rose in fury, Egypt to lay murderous hands on all who were pointed out to them as friends of Stilicho. Their first victims were Limenius, the Praetorian prefect of the Gauls, and Chariobaudes, the commander of the forces in the same provinces. But lately these two men had been, under the Emperor, supreme from the Northumbrian Wall to the Pillars of Hercules. Now, fugitives before the might of the usurper Constantine, they received the reward of their fidelity, death from the soldiers of their Emperor, in his presence and ostensibly at his bidding. The storm grew more furious; the Emperor cowered in his palace; the magistrates of the city took flight; the brutal soldiery rushed through the streets robbing and murdering at their will. The authors of the insurrection, terrified by their own success, resorted to the desperate remedy of parading Honorius through the town, dressed hastily in the short tunic of a private citizen without the military cloak (paludamentum) which marked his rank as a commander, and without the diadem of an Emperor. To the supplications thus abjectly tendered, order was at length granted, and the soldiers returned to their quarters; but not until Naemorius, the General of the Household Troops, with two other military officers, till Petronius, the Chief Minister of Finance, and Salvius, the Quaestor (who struggled to the feet of the Emperor and vainly pleaded there for mercy); nay, not till the head of the whole official hierarchy, Longinianus, Praetorian p324 Prefect of Italy, had been slain.3 All these eight victims of the revolt belonged to the rank of Illustres, the highest class of imperial functionaries. But besides these, a great and uncounted number of the private citizens of Ticinum fell in this day's massacre.
At the present day, Pavia, the successor of Ticinum, though rich in Lombard relics, has no buildings to show recalling the days when it was a Roman municipium. The Ticino, hurrying past the little town to rejoin the Po, is crossed by a covered bridge of the fifteenth century. If you happen to visit the place on a day of festa, you see the blue-tunicked lads of the Italian army streaming across this bridge and through the high street of the town. The river and the army are there still: all else how greatly changed from that fierce day of August, 408, when Honorius, pale with fear, clothed in his short tunic, was hurried up and down through the streets of Ticinum, p325 imploring an end of that mutiny for which he had given the watchword! The Lombard churches, S. Michele and S. Teodoro, gray with their vast multitude of years, stand, it may be, where the murdered Praefects and Quaestor had then their palaces; and these merry, good-humoured soldier-lads, who cover the pavement with their nut-shells and fill the air with their laughter, are the representatives of that fierce mob-army, drunk with blood as with wine, which swept from end to end of the city shouting for vengeance on the friends of Stilicho.
The best defence of Stilicho's loyalty is to be found in his own conduct when he heard of the mutiny at Ticinum. The news found him at Bologna: perhaps he had escorted the Emperor so far on his westward journey. He called a council of war, composed occident generals of the barbarian auxiliaries. All felt themselves alike threatened by this murderous outbreak of bastard Roman patriotism. The first report stated that the Emperor himself was dead. 'Then,' said all, — and Stilicho approved the decision, — 'on behalf of the violated sacramentum, let us march and avenge his murder on the mutineers.' But when a correcter version of the events reached them Stilicho refused to avenge the massacre of his friends only, the Emperor being unharmed, and loudly declared that to lead barbarians to an attack on the Roman army was, in his opinion, neither righteous nor expedient.
p326 To this resolution he steadfastly adhered, though the conviction forced itself upon his mind that Honorius was now incurably alienated from him. Then the barbarian generals, one by one, separated themselves from what they felt to be a doomed cause.
Sarus, the Goth, who had fought under Stilicho's orders, now turned against his old chief, made a night attack on his quarters, slaughtered his still faithful Hunnish guards, but reached the general's tent only to find that he had taken horse and ridden off with a few followers for Ravenna. Not for the hand of the ungrateful Sarus was reserved that reward which Olympius was yearning to pay for the head of his rival.
Stilicho, though a fugitive, seems still to be more anxious for the feast of the Empire than for his own. As he passes city after city, where the wives and children of the barbarian soldiers are kept as hostages for their fidelity, he adjures the magistrates not on any pretence to allow one of the barbarians to enter. He enters Ravenna: shortly after his arrival come messengers bearing letters written by the Emperor, under the steady pressure of Olympius, commanding that Stilicho shall be arrested and kept in honourable confinement without bonds. Informed of the arrival of this mandate he took refuge by night in a Christian church. When day dawned the soldiers entered the building: on their solemn assurance, ratified by an oath, sworn in the presence of the bishop, that the Emperor's orders extended p327 not to his death but only to the placing him under guard, Stilicho surrendered himself. Once out of the sanctuary, and entirely in the power of the soldiers, he learned the arrival of a second letter from Honorius, to the effect that his crimes against the state were judged deserving of death. The barbarian troops, who yet surrounded him, his slaves, his friends, wished still to resist with the sword, but this he utterly forbade, and by threats, and the old still-lingering terror of his brow, he compelled his defenders to desist. Then, in somewhat of a martyr's spirit, and with a heart already broken by man's ingratitude, and weary of life, he offered his neck to the sword of the executioner, and in a moment 'that good gray head, which all men knew,' was rolling in the dust.
'So died,' says Zosimus (V.34), 'the man who was more moderate than any others who bore rule in that time.' And in order that those who are interested in the history of his end may know the date thereof exactly, it was in the consulship of Bassus and Philippus, the same year in which the Emperor Arcadius succumbed to destiny, the 10th day before the Kalends of September (23rd August, 408).
The circumstances of Stilicho's death naturally recall to our minds 'The Death of Wallenstein.' The dull, suspicious Honorius is replaced by Ferdinand II, Olympius by the elder Piccolomini, Sarus by Butler, Alaric by Wrangel, Stilicho himself by the great Duke of Friedland. Only let not the p328 parallel mislead us as to the merits of the two chief actors. Wallenstein was at length disloyal to Ferdinand; Stilicho was never untrue to Honorius.
At the outset of his career, when recording the conflict of testimony concerning him (this very same Zosimus being then the Advocatus Diaboli) it seemed necessary to say that we must wait for the close of his life before pronouncing our verdict on his character. That he was a brave and hardy soldier and a skilful general is virtually confessed by all. That his right hand was free from bribes and unjust exactions, only his flatters assert, and we need not believe. That he was intensely tenacious of power, that he imposed his will in all things on the poor puppet Honorius, is clear, and also that the necessities of the state amply justified him in doing so. The murder of Rufinus may or may not have been perpetrated with his connivance. The death of Mascezel, Gildo's brother, must remain a mystery; but upon the whole it seems improbable that Stilicho was personally connected with it. The inveterate hatred which existed between him and each successive minister of Arcadius certainly hastened the downfall of the Empire, and it is difficult to believe that there might not have been a better understanding between them had he so desired. The accusations of secret confederacy with Alaric would seem mere calumnies if it were not for the painful scene in the senate and Lampridius's indignant ejaculation, 'Non est ista Pax sed pactio servitutis.' Without imputing actual disloyalty to p329 Stilicho, we may perceive in him, ever after the terrible slaughter and doubtful combat of Pollentia, a disinclination to push Alaric to extremities, a feeling which seems to have been fully reciprocated by his great antagonist. Possibly some such involuntary tribute of respectful fear would have been mutually paid by Napoleon and Wellington had Waterloo been a drawn battle. Stilicho may also have remembered too faithfully that the East had given Alaric his first vantage-ground against Rome, and he may have been too ready to keep that barbaric weapon unblunted, to be used on occasion against Constantinople. Yet on a review of his whole life, when contemplating the circumstances of his death, pre-eminently when observing the immediate change which his removal from the chessboard produced upon the whole fortunes of the game, with confidence we feel entitled to say, 'This man remained faithful to his Emperor, and was the great defence of Rome.'
In order however to lay all the evidence fairly before the reader, it will be well to quote the following passage from Orosius, the most eloquent of the defamers of Stilicho. Observe how mildly and even with what approbation the reverend Spaniard speaks of the atrocious pronunciamento at Pavia.
'Meanwhile Count Stilicho, sprung from the stock of the unwarlike, greedy, perfidious, and crafty nation of the Vandals, thinking it but a small matter that he already wielded Imperial power under the Emperor, strove by fair or foul p330 means to lift up into sovereign dignity his son Eucherius, who, according to common report, had been already from boyhood, and while in a private station, meditating the persecution of the Christians. Wherefore when Alaric, with the whole nation of the Goths at his back, respectfully and respectably prayed for a fair and honourable peace, and some certain dwelling-place, by denying him in public the opportunity whether of peace or of war, but cherishing his hopes by a secret league, he reserved him and his people for the scaring and scarifying of the state (ad terendam terrendamque rempublicam). Furthermore, those other nations, unbearable in their numbers and strength, by which the provinces of Gaul and Spain are now oppressed, namely the Alans, the Sueves, the Vandals, together with the Burgundians, who obeyed the same simultaneous impulse, all of these he gratuitously called to arms, removing their previous fear of the Roman name.
'These nations, according to his design, were to hammer at the frontier of the Rhine and harass Gaul, the wretched man imagining that under such a pressure of surround difficulties he should be able to extort the imperial dignity from his son-in‑law for his son, and that then he should succeed in repressing the barbarous nations as easily as he had aroused them. Therefore, when this drama of so many crimes was made clear to the Emperor Honorius and the Roman army, the indignation of the latter was most justly aroused, and Stilicho p331 was slain, — the man who, in order that one lad might wear the purple, had been ready to spill the blood of the whole human race. Slain too was Eucherius, who, in order to ingratiate himself with the Pagans, had threatened to celebrate the commencement of his reign by the restoration of temples and the overthrow of churches. And with these men were also punished a few of the abettors of their criminal designs. Thus with very slight trouble, and by the punishment of only a few persons, the churches of Christ, with our religious Emperor, were both liberated and avenged.' (Orosius, Hist. VII.38.)
So far the religious pamphleteer. Let us turn from his invective to history, and trace the immediate consequences of the death of Stilicho. The fall of his family and friends followed his as a matter of course. Eucherius fled to Rome and took refuge in a church there. The sanctity of his asylum was for some time respected, but before many months had elapsed he was put to death. Thermantia was sent back from the imperial palace to her mother Serena. A law was passed that all who had held any office during the time of Stilicho's ascendancy should forfeit the whole of their property to the state. Heraclian, the actual executioner of the sentence upon Stilicho, was made general of the forces in Libya Major in the room of Bathanarius, brother-in‑law of the late minister, who now lost both office and life. Cruel tortures, inflicted by the command of Olympius, failed to elicit from any p332 of Stilicho's party the least hint of his having conceived any treasonable designs.
It is plain, however, that justly or unjustly the name of the deceased minister was connected with the policy of conciliation towards the barbarians and employment of auxiliaries from among them. As soon as the death of Stilicho was announced, the purely Roman legionaries rose and took a noble revenge for the affronts which they may have received at the hands of their Teutonic fellow-soldiers. In every city where the wives and children of these auxiliaries were dwelling the legionaries rushed in and murdered them. The inevitable result was, that the auxiliaries, a band of 30,000 man, inheriting the barbarian vigour, and adding to that whatever remained of Roman military skill, betook themselves to the camp of Alaric, and prayed him to lead them to the vengeance for which they hungered.
But it is a characteristic of the strange period upon which we are now entering (408‑410) that no one of the chief personages seems willing to play the part marked out for him. Alaric, who had before crossed mountains and rivers in obedience to the prophetic voice, 'penetrabis ad urbem,' now, when the game is clearly in his hands, hesitates and hangs back. Honorius shows a degree of firmness in his refusal to treaty with the barbarians, which, had it been justified by the slightest degree of military capacity or of intelligent adaptation of means to ends, and had his own person not been p333 safe from attack behind the ditches of Ravenna, might have been almost heroic. And both alike, the fears of the brave and the courage of the coward, have one result, to make the final catastrophe more complete and more appalling.
Alaric sent messengers to the Emperor, saying that on receipt of a moderate sum he would conclude a treaty of peace with Rome, exchange hostages for mutual fidelity, and march back his whole host into Pannonia. Honorius refused these offers, yet made no preparation for war, neglected to avail himself of the services of Sarus, undoubtedly the greatest general left after the death of Stilicho, entrusted the command of the cavalry to Turpilio, of the infantry to Varanes, of the household troops to Vigilantius, men whose notorious incapacity made them the laughing-stock of every camp in Italy, and for himself (says Zosimus) 'placed all his reliance on the prayers of Olympius.' Not quite all his reliance, however, for he was at this time exceedingly busy as a lawgiver, placing on the statute-book edict after edict for the suppression of heathenism and every shade of heresy.
Thus we find him decreeing in 407, 'We will persecute the Manicheans, Phrygians [Montanists], and Priscillianists with deserved severity. Their goods shall be confiscated and handed over to their nearest relatives who are not tainted with the same heresy. They themselves shall not succeed to any property by whatever title acquired. They shall not buy nor sell nor give to any one, and everything p334 in the nature of a will which they make shall be void.'
In 408 (addressed to Olympius, Master of the Offices) — 'We forbid those who are enemies of the Catholic sect to serve as soldiers in our palace. We will have no connection of any kind with any man who differs from us in faith.' 'All our former decrees against the Donatists, Manicheans, and Priscillianists, as well as against the heathens, are not only still to have the force of law, but to be obeyed to the utmost.' 'The revenues belonging to the Pagan temples are to be taken from them, the images pulled down, the altars rooted up.' 'No feast or solemn observance of any kind is to take place on the sites of the [old] sacrilegious worship. The bishop is empowered to see to the execution of this decree.' 'No one who dissents from the priest of the Catholic Church shall have leave to hold his meetings within any city or in any secret place in our dominions. If he attempts it, the place of meeting shall be confiscated and he himself driven into xl.'
In 409 — 'A new form of superstition has sprung up under the name of Heaven-worship. If those who profess it have not within a year turned to the worship of God and the religion of Christ, let them understand that they will find themselves smitten by the laws against heretics.'
In this same year, doubting apparently his own power to resist the pressure of his new minister (Jovius), he ordains that no edict which may be p335 obtained from him in derogation of these anti-heretical laws shall have any force at all.
In 410 — 'Let the houses of prayer be utterly removed,4 whither the superstitious heretics have furtively crept to celebrate their rites, and let all the enemies of the holy law know that they shall be punished with proscription and death if they shall any longer attempt, in the abominable rashness of their guilt, to meet together in public.'
About twenty years after this time, we find Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, saying to the younger Theodosius, 'Join me in destroying the heretics, and I will join you in destroying Persians'; and it is probable that these recurring ekets against heathens and heretics, ever increasing in severity, seemed to Honorius the easiest means of wringing forth the favour of the Almighty and adjuring Him to clear the Empire from the barbarians.
It is curious to read, side by side with these decrees, the story of Generidus as told us by Zosimus (V.46). He was a man of barbarian extraction; brave and honest, but still adhering to the religion of his forefathers. When the law was passed which forbade any one not a Christian to remain in the service of the Emperor, Generidus handed p336 back his belt, the emblem of military office, and retired into private life. In a desperate crisis of his fortunes, the Emperor entreated him to return, and to take the command of the troops in Pannonia and Dalmatia. He reminded Honorius of the law which forbade a heathen like himself to serve the state, and was told that while that law must still remain in force, a special exemption should be made in his favour. 'Not so,' replied the soldier; 'I will not be a party to the insult thus put on all my brave heathen comrades. Restore them all to the rank which they have forfeited because they adhere to the religion of their forefathers, or else lay no commands upon me.' The Emperor with shame consented, and Generidus, assuming the command, drilled his troops rigorously, served out their rations honestly, spent his own emoluments among them generously, and soon became a terror to the barbarians and a tower of strength to the harassed provincials.5 We do not hear of him however, again, in any of the great events of the war, and may be permitted p337 to conjecture that Zosimus has coloured highly enough the virtues of his fellow heathen.
The mention of this religious legislation may seem like a departure from the main subject of the chapter, but it is not so. The religious element was probably the most important factor in the combination which brought Stilicho to his fall, and it has had the most powerful influence in blackening his memory after his death. The intrigues of Olympius and the passionate calumnies of Orosius are not pleasant specimens of the new type of Christian politician and litterateur which was then coming to the front. The former especially is a style of character of which the world has seen too much in the subsequent centuries, and which has often confirmed the truth of a saying of the founder of Christianity. Salt like this, which had utterly lost its savour, was in a certain sense worse than anything which had been seen on the dunghill of Pagan Imperial Rome, and was fit for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.
1 These are the words of Zosimus. But it may be doubted whether the visit was not that paid in 389 after the overthrow of Maximus.
2 He would, it seems, be thus enrolled in the third class of the official hierarchy, the Clarissimi, and would have a similar position to that of the clerks in the War Office with us. If the inscription previously quoted be authentic, the poet Claudian had received similar promotion.
3 Zosimus, V.32. It is not easy exactly to fit in the descriptions of these offices given by Zosimus with the Notitia. The two Praefecti Praetorio are clear. So is Salvius the Quaestor (Not. Occidentis, cap. IX). Petronius, 'who was over the treasury and had charge of the private property of the Emperor,' is most probably the 'Comes Sacrarum Largitionum,' though he might be only the 'Comes Rerum Privatarum.' Chariobaudes, 'general of the forces in the Gauls,' is probably 'Magister Equitum, or 'Magister utriusque Militias per Gallias.' Naemorius, ὁ τῶν ἐν τῇ αὐλῃ τάξεων μάγιστρος, is identified by Gibbon with the Magister Officiorum, but might possibly be the Magister Peditum in Praesenti. Vincentius, ὁ τῶν ἱππέων ἡγούμενος, would be the Magister Equitum in Praesenti; and the other, Salvius, ὁ τῶν δομεστίκων τάγματος προεστώς, Comes Domesticorum Equitum (or Peditum).
4 or 'Entirely abrogating that [previous] oracle [of ours: some previous edict], under cover of which superstitious heretics,' etc. (This is Gothofred's interpretation; but is not the version given in the text the more natural one? The word are 'Oraculo penitus remoto quo ad ritus suos haereticae superstitiones obrepserant.')
5 Tillemont thinks that this affair of Generidus may be connected with a law of Honorius, referred to by the Council of Carthage, 'that no one should embrace the Christian religion except by his own free and voluntary choice.' 'Nothing,' says the good Abbé, naively, 'could be more just, and no one has ever claimed that a man should embrace Christianity in spite of himself. However, in the state in which things then were, such a law was equivalent to undoing all that had been done against the pagans and heretics, especially if at the same time the law excluding them from office, was repealed, as Zosimus assures us.' (Hist. des Empereurs, V.574‑5.)
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