The Lovers of Placidia
We still derive a little light from Orosius, whose polemical history ends with the restoration of Placidia in 417.
But our chief authority is Olympiodorus, a contemporary, but known to us only at second hand by the abstract of his work contained in the 'Library' of Photius ('Olympiodorus apud Photium' is the usual form of quotation).
Photius is the celebrated litterateur-bishop, whose elevation to the see of Constantinople in the middle of the ninth century, followed by the appeal of his deposed rival Ignatius to Pope Nicolas I, was one of the chief causes of the separation of the Eastern and Western Churches. the history of his stormy life may be read in Milman's Latin Christianity (Book V, chap. 4), or in Finlay's Byzantine Empire (Book I, chap. 3). With all his many faults he was an earnest scholar, and whatever injury he may have inflicted on the Church his services to literature are unquestionable. Sent on an embassy to the Court of Bagdad, he employed his leisure hours in writing for his absent brother Tarasius, an abstract of all the books, 279 in number, which he had been reading since they parted. As many of these books have utterly perished, the value of this abstract, called the Myrobiblion or Bibliotheca, is obviously very great. Among other subjects, the religious controversies of the fourth century and the barbarian invasions of the fifth seem to have engaged the learned patriarch's special attention; and hence it is that we have not only a valuable abstract of the Arian p398historian Philostorgius (quoted in previous chapters), but also one of Olympiodorus.
This author was a native of the Egyptian Thebes. It is singular that Egypt should have given us two such valuable guides to the history of the West as Claudian and Olympiodorus. He composed his history probably under the reign of Valentinian III: what is certain is, that beginning with the year 407 it closed with the accession of that prince in 425. It consisted of twenty-two books, which are represented in the Abstract of Photius by not quite so many pages. Photius says that 'the style of the book is poor, and that there is a tendency to vulgarity in it, so that it can hardly be called a regular history, and that he seems to have felt this himself, for he calls it only "Materials for History," though on the other hand he adopts the conventional division into books, and endeavours to adorn it with a dedication to Theodosius.'
It may be permitted to us to conjecture that, as was annal enough for an Egypto-Greek historian, he took Herodotus for his model. Certainly his long digressions about the Egyptian oases, his complaints about the hardships of his voyages, his valuable though ludicrous account of the schools of philosophy at Athens, and his anecdotes about a favourite parrot which danced and sang and called people by name, remind one more of the garrulous old man of Thurii than of any intervening historian. But dignified or undignified, would that we had still the twenty-two books of his history.
It has seemed necessary to relate with almost tedious minuteness the marches and counter-marches, the intrigues, the negotiations, and the plunderings, which preceded or accompanied the Gothic sack of Rome.
If other sieges and pillages of the Eternal City lie before us, there are not many upon which we shall find it necessary to bestow the same close attention p399which has been claimed for the first. Now that the secret of Rome's weakness is disclosed, many a nomadic horde wandering over the Scythian steppes has heard the strange exciting history, and will not rest till it, too, has stood victorious on the Capitolian Hill, But we hear and we tell the adventures of those mariners who can truly say —
'We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea,'
with an interest which we could not accord to the journal of a modern passenger traversing the same waters in the well-appointed screw-steamer of a General Steam Navigation Company; and uninteresting as the latter traveler do some of the more recent ravagers of Rome appear, on their commonplace and easily accomplished errand of destruction.
Not yet however for another generation is the example of Alaric to be followed. Forty years of something like repose for Italy have first to elapse. In journeying over this long piece of level ground we shall find our attention chiefly attracted by the story of the sister of Honorius and the sister-in‑law of Alaric, the Queen of the Goths and the Augusta of the Romans, the lady Galla Placidia.
The second marriage of Theodosius, as the reader has already been told, was a somewhat romantic affair, springing out of the murder of Valentinian II and the flight of his mother and sisters to Constantinople. The issue of that marriage, his daughter Galla Placidia, was thus the representative p400of two Imperial houses, the granddaughter of the warrior Valentinian, the daughter of the warrior Theodosius. She was born probably about the year 390, and can have remembered little either of father or mother, the Empress Galla having died before she was four years old, and Theodosius having departed immediately after for his last campaign in the West. As she inherited one of her names from her mother, so she seems to have been the only member of the family who inherited anything of the vigour and capacity of her father, character, as is so often the case, not being T. Md according to sex.
For some reason unknown to us,1 she did not follow her brother's court to the safe shelter of Ravenna, but remained in Rome at the time of the Gothic invasion. It is with senator that we find her at the time of the first siege assigning to the judicial murder of Serena, as decreed by the Senate.2 We can well believe that the wife of p401Stilicho had been a hard duenna towards her young kinswoman: and a few words of Claudian suggest that possibility that the suit of her son Eucherius for the hand of his cousin may have been too importunately pressed: still, the sanction which this young maiden of eighteen is said to have given to the death of one so unfortunate and so unjustly slain as Serena must remain as a stain upon her memory.
after one of the three sieges of Rome, probably the second, Placidia was taken captive by the barbarians; and though treated with all the courtesy and deference due to a lady of royal birth, was nevertheless distinctly spoken of as a hostage, obliged apparently to move as the army moved, and used as a lever to bring the endless peace-negotiations with the Court of Ravenna to a satisfactory issue.
But after the death of Alaric, and when his brother-in‑law Ataulfus3 had been raised upon the p402shield and proclaimed King of the Visigoths, a change gradually came over these negotiations, and the restitution of the lady Placidia was less and less willingly offered by the barbarians. There was a change in the mind of Ataulfus, who was beginning to wish to be the champion rather than the enemy of Rome. 'When I was at Bethlehem,' says his contemporary Orosius, 'I heard a citizen of Narbonne, who had served with distinction under Theodosius, and who was besides a wise and religious person, tell the most blessed Jerome that he had been on terms to greatest intimacy with Ataulfus at Narbonne, and that he had frequently heard him say that, in the first exuberance of his strength and spirits, he had made this his most earnest desire — to utterly obliterate the Roman name, and bring under the sway of the Goths all that had once belonged to them — in fact, to turn Romania into Gothia, and to make himself, Ataulfus, all the Caesar Augustus had once been. But when he had learnt, by long experience, that the Goths would obey no laws on account of the unrestrained barbarism of their character, yet that it was wrong to deprive the commonwealth of laws without which it would cease to be a commonwealth, he at least for his part had chosen to have the glory of restoring the Roman name to its old estate, and increasing its potency by Gothic vigour, and he wished to be looked upon by posterity as the great author of the Roman restoration, since he had failed in his attempt to be its transformer.'
p403 Such were the plans which, during the years immediately following 410, were passing through the brain of the Gothic chieftain, and at the same time his heart was cherishing day by day more loving thoughts about the fair wise face of his captive Placidia. She seem to have been ready to return his affection; and it is therefore with some surprise that we find a space of four years elapse before the marriage ceremony takes place.
This delay seems to be chiefly due to the fact that the Visigoth had a powerful rival in the person of the Emperor's new general and adviser, Constantius,4 before whose rising start the influence of Olympius and Jovius successively succumbed.5 He too had set his heart on winning Placidia for his wife, and the effectual services which he rendered to her brother seemed to excuse the pertinacity of his suit. Therefore it was that whenever Goths and Romans met to negotiate a peace, the restitution of Placidia was the point most strongly insisted upon by the ministers of Honorius, most sedulously evaded by the envoys of Ataulfus.
By a rare piece of good fortune we are favoured p404with some details as to the outward appearance of the two rivals, and can therefore imagine some of the contending emotions which agitated the heart of Placidia.
Ataulfus, among his tall countrymen, was not distinguished for his stature, but his shapely figure and dignified countenance more than atoned for this deficiency.6
Constantius, on the other hand (an Illyrian by birth, who had served in many campaigns under the great Theodosius), is described7 as having a downcast, sulky, look. His broad head was set upon a large neck; his great full eyes were darted with a scowl to right and left of him, so that men said he looked thoroughly like a tyrant:8 and when he rode he rolled forward on the neck of his horse. But this slouching, gloomy tyrant was agreeable enough in his cups. At suppers and banquets he showed himself a pleasant and polite person; nay, so great was his condescension that when the time came for the comic actors to enter and enliven the feast, he would often rise from the table and contend with them for the prize of buffoonery.
Not only power but riches flowed in on the new vicegerent of the Emperor. A noteworthy prize accrued to him from the treason of Heraclian. This man, the murderer of Stilicho, whom we have seen p405valiantly and loyally holding Africa for Honorius, at length (in the year 413) raised the standard of rebellion himself, detained the usual tribute of cornº which should have gone from his province to Rome, and set sail for the coast of Italy with an armament which the terror-stricken citizens believed to be larger than any squadron that had been seen since the days of Xerxes, and to consist of 3,700 ships. Something however — perhaps the remains of the old Roman loyalty — lingering near his conscience, made him, who had been so staunch in his defence, falter in his attack. The Count Marinus resisted him with some vigour, and he immediately lost heart and fled, with one ship, to Carthage, where he was at once arrested and put to death.9 So was the death of Stilicho avenged. Constantius asked for the confiscated property of the rebel, and obtained it, the historian says, 'at one asking' — so ductile was the soft nature of Honorius. It amounted to £4,600 in gold, and about £92,000 worth of landed estate: much less than Constantius had reckoned on receiving, but sufficient to enable him to celebrate his consulship (in the year 414) with becoming splendour.
Other usurpers besides Heraclian had meanwhile been threatening the throne of Honorius. It is needless to burden the memory with the names and scanty histories of these ephemeral princes, p406whose pretensions added another thong to the scourge with which the Western Provinces were chastised.10 Only, as we have so far traced the fortunes of the British usurper Constantine, it should be mentioned that in the year 411, his son p407Constans was slain, and he himself, with another son, Julian, was defeated and forced to flee by a rival usurper,11 Gerontius. The father and son took refuge in the city of Arles; Constantius, who was the general, and who aspired to be the brother-in‑law, of Honorius, besieged that city. Constantine took refuge in a church, and accepted ordination as a presbyter, thereby finally abandoning all claims to the imperial throne. After receiving a solemn promise of safety, confirmed by an oath, he opened the gates of Arles to Constantius, who sent him and his son as prisoners to his Imperial Master. Honorius, remembering with bitterness the slaughter of his kinsmen Didymius and Verenianus by the elder captive, ordered him to be put to death when he was still •thirty miles distant from Ravenna. A conscientious observance of oaths was not a strong point in the religious character of this Emperor.
We return to Ataulfus and his Visigoths. Two years after the sack of Rome they quitted Italy, never again to come back through the Alpine passes. The reason of their departure is not made clear to us. It may be that Gaul, whither they at first directed their steps, seemed a fairer prize than the much-ravaged plains oligarchy: it may be that the desire of conserving instead of destroying 'Romania' induced the Gothic chieftain to withdraw from a land, the security of which was essential to the recovery of the prestige of Rome: it p408may be that the departure of the barbarians from the near neighbourhood of Ravenna was meant to soothe the Roman Emperor into giving that consent to the marriage with Placidia which threats had been unable to extort.
But strangely enough, if this was the aim of Ataulfus, he next appears as supporting the cause of Jovinus, one of the many usurpers of the Empire, who, relying on the aid of the Tartar Alani and the Teutonic Burgundians, had lately raised the standard of revolt at Mentz. That pitiable shadow of an Emperor, Attalus, who still followed in his train, had counselled Ataulfus to make this inexplicable move. One important result followed from the visit to the camp of Jovinus. The hereditary enemy, or, as the Germans would say, the Erb-feind,12 of Alaric and his successor, he who was in heart the murderer of Stilicho, Sarus, was coming to the same headquarters of mutiny, disgusted with the ungrateful feebleness of Honorius, who had allowed his faithful servant, Belleridus by name, to be murdered at the Imperial Court without making any inquisition for his blood.
Unawares, the revolter Sarus rushed into the deadly embrace of his enemy. Ataulfus waylaid him with 10,000 men, against whom the eighteen or twenty followers of Sarus fought with useless intrepidity. At length one of this immensely superior force, anxious to take the captive alive to his master, threw a piece of coarse sacking over the head of p409Sarus, and so brought him helpless, but still living, into the presence of Ataulfus. It may be feared that the barbarian element, still lurking in the heart of the Visigoth, gratified itself with many a cruel taunt, if not with the sight of bodily torture, before the Erb-feind was finally handed over to the executioner, and sent to rejoin Alaric and Stilicho in the land of forgetfulness.
Except this event, little followed from the visit of Ataulfus to the camp of Jovinus. The usurper deeply offended his powerful friend by proclaiming, contrary to that friend's advice, Sebastian, his brother, as his partner in the Imperial dignity.
With the opening of the year 413, Ataulfus sent an embassy to Ravenna offering to bring in the heads of all the usurpers if 'a just and honourable peace' were concluded. The offer was accepted, oaths were exchanged, and the ambassadors returned. First of all, Sebastian's head was despatched as a present to Honorius; then Jovinus, besieged and taken prisoner, was sent in bonds to Ravenna, and there slain by the Praetorian Prefect with his own hand. The heads of the two brothers were exposed, a ghastly sight, upon one of the gates of Milan,13 where the heads of Constantine and Julian had been rotting for three years, and those of Maximus and Eugenius for sixteen years before them.
p410 Great services were these which the Visigoth had rendered to the Emperor: still, the cardinal point, the restitution of Placidia, could not be agreed upon. Constantius began to press more eagerly for her return. Ataulfus, to evade this demand, raised his terms, for concessions in land, in money, in corn, yet higher and higher. In the midst of the peace negotiations, he even made a sudden attack upon the town of Marseilles. The general commanding there, Bonifacius, a man who afterwards played a great part in the service of Placidia, repulsed him with great loss, and he scarce escaped with his life. Still, however, Ataulfus pushed on his preparations for the marriage; and at last, in the year 414, the year which witnessed the consulship of the other lover, Constans, Honorius was induced, chiefly by the good offices Ostia certain general, Candidianus,14 to give his consent to the match.
The time was the early part of the month of January; the place where the marriage was solemnised was the city of Narbonne, the capital of Gallia Narbonensis, the chief province of Gaul. The house of Ingenuus, one of the principal personages of the city, was given up for the ceremony. p411Here, in the inner apartment15 which was adorned after the manner usual with wealthy Romans, sat Placidia in the seat of honour, arrayed in royal robes. To her entered Ataulfus, not wearing the furs and carrying the great battle-axe of the Goths, but dressed in the fine woollen tunic16 which was the appropriate wedding garment of the Romans, and in all other respects costumed like a countryman of the bride. The religious ceremony may probably enough have been performed by Sigesarus the Arian bishop who baptised Attalus, and who seems to have acted as a kind of chaplain to the Visigothic army.
And so the complicated and unsatisfactory negotiations of the last four years were brought to a successful issue. Romans and barbarians were made for time one people; the captor and captive were fond husband and devoted wife.
The gorgeousness of the wedding presents which the Visigoth gave to his bride was long remembered. Fifty years beautiful youths dressed in silken robes (the material for which came not then from Lyons, but across trackless deserts from the far East of Asia) knelt before the bride, whose slaves they were henceforward to remain. Each held in his hands two very large plates, one filled with gold, the other with precious, or more properly, priceless, sense. The gold and the jewels were the spoils of p412Rome, but Placidia must have been more or less than woman if at that moment the thought of the possession of so many lustrous gems did not efface the remembrance of the woes of 'the daughter of her people.'
After the presentation of the wedding gifts came the singing wedding songs, in which the aesthetic Attalus, ex-Praetorian Prefect, ex-Emperor of Rome, but ever true to his Greek instinct for Art, led the chorus with that rich mellow voice which doubtless he possessed.
The day ended with loud demonstrations of joy on the part of both the populations whose union was typified by this event. And, in truth, small as was the result which actually followed from this marriage, we can hardly attribute to it too great an importance as symbolical of that amalgamation between the Roman and the Germanic races which was yet to be, though confused and bloody centuries were to elapse before it was finally achieved. Augustus or Tiberius would have as soon accepted a menial slave for a son-in‑law as the German hero Arminius. In the four centuries which have elapsed since those days, 'Gothia' has risen much in the scale of civilisation, and 'Romania' has learned that her very existence may depend on the clemency of these barbarians. And so it comes to pass that the sister of the Roman Augustus and the Thiudans of the Teutonic people are joined with mutual love and reverence in the honourable estate of holy matrimony; the word p413Barbarian loses half its potency as an epithet of reproach, and Modern History begins to show itself above the horizon.
The issue of this marriage was a son, named after his maternal grandfather Theodosius. It might well be thought that high fortunes were in store for this child, that he would one day mount the throne of the Caesars and restore to Rome, by the arms of his father's soldiers, all and more than all that she had lost by the power of one uncle and the weakness of another. But it was not to be. Ataulfus, though more than ever, since this infant's birth, disposed to be friendly towards the Empire, found his overtures for peace persistently declined on account of the predominant influence of Constantius. Nay more: without actual battle he appears to have been, by a kind of blockade of the Gallic coast, forced over the Pyrenees, n obliged to enter Spain where Vandals, Alans, and Sueves, having penetrated before him, left little to be plundered and much toil to be undergone by the latest comers. Soon after the Visigothic host had entered Spain the infant Theodosius died. His parents made great lamentation over him, and buried him in a silver coffer in a church outside their new capital, Barcelona.
The death of the child was speedily followed by that of the father. Ataulfus had among his servants a Goth named Dobbius (or Dubius),17 whose former p414master, the chief of some petty tribe, he had conquered and slain. Dobbius was loyal to the memory of his earlier servitude, and watched for an opportunity of revenge. It came one morning when the king, according to his usual custom, was like many a Teuton since, going the round of his stables and enjoying the sight of his horses feeding. Thomas, apparently, the treacherous groom came behind him and stabbed him in the back. Dying, for he was not killed on the spot, he was able to whisper his commands to his brother, 'If possible live in friendship with Rome, and restore Placidia to the Emperor.' And with those words surely a spasm of grief shook the frame of the dying warrior as he remembered all the years wasted on windy negotiations. Four years of these and only one of the actual possession of his fair young bride. The thought lent a fresh bitterness to death as the soul of Ataulfus went forth whither Alaric had preceded him.
p415 The successor of Ataulfus was Singeric,18 the brother of Sarus. Seeing the brother of the Erb-feind thus reaping the advantage of Dobbius's crime, we shall probably not be far from wrong in supposing that he was an accomplice before the fact. His acts are those of a man determined to pursue the blood-feud to the uttermost. He tore the sons of Ataulfus (children of an earlier marriage than that with Placidia) out of the very arms of Bishop Sigesarus and put them to death. Placidia he durst not slay, but he dared to insult her. Mingled with a crowd of other captives she was forced to walk before his horse out of the gates of Barcelona, and this insulting procession19 was continued till it reached the twelfth milestone from the city. Strange reverse of fortune for the daughter, sister, and grand-daughter of Emperors, humbled thus before an insolent barbarian on the soil of her own ancestral Spain.
But the reaction, if such there was in the Visigothic camp in favour of the family of Sarus, was but for a moment. After a reign of only seven days Singeric was slain, and the brave Walia, a worthy successor, though not, as far as we know, a relative of Alaric and Ataulfus, was raised upon the shield in his stead.
p416 Almost the first act of King Walia was to restore Placidia to the Romans. His chamberlain Euplutius was charged to escort her to the foot of the Pyrenees, whither came Constantius with almost regal pomp to receive her. A firm treaty of peace between the two nations was at length concluded, and in return for the surrendered princess the Visigoths received 600,000 measures (nearly 19,000 quarters) of corn. This was possibly the amount of pay which had been stipulated for and wrangled over in the previous negotiations between Ataulfus and Honorius.
And in truth the state of Spain, wasted and trodden under foot by four barbarian tribes (Vandals, Alans, Sueves, and Visigoths), as well as by the remaining Roman soldiery, was such that any considerable quantity of corn might well seem a good exchange for a princess. The usual terrible story of cannibalism are told of this time. In one Spanish town, it is said, a woman who had four children ate them all. As the first and the second and the third disappeared she pleaded the necessity of affording some sustenance, however dreadful, to the remainder, but when the fourth was eaten this plea availed her no longer, and she was stoned to death by her horrified townsmen. One commercial transaction, long remembered and talked of beside many a barbarian camp-fire, marked this time of famine. Some Gothic soldiers bought from some Vandals a trula of wheat for an aureus.20 As the p417was only the third part of a pint, and the Aureus was worth about twelve shillings, the bargain did not redound greatly to the profit of the Visigoths, who received from the other nation the contemptuous nickname of Truli. Many a time, as we can well imagine, were the streets of Spanish towns made red with Teuton blood, and the yellow locks of slain barbarians lay thick across the pathway, after the taunting shout Truli, Truli, and some unknown word of answering defiance had greeted the ears of the trembling provincials.
The thought that Rome would be the gainer by all these dissensions among her invaders is expressed by the barbarians themselves with a plainness which seems most improbable (were we not reading the words of a contemporary) in the following passage of Orosius:—
'Vandals, Alans, and Sueves, all sent embassies to Honorius, at the same time as the Visigothic king Walia, and on the same errand. "Do thou live at peace with all of us," said they, "and accept the hostages of all. We fight with one another, perish with one another, conquer for thee: thy commonwealth wicked reap immortal gain if both parties among us perish." '
Orosius upon this remarks, 'Who would believe these things, unless the fact itself persuaded him of it. But so it is, that up to this very time we hear from numerous messengers that wars are being daily waged among the barbarous nations in Spain, and that the bloodshed on both sides is enormous: p418especially that Walia, the king of the Goths, is earnest in keeping the peace which he has made with us. Wherefore I would for my part concede that the age of Christianity should be abused as much as ever you please, if you can show me anything from the foundation of the world till the present time that has ever been managed with similar success.' And so, with a few complimentary words to St. Augustine, he ends his history 'of the passions and punishments of men during 5617 years, namely, from the creation of the world till the present day.' Here we part company with the worthy ecclesiastic, not entirely convinced that the then condition of the Roman Empire was the most fortunate thing that the world had ever seen, nor regretting that the truth of the Christian Revelation rests upon some other arguments besides those alleged in the Seven Books of the Histories of Orosius.
Here also our path diverges from that of the Visigothic nation. In order to trace the fortunes of Placidia, the type of the alliance between Rome and the barbarians, we have followed the Visigoths over the Alps and the Pyrenees. It is now time to return within the boundaries of Italy. But having accompanied their waggons so long, we may in parting from them give a brief glance at their future history. The successors of Alaric will establish a powerful and well-ordered kingdom on both sides of the Pyrenees, the capital of which will be the city of Toulouse, its northern frontier the River p419Loire, and its southern the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. They will take a leading part in repelling the invasion of the Huns. Towards the close of the fifth century the fairest of their possessions north of the Pyrenees will be wrested from them by the Franks under Clovis and his sons. In the sixth century they will consolidate their Spanish kingdom, they will renounce Arianism, and be numbered among the most steadfast supporters of the Catholic faith. The elective character of their monarchy, the predominance of the great nobles, and then of the great ecclesiastics, will continue during the seventh century special marks of their polity, in which the power wielded by the great Councils of Toledo will as but also remarkable feature. But during all this time the Gothic conquerors, while daily losing that rough and martial vigour which gave them the ascendancy over the Roman provincials, will not be admitting the latter into full rights of equal citizenship with themselves. And thus, when in 711 the wave of Saracen fanaticism shall break against throne of 'Roderic the last of the Goths,' the whole fabric of the state will fall like a house of cards, be one lost battle by the Guadalete will make the Moors masters of Spain for centuries. The new Christian state, which will emerge from the mountains of asturias and slowly win back town by seven thousand and province by province for the Cross, will be one in which Goth and Roman and Spaniard will be all welded together into one homogeneous mass by the fires of adversity, though p420a few Gothic names may survive, and even 'the blue blood' of the future Spanish hidalgo will faintly keep alive the memory of those fair-skinned warriors of the Danube, who in the fifth century descended, conquering, among the sunburnt populations of the South.
We return from the history of the Visigoths to that of their late Queen, Galla Placidia. Constantius, who was waiting to receive her at the foot of the Pyrenees, had received from Honorius the assurance that by whatsoever means, peaceable or warlike, he might succeed in liberating Placidia, he should receive her hand in marriage.
Some little time may, for the sake of appearances, have been conceded to the widow so recently a wife. But soon the courtship of the successful general, backed by the imperial mandate, commenced in good earnest. Placidia again and again rejected his overtures. The sullen, broad-headed, loose-limbed soldier, whose large eyes shot forth tyrant-glance son all around, could not understand the widow of the comely and courteous Ataulfus should prefer the remembrance of the dead, to union with the living, lover, and was full of wrath against her confidential servants, to whose hostility he attributed her coldness.
At length the fortress surrendered. The year 417 was distinguished by the eleventh consulship of Honorius and the second of Constantius. On the day when the new consuls entered office, the Emperor took his sister by the hand and delivered her p421over to his colleague as a bride. The wedding festival, celebrated probably at Ravenna, was of unusual magnificence. It may have been a point of honour with the Roman general to eclipse the splendour of the far-renowned marriage-feast at Narbonne in the house of Ingenuus. Two children were the issue of this marriage; first, a girl, mentioned after her imperial uncle, Honoria, and then (in the year 419), a boy, who, in remembrance of his great-grandfather, the sturdy soldier-emperor, received the name of Valentinian. For this son Placidia obtained from her brother the title Nobilissimus, a sort of recognition of his presumptive heirship to the Empire.
The same year, 417, which witnessed Placidia's second wedding-feast, witnessed also the final degradation of the unfortunate child of Genius, who so gracefully led the revels at her first — the ex-Emperor Attalus. It is said that this poor piece of jetsam and flotsam had once more mounted to the top of the waves, and had been again proclaimed Emperor in Gaul in the year 414. If so, he was soon after deposed, and 'as bearing the empty simulacrum of empire,' was carried by the Goths into Spain. There he wandered about, miserable and aimless as an ex-President of the United States, till he could endure it no longer, and took ship to sail anywhither away from his barbarian protectors. He was captured at sea by the ships of Honorius, brought to Constantius, and by him sent to Rome to await the Emperor's pleasure.21
p422 This capture of an old antagonist, and some success obtained in Spain by King Walia, fighting as the Emperor's lieutenant, against the Vandals and other barbarous tribes, suggested and seemed to justify the idea of a triumph at Rome. It was not much for which to stand in the triumphal car, and to ascend the •Clivus Capitolinus; but it was as much of a present as was likely to be found in the lifetime of Honorius.
The outward appearance of the city was doubtless much improved since the three sieges by Alaric. Shortly before this time the Prefect, Albinus, had reported to the emperor that the largesse of victuals to the people must be greatly increased, since the population was rapidly augmenting, and as many as 14,000 had passed in through the gates in one day.22 The largesse may explain part of the influx of population, and the narrative may show not so much the recovery of Rome as the more profound exhaustion of Italy. Still it seems probable that the city was not much changed in outward seeming from the days when real triumphs were exhibited within its walls, and that a crowd of p423curious and not discontented citizens 'climbed up' as of old 'to walls and battlements, to see' Honorius 'pass the streets of Rome,'
All that we hear concerning the pageant is that the Emperor, having ascended the tribunal, ordered Attalus to come to the lowest step of it; and, after his old rival had humbled himself in the dust before him, he (reminding that rival doubtless of his own similar menaces when Alaric stood before Ravenna) ordered the thumb and forefinger of his right hand to be cut off, and then despatched him to one of the Lipari islands, where, as one of the annalists epigrammatically expresses it, he was 'left to life.'23
Four comparatively uneventful years followed the marriage of Constantius and Placidia. Then, with the reluctant assign of Honorius, his brother-in‑law was associated with him on the Imperial throne, and his sister took the title of Augusta.
The tidings of this addition to the Imperial partnership were not welcomed at Constantinople, where the young Theodosius, or rather his sister Pulcheria, who administered the government in his name, refused to recognise the new Emperor or to receive his statutes, which, according to the etiquette of the period, were sent for erection in Constantinople.
Great was the wrath which this refusal kindled at Ravenna, and the long-smouldering jealousy between the two courts seemed likely to break forth p424into a flame of discord. And yet in a short time no one perceived more clearly than Constantius his unfitness for the position of dignified nothingness to which he had been raised, and no one more heartily regretted that elevation. The jovial, active soldier could no longer come and go as he pleased, no longer Vie with the comic actors in provoking the laughter of the banqueters: every step which he took in the purple buskins of royalty was prescribed by the tedious court ceremonial invaded by Diocletian, and perfected by the eunuchs of an earlier Constantius. His health began to give way, and, like many men of high animal spirits, he fell an easy prey the nervous depression. One night, six months after he had begun to reign, a figure appeared to him in a dream, and uttered the words, apparently innocent, but, to his ear, full of evil omen: 'Six are finished: the seventh is begun.' He was shortly afterwards attacked by pleurisy, and justified the dream and the interpretation thereof by dying before the end of his seventh month of royalty. Rarely has the world had so frank a confession of the unjoyousness of a kingly life as it received from this clumsy, roystering, and yet not altogether odious husband of Placidia.
Not long before his death a transaction was proposed, which reminds us of the Roman senate's dealings with the Etruscan soothsayers during Alaric's siege. A certain Libanius, a mighty magician, sprung from Asia, appeared in Ravenna, and promised, with the Emperor's leave, to perform p425great marvels against the barbarians, entirely by means of his art-magic, and without the aid of any soldiers. Constantius gave his consent to the meditated experiment, but Placidia, a fervent Christian always, and not too fondly attached to her second husband, sent him word that if he permitted that faithless enchanter to live she would apply for a divorce. Upon this Libanius was killed.
After her second widowhood Placidia was for a time the object of extravagant and foolish fondness on the part of her brother, whose uncouth kisses frequently bestowed upon her in public moved the laughter of the people. Then his fatuous mind wavered round from fondness to mistrust to aversion. He was jealous of her nurse, her waiting-woman, her grand chamberlain; the jealousy of the masters reflected itself in the squabbles of the domestics: the Gothic followers of Placidia, the veterans who had served under the standard of Constantius, often came to blows with the Imperial soldiers in the streets of Ravenna, and wounds were inflicted, if no lives were lost.
At length the quarrel became so embittered that Placidia, finding herself the weaker of the combatants, withdrew with her two children to the court of her nephew Theodosius II at Constantinople.
Soon after, on the 26th of August of the same year (423), Honorius died of dropsy — his feeble mind and body having no doubt been shaken by these domestic storms — and his poultry and his people p426passed under other masters. The child 'more august than Jove,' whose birth and whose destinies Claudian had depicted in such glowing colours, died at the age of thirty-nine, having been by his weakness the cause of greater changes than are often accomplished by the strength of mighty heroes.
On the death of Honorius some obscure palace intrigue raised Joannes, the chief of the Notaries, to the vacant throne. The office of the Primicerius Notariorum, though useful to the state, was not one which put the holder of it in the foremost rank of the official hierarchy. He could only claim to be addressed as Spectabilis, not as Illustris, and his chief duty seems to have been the editing of that very Notitia Imperii which has been so often quoted in these pages.
At first it is not easy to understand why a comparatively obscure member of the Civil Service should have been permitted to array himself with the still coveted imperial purple, until we ascertain that Castinus, who was then master of the soldiery, and who the following year shared the honours of the Consulship, supported the pretensions of Joannes to the diadem, intending doubtless to enjoy the substance of power himself while leaving its shadow and its dangers to his creature.
At the inauguration of Joannes an event occurred which shewed the influence still exerted over the minds of the people by the omen of the voice (φήμη). While the officers of the court were proclaiming p427the style and titles of 'Dominus Noster Joannes Pius Felix Augustus,' a cry, by whom uttered none could tell, was suddenly heard. 'He falls, he falls, he does not stand.' The multitude, as if desiring to break the spell, shouted with one accord, 'He stands, he stands, he does not fall;' but the ill-omened words were none the less remembered.
It was not to be expected that the family of the great Theodosius, having still the resources of the Eastern Empire at their disposal, woulded tamely acquiesce in the assumption of the Western diadem by a clerk in the Government Offices. The only question was whether Theodosius II would interfere for his cousin or for himself. He chose the former and the more generous course, confirmed Placidia in her title of Augusta, and Valentinian in that of Nobilissimus (titles which on account of the quarrel with Constantius had not previously been recognised at Constantinople), and equipped an army to escort them to the palace at Ravenna. He himself accompanied them as far as Thessalonica, but was prevented by sickness from further prosecution of the journey. However, he caused his young kinsman to be arrayed in the imperial robes, and conferred upon him the secondary title of Caesar.
Ardaburius, the general of horse and foot, and his son Aspar,24 whose names appear to betoken a p428barbarian origin, were entrusted with the chief conduct of the expedition. Candidianus also, he who, ten years before, had so zealously promoted the marriage of Ataulfus and Placidia, was now entrusted with a high command in her service.
Ardaburius, after some successes in Dalmatia, set sail for Aquileia, then perhaps the largest city in the north-east of Italy.25 An unfavourable wind carried him to a different part of the coast: he was separated from his followers, and taken in chains to Ravenna. Feigning treachery to the cause of his imperial mistress, he received from Joannes the gift of his life, and was kept in such slight durance that he was able to sow the seeds of real treachery among the generals and courtiers of the usurper.
Aspar, however, was deeply distressed and terrified for his father's life, and Placidia feared that her cause was hopeless; but the brilliant victories of Candidianus, who captured many towns in North Italy, revived their drooping spirits.
What follows is related by the contemporary ecclesiastical historian Socrates, and the compiler feels himself therefore in some sort bound to insert it for the reader to deal with as he thinks fit.
The capture of Ardaburius made the usurper more sanguine in his hope that the Theodosius would be induced, by the urgency of the case, to proclaim him Emperor, in order to preserve the life of this officer. . . . But at this crisis the prayer of the p429pious Emperor again prevailed. For an angel of God, under the appearance of a shield, undertook the guidance of Aspar and his troops, and led them through the lake near Ravenna. Now, no one had ever been known to ford that lake before: but God then rendered that passable which had hitherto been impassable. Having therefore crossed the lake, as if going over dry ground, they found the gates of the city open, and seized the tyrant.'
Philostorgius, who was in a stricter sense a contemporary historian, being a middle-aged man when these events occurred, attributes the defeat of Joannes to the treachery of his followers, who had been tampered with by Ardaburius; and he knows nothing of the angelic shield.
Joannes was thus deposed after a reign of about eighteen months. He was led a prisoner to Aquileia, where Placidia and his son were abiding. In the hippodrome of that city his right hand was cut off. He was then sent in derisive triumph round the town riding upon an ass, and, after many similar insults had been heaped upon him by the soldiery, the Notary-Emperor was put to death.
Placidia with the Caesar her son entered Ravenna, which was given up to sack by the soldiers of Aspar to punish the inhabitants for their sympathy with the usurpation of Joannes.
Ardaburius was of course liberated. Helion, the master of the offices, and patrician, escorted the little Valentinian, now seven years old, to Rome, p430and there, amidst an immense concourse of citizens, arrayed him with the purple of empire, and saluted him as Augustus.26
The tidings of all these prosperous events reached Constantinople while Theodosius and his people were watching the sports of the hippodrome. 'That most devout Emperor' called upon the people to come with him to the Basilica, and offer thanks to God for the overthrow of the tyrant. They marched through the streets singing loud hymns of praise, and the whole city became, as it were, one congregation at the Basilica, and ceased not from their religious exercises till daylight faded.
1 One reason, perhaps, might be that her kinswoman Laeta, widow of Gratian, was still residing in Rome.
2 Zosimus V.38. Thierry (Trois Ministres des fils de Théodose, p376) attributes the initiative to Placidia. 'Elle comparut devant le Sénat: elle accusa Serène de trahison,' &c. This is not a fair inference from the brief words of Zosimus: ἐδόκει κοινῇ τε γερουσίᾳ πᾶσῃ καὶ Πλακιδίᾳ τῇ ὁμοπατρίᾳ τοῦ βασιλέως ἀδελφῇ ταύτην ἀναιρεθῆναι ('The Senate, and Placidia the half-sister of the Emperor, jointly determined that she should be put to death'). The whole story of Eucherius's suit and Placidia's rejection of it, as told by Thierry (p326), seems, as I have before remarked, much too large a fabric for the few lines of Claudian (In Cons. Stilichonis, II.350‑361) upon which it is based. The following is the passage:
'Parte aliâ spumis fucantem serica frena
Sanguineis, primae signatus flore juventae,
Eucherius flectebat equum; jaculisque vel arcu
Aurea purpureos tollentes cornua cervos,
Aureus ipse, ferit. Venus hîc, invecta columbis,
Tertia regali jungit connubia nexu;
Pennatique nurum circumstipantur honores
Progenitam Augustis, Augustorumque sororem.
Eucherius trepido jam flammea sublevat ore
Virginis: arridet laeto Thermantia fratri.
Nam domus haec utroque petit diademata sexu;
Reginasque parit, reginarum maritos.'
3 The name Ata-ulfus is a word of four syllables, possibly derived from Atta-Wulfs, Father-Wolf, and so equivalent to Wolfson. It survives in the modern Adolf.
4 The reader is requested to observe that the British usurper of the sovereignty of the Gauls is Constantine; this new minister of Honorius is Constantius. The habit of giving the names of the still popular Constantian dynasty greatly perplexes the annals of this period. We meet with two or three persons of the name of Constans, and one Julian, about this time, in addition to this Constantine and Constantius.
5 Olympius first lost his ears, and then was beaten to death with clubs, by order of Constantius (Olympiodorus, p257). The particulars of the fall of Jovius are not recorded.
6 Jornandes, cap. XXXI.
7 By Olympiodorus (apud Photium, p265, ed. Migne).
8 Or king. Τύραννος is of course susceptible of either meaning.
9 Readers of 'Hypatia' wil remember the use which Kingsley has made of this abortive stroke for empire on the part of Heraclian.
10 Orosius remarks that the fall of all the five usurpers by whom Honorius was attacked was a manifest proof of Divine favour, and a reward for his zeal in persecuting the heretics who disturbed the unity of the African Church (VII.42). These five tyrants were:—
(1) Constantine, proclaimed Emperor in Britain in 407; conquered Gaul in that year, Spain in 408 (death of Didymius and Verenianus); defeated by Gerontius in 411; taken prisoner by Constantius at Arles, and slain in the neighbourhood of Ravenna in the same year.
(2) Maximus, proclaimed Emperor in Spain by his father Gerontius (rebelling against Constantine) in 409. In the year 411 Gerontius took to flight on hearing of the approach of the victorious Constantius. His soldiers, who hated him as too strict a disciplinarian, conspired against him and set fire to his house. With the help of a faithful Alan slave he bravely defended himself for a long time; then, at the earnest request of his wife and of this slave, he first put them to death, and then fell on his own sword (411). Maximus, hearing the news, escaped to the barbarian auxiliaries in Spain. In the year 417, when Orosius wrote, he was still wandering about in Spain a needy exile. He is said, but on the rather doubtful authority of Marcellinus, to have been brought to Ravenna and executed in the year 422.
(3) Attalus, proclaimed at Rome by Alaric in 409. Dethroned the same year; restored (possibly) in 414; surrendered to Honorius in 46; punished by the loss of a hand, but not slain.
(4) Jovinus a general of troops on the Rhine, proclaimed at Mentz in 412 by Goar, a chief of the Alani, and Guntiar, a chief of the Burgundians. He associated his brother Sebastian with him. Ataulfus slew Sebastian and sent Jovinus a prisoner to Ravenna in 413.
(5) Heraclianus, Count of Africa, proclaimed Emperor, ivd Italy, was defeated, fled to Carthage, and was put to death, all in the same year, 413.
11 Strictly speaking, the father of an usurper, as Gerontius had his son proclaimed instead of himself.
12 The Goths would probably call him Arbi-fijands.
13 Olympiodorus says 'Carthage'; but this must be a mistake, and the mention of Eugenius and Maximus makes Milan the most probable correction.
14 Candidianus is mentioned again by Olympiodorus as assisting in the restoration of Placidia and her son in 425. He also presided at the Council of Ephesus (431), where his influence was exerted on the side of Nestorius. He was then 'Comes Domesticorum. The 'Pons Candidiani' at Ravenna, mentioned by Jornandes (De Rebus Geticis, cap. XXIX) as the limit of Alaric's advance in that quarter, was probably named after him.
15 Or it may be the 'atrium, or long porch in front of the house. The Greek word παστάς seems susceptible of either interpretation.
17 According to Jornandes, the assassin was a certain Wernulf, at whose small stature his master had frequently mocked. But Olympiodorus, whose account I have followed, is much more likely to be right than Jornandes. The modern historians, including even the careful Aschbach, make the assassin a former servant of Sarus. I venture to think that they are mistaken. Olympiodorus, who knows the history of Sarus well and has described his death, simply says Πάλαι γὰρ ἦν ὁ τούτου δεσπότης μοίρας Γοτθικῆς ὑπὸ Αδαούλφου ἀνῃρημένος, 'For the master of this man was, of old, king of a Gothic troop, and had been slain by Adaulphus.' Had it been Sarus, he would surely have mentioned the name. Tillemont evidently thinks so, for he describes the event thus: 'Il fut tué dans son écurie par un de ses domestiques nommé Dobbie, de sa propre nation et qu'il avoit pris depuis longtemps à son service. Mais c'estoit après avoir tué son maistre qui estoit Roy d'une partie des Goths: et il n'avoit jamais pu lui faire oublier ce premier maistre.' (V.629.)
18 Otherwise Segeric (Orosius) or Regeric (Jornandes).
19 The word used by Olympiodorus for this procession, προπομπὴ is sometimes used of a funeral procession. Is it possible that Singeric, with a refinement of cruelty, inflicted this insult on Placidia while she was actually following the dead body of her husband to the grave?
20 No doubt the solidus aureus is intended.
21 This is Orosius's account. According to other authors the Visigoths themselves surrendered him along with Placidia.
22 Μετὰ τὴν ὑπὸ Γότθων ἅλωσιν τῆς Ῥώμης Ἀλβίνος ὁ τῆς Ῥώμης ἔπαρχος, ἤδη ταύτης πάλιν ἀποκαθισταμένης, ἔγραψε μὴ ἐξαρχεῖν τὸ χορηγούμενον μέρος τῷ δήμῳ εἰς πλῆθος ἤδη τῆς πόλεως ἐπιδιδούσης· ἔγραψε γὰρ καὶ ἐν μιᾷ ἡμερᾳ τετέχθαι ἀριθμὸν χιλιάδων δεκατεσσάρων. As it is utterly out of the question to suppose that there can have been 14,000 births in one day in Rome, scholars seem to be agreed in substituting τετάχθαι for τετέχθαι, and understanding it of the number of strangers who streamed into the city and were marshalled perhaps for the Prefect's inspection. But the passage is not clear, and should be quoted under some reserve.
23 'Truncatâ manu vitae relictus est.' Marcellinus, s. a. 412 (five years too early).
24 This Aspar is the same who in 457 raised Leo I to the Eastern throne, and was afterwards assassinated by him. His son, as well as his father, was named Ardaburius.
25 I do not know that we have any materials for deciding on the relative magnitude of Aquileia and Ravenna.
26 With the proclamation of Valentinian III we lose the guidance of Olympiodorus.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 4 Mar 12