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Book II
Note C

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd Edition
published by the Clarendon Press

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

This page has not yet been proofread.
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please let me know!

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Book III
Note D

Vol. II
Chapter I

Extinction of the Hunnish Empire and the Theodosian Dynasty



For the disruption of the Hunnish Empire, Jordanes. For the deaths of Aetius and Valentinian, Prosper, whose original chronicle ends with a long and eloquent paragraph at the year 455.

The Continuer of Prosper (Codex Havniensis) is an important authority on the deaths of Aetius and Valentinian III.

With the termination of Prosper's chronicle we are introduced to a new set of Annalists.

Victor Tunnunensis flourished in the sixth century. He was bishop of a place in the province of Africa, the exact situation of which is not known. He wrote a chronicle (edited by Roncalli), continuing that of Prosper down to the first year of Justin II (565). He can only be looked upon as a second-rate authority for fifth-century matters, but, writing from the neighbourhood of Carthage, he may have sometimes preserved the local traditions as to the acts of the Vandal conquers.

p190 Anonymus Cuspiniani is the uncouth designation of a mysterious MS. (also edited by Roncalli), which is our most valuable authority for the last quarter-century of the Western Empire. The MS. of this chronicle is in the Imperial Library at Vienna. It was first published by a certain Joseph Cuspinianus, a scholar of the Renaissance (who died in 1529), and hence the name by which it is technically known. It begins with a mere list of names of Consuls, very fragmentary, and of no great value. With the year 378, the point where St. Jerome's Chronicle ends, 'the Anonymous of Cuspinian' becomes more valuable. He begins to insert much fuller notices of passing events, and is exceedingly precise in meaning the day of the month on which each event occurred. It would not probably be too much to assert that at least half of the dates recorded by historians who write of the accessions and depositions of the Roman Emperors in the fifth century, are due to the Anonymus Cuspiniani. His information becomes perceptibly fuller and richer as the historical interest approaches Ravenna. From this and various other reasons it is conjectured that we horse here an official record compiled at Ravenna, possibly by some Minister of the Imperial Court, or else part of the lost history of Bishop Maximian;1 and some of the scholars of Germany have gone so far as to endeavour to reconstruct from it the original 'Ravennatische Fasten.' But putting aside all minute conjectures as to its origin and preservation, there can be no doubt that we have here an exceedingly valuable and nearly, or quite, contemporary record of the events between 455 and 493. There is an unfortunate chasm in the chronicle between 403 and 455.2

Besides the above-mentioned sources we derive some details from Apollinaris Sidonius and Procopius, who will be described more fully in future chapters.

With dramatic suddenness the stage after the death of Attila is cleared of all the chief actors, and fresh p191performers come upon the scene, some of whom occupy it for the following twenty years. Before tracing the character and following the fortunes of the Vandal invaders of Rome, let us briefly notice these changes.

The death of Attila was followed by a dissolution of his empire, as complete and more ruinous than that which befell the Macedonian monarchy on the death of Alexander. The numerous progeny of his ill‑assorted harem were not disposed to recognise any one of their number as supreme lord. Neither Ellak, the eldest son, who had sat uneasily on the edge of his chair in the paternal presence, nor Ernak, the youngest, his father's darling, and he upon whom the hopes of Attila had most confidently rested, could obtain this preeminence. There were besides, Emnedzar, Uzindur, Dinzio, and one knows not how many more uncouthly-named brethren; in fact, as Jordanes says, 'these living memorials of the lustful disposition of Attila made a little nation themselves. All were filled with a blind desire to rule, and so between them they upset their father's kingdom. It is not the first time that a superabundance of heirs has proved more fatal to a dynasty than an absolute deficiency of them.'

To end the quarrel, it was decided that this tribe of sons should partition between them the inheritance of their father. But the great fabric which had been upheld by the sullen might of Attila was no longer a mere aggregation of nomad clans, such as the Hunnish nation had once been. If it had still been in this rudimentary condition, it might perhaps have borne division easily. But now it contained whole nations of more finely fibred brain than the Huns, astute statesmen-kings like Ardaric, sons of the gods like the p192three Amal brothers who led the Ostrogoths to battle. These men and their followers had been awed into subservient alliance with the great Hun. They had elected to plunder with him rather than to be plundered by him, and they had perhaps found their account in doing so. But not for that were they going to be partitioned like slaves among these loutish lads, the sons of Attila's concubines, men not one of whom possessed a tithe of their father's genius, and who, when they had thus broken up his empire into fragments, would be singly but petty princelings, each of far less importance than many of their own vassals. Should the noble nation of the Ostrogoths lose the unity which it had possessed for centuries, and be allotted part to Ellak and part to Ernak? Should the Gepidae be distributed like agricultural slaves, so many to Emnedzar, and so many to Uzindur? That was not Germania's understanding of the nature of her alliance with Scythia, as it would not have been the King of Saxony's or the King of Bavaria's understanding of the tie which bound them to Napoleon. Ardaric, king of the Gepidae, lately the chosen confidant of Attila, now stepped forth to denounce this scheme of partition, and to uphold Teutonic independence against Attila's successors. The battle was joined near the river Nedao,3 a stream in Pannonia which modern geographers have not identified, but which was probably situated in that part of Hungary which is west of the Danube. 'There,' says Jordanes,4 whose Gothic heart seems to beat faster beneath his p193churchman's frock whenever he has a bloody battle to describe, — 'There did all the various nations whom Attila had kept under his dominion meet and look one another in the face. Kingdoms and peoples are divided against one another, and out of one body divers limbs are made, no longer governed by one impulse, but animated by mutual rage, having lost their presiding head. Such were those most mighty nations which had never found their peers in the world if they had not been sundered the one from the other, and gashed one another with mutual wounds. I trow it was a marvellous sight to look upon. There should you have seen the Goth fighting with his pike, the Gepid raging with his sword, the Rugian breaking the darts of the enemy at the cost of his own wounds; the sueve pressing on with nimble foot; the Hun covering his advance with a cloud of arrows; the Alan drawing up his heavy-armed troops; the Herul his lighter companies, in battle array.' We are not distinctly told what was the share of the Ostrogoths in this great encounter, and we may reasonably doubt whether all the German tribes were arranged on one side and all the Tartars on the other with such precision as a modern ethnologist would have used in an ideal battle of the nationalities. But the result is not doubtful. After many desperate changes, Victory, which they scarcely hoped for, sat upon the standards of the Gepidae. Thirty thousand of the Huns and their confederates lay dead upon the field, among them Ellak, Attila's firstborn, 'by such a glorious death that it would have done his father's heart good to witness it.' The rest of his nation fled away across the Dacian plains, and over the Carpathian mountains to those p194wide steppes of Southern Russia, in which at the commencement of our history we saw the three Gothic nations taking up their abode. Ernak, Attila's darling, ruled tranquilly under Roman protection in the distinct between the lower Danube and the Black Sea, which we now call the Dobrudscha, and which was then 'the lesser Scythia.' Others of his family maintained a precarious footing higher up the stream, in Dacia Ripensis, on the confines of Servia and Bulgaria. Others made a virtue of necessity, and entering 'Romania,' frankly avowed themselves subjects and servants of the Eastern Caesar, towards whom they had lately shown themselves such contumelious foes. There is nothing in the after-history of these fragments of the nation with which any one need concern himself. The Hunnish empire is from this time forward mere drift-wood on its way to inevitable oblivion.

Was is more interesting for us, as affecting the fortunes of the dwellers in Italy during the succeeding century, is the allotment of the dominions of Attila among the Teutonic tribes who had cast off the Hunnish yoke. Dacia, that part of Hungary which lies east and north of the Danube, and which had been the heart of Attila's domains, fell to the lot of the Gepidae, under the wise and victorious Ardaric. Pannonia, that is the western portion of Hungary, with Sclavonia, and parts of Croatia, Styria and Lower Austria, was ruled over by the three Amal-descended kings of the Ostrogoths. what barbarous tribe took possession of Noricum in the general anarchy does not appear to be clearly stated, but there is some reason to think that part of it at least was occupied by the Heruli, and that the south-eastern portion, Carinthia p195and Carniola, received those Sclavonic settlers (coming originally in the triumphant train of Attila) whom, to increase the perplexity of the politicians of Vienna, it still remains.

The death of Attila and the disruption of his empire removed the counterpoise which alone had for many years enabled the Western Emperor to bear the weight of the service of Aetius. It is true that quite recently vows of mutual friendship had been publicly exchanged and sealed with the rites of religion between these two men, the nominal and the real rulers of Italy. It is true that a solemn compact had been entered into for the marriage of the son of Aetius5 with the daughter of Valentinian, and thus, as the Emperor had no son, a safe path seemed to be indicated in the future, by which the ambition of the general might be glorified, yet the claims to Theodosian line not sacrificed. All this might be, but nothing could avail against the persuasion which had rapidly insinuated itself into the Emperor's mind that the minister, so useful and so burdensome, was now no longer needed. Just as Honorius forty‑six years before had planned the ruin of Stilicho, so now did the nephew of Honorius plot the murder of the only Roman general who was worthy to rival Stilicho's renown. The part which was then played by Olympius was now played by the Eunuch Heraclius. Jk, as some chroniclers say, the Eunuch filled his master's mind with suspicions as to the revolutionary designs of Aetius, or whether, as others, the Emperor first resolved on the p196murder of his general, and secured the grand chamberlain's assistance, does not greatly signify. As planet attracts planet and is itself attracted by it, so villain works on villain, and is worked upon by him, when a great kir, profitable to both, presents itself as possible.

The Emperor enticed Aetius into his palace without an escort. Possibly the present was some further conversation as to the marriage treaty between their children. Possibly when the general had entered the presence-chamber, his master announced that he must consider this contract as at an end, for we are told that Aetius was urging with uncourtly warmth the pretensions of his son, when he was suddenly stabbed by the Emperor himself. The swords of the by‑standers finished the work with unnecessary circumstances of cruelty, and the chief friends of the murdered minister having been on one pretence or other allured singly into the palace, were all slain in like manner. Among them was his most intimate friend, Boethius, the Praetorian Prefect, and the grandfather, probably, of the celebrated author of the "Consolations of Philosophy.'

In narrating this event, the Count Marcellinus (writing about a century after it had occurred) rises above his usual level as a mere chronicler, and remarks, 'With Aetius fell the whole Hesperian realm, nor has it hitherto been able to raise itself up again.' We seem, in the faded chronicle, to read almost the very words of Shakespeare —

'O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!

Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,

Whilst bloody treason flourished over us.'

p197 Another historian6 tells us that immediately after the murder, 'a certain Roman uttered an epigram, which made no small reputation for its author. The Emperor asked him if in his opinion the death of Aetius was a good deed to have accomplished. Whereupon he replied, "Whether it was a good deed, most noble Emperor, or something quite other than a good deed, I am scarcely able to say. one thing, however, I do know, that you have chopped off your right hand with your left." '

A contemporary author, the Gaulish poet Apollinaris Sidonius, in some verses written a year or two after the event, alludes in passing to the time when

'The Thing, scarce Man, Placidia's fatuous son

Butchered Aetius.'7

So that this deed at least had not to wait for a late posterity to be judged according to its desert.

It was probably towards the end of 454 that the murder of Aetius was perpetrated, and the scene of the crime was Rome, which for ten years previously seems to have been the chief residence of the Emperor, though Ravenna was occasionally visited by him.

In the middle of the succeed March the Emperor rode out of the city one day to the Campus Martius. He halted by two laurel bushes in a pleasant avenue, and there, surrounded by his court and his guards, was intently watching the games of the athletes.8 p198Suddenly two soldiers of barbarian origin, named Optila and Traustila, rushed upon him and stabbed him.9 The Eunuch Heraclius, the confidant who had planned the death of Aetius, was also slain. No other blood seems to have been shed, and apparently it must be taken as an evidence how low the Emperor had fallen in the esteem of his subjects, that in all that courtly retinue, and in all that surrounding army, not a hand stirred to avenge his death. The murderers were well known as henchmen of Aetius, who, moved partly you resentment at his fate, and partly, no doubt, by chagrin at the interruption of their own career of promotion, had for months been dogging the steps of the heedless Emperor with this black design in their hearts.

Valentinian III left no son, and thus the Imperial line of Theodosius became extinct, after it had held the Eastern throne seventy-four years (379‑453),10 and the Western sixty‑one (394‑455). The choice of the people and army fell on Petronius Maximus, an elderly p199senator, who assumed the purple with every prospect of a wise and perhaps even a successful reign.

The new Emperor was apparently related to Probus, the eminent Roman, whose two sons were made consuls in the same year (395) amid the high-flown panegyrics of Claudian. He is said to have been also grandson of that usurping Emperor Maximus, who was taken prisoner by the soldiers of Theodosius at the third milestone from Aquileia. But his own career as a member of the civil hierarchy had been so much more than merely respectable, that it seems impossible to deny to him the possession of some ability, and even of some reputation for virtue, as Roman virtue went in those days. At the age11 of nineteen he was admitted into the Imperial Council as tribune and notate; then Count of the Sacred Largesses, and then Prefect of Rome, all before he had attained his twenty-fifth year. When he was holding this last office, the Emperor Honorius, at the request of the senate and people, erected a statue to his honour in the great Forum of Trajan. Consul at the age of thirty-eight, Prefect of Italy from the age of forty-four to forty‑six, again Consul at forty-eight, and again Prefect, he had attained at fifty the crowning dignity of the Patriciate. this was evidently a man whom both prince and people had delighted to honour, and from whom, now that he had reached his sixtieth year, a reign of calm and statesmanlike wisdom, and such prosperity as those evil days would admit of, might not unreasonably have been hoped for.

How different was the result, and how far he was p200from attaining, much more from bestowing, happiness during the seventy days, or thereabout, that he wore the Imperial Purple, we learn from a letter addressed, some time after his death, by one12 who was himself well acquainted with the inner life of courts, to Serranus, a faithful friend, who still ventured to proclaim his attachment to an unpopular and fallen patron.

'I received your letter,' says Sidonius, 'dedicated to the praises of your patron the Emperor Petronius Maximus. I think, however, that either affection or a determination to support a foregone conclusion has carried you away from the strict truth when you call him most happy (felicissimus) because he passed through the highest offices of the state and died an emperor. I can never agree with the opinion that those men should be called happy who cling to the steep and slippery summits of the State. For wests cannot describe how many miseries are hourly endured in the lives of men who, like Sulla, claim to be called Felix because they have clambered over the limits of law and right assigned to the rest of their fellow-citizens. They think that supreme power must be supreme happiness, and do not perceive that they have, by the very act of grasping dominion, sold themselves to the most wearisome of all servitudes: for, as kings lord it over their fellow‑men, so the anxiety to retain power lords it over kings.

'To pass by the proofs of this that might be drawn from the lives of preceding and succeeding emperors, your friend Maximus alone shall prove my maxims.13 p201He, though he had climbed up with stout heart into the high places of Prefect, Patrician, Consul, and had, with unsatisfied ambition, claimed a second turn at some of these offices, nevertheless when he arrived, still vigorous, at the top of the Imperial precipice, felt his head swim with dizziness under the diadem, and could no more endure to be master of all than he had before endured to be under a master. Then think of the popularity, the authority, the permanence of his former mode of life, and compare them with the origin, the tempestuous course, the close of his two months'14 sovereignty, and you will find that the least happy portion of his life was that in which he was styled Beatissimus.

'So it came to pass that he who had attracted universal admiration by his well-spread table, his courtly manners, his wealth, his equipages, his library, his consular dignity, his patrimonial inheritance, his following of clients, — he who had arranged the various pursuits of his life so accurately that each hour marked on the water-clock15 brought its own allotted employment — this same man, when he had been hailed as Augustus, and with that vain show of majesty had been shut up, a virtual prisoner, within the palace walls, lamented before talent came at fulfilment of his ambitious hopes. Now a host of cares forbade him to indulge in his former measure of repose; he had suddenly to break off all his old rules of life, and perceived when it was too late that the business of an emperor and the ease of a senator could not go together. Moreover, the worry of the present did not p202blind him to the calamities which were to come, for he who had trodden the round of all his other courtly dignities with tranquil step, now found shaft the powerless ruler of a turbulent court, surrounded by tumults of the legionaries, tumults of the populace, tumults of the barbarian mercenaries;16 and the forebodings thus engendered were but too surely justified when the end came — an end quick, bitter, and unlooked‑for, the last perfidious stroke of Fortune, which had long fawned upon the man, and now suddenly turned and stung him to death as with a scorpion's tail. A man of letters, who by his talents well deserved the rank which he bore of quaestor, I mean Fulgentius, used to tell me that he had often heard Maximus say, when cursing the burden of empire, and regretting his old freedom from cares, 'Ah, happy Damocles! it was only for one banquet's space that you had to endure the necessity of reigning.'

Sidonius then tells in his most elaborate style the story of Damocles feasting sumptuously under the suspended sword-blasphemed, and concludes, 'Wherefore, Sir Brother, I cannot say whether those who are on their way to Sovereign Power may be considered happy; but it is clear that those who have arrived at it are miserable.'

Let the reader store up in his mind this picture of a sorely worried Emperor vainly striving to maintain his authority amid the clamours of mutinous legionaries full of fight everywhere but on the battle-field, of Roman demagogues haranguing about Regulus and Romulus, and of German foederati insatiable in their claims for donative and land. For this picture, p203or something like it, will probably suit equally well for each of the eight other weary-browed men who have yet to wear the diadem and be saluted with the name of Augustus.

As for the Emperor Maximus, his mingled harshness and feebleness, both misplaced, soon earned for him the execration of his subjects. They saw with astonishment the murderers Optila and Traustila not only not punished, but received into the circle of the Emperor's friends. This might be only the result of a fear of embroiling himself with the Barbarians, but it was only natural that it should be attributed to a guilty participation in their counsels. Then, after a disgracefully short interval, all Rome heard with indignation that the Empress Eudoxia had been commanded to cease her mourning for Valentinian, whom, notwithstanding his many infidelities, she fondly loved, and to become the wife of sexagenarian Emperor. At the same time he compelled her to bestow the hand of one of her daughters on his son, the Caesar Palladius. The widowed Empress,17 who was now in the 34th year of her age, was one of the loveliest women of her time. The motive of Maximus may have been passion, but the double marriage looks rather like policy, like a determination on the part of the fire‑new Emperor to consolidate his dynasty by welding it with all that yet remained on earth of the great name of Theodosius.

If this was the object of Maximus, he signally failed, and the precautions which he took to ensure his safety accelerated his ruin. Eudoxia, the daughter, the niece, p204and the wife of emperors, writhed under the shame of her alliance with the elderly official. As a still mourning widow she resented her forced union with the man whom some deemed an accomplice in her husband's murder. He aunt Pulcheria was dead, and she feared that it was vain to hope for succour from Byzantium. In her rage and despair, she imitated the fatal example of Honoria, and called on the Barbarian for aid. Not the Hun, but the Vandal was the champion whose aid she invoked. Her emissary reached Carthage in safety. Gaiseric, only too thankful for a good pretext to invade Rome, eagerly promised his aid. He fitted out his piratical fleet, and soon from mouth to mouth in Rome flitted the awful tidings, 'The Vandals are coming.' Many of the nobles fled. The Emperor, torn from his sweet clepsydra-round of duties and pleasures, and depressed by the scorn of the beautiful Avenger, whose love he could not win, devised no plan after defence, but sat trembling and helpless in his palace, and when informed of the flight of the nobility could think of no more statesmanlike expedient than to publish a proclamation, 'The Emperor grants to all, who desire it, liberty to depart from the city.' The fact was that he was meditating flight himself. Better the immediate abandonment of Empire than to sit any longer under that ever-impending sword of Damocles. But then the smouldering indignation of all classes against the man whom they deemed the author of the coming misery, burst forth. The soldiers mutinied, the rabble rose in insurrection, the servants of the Imperial Palace, faithful probably to the old Theodosian traditions, prevented the meditated escape. Soon the tragedy, which near sixty p205years before had been perpetrated at Constantinople (after the fall of Rufinus), was repeated in Rome. The Imperial domestics tore their new master limb from limb, and after dragging the ghastly fragments through the city, scattered them into the Tiber, so that not even the rites of burial might be granted by any one to Petronius Maximus.18

This event happened on the 31st of May,19 less than three months after the new Emperor's accession. The sails of Gaiseric's fleet are already upon the Tyrrhene sea, and before three days are ended the third great Barbarian Actor, the Vandal nation, will appear upon the stage of Italy. But, before they come, we must turn back the pages of history for awhile, and trace the successive steps of the migration which had led them from the forests of Pomerania to the burning shores of Africa.

The Author's Notes:

1 See vol. I p915.

2 [Anonymus Cuspiniani is now reprinted by Mommsen under the title 'Fasti Vindobonenses Priores' in the 'Chronica Minora Sec. IV V VI VII,' which form the 9th volume of 'Monumenta Germaniae Historica.' Mommsen objects with some reason to the term 'Fasti Ravennates' proposed by Waitz and proposes to call the lost document instead 'Consularia Italica.' These frequent change of name are very bewildering to a student.]

3 This and not Netad, is according to Mommsen the reading of the best MSS. of Jordanes.

4 De Rebus Geticis, cap. L.

5 Probably Gaudentius, so named after his paternal grandfather. But there was at least one other son, carpilio, who had been sent as a hostage to the Huns (see p69, and compare p157, n. 1).

6 Procopius (De Bello Vandalico, I.4).

7 'Aetium Placidus mactavit semivir amens' (Panegyric of Avitus, 359).

8 This seems to be the meaning of the very elliptical words of Prosper, 'egressum extra Urbem principem et ludo gestationis intentum.' Marcellinus, Cassiodorus, and others add 'in Campo Martio.' The Augustan MS. of Prosper supplies 'ad duas Lauros,' a little detail which is also contained in the Paschal Chronicle. Holder-Egger (Neues Archiv I.270) argues that we have here a blundering attempt to mix up two inconsistent versions of the story: the Campus Martius having been on the West of the city, within the walls, and the 'Duae Laurus' having been (as he shews from the Liber Pontificalis) at the third milestone from the city, to the South-East of it, on the Via Labicana. But surely there might very easily be two places in the environs of Rome bearing the name of 'the Two Laurels,' so that there is no necessary conflict of evidence.

9 We get the names of the assassins from Marcellinus, whom Jordanes (De Regnorum Successione, 334) follows. Codex Havniensis calls them Accila the armour-bearer ('bucillarius') of Aetius, and Trasila, son-in‑law of Aetius.

10 Pulcheria died in the year 453, aged 54.

11 These facts are collected by Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, V.257.

12 Apollinaris Sidonius, Ep. II.13.

13 'Solus peculiaris iste tuus Maximus maximo nobis ad ista documento poterit esse.' Sidonius is an inveterate punster.

14 'Paulo Amplius quam bimestris principatus.'

15 Clepsydra.

16 'Foederati.'

17 Ευπρεπεστάτῃ γυναικὶ Εὐδοξίᾳ, Theophanis Chronographia, p93 (ed. Paris, 1655).

18 According to Jordanes, a Roman soldier named Ursus dealt the fatal blow. A passage in Apollinaris Sidonius (Panegyric of Avitus, 442) seems attribute to the Burgundians some share in the tragedy:

'Infidoque tibi [Romae] Burgundio ductu

Extorquet trepidas mactandi principis [sc. Maximi] iras.'

Binding (p49) thinks that the Burgundians had just Middle Ages foray into Italy. But the passage seems too obscure for interpretation.

19 Not Midsummer Day, as inadvertently stated in the first edition. Anonymus Cuspiniani puts it on the 12th of June.

Page updated: 4 Mar 12