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Book III
Ch. 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin

2nd Edition
published by the Clarendon Press
Oxford
1892

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

This page has not yet been proofread.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book III
Note G

Vol. II
p475
Chapter VII

Olybrius, the client of the Vandal, A.D. 472. Glycerius, the client of the Burgundian, A.D. 473‑474. Julius Nepos, the client of Byzantium, A.D. 474‑475. Romulus Augustulus, son of Orestes, A.D. 475‑476.

Authorities

Sources:—

Cassiodorus, Theophanes, and Joannes Antiochenus have been described in previous chapters. Marcellinus and the Anonymus Cuspiniani give the versions of the facts current at Constantinople and Ravenna respectively.

A new and most valuable source is opened out to us by the writer called the Anonymus Valesii. The two fragments which pass under this name were published by Henricus Valesius (Henri de Valois, 1603‑1676) in his edition of Ammianus Marcellinus, and they have since been generally appended to the history of that author, with which however they have no natural connection. The first fragment deals with the history of Constantine the Great; the second and much longer fragment describes, in a very peculiar style, the affairs of Italy from the accession of Nepos in 474 to the death of Theodoric in 526. It is tolerably certain that the two fragments which are thus classed together are by two different authors. With the question of the authorship of the first we need not here concern ourselves. Waitz1 has argued with much probability that we have in the p476second an actual portion of the Chronicles of Maximian, Bishop of Ravenna, from 546 to 556 (see vol. I p913‑914). In favour of this conjecture is the fact of the author's evident close connection with Ravenna and his knowledge of Eastern affairs, since we know from the story of his elevation that he was for some time a resident at Constantinople. Holder-Egger (Neues Archiv, I.324) argues, on the other hand, that the poor style and frequent barbarisms of the Anonymus Valesii do not correspond with what Agnellus tells us2 of the learning of Bishop Maximian, and his care to secure accurate copies of the Scriptures and other ecclesiastical books. There is no doubt some force in this argument, but on the whole Waitz's theory seems to me a very probable guess: higher value than this with cannot assign to it. One feature in the Anonymus Valesii, which it is not easy fully to account for by any theory, is his strong bias in favour of the Eastern Emperor Zeno.

Guides:—

Besides Pallmann, Binding in his Geschichte des burgundisch-romanischen Königreichs (Leipzig, 1868) gives some useful comments on this portion of history.

The new Emperor, Anicius Olybrius, might possibly have procured some breathing-space for the exhausted commonwealth, if he had worn the purple for any considerable length of time.

Of the great Anician family, and probably descended from one of those brother consuls, Olybrius and Probinus, whose accession to office in the year 395 Claudian celebrated with such courtly enthusiasm; the husband of the great grand-daughter of Theodosius, and the representative, as far as there could be a representative, of the claims of that Imperial house; on good terms with the Eastern Augustus, perhaps openly supported by him; above all, the brother-in‑law of the heir-apparent to the Vandal crown, the long proposed and p477at last successful candidate of Gaiseric; Olybrius, as to whose personal qualities the page of history is a blank, possessed in these external circumstances exceptional advantages for a Roman Emperor in the year 472. But whether the care of ruling a troubled court, which had made Petronius Maximus sigh for the happier lot of Damocles, or the air of Rome, so often fatal to alien rulers, overpowered him, we know not. So it was that on the 23rd October 472, little more than three months after the death of his rival, Olybrius died at Rome of dropsy.3 Had Ricimer been still living, this death would of course have figured in his catalogue of crimes, but the rough-handed Sueve had gone before Olybrius, as has been already stated, on the 18tho August.

During his short reign Olybrius conferred the dignity of Patrician on the young Burgundian prince Gundobad, whose mother was sister to Ricimer, and who apparently had come to Italy to push his fortunes by the help of his all‑powerful uncle.4 It is conjectured with much probability that the barbarian element in the Roman army, which knew something of its strength, and was suspicious of any but a barbarian leader, transferred its fealty, or its attachment, or its obedience (it is difficult to find a word to express the nature of the tie which bound these troops to their leader) from Ricimer to his nephew, and that this transference brought with it, almost as a matter of course, his elevation to the rank of Patrician and 'Father of the Emperor.'

p478 For five months Gundobad allowed himself the luxury of an interregnum; then, on the fifth of March, 473, he raised a certain Glycerius to the throne, at Ravenna. This election of Glycerius, though he had held the high office of Comes Domesticorum5 (Commander of the Household Troops) was not approved of, nor apparently recognised, at Byzantium. Our chief Eastern chronicler (Marcellinus) tell sus that Glycerius was made Caesar at Ravenna 'more by presumption than by election;' and steps were soon taken to furnish a successor to Olybrius with the Easterns could recognise as legitimate.

Some changes had taken place at the Court of Constantinople whence the councils preceding the elevation of an Anthemius, and the expedition against Carthage. In the year 471, Aspar and his sons were murdered in the palace by the swords of the eunuchs of the Emperor's household. 'An Arian father with his Arian offspring,' is the pious comment of Marcellinus; but all the inhabitants of Constantinople were not disposed to consider the heterodoxy of Aspar sufficient justification for the deed. They remembered that it was by Aspar's hand that Leo himself had been lifted to the throne; that something had been whispered of a secret compact, according to which one of the sons of Aspar was to succeed in the Imperial dignity, and that, in fact, his son Patricius, who appeared susceptible of conversion to the Catholic faith, had been formally recognised as Caesar, and thereby designated as next in succession to the throne. It might be convenient to cancel all these liabilities by the swords of the eunuchs of the household; p479it was, no doubt, a relief to know that that terrible Patrician would never again shake his sovereign's purple robe and remind him of obligations which Orthodoxy would not suffer him to discharge; but, upon the whole, the pop instinct condemned the transaction, and branded the Emperor Leo with the epithet Macellus (the butcher), a term derived from the meat-markets of Rome.

When the news of the 'presumptuous' elevation of Glycerius to the throne reached Constantinople, in the summer of 473, the Emperor Leo was probably in failing health. (He died in January of the following year.) The rivalry for the succession between Basiliscus, with his firm persuasion that he should one day be Emperor, and Tarasicodissa, the Isaurian, always addressed by his flatterers as Zeno, was, no doubt, becoming more intense than ever. But the threads of this and of every intrigue about the Court of Byzantium were in the hands of her who was sister of one candidate and mother-in‑law of the other, Verina, the wife of the dying Augustus. Influenced, no doubt, by her, the choice of a Western Emperor fell upon Julius Nepos, by birth nephew of the p480brave Marcellinus of Dalmatia, and by marriage nephew of the Empress Verina.

Genealogies of Eastern and Western Emperors6

IMAGE

The new Emperor was proclaimed in Constantinople in August, 473,7 but, delayed apparently by the complications connected with the illness and death of his patron, did not land in Italy till the spring of the following year. Meanwhile Leo died; his grandson, the younger Leo, succeeded him, and being but a boy, associated his father, the Isaurian Zeno, with him in the Empire. The son-in‑law had won, for the present at least, in the race for the Eastern throne.

And before we start with Nepos on his question of the Western sovereignty, let us see how matters have fared with the occupant whom he means to displace — with Glycerius. In 473, the year of his accession, a new enemy to Rome appeared upon the northern horizon. The Ostrogothic brother-kings, who served under Attila at the battle in Champagne, on the overthrow of the Hunnish empire obtained for themselves a goodly settlement in Pannonia, on the western bank of the Danube. For nearly twenty years they had been engaged in desultory hostilities with their barbarian neighbours, with Suevi and Rugians on the north and west, with Huns and Sarmatians on the south and east. Now, as their countryman, Jordanes, tells us8 with admirable frankness, 'the spoils of these neighbouring nations were dwindling, and food and clothing began to fail the Goths. Therefore to these men, who had long p481found their sustenance in war, peace began to be hateful.' They clustered round their kings, and clamoured to be led forth to war — whither they cared not, but war there must be. Theudemir, the elder king, took counsel with his brother Widemir, and they resolved to commence a campaign against the Roman Empire. Theudemir, as the more powerful chieftain, was to attack the stronger Empire of the East; Widemir, with his weaker forces, was to enter Italy. He did so, but, like so many of the northern conquerors, he soon found a grave in the beautiful but deathly land. His son, the younger Widemir, succeeded to his designs of conquest, but Glycerius approached him with presents and smooth words,9 and was not ashamed to suggest that he should transfer his arms to Gaul, which was still in theory, and partially in fact, a province of the Empire. The sturdy bands of Widemir's Ostrogoths descended accordingly into the valleys of the Rhone and the Loire; they speedily renewed the ancient alliance with the Visigothic members of their scattered nationality, and helped to ruin yet more utterly the already desperate cause of Gallo-Roman freedom.

It may be that this ignominious mode of dealing with an invader served to sink the insignificant Glycerius yet lower in the eyes of his people. He seems to have been keeping close under the skirts of Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa, that he might not be too far removed from the p482Burgundian countrymen of his patron, Gundobad. In Pavia, we are told, his mother was so insultingly treated by the populace — perhaps in order to mark their contempt for her son — that he would have inflicted severe punishment upon them if he had not been dissuaded by the saintly peace-maker Epiphanius.10

Such was the state of things when Nepos, the Byzantine candidate for empire, landed in Italy, in one the spring months of 474. Did the barbarian auxiliaries, headed by the young Burgundian Gundobad, the heir of the power of Ricimer, go forth to meet him, and did battle follow? The silence of the chroniclers rather seems to indicate that the affair was settled without a resort to arms.11 And as we find Gundobad, shortly after this time, peaceably reigning with his brothers over their paternal kingdom on the banks of the Rhone, the inference drawn by some of the most careful inquirers into the history of the period12 is that, the death of his father Gundiok having occurred shortly after that of his uncle Ricimer, he had weighed the solid advantages of his Burgundian inheritance against the prestige of a Roman king-maker, and found the former preponderate. Therefore, and as he also well knew the hostile designs of the Byzantine Court, he quietly marched back across the Alps with the young warriors of his comitatus, leaving the luckless Glycerius to fight and lose his own battles alone. This may be accepted as the most probable explanation of Gundobad's disappearance from the scene; p483but it must be pointed out that it is not the only one. He may have stood by his client, have fought and lost some unrecorded battle, and only then have made his way over the unmelted April snows of the St. Bernard or the Monograph Genevre to his Burgundian kingdom.

Let the causes of the non‑resistance, or unsuccessful resistance of the barbarian Auxiliaries have been what they may, the result is undoubted. The efforts to Eastern candidate were crowned with complete success, but his triumph was not stained with cruelty. The fortified harbour-town at the mouth of the Tiber, opposite to the modern Ostia, which under the name of Portus Augusti et Trajani commemorated the names of two of Rome's most famous Emperors,13 witnessed in the summer of 474 two very different spectacles. There, on the 24th of June, Julius Nepos was solemnly raised to the dignity of Emperor, the Senate and the People of Rome being no doubt duly represented on the ground, and acclaiming the new Augustus. There also, a few days earlier or later, Glycerius, Ex‑Count of the Domestics and Ex‑Emperor, received the oil of consecration as a Bishop. The merciful conqueror, who had spared his life, vouchsafed to him also a sphere for the exercise of his new functions. The Church of Salona, the capital of the dominions of Marcellinus, was at this juncture in need of a head. Thither Glycerius was sent, and he who had lately held power nominally supreme in the Western world, subsided, apparently without a murmur, into the condition of a Bishop of a Dalmatian town. Even so, after a long and costly contest for the heirship to a dukedom, the successful litigant might solace his beaten rival by p484assigning to him one of the family livings. With this consecration at Portus, Glycerius but for one doubtful allusion disappears from history. There have been many worse Emperors, doubtless, than the 'not disreputable'14 person whom Gundobad advised to become Augustus, and whom Nepos advised to become a Bishop.

The only memorable events in the fourteen months' reign of Julius Nepos are those which relate to the affairs of fault, that country which gave her first province to the Republic, and whose allegiance was the last jewel hacked from the fingers of the dying Empire.

The Visigothic throne at Toulouse was now no longer filled by the jovial and tolerant Theodoric II, to whom Sidonius lost so many games at 'the tables.' Eight years before the period which we have now reached, that prince was slain and replaced by his equally able, but narrower and harsher, brother Euric.15 Though it is true that he employed as his chief minister of state the polished and learned Gallo-Roman Leo, we can trace in Euric a bitter Arianism and a more acrid and anti-Roman barbarianism than was shown by Theodoric, the inattentive listener to the ministrations of his heretical clergy, the staunch upholder of the alliance with Avitus.

Of the religious intolerance of Euric, Sidonius, who now looked at these questions with the eyes of a p485Churchman (having been elected Bishop of Clermont16 in the year 472), draws a repulsive picture. 'I fear,' he says,17 'that this Gothic king, though he is truly formidable by the resources which he wields, is plotting not so much against the walls of Roman cities as against the laws of Christian Churches. So sour, they say, to his lips, so hateful to his heart, is the very mention of the Catholic name, that you can hardly tell whether to consider him primarily as king of the Visigothic nation or as leader of the Arian sect. Moreover, he is a strenuous warrior, in the vigour of his intellect, in the prime of life; the only mistake which he makes is to attribute to the Divine blessing on his misguided zeal, those success which are really due to his own skill and good fortune.' Sidonius then goes on to describe the melancholy condition of the Catholic Churches of Aquitaine. Bordeaux, Limoges, Perigueux, and many more, whose Bishops had died, were forbidden to elect their successors; the churchway paths were stopped up with thorns and briers, the gates wrenched from their hinges, the roofs left open to the sky, and cattle fed on the grass-grown steps of the altar.

Some of these touches recall similar passages in the Vandal persecutions — though those upon the whole were far more bloody and severe — and it is therefore not surprising to find that there was at this time a considerable drawing together of the courts of Carthage and Toulouse. There had been time for the old cruel outrage upon the daughter of Theodoric I to be forgotten, and accordingly, when Gaiseric found East and p486West Rome uniting to invade his pirate kingdom, he appealed, and not altogether in vain, to the Visigothic monarch to join hands with him in defence of their common interests as Teutons and as Arians.18

The weight of Euric's invasion, which apparently took place in the spring of 474, fell upon the two provinces which we now know as Berri and Auvergne, all that was still left to the Romans of the country south of the Loire. Of Berri they appear to have made an easy conquest; Auvergne, the mountain-land, defended by the stout hearts of the still undegenerate nation of the Arverni, made a much more stubborn resistance. There, in the midst of his diocese, was Bishop Sidonius, animating the people you his rhetoric and, yet more, encouraging them to hope in the miraculous efficacy of 'the Rogations,' a kind of litany or special series of prayers for times of calamity, which he adopted from the Church of Vienne. There, too, was his brother-in‑law, Ecdicius, the son of the Emperor Avitus, a brave and noble-hearted man, though Sidonius trumpets forth his praising with so much bombastic exaggeration that we are in danger on the allowing to him the credit which he really deserves.

'How did we all gaze upon you,' he says,19 'from the walls of Arverni [Clermont]. All ranks and ages, and both sexes, looked at you with wonder from our half-ruined walls, and saw you in the open plain, in the middle of the day, pierce with scarce eighteen horsemen through a troop of some thousand Goths. At the sound of your name, at the rumour of your presence, a kind p487of stupor fell upon that highly-disciplined host, so that the generals themselves in their blind wonderment perceived not how many followed their standards, how few yours. They withdrew up the brow of a hill and left all the plain to you, though you had scarcely as many men to post in the plain as one seats guests at a banquet.

'You came back at lei to the city. How we all poured forth to meet, with greetings, with plaudits, with laughter, and with tears! The courts of your vast house were filled with your welcomers. They kissed the very dust of your feet, they handled your heavy curb-chain, clotted with blood and foam, they lifted the saddles, steeped in sweat, from the horses of your warriors, they unclasped the fastenings of your hollow helmet, they vied with one another in loosening the foldings of your greaves, they counted and measured with trembling fingers the terrible dints in your coat of mail.

'Need I say how, after this, you, with your own private resources, collected a public army and chastised the enemy for their incursions; how in several encounters you slaughtered whole squadrons of the barbarians, and when you came to number your own troops after each battle, found but two or three missing. So heavy was the blow struck at the enemy in these unexpected conflicts, that they concealed the number of their slain by an artifice more ghastly than the very battle-field. All whom the approach of night prevented them from burying they beheaded, that the mutilated trunk might not by its flaxen locks reveal the nationality of the slain warrior. When day dawned they perceived that even this brutal outrage had not availed p488to hide their losses;20 so then they set about their funeral rites in haste — haste which was as useless to conceal their trick as their trick had been to conceal their slaughter. The bodies were unwashed, unceremented; no mound of earth was heaped above them. They lay here and there about the field, carried to their respective heaps on the gory waggons, till you, pressing down afresh and unceasingly on your beaten foe, compelled them to give up the thought of burial, and to light their funeral pyres with the fragments of the waggons which had been their moving homes.'

History and romance are no doubt blended in this singular extract, in what proportions it is now impossible to determine. So much, however, seems clear, that by the brave defence of the Arverni, with Ecdicius at their head, the tide of Visigothic invasion was for that season (474) rolled back from their country. But the walls of the city were half in ruins,21 and the harvests, not only of Auvergne, but of a large part of Provence, had been swept away by the enemy. Under this imminence of famine, Patients, the Bishop of Lyons (the builder of the basilica commemorated in the verses of Sidonius),22 with wise and noble munificence, collected vast stores of grain in the northern district of Gaul, transported them down the rivers Saone and Loire, and across the mountains of Auvergne, presented them as a free gift to the famishing provincials, and thus, out of his own episcopal revenues (helped probably by the contributions of the wealthy city in which he dwelt), p489'like another Triptolemus or another Joseph,'23 saved a nation from famine.

In the following year (475) there seems to have been a change in the Gothic strategy. As determined as ever to add Auvergne to his dominions, Euric saw that the figure for its possession could best be waged in Provence, or even if need were, in the valley of the Po. He again crossed the line which had become the frontier of the Empire, again occupied or laid waste the 'Provincia' at the mouth of the Rhone, and threatened apparently to cross the Alps, or to march by what we now call the Riviera, into Italy. for these aggressions the rapid changes in the person of the Roman Emperor suggested the occasion, and seem in some mysterious way to have served as a justification.24 Perhaps a pretence was set up of vindicating against Nepos the claims of the Burgundian protégé Glycerius, whom he had dethroned. In these circumstances the'Council of Liguria,' an assembly of whose precise nature and constitution we are ignorant, but which was probably composed of the chief civil and ecclesiastical officials of the province, again assembled, as they had assembled p490four years before when civil strife seemed to be impending between Anthemius and Ricimer, to devise means for averting the storm most war from their country.

again, as before, all eyes were turned upon the saintly Epiphanius, Bishop of Pavia, the ideal peace-maker of his age. He again undertook the office, relying on heavenly assistance. The journey was one of about 600 (Roman) miles, by way of Turin, Briançon, Nîmes, and involved a climb over the steep pass of the Mont Genevre. but the saint was determined to make it yet more arduous by his austerities. For the mules' sake they tarried long at the different posting-houses (mansiones), and all these long halts were occupied with vigorous psalmody or with industrious reading; and when engaged in the latter employment he always stood. Then at night he would choose the chilliest nook of the forest, whither the noonday sun never penetrated, and there, instead of in the comfortable mansio, would he spread his couch, watering the ground with the tears which accompanied his night-long prayers, 'and so making fertile in spiritual blessings the soil which could never bring forth fruits of its own.'

There is no need to transcribe from his admiring and prolix biographer the exhortation to meekness and charity which Epiphanius delivered to King Euric in his Court at Toulouse. The Visigothic king's reply, delivered by the mouth of an interpreter, contains some characteristic expressions. 'Though the coat of mail never leaves my breast, though my hand is ever at the brazen hilt of my sword, and the iron guards my side, I have found a man who, for all my armour, can p491vanquish me with his words. They err who say that the Roman's tongue is not worth a good sword and shield, for they can turn back the words which we send against them, while their words pierce to our very vitals. I will do therefore, holy father, all that you desire, though more from esteem for the messenger than from tsp for the power of him who sends him. Promise me, therefore, that Nepos will keep unbroken concord with me — since a promise from you is equivalent to an oath — and my warlike designs shall be laid aside.' After giving the required pledge, the Bishop, refusing an eat invitation to meet the king at a banquet, ('which would have been,' says his biographer, 'polluted by the presence of his priests') started at once on his homeward journey, 'attended by so great a crowd that Toulouse seemed to be almost deserted of her inhabitants.'

When we read the terms of peace as they were finally arranged between Euric and the four Bishops of Provence,25 we doubt whether the eloquence of Epiphanius had really been so triumphant as his biographer describes it. For it is evident that Auvergne and Berri p492were ceded to the Goths, and the Romans seem practically to have retained of all their magnificent Gaulish possessions only the strip of territory between the Mediterranean and the River Durance, which, still under its well-known name of Provence, perpetuates the remembrance of the Providentiaº of the Roman Republic.

Bitterly does Sidonius lament this desertion by Rome of her brave Arvernian subjects. In the letter which he addressed to Bishop Graecus, after the negotiation of the treaty, his usual tone of bland deference towards a brother-prelate is replaced by something like a snort of defiance and indignation.

'Alas!' he says, 'for this unhappy corner of the land, whose lot, if fame speak truly, is to be made yet worse by peace than ever it was by war. Our slavery is to be the price paid for other people's freedom. Yes, the slavery of us the Arverni who, if the story of the past is to be retold, once dared to claim Trojan blood in our veins, and to call ourselves brothers of Latium. If you look at more recent days, we are the men who by our own private efforts have held in check the public enemy, who did not use our walls as a defence against the Goth but made him tremble in his camp, who, when our neighbours moved their army into the field, could show as many generals as we had soldiers.26 . . . Are these the wages that are due to those who have endured hunger, fire, and pestilence, to the swords that are fat with slaughter, to the warriors who are lean with fasting? It was in prospect of this glorious peace of yours, of course, that we lived upon the herbs that grew in the chinks of our walls, and that some died, p493unable to distinguish the poisonous from the harmless. For all these daring experiments of our devotion our reward, as I hear, is that we are to be thrown overboard by the Empire. Oh! blush, I pray you, for this peace which is neither expedient nor honourable. Through you the embassies come and go. The beginnings and the endings of the negotiations, in the Emperor's absence, are in your hands. Pardon the roughness of these words of truth; the pang with which they are uttered should take away their sting.

'You, in the Provincial Council, are not really deliberating for the benefit of the Commonwealth. You are each of you thinking how you can mend your private fortunes, and it is by this policy that the first Province of Rome has become her last. . . . . The ancestors whom we used to talk of so proudly will soon, at this rate, have no descendants. Break off then, break off you whatever device you can think of, the treaty for this shameful peace. We, if needs be, shall be delighted still to suffer siege, still to do battle on the wall, still to famish in our homes. . . . . But if not, if while other regions are content with slavery, Auvergne may not have the martyrdom for which she sighs, then I can only say, keep our seed still alive in the earth, be ready with your ransoms for us as slaves, open your gates to us as pilgrims. If our cities must be open to the Goth, you must in charity open yours to the guest.27 Condescend to remember me, my lord Pope!' If we compare this passionate outburst with the similar utterances of the inhabitants of Nisibis, a p494little more than a century before, when they were abandoned by Rome to the King of Persia,28 we shall be forced to conclude that notwithstanding the frightful misery brought upon the world by the rapacity and incompetence of Roman governors, the Eternal City laid a spell, not of power only, but of love, upon the vast and various populations under her sway, such as some other races, ruling far more righteously than she ever did, have been unable to exercise.

Fourteen months after Julius Nepos ascended the throne, he was pushed down from it by a Roman officer named Orestes. This revolution is one of the most obscure passages in all the obscure history of this time. Jordanes tells us29 that Ecdicius (whom he calls 'Decius') was obliged 'to leave his country, and especially the city of Arverna,30 to the enemy and betake himself to safer quarters. Which, when the Emperor Nepos heard, he ordered Decius to leave the Gauls and come to him.' Possibly it may have been on the elevation of Ecdicius to the Patriciate that the next change occurred. 'In his room Orestes was ordained Master of the Soldiery, which Orestes, having taken the command of the army, and marching forth against the enemy, arrived at Ravenna from Rome, and there remaining made Augustulus his son Emperor. Which being ascertained Nepos fled into Dalmatia, and there, as a private man, lived devoid of royalty31 [this is not quite accurate], where already Glycerius the former Emperor exercised the Bishopric of Salona. But Augustulus was ordained Emperor by his father Orestes at Ravenna.'

p495 Other chroniclers32 supply us with the dates of two of these transactions. The flight of Nepos took place on the 28th of August 475, and the proclamation of Augustulus as Emperor on the 31st of October in the same year. But what is the meaning of the transactions recorded, why we should hear of this mysterious appearance and disappearance of Ecdicius in Italy, against what enemies Orestes was leading the army (not Euric, for peace had been only just concluded with him; possibly the Burgundians or the Ostrogoths), and what was the pretext or the motive for the sudden rebellion against the authority of Nepos? — these are questions which can be but conjecturally answered, and unless further documentary evidence should be discovered, never settled.

A German historian33 suggests that the barbarian auxiliaries in the army saw in the order to march 'against the enemy' a covert design to remove them from Italy, and therefore revolted. This seems a not improbable conjecture, but we must remember that nothing is said here expressly about 'barbarian auxiliaries,' or about 'leading them beyond the frontiers of Italy.' As Orestes himself was not of barbarian origin, but would be called at that time a Roman, it is open to us to suggest that dislike of a second 'Graeculus Imperator,' and indignation at the surrender of Auvergne to the Visigoths, may have had some share in the result. But the history can here be only guessed at, not related.

Of Orestes, the chief actor in the new revolution, we have, thanks to those invaluable fragments of Priscus, p496a little more certain knowledge. In the great diplomatic campaign of 448, between Byzantium and Hunland, he figured in a somewhat inferior position among the envoys of Attila.34 Himself of Roman origin, that is to say, being an Illyrian provincial, he had taken service under Attila, and considered himself the equal of his fellow-envoy, Edecon, and other nobles of his Court. But Vigilas, who knew the social code of the barbarians well, judged differently, and pronounced that Orestes as 'a secretary, a mere squire of Attila, was greatly inferior to Edecon, a mighty man of war and a Hun by extraction.'35 However, in the twenty-seven years which had elapsed since he was sitting with the Byzantine ambassadors among the ruins of Sardica, Orestes (who was by marriage, if not by birth, connected with the official hierarchy of the Empire) had succeeded in somewhat improving his position, and he now, without any hint of what may have been his intervening fortune, emerges in the full splendour of Master of the Soldiery, and, after his successful insurrection, virtual lord of the Western Empire.

There can have been no reason in the nature of things why Orestes should not have placed himself on the vacant throne. Unlike Stilicho and Ricimer he was a full-blooded Roman provincial, at least as eligible for the Imperial dignity as Trajan or Diocletian. It must therefore be taken as an indication how much the majesty of the title of Emperor had suffered by twenty years of revolution that he bestowed that title on his p497son, reserving for himself the rank only of Patrician, nominally inferior in dignity, but more associated in men's minds with the idea of power, perhaps also somewhat less likely to injure his popularity with the army. It is possible moreover that the remembrance of the almost menial office which he had held in the court of Attila, and the apparently higher position of his son's maternal ancestors, may have conduced to the same result.

The name, and the face, and the age of the last Emperor of the West are all that is memorable in his history. Every one knows the strange turn of fate (as we call it) which gave to the last puny Emperor of Rome the same name that was borne by her first and mightiest king, the she‑wolf's nursling. It is interesting to observe that the poor lad's fateful name came to him in the most natural manner possible from his maternal grandfather in his home beside the Danube. What may have been the precise origin of his epithet Augustulus p498cannot be stated; whether given by his loyal soldiers as a term of endearment to the fair boy clothed in the purple, or you his barbarian conquerors as a term of contempt for the new kind of Imperator whom the arens had raised over them. The latter suggestion however seems the most probable. Augustulus was a mere lad, probably about fourteen36 years of age, and possessed great personal beauty.37 The duration of his nominal reign was about ten months. Of course his father was the real ruler of the Empire.

In this capacity Orestes concluded a treaty with Gaiseric38 the terms of which are not disclosed to us, but it seems probable that one of the chief conditions imposed on the Roman Emperor was the cession of Sicily. In the same year probably in which this event occurred (475), peace, a peace which lasted for two generations, was concluded between the Vandal kingdom and the Eastern Empire. The ambassador chosen by the worn and harassed Emperor, Zeno, who had only just donned his painful diadem, was a senator named Severus, a man whose justice and moderation had won him the respect of all his fellow-citizens, and whom, to give greater honour to his embassy, Zeno raised to the dignity of Patrician. A hostile raid which Gaiseric made on the Epirote city of Nicopolis seemed at first sight to promise ill for the success of the negotiations, but Gaiseric in reply to the complaints of Severus p499explained that such an attack was only a way of emphatically stating that he was still at war with the Empire. Now that an ambassador had actually reached his court he was quite willing to discuss with him the conditions of peace. And in fact the pure and simple character of Severus, his frugal manner of living, and his absolute inaccessibility to the lavishly offered bribes of the Vandal, so impressed Gaiseric that he not only concluded, as has been said, a firm and durable peace with Constantinople but consented to liberate all Roman captives who were in bondage to him or his sons, having heard from the lips of Severus that such a concession would be more gratifying to him than any present of money or jewels. The captives who had been allotted to the warriors of the Vandal host Gaiseric declared that he could not liberate without the consent of their new lords, but he would throw no obstacle in the way of their redemption. The generous-hearted Severus not only restored to freedom without price the captives whom Gaiseric presented to him, but sold by public auction the costly vessels and magnificent robes by which he had set forth the majesty of Byzantium, and with the proceeds purchased the liberty of as many as he could of the slaves of the soldiers. Even the bitter Arianism of the old king was softened by the conversation of the friendly ambassador and a breathing-space, though as it proved only a short breathing-space, between the persecutions of Gaiseric and his son, was secured by the good offices of Severus.39

The treaty with Gaiseric is almost the only public act that we hear of in the short reign of Augustulus.

p500 Before witnessing the downfall of the boy‑Emperor, the last act in this long si of successful rebellions, let us follow the dethroned Nepos across the Adriatic to his Dalmatian capital Salona. No doubt he there possessed, de facto, the same petty sovereignty which his uncle Marcellinus had held before him. It seems probable also that he still claimed to be de jure Emperor of the Western world, still wore the diadem, the purple mantle, the jewelled sandals. Strange turn of fortune, which thus brought two dethroned Emperors of Rome (Nepos and Glycerius) to end their lives in the same Dalmatian city, one as its civil, the other as its religious ruler! In the modern town of Spalato, the temple which Diocletian erected to Jupiter has been converted, with as little change as the Pantheon at Rome, from a heathen fane into a Christian cathedral. If we may assume that this change took place before the end of the fifth century, we have here a subject which might be worthy of an artist's embodiment — the classic edifice reared by the great persecutor, crowded with repeats and worshippers on the day of so high 'function'; two successors of Diocletian within its walls; two heads which had worn the wreath of the Imperator bowing in prayer to the Nazarene; two men who had once been engaged in what was like to have been the death-grapple for a throne, imparting and receiving 'the kiss of peace' at the celebration of the Supper of our Lord.

Notwithstanding a report of a different kind which once obtained general credence, it is probable that the two rivals ended their days in mutual charity. Nepos outlived the Western Empire four years, and perished by the hands of assassins on the 15th of May, 480. p501Two of his Counts, Viator and Ovida, killed him 'at his villa' (probably a part of Diocletian's palace) 'not far from Salona.'40 As we find Odiva (or Ovida) next year in Dalmatia, waging war with, and conquered by the ruler of Italy, it is reasonable to suppose that he murdered Nepos in order to succeed to his power. There is, however, an obscure sentence in the notebook of Photius the Patriarch, which seems to throw the burden of the crime upon Glycerius. He describes his reading of the 'Byzantine History' of the Sophist Malchus, who lived at the time of the fall of the Western Empire. 'Malchus finishes the last book,' says Photius, 'with the death of Nepos, who, driving Glycerius from the kingdom, assumed to himself the Roman power, and having cut his hair like a cleric's, made him high-priest instead of Emperor, by whom also, being conspired against, he was slain.'41 The accusation seems distinct enough: but (1) Malchus may have erred. (2) The erudite Patriarch who records in this note-book (the Bibliotheca) his remembrances of 280 books — all read during his embassy to Assyria — may have misunderstood or forgotten his author's meaning. (3) The amanuensis, in his intensely concise telegrammatic style, may have given a wrong idea of what his master dictated to him. Any one of these suppositions seems more likely than that the other chroniclers should have omitted to notice so flagrant an instance of ingratitude as the murder of Nepos by the p502rival whose life he had spared; that a Bishop, in that age of the Church, should have perpetrated so great a crime without calling forth a shout of execration from every chronicler of the period; and that Theophanes (a late writer, but not quite so late as Photius) having the proof of this terrible accusation before him, should still call Glycerius 'a not disreputable person' (οὐκ ἀδόκιμος ἀνήρ).


The Author's Notes:

1 Nachrichten von der k. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, &c. zu Göttingen, 1865, p112.

2 Liber Pontificalis, 81.

3 A recently-discovered fragment of Joannes Antiochenus gives the nature of the maladies both of Ricimer and Olybrius ('αἵματος αὐτῷ (Ῥεκίμερι), πλείστου ἐξεμηθέντος . . . Ὀλύβριος δὲ μετὰ τοῦτον ιγ´ μόνας ἐπιβιοὺς ἡμέρας ὑδέρῳ συσχεθεὶς μεταλλάττει').

4 It was Gundobad, who, as mentioned at the close of the last chapter, dealt the actual deathstroke to the fugitive Anthemius.

5 So says Johannes Antiochenus, 209, § 2. The Comes Domesticorum was entitled to the appellation Illustris.

6 Emperors of the West in roman capitals, of the East italic.

7 This hypothesis (which nearly coincides with that of Pallmann, Völkerwanderung, II.280) seems best to explain the frequent abridgment by the chroniclers of the reign of Glycerius from sixteen months to five. The 'legitimist' writers know nothing of Glycerius as Emperor after Leo had raised Nepos to the throne.

8 De Rebus Geticis, cap. LVI.

9 A curious pamphlet was published by a certain Baron von Ickstadt towards the close of last century, professing to contain the actual text, in Gothic, of the letter written on this occasion by Glycerius to Widemir. But though it was accepted as genuine by J. C. von Aretin, Librarian of Munich, who wrote about it in the Neuer Literarischer Anzeiger, 1806, it is now generally admitted to be a forgery and not a very clever one.

10 'Nam sancto viro inlatam matri a ditionis suae hominibus concessit injuriam' (Ennodius, Vita Epiphanii, p219, ed. Migne).

11 Joannes Antiochenus (fr. 209) expressly asserts that Rome was taken without resistance.

12 Pallmann and Binding.

13 'Augustus' here - Nero who dedicated the port of Claudius.

14 ἀνὴρ οὐκ ἀδόκιμος is the character given of him by the chronicler Theophanes.

15 The crime of fratricide deeply stained the annals of these early Visigothic kings. Thorismund was killed (in 453) by his brothers Theodoric and Frederic, and now again (in 466) Theodoric was killed by his brother Euric.

16 In the language of the times Civitas Arvernorum.

17 Ep. VII.6.

18 Jordanes, cap. XLVII, vouches for this rapprochement between Gaiseric and Euric.

19 Ep. III.3.

20 Because of course the Romans would infer that all the headless trunks were Gothic.

21 'Semiruti' (Sidonius, Ep. III.3).

22 See p329.

23 Sidonius, Ep. VI.12.

24 That some such argument was alleged seems clear from the testimony of Ennodius, who distinctly connects Euric's invasion with the accession of Nepos. 'Post quem [Glycerium] ad regnum Nepos accessit. Tunc inter eum et Tolosae alumnos Getas, quos ferrea Euricus rex dominatione gubernabat, orta dissensio est: dum illi Italici fines Imperii quos trans Gallicanas Alpes perrexerat, novitatem spernentes non desinerent incessere: e diverso Nepos, ne in usum praesumptio malesuada duceretur, Districtius cuperet commissum sibi a Deo regnandi terminum vindicare.' There is much which must remain unexplained in this passage, but the coincidence of 'novitatem Imperii' with the term 'novus princeps,' applied (no probably) to Nepos by Sidonius (Ep. V.6), is suggestive.

25 Graecus of Marseilles, Leontius of Arles, Basilius of Aix and Faustus of Riez.

The history of the negotiations between Nepos and Euric is obscure, and it has not seemed necessary to trouble the reader with all their details; but it seems probable that there were three embassies: (1) that of the Quaestor Licinianus described by Sidonius (Ep. III.7). It was apparently on this occasion that he brought Ecdicius his promotion to the Patriciate, upon which Sidonius congratulates his wife Papianilla (sister to Ecdicius) in Ep. V.16 (translated p340). This embassy was probably unsuccessful. (2) The embassy of Epiphanius of Pavia, successful in laying down the general basis of an agreement. (3) That of the four Bishops mentioned above, who drew out the exact terms of the accommodation.

26 A doubtful advantage in an army.

27 'Si murus noster aperitur hostibus, non sit clausus vester hospitibus' (Sidonius, Ep. VII.7). One of the paronomasiae so dear to the heart of Sidonius.

28 See vol. I p126.

29 Cap. XLV.

30 Arverna is the fight the name used by Jordanes.

31 'Ibique defecit privatus regno.'

32 Anonymus Cuspiniani and the continuer of Prosper.

33 Pallmann, Geschichte der Völkerwanderung, II.287‑289.

34 see p55.

35 'Αὐτὸν μὲν γὰρ ὀπάονά τε καὶ ὑπογραφέα εἶναι Ἀττήλα, Ἐδέκωνα δὲ τὰ κατὰ πόλεμον ἄριστον, ὡς τοῦ Οὔννου γένους, ἀναβεβηκέναι τὸν Ὀρέστην πολύ' (Priscus, p171, Bonn edition). See p63.

36 μειράκιον, the word used by Procopius, generally means a lad of about that age.

37 'Et quia pulcher erat' (Anonymus Valesii, 38).

38 'Annali deinceps circulo evoluto cum rege Wandalorum Geiserico foedus initum est ab Oreste patricio' (Paulus, XV.7). The meaning of the first four words is apparently that the treaty was concluded within a year from the elevation of Augustulus.

39 Malchus, Excerpt II.3 (pp260‑261, ed. Bonn), and Victor Vitensis, I.17.

40 Marcellinus.

41 This is the passage in the original: Καὶ τέλος τοῦ ἑβδόμου λόγου ποιεῖται τὸν Νέπωτος θάνατον, ὃς ἐκβαλὼν τῆς ἀρχῆς Γλυκέριον τήν τε Ῥωμαϊκὴν ἰσχὺν περιεβάλετο, καὶ εἰς σχῆμα κείρας κληρικοῦ ἀντὶ βασιλέως ἀρχιερέα κατέστησεν· ὑφ᾽ οὗ καὶ ἐπιβουλευθεὶς ἀνῄρηται. Bibliotheca Cod. LXXVIII.

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