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Book I
Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

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

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Note E

Book 1 (continued)

Thayer's Note: This page is from the first edition of the book, which Hodgkin considerably expanded into a much more detailed second edition, often refining or even outright changing his conclusions and opinions. That second edition is onsite in full; the serious student will take advantage of it.

Vol. I
Chapter VII

Alaric's Three Sieges of Rome


Sources: —

Zosimus and Orosius are again our chief authorities (and most unsatisfactory ones) for the history of this eventful period. This narrative of Zosimus ends in 410 just before the final catastrophe.

The Epistles of St. Jerome, and St. Augustine's great work, 'De Civitate Dei,' supply some well-known facts as to the capture of the city.

The death and burial of Alaric are described by Jornandes.

Guides: —

Amédée Thierry's 'Saint Jérôme' (Paris, 1875, 2nd ed.) furnishes an interesting picture of Christian aristocratic life at Rome ('la petite Thébaide dorée que présidait Marcella au mont Aventin') on the eve of the Gothic invasion. This book is, in my opinion, decidedly superior to the 'Trois ministres des Fils de Théodose,' by the same author.

Alaric marches. A few weeks were probably spent in the fruitless negotiations between Alaric and Honorius after the murder of Stilicho.​1 Then the Visigothic king finally decided to play the great game, and while it was still early autumn crossed the Julian Alps  p339 and descended into the plains of Italy to try once more if that voice were true which was ever sounding in his ear, 'Penetrabis ad Urbem.' He left Aquileia and Ravenna unassailed. He would not now waste his strength and time over any smaller sieges; he would not attempt to get the person of the Emperor into his power; he would press on to the city of cities, and would see whether, if he made Famine his ally, the services of that confederate might not counterbalance his own deficiencies in siege artillery. He crossed the river Po. No hostile force appeared in sight, and he was soon at Bologna, at Rimini, in the rich plains of Picenum. While he was thus proceeding by rapid marches towards Rome, laying waste all the open country, and plundering the towns and villages, none of which was strong enough to close its gates against him, His interview with a monk. a man in the garb of a monk suddenly appeared in the royal tent. The holy man warned him in solemn tones to refrain from the perpetration of such atrocities and no longer to delight in slaughter and blood. To whom Alaric replied, 'I am impelled to this course in spite of myself: for something within urges me every day irresistibly onwards, saying, Proceed to Rome and make that city desolate.'2

Eucherius put to death. It would have confirmed the royal Visigoth in his belief of a Divine mission if he had been able, as he nearly was, by his rapid march to frustrate a  p340 great crime. Two of the imperial eunuchs, Arsacius and Terentius, who had the two children of Stilicho in their hands, were all but made prisoners by the Goths. They succeeded, however, in hurrying off with their captives to Rome, delivered up the divorced girl-empress Thermantia to her mother, and put the helpless lad Eucherius to death by order of the Emperor. On their return to court they were rewarded with the places of grand chamberlain and marshal of the palace,​3 'for their great services,' as Zosimus bitterly remarks.

Alaric's First Siege of Rome. Alaric meanwhile pressed on, and soon, probably in the month of September, he stood before the walls of Rome and commenced his First Siege of the city.

Serena put to death. The actual appearance of the skin-clothed barbarians within sight of the Capitol, so long the inviolate seat of Empire, found the senate resourceless and panic-stricken. One only suggestion, the cruel thought of coward hearts, was made. Serena, the widow of Stilicho, still lived in Rome. Her husband had made a league with Alaric, might not she traitorously open to him the gates of the city. Unable, among the million or so of inhabitants of Rome to find a sufficient guard for one heart-broken widow, they decreed that Serena should be strangled, and thus, as devout  p341 heathens observed with melancholy satisfaction, that very neck round which she had sacrilegiously hung the necklace of the Mother of the Gods was now itself encircled by the fatal cord.

Famine in Rome But (as Zosimus sarcastically remarks)​4 'not even the destruction of Serena caused Alaric to desist from the blockade.' The course of the Tiber was watched so that no provisions should be brought into the city from above or from below. Soon Rome, the capturer of a hundred cities, began to understand for herself the pang of the old Jewish lawgiver's words of warning: 'And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down wherein thou trustedst . . . And thou shalt have nothing left thee in the siege, and in the straitness wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee in all thy gates.'5

Day after day they looked forth towards the north-eastern horizon expecting help from Ravenna, but it came not. The daily portion of food allotted to each citizen was reduced to one half, then to one third of its ordinary quantity. Two noble-hearted women, Laeta, widow of the Emperor Gratian, and her mother, who were entitled to draw a large maintenance from the public storehouses, did their utmost to relieve the distress of the citizens, but 'what were they among so many?'

followed by pestilence. To famine was added sickness, and then, when the surrounding enemy made it impossible to bury the dead outside the walls, the city itself became  p342 one vast sepulchre, and Pestilence arose from the streets and squares covered with decaying corpses.

Embassy to Alaric. At length, when they had tried every other loathsome means of satisfying hunger, and were not far from cannibalism, they determined to send an embassy to the enemy. The Spaniard Basil, a governor of a province, and John, the chief of the Imperial notaries,​6 were selected for this duty. The reason for the choice of John was a strange one. A rumour, unaccountable except through that national vanity which could not admit that

'so supine

By else than Romans Rome could erst be laid,'

had spread through the city that it was not the true Alaric, but one of the chiefs of the mutinous army of Stilicho, who was directing these operations against her. As John was acquainted with Alaric's person, and was indeed allied to him by the bonds of mutual hospitality, he was sent to solve this question.

The language which the ambassadors were directed to use had in it somewhat of the ring of the old world-conquering republic's voice, 'The Roman people were prepared to make a peace on moderate terms, but were yet more prepared for war. They had arms in their hands, and from long practice in their use had no reason to dread the result of battle.'

Those swelling words of vanity only provoked  p343 the mirth of Alaric, who had served under the eagles, and knew what the Roman populace's 'practice in the use of arms' amounted to. With a loud Teutonic laugh he exclaimed, 'Thick grass is easier mowed than thin.' To the dainty patrician ambassadors the proverb was probably strange and unfamiliar: to Alaric it recalled the memory of many a spring morning when by the banks of the Danube he had swept his great scythe through the dewy grass, delighting in the patches where the green blades stood up, manifold, for the slaughter, growling at the constant toil of sharpening the steel where the thin and weedy grass bowed beneath the unavailing stroke.

Alaric's terms. After much ridicule showered upon the ambassadors who had brought so magnanimous a message, business was resumed, and they contrived again to enquire as to the terms of a 'moderate peace.' The Goths' announcement of his conditions was, says Zosimus, 'beyond even the insolence of a barbarian.' 'Deliver to me all the gold that your city contains, all the silver, all the moveable property that I may find there, and moreover all your slaves of barbarian origin: otherwise I desist not from the siege.' Said one of the ambassadors, 'But if you take all these things, what do you leave to the citizens?' Alaric, still in a mood for grim jesting, and thinking perhaps of the passage in his Ulfilas,​7 'What shall it profit a man if he shall  p344 gain the whole world and lose his own soul,' or more probably of that passage in Revelation​8 where the merchandise of the great city is described, her purple and silk and ointment, her fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, 'and horses and chariots and slaves and souls of men,' replied in one gruff word saivalos, 'your souls.'9

Reaction against Christianity. The ambassadors returned to the Senate with their message of despair, and with the assurance that it was indeed Alaric with whom they had to deal. The Senate, enervated by centuries of powerless sycophancy, found themselves compelled to look forth upon a horizon blacker than their heroic ancestors had seen after the terrible day of Cannae. In the dying state as in the dying man, when it was seen that human aid was impossible, religion, the power of the Unseen, rose into dominion. The once fashionable Paganism, the now fashionable Christianity, both of them fashions rather than faiths, lightly held, lightly abandoned, still divided the allegiance of the senators of Rome. Which, oh which of them was true? Would Jove or Jesus bring the yearned-for deliverance to the sacred city  p345 — to the temple of Capitolinus, to the tombs of the Apostles?

Of the feelings of the Christians at this time we have no sufficient description, but the heathen historian records, with almost Christian fervour, the despairing religiousness of the opposite party. 'Then indeed, when they were persuaded that it was in truth Alaric who warred against them, and when they had renounced all hope of aid from human power, they thought upon that [heavenly] succour which had hitherto accompanied the state through all her tribulations, and they perceived how they were now abandoned thereby, in consequence of having deserted the religion of their forefathers.'10

The sacrifices at Narni. Similar sacrifices recommended at Rome. At this juncture, Pompeianus, the Prefect of the City, fell in with certain Tuscan visitors (how they had pierced the blockade we know not), who were full of the marvels which had been lately wrought at Neveia (Narni)​a in their own country. There, they said, a series of prayers offered up to the Immortal Gods, and the performance of the old ancestral rites had been immediately followed by loud crashes of thunder and the fall of fire from heaven, which had so terrified the barbarians that they at once raised the siege.

The holy books​11 were consulted. They recommended, and the majority of the Senate were favourable to the proposition, that similar observances  p346 should be commenced in Rome. Pope Innocent is willing to stand aside. To make himself quite safe, however, Pompeianus (himself a Christian) appealed to the Bishop of Rome. This was Innocent I, one of the first great Popes, by no means wanting in energy of self-assertion either towards the Emperor or other Bishops. Yet even he, we are told, in this 'distress of nations and perplexity' which had fallen upon the world, 'preferring the safety of the city to his own private opinion, gave them leave to practise in secret the incantations which they knew.' The priests replied that no good result would follow unless the rites were publicly performed on the Capitoline Hill, with all the Senate as witnesses, in the Forum Boarium, in the Forum of Trajan, and elsewhere in all the public places of the city. The required permission was granted, but was not made use of. But men dare not resume heathen sacrifices. The believers, the half-believers, the would‑be believers in the Olympian Dwellers were in too small a minority. Not one dared to perform the ancestral rites.​12 The lightning did not fall from heaven, but the city gates opened once more, and again a train of suppliant senators, this time with no pretence of menace in their tone, set forth to see what terms could be obtained from the mercy of the conqueror.

 p347  The ransom demanded by Alaric. At length, after much discussion, Alaric consented to allow the city to ransom herself by a payment of 5000 pounds weight of gold, 30,000 of silver,​13 4000 silken tunics,​14 3000 hides dyed scarlet, and 3000 pounds of pepper. It is a strange catalogue of the things which were objects of desire to a nation emerging from barbarism. The pepper suggests the conjecture that the Gothic appetite had already lost some of its original keenness in the fervent southern lands; and the numbers of the special articles of luxury prompt the guess (it is nothing more) that the nobles and officers of this great nation-army may have been about 3000, the extra 1000 of silken garments perhaps representing the wives and daughters who accompanied some of the great chiefs.

And so ended the First Gothic siege of Rome, a siege in which no swords were crossed, no blood drawn. Famine was the only weapon used by Alaric.

The question then arose, 'How were the great quantities of gold and silver named by Alaric to be provided.' Public money there was none in the exchequer: probably the sacred majesty of Honorius drew all the produce of the taxes to Ravenna. The senators, whose statement of their wealth was perhaps capable of tolerably exact verification, paid their contributions according to a  p348 prepared list. A revenue-officer named Palladius was appointed to collect the rest from the citizens who had still any property remaining; but, partly owing to the extortions of previous Emperors and their ministers, which had really reduced many wealthy men to poverty, partly to unpatriotic concealment of their riches by those who were still rich, he failed to collect the required sum. Then, under the influence of some avenging demon which metes out the destinies of men, a really fatal resolution (says Zosimus) was adopted;

The images of the gods in the melting-pot. 'for they decided to make up the deficit by stripping off from the images of the gods the precious metals with which they were adorned. This was in fact nothing less than to deprive of life and energy, by diminishing the honour done to them, those statues which had been erected in the midst of solemn religious rites, and clothed with becoming adornment in order that they might ensure everlasting felicity in the state.​15 And since it was fated that from all quarters everything should concur to the ruin of the city, they not only stripped the statues of their adornments but they even melted down some of those which were composed of gold and silver, among which there was one of Valour (which the Romans call Virtutem).​16 And when this was destroyed,  p349 all that was left of Valour and Virtue among the Romans perished with it, as those who were learned in divine things and the rites transmitted from our ancestors perpetually asserted would be the case.'

Can Alaric be re‑enlisted as a confederate with Rome? After this matter of the payment was settled, the future relations between the people of Rome and the Gothic king came under discussion. No one hinted now (nor for two generations later) at making the barbarian ruler of any part of Italy. But to constitute him the permanent champion of Rome; to conclude a strict offensive and defensive alliance with one whose sword weighed so heavily in the scale; in fact to revert to and carry further the policy of Stilicho which these very Romans had probably been among the loudest in condemning, — this did seem to the Senate, a wise recognition of existing facts, a chance of saving the majesty of Rome from further humiliation. And such doubtless it was, and Theodosius himself, or Constantine, seeing Alaric's unfeigned eagerness for such an alliance would have concluded it with gladness. But all the endeavours of statesman­ship were foiled by the impenetrable stolidity of Honorius, who could not make either war or peace, nor could comprehend the existence of any danger to the Empire so long as his sacred person was unharmed.

Progress of the Anti-Emperor Constantine. We must turn for a moment from the contemplation of Alaric's successes to record the progress made by the other great menacer of the throne of Honorius, the Britanno-Roman Constantine. This man, who had fixed his court at Valence on the  p350 Rhone, after foiling the expedition of Sarus, had with considerable bravery and skill pushed back the in-rushing Vandals, Sueves, and other barbaric hordes, so that the Rhine frontier was safer than it had been since the days of Julian. He proceeded to send into Spain his son Constans, with the rank of Caesar — in his son's name as well as his own he imitates the first great British-born Emperor — and in the year now just closing (408) Constans was pushing the Imperial forces hard. But the remembrance of the great Spaniard Theodosius was still strong in Spain, and besides some regular troops in Lusitania, a mob of peasants and slaves gathered under the command of Verenianus and Didymius, Spanish kinsmen of the Emperor.​17 At first Constans was in some peril from their irregular onset, but having soon overcome them he sent the two Imperial cousins captives to his father at Arles.

Embassy from Constantine to Honorius. In the early days, then, of the New Year, a year glorified by the eighth Consulship of Honorius, and the third of his young nephew, Theodosius, this usurping Constantine, who was already master of the three great provinces of the West, sent certain eunuchs to the court of Honorius to excuse himself for having climbed to such height of power. 'Master, it is true, of Britain, Defender of Gaul, Conqueror of Spain; but all this, most Sacred Emperor,  p351 is not of mine own will, but forced upon me by a hot-headed soldiery.' Honorius perhaps believed the tale, told with all an eunuch's courtliness: at any rate, he remembered that his kinsmen were in the hands of the usurper, and therefore he, whose pride would not suffer him to accept the fealty of Alaric, sent the imperial purple to Constantine, and recognised him as a partner in the Empire. As far as the safety of his relations was concerned, he might have spared himself the humiliation; for, before the eunuchs had departed from valence on their errand of conciliation, the heads of Verenianus and Didymius had been severed from their bodies. But no doubt this also was 'to gratify the soldiery.'

Tedious minuteness of Zosimus as to the events of 409. This year 409, which is really unimportant in the development of the great drama, is described with almost provoking minuteness by our chief authority, Zosimus. Would that as full and clear a light had been thrown upon the first and the last campaigns of Alaric, upon 402 and 410.

As was before remarked, no one, in this period of uncertainty and suspense, seems to play the part which is set down for him. As if the destruction of Rome were some mighty cataract towards which all were being drifted along by the irresistible current of events, the Goth, the Roman, the Emperor, the Senate, swim helplessly in the stream, first towards one shore, then towards another, and all their motions do not seem to alter the final result in a single circumstance. Alaric himself undoubtedly  p352 had this conviction, that he was an instrument in the hand of a mightier power for the overthrow of Rome. Claudian's story of the voice in his ears, 'Penetrabis ad Urbem,' and his answer to the Italian monk recorded by Socrates, show a remarkable agreement of testimony on this point. Was the presentiment that he would be known to the nations as the Destroyer of Rome coupled with another presentiment that he himself would shortly after lay his bones on the Italian soil, and is this the clue to those stern and ruthless advances, tempered by fits of such strange and unexpected moderation?

Freebooter-slaves at Ostia, Immediately after the conclusion of the treaty of peace a vast number of domestic slaves fled from Rome, who, joining themselves to some of the wandering bands of barbarians, made up an army of 40,000 men, and levied a rude toll on the provisions and other merchandise arriving at Ostia for the relief of the city. repressed by Alaric. As soon as Alaric heard of this event, which seemed to stain the purity of his plighted honour, he repressed the bands of pillagers with strong hand. At least his share of the compact should be kept while he waited calmly to see whether Honorius would ratify the other. The stipulation upon which at this time Alaric laid most stress in the negotiations was that hostages, the sons of some of the chief men in the Roman state, should be placed in his hands as security for the continuance of friendly relations between himself and the Empire.

 p353  Fruitless embassy to Ravenna. The senate sent an embassy to the Emperor to represent to him the piteous condition of the Mistress of the World, and implore him to consent to the treaty with Alaric. Honorius tore himself away for a few hours from his poultry, heard apparently without emotion the sufferings of his people, gave a step in official rank to two of the ambassadors, and declined their request.

The blockade of Rome recommenced. As soon as the news of this refusal reached Alaric he recommenced the blockade of the city, not perhaps with all the old strictness, but with sufficient severity to make it difficult for the unsuccessful ambassadors to return. One of them, Attalus, now apparently Count of the Sacred Largesses, with great difficulty stole into the city at the same time with a routed general named Valens, who had just flung away 6,000 picked troops in an unsuccessful attempt to relieve Rome. Another of the envoys was actually taken prisoner, and being sold for a slave was bought by his father for 30,000 aurei​18 (about £18,000). The name of this luckless ambassador, rare in Italy then, was to be only too fatally familiar to the Italy of a thousand years later. He was called Maximillian.

Defeat of Ataulfus brother-in‑law of Alaric. Another embassy was sent by the Senate to Ravenna, and Pope Innocent I was associated with it, but we do not seem to be informed of its results.  p354 Just at this time Honorius was in a state of great elation, because Ataulfus, the brother-in‑law of Alaric, who was hastening to join him with a body of troops collected in Upper Pannonia, had been defeated by a small army of Huns in the service of the Emperor. The Roman account of the engagement is that 300 Huns slew 1200 Goths, with a loss to themselves of only 17 men. This is probably an exaggeration, and it is clear that the great point, the junction of Ataulfus and Alaric, was not prevented. Still there was sufficient occasion for a momentary exultation on the part of Honorius in his interview with the Roman ambassadors.

Olympius supplanted by Jovius. About this time occurred a revolution in the council chamber of the sovereign. Olympius's sole idea of government seems to have been confiscating the possessions of all who could possibly be suspected of Stilichonism, and endeavouring by torture to force them to confess their share in the conspiracy. Up to this time not a trace of any such conspiracy had been discovered; perhaps the public were growing a little weary of the cry against Stilicho, and contrasting the present position of affairs with that which had existed under the great minister: certainly the soldiers were dissatisfied with the miserable generals Turpillio and Vigilantius, whom the favour of Olympius retained in the highest military posts. The eunuchs of the palace employed against Olympius the same arts which he had used against Stilicho. Knowing the criminality of ill-success, he escaped to Dalmatia,  p355 and a certain Jovius​19 was appointed Praetorian Prefect, was clothed with the dignity of Patrician, became chief counsellor of Honorius, and drew all power into his own hands.

Another Pronunciamento. In order to wrest the military commands from the hands of the friends of Olympius, the mutiny of Ticinum was re-enacted on a smaller scale at Ravenna. The soldiers assembled on the shore hard by Classis shouting in mob fashion that the Emperor must be made to appear before them. Honorius of course concealed himself, and Jovius, the real author of the sedition, went to enquire with bland innocence the reason of all this clamour and wrath. Turpillio and Vigilantius were denounced by the infuriated soldiery. The Emperor consented at once to a decree of perpetual banishment being passed against them, and by the secret orders of Jovius this punishment was commuted into assassination at the hands of the officers of the ship on board of which they had been placed. Other changes were made in the household, but there is no need to record the names of these tumultuary chiefs of the civil and military service, of whom it  p356 may be said that they 'sprang up in night and perished in a night.'

Conference at Rimini between Alaric and Jovius. Practically all power centred in Jovius, and Jovius, as having overthrown the enemy of Stilicho, and also as having been of old 'guest-friend'​20 of Alaric in Epirus, had peculiar facilities for effecting that accommodation with the Visigothic king which the state imperatively required. With the Emperor's consent he invited Alaric to a conference, which was held at Rimini, about thirty Roman miles from Ravenna. The terms upon which the Goth was now willing to base his alliance with the Emperor were these:— A yearly payment of gold by Honorius; a supply of provisions, the amount of which was to be the subject of future negotiation; and the concession of the two divisions of Noricum, of Istria, Venetia, and Dalmatia for the residence of the Gothic troops and their families.​21 It was not apparently intended that these regions should cease to be included at least theoretically in the dominions of the Roman Emperor, but rather that the Goths should be quartered there as permanent allies on the same terms on which many other auxiliary tribes had at various times been permitted to settle within the confines of the Empire.

The concessions of Jovius vetoed by Honorius. In transmitting these demands to his master,  p357 Jovius gave a secret hint that probably if Alaric himself were gratified with some high official position, such as that of Magister Utriusque Militiae (Captain-General of Horse and Foot), he would be found willing to abate considerably from the stringency of his demands. To this Honorius replied, — and for once we do hear a man's voice, though not a wise man's, — 'You have behaved hastily in this matter. Payments of gold and subsidies of cornº belong to your duty as Praetorian Prefect, and I do not blame you for having arranged these according to your own judgment. But military command it is mine alone to bestow, and I hold it unfitting that such offices as you name should ever be held by Alaric or any of his race.'

This letter arrived when Jovius and Alaric were conversing. Was it pique against the Emperor, was it despair, was it mere folly, that impelled the minister to read it from the beginning to the end in the hearing of the Visigoth? Alaric listened to all the rest of the letter patiently enough, but when he heard the scornful close he broke off the negotiations abruptly, and declared that he would revenge on Rome herself the insult offered to himself and his race.

The oath by the head of the Emperor. Jovius, whose conduct is a perfect mystery of needless villainy, who, in short, behaved exactly like an Italian statesman of the sixteenth century who had lost his Machiavel, rushed back to Ravenna, and induced the Emperor to take an oath that he would conclude no peace with Alaric, but would  p358 wage against him perpetual war. When Honorius had taken this oath, Jovius, touching the Emperor's head, repeated the same words, and all who held high office in the state were compelled to follow his example.​22 And yet every one of these men in his secret heart knew that a just and honourable peace with Alaric was the only chance of rescuing Rome from impending destruction.

Honorius made some feeble preparations for war, enrolled 10,000 Huns in his armies, imported cattle and sheep from Dalmatia for the provisionment of Ravenna, and sent some scouts to watch the progress of the Gothic army towards Rome.

Alaric still hesitates But again Alaric, though duped and insulted, was seized by one of those strange qualms of awe or compassion which so often might have saved the Imperial City. 'Beginning to repent of his expedition against Rome, he sent forth the bishops of the cities through which he passed to act as his ambassadors, and to adjure the Emperor not to see unconcerned the city which had for more than a thousand years ruled over the greater part of the earth given up to be sacked by barbarians, nor yet such magnificent buildings destroyed by hostile fire, but rather to arrange a peace on very moderate conditions.'​23 and makes wonderfully moderate proposals for peace. He offered in fact to abate three provinces, Venetia, Istria, and Dalmatia, from his former demand,  p359 and to be satisfied with the two Noricums alone,​24 provinces already so wasted by barbarian invasions as to be of very small value to the treasury. He asked for no office or dignity, civil or military, nor even of gold, but only for such a supply of rations to his troops as the Emperor himself should consider reasonable; and in return for these slight concessions he promised friendship and military assistance against any enemy who might arise to trouble the peace of Honorius and his Romans.

But the oath by the Emperor's head ruins all. The moderation of Alaric excited general surprise, for in truth his demands were such as an Augustus might almost have conceded to an Arminius, or a Trajan to a Decebalus: but, for some reason hidden from us, Jovius and his creatures did not dare to advise their acceptance. The pretext alleged for refusal was that act of solemn imbecility, the oath by the head of the Emperor that no treaty of peace should be made with Alaric. 'A mere oath by the Almighty,' said Jovius, 'would have mattered comparatively little, as they might safely have trusted to the Divine good nature to overlook the apparent impiety. But an oath by the Emperor's person was a very different affair, and so awful an imprecation as that must never be disregarded.' The flattered sovereign thought this reasoning most conclusive; and the Visigoth, pale with rage at the tidings of the refusal of his request, set to work  p360 without further forbearance to commence the Second Siege of the City.

The Second Siege of Rome commenced. The second siege of Rome by Alaric is one of the surprises of history. With the remembrance of the terrible famine and pestilence which accompanied the first siege vividly before us, with the knowledge of the repeated insults since then inflicted upon the Visigothic king, we expect to see some great and doleful tragedy enacted upon the Seven Hills. Far from it; the curtain is drawn up, and we behold, instead of a tragedy, a burlesque, the title whereof is 'The Ten Months' Emperor, or Attalus the Aesthetic.'

The citizens of Rome saw once more the Gothic army encamped around their walls, Ostia occupied, the large stores of provisions there collected taken possession of by the barbarians. They had no desire to see the experiments of last year as to the possible articles of human diet repeated; they began to ask themselves, very naturally, 'Since Honorius does nothing to protect us, and since he can neither make war nor peace with Alaric, but only shuts himself behind the ditches of Ravenna, leaving us to bear all the burden of the war, why should we suffer any more in his quarrel?' They explained their feelings to the king of the Goths, and speedily an arrangement was made which seemed likely to satisfy all parties. The Imperial city formally renounced her allegiance to Honorius, and bestowed the purple and the  p361 diadem on Attalus,​25 the Prefect of the City, who as Augustus at once concluded the long-desired treaty of peace with Alaric.

Attalus made Emperor. The Praetorian Prefect of the City was already in official rank the highest person in Rome next to the Emperor. But independently of his high office, Priscus Attalus had in various ways made himself popular with various parties. He was a Greek, an Ionian — born, that is, on the Eastern shore of the Aegean, near the birthplaces of the old Greek poetry, philosophy and art. Looking at his medallions, one is at once struck by the Greek character of the face pourtrayed upon them. Though there is no strength in the brow, there is surely some artistic sensibility indicated by the lines of the mouth. The curve of the lower jaw and the well-rounded chin seem almost noble, and when contrasted with the wooden imbecility of Honorius's effigy, he seems almost like 'Hyperion to a Satyr.'

His heathen, Arian, and Gothic connections. From this art-loving Ionian Greek the Pagans in Rome expected nothing less than the restoration of their old temples and sacrifices. Yet he was not an obstinate Pagan, for he had been baptized by an Arian bishop. There again was hope for the still large though down-trodden Arian party.  p362 But yet again the Arian bishop who baptized him was himself a Goth, Sigesarius by name. That fact endeared him to the Goths; and thus it came to pass that he whose first promotion to high office had been earned through his personal acceptability to Honorius, was now set upon the throne by a combination of Honorius's sternest foes in order to achieve his downfall.

Magniloquent harangue of Attalus. The new Augustus, having put on the diadem and the purple paludamentum, and having at once bestowed high military offices on his barbarian friends, Alaric being made commander-in‑chief and Ataulfus general of the household troops,​26 went with much pomp of attendant soldiery to a meeting of the senate in the Imperial palace. There he addressed them in a long and elaborate oration. 'Rome and the Senate had too long been treated with unseemly disrespect. He, Priscus Attalus, would restore both to their former high estate. He would make the name of the Conscript fathers again venerable, he would bring the whole world back under the dominion of Rome. Yes, the whole world; the upstart rival on the Bosporus should be dethroned, and Egypt and all the provinces of the East should again own the sway of the City by the Tiber.' Some such sonorous words as these  p363 he poured forth; such as the senators as were versed in public affairs may have whispered to one another 'Graeculus esuriens in coelum jusseris, ibit,'​27 while the nobles of the Anician house, the wealthiest in Rome, openly displayed their doubt of the stability of the new Emperor's throne; but the tide of popularity out of doors ran strongly in favour of Attalus, whose crown was the seal of the alliance with Alaric, the pledge of the punishment of the selfish court of Ravenna. The Visigoth had shown himself terrible as a foe, but if Rome could only keep him as her friend, what might she not accomplish by his aid against her enemies?

Africa the true key of the position. The quick eye of Alaric perceived that the key of the hostile position was not in Italy, but in Africa. Rome was dependent on that province for the supply of corn for her citizens, but Africa was at present held strongly for Honorius by Heraclius, the executioner of Stilicho. He earnestly advised Attalus to send thither a moderate force of barbarians under the command of a certain Drumas, and to attempt nothing else till Africa was secured. But Attalus, whose head was quite turned by his sudden elevation, who had the echoes of his own sonorous address to the senate still ringing in his ears, and who was 'seeking to wizards and familiar spirits' for his policy, scornfully rejected the advice of his Gothic friend. He sent Constans (a different person, of course, from  p364 the son of the British rebel) with a slender body of troops into Africa; and he himself, probably in the beginning of 410, marched toward Ravenna to indulge in the luxury of trampling on the apparently fallen Honorius. That Emperor sent Jovius to him with a similar offer to that which he had made to Constantius: 'Let us divide the Empire; you reign at Rome, I at Ravenna, only let me still be Augustus here.'

Insulting message of Attalus to Honorius. Jovius, the Talleyrand of the epoch, whose orbit of treachery it is impossible to calculate, seems to have become for the time a partisan of the new Emperor, from whom he accepted the office of Praetorian Prefect;​28 and he it was who dictated the insolent reply which he surely can never have had the audacity to carry back in person. 'Not a particle of Italian soil, O Honorius, not a vestige of the Imperial dignity, not even thy own body will we allow thee to preserve unmutilated. Thou shalt be maimed, thou shalt be banished to some island, and then, as a favour, we will concede to thee life.' Certainly the artistic Greek nature of this man preserves a trace of the feline cruelty which one remembers in certain passages of the Peloponnesian war.​b

Flight of Honorius stopped by the arrival of reinforcements from Constantinople However, for a time the very arrogance of the man seemed destined to achieve success. Honorius, thoroughly alarmed for the safety of his person, was about to escape by sea to Constantinople, when suddenly six legions, amounting to 40,000  p365 men,​29 landed at the very port where he was making his preparations for flight. They were soldiers of Theodosius II, sent to the assistance of his uncle against Alaric.

which had been two years on the way. We receive a vivid impression of the disorganised state of the Eastern as well as the Western half of the Empire when we are informed that these men had actually been summoned by Stilicho, not later therefore than the first half of the year 408, nearly two years before their appearance on the scene of action. Not unfriendliness, but inefficiency or procrastination — in this case a most seasonable procrastination — had postponed their arrival till now.

When these 40,000 men arrived, Honorius picked up courage enough to attempt a further defence of Ravenna, watching above all things for the issue of affairs in Africa, and postponing his departure for the East till he knew at least whether that province was lost to him.

Dissensions between the puppet and his master. It was not lost. Stilicho's murderer was still  p366 loyally serving his Imperial master. Constans, the general of Attalus, was slain, and the usurper, instead of even yet retrieving his fortunes by despatching thither an army of Goths, could think of nothing better than to send an apparently trifling reinforcement of Romans, 'with money' to reinvigorate his failing cause. Alaric began to be seriously displeased at the imbecility which his Emperor was displaying in reference to this African campaign. Jovius, too, seeing which way fortune was inclining, turned round once more, made his peace secretly with Honorius, but remained at the court of Attalus to sow dissension between him and Alaric, by suggesting to the Visigoth — a suggestion which probably contained some grains of truth — that the usurper, if he were once securely settled on his throne, would not be long in disembarrassing himself, by assassination or some other means, of his too powerful barbarian benefactors. Alaric listened and half believed, but did not yet desert the cause of Attalus. He left Ravenna unbesieged, traversed the province of the Aemilia, compelling all the cities therein, except Bologna, to acknowledge the new Emperor, and then proceeded towards Genoa on the same errand.

Famine again in Rome. Meantime, however, Alaric's own weapon, famine, was being fatally employed against his creature. Heraclian, like Gildo, by closing the African ports, was able to bring Rome to her knees. It was of no avail that Ostia was free, that the city was unblockaded, if the great granary itself was closed.  p367 Already, without a siege, the horrors of the first siege were recommencing; the grain-dealers were accused of 'forestalling and regrating,' A tariff for human flesh demanded. and when Attalus and his people met face to face in the great Flavian Amphitheatre — for, of course, the games must go on though all else was falling into ruin — it is said that an angry murmur surged round the topmost seats where the populace sat, and that fierce voices shouted to the Augustus, Pretium pone carni humanae — 'Fix a maximum price for human flesh.'​c

Attalus deposed at Rimini. Again the senate assembled; again all the reasonable men in that assembly urged that Drumas and the barbarians should be sent to cut the knot of the African difficulty; again the vainglorious Attalus refused to entrust the war to other than Roman hands. Then at length, on the receipt of these tidings, the patience of Alaric gave way. He marched back to Rimini, his nearest outpost towards Ravenna, commanded Attalus to wait upon him, and there, in the plain outside the town, in sight of the Gothic army and the Roman inhabitants, he stripped him of his diadem and purple robe, and proclaimed that he was degraded to the condition of a private citizen. The unhappy Greek, so proudly self-inflated and so ignominiously collapsing, had reigned for something less than a year. He did not dare to return to Rome, far less, of course, to Ravenna, but requested permission for himself and his son Ampelius to follow the train of the Visigothic army. The permission  p368 was disdainfully granted, and we shall meet with him once again in the barbarian camp.

Renewed overtures to Honorius. Alaric, in order to give Honorius visible tokens of the change in his policy, sent to the court of Ravenna the Imperial ensigns which he had stripped from his dethroned client. The officers also, who had received their commands from the usurper, restored their military belts to the legitimate Emperor, and humbly implored his forgiveness. 'And now, surely,' any discriminating observer might have thought, 'a just and honourable peace will be concluded between Alaric and Honorius, and Italy will rest from her anguish.'

Sarus prevents peace. The hindrance to the fulfilment of these hopes came this time from Sarus the Goth, a man who is to us scarcely more than a mere name, but about whom a real historian, writing contemporaneously, would probably have told us much. At present we know little, except that he was at first a friend and follower of Stilicho,​30 but turned against him (as has already been described) with the turn in the tide of fortune, and sought, but unsuccessfully, to earn the price set upon his head. Then had come his short-lived success and ignominious failure in the campaign against Constantine, notwithstanding which he was still deemed by the people the fittest man to make head against his countryman Alaric after Stilicho's death.​31 He was not, however, chosen for that purpose by the  p369 Emperor, but had since remained near Ravenna with a small force of his countrymen, standing sullenly aloof from both the combatants. He had some cause of rankling enmity against Ataulfus, if not against Alaric also, and some have conjectured that an old Teutonic blood-feud existed between his house and theirs. Now there came either a skirmish or an apprehension of one between the old enemies.​32 In the end, Sarus, with 300 chosen warriors, entered Ravenna and exerted all his influence to break off the negotiations between Honorius and the Visigoths.

He succeeded: Alaric retired from the conference and marched southwards, this time in deadly earnest, intent upon The Third Siege of Rome.

Our ignorance as to the details of the Third Siege of Rome. Of this, the crowning act of the great drama, the real end of old Rome, the real beginning of modern history, it must be confessed that we scarcely know more than we do of the fall of Babylon. Zosimus's history comes to an abrupt end just short of the climax. That the work is incomplete is manifest from the preface, in which Zosimus contrasts it with that of Polybius, and evidently implies that as the latter had told the story of the rise of Rome, so he would describe her fall. The capture of the city in 410 would have been the fitting dramatic close to his narrative, and it is quite impossible to  p370 suppose that he did not at least intend to write of it. The ecclesiastical historians have transmitted a few anecdotes illustrative of the religious aspect of the struggle; we are grateful for these details, which preserve us from utter darkness, but the very importance attached to them, the frequency of their repetition by subsequent chroniclers, show how little was really known of the more important incidents of the siege. Rome, which had described with such eager minuteness the death-pangs of a hundred cities which she had taken, has left untold the story of her own overthrow.

Alaric breaks into the city, 24th Aug., 410. Alaric was spared, this time, the necessity of reducing the city by a slow blockade. On the night of the 24th​33 of August, it would seem almost immediately after his appearance before the walls, his troops burst in by the Salarian Gate,​34 near the eastern flank of the Pincian Hill, close to the gardens of Sallust, and about half a mile from the Baths of Diocletian.35

Doubtful stories of treachery within the city. Hints indeed are let fall that the gates were opened to him by treachery, but they rest only on the very doubtful authority of Procopius, who wrote more than a century after the event. He describes circumstantially​36 a stratagem of Alaric's, who, he  p371 says, presented to the Roman nobles three hundred of the bravest youths of his nation under the guise of slaves, by whom, when the fitting time came, he was admitted through the Salarian Gate. Or else, says the same author, the venerable Christian matron Proba (mother of the Consuls Probinus and Olybrius), pitying the sufferings of the people from famine, ordered her slaves to open the gate by night and so end their misery. Neither story harmonises with the characters or mutual relation of the chief actors in the scene; and the words of the contemporary Orosius,​37 'Alaric appears, he besieges the trembling city, he throws it into confusion, he breaks into it,' seem almost conclusive against the hypothesis of treachery. In confirmation of this view, that Rome was taken by assault, we find it stated very emphatically that the splendid palace of Sallust was set on fire — just what we might expect to have happened if there was hard fighting around the Salarian Gate.

Savage deeds of the Goths. It was said in a preceding chapter that we must not think of the Visigoths as savages, scarcely even, except in the classical sense of the word, as barbarians. Now however that they have entered Rome, now that, after years of waiting and marching and diplomatising, the prize is at last theirs, the accumulated treasures of the world at their feet, and few days in which to pick them up, we may have to fall back for a time upon that more popular  p372 conception of their character. Every army during the sack and pillage of a conquered town sinks to the level of the savage; a fever of avarice, cruelty, lust, burns in the veins of men to whom, after months of hardship and discipline, all at once everything is permitted, nothing is forbidden. The latent demon in each man's heart suddenly asserts himself, looks into the eyes of the demon brethren, and becomes ten times more terrible by the communion of evil. Thus, though the soldiers of Alaric were ministers of mercy when compared with those of Alva or Tilly, we cannot doubt that brutality and outrage of every kind marked their entrance into the conquered city.

Brutal ill-treatment of the aged Marcella. One instance recorded is doubtless the type of thousands. On the Aventine hill dwelt the widow Marcella, with her friend and adopted daughter Principia. Of noble birth and conspicuous beauty Marcella had lost her husband in her early youth after only seven months of married life. Refusing all offers of re-marriage she devoted herself thenceforward to a life of seclusion and charity, turned her palace on the Aventine into a convent, and bestowed the greater part of her substance on the poor. While the great advocate of monasticism, Jerome, had dwelt in Rome, Marcella had been one of his most earnest supporters; after he retired to his cave at Bethlehem she was one of the most highly favoured of his correspondents. This had been her manner of life for fifty years or more: she was now verging upon extreme old age when she saw the  p373 ruin of her country. The blood-stained Gothic soldiers, who rushed into her house expecting large spoils from so stately a palace, eagerly demanded that she should surrender the treasures which they were persuaded she had buried. She showed her mean and threadbare garments, and told them how it came to pass that she, a Roman matron, was destitute of wealth. The words 'voluntary poverty' fell on unbelieving ears. They beat her with clubs, they scourged her: she bore the strokes with unflinching courage, but fell at their feet and implored them not to separate her from Principia, dreading the effect of these horrors on the young maiden if called to bear them alone. At length their hard hearts softened towards her, they accepted her statement as to her poverty, and escorted her and Principia to the Basilica of St. Paul. Arrived there she broke forth into a song of thanksgiving, 'that God had at least kept her friend for her unharmed, that she had not been made poor by the ruin of the city, but that it had found her poor already, that she would not feel the hunger of the body even though the daily bread might fail, because she was filled with all the fulness of Christ.' But the shock of the cruelties she had endured was too great for her aged body, and after a few days she expired, 'the hands of her adopted daughter closing her eyes, and her kisses accompanying the last sigh.'38

 p374  Fugitives to the Christian churches unharmed. Our other anecdotes of the capture of the city are of a less melancholy kind. The Christian apologists naturally dwell on every fact, which suggests the reflection how much worse might the state of Rome have been had heathens been its captors. Before entering the city Alaric had given strict orders, which appear to have been obeyed, that all the Christian edifices should be left uninjured, and that the right of asylum in them, especially in the two great basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, should be rigorously respected. Great multitudes of Pagans, as well as of Christians, availed themselves of this provision, which was accompanied by a general recommendation from Alaric to spare human life as much as possible while satiating themselves with spoil.39

The soldier and the nun. One of the Goths, a man in high position and professing the Christian faith, burst into a house, which formed part, though he knew it not, of the possessions of the Church. Meeting an aged nun therein, he asked her, not uncourteously, whether she had any gold or silver. She replied that she had much of both, and would immediately produce it. She then set before him such a splendid array of gold and silver vees as the barbarian had probably not seen before. Bewildered, he enquired as to the nature and use of them. She replied boldly, 'They are consecrated to the service of the Apostle Peter. I am not strong enough to defend them from you. Take them if you are not afraid to do  p375 so: you will have to answer for the deed.' The officer, struck by her boldness, and fearful of incurring the guilt of sacrilege sent to ask orders from Alaric, who commanded that the sacred vessels, the woman who had so faithfully guarded them, and any Christians who might wish to accompany her, should be escorted by soldiers to the Basilica of St. Peter. A kind of triumphal procession was formed; the soldier and 'the virgin of Christ' at its head, brawny Gothic arms carried the sacred vessels on high, the Roman Christians sang hymns, their barbarian brethren raised the melodious antiphone, many Pagans, wondering and trembling, joined themselves to the crowd, and thus through the blood-stained, smoking streets that strange chorus moved on in safety to the shelter of the great Basilica.40

The soldier and the matron. Within the same inviolable enclosure a Roman matron, young and of surpassing loveliness, was conducted by another Gothic soldier. When he had sought to offer her outrage, she had preferred death to dishonour, and bared her neck to his sword. He struck, and the blood flowed copiously; he struck again, but he could not slay; then he relented, and leading her to the church gave her into the charge of the officers who were stationed there, and at the same time handing them six aurei,41  p376 desired them to conduct her safely to her husband.42

The city itself in all probability not greatly injured. The amount of injury done by the Goths to the city itself it is not easy to determine. Writers who were remote from the scene and declamatory in their style,​43 speak as if the whole city had been wrapped in flames, every building shattered, nothing left but ruins. It is easy to see from subsequent descriptions of the appearance of the city that this is a gross exaggeration, and it is a priori most improbable that the Goths, who only stayed a short time in Rome, should have devoted so large a part of their energies to the destruction of mere buildings. On the other hand, it is clear that they did use fire in one case, when they burned the palace of Sallust, and probable enough that other edifices may have suffered in the same way, though it is singular that this one palace is the only building which any historian condescends to specify as having been destroyed by fire. Orosius, writing history as an advocate, and having to maintain the thesis that Rome had not suffered since her conversion to Christianity greater calamities than befell her in Pagan times, is not, it must be admitted, an entirely trustworthy witness on this point. But he, a contemporary writer, distinctly says that 'the destruction wrought by fire at the hands of the Gothic conqueror was not to be compared with  p377 that caused by accident in the 700th year from the foundation of the city.'​44 This verdict seems a probable one, and may support a conjecture that Rome suffered less, externally, from the barbarians in 410, than Paris from the leaders of the Commune in 1871.

Little as we know from eye-witnesses of the actual details of the siege, we are not left in ignorance of the effect which the news of its fatal result produced on the minds of the provincials. Especially are we able to note the impressions received by the two greatest writers of that age, St. Jerome and St. Augustine.

Effect of the tidings of the fall of Rome on St. Jerome. In his cell at Bethlehem, St. Jerome was laboriously constructing his commentary on Ezekiel, wrestling with the shadowy difficulties of the most enigmatical of Prophets, when suddenly 'a terrible rumour from the west was brought to him.' The story of all the three sieges seems to have reached him at once, the famine, the purchased peace with its vain humiliation; the capture and the sack filled his soul with one sorrow and consternation, a consternation so bewildering that, as he himself says, 'to quote a common proverb, I wellnigh forgot my own name.'​d Then came the troops of exiles, men and women of the noblest families in Rome, once abounding in wealth, now beggars. At that sight 'I was long silent, knowing that it  p378 was the time for tears. Since for us to relieve them all was impossible we joined our lamentations with theirs, and in this state of mind I had no heart for explaining Ezekiel, but seemed likely to lose all the fruit of my labour.' He quotes Lucan,

'What is enough, if Rome be deemed too small?'​45

and proposes to modify the question thus —

'What can be safe, if Rome in ruins fall?'​46

Then he quotes Virgil (with slight alterations)

'Not though a hundred mouths, a hundred tongues

Were mine, or came my voice from iron lungs,

Could I rehearse each tortured captive's pain,

Or swiftly tell the names of all the slain.'​47

Isaiah, 'In the night Moab is taken, in the night has her wall fallen.'48

Asaph, the Psalmist, 'O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled, they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.'49

And again his favourite Virgil —

'What witness could recount aright

The woes, the carnage of that night,

Or make his tributary sighs

Keep measure with our agonies?


An ancient city topples down

From broad-based heights of old renown.

There in the streets confusedly strown

Lie age and helplessness o'erthrown,

Block up the entering of the doors

And cumber Heaven's own temple-floors.'​50

He improves the event to enforce his advice in favour of asceticism. In the midst of his distress and consternation, Jerome does not fail to improve the opportunity for enforcing his own ascetic views. The first quotation from Virgil occurs in his celebrated letter 'De Monogamia,' addressed to the young widow Ageruchia, to dissuade her from re-marriage, 'Not even your sighs are safe,' he says; 'it is dangerous to weep over your calamities. Tell me, dear daughter in Christ, will you marry in the midst of such events as these? What do you mean your husband to do — fight? or fly? In either case you know what sad results to expect. For the Fescennine song,​51 the terrible trumpet will crash upon your ears, and your bridesmaids may have to  p380 change their part and act as mourners for the dead.'

Again, in writing to Gaudentius as to the education of his infant daughter Pacatula, he seems almost to rejoice that she is born into so dreary a world, because there is a greater chance of her being trained to abhor it. 'Oh shame,' he says, 'the frame of the world is falling into ruin, yet our sins fall not from us! That renowned city, the head of the Roman world, has been destroyed by one conflagration. There is no region where the exiles from Rome are not found; churches, once sacred, have fallen into heaps of ashes; and yet we are still set upon covetousness! . . . Into such times as these our little Pacatula has been born; these are the playthings by which her infancy is surrounded; she is learning tears before laughter, sorrow sooner than joy. Oh, let her think that the world has ever been like this; let her be ignorant of the past, avoid the present, yearn only for the future.'

But the climax of his ascetic enthusiasm is reached in his letter to Demetrias, daughter of the Olybrius whose Consulship, along with that of his brother Probinus, Claudian sang of, and grand-daughter of Proba who was accused of opening the Salarian Gate to the Goths. In this letter he asserts that on Demetrias consecrating herself to a life of perpetual virginity 'Italy changed her garments of mourning, and the ruined walls of Rome almost resumed their former glory. This signal instance  p381 of Divine favour made the Romans feel as if the Gothic army, that off-scouring of all things, made up of slaves and deserters, were already cut to pieces. It made them rejoice more than their ancestors had done over the first victory which succeeded the terrible disaster of Cannae.' Was it genuine monkish enthusiasm, or flattery, or slavery of a declamatory author to his own rhetoric, which made Jerome write such extraordinary sentences as these?52

Effect of the same tidings on the St. Augustine. On his great African contemporary Augustine, the tidings of the capture of Rome produced an effect as powerful as upon Jerome. As powerful, and in a certain sense more durable, since it stimulated him to the composition of his greatest work, the offspring of thirteen years of toil, his treatise on The City of God. In his 'Retractations' he thus describes the origin of the book:—

'Rome, meanwhile, by the invasion of the Goths, under their king Alaric, was overthrown with the crash of a mighty slaughter. This overthrow the worshippers of many and false gods (whom we are accustomed to call Pagans) endeavoured to connect with the Christian religion, and accordingly they  p382 began to blaspheme name of the true God with even more than their usual bitterness. Wherefore I, inflamed with zeal for the Lord's house, determined to write a treatise on The City of God, in order to refute the mistakes of some and the blasphemies of others. This work kept me employed during several years, being interrupted by many other engagements which had to be attended to immediately. But this great work De Civitate Dei is at length completed in twenty-two books.'

The 'De Civitate Dei.' He then goes on to describe the plan of the treatise. The first five books refute the error of those who assert that the prosperity of mankind depends on Polytheism. The next five are directed against those who admit that misfortunes sometimes befall the worshippers of the gods, but who contend that they ought still to be adored for the sake of the happiness which they are capable of bestowing in a future state. So much for the negative part of the work. Then, for the positive part, in the remaining twelve books he seeks to establish the truth of the Christian religion. In the first four (11th to 14th) he traces the origin, in the second four (15th to 18th) the growth, and in the last four books (18th to 22nd) the destined consummation of the two eternally separate cities whereof one is the City of God, the other the City of the World.

Such is the general outline of the great Apology of victorious Christianity, but there is many a creek and inlet of curious disquisition, of antiquarian  p383 lore, of fantastic speculation concerning Man and concerning Nature, of which this sketch-map gives us no hint. Its value as a piece of Christian polemic is, if one may venture to say so, far inferior to its value as a repository of the thoughts and feelings of Pagan Rome. As a mere piece of argument it suffers, not only from its intolerable prolixity, but yet more from the very completeness of its victory. Through page after page Augustine wrangles on with the Romans upon such topics as their worship of the goddess Felicity.​53 Why did they worship both Felicity and Fortune? What was the difference between them? Why did they not worship Felicity in the earlier ages of the Republic, and yet introduce her worship afterwards? Were they not really happier before than after they began to worship Felicity? And so on. Arguments of this kind seem to a modern reader a most wearisome slaying of the slain: and yet the passage from Zosimus, quoted in this chapter, about the insult offered to the statue of Valour, shows that these deified abstractions really retained some hold on the reverence of the average Pagan intellect, and that Augustine was not fighting mere phantoms though much of his sword-play is purely superfluous.

Upon the whole, while recognising the justice of its claim to a place in the front ranks of Christian literature, it may be said that the book is less than its title, that the single thought 'The City of God abideth for ever though the greatest City of the  p384 World has fallen in ruin,' is the most sublime thing which the author has to put before us, and that many of the arguments by which he tries to buttress his great thesis add no strength and no beauty to the edifice. It is worth considering what shape such an argument would have assumed in our own day. An article in a review, a sermon or a pamphlet, would probably be all that a modern Augustine would produce in similar circumstances. And, putting antiquarian interests out of the question, would not the pamphlet be really more effective and more fitting than the twenty-two books? The influences of France and of the Printing Press have combined to make the production of another De Civitate Dei impossible. The multiplicity of authors compels the controversialist who would now obtain a hearing, to speak promptly and concisely: the examples of Pascal and Voltaire teach him that he must speak with point and vivacity.

As we might expect from his position in the argument, Augustine strongly insists on all the mitigating circumstances in the fall of Rome, the respect shown to the churches, the privilege of sanctuary, and so forth; while, on the other hand, his statement that in so great a carnage the bodies could not even be buried,​54 and the many pages devoted to the unhappy lot of the women who had been dishonoured by the barbarians,​55 clearly show that the usual horrors of a town taken by assault were not lacking in the case of Rome.

 p385  The same great thesis, 'Rome has not suffered these things on account of her desertion of Paganism,' guides and informs the whole history of Orosius, which has been so often quoted in these pages, and which is dedicated to Orosius's friend and master Augustine.

Movements of the Goths after the capture of Rome. But it is time to return from the theological schools of Bethlehem and Hippo to Rome and her invaders. Three days only, or, at the most, six, did the Goths tarry in the famine-wasted and probably fever-stricken city. Then, with their heavy burden of spoils, and a long train of captives​56 to help in bearing them, they marched southwards through Campania. Rome fallen, no meaner city seems to have even attempted resistance. We hear incidentally of one captured town, Nola, which had resisted Hannibal when flushed with his great success at Cannae, but which apparently did not even delay the victorious march of Alaric. Here round the tomb of St. Felix (one of the martyrs in the persecution under Decius)​57 Paulinus the bishop had erected a little suburb of convents. He had long ere this voluntarily exchanged  p386 great wealth for a life of poverty; and, to quote the words of his friend Augustine,​58 'When he was taken prisoner by the barbarians he put up this prayer, as he afterwards informed me, "Lord, let me not be tortured to make me reveal my gold and silver, for where all my wealth is gone thou knowest." ' The context of the passage seems to imply that the prayer was granted, and that the good bishop did not even lose the little modicum of property which still belonged to him.59

From Campania Alaric and his Goths pressed on still southwards into Bruttii, the modern Calabria. They collected some ships at Reggio — intending to invade Sicily, some historians say; to pass on thence into Africa, says Jornandes the Goth. There can be little doubt that he is right, that Africa was the present object of Alaric's attack. Not necessarily, however, the ultimate object. His military instinct showed him that there, in the great granary of Rome, must the question of dominion over the Eternal City be decided; that while Heraclian still held Africa for Honorius, the phantom-Emperor at Ravenna could not be dethroned. He was going, then, to Africa, but doubtless with the intention of returning to Rome.

 p387  But whatever might be his intentions, they were frustrated. This wave of Teutonic invasion had reached its extreme limit at Reggio, and was henceforward to recede. 'Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind' was perhaps the jubilant cry of the inhabitants of Messina, when they saw a great storm arise, by which Alaric's fleet was dashed to pieces, and a considerable part of his army, already embarked thereon, destroyed.​60 The Visigothic king could not bring himself to acknowledge defeat, even by the elements. He lingered near Reggio, still perhaps dreaming of conquests beyond the seas. Death of Alaric. Suddenly, in the midst of his warlike schemes, Death surprised him. We are told nothing as to the nature of his malady, except that it was of short duration. It is probable that in his case, as in that of so many other Northern invaders of Italy, climate proved itself mightier than armies, and that Fever was the great avenger.

His burial under the River Busento. The well-known story of the burial of Alaric derives some additional interest from the remembrance of his birthplace. He was born, as the  p388 reader may remember, on an island at the mouth of one of the greatest rivers of Europe. The flow of the broad but sluggish Danube, the sound of the wind in the pine-trees,​61 the distant thunder of the Euxine upon its shore, — these were the sounds most familiar to the ear of the young Visigoth. Now that he had swept with resistless force from the Black Sea to the Straits of Messina, a river must flow over his grave as it had encircled his cradle. Forth from the high pine-woods of the Calabrian mountain-range of Sila leaps the stream of the Busento, which meeting the larger river Crati coming from the Apennines, encircles the town of Cosenza, where the great Visigoth met his death. To provide their leader with a tomb which no Italian hand should desecrate, the barbarians compelled a number of their captives to labour at diverting the Busento from its ordinary channel. In the dry bed of the river they dug the grave, in which, amid many of the chosen spoils of Rome, the body of Alaric was laid. The captives were then ordered to turn the river back into its ancient course, and their faithful guardian­ship of the grim secret was secured by the inviolable seal of death printed upon their lips. So, under the health-bringing62 waters of the rapid Busento, sleeps Ala‑reiks the Visigoth, equalled, may it not be said, by only three men in succeeding times as a  p389 changer of the course of history. And these three are Mohammed, Columbus, Napoleon.

Effect of the tidings of the fall of Rome on Honorius. Of that other triad who marked for us the commencement of the year 395, two are gone — Stilicho and Alaric. Honorius, their ignoble contemporary, as is the manner of human affairs, survives, and is to live on yet for thirteen years. Something has been said of the effect of the tidings of the fall of Rome upon Jerome and Augustine: it would be improper not to mention the impression which they are said to have produced on the mind of the Roman Imperator.

A chamberlain, says Procopius,​63 rushed into the Imperial presence, announcing that Rome had perished. ' "Rome perished!" said the Emperor, "it is not an hour since she was feeding out of my hand." He understood the sad news as relating to a very fine fowl to which he had given the name of Rome. Then the eunuch explained to him that it was only the city of Rome which had been destroyed by Alaric. "But I thought, my friend," said Honorius, evidently relieved, "that you meant that I had lost my bird Rome." '

The story can hardly be true, but it illustrates the estimate which his contemporaries formed of his character, and, in the words of the lovely language that was one day to arise out of the ruins which the fatuity of Honorius helped to produce, we may say, 'Se non è vero è ben trovato.'64

The Author's Notes:

1 Alaric was at Laybachº and Honorius at Ravenna. A messenger with despatches of importance would probably take five or six days at the outside for the journey between the two places.

2 Socrates, VII.10. This incident may have occurred during one of his subsequent marches to Rome.

3 Τερέντιον μὲν ἔταξεν ἄρχειν τοῦ βασιλικοῦ κοιτῶνος [that is, no doubt, Honorius made him praepositus sacri cubiculi] Αρσακίῳ δὲ τὴν μετὰ τοῦτον ἔδωκε τάξιν [probably the office of castrensis sacri palatii]. Zosimus, V.37.

4 V.39.

5 Deuteronomy xxviii.52, 55.

6 Primicerius Notariorum, and probably the same person who afterwards succeeded Honorius as Emperor. Both ambassadors were Spectabiles only. All the Illustres were no doubt safely sheltered at Ravenna.

7 'Wa auk boteith mannan, jabai gageigaith thana fairwu allana jah gasleitheith sik saivalai seinai.' Mark viii.36.

8 xviii.12‑13.

9 This passage is generally translated 'your lives.' Either rendering is correct, and equally so whether Alaric spoke in Greek and said τὰς ψυχὰς, or in Gothic and said saivalos.

𐍃𐌰𐌹𐍅𐌻𐌰𐌻 (saivala = Germ. Seele) is soul in Romans i.13 ('Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers'), but life in Mark viii.35 ('Whosoever will save his life shall lose it').

10 Zosimus, V.40.

11 Possibly the Sibylline books.

12 Zosimus, V.41; Sozomen, IX.6. Greek English The ecclesiastical historian seems to agree with the pagan that the incantations were not actually performed: otherwise one would be inclined to suspect that Zosimus was glossing over a coup manqué on the part of the heathen priests.

13 The 5000 lbs. of gold would be worth £225,000; the 30,000 lbs. of silver £90,000, nearly.

14 χιτῶνες.

15 This passage is worth quoting in the original, as curiously illustrating the theory of image-worship: ὅπερ οὐδὲν ἕτερον ἦν ἢ τὰ τελεταῖς ἁγίαις καθιδρυθέντα καὶ τοῦ καθήκοντος κόσμου τυχόντα διὰ τὸ φυλάξαι τῇ πόλει τὴν ευδαιμονίαν ἀΐδιον ἐλαττωθείσης κατά τι τῆς τελετῆς ἄψυχα εἶναι καὶ ἀνενέργητα. Zosimus, V.41.

16 Οὐιρτούτεμ.

17 These two men had long been at feud with one another, but were now united by the presence and urgency of a common danger (Sozomen, IX.11). Greek English

18 Here, as elsewhere, I interpret 'aureus' as equivalent to 'solidus aureus,' worth therefore about twelve shillings. The aureus of the earlier emperors fluctuated between fifteen and twenty-two shillings.

19 These Pagan names, Olympius and Jovius, at the eminently Christian court of Ravenna, are somewhat curious. Tillemont (V.573) speaks too doubtfully of Jovius's profession of Christianity if, as seems probable, he is the same person who, as Count of Africa, overthrew the Pagan temples at Carthage and destroyed the idols in the year 399 (Augustine, De Civ. Dei, XVIII.54), and to whom, as Praetorian Prefect, in this year (409) Honorius addressed his decrees against apostates to heathenism and Judaism.

20 πρόξενος (Zosimus, V.48).

21 This concession would have given Alaric a solid block of territory 200 miles long by 150 wide, reaching from Passau to Venice and from Vienna to Ragusa. It may be doubtful how much of Illyricum proper would have been included under the term Dalmatia.

22 Compare Genesis xlii.16, 'Else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely ye are spies.' Also the frequent persecutions of Christians for refusing to swear 'by the Genius of the [heathen] Emperor.'

23 Zosimus, V.50.

24 Austria proper, Styria, and Carinthia.

25 This Attalus is the same dignitary of whom mention was made as having been promoted, on the occasion of his embassy to Ravenna, to the office of Count of the Sacred largesses. Since then he had gained yet another step. He appears to have joined the party of Jovius, and on the downfall of Olympius he was rewarded by the appointment of Prefect of the City.

26 Alaric was made Magister Utriusque Militiae; Ataulfus, Comes Domesticorum. So Sozomen, IX.8, Greek English but Zosimus, VI.7, assigns one of the two chief military commands to Valens, the over-rash general, and the companion of Attalus on his stealthy journey from Ravenna to Rome.


'The hungry Greek to please his lord

Will mount at once to heaven.'

28 Presumably for Italy.

29 Zosimus's statement is quite clear: 'Six legions amounting to 40,000 men' (ἑξ τάγματα στρατιωτῶν . . . . μυριάδες ἀριθμὸν ὄντα τέσσαρες). But because Sozomen, Greek English certainly an inferior authority in military and political affairs to Zosimus, fixes the number at 4000, an editor has suggested the reading χιλίαδες instead of μυριάδες for the text, and the Latin translators (in the Bonn edition) have, without any warning, translated 'in his erant hominum quattuor millia,' — a surely inadmissible proceeding. The length of time that this body of troops had been mustering, and the decisive influence which they exerted in restoring the almost hopeless cause of Honorius, both point decisively to the larger number as the more probable.

30 Zosimus, V.30.

31 Zosimus, V.36.

32 Zosimus says that Ataulfus lay in wait for Sarus, but did not succeed in fighting him. Sozomen declares that Sarus attacked Alaric, knowing that any treaty which he might make would be prejudicial to his interests, and implies that the attack was successful.

33 Or 26th. These two dates rest on the authority of Theophanes and Cedrenus, both late authors.

34 The Salarian Gate stood upon the Salarian Way, the road by which in old times the Romans used to carry sea-salt up to the country of the Sabines.

35 The site of the modern railway station.

Thayer's Note: Not quite the site of today's Stazione Termini, which is about 200 meters farther. An 1868 photo was printed in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, s.v. Thermae Diocletiani, where the spatial relation­ship of the baths and the station and other current landmarks is discussed. As mentioned there, the baths were huge, and part of them has survived as the church of S. Maria degli Angeli, at quite some distance from either the 19c railway station or its modern successor.

36 De Bello Vandalico, I.2.

37 'Adest Alaricus: trepidam Romam obsidet, turbat, irrumpit.' (Orosius, VII.39).

38 Jerome, Epist. XVI: 'Ad Principiam virginem, Marcellae viduae epitaphium.'

39 Orosius, VII.39.

40 Orosius, VII.39.

41 The aureus (solidus) = twelve shillings. This curious payment, which gives a somewhat ludicrous air to the close of the story, was perhaps due to the Teutonic idea of weregild.

42 Sozomen, IX.10. Greek English

43 Jerome, Procopius, Philostorgius.

44 Orosius describes more fully this accidental but destructive fire in the 14th chapter of his 6th book. It occurred in the year preceding the death of Crassus.

45 'Quid satis est si Roma parum est?'

46 'Quid salvum est si Roma perit?'


'Non, mihi si linguae centum sint oraque centum,

Ferrea vox, omnes captorum dicere poenas

Omnia caesorum percurrere nomina possim.'

Virgil has in the second line 'scelerum comprendere formas,' and in the third 'poenarum.' Aeneid VI.625‑7.

48 Chap. xv.1. (The A. V. differs.)

49 Psalm lxxix.1.

50 Conington's translation of —

'Quis cladem Illius noctis, quis funera fando

Explicet, aut possit lacrimis aequare labores?

Urbs antiqua ruit, multos dominata per annos;

Plurima perque vias sternuntur inertia passim

Corpora, perque domos . . .

 . . . . . .

 . . . et plurima mortis imago.'

Aeneid II.361‑5 and 369.

This fondness for quotation from Virgil is one of the many resemblances between Jerome and his great namesake, Girolamo Savonarola.

51 The merry verses chanted when the bride was being led to the house of her husband.

52 I owe this quotation and the reflections suggested by it to Milman (History of the Latin Church, I.105, note r). The other passages quoted from Jerome are from Ep. xi (De Monogamia) Ad Ageruchiam; Ep. xii (De Pacatulae infantulae educatione) Ad Gaudentium; Ep. xvi (Marcellae viduae epitaphium) Ad Principiam Virginem; Ep. lxxxii Marcellino et Anapsychiae; and from the preface to the third book of his Commentaries on Ezekiel.

53 Book IV § 18‑23.

54 I.22.

55 I.16‑19.

56 Among these captives we are told (on the somewhat doubtful authority of an inscription in the church of St. Agnes at Rome, recorded in Gruter, p1173.3, but apparently copied by him from Baronius) was a certain deacon named Dionysius, who by his great skill in medicine, which he prescribed without fee or reward, won the hearts of his captors.

57 So it is stated in the Prolegomena to Migne's edition of Paulinus. I have not been able to trace the authority for assigning his death to this period.

58 De Civitate Dei, I.10.

59 Every year on the Feast Day of St. Felix (14th January) Paulinus wrote a 'Carmen Natalitium' in his honour. Seventeen of these poems are preserved, in whole or in part, but their vapid fluency throws very little light on the history of the times, and as the order of the poems is itself uncertain, all the vigorous attempts which have been made to fix by their means the order of historical events result in nothing but reasoning in a circle.

60 According to Olympiodorus, the Gothic invasion of Sicily was said to be in some mysterious manner barred by a sacred image, erected in old times and containing within one foot a flame of ever-burning fire, in the other a portion never-failing water. Its destined function was to protect Sicily from ravages by the fire of Etna, and from assaults of barbarians across the seas, by both of which scourges the island was grievously tormented after the image was overthrown (a few years later than this time) by Aesculapius, steward of the Sicilian property of Constantius and Placidia.

61 The island of Peuce, Alaric's birthplace, was named from the forests of pine (πεύκη) with which it was covered.

62 Jornandes calls it 'unda salutifera' (cap. 30).

63 De Bello Vandalico, I.2.

64 If not true it is well imagined.

Thayer's Notes:

a Narni is not now, and never has been, called *Neveia; and the passage of Zosimus from which Hodgkin calls it so is the only instance in the source literature in which it appears to have that name. The scribal error was corrected three hundred years before Hodgkin, and so should be counted as a slip on the latter's part.

Here, first, is an entry in Bruzen de la Martinière's Grand dictionnaire géographique, historique et critique (Paris, 1768; Vol. III, p745) which summarizes the problem and its solution, which, as noted by Valesius (note reproduced in Migne ad loc.), was first spotted by Joannes Langus then adopted by Ortelius († 1598) in his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum:

Larnia, ville de la Toscane, selon Sozomène, Hist. eccles. l. 9, c. 6, qui dit qu'elle fut conservée par des tonnerres & par un affreux orage, dans le tems qu'Alaric l'assiégeoit. Zosime, Hist. Rom. L. 5, c. 41, qui raconte la même histoire, nomme le lieu Neveia, Νεβηία. Ortélius, Theatr. a très-bien averti qu'il falloit lire Narnia dans l'un & dans l'autre. Cousin, dans sa Traduction de Sozomène, & l'abbé Fleuri, dans son Histoire ecclésiastique, à l'année 409, ont profité de cette remarque.

Examining what the two ancient sources actually say:

In the translation of Zosimus we find online at Livius.Org (Zosimus, New History, Green and Chaplin, 1814, p165):

While they were occupied in these reflections, Pompeianus, the prefect of the city, accidentally met with some persons who were come to Rome from Tuscany, and related that a town called Neveia had delivered itself from extreme danger, the Barbarians having been repulsed from it by storms of thunder and lightning, which was caused by the devotion of its inhabitants to the gods, in the ancient mode of worship.

In Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History: Greek English

Θοῦσκοι γὰρ τινες ἐπὶ τοῦτο μετακληθέντες παρὰ τοῦ ὑπάρχου τῆς πόλεως, ὑπισχνοῦντο σκηπτοῖς καὶ βρονταῖς ἀπελάσειν τοὺς βαρβάρους. Ηὔχουν δὲ τοιοῦτον αὑτοῖς εἰργᾶσθαι καὶ περὶ Λαρνίαν πόλιν τῆς Θουσκίας, ἣν παριῶν Ἀλάριχος ἐπὶ τὴν Ῥώμην οὐχ εἷλεν.

. . . certain Tuscans, who were summoned by the prefect of the city, promised to drive out the barbarians with thunder and lightning; they boasted of having performed a similar exploit at Larnia, a city of Tuscany, which Alaric had passed by for Rome, and had not taken.

No other ancient source mentions either a *Neveia or a *Larnia; neither of these two sources mentions Narni by name in this connection, of course; and taking Zosimus by himself there is nothing to indicate that Narni is the place in question. Sozomen provides the key, though: "Larnia, a city of Tuscany, which Alaric had passed by for Rome". Now the ancient Narnia is in Umbria now, and was in Umbria then: not exactly in Tuscany — but in this period was part of the Regio officially called "Tuscia et Umbria", so the shorthand "Tuscany" is a sort of red herring; what matters is that the very ancient city sits just slightly off the Via Flaminia, the main highway from Rimini to Rome, and Alaric would indeed have passed right "by" it. Narni was, and still is, a quiet place, not likely to be known to the copyists of either of our writers; confronted with Ναρνίαν in hard-to‑read Byzantine ligatures — crabbed squiggles is more like it — one of them turned it into Λαρνίαν; the other, or possibly the editors of the notoriously sloppy Bonn edition, turned Ναρνία into Νεβηία.

Hodgkin wisely corrected the oversight in his much improved second edition, if merely following a more recent editor: I.772 and note. Not altogether parenthetically, we have here yet another small indication of Hodgkin's own relative unfamiliarity with Umbria: as the attentive reader has noted by now, the Trentino, Ravenna, and Rome he knew well — the intervening space, rather less so.

b Not so much a paradox as rather the two faces of the same coin in the ancient Greek character: Copleston (A History of Philosophy, I.18‑19) has got it exactly right.

c In Latin in the Greek text of Zosimus, VI.11.2; Hodgkin slipped as to the venue, though: ἐν τῇ ἱπποδρομίᾳ = "in the hippodrome"; whatever exactly that might mean, it is not the Flavian Amphitheater (the Colosseum), too small for horses to race in; it is almost certainly the Circus Maximus.

d Quite irrelevant to the matter at hand, but why not share it with you: we need not scurry for a proverb, it can actually happen to you or me; and it did in fact happen to me once in my life. When I was a fourthclassman at the U. S. Air Force Academy in 1969, at a "special inspection" in the hallway outside my dorm room (an inspection of an individual 4th‑class cadet by several upperclassmen ganging up on you simultaneously: designed to teach you to deal with stress), as I was going thru a rifle drill while being chewed out for uniform violations and bombarded with questions on aircraft, in the midst of all that, one of the upperclassmen asked me what my name was — and I couldn't tell him: I just blanked out.

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