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Book I
Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London, 1892

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 G

Book 1 (continued)

Vol. I
Chapter XIII

Honorius, Stilicho, Alaric


Sources: —

As we shall have for the next two chapters to depend to a large extent on Claudian, it may be convenient to have the following table of his historical poems to refer to: —

Date Subject

Consulship of Probinus and Olybrius


Against Rufinus (two books)

Third Consulship of Honorius


Fourth Consulship of Honorius

Poems on the Marriage of Honorius and Maria

On the War with Gildo


Consulship of Fl. Mallius Theodorus

Against Eutropius (two books)


First Consulship of Stilicho (three books).

(The so‑called poem on the Second Consulship of Stilicho is the third of these.)

402 or 403

On the Gothic War (De Bello Getico)


On the Sixth Consulship of Honorius

406 (?)

Praise of Serena.

It can hardly be necessary to warn the reader to receive with the utmost caution everything that Claudian utters by way of praise of Stilicho or depreciation of Stilicho's enemies. One reason why I have generally preserved the metrical form in  p637 quoting from Claudian's poems has been to keep the unhistorical character of this source prominently in view. It is impossible not to use an author who supplies us with almost all the life and colour which historical portraiture requires, but he must be used with continual distrust when the characters of his patrons or their enemies are at stake. Also, a history which has to depend so largely on poetical materials, is almost of necessity incomplete, as if one would attempt to write the history of the early part of Charles II's reign from Dryden's Annus Mirabilis, or that of the Peninsular War from a series of University Prize Poems.

Zosimus (previously described) and

Orosius are the chief authorities upon the side unfavourable to the character of Stilicho.

Paulus Orosius, a native of Tarragona in Spain, and a friend of Augustine, wrote his Seven Books of 'Histories' about the year 417, while he was still a young man ('religiosus juvenis') at the request of the Bishop of Hippo. They were to form a history of the world from the Deluge down to his own time (the last entry relates to the year 417), and the object of the book was to show that bloodshed, oppression, and misery, had ever been the staple of human history, and that 'Christian times' were unjustly blamed for the woes which the barbarians were then inflicting on the Empire. It is a necessary feature in a work undertaken with this view that it should deal rather with universal than contemporary history, and in fact only the last half of the seventh book is devoted to the events of the fourth and early part of the fifth centuries. That portion of the book which might have been of some value as a contemporary authority is thus reduced within somewhat narrow limits, and, unfortunately, the deficiency in quantity is not atoned for by excellence in quality. Vague, passionate, and declamatory, Orosius represents only the narrow prejudices of an orthodox provincial of the Empire in his judgments concerning the men and the events of that mighty crisis. Neither barbarians nor unsound Christians have any chance of fair treatment at his hands, and under both categories Stilicho is odious to him. Yet even Orosius is not without his use as furnishing a corrective to the extravagant and indiscriminate flattery of Claudian.

 p638  Guides: —

Amédée Thierry's 'Trois Ministres des fils de Théodose — Rufin, Eutrope, Stilicon' (Paris, 1865). The style and arrangement of this book are admirable, but there is a want of accuracy in the details, and a not sufficiently close adherence to the authorities. When, for instance, M. Thierry develops (p326) from one slight and vague hint in a poem of Claudian's a long story about the attempts to force Placidia to marry Eucherius, son of Stilicho, and her obstinate struggle to preserve her freedom, he is writing not a history but a romance; and this is the more to be regretted because a novelistic incident like this, so confidently stated by a historian of eminence, is eagerly caught up by his successors and soon becomes part of the Textus Receptus of History.

E. von Wietersheim's 'Geschichte der Völker-Wanderung' (Leipzig, 4 vols. 1859‑64, and a new edition in 2 vols. revised by Felix Dahn, 1880‑1) is especially valuable as containing the reflections of one who had been himself engaged in the work of administration, on the causes of the disruption of the Roman Empire. The Roman, official side of the history was in the original work more satisfactorily treated than that which concerned the life of the barbarian invaders of the Empire. In Prof. Dahn's edition this inequality is removed by the hand which was best fitted to portrait the Teutonic background of the history.

J. B. Bury's 'History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene' (London, 2 vols., 1889) is a book to which henceforth I wish continually to refer my readers for a fuller description of those events in the Eastern Empire which lie from this time beyond my proper horizon. Having worked in the same field I can perhaps appreciate better than many the enormous amount of patient labour which is represented by these two modest volumes; and I am bound to add that where he expresses dissent from my conclusions he generally convinces me that I am wrong. He takes a much more unfavourable view than I do of the character of Stilicho; but this is just one of the points on which a jury of historians is not likely to be unanimous, I might perhaps say, ought not to be unanimous; and I gladly refer the student to Mr. Bury's pages for a fair and powerful statement of the case against Stilicho.

Dr. Güldenpenning's 'Geschichte des Oströmischen Reiches  p639 unter den Kaisern Arcadius und Theodosius II' (Halle, 1885) is as good a piece of work as its predecessor, so frequently referred to in the foregoing pages.

By the death of Theodosius a division, which proved to be practically a final division, was made between the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire, and Honorius, a boy eleven years of age, began to rule over its Western portion.

Britain, Gaul, Spain, the south-west corner of Germany, the western half of the province of Illyricum (comprising Austria west of the Danube, and Dalmatia), Italy, and the African shore of the Mediterranean as far east as Tripoli, were all included in the dominions of the young monarch. The whole of this territory, except the northern part of the British province and the Roman lands east of the Rhine, was still virtually untouched by barbarian invasion. It was the Eastern half of the Empire which had suffered the dangerous aneurism of the Gothic settlement south of the Danube, and which had seen the province ought to have come and Macedon, so near to its capital, harried by the yearly incursions of the barbarians: it was the East which, could a prophet have arisen to announce the impending ruin of one half of the Empire, would have seemed likely to fall the first sacrifice. But the marvellous foresight of Constantine, instructed by the difficulties of his own campaign against Licinius, had led him to root his dynasty in a stronghold which, for the space of nine centuries, was to defy external assault; and that city, the offspring of Imperial Christianity, cherished with grateful devotion the powers to which it owed its being. Old Rome, on the other hand, unfavourably situated for defence, and penetrated with memories of Republican  p640 freedom and Pagan art, visited only at distant intervals by the Emperors, was sinking into a state of sullen isolation, fearing the ruin of the state, yet almost prepared to view with indifference the ruin of the Caesar.

Simultaneously with this renewed division of the Roman Empire a new generation of men, and one destined to witness and to share in mighty revolutions, appeared on the scene. Theodosius is gone. Most of the counsellors and warriors who stood round his throne have disappeared, some having perished in civil war and some having fallen victims to the intrigues of their adversaries. Ambrose, though not in advanced old age, has but two more years to live, and takes no more a conspicuous part in public affairs.​1 The three persons with whom for the next decade and a half we have chiefly to deal are those whose names appear at the head of this chapter — Honorius, Stilicho, Alaric.

Birth of Honorius. We begin with 'Our Master, the Eternal and ever-August Honorius.' What was the character and appearance of the lad who from his palace at Milan issued his edicts to the Western world? Hear first the courtly Claudian: —

III Cons. Honorii, 10‑23.

'Thee from the fair first dawning of thy life

A palace nurtured; in triumphal strife

A camp, bright with the flashing swords of man,


Nourished thine infancy; for even then

Thy lofty fortunes brooked no humble home,

But gave thee life with empire. Thou didst come,

Meet present from an Empress to her Lord,

And thee, in purple swathed, his realm adored.

Rome's victor eagles marked thy earliest day,

And in the midst of spears thy cradle lay.

When thou wast born, to Rhine's extremest floods

Germania trembled, the Caucasian woods

Shook with new terror. Meroë​2 no more

— Fearing thy power divine — her quiver bore,

But from her hair the useless arrows tore.

Crawling, o'er shields thou mad'st thy childish way,

And spoils of mighty princes were thy play.'

And again: —

IV Cons. Honorii, 127‑158.

'Spain reared thy sire her golden streams beside,

But Bosphorus recalls thy birth with pride.

From the Hesperian threshold rose thy line,

But bright Aurora was thy nurse divine.

For such a prize what eager strife is shown

Since, of two worlds, each claims thee for her own.

Thebes gloried in the might of Hercules

And joy of Bacchus, both her offspring these;

Delos stood still to mark Apollo's birth,

The tiny Thunderer crept o'er Cretan earth;

But more than Delos, more than Crete, must be

The land which fostered thy divinity.

No narrow shores could our new god receive,

Nor might rough Cynthian rocks thy members grieve.

Thy mother lay on gold, with gems arrayed,

When upon Tyrian cushions thou wast laid.

A palace echoed to her labour's cry,

And oh! what tokens of thy fortunes high

Abounded then! what flight, what call of birds,

And from pale prophets what mysterious words!

Of thy great name the hornèd Ammon spoke,

Delphi for thee her age‑long silence broke.

The Persian Magi sang of thee; thy power

Thrilled through the Etrurian Augurs; in that hour

Babylon's sages gazing on the stars

Read with blank fear the triumph of thy wars.


And now once more the rocks of Cumae's cave

Rang with the shrieks the frenzied Sibyl gave.

No Corybantian priests thy birth‑cry drowned

With cymbal's clash; an army stood around

In glittering steel; their standards waved above

Thine infant head, oh, more august than Jove!

Thou saw'st adoring legions round thee fall,

And thy shrill cries gave back the trumpet's call.

Empire and life were thine the selfsame day,

And in thy cradle did a consul play.​3

By thy new name the new‑born year was known,

It gave thee being, 'twas given thee for thine own.

Quirinus' robe thy mother made thee wear,

And helped thee, crawling, to the curule chair.'

Porphyrogenitus, 'born in the Purple Chamber,' is the key‑note of the poet's panegyric. This fortunate accident of birth amid the splendours of royalty was not shared by Arcadius, who came into the world while Theodosius was still in a private station.

The childhood of the 'New Divinity' is thus sketched:

III Cons. Honorii, 23‑38.

'First wast thou wont thy victor-sire to greet

When he from Ister homeward turned his feet

Twas thou who first didst softly soothe the glance

Of that still war‑o'ershadowed countenance.

His childhood. Coaxing, though pray'dst for trophies from the foe,

A belt Gelonian, or a Scythian bow,

A Dacian javelin, or a Suevic rein.

He on his shining shield, how oft again

Would raise thee smiling; to his panting breast

How oft thy little eager form was pressed.

Thou from the gleaming steel didst fear no harm,

But to the helmet's crest stretched forth thine arm.

And then thy sire would say with holy joy,

King of Olympus! grant that this my boy

Thus may return victorious from his foe,

From wasted Parthia, Babylon laid low.


Red be his sword like mine; like mine his breath

Come panting fast from the great game of Death.

Be war's delicious dust on every limb,

And let him bring me spoils as I to him.'

His real character.

Crowned nothingness.
This pretty little picture, borrowed from the Iliad, in which Theodosius is equal to Hector, and Honorius is more than Astyanax (for Astyanax did fear 'the dazzling helm and nodding crest'), need not of course have had any existence in reality.

Let us now turn from poetry to fact, and see what mark the real Honorius made upon the men and things that surrounded him. None. It is impossible to imagine a character more utterly destitute of moral colour, of self-determining energy, than that of the younger son of Theodosius. In Arcadius we do at length discover traces of uxoriousness, a blemish in some rulers, but which becomes almost a merit in him when contrasted with the absolute vacancy, the inability to love, the hate, to think, to execute, which marks the impersonal personality of Honorius. After earnestly scrutinising his life to discover some traces of human emotion under the stolid mask of his countenance, we may perhaps pronounce with some confidence on the three following points.

1. He perceived, through life, the extreme importance of keeping the sacred person of the Emperor of the West out of the reach of danger.

Claudian, de IV Cons. Honorii, 527‑529.

Procopius, de Bello Vandalico, I.2.
2. He was, at any rate in youth, a sportsman.

3. In his later years he showed considerable interest in the rearing of poultry.

We must not do him injustice. He was also religious, after the fashion of his time; and he found leisure in some of the direst emergencies of his country to put  p644 forth fresh edicts for the suppression of Heresy and Paganism.

It is natural to ask, Why this sudden decay of energy in the Theodosian line? Why in Arcadius and Honorius do we find no trace of the impetuous will of their father? It is possible that the character of the mother may here, as in so many other cases, have been more faithfully reproduced in her sons than the character of the father. For Flaccilla, though a devout and charitable woman, was one whom we hear praised for the sweetness rather than the strength of her nature, and often trembled before the passionate outbursts of her husband's wrath. Thus says Claudian in addressing Serena, the niece and adopted daughter of the Emperor: —

Laus Serenae, 134‑138.

'When harassed with the heavy cares of State

Home he returned, moody and passionate,

When from their angry sire his children fled,

And even Flaccilla saw his scowl with dread,

Then thou alone couldest stem his roaring rage,

Alone, with soothing speech, his wrath assuage.'

But probably after all, the chief cause of the want of energy shown by the sons of Theodosius was the enervating moral atmosphere which surrounded them from childhood. Passing their early years in the sacred recesses of the palace, shut out from contact with the healthy world outside by the purple veil and the brightly clothed Silentiarii, hailed in childhood with the great name of Augustus, surrounded by adoring courtiers and listening to flattery as fulsome, but not always so eloquent, as that of Claudian, it is not surprising that these unfortunate lads grew up to manhood flaccid, nerveless, and ignorant, the mere tools of the ministers who governed in their names, and utterly unable to  p645 support, themselves, any of the real weight of the Empire.

But let us pass on from Honorius to describe the character and fortunes of the real ruler of the Western world, Stilicho.

Stilicho's birth and parentage. Stilicho was born probably between 350 and 360.​4 He was the son of a Vandal chief who had entered the service of the Emperor Valens, and had apparently commanded his squadrons of barbarian auxiliaries in a creditable manner. Had there been any worse stigma than the fact of his Vandal descent attaching to Stilicho's parentage, we should certainly have heard it from his captious critic Orosius; had he by either parent been linked to any noble Roman family, we should have had it impressed upon our recollection by his flatterer Claudian, who, more, if his father had been a great general, would certainly not have dropped the hint that 'even though he had wrought no illustrious deed, nor with faithful allegiance to Valens ever guided his chestnut-haired squadrons, it would have been enough for his fame that he was the begetter of Stilicho.'5

His youth; When the young Vandal, tall,​6 and of stately presence, moved through the streets of Constantinople, the  p646 crowds on either hand deferentially made way for him. He was still only a private soldier, but the instinct of the multitude foretold his future advancement. Nor was that advancement long in coming: scarcely had he attained manhood when the Emperor sent him on an embassy to the Persian court.​7 Arrived at Babylon (continues the flattering bard) his proud deportment struck awe into the hearts of the stern nobles of Parthia, while the quiver-bearing multitude thronged eagerly to gaze on the illustrious stranger, and the Persian ladies, smitten by his goodly appearance, nourished in secret the hopeless flame of love. Hopeless, — for a higher alliance than that of any Persian dame was in store for him on his return to Constantinople. There, in the court of her uncle Theodosius, dwelt the learned and dignified Serena. and marriage to Serena. She was the daughter of his brother, the elder Honorius, and was older than any of his own children. In the old days, when they were all dwelling together in Spain, and when Theodosius was still in a private station, he took a fancy to the little maiden, and often carried her back with him from her father's house to cheer his own still childless home. When the elder Honorius died, and Theodosius found himself at the summit of the world, he remembered his old favourite, and summoned her, with her sister Thermantia, to his court. Both were adopted by him as his daughters, but Serena retained the stronger influence over him, and, as we have already seen, ventured to approach and to soothe him in those angrier moments when his gentle Empress dared not face his wrath.

 p647  Such was the bride whom the Emperor (probably about the year 385) bestowed on the young warrior. Henceforward his promotion was certain. He rose to high rank in the army, Made Master of the Soldiery; being made Magister Utriusque Militiae some years before the death of Theodosius, he distinguished himself in many campaigns against the Visigoths, he avenged the death of his veteran friend Promotus on the barbarians of the Danube, and finally, when his wife Serena had brought her little cousin Honorius to his dying father at Milan, Stilicho received from his sovereign, whom he had no doubt accompanied in his campaign against Arbogast, the guardian­ship of his son and Regent of the West. and the regency of the Western Empire. It is also stated, with some probability, that Theodosius on his death‑bed gave to this stalwart kinsman a general charge to watch over the safety of the East as well as the West, thus constituting him in some measure guardian of Arcadius as well as of Honorius.

Difficulty of deciding as to Stilicho's integrity. Of the great abilities of Stilicho as a general and a civil administrator there can be no doubt. As to the integrity of his character there is a conflict of testimony. Hostile testimony of Zosimus, V.1. We are met at the outset by the words of Zosimus, who couples Rufinus and him in the same condemnation, declaring that on the death of Theodosius everything was done in the Western and Eastern Empires according to the mere pleasure of these two men, that they took bribes without any pretence of concealment, that large possessions came to be accounted a calamity, since they marked out the owner for the calumnies and false accusations of informers in the minister's service, that through the perversion of justice all manner of wickedness increased in the cities, and that ancient and substantial families were rapidly sunk into penury,  p648 while vast masses of wealth of all descriptions was being acclaimed in the dwellings of Rufinus and Stilicho.

In Rufinum, I.182‑195. Claudian, in a fine torrent of angry verse, brings the very same idea of widespread corruption and robbery forcibly before us, but of course with him Rufinus is the only guilty one. His panegyric by Claudian. Of Stilicho's moral character he draws a flattering picture. His clemency​8 is depicted in twenty-four lines, his truthfulness​9 in twenty. His justice,​10 patience, temperance, prudence, constancy, are more rapidly sketched; but great stress is laid on his utter freedom from avarice,​11 the mother of all the vices, on his firmness in suppressing the too common practice of delation (false and frivolous accusations against the rich for the sake of hush-money), and on his bestowal of the offices of the state on merit all, irrespective of all other considerations.

With this conflict of testimony before us, and feeling that the prejudices of Zosimus may make his testimony almost as valueless as the venal verses of Claudian, our best course will be to watch the life of the great Vandal for ourselves, and draw our own conclusion at its close.

Animosity between the Eastern and Western Empires. One thing is certain, that the animosity existing between Stilicho and the successive ministers of the Eastern Emperor (an animosity which does not necessarily imply any fault on the part of the former) was one most potent cause of the downfall of the Western Empire. In part this was due to the peculiar position of military affairs at the time of the death of Theodosius. The army of the East, the backbone of which was the  p649 Gothic auxiliaries, had just conquered, at the river Frigidus, the army of the West, which similarly depended upon the Frankish and West German soldiery. The two hosts coalesced in devotion to Theodosius; they were perhaps ready to follow the standards of a rising general like Stilicho, but they were in no great haste to march off to wearisome sentinel duty on the frontiers of Persia or Scythia, nor was Stilicho anxious so to scatter them. Hence heart-burnings between him and the Eastern court, and complaints, perhaps well-founded, made by the latter, that he kept all the most able-bodied and warlike soldiers for himself and sent the cripples and good-for‑nothing fellows to Constantinople. Zosimus, V.4. Whatever the original grievance, for a period of thirteen years (from 395‑408) hearty co‑operation between the courts of Rome and Constantinople was unknown, and intrigues which it is impossible now to unravel were being woven by the ministers of Arcadius against Honorius, perhaps by Stilicho against them. The Roman Empire was a house divided against itself, and it is therefore no marvel if it was brought to naught.

Odious as the character of Rufinus was, it must be admitted in justice to him that his position was a difficult one. He was expected to administer the Eastern Empire for the obviously incapable Arcadius, but the chief forces of that Empire were under the command of his avowed enemy, Stilicho, who also put forward a claim of indefinite magnitude to joint or superior guardian­ship of the helpless sovereign. To make his situation still more difficult, he was at this time foiled by a yet more artful villain than himself in a palace intrigue. Rufinus proposed to himself to  p650 marry his daughter to Arcadius, but during his particularly absence from the capital, the Eunuch Eutropius (the same man whom Theodosius had despatched on a mission to the hermit John before his last campaign) contrived to bring under his young master's notice the picture of a young Frankish maiden of surpassing beauty. This was Eudoxia, the daughter of the late Count Bauto, who had been brought up in the house of Promotus, and who had among her foster-brothers and sisters doubtless imbibed undying enmity to the crafty minister who had contrived the death of that veteran. In the feeble soul of Arcadius the flame of love was easily kindled, and he gladly gave command (during a temporary absence of the terrible guardian) that the fair Frankish maiden should be won. Eutropius bade the people make holiday and deck their houses for an Imperial wedding. He set forth with his attendants bearing the Imperial crown, the bright robes of an Imperial bride; and with dance and song the festive procession moved through the streets of Constantinople. All men expected that the chamberlain would proceed to the house of Rufinus, whose ambitious designs were well known. But no; the attendants moved on to the humbler abode of Promotus, brought forth from thence Eudoxia in all her radiant Northern beauty, 27 April, 395 and led her to the palace, where for the next nine years she reigned supreme. Rufinus on his return to Constantinople found that his position was undermined, and that henceforward he would have a covert rival at Constantinople besides the avowed rival at Milan.

Birth and early history of Alaric. The third name on our list is Alaric, the great Visigothic chieftain whose genius taught him the best means of turning the estrangement between the two  p651 Empires to account. Alaric was sprung from one of those royal or semi-royal houses which, among the German nations, proudly traced back their lineage to the gods of Walhalla. His family, the Balthi, ranked, some said, only second in nobility to the Amals; and when Alaric in after-days had performed some of his daring deeds against the great world-Empire, men said, remembering the meaning of the name of his forefathers, 'Rightly is he called Baltha (Bold), for he is indeed the boldest of mankind.'​12 As for the year of his birth we have no certain information. It may have been any time between  360 and 370, but can hardly have been much earlier than the first or much later than the second date. His birthplace was the island Peuce, in the Delta of the Danube, apparently south of what is now termed the Sulina mouth of that river. We have already met with him crossing the Alps as a leader of auxiliaries in the army of Theodosius, when that Emperor marched to encounter Eugenius and Arbogast. With the accession of the two young Princes the spell of the Theodosian name over the barbarian mind was broken. The ill‑timed parsimony of Rufinus, perhaps of Stilicho also, curtailed the largesses hitherto given to the Gothic troops,​13 and thus yet further estranged them from the Empire. Then individual grievances were not wanting to their general. He was still only a leader of barbarian auxiliaries, bound to difficult and little-honoured labour on the  p652 wings of the Imperial armies, though Theodosius had led him to believe that if the campaign against Eugenius prospered he would be promoted to high military office in the regular army, and thus earn the right to command Roman legionaries in the centre of the line of battle.​14 And already perhaps in the very outset of his career he felt that mysterious, irresistible impulse, urging him onwards to Rome,​15 which fourteen years after he spoke of to the Italian monk who had almost succeeded by his intercessions in inducing him to turn back from the yet uncaptured city.

But however varied the causes might be, the effect is clear. From the day when Alaric was accepted as leader of the Gothic people their policy changed, or rather they began to have a policy, which they had never had before. No longer now satisfied to serve as the mere auxiliary of Rome, Alaric adopted the maxim which he himself had probably heard from the lips of Priulf before his murder by Fravitta, that the Goths had fought Rome's battles long enough, and that the time was now come for them to fight their own. And though the career which he was thus entering upon was one of wide-wasting war and invasion, it would be a mistake to think of the young king as a mere barbarian marauder. Knowing the Roman court and army well, and despising them as heartily, educated in the Christian faith, proud of the willing allegiance of a nation of warriors, fated to destroy, yet not loving the work of mere destruction, Alaric, and the kings of the Visigoths who followed him, are in fact knights-errant who rear the standard of chivalry — with its errors as well as its noble  p653 thoughts — in the level waste of the Orientalised despotism and effete civilisation of the Roman Empire.

Alaric made King of the Visigoths. Such then was the chief whom the Visigothic warriors, in accordance with the usages of their forefathers, raised upon the buckler and held aloft in the sight of all men as their newly-chosen king. The actual date of this election is uncertain,​16 but it is much the most probable conjecture that it occurred in 395, immediately after the death of Theodosius, and was consequent upon the change of policy adopted by the ministers of his sons.

If the date is not quite clear, the purpose of this election is not clouded by any doubt. As Jordanes says,

'After Theodosius, that lover of peace and of the Gothic nation, had departed this life, and when his sons, living luxuriously, began to annihilate both Empires,​17 and to filch from their auxiliaries, I mean the Goths, their accustomed gifts, soon the Goths conceived an increasing dislike for those princes; and fearing lest their own valour should be relaxed by a long peace, they ordained over themselves a King, named Alaric. . . . Presently then the aforesaid Alaric, being created King, and entering into deliberation with his people, persuaded them to seek kingdoms for themselves by their own labours rather than quietly to lie down in subjection to others, and therefore gathering together an army he marched against the Empire.'​18

Little as  p654 they knew what they were doing, the flaxen-haired barbarians who in the Illyrian plains raised amid shouts of Thiudans, Thiudans ('the king! the king!) that shield upon which Alaric stood erect, What consequences flowed from that kingship. were in fact upheaving into reality the stately monarchy of Spain, with her Pelayos and San Fernandos, her Alonsos and Conquistadors, her Ferdinand and Isabella, with Columbus landing at Guanahani, and Vasco Núñez wadding knee-deep into the new‑found ocean of the Pacific to take possession of its waves and shores for Spain. All these sights, and, alas, also her Inquisition, her Autos-da‑fé, her wrecked Armada, the impotence and bankruptcy of Iberia in these latter days, might have passed before the unsealed eyes of a seer, had there been such an one among those Gothic warriors, for all these things were to spring from that day's decision.

His expeditions into Greece. Thus then the spring of 395 was a time of terror and dismay to the inhabitants of the Eastern Empire. While the savage Huns, passing through the Caucasian Gates, laid waste the provinces of the Empire on the Upper Euphrates, and even appeared in sight of the walls of Antioch, Alaric with his Visigothic followers, in the first fervour of the enthusiasm of revolt, ravaged Moesia and Thrace, and carried consternation to the envoys of Constantinople. Induced by some means or other to turn his face southward, he departed from these old battle-fields of his race, penetrated Thessaly, passed the unguarded defile of Thermopylae, and, according to the story of Zosimus (coloured of course by his heathen prejudices), 'having gathered all his troops round the sacred city of Athens, Alaric was about to proceed to the assault. When lo! he beheld  p655 Athene Promachus, just as she is represented in her structures, clothed in full armour, going round about the walls thereof, and Achilles standing upon the battlements, with that aspect of divine rage and thirst for battle which Homer ascribes to him when he heard of the death of Patroclus. Awe‑struck at the sight Alaric desisted from his warlike enterprise, signalled for truce, and concluded a treaty with the Athenians. After which he entered the city in peaceful guise with a few of his followers, was hospitably entertained by the chief inhabitants, received presents from them, and departed, leaving both Athens and Attica untouched by the ravages of war.'

He did not turn homewards, however, but penetrated into Peloponnesus, where Corinth, Argos, and Sparta all fell before him.

The double game of Rufinus. The precise details of these campaigns are difficult to recover, and lie beyond our present horizon. What is important for us is their bearing on the relations between the two ministers Stilicho and Rufinus. The latter is accused of having actually invited Alaric to invade his master's dominions, or, at any rate, of having smoothed Alaric's passage into Greece in order to remove him from his too menacing neighbourhood to Constantinople. He was jealous of the overshadowing power of Stilicho, he was too conscious of his own intense unpopularity with all classes; even the dumb loyalty of his master was beginning to fail him. The beautiful barbarian Empress was now putting forth all her arts to mould the plastic soul of her husband into hostility to his chief minister. Surrounded by so many dangers Rufinus perhaps conceived the desperate idea of playing off one barbarian against another, of  p656 saving himself from the Vandal Stilicho by means of Alaric the Goth. We can only say 'perhaps,' because we hear of these events only from men who were bitter enemies of the minister and who wrote after his fall, and because some of the misdeeds imputed to him look more like the acts of a bewildered and panic-stricken man than like the skilful moves of a cunning traitor. Suspicion was aroused by the fact that in all the wide-wasting raids of the soldiers of Alaric the vast estates of Rufinus in Moesia and Thrace were ostentatiously spared; but it might be part of the Visigoth's plan to arouse that very suspicion. Rufinus paid a visit to the camp of the barbarian to endeavour to bring him back to his old loyalty to the Empire, and in that visit, to the grief and indignation of the Byzantines, he even affected a certain barbaresque fashion in his own costume, changed the flowing toga, which became the Roman magistrate, for the tight leathern garments of the Teutons, and carried the large bow and displayed the heavy, perhaps silver-mounted, bridle which distinguished the auxiliaries from the legions. But this again was not necessarily a proof of disaffection to the Empire. It might be only a clumsy imitation by an upstart civilian of the arts by which the great soldier Theodosius had won the love of his barbarian foederati. It is probable enough that Rufinus may at this interview have suggested to Alaric the policy of withdrawing from before the strong defences of Constantinople and gratifying his barbarians with spoil of the yet unwasted provinces of Greece. A base and cowardly expedient certainly; but we need not perhaps believe the accusation of Zosimus that he actually committed the government of Greece to the dissolute Musonius,  p657 the defence of Thermopylae to the treacherous Gerontius, in order to ensure the success of Alaric's invasion. When a man is so universally hated as was the grasping Rufinus, his very blunders and weaknesses are easily interpreted as evidence of yet more and deeper wickedness.

Stilicho marches against Alaric, but is ordered by Arcadius to withdraw. To Stilicho an appeal was naturally addressed to bring or to send the Eastern army to the defence of the Eastern Empire. He came: it was still early spring,​19 for events had moved rapidly since the death of Theodosius. He had under his command a mighty host collected from various provinces of the Empire, some of whose legions had fought under Arbogast, some under his conqueror, on the great day of the battle of the Frigidus, but all were now welded together into one body by their enthusiastic confidence in their great leader, Stilicho, and all were eager for the fray.

The Imperial army had come up with the Visigoths at some unnamed place within the confines of Thessaly. Alaric recalled his marauding squadrons, gathered all his forces into one plain, surrounded the herds of cattle which he had collected with a double fosse and a rampart of stakes. All men in both armies knew that a great battle was impending, a battle which, as we the after-comers can see, might well have changed the course of history. Suddenly letters arrived from Constantinople, subscribed by the hand of Arcadius, commanding Stilicho to desist from further prosecution of the war, to withdraw the legions of Honorius within the limits of the Western Empire, and to send the other half of the army straight to Constantinople. This infatuated decree, which can only be explained by  p658 the supposition that Arcadius had really been persuaded of the disloyalty of Stilicho, and feared the rebel more than the barbarian, had been wrung from the Emperor by the cajolery and menaces of Rufinus.

Stilicho obeyed at once, notwithstanding the earnest dissuasions of the soldiers, with a promptness which must surely be allowed to count heavily in proof of his loyalty to the Theodosian line, and his reluctance to weaken the commonwealth by civil war. The army of the whole Roman Empire had appeared for the last time in one common camp;​20 the Western portion set off for Italy, the Eastern for Constantinople. With deep resentment in their hearts the latter passed through Thessaly and Macedon, revolving silently a scheme of revenge which, if it passed from the domain of thought into that of uttered words, was faithfully kept from all outside, an army's secret.21

Revenge of the army on Rufinus. On their return to Constantinople, Rufinus, who deemed himself now secure from Stilicho's hatred, and who had extorted a promise from Arcadius that he should be associated with him in the sovereignty, caused coins to be struck with his effigy, and prepared a liberal donative for the troops in commemoration of his accession to the Empire. 27 Nov. In a plain near the capital the greedy minister and the helpless sovereign proceeded to review the troops. Rufinus, who already practised the condescending suppleness of an imperial bow, addressed individual soldiers by name, informed them of the health of their wives and families, and appropriated to himself the cheers which were meant for the son of  p659 Theodosius. While this was going on, and while, on the high platform on which he and Arcadius stood, he could be seen plucking the Emperor by the mantle, beseeching, almost commanding him, to fulfil his promise, and at once declare him co‑emperor, the army in the meantime was spreading out both its wings, not to protect but to destroy, and enclosed the imperial platform in a narrower and ever-narrower circle. At length Rufinus raised his head, and saw everywhere around him the lowering faces of his foes. One moment of awakening he had from his fond dream of Empire, and then a soldier stepped forth from the ranks, and with the words, 'With this sword Stilicho strikes thee,' plunged the weapon into his heart.

Then as many as were able to do so clustered round the corpse, hacked it to pieces, carried off the limbs in triumph, sowed them over the fields as the Maenads sowed the fragments of the flesh of Pentheus, but fixed the head on a spear, where they made it practise its newly learned lesson of condescending salutation, and carried round through the city the dead hand and arm, with grim ingenuity making the fingers unclose and close again upon imaginary wealth, and crying out, 'Give, give to the insatiate one.'

The deed was probably instigated by Gainas. There is no doubt that the minister had made himself thoroughly hateful to both the people and the army, but we need not accept too literally the statement (taken from Claudian) that the murder was entirely planned by the soldiery. The general under whose command they marched back to Constantinople was Gainas the Goth, a friend of Stilicho's. Zosimus states that Gainas gave the signal for the murder, and had arranged the whole pageant of the review for this  p660 express object, a statement which we can easily believe when we find that for the next five or six years the chief power over the feeble soul of Arcadius was divided between three persons, his fair Frankish Empress Eudoxia, Eutropius, the haggard old eunuch who had placed her on the throne, and Gainas the Goth, commander of the Eastern army.

Campaign of 396. In the following year Stilicho made a rapid march — rather a journey than a campaign — to the banks of the Rhine, and may have thus succeeded in confirming the wavering loyalty of some Frankish and Alamannic chiefs.​22 Then, with some of his Western legions, he crossed the Adriatic and again appeared on its Eastern shore, this time in the Peloponnesus, as the champion of the Empire against the Visigoths. We must suppose that for a time the tremors of Arcadius had been soothed by his new ministers, and that he was willing that his realm should be delivered by Stilicho. The outset of the campaign was successful. The greater part of Peloponnesus was cleared of the invader, who was shut up in the rugged mountain country on the confines of Elis and Arcadia. The Roman army expected soon to behold him forced by famine to an ignominious surrender, when they discovered that he had pierced the lines of circumvallation at an unguarded point, and marched with all his plunder northwards to Epirus. What was the cause of this unlooked‑for issue of the struggle? 'The disgraceful carelessness of  p661 Stilicho,' says Zosimus. 'He was wasting his time with harlots and buffoons when he should have been keeping close watch on the enemy.' 'Treason,' hints Orosius. 'Orders from Constantinople, where a treaty had been concluded with Alaric,' half suggests Claudian, but he does not tell the story as if he himself believed it. The most probable explanation of this and some similar passages in Stilicho's subsequent career is that Fabian caution co‑operated with the instinct of the Condottiere against pushing his foe too hard. There was always danger for Rome in driving Alaric to desperation: there was danger privately for Stilicho if the dead Alaric should render him no longer indispensable.​a

Alaric invested by the Eastern statesmen with official authority in Illyricum. Whatever might be the cause, Stilicho returned to Italy, and henceforward he interferes no more with the armed hand in the affairs of the Eastern Empire. Left alone with the Visigothic King, the ministers of Arcadius soon concluded one of those treaties (foedera) of which the history of the Eastern Empire is full. With almost sublime cowardice they rewarded the Grecian raids of Alaric by clothing him with the sacred character of an officer of the Empire in their portion of Illyricum. The precise title under which he exercised jurisdiction is not stated,​23 but the scope of his powers and his manner of wielding them are thus described by Claudian —

'He who, unpunished, laid Achaia waste

And smote Epirus, foremost now is placed


In all the Illyrian land.​24 Each city's gate

Greets the new friend, the armed destroyer late:

And in law's name he sways the trembling crew

Whose wives he ravished, and whose sons he slew.'​25

And again,​26 where Alaric is supposed to be himself rehearsing the matter to his followers —

'Our race, of old, by its own strength prevailed,

When still it fought unweaponed and unmailed;

But now, since Rome gave rights into my hand,

And owned me Duke of the Illyrian land,

How many a spear and sword and helmet fair

Did not I make the Thracian's toil prepare,

And, bidding Law my lawless purpose crown,

Took iron tribute from each Roman town.​27

So Fate was with me. So the Emperor gave

The very race I plundered as my slave.

The hapless citizens, with many a groan,

Furnished the arms for havock all their own:

And in the flame, o'erwatched by fears and toil,

The steel grew red, its craftsman's home to spoil.'

From what has been before said it will be understood that these last expressions of the poet must not be interpreted literally. It was not the inhabitants of Illyricum itself against whom the collected arms of Alaric were to be used. But, taking the Roman Empire as a whole, the statement is true enough that during an interval of quiescence, which lasted apparently about four years, the Visigothic King was using the forms of Roman law, the machinery of Roman  p663 taxation, the almost unbounded authority of a Roman provincial governor, to prepare the weapon which was one day to pierce the heart of Rome herself.

The precise geographical position occupied by Alaric while 'presiding over Illyricum' is not more clear than his exact official rank in the Notitia, but we may conjecture that he was in the extreme west of that portion of Illyricum which obeyed Arcadius, that is in the regions which we now know as Bosnia and Servia. For a chief who nourished the vast designs which were now ripening in his soul, the position was an alluring one. Both Empires in their weakness lay before him. He could either make his way through those Julian Alps over whose passes he had followed Theodosius to victory and so descend upon Italy, or by the southern bank of the Danube he could march down to the old Moesian battlefields and so descend upon Constantinople. Hovering thus on the frontiers both of Honorius and Arcadius he, in the words of Claudian, —

'Sold his alternate oaths to either throne.'​28

But as he remembered the long years of purposeless battle which his predecessors had waged with the East and how they had ever dashed themselves in vain against the impregnable battlements of Constantinople, his thoughts evidently turned more and more toward the West, and already, we may believe, a prophetic voice began to whisper to his soul —

'Penetrabis ad Urbem.'

'Thou shalt pierce to the very City of cities, to Rome herself.'

 p664  The dependence of Rome upon Africa for her food-supply. Not yet however was the Imperial City immediately threatened with war: but she was already suffering from famine, and famine brought upon her by an ignoble foe, Gildo the Moor. For centuries, as the rural element in the population of Italy had grown weak and the urban element had grown strong, the dependence of Rome for her food-supply upon foreign lands, and especially on the great grain-producing countries which lined the southern shore of the Mediterranean, had become more absolute and complete. In fact, the condition of Rome, from the point of view of a political economist, was during the whole period of the Emperors as unsatisfactory as can well be imagined. She had long passed (nor is that surprising) out of the self-sufficing stage, in which she produced within her own territory all the necessaries of life for her citizens. But then, having devoted herself so exclusively to the arts of war and the science of politics, she was not producing any mercantile equivalent for the food which she needed. Her sole manufacture, we may almost say, was the Roman legionary, her chief exports armies and praetors; and in return for these, through the taxation which they levied, she opposed not only the ten thousand vanities and luxuries which were consumed by her wealthy nobles, but also the vast stores of grain which were distributed by the Caesar, as a Terrestrial Providence, among the ever-increasing, ever-hungrier swarms of needy idlers who represented the Plebs Romana.

The cornº of Egypt diverted to Constantinople. Since the foundation of Constantinople, the area of supply had diminished by one‑half; Egypt had ceased to nourish the elder Rome. No longer now, Acts xxvii.6. as in the days of a certain Jewish prisoner who appealed  p665 to Nero, would a Roman centurion easily find in Lycia 'a ship of Alexandria' with a cargo of wheat 'about to sail for Italy.' Ships from that port now preferred the nearer and safer voyage through the land-locked Archipelago, and discharged their cargoes at Constantinople.

Rome was thus reduced to an almost exclusive dependence on the harvests of Africa proper (that province of which Carthage was the capital), of Numidia, and of Mauretania, whose corn-growing capacities must not be measured by the scanty dimensions to which they have now dwindled under centuries of Mohammedan misrule. But this supply, ever since the death of Theodosius, had been in a precarious condition; and in the year 397 was entirely stopped by the orders of Gildo, who had made himself virtual master of these three provinces.

Gildo the Moor. It has been before stated29 that the war which the elder Theodosius brought to a successful issue in Africa in the year 374 was waged with a certain Mauretanian rebel named Firmus. The son of a great sheep-farmer, Nabal,​30 he had left before him several brothers, one of whom, Gildo, had in the year 386 gathered up again some portion of his brother's broken power.​31 We find him, seven years later (in 393), holding the rank of Count of Africa in the Roman official hierarchy. Probably the troubles in the house of Valentinian II had enabled him, though a doubtful friend to the Empire, to force himself into this position. His doubtful loyalty in 394, While the great  p666 duel between Theodosius and Arbogast was proceeding, he held aloof from the contest, rendering indeed a nominal allegiance to the former, but refusing to send the men or the ships which he called for. Had not the death of Theodosius followed so promptly upon his victory, men said​32 that he would have avenged this insincere adhesion, worse than open enmity, upon the Count of Africa, in a way which would have recalled the early days of Roman history, when Tullus Hostilius tied the dictator of Alba, Mettius Fuffetius, to chariots driven in opposite directions, and so tore asunder the body of him whose mind had wavered between loyalty and treason.

397 and open rebellion in 397. But the great Emperor having died in his prime, Gildo's day of punishment was deferred. Nay, more, he turned to his own account the perennial jealousy existing between the ministers of the Eastern and Western Courts, renounced his allegiance to Rome, and preferred to transfer it to Constantinople. What brought matters to a crisis was his refusal to allow the grain crops of 397 to be conveyed to Rome. De Bello Gildonico, 19‑25; Our often-quoted poet represents the Mistress of the World calling, in the agony of hunger, upon Jove, 'not now with her wonted look of pride; not with that commanding mien with which she dictates her laws to Britain or lays her fasces upon trembling India. No, but with weak voice and tardy steps and eyes dimmed of their lustre, with hollow cheeks and thin hunger-wasted arms that scarce could upbear the shield; her unloosed helmet showed her whitened hair, and she trailed her rusted spear feebly behind her.' Then, in the bitterness of her soul, she addressed the Thunderer, telling him that her conquest  p667 of Carthage had been in vain if Gildo, a meaner and more odious Hannibal, was to lord it over Africa. 105‑11. 'Even the magnitude of my Empire oppresses me. Oh! for the happy days when Veii and the Sabines were my only foes. Oh! that I could return to the old limits and the walls of good King Ancus. Then the harvests of Etruria and Campania, the acres which the Curii and Cincinnatus ploughed and sowed would be sufficient for my need.' The return to these narrow limits, which he introduces as a mere flower of poetry, was nearer than the poet thought.

The Gildonic war. The Roman Senate declared war in the early winter months of 398 against Gildo. Stilicho, who, of course, undertook the fitting out of the expedition, found a suitable instrument for Rome's chastisement in one who had cruel wrongs of his own to avenge upon Gildo. Mascezel. This was yet another son of Nabal, Mascezel, who, not favouring his brother's ambitious schemes, had withdrawn to Italy. To punish this defection Gildo had caused his two sons to be slain, and their bodies to be left unburied. Now at the head of a Roman armament consisting of six legions,​33 (which ought to have numbered 36,600 men), Mascezel set forth.

The armament despatched from Pisa. Claudian brings vividly before us the embarkation from the harbour of Pisa, which the shouts of the soldiers and the bustle of the armament filled, even as Agamemnon's warriors made Aulis echo when they were assembling for the war against Troy. Then we see the fleet set forth: they leave the Riviera on their right, they give a wide berth to Corsica, they reach  p668 Sardinia, and land at Cagliari, where they wait for favouring zephyrs.

The monks of Caprera. Here, unfortunately, our mythological poet breaks off, and we are handed over to the very different guidance of the devout but foolish Orosius. He describes how Mascezel, having learned from Theodosius the efficacy of prayer, made sail for the island of Capraria,​34 and there took on board certain holy servants of God (monks) with whom he spent the following days in prayers, fastings, and the recitation of psalms, and thus earned a victory without war, and revenge without the guilt of murder.

Defeat and death of Gildo. For when they reached a river which seems to have been the frontier between Numidia and the province of Carthage, and when he found that on the opposite side the enemy, 60,000 strong, were drawn up prepared to join battle with his inferior numbers, in the night that holy man, Ambrose of Milan, then lately deceased, appeared to him in a vision, and striking the ground thrice with his staff said, 'Here, here, here.' The prophecy was clear: that place was to be the scene of the victory, which they were to achieve on the third day. After waiting the appointed time, and passing the third night in prayers, the singing of hymns, and the celebration of the Sacrament, they moved on which and met their foes with pious words. A standard-bearer of the enemy pressed insolently forward. He was wounded in the arm, the standard fell, the distant cohorts thought that Gildo had given the signal to surrender, and came in by troops to give themselves up to Mascezel. The Count of Africa fled, escaped on ship-board, was pursued, brought back to land, put to  p669 death (some say​35 he committed suicide); but all this was done by others, so that the hands and the conscience of Mascezel were clear from his brother's blood, and yet he had the revenge for which he longed. The scene of Gildo's death was Tabarca, on the frontiers of Tunis and Algiers.

And thus the provinces of Africa were for the time won back again for the Empire of the West, and Rome had her corn again.36

Death of Mascezel attributed to Stilicho. The fate of Mascezel, the re‑vindicator of Africa, is an enigma. The version given by Zosimus is that generally accepted. He says,​37 that he returned in triumph to Italy; that Stilicho, who was secretly envious of his reputation, professed an earnest desire to advance his interests; but that when the Vandal was going forth to a suburb (probably of Milan), as he was crossing over a certain bridge, with Mascezel and others in his train, at a given signal the guard crowded round the African and hustled him off into the river below. 'Thereat Stilicho laughed, but the stream hurrying the man away, caused him to perish for lack of breath.'

Orosius, however, makes no mention of all this. In his narrative, which is written with a bias towards religious edification, Mascezel, in the hour of his  p670 triumph, is described as neglecting the society of the holy men whom he had taken on board at Caprera, and even daring to violate the sanctity of the churches by laying hands on some of the rebels who had taken refuge there. 'The penalty for this sacrilege followed in due course, for after some time he himself was punished under the very eyes and amid the exulting cries of those whom he had thus sought to slay. Thus when he hoped in God he was assisted, and when he despised Him he was put to death.'

This does not seem to describe the same scene as the tumultuary assassination of which Zosimus speaks. As Orosius hates Stilicho, and omits no opportunity of insinuating calumnies against him, his silence appears to outweigh the hostile testimony of Zosimus, who generally leans to the side of detraction. Possibly the Roman ministers who had seen Firmus rise again in Gildo may have feared that Gildo would rise again in Mascezel, and may have determined by fair means or foul to crush the viper's brood of the house of Nabal; but such a crime, committed for reasons of state, however foul a thing in itself, is different from the assassination prompted by mere personal envy, which has been on insufficient grounds attributed to the Vandal hero.

Marriage of Honorius to Maria daughter of Stilicho. The glory and power of Stilicho were now nearly at their highest point. Shortly before the expedition against Gildo he had given his daughter Maria in marriage to Honorius, and the father-in‑law of the Emperor might rightly be deemed to hold power with a securer grasp than his mere chief minister. In the poem on the nuptials of Honorius and Maria, a poem in which the mythological element — Cupid, Venus, the  p671 Nereids, and the like — is more than usually prominent, Claudian seems perplexed to know which he is to praise the most — the Emperor, the bride, or the bride's father. He settles at length, however, on Stilicho, even daring to say —

'More of our duty e'en our prince hath won

Since thou, unconquered captain, call'st him son.'​38

And to this quarter of the compass, during the remaining six years over which his poems extend, the needle of his Muses' devotion pointed faithfully. He tells us, and one is disposed to believe that the flattery is not wholly baseless, that when Stilicho trod the streets of Rome there was no need of any herald to announce his advent.​39 Even when surrounded by the throng of citizens, his lofty stature, his demeanour, stately yet modest, his voice, accustomed to command, yet free from the loud arrogance of the mere military swashbuckler; above all, his capacious forehead and his hair, touched with an early whiteness by the cares of state, and suggesting the gravity of age combined with the vigour of youth, all proclaimed his presence to the people; all forced the by‑stander to exclaim, 'Hic est, hic Stilichon.' ('This, this can be none else than Stilicho.')

In the same poem, Claudian indulges in anticipations of the birth of little 'Honoriades,' who should climb the knees of his grandfather,​40 an anticipation, however, which was not realised. There was no issue of the marriage, and though there can be no doubt that the  p672 birth of an Imperial grandson would have, more than anything else, consolidated the power of Stilicho, even this failure of issue was, at a later day, attributed to the magical arts of Serena and included in the indictment against her too prosperous family.

Consulship of Eutropius and Theodorus. The years 399 and 400 were memorable ones in the Consular Fasti. For the first of these years, Eutropius the chamberlain and ruling favourite at the Court of Constantinople, was nominated Consul on behalf of the East, while Mallius Theodorus, a Roman of respectable rank and character, was the colleague given him by the West. For though the Consul's titular dignity was connected properly with Old Rome alone, this divided nomination between the two portions of the Empire seems to have been usual, if not universal.

Degradation of the consul­ship. Slaves and freedmen, even of the degraded class of eunuchs to which Eutropius belonged, had before now, under weak Emperors, and especially under Constantius, exercised great power in the state, but it had been always by keeping themselves in the background and working upon the suspicions or vanity of their lord. But that a slave who had sunk lower and lower in the menial ranks as he passed from one master to another till he at length received his freedom as the contumelious prize of his age and ugliness, that an old and wrinkled eunuch, who had combed the hair of his mistress and fanned her with peacock's feathers, should sit in the chair of Brutus, be preceded by the lictors with the fasces, and affect to command the armies of Rome, was too much for the still remaining pride of the Senatus Populus Que Romanus. The populace of Constantinople only laughed at the effeminate voice and faded prettinesses of the Eunuch-Consul, but 399 the  p673 Western Capital refused to defile her hands with his name, and wrote down Mallius Theodorus as sole Consul. By a not unnatural blunder, in after years the blank space was filled up by the division of the Western magistrate's name, and the year 399 (A.U.C. 1152) was assigned to 'Mallius et Theodorus, Consules.'

400 Consulship of Stilicho. In the following year (400) Stilicho himself was raised to the Consulship. The promotion seems to have come somewhat tardily to one whose power and whose services were so transcendent, but there was perhaps a reluctance to confer this peculiarly Roman office on one so recently sprung from a barbarian stock.​41 Claudian's muse was roused by this exaltation of his patron to some of her finest efforts. In the trilogy of poems celebrating the first Consulship of Stilicho,​42 the enthusiastic bard furnishes us with many of those details as to the youth and early manhood of the General, which have been already quoted: he describes how he had by the mere terror of his name brought Germany into such a state of subjection and civilisation, that the perplexed traveller sailing down the Rhine was fain to ask himself which was indeed the German, which the Roman shore; he celebrates the civic virtues of his hero, and he closes with a rapturous description of the sports in the amphitheatre which were to celebrate the joyful event, and for which Diana and all her nymphs with glad willingness purveyed the needful animals.

Claudian's congratulatory prophecy. From amidst the prophecies of future glory and  p674 victory, which are, as it were, a common form in such compositions, one may be selected which concludes the second poem. De consulatu Stilichonis II, 424‑476. The personifications are doubtless less vivid than those of the great Epic Poets, and some of the images are perhaps blurred in the original, and must be yet more so in a translation. Still, as one of the latest mythological pictures in Roman art, and as a forecast of the future of the Empire, delivered at the very commencement of the fifth century (according to our reckoning), the page may be found not devoid of interest —

The Cave of Time.

'Far off, in some wild spot, unknown of men,

Scarce to be traced by e'en Immortals' ken,

Yawns the vast Cave, dark mother of the years,

Forth from whose depths each new‑born time appears,

Whither it hastes, when ended. All the place

Is girdled by a serpent's coiled embrace:

For ever fresh each green and glittering scale,

And the jaws close upon the back-bent tail,

End and beginning one. Before the Gates

Primeval Nature, stately guardian, waits,

And all around her, as in act to fly,

Hang the swift souls, soon to be born or die.

Time. Meanwhile a man, of venerable age,

Writes Fate's firm verdicts on his opened page.

He tells the stars, he knows their devious way,

The secret cause of every orb's delay,

And the fixed laws which death and life obey.

He knows what prompts the mazy dance of Mars,

The Thunderer's steadfast course among the stars,

The Moon's swift orbit, Saturn's sluggish pace,

Why Venus, Mercury, haunt Sol's resting-place.

The Sun enters upon the new year. Soon as that threshold feels the Sun‑god's feet,

The mighty Mother runs his steps to greet.

That ancient mage, before the sunbeam's glare,

Bends all the snow-white honours of his hair,

And then, self-moved, the adamantine doors

Turn backwards; gleam upon the spacious floors


The conquering rays; Time's mysteries old and new,

In Time's own realm, lie open to the view.

A Golden Age allotted to Stilicho by the sun. Here, each apportioned to its separate cell,

By various metals marked, the ages dwell.

Here are the brazen years, a crowded line,

Here the stern iron, there the silvern shine.

Oh! safely guarded, rare for earth to hold

Lie the great boons, the ruddy years of gold.

Of these the Titan chooses the most fair,

The noble form of Stilicho to wear,

Bids all the rest to follow, and as they fly

Salutes them thus, and tells their destiny.

"Lo! he, for whom the better age so long

Has tarried, comes, a Consul. Oh ye throng

Of years that men have yearned for, haste amain

And all the Virtues carry in your train.

Once more from you let mighty minds be born,

The joy of Bacchus, Ceres' wealth of corn.

Let not the starry Serpent, by the Pole,

Hiss forth the icy breath that chills the soul:

Nor with immoderate cold let Ursa rage,

With heat the Lion; Cancer's heritage

Let not the fury of the summer burn,

Nor let Aquarius, of the lavish urn,

Wash out the seeds from earth with lashing showers.

Let Phrixus' Ram lead in the spring with flowers,

But not the Scorpion's tail the olives bruise,

Nor Virgin! thou the autumnal germs refuse

Kindly to foster. Dog‑star! let the vine

Grape-crowned, not hear too loud that bark of thine."

He said and sought the saffron-flaming fields

And his own vale, which circles and enshields

A fiery stream. There in a deep-grown glade,

Where feed his deathless steeds, his steps he stayed,

Bound with the fragrant flowers his amber hair,

The manes and bridles of his coursers fair —

Here served him Lucifer, Aurora there —

And with them smiling, stood the Year of Gold,

Proud on his brow the Consul's name to hold.

Then on its hinge the gate is backward rolled,

And the stars write the Stilichonian name

On Rome's eternal calendars of fame.'

The Author's Notes:

1 Ambrose died 4th April, 397. (His birth is generally assigned to the year 340, as stated on p385, but I am not sure that 333 is not a more probable date.) When he was attacked with his fatal illness Count Stilicho is said to have observed that the death of such a man would be the ruin of Italy. He therefore persuaded some noblemen of Mediolanum whom he knew to be dear to Ambrose to visit him and ask him to pray to God for his own recovery. The Bishop answered, 'I have not so lived among you that I should be ashamed of life: but I fear not to die, for we have a good Lord;' and not many days after he breathed his last.

2 Ethiopia.

3 There is a slight poetical licence here. Strictly, Honorius's consul­ship did not begin till he was fifteen months old, in 386.

4 Claudian (in his poem on the First Consulship of Stilicho) speaks of him as still a young man when married to Serena (apparently about 385). He could not therefore be born earlier than 350. On the other hand, in the De Bello Getico, 459‑460, Claudian speaks of his 'well-known white hair' —

'Emicuit Stilichonis apex et cognita fulsit


He therefore could hardly have been born later than 360, since this poem relates to the events of 402 or 403.

5 In Prim. Cons. Stilich. I.36‑39.

6 Ib. 51‑70.

7 This embassy was probably in connection with the treaty between the two monarchies solemnly concluded at Constantinople in 384.

8 In Cons. Stilichonis, II.6‑29.

9 Ib. II.30‑49.

10 Ib. 100‑110.

11 Ib. 110‑124.

12 This is Köpke's explanation (Anfänge des Königthums, p122) of the difficult passage in Jordanes, 'Alarico, cui erat post Amalos secunda nobilitas Balthorumque ex genere origo mirifica, qui dudum ob audaciam virtutis, Baltha, id est audax, nomen inter suos acceperat.'

13 Jordanes, De Rebus Geticis, cap. 29.

14 Zosimus, V.5.

15 Sozomen, IX.6. Greek English

16 Clinton, following Isidore (an inaccurate guide), decides on 382: Gibbon argues, not very convincingly, for 400.

17 'Utramque rempublicam.'

18 GeticaXXIX. Jordanes, who knows nothing of the Grecian campaigns, proceeds at once to Alaric's invasion of Italy in 400. This is the only pretext for postponing Alaric's elevation to that year.

19 Claudian, In Rufinum, II.101.

20 Possibly an exception should be made for the joint campaign of East and West against Carthage in 468.

21 'Et fuit arcanum populo.' Claudian, In Ruf. II.290.

22 We can only speak in these doubtful terms of a movement of which we know nothing but what is told us in a few vague lines of Claudian (De IV Cons. Honorii, 439‑460). This Rhenish march is generally assigned to the year 395, but it seems to me that the only time in which we can find room for it is the first half of 396.

23 Gibbon's 'Master-General of Illyricum' is, I think, only a conjecture, though a very probable one. The last extract from Claudian on the next page looks as if the title were Duke, perhaps 'Dux Daciae Ripensis et Moesiae Primae.'

24 'Praesidet Illyrico.'

25 In Eutropium, II.214‑218.

26 De Bello Getico, 533‑543.


'At nunc Illyrici postquam mihi tradita jura

Meque suum fecere ducem, tot tela, tot enses,

Tot galeas multo Thracum sudore paravi;

Inque meos usus vectigal vertere ferri

Oppida legitimo jussu Romana coegi,' &c.


'Foedera fallax

Ludit et alternae perjuria venditat aulae.'

De Bello Getico, 566‑7.

29 p291.

30 Will Punic influence justify us in coupling this Semitic-sounding name with the churlish Nabal of the Bible?

31 In the year 398 Africa complains, according to Claudian (De Bello Gildonico, 153) that she has been for twelve years subject to the tyranny of Gildo.

32 Claudian, De Bello Gildonico, 254‑5.

33 The Jovian, Herculean, Nervian, Felix, Augustan, and 'the Leones' (Claudian, De Bello Gildonico, 415‑424).

34 Garibaldi's Caprera.

35 Zosimus, V.11.

36 The patrimony of Gildo, perhaps representing that of the whole house of Nabal, was confiscated to the use of the state, that is of the Emperor, and was so extensive that in the Notitia Occidentis, cap. xii,º the 'Count of the Patrimony of Gildo' is placed in the first class of officials subject to the Administrator of the Imperial Domains ('Comes Rerum Privatarum'). Compare also Cod. Theod. VII.8 (De Metatis) 7 and 9.

37 V.11.


'Plus jam, plus domino cuncti debere fatemur

Quod gener est, invicte tuus.'

De Nupt. Honor. et Mariae, 335‑6.

39 De Nupt. Honor. et Mariae, 318‑325.

40 De Nupt. Honor. et Mariae 340‑1.

41 Yet that this cannot have been the only reason is sufficiently shown by the examples of Bauto, Merobaudes, and Dagalaiphus.

42 The so‑called poem on the Second Consulship evidently bears an erroneous title, and really belongs to the First.

Thayer's Note:

a Allowing a dangerous enemy to escape has long been a wise policy choice; Stilicho, unfortunately for him, may well have read his Frontinus (Strategemata, II.6).

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