Short URL for this page:
https://bit.ly/2ed1HODIHIIntro


[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home
previous:

[image ALT: link to previous chapter]

Prefaces

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
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!

next:

[image ALT: link to next chapter]
Book I
Chapter 1

Book 1 (beginning)

Vol. I
p1
Introduction

Plan of the Work. Summary of Roman Imperial History.

Plan of Work. The object of this history is to trace some of the changes by which classical Italy, the kernel of the Roman Empire, the centre of government and law for the Western world, became that Italy of the Middle Ages, whose life was as rich in intellectual and artistic culture as it was poor in national cohesion and enduring political strength.

To some other historian will belong the delight of telling worthily in the English language the story of those wonderful Italian Commonwealths, which nurtured and diffused the sacred flame of civilisation, while England, France, and Germany were still overshadowed by the darkness of feudalism. Other English scholars are even now relating the history of that succeeding age, so perplexing in its alternate appeals to our admiration and our abhorrence, during which Italy, still in the van of European nations, was passing from the mediaeval into the modern phase of thought and manners, the Age of the Renaissance. But my business is at the other, and to most readers the much less interesting, end of her history. I have to deal with the period of fading light and increasing  p2 obscurity during which the familiar Italy of the Classics slowly assumes the character which we term Mediaeval.

Italy is the country with which our interests will be permanently bound up, and other nations are mentioned only in so far as they directly or indirectly influenced her destinies. But I must warn the reader that this limitation will often be found to be of the most elastic nature. Every wandering tribe which crossed the Alps, eager to pierce its way to the discrowned capital of the world, contributed something to the great experiment of the making of the new Italy; and the previous history of that tribe, whether it dwelt in Lithuanian steppes or wasted Chinese provinces, is therefore within the scope of our enquiry, which proposes to deal not only with Italy but also with her invaders.

In the period covered by the present volumes, moreover, it is impossible wholly to dissever the history of Italy from that of the other portions of the Roman Empire. This is shown in the lives of two of the first statesmen whom we meet with. A Spanish gentleman (Theodosius), clothed with the imperial purple at Constantinople, by a battle fought among the mountains of Friuli makes himself master of Italy, and dies at Milan, leaving the dominion of Western Europe to his son. The chief minister of that son (Stilicho), a soldier of German extraction, born probably in Thrace, first emerges into notice as ambassador to the king of Persia, is married beside the Bosphorus to a daughter of Spain, wars by the Rhine, and dies at Ravenna.

Do what we may, therefore, we shall find our story continually diverted from the country between the Alps and Etna by the perturbing influences of other  p3 countries, especially by Byzantium, in the earlier part of this period, and by Gaul in the later. Still, the reader is requested to bear in mind that it is the history of Italy primarily which I shall endeavour to set before him, that the course of the narrative is prescribed by the order of the successive appearances of the barbarians upon the Italian theatre, and that I am not so presumptuous as to endeavour to tell over again what has been already told by the unsurpassable skill of Gibbon, the story of the Fall of the Roman Empire.

Five great invasions by the barbarians, corresponding roughly to five generations of mankind, or 160 years, mark the period which may be called The Death of Rome. These five invasions are those of the Visigoths, the Huns, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, and the Lombards. Alaric the Visigoth first led a hostile army into Italy A.D. 400: Alboin the Lombard entered the same country with his conquering host A.D. 568.

In the first two volumes I shall attempt to tell the story of the first three invasions.

The First Book, which covers the longest interval of time, will deal with the events of the close of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century, considered either as causes or as consequences of the great Visigothic invasions (A.D. 400 to 414). After a sketch of the earlier history of the Gothic nation, I shall relate with some detail the history of the Empire, both in the East and West, after the death of Julian (363), in order to explain the series of events which ultimately brought the Visigothic invaders into Italy. For it was from the East that the impulsion came. The cause which set the Visigoths in motion, and which more than any  p4 other determined the great migration of the Germanic tribes into the countries forming the Roman Empire, was the appearance of the Huns, a horde of Asiatic savages, on the confines of the Visigothic territory between the Black Sea and the Carpathians, in the year 376. (By a coincidence which may help to fix both dates in the memory it was precisely a century after this date, in the year 476, that the boy‑Emperor Romulus Augustulus was pushed from his throne by the first Teutonic ruler of Italy, Odovacar.)

The Second Book, after describing the efforts of scholars to throw light on the darkness of the history of the Huns previously to their arrival in Europe, will deal chiefly with those eventful years in the middle of the fifth century, upon which Italy and the whole of Europe, Teutonic as well as Roman, trembled before the might of Attila.

The Third Book will be devoted to the early history of the Vandals, their invasions of Italy, and the revolt of the German mercenaries in the Roman army (476).

During the three centuries and a half which intervened between the death of Augustus and the beginning of the epoch which we are going to consider in detail, the Emperors who governed Rome may be divided broadly into six great classes:

Julian and Claudian Emperors. A.D. 14‑68 1. The Julian and Claudian Emperors, four men whose names have burnt themselves forever into the memory of the human race, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero. All these men in different ways illustrated the terrible efficacy of absolute world-dominion to poison the character and even to unhinge the intellect of him who wielded it. Standing, as it were, upon the Mount of Temptation, and seeing all the kingdoms of the  p5 world and all the glory of them stretched at an immeasurable distance below their feet, they were seized with a dizziness1 of the soul, and, professing themselves to be gods, did deeds at the instigation of their wild hearts and whirling brains such as men still shudder to think of. Their hands were heavy on the old Senatorial families of Rome, heavier still on their own race, the long-descended posterity of Venus and of Iulus. In the genealogy of the descendants of Augustus, 'stabbed,' 'poisoned,' 'starved to death,' are the all but invariable obituary notices of the women as of the men. But the imperial Reign of Terror was limited to a comparatively small number of families in Rome. The provinces were undoubtedly better governed than in the later days of the Republic, and even in Rome itself the common people strewed flowers on the grave of Nero. Frightful as was the waste of money on the wild extravagances of Caligula and Nero, it perhaps did not outrun the supply received from the vast confiscated estates of the slaughtered senators; and the tax‑gatherer, at any rate in Italy and the West,2 was not yet that name of terror to the provincials which he became in after days.

Flavian Emperors. A.D. 69‑96 2. The Flavian Emperors ought, perhaps, hardly to be classed together, so little was there in common between the just, somewhat hard, rule of Vespasian, or the two years' beneficent sway of Titus, 'the delight of the  p6 human race,' and the miserable tyranny of Domitian. But the stupendous Colosseum, the Arch of Titus, and the Amphitheatre at Verona, serve as an architectural landmark, to fix the Flavian period in the memory; and one other characteristic was necessarily shared by the whole family, the humble origin from which they sprang. After the high-born Julii and Claudii, the descendant of pontiffs and censors, noblemen delicate and fastidious through all their wild debauch of blood, came these sturdy sons of the commonalty to robe themselves in the Imperial purple, and this unforgotten lowness of their ancestry, while it gave a touch of meanness to the close and frugal government of Vespasian, evidently intensified the delight of Domitian in setting his plebeian feet on the necks of all that was left of refined or aristocratic in Rome. All the more strange does it seem, when we consider the humble extraction of these Emperors, that their name should have remained for centuries the favourite title of Emperors no way allied to them in blood, a Claudius (Gothicus), a Constantine, a Theodosius, and many more, having prefixed the once ignoble name of Flavius to their own. And hence, by a natural process of imitation, the barbarian rulers who settled themselves within the limits of the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries, Burgundian, Lombard, Visigoth, adopted the same mysteriously majestic fore-name, unconsciously, as we must suppose, selecting the very epithet3 which best described their own personal appearance,4  p7 yellow-haired sons of the North as they were, among the dark-coloured Mediterranean populations.

Adoptive Emperors. A.D. 96‑192 3. The Adoptive Emperors who followed the Flavian dynasty conferred upon the Empire the inestimable boon of nearly a century of internal peace, order, and good government. If we cannot acquiesce without reservation in the celebrated statement of Gibbon, that 'If a man were called on to fix the period in the history of the world in which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus,' we can truly say that we know not where to find any other consecutive series of sovereigns which can be compared to these illustrious names, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, Marcus. Valiant, accomplished, just, able to bear their share in the rough work of the defence of the Empire against external aggression, yet not delighting in war, these men, with many differences of temperament, of intellectual power, and of moral excellence, were alike in their earnest single-heartedness of purpose to use the vast power entrusted to them for the good of their world-wide realm. Alike in central Rome and in the remotest provinces of the Empire, we find the traces of their beneficent activity, working not as if for a year or a generation, but for eternity. The column at Rome which commemorates the Dacian triumphs of Trajan measures also the greatness of the excavations for the magnificent Forum Trajani. From the Lower Danube to the Black Sea, from the  p8 Upper Danube to the affluents of the Rhine, from the Tyne to the Solway, from the Frith of Forth to the Frith of Clyde, men can still trace the boundary lines of the Roman Empire traced by the mighty hands of Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus. Not even the Colosseum of Vespasian or the pantheon of Agrippa impresses the mind with a sense of the majestic strength of Rome so forcibly as the massive bulwarks of a bridge erected by Hadrian's cohorts over some little British stream unknown to the majority even of Englishmen, or the square and solid blocks of an Imperial guardhouse on some remote and solitary Northumbrian moor.5 And of these works, with that peculiar quality of grand permanence which they bear upon their fronts, and which seems to say that they are the work of men who could count upon more than a thousand years of empire before them, the best and most characteristic are those which were reared in the second century by order of these princes whom we have called the Adoptive Emperors.

But for one consideration, the method of selection which gave to the Roman world so splendid a succession of rulers would seem to be so good as to deserve to be re‑introduced into practical politics. The Commonwealth having once been fortunate enough to secure a wise and virtuous ruler, and having entrusted him with as much power as possible short of absolute despotism, leaves it to him to select, in the maturity of his years and judgment, the man whom he deems likeliest to carry on his great work in his own spirit of  p9 absolute devotion to the welfare of the State. Avoiding thus the oft‑recurring absurdities of popular election, avoiding also the hap‑hazard of hereditary succession, wherein Nature seems sometimes to amuse herself by producing sons who are the very burlesques and parodies of their fathers, the State obtains the selection of the man presumably the fittest of all her children to govern in his turn. He is adopted by the reigning sovereign, calls him father, is treated by him with the confidence and affection due to a son, steps naturally into his vacant place at his death, and carries forward the great and beneficent schemes of which he has learnt the secret.

An admirable theory, and one which owing to a combination of favourable circumstances did, as we have seen, for nearly a century work out most beneficial results in practice. But every one can see what is the deep-rooted and enduring principle in human nature which must cause it to fail in the long run. 'And Abram said, "Behold to me thou hast given no seed: and lo, one, born in my house is mine heir." And behold the word of the Lord came unto him saying, "This shall not be thine heir, but he that shall come forth out of thy loins shall be thine heir." '6 Neither the proverbial jealousy between kings and their sons, nor the nobler principle of postponing family affection to the good of the State, can be trusted to counterbalance, for more than a generation or two, the irresistible instinct which makes a man prefer to work for his own offspring rather than for the offspring of other men, and unwilling to play at adopting sons when he has sons of his own growing  p10 up around him. So, having got this principle of hereditary succession deep in the nature of things, and likely to last as long as the human race itself, the wisest course seems to be to accept it, make the best of it, and by the safeguards of what we call constitutional government prevent it from doing more harm than can be helped to the world.

4. No more striking illustration both of the strength of the parental instinct and of the mischiefs of hereditary successions, could be afforded than by the change which befell the Roman Empire in the year 180, when Marcus Aurelius, wisest, most patriotic, and most self-denying of emperors, instead of adopting a successor, left his power to his son Commodus, most brutal and profligate of tyrants.

Barrack Emperors. A.D. 192‑284 The convulsions which followed his murder (192) were the prelude to the reigns of a class of men whom we may describe as the Barrack Emperors, whose reigns made up a century as miserable and ruinous as the period of the adoptive Emperors had been prosperous and tranquil. The open sale of the Imperial dignity to Didius Julianus (193) by the Praetorian Guards was the only expression, in an unusually logical and shameless form, of the motives which animated the Roman armies in the successive revolutions with which they afflicted the State. The proclamation of a new Emperor brought with it a liberal donative to the common soldiers, promotion and the chance of lucrative employment in the civil hierarchy to the officers. Therefore, as a skilful tradesman makes his profit by rapidly 'turning over' his capital, even so in the interests of the military profession must emperors be made and unmade with a rapidity which almost takes  p11 away the breath of the historian who tries to record these bewildering changes. And the Praetorians of Rome were not to have a monopoly of this profitable speculation. It had been discovered long ago that 'emperors could be made elsewhere than at Rome,' and in Britain, Gaul, Spain, Africa, on the Persian frontier, wherever the legions were stationed, pronunciamentos (to borrow a term from Spanish politics) were constantly occurring, and second-rate generals were perpetually being hatched into emperors. To‑day the purple robe, the radiated crown, the epithets, 'Augustus,' 'Pius,' 'Felix,' 'Invictus,' 'Pater Patriae,' and all the cant of conventional courtliness; to‑morrow the headless trunk, the dagger-holes in the purple, the murdered children, and a legion in the adjoining province greedily fingering their new donative and shouting the names of another pious, happy, and unconquered emperor who had been mad enough to climb the slippery slope.

A.D. 211‑284 In the period of seventy-three years which elapsed between the death of Severus and the accession of Diocletian, no fewer than eighteen emperors were recognised at Rome, besides a crowd of anti-emperors in the provinces, whose shifting shadowy forms defy enumeration. Thus the average length of the reign of each of these comparatively legitimate emperors was only four years and three weeks. What state could prosper which changed even its ministers as often as this? But the course of events during the two preceding centuries had made of the emperor more than any single minister, far more of course than any constitutional king. He was the very mainspring of the State: in the army, in the courts of law, in the administration,  p12 in legislation, his impulse was needed to set the machine in motion, his guidance to keep it in the right track. There are some great names, some heroic natures belonging to this time. Decius, Claudius, and Aurelian will all claim a share of our admiration when we glance at their deeds in recounting the early history of the Gothic inroads. But what could the most strenuous ruler accomplish with so short a tenure of power? He was just beginning to learn his work when a mutiny of the soldiery or the sword of a barbarian, or one of those terrible pestilences which denoted and increased the misery of the time, carried him off, and the skein, more tangled than ever, fell into the hands of a too often incapable successor.

Add to this primary evil of the rapid change of rulers others which were derived from it — inroads of the Germanic tribes, triumphs of the increasingly arrogant Persian kings, dilapidation of the frontier fortresses, utter exhaustion of the Treasury, and above and beyond all, a depreciation of the currency such as the world hardly saw again till the days of the French assignat; and the picture of this most miserable century is, not indeed complete, but at least sufficiently dark to disenchant us with that theory of 'Caesarism,' of which it furnishes a fitting illustration.

One point ought not to be left unnoticed. Not till towards the end of this period of Barrack Emperors do we meet with any traces of real generalship among the Roman military leaders. The wretched system of pronunciamentos not only drained the life-blood of the State but ruined the discipline of the army. It was seen then as it has so often been seen since in the history of the world, that if once the interests of the  p13 military profession are allowed to become a paramount consideration in politics, it soon ceases to be an efficient instrument even for its own purpose of scientific manslaughter. PLATE

5. This time of anarchy was closed by the accession of Diocletian, who inaugurated a period short in duration but productive of boundless consequences to the world, Partnership Emperors. A.D. 284‑326 the period of the Partnership Emperors. Himself borne to power by something not very unlike a mutiny of the troops on the Persian frontier, he nevertheless represented and gave voice to the passionate longing of the world that the age of mutinies might cease. With this intention he remodelled the internal constitution of the State and moulded it into a bureaucracy so strong, so stable, so wisely organised, that it subsisted virtually the same for more than a thousand years, and by its endurance prolonged for many ages the duration of the Byzantine Empire. With the same end avowedly in view but doubtless in part also at the promptings of his own superhuman pride, Diocletian severed himself more decisively than any of his predecessors from the Augustan policy of recognising in the emperor only the first of Roman citizens, and ostentatiously claimed from his subjects a homage no less servile than that which was rendered to the most absolute of Oriental despots. The diadem worn after the Persian fashion, the jewelled buskins with their very soles tinged with purple, the reverence, not by kneeling but by complete self-prostration on entering the Imperial presence, exacted from all subjects of whatever rank — these innovations, almost as alien to the spirit of Augustus as to that of either Brutus, were now contentedly acquiesced in and formed part henceforward of the traditions  p14 of the Roman monarchy. So, too, did the pompous and inflated phraseology of the sovereign and his retinue, of which some samples, such as Sacred Majesty and Serene Highness, have passed into the language of modern courts and survive even to our own day.

But the most important principle which Diocletian introduced into the politics of the Empire was Administrative Division. Recognising the impossibility of properly ruling those vast dominions from one only seat of government, recognising also the inevitable jealousy felt by the soldiers of the provinces for their more fortunate brethren under the golden shower of donatives at Rome, he divided the Roman world into four great Prefectures, which were to be ruled, not as independent states but still as one Empire by four partners in one great Imperial firm. This principle of partnership or association was made elastic enough to include also the time-honoured principle of adoption. Diocletian associated with himself the stout soldier Maximian as his brother Augustus; then these two Augusti adopted and associated two young men, Galerius and Constantius, as junior partners in the Empire, conferring upon them the slightly inferior title of Caesars. The Caesar Constantius governed from his capital of Trier the Prefecture of the Gauls, containing the three fair countries of Britain, France, and Spain. Maximian from his capital (not Rome but Milan) administered the Prefecture of Italy, comprising Italy Proper, Southern Germany, and North-Western Africa. Galerius from Sirmium (near Belgrade) ruled the Prefecture of Illyricum, containing the countries which we lately knew as European Turkey, and Greece, with part of Hungary, while the rest of the Empire,  p15 namely Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, bore the name of the Prefecture of the East, and owned the immediate sway of Diocletian himself, who fixed his capital at Nicomedia in Bithynia.

According to this system while the younger monarchs, the Caesars, were engaged in the tough work of the defence of the frontiers, their more experienced colleagues were to apply their matured intellects to the less exciting task of internal government and legislation. Civil war, it was fondly hoped, was rendered impossible; for whenever an Augustus died his Caesar stood ready to succeed him, and the nomination of the new Caesar would be decided by the calm collective wisdom of the three reigning sovereigns.

The scheme was really deserving of a certain measure of success, and had Diocletian's colleagues all been men as just and moderate as Constantius Chlorus, it probably would have succeeded, at least for a generation or two. But, as every one knows, it failed, and that in the very lifetime of its author. After nineteen years of sovereignty, on the whole well and wisely exercised, Diocletian retired from the cares of government to his superb palace and his cabbage-garden by Salona on the Dalmatian shore of the Adriatic. Much against his will, the elderly soldier, Maximian, retired likewise. The health of Constantius was visibly declining, and the choice of new Caesars was left to Galerius, the worst of the Imperial quartet, who chose two men, one of them the half-witted Maximin Daza, his own nephew, and both even more unsuited for empire than himself. Then steamed up and boiled over a very devil's cauldron of resentments and rivalries. Constantine the Great claims successfully the purple worn by  p16 his dead father, Maximian retracts his abdication and associates his son Maxentius: everybody who has any conceivable claim upon the Empire is declaring himself Augustus and his son Caesar: before the death of Diocletian no fewer than six men are all posing as full Roman Emperors. We hasten on to the familiar end. By A.D. 314 two Emperors alone, Constantine and Licinius, are left, the former in the West, the latter in the East. They become brothers-in‑law, they endeavour to persuade the world, perhaps even their own hearts, that they are friends. But it is of no avail; the two queen-bees cannot dwell together in the same hive; each is bound to destroy or be destroyed. A.D. 323 At the battle of Chrysopolis Licinius is defeated; soon after he is slain, and Constantine remains sole heir of the magnificent inheritance of Julius and of Marcus.

Yet let it not be thought that the scheme of Diocletian utterly failed. When Constantine dedicated in 330 the magnificent city by the swift Bosphorus, which still bears his name, that diamond which still makes so many sore hearts among the envious queens of the world, he was but giving bodily shape to the best thought of the deep brain of Diocletian, and that thought, if it ruined Rome, perhaps saved the Empire.

Theologian Emperors. A.D. 323‑363 6. Constantine the Great and his family make up the last but one of our Imperial classes, and may be styled the Theologian Emperors. There is this one feature common to Constantine the Eclectic, to Constantius the Arian, and to Julian the 'Apostate,' that with all of them the relation of man to the unseen world was the topic which most profoundly interested the intellect, whether it succeeded or failed in moulding the life. Constantine's youth and early manhood were  p17 passed amid the din of Diocletian's terrible persecution of the Christians, a persecution which must have possessed a fascinating interest for him on account of his father's suspected and his mother's avowed attachment to the new faith. That persecution was not the work so much of the statesmanlike Diocletian as of the coarse and tyrannical Galerius: and yet we may almost say, looking to the relative positions of the Empire and the Church, that Diocletian himself was bound to persecute if he did not believe.7 The Christian Church, a strong and stately hierarchy, proclaiming its own eternal truth and the absurdity of all other faiths, had grown up within the easy latitudinarianism of the Roman Empire, an imperium in imperio. Its Bishops were rapidly becoming the rivals of the Imperial Vicars, its Patriarchs of the Imperial Prefects. Even the wife and daughter of the greatest of the Emperors were believed to be Christians at heart, and the most popular of his colleagues more than tolerated the new faith. In these circumstances, urged on by the malign influence of Galerius, and influenced perchance contrary to the advice of his deeper nature by the traditions of his predecessors and his supposed duty to the Empire, Diocletian became a persecutor, and having undertaken the bloody task brought to its execution the same thoroughness, the same square-headed pertinacity which characterised his whole career as a statesman.

He failed. The Empire which had accepted the challenge of the Church was signally defeated in the  p18 encounter. Thenceforward it was in the nature of things that the Church should dominate the Empire. The corruption which was wrought in Christianity by the atmosphere of the Court of Constantinople is admitted more or less by all schools of Christian thought. But, on the other hand, unbelief itself recognises in the long theological duel of the fourth century something more than the mere hair-splittings of ambitious and worldly ecclesiastics. The constancy of Diocletian's martyrs had achieved the long delayed triumph of Christianity. The Roman world, which had been for three centuries in doubt what 'this new doctrine whereof thou speakest is,' was now prepared, not unanimously, but by an overwhelming majority, to accept it as 'the fixed Highway to the Infinite and Eternal,' as furnishing the long sought‑for answer to the weary riddle of human existence.

But what was the answer? In what precise terms was it framed? As our poet says: —

'Heaven opens inward, chasms yawn,

Vast images in glimmering dawn

Half shown are broken and withdrawn.'8

There had been something of vagueness in the language of the earlier teachers of Christianity, in the very fulness and passion of their faith something almost like Agnosticism in their manner of speaking about heavenly things. This must now exist no longer. If the Gospel was indeed the new philosophy making void all that Zeno and Epicurus had taught before, it must have its own philosophical scheme of the nature of the Godhead, clear and sharp as anything in the  p19 writings of Plato or of Philo, and capable of being defended by irresistible logic in all the schools of Alexandria. The attempt to elaborate such a theological system out of the statements of the disciples of Jesus concerning their Master involved the church and the Empire in fifty years of the Arian controversy.

To settle this controversy, as he hoped, but in reality to open the lists and invite all the world to take part in it, Constantine summoned (A.D. 325) the august Council of Nicaea. From the standard of orthodoxy established in the Nicene Creed, Constantine himself before his death, in A.D. 337, visibly declined, and his son, Constantius II, eventually the sole inheritor of his power, became one of its bitterest opponents. The twenty-three years during which Constantius filled the throne of the East are emphatically the Age of Councils. Councils were held at Antioch, at Tyre, at Sardica, at Arles, at Rimini, and at Constantinople. In the words of a contemporary historian,9 'Even the service of the posts was disorganised by the troops of Bishops riding hither and thither [at the public expense] to attend what they call Synods, convened by the Emperor's order, in the hope of bringing every man round to his own opinion.'

A strange spectacle truly, and one which it is difficult to think of without scorn. Not only the great and intelligible feud between Athanasius and the Arians, but the endless divisions and sub‑divisions of the Arians themselves, Homoeusians and Homoeans and Eunomians, the innumerable creeds, the Bishops set up and pulled down by the Imperial authority, make up a history which in the modern reader stirs alternately  p20 the sensations of weariness and amusement. But amusement changes into contempt, and contempt into indignation, when he discovers that Constantius, the main-spring of all this theological activity, was a moody and suspicious tyrant, deeply imbrued with the blood of his nearest kindred, constantly sentencing better men than himself to death at the bidding of the envious eunuchs who were the ministers of his luxury. Yet even for the perpetual theological fussiness of Constantius one might plead for a milder sentence in consideration of that influence of the spirit of the time, from which no man can altogether free himself. The whole current of the age swept men's minds irresistibly into theology. All that remained of the intellectual subtlety of the Greek, of the practical common sense of the Roman, was engaged in solving the momentous question, 'What is that true-opinion10 concerning the Nature of Christ, the possession of which secures us eternal life, and the deviation from which, even by a hair's-breadth, means eternal ruin?' And the organ for discovering this true-opinion being a duly convened council of Bishops, and the expression of it a creed with duly accentuated anathemas upon all 'right-hand errors and left-hand deflections,' where could the uneasy conscience and mystified brain of a theologising Emperor find rest if not in the bosom of yet another council formulating with the conventional anathemas yet another creed?

The death of Constantius during the successful insurrection of his cousin Julian swept away for a time these endless creed-spinners. It may seem strange to class the so‑called 'Apostate' among the Theologian Emperors,  p21 yet every student of his life will admit that with him too man's relation to the unseen universe was the point round which all his being turned. He was no Positivist (to use the language of our own day); though not a persecutor, except of the mildest type, he was no Latitudinarian in matters of religion: he was deeply, seriously, earnestly impressed with a belief in the existence of the old Olympian gods, and tried, but without a trace of success, to restore their worship. He did not say, dying in his tent by the Tigris of the wound inflicted by the Persian javelin, 'Oh Galilean, thou hast conquered!' yet he might truly have said so, for the one dearest wish of his life was foiled. The pagan Theologian Emperor had made no enduring impression upon his age. Once more had the full wave of Imperial power dashed against the calm figure of the Christ, and once more it retired, not a fold of the seamless vesture disarranged.

7. The last category of Emperors (from A.D. 363 to 476) might be styled The Sovereigns of the Sinking Empire: but as we have now reached the threshold of our special subject, it will be convenient to forego any general sketch, and to reserve the more detailed picture of these Emperors till we have given some account of the early history of the Barbarians with whom they had to contend.


The Author's Notes:

1 This phrase is taken from Count Champagny, who in his book Les Césars has sketched with a master's hand the chief characters of that terrible time.

2 Finlay considers that as far as Greece was concerned the first century of the Christian era was the most miserable portion of the time passed under Roman dominion (History of Greece, vol. I, p80, ed. 1877).

3 Autharis the Lombard adopted the name of Flavius about the year 584, Recared the Visigoth about the same time. The intention appears to have been in each case to signify to their subjects in Italy and Gaul respectively that they claimed some portion of the dignity of the Roman Emperors (Paulus Diaconus de Gestis Langobardorum; cf. note in Dr. Abel's German translation, p60). Odovacar, if the coin attributed to him be correct, also called himself Flavius.

4 Flavius, from flavus, light-haired.

5 I allude especially to the bridge over the North Tyne at Chollerford and the Mile-castle at House-steads.

6 Gen. xv.3, 4.

7 For a sympathetic, almost admiring estimate of Diocletian's character from the Christian point of view, see an interesting monograph by A. J. Mason (now Canon Mason), on The Persecution of Diocletian (Cambridge, 1876).

8 Tennyson, The Two Voices.

9 Ammianus Marcellinus, XXI.16.18.

10 ὀρθὴ δόξα.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 17 May 20