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We have now followed the varying fortunes of Placidia’s life till we behold her in the thirty-fifth year of her age, seated upon the throne of the Western Empire, which for the next twenty-five years she governs, first with absolute sway as regent for her son, and then with power not less real, though apparently veiled, as the chief adviser of an indolent and voluptuous young man.

Ravenna continued to be the head-quarters of the Imperial authority. Would that it were possible to convey to the mind of the reader who has not seen Ravenna, a small part of the impressions which it produces on him who visits it in the spirit of a pilgrim of history, not caring about Nineteenth Century interests or pleasures, but solely intent on studying its weird antiquities and learning from them the spell by which he can bridge over fourteen swiftly-flowing centuries, and stand again in that Ravenna which heard of the downfall of Rome and saw the marriage of Placidia.

Lying in a vast alluvial plain, with only the sharp ridge of the mountains of San Marino to break its monotonous horizon, Ravenna is now doubly stranded; for the sea which once lapped its walls, and brought the commerce and the squadrons of the world under its towers, has retreated to a distance of five miles, and is only discernible from the top of its church spires, while the railway has left it thirty miles or more out of its main course, and only recognises its existence by two feeble branches provided with infrequent trains. Yet, as the inhabitants point out to the visitor, this silent and desolate-looking town is by no means devoid of commercial activity. As an agricultural centre it transacts a large trade in pollenta and flour; above all, it is famous for its eels, which swarm in the mud of the canals that once sheltered Honorius, and which are so highly esteemed throughout Italy that a Neapolitan fisherman would rather sell the coat off his back than dispense with his Ravenna eel on Christmas Eve.

This mud, poured forth age after age by the sluggish river which has gathered it out of the black loam of Lombardy, has sealed up Ravenna, immuring her from the busy world. The process still goes on visibly. The last deposit made by the river is mere marsh (like that through which the troops of Aspar found their mysterious way) and this marsh can only be used for the cultivation of rice. You see with pity bare-legged peasants in March or April, toiling in thissticky slime, preparing the ground for the crop, and the thought occurs to you whether similar scenes were present to the mind of Dante when he condemned the irascible and the sullen to immersion in a muddy marsh:—


‘And I, who stood intent upon beholding,

Saw people mud-besprent in that lagoon,

All of them naked and with angry look.

Fixed in the mire, they say, “We sullen were

In the sweet air which by the sun is gladdened,

Bearing within ourselves the sluggish reek;

Now we are sullen in this sable mire”. ’


Gradually, as the muddy deposit increases, the soil becomes firmer, and that which was only a rice swamp becomes solid soil suitable for the cultivation of maize.

When Honorius took refuge in Ravenna, it was probably defended by islands and lagoons, and aproached by deep-sea channels, nearly in the same way as Venice now is. The islands protected the inner pools from the fury of the ocean, and allowed the deposit of the river to go forward quietly, while the lagoons, counterfeiting at high water the appearance of sea, made navigation difficult and almost impossible to those who were not accurately acquainted with the course of the deep-sea channels which wandered intricately amongst them.

Here Augustus, with his usual wise intuition, had fixed the great naval station for the Adriatic. The town of Ravenna was already three miles distant from the sea (no doubt owing to a previous alteration of the coast line), but he improved the then existing harbour, to which he gave the appropriate name of Classis, and connected it with the old town by a cause-way, about which clustered another intermediate town called Caesarea.

Classis, then, in the days of the Roman emperors, was a busy port and arsenal—Wapping and Chatham combined—capable of affording anchorage to 250 vessels, resounding with all the noises of men whose cry is in their ships. Go to it now and you will find one of the loneliest of all lonely moors, not a house, scarcely a cottage in sight: only the glorious church of San Apollinare in Classe, which, reared in the sixth century during the reign of Justinian, still stands, though the bases of its columns are green with damp, rich in the unfaded beauty of its mosaics. Beside it is one desolate farm-house occupied by the guardian of the church.

Looking seaward, you cannot, even from thence, see the blue rim of the Adriatic, only the dark masses of the Pineta, the ‘immemorial pinewood’ of which Dante, Dryden, and Byron have sung, and which is the one feature of natural beauty in all the dull landscape of Ravenna.

It may be said that this picture of Ravenna offer sbut little inducement to any traveller to turn out of his way to visit it. It is true: and as Plato wrote over the doors of his school, ‘Let none enter in but the geometrician,’ so may it be said of Ravenna,

‘Let no man who has not the historic enthusiasm strong within him set his face towards that city of the dead.’ But for such a one, notwithstanding all the monotony of her landscape and the dullness of her streets, she has treasures in store which will make the time of his sojourn by the Ronco noteworthy even among Italian days. He will see the tombs of Western emperors and Gothic kings; he will look upon the first efforts of Christian art after it emerged from the seclusion of the catacombs; he will walk through stately basilicas in which classical columns, taken from the temple of some Olympian god, support an edifice dedicated to the memory of a Christian Bishop; he will be able to trace some of the very earliest steps in that worship of the Virgin which, in the fifth and sixth centuries, was beginning to overspread Christendom : above all, he will gaze in wonder upon those marvellous mosaics which line the walls of the churches— pictures which were as old in the time of Giotto as Giotto’s frescoes are now, yet which retain (thanks to the furnace through which the artist passed his materials) colours as bright and gilding as gorgeous as when they were first placed on those walls in the days of Placidia or Justinian.

Mosaics: it may be well to pause for a moment upon this word, in order to remind the reader of the special characteristics of the pictures thus produced, and wherein they differ from that other great branch of wall-decoration, the Fresco. The Mosaic is as it were a painted window deprived of its transparency. Fragments of glass carefully pieced together are the artist’s sole material. Richness of colour, and deep metallic lustre, are his chief pictorial resources. Beauty of form, strength of outline, wonders of foreshortening, do not seem naturally to belong to the Mosaic, whether from the necessary conditions of the art or from the character of the ages in which it was chiefly practised. Domes of dark blue studded with golden stars, golden glories round the heads of saints, garments of deep purple and crimson, and faces which, though not beautiful, often possess a certain divine and awful majesty: these are found in the Mosaic, and most conspicuously in that great temple in which Venice sets herself to copy and to outdo the splendours of Byzantium—the Basilica of St. Mark. Owing to the fact that mosaic decoration was then reintroduced into Italy from the East, it has long been invested with a specially Byzantine character; but the existence of chapels and baptisteries at Bavenna, dating from the time of Honorius and Placidia, and richly ornamented with mosaic work, shows that it was originally common to both Western and Eastern empires. Always, whether the work be—well or ill executed, dimly majestic or uncouth and ludicrous, we have the satisfaction of feeling that we are looking upon a picture which is substantially, both in colour and in form, such as it was when it left the hand of the artist, perhaps fourteen centuries ago.

All these conditions are completely reversed in the art of Fresco-painting, as exhibited, for instance, by Giotto in the Arena Chapel at Padua, by Fra Angelico in San Marco at Florence, or by Michael Angelo in the Sistine Chapel at Rome. Here we have a material which necessitates rapid workmanship, and invites to free and flowing outline; we have beauty of form, fertility of thought, and facility of expression; we have a continual progress from the conventional to the natural; but here we have not now what the artist first painted, but only a faded, almost colourless picture, which, even where it has escaped the white­wash of the eighteenth century, is not, cannot be, anything but the ghost of that which the artist’s contemporaries gazed upon.

Cardinal Wiseman has truly said that for him who wishes to study the remains of early Christian Art undisturbed by the admixture of the great works of Pagan architects, Ravenna is a better place than Rome.

A negative recommendation certainly. Yet he who has visited Rome, and been at times almost bewildered by the converging interests of so many ages, nations, schools of art, and confessions of religion, will admit that to some moods of his mind the advice comes soothingly.

We may say the same thing from an opposite pointof view. In Ravenna that varied wealth of mediaeval and modern memories which enriches nearly every other Italian city is almost entirely absent, and the fifth and sixth centuries rule the mind of the beholder with almost undivided sway. Almost, but not quite; are three noteworthy exceptions. Byron lived here for a year and a half, in 1820 and 1821. Here, three centuries before, in 1512, the young Gaston de Foix, nephew of Louis XII of France, gained a bloody victory over the leagued powers of Spain, Venice, and the Pope; and then, pushing on too hastily in pursuit, fell, pierced by fourteen pike wounds, on the banks of the Ronco, a few miles from the walls. Here, too, remounting the stream of time to the thirteenth century, we meet with the austere figure of Dante, wandering through the congenial shade of the Pineta, yet sighing in vain for the hills of Fiesole and the swift Arno of his home. But when we have visited these three places of pilgrimage, the Casa Byron, the Column of Gaston (or Colonna dei Francesi), and the Tombof Dante, there is nothing left to distract our attention from these dying days of the Western Empire, of which even the names at the street corners, ‘Rione Galla-Placidia,’ ‘Rione Teodorico’, continually remind us.

The aspect of Ravenna in the fifth century is represented in the following passage from a letter of the Gaulish nobleman, Apollinaris Sidonius, who in 467 (seventeen years after the death of Placidia) visited this city on his road to Rome:—

‘It is hard to say whether the old city of Ravenna is separated from the new harbour or joined to it by the Via Caesaris which lies between them. Above the town the Po divides into two branches, of which one washes its walls, the other winds among its streets. The whole stream has been diverted from its main channel by large mounds thrown across it at the public expense, and being thus drawn off into the channels marked out for it, so divides its waters that they furnish protection to the walls which they encompass, and bring commerce into the city which they penetrate. By this route, which is most convenient for the purpose, all kinds of merchandise arrive, especially food. But against this is to be set the fact that the supply of drinking water is miserable. On the one side you have the salt waves of the sea dashing against the gates, on the other the canals filled with sewage and of the consistency of gruel, are being constantly churned up by the passage of the wherries; and the river itself, here gliding along with a very slow current, is made muddy by the punt-poles of the bargemen, which are ontinually being thrust into its clayey bed. The consequence was that we were thirsty in the midst of the waves, since no wholesome water was brought to us by the aqueducts, no cistern was free from sewage-pollution, no fresh fountain was flowing, no well was without its mud.’ This scarcity of drinking-water was an old joke or grievance against the city of the Adriatic. Thus Martial, writing at the end of the first century, says:             


‘I’d rather, at Ravenna, own a cistern than a vine,

Since I could sell my water there much better than my wine.’


And again, rather more elaborately—


‘That landlord at Ravenna is plainly but a cheat;

I paid for wine and water, and he has served it neat.’


We have another picture of Ravenna, still less complimentary, from the pen of Sidonius in the Eighth Epistle of the First Book. It is easily seen, however, that he is speaking in a tone of raillery, and that his words are not to be taken too literally.

He is writing to his friend Candidianus: ‘You congratulate me on my stay at Rome, and say that you are delighted that your friend should see so much of the sun, which you imagine I seldom catch a glimpse of in my own foggy Lyons. And you dare to say this to me, you, a native of that furnace, not town, which they call Cesena’ (a city about fifteen miles south of Ravenna), ‘and who showed what your own opinion was of the pleasantness of your birthplace by migrating thence to Ravenna. A pretty place Cesena must be if Ravenna is better; where your ears are pierced by the mosquito of the Po, where a talkative mob of frogs is always croaking round you. Ravenna, a mere marsh, where all the conditions of ordinary life are reversed, where walls fall and waters stand, towers flow down and ships squat, invalids walk about and their doctors take to bed, baths freeze and houses burn, the living perish with thirst and the dead swim about on the surface of the water, thieves watch and magistrates sleep, clergymen lend on usury and Syrians sing Psalms, merchants shoulder arms and soldiers haggle like hucksters, greybeards play at ball and striplings at dice, eunuchs study the art of war and the barbarian mercenaries study literature. Now reflect what sort of city contains your household gods, a city which may own territory, but cannot be said to own land [because it was so frequently under water]. Consider this, and do not be in such a hurry to crow over us harmless Transalpines, who are quite content with our own sky, and should not think it any great glory to show that other places had worse. Farewell.’

Having quoted this long tirade from Sidonius, it ought in fairness to be added that Strabo (who lived, it is true, more than four centuries before him) praises the healthiness of Ravenna, and says that gladiators were sent to train there on account of its invigorating climate. When he attributes this healthiness to the ebb and flow of the tide (practically non-existent on the Western shore of Italy) and compares Ravenna in this respect with Alexandria, when all the swampy ground about it has been turned into lakes by the rising Nile of summer, we can at least understand his argument. But when he says that ‘much mud is washed into the town by the combined action of the rivers and the tides, and thereby the malaria is cured,’ we can only conclude that then, as now, the causes of heath and disease in Italy must have been inscrutable by the Transalpine mind.

We cannot properly understand the conditions of the mosphere life led by the Augusta and her counsellors at Ravenna without imbuing our minds with some of the eccleeiastical ideas already associated with the place. It seems probable that there was here none of that still surviving conflict between the old faith and the new, which disturbed the religious atmosphere of Rome during the early part of the fifth century. Ravenna, like Constantinople, owed all its glory as a capital to Christian emperors, and contentedly accepted the Christian faith from the hands that so honoured it. As an important Christian city, it claimed to have its special connecting link with the history of the Apostles. The mythical founder-bishop of the Church of Ravenna was Saint Apollinaris, a citizen of Antioch, well versed in Greek and Latin literature, who, we are told, followed Peter to Rome, was ordained there by that Apostle, and eventually was commissioned by him to preach the Gospel at Ravenna. Before his departure, however, he had once passed a night in St. Peter’s company at the monastery known by the name of the Elm (‘ad Ulmum’). They had slept upon the bare rock, and the indentations made by their heads, their backs, and their legs were still shown in the ninth century.

The arrival of St. Apollinaris at Ravenna was signalised by the restoration of sight to a blind boy. He overthrew the idols of the false gods, healed lepers, raised a young man from the dead, cast out devils, baptized multitudes in the river Bedens, in the sea, and in the Basilica of St. Euphemia, where once more the hard stone upon which he was standing became soft and retained the impress of his feet. When persecution arose he was loaded with heavy chains and sent to the ‘capitol’ of Ravenna, where angels ministered to him.

Three years of exile in Illyricum and Thrace followed: on his return he was again seized by the persecutors, forced to stand upon burning coals, and subjected to other tortures, which he bore with great meekness, only addressing the Imperial Vicar as a most impious man, and warning him to escape from eternal torture by accepting the true faith. At length he received the crown of martyrdom during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, a name which is not usually branded with the stigma of persecution.

How much of the story which is here related obtained credence in the fifth century we cannot precisely say, for our chief authority is Agnellus, who lived a generation later than the Emperor Charles the Great. Yet the evidence of the Basilicas of the Honorian period and that immediately following it, shows that the names of St. Apollinaris and others illustrated by the catalogue of Agnellus, were already considered holy. True, this chronicler, with more candour than many of his tribe, remarks, ‘Where I have not found any history of these bishops, and have not been able by conversation with aged men, or inspection of the monuments, or from any other authentic source, to obtain information concerning them, in such a case, that there might not be a break in the series, I have composed the life myself with the help of God and the prayers of the brethren.’ But notwithstanding this honest avowal, as it is clear that he wrote from frequent reference to mosaic pictures, many of which are now lost, we may conjecture that be represents, fairly enough, the traditions of the fifth and sixth centuries, though with some subsequent legendary incrustations which we should now vainly seek to remove.

The quaint and vivid details of the personal appearance of the bishops seems to confirm the supposition that Agnellus wrote much on the authority of the mosaics. Thus, one bishop was bent double by the too great fulness of his years;’ another was crowned with the grace of white hairs; another’s countenance, like a clear mirror, shone over the whole congregation; and so on.

The story of the election and episcopate of Severus, a bishop of the fourth century, must have been still fresh in the minds of the people of Ravenna when Placidia reigned there, and it would be interesting to know what shape it had then assumed. Four hundred years later it was told on this wise. Severus was a journey­man woolcomber, and one day when he was wearied with his work, he said to his wife who wrought with him, ‘I will go and see this wonderful sight, how a dove shall descend from the high heaven and light upon the head of him who is to be chosen bishop.’ For this was the day of the election of a new bishop of Ravenna, and it was the special boast of the Church of that city that her prelates were thus manifestly designated by the descent of a dove from heaven.

But the wife of Severus began to mock at him, and to scold him, saying, ‘Sit here; go on with thy work; do not be lazy; whether thou goest or not, the people will not choose thee for Pontiff.’ But he pressed, ‘Let me go,’ and she said, jeeringly, ‘Go, then, and thou wilt be ordained Pontiff in the same hour.’ So he rose, and went to the place where the people with their priests were gathered together; but having his dirty working clothes on, he hid himself behind the door of the place where the people were praying. As soon as the prayer was ended, a dove, whiter than snow, descended from heaven and lighted upon his head. He drove it away, but it settled there a second and a third time. Thereupon all the authorities who were present crowded round him, giving thanks to God, and hailed Severus as bishop. His wife, too, who before had mocked at him, now met him with congratulations.

The woolcomber-bishop appears to have occupied the episcopal throne for many years. He sat in the Council of Sardica in 344, and subscribed the decrees which refused to make any alteration in the Nicene Formula.

After some time, his wife Vicentia (or Vincentia) died, and, some years later, his daughter Innocentia. When the mourners came together to lay Innocentia in her mother’s tomb, it was found to be too small to hold both bodies. Severus, mindful evidently of many a matrimonial altercation in long-past years, cried out, ‘Ah! wife, why wilt thou be thus vexatious unto me? Why not leave room for thy daughter, and receive back from my hands her whom I once received from thine? Let the burial proceed in peace, and do not sadden me by thy obstinacy.’ At these words the bones of his dead wife gathered themselves together, and rolled away into one corner of the stone coffin with a swiftness which the living body could scarcely have equalled, and room was left for the dead Innocentia by her side. When his own time came to die, after celebrating mass, he ordered the same coffin to be opened, and, arrayed as he was in his pontifical robes, he laid him down between his dead wife and child, and there drew his last breath

The chronology of the see of Ravenna at this period is very confused, but Severus appears to have ended his episcopate about the middle of the Fourth Century. Near the close of that century lived Ursus, who built the great cathedral which still bears his name. During the first half of the fifth century, the two most honourednames in the hagiology of Ravenna were those of John the Angel-seer (Joannes Angeloptes) and Peter the Golden-worded (Petrus Chrysologus). The former was so called on account of the tradition that shortly before his death, when he was celebrating mass in the Church of St. Agatha, an angel descended at the words of consecration, and standing beside him at the altar, handed him the chalice and paten, fulfilling throughout the service the office of an acolyte. Peter, who, like Chrysostom, received his surname from the golden stores of his wisdom and eloquence, was no citizen or priest of Ravenna, but a native of Imola, who was designated for the high office of bishop by the voice of Pope Sixtus III, in accordance with the apostolic monition of St. Peter and St. Apollinaris conveyed to him in a dream. Notwithstanding his alien extraction, no name is now more living in Ravenna than that of ‘San Pier Crisologo,’ who built the marvellously beautiful little chapel in the Archbishop’s Palace, on whose vaulted ceiling four great white-robed angels, standing between the emblems of the four Evangelists, support with uplifted arms, not a world, nor a heavenly throne, but the intertwined letters XP, the mystic monogram of Christ

It was into this world of ecclesiastical romance, of embellishment by legend and by mosaic, that Galla Placidia entered when she returned to Ravenna, destined herself to contribute no unimportant share to its temples and to its traditions. Near her palace she built the Church of the Holy Cross, now ruined and modernised. But a much more interesting monument to her fame is the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, now flanked by the Strada Garibaldi and the road to the railway-station. The basilica itself was rebuilt in the twelfth or thirteenth century, and its mosaics have been for the most part replaced by the frescoes of Giotto; but a bas-relief over the chief entrance, sculptured at the time of the rebuilding, still retains, not indeed the contemporary, but the mythical portraiture of the Augusta herself. There she is represented as prostrating herself at the feet of the Evangelist, who is arrayed in priestly garb, and engaged in incensing the altar. Meanwhile his Imperial worshipper clasps his feet, and with gentle compulsion constrains him to leave one of his sandals in her hands.

This bas-relief, executed about 800 years after the death of Placidia, illustrates, not inaptly, the growth of ecclesiastical tradition. On her voyage from Constantinople to Ravenna, the Augusta and her children were terrified by the arising of a great storm, which threatened to whelm them in the deep. In her distress she vowed a temple to the son of Zebedee—himself a fisher­man, and well acquainted with stormy seas—if he would deliver her from so great a danger. The wind ceased, she reached Italy in safety, and, as we have already seen, wrested the sceptre from the hands of Joannes the Notary. In fulfilment of her vow she built the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, had it consecrated either by Joannes Angeloptes or Petrus Chrysologus, and bade the mosaics on the walls and even the wavy outlines of the pavement tell the story of her escape. Round the apse of the basilica, and over the heads of the mosaic portraits of the Imperial family, ran this inscription: ‘Strengthen, O Lord, that which thou hast wrought for us: because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee.’ And higher yet was an inscription to this effect: ‘To the Holy and Most Blessed Apostle John the Evangelist. Galla Placidia Augusta, with her son Placidus Valentinianus Augustus and her daughter Justa Grata Honoria Augusta, in fulfilment of a vow for deliverance from peril by sea.’

So far the contemporary monuments as described. The legend faithfully no doubt, by Agnellus, in the ninth century. Four hundred years later, when the original church had fallen into ruin and was replaced by a new edifice of Italian-Gothic architecture, a legend had grown up that the Augusta, when she had built her church, was filled with sadness by the thought that she had no relic of the Apostle wherewith to enrich it. She imparted her grief to her confessor, St. Barbarian, and besought his prayers. At length, upon a certain night which they had determined to spend in watching and prayer in the precincts of the church itself, it came to pass that they both fell into a light slumber. To Barbarian, between sleeping and waking, appeared a man with noble countenance, vestments of snowy whiteness, and with a golden censer in his hand. The confessor awoke, the form did not vanish, he pointed it out to the Augusta, who rushed forward and seized his right sandal with eager hands. Then the Apostle John, for he it must have been, vanished from their sight, and was carried up into heaven. The 27th of February, when this event was supposed to have occurred, was kept as a festival by the Church of Ravenna, ‘but the place where the sandal was laid up by the Empress is unknown to all men. Meanwhile in many places is still to be seen a title, writ long ago, to this effect: (Here) rests the Sandal of the Blessed Apostle and Evangelist John.

Nor was Placidia’s the only head which was surrounded with this halo of ecclesiastical tradition. It was believed (at the time of Agnellus) that to a niece of hers, named Singleida, as to whose existence history is silent, appeared in vision a man in white raiment and with hoary hair, who said to her, ‘In such and such a place, near the church which thy aunt hath reared to the Holy Cross do thou build a monastery, and name it after me, Zacharias, the father of the Forerunner’ [John the Baptist]. She went to the place next day, and saw a foundation already prepared for the building, as if by the hand of man. She returned, with joy to her aunt, and received from her thirteen builders, by whose labours, in thirteen days, the house was finished, which she then adorned with all manner of gold and silver and precious stones.

It is remarkable that the ecclesiastical historian, Sozomen, in closing his history, comments on the special favour shown by God to the Emperor Honorius, in permitting the relics of many holy men to be discovered during his reign. Chief among these discoveries was that of the body of Zachariah, son of Jehoiada, by the command of Joash, king of Judah. A richly-dressed infant lay at the feet of the holy man, and was believed to be the child of the idolatrous king, whose death was the punishment of his father’s sin, and who was therefore buried in the grave of the victim. The identity of the name suggests the probability that the vision of the unknown Singleida and the discovery of the relics of the prophet may be variations of one and the same story.

But it is time to leave the moonlight of ecclesiastical tradition, and come back into secular history.

Two great events, both of them calamities, marked the quarter of a century of Placidia’s reign, for during the whole of this time Placidia truly reigned, though her son’s effigy appeared on the coins. They were the Vandal invasion of Africa and the uprising of the power of Attila, king of the Huns. These events will be dealt with more fully in the next volume, and as the appearance of the Huns in Italy preceded that of the Vandals, we shall have to deal with their story first, though strictly speaking the Vandal was the terror of the earlier, and the Hun of the later years of Placidia and her cou­sellors.

But as the loss of Africa is said to have resulted from a certain ill-advised step taken by Placidia, it will be well to narrate here so much of the story of that event as is connected with the Empress herself, and the feud between her two chief advisers, Bonifacius and Aetius. ‘Each of these men’, says Procopius, ‘had the other not been his contemporary, might truly have been called the last of the Romans.’ We may add that each alone might have possibly saved the life of the Empire, or at least prolonged it for a century, but that their contemporaneous existence destroyed it.

The chorus of a Greek tragedy would have found in the parallel history of these two men a congenial subject for its meditations on the strange ways of the Gods and the irony of Fate. Bonifacius, the heroic, loyal-hearted soldier, ‘whose one great object was the deliverance of Africa from all sorts of barbarians,’ stands conspicuous to all after-ages as the betrayer of Africa to the Vandals; Aetius, the brave captain, but also the shifty intriguer, Roman by birth, but half-barbarian by long residence at the Hunnish Court, deserves the everlasting gratitude of posterity as the chief deliverer of Europe from the dominion of Attila, as he who more than any other individual man kept for the Romance and Teutonic nations a clear course to glory and happiness, free from the secular misery and desolation which are the effects of Tartar misrule.

We first hear of Bonifacius in the year 412 as repelling a sudden assault of Ataulfus in the city of Marseilles. The Gothic king was wounded by Bonifacius himself, and hardly escaping death fled to his own encampment, leaving the city in joy and triumph, and all the citizens sounding the praises of the most noble Bonifacius. Our next dear trace of him is in the year 422. An expedition has been ordered against the Vandals in Spain. Castinus, at that thne the chief Minister at War of Honorius, decides to take the chief command, but will give no suitable place on his staff to Bonifacius, notwithstanding the renown for skill in war which he has already acquired. Thereupon Bonifacius refusing to serve under this insolent commander in any subordinate post breaks away from the expedition altogether, journeys rapidly to Portus, and thence sets sail for Africa. We know nothing of the circumstances in which that province was left after the revolt of Heraclian had been quelled, but in the general paralysis of authority which resulted from the incapacity of Honorius it would almost seem as if Africa had become a sort of No-man’s land, which any stout soldier might enter and rule if he would only defend it from the ever more desolating raids of the tribes of Mount Atlas.

This service, Bonifacius, though holding only the rank of Tribune, did effectually perform. The irregularity, if such it was, of his first occupation of the seat of govern­ment was apparently condoned, and the legitimacy of his position was assured when after the death of Honorius he steadfastly refused to recognise the rule of Joannes, the aspiring notary, whom his old enemy Castinus had robed in the purple. Amid the general defection from the Theodosian house Bonifacius alone preserved his loyalty, sending large sums from his wealthy province to Placidia, and throwing all his energies into her service. And in fact, as we are expressly told, it was the necessity under which the usurper found himself of sending large detachments of troops for the reconquest of Africa which more than anything else promoted the success of the expedition of Ardaburius and Aspar.

Bonifacius had a high reputation for justice and even for holiness. His justice was shown when a peasant came to his tent to complain that his wife had been seduced by one of the barbarian mercenaries in the army of Bonifacius. The general desired the complainant to return on the morrow; meanwhile, at dead of night, he rode a distance of nine miles to the peasant’s house, satisfied himself of the truth of the accusation, was himself both judge and executioner, and returned to his tent with the head of the offender, which next morning he exhibited to the husband, astonished, but delighted at the swift foot of avenging Justice.

His holiness—as that age accounted holiness—was shown by a correspondence with Augustine, which induced him, after the death of his wife, to take a vow against remarriage, though without retiring from the active business of life. This vow he afterwards broke, taking to himself a rich wife named Pelagia, who was doubly objectionable to his spiritual advisers as a woman and as an Arian; and modem ecclesiastical commentators trace to this fall from the high ideal of ascetic virtue the whole of his subsequent errors and calamities.

Such then was the career and such the high reputation of Bonifacius. Aetius, his great rival, was born at Durostorum, a town on the Lower Danube, well known to us under the name of Silistria. His father, Gauden- tius, a man probably of barbarian origin, rose high in the service of the Western Empire, being successively Master of the Cavalry and Count of Africa. In this latter capacity he was entrusted by Honorius with a commission to root out idolatry and destroy the idol-temples in Carthage. At a later period he figures as Master of the Soldiery in Gaul, and while holding that command was killed by his own soldiers in a mutiny. Aetius himself when quite young, and serving among the Imperial Guards, was given over as a hostage to Alaric, and remained in that condition in the Gothic camp for three years. Later on, he was again given, probably by Honorius, as a hostage to the Huns. The hardy and athletic young soldier seems to have made many friends among the barbarian armies; perhaps, also, he acquired a knowledge both of their strong and weak points, which made him a wiser enemy when he had to take the field against them than the incompetent generals of Honorius.

After the death of the latter Emperor, he adhered to the faction of the Secretary Joannes, who, in the crisis of his own affaire, sent Aetius northward to obtain assistance from his friendly Huns. He returned with 60,000 Huns at his back, but only to find that the power of Joannes had, three days before, fallen before the armies of Placidia. It is said that a battle between the Huns and the forces of Aspar, the Byzantine general, then took place. We may conjecture that it was but a hollow contest meant to enhance the price of peace.

At any rate, we find the barbarians shortly after concluding a treaty with the Romans, under which they receive a sum of gold, and agree to return quietly to their homes. Aetius does not suffer by the general reconciliation. He is raised to the rank of Count (probably Count of Italy), and becomes thenceforward the chief adviser of Placidia and her son.

It was not unnatural that between these two, who were now the foremost men of the Empire—Bonifacius, Vir Spedabilis, Comes Africae, and Aetius, Vir Spedabilis, Comes Italiae—rivalry and dissension should arise. Bonifacius felt that his lifelong fidelity to the house of Theodosius was scantily rewarded by his mistress.Aetius could not deem himself secure in his post of confidential adviser at the Court of Ravenna, while there ruled at Carthage a man with such transcendent claims upon the Imperial gratitude.

The manner in which this rivalry worked out into daylight is t disclosed to us only by Procopius, one of the most cynical of historians, and separated by nearly a century from the events which he records. One cannot therefore claim the reader’s entire confidence for the story which follows, but it must be told thus because no other version of it has come down to us.

It appears, from the not very precise language of Procopius, that during a visit of Count Bonifacius to the Imperial Court, Placidia had bestowed upon him some higher rank than he already bore, in connection with the government of the African province. Aetius concealed his real dissatisfaction at this promotion of his rival under a mask of apparent contentment and even friendship for Bonifacius. But as soon as he had returned to Africa, the Count of Italy began to instil into the mind of Placidia suspicions that Bonifacius would prove another Gildo, usurping supreme authority over the whole of Roman Africa. ‘The proof,’ said he, ‘of the truth of these accusations was easy. For if she summoned him to her presence, he would not obey theorder.’ The Augusta listened, thought the words of Aetius full of wisdom, obeyed his counsels, and summoned Bonifacius to Ravenna. Meanwhile Aetius wrote privately to the African Count, ‘The Augusta is plotting to rid herself of you. The proof of her finally adopting that resolution will be your receipt of a letter from her, ordering you, for no earthly reason, to wait upon her in Italy.’ Bonifacius, believing his rival’s professions of friendship, accepted the warning, refused to obey the Empress’s summons, and thereby at once confirmed her worst suspicions. In the year 427 he was declared a public enemy of Rome.

Feeling himself too weak to grapple with the Empire alone, Bonifacius began to negotiate for the alliance of the Vandals, who were still struggling with Visigoths and Suevi for the mastery of that Spain which they had all made desolate. The Vandals came, under their young king Gaiseric, and never returned to the Peninsula.

The details of the Vandal conquest of Africa, which occupied the years from 428 to 439, are postponed to a later portion of this history; our present business is only with the unhappy author of all those miseries which marked its progress. Not many months after Gaiseric had landed in Africa, some old friends of Bonifacius at Rome, who could not reconcile his present disloyalty with what they knew of his glorious past, crossed the seas and visited him at Carthage. He consented to see them; mutual explanations followed, the letter of Aetius was produced, and the whole web of treachery was at once in their hands. They returned with speed to Placidia, who, though she did not feel herself, in that sore emergency, strong enough to break with Aetius, sent, nevertheless, assurance of her forgiveness to Bonifacius and earnest entreaties to forsake his barbarian alliances and re-enter the service of Rome. He obeyed, but could not now conjure down the storm which he had raised. He made magnificent promises to the Vandals if they would consent to quit Africa. They laughed at his promises; the Vandal vulture had her talons too deep in the rich province of Africa to have any thought of returning to Spain, where her sister birds of prey would have given her a gory welcome.

And thus it came to pass that Bonifacius was soon engaged in battle against his previous allies. In the year 431 he fought with some success, but in 432, though he had received large reinforcements from Constantinople under the command of Aspar, he was utterly beaten by the Vandals in a pitched battle, and compelled to fly to Italy. Notwithstanding his defeat, he was received with enthusiasm at Rome, and with perfect trustfulness and oblivion of his past disloyalty by Placidia. She conferred upon him the title of Magitter Utriusque Militiae, which had been borne for three years by his rival Aetius, and she seems to have been about to bestow upon him her full confidence, and to make him virtually chief ruler of the Empire. At this point, however, Aetius reappeared upon the scene, fresh from a successful war against the Franks. A battle ensued between them, in which Aetius was defeated; but in the single combat which took place, and which seems already to show the influence of Teutonic usages on the dying world of classicalism, Bonifacius received a wound from a javelin (or dart) of unusual length, with, which his enemy had provided himself on the eve of the combat, and from the effects of that wound he died three months after (A.D. 432).

Though there is so much of fraudulent intrigue about the conduct of Aetius, it is impossible not to feel a kind of foretaste of the coming age of chivalry about the five years’ duel between these two mighty champions, ‘each one worthy to have been called the last of Romans.’

Nor is this impression weakened when we find Bonifacius on his death-bed exhorting his wife to accept no one’s hand in remarriage but his rival’s only, ‘if his wife, who was then living, should die.’ The ecclesiastical advisers of the Count of Africa perhaps would see in this strange command a legacy of woe such as the dying Centaur bequeathed to his victor, Hercules, and might thus claim Bonifacius himself as a voucher for their theory that his second marriage had been his ruin. But a more probable explanation of the story, be it true or false, is the popular belief that each hero recognised in the other his only worthy competitor in war, in politics, or in love.

As for Aetius, he did not immediately regain his old position at the Court of Ravenna. The remembrance of his treacheries was too vivid, the power of the party of Bonifacius still too strong, and he was fain to betakehimself once more to exile among the friendly Huns. Again he was restored to power, apparently by their aid, in the year 433, and for the remaining seventeen years of the joint reign of Placidia and Valentinian he was, as before, the ruling spirit of the Western Empire. He was often battling in the distracted province of Gaul, with Visigoths, with Burgundians, with Franks, and generally obtained successes in the field; but no military successes could root out the barbarian multitudes from the Gaulish soil, or do more than keep alive some semblance of Imperial authority in certain of the towns by the Rhone and the Garonne and in the mountain fastnesses of Auvergne.

It is during this period and in the year 446 that the well-known legend related by Gildas (a rhetorical and untrustworthy historian) places the abject supplication, entitled The Groans of the Britons. ‘To Aetius for the third time Consul. The barbarians drive us to the sea: the sea drives us back upon the barbarians,’ and so forth. It is a tribute to the greatness of Aetius that, even in a legend like this, the appeal should be represented as being addressed to him rather than to his Imperial masters.

Four years after Aetius’ restoration to power an event happened which threw a gleam of gladness over the clouded horizon of the Court at Ravenna. This was the marriage of Valentinian III with Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodosius II. The two cousins had been betrothed to one another while yet children during Placidia’s exile at Constantinople, and now in the nineteenth year of his age the young Augustus of the West set forth to claim his Imperial bride. Theodosius offered to meet his intended son-in-law at Thessalonica, and celebrate the nuptials there, but Valentinian courteously waived the offer, and passed on to Constantinople, where, in the presence of a brilliant throng of courtiers from both sections of the Empire, he received from the Patriarch Proclus the hand of the princess, the daughter of the beautiful Athenian, the grand-daughter of the beautiful Frank, and herself perhaps not less beautiful than either. As the only child of the Emperor of the East she might reasonably cherish the hope of bearing to Valentinian a son who should one day rule over the whole re-united Empire: but far other was the destiny reserved for her and for her offspring in the days that were to come.

In their political aspect, the twenty-five years of the reign of Placidia represent the slow settling down of the Roman Empire of the West into irretrievable ruin and disorganisation. There was during this interval no great stroke of the enemy upon Italy itself, such as Alaric’s three sieges of Rome; on the contrary, the soil of Italy seems to have enjoyed a strange immunity from barbarian invasion. But the hope of recovering any of the lost provinces of the Empire—Britain, Gaul, Spain—was becoming more and more visionary; the crowns of the barbarian kings were passing from father to son, and the new intruding dynasties were deriving a sanction and a kind of legitimacy from time.

Meanwhile Africa, the great granary of Rome, was being severed from the Empire. We need only turn back to Claudian’s picture of the distress occasioned by Gildo’s usurpation, to know what that involved for Italy and Rome. If one year’s stoppage of the supplies of African grain had caused the Mistress of the World to ‘speak low as out of the dust,’ and ‘all the faces of her citizens to gather blackness,’ what must, first the devastation, and then the permanent hostile occupation, of the province have done? Soon after Alaric’s sieges, as we have been told by Olympiodorus, the population came flocking back into Rome at the rate of 14,000 a day, so that the former largesse of victuals was no longer found sufficient. Now, we may fairly conjecture, the Imperial largesse would no longer be given. ‘Circenses,’ (at least the gladiatorial part of them) had been stopped by the command of the Most Christian Emperor; the more needful ‘Panis’ would have to be stopped also, however reluctantly, by his sister; and we shall surely not be wrong in supposing that now commenced that decline in the population of the Imperial City, which went, on at a still more rapid rate in the latter half of the century.

Still, however, the fortunes of the great Roman nobility survived in some of their old magnificence. It is of a time nearly coincident with the commencement of Placidia’s rule that Olympiodorus writes when he tells that every one of the great houses of Rome had in it all the appliances which a well-ordered city might be expected to contain—a hippodrome and forum, temples and fountains and magnificent baths. At sight of all this stateliness the historian exclaimed—

One house is a town by itself: ten thousand towns to the city.

Many Roman families received revenues of 4000 pounds of gold (£160,000) yearly, besides corn and wine and other produce, which, if sold, would bring in one-third of that amount. The noble families of the second rank received from £40,000 to £60,000 per annum. Probus, the son of Olympius, who was prefect of the city during the short-lived tyranny of Joannes, spent £48,000 in order to illustrate his year of office. Symmachus the orator, who as we have seen was a senator of moderate rank, spent £80,000 over the shows of his son’s praetorship. This, it is true, was before the taking of Rome by Alaric. Even he however was surpassed by a certain Maximus, who, upon his son’s praetorial games, expended no less than £ 160,000. And the shows upon which these large sums of money were lavished lasted only for one week.

To Placidia herself and her innermost circle of friends it is probable that the ecclesiastical aspect of her reign, as has been hinted in the description of her capital, seemed infinitely more important than the political. She signalised her accession to supreme power by the usual bead-roll of laws against the Jews, forbidding them to practise in the courts of law or to serve in the Imperial armies; against the Manicheans, the astrologers, and the heretics generally, banishing such even from the environs of the cities. At the same time she ordained that the clergy should be subject only to ecclesiastical judges, according to the ancient edicts. It may be doubted whether this provision applies to civil rights and wrongs; and if any exemption from the ordinary tribunals in such cases were granted to them, it seems clear that it was revoked by an edict of her son,two years after her death. But the very discussion seems to show us the ecclesiastical theories of the Middle Ages asserting themselves by the death-bed of the classical mythology: seven centuries pass away like a dream, and we hear the voice of Becket arguing against the Constitutions of Clarendon.

For yet other reasons, the period during which Placidia presided over the destinies of the Western Empire looms large in the history of the Church. In the year 431 was held the Council of Ephesus, which anathematised the doctrine of Nestorius; in 451, the year after her death, the famous Council of Chalcedon condemned the opposite heresy of Dioscorus. During those twenty years therefore (and in the East for half a century longer) raged the furious and to us almost incomprehensible struggle concerning the two natures of Christ. Old and mighty states were falling to pieces; new and strange barbaric powers were enthroning themselves in the historic capitals of the West; shepherds were becoming kings, and patricians were being sold into slavery as swineherds; but still the interminable metaphysic talk flowed on. Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, said each his say. To them entered Protagoras and Gorgias, and the whole brilliant progeny of the sophists. With Oriental long-windedness and Hellenic subtlety they argued as to the precise limits of the divine and the human in the person of our Saviour; and an outbreak of insane monks, a robber-Council beating a bishop to death, an insurrection of the Byzantine populace against their ‘Manichean’ Emperor varied the otherwise monotonous manufacture of creeds and anathemas.

The rage of this conflict, though felt in Italy, was not so fierce there as in the East; and Placidia, more fortunate than her nephew Theodosius II, trod the narrow path of orthodoxy with reputation unimpaired, so that the ecclesiastical historians generally speak of her with high respect.

The weak point in her historical record is her failure to mould the character of her children. Both her son and her daughter in various ways, as we shall see hereafter, brought scandal and calamity upon the Empire by their sensualities. Procopius (whose delight it is to find fault) plainly accuses her of having given the young Valentinian an effeminate and enervating education, and invites us to conjecture that his character was thus intentionally enfeebled in order that his mother might retain the reins of power in her hands, after her duty as regent would naturally have terminated. The conjecture is an obvious one, but there does not seem to be any evidence to support it. Doubtless the relation of a Queen Mother to a son growing up to manhood is a difficult one at the best of times and where both are actuated by the highest principle. A better illustration of this could not perhaps be found than that which is afforded by Maria Theresa and the Emperor Joseph II. But Placidia, we must remember, was really the man of her family. She had the energy and the wisdom of her father; her brothers, her son, her nephew exhibited through life that strange lethargy which at intervals crept even over him. And her husband, the coarse and brutal buffoon, may well have contributed to the natures both of Valentinian and Honoria a taint of sensuality which the wisest mother would have found it difficult to eradicate. The Theodosian sullenness and the Constantian vulgarity were poor materials out of which to form an Emperor of Rome.

Upon the whole issue, without palliating her alleged share in the judicial murder of Serena, or denying her ill-success in the training of her children, one may plead for a favourable verdict as to the character of Placidia. Her love for Ataulfus, her grief at his death, her brave endurance of the insults of his murderer, long ago enlisted me on her side; and now, after carefully reading all that her detractors have to urge against her, I look upon her still as the sweetest and purest figure of that dreary time.

She died at Rome on the 27th November, 450, near the 60th year of her age. Apparently the whole Imperial Court removed in this year to the city by the Tiber; but Placidia’s body was carried back to that Ravenna which she had so lavishly adorned.

The mausoleum of Galla Placidia, otherwise called the church of St. Nazarius and St. Celsus, is a little building shaped like a Latin cross, measuring about 38 feet by 30. At the centre of the cross you see above you a dome covered with mosaics. On a deep blue ground are scattered golden stars, and in the zenith is a jewelled cross. In the arches immediately below the dome stand eight prophets, two on each side of the Square chapel. Below these again are other arches more deeply recessed; in one of them the Good Shepherd, lifting his cross on high, sits surrounded by his sheep; in another, Christ, wielding his cross like a sword, and by his form and attitude reminding one of the description in the first chapter of the Apocalypse, stands with an open book, probably the Gospel of St. Mark, in his hand; at a little distance off, an opened bookcase discloses the other three gospels; between him and them is a great brazier, in which heretical books, perhaps those of the Nestorians, are seen to be burning, the flames and the smoke being very vividly rendered. In each of the side arches corresponding to these, two stags, surmounted and surrounded with strange arabesques, are pressing through their intricacies to drink at a pool in the forest. All this picture-work is of course mosaic.

Below, on the floor of the chapel, stand three massive sarcophagi of Greek marble.

In the sarcophagus on the left repose the remains of Valentinian III and Constantius, the son and the husband of Placidia. In the bas-relief outside two lambs, standing between two palm-trees, look up to another lamb standing in the middle of the picture, upon a little eminence whence proceed four streams, probably the four rivers of Paradise. The glory round the head of this central figure and the anagram XP show that it is intended as a type of Christ.

The sarcophagus on the other side shows the central lamb (but without the glory round the head) standing on the hillock whence issue the four streams, together with three crosses. On the transverse bar of the central cross sit two doves, a somewhat unusual addition. The spiral columns, the pediment resting upon them, and some other features, remind us of the work of the Renaissance. Yet there is no doubt that all the mosaics and sculpture in the mausoleum of Galla Placidia are entirely contemporary, fifth-century               work.

Let the beholder give one more look at that mighty sarcophagus on his right, for it contains all that earth is still cumbered with of Honorius.

At the end of the mausoleum, immediately behind the altar, which is made of semi-transparent alabaster, stands the largest of all the sarcophagi, which contains the ashes of Galla Placidia. There are no bas-reliefs on this tomb, which is said to have been once covered with silver plates, long since removed. For eleven centuries the embalmed body of the Augusta remained undisturbed in this tomb, sitting upright in a chair of cypress wood, and arrayed in royal robes. It was one of the sights of Ravenna to peep through a little hole in the back and see this changeless queen. But unhappily, three hundred years ago some careless or mischievous children, determined to have a thoroughly good look at the stately lady, thrust a lighted taper through the hole. Crowding and pushing, and each one bent on getting the best view possible, they at length brought the light too near to the corpse: at once royal robes and royal flesh and cypress wood chair were all wrapped in flames. In a few minutes the work of cremation was accomplished, and the daughter of Theodosius was reduced to ashes as effectually as any daughter of the Pagan Caesars.

With this anecdote of the year 1577 ends the story of Galla Placidia.