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Until the death of Theodosius the Great at Milan on 17 January 395 the Roman Empire had weathered the barbarian storm in spite of disasters and the civil wars. Yet its situation had changed definitely for the worse. Not to mention the economic distress caused by over-taxation and barbarian ravages, there was the loss of territory and valuable recruiting grounds within the old fortified frontier. Salian Franks had settled in north-east Gaul, Ostrogoths in Pannonia, Visigoths in Moesia, all under their native princes. Most serious of all evils was the depletion of the field-armies and garrisons, and the fact that these consisted of barbarian mercenaries. The depletion compelled the use of the federate Goths at the Frigidus and raised the ambition of their chiefs. That the regular armies were composed of barbarian mercenaries meant that their officers and generals were barbarians too, only half-Romanized, and these held the destinies of the Empire in their hands. When the generals were Romans, they had usually, if eminent, aspired to become Emperors, a main cause of the Empire’s weakness. Now that they were Germans, ineligible men in their own eyes for the crown, they aspired to be Emperor-makers and to rule in the name of an Emperor-puppet. This had been the aim of Arbogast the Frank when he murdered Valentinian II and installed the powerless Eugenius. He had the advantage that the Western frontiers required a single commander-in-chief: the enemies on the Rhine and upper Danube were too closely connected. Nor could Theodosius alter the geographical necessity. The East with its separate frontiers and foes must divide the supreme command.

It was, perhaps, fortunate at first for the Empire that the two sons of Theodosius were nullities whom no barbarian general would wish to dethrone. Arcadius, who took the East with half Illyricum, was only seventeen at his accession, and remained sluggish and malleable all his life.

Honorius, who received the West at the age of eleven, was little better than a child who never grew up. His dying father had placed in command of the West his best general, Stilicho, a Vandal long in the Roman service, to whom he had married his niece Serena, while in the East the praetorian prefect Rufinus of Aquitaine had the charge of Arcadius. Both were able men, but Stilicho had the disadvantage of his barbarian extraction and Rufinus that of being a civilian unconnected with the imperial house. Stilicho aimed perhaps at the regency of the whole Empire and at least at the reannexation of eastern Illyricum to the West. The two governments thus became unfriendly to each other while he lived. But there arose a third candidate for power who utilized their dissensions. While Goths, both Arians and heathens, swarmed in the army, the larger part of the Visigoths were federates settled in Moesia. On the death of Theodosius these elected a king, Alaric, and he, disappointed in his hopes of military command, revolted and with his tribe ravaged the Balkans. The best Eastern troops were still in Italy, a band of Huns had crossed the Caucasus and reached Syria, and when Stilicho came nominally to the rescue to Thessaly his conduct was so dubious that he received peremptory orders to evacuate Illyricum and send back the Eastern troops to Constantinople. He was unable to refuse obedience, but those troops under their leader, the Goth Gainas, promptly massacred Rufinus. Power fell into the hands of the chief eunuch Eutropius, who had already found a wife for Arcadius in a Frankish lady Eudoxia, daughter of Bauto, a mercenary general like Arbogast. Alaric was left to ravage Greece and play off the two courts against one another. Only Thebes was strong enough to hold out against him.

Stilicho’s obedience was probably influenced by the revolt of the Moors. Prince Gildo, brother of the earlier rebel Firmus, who had been conquered by Count Theodosius, and himself once prefect of Mauretania and master of the horse and foot in the army, had rebelled in 394; he ruled the interior, but not the fortified cities, which he attacked with the aim of founding a Moorish kingdom of North Africa. None the less Stilicho led his army once more to Greece in 397, and blockaded Alaric in Elis. Yet no victory was attempted. The counter-move of Eutropius, who evidently looked on Stilicho as the worse enemy, was to receive favourably an offer of the rebel Gildo to hold North Africa as a vassal of the Eastern Empire. This led to the rapid return of Stilicho to Italy to meet the danger. He had come to some agreement with Alaric, whom he left to be a terror to the East. A terrible devastation of Epirus by the Visigoths was the first result; the next was an adroit volte face of Eutropius. Alaric, who may like his predecessors have found the fortifications of the Eastern cities too strong for him, was placated by bribes and the title of magister militum of Illyricum with the possession of Epirus, a poorer land than Moesia. He was now to be a thorn in the side of the Western Empire. Stilicho was declared a public enemy by Arcadius, to which an inadequate reply was the refusal of the West to recognize Eutropius as a consul for 399. The two halves of the Empire had become open foes to their common detriment.

The revolt of Gildo was the more dangerous because he was able to cut off the African corn-supply which was sent to Rome, but Stilicho was equal to the emergency. He brought the corn and also troops from Gaul, thereby weakening the Gallic defences, and he sent his army to Africa under Gildo’s brother and bitter enemy Mascezel, whose children had been murdered by the rebel. Gildo’s forces dissolved before his opponent (398). He met his death as a hunted fugitive. The victor died by a suspicious accident in Stilicho’s entourage. In the same year Stilicho riveted his hold on the Emperor by marrying him to his daughter Maria.

Meantime revolutions succeeded one another in the East, all connected with what may be called its domestic Gothic question. Gainas was now a magister militum, and supported by the Gothic mercenaries was aiming to be another Stilicho. The revolt of Goths settled in Asia Minor under Tribigild and the failure to subdue them (399), while a band of Huns ravaged Thrace, gave him his opportunity. The Empress Eudoxia had turned against Eutropius, who was dismissed and executed. Gainas, at the head of the troops and in alliance with Tribigild, was for a time supreme, but the Goths were hated and disunited as well. When Gainas demanded a church in Constantinople for his Arian countryman, he roused even the lethargic Arcadius. He felt uneasy in the city and withdrew to the suburbs with most of his troops (400). The remainder were massacred, while the loyal forces were put under the command of the heathen veteran Fravitta, a Goth of the ancient school. The old Gothic inability to take fortified towns, the command of the Straits by the East Roman fleet which marooned the rebels in devastated Thrace, and the generalship of Fravitta ended the campaign in the Romans’ favour. Many Goths were drowned in trying to cross to Asia Minor, Tribigild was killed, and Gainas himself died in a battle with Uldin the Hun beyond the Danube, which he had passed with the remnant of his men. Both Alaric and Stilicho had remained quiet the while. The one could not wish for a rival Gothic chief, the other for an imitation of himself in the East.

It was now the turn of the West to feel the renewed ferment of the frontier tribes. The Visigoths had given the example, and the Huns were pressing upon them. On the middle Danube a confederacy was forming under the leadership of a Goth, Radagaisus, which included Goths, Asding Vandals, and Alans. It would seem that Radagaisus and Alaric concerted invasions of Italy. Stilicho gathered and increased his forces: Uldin the Hun and Alans appeared in his army. In 401 a campaign near the Danube ended in victory and compromise. Godegisel, King of the Vandals, and his tribe were allowed to take Noricum and Vindelicia. Thus the upper Danube frontier was submerged. Then in November Alaric entered Italy and besieged Honorius in Milan. But Stilicho hurried south, driving the Visigoths westward. A bloody battle was fought at Pollentia (Pollenzo) on 6 April 402, and Alaric’s wife and children were taken prisoner. He found Stilicho ready for another compromise. Alaric withdrew to Illyricum and was given the Western rank of magister militunv, he was to co-operate in the annexation of East Illyricum to the West. He broke the treaty almost at once, for in 403 he advanced to besiege Verona. Once more Stilicho defeated and could have crushed him, but preferred a treaty. A joint invasion of the East was arranged. Here again Stilicho’s plans were upset by Radagaisus, who in 405 entered Italy with a horde of Ostrogoths, Vandals, Alans and Quadian Suevi. Stilicho was equal to the emergency. He now had a body of Visigothic deserters, under a chief, Sarus, in his army. With his usual skill he trapped Radagaisus at Faesulae (Fiesole) in Tuscany. The invading host suffered heavy loss in its attempt to break through, and Radagaisus was taken and killed: the survivors were allowed to journey back to Noricum. Italy was saved once more, and so was the Eastern Empire.

Stilicho’s half-hearted use of his successes may have been partly due to his shortage of troops and his desire to retain the barbarian tribes as recruiting grounds. The divisions, which are obvious among the Visigoths, may have made him look upon Alaric as a passing danger only. At any rate during these wars the defence of the Rhine had to be left to the Frankish federates. The fact tempted the coalition formed by the dead Radagaisus. The Vandals, Alans and Suevi moved west instead of south. On the river Main they joined the Siting Vandals and then defeated the federate Franks, although King Godegisel fell in battle. On the night of 31 December 406 they crossed the frozen Rhine at Mainz, which they destroyed, and harried defenceless Gaul to the Pyrenees, where they were stopped by the fortified passes. They showed a power to take walled cities unusual in these hordes. Trier, Arras, Amiens, Paris, Orleans and Tours fell victims to their predatory march over the plainland of Gaul. The sufferings of the Gauls were intense and without precedent for centuries. But the worst was that the Rhine frontier had been broken and was never to be restored. The fall of the Western Empire had begun.

While the Vandals and their allies halted in Narbonensis, other tribes followed in their wake. The Alemanni resumed their invasions, and took possession of Alsace. The Burgundians, pressing down the Main, also crossed into Gaul round Worms. But Stilicho did not take his eyes off the East. The invasion and the lack of defence made the garrisons restive. In Britain the troops set up a common soldier, Constantine, as Emperor. He crossed over to Gaul with them (407), and they never came back. The provincials were left to their own devices to repel the raiders from overseas. Constantine was accepted by such troops as were left in Gaul. Sarus the Goth, sent against him by Stilicho, had to buy a passage back to Italy by bribing the brigand peasants called Bagaudae, who infested the country and held the passes of the Alps. The Pyrenees were forced and Spain fell to the usurper. He did not, however, possess all Gaul, for the Armoricans of the north-west revolted against the officials and maintained some kind of independence; in Britain, too, there was a similar rebellion among the Celtic countrymen, and perhaps it was at this time that Cunedda led a part of the Votadini from the north-east to the west, where, driving out the Irish tribesmen settled there, he founded the little kingdom of Venedotia (Gwynedd) or North Wales.

None of these disasters deflected the main policy of Stilicho: he was still bent on aggression towards the East, to which he had closed the Italian ports, and on friendship with the federate Germanic tribes. On the death of his daughter the Empress Maria he married Honorius to her sister Thermantia so as to maintain his control. But Alaric, who had been kept waiting for the Eastern campaign, saw his opportunity for fresh blackmail. He marched from Epirus to Noricum, now vacated by the Vandals, and demanded an enormous payment (8000 pounds of gold) for his services. Even the Roman Senate, accustomed to servility, only consented to the payment with fiery protests. Then came the news that Arcadius had died (1 May 408), leaving a child of seven, Theodosius II, as his heir. Stilicho at once showed his hand: he would proceed to Constantinople to secure the regency for Honorius, i.e. for himself, while Alaric and his Visigoths should trek to Gaul and put down the rebel Constantine. But he had not reckoned on the disaffection of the regular legions and the Roman population. Stilicho seemed to be always favouring the ‘federate’ tribes and almost looking for lands to give them in the Empire. Even though they were mainly barbarian mercenaries, the legionaries felt a professional indignation, and there were still Roman officers and men among them. After all, Constantine, who was to be ruined by Alaric, had been elevated by the army. Although Stilicho had been invariably successful, he had not prevented the devastation of Ulyricum, North Italy and Gaul. In fact his treaties had allowed its recurrence. Roman hatred rose high in the civilian population and in the Romanized army against the half-barbarian who appeared to be sacrificing the Empire to his ambitions. It is noticeable that among the military malcontents was Sarus the Visigoth mercenary, who had his own ambitions. A first mutiny was fomented by him at Ravenna on the Adriatic coast. This city, since the battle of Pollentia, had acquired a new importance as the chief imperial residence in the West. Like the later Venice it was almost impregnable among the marshes and lagoons, one of which provided it with an admirable harbour. Stilicho quieted this outbreak, but the greater part of the troops were at Pavia, whither Honorius proceeded. There both Emperor and troops were worked on by a palace official, Olympius, a Greek by birth, who reported that Stilicho intended to murder the child Theodosius II and place his own sou Eucherius on the throne. By visiting sick soldiers in a pretence of Christian charity Olympius spread his tale. The troops burst into mutiny against the government, massacring their generals and the high officials, including the pretorian prefects of Italy and Gaul, all of them nominees of Stilicho. The news reached Stilicho at Bologna, where his Germanic generals, with Sarus among them, urged immediate civil war. When Stilicho refused, Sarus led a massacre of his bodyguard of Huns. Stilicho escaped to Ravenna, where an order for his arrest followed him from Honorius, now as obedient to Olympius as he had been to the Master of Both Services. Stilicho was lured from sanctuary, and a second imperial letter ordered his execution (23 August 408). He might, perhaps, have saved himself had he appealed to the Germanic soldiery, but he was put to death. Thermantia was divorced, Eucherius was soon murdered, Stilicho’s friends were tortured in the hope of proving a plot, and by an insane policy the Roman soldiers were allowed to slaughter the families of their Germanic comrades. Most of these deserted in a body to Alaric in Noricum.

Although Stilicho’s policy may have been wrong-headed and warped by his ambitions, he was the best general of the day and a born ruler. The only advantage gained by his death was the reconciliation of East and West. The worst of the many disadvantages was the regency of Olympius, the Master of the Offices, for Honorius remained a cipher. Olympius had only cunning and no statesmanship. With the army half destroyed and out of hand, he refused Alaric’s demand for more money and a settlement in Pannonia; he dared not make the able, treacherous Sarus commander of the troops. This was to invite the deluge. Alaric with his main army entered Italy and marched without resistance straight on Rome itself. Honorius lurked safe in Ravenna with the government. Since his accession the Senate had played a real part in public affairs, for ministers like Stilicho sought naturally to gain over the great landowning class, whose richest members lived in ostentatious, futile luxury in Rome amid their thousands of slaves. It now had to deal with Alaric as a government. When the Gothic blockade of the city began, its first measure was to execute Stilicho’s widow Serena, suspected of an understanding with Alaric. Then when famine appeared it asked for terms. They were exorbitant—all valuables and all Germanic slaves—but were lowered to an enormous ransom and the Senate’s influence with Honorius for peace. Although there was a large pagan group of senators, it is significant that the temple treasures were taken to spare their private fortunes. Alaric withdrew to Tuscany (December 408), where he was joined by swarms of fugitive slaves from Rome, and negotiated with the Emperor. Olympius now hoped for help from the usurper Constantine, whom he recognized as co-Emperor, and from reinforcements from Dalmatia. The last came, but were cut to pieces by Alaric. Meanwhile Alaric’s brother-in-law Athaulf came from Pannonia with a force of Goths and Huns. On this, Olympius fell from power (he was later scourged to death), and Jovius the praetorian prefect became chief minister. But the court of Ravenna remained uncomplying even to reduced demands of Alaric, sponsored by Pope Innocent I, which asked for Noricum and the office of magister militum. The arrival of 10,000 newly levied Huns and the Goths’ shortage of provisions may account for this obduracy.

Alaric’s counter-move was reminiscent of Arbogast. He seized the Roman corn-magazines at Portus by Ostia and compelled the Senate to elect the prefect of the city, Attalus, as Emperor (end of 409). Attalus was a pagan, but he was duly baptized by an Arian bishop of the Goths. He made Alaric his commander-in-chief and then presumed to contradict him. The corn-supply was derived from Africa, where Count Heraclian, the slayer of Stilicho, held sway for Honorius and would not send it to rebel Rome. Alaric wished to dispatch a Gothic force over sea, but Attalus insisted on Roman levies, who failed utterly. Meantime Alaric was besieging Ravenna, which was saved by the long-expected help from the East, 4000 efficient soldiers. It became clear that Attalus, the self-willed puppet, was of no use to the Goths, and Alaric deposed him (May 410) as a preliminary to fresh parleys with Honorius during a truce. This was broken by Sarus, hitherto standing aloof, in a treacherous attack on the Gothic camp in the name of Honorius. The result was to fix Alaric’s resolution to loot all he could from Rome and transport his army to Africa, the land of plenty, for settlement.

In August 410 he invested Rome once more. Starvation quickly followed, and in the night of 23 August the Salarian gate was opened by treachery. For three days Goths and slaves ranged through the Eternal City. There was much destruction, considerable slaughter and outrage, and immense plunder, although the churches seem to have been spared. The stored plate, jewels, and silks of the senators were at last dissipated; captives were held to ransom or slavery; fugitives found their way to Africa or Palestine with the tale that Rome, the eternal mistress of the world, had fallen before the barbarians. ‘The human race is included in the ruins’, wrote St Jerome in his cell at Bethlehem, and St Augustine amid his sneers at the helpless gods of the past admitted that the whole world groaned at the fall of Rome. To the pagan remnant, living on ancient glories, it must have seemed that the genius they idolized had fled the violated sanctuary. Even the quick recovery could not restore its lost glamour: the new prestige of Rome was to be Christian and papal.

Alaric had no mind to remain in Italy. On 27 August he marched south to Reggio, which he burnt and where he collected the ships for the conquest of Africa. But the seas round Sicily were dangerous even to sailors, and his ships were scattered and wrecked in a sudden storm. Alaric and his Goths were landsmen and flinched. Scarcely had he turned back before he died at Cosenza (410), and was buried in the bed of the river Busento, the place being concealed by the massacre of the slaves, who first diverted and then restored the stream. He had been a great destroyer.


The Visigoths at once elected the dead king’s brother-in-law Athaulf as his successor. For a year or two he remained in Italy living on the country, but the dream of a Gothic empire, which he had cherished, faded as he realized the barbarism of his tribe and the civilization that lay prostrate. Since the siege of Rome the Goths had held as a hostage Placidia, the sister of Honorius. Athaulf married her, and chose, he said, the glory of seeking to restore and to increase by Gothic strength the name of Rome’. His aims were perhaps not unlike the views of Stilicho, as they appeared to a would-be federate. But for their accomplishment peace and alliance with the childless Honorius were necessary. As it happened, events beyond the Alps prepared the way.

The usurper Constantine had taken possession of Spain by an expedition of his son Constans, whom he made his colleague, and the latter had left the Briton Gerontius in charge. Gerontius proved a traitor in every way: he proclaimed an insignificant follower, Maximus, Emperor, and opened the Pyrenean passes to the united Vandals, Alans and Suevi, who were still looting southern Gaul. They entered Spain (409) and spread over the land. Meantime Gerontius attacked Gaul, killed Constans, and besieged Constantine in Arles (411). But Honorius now had an army again, and a general, the Roman Constantius, master of the soldiers. He was a striking personality from Illyricum like the Flavian Emperors, for he was born at Naissus (Nish). Men felt he was worthy of the purple as he rode bending over his horse’s mane and glancing with flashing eyes to right and left. He inspired instant loyalty from the troops. Gerontius was deserted by his own men; the Franks who came to help Constantine were defeated; and the usurper surrendered, soon to be executed by Honorius.

This success did not mean the pacification of either Gaul or Spain. The Franks, Burgundians and Alemanni, who held the north-east, set up a new usurper, the Gaul Jovinus, to legalize their conquests. Constantius was obliged to quiet Spain by a pact (411) with the invaders, who were recognized as foederati, the Asdings and Suevi took the north-west, the Silings the south, while the more numerous Alans took the land between. Constantius may have been called back to Italy by the movements of Athaulf. At any rate in 412 the Visigoth left Italy for southern Gaul. He at first treated with Jovinus, but they soon fell out—the slaughter of Sarus, his ancient enemy, who had joined Jovinus, was one cause—and Athaulf, in a momentary alliance with Honorius, sent the head of the usurper to Ravenna (413). In return he should have been supplied with corn by the Emperor, for southern Gaul was wasted, but a fresh revolt prevented this. Count Heraclian of Africa, like other Roman generals, made a bid for the Empire. He stopped the corn-ships once more, and himself sailed with a fleet to Italy. His defeat, flight and execution followed in quick succession. The effect of his rebellion was to renew the war between the Visigoths and the Empire.

There was, however, another question in dispute, the possession of Placidia, sister and heiress of Honorius. Through all these anarchic years one chief cause of the paralysis of the Romans had been the problem of replacing or succeeding the simpleton Honorius. Stilicho, perhaps, was content to rule in his name. Constantine, Heraclian and others tried rebellion. Constantius hoped to gain the crown by marrying Placidia. Here Athaulf was the obstacle, for, although himself a barbarian, a son of his by his captive might reign in the future. In January 414 he celebrated his marriage at Narbonne with full Roman rites. This was to challenge Constantius, who advanced into Gaul. Although Athaulf vainly wooed the Gallo-Romans by recreating Attalus, who had followed the Gothic camp, his puppet-Emperor, he was outgeneraled and forced into Spain with his starving Goths. At Barcelona he was murdered in his stables (415) by a servant of the dead Sarus, whose brother Sigeric was killed in his turn after a reign of seven days, during which he had wreaked his blood-feud and treated Placidia with ignominy. Athaulf’s reign had been an ambitious failure.

King Wallia, who was now elected, returned to the search for land as a so-called foederatus with practical success. His first plan was to invade Africa like Alaric, but a storm, which wrecked the van of his fleet near Gibraltar (416) had the same effect on him as on his predecessor. He found Constantius ready for a deal. In fact Constantius had made up his mind to accept the settlement of the barbarians on the fringes of Gaul: it was the policy of Stilicho. He had already agreed to the settlement of the Burgundians round Worms. By the treaty the Visigoths were to be at last supplied with corn; in return they restored Placidia and agreed to attack the Vandals and Alans in Spain. Wallia performed his contract. The Silings were exterminated and the remnant of the Alans were driven into Galicia, where they were absorbed by the Asdings, cooped up with the Suevi in that province. Then (418) the Visigoths received their reward in Gaul, where they settled as federates in Aquitania Secunda from the Loire to Bordeaux with the addition of Toulouse.

Some kind of peace was now restored in the West, though with the loss of territory, by Constantius. For some time the imperial government had been trying to heal some of the wounds inflicted by misgovernment and war. In 408 the bishops were given civil jurisdiction in their dioceses, which alleviated the corrupt justice of the secular courts. Remission of taxation, which could hardly have been levied in any case, was granted to Italy. Population was only too successfully attracted back to Rome. In southern Gaul Constantius set up an annual assembly at Arles (418), which was to ventilate grievances and link the subjects to the bureaucracy. These remedial measures came too late to achieve much, and the prime evils— invading barbarians, grasping officials, selfish great landowners, and disloyal generals—remained. For the time Constantius was supreme. He was given the rank of patricius, which placed him next to the consuls; in 417 he was married to the unwilling Placidia; and in 421 was at last declared Augustus and co-Emperor. The appointment might have led to war with the East, where the dread of a new and capable dynasty made Theodosian descent a condition of the crown and a court principle, but the conflict was averted and the continued misfortunes of the West ensured by the death of Constantius III within the year of his accession.

The death of Constantius was followed by another period of turmoil and disasters, while rivals struggled for the control of the Roman government and barbarian kings used the opportunity to tear fresh provinces from the Empire of the West. The losses suffered were not to be retrieved, and a long step was taken to the Empire’s dissolution. The first to grasp power at Ravenna was Castinus, whose rule was a series of calamities. A rival, Count Boniface, fled to Africa, where he set up a half-independent authority. Placidia had lost control of the exuberant fraternal affection of Honorius, and was banished (423) with her children, Valentinian and Honoria, to Constantinople, whither Boniface sent her a maintenance. Meanwhile peace had vanished from Spain. Gunderic, King of the Vandals and the Alans, after a vain attempt to enlarge his cramped borders by attacking the Suevi, broke loose into southern Spain. Castinus marched against him with the assistance of a Visigothic corps, sent by the federate Theodoric I, a grandson of Alaric, who had succeeded Wallia in 419. When it came to fighting, the Visigoths basely assaulted their Roman comrades in the rear, giving to Gunderic a crushing victory (422). The Vandals were now unchecked in Spain, captured the ports, and, alone of these invaders, took to the sea as pirates. Theodoric in Gaul threw off the mask, and proceeded to conquer Narbonensis as far as the Rhone.

In this confusion the problem of the succession engrossed the Roman generals; one cannot call them statesmen. In 423 Honorius faded out of the life in which he had trifled so long. Even in the clumsy portraiture of his own time he shows a lack-lustre, flabby face which tells its own tale. There were two main alternatives in the choice of his successor. One was to recognize the hereditary claim of the Theodosian house. In that case the crown would come to Valentinian, the son of Placidia and Constantius III, living in exile at Constantinople. This would give the friendship of the East, a valuable asset. But Valentinian was a child of four, which meant that real control would be a question of armed competition. The other alternative was to elect a Western Emperor. This was adopted by Castinus in the elevation of John, an experienced bureaucrat. The action was possible because the Western Empire possessed a new recruiting ground in the confederacy of Hunnish tribes, which made up in some degree for the failing supply of the old source of mercenaries owing to the hostility and migrations of the Germans. As it happened, there was an eminent officer in the Western service who had a great personal influence with the Huns. This was Aetius, ‘the last of the Romans’, born at Silistria on the lower Danube, the son of a cavalry general and his Italian wife. He had been a hostage among the Huns, and he was now dispatched to levy a fresh Hunnish army to support the usurping John. There was also Count Boniface to reckon with in Africa, against whom a force was sent. The Eastern government, however, acted with promptitude. Theodosius II had for a moment thought of reuniting the Empire under himself: the obvious independence of the West led him to send Valentinian with an army under his best generals (425). John was quickly overthrown and executed. When Aetius arrived, three days too late, he was pacified by the command in Gaul as count, and his large Hunnish army was dismissed with pay. Valentinian III became Emperor under the regency of his mother, who resumed the title of Augusta, with Felix as commander-in-chief.

Gaul indeed required immediate action, for Theodoric the Visigoth was besieging Arles. Franks and Burgundians were stirring. Britons were emigrating from their harried land to Armorica, where they settled in independence, bringing in, it may be noticed, their native language, not Latin, and giving the land the name of Brittany. Aetius took the situation in hand; he repulsed Theodoric and recovered Narbonensis at the price of acknowledging the independence of the Visigoths. Roman rule was restored in south and central Gaul. About 431 he threw back King Clodio of the Salian Franks from Arras and the river Somme. He had already checked the Ripuarians. He even campaigned on the upper Danube. The preservation of Roman Gaul was one key-note of his policy; his personal understanding with the Huns, from whom his armies were recruited, was the other.

The defence of Gaul was not the only preoccupation of Aetius. He took a steadily more ambitious part in the struggle for power at Ravenna round the changeful Placidia. The conduct of Count Boniface in Africa was giving anxiety to the Patrician Felix. In any case the position in Africa was serious. The Moors had forced back the frontier and raided the fertile provinces in the coastal region. Even there rebellion was always simmering among the numerous Donatists, who hated the persecuting orthodoxy of Ravenna. Count Boniface, hitherto a loyal partisan of Placidia and a devout friend of the great St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was disappointed in his hopes of succeeding Castinus. His second wife was an Arian, and he may have begun to toy with the ambition of becoming ruler of an African dominion with the support of the disaffected heretics. In 427 Felix recalled him, and he rebelled. After defeating a first army, he was hard pressed by a second, mostly composed of Visigothic mercenaries under Sigisvult. But now a third competitor for Africa appeared.

The Vandal King Gunderic was succeeded in 428 by his brother, the famous Gaiseric, by far the ablest general and statesman of his day. Lame and taciturn, he could both lead his tribe to victory and weave political combinations over half Europe. For the rest he was a cruel, grasping barbarian, on whom the only effect of his Arian Christianity was to make him a persecutor. It was said that Boniface invited him to his aid and perhaps Sigisvult did the same, but Gaiseric needed no invitation. Unplundered Africa, whence the corn which supplied the exhausted Western provinces was shipped to Rome, had already been the goal of the Visigoths, and the Vandals had taken to the sea in Spain. In Spain he had rivals in the Suevi, on whom he inflicted a parting defeat. In May 429 he crossed the Straits from Tarifa to Mauretania with his whole people. It throws light on the size of these East German tribes who overran the Empire that the Vandals numbered 80,000 souls, i.e. about 15,000 fighting men. Gaiseric’s rapid and formidable advance through Numidia quickly reconciled the Roman generals, but Boniface was defeated by him and besieged (430) in the coast town of Hippo, where St Augustine was the soul of the defence till his death (28 August 430). Only a few fortified cities, Carthage, Cirta and Hippo were able to hold out behind their walls, which were not to be stormed by the barbarians. The Vandal conquest was now threatening the whole Empire, for not only was Africa the granary of the West but its ports in Vandal hands would imperil the Roman command of the Mediterranean and deprive the provinces of their best barrier and defence. So the East, too, sent an army under Aspar the Alan, who had vanquished the usurper John. This army in its turn was defeated by Gaiseric (431), when the policy of Placidia took another turn.

Felix had been murdered at Ravenna in 430 by the soldiers at the instigation of Aetius, who took his place as commander-in-chief and resumed his campaigns on the Rhine and the Danube. Placidia, however, chafed at his tutelage: she may, too, with Italy as her first thought, have laid more stress on the defence of Africa than on that of Gaul. She summoned Count Boniface to Ravenna and made him Master of the Soldiers in place of Aetius. The rivals fought it out near Rimini. Aetius was defeated and fled to the Huns, but Boniface died shortly after. His successor Sebastian was soon ousted by Aetius and his Hunnish army (433), and Aetius as patrician became unchallenged ruler of the West. Once more rival ambitions and policies had been put to the arbitrament of civil war. These struggles showed how the Western Empire was disintegrating into a collection of provinces and armies when unity and loyal cohesion were its first need. No Roman general would postpone his ambitions to co-operation.

If the chief of the state was to be selected by civil war, it must be owned that the victory of Aetius was the survival of the fittest. He displayed military and diplomatic talent of the first order, and his three consulships, an unparalleled record for a subject under the Empire, were well earned. Nevertheless the odds against him were now too great: the Western Empire shrank still further in his days. The first loss, due in part to Aetius’ underestimate both of Africa and Gaiseric, was that of Africa to the Vandals. A compromise treaty of 435 ceded the central part, Numidia, to Gaiseric as a federate. The faithless Vandal used his settlement to equip a piratical fleet, and then on 19 October 439 he suddenly entered Carthage without fighting. The capture gave him the best harbour in the western Mediterranean and the long-desired cornfields. When his fleet ravaged the two other corn-lands of Italy, Sicily and Sardinia, East and West combined to avert the danger. But their naval expedition was blundered, and in 442 Aetius acknowledged the independence of the Vandals and their possession of modern Tunisia and Morocco. The less valuable central and eastern coastlands, the modern Algeria and Tripolitana, were reserved as detached provinces of Rome. Further Vandal attacks were only averted by the ingenious diplomacy of Aetius, who played on the greedy ambition of Gaiseric by offering Valentinian’s child-daughter as a bride for Gaiseric’s son Huneric. The bait induced Gaiseric to send (445) the Visigothic wife his son had married back to her father Theodoric I on a false accusation of treason, for which he cut off her nose and ears. This outrage broke up an old alliance and produced a fragile peace. But the fatal wound to the western half of the Empire remained bleeding, for it was threatened by sea as well as land.

Spain, too, was half lost to another barbarian foe of no unconquerable strength. The often defeated Suevi, cantoned in the north-west, conquered all but the north-east under their King Rechiar between 438 and 448. The conquest was made easier by peasant revolts against the great landowners, which had become endemic in Spain as well as in Gaul. The Empire was crumbling under its own social stress as much as under the blows of the barbarians.

Britain was already lost, although a simulacrum of Roman rule may possibly have been kept up for a while by the conferment of official titles on its native leaders. In 429 St Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, on a visit to Verulamium (St Albans) to combat the sparse followers of the heretic Pelagius, could apply the military knowledge of his secular youth to lead the Britons to victory against an army of Saxons and Picts. But the Romanized towns were being deserted, and such government as could be exercised was in the hands of tribal kings. The last effort of the Roman party may be seen in the ‘Groans of the Britons’, a vain appeal for help to Aetius in 446. Yet in 442 a Gallic chronicler could say, although inaccurately, that Britain had become subject to the Saxons, and tradition placed the alliance of Vortigern, a British king, with a long-famous raiding chief, Hengest the Jute, and the permanent settlement of the Jutes in Kent at about the same date.

In Gaul, however, Aetius was bent on preserving the imperial rule. It is true that the Bretons were taking over western Armorica, and the Saxons, besides their raids, were making small settlements on the north coast near Boulogne and Bayeux. But he defeated the Burgundians (435), and next year their king Gundahar and much of his tribe were cut to pieces by Aetius’ friends, the Huns—a defeat which gave birth to famous German legends. In 443 Aetius established the principal remnant as foederati in Savoy, where they recuperated. Meantime the patrician was subduing the brigand peasant Bagaudae (437) and combating the Visigoths. Narbonne, which they were besieging, was relieved (437); one battle went in favour of Aetius; in another at Toulouse his pagan lieutenant, Litorius, lost the day (439). Mutual exhaustion produced a peace restoring the status quo ante, while Aetius blocked the main crossing of the Loire by a federate colony of Alan troops at Orleans. Thus in spite of losses Roman Gaul was given some kind of peace for a few years.


While the main direction of the State was in the hands of the patrician Aetius, the control of the palace at Ravenna and the education of Valentinian III seem to have been left to the Empress Galla Placidia. Under her tuition the Emperor grew up indolent and dissolute: the energy of his father had evaporated. Yet the court was a useful instrument in keeping up the good understanding with Constantinople which was desirable for the tottering West. In 437 Valentinian visited the eastern capital to marry his cousin Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodosius II, and in return for Eastern help against the Vandals ceded that part of Illyricum which had been allotted to the West on the death of Theodosius the Great. The transfer was a concession to natural geographical grouping, for the Balkans were thus united, and it relieved the West of a stretch of the frontier. Next year the constitutional unity of the whole Empire was affirmed by the solemn reception by the Roman Senate of the Theodosian Code, the collection just promulgated in the East of the imperial edicts from Constantine the Great downwards. Yet the real separation of the Greek and Latin halves was shown at the same time by the declaration that future edicts should only be valid in the dominions of the Emperor who decreed them. When Valentinian in 445 confirmed and extended the appellate jurisdiction of the Pope over all bishops, his edict affected the West alone, although the Emperors acted in concert over the General Council of Chalcedon.

The separate existence and policy of the two Empires were shown clearly in their relations with their northern neighbours, the Huns. These tribes, after their overthrow of the Ostrogoths (375) and the flight of the Visigoths, had spread westward in a loose confederacy from the Caucasus to the bend of the Danube near the modem Budapest. They retained their nomadic, pastoral way of life and themselves only inhabited the steppelands which favoured it, but they raided and subjected the peoples of the hills, wood­lands, and marshlands around and between the steppes. The Gothic remnant in the Crimea, the Gepids in Transylvania, the Ostrogoths in Pannonia were their vassals or allies, while a Slav population was extending north and even south of the Carpathians as their subjects. Owing perhaps to their tribal divisions as well as to the natural obstacles of the Danube frontier, the Huns for many years inflicted little molestation on the Empire, but in the early fifth century they were given greater unity by the rise of a King, Rua or Rugila, whose own horde was cantoned in the steppes along the river Theiss in modern Hungary, and they at once became formidable. It was Rua who had been the friend and ally of Aetius and provided him with mercenaries and auxiliaries. When he died (c. 433), he was succeeded by his two nephews, Bleda and Attila. Their rule continued jointly, with Bleda much in the background, until 445 when Attila murdered his brother and reigned alone. ‘The Scourge of God’, as Attila was deservedly called, was a thorough Altaian in physique and character, a ruthless, destroying conqueror, a genius of rapine and war. His portrait in the description of the historian Priscus, who saw him in his permanent wooden encampment in Hungary, might stand as the type of his people— short, broad-shouldered, flat-nosed, with fierce, sunken eyes and impassive mouth in an almost beardless face, dealing out rough justice to his subjects amid a medley of tongues, Hunnic, Gothic, and Latin, and temperate amid the boisterous feasting of his vassal kings and chiefs. Yet this absolute ruler had little idea of government beyond conquest, slave-hunting, and looting, and it was perhaps the fact that his Empire had reached the Rhine, the Baltic, and the Caspian, rather than the incitements of the Vandal Gaiseric, who certainly needed an ally, that made him in 441 turn to the spoliation of the still wealthy Roman Empire.

It was the richer eastern half that Attila first victimized. By a treaty concluded in 434 the East agreed to an annual blackmail of 700 pounds of gold, and promised to deliver up such fugitives as escaped from Attila’s wrath. Arrears of the blackmail and incomplete surrender of the refugees were Attila’s excuse for war when the Eastern armies were busy elsewhere. Two terrible invasions (441-2 and 447) devastated the Balkans as far as Constantinople and Thermopylae. Each was followed by a humiliating peace with enormous payments impossible to discharge. In desperation the eunuch Chrysaphius, who directed affairs, endeavoured to suborn one of Attila’s envoys, the Scirian chief Edeco, to murder him. Edeco revealed the plot to his master, but it is curious that Attila contented himself with publicly flouting the contemptible Theodosius II, and even relaxed his demand that the land between the Danube and Naissus (Nish) should be left waste. He must have felt that there was little more to be got by a fresh attack on the East Constantinople and the Straits had once more proved the bulwark of the Empire.

 The West was an easier if less profitable prey, and against the West Attila, breaking off his old friendship with Aetius, declared war. There were several pretexts. The Franks were fighting among themselves: one prince appealed to Attila, the other with success to Aetius. Gaiseric urged the Huns on against the Visigoths. The Emperor Marcian, who (450) brought back good government and strength to the East, refused the blackmail. But another casus belli is so strange that it has been disbelieved. Honoria, Valentinian’s sister, had an intrigue with the chamberlain Eugenius. Her lover was executed, and she was in disgrace (449). Her revenge was to appeal to Attila, sending him her ring in authentication. The Hun, rightly or wrongly, took the ring as an emblem of betrothal, and claimed that his additional bride should be delivered to him with part of the West as her dower. The flimsiness of the pretext was shown by Attila’s choice of Gaul as the most eligible land to invade, not Italy where court and princess were to be found.

Attila collected all his powers for the attack on Gaul, although the numbers given for his host are absurd. With the Huns marched their Germanic vassals, Gepids under Ardaric, Ostrogoths from Pannonia, Thuringians, Rugians, Sciri, Heruli, Burgundians of the Main, and Ripuarian Franks. Aetius must have foreseen his danger in the gathering of so great a muster, but he lacked troops, for hitherto he had depended on Hunnish mercenaries. Attila had pretended to him he was merely attacking the Visigoths, for which Roman Gaul offered the only route, to Theodoric the Visigoth he explained he was only invading Roman territory. But the common danger was obvious, and with some difficulty Aetius gained the Visigoths’ alliance. The Salian Franks, too, under the legendary Merovech, the Armoricans, and the Burgundians of Savoy, joined him. Early in 451 Attila sacked Metz and moved towards Orleans, where he found the Romans and Visigoths awaiting him. Their position was too strong, and the Alans settled there, whom he had hoped would desert to him, chose, though with suspicious fidelity, not to break with Aetius. Then the Hun swerved back towards Troyes, where the Catalaunian plains of Champagne gave his horsemen scope. Near Mauriacus the armies met. Aetius showed his generalship by seizing a height which was the key of the field. Holding it and on his right were the Visigoths; in the centre were the untrustworthy Alans; on his left he led his own troops and his other auxiliaries. The Huns round Attila broke the Alans and turned on the Visigoths, already hotly engaged, but here they attacked in vain. The battle raged all day with enormous carnage till the Huns were driven back to their laager. Aetius refused to attempt to storm it next day, which has caused the battle to be represented as drawn, but Attila was in no case to renew it. He withdrew across the Rhine, while Aetius persuaded the new Visigothic King, Thorismud, whose father Theodoric had fallen in the fight, that he must return to Toulouse to secure his succession. It may be conjectured that Aetius would not again risk his army, weakened as it was by the slaughter—he had won the campaign—but much ink has been spent in divining his motives for an action in which presumably generalship, not much cultivated by his barbarian allies, had the chief share.

Was the battle of Mauriacus a decisive battle of the world? Attila certainly remained as rapacious and aggressive as ever—it was the condition of his empire—but he never again offered a pitched battle. What might have happened if he had won is naturally impossible to say. He was a mere ravager, but much could have been destroyed which, in fact, survived. As it was, no fresh invaders entered Gaul; the tribes already lodged there were left to fight for extension and supremacy and to unite as well as they could with the Gallo-Romans. In Gaul the era of the migrations was drawing to its close. The far result was the blended beginnings of a new medieval civilization.

Attila, however, for whom fresh raids were imperative, turned on an easier prey. In 452 he led a host to Italy. The great city of Aquileia was so sacked that it never recovered; Milan and Pavia suffered a less wrecking plunder. It seemed as if nothing could save Rome, for Aetius now had no allied armies as in Gaul. None the less Attila might well hesitate. North Italy had been stricken by famine in 450, and the pestilence which followed infected his northern tribesmen as the summer came on: hunger and plague were deadly enemies. Reinforcements were reaching impregnable Ravenna from the Eastern Empire. At the critical moment a Roman embassy appeared, led by Pope Leo the Great, whose personality might well overawe the superstitious Hun and his Arian Germans. The arguments they used and the promises they made are not recorded, but Attila turned back with his spoils to Hungary. One result of his raid and the destruction of Aquileia had been an influx of refugees into the fishing townlets among the marshes, which gave rise to the later legend that the city of Venice owed its origin to this invasion.

Attila, however, defeated in Gaul by arms and in Italy by the climate, lived by and for his plundering wars, and he was preparing another invasion of the Balkans when (453) he broke a blood-vessel in the night he took a new wife, the German Ildico who became in legend the Kriemhild of the Nibelungenlied. The very partial success of his last wars and the division of his Huns among three of his sons were together tempting provocation to the subject East Germanic tribes, who, encouraged perhaps by the Emperor Marcian, rose in revolt. They were led by Ardaric the Gepid and inflicted (454) a crushing defeat on the Huns at Nedao in Hungary. Most of the vanquished nomads rejoined their kindred tribes on the steppes north of the Black Sea, whence they continued to supply mercenaries, this time to East Rome. The best part of the Hungarian steppe was taken by the Gepids, while the Rugians held the north bank of the Danube opposite Vienna and the Sciri and Heruli occupied northern Hungary. Thence they sent recruits to the West Roman army, which from being mainly Hunnish became in a few years mainly Germanic. It was a fresh danger to the Empire, for they were more ambitious of lands and commands than Aetius’ Huns had been. As for the Ostrogoths, they lived south of the Danube in Pannonia under three royal brothers of the Amal house as federates of the Eastern Empire.


The removal of immediate danger and the loss of his Hunnish troops were fatal to Aetius. In 450 the Empress Placidia was entombed at Ravenna in her mausoleum, whose severe beauty shows that the arts at least were not dead in Italy. Her influence over the worthless Valentinian fell not to Aetius but to the eunuch Heraclius, who egged him on to revolt against the all-powerful patrician. There was a grudge among the senators against the general who had not defended Italy with a non-existent army and had left the repulse of Attila, as was thought, to the awe-inspiring intervention of the Pope; and this grudge was linked to his own ambition by the richest senator, Maximus, head of the great Anician house. Valentinian was screwed up to action when he had to betroth one of his daughters to Aetius’ son Gaudentius, which created a claim to the succession, since the Emperor had no son. So he suddenly picked a quarrel during an interview and stabbed the patrician with his own hand. The murder was completed by Heraclius, and in this way, as a court wit said, Valentinian ‘used his left hand to cut off his right’ (September 454). He had also prepared his own death. Maximus was disappointed because he had not succeeded to the position of Aetius, and in March 455 induced two followers of the murdered patrician to kill both Valentinian and Heraclius in a review of the troops at Rome. The assassination, which was unpunished, closed the line of quasi- hereditary Emperors in the West, and to that extent it was a misfortune. The throne now was open once more to any competitor, whether forceful or a puppet. For the rest the few public acts of Valentinian, like those of Honorius, had been disastrous to the Western Empire.

Maximus was soon awakened from his ambitious delusions. The Senate elected him Emperor; he forced Valentinian’s widow, Eudoxia, to marry him so as to acquire an hereditary claim; but more he could not achieve without troops and the skill to use them. The opportunity had been given to the deadliest foe of the Empire. Gaiseric had his fleet in readiness—it was some months since Aetius was dead—and the wealth of Rome, spared by Alaric or accumulated since, was to be had for the taking. The Vandals landed at Porto unopposed and marched up the Tiber on the city. Maximus was killed in his flight (31 May), and on 2 June Gaiseric entered Rome, received by Pope Leo who induced him to refrain from fire and slaughter. For a fortnight the Vandals plundered at their leisure all that was portable in palaces and temples. The spoils of the Temple of Jerusalem, brought by Titus at its sack, and even half the gilded roof of the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, were carried away. Christian churches as a rule were spared and unremunerative destruction of buildings or works of art was not committed. But Gaiseric took away numerous prisoners, a source of ransoms, including the Empress Eudoxia and her daughters, Eudoxia and Placidia. The Vandal fleet mastered the western Mediterranean and plundered its shores, while the Roman remnants of Africa from Tripolis westward submitted to the king.

The dissolving Empire now received an Emperor from Gaul. Thorismud the Visigoth had subdued the Alans of Orleans and attacked the Empire before he was murdered and succeeded by his brother Theodoric II (453), who covered his aggressions with a philo-Roman varnish. He intervened in Spain to check the recrudescent Bagaudian revolt. Then on the death of Maximus he sent a force to Italy to establish his old friend, the Gallo-Roman noble Avitus, as Emperor, and himself marched to Spain (456), defeating the Suevi and taking part of the land for himself in the Emperor’s name. Avitus was no trifler, but his sole personal following was in central Gaul, and in Italy both successes and failures were harmful to him. Gaiseric attacked by sea, and starved Rome by withholding the corn-supply. Ricimer, the Suevic mercenary general, justified Avitus’ choice of him by a land victory over the Vandals at Agrigento in Sicily and a sea victory off Corsica, which gave him the real allegiance of the Germanic troops, but to pay off his departing Visigothic allies the Emperor was forced to strip the bronze roofs of the public buildings of Rome. It was thus easy for Ricimer to join with the unreasoning Senate in deposing Avitus in 456 and to take control. Avitus gallantly brought some Gallic troops to be defeated at Piacenza, was consecrated a bishop to disqualify him for the throne, and died within the year.

The control of Italy now passed finally to the Germanic mercenaries quartered in the country. Ricimer, who led them, appeared in the role of a somewhat embarrassed Emperor-maker. Being a barbarian, he could not seize the crown himself; that would make the entire civilian population his enemies and incur the hostility of the Eastern Empire, his necessary ally against Vandal and Visigoth. If he chose an able, warlike Emperor, he lessened his own power; if he took a nominee from the East, he could only count on half his submission; if he appointed an Italian puppet, his government lost credit in Italy and the support of the East. Trial was made of all these expedients. After a brief period in which there was no separate Emperor of the West, Ricimer obtained his own appointment as patrician from the Eastern Emperor Leo I and the sanction of the choice by Senate and army of his ablest Roman subordinate, Majorian, as Emperor (457-61).

If energy, talent and good intentions without the loyalty of the indis­pensable Germanic mercenaries could have restored the Western Empire, Majorian would have been the restorer. His decrees endeavoured to reform the corrupt administration by alleviating the taxes and the abuses of collection, especially the liability of the curiales for the city quotas. He tried to revivify the institution of defensor civitatis as a protection against officials. He forbade the destruction of ancient monuments for the sake of their materials, which had become a habit in the impoverished state, and to which the Vandals have undeservedly given their name. More urgent was the recovery of the provinces and the defeat of Gaiseric. In 458 Majorian gathered an army, marched to Gaul, repressed the Burgundians, drove the openly hostile Visigoths from the siege of Arles, and compelled Theodoric II to accept again the position of a foederatus. He then proceeded to Spain, where he collected a fleet at Alicante for the invasion of Africa. It shows the real weakness of the Vandals when faced by a competent foe that Gaiseric sued vainly for peace. But Gaiseric’s genius did not desert him. Aided by treason, he pounced on the unready Roman fleet and, what with fire and capture, made it useless (461). Majorian could only make a peace recognizing his conquests. It was fatal to the Emperor. Ricimer was jealous of his ability, the bureaucrats hated his reforms, and the barbarian soldiers without victory turned from him. On his re-entry into Italy he was deposed and murdered at Tortona.

Ricimer now tried a puppet, Severus (461-5), but the western half of the Empire was sadly shorn. Two of Majorian’s lieutenants, Marcellinus in Dalmatia and Aegidius in northern Gaul, refused to take orders from Ravenna. The Alps, too, had slipped from Roman control. After the death of Aetius the Alemanni crossed the uppermost Rhine and settled in what is now German Switzerland. The Rugians raided Noricum, where Severinus the saintly abbot did his best to protect and guide his flock. In Gaul Theodoric II attempted to overthrow Aegidius, but his army was defeated (463) near Orleans with the aid of Childeric of the Salian Franks. Aegidius turned to Gaiseric for an ally, but died in 464, leaving his ‘kingdom of Soissons’ to his son Syagrius. It was Childeric who, as a loyal federate, saved Angers from the attack of a Saxon chief, Odovacar. Thus only a truncated Gaul, threatened by Visigoths and Burgundians, remained to the Empire.

The most dangerous foe was the crafty Gaiseric with his sea-power. He married the captive princess Eudoxia to his son Huneric, and sent her sister Placidia to Constantinople, where she was married to the senator Olybrius. Gaiseric not only obtained a dowry with Eudoxia but demanded the Western throne for Olybrius. Meantime his corsair fleets yearly ravaged the Italian coast. At last Ricimer and the Senate agreed to ask for an Emperor from the East, and received by the Emperor Leo’s nomination an eminent official Anthemius (467-72), the son-in-law of the late Emperor Marcian. This meant that the Roman world was allied together against Gaiseric. Count Marcellinus of Dalmatia led a fleet and army to Italy with the new Emperor, who wedded his daughter to Ricimer, and the full forces of the allies were deployed against the Vandals under Marcellinus’ command. Heraclius marched from Egypt and recaptured Tripoli, Marcellinus reconquered Sardinia and part of Sicily, Basiliscus with the main Byzantine fleet sailed to Africa. Gaiseric seemed doomed, but, besides his central position, he possessed the secret friendship of Aspar, the powerful general at Constantinople, and perhaps of Ricimer: they neither of them wished to see the barbarians utterly overcome and themselves outshone. Helped once more by treason, Gaiseric employed fire-ships to burn half the armada of the incompetent Basiliscus; and the able Marcellinus was assassinated in Sicily (468). Meanwhile Vandal corsairs plundered the coasts of Illyricum and Greece. The Empire was exhausted and Leo made a peace. It only lasted a few years, for on Leo’s death (474) Gaiseric resumed his piratical attacks, and forced the new Eastern Emperor to conclude a new treaty (476), by which the Vandal dominion in Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Isles was recognized. In return Gaiseric gave up his own Roman prisoners and slaves, and allowed those of other Vandals to be ransomed. The aged Vandal king’s moderation may be accounted for by his approaching death and his knowledge of the weakness of his kingdom. The Vandals had always been few and hated by their subjects; they were now degenerate in African luxury, and their pirate fleet was largely manned by Moors and outlaws. It was the cruel genius of Gaiseric which upheld his power, and with his death in 477 the Vandal danger was at an end.

The Emperor Anthemius was not only unfortunate in the course of the Vandalic war. He found another persistent and victorious enemy in Gaul. This was Euric, who gained the kingship of the Visigoths in 466 by murdering his brother Theodoric II, also a fratricide. Euric was much the ablest of the Visigothic princes and he was a man of large ambitions—the conquest of the derelict Roman provinces in Gaul and Spain—in which he was mainly successful. Theodoric II had already acquired Narbonne and a strip of the Mediterranean coast. In 470 Euric reached the Rhone by the capture of Arles and the middle Loire by that of Bourges: only Clermont in Auvergne held out, led by the heroic son of Avitus, the patrician Ecdicius. At the same time the Visigoths, no longer under the mask of federates, were invading Spain. These reverses gave a chance to Ricimer, already jealous of a too independent Emperor and an ally of his own nephew, the federate Burgundian Gundobad, who took over the coastland of Provence. The magister militum revolted, defeated and slew Anthemius, and set up Olybrius, the son-in-law of Valentinian, who had come to Italy on a mysterious mission. In his few months’ reign (472) Olybrius passed from one master to another, for Ricimer died, leaving Gundobad in control. It may be said of Ricimer that he never forgot that he was a Roman magister militum and that he kept some understanding with the East. Indeed it was his only possible way of playing for his own hand in Italy, for his troops were mostly not of his own tribe and were disunited.

King Gundobad’s interest lay in Gaul, in the extension of the lands of his not too numerous tribe. Before he left Italy he set up as Emperor (March 473) a certain Glycerius, whose reign was marked by the passage of a section of the Ostrogoths under Widimir to join Euric in Gaul. The proximity to the East still protected Italy, but not Glycerius. The Emperor Leo could at last intervene, and early in 474 sent Marcellinus’ nephew and successor in Dalmatia, Julius Nepos, to Rome with an army to be his colleague in the West. Glycerius was rendered innocuous by being consecrated bishop of Salona in Dalmatia.

Nepos might have retained power in Italy had not civil war broken out in the East and deprived him of support. In 475, through the mediation of Bishop Epiphanius of Pavia, he concluded a peace of surrender with the Visigoths. Clermont was ceded against its will, and Euric was acknowledged to be sovereign ruler west of the Rhone. Gaul in fact was lost to the Empire, for Syagrius of Soissons and the Bretons were independent. But the mercenaries in Italy were restive with hopes when they saw their civilian ruler weak, and they found a leader in a barbarized Roman. Orestes was a Pannonian who had been a secretary of Attila; he had after 454 entered the Roman service and married the daughter of a Count Romulus. Such a man was a natural choice for Nepos to make for magister militum, but Orestes wished to be another Ricimer. He easily drove Nepos back to Dalmatia, where he reigned till his murder in 480, and the Senate in October 475 elected Orestes’ young son Romulus Augustulus to be Emperor under his father’s regency.

The discontent of the Germanic mercenaries was not to be appeased by the promotion of their Roman commander. These Heruli, Sciri and Rugii desired to be put on the same footing as the German foederati and conquerors they saw around them. As soldiers they themselves were quartered in billets and barracks in certain towns. They saw Visigoths and the like become landowners great and small by the system known as hospitalitas. The individual tribesmen received a share (one- or two-thirds) of the land and stock of the Roman proprietors; in return they served in the tribal host when it was called out for war. This system the mercenaries now demanded: each Roman proprietor should surrender one-third of his property to a military hospes. On Orestes’ refusal they elected a Scirian, Odovacar, their king, and slaughtered Orestes. His son, the boy Romulus Augustulus, was captured in Ravenna (September 476) and relegated to a Campanian villa on a pension.

King Odovacar was thus master of Italy at the head of the mercenary tribesmen, and his first business was to defend his frontiers against barbarian competitors. From the dying Gaiseric he obtained the cession of Sicily, all but the western port of Lilybaeum (Marsala), in return for a tribute. Euric, again on the warpath, was more formidable. He crossed the Rhone and defeated the Burgundian Gundobad; peace was only granted on the cession of the coastland of Provence as far as the Alps (481). As the Burgundians occupied Lyons, Autun and Langres, nothing was left to the Empire in Gaul, except the ‘kingdom’ of Syagrius. In Spain the Visigothic bands conquered the whole country save the north-west and some Roman enclaves: by 478, from his capital of Toulouse, Euric ruled from the Loire to the Pillars of Hercules.

The elevation of Odovacar and the deposition of the boy who by a curious irony of history bore the names of the founder of Rome and the founder of Empire mark the end of the Roman Empire of the West. It was now partitioned among the barbarians. But Odovacar’s position was peculiar: he was king, not of a tribe, but of an assortment of mercenaries; and, weakened by the fact, he was too near the East to disregard the wishes of his Roman subjects or the claims of the Eastern Emperor, who in their eyes and his own was, with Nepos, the legitimate ruler and source of authority in the Roman world, especially since in 476 the Emperor Zeno had triumphed in the civil war. Odovacar therefore assumed the attitude of a magnified Ricimer. By his orders the Roman Senate sent a solemn embassy with the imperial insignia to Constantinople, declaring they did not need a separate Emperor and begging Zeno to giant to Odovacar as his lieutenant in Italy the title of patrician. Zeno replied with much diplomatic adroitness. He praised the pro-Roman sentiments of Odovacar and conferred on him the title of patrician, if Nepos had not already done so. This reserved acquiescence was enough for Odovacar, though not satisfying. When Nepos was murdered (480), he annexed Dalmatia and punished the assassins as if he had been his rival s deputy. The facade of imperial rule was thus maintained.

This unity and continuance of the Empire, however, was not all a fiction. The Roman Senate, i.e. Odovacar, still nominated one of the consuls for the year. The Roman civil administration survived intact under a pretorian prefect, who was Odovacar’s minister. In obeying the Germanic king-patrician, whose Arianism they loathed, the Romans felt that they were loyal to their distant Emperor. What was even more important, Roman civilization, in spite of loss and deterioration, was still living in Italy and dominated by Catholic Christianity. The Arian Germanic patrician and tribesmen were still only an all-powerful garrison. The Senate, and far more the Pope and the Italian bishops, retained the moral guidance of the population and of its civil government. So though the Emperors had been replaced by barbaric Germanic kings in the West, the echo of the Empire’s fall was deadened and its consequences mitigated and delayed by this persistent make-believe. None the less the truth could not but slip out. 'The Western Roman Empire perished with this Augustulus’, wrote Count Marcellinus in the next generation.


When Alaric with the main body of the Visigoths was turning his eyes westward from his lodgement in Illyricum, the prospects of the Eastern Empire seemed almost as dark as those of the West. The Emperor Arcadius was a nullity, the Frankish Empress Eudoxia was engrossed by her personal likings and resentments. The Empire, although preserved from the remaining Goths in its service by the destruction of them and their leaders, was thereby left nearly without an army. Stilicho in the West was an enemy, the Balkans were exhausted by their long harrying, in Asia Minor the brigand-like hillsmen of Isauria were plundering their peaceful neigh­bours from their stronghold in the Taurus Mountains, and Constantinople was distracted by a feud between Eudoxia and the eloquent and censorious Patriarch, St John Chrysostom. When the Empress obtained his deposi­tion in 404, his riotous partisans set the first St Sophia and the Senate House aflame, thereby destroying some of the masterpieces of ancient Greek art.

The East, however, was not lacking in men of uprightness and capacity if they could be put in power. When Eudoxia died of a miscarriage on 6 October 404, some happy influence secured the appointment of Anthemius as pretorian prefect. His administration, which lasted till 414, was most fortunate for the Empire, and it is to be noted that his chief adviser is said to have been Troilus, a sophist or professional teacher, who had not been a bureaucrat. The execution of Stilicho (408) was a piece of good fortune for the East, since it removed a persistent enemy. The death of Arcadius was probably also beneficial, for it secured the power of the prefect, who acted as regent for his son, the child Theodosius II. In these years of good government the Empire was strengthened within and without. On the eastern frontier, cordial relations, fortified by a commercial treaty, were maintained with the Persian king, Yezdegerd I. In Asia Minor the brigandage of the Isaurians was somehow checked. In the Balkans the raiding Huns were driven back, while their clients, the Germanic Sciri, were rounded up and settled as serf-cultivators in Asia Minor. The fleet on the Danube was made adequate to prevent incursions from the north, and the Illyrian cities were refortified. As important was the building (413) of the famous Theodosian Wall of Constantinople, which still exists. It stretched, like the old wall, from the Golden Horn to the Propontis, and included the new suburbs of the growing capital. It was not to be breached until the final fall of the Empire. The reorganization of the essential corn­supplies from Egypt secured peace and prosperity to New Rome, while the cancelling of enormous arrears of taxation relieved the hard-hit provinces. Only a solvent government could have done this.

Anthemius found a capable successor in the first woman to rule the Empire, the Augusta Pulcheria, elder sister of the Emperor. Theodosius II, who was only two years her junior, was a weakling, though not such a dullard as his father. He was of an amiable disposition, and was carefully educated by his sister in the fashion of the day. He was given to pious observances, was a calligrapher, a fair scholar, a hunter and horseman, exemplary in morals. But this sheltered court-life left him a puppet of his sister, his wife, and his eunuchs in turn. Pulcheria, on the other hand, to whom it was her native element, showed from the first, at the age of 15, both character and intellect and a resolve to rule. For the sake rather of politics than religion, she took a vow of virginity, and her sisters followed suit. Spinning and devotion filled the time she spared from government, and the Empire gained by the general wisdom of her rule, although the sale of offices again became notorious and fiscal oppression revived. That authority was somewhat shaken incited transient disorders, of which the most notable were the riots of Alexandria and the barbarous murder of Hypatia. In that turbulent city the population was divided among Christians, Jews and pagans. The Patriarch Cyril was the focus of trouble in his unscrupulous grasp at power. After prolonged rioting between Christians and Jews, he instigated his followers to expel the Jews from the city, and this fresh outrage provoked the prefect of Egypt, Orestes, to complain to the Emperor. He was attacked with stones by some fanatical monks, the chief of whom he put to death by torture, providing Cyril with a martyr. It was said that Orestes was under the influence of the pagan teacher and philosopher Hypatia, celebrated for her beauty, ability and charm of character. This was enough to rouse the parabolani (sick-attendants) to drag her from her chariot to a church and there horribly kill her with tiles. Even the government took action at the atrocity. The parabolani were limited to the number of 500, selected by the prefect, and forbidden to appear in assemblies and spectacles. Yet within two years Cyril reobtained their selection and an increase in their personnel.

The marriage of Theodosius was a necessity of State, and Pulcheria schemed to promote a docile Empress. The pagan Athenais, the daughter of an Athenian sophist, had come to the capital as a petitioner against her brothers, who had usurped her share of her father's property. Pulcheria introduced her to the Emperor, who was duly attracted and made her his wife (421). She was baptized under the name of Eudocia. Her literary tastes and ability, besides her beauty, made her a suitable consort to Theodosius, and, in addition to theological poems, she composed an epic on one eastern war. A lasting harmony between her and her sister-in-law was hardly to be expected. Eudocia began to show opinions of her own in theology and appointments. Eventually after an open quarrel Pulcheria retired from court. But Eudocia made a long pilgrimage to Jerusalem (437-9), which must have loosened her control over her ever-guided husband. In 441 her personal friend, the eminent and popular pretorian prefect Cyrus, was dismissed from office, and the eunuch Chrysaphius, who had fomented the disagreements between her and Pulcheria, obtained the chief influence. Eudocia found herself accused of adultery with Paulinus, the master of the offices, who was executed. She asked per­mission in 443 to retire to Jerusalem, where she lived for years in pious occupations, soon deprived of imperial honours but left with an ample income. Chrysaphius could now misgovern the Empire till his master’s death through a hunting accident (28 July 450).

In spite of over-taxation and the troubles due to the barbarians of Europe, the internal government of the Eastern Empire continued in some degree the beneficial work of Anthemius until the eunuch chrysaphius obtained control. Frequent remissions of taxation, if they showed the extent of impoverishment, showed also the effort to relieve it. More permanent was the positive attempt to clarify the law, and thereby to improve its administration, which Theodosius II was induced to authorize. In concert with his Western colleague, the child Valentinian III, he issued in 426 a decree prescribing the method in which the works of the authoritative jurists of the past were to be used by judges, thus bringing some sort of certainty and order among their often conflicting decisions. In 438 he issued with Valentinian’s assent the Theodosian Code, a classified collection of the edicts of the Christian Emperors. The most important statutes for ordinary life were thus made clearer and more accessible to judges and suitors. The new Code achieved a speedy success and in Italy remained the basis of traditional Roman Law. It will be referred to in a subsequent chapter, but here it may again be said that it marks the end of the unity of the law of East and West. It applied to both, but the edicts of later date were declared by it to be valid only for the dominions of the Emperor who decreed them. The separation was emphasized when the prefect Cyrus published for the first time decrees in Greek. Another reform, which suggests the influence of the highly educated Eudocia, was the foundation of the university of Constantinople. A staff of twenty-eight teachers was endowed to lecture in Greek and Latin learning (27 February 425) in the capital; it was a Christian counterpoise to the still pagan schools of Athens.

In foreign affairs the great success of the reign was the relief obtained from the dangerous pressure on the eastern frontier. So far as the Roman government was concerned, it was due to the conciliatory defensive policy adopted by Theodosius the Great, and perhaps by the much blamed Jovian. When Yezdegerd 1 of Persia placed a son of his own on the Persarmenian throne, Roman Armenia was converted into a mere province (415-6), and PErsarmenia soon underwent the same fate from Persia (428). Persian persecution of the Christians led to a brief war (421-2), in which the Alan general Ardaburius defeated the armies of the Great King. As a result Bahram V relinquished hostilities, and in 422 the Hundred Years’ Peace between the Empire and Persia was concluded. The persecution was to cease, and neither party was to abet the restless, plundering Arab vassal tribes of the other’s borderland between Mesopotamia and Syria. Doubtless this peace, which was lasting in spite of interruptions, was due largely to the increasing weakness of the Sassanids before their priests and great nobles and to the constant peril of the Persian eastern frontier from the nomads beyond the Caspian Sea, but something is due to the wisdom of the East Roman government, which was content with a reasonable, stable division of interests. It was a great achievement which freed the Romans’ hands for defence in the West for many years. Even when Yezdegerd II took advantage of the Vandal war to make an attack, he quickly renewed the peace in order to defend himself (441) from the Ephthalite Huns, a more aggressive foe than the Rushans, whom they replaced (c. 425) on the Oxus,

On the western border, in spite of some successes, the experiences of the reign were less happy. The aggressive, expanding barbarians, led by able chieftains, were not to be checked like Persia by dangers in the rear, and the Western Empire, although it acted as a buffer, was more a liability than an asset. Yet the elevation of Valentinian III to the Western throne by armed intervention was a notable triumph, and the acquisition (438) of Dalmatia and west Illyricum as the price of his marriage to Theodosius’ daughter Eudoxia was a substantial gain which strengthened the frontier of the Balkans. The two divisions of the Empire were also drawn together by their common danger from the sea, the menace of the Vandal Gaiseric in Africa and the Mediterranean. In 431 the Eastern Magister militum Aspar was sent with fleet and army to aid in the defence of Africa. After three years he had only saved Carthage, and after the treaty of 435 he seems to have become a secret ally of Gaiseric. The fact was that Aspar was an Alan, whose fellow tribesmen formed part of Gaiseric’s following, and the best of his own troops were Germanic mercenaries. All alike were Arians and a danger to the Empire which they served. The loss of Carthage (439) caused another Eastern fleet to be sent to Sicily, but it did nothing useful, and the Persian War and the Hun invasion caused its recall. The western Huns under Attila had become a worse danger. In 434, after a Hunish raid, a humiliating treaty was made with Attila: the East Roman tribute or rather blackmail was doubled, and the Empire was not to receive deserters, i.e. probable recruits, from Attila. At Gaiseric’s instigation, a terrible Hun invasion (441) devastated the Balkan; as far as the Aegean: the tribute was trebled and a lump sum paid as well (443). It was almost impossible to discharge the blackmail, and in 447 a still more destructive raid reached Thermopylae. While submitting to Attila’s terms, the eunuch Chrysaphius laid a plot to murder him. This miserable scheme was unveiled, but fortunately Attila was turning westward for a less exhausted prey. In the meantime a virile Emperor ascended the Eastern throne.

As Theodosius II lay dying without a son, the problem of the succession was ingeniously solved. Valentinian III was impossible. Aspar, who commanded the forces and would have wished for the throne, was an Alan and an Arian. But his chief of staff, Marcian, was a Roman veteran from Thrace, and fitter to rule than Aspar perhaps foresaw. This soldier was associated as Emperor by the Augusta Pulcheria, and to him, a widower, she was nominally married. This gave him the legitimacy of the Theodosian house (450—7), while his connexion with Aspar and the army ensured him their support. The break with past misrule was at once marked by the deserved execution of Chrysaphius. A restraint was placed on the sale of offices, the remission of arrears eased the burdens on the taxpayer, and senators and reformers were equally pleased when the compulsory and senseless outlay by the consuls of the year on public games was corrected into  a contribution to the upkeep of the aqueducts. Internal disorder due to the Isaurians, who had been raiding again since 441, was lessened by the lucky death of their leader Zeno, while Arab and Nubian incursions on Syria and Egypt were checked. Forty years later a new Emperor could be greeted with shouts of ‘Reign like Marcian.

Meantime Marcian, who wisely kept peace with Persia and the Vandals, was free to defy the Huns and refuse the ruinous blackmail. The dubious result of this spirited policy was determined by Attila’s sudden death and the break-up of his empire. Marcian used it to protect the Danube frontier by taking the curiously lethargic Gepids into alliance as foederati and by settling the Ostrogoths in eastern Pannonia on the same terms— a more risky experiment of which he did not live to see the sequel. He died in 457 without nominating a successor. Pulcheria had died four years earlier, and the choice of an Emperor was at Aspar’s mercy. His Arianism and race excluded himself, and he selected another subordinate, his steward, the Roman Leo I. But he did not thereby secure a grateful puppet, for Leo was a man of ability and resource. He eluded Aspar’s advice and raised up a rival to him.

With external foes Leo’s reign was marked by indecisive friction and one great disaster. He was a rival of Piroz, the king of Persia, for the suzerainty of the little Christian kingdom of Lazica, the ancient Colchis, on the Black Sea coast between the Empire and the Caucasus, but while Lazica suffered from both powers, they did not fight one another. More serious were the troubles with the Ostrogoths in Pannonia. They raided Illyricum and took Dyrrachium (Durazzo), since their subsidy was withheld. This was granted anew, but Theodemir, one of the three Amal brothers who ruled them, had to give his son Theodoric, afterwards famous, to be brought up in Constantinople as a hostage (459). The restless tribe soon fell out with their neighbours the Sciri, from whom they met defeat with the death of Walamir, one of the brother kings. A later raid of Huns and Goths ended in their Quarrel and mutual extermination (467). But Leo's most serious effort against the barbarians was his formidable expedition sent to aid his Western protégé, the Emperor Anthemius, Marcian’s son-in-law, against Gaiseric (468). Ihis came utterly to grief owing to the incompetence of its commander,Basiliscus, the brother of Leo’s wife, Verina. The effect of the disaster was to imperil the Empire’s solvency, and to reduce its power of self-defence.

Meantime the covert struggle with Aspar was maturing. While mercenary Goths and other Germans formed the best of the army, there was a pressing danger that Aspar would seize complete control. To avert it Leo turned to the Isaurian mountaineers who had so long vexed Asia Minor. He levied a new bodyguard, the excubitors, from among them, and brought their most noted chieftain, Tarasicodissa, to Constantinople, where he took the name of Zeno and was married to the Emperor’s daughter Ariadne (467 ?)? This meant the revival of a native Roman soldiery. The weakness of the arrangement lay in the hatred felt in the capital for the Isaurian brigands. Leo found himself obliged to dispatch his son-in-law to Cilicia as magister militum of the East. Without his support he was obliged to marry his second daughter to Aspar’s younger son, Patricius, and confer on him, although an Arian, the rank of Caesar or heir-presumptive (470). This unpopular act perhaps really strengthened the Emperor’s hands. Zeno could return, Aspar and his eldest son were murdered in the palace, and an attack by Aspar’s Gothic guards was warded off by the excubitors (471).

Thus the Emperor-maker was removed from the scene and with him the imminent danger of barbarian rule of the Empire. But the Gothic mercenaries, on whom he had rested his power, remained in arms in Thrace under another Theodoric, ‘the squinter’, son of Triarius, who aspired both to take Aspar’s place and to be king of all the Ostrogoths. The latter ambition, however, opened a rift between him and the kingly house of the Amals which was never likely to be really closed, and Leo with premature cunning hastened to restore the hostage Theodoric to his father. The immediate effect of the action was fraught with harm to the Empire, for Leo had no hold now on the Ostrogoths. King Widimir, the third Amal brother, promptly invaded Italy, and then passed on to join the Visigoths in Gaul. Theodemir and his son, after capturing Singidunum (Belgrade) from the Sarmatians, seized on Naissus. Leo was forced to allot them lands in Moesia, where Theodoric soon (471) succeeded his father. There was still the problem of Theodoric the Squinter, who pursued leisurely hostilities in Thrace. It was only lack of food and his inability to take more than one city which induced him to accept the Emperor’s ample concessions—the position of magister militum, the chieftainship of his Goths in Thrace, and a heavy annual subsidy, in return for services which were not to be used against the Vandals (473). The net result was that the federate Goths of both Theodorics were cantoned in the best Balkan lands. The marvel was that in spite of all Leo left the treasury full. If there was oppression, there must also have been prosperity in the Asiatic provinces.

Leo’s health, however, was failing, and a successor had to be found. His son-in-law Zeno was his obvious choice, but he and his Isaurians were hated in the capital. A curious subterfuge was thought necessary. Leo created his grandson and namesake, Zeno’s son, Emperor (November 473), and on his death (February 474) the child Leo II in his turn associated Zeno, whom he left sole Emperor by his own death a few months later. But the shifty, shrewd Isaurian had gained a most unstable throne. The Arabs were raiding Syria, the western Hunnish clans of the Ukraine steppe, now known as Bulgarians, made incursions south of the Danube, Theodoric the Squinter was again in revolt in Thrace, and the Vandals sacked Nicopolis, the memorial of the battle of Actium, in Epirus. Over this last misfortune Zeno won a great diplomatic triumph. His envoy, Severus, persuaded Gaiseric (474) to release his own and allow the ransom of his nobles’ Roman captives in a permanent peace. The age of the Vandal king and his foresight of his people’s decline may have been the main cause of the treaty, but for whatever reason the Vandal danger, which had been so formidable, was over.

Worse than all these foes were the Roman malcontents. Intrigue, rivalry, ambition, and treason seethed among the principal personages of the court and army, including the Isaurians themselves, while the theological disputes of the day, which will be described later, rent the Church and the populace. It was Zeno’s greatest merit that, indifferent character as he might be, he weathered these storms, and conjured at the last after a multitude of shifts the Ostrogothic peril. Even a simplified sketch of the political and military tangle of events must separate the domestic and Gothic series which were in fact closely allied.

The evil genius of the court was Leo I’s widow, the Empress Verina, who hungered to recover power. She wove a plot with her brother Basiliscus and the able Isaurian chieftain Ulus, hitherto Zeno’s ally. Theodoric the Squinter favoured it. In January 475 she frightened Zeno into fleeing to Isauria, only to find herself cheated by Basiliscus, who became Emperor. Basiliscus soon showed all his old incompetence. He declared for Monophysite opinions and degraded the bishop of Constantinople from his patriarchal rank. He appointed Armatus, his nephew and his wife’s paramour, a mere dandy, to be magister militum in place of Theodoric the Squinter. Illus was sent to subdue Zeno, but changed sides, while Armatus, sent to conquer them, was bribed to do the same by the promise of a life-tenure of his command and the rank of Caesar for his son. Zeno returned to his throne (August 476), saw that Basiliscus was executed and Armatus murdered, and courted Theodoric the Amal, whom he adopted in Germanic fashion as his son-in-arms. The sordid contest for power was quickly renewed. Verina’s attempts to assassinate her faithless ally, Illus, led to his withdrawal to Isauria, and his return to save the capital from the Goths was only purchased by her surrender to him as his prisoner. The Empress Ariadne continued her mother’s feud. Although Illus subdued a city revolt to place Marcian, son of the Western Emperor Anthemius and son-in-law of Leo I, on the throne, he withdrew again, this time to Antioch, as magister militum of the eastern frontier. There he revolted in alliance with his captive Verina, with a puppet Leontius as nominal Emperor. But he had little support outside Isauria, and his ally, King Piroz of Persia, was killed in a disastrous defeat by the Ephthalite Huns of the Oxus. Four years of petty warfare ended in his capture by betrayal in the Isaurian fortress of Cherris, when he and his puppet were put to death (488).

During all these years Zeno had been playing fast and loose with the Ostrogothic chiefs, equally hostile to him and one another. He was saved by their mutual enmity and the fighting qualities of the Isaurians, but the Balkan population was depleted by their ravages. First Zeno held by Theodoric the Amal, but so feebly supported him that both Theodorics united against him. Then he bought over Theodoric the Squinter (478). The Amal was driven from Thrace, ravaged Macedonia, and then made Dyrrachium in Epirus his headquarters. There he was held in check by an able general Sabinianus, while the Squinter endeavoured to surprise Constantinople after the Theodosian Wall had been breached by an earthquake. The Isaurians twice prevented his assault (479, 481), and he was defeated at sea in an attempt to cross to Bithynia. Thrace was plundered by him and, when he died by an accident, more brutally by his son Recitach (481). Meantime Sabinianus was murdered by the ungrateful Zeno, and Theodoric the Amal was able to ravage Macedonia and Thessaly. He was temporarily pacified by the rank of patrician and the consulship of the year, and still more by the permission to assassinate Recitach—a substantial bribe, for he thus became sole king of the Ostrogoths, who were settled now in Moesia. Fresh hostilities produced at last a satisfactory treaty (487): Theodoric was to invade Italy. It is to be remembered that from the abdication of Romulus Augustulus, or at least from the death of Julius Nepos (480), Zeno had been the legal, though nominal, ruler of Italy as the sole Emperor of the Roman state. He had, in legal form, allowed the Patrician Odovacar to be his vicegerent; now he authorized the Patrician Theodoric to drive out Odovacar and take his place. The benefit to the East was immense. In 488 the plundering Ostrogoths and their formidable ruler were removed from the Balkans. Constantinople ceased to be threatened. A more trustworthy native soldiery could defend the Empire without the perpetual embarrassment of active or potential foes by their side.

In spite of his discreditable methods Zeno's reign had been of marked service in the preservation of the Empire. Germanic predominance in the army had ceased; the Vandal peril and the Ostrogothic peril were ended. If new foes, the Bulgarians and Slavs, raided across the Danube, they were not yet more than troublesome. In internal affairs he was less successful. The Henoticon, by which he hoped to heal the doctrinal breach between the orthodox and the Monophysites, did little more than call a truce. The ecclesiastical conflict was mainly, though not wholly, a sign of the growth of particularism within the Empire, the estrangement of Syrians and Egyptians from the Hellenized Balkans and Asia Minor. Disastrous as the cleavage was, it went too deep for closing.

Zeno died in April 491. With his usual clannishness he had timorously worked for the succession of his disreputable brother Longinus, but his widow, the Augusta Ariadne, had the wisdom to choose the Epirote Anastasius (491-518) as Emperor and consort. He was a silentiary, i.e. a member of the personal bodyguard of the late ruler, an elderly pious man of 61, whose reputation was so good that he had been considered for the patriarchate of Antioch. His defect in the eyes of the orthodox was his Monophysite opinions. None the less he was greeted with the cry of ‘Reign like Marcian! Reign as you have lived!’ There was no Emperor to crown him, and according to the custom which had grown up in the last forty years for Emperors elected during a vacancy of the throne, he was crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The talents of the mild Anastasius were for administration and finance. His ill fate and his religious opinions compelled him to meet insurrections and foreign wars, but it is noticeable that in these uncongenial tasks he chose able men to command. His first troubles were with the Isaurians, whom he removed from Constantinople, where they were hated. Longinus was got rid of by compulsory ordination and banishment, but the revolt of Isauria lasted seven years till 498, when large numbers of the rebels were transported to the empty lands of Thrace. They still furnished useful recruits for the army, for the lessons of the preceding century were not forgotten, and barbarian auxiliaries henceforth supplemented but did not replace the native troops of the Empire.

The miseries of the Balkans, however, were not over. They were now subject to the raids of the savage Bulgarians, who roamed between the Dniester and the Danube, as well as of the Slavs who came in their wake.


The situation was complicated by the fact that numbers of Bulgarians were in the Empire s service as foederati. From time to time the nomads defeated the imperial forces: the Slavs in 517 reached Thessaly. To secure the capital and its food supply still further the Emperor built the new Long Wall, roughly on the modern lines of Chatalja, from the Black Sea to the Propontis. One attempt to aid repopulation was the settlement of a remnant of the Heruli fleeing from the Lombards. With Theodoric the Ostrogoth the relations of the Epirote Anastasius were seldom cordial. Not till 497 did he give formal recognition of the Gothic king’s rule in Italy, when he oddly also returned the imperial insignia sent to Zeno by Odovacar. Was it a hint that he would accept an imperial colleague in the West? But in 505 the two powers fell out, when the Goths had defeated the Gepids and intervened south of the Danube in favour of the barbarian brigand Mundo, gaining him a victory. Anastasius in 508 retaliated by sending a fleet to ravage the Italian coast and granting the Frank Clovis the consular insignia at a time when Theodoric wished to check the Frankish advance. The reconciliation with the Empire which followed was but grudging.

These were not the only frontier raids the Empire had to parry. In Africa, the Berbers of the desert attacked Cyrenaica and Upper Egypt. In Asia, the Arabs, whether Roman or Persian vassals or independent, increased their plundering incursions on Syria. Although they were driven back, and aimed only at plunder, their frequent attacks were the shadows of coming events, the first mutterings of the storm that long afterwards was to sweep over Nearer Asia and Africa. The immediate danger to the Empire came from Sassanid Persia. An able and aggressive king, Kavad, having been deposed, was restored to the throne by the Ephthalite Huns, to whom he had promised an ample payment (499). He applied to the thrifty Anastasius for help in discharging his debt, and when he received only the offer of a loan to be repaid, he took his revenge in war. He brought Ephthalites and Arabs into the field as well as Persians. The treason of Constantine, count of Roman Armenia, gave him the frontier town of Theodosiopolis (502), and he then besieged the more important Amida (Diarbakr), which was gallantly defended by its citizens until a night attack of the Persians carried a part of the wall which was guarded by some monks who were in a drunken sleep (11 January 503). The Amidans were massacred and their city was garrisoned by Kavad, but although he won a victory over the discordant Roman generals, he could take no other fortified town in Roman Mesopotamia. His attention was soon distracted by an invasion of the Huns from beyond the Caucasus, while Celer, the master of the offices, was placed by Anastasius in supreme command. The Romans took the offensive, crossing the Persian border. An Arab and an Armenian chief changed sides (504), and Kavad, at war with his neighbours and engaged in internal reforms which reinvigorated his monarchical power, proposed a peace. Celer paid a sum of money for the surrender of Amida, both sides restrained their Arab raiders, and Anastasius took the opportunity to build an immensely strong fortress at Dara as a curb to the similar city of Nisibis, not far away, which had been lost to Persia by Jovian. This was a breach of the treaty of 442, and was atoned for in the definite peace (November 506) by a further payment to the Persian king. The net result of the war was that Anastasius, in spite of the damage done to the wasted lands, had maintained and strengthened the Roman frontier.

The mildness and good administration of Anastasius were almost universally praised. Like other good Emperors he discouraged informers and is said to have abolished the sale of offices. Remittances of taxation to hard-pressed or ravaged provinces were common form, but, advised by the able and greedy Syrian Marinus, he endeavoured at the same time to relieve the taxpayers, especially the townsmen, and to increase the receipts of the government. His most celebrated measure was the abolition of the chrysargyrion, the oppressive tax on the stock and plant of tradesmen (498), and of the right of requisition for the troops. This caused general rejoicings. He reformed the currency (498) by replacing the small copper coins of miserable fabric, which from the beginning of the century had had to satisfy the public demand for small change, by four denominations of substantial size which were easy to handle and which played a conspicuous part in the economic revival of the Empire. A new land-tax, the chrysoteleia, was applied to the pay and upkeep of the soldiers, to whom he endeavoured to secure their full due. Another beneficial reform was the abolition of the collective responsibility of the curiales for the tax-quota of their cities, and the institution of tax-collectors called vindices. The curiales, however, were still involved in their unwelcome task after his reign, and complaints of heavy extortion remained rife. But he left the treasury full and Marinus rich. Considering the devastation of the Balkans and Mesopotamia, this suggests that, in spite of wars and taxes, trade was reviving under his economic rule.

It was on the insoluble religious question that Anastasius lost his hold on his capital and the Hellenized part of his subjects. His Monophysite opinions, which became more pronounced as he grew older, were distasteful to them, and the peace of Constantinople was constantly disturbed by serious riots, which were frequent also in Alexandria and Antioch. In 512 Marinus induced him to insert the Monophysite addition to the Tersanctus in the liturgy and almost caused a revolution in Constantinople, which was only prevented by Anastasius showing himself in the Circus without his crown and promising concessions. All the same, something like a persecution of the orthodox continued, and led to an armed revolt.

 Vitalian, the commander of the Bulgarian foederati in Thrace provoked by the expulsion of his close friend Flavian, the Patriarch of Antioch seized on Odessus (Varna) on the Moesian coast. Thence, gathering other insurgents, he marched on Constantinople with the cry of justice for the banished patriarchs and the removal of the Monophysite insertion in the Tersanctus. The promise that grievances should be remedied and the religious differences settled in concert with the Pope led his officers, who clearly did not wish the overthrow of Anastasius, to insist on his retreat. But the promise was not kept, and Vitalian again revolted. He was kept at bay by troops, promises, and bribes, yet he held the field. In 515 he made another attack, his third, on Constantinople, encamping to the north of the Golden Horn in the later Galata while his fleet lay in the Bosphorus. This time he was defeated by land and sea. He retired with his Bulgarians to Anchialus (Burghas), where he stayed until the sudden death of the octogenarian Emperor on 9 July 518. This closed a period in the history of the Eastern Empire, the period of recuperation, in which Anastasius had played a most efficient part.

Drab, confused, tedious, and often sordid as is the story of the defence and recuperation, with its revolts, its court intrigues, its mercenary armies, its self-seeking generals, its corrupt ministers, its faithless cunning and its treasons, yet the Empire’s survival shows the strength of its sounder elements. There was high ability and solid organization in the bureaucracy, industry and wealth in the townsmen, hardiness in the peasantry, military skill in the generals, and a fighting, patriotic spirit in the population which needed only to be utilized and disciplined. And there were eminent men—Anthemius, Cyrus, Marcian, Anastasius—whose patient statesmanship slowly guided the Empire from desperation to security. They possessed in Constantinople and its Straits an invaluable citadel; they could and did divert the Goths to the unhappy West. But they could not heal the religious divergencies which cleft the East, for they were both the expression and the exacerbation of growing particularism as the Romano-Hellenic unity dissolved.