MEDIEVAL HISTORY
 

CHAPTERS OF MEDIEVAL HISTORY

 

  EARLY HISTORY OF THE GOTHS.

 

The Roman Commonwealth, from the time of Marius to that of Julian, had borne the brunt of the onset of various Teutonic peoples. The tribe which bore the distinctive name of Teutones, the Suevi, the Cherusci, the Nervii, the Marcomanni, and in later times the great confederacies which called themselves Free-men and All-men (Franks and Alamanni), had wrestled, often not ingloriously, with the Roman legions. But it was reserved for the Goths, whose fortunes we are now about to trace, to deal the first mortal blow at the Roman state, to be the first to stand in the Forum of Roma Invicta, and prove to an amazed world (themselves half-terrified by the greatness of their victory) that she who had stricken the nations with a continual stroke was now herself laid low. How little the Gothic nation comprehended that this was its mission; how gladly it would often have accepted the position of humble friend and client of the great World-Empire, through what strange vicissitudes of fortune, what hardships, what dangers of national extinction it was driven onwards to this predestined goal, will appear in the course of the following history.

The Gothic nation, or rather cluster of nations, belonged to the great Aryan family of peoples, and to the Low-German branch of that family. From the remains of their language which have come down to us we can see that they were more nearly akin to the Frisians, to the Hollanders, and to our own Anglo-Saxon forefathers than to any other race of Modern Europe.

Ethnological science is at present engaged in discussing the question of the original seat and centre of the Aryan family, whether it should be placed—as almost all scholars a generation ago agreed in placing it—in the uplands of Central Asia, or whether it was situated in the North of Europe and in the neighbourhood of the Baltic Sea. It is not likely that any great value ought to be attached to the traditions of the Gothic people as to a matter so dim and remote as this: but as far as they go, they favor the later theory rather than the earlier, the Scandinavian rather than the Central-Asian hypothesis.

The information which Jordanes gives us as to the earliest home and first migration of the Goths is as follows:

“The island of Scanzia [peninsula of Norway and Sweden] lies in the Northern Ocean, opposite the the mouths of the Vistula, in shape like a cedar-leaf. In this island, this manufactory of nations, dwelt the Goths with other tribes”. [Then follows a string of uncouth names, now for themost part forgotten, though the Swedes, the Fins, the Heruli are still familiar to us.]

“From this island the Goths, under their king Berig, first set forth in search of new homes. They had but three ships, and as one of these during their passage always lagged behind, they called her Gepanta, “the torpid one”. Their crew, who ever after showed themselves more sluggish and clumsy than their companions, when they became a nation bore a name derived from this quality, Gepidae, the Loiterers.

“However, all came safely to land at a place which was called ever after Gothi-scandza (South-East corner of the Baltic coast). From thence shore of the they moved forward to the dwellings of the Ulmerugi by the shores of the Ocean. These people they beat in pitched battle and drove from their habitations, and then, subduing their neighbors the Vandals, they employed them as instruments of their own subsequent victories”. So far Jordanes.

This migration from Sweden to East Prussia is doubted by many scholars, but, till it is actually disproved, let it at any rate stand as that which the Gothic nation in after days believed to be true concerning itself. An interesting passage in Pliny’s Natural History gives us a date before which the migration (if it ever took place) must have been made. According to this writer, Pytheas of Marseilles (the Marco Polo of Greek geography, who lived about the time of Alexander the Great) speaks of a people called Guttones, who lived by an estuary of the Ocean named Mentonomon, and who apparently traded in amber. Seeing that the name Guttones closely corresponds with that of Gut-thiuda (Gothic people), by which the Goths spoke of themselves, and seeing that amber is and has been for 2000 years the especial natural product by which the curving shores and deeply indented bays of the Gulf of Danzig have been made famous, it seems reasonable to infer that in these amber-selling Guttones of Pytheas we have the same people as the Goths of Jordanes, who must therefore have been settled on the South-East coast of the Baltic at least as early as 330 before Christ.

Pliny himself (writing about 70 AD) assigns to the Guttones a position not inconsistent with that which apparently was given to them by Pytheas; and Tacitus, the younger contemporary of Pliny, after describing the wide domain of the Ligii, who dwelt apparently between the Oder and the Vistula, says that “behind [that is Northwards of] the Ligii, the Gothones dwell, who are governed by their kings somewhat more stringently [than the other tribes of whom he has been speaking] but not so as to interfere with their freedom”. This valuable statement by Tacitus is all the information that we possess as to the internal condition of the Goths for many centuries.

But within the last few years the brilliant hypothesis of an English scholar as to the origin of the Runic mode of writing has given an especial importance to the settlement of the Goths at this South-East corner of the Baltic. If that hypothesis be correct—and it appears to find considerable acceptance with those philologers who are best qualified to decide upon its merits—we have not only a hint as to the social condition of the Goths and their kindred tribes, but we have a strong inducement to carry their settlement in East Prussia up to the sixth century before the Christian Era, that is some 200 years before the early date to which we were inclined to attribute it, by the authority of the navigator Pytheas.

Geographical distribution of the Runes

It is well known that all over the North of Europe there exists a class of monuments, chiefly belonging to the first ten centuries of the Christian Era, which bear inscriptions in what for convenience sake we call the Runic character, the name Rûn, which signifies a mystery, having doubtless been assigned to them from some belief in their magical efficacy. Now these Runes are practically the exclusive possession of the Low German races, the term being used in that wide sense which was assigned to it at the beginning of the Chapter. Runic inscriptions were often carved by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors : they swarm in all Scandinavian lands : they were evidently in use among the Goths and the tribes most nearly allied to them. But along the course of the Rhine, upon the Northern slope of the Alps, by the upper waters of the Danube they are unknown. Franks and Alamanni and Bavarians seem never to have known the Runes. But where they were known, although many modifications were introduced in the course of centuries, there is a remarkable general agreement in all the early Runes, notwithstanding the wide geographical dispersion of the nations by whom they were used. To quote the words of Dr. Isaac Taylor, the author of the hypothesis which we are about to consider “This ancient and wide-spread Gothic alphabet is wonderfully firm, definite and uniform. To decipher the inscription on the golden torque of the Moesian Goths by the help of the alphabet stamped on the golden Bracteate from Swedish Gothland is as easy as it would be to read an Australian tombstone by the aid of a spelling-book from the United States. Distant colonies employ the common alphabet of the mother country”.

The origin of this widely spread Alphabet (or, to speak more correctly, of this Futhorc, for it begins not to the with Alpha and Beta but with the six letters whose combination makes the word Futhorc, and by that name it is generally called) has been hitherto a Rûn as full of mystery as the inscriptions themselves were to the unlettered warriors who gazed upon them with fascinated fear. That the Futhorc could not have been invented by the Northern tribes in absolute ignorance of the historic Alphabet of the nations that dwelt round the Midland Sea, was clear from some of the letters contained in it. Yet on the other hand the divergencies from Mediterranean Alphabets were so many and so perplexing that it was difficult to understand how the Runes could be descended from any of them.

Some years ago a theory which had obtained considerable currency connected the Runes with the Phoenician Alphabet, and suggested that they were the descendants of the letters introduced to the nations of the North by the adventurous mariners of Tyre. An earlier and perhaps more plausible theory was that the Runes represented the Latin Alphabet as communicated to the Teutonic nations by Roman traders and soldiers in the days of the Empire. An objection, apparently a fatal objection, to this theory is that precisely in the countries where Roman influence affected the Teutonic nations most strongly, in Gaul, in Rhenish Germany, in Helvetia and Rhaetia, no Runes are to be found.

Greeks and Goths : a study on the runes - Isaac Taylor

But in the year 1879 Dr. Isaac Taylor, in a little monograph entitled The Greeks and Goths, advocated  a solution of the enigma which, though daring almost to rashness, may possibly hold the field against all comers.

Examining the forms of Greek letters which were in use among the colonists (chiefly Ionian colonists) whose cities lined the Southern coast of Thrace and the shores of the Aegean in the sixth century BC, he finds among them many remarkable coincidences with the earliest forms of the Runic Futhorc. Differences many and great still exist, but they appear to be only such differences as, in accordance with the ascertained laws of the History of Writing, might well creep in, between the sixth century before the Christian Era and the third century after it, the earliest period to which we can with certainty refer an extant Runic inscription.

To what conclusion then do these enquiries point? To this, that during the interval from 540 to 480 BC there was a brisk commercial intercourse between the flourishing Greek colonies on the Black Sea, Odessos, Istros, Tyras, Olbia and Chersonesos—places now approximately represented by Varna, Kustendji, Odessa, Cherson, and Sebastopol—between these cities and the tribes to the Northward (inhabiting the country which has been since known as Lithuania), all of whom at the time of Herodotus passed under the vague generic name of Scythians. By this intercourse which would naturally pass up the valleys of the great rivers, especially the Dniester and the Dnieper, and would probably again descend by the Vistula and the Niemen, the settlements of the Goths were reached, and by its means the Ionian letter-forms were communicated to the Goths, to become in due time the magical and mysterious Runes.

One fact which lends great probability to this theory is that undoubtedly, from very early times, the amber deposits of the Baltic, to which allusion has already been made, were known to the civilized world; and thus the presence of the trader from the South among the settlements of the Guttones or Goths is naturally accounted for. Probably also there was for centuries before the Christian Era a trade in sables, ermines, and other furs, which were a necessity in the wintry North and a luxury of kings and nobles in the wealthier South. In exchange for amber and fur, the traders brought probably not only golden staters and silver drachmas, but also bronze from Armenia with pearls, spices, rich mantles suited to the barbaric taste of the Gothic chieftains. As has been said, this commerce was most likely carried on for many centuries. Sabres of Assyrian type have been found in Sweden, and we may hence infer that there was a commercial intercourse between the Euxine and the Baltic, perhaps 1300 years before Christ.

Handbook of the old-northern runic monuments of Scandinavia and England

This stream of trade may have had its ebbings as well as its flowings. Some indications seem to suggest by the traders of the Euxine were less adventurous and “Scythia” less under the influence of Southern civilization at the Christian Era than six centuries before it. But however this may be, there can be no doubt that the route which had thus been opened was never entirely closed; and when the most Eastern German tribes began to feel that pressure of population which had sent Ariovistus into Gaul and had dashed the Cimbri and Teutones against the legions of Marius, it was natural that they should, by that route along which the traders had so long travelled, pour forth to seek for themselves new homes by the great sea into which the Dnieper and the Dniester flowed.

This migration to the Euxine was probably made during the latter half of the second century of our Era: for Ptolemy the geographer, who flourished in the middle of that century, mentions the “Guthones” as still dwelling by the Vistula and near the Venedae. It was most likely part of that great Southward movement of the German tribes which caused the Marcomanni to cross the Danube, and which wore out the energies of the noble philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius in arduous, hardly-contested battles against these barbarians. The memory of the migration doubt­ess lingered long in the heart of the nation, and it was, as Jordanes himself says, from their old folk-songs, that the following account of it was derived.

Migration to the Euxine.

In the reign of the fifth King after Berig, Filimer, son of Gadariges, the people had so greatly increased in numbers that they all agreed in the conclusion that the army of the Goths should move forward with their families in quest of more fitting abodes. Thus they came to those regions of Scythia which in their tongue are called Oium whose great fertility pleased them much. But there was a bridge there by which the army essayed to cross a river, and when half of the army had passed, that bridge fell down in irreparable ruin, nor could any one either go forward or return. For that place is said to be girt round with a whirlpool, shut in with quivering morasses, and thus by her confusion of the two elements, land and water, Nature has rendered it inaccessible. But in truth, even to this day, if you may trust the evidence of passers-by, though they go not nigh the place, the far-off voices of cattle may be heard and traces of men may be discerned.

“That part of the Goths therefore which under the leadership of Filimer crossed the river and reached the lands of Oium, obtained the longed-for soil. Then without delay they came to the nation of the Spali, with whom they engaged in battle and therein gained the victory. Thence they came forth as conquerors, and hastened to the furthest part of Scythia which borders on the Pontic Sea. And so in their ancient songs it is set forth almost in historic fashion”

Even from the brief note-book of Jordanes we can see what a fateful moment was that in the history of the Gothic nation, when, travel-worn and battle-weary, the heads of the long column halted, beholding the monotonous horizon broken by a bit of deeper blue. We can imagine the joyful cry “Marei!” (Sea) passing from wagon to wagon, and the women and children clambering down out of their dark recesses to see that little streak of sapphire which told them that their wanderings were drawing near to a close. It was true. The journeyers from the Baltic had reached the Euxine, the same sea which, centuries before, the ten thousand returning Greeks had hailed with the glad cry, “Thalatta, Thalatta!”. Well might the Gothic minstrels in the palaces of Toulouse and Ravenna preserve the remembrance of the rapture of their forefathers at that first sight of the Southern Sea.

The settlement of so large a nation as the Goths (for a large nation they must still have been, notwithstanding all their losses on the journey), cannot have been effected without the forcible displacement of tribes already in possession of the territory to which they migrated. No details of these wars of conquest have come down to us; but, from what we know of the map of Scythia in the third century, it may be conjectured that the Roxolani, the Bastarnae, and perhaps the Jazyges, had to make room for the Gothic invaders, after whose advent their names either disappear altogether or at least occupy a much less prominent position than before. The names of these tribes of barbarians probably convey little information to the reader’s mind; but when we observe that they were probably of Slavonic extraction, while the Goths were pure Teutons, we see that we have here an act in that great drama in which Russia and Germany are at this day protagonists. Generally the Slav has rolled westwards over the lands of the Teuton. Here we have one of the rare cases in which the Eastward movement of the Teuton has ousted the Slav.

Ostrogoths

Thus then were the Goths by the beginning of the third century after Christ seated upon the Northern shores of the Euxine Sea. They appear to have soon become differentiated into two great tribes, named from their relative positions to the East and the West, Ostrogoths and Visigoths. It is curious to observe that throughout their varied career of conquest and subjugation, from the third century to the sixth, these relative positions continued unaltered. The two tribes, which were perhaps at first severed only by a single river, the Dniester or the Pruth, had for a time the whole breadth of Europe between them, but still the Visigoth was in the West, while reigning at Toulouse, and the Ostrogoth in the East, while serving in Hungary. If we may trust Jordanes, each tribe had already its royal house, supposed to be sprung from the seed of gods, to which it owed allegiance: the Visigoths serving the Balthi, and the Ostrogoths the illustrious Amals. Modern criticism has thrown some doubt upon the literal accuracy of this statement: in fact, we discover from the pages of Jordanes himself that Amals did not always reign over the Eastern tribe, nor kings of any race uninterruptedly over the Western. But, remembering the statement of Tacitus as to the stringent character of the kingship of the Gothones, and knowing that as a rule the prosperity of the German nations waxed and waned in proportion to the vigor of the institution of royalty among them, we may safely conjecture that, during the greater part of the two centuries which followed the migration to the Euxine, the Goths were under the dominion of kings whose daring leadership they followed in the adventurous raids of which we have next to trace the history.

For the two kindred peoples which were thus settled near the mouths of the great Scythian rivers and by misty shores of the Cimmerian Sea knew that they were now within easy reach of some of the richest countries in the world. Along the Southern coast of that Euxine, the Northern coast of which was theirs, were scattered the wealthy cities of Bithynia, Paphlagonia, and Pontus, from Heraclea to Trebizond. Through the narrow stream of the Bosphorus (not yet guarded and made illustrious by the New Rome, Constantinople) lay the way to the famous old-world cities of Greece and the temple-crowned islands of the Aegean. Further North, on the right (that is the West) of the dwellings of the Visigoths rose the long curving line of the Carpathian mountains. Few were the passes which led between these broad beech-covered highlands; but it was well known to the Visigothic dwellers by the Pruth and the Moldava that those passes led into a Roman land where gold mines and salt mines were worked by chained slave-gangs, where great breadths of cornland filled the valleys, and where stately cities like Apulum and Sarmizegetusa rose by the banks of the Maros or under the shadow of the Carpathians. This land was the province of Dacia, added to the Roman Empire by Trajan, and still forming a part of that Empire, notwithstanding the over-cautious policy of Hadrian, who dismantled the stone bridge which his great predecessor had thrown across the Danube, and who seems to have at one time dallied with the thought of abandoning so precarious an outpost of the Empire.

Whatever may have been the original extent of the Dacian province, there can be little doubt that now, at any rate, it comprised only Transylvania and the Western half of Hungary, with so much of Lesser (or Western) Wallachia as was necessary to connect it with the Roman base of operations in Moesia on the Southern bank of the Danube. Any one who looks at the map and sees how Dacia, thus defined, is folded away in the embrace of the Carpathian mountains, will understand why, long after the barbarians on the Lower Danube had begun to move uneasily upon the frontier, the Dacian outpost still preserved its fealty to Rome.

For one or two generations the migrated Goths may and probably have remained in some sort of peace and friendship with the Roman Empire. The wars with the nations whom they found settled before them in Southern Russia had for a time exhausted their energies, and as Rome was willing to pay to them (as also to others of her barbarian neighbors) subsidies which she called stipendia, and which she treated as pay, but the receiver might easily come to look upon as tribute, the Goths on their part were willing to remain quiet, while nursing the hope of an opportunity for proving their prowess in the rich lands beyond the River and the Sea.

The Scythian War, 247-270

That opportunity came at last, in the middle of the third century; but the “great Scythian war”, as it was called, which lasted for a generation and filled the middle years of that century with bloodshed, seems to have been begun, not by the Goths themselves, but by a rival nation. The Carpi, a proud and fierce people, whose dwellings bordered on the Gothic settlement, chafing at the thought that the Goths received yearly stipendia from the Empire, while they received none,  sent ambassadors to Tullius Menophilus, governor of Lower Moesia under Gordian III, to complain of this of the inequality and to demand its removal. Menophilus treated the ambassadors with studied insolence. He kept them waiting for days, while he inspected the maneuvers of his troops. When he at length condescended to receive them he was seated on a lofty tribunal, and surrounded by all the tallest soldiers of his legions. To show the ambassadors in how little account he held them, he continually broke in upon their discourse to converse with his staff on subjects foreign to their mission, thus making them feel how infinitely unimportant in his eyes were the affairs of the Carpi. Thus checked and humbled, the ambassadors could only stammer out a feeble remonstrance:

 “Why do the Goths receive such large moneys from the Emperor, and we nothing?”.

“The Emperor” said Menophilus, “is lord of great wealth, and graciously bestows it upon the needy”.

“But we too are in need of his liberality, and we are much better than the Goths”.

“Come again” said the governor, “in four months, and I will give you the Emperor’s answer”.

At the end of four months they came, and were put off for three months more. When they again appeared, Menophilus said, “The Emperor will give you not a denarius as a matter of bargain, but if you will go to him, fall prostrate before his throne, and humbly beg him for a gift, he may perchance comply with your request”. Sore at heart, but humbled and overawed, the ambassadors left the presence of the haughty governor. They did not venture to the distant court of the dreaded Emperor, and for the three years that Menophilus administered the province they did not dare to break out into insurrection.

At the end of that time it seems that the Carpi took up arms, poured across the Danube into Moesia and destroyed the once flourishing city of Histros (or Istros) at the mouth of the great river. We hear nothing more of this invasion of the Carpi, but soon the Goths too began to move. By this time the confusion in the affairs of the Empire under the men whom I have styled the Barrack Emperors, had become indescribable. Civil war, pestilence, bankruptcy, were all brooding over the doomed land. The soldiers had forgotten how to fight, the rulers how to govern. It seemed as if the effete and unwieldy Empire would break down under its own weight almost before the barbarians were ready to enter into the vacant inheritance.

Philip, Emperor, 244-249.

One of the worst of these Barrack Emperors was Philip the Arabian. He availed himself of his position as Praetorian Prefect to starve the soldiers whom the young Emperor Gordian was leading upon an expedition against Persia, and then used the mutiny thus occasioned as a weapon for his master’s destruction and a lever for his own elevation to the throne. Having gained the purple by treachery and deceit, he stained it by cowardice and crime. Soon after his accession the Goths began to complain that their annual stipendia were being withheld from them, an omission which was probably due, not so much to any deliberate change of policy, as to the utter disorganization into which the finances of the administration of the Empire had fallen under the indolent Arabian who bore the title of Augustus. This default turned them at once from friends and foederati of the Empire into enemies and invaders.

Under their king Ostrogotha (whose name perhaps indicates that the Ostrogothic half of the nation took the lead in this expedition) they crossed the Danube, and devastated Moesia and Thrace. Decius the Senator, a man of stern and austere character, was sent by Philip to repel the invasion. He fought unsuccessfully, and indignant at the slackness of his troops, to whose neglect he attributed the Gothic passage of the Danube, he dismissed large numbers of them from the army as unworthy of the name of soldiers. The disbanded legionaries sought the Gothic camp, and Ostrogotha, who had probably retired across the Danube at the end of his first campaign, formed a new and more powerful army, consisting of 30,000 Goths, of the Imperial deserters, of 3000 Carpi, of Vandals, and Taifali, and Peucini from the pine-covered island of Peucé at the mouth of the Danube. To the second campaign Ostrogotha did not go forth himself, but sent in his stead two able captains, by name Argaith and Guntheric. Again the barbarians crossed the Danube, again they ravaged Moesia, but, as if this time not mere booty but conquest was their object, they laid formal siege to Marcianople, the great city built by Trajan on the Northern slope of the Balkans, named by him after his sister Marciana, and now represented by the important city of Schumla. But the fierce, irregular onset of the barbarians was ill adapted for the slow, patient, scientific work of taking a Roman city. In their failure to capture Marcianople we have the first of a long series of unsuccessful sieges which we shall meet with in the history of the next three centuries, and which culminated in the great failure of the Ostrogoths to re-capture Rome from Belisarius. On this occasion the Goths received a large sum of money from the inhabitants of the untaken city, and returned to their own land.

For some time the further inroads of the Goths were delayed by a quarrel with the kindred tribe of the Gepidae, the Torpids of the primaeval migration from Scandinavia. This tribe, still lagging in the race, had not reached the shores of the Euxine, and were apparently stationed by the upper waters of the Vistula, perhaps in the region which we now call Gallicia. Filled with envy at the successes of the Goths, and dissatisfied with their narrow boundaries, they first made a furious, successful, and almost exterminating raid upon their neighbors, the Burgundians, and then their king Fastida sent to Ostrogotha, saying, “I am hemmed in with mountains and choked with forests; give me land or meet me in battle”. “Deeply”, said Ostrogotha, “as I should regret that tribes so nearly allied as you and we, should meet in impious and fratricidal strife, yet land I neither can nor will give you”. They joined battle “at the town of Galtis, past which flows the river Auha”; the Gepidae were thoroughly beaten, and Fastida fled humiliated to his home. So many fell in the battle that, as Jordanes hints with a grim smile, “they no longer found their land too strait for them”.

After this episode the Goths returned to their more important business, the war with Rome. Cniva was now their King, and Decius, the general in the previous campaign, was Emperor of Rome. This man is unfavorably known to us in ecclesiastical history as having set on foot one of the fiercest persecutions of the Christians, that namely to which the illustrious Cyprian fell a victim. Yet Decius was no mere tyrant and voluptuary, persecuting and torturing for the sake of a new sensation. He had in him something of the heroic spirit of his great namesakes, the Decii of the Samnite wars. He was willing, even as they had been, to sacrifice himself for the glory of Rome, to which the Goths without and the Christians within were, in his eyes, equally hostile; and his calm readiness to accept death in the discharge of his duty, showed that he shared the heroism of the martyrs whose blood he blindly shed.

Invasion of the Empire, 249

King Cniva, with 70,000 of his subjects, crossed the Danube at the place (about thirty-four miles above Bustchuk) which is still called Novograd, and was then known as Novae. In his first campaign he fought with varying fortune against Gallus, the duke of Moesia, and Decius the young Caesar, whose father the Emperor appears to have remained at Rome during the first year of his reign. Nicopolis was besieged by the Goths, but of course not taken. Still Cniva moved southwards, first lurking in the fastnesses of the Balkans, and afterwards crossing that range and appearing before Philippopolis, now the capital of Eastern Roumelia, then an important city at the intersection of the highways in the Thracian plain. Hither vast numbers of panic-stricken provincials had flocked for refuge, and the Roman generals were naturally anxious to raise the siege. The young Decius led his legions over the rugged passes of the Balkans (a serious barrier to the passage of troops, as the Russian generals found in the campaign of 1877): and having surmounted these he gave his men and horses a few days rest in the city of Beroa. Here Cniva with his Goths fell upon him like a thunderbolt, inflicted terrible slaughter on the surprised Roman soldiers, and forced Decius to flee with a few followers to Novae, where Gallus with a large and still unshaken host was guarding the Danubian frontier of Moesia.

After this battle the disheartened defenders of Philippopolis soon surrendered it to the barbarians. Vast quantities of treasure were taken, 100,000 of the citizens and refugees (so said the annalists) were massacred within the walls of the city, and, what might have been yet more disastrous for the Empire, Priscus, governor of Macedonia and brother of the late Emperor Philip, having been taken prisoner, was persuaded to assume the Imperial purple, or persuaded the Goths to allow him to do so, and declare himself a rival Augustus to Decius. Thus early in their career were the Goths resorting to the expedient of creating an Anti-Emperor.

The proclamation of Priscus and the tidings of the Gothic successes drew the Emperor Decius to the scene 0f action. He probably left Rome at the end of the year 250 or the beginning of 251; and the persecution of the Christians seems to have abated somewhat on his departure. Priscus, who had been declared a public enemy by the Senate, was soon killed, and for a time the Gothic campaign went prosperously for the Empire. In the North, Gallus, duke of the frontier, collected the troops from Novae and Oiscus (each the depôt of a legion) into a powerful army. In the South the Emperor provided for the safety of the rich and still unviolated province of Achaia by sending a brave young officer named Claudius to hold the pass of Thermopylae against the invaders, should they turn their steps southward. While the Romans gained confidence from the arrival of the Emperor, the Goths, to whom even their victories had been costly, and who were perhaps demoralized by the sack of Philippopolis, lost theirs. They found themselves hard pressed by Decius, and offered, we are told, to relinquish all their captives and all their spoil if they might be allowed to return in peace to their own land. Decius refused their request, and ordered Gallus and his army to obstruct the line of their homeward march, while he himself pursued them from behind. If we may trust a Roman historian (which is doubtful, since a beaten army is always ready with the cry of treachery), Gallus, already coveting the Imperial crown, opened negotiations with the barbarians, and these by a concerted arrangement posted themselves near a very deep swamp, into which by a feigned flight they drew Decius and his troops. The Romans, floundering in the bog, soon became a disorderly multitude. Moreover, at this critical period, the younger Decius fell, pierced by a Gothic arrow. The troops offered their rough and hasty sympathy to the bereaved father, who answered with stoical calmness, “Let no one be cast down: the loss of one soldier is no serious injury to the State”. He himself soon after perished. With a vast multitude of his officers and men, he was sucked in by that fatal swamp, and not even his corpse, nor those of thousands of his followers, were ever recovered.

The date of this disastrous battle can be fixed with considerable certainty in the last days of the month of November, 251. The place was (says Jordanes) “Abrittus, a city of Moesia”, the site of which has yet to be discovered, but which was probably somewhere in the marshy ground near the mouth of the Danube. It is interesting to note that the Gothic historian says that “even to his day it was still called Ara Decii, because there, before the battle, the Emperor had miserably offered sacrifice to his idols”.

The death of a Roman Emperor and the loss of his army in battle with barbarians from out of the Scythian wilderness was an event which sent a shudder through the whole Roman world, and raised new and wild hopes in all the nations that swarmed around the long circumference of the Empire. There were three great disasters in the course of four centuries which seemed to indicate that the rule of Rome over the world might not be so eternal as the legends upon her medals and the verses of her poets declared to be its destiny. The first was the defeat of Varus and his legions in the Saltus Teutoburgiensis; the second was this catastrophe of Decius in the marshes of the Dobrudscha; the third was the similar calamity which will be described in a future chapter, and which befell the Emperor Valens on the plains of Hadrianople.

For the time however the actual danger of invasion from the Goths was at an end. These barbarians were still bent on plunder rather than on conquest, and being intent on returning to their Scythian homes with the spoil of Thrace, they condescended to fulfill the compact which they had made—if indeed they had made it—with Gallus, late duke of Moesia and now wearer of the purple and lord of the Roman world. The terms of the treaty were that they should return to their own land with all their booty, with the multitude of captives, many of them men of noble birth, whom they had taken at Philippopolis and elsewhere, and that the Emperor should pay them a certain sum of money every year. This yearly payment might be treated, according to the nationality of the speaker, as a mere renewal of the Stipendia of previous years (no doubt greatly increased in amount) or as an actual tribute paid by the Roman Augustus to the Gothic king.

However, even this ignominiously purchased peace with the barbarians was of short duration. The time was one of the darkest in all that dark century; Emperors were rising and falling in rapid succession (Gallus 251, Aemilian 253, Valerian 254); a terrible pestilence which was to last fifteen years, bred in Ethiopia, had stalked down the valley of the Nile and was wasting the Asiatic and Illyrian provinces, and on the Eastern frontier the never-long-slumbering hostility of the Persian king was arousing itself for a fresh attack on the exhausted Empire. It was apparently during these disasters that the Goths crossed the Carpathians, and finally wrested Dacia from her Roman rulers (circa 255), though this important event, recorded by no historian, can only be inferred by us from the sudden cessation of Roman inscriptions and coins in Dacia about this time

But the chief feature of the “Scythian war” which soon followed, and one which brings the Goths before us in a new capacity, as the forerunners of our own Saxon and Scandinavian forefathers, was its maritime character. The Scythians (under which generic name we have to include, not the Goths only, but also the Carpi, Heruli, and other neighboring tribes) seem to have pressed down to the sea-shore and compelled the Roman and Greek settlers in the Crimea, by the mouth of the Dnieper and along the shores of the Sea of Azof, to supply them with ships, sailors, and pilots, for buccaneering expeditions against the lands on the other side of the misty Euxine. The chronology of these events is difficult and obscure, and it will not be desirable to attempt to discuss it here, but the main outline of the four chief expeditions may be sketched as follows. I shall use the generic name “Scythians”, which I find in our Greek authorities, without attempting in each case to say what was the share taken in them by the Goths, properly so called, and what that of their allies.

Maritime Expeditions.

The first voyage of these new barbarian Argonauts was made to a city of that same Colchis from which Jason brought back Medea and the Golden Fleece. Pityus (Soukoum Kaleh), at the eastern end of the Euxine, once a flourishing Greek city, had been destroyed by Caucasian highlanders, and rebuilt by the Romans, and was now surrounded by a very strong wall and in the possession of a splendid harbour. The Roman governor, Successianus, made a spirited defence, and the barbarians after sustaining severe loss were compelled to retire. Upon this the Emperor Valerian promoted Successianus to the high, the almost royal dignity of Praetorian Prefect, and removed him to Antioch that he might assist him in rebuilding that city (ruined by the Persians) and in preparing for a fresh campaign against the Persian king. Apparently the loss of one man’s courage and skill was fatal to the defenders of Pityus: for when the barbarians, having made a feigned attack on another part of the coast, rapidly returned, they took that stronghold without difficulty. The ships in the harbour and the sailors impressed into the Scythian service smoothed their way to further successes. The great city of Trapezuntium (Trebizond), on the southern shore of the Black Sea, being surrounded by a double wall and strongly garrisoned, might have been expected to prove an insuperable obstacle. But the Scythians, who had discovered that the defenders of the city kept a lax watch, and passed their time in feasting and drunkenness, quietly collected a quantity of wood which they heaped up one night against the lowest part of the walls, and so mounted to an easy conquest. The demoralized Roman soldiers poured out of the city by the gate opposite to that by which the Scythians were entering. The barbarians thus came into possession of an untold quantity of gold, and captives, and, after sacking the temple and wrecking the stateliest of the public buildings, returned by sea to their own land.

Bithynia invaded, 259

Their success stimulated a large neighboring tribe of Scythians to undertake a similar enterprise. These, however, dreading the uncertainties of the navigation of the Euxine, marched by land from the mouths of the Danube to the little lake of Philea, about thirty miles north-west of Byzantium. There they found a large population of fishermen, whom they compelled to render them the same service with their boats which the men by the Sea of Azof had rendered to their countrymen. Guided by a certain Chrysogonus, whose Grecian name suggests that he was a deserter from the cause of civilization, they sailed boldly through the Bosphorus, wrested the strong position of Chalcedon at its mouth from a cowardly Roman army far superior to them in numbers, and then proceeded to lay waste at their leisure Nicomedia, Nicaea, and other rich cities of Bithynia. The men who had overcome so many difficulties were, after all, stopped by the Rhyndacus, an apparently inconsiderable stream which falls into the Sea of Marmora. Retracing their steps, therefore, they tranquilly burned all the Bithynian cities which they had hitherto only plundered, and piling their vast heaps of spoil on wagons and on ships, they returned to their own land.

The foregoing account of this inroad of the barbarians is given to us by Zosimus the Greek historian. The Goth Jordanes, whose historical perspective is not extremely accurate, informs us that during the expedition they also sacked Troy and Ilium, which were just beginning to breathe again for a little space after that sad war with Agamemnon. But neither Chalcedon nor Troy seems to have imprinted itself so deeply in the barbarian memory as a certain town in Thrace named Anchialus (Bourghaz), built just where the range of the Balkans slopes down into the Euxine Sea. For at or near to Anchialus there were certain warm springs renowned above all others in the world for their healing virtues, and greatly did the Goths delight to wash therein. One can imagine the children of the North, after the fatigue of sacking so many towns, beneath the hot sun of Asia Minor, rejoicing in the refreshment of these nature-heated baths.” And having tarried there many days they thence returned home”.

The tidings of these ravages reached the Emperor Valerian at Antioch, where he was still engaged in deliberating whether he should arrest the onward movement of the Persians by war or diplomacy. Sending a trusted counsellor, Felix, to repair the fortifications of Byzantium, in the hope of thus making a repetition of the Scythian raids impossible, Valerian at length marched eastwards against the king of Persia. He marched to his own destruction, to the treachery of Macrianus, to the fatal interview with Sapor, to his long and ignominious captivity at Persepolis. The story which was current fifty years later, that the haughty Persian used the captive Emperor as a horse-block, putting his foot on Valerian’s neck whenever he mounted his steed, and remarking with a sneer that this was a real triumph, and not like the imaginary triumphs which the Romans painted on their walls, may have been the rhetorical invention of a later age : but it seems beyond question that the aged Emperor was treated with studied insolence and severity, and that when he died, his skin, painted in mockery the color of Imperial purple, was preserved, a ghastly trophy, in the temple of Persepolis.

His son Gallienus, who had been associated with him in the Empire, and whose right to rule was challenged by usurpers in almost every province of the Empire, was a man of excellent abilities, but absolutely worthless character, a poco-curante on the throne of the world at a time when all the strength and all the earnestness of the greatest of the Caesars would hardly have sufficed for that arduous position. Gallienus accepted both his fathers captivity and the Empire’s dismemberment with flippant serenity. “Egypt”, said one of his ministers, “has revolted”. “What of that? Cannot we dispense with Egyptian flax?”. “Fearful earthquakes have happened in Asia Minor, and the Scythians are ravaging all the country”. “But cannot we do without Lydian saltpetre?”. When Gaul was lost he gave a merry laugh, and said, “Do you think the Republic will be in danger if the Consul’s robes cannot be made of the Gaulish tartan?”.

Two or three years after the commencement of the captivity of Valerian, a third expedition of the Scythians, which must have been partly maritime, brought the barbarians to another well-known spot, to the Ionic city of Ephesus, where they signalized their sojourn by the destruction of that magnificent Temple of Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, of whose hundred marble columns, wreathed round by sculptured figures in high relief, an English explorer has lately discovered the pathetically defaced ruins.

But a holier shrine of art than even Ephesus was to be visited by the unwelcome pilgrimage of the Teutons. Four or five years later some warriors of the Herulian tribe (accompanied possibly by some of the Goths properly so called), with a fleet which is said to have consisted of five hundred ships—if they should not rather be called mere boats—sailed again through the Bosphorus, took Byzantium, ravaged some of the islands of the Archipelago, and landing in Greece, wasted not only Corinth, Sparta, and Argos, but even Athens herself, with fire and sword. The soft and cultured Athenians, lately immersed in the friendly rivalries of their professors of rhetoric, and who had not for centuries seen a spear thrown in anger, were terrified by the apparition of these tall, gaunt, skin-clothed barbarians under their walls. They abandoned their beautiful city without a struggle, and as many as could do so escaped to the demes, the little villages scattered along the heights of Hymettus and Cithaeron. It was probably during the occupation of Athens by the barbarians which followed this surrender that a characteristic incident occurred. A troop of Teutonic warriors roaming through the city in search of something to destroy, came to one of the great libraries which were the glory of Athens. They began to carry out the parchment rolls, full of unintelligible learning, and to pile them up in a great heap, intending to behold a magnificent bonfire. “Not so, my sons”, said a gray-bearded Gothic veteran; “leave these scrolls untouched, that the Greeks may in time to come, as they have in time past, waste their manhood in poring over their wearisome contents. So will they ever fall, as now, an easy prey to the strong unlearned sons of the North”.

That the Gothic veteran spoke only a half-truth when he uttered these words was soon shown by the valiant and wisely planned onset, which was made upon the barbarians by Dexippus, rhetorician, philosopher, and historian, who at the head of only 2000 men, co-operating apparently with an Imperial fleet, succeeded in expelling the barbarians from Athens, and to some extent effaced the stigma which their recent cowardice had brought upon the name of the Greeks. Details as to the siege and counter-siege are alike wanting, but we still have the speech, truly said to be not altogether unworthy of a place in the pages of Thucydides, in which the soldier-sophist, while cautioning his followers against rash and unsupported skirmishes, breathes a high heroic spirit into their hearts, and appeals to them to show themselves fit inheritors of the great traditions of their forefathers. “Thus shall we win from men now living, and from those who are yet to be, the meed of ever-to-be-remembered glory,proving in very deed that even in the midst of our calamities the old spirit of the Athenians is not abated. Let us therefore set our children and all our dearest ones upon the hazard of this battle for which we now array ourselves, calling upon the all-seeing gods to be our helpers”. When they heard these words, the Athenians were greatly strengthened, and begged him to lead them on to battle, in which, as has been already said, they appear to have won a complete victory.

The Emperor Claudius II. Battle of Naissus.

 

Gallienus himself appears to have had some share in a further discomfiture of the Heruli, which was followed by the surrender of their leader Naulobates, who entered the Imperial service and obtained the dignity of a Roman Consul. But the Emperor was soon recalled to Italy by the news that his general Aureolus had assumed the purple, apparently in the city of Milan. Gallienus hastened thither and began the siege of the city, which lasted some months. Before its close, Aureolus, who found himself hard pressed, succeeded in forming a conspiracy among the officers of Gallienus, which ended in the assassination of that prince while he was engaged in repelling a sortie of the besieged.

The Roman world again awoke to hopefulness when the reign of the Imperial voluptuary was ended, and when out of the nightmare-dream of plots, assassinations, and civil wars, the strong and brave Illyrian soldier Claudius, who had already borne a leading part in the defence of Moesia, emerged as sole ruler of the Empire. Aureolus was defeated and put to death; the Alamanni, who from the lands of the Main and the Neckar had penetrated into Italy as far as the Lake of Garda and menaced Verona were vanquished, and half of their host were slain. After some months spent at Rome in restoring peace to the troubled state, Claudius turned his steps towards his own native Illyricum, in order to rescue that portion of the Empire from the avalanche of barbarism, which was thundering over it. It was indeed time for Rome to put forth her whole Levy en strength. The Goths with all their kindred tribes were pouring themselves upon Thrace and Macedonia in vaster numbers than ever. The previous movement of these nations had been probably but robber-inroads; this was a national immigration. The number of the ships (or skiffs) which they prepared on the river Dniester, is stated by Zosimus at 6000. This is probably an exaggeration or an accidental corruption of the historian’s text; but 2000, which is the figure given by Ammianus, is a sufficiently formidable number, even of the small craft to which the estimate refers. And the invading host itself, including doubtless camp-followers and slaves, perhaps some women and children, is said, with a concurrence of testimony which we dare not disregard, to have reached the enormous total of 320,000.

In order to obtain any sense from the conflicting accounts of this campaign, we must suppose that this vast Gothic horde made their attack partly by sea and partly by land. While the 2000 ships sailed over the Euxine, and, after vainly attacking Tomi, Marcianople, and Byzantium, traversed the swift Bosphorus, and again sought the pleasant islands of the Aegean, the rest of the host, with women and children, with wagons and camp-followers, must have crossed the Danube and pressed southwards across the devastated plains of Moesia. The sea-rovers, who had suffered from storms and from collisions in the narrow waters of the Sea of Marmora, reached at length, in diminished numbers, the promontory of Athos, and there repaired their ships. They then proceeded to besiege the cities of Cassandreia (once better known under the name of Potidaea) and of Thessalonica. Strong as were the fortifications of the latter important city, it would perhaps have yielded to the barbarians, had not tidings reached them that Claudius was in Moesia, and that their brethren of the Northern army were in danger. After a skirmish in the valley of the Vardar in which they lost 3000 men, they crossed the Balkans and, perhaps uniting with their Northern brethren, gathered round the army of Claudius who was ascending the valley of the Morava and had reached the city of Naissus. The battle which followed looked at first like a Roman defeat. After great slaughter on both sides the Imperial troops gave way, but coming back by unfrequented paths, they fell upon the barbarians in all the joy of their victory, and slew of them 50,000 men. After this defeat the sea-rovers seem to have returned to their ships, and abandoning the siege of Thessalonica, to have wasted their energies in desultory attacks on Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus; but partly from the ravages of the plague which was at this time desolating the shores of the Levant, and partly from the energetic attack of the Alexandrian fleet under the command of the valiant officer Probus (afterwards Emperor), they suffered so severely that they were obliged to return home having done no memorable deed.

As to their brethren of the land army, they made a rampart of their wagons, behind which for some time they kept the Romans at bay. They then turned southwards into Macedonia, but so great was the pressure of hunger upon them that they killed and ate the cattle that drew the wagons, thus abandoning their last chance of returning to their northern homes. The Roman cavalry shut them up into the passes of the Balkans; the too eager infantry attacking them were repulsed with some loss. Claudius, or the generals whom he had left in command, resumed the waiting game, and at length after the barbarians had endured the horrors of a winter among the Balkan fastnesses, aggravated by the miseries of the pestilence, which raged there as well as in the islands of the Aegean, their stout Gothic hearts were broken and they surrendered themselves unconditionally to their conqueror.

It was in the following words, whose boastfulness seems to have been almost justified by the facts, that Claudius, who received the surname Gothicus in celebration of his victory, announced the issue of the campaign to the governor of Illyricum:

 “Claudius to Brocchus.—We have destroyed 320,000 of the Goths; we have sunk 2000 of their ships. The rivers are bridged over with shields; with swords and lances all the shores are covered. The fields are hidden from sight under the superincumbent bones; no road is free from them; an immense encampment of wagons is deserted. We have taken such a number of women that each soldier can have two or three concubines allotted to him”

Of the males in the diminished remnant of the Gothic army who were admitted to quarter, some probably entered the service of their vanquisher as foederati and many remained as slaves to plough the fields which they had once hoped to conquer for their own.

But the terrible pestilence, which more than Roman sword had defeated the armies of the barbarians, intensified by the unburied corpses strewn over the desolated land, entered the Roman camp and demanded the noblest of the host as a victim. In the spring of 270 Claudius Gothicus died, having reigned only two memorable years. He was succeeded1 by another brave Illyrian, like himself of humble origin, the well-known conqueror of Zenobia, Aurelian. This Emperor, of whose exploits when still only a tribune marvellous stories were told, who was reported to have slain in one day eight-and-forty Sarmatians, and in the course of a campaign nine hundred and fifty; this soldier who had been so fond of his weapons and so quick to use them that his surname in the army had been “Hand-on-sword”, distinguished himself in the history of the Empire by a wise stroke of peaceful policy, the final abandonment of Dacia.

This province, which ever since the Marcomannic war at the close of the second century had been a precarious possession of the Empire, had now been for fifteen years freely traversed by the Goths and their kindred tribes. Aurelian saw that the energies of the State would be over-taxed in the endeavor to retain an isolated outwork such as Dacia had ever been, and that it would be wiser to make the Lower Danube once more the limit of the Empire in this quarter. Details are unfortunately not given us as to the manner in which the Romans relinquished Dacia. Had they been preserved, they would probably have furnished an interesting commentary on the yet more obscure abandonment of Britain a century and a half later. But we are told that the Emperor withdrew his army and left Dacia to the provincials (a strange expression for the new comers from Scythia) despairing of being able to retain it, and the peoples led forth from thence he settled in Moesia, and made there a province which he called his own Dacia, and which now divides the two Moesias (Superior and Inferior). This new Dacia of Aurelian, a curious attempt to gloss over the real loss of a province, consisted of the eastern half of Servia and the western end of Bulgaria, and was eventually divided into two smaller provinces, Dacia Ripensis whose capital was the strong city of Batiaria on the Danube, and Dacia Mediterranea whose capital Sardica became famous in the fourth century as the seat of an Ecclesiastical Council, and under its modern name of Sofia is now again famous as the modern capital of Bulgaria.

In abandoning the old trans-Danubian Dacia to the Goths, Aurelian may probably have made some sort of stipulation with them that they should not again cross the great river, nor sail the Euxine Sea as enemies to Rome. The recession of the Imperial frontier, by whatever conditions it was accompanied, was undoubtedly a piece of real statesmanship. Could a similar policy have been pursued, cautiously and consistently, all round the frontiers of the Roman Empire, it is allowable to conjecture that that Empire, though in somewhat less than its widest circumference, might still be standing.

After the reign of Aurelian the Goths remained for nearly a century on terms of peace, though not unbroken peace, with Rome. The skirmishes or battles which caused the Emperors Tacitus and Probus to  put “Victoria Gothica” on their coins, and in right of which Diocletian and Maximian added “Gothici” to their other proud titles of conquest, were probably but the heaving of the waves after the great tempest of Gothic invasion had ceased to blow. In the Civil War between Constantine and Licinius, Gothic foederati fought under the banners of Constantine, and at a later period of his reign 40,000 of the same auxiliaries under their kings Ariaric and Aoric followed the Roman eagles on various expeditions. But Constantine himself, intervening in some quarrel between the Goths and their Sarmatian [Slavonic] neighbors, took part with the latter, and conducted operations against the Goths, which are said to have caused the death of near 100,000 of their number from cold and hunger. Hostages were then given by the defeated barbarians, among them the son of king Ariaric, and the usual friendly relations between the Goths and the Empire were resumed.

Recovery of the Empire.

These hundred years of nearly uninterrupted peace may have been caused partly by the exhaustion resulting from the invasions in the reign of Gallienus and the remembrance of the terrible defeat which the Goths had sustained at the hands of Claudius. Some increasing softness of manners and some power of appreciating the blessings of civilization, the result of their intercourse with Roman provincials on both sides of the Danube, may have contributed to the same result. But doubtless the main reason for this century of peace was the greatly increased strength of the Empire, precisely upon her Danubian frontier. After the wars of Gallienus a series of brave and capable Illyrian soldiers mounted the throne. Not only Claudius, but Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, Maximian, Constantius, Constantine, all deduced their origin from Illyricum. Some of these men had risen to eminence in the terrible Gothic struggle. All of them, with eyes quickened by affection for their own fatherland, saw the necessity of strengthening this middle section of the Empire’s long line of defence. It was in order to be near the vital point which the Scythian marauders had penetrated that Diocletian took up his abode at the Bithynian city of Nicomedia. It was in continuation of the same policy and by one of the highest inspirations of statesmanship that the world has witnessed, that Constantine planted his new Rome beside the Bosphorus. Thus the Scythian invasions, the history of which we have been laboring to recover from the discordant fragments of the chroniclers, hold a prominent position among the causes which have brought about the endless “Eastern Question” of today. And, without doubt, as the terrible Gothic invasions contributed to the foundation of Constantinople, so the foundation of that city and the transference of so much of the strength of the Empire from the Tiber to the Golden Horn, had the effect of striking terror and despair into the hearts of the barbarians on the northern shore of the Euxine, and had much to do with the century of comparative peace between “Gothia” and “Romania”

Of this period of Gothic sojourn in Dacia we have one interesting relic in the celebrated Buzeu Ring (sometimes called the Petrossa ring, Petrossa being the nearest town to the place of discovery, or the Bucharest ring, from its being now deposited in the Museum at Bucharest). This is a golden arm-ring, elastic and snake-shaped, and is part of a large treasure of golden ornaments found at Buzeu in Little Wallachia, in the year 1838. Upon the flat surface of the ring is carved, or rather stamped with a hammer and a sharp instrument, the following Runic inscription, which may be translated either “Holy to the Temple of the Goths”, or “Holy to the new Temple of the Goths”. There is some little difficulty about the middle part of the inscription, but none as to its beginning and end, which are admitted to contain the name of the Gothic people and the Teutonic adjective for “holy”. From the heathen character of the inscription it must be referred to a pretty early period in the Gothic occupation of Dacia, say between 250 and 350. It has been suggested that the great intrinsic value of the gold, forming the Buzeu hoard, points to the dedication of the spoils of some great triumph—the plunder, it may be, of the camp of Decius, or the ransom of the wealthy city of Marcianople. But this is of course mere conjecture.

Civilization of the Visigoths.

One result of the settlement in Dacia was probably to broaden the line of demarcation between the two nations of the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths, if indeed it did not (as might be argued with some probability) for the first time divide the Gothic people into those two sections. Everything in the story of the barbarian migrations shows us how powerful was the moral, we might almost say the spiritual, influence, exercised by the stately fabric of Roman civilization upon the barbarians who : “With straitened habits and with tastes starved small”, came to burrow in its abandoned chambers. True, Aurelian had invited all the old inhabitants who chose to do so to leave the old Dacia and become settlers in his new Dacia south of the Danube, but many probably did not accept the invitation, and in any event there was much Roman which could not migrate. The great roads, the cities, the mines, the baths, the camps, the temples remained, to impress, to fascinate, to attract the minds of the barbarians. Legends of the mysterious people who had wrought these mighty works, tales of vast treasure-hoards, guarded by dwarfs or by serpents, would be told by Gothic mothers to their children. In some cases the ruined Roman city would be shunned as a dwelling-place by the Teutonic settlers, oppressed by a nameless fear of the spirits that might be haunting the spot. But even so, their own rude town would inevitably grow up near to the ancient civitas for the sake of the roads which led to it. The experience of all other German settlements within the limits of the Empire warrants us in asserting a priori that the influence of their settlement in Dacia must have been a civilizing one on the Gothic warriors, that it must have instilled into them a certain dissatisfaction with their own dull, unprogressive Past, and must have prepared their minds to admire, and in some measure to desire, the great intellectual heritage of Rome. And, à posteriori, we find precisely in the Visigothic nation a capacity for culture and for assimilation with their Roman subjects, greater and earlier than that possessed by any other of the barbarian invaders of the Empire; and we are surely entitled to assume that the century passed in Roman Dacia had something to do with this result.

But it is the Visigothic branch alone of which we may think as thus silently transformed by Roman influences. The Ostrogoths, dwelling in the vast plains of Lithuania and Southern Russia, had no such trophies of civilization around them as those which met the gaze unchanged of their Western brethren. Some little civilizing influence may have been exerted upon the coast-dwellers and the inhabitants of the Crimea by the Greek cities that were scattered helplessly among them: but the greater part of the Ostrogothic people, having been “Scythians” of the steppes for centuries, remained Scythians still, barbarous, illiterate, untouched by the intellectual superiority of Rome.  

Hermanric the Ostrogoth.

As far, however, as we can trace anything of the political system of the Goths at this period, the less cultured part of the nation maintained a sort of ascendency over their Visigothic brethren. The kings, Ariaric and Aoric, whom we have met with as fighting for or against the Emperor Constantine, may have belonged to either section. The reign of the next king, Geberic, was chiefly distinguished by a successful attack on the Vandals, whom he drove out from their settlements on the western border of Dacia, and forced to take shelter under the Roman supremacy in the province of Pannonia. Geberic also may have been either Visigoth or Ostrogoth, though there is something in the way in which his name is introduced by Jordanes which seems to make the latter the more probable supposition. But after Geberic we come to Hermanric, noblest of the Amals, who subdued many warlike nations of the North and forced them to obey his laws, and here we are undoubtedly upon Ostrogothic ground. Jordanes compares him to Alexander the Great, and enumerates thirteen nations with barbarous names (scarcely one of which corresponds to any that was ever mentioned by any historian before or since), all of whom obeyed the mighty Hermanric. There is a sort of mythical character about all the information that we receive concerning this Ostrogothic conqueror; but as it is said, with some appearance of truthfulness, that he extended his dominions even to the Aestii, who dwelt upon the amber-producing shore of the Baltic, his kingdom, which evidently included many Slavonic as well as Teutonic tribes, must have occupied the greater part of Southern Russia and Lithuania, and was probably much the largest dominion then governed by any single barbarian ruler.

Did the royal power of Hermanric include any overlordship over the Visigothic branch of the nation? It is difficult to answer this question decisively; but, upon the whole, notwithstanding many traces of independent action, it seems probable that the Visigoths were, however loosely, incorporated in the great confederacy of barbarian tribes whereof Hermanric was the head. Their own immediate rulers bore some title of less commanding import than that of King, which has been translated by the Roman historians into the vague word Judex (Judge). The inferiority of the title, and the fact that it was apparently borne by several persons at a time, are clear indications that a disintegrating process was at work in the Visigothic nation, and that the unity which a monarchical constitution gives was beginning to disappear under the influence of peaceful contact with the higher civilization of the Empire.

At a later period the reader’s attention will be called to some of the interesting but difficult questions connected with German kingship. Meanwhile it may be well that he should note for himself how far the authority of the king was limited by the necessity of obtaining for his decisions the approval of the armed nation, and what was the effect of warlike and of peaceful intercourse with Rome, either in consolidating or in loosening the regal power among the barbarians. These are really the two most important points in the constitutional history of the Germanic tribes; and while complete and well-rounded theories concerning them are much more easily formed than solidly established, the careful observer of a multitude  of little facts which meet us in the course of the  narrative, will probably arrive at some general conclusion which will not be far from the truth.

One thing may be at once stated, that the invariable tendency of war, especially of war in critical dangerous times, was to exalt the kingly office. The same national necessities which led the United States of America to entrust almost despotic authority, under the name of “the War-Power” to President Lincoln during the late war of secession, led to the disappearance of many a Gothic and Frankish kinglet, and to the concentration of supreme power in the hands of an Alaric, a Theodoric, or a Clovis during the long struggle for victory with Rome.

On the other hand, when “Romania” and “Barbaricum” were at peace one with another, the influence of the Empire on barbarian royalty was, as has been already said, disintegrating. The majesty of the Augustus at Rome or Constantinople overshadowed the rude and barbarous splendor of the Gothic Thiudans. His pretensions to be descended from the gods were met with a quiet sneer by the Greek merchant who brought his wares to sell in the Teutonic home­stead. Touching at so many points the great and civilized world-Empire, from which they were often separated only by a ford or a ferry, and touching it in friendly and profitable intercourse, the barbarians were ever in danger of losing that feeling of national unity which both lent strength to the institution of kingship, and received strength therefrom. The Governor of the province on the opposite side of the river became more to the Teuton as his own distant and seldom-seen King became less. The barbarian began to forget that he was a Goth or a Vandal or an Alaman, and to think of himself as a Moesian, a Pannonian, or a Gaulish provincial. Thus did Rome during the long intervals of peace win many a bloodless victory over her barbarian neighbors.

process, which was probably going on during all the first half of the fourth century, and which  seemed to foretell a very different result from that of which actually came to pass, was powerfully aided as far as the Visigoths were concerned, by two momentous changes which were being introduced among them. The worship of Wodan and Thunor was being displaced by the religion of Christ, and the Gothic language was giving birth to a literature. The chief agent in these two events, full of importance even to the present day, was a man who a hundred years ago would have been spoken of as an obscure ecclesiastic, but for whom in our own day the new science of the History of Speech has asserted his rightful position, as certainly “attaining to the first three” in the century in which he lived. If the greatest name of that century be admitted to be Constantine, and if the second place be yielded to Athanasius, at least the third may be claimed for the missionary bishop of the Goths and the first translator of the Bible into a barbarian tongue, the noble-hearted Ulfilas.

Bishop Ulfilas, 311-381

Ulfilas, who was born probably in 311 was not of pure Teutonic extraction, but was descended from Cappadocian ancestors who had been carried captive by the Goths, probably during that raid into Asia Minor which ended at the baths of Anchialus. He was however himself, in heart and by speech, a Goth, and in the course of his life he became master both of the Greek and Latin languages. In the capacity either of an ambassador or, more probably, a hostage, he was sent while still a young man to Constantinople. During his stay there (which lasted apparently for about ten years), if not at an earlier period, he embraced the Christian religion; he was ordained Lector (Reader); and eventually, in the thirtieth year of his age, he was consecrated bishop by the great Arian ecclesiastic, Eusebius of Nicomedia. From this time onwards for forty years he was engaged in frequent missionary journeys among his countrymen in Dacia, many of whom, having become converts to Christianity, were persuaded by him to cross the frontier, in order to escape the cruel persecutions of their heathen countrymen, and to settle within the limits of the Roman Empire. These Christianized Gothic settlers were called Gothi Minores, and their dwellings were situated upon the northern slopes of the Balkans. Our information as to these Lesser Goths is derived exclusively from the following passage in Jordanes:

“There were also certain other Goths, who are called Minores, an immense people, with their bishop and primate Vulfila, who is said, moreover, to have taught them letters: and they are at this day dwelling in Moesia, in the district called Nicopolitana, at the foot of Mount Haemus, a numerous race, but poor and unwarlike, abounding only in cattle of divers kinds, and rich in pastures and forest timber, having little wheat, though the earth is fertile in producing other crops. They do not appear to have any vineyards : those who want wine buy it of their neighbors; but most of them drink only milk”.

The result then of this partial Christianization of the Visigoths by the labors of Ulfilas was, that by the middle of the fourth century a peaceful invasion of Moesia had been made, and a colony of simple- hearted Gothic herdsmen was settled between the Balkans and the Danube, near the modern city of Tirnova.

From a most interesting MS. recently discovered at Paris, which contains a sketch of the life of Ulfilas by a contemporary and devoted admirer, probably Auxentius, bishop of Dorostorus (the modern Silistria), we learn that it was the persecuting policy of a Visigothic Judex that drove Ulfilas and his emigrants across the Danube. “And when”, says Auxentius, “through the envy and mighty working of the enemy, there was kindled a persecution of the Christians by an irreligious and sacrilegious Judge of the Goths, who spread tyrannous affright through the barbarian land, it came to pass that Satan, who desired to do evil, unwillingly did good; that those whom he sought to make deserters became confessors of the faith; that the persecutor was conquered, and his victims wore the wreath of victory. Then, after the glorious martyrdom of many servants and handmaids of Christ, as the persecution still raged vehemently, after seven  years of his episcopate were expired, the blessed Ulfilas  being driven from " Varbaricum with a great multitude of confessors, was honorably received on the soil of Romania by the Emperor Constantius of blessed memory. Thus as God by the hand of Moses delivered his people from the violence of Faraoh and the Egyptians, and made them pass through the Red Sea, and ordained that they should serve Him [on Mount Sinai], even so by means of Ulfilas did God deliver the confessors of His only-begotten Son from the Varbarian land, and cause them to cross over the Danube, and serve Him upon the mountains [of Haemus] like his saints of old”.

The comparison of Ulfilas to Moses appears to have been a favorite one with his contemporaries. We are told that the Emperor Constantius, who probably had met him face to face, and who approved of his settlement of the lesser Goths in Moesia, called him “the Moses of our day”. But if he was the Moses of the Gothic people he was also their Cadmus, the introducer of letters, the father and originator of all that Teutonic literature which now fills no inconsiderable space in the libraries of the world. Let us briefly summaries what he did for his people as author of their alphabet and translator of the Christian Scriptures into their dialect.

As has been before stated, the Goths and their kindred peoples already possessed an alphabet of a rude and primitive kind, the Runic Futhorc. But this was best adapted, and practically was only used, for short inscriptions on wood or stone, on metal or horn, such as “Oltha owns this axe”, “This shield belongs to Hagsi”, “Echlew made this horn for the dread forest-king”; or the already-mentioned Buzeu inscription, “Holy to the temple of the Goths”. In fact, if any one looks at the shapes of the earlier Runic letters he will see that they are just those shapes which an unskillful workman naturally adopts, when carving even the letters of our own alphabet with a knife on the trunk of a tree. All is straight lines and angles, and the circle, or any kind of curve, is as much as possible avoided. It was not in this way or on this kind of materials that a national literature could come into alphabet. Ulfilas therefore, who was of course possessed of all the graphic appliances of a Byzantine scribe of the fourth century, determined to free himself entirely, or almost entirely, from the primaeval Runes of his forefathers, and to fashion the new alphabet of his people mainly upon that which was most extensively used upon the shores of the Euxine and the Aegean and in the holy city of Constantinople, the venerable alphabet of Hellas. While referring the reader who may be interested in this subject to a note in which it is more fully discussed, it will be sufficient to say here that, both in the order and the forms of the letters, the alphabet of Ulfilas is based upon the Greek, but that it contains three letters which are unmistakably Runic (those which represent J, U, and O), three in which a Runic influence is observable (B, R, and F), and three in which a similar influence seems to have been exerted by the Latin alphabet (Q, H, and S).

The grammar of the Gothic tongue, as exhibited in the translation of Ulfilas, is, it need hardly be said, of priceless value in the history of Human Speech. We here see, not indeed the original of all the Teutonic languages, but a specimen of one of them, three centuries earlier than any other that has been preserved, with many inflections which have since been lost, with words which give us the clue to relationships otherwise untraceable, and with phrases which cast a strong light on the fresh and joyous youth of the Teutonic peoples. In short, it is not too much to say, that the same place which the study of Sanscrit holds in the history of the development of the great Indo-European family of nations is occupied by the Gothic of Ulfilas (Moeso-Gothic, as it is sometimes not very happily named) in reference to the unwritten history of the Germanic races.

But let us not, as enthusiastic philologists, fancy that Ulfilas lived but to preserve for posterity certain fast-perishing Gothic roots, and to lay the foundation for “Grimm’s Law” of the transmutation of consonants. To Christianize and to civilize the Gothic people was the one, chief and successfully accomplished, aim of his life. It was for this that he undertook, amidst all the perils and hardships of his missionary life, the labor, great because so utterly unprecedented, of turning the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament into the language of a barbarous and unlettered race; by the mere conception of such a work showing a mind centuries in advance of its contemporaries. Nor was it a portion only, the Gospels or the Psalms, as in the case of our own King Alfred 500 years later, which was thus rendered into a language “understanded of the people”. The whole of the New Testament and much the larger part of the Old were turned into Gothic by the good bishop, who, however, according to a well-known story refrained from translating “the Books of Kings” (that is, of course, the two Books of Samuel and the two of Kings), “which contain the history of wars: because his nation was already very fond of war, and needed the bit rather than the spur, so far as fighting was concerned”. One can understand the wise  economy of truth, which withheld, from these fierce Dacian warriors, Sagas so exciting as the battle of Mount Gilboa, the slaughter of Baal’s priests at the foot of Carmel, and the extermination of the House of Ahab by Jehu son of Nimshi.

Ulfilas, who was of course well acquainted with the Greek language, no doubt translated the Old Testament from the Septuagint version and the New from the original Greek. His translation has been appealed to for the last two centuries as a valuable witness to the condition of the Greek text in the fourth century. It contains however some singular traces of the influence of the old Latin text where that differs from the Greek. This is generally explained as the result of corrections in his version, made by some later hand during the residence of the Ostrogoths in Italy. But considering the close connection which existed between the Churches of Illyricum and those of Italy, it seems at least as probable that Ulfilas himself worked with the old Latin version (the Itala) before him, and in these passages gave it the preference over his Greek codices. This view of the matter is confirmed by the express statement of Auxentius that he was conversant with three languages, Greek, Latin, and Gothic.

Of the great work thus accomplished by the Moesian bishop, fragments only, but precious fragments, are left to us. Of the Old Testament we have two or three chapters of Ezra and Nehemiah, and nothing else save scattered quotations; but of the New Testament we have the greater part of the Epistles of St. Paul in palimpsest; and above all, we have more than half of the Gospels preserved in the splendid Codex Argenteus at Upsala; a MS. probably of the fifth century, which is inscribed in silver and gold diameters upon a parchment of rich purple color, and which, both by the beauty of its execution, by the importance of its text, and of the perished language in which it is written, and by its own almost romantic history is certainly one of the greatest palaeographical treasures in the world.

If it is often hard in our own day to say whether a great man more molds his age or is molded by it, we need not to be surprised that we find it difficult to decide with certainty how far Ulfilas originated, and how far he merely represented, the conversion of the Teutonic races to Christianity. Something had probably been already done by the Greek dwellers in the cities on the Euxine to convert the Ostrogoths of the Crimea to the orthodox faith; and hence it is that we find a certain bishop Theophilus, who is called Bosporitanus (doubtless from the Cimmerian Bosphorus) appearing from among the Goths at the Council of Nicaea, and subscribing its decrees. But this seems to have been a feeble and exotic growth. The apostolate of Ulfilas among the Visigoths was, as far as we can see, the efficient cause of the conversion, not of that nation only, but of all the Teutonic tribes by whom they were surrounded. His was evidently a most potent personality, and his book, carried by traders and warriors from village to village, and from camp to camp of the barbarians, may have been even more powerful than his living voice. Let the operating cause have been what it may, nearly all the Teutonic nations of Eastern Europe who came in contact with the Empire during the period upon which we are about to enter, became Christian in the course of the fourth century and chiefly during the lifetime of Ulfilas.

Gothic Arianistn.

But the form of Christianity taught by Ulfilas, and earnestly accepted by the Goth, the Vandal, the Burgundian, and the Sueve, was one of the various forms which passed under the common denomination of Arianism. Many have been the stories, dishonoring to Ulfilas and the Goths, and quite inadequate to the result that they profess to explain, which, probably without any untruthful intent, the ecclesiastical historians have put into circulation in order to explain this unacceptable triumph of heterodoxy. It has often been asserted that the Goths were seduced into heresy by the Arian Emperor Valens, that their profession of the form of Christianity which he professed was the price paid by them for that settlement within the confines of the Empire which will shortly have to be described, and that the broker in this unholy compact was their revered bishop Ulfilas. A careful study of the whole subject proves the extreme improbability, we may almost say, the absolute falsity of this account of the matter. Some influence must probably be attributed to the previous religious training of the Goths and the nations akin to them, when we seek to account for the rapid diffusion of Arian Christianity among them. Accustomed as they were to think of the All-father and his godlike sons, it was easy to accept the teaching of the priests who told them of a second God, strong as Thunor, but also gentle and beloved as Balder, who sat as it were on the steps of the throne of the Most High, a God in his relation to the human family, but yet not equal in power and majesty to the eternal Father. And it was the same kind of thought, struggling with the philosophic conception of the unity of the Supreme Being, which strove to find an utterance in the multitudinous creeds, Arian and Semi-Arian, to which the Councils of the fourth century gave birth.

But after all, though such considerations as these may account for the special fascination which Arianism had for the Teutonic neighbors of the Empire, and for the special dangers that attended a form of faith in which their old polytheism perhaps still lingered, they are not necessary to explain the Arianism of their greatest teacher and apostle. His religious career almost precisely corresponds with those fifty years of reaction from Nicene orthodoxy which present so difficult a problem in the history of the Eastern Church. The truth is therefore that Ulfilas was an Arian because every considerable ecclesiastic with whom he came in contact at Constantinople was an Arian; because that was the form of faith (or so it seemed to him) which he had been first taught; because he was consecrated bishop by the great Arian controversialist Eusebius of Nicomedia, and received the kiss of peace from the prelates to whose ranks he had just been admitted, at the great Arian synod of Antioch (341); because, in short, during the whole time that his theological mind was being molded, Arianism, of one kind or another, was orthodoxy at Constantinople, and Athanasius was denounced, as a dangerous heretic. He himself, when lying at the point of death, prefaced his Arian confession of faith with these emphatic words: “I, Ulfilas, bishop and confessor, have ever thus believed”, and there is no reason to doubt that, as far as any man can speak accurately of his own spiritual history, these words were true.

The form of Arianism (for that battle-cry was uttered by many armies) which Ulfilas professed was that generally known as the Homoion, and agreed well with his lifelong devotion to the work of translating and disseminating the Scriptures. While Athanasius was fighting, sometimes against the world, for the mystic word Homoousion (The Son is of one substance with the Father); while the Semi-Arian bishops were laboring to reunite all parties and keep their own sees by means of the cunningly devised word Homoi-ousion (of like substance with the Father); while the controversy was passing book on to niceties of speculation concerning “being” and — “substance” which only the Greek language could express, and which probably not a single, even Greek intellect really understood; the advocates of the Homoion tried to recall the combatants to a more simple and more scriptural standing-ground, and said: “Neither Homo-ousios nor Homoi-ousios is to be found in the archives of our faith. Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, is like (Homoios) to the Father who begat him according to the Scriptures”. This was the language of the creed adopted at the Arian Synod of Constantinople, a creed which, as we are expressly told, received the signature of Bishop Ulfilas. The confession of faith already alluded to, which he composed when lying on his death-bed, contains these words: “I Ulfilas, bishop and confessor, have ever thus believed, and in this, the alone true faith, do I make my testament to my Lord. I believe that there is one God the Father, alone unbegotten and invisible: and in his only-begotten Son our Lord and our God, artificer and maker of every creature, having none like unto himself... ; and in one Holy Spirit, an illuminating and sanctifying power, neither God nor Lord, but the minister of Christ, subject and obedient in all things to the Son, as the Son is subject and obedient in all things to the Father”. In the account of the teaching of Ulfilas given by his admirer Auxentius, it is said: “By his sermons and his tracts he showed that there is a difference between the divinity of the Father and the Son, of the God un-begotten and of the God only-begotten: and that the Father is the Creator of the Creator, but the Son the Creator of the whole creation; the Father, God of our Lord, but the Son the God of every creature”.

This, it will at once be seen, is not Trinitarian form of orthodoxy, but neither is it anything like the views concerning the nature of Jesus Christ which are held in our own time by the vast majority of those who would disdain for themselves the title of Orthodox Christians. In order to understand the theological conditions of the period before us, it is necessary that we should let the disputants speak their own language, and should not attribute to those who are now classed as heretics, either more or less deviation from the standard of faith which has now been established in the Christian Church for fifteen centuries, than is disclosed to us by their own creeds and anathemas, of which they have left us so copious a provision.

But if the theological chasm between the barbarian converts of Ulfilas and the party which ultimately triumphed in the Church was somewhat less than our modern prepossessions would have led us to suppose, from a political and historical point of view the disastrous effect of the conversion of the Goths and their kindred to the Arian form of Christianity can hardly be stated too strongly. That conversion made the barbarians parties to the long law-suit between Arians and Trinitarians, which had dragged on its weary length through the greater part of the fourth century, and in which, up to the time that we are now speaking of, the persecuting spirit, the bitterness, the abuse of court favor, had been mainly on the side of the Arians. The tide was now soon to turn, and the disciples of Athanasius were to be the dominant party, the favorites of court and people. Into such a world, into the midst of a clergy and a laity passionately attached to the Homoousian formula, the Arian Teutons were about to be poured, not only to subdue and overturn, but if possible to renew and to rebuild. In this work of reconstruction the difference of creeds proved to be a great and often a fatal difficulty. The Barbarian might be tolerated by the Roman; by the Catholic the Arian could not but be loathed. Of even the Heathen there was hope, for he might one day renounce his dumb idols and might seek admission, as did the Frank and the Saxon, into the bosom of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church. But the Schismatic would probably grow hardened in his sin, he would plant his false bishops and his rival priests side by side with the officers of the true Church in every diocese and every parish. There could be no amalgamation for the faithful with the Arians. The only course was to groan under them, to conspire against them, and as soon as possible to expel them.

Here then for the present, having reached the seventh decade of the third century, we leave that great confederacy of Teutonic peoples which went by the collective name of Goths. They have wandered from the Baltic to the Euxine; they have engaged in one terrible conflict with Rome, the result of which was all but fatal to the Empire. They have since then been for the greater part of a century at peace with their mighty neighbor; they have received her subsidies; they have served under her eagles; they are rapidly embracing her newly adopted faith. It may be that they will be altogether molded according to her impress, and that Gothia will gradually become Romania. Not so however thinks the keen analytic intellect of the philosopher on the throne. From under his unkempt hair the piercing eye of Julian discerns the coming danger. When his war against the Persians was coming to a head, either by some divine warning or by the exercjse 0f his reason, he perceived from afar the coming troubles among the Goths like the ground-swell of a storm. For he said in one of his letters, “The Goths are now at rest, but perhaps they will not always so continue”.