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A History of Germany from the Earliest Times to the Present Day By Bayard Taylor Characters: 22474

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Rise of the Goths.

-German Invasions of Gaul.

-Victories of Julian.

-The Ostrogoths and Visigoths.

-Bishop Ulfila.

-The Gothic Language.

-The Gothic King, Athanaric.

-The Coming of the Huns.

-Death of Hermanric.

-The Goths take refuge in Thrace.

-Their Revolt.

-Defeat of Valens.

-The Goths under Theodosius.

-The Franks and Goths meet in Battle.

-Alaric, the Visigoth.

-He invades Greece.

-Battle with Stilicho.

-Alaric besieges Rome.

-He enters Rome, A. D. 410.

-His Death and Burial.

-Succession of Ataulf.

-The Visigoths settle in Southern Gaul.

-Beginning of other Migrations.


Rome, as the representative of the civilization of the world, and, after the year 313, as the political power which left Christianity free to overthrow the ancient religions, is still the central point of historical interest during the greater part of the fourth century. Until the death of the Emperor Valentinian, in 375, the ancient boundaries of the Empire, though frequently broken down, were continually re-established, and the laws and institutions of the Romans had prevailed so long throughout the great extent of conquered territory that the inhabitants now knew no other.

But beyond the Danube had arisen a new power, the independence of which, after the time of Aurelian, was never disputed by the Roman Emperors. The Goths were the first of the Germanic tribes to adopt a monarchical form of government, and to acquire some degree of civilization. They were numerous and well organized; and Constantine, who was more of a diplomatist than a general, found it better to preserve peace with them for forty years, by presents and payments, than to provoke them to war. His best soldiers were enlisted among them, and it was principally the valor of his Gothic troops which enabled him to defeat the rival emperor, Licinius, in 325. From that time, 40,000 Goths formed the main strength of his army.


The important part which these people played in the history of Europe renders it necessary that we should now sketch their rise and growth as a nation. First, however, let us turn to Western and Northern Germany, where the development of the new nationalities was longer delayed, and describe the last of their struggles with the power of Rome, during the fourth century.

After the death of Constantine, in 337, the quarrels of his sons and brothers for the Imperial throne gave the Germans a new opportunity to repeat their invasions of Gaul. The Franks were the first to take advantage of it: they got possession of Belgium, which was not afterwards retaken. The Alemanni followed, and planted themselves on the western bank of the Rhine, which they held, although Strasburg and other fortified cities still belonged to the Romans. About the year 350, a Frank or Saxon, of the name of Magnentius, was proclaimed Emperor by a part of the Roman army. He was defeated by the true Emperor, Constantius II., but the victory seems to have exhausted the military resources of the latter, for immediately afterwards another German invasion occurred.

This time, the Franks took and pillaged Cologne, the Alemanni destroyed Strasburg and Mayence, and the Saxons, who had now become a sea-faring people, visited the northwestern coasts of Gaul. Constantius II. gave the command to his nephew, Julian (afterwards, as Emperor, called the Apostate), who first retook Cologne from the Franks, and then turned his forces against the Alemanni. The king of the latter, Chnodomar, had collected a large army, with which he encountered Julian on the banks of the Rhine, near Strasburg. The battle which ensued was fiercely contested; but Julian was completely victorious. Chnodomar was taken prisoner, and only a few of his troops escaped, like those of Ariovistus, 400 years before, by swimming across the Rhine. Although the season was far advanced, Julian followed them, crossed their territory to the Main, rebuilt the destroyed Roman fortresses, and finally accepted an armistice of ten months which they offered to him.

He made use of this time to intimidate the Franks and Saxons. Starting from Lutetia (now Paris) early in the summer of 358, he drove the Franks beyond the Schelde, received their submission, and then marched a second time against the Alemanni. He laid waste their well-settled and cultivated land between the Rhine, the Main and the Neckar, crossed their territory to the frontiers of the Burgundians (in what is now Franconia, or Northern Bavaria), liberated 20,000 Roman captives, and made the entire Alemannic people tributary to the Empire. His accession to the imperial throne, in 360, delivered the Germans from the most dangerous and dreaded enemy they had known since the time of Germanicus.


Not many years elapsed before the Franks and Alemanni again overran the old boundaries, and the Saxons landed on the shores of England. The Emperor Valentinian employed both diplomacy and force, and succeeded in establishing a temporary peace; but after his death, in the year 375, the Roman Empire, the capital of which had been removed to Constantinople in 330, was never again in a condition to maintain its supremacy in Gaul, or to prevent the Germans from crossing the Rhine.

We now return to the Goths, who already occupied the broad territory included in Poland, Southern Russia, and Roumania. The river Dniester may be taken as the probable boundary between the two kingdoms into which they had separated. The Ostrogoths, under their aged king, Hermanric, extended from that river eastward nearly to the Caspian Sea: on the north they had no fixed boundary, but they must have reached to the latitude of Moscow. The Visigoths stretched westward from the Dniester to the Danube, and northward from Hungary to the Baltic Sea. The Vandals were for some generations allied with the latter, but war having arisen between them, the Emperor Constantine interposed. He succeeded in effecting a separation of the two, and in settling the Vandals in Hungary, where they remained for forty years under the protection of the Roman Empire.

From the time of their first encounter with the Romans, in Dacia, during the third century, the Goths appear to have made rapid advances in their political organization and the arts of civilized life. They were the first of the Germanic nations who accepted Christianity. On one of their piratical expeditions to the shores of Asia Minor, they brought away as captive a Christian boy. They named him Ulfila, and by that name he is still known to the world. He devoted his life to the overthrow of their pagan faith, and succeeded. He translated the Bible into their language, and, it is supposed, even invented a Gothic alphabet, since it is doubtful whether they already possessed one. A part of Ulfila's translation of the New Testament escaped destruction, and is now preserved in the library at Upsala, in Sweden. It is the only specimen, in existence of the Gothic language at that early day. From it we learn how rich and refined was that language, and how many of the elements of the German and English tongues it contained. The following are the opening words of the Lord's Prayer, as Ulfila wrote them between the years 350 and 370 of our era:

Gothic. Atta unsara, thu in himinam, veihnai namo thein.

English. Father our, thou in heaven, be hallowed name thine.

German. Vater unser, du im Himmel, geweiht werde Name dein.

Gothic. quimai Thiudinassus Theins, vairthai vilja theins,

English. come Kingdom thine, be done will thine,

German. komme Herrschaft dein, werde Wille dein,

Gothic. sve in himina, jah ana airthai.

English. as in heaven, also on earth.

German. wie im Himmel, auch auf Erden.


Ulfila was born in 318, became a bishop of the Christian Church, spent his whole life in teaching the Goths, and died in Constantinople, in the year 378. There is no evidence that he, or any other of the Christian missionaries of his time, were persecuted, or even seriously hindered in the good work, by the Goths: the latter seem to have adopted the new faith readily, and the Arian creed which Ulfila taught, although rejected by the Church of Rome, was stubbornly held by their descendants for a period of nearly five hundred years.

Somewhere between 360 and 370, the long peace between the Romans and the Goths was disturbed; but the Emperor Valens and the Gothic king, Athanaric, had a conference on board a vessel on the Danube, and came to an understanding. Athanaric refused to cross the river, on account of a vow made on some former occasion. The Goths, it appears, were by this time learning the art of statesmanship, and they might have continued on good terms with the Romans, but for the sudden appearance on the scene of an entirely new race, coming, as they themselves had come so many centuries before, from the unknown regions of Central Asia.


In 375, the year of Valentinian's death, a race of people up to that time unknown, and whose name-the Huns-had never before been heard, crossed the Volga and invaded the territory of the Ostrogoths. Later researches render it probable that they came from the steppes of Mongolia, and that they belonged to the Tartar family; but, in the course of their wanderings, before reaching Europe, they had not only lost all the traditions of their former history, but even their religious faith. Their very appearance struck terror into the Goths, who were so much further advanced in civilization. They were short, clumsy figures, with broad and hideously ugly faces, flat noses, oblique eyes and long black hair, and were clothed in skins which they wore until they dropped in rags from their bodies. But they were marvellous horsemen, and very skilful in using the bow and lance. The men were on their horses' backs from morning till night, while the women and children followed their march in rude carts. They came in such immense numbers, and showed so much savage daring and bravery, that several smaller tribes, allied with the Ostrogoths, or subject to them, went over immediately to the Huns.

The kingdom of the Ostrogoths, almost without offering resistance, fell to pieces. The king, Hermanric, now more than a hundred years old, threw himself upon his sword, at their approach: his successor, Vitimer, gave battle, but lost the victory and his life at the same time. The great body of the people retreated westward before the Huns, who, following them, reached the Dnieper. Here Athanaric, king of the Visigoths, was posted with a large army, to dispute their passage; but the Huns succeeded in finding a fording-place which was left unguarded, turned his flank, and defeated him with great slaughter. Nothing now remained but for both branches of the Gothic people, united in misfortune, to retreat to the Danube.

Athanaric took refuge among the mountains of Transylvania, and the Bishop Ulfila was dispatched to Constantinople to ask the assistance of the Emperor Valens, who was entreated to permit that the Goths, meanwhile, might cross the Danube and find a refuge on Roman

territory. Valens yielded to the entreaty, but attached very hard conditions to his permission: the Goths were allowed to cross unarmed, after giving up their wives and children as hostages. In their fear of the Huns, they were obliged to accept these conditions, and hundreds of thousands thronged across the Danube. They soon exhausted the supplies of the region, and then began to suffer famine, of which the Roman officers and traders took advantage, demanding their children as slaves in return for the cats and dogs which they gave to the Goths as food.


This treatment brought about its own revenge. Driven to desperation by hunger and the outrages inflicted upon them, the Goths secretly procured arms, rose, and made themselves masters of the country. The Roman governor marched against them, but their Chief, Fridigern, defeated him and utterly destroyed his army. The news of this event induced large numbers of Gothic soldiers to desert from the imperial army, and join their countrymen. Fridigern, thus strengthened, commenced a war of revenge: he crossed the Balkan, laid waste all Thrace, Macedonia and Thessaly, and settled his own people in the most fertile parts of the plundered provinces. The Ostrogoths had crossed the Danube at the first report of his success, and had taken part in his conquests.

Towards the end of the year 377, the Emperor Valens raised a large army and marched against Fridigern. A battle was fought at the foot of the Balkan, and a second, the following year, before the walls of Adrianople. In both the Goths were victorious: in the latter two-thirds of the Roman troops fell, Valens himself, doubtless, among them,-for he was never seen or heard of after that day. His nephew, Gratian, succeeded to the throne, but associated with him Theodosius, a young Spaniard of great ability, as Emperor of the East. While Gratian marched to Gaul, to stay the increasing inroads of the Franks, Theodosius was left to deal with the Goths, who were beginning to cultivate the fields of Thrace, as if they meant to stay there.

He was obliged to confirm them in the possession of the greater part of the country. They were called allies of the Empire, were obliged to furnish a certain number of soldiers, but retained their own kings, and were governed by their own laws. After the death of Fridigern, Theodosius invited Athanaric to visit him. The latter, considering himself now absolved from his vow not to cross the Danube, accepted the invitation, and was received in Constantinople on the footing of an equal by Theodosius. He died a few weeks after his arrival, and the Emperor walked behind his bier, in the funeral procession. For several years the relations between the two powers continued peaceful and friendly. Both branches of the Goths were settled together, south of the Danube, their relinquished territory north of that river being occupied by the Huns, who were still pressing westward.


In Italy, Valentinian II. succeeded his brother Gratian. His chief minister was a Frank, named Arbogast, who, learning that he was to be dismissed from his place, had the young Valentinian assassinated, and set up a new Emperor, Eugene, in his stead. This act brought him into direct conflict with Theodosius. Arbogast called upon his countrymen, the Franks, who sent a large body of troops to his assistance, while Theodosius strengthened his army with 20,000 Gothic soldiers. Then, for the first time, Frank and Goth-West-German and East-German-faced each other as enemies. The Gothic auxiliaries of Theodosius were commanded by two leaders, Alaric and Stilicho, already distinguished among their people, and destined to play a remarkable part in the history of Europe. The battle between the two armies was fought near Aquileia, in the year 394. The sham Emperor, Eugene, was captured and beheaded, Arbogast threw himself upon his sword, and Theodosius was master of the West.

The Emperor, however, lived but a few months to enjoy his single rule. He died at Milan, in 395, after having divided the government of the Empire between his two sons. Honorius, the elder, was sent to Rome, with the Gothic chieftain, Stilicho, as his minister and guardian; while the boy Arcadius, at Constantinople, was intrusted to the care of a Gaul, named Rufinus. Alaric, perhaps a personal enemy of the latter, perhaps jealous of the elevation of Stilicho to such an important place, refused to submit to the new government. He collected a large body of his countrymen, and set out on a campaign of plunder through Greece. Every ancient city, except Thebes, fell into his hands, and only Athens was allowed to buy her exemption from pillage.

The Gaul, Rufinus, took no steps to arrest this devastation; wherefore, it is said, he was murdered at the instigation of Stilicho, who then sent a fleet against Alaric. This undertaking was not entirely successful, and the government of Constantinople finally purchased peace by making Alaric the Imperial Legate in Illyria. In the year 403, he was sent to Italy, as the representative of the Emperor Arcadius, to overthrow the power of his former fellow-chieftain, Stilicho, who ruled in the name of Honorius. His approach, with a large army, threw the whole country into terror. Honorius shut himself up within the walls of Ravenna, while Stilicho called the legions from Gaul, and even from Britain, to his support. A great battle was fought near the Po, but without deciding the struggle; and Alaric had already begun to march towards Rome, when a treaty was made by which he and his army were allowed to return to Illyria with all the booty they had gathered in Italy.


Five years afterwards, when Stilicho was busy in endeavoring to keep the Franks and Alemanni out of Gaul, and to drive back the incursions of mixed German and Celtic bands which began to descend from the Alps, Alaric again made his appearance, demanding the payment of certain sums, which he claimed were due to him. Stilicho, having need of his military strength elsewhere, satisfied Alaric's claim by the payment of 4,000 pounds of gold; but the Romans felt themselves bitterly humiliated, and Honorius, listening to the rivals of Stilicho, gave his consent to the assassination of the latter and his whole family including the Emperor's own sister, Serena, whom Stilicho had married.

When the news of this atrocious act reached Alaric, he turned and marched back to Italy. There was now no skilful commander to oppose him: the cowardly Honorius took refuge in Ravenna, and the Goths advanced, without resistance, to the gates of Rome. The walls, built by Aurelian, were too strong to be taken by assault, but all supplies were cut off, and the final surrender of the city became only a question of time. When a deputation of Romans represented to Alaric that the people still numbered half a million, he answered: "The thicker the grass, the better the mowing!" They were finally obliged to yield to his demands, and pay a ransom consisting of 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, many thousands of silk robes, and a large quantity of spices,-a total value of something more than three millions of dollars. In addition to this, 40,000 slaves, mostly of Germanic blood, escaped to his camp and became free.

Alaric only withdrew into Northern Italy, where he soon found a new cause of dispute with the government of Honorius, in Ravenna. He seems to have been a man of great military genius, but little capacity for civil rule; of much energy and ambition, but little judgment. The result of his quarrel with Honorius was, that he marched again to Rome, proclaimed Attalus, the governor of the city, Emperor, and then demanded entrance for himself and his troops, as an ally. The demand could not be refused: Rome was opened to the Goths, who participated in the festivals which accompanied the coronation of Attalus. It was nothing but a farce, and seems to have been partly intended as such by Alaric, who publicly deposed the new Emperor shortly afterwards, on his march to Ravenna.


There were further negotiations with Honorius, which came to nothing; then Alaric advanced upon Rome the third time, not now as an ally, but as an avowed enemy. The city could make no resistance, and on the 24th of August, 410, the Goths entered it as conquerors. This event, so famous in history, has been greatly misrepresented. Later researches show that, although the citizens were despoiled of their wealth, the buildings and monuments were spared. The people were subjected to violence and outrage for the space of six days, after which Alaric marched out of Rome with his army, leaving the city, in its external appearance, very much as he found it.

He directed his course towards Southern Italy, with the intention, it was generally believed, of conquering Sicily and then crossing into Africa. The plan was defeated by his death, in 411, at Cosenza, a town on the banks of the Busento, in Calabria. His soldiers turned the river from its course, dug a grave in its bed, and there laid the body of Alaric, with all the gems and gold he had gathered. Then the Busento was restored to its channel, and the slaves who had performed the work were slain, in order that Alaric's place of burial might never be known.

His brother-in-law, Ataulf (Adolph), was his successor. He was also the brother-in-law of Honorius, having married the latter's sister, Placidia, after she was taken captive by Alaric. He was therefore strengthened by the conquests of the one and by his family connection with the other. The Visigoths, who had gradually gathered together under Alaric, seem to have had enough of marching to and fro, and they acquiesced in an arrangement made between Ataulf and Honorius, according to which the former led them out of Italy in 412, and established them in Southern Gaul. They took possession of all the region lying between the Loire and the Pyrenees, with Toulouse as their capital.


Thus, in the space of forty years, the Visigoths left their home on the Black Sea, between the Danube and the Dniester, passed through the whole breadth of the Roman Empire, from Constantinople to the Bay of Biscay, after having traversed both the Grecian and Italian peninsulas, and settled themselves again in what seemed to be a permanent home. During this extraordinary migration, they maintained their independence as a people, they preserved their laws, customs, and their own rulers; and, although frequently at enmity with the Empire, they were never made to yield it allegiance. Under Athanaric, as we have seen, they were united for a time with the Ostrogoths, and it was probably the renown and success of Alaric which brought about a second separation.

Of course the impetus given to this branch of the Germanic race by the invasion of the Huns did not affect it alone. Before the Visigoths reached the shores of the Atlantic, all Central Europe was in movement. Leaving them there for the present, and also leaving the great body of the Ostrogoths in Thrace and Illyria, we will now return to the nations whom we left maintaining their existence on German soil.

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