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A History of Germany from the Earliest Times to the Present Day By Bayard Taylor Characters: 18572

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


General Westward Movement of the Races.

-Stilicho's Defeat of the Germans.

-Migration of the Alans, Vandals, &c.

-Saxon Colonization of England.

-The Vandals in Africa.

-Decline of Rome.

-Spread of German Power.

-Attila, king of the Huns.

-Rise of his Power.

-Superstitions concerning him.

-His March into France.

-He is opposed by A?tius and Theodoric.

-The Great Battle near Chalons.

-Retreat of Attila.

-He destroys Aquileia.

-Invades Italy.

-His Death.

-Geiserich takes and plunders Rome.

-End of the Western Empire.

-The Huns expelled.

-Movements of the Tribes on German Soil.


The westward movement of the Huns was followed, soon afterwards, by an advance of the Slavonic tribes on the north, who first took possession of the territory on the Baltic relinquished by the Goths, and then gradually pressed onward towards the Elbe. The Huns themselves, temporarily settled in the fertile region north of the Danube, pushed the Vandals westward toward Bohemia, and the latter, in their turn, pressed upon the Marcomanni. Thus, at the opening of the fifth century, all the tribes, from the Baltic to the Alps, along the eastern frontier of Germany, were partly or wholly forced to fall back. This gave rise to a union of many of them, including the Vandals, Alans, Suevi and Burgundians, under a Chief named Radagast. Numbering half a million, they crossed the Alps into Northern Italy, and demanded territory for new homes.

Stilicho, exhausted by his struggle with Alaric, whose retreat from Italy he had just purchased, could only meet this new enemy by summoning his legions from Gaul and Britain. He met Radagast at Fiesole (near Florence), and so crippled the strength of the invasion that Italy was saved. The German tribes recrossed the Alps, and entered Gaul the following year. Here they gave up their temporary union, and each tribe selected its own territory. The Alans pushed forwards, crossed the Pyrenees, and finally settled in Portugal; the Vandals followed and took possession of all Southern Spain, giving their name to (V-)Andalusia; the Suevi, after fighting, but not conquering, the native Basque tribes of the Pyrenees, selected what is now the province of Galicia; while the Burgundians stretched from the Rhine through western Switzerland, and southward nearly to the mouth of the Rhone. The greater part of Gaul was thus already lost to the Roman power.


The withdrawal of the legions from Britain by Stilicho left the population unprotected. The Britons were then a mixture of Celtic and Roman blood, and had become greatly demoralized during the long decay of the Empire; so they were unable to resist the invasions of the Picts and Scots, and in this emergency they summoned the Saxons and Angles to their aid. Two chiefs of the latter, Hengist and Horsa, accepted the invitation, landed in England in 449, and received lands in Kent. They were followed by such numbers of their countrymen that the allies soon became conquerors, and portioned England among themselves. They brought with them their speech and their ancient pagan religion, and for a time overthrew the rude form of Christianity which had prevailed among the Britons since the days of Constantine. Only Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, Wales and Cornwall resisted the Saxon rule, as across the Channel, in Brittany, a remnant of the Celtic Gauls resisted the sway of the Franks. From the year 449 until the landing of William the Conqueror, in 1066, nearly all England and the Lowlands of Scotland were in the hands of the Saxon race.

Ataulf, the king of the Visigoths, was murdered soon after establishing his people in Southern France. Wallia, his successor, crossed the Pyrenees, drove the Vandals out of northern Spain, and made the Ebro river the boundary between them and his Visigoths. Fifteen years afterwards, in 429, the Vandals, under their famous king, Geiserich (incorrectly called Genseric in many histories), were invited by the Roman Governor of Africa to assist him in a revolt against the Empire. They crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in a body, took possession of all the Roman provinces, as far eastward as Tunis, and made Carthage the capital of their new kingdom. The Visigoths immediately occupied the remainder of Spain, which they held for nearly three hundred years afterwards.


Thus, although the name and state of an Emperor of the West were kept up in Rome until the year 476, the Empire never really existed after the invasion of Alaric. The dominion over Italy, Gaul and Spain, claimed by the Emperors of the East, at Constantinople, was acknowledged in documents, but (except for a short time, under Justinian) was never practically exercised. Rome had been the supreme power of the known world for so many centuries, that a superstitious influence still clung to the very name, and the ambition of the Germanic kings seems to have been, not to destroy the Empire, but to conquer and make it their own.

The rude tribes, which, in the time of Julius C?sar, were buried among the mountains and forests of the country between the Rhine, the Danube and the Baltic Sea, were now, five hundred years later, scattered over all Europe, and beginning to establish new nations on the foundations laid by Rome. As soon as they cross the old boundaries of Germany, they come into the light of history, and we are able to follow their wars and migrations; but we know scarcely anything, during this period, of the tribes which remained within those boundaries. We can only infer that the Marcomanni settled between the Danube and the Alps, in what is now Bavaria; that, early in the fifth century, the Thuringians established a kingdom including nearly all Central Germany; and that the Slavonic tribes, pressing westward through Prussia, were checked by the valor of the Saxons, along the line of the Elbe, since only scattered bands of them were found beyond that river at a later day.

The first impulse to all these wonderful movements came, as we have seen, from the Huns. These people, as yet unconquered, were so dreaded by the Emperors of the East, that their peace was purchased, like that of the Goths a hundred years before, by large annual payments. For fifty years, they seemed satisfied to rest in their new home, making occasional raids across the Danube, and gradually bringing under their sway the fragments of Germanic tribes already settled in Hungary, or left behind by the Goths. In 428, Attila and his brother Bleda became kings of the Huns, but the latter's death, in 445, left Attila sole ruler. His name was already famous, far and wide, for his strength, energy and intelligence. His capital was established near Tokay, in Hungary, where he lived in a great castle of wood, surrounded with moats and palisades. He was a man of short stature, with broad head, neck and shoulders, and fierce, restless eyes. He scorned the luxury which was prevalent at the time, wore only plain woollen garments, and ate and drank from wooden dishes and cups. His personal power and influence were so great that the Huns looked upon him as a demigod, while all the neighboring Germanic tribes, including a large portion of the Ostrogoths, enlisted under his banner.


After the Huns had invaded Thrace and compelled the Eastern Empire to pay a double tribute, the Emperor of the West, Valentinian III. (the grandson of Theodosius), sent an embassy to Attila, soliciting his friendship: the Emperor's sister, Honoria, offered him her hand. Both divisions of the Empire thus did him reverence, and he had little to fear from the force which either could bring against him; but the Goths and Vandals, now warlike and victorious races, were more formidable foes. Here, however, he was favored by the hostility between the aged Geiserich, king of the Vandals, and the young Theodoric, king of the Visigoths. The former sent messages to Attila, inciting him to march into Gaul and overthrow Theodoric, who was Geiserich's relative and rival. Soon afterwards, a new Emperor, at Constantinople, refused the additional tribute, and Valentinian III. withheld the hand of his sister Honoria.

Attila, now-towards the close of the year 449-made preparations for a grand war of conquest. He already possessed unbounded influence over the Huns, and supernatural signs of his coming career were soon supplied. A peasant dug up a jewelled sword, which, it was said, had long before been given to a race of kings by the god of war. This was brought to Attila, and thenceforth worn by him. He was called "The Scourge of God," and the people believed that wherever the hoofs of his horse had trodden no grass ever grew again. The fear of his power, or the hope of plunder, drew large numbers of the German tribes to his side, and the army with which he set out for the conquest, first of Gaul and then of Europe, is estimated at from 500,000 to 700,000 warriors. With this, he passed through the heart of Germany, much of which he had already made tributary, and reached the Rhine. Here Gunther, the king of the Burgundians, opposed him with a force of 10,000 men and was speedily crushed. Even a portion of

the Franks, who were then quarrelling among themselves, joined him, and now Gaul divided between Franks, Romans and Visigoths, was open to his advance.


The minister and counsellor of Valentinian III. was A?tius, the son of a Gothic father and a Roman mother. As soon as Attila's design became known, he hastened to Gaul, collected the troops still in Roman service, and procured the alliance of Theodoric and the Visigoths. The Alans, under their king Sangipan, were also persuaded to unite their forces: the independent Celts in Brittany, and a large portion of the Franks and Burgundians, all of whom were threatened by the invasion of the Huns, hastened to the side of A?tius, so that the army commanded by himself and Theodoric became nearly if not quite equal in numbers to that of Attila. The latter, by this time, had marched into the heart of Gaul, laying waste the country through which he passed, and meeting no resistance until he reached the walled and fortified city of Orleans. This was in the year 451.

Orleans, besieged and hard pressed, was about to surrender, when A?tius approached with his army. Attila was obliged to raise the siege at once, and retreat in order to select a better position for the impending battle. He finally halted on the broad plains of the province of Champagne, near the present city of Chalons, where his immense body of armed horsemen would have ample space to move. A?tius and Theodoric followed and pitched their camp opposite to him, on the other side of a small hill which rose from the plain. That night, Attila ordered his priests to consult their pagan oracles, and ascertain the fate of the morrow's struggle. The answer was: "Death to the enemy's leader, destruction to the Huns!"-but the hope of seeing A?tius fall prevailed on Attila to risk his own defeat.

The next day witnessed one of the greatest battles of history. A?tius commanded the right and Theodoric the left wing of their army, placing between them the Alans and other tribes, of whose fidelity they were not quite sure. Attila, however, took the centre with his Huns, and formed his wings of the Germans and Ostrogoths. The battle began at dawn, and raged through the whole day. Both armies endeavored to take and hold the hill between them, and the hundreds of thousands rolled back and forth as the victory inclined to one side or the other. A brook which ran through the plain was swollen high by the blood of the fallen. At last Theodoric broke Attila's centre, but was slain in the attack. The Visigoths immediately lifted his son, Thorismond, on a shield, proclaimed him king, and renewed the fight. The Huns were driven back to the fortress of wagons where their wives, children and treasures were collected, when a terrible storm of rain and thunder put an end to the battle. Between 200,000 and 300,000 dead lay upon the plain.


All night the lamentations of the Hunnish women filled the air. Attila had an immense funeral pile constructed of saddles, whereon he meant to burn himself and his family, in case A?tius should renew the fight the next day. But the army of the latter was too exhausted to move, and the Huns were allowed to commence their retreat from Gaul. Enraged at his terrible defeat, Attila destroyed everything in his way, leaving a broad track of blood and ashes from Gaul through the heart of Germany, back to Hungary.

By the following year, 452, Attila had collected another army, and now directed his march towards Italy. This new invasion was so unexpected that the passes of the Alps were left undefended, and the Huns reached the rich and populous city of Aquileia, on the northern shore of the Adriatic, without meeting any opposition. After a siege of three months, they took and razed it to the ground so completely that it was never rebuilt, and from that day to this only a few piles of shapeless stones remain to mark the spot where it stood. The inhabitants who escaped took refuge upon the low marshy islands, separated from the mainland by the lagoons, and there formed the settlement which, two or three hundred years later, became known to the world as Venice.

Attila marched onward to the Po, destroying everything in his way. Here he was met by a deputation, at the head of which was Leo, the Bishop (or Pope) of Rome, sent by Valentinian III. Leo so worked upon the superstitious mind of the savage monarch, that the latter gave up his purpose of taking Rome, and returned to Hungary with his army, which was suffering from disease and want. The next year he died suddenly, in his wooden palace at Tokay. The tradition states that his body was inclosed in three coffins, of iron, silver and gold, and buried secretly, like that of Alaric, so that no man might know his resting-place. He had a great many wives, and left so many sons behind him, that their quarrels for the succession to the throne divided the Huns into numerous parties, and quite destroyed their power as a people.


The alliance between A?tius and the Visigoths ceased immediately after the great battle. Valentinian III., suspicious of the fame of A?tius, recalled him to Rome, the year after Attila's death, and assassinated him with his own hand. The treacherous Emperor was himself slain, shortly afterwards, by Maximus, who succeeded him, and forced his widow, the Empress Eudoxia, to accept him as her husband. Out of revenge, Eudoxia sent a messenger to Geiserich, the old king of the Vandals, at Carthage, summoning him to Rome. The Vandals had already built a large fleet and pillaged the shores of Sicily and other Mediterranean islands. In 455, Geiserich landed at the mouth of the Tiber with a powerful force, and marched upon Rome. The city was not strong enough to offer any resistance: it was taken, and during two weeks surrendered to such devastation and outrage that the word vandalism has ever since been used to express savage and wanton destruction. The churches were plundered of all their vessels and ornaments, the old Palace of the C?sars was laid waste, priceless works of art destroyed, and those of the inhabitants who escaped with their lives were left almost as beggars.

When "the old king of the sea," as Geiserich was called, returned to Africa, he not only left Rome ruined, but the Western Empire practically overthrown. For seventeen years afterwards, Ricimer, a chief of the Suevi, who had been commander of the Roman auxiliaries in Gaul, was the real ruler of its crumbling fragments. He set up, set aside or slew five or six so-called Emperors, at his own will, and finally died in 472, only four years before the boy, Romulus Augustulus, was compelled to throw off the purple and retire into obscurity as "the last Emperor of Rome."

In 455, the year when Geiserich and his Vandals plundered Rome, the Germanic tribes along the Danube took advantage of the dissensions following Attila's death, and threw off their allegiance to the Huns. They all united under a king named Ardaric, gave battle, and were so successful that the whole tribe of the Huns was forced to retreat eastward into Southern Russia. From this time they do not appear again in history, although it is probable that the Magyars, who came later into the same region from which they were driven, brought the remnants of the tribe with them.


During the fourth and fifth centuries, the great historic achievements of the German race, as we have now traced them, were performed outside of the German territory. While from Thrace to the Atlantic Ocean, from the Scottish Highlands to Africa, the new nationalities overran the decayed Roman Empire, constantly changing their seats of power, we have no intelligence of what was happening within Germany itself. Both branches of the Goths, the Vandals and a part of the Franks had become Christians, but the Alemanni, Saxons and Thuringians were still heathens, although they had by this time adopted many of the arts of civilized life. They had no educated class, corresponding to the Christian priesthood in the East, Italy and Gaul, and even in Britain; and thus no chronicle of their history has survived.

Either before or immediately after Attila's invasion of Gaul, the Marcomanni crossed the Danube, and took possession of the plains between that river and the Alps. They were called the Boiarii, from their former home of four centuries in Bohemia, and from this name is derived the German Baiern, Bavaria. They kept possession of the new territory, adapted themselves to the forms of Roman civilization which they found there, and soon organized themselves into a small but distinct and tolerably independent nation.

But the period of the Migration of the Races was not yet finished. The shadow of the old Roman Empire still remained, and stirred the ambition of each successive king, so that he was not content with territory sufficient for the needs of his own people, but must also try to conquer his neighbors and extend his rule. The bases of the modern states of Europe were already laid, but not securely enough for the building thereof to be commenced. Two more important movements were yet to be made before this bewildering period of change and struggle came to an end.

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