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Imperial Rome to Fall of Western Empire. (27 b.c.-a.d. 476). page 4


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On the death of this ruler the territory was permanently divided into the Eastern and Western Empires, the latter now in its last century of existence. The real ruler of the Western dominions was the brave and able general Stilicho, a Vandal by birth. He aided the eastern emperor against Alaric, leader of the West Goths, who had invaded and ravaged Greece, and in 402 he caused his retirement from Italy. A few years later he defeated bands of German invaders, and maintained the frontier until 408, when he was put to death by order of his jealous master the emperor Honorius. Between 406 and 409, when there was no longer any competent military leader in that part of the Western Empire, bands of Vandals, Suevi, and other German tribes crossed the Rhine from the Danubian regions, fought fiercely, with great losses, against the Franks, and invaded Spain. At this time northern Gaul was gradually occupied by the Franks, and Alaric with his Visigoths entered Italy in great force, and in 410 captured and sacked Rome, just before his death in Lower Italy. One of his successors, in 419, after fighting for the emperor against German invaders, founded a Gothic kingdom in southern Gaul, with its capital at Tolosa (Toulouse). This was the first regular settlement of the Teutonic barbarians inside the empire, and the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse continued for nearly a century. In 429 Genseric, king of the Vandals, crossed from Spain into Africa (Numidia), and took and sacked Hippo Regius, after a long siege, during which the bishop, the famous St. Augustine, died. It was through the ferocity with which the Vandals then destroyed and ravaged churches, cities, and tilled lands that they gained their proverbial name as types of destructive barbarism. The city of Carthage was taken nine years later, and it became the capital of the Vandal kingdom in north Africa, ably ruled for many years by Genseric, who founded a formidable naval force, and made his fleets a terror in the Mediterranean. It seems strange, but it is true, that this Vandal king was a bigoted Arian in his theology, and most cruelly persecuted the orthodox Christians in his dominions. A succession of insignificant emperors came in Italy, and in 455 the Vandal conqueror crossed over to Italy, and captured Rome, which his troops were plundering for many days. Much booty was carried off in the shape of metal statues from the temples and the Forum.

We have now to deal again with the formidable Huns, and we come to another great crisis in the history of the world. In a.d. 450 these savage Tartar invaders of Europe had been for many years under the rule of a great man named Attila, known to us only from the literature and legends of those whom his warlike prowess made to suffer. Austere in life, just on the judgment-seat, conspicuous among his warriors for strength, hardihood, and skill with weapons, deliberate in counsel, swift and resolute in action; carefully and shrewdly observant of the passions, prejudices, creeds, and superstitions of the peoples whom he conquered and held in subjection; and of great strategical and tactical ability in war, Attila the Hun was to prove himself the last great and dangerous foe, save one, of the Aryan peoples in Europe. The Tartar and the Teuton were brought face to face in a death-struggle, and the future of the world depended on the issue. The laws, the institutions, and the Christian faith established in the Roman Empire were at stake when Attila, with armed bands of Ostrogoths and other conquered Teutons among his hordes of Huns, moved from his territories in south-central Europe. The head of the Visigothic kingdom in southern Gaul at this time (a.d. 451) was the brave and able Theoderic, and he made alliance with Rome, after much warfare with the emperor, for their common defence against the enormous hosts, computed at over half a million of men, that were advancing to overwhelm the west and south of Europe. The Rhine was crossed by the invaders, and the king of the Burgundians, a German people settled on the upper Rhone and the Saone, was defeated. When the eastern territory had been overrun, Attila, with the main body, marched upon Orleans, to invade the Visigothic territory beyond the Loire.

Theoderic was aided by an army under the able general Aetius, composed of regular legionaries and large numbers of barbaric auxiliaries who dreaded and hated the Huns. The city of Orleans made a stout resistance, and on the approach of the united forces of Theoderic and Aetius, Attila retreated towards the Marne, called in his detached troops, and awaited the enemy on the "Catalaunian fields," the vast plains of Chalons-sur-Marne, as ground most suitable for the action of his formidable cavalry. A furious struggle, for the details of which the reader should consult the pages of Gibbon's immortal work, ended in the utter defeat of the Huns, with enormous loss, and the death of king Theoderic. This victory, the salvation of Europe from subjection to Tartar barbarism, was followed by Attila's retreat and invasion of Italy. His death in 453 broke up the Hunnish monarchy.

The latest rulers of the Western Empire are not worthy of mention. The Western Empire quietly drifted out of political existence in a.d. 476, when Odovaker (Odoacer), king of the Heruli, a German nation or tribe, ruled Italy, at the request of the Senate, as governor for the Eastern emperor. There was thus no catastrophe, no "downfall" of the empire in the usual sense. The dominion of Rome, apart from the Byzantine Empire, could not be conquered, because it had already been absorbed. The olden population had been replaced by a new set of peoples, mostly of German or Teutonic race, and so the grand fabric faded away. Most of the new people, already largely acquainted with the Roman language and civilisation, and in many cases converts to the Christian faith, were anxious to preserve existing political and religious institutions as those which would be most serviceable to themselves. Odoacer, ruling in the name of the Eastern emperor, was in a sense reuniting the East and West, Byzantium instead of Rome being the centre of the civil government. Among the chief consequences were the development of a Latin or Western, as opposed to Greek and Oriental forms of Christianity, and the emancipation of the Bishops of Rome, afterwards called "Popes," now left free to pursue the course which was to end in establishing so imposing a fabric of ecclesiastical and, for long ages, of temporal and political power. The German or Teutonic peoples who settled in Spain and Italy and Gaul adopted the Latin speech and Roman customs, and hence the modern languages of France and of the Spanish and Italian peninsulas are known as the Romance languages, having the speech of the old Romans as their basis.

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Map. Te Roman Empire, A.D.119.
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