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The General Irruption Of The Barbarians. - The Thirty Tyrants.
From the great secular
games celebrated by Philip, to the death of the emperor Gallienus
, there elapsed twenty years of shame
and misfortune. During that calamitous period, every instant of time was marked, every province
of the Roman world was
afflicted, by barbarous invaders, and military tyrants, and the ruined empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its
. The confusion of the times, and the scarcity of authentic memorials, oppose equal difficulties to the historian, who
attempts to preserve a clear and unbroken thread of narration
. Surrounded with imperfect fragments, always concise, often
obscure, and sometimes contradictory, he is reduced to collect, to compare, and to conjecture: and though he ought never to
place his conjectures in the rank of facts, yet the knowledge
of human nature, and of the sure operation of its fierce and
unrestrained passions, might, on some occasions, supply the want of historical materials.
There is not, for instance, any difficulty in conceiving, that the successive murders of so many emperors had loosened all the ties
between the prince and people; that all the generals of Philip were disposed to imitate the example of their master;
and that the caprice
of armies, long since habituated to frequent and violent revolutions, might every day raise to the throne the
most obscure of their fellow-soldiers. History can only add, that the rebellion
against the emperor Philip broke out in the
summer of the year two hundred and forty-nine, among the legions of Maesia
; and that a subaltern officer, 1
was the object of their seditious
choice. Philip was alarmed. He dreaded lest the treason
of the Maesian army should prove the
first spark of a general conflagration
. Distracted with the consciousness of his guilt and of his danger, he communicated the
to the senate
. A gloomy silence prevailed, the effect of fear, and perhaps of disaffection; till at length Decius,
the assembly, assuming a spirit worthy of his noble extraction, ventured to discover more intrepidity than the emperor seemed
to possess. He treated the whole business with contempt
, as a hasty and inconsiderate tumult, and Philip's rival as a phantom of
royalty, who in a very few days would be destroyed by the same inconstancy
that had created him. The speedy completion of
the prophecy inspired Philip with a just esteem for so able a counselor; and Decius
appeared to him the only person capable of
restoring peace and discipline to an army whose tumultuous spirit did not immediately subside after the murder of Marinus
who long resisted his own nomination
, seems to have insinuated the danger of presenting a leader of merit to the
angry and apprehensive minds of the soldiers; and his prediction was again confirmed by the event. The legions of Maesia
forced their judge to become their accomplice. They left him only the alternative of death or the purple. His subsequent
conduct, after that decisive measure, was unavoidable. He conducted, or followed, his army to the confines of Italy, whither
Philip, collecting all his force to repel the formidable competitor whom he had raised up, advanced to meet him. The Imperial troops
were superior in number; but the rebels formed an army of veterans, commanded by an able and experienced leader.
Philip was either killed in the battle, or put to death a few days afterwards at Verona
. His son and associate in the empire was
massacred at Rome by the Praetorian Guard
; and the victorious Decius, with more favorable circumstances than the ambition
of that age can usually plead, was universally acknowledged by the senate and provinces. It is reported, that, immediately after
his reluctant acceptance of the title of Augustus
, he had assured Philip, by a private message, of his innocence and loyalty,
solemnly protesting, that, on his arrival on Italy, he would resign the Imperial
ornaments, and return to the condition of an
subject. His professions might be sincere; but in the situation where fortune had placed him, it was scarcely possible
that he could either forgive or be forgiven. 3
Footnote 1: The expression used by Zosimus and Zonaras may signify that Marinus commanded a century, a cohort, or a
Footnote 2: His birth at Bubalia, a little village in Pannonia, (Eutrop. ix. Victor. in Caesarib. et Epitom.,) seems to contradict,
unless it was merely accidental, his supposed descent from the Decii. Six hundred years had bestowed nobility on the Decii: but
at the commencement of that period, they were only plebeians of merit, and among the first who shared the consulship with the
haughty patricians. Plebeine Deciorum animae, &c. Juvenal, Sat. viii. 254. See the spirited speech of Decius, in Livy. x. 9, 10.
Footnote 3: Zosimus, l. i. p. 20, c. 22. Zonaras, l. xii. p. 624, edit. Louvre.
The emperor Decius
had employed a few months in the works of peace and the administration of justice, when he was
summoned to the banks of the Danube by the invasion of the Goths
. This is the first considerable occasion in which history
mentions that great people, who afterwards broke the Roman power, sacked the Capitol
, and reigned in Gaul, Spain, and Italy.
So memorable was the part which they acted in the subversion of the Western empire, that the name of Goths is frequently but improperly used as a general appellation , rude and warlike barbarism.
In the beginning of the sixth century, and after the conquest of Italy, the Goths, in possession of present greatness, very naturally
indulged themselves in the prospect of past and of future glory. They wished to preserve the memory of their ancestors, and to
transmit to posterity their own achievements. The principal minister of the court of Ravenna
, the learned Cassiodorus
the inclination of the conquerors in a Gothic history, which consisted of twelve books, now reduced to the imperfect abridgment
of Jornandes. 4
These writers passed with the most artful conciseness over the misfortunes of the nation, celebrated its
successful valor, and adorned the triumph with many Asiatic trophies, that more properly belonged to the people of Scythia
the faith of ancient songs, the uncertain, but the only memorials of barbarians, they deduced the first origin of the Goths from the
vast island, or peninsula, of Scandinavia
. 5 *
That extreme country of the North was not unknown to the
conquerors of Italy: the ties of ancient consanguinity had been strengthened by recent offices of friendship; and a Scandinavian
king had cheerfully abdicated his savage greatness, that he might pass the remainder of his days in the peaceful and polished
court of Ravenna
Many vestiges, which cannot be ascribed to the arts of popular vanity, attest the ancient residence of the
Goths in the countries beyond the Rhine
. From the time of the geographer Ptolemy
, the southern part of Sweden
seems to have
continued in the possession of the less enterprising remnant of the nation, and a large territory is even at present divided into east and west
. During the middle ages
, (from the ninth to the twelfth century,) whilst Christianity
was advancing with a slow progress
into the North, the Goths and the Swedes composed two distinct and sometimes hostile members of the same monarchy
The latter of these two names has prevailed without extinguishing the former. The Swedes, who might well be satisfied with their
own fame in arms, have, in every age, claimed the kindred glory of the Goths. In a moment of discontent
against the court of
Rome, Charles the Twelfth insinuated, that his victorious troops were not degenerated from their brave ancestors, who had
already subdued the mistress of the world. 8
Footnote 4: See the prefaces of Cassiodorus and Jornandes; it is surprising that the latter should be omitted in the excellent
edition, published by Grotius, of the Gothic writers.
Footnote 5: On the authority of Ablavius, Jornandes quotes some old Gothic chronicles in verse. De Reb. Geticis, c. 4.
Footnote *: The Goths have inhabited Scandinavia, but it was not their original habitation. This great nation was anciently of
the Suevian race; it occupied, in the time of Tacitus, and long before, Mecklenburgh, Pomerania, Southern Prussia and the
north-west of Poland. A little before the birth of J. C., and in the first years of that century, they belonged to the kingdom of
Marbod, king of the Marcomanni: but Cotwalda, a young Gothic prince, delivered them from that tyranny, and established his
own power over the kingdom of the Marcomanni, already much weakened by the victories of Tiberius. The power of the
Goths at that time must have been great: it was probably from them that the Sinus Codanus (the Baltic) took this name, as it
was afterwards called Mare Suevicum, and Mare Venedicum, during the superiority of the proper Suevi and the Venedi. The
epoch in which the Goths passed into Scandinavia is unknown. See Adelung, Hist. of Anc. Germany, p. 200. Gatterer, Hist.
Univ. 458. On the whole, they seem to be one vast branch of the Indo-Teutonic race, who spread irregularly towards the north of Europe, and at different periods, and in different regions, came in contact with the more civilized nations of the south. At this period, there seems to have been a reflux of these Gothic tribes from the North. From these, and the voyage of Pytheas, which Malte Brun considers genuine, the Goths were in possession of Scandinavia, Ey-Gothland, 250 years before Jesus Christ, and of a tract on the continent (Reid-Gothland) between the mouths of the
Vistula and the Oder. The Gothic language, according to Bopp, is the link between the Sanscrit and the modern Teutonic dialects: "I think that I am
reading Sanscrit when I am reading Olphilas." Bopp, Conjugations System der Sanscrit Sprache, preface, p. x - M.
Footnote 6: Jornandes, c. 3.
Footnote 7: See in the Prolegomena of Grotius some large extracts from Adam of Bremen, and Saxo-Grammaticus. The
former wrote in the year 1077, the latter flourished about the year 1200.
Footnote 8: Voltaire, Histoire de Charles XII. l. iii. When the Austrians desired the aid of the court of Rome against Gustavus
Adolphus, they always represented that conqueror as the lineal successor of Alaric. Harte's History of Gustavus, vol. ii. p.
Till the end of the eleventh century, a celebrated temple subsisted at Upsal
, the most considerable town of the Swedes and
Goths. It was enriched with the gold which the Scandinavians had acquired in their piratical adventures, and sanctified by the
uncouth representations of the three principal deities, the god of war, the goddess of generation, and the god of thunder. In the
general festival, that was solemnized every ninth year, nine animals of every species (without excepting the human
were sacrificed, and their bleeding bodies suspended in the sacred grove adjacent to the temple. 9
The only traces that now subsist
of this barbaric superstition are contained in the Edda
* a system of mythology
, compiled in Iceland
about the thirteenth
century, and studied by the learned of Denmark
, as the most valuable remains of their ancient traditions.
Footnote 9: See Adam of Bremen in Grotii Prolegomenis, p. 105. The temple of Upsal was destroyed by Ingo, king of
Sweden, who began his reign in the year 1075, and about fourscore years afterwards, a Christian cathedral was erected on its
ruins. See Dalin's History of Sweden, in the Bibliotheque Raisonee.
Footnote *: The Eddas have at length been made accessible to European scholars by the completion of the publication of the
Saemundine Edda by the Arna Magnaean Commission, in 3 vols. 4to., with a copious lexicon of northern mythology. - M.
Notwithstanding the mysterious obscurity of the Edda
, we can easily distinguish two persons confounded under the name of
; the god of war, and the great legislator of Scandinavia
. The latter, the Mahomet
of the North, instituted a religion adapted
to the climate and to the people. Numerous tribes on either side of the Baltic Sea
were subdued by the invincible valor of Odin
his persuasive eloquence
, and by the fame which he acquired of a most skilful magician
. The faith that he had propagated,
during a long and prosperous life, he confirmed by a voluntary death. Apprehensive of the ignominious approach of disease and
infirmity, he resolved to expire as became a warrior. In a solemn assembly of the Swedes and Goths, he wounded himself in
nine mortal places, hastening away (as he asserted with his dying voice) to prepare the feast of heroes in the palace of the God
of war. 10
Footnote 10: Mallet, Introduction a l'Histoire du Dannemarc.
The native and proper habitation of Odin
is distinguished by the appellation of As-gard
. The happy resemblance of that name with As-burg, or As-of, 11
words of a similar signification, has given rise to an historical system of so pleasing a contexture, that we could almost wish to persuade ourselves of its truth. It is supposed that Odin
was the chief of a tribe of barbarians which dwelt on the banks of the Lake
Maeotis, till the fall of Mithridates and the arms of Pompey
menaced the North with servitude. That Odin, yielding with
indignant fury to a power which he was unable to resist, conducted his tribe from the frontiers of the Asiatic Sarmatia into
Sweden, with the great design of forming, in that inaccessible retreat of freedom
, a religion and a people, which, in some remote
age, might be subservient to his immortal revenge
; when his invincible Goths
, armed with martial fanaticism
, should issue in
numerous swarms from the neighborhood of the Polar circle, to chastise the oppressors of mankind. 12
Footnote 11: Mallet, c. iv. p. 55, has collected from Strabo, Pliny, Ptolemy, and Stephanus Byzantinus, the vestiges of such a
city and people.
Footnote 12: This wonderful expedition of Odin, which, by deducting the enmity of the Goths and Romans
from so memorable a cause, might supply the noble groundwork of an epic poem, cannot safely be received as authentic
history. According to the obvious sense of the Edda, and the interpretation of the most skilful critics, As-gard, instead of
denoting a real city of the Asiatic Sarmatia, is the fictitious appellation of the mystic abode of the gods, the Olympus of
Scandinavia; from whence the prophet was supposed to descend, when he announced his new religion to the Gothic nations,
who were already seated in the southern parts of Sweden. Note: A curious letter may be consulted on this subject from the Swede, Ihre counsellor in the Chancery of Upsal, printed at Upsal by Edman, in 1772 and translated into German by M. Schlozer. Gottingen, printed for Dietericht, 1779. - G. Gibbon, at a later period of his work, recanted his opinion of the truth of this expedition of Odin. The Asiatic origin of the Goths
is almost certain from the affinity of their language to the Sanskrit and Persian; but their northern writers, when all mythology
was reduced to hero worship. - M.
If so many successive generations of Goths were capable of preserving a faint tradition of
origin, we must not expect, from such unlettered
barbarians, any distinct account of the time and
circumstances of their emigration
. To cross the Baltic was an easy and natural attempt. The inhabitants of Sweden were masters
of a sufficient number of large vessels, with oars, 13
and the distance is little more than one hundred miles from Carlscroon to
the nearest ports of Pomerania
. Here, at length, we land on firm and historic ground. At least as early as the
Christian aura, 14
and as late as the age of the Antonines, 15
the Goths were established towards the mouth of the Vistula, and in that fertile province where the commercial cities of Thorn, Elbing, Koningsberg, and Dantzick, were long afterwards
Westward of the Goths, the numerous tribes of the Vandals
were spread along the banks of the Oder, and the
sea-coast of Pomerania and Mecklenburgh. A striking resemblance of manners, complexion, religion, and language, seemed to
indicate that the Vandals and the Goths were originally one great people
The latter appear to have been subdivided into
, and Gepidae
The distinction among the Vandals was more strongly marked by the independent
names of Heruli
, and a variety of other petty states, many of which, in a future age, expanded
themselves into powerful monarchies. *
Footnote 13: Tacit. Germania, c. 44.
Footnote 14: Tacit. Annal. ii. 62. If we could yield a firm assent to the navigation of Pytheas of Marseilles, we must allow that
the Goths had passed the Baltic at least three hundred years before Christ.
Footnote 15: Ptolemy, l. ii.
Footnote 16: By the German colonies who followed the arms of the Teutonic knights. The conquest and conversion of Prussia
were completed by those adventurers in the thirteenth century.
Footnote 17: Pliny (Hist. Natur. iv. 14) and Procopius (in Bell. Vandal. l. i. c. l) agree in this opinion. They lived in distant ages, and possessed different means of investigating the truth.
Footnote 18: The Ostro and Visi, the eastern and western Goths, obtained those denominations from their original seats in
Scandinavia. In all their future marches and settlements they preserved, with their names, the same relative situation. When they
first departed from Sweden, the infant colony was contained in three vessels. The third, being a heavy sailor, lagged behind, and
the crew, which afterwards swelled into a nation, received from that circumstance the appellation of Gepidae or Loiterers.
Jornandes, c. 17. Note: It was not in Scandinavia that the Goths were divided into Ostrogoths and Visigoths; that division took
place after their irruption into Dacia in the third century: those who came from Mecklenburgh and Pomerania were called
Visigoths; those who came from the south of Prussia, and the northwest of Poland, called themselves Ostrogoths. Adelung,
Hist. All. p. 202 Gatterer, Hist. Univ. 431. - G.
Footnote *: This opinion is by no means probable. The Vandals and the Goths equally belonged to the great division of the
Suevi, but the two tribes were very different. Those who have treated on this part of history, appear to me to have neglected to
remark that the ancients almost always gave the name of the dominant and conquering people to all the weaker and conquered
races. So Pliny calls Vindeli, Vandals, all the people of the north-east of Europe, because at that epoch the Vandals were
doubtless the conquering tribe. Caesar, on the contrary, ranges under the name of Suevi, many of the tribes whom Pliny
reckons as Vandals, because the Suevi, properly so called, were then the most powerful tribe in Germany. When the Goths,
become in their turn conquerors, had subjugated the nations whom they encountered on their way, these nations lost their name
with their liberty, and became of Gothic origin. The Vandals themselves were then considered as Goths; the Heruli, the
Gepidae, &c., suffered the same fate. A common origin was thus attributed to tribes who had only been united by the
conquests of some dominant nation, and this confusion has given rise to a number of historical errors.
The Vandal race, once so fearfully celebrated in the annals of mankind, has so utterly perished
from the face of the earth, that we are not aware that any vestiges of their language can be traced, so as to throw light on the
disputed question of their German, their Sclavonian, or independent origin.
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To cite original text:
Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
1st ed. (London : Printed for W. Strahan ; and T. Cadell, 1776-1788.), pp. 242-247.