Back to Chapter Listing
had long experienced the daring valor of the people of Lower Germany. The union of their strength threatened
Gaul with a more formidable invasion, and required the presence of Gallienus
, the heir and colleague of Imperial
Whilst that prince, and his infant son Salonius
, displayed, in the court of Treves
, the majesty of the empire its armies were ably
conducted by their general, Posthumus
, who, though he afterwards betrayed the family of Valerian
, was ever faithful to the
great interests of the monarchy. The treacherous language of panegyrics and medals darkly announces a long series of victories.
Trophies and titles attest (if such evidence can attest) the fame of Posthumus
, who is repeatedly styled the Conqueror
Germans, and the Savior of Gaul
Footnote 75: Zosimus, l. i. p. 27.
Footnote 76: M. de Brequigny (in the Memoires de l'Academie, tom. xxx.) has given us a very curious life of Posthumus. A
series of the Augustan History from Medals and Inscriptions has been more than once planned, and is still much wanted.
But a single fact, the only one indeed of which we have any distinct knowledge, erases, in a great measure, these monuments of
. The Rhine
, though dignified with the title of Safeguard
of the provinces, was an imperfect barrier against
the daring spirit of enterprise with which the Franks were actuated. Their rapid devastation stretched from the river to the foot
of the Pyrenees
; nor were they stopped by those mountains.Spain
, which had never dreaded, was unable to resist, the inroads
of the Germans. During twelve years, the greatest part of the reign of Gallienus
, that opulent country was the theatre of unequal
and destructive hostilities. Tarragona
, the flourishing capital of a peaceful province, was sacked and almost destroyed; 77
so late as the days of Orosius
, who wrote in the fifth century, wretched cottages, scattered amidst the ruins of magnificent cities,
still recorded the rage of the barbarians
When the exhausted country no longer supplied a variety of plunder
, the Franks
seized on some vessels in the ports of Spain
and transported themselves into Mauritania
. The distant province was
astonished with the fury of these barbarians, who seemed to fall from a new world, as their name, manners, and complexion,
were equally unknown on the coast of Africa
Footnote 77: Aurel. Victor, c. 33. Instead of Poene direpto, both the sense
and the expression require deleto; though indeed, for different reasons, it is alike difficult to correct the text of the best, and of
the worst, writers.
Footnote 78: In the time of Ausonius (the end of the fourth century) Ilerda or Lerida was in a very ruinous state, (Auson. Epist.
xxv. 58,) which probably was the consequence of this invasion.
Footnote 79: Valesius is therefore mistaken in supposing that the Franks had invaded Spain by sea.
Footnote 80: Aurel. Victor. Eutrop. ix. 6.
II. In that part of Upper Saxony
, beyond the Elbe
, which is at present called the Marquisate of Lusace
, there existed, in ancient
times, a sacred wood, the awful seat of the superstition of the Suevi
. None were permitted to enter the holy precincts, without
confessing, by their servile
bonds and suppliant
posture, the immediate presence of the sovereign Deity
. 81 Patriotism
contributed, as well as devotion, to consecrate the Sonnenwald
, or wood of the Semnones. 82
It was universally believed,
that the nation had received its first existence on that sacred spot. At stated periods, the numerous tribes who gloried in the
Suevic blood, resorted thither by their ambassadors; and the memory of their common extraction was perpetrated by barbaric
rites and human sacrifice
. The wide-extended name of Suevi
filled the interior countries of Germany, from the banks of the
Oder to those of the Danube
. They were distinguished from the other Germans by their peculiar mode of dressing their long
hair, which they gathered into a rude knot on the crown of the head; and they delighted in an ornament that showed their ranks
more lofty and terrible in the eyes of the enemy. 83
Jealous as the Germans were of military renown
, they all confessed the
superior valor of the Suevi; and the tribes of the Usipetes and Tencteri, who, with a vast army, encountered the dictator
Caesar, declared that they esteemed it not a disgrace to have fled before a people to whose arms the immortal gods themselves
were unequal. 84
Footnote 81: Tacit. Germania, 38.
Footnote 82: Cluver. Germ. Antiq. iii. 25.
Footnote 83: Sic Suevi a ceteris Germanis, sic Suerorum ingenui a servis separantur. A proud separation!
Footnote 84: Caesar in Bello Gallico, iv. 7.
In the reign of the emperor Caracalla
, an innumerable swarm of Suevi appeared on the banks of the Mein, and in the
neighborhood of the Roman provinces, in quest either of food, of plunder, or of glory. 85
The hasty army of volunteers
gradually coalesced into a great and permanent nation, and as it was composed from so many different tribes, assumed the
name of Alemanni
; to denote at once their various lineage
and their common bravery
The latter was soon felt by the Romans in many a hostile inroad. The Alemanni
fought chiefly on horseback; but their cavalry
was rendered still
by a mixture of light infantry
, selected from the bravest and most active of the youth, whom frequent exercise
had inured to accompany the horsemen in the longest march, the most rapid charge, or the most precipitate retreat. 87
Footnote 85: Victor in Caracal. Dion Cassius, lxvii. p. 1350.
Footnote *: The nation of the Alemanni was not originally formed by the Suavi properly so called; these have always preserved their own name. Shortly afterwards they made (A. D. 357) an irruption into Rhaetia, and it was not long after that they were reunited with the Alemanni. Still they have always been a distinct people; at the present day, the people who inhabit the north-west of the Black Forest call themselves Schwaben, Suabians, Sueves, while those who inhabit near the Rhine, in Ortenau, the Brisgaw, the Margraviate of Baden, do not consider themselves Suabians, and are by origin Alemanni. The Teucteri and the Usipetae, inhabitants of the interior and of the north of Westphalia, formed, says Gatterer, the nucleus of the Alemannic nation; they occupied the country where the name of the Alemanni first appears, as conquered in 213, by Caracalla They were well trained to fight on horseback, (according to Tacitus, Germ. c. 32;) and Aurelius Victor gives the
same praise to the Alemanni: finally, they never made part of the Frankish league. The Alemanni became subsequently a centre
round which gathered a multitude of German tribes.
Footnote 86: This etymology (far different from those which amuse the fancy of the learned) is preserved by Asinius
Quadratus, an original historian, quoted by Agathias, i. c. 5.
Footnote 87: The Suevi engaged Caesar in this manner, and the maneuver deserved the approbation of the conqueror, (in
Bello Gallico, i. 48.)
people of Germans had been astonished by the immense preparations of Alexander Severus
they were dismayed by the arms of his successor, a barbarian equal in valor and fierceness to themselves. But still hovering on
the frontiers of the empire, they increased the general disorder that ensued after the death of Decius
. They inflicted severe
wounds on the rich provinces of Gaul
; they were the first who removed the veil that covered the feeble majesty of Italy
numerous body of the Alemanni penetrated across the Danube
and through the Rhaetian Alps
into the plains of Lombardy
advanced as far as Ravenna
, and displayed the victorious banners of barbarians almost in sight of Rome
Footnote 88: Hist. August. p. 215, 216. Dexippus in the Excerpts. Legationam, p. 8. Hieronym. Chron. Orosius, vii. 22.
The insult and the danger rekindled in the senate
some sparks of their ancient virtue
. Both the emperors were engaged in far
distant wars, Valerian
in the East, and Gallienu
s on the Rhine. All the hopes and resources of the Romans were in themselves.
In this emergency, the senators resumed the defense of the republic
, drew out the Praetorian Guard
, who had been left to
the capital, and filled up their numbers, by enlisting into the public service
the stoutest and most willing of the Plebeian
The Alemanni, astonished with the sudden appearance of an army more numerous than their own, retired into Germany, laden
; and their retreat was esteemed as a victory by the unwarlike Romans. 89
Footnote 89: Zosimus, l. i. p. 34.
received the intelligence
that his capital was delivered from the barbarians, he was much less delighted than
alarmed with the courage
of the senate
, since it might one day prompt them to rescue the public from domestic tyranny
as from foreign invasion
. His timid ingratitude was published to his subjects, in an edict which prohibited the senators from
exercising any militaryemployment
, and even from approaching the camps of the legions. But his fears were groundless. The
rich and luxurious
nobles, sinking into their natural character, accepted, as a favor, this disgraceful exemption from military
service; and as long as they were indulged in the enjoyment of their baths, their theatres, and their villas, they cheerfully resigned
the more dangerous cares of empire to the rough hands of peasants and soldiers. 90
Footnote 90: Aurel. Victor, in Gallieno et Probo. His complaints breathe as uncommon spirit of freedom.
of the Alemanni, of a more formidable aspect, but more glorious event, is mentioned by a writer of the lower
empire. Three hundred thousand are said to have been vanquished, in a battle near Milan
, by Gallienus
in person, at the head of
only ten thousand Romans. 91
We may, however, with great probability, ascribe this incredible victory either to the credulity
of the historian, or to some exaggerated exploits of one of the emperor's lieutenants. It was by arms of a very different nature,
endeavored to protect Italy
from the fury of the Germans. He espoused Pipa, the daughter of a king of the
, a Suevic tribe, which was often confounded with the Alemanni
in their wars and conquests. 92
To the father, as
the price of his alliance
, he granted an ample settlement in Pannonia. The native charms of unpolished beauty seem to have fixed
the daughter in the affections of the inconstant emperor, and the bands of policy were more firmly connected by those of love.
But the haughty prejudice
of Rome still refused the name of marriage
to the profane mixture of a citizen and a barbarian; and
has stigmatized the German princess with the opprobrious
title of concubine
Footnote 91: Zonaras, l. xii. p. 631.
Footnote 92: One of the Victors calls him king of the Marcomanni; the other of the Germans.
Footnote 93: See Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iii. p. 398, &c.
III. We have already traced the emigration of the
, or at least from Prussia
, to the mouth of the Borysthenes, and have followed their victorious arms from
the Borysthenes to the Danube
. Under the reigns of Valerian
, the frontier
of the last- mentioned river was
perpetually infested by the inroads of Germans and Sarmatians; but it was defended by the Romans with more than usual
firmness and success. The provinces that were the seat of war, recruited the armies of Rome
with an inexhaustible supply of
hardy soldiers; and more than one of these Illyrian peasants attained the station, and displayed the abilities, of a general. Though
flying parties of the barbarians, who incessantly hovered on the banks of the Danube
, penetrated sometimes to the confines of
, their progress was commonly checked, or their return intercepted, by the Imperial lieutenants. 94
the great stream of the Gothic
hostilities was diverted into a very different channel. The Goths, in their new settlement of the
Ukraine, soon became masters of the northern coast of the Euxine: to the south of that inland sea were situated the soft and
wealthy provinces of Asia Minor, which possessed all that could attract, and nothing that could resist, a barbarian conqueror.
Footnote 94: See the lives of Claudius, Aurelian, and Probus, in the Augustan History.
The banks of the Borysthenes are only sixty miles distant from the narrow entrance 95
of the peninsula
of Crim Tartary
known to the ancients under the name of Chersonesus Taurica
On that inhospitable shore, Euripides
, embellishing with
exquisite art the tales of antiquity
, has placed the scene of one of his most affecting tragedies. 97
The bloody sacrifices of
, the arrival of Orestes
, and the triumph of virtue and religion over savage fierceness, serve to represent an
historical truth, that the Tauri, the original inhabitants of the peninsula, were, in some degree, reclaimed from their brutal
manners by a gradual intercourse with the Grecian
colonies, which settled along the maritime coast. The little kingdom of
, whose capital was situated on the Straits, through which the Maeotis communicates itself to the Euxine
composed of degenerate
Greeks and half-civilized barbarians. It subsisted, as an independent state, from the time of the
was at last swallowed up by the ambition of Mithridates
and, with the rest of his dominions, sunk
under the weight of the Roman arms. From the reign of Augustus
the kings of Bosphorus
were the humble, but not
useless, allies of the empire
. By presents, by arms, and by a slight fortification drawn across the Isthmus, they effectually
guarded against the roving
plunderers of Sarmatia, the access of a country, which, from its peculiar situation and convenient
harbors, commanded the Euxine Sea
and Asia Mino
As long as the scepte
r was possessed by a lineal succession
kings, they acquitted themselves of their important charge with vigilance and success. Domestic factions, and the fears, or
private interest, of obscure usurpers, who seized on the vacant throne, admitted the Goths into the heart of Bosphorus.
acquisition of a superfluous waste of fertile
soil, the conquerors obtained the command of a naval force, sufficient to transport
their armies to the coast of Asia
This ships used in the navigation
of the Euxine
were of a very singular construction. They
were slight flat-bottomed barks framed of timber
only, without the least mixture of iron
, and occasionally covered with a
shelving roof, on the appearance of a tempest
. 103 In these floating houses, the Goths carelessly trusted themselves to the
mercy of an unknown sea
, under the conduct of sailors pressed into the service, and whose skill and fidelity were equally
. But the hopes of plunder
had banished every idea of danger, and a natural fearlessness of temper supplied in their
minds the more rational confidence
, which is the just result of knowledge and experience. Warriors of such a daring spirit must
have often murmured against the cowardice
of their guides, who required the strongest assurances of a settled calm before they
would venture to embark; and would scarcely ever be tempted to lose sight of the land. Such, at least, is the practice of the
and they are probably not inferior, in the art of navigation
, to the ancient inhabitants of Bosphorus
Footnote 95: It is about half a league in breadth. Genealogical History of the Tartars, p 598.
Footnote 96: M. de Peyssonel, who had been French Consul at Caffa, in his Observations sur les Peuples Barbares, que ont
habite les bords du Danube
Footnote 97: Euripides in Iphigenia in Taurid.
Footnote 98: Strabo, l. vii. p. 309. The first kings of Bosphorus were the allies of Athens.
Footnote 99: Appian in Mithridat.
Footnote 100: It was reduced by the arms of Agrippa. Orosius, vi. 21. Eu tropius, vii. 9. The Romans once advanced within
three days' march of the Tanais. Tacit. Annal. xii. 17.
Footnote 101: See the Toxaris of Lucian, if we credit the sincerity and the virtues of the Scythian, who relates a great war of
his nation against the kings of Bosphorus.
Footnote 102: Zosimus, l. i. p. 28.
Footnote 103: Strabo, l. xi. Tacit. Hist. iii. 47. They were called Camaroe.
Footnote 104: See a very natural picture of the Euxine navigation, in the xvith letter of Tournefort.
The fleet of the Goths
, leaving the coast of Circassia
on the left hand, first appeared before Pityus
the utmost limits of the
Roman provinces; a city provided with a convenient port
, and fortified with a strong wall. Here they met with a resistance
than they had reason to expect from the feeble garrison
of a distant fortress
. They were repulsed; and their
disappointment seemed to diminish the terror of the Gothic name.
As long as Successianus
, an officer of superior rank and
merit, defended that frontier, all their efforts were ineffectual; but as soon as he was removed by Valerian
to a more honorable
but less important station, they resumed the attack of Pityus
; and by the destruction
of that city, obliterated the memory of their
former disgrace. 106
Footnote 105: Arian places the frontier garrison at Dioscurias, or Sebastopolis, forty-four miles to the east of Pityus. The
garrison of Phasis consisted in his time of only four hundred foot. See the Periplus of the Euxine. Note: Pityus is Pitchinda, according to D'Anville, ii. 115. - G. Rather Boukoun. - M. Dioscurias is Iskuriah. - G.
Footnote 106: Zosimus, l. i. p. 30.
Back to Chapter Listing
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. 260-266.