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Part III.

The Romans 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 power. 75 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 of the Germans, and the Savior of Gaul. 76
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 vanity and adulation. 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 and 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. 78 When the exhausted country no longer supplied a variety of plunder, the Franks seized on some vessels in the ports of Spain, 79 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. 80
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, * or Allmen; to denote at once their various lineage and their common bravery. 86 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 more formidable 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.)
This warlike 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. A 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. 88
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 Gallienus 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 garrison 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 with spoil; and their retreat was esteemed as a victory by the unwarlike Romans. 89
Footnote 89: Zosimus, l. i. p. 34.
When Gallienus 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 well 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.
Another invasion 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, that Gallienus endeavored to protect Italy from the fury of the Germans. He espoused Pipa, the daughter of a king of the Marcomanni, 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 of Gallienus. 93
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 Goths from Scandinavia, 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 and Gallienus, 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 Italy and Macedonia, their progress was commonly checked, or their return intercepted, by the Imperial lieutenants. 94 But 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. 96 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 Diana, the arrival of Orestes and Pylades, 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 Bosphorus, whose capital was situated on the Straits, through which the Maeotis communicates itself to the Euxine, was composed of degenerate Greeks and half-civilized barbarians. It subsisted, as an independent state, from the time of the Peloponnesian war, 98 was at last swallowed up by the ambition of Mithridates, 99 and, with the rest of his dominions, sunk under the weight of the Roman arms. From the reign of Augustus, 100 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. 101 As long as the scepter was possessed by a lineal succession of 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. With the 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. 102 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 suspicious. 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 modern Turks; 104 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, 105 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 more obstinate 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.

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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. 260-266.

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