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the interpretation of an historical prediction must be left to the historian,—and we freely consign it over to the historian of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, whose province it is and whose subject it forms. For none could elucidate the texts more clearly, or expound them more fully, than the task has been accomplished by Gibbon. The chapters of the sceptical philosopher, that treat directly of the matter, need but a text to be prefixed and a few unholy words to be blotted out, to form a series of expository lectures on the eighth and ninth chapters of the Revelation. The historian, however involuntarily, here takes up the office of the theologian; and little, or nothing, is left for the professed interpreter to do, than to point to the pages of Gibbon.
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. Ver. 7.
At the beginning of the 30th chapter of his history, Gibbon thus describes the first irruption of the Goths on the Roman empire
“If the subjects of Rome could be ignorant of their obligations to the great Theodosius, they were too soon convinced, how painfully the spirit and abilities of their deceased emperor had sup, ported the frail and mouldering edifice of the republic. He died in the month of January, and before the end of ihe winter of the same year, (395,) the Gothic nation was in arins. The barbarian auxiliaries erected their independent standard; and boldly avowed hostile designs, which they had long cherished in their ferocious minds. Their countrymen, who had been condemned, by the conditions of the last treaty, to a life of tranquillity and labour, deserted their farms at the first sound of the trumpet, and eagerly assumed the weapons which they had reluctantly laid down. The barriers of the Danube were thrown open; the savage warriors of Scythia issued from their forest; and the uncommon severity of the winter allowed the poet to remark, that they rolled their ponderous waggons over the broad and icy back of the indignant river.' The unhappy nations of the provinces to the south of the Danube, submitted to the calamities, which, in the course of twenty years, were almost grown familiar to their imagination ; and the various troops of barbarians, who gloried in the
Gothic name, were irrégularly spread from the woody shores of Dalmatia, to the walls of
Constantinople.—The Goths were directed by the bold and artful genius of Alaric.-In the midst of a divided court, and a discontented people, the emperor Arcadius was terrified by the aspect of the Gothic arms.-Alaric disdained to trample any longer on the prostrate and ruined countries of Thrace and Dacia, and he resolved to seek a plentiful harvest of fame and riches in a province which had hitherto escaped the ravages of war.*
“Alaric traversed, without resistance, the plains of Macedonia and Thessaly. The troops which had been posted to defend the straits of Thermopylæ, retired, as they were directed, without attempting to disturb the secure and rapid passage of Alaric; and the fertile fields of Phocis and Bæotia were instantly covered with a deluge of barbarians, who massacred the males of an age to bear arms, and drove away the beautiful females, with the spoil and cattle of the flaming villages. The travellers who visited Greece several years afterwards could easily discover the deep and bloody traces of the march of the Goths. The whole territory of Attică was blasted by his baneful presence; and, if we may use the comparison of a contemporary philosopher, Athens itself resembled the bleeding and empty skin of a slaughtered victim. Corinth, Argos, Sparta, yielded without resistance to the arms of the Goths: and the most fortunate of the inhabitants were saved, by death, from beholding the slavery of their families, and the conflagration of their cities.”'t
When resisted and attacked by Stilico, the general of the Romans, Alaric concluded a treaty with the eastern emperor, and "an edict was published at Constantinople, which declared the promotion of Alaric to the rank of master-general of the eastern Illyricum: and the unhappy provincials were compelled to forge the instruments of their own destruction. The birth of Alaric, the glory of his past exploits, and the confidence in his future designs, insensibly united the body of the nation under his victorious standard; and, with the unanimous consent of the barbarian chieftains, the master-general of Illyricum was elevated, according to ancient custom, on a shield, and solemnly proclaimed king of the Visigoths. Armed with this double power, seated on the verge of the two empires, he alternately sold his deceitful promises to the courts of Arcadius and Honorius, (of Constantinople and Rome,) till he declared and executed his resolution of invading the dominions of the west (of Rome). The provinces of Europe which belonged to the eastern emperor were already exhausted; those of Asia were inaccessible; and the strength of Constantinople had resisted his attack. But he was tempted by the fame, the beauty, the wealth of Italy; which he had twice visited; and he secretly aspired to plant the Gothic standard on the walls of Rome, and
* Gibbon's Hist. c, 30, vol. v. 176-178. Ibid. pp. 179—182,
to enrich his army with the accumulated spoils of three hundred triumphs.*
“The scarcity of facts, and the uncertainty of dates, oppose our attempts to describe the circumstances of the first invasion of Italy by the arms of Alaric. His march, perhaps, from Thessalonica through the warlike and hostile country of Panonia, as far as the foot of the Julian Alps; his passage of those mountains, which were strongly guarded by troops and intrenchments; the siege of Aquileia, and the conquest of the provinces of Austria and Venetia, appear to have employed a considerable time. Unless his operations were extremely cautious and slow, the length of the interval would suggest a probable suspicion, that the Gothic king retreated towards the banks of the Danube, and reinforced his army with fresh swarms of barbarians, before he again attempted to penetrate into the heart of Italy. Since the public and important events escape the diligence of the historian, he may amuse himself with contemplating, for a moment, the influence of the arms of Alaric on the fortunes of two obscure. individuals, a presbyter of Aquileia and an husbandman of Verona. The learned Rufinus, who was summoned by his enemies to appear before a Roman synod, wisely preferred the dangers of a besieged city; and the barbarians, who furiously shook the walls of Aquileia, might save him from the cruel sentence of another heretic, who, at the request of the same bishops, was severely whipped, and condemned to perpetual exile on a desert island. The old man, who had passed his simple and innocent life in the neighbourhood of Verona, was a stranger to the quarrels both of kings and of bishops; his pleasures, his desires, his knowledge, were confined within the little circle of his paternal farm; and his staff supported his aged steps on the same ground where he had sported in his infancy. Yet even this humble and rustic felicity, which Claudian describes with so much truth and feeling, was still exposed the undistinguishing rage of war. • His trees, his old contemporary Trees must blaze in the conflagration of the whole country; a detachment of Gothic cavalry might sweep away his cottage and his family; and the power of Alaric could destroy this happiness which he was not able either to taste or to bestow;' 'Fame,' says the poet, encircling with terror her gloomy wings, proclaimed the march of the barbarian army, and filled Italy with consternation. The apprehensions of each individual were increased in just proportion to the measure of his fortune; and the most timid, who had already embarked their valuable effects, meditated their escape into the island of Sicily or the African coast. The public distress was aggravated by the fears and reproaches of superstitution. Every hour produced some horrid tale of strange and portentous accidents: the pagans deplored the neglect of omens, and the interruption of sacrifices; but the Christians still derived some comfort from the powerful intercession of the saints and martyrs.t
* Gibbon's Hist. pp. 188—190.
“The emperor Honorius was distinguished above his subjects by the pre-eminence of fear as well as of rank. The pride and luxury in which he was educated had not allowed him to suspect, that there existed on earth any power presumptuous enough to invade the repose of the successor of Augustus. The arts of flattery concealed the danger, till Alaric approached the palace of Milan. But when the sound of war had awakened the young emperor, instead of flying to arms with the spirit or even the rashness of his age, he eagerly listened to timid counsellors, who proposed to convey his sacred person, and his faithful attendants, to some secure and distant station in the provinces of Gaul. Stilicho alone had courage and authority to resist this disgraceful measure, which would have abandoned Rome and Italy to the barbarians; but as the troops of the palace had been lately detached to the Rhætian frontier, and as the resource of new levies was slow and precarious, the general of the west could only promise, that, if the court of Milan would maintain their ground during his absence, he would soon return with an army equal to the encounter of the Gothic king."*
The cohorts of Germany were summoned to the field of battle. -Orders were issued “to the most remote troops of the west to advance by rapid marches to the defence of Honorius and of Italy. The fortresses of the Rhine were abandoned ; and the safety of Gaul was protected only by the faith of the Germans, and the ancient terror of the Roman name. Even the legion, which had been stationed to guard the wall of Britain against the Caledonians of the north, was hastily recalled; and a numerous body of the cavalry of the Alani was persuaded to engage in the service of the emperor, who anxiously expected the return of the general. The prudence and vigour of Stilicho were conspicuous on this occasion, which revealed at the same time the weakness of the falling empire. The legions of Rome, which had long since languished in the gradual decay of discipline and courage, were exterminated by the Gothic and civil wars; and it was found impossible, without exhausting and exposing the provinces, to assemble an army for the defence of Italy.
“ When Stilicho seemed to abandon his sovereign in the unguarded palace of Milan, he had probably calculated the term of his absence, the distance of the enemy, and the obstacles that might retard their march. He principally depended on the rivers of Italy, the Adige, the Minico, the Oglio, and the Addua; which, in the winter or spring, by the fall of rains, or by the melting of the snows, are commonly swelled into broad and impetuous torrents. But the season happened to be rcmarkably dry; and the Goths could traverse, without impediment, the wide and stony beds, whose centre was faintly marked by the course of a shallow stream. The bridge and passage of the Addua were secured by a strong detachment of the Gothic army; and as Alaric approached the walls, or rather the suburbs, of Milan, he enjoyed the proud
* Gibbon's Hist. c. 30, vol. v. p. 194.
satisfaction of seeing the emperor of the Romans fly before him. Honorius, accompanied by a feeble train of statesmen and eunuchs, hastily retreated towards the Alps, with a design of securing his person in the city of Arles, which had often been the royal residence of his predecessors. But Honorius had scarcely passed the Po, before he was overtaken by the speed of the Gothic cavalry; since the urgency of the danger compelled him to seek a temporary shelter within ihe fortification of Asta, a town of Liguria or Piedmont, situate on the banks of the Tanarus. The siege of an obscure place, which contained so rich a prize, and seemed incapable of a long resistance, was instantly formed, and indefatigably pressed by the king of the Goths."*
But the imperial power of Rome, though apparently about to be extinguished, was not to be destroyed—the sun was not to be smitten, nor its light cease to shine at the sounding of the first trumpet. And " in the last, and almost hopeless extremity, after the barbarians had already proposed the indignity of a capitulation, the imperial captive was suddenly relieved by the fame, the approach, and, at length, the presence of the hero, whom he had so long expected.”
The Goths were defeated: the storm was stayed, --but only to be renewed with double violence, and combined with other elements of destruction. The eastern empire had been devastated; and, facilitated and extended by the extreme heat of the season, the FIRE had consumed the villages and the woods, till it called forth the plaintive lamentation of a secluded poet.—But the storm of hail and of fire had been as yet cast but partially on the earth, and had not extended over all the Roman world. And other clouds arising from a distance, began to gather round Italy, when the Gothic tempest seemed to die away. The first strife of the elements was but the precursor of the gathering storm.
Fearful of renewed invasions, Honorius fixed the seat of government at Ravenna, a strongly fortified city, situated on the banks of the Po, and sur
* Gibbon's Hist, c. 30, vol. v. pp. 194-196.