Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Part 8 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download - Full Text Free Book (Part 8/8) pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

condition which the Catholics considered as essential to the treaty,
delayed and dismissed the ecclesiastical conference; after reproaching
his bishops, that Clovis, their friend and proselyte, had privately
tempted the allegiance of his brother.

Chapter XXXVIII: Reign Of Clovis. -- Part II.

The allegiance of his brother was already seduced; and the obedience
of Godegesil, who joined the royal standard with the troops of Geneva,
more effectually promoted the success of the conspiracy. While the
Franks and Burgundians contended with equal valor, his seasonable
desertion decided the event of the battle; and as Gundobald was
faintly supported by the disaffected Gauls, he yielded to the arms of
Clovis, and hastily retreated from the field, which appears to have
been situate between Langres and Dijon. He distrusted the strength of
Dijon, a quadrangular fortress, encompassed by two rivers, and by a
wall thirty feet high, and fifteen thick, with four gates, and
thirty-three towers: he abandoned to the pursuit of Clovis the
important cities of Lyons and Vienna; and Gundobald still fled with
precipitation, till he had reached Avignon, at the distance of two
hundred and fifty miles from the field of battle. A long siege and an
artful negotiation, admonished the king of the Franks of the danger
and difficulty of his enterprise. He imposed a tribute on the
Burgundian prince, compelled him to pardon and reward his brother's
treachery, and proudly returned to his own dominions, with the spoils
and captives of the southern provinces. This splendid triumph was soon
clouded by the intelligence, that Gundobald had violated his recent
obligations, and that the unfortunate Godegesil, who was left at
Vienna with a garrison of five thousand Franks, had been besieged,
surprised, and massacred by his inhuman brother. Such an outrage might
have exasperated the patience of the most peaceful sovereign; yet the
conqueror of Gaul dissembled the injury, released the tribute, and
accepted the alliance, and military service, of the king of Burgundy.
Clovis no longer possessed those advantages which had assured the
success of the preceding war; and his rival, instructed by adversity,
had found new resources in the affections of his people. The Gauls or
Romans applauded the mild and impartial laws of Gundobald, which
almost raised them to the same level with their conquerors. The
bishops were reconciled, and flattered, by the hopes, which he
artfully suggested, of his approaching conversion; and though he
eluded their accomplishment to the last moment of his life, his
moderation secured the peace, and suspended the ruin, of the kingdom
of Burgundy.

I am impatient to pursue the final ruin of that kingdom, which was
accomplished under the reign of Sigismond, the son of Gundobald. The
Catholic Sigismond has acquired the honors of a saint and martyr; but
the hands of the royal saint were stained with the blood of his
innocent son, whom he inhumanly sacrificed to the pride and resentment
of a step- mother. He soon discovered his error, and bewailed the
irreparable loss. While Sigismond embraced the corpse of the
unfortunate youth, he received a severe admonition from one of his
attendants: "It is not his situation, O king! it is thine which
deserves pity and lamentation." The reproaches of a guilty conscience
were alleviated, however, by his liberal donations to the monastery of
Agaunum, or St. Maurice, in Vallais; which he himself had founded in
honor of the imaginary martyrs of the Thebæan legion. A full chorus of
perpetual psalmody was instituted by the pious king; he assiduously
practised the austere devotion of the monks; and it was his humble
prayer, that Heaven would inflict in this world the punishment of his
sins. His prayer was heard: the avengers were at hand: and the
provinces of Burgundy were overwhelmed by an army of victorious
Franks. After the event of an unsuccessful battle, Sigismond, who
wished to protract his life that he might prolong his penance,
concealed himself in the desert in a religious habit, till he was
discovered and betrayed by his subjects, who solicited the favor of
their new masters. The captive monarch, with his wife and two
children, was transported to Orleans, and buried alive in a deep well,
by the stern command of the sons of Clovis; whose cruelty might derive
some excuse from the maxims and examples of their barbarous age. Their
ambition, which urged them to achieve the conquest of Burgundy, was
inflamed, or disguised, by filial piety: and Clotilda, whose sanctity
did not consist in the forgiveness of injuries, pressed them to
revenge her father's death on the family of his assassin. The
rebellious Burgundians (for they attempted to break their chains) were
still permitted to enjoy their national laws under the obligation of
tribute and military service; and the Merovingian princes peaceably
reigned over a kingdom, whose glory and greatness had been first
overthrown by the arms of Clovis.

The first victory of Clovis had insulted the honor of the Goths. They
viewed his rapid progress with jealousy and terror; and the youthful
fame of Alaric was oppressed by the more potent genius of his rival.
Some disputes inevitably arose on the edge of their contiguous
dominions; and after the delays of fruitless negotiation, a personal
interview of the two kings was proposed and accepted. The conference
of Clovis and Alaric was held in a small island of the Loire, near
Amboise. They embraced, familiarly conversed, and feasted together;
and separated with the warmest professions of peace and brotherly
love. But their apparent confidence concealed a dark suspicion of
hostile and treacherous designs; and their mutual complaints
solicited, eluded, and disclaimed, a final arbitration. At Paris,
which he already considered as his royal seat, Clovis declared to an
assembly of the princes and warriors, the pretence, and the motive, of
a Gothic war. "It grieves me to see that the Arians still possess the
fairest portion of Gaul. Let us march against them with the aid of
God; and, having vanquished the heretics, we will possess and divide
their fertile provinces." The Franks, who were inspired by hereditary
valor and recent zeal, applauded the generous design of their monarch;
expressed their resolution to conquer or die, since death and conquest
would be equally profitable; and solemnly protested that they would
never shave their beards till victory should absolve them from that
inconvenient vow. The enterprise was promoted by the public or private
exhortations of Clotilda. She reminded her husband how effectually
some pious foundation would propitiate the Deity, and his servants:
and the Christian hero, darting his battle-axe with a skilful and
nervous band, "There, (said he,) on that spot where my Francisca
, shall fall, will I erect a church in honor of the holy apostles."
This ostentatious piety confirmed and justified the attachment of the
Catholics, with whom he secretly corresponded; and their devout wishes
were gradually ripened into a formidable conspiracy. The people of
Aquitain were alarmed by the indiscreet reproaches of their Gothic
tyrants, who justly accused them of preferring the dominion of the
Franks: and their zealous adherent Quintianus, bishop of Rodez,
preached more forcibly in his exile than in his diocese. To resist
these foreign and domestic enemies, who were fortified by the alliance
of the Burgundians, Alaric collected his troops, far more numerous
than the military powers of Clovis. The Visigoths resumed the exercise
of arms, which they had neglected in a long and luxurious peace; a
select band of valiant and robust slaves attended their masters to the
field; and the cities of Gaul were compelled to furnish their doubtful
and reluctant aid. Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, who reigned in
Italy, had labored to maintain the tranquillity of Gaul; and he
assumed, or affected, for that purpose, the impartial character of a
mediator. But the sagacious monarch dreaded the rising empire of
Clovis, and he was firmly engaged to support the national and
religious cause of the Goths.

The accidental, or artificial, prodigies which adorned the expedition
of Clovis, were accepted by a superstitious age, as the manifest
declaration of the divine favor. He marched from Paris; and as he
proceeded with decent reverence through the holy diocese of Tours, his
anxiety tempted him to consult the shrine of St. Martin, the sanctuary
and the oracle of Gaul. His messengers were instructed to remark the
words of the Psalm which should happen to be chanted at the precise
moment when they entered the church. Those words most fortunately
expressed the valor and victory of the champions of Heaven, and the
application was easily transferred to the new Joshua, the new Gideon,
who went forth to battle against the enemies of the Lord. Orleans
secured to the Franks a bridge on the Loire; but, at the distance of
forty miles from Poitiers, their progress was intercepted by an
extraordinary swell of the River Vigenna or Vienne; and the opposite
banks were covered by the encampment of the Visigoths. Delay must be
always dangerous to Barbarians, who consume the country through which
they march; and had Clovis possessed leisure and materials, it might
have been impracticable to construct a bridge, or to force a passage,
in the face of a superior enemy. But the affectionate peasants who
were impatient to welcome their deliverer, could easily betray some
unknown or unguarded ford: the merit of the discovery was enhanced by
the useful interposition of fraud or fiction; and a white hart, of
singular size and beauty, appeared to guide and animate the march of
the Catholic army. The counsels of the Visigoths were irresolute and
distracted. A crowd of impatient warriors, presumptuous in their
strength, and disdaining to fly before the robbers of Germany, excited
Alaric to assert in arms the name and blood of the conquerors of Rome.
The advice of the graver chieftains pressed him to elude the first
ardor of the Franks; and to expect, in the southern provinces of Gaul,
the veteran and victorious Ostrogoths, whom the king of Italy had
already sent to his assistance. The decisive moments were wasted in
idle deliberation the Goths too hastily abandoned, perhaps, an
advantageous post; and the opportunity of a secure retreat was lost by
their slow and disorderly motions. After Clovis had passed the ford,
as it is still named, of the Hart
, he advanced with bold and hasty steps to prevent the escape of the
enemy. His nocturnal march was directed by a flaming meteor, suspended
in the air above the cathedral of Poitiers; and this signal, which
might be previously concerted with the orthodox successor of St.
Hilary, was compared to the column of fire that guided the Israelites
in the desert. At the third hour of the day, about ten miles beyond
Poitiers, Clovis overtook, and instantly attacked, the Gothic army;
whose defeat was already prepared by terror and confusion. Yet they
rallied in their extreme distress, and the martial youths, who had
clamorously demanded the battle, refused to survive the ignominy of
flight. The two kings encountered each other in single combat. Alaric
fell by the hand of his rival; and the victorious Frank was saved by
the goodness of his cuirass, and the vigor of his horse, from the
spears of two desperate Goths, who furiously rode against him to
revenge the death of their sovereign. The vague expression of a
mountain of the slain, serves to indicate a cruel though indefinite
slaughter; but Gregory has carefully observed, that his valiant
countryman Apollinaris, the son of Sidonius, lost his life at the head
of the nobles of Auvergne. Perhaps these suspected Catholics had been
maliciously exposed to the blind assault of the enemy; and perhaps the
influence of religion was superseded by personal attachment or
military honor.

Such is the empire of Fortune, (if we may still disguise our ignorance
under that popular name,) that it is almost equally difficult to
foresee the events of war, or to explain their various consequences. A
bloody and complete victory has sometimes yielded no more than the
possession of the field and the loss of ten thousand men has sometimes
been sufficient to destroy, in a single day, the work of ages. The
decisive battle of Poitiers was followed by the conquest of Aquitain.
Alaric had left behind him an infant son, a bastard competitor,
factious nobles, and a disloyal people; and the remaining forces of
the Goths were oppressed by the general consternation, or opposed to
each other in civil discord. The victorious king of the Franks
proceeded without delay to the siege of Angoulême. At the sound of his
trumpets the walls of the city imitated the example of Jericho, and
instantly fell to the ground; a splendid miracle, which may be reduced
to the supposition, that some clerical engineers had secretly
undermined the foundations of the rampart. At Bordeaux, which had
submitted without resistance, Clovis established his winter quarters;
and his prudent economy transported from Thoulouse the royal
treasures, which were deposited in the capital of the monarchy. The
conqueror penetrated as far as the confines of Spain; restored the
honors of the Catholic church; fixed in Aquitain a colony of Franks;
and delegated to his lieutenants the easy task of subduing, or
extirpating, the nation of the Visigoths. But the Visigoths were
protected by the wise and powerful monarch of Italy. While the balance
was still equal, Theodoric had perhaps delayed the march of the
Ostrogoths; but their strenuous efforts successfully resisted the
ambition of Clovis; and the army of the Franks, and their Burgundian
allies, was compelled to raise the siege of Arles, with the loss, as
it is said, of thirty thousand men. These vicissitudes inclined the
fierce spirit of Clovis to acquiesce in an advantageous treaty of
peace. The Visigoths were suffered to retain the possession of
Septimania, a narrow tract of sea-coast, from the Rhône to the
Pyrenees; but the ample province of Aquitain, from those mountains to
the Loire, was indissolubly united to the kingdom of France.

After the success of the Gothic war, Clovis accepted the honors of the
Roman consulship. The emperor Anastasius ambitiously bestowed on the
most powerful rival of Theodoric the title and ensigns of that eminent
dignity; yet, from some unknown cause, the name of Clovis has not been
inscribed in the Fasti either of the East or West. On the solemn day,
the monarch of Gaul, placing a diadem on his head, was invested, in
the church of St. Martin, with a purple tunic and mantle. From thence
he proceeded on horseback to the cathedral of Tours; and, as he passed
through the streets, profusely scattered, with his own hand, a
donative of gold and silver to the joyful multitude, who incessantly
repeated their acclamations of Consul
and Augustus. The actual or legal authority of Clovis could not
receive any new accessions from the consular dignity. It was a name, a
shadow, an empty pageant; and if the conqueror had been instructed to
claim the ancient prerogatives of that high office, they must have
expired with the period of its annual duration. But the Romans were
disposed to revere, in the person of their master, that antique title
which the emperors condescended to assume: the Barbarian himself
seemed to contract a sacred obligation to respect the majesty of the
republic; and the successors of Theodosius, by soliciting his
friendship, tacitly forgave, and almost ratified, the usurpation of

Twenty-five years after the death of Clovis this important concession
was more formally declared, in a treaty between his sons and the
emperor Justinian. The Ostrogoths of Italy, unable to defend their
distant acquisitions, had resigned to the Franks the cities of Arles
and Marseilles; of Arles, still adorned with the seat of a Prætorian
præfect, and of Marseilles, enriched by the advantages of trade and
navigation. This transaction was confirmed by the Imperial authority;
and Justinian, generously yielding to the Franks the sovereignty of
the countries beyond the Alps, which they already possessed, absolved
the provincials from their allegiance; and established on a more
lawful, though not more solid, foundation, the throne of the
Merovingians. From that era they enjoyed the right of celebrating at
Arles the games of the circus; and by a singular privilege, which was
denied even to the Persian monarch, the gold
coin, impressed with their name and image, obtained a legal currency
in the empire. A Greek historian of that age has praised the private
and public virtues of the Franks, with a partial enthusiasm, which
cannot be sufficiently justified by their domestic annals. He
celebrates their politeness and urbanity, their regular government,
and orthodox religion; and boldly asserts, that these Barbarians could
be distinguished only by their dress and language from the subjects of
Rome. Perhaps the Franks already displayed the social disposition, and
lively graces, which, in every age, have disguised their vices, and
sometimes concealed their intrinsic merit. Perhaps Agathias, and the
Greeks, were dazzled by the rapid progress of their arms, and the
splendor of their empire. Since the conquest of Burgundy, Gaul, except
the Gothic province of Septimania, was subject, in its whole extent,
to the sons of Clovis. They had extinguished the German kingdom of
Thuringia, and their vague dominion penetrated beyond the Rhine, into
the heart of their native forests. The Alemanni, and Bavarians, who
had occupied the Roman provinces of Rhætia and Noricum, to the south
of the Danube, confessed themselves the humble vassals of the Franks;
and the feeble barrier of the Alps was incapable of resisting their
ambition. When the last survivor of the sons of Clovis united the
inheritance and conquests of the Merovingians, his kingdom extended
far beyond the limits of modern France. Yet modern France, such has
been the progress of arts and policy, far surpasses, in wealth,
populousness, and power, the spacious but savage realms of Clotaire or

The Franks, or French, are the only people of Europe who can deduce a
perpetual succession from the conquerors of the Western empire. But
their conquest of Gaul was followed by ten centuries of anarchy and
ignorance. On the revival of learning, the students, who had been
formed in the schools of Athens and Rome, disdained their Barbarian
ancestors; and a long period elapsed before patient labor could
provide the requisite materials to satisfy, or rather to excite, the
curiosity of more enlightened times. At length the eye of criticism
and philosophy was directed to the antiquities of France; but even
philosophers have been tainted by the contagion of prejudice and
passion. The most extreme and exclusive systems, of the personal
servitude of the Gauls, or of their voluntary and equal alliance with
the Franks, have been rashly conceived, and obstinately defended; and
the intemperate disputants have accused each other of conspiring
against the prerogative of the crown, the dignity of the nobles, or
the freedom of the people. Yet the sharp conflict has usefully
exercised the adverse powers of learning and genius; and each
antagonist, alternately vanquished and victorious has extirpated some
ancient errors, and established some interesting truths. An impartial
stranger, instructed by their discoveries, their disputes, and even
their faults, may describe, from the same original materials, the
state of the Roman provincials, after Gaul had submitted to the arms
and laws of the Merovingian kings.

The rudest, or the most servile, condition of human society, is
regulated, however, by some fixed and general rules. When Tacitus
surveyed the primitive simplicity of the Germans, he discovered some
permanent maxims, or customs, of public and private life, which were
preserved by faithful tradition till the introduction of the art of
writing, and of the Latin tongue. Before the election of the
Merovingian kings, the most powerful tribe, or nation, of the Franks,
appointed four venerable chieftains to compose the Salic
laws; and their labors were examined and approved in three successive
assemblies of the people. After the baptism of Clovis, he reformed
several articles that appeared incompatible with Christianity: the
Salic law was again amended by his sons; and at length, under the
reign of Dagobert, the code was revised and promulgated in its actual
form, one hundred years after the establishment of the French
monarchy. Within the same period, the customs of the Ripuarians were
transcribed and published; and Charlemagne himself, the legislator of
his age and country, had accurately studied the two national laws,
which still prevailed among the Franks. The same care was extended to
their vassals; and the rude institutions of the Alemanni and Bavarians
were diligently compiled and ratified by the supreme authority of the
Merovingian kings. The Visigoths and Burgundians, whose conquests in
Gaul preceded those of the Franks, showed less impatience to attain
one of the principal benefits of civilized society. Euric was the
first of the Gothic princes who expressed, in writing, the manners and
customs of his people; and the composition of the Burgundian laws was
a measure of policy rather than of justice; to alleviate the yoke, and
regain the affections, of their Gallic subjects. Thus, by a singular
coincidence, the Germans framed their artless institutions, at a time
when the elaborate system of Roman jurisprudence was finally
consummated. In the Salic laws, and the Pandects of Justinian, we may
compare the first rudiments, and the full maturity, of civil wisdom;
and whatever prejudices may be suggested in favor of Barbarism, our
calmer reflections will ascribe to the Romans the superior advantages,
not only of science and reason, but of humanity and justice. Yet the
laws * of the Barbarians were adapted to their wants and desires,
their occupations and their capacity; and they all contributed to
preserve the peace, and promote the improvement, of the society for
whose use they were originally established. The Merovingians, instead
of imposing a uniform rule of conduct on their various subjects,
permitted each people, and each family, of their empire, freely to
enjoy their domestic institutions; nor were the Romans excluded from
the common benefits of this legal toleration. The children embraced
the law of their parents, the wife that of her husband, the freedman
that of his patron; and in all causes where the parties were of
different nations, the plaintiff or accuser was obliged to follow the
tribunal of the defendant, who may always plead a judicial presumption
of right, or innocence. A more ample latitude was allowed, if every
citizen, in the presence of the judge, might declare the law under
which he desired to live, and the national society to which he chose
to belong. Such an indulgence would abolish the partial distinctions
of victory: and the Roman provincials might patiently acquiesce in the
hardships of their condition; since it depended on themselves to
assume the privilege, if they dared to assert the character, of free
and warlike Barbarians.

Chapter XXXVIII: Reign Of Clovis. -- Part III.

When justice inexorably requires the death of a murderer, each private
citizen is fortified by the assurance, that the laws, the magistrate,
and the whole community, are the guardians of his personal safety. But
in the loose society of the Germans, revenge was always honorable, and
often meritorious: the independent warrior chastised, or vindicated,
with his own hand, the injuries which he had offered or received; and
he had only to dread the resentment of the sons and kinsmen of the
enemy, whom he had sacrificed to his selfish or angry passions. The
magistrate, conscious of his weakness, interposed, not to punish, but
to reconcile; and he was satisfied if he could persuade or compel the
contending parties to pay and to accept the moderate fine which had
been ascertained as the price of blood. The fierce spirit of the
Franks would have opposed a more rigorous sentence; the same
fierceness despised these ineffectual restraints; and, when their
simple manners had been corrupted by the wealth of Gaul, the public
peace was continually violated by acts of hasty or deliberate guilt.
In every just government the same penalty is inflicted, or at least is
imposed, for the murder of a peasant or a prince. But the national
inequality established by the Franks, in their criminal proceedings,
was the last insult and abuse of conquest. In the calm moments of
legislation, they solemnly pronounced, that the life of a Roman was of
smaller value than that of a Barbarian. The Antrustion
, a name expressive of the most illustrious birth or dignity among the
Franks, was appreciated at the sum of six hundred pieces of gold;
while the noble provincial, who was admitted to the king's table,
might be legally murdered at the expense of three hundred pieces. Two
hundred were deemed sufficient for a Frank of ordinary condition; but
the meaner Romans were exposed to disgrace and danger by a trifling
compensation of one hundred, or even fifty, pieces of gold. Had these
laws been regulated by any principle of equity or reason, the public
protection should have supplied, in just proportion, the want of
personal strength. But the legislator had weighed in the scale, not of
justice, but of policy, the loss of a soldier against that of a slave:
the head of an insolent and rapacious Barbarian was guarded by a heavy
fine; and the slightest aid was afforded to the most defenceless
subjects. Time insensibly abated the pride of the conquerors and the
patience of the vanquished; and the boldest citizen was taught, by
experience, that he might suffer more injuries than he could inflict.
As the manners of the Franks became less ferocious, their laws were
rendered more severe; and the Merovingian kings attempted to imitate
the impartial rigor of the Visigoths and Burgundians. Under the empire
of Charlemagne, murder was universally punished with death; and the
use of capital punishments has been liberally multiplied in the
jurisprudence of modern Europe.

The civil and military professions, which had been separated by
Constantine, were again united by the Barbarians. The harsh sound of
the Teutonic appellations was mollified into the Latin titles of Duke,
of Count, or of Præfect; and the same officer assumed, within his
district, the command of the troops, and the administration of
justice. But the fierce and illiterate chieftain was seldom qualified
to discharge the duties of a judge, which required all the faculties
of a philosophic mind, laboriously cultivated by experience and study;
and his rude ignorance was compelled to embrace some simple, and
visible, methods of ascertaining the cause of justice. In every
religion, the Deity has been invoked to confirm the truth, or to
punish the falsehood of human testimony; but this powerful instrument
was misapplied and abused by the simplicity of the German legislators.
The party accused might justify his innocence, by producing before
their tribunal a number of friendly witnesses, who solemnly declared
their belief, or assurance, that he was not guilty. According to the
weight of the charge, this legal number of compurgators
was multiplied; seventy-two voices were required to absolve an
incendiary or assassin: and when the chastity of a queen of France was
suspected, three hundred gallant nobles swore, without hesitation,
that the infant prince had been actually begotten by her deceased
husband. The sin and scandal of manifest and frequent perjuries
engaged the magistrates to remove these dangerous temptations; and to
supply the defects of human testimony by the famous experiments of
fire and water. These extraordinary trials were so capriciously
contrived, that, in some cases, guilt, and innocence in others, could
not be proved without the interposition of a miracle. Such miracles
were really provided by fraud and credulity; the most intricate causes
were determined by this easy and infallible method, and the turbulent
Barbarians, who might have disdained the sentence of the magistrate,
submissively acquiesced in the judgment of God.

But the trials by single combat gradually obtained superior credit and
authority, among a warlike people, who could not believe that a brave
man deserved to suffer, or that a coward deserved to live. Both in
civil and criminal proceedings, the plaintiff, or accuser, the
defendant, or even the witness, were exposed to mortal challenge from
the antagonist who was destitute of legal proofs; and it was incumbent
on them either to desert their cause, or publicly to maintain their
honor, in the lists of battle. They fought either on foot, or on
horseback, according to the custom of their nation; and the decision
of the sword, or lance, was ratified by the sanction of Heaven, of the
judge, and of the people. This sanguinary law was introduced into Gaul
by the Burgundians; and their legislator Gundobald condescended to
answer the complaints and objections of his subject Avitus. "Is it not
true," said the king of Burgundy to the bishop, "that the event of
national wars, and private combats, is directed by the judgment of
God; and that his providence awards the victory to the juster cause?"
By such prevailing arguments, the absurd and cruel practice of
judicial duels, which had been peculiar to some tribes of Germany, was
propagated and established in all the monarchies of Europe, from
Sicily to the Baltic. At the end of ten centuries, the reign of legal
violence was not totally extinguished; and the ineffectual censures of
saints, of popes, and of synods, may seem to prove, that the influence
of superstition is weakened by its unnatural alliance with reason and
humanity. The tribunals were stained with the blood, perhaps, of
innocent and respectable citizens; the law, which now favors the rich,
then yielded to the strong; and the old, the feeble, and the infirm,
were condemned, either to renounce their fairest claims and
possessions, to sustain the dangers of an unequal conflict, or to
trust the doubtful aid of a mercenary champion. This oppressive
jurisprudence was imposed on the provincials of Gaul, who complained
of any injuries in their persons and property. Whatever might be the
strength, or courage, of individuals, the victorious Barbarians
excelled in the love and exercise of arms; and the vanquished Roman
was unjustly summoned to repeat, in his own person, the bloody contest
which had been already decided against his country.

A devouring host of one hundred and twenty thousand Germans had
formerly passed the Rhine under the command of Ariovistus. One third
part of the fertile lands of the Sequani was appropriated to their
use; and the conqueror soon repeated his oppressive demand of another
third, for the accommodation of a new colony of twenty-four thousand
Barbarians, whom he had invited to share the rich harvest of Gaul. At
the distance of five hundred years, the Visigoths and Burgundians, who
revenged the defeat of Ariovistus, usurped the same unequal proportion
of two thirds
of the subject lands. But this distribution, instead of spreading over
the province, may be reasonably confined to the peculiar districts
where the victorious people had been planted by their own choice, or
by the policy of their leader. In these districts, each Barbarian was
connected by the ties of hospitality with some Roman provincial. To
this unwelcome guest, the proprietor was compelled to abandon two
thirds of his patrimony, but the German, a shepherd and a hunter,
might sometimes content himself with a spacious range of wood and
pasture, and resign the smallest, though most valuable, portion, to
the toil of the industrious husbandman. The silence of ancient and
authentic testimony has encouraged an opinion, that the rapine of the
Franks was not moderated, or disguised, by the forms of a legal
division; that they dispersed themselves over the provinces of Gaul,
without order or control; and that each victorious robber, according
to his wants, his avarice, and his strength, measured with his sword
the extent of his new inheritance. At a distance from their sovereign,
the Barbarians might indeed be tempted to exercise such arbitrary
depredation; but the firm and artful policy of Clovis must curb a
licentious spirit, which would aggravate the misery of the vanquished,
whilst it corrupted the union and discipline of the conquerors. * The
memorable vase of Soissons is a monument and a pledge of the regular
distribution of the Gallic spoils. It was the duty and the interest of
Clovis to provide rewards for a successful army, settlements for a
numerous people; without inflicting any wanton or superfluous injuries
on the loyal Catholics of Gaul. The ample fund, which he might
lawfully acquire, of the Imperial patrimony, vacant lands, and Gothic
usurpations, would diminish the cruel necessity of seizure and
confiscation, and the humble provincials would more patiently
acquiesce in the equal and regular distribution of their loss.

The wealth of the Merovingian princes consisted in their extensive
domain. After the conquest of Gaul, they still delighted in the rustic
simplicity of their ancestors; the cities were abandoned to solitude
and decay; and their coins, their charters, and their synods, are
still inscribed with the names of the villas, or rural palaces, in
which they successively resided. One hundred and sixty of these
, a title which need not excite any unseasonable ideas of art or
luxury, were scattered through the provinces of their kingdom; and if
some might claim the honors of a fortress, the far greater part could
be esteemed only in the light of profitable farms. The mansion of the
long-haired kings was surrounded with convenient yards and stables,
for the cattle and the poultry; the garden was planted with useful
vegetables; the various trades, the labors of agriculture, and even
the arts of hunting and fishing, were exercised by servile hands for
the emolument of the sovereign; his magazines were filled with corn
and wine, either for sale or consumption; and the whole administration
was conducted by the strictest maxims of private economy. This ample
patrimony was appropriated to supply the hospitable plenty of Clovis
and his successors; and to reward the fidelity of their brave
companions who, both in peace and war, were devoted to their persona
service. Instead of a horse, or a suit of armor, each companion,
according to his rank, or merit, or favor, was invested with a
benefice, the primitive name, and most simple form, of the feudal
possessions. These gifts might be resumed at the pleasure of the
sovereign; and his feeble prerogative derived some support from the
influence of his liberality. * But this dependent tenure was gradually
abolished by the independent and rapacious nobles of France, who
established the perpetual property, and hereditary succession, of
their benefices; a revolution salutary to the earth, which had been
injured, or neglected, by its precarious masters. Besides these royal
and beneficiary estates, a large proportion had been assigned, in the
division of Gaul, of allodial and Salic lands: they were exempt from
tribute, and the Salic lands were equally shared among the male
descendants of the Franks.

In the bloody discord and silent decay of the Merovingian line, a new
order of tyrants arose in the provinces, who, under the appellation of
, or Lords, usurped a right to govern, and a license to oppress, the
subjects of their peculiar territory. Their ambition might be checked
by the hostile resistance of an equal: but the laws were extinguished;
and the sacrilegious Barbarians, who dared to provoke the vengeance of
a saint or bishop, would seldom respect the landmarks of a profane and
defenceless neighbor. The common or public rights of nature, such as
they had always been deemed by the Roman jurisprudence, were severely
restrained by the German conquerors, whose amusement, or rather
passion, was the exercise of hunting. The vague dominion which Man has
assumed over the wild inhabitants of the earth, the air, and the
waters, was confined to some fortunate individuals of the human
species. Gaul was again overspread with woods; and the animals, who
were reserved for the use or pleasure of the lord, might ravage with
impunity the fields of his industrious vassals. The chase was the
sacred privilege of the nobles and their domestic servants. Plebeian
transgressors were legally chastised with stripes and imprisonment;
but in an age which admitted a slight composition for the life of a
citizen, it was a capital crime to destroy a stag or a wild bull
within the precincts of the royal forests.

According to the maxims of ancient war, the conqueror became the
lawful master of the enemy whom he had subdued and spared: and the
fruitful cause of personal slavery, which had been almost suppressed
by the peaceful sovereignty of Rome, was again revived and multiplied
by the perpetual hostilities of the independent Barbarians. The Goth,
the Burgundian, or the Frank, who returned from a successful
expedition, dragged after him a long train of sheep, of oxen, and of
human captives, whom he treated with the same brutal contempt. The
youths of an elegant form and an ingenuous aspect were set apart for
the domestic service; a doubtful situation, which alternately exposed
them to the favorable or cruel impulse of passion. The useful
mechanics and servants (smiths, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers,
cooks, gardeners, dyers, and workmen in gold and silver, &c.) employed
their skill for the use, or profit, of their master. But the Roman
captives, who were destitute of art, but capable of labor, were
condemned, without regard to their former rank, to tend the cattle and
cultivate the lands of the Barbarians. The number of the hereditary
bondsmen, who were attached to the Gallic estates, was continually
increased by new supplies; and the servile people, according to the
situation and temper of their lords, was sometimes raised by
precarious indulgence, and more frequently depressed by capricious
despotism. An absolute power of life and death was exercised by these
lords; and when they married their daughters, a train of useful
servants, chained on the wagons to prevent their escape, was sent as a
nuptial present into a distant country. The majesty of the Roman laws
protected the liberty of each citizen, against the rash effects of his
own distress or despair. But the subjects of the Merovingian kings
might alienate their personal freedom; and this act of legal suicide,
which was familiarly practised, is expressed in terms most disgraceful
and afflicting to the dignity of human nature. The example of the
poor, who purchased life by the sacrifice of all that can render life
desirable, was gradually imitated by the feeble and the devout, who,
in times of public disorder, pusillanimously crowded to shelter
themselves under the battlements of a powerful chief, and around the
shrine of a popular saint. Their submission was accepted by these
temporal or spiritual patrons; and the hasty transaction irrecoverably
fixed their own condition, and that of their latest posterity. From
the reign of Clovis, during five successive centuries, the laws and
manners of Gaul uniformly tended to promote the increase, and to
confirm the duration, of personal servitude. Time and violence almost
obliterated the intermediate ranks of society; and left an obscure and
narrow interval between the noble and the slave. This arbitrary and
recent division has been transformed by pride and prejudice into a
distinction, universally established by the arms and the laws of the
Merovingians. The nobles, who claimed their genuine or fabulous
descent from the independent and victorious Franks, have asserted and
abused the indefeasible right of conquest over a prostrate crowd of
slaves and plebeians, to whom they imputed the imaginary disgrace of
Gallic or Roman extraction.

The general state and revolutions of France
, a name which was imposed by the conquerors, may be illustrated by
the particular example of a province, a diocese, or a senatorial
family. Auvergne had formerly maintained a just preeminence among the
independent states and cities of Gaul. The brave and numerous
inhabitants displayed a singular trophy; the sword of Cæsar himself,
which he had lost when he was repulsed before the walls of Gergovia.
As the common offspring of Troy, they claimed a fraternal alliance
with the Romans; and if each province had imitated the courage and
loyalty of Auvergne, the fall of the Western empire might have been
prevented or delayed. They firmly maintained the fidelity which they
had reluctantly sworn to the Visigoths, out when their bravest nobles
had fallen in the battle of Poitiers, they accepted, without
resistance, a victorious and Catholic sovereign. This easy and
valuable conquest was achieved and possessed by Theodoric, the eldest
son of Clovis: but the remote province was separated from his
Austrasian dominions, by the intermediate kingdoms of Soissons, Paris,
and Orleans, which formed, after their father's death, the inheritance
of his three brothers. The king of Paris, Childebert, was tempted by
the neighborhood and beauty of Auvergne. The Upper country, which
rises towards the south into the mountains of the Cevennes, presented
a rich and various prospect of woods and pastures; the sides of the
hills were clothed with vines; and each eminence was crowned with a
villa or castle. In the Lower Auvergne, the River Allier flows through
the fair and spacious plain of Limagne; and the inexhaustible
fertility of the soil supplied, and still supplies, without any
interval of repose, the constant repetition of the same harvests. On
the false report, that their lawful sovereign had been slain in
Germany, the city and diocese of Auvergne were betrayed by the
grandson of Sidonius Apollinaris. Childebert enjoyed this clandestine
victory; and the free subjects of Theodoric threatened to desert his
standard, if he indulged his private resentment, while the nation was
engaged in the Burgundian war. But the Franks of Austrasia soon
yielded to the persuasive eloquence of their king. "Follow me," said
Theodoric, "into Auvergne; I will lead you into a province, where you
may acquire gold, silver, slaves, cattle, and precious apparel, to the
full extent of your wishes. I repeat my promise; I give you the people
and their wealth as your prey; and you may transport them at pleasure
into your own country." By the execution of this promise, Theodoric
justly forfeited the allegiance of a people whom he devoted to
destruction. His troops, reënforced by the fiercest Barbarians of
Germany, spread desolation over the fruitful face of Auvergne; and two
places only, a strong castle and a holy shrine, were saved or redeemed
from their licentious fury. The castle of Meroliac was seated on a
lofty rock, which rose a hundred feet above the surface of the plain;
and a large reservoir of fresh water was enclosed, with some arable
lands, within the circle of its fortifications. The Franks beheld with
envy and despair this impregnable fortress; but they surprised a party
of fifty stragglers; and, as they were oppressed by the number of
their captives, they fixed, at a trifling ransom, the alternative of
life or death for these wretched victims, whom the cruel Barbarians
were prepared to massacre on the refusal of the garrison. Another
detachment penetrated as far as Brivas, or Brioude, where the
inhabitants, with their valuable effects, had taken refuge in the
sanctuary of St. Julian. The doors of the church resisted the assault;
but a daring soldier entered through a window of the choir, and opened
a passage to his companions. The clergy and people, the sacred and the
profane spoils, were rudely torn from the altar; and the sacrilegious
division was made at a small distance from the town of Brioude. But
this act of impiety was severely chastised by the devout son of
Clovis. He punished with death the most atrocious offenders; left
their secret accomplices to the vengeance of St. Julian; released the
captives; restored the plunder; and extended the rights of sanctuary
five miles round the sepulchre of the holy martyr.

Chapter XXXVIII: Reign Of Clovis. -- Part IV.

Before the Austrasian army retreated from Auvergne, Theodoric exacted
some pledges of the future loyalty of a people, whose just hatred
could be restrained only by their fear. A select band of noble youths,
the sons of the principal senators, was delivered to the conqueror, as
the hostages of the faith of Childebert, and of their countrymen. On
the first rumor of war, or conspiracy, these guiltless youths were
reduced to a state of servitude; and one of them, Attalus, whose
adventures are more particularly related, kept his master's horses in
the diocese of Treves. After a painful search, he was discovered, in
this unworthy occupation, by the emissaries of his grandfather,
Gregory bishop of Langres; but his offers of ransom were sternly
rejected by the avarice of the Barbarian, who required an exorbitant
sum of ten pounds of gold for the freedom of his noble captive. His
deliverance was effected by the hardy stratagem of Leo, an item
belonging to the kitchens of the bishop of Langres. An unknown agent
easily introduced him into the same family. The Barbarian purchased
Leo for the price of twelve pieces of gold; and was pleased to learn
that he was deeply skilled in the luxury of an episcopal table: "Next
Sunday," said the Frank, "I shall invite my neighbors and kinsmen.
Exert thy art, and force them to confess, that they have never seen,
or tasted, such an entertainment, even in the king's house." Leo
assured him, that if he would provide a sufficient quantity of
poultry, his wishes should be satisfied. The master who already
aspired to the merit of elegant hospitality, assumed, as his own, the
praise which the voracious guests unanimously bestowed on his cook;
and the dexterous Leo insensibly acquired the trust and management of
his household. After the patient expectation of a whole year, he
cautiously whispered his design to Attalus, and exhorted him to
prepare for flight in the ensuing night. At the hour of midnight, the
intemperate guests retired from the table; and the Frank's son-in-law,
whom Leo attended to his apartment with a nocturnal potation,
condescended to jest on the facility with which he might betray his
trust. The intrepid slave, after sustaining this dangerous raillery,
entered his master's bedchamber; removed his spear and shield;
silently drew the fleetest horses from the stable; unbarred the
ponderous gates; and excited Attalus to save his life and liberty by
incessant diligence. Their apprehensions urged them to leave their
horses on the banks of the Meuse; they swam the river, wandered three
days in the adjacent forest, and subsisted only by the accidental
discovery of a wild plum-tree. As they lay concealed in a dark
thicket, they heard the noise of horses; they were terrified by the
angry countenance of their master, and they anxiously listened to his
declaration, that, if he could seize the guilty fugitives, one of them
he would cut in pieces with his sword, and would expose the other on a
gibbet. A length, Attalus and his faithful Leo reached the friendly
habitation of a presbyter of Rheims, who recruited their fainting
strength with bread and wine, concealed them from the search of their
enemy, and safely conducted them beyond the limits of the Austrasian
kingdom, to the episcopal palace of Langres. Gregory embraced his
grandson with tears of joy, gratefully delivered Leo, with his whole
family, from the yoke of servitude, and bestowed on him the property
of a farm, where he might end his days in happiness and freedom.
Perhaps this singular adventure, which is marked with so many
circumstances of truth and nature, was related by Attalus himself, to
his cousin or nephew, the first historian of the Franks. Gregory of
Tours was born about sixty years after the death of Sidonius
Apollinaris; and their situation was almost similar, since each of
them was a native of Auvergne, a senator, and a bishop. The difference
of their style and sentiments may, therefore, express the decay of
Gaul; and clearly ascertain how much, in so short a space, the human
mind had lost of its energy and refinement.

We are now qualified to despise the opposite, and, perhaps, artful,
misrepresentations, which have softened, or exaggerated, the
oppression of the Romans of Gaul under the reign of the Merovingians.
The conquerors never promulgated any universal
edict of servitude, or confiscation; but a degenerate people, who
excused their weakness by the specious names of politeness and peace,
was exposed to the arms and laws of the ferocious Barbarians, who
contemptuously insulted their possessions, their freedom, and their
safety. Their personal injuries were partial and irregular; but the
great body of the Romans survived the revolution, and still preserved
the property, and privileges, of citizens. A large portion of their
lands was exacted for the use of the Franks: but they enjoyed the
remainder, exempt from tribute; and the same irresistible violence
which swept away the arts and manufactures of Gaul, destroyed the
elaborate and expensive system of Imperial despotism. The Provincials
must frequently deplore the savage jurisprudence of the Salic or
Ripuarian laws; but their private life, in the important concerns of
marriage, testaments, or inheritance, was still regulated by the
Theodosian Code; and a discontented Roman might freely aspire, or
descend, to the title and character of a Barbarian. The honors of the
state were accessible to his ambition: the education and temper of the
Romans more peculiarly qualified them for the offices of civil
government; and, as soon as emulation had rekindled their military
ardor, they were permitted to march in the ranks, or even at the head,
of the victorious Germans. I shall not attempt to enumerate the
generals and magistrates, whose names attest the liberal policy of the
Merovingians. The supreme command of Burgundy, with the title of
Patrician, was successively intrusted to three Romans; and the last,
and most powerful, Mummolus, who alternately saved and disturbed the
monarchy, had supplanted his father in the station of count of Autun,
and left a treasury of thirty talents of gold, and two hundred and
fifty talents of silver. The fierce and illiterate Barbarians were
excluded, during several generations, from the dignities, and even
from the orders, of the church. The clergy of Gaul consisted almost
entirely of native provincials; the haughty Franks fell at the feet of
their subjects, who were dignified with the episcopal character: and
the power and riches which had been lost in war, were insensibly
recovered by superstition. In all temporal affairs, the Theodosian
Code was the universal law of the clergy; but the Barbaric
jurisprudence had liberally provided for their personal safety; a
sub-deacon was equivalent to two Franks; the antrustion, and priest,
were held in similar estimation: and the life of a bishop was
appreciated far above the common standard, at the price of nine
hundred pieces of gold. The Romans communicated to their conquerors
the use of the Christian religion and Latin language; but their
language and their religion had alike degenerated from the simple
purity of the Augustan, and Apostolic age. The progress of
superstition and Barbarism was rapid and universal: the worship of the
saints concealed from vulgar eyes the God of the Christians; and the
rustic dialect of peasants and soldiers was corrupted by a Teutonic
idiom and pronunciation. Yet such intercourse of sacred and social
communion eradicated the distinctions of birth and victory; and the
nations of Gaul were gradually confounded under the name and
government of the Franks.

The Franks, after they mingled with their Gallic subjects, might have
imparted the most valuable of human gifts, a spirit and system of
constitutional liberty. Under a king, hereditary, but limited, the
chiefs and counsellors might have debated at Paris, in the palace of
the Cæsars: the adjacent field, where the emperors reviewed their
mercenary legions. would have admitted the legislative assembly of
freemen and warriors; and the rude model, which had been sketched in
the woods of Germany, might have been polished and improved by the
civil wisdom of the Romans. But the careless Barbarians, secure of
their personal independence, disdained the labor of government: the
annual assemblies of the month of March were silently abolished; and
the nation was separated, and almost dissolved, by the conquest of
Gaul. The monarchy was left without any regular establishment of
justice, of arms, or of revenue. The successors of Clovis wanted
resolution to assume, or strength to exercise, the legislative and
executive powers, which the people had abdicated: the royal
prerogative was distinguished only by a more ample privilege of rapine
and murder; and the love of freedom, so often invigorated and
disgraced by private ambition, was reduced, among the licentious
Franks, to the contempt of order, and the desire of impunity.
Seventy-five years after the death of Clovis, his grandson, Gontran,
king of Burgundy, sent an army to invade the Gothic possessions of
Septimania, or Languedoc. The troops of Burgundy, Berry, Auvergne, and
the adjacent territories, were excited by the hopes of spoil. They
marched, without discipline, under the banners of German, or Gallic,
counts: their attack was feeble and unsuccessful; but the friendly and
hostile provinces were desolated with indiscriminate rage. The
cornfields, the villages, the churches themselves, were consumed by
fire: the inhabitants were massacred, or dragged into captivity; and,
in the disorderly retreat, five thousand of these inhuman savages were
destroyed by hunger or intestine discord. When the pious Gontran
reproached the guilt or neglect of their leaders, and threatened to
inflict, not a legal sentence, but instant and arbitrary execution,
they accused the universal and incurable corruption of the people. "No
one," they said, "any longer fears or respects his king, his duke, or
his count. Each man loves to do evil, and freely indulges his criminal
inclinations. The most gentle correction provokes an immediate tumult,
and the rash magistrate, who presumes to censure or restrain his
seditious subjects, seldom escapes alive from their revenge." It has
been reserved for the same nation to expose, by their intemperate
vices, the most odious abuse of freedom; and to supply its loss by the
spirit of honor and humanity, which now alleviates and dignifies their
obedience to an absolute sovereign. *

The Visigoths had resigned to Clovis the greatest part of their Gallic
possessions; but their loss was amply compensated by the easy
conquest, and secure enjoyment, of the provinces of Spain. From the
monarchy of the Goths, which soon involved the Suevic kingdom of
Gallicia, the modern Spaniards still derive some national vanity; but
the historian of the Roman empire is neither invited, nor compelled,
to pursue the obscure and barren series of their annals. The Goths of
Spain were separated from the rest of mankind by the lofty ridge of
the Pyrenæan mountains: their manners and institutions, as far as they
were common to the Germanic tribes, have been already explained. I
have anticipated, in the preceding chapter, the most important of
their ecclesiastical events, the fall of Arianism, and the persecution
of the Jews; and it only remains to observe some interesting
circumstances which relate to the civil and ecclesiastical
constitution of the Spanish kingdom.

After their conversion from idolatry or heresy, the Frank and the
Visigoths were disposed to embrace, with equal submission, the
inherent evils and the accidental benefits, of superstition. But the
prelates of France, long before the extinction of the Merovingian
race, had degenerated into fighting and hunting Barbarians. They
disdained the use of synods; forgot the laws of temperance and
chastity; and preferred the indulgence of private ambition and luxury
to the general interest of the sacerdotal profession. The bishops of
Spain respected themselves, and were respected by the public: their
indissoluble union disguised their vices, and confirmed their
authority; and the regular discipline of the church introduced peace,
order, and stability, into the government of the state. From the reign
of Recared, the first Catholic king, to that of Witiza, the immediate
predecessor of the unfortunate Roderic, sixteen national councils were
successively convened. The six metropolitans, Toledo, Seville, Merida,
Braga, Tarragona, and Narbonne, presided according to their respective
seniority; the assembly was composed of their suffragan bishops, who
appeared in person, or by their proxies; and a place was assigned to
the most holy, or opulent, of the Spanish abbots. During the first
three days of the convocation, as long as they agitated the
ecclesiastical question of doctrine and discipline, the profane laity
was excluded from their debates; which were conducted, however, with
decent solemnity. But, on the morning of the fourth day, the doors
were thrown open for the entrance of the great officers of the palace,
the dukes and counts of the provinces, the judges of the cities, and
the Gothic nobles, and the decrees of Heaven were ratified by the
consent of the people. The same rules were observed in the provincial
assemblies, the annual synods, which were empowered to hear
complaints, and to redress grievances; and a legal government was
supported by the prevailing influence of the Spanish clergy. The
bishops, who, in each revolution, were prepared to flatter the
victorious, and to insult the prostrate labored, with diligence and
success, to kindle the flames of persecution, and to exalt the mitre
above the crown. Yet the national councils of Toledo, in which the
free spirit of the Barbarians was tempered and guided by episcopal
policy, have established some prudent laws for the common benefit of
the king and people. The vacancy of the throne was supplied by the
choice of the bishops and palatines; and after the failure of the line
of Alaric, the regal dignity was still limited to the pure and noble
blood of the Goths. The clergy, who anointed their lawful prince,
always recommended, and sometimes practised, the duty of allegiance;
and the spiritual censures were denounced on the heads of the impious
subjects, who should resist his authority, conspire against his life,
or violate, by an indecent union, the chastity even of his widow. But
the monarch himself, when he ascended the throne, was bound by a
reciprocal oath to God and his people, that he would faithfully
execute this important trust. The real or imaginary faults of his
administration were subject to the control of a powerful aristocracy;
and the bishops and palatines were guarded by a fundamental privilege,
that they should not be degraded, imprisoned, tortured, nor punished
with death, exile, or confiscation, unless by the free and public
judgment of their peers.

One of these legislative councils of Toledo examined and ratified the
code of laws which had been compiled by a succession of Gothic kings,
from the fierce Euric, to the devout Egica. As long as the Visigoths
themselves were satisfied with the rude customs of their ancestors,
they indulged their subjects of Aquitain and Spain in the enjoyment of
the Roman law. Their gradual improvement in arts, in policy, and at
length in religion, encouraged them to imitate, and to supersede,
these foreign institutions; and to compose a code of civil and
criminal jurisprudence, for the use of a great and united people. The
same obligations, and the same privileges, were communicated to the
nations of the Spanish monarchy; and the conquerors, insensibly
renouncing the Teutonic idiom, submitted to the restraints of equity,
and exalted the Romans to the participation of freedom. The merit of
this impartial policy was enhanced by the situation of Spain under the
reign of the Visigoths. The provincials were long separated from their
Arian masters by the irreconcilable difference of religion. After the
conversion of Recared had removed the prejudices of the Catholics, the
coasts, both of the Ocean and Mediterranean, were still possessed by
the Eastern emperors; who secretly excited a discontented people to
reject the yoke of the Barbarians, and to assert the name and dignity
of Roman citizens. The allegiance of doubtful subjects is indeed most
effectually secured by their own persuasion, that they hazard more in
a revolt, than they can hope to obtain by a revolution; but it has
appeared so natural to oppress those whom we hate and fear, that the
contrary system well deserves the praise of wisdom and moderation.

While the kingdom of the Franks and Visigoths were established in Gaul
and Spain, the Saxons achieved the conquest of Britain, the third
great diocese of the Præfecture of the West. Since Britain was already
separated from the Roman empire, I might, without reproach, decline a
story familiar to the most illiterate, and obscure to the most
learned, of my readers. The Saxons, who excelled in the use of the
oar, or the battle- axe, were ignorant of the art which could alone
perpetuate the fame of their exploits; the Provincials, relapsing into
barbarism, neglected to describe the ruin of their country; and the
doubtful tradition was almost extinguished, before the missionaries of
Rome restored the light of science and Christianity. The declamations
of Gildas, the fragments, or fables, of Nennius, the obscure hints of
the Saxon laws and chronicles, and the ecclesiastical tales of the
venerable Bede, have been illustrated by the diligence, and sometimes
embellished by the fancy, of succeeding writers, whose works I am not
ambitious either to censure or to transcribe. Yet the historian of the
empire may be tempted to pursue the revolutions of a Roman province,
till it vanishes from his sight; and an Englishman may curiously trace
the establishment of the Barbarians, from whom he derives his name,
his laws, and perhaps his origin.

About forty years after the dissolution of the Roman government,
Vortigern appears to have obtained the supreme, though precarious
command of the princes and cities of Britain. That unfortunate monarch
has been almost unanimously condemned for the weak and mischievous
policy of inviting a formidable stranger, to repel the vexatious
inroads of a domestic foe. His ambassadors are despatched, by the
gravest historians, to the coast of Germany: they address a pathetic
oration to the general assembly of the Saxons, and those warlike
Barbarians resolve to assist with a fleet and army the suppliants of a
distant and unknown island. If Britain had indeed been unknown to the
Saxons, the measure of its calamities would have been less complete.
But the strength of the Roman government could not always guard the
maritime province against the pirates of Germany; the independent and
divided states were exposed to their attacks; and the Saxons might
sometimes join the Scots and the Picts, in a tacit, or express,
confederacy of rapine and destruction. Vortigern could only balance
the various perils, which assaulted on every side his throne and his
people; and his policy may deserve either praise or excuse, if he
preferred the alliance of those
Barbarians, whose naval power rendered them the most dangerous enemies
and the most serviceable allies. Hengist and Horsa, as they ranged
along the Eastern coast with three ships, were engaged, by the promise
of an ample stipend, to embrace the defence of Britain; and their
intrepid valor soon delivered the country from the Caledonian
invaders. The Isle of Thanet, a secure and fertile district, was
allotted for the residence of these German auxiliaries, and they were
supplied, according to the treaty, with a plentiful allowance of
clothing and provisions. This favorable reception encouraged five
thousand warriors to embark with their families in seventeen vessels,
and the infant power of Hengist was fortified by this strong and
seasonable reenforcement. The crafty Barbarian suggested to Vortigern
the obvious advantage of fixing, in the neighborhood of the Picts, a
colony of faithful allies: a third fleet of forty ships, under the
command of his son and nephew, sailed from Germany, ravaged the
Orkneys, and disembarked a new army on the coast of Northumberland, or
Lothian, at the opposite extremity of the devoted land. It was easy to
foresee, but it was impossible to prevent, the impending evils. The
two nations were soon divided and exasperated by mutual jealousies.
The Saxons magnified all that they had done and suffered in the cause
of an ungrateful people; while the Britons regretted the liberal
rewards which could not satisfy the avarice of those haughty
mercenaries. The causes of fear and hatred were inflamed into an
irreconcilable quarrel. The Saxons flew to arms; and if they
perpetrated a treacherous massacre during the security of a feast,
they destroyed the reciprocal confidence which sustains the
intercourse of peace and war.

Hengist, who boldly aspired to the conquest of Britain, exhorted his
countrymen to embrace the glorious opportunity: he painted in lively
colors the fertility of the soil, the wealth of the cities, the
pusillanimous temper of the natives, and the convenient situation of a
spacious solitary island, accessible on all sides to the Saxon fleets.
The successive colonies which issued, in the period of a century, from
the mouths of the Elbe, the Weser, and the Rhine, were principally
composed of three valiant tribes or nations of Germany; the Jutes
, the old Saxons, and the Angles. The Jutes, who fought under the
peculiar banner of Hengist, assumed the merit of leading their
countrymen in the paths of glory, and of erecting, in Kent, the first
independent kingdom. The fame of the enterprise was attributed to the
primitive Saxons; and the common laws and language of the conquerors
are described by the national appellation of a people, which, at the
end of four hundred years, produced the first monarchs of South
Britain. The Angles were distinguished by their numbers and their
success; and they claimed the honor of fixing a perpetual name on the
country, of which they occupied the most ample portion. The
Barbarians, who followed the hopes of rapine either on the land or
sea, were insensibly blended with this triple confederacy; the
Frisians, who had been tempted by their vicinity to the British
shores, might balance, during a short space, the strength and
reputation of the native Saxons; the Danes, the Prussians, the
Rugians, are faintly described; and some adventurous Huns, who had
wandered as far as the Baltic, might embark on board the German
vessels, for the conquest of a new world. But this arduous achievement
was not prepared or executed by the union of national powers. Each
intrepid chieftain, according to the measure of his fame and fortunes,
assembled his followers; equipped a fleet of three, or perhaps of
sixty, vessels; chose the place of the attack; and conducted his
subsequent operations according to the events of the war, and the
dictates of his private interest. In the invasion of Britain many
heroes vanquished and fell; but only seven victorious leaders assumed,
or at least maintained, the title of kings. Seven independent thrones,
the Saxon Heptarchy, * were founded by the conquerors, and seven
families, one of which has been continued, by female succession, to
our present sovereign, derived their equal and sacred lineage from
Woden, the god of war. It has been pretended, that this republic of
kings was moderated by a general council and a supreme magistrate. But
such an artificial scheme of policy is repugnant to the rude and
turbulent spirit of the Saxons: their laws are silent; and their
imperfect annals afford only a dark and bloody prospect of intestine

A monk, who, in the profound ignorance of human life, has presumed to
exercise the office of historian, strangely disfigures the state of
Britain at the time of its separation from the Western empire. Gildas
describes in florid language the improvements of agriculture, the
foreign trade which flowed with every tide into the Thames and the
Severn the solid and lofty construction of public and private
edifices; he accuses the sinful luxury of the British people; of a
people, according to the same writer, ignorant of the most simple
arts, and incapable, without the aid of the Romans, of providing walls
of stone, or weapons of iron, for the defence of their native land.
Under the long dominion of the emperors, Britain had been insensibly
moulded into the elegant and servile form of a Roman province, whose
safety was intrusted to a foreign power. The subjects of Honorius
contemplated their new freedom with surprise and terror; they were
left destitute of any civil or military constitution; and their
uncertain rulers wanted either skill, or courage, or authority, to
direct the public force against the common enemy. The introduction of
the Saxons betrayed their internal weakness, and degraded the
character both of the prince and people. Their consternation magnified
the danger; the want of union diminished their resources; and the
madness of civil factions was more solicitous to accuse, than to
remedy, the evils, which they imputed to the misconduct of their
adversaries. Yet the Britons were not ignorant, they could not be
ignorant, of the manufacture or the use of arms; the successive and
disorderly attacks of the Saxons allowed them to recover from their
amazement, and the prosperous or adverse events of the war added
discipline and experience to their native valor.

While the continent of Europe and Africa yielded, without resistance,
to the Barbarians, the British island, alone and unaided, maintained a
long, a vigorous, though an unsuccessful, struggle, against the
formidable pirates, who, almost at the same instant, assaulted the
Northern, the Eastern, and the Southern coasts. The cities which had
been fortified with skill, were defended with resolution; the
advantages of ground, hills, forests, and morasses, were diligently
improved by the inhabitants; the conquest of each district was
purchased with blood; and the defeats of the Saxons are strongly
attested by the discreet silence of their annalist. Hengist might hope
to achieve the conquest of Britain; but his ambition, in an active
reign of thirty-five years, was confined to the possession of Kent;
and the numerous colony which he had planted in the North, was
extirpated by the sword of the Britons. The monarchy of the West
Saxons was laboriously founded by the persevering efforts of three
martial generations. The life of Cerdic, one of the bravest of the
children of Woden, was consumed in the conquest of Hampshire, and the
Isle of Wight; and the loss which he sustained in the battle of Mount
Badon, reduced him to a state of inglorious repose. Kenric, his
valiant son, advanced into Wiltshire; besieged Salisbury, at that time
seated on a commanding eminence; and vanquished an army which advanced
to the relief of the city. In the subsequent battle of Marlborough,
his British enemies displayed their military science. Their troops
were formed in three lines; each line consisted of three distinct
bodies, and the cavalry, the archers, and the pikemen, were
distributed according to the principles of Roman tactics. The Saxons
charged in one weighty column, boldly encountered with their short
swords the long lances of the Britons, and maintained an equal
conflict till the approach of night. Two decisive victories, the death
of three British kings, and the reduction of Cirencester, Bath, and
Gloucester, established the fame and power of Ceaulin, the grandson of
Cerdic, who carried his victorious arms to the banks of the Severn.

After a war of a hundred years, the independent Britons still occupied
the whole extent of the Western coast, from the wall of Antoninus to
the extreme promontory of Cornwall; and the principal cities of the
inland country still opposed the arms of the Barbarians. Resistance
became more languid, as the number and boldness of the assailants
continually increased. Winning their way by slow and painful efforts,
the Saxons, the Angles, and their various confederates, advanced from
the North, from the East, and from the South, till their victorious
banners were united in the centre of the island. Beyond the Severn the
Britons still asserted their national freedom, which survived the
heptarchy, and even the monarchy, of the Saxons. The bravest warriors,
who preferred exile to slavery, found a secure refuge in the mountains
of Wales: the reluctant submission of Cornwall was delayed for some
ages; and a band of fugitives acquired a settlement in Gaul, by their
own valor, or the liberality of the Merovingian kings. The Western
angle of Armorica acquired the new appellations of Cornwall
, and the Lesser Britain; and the vacant lands of the Osismii were
filled by a strange people, who, under the authority of their counts
and bishops, preserved the laws and language of their ancestors. To
the feeble descendants of Clovis and Charlemagne, the Britons of
Armorica refused the customary tribute, subdued the neighboring
dioceses of Vannes, Rennes, and Nantes, and formed a powerful, though
vassal, state, which has been united to the crown of France.

Chapter XXXVIII: Reign Of Clovis. -- Part V.

In a century of perpetual, or at least implacable, war, much courage,
and some skill, must have been exerted for the defence of Britain. Yet
if the memory of its champions is almost buried in oblivion, we need
not repine; since every age, however destitute of science or virtue,
sufficiently abounds with acts of blood and military renown. The tomb
of Vortimer, the son of Vortigern, was erected on the margin of the
sea-shore, as a landmark formidable to the Saxons, whom he had thrice
vanquished in the fields of Kent. Ambrosius Aurelian was descended
from a noble family of Romans; his modesty was equal to his valor, and
his valor, till the last fatal action, was crowned with splendid
success. But every British name is effaced by the illustrious name of
Arthur, the hereditary prince of the Silures, in South Wales, and the
elective king or general of the nation. According to the most rational
account, he defeated, in twelve successive battles, the Angles of the
North, and the Saxons of the West; but the declining age of the hero
was imbittered by popular ingratitude and domestic misfortunes. The
events of his life are less interesting than the singular revolutions
of his fame. During a period of five hundred years the tradition of
his exploits was preserved, and rudely embellished, by the obscure
bards of Wales and Armorica, who were odious to the Saxons, and
unknown to the rest of mankind. The pride and curiosity of the Norman
conquerors prompted them to inquire into the ancient history of
Britain: they listened with fond credulity to the tale of Arthur, and
eagerly applauded the merit of a prince who had triumphed over the
Saxons, their common enemies. His romance, transcribed in the Latin of
Jeffrey of Monmouth, and afterwards translated into the fashionable
idiom of the times, was enriched with the various, though incoherent,
ornaments which were familiar to the experience, the learning, or the
fancy, of the twelfth century. The progress of a Phrygian colony, from
the Tyber to the Thames, was easily ingrafted on the fable of the
Æneid; and the royal ancestors of Arthur derived their origin from
Troy, and claimed their alliance with the Cæsars. His trophies were
decorated with captive provinces and Imperial titles; and his Danish
victories avenged the recent injuries of his country. The gallantry
and superstition of the British hero, his feasts and tournaments, and
the memorable institution of his Knights of the Round Table
, were faithfully copied from the reigning manners of chivalry; and
the fabulous exploits of Uther's son appear less incredible than the
adventures which were achieved by the enterprising valor of the
Normans. Pilgrimage, and the holy wars, introduced into Europe the
specious miracles of Arabian magic. Fairies and giants, flying
dragons, and enchanted palaces, were blended with the more simple
fictions of the West; and the fate of Britain depended on the art, or
the predictions, of Merlin. Every nation embraced and adorned the
popular romance of Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table: their
names were celebrated in Greece and Italy; and the voluminous tales of
Sir Lancelot and Sir Tristram were devoutly studied by the princes and
nobles, who disregarded the genuine heroes and historians of
antiquity. At length the light of science and reason was rekindled;
the talisman was broken; the visionary fabric melted into air; and by
a natural, though unjust, reverse of the public opinion, the severity
of the present age is inclined to question the existence of Arthur.

Resistance, if it cannot avert, must increase the miseries of
conquest; and conquest has never appeared more dreadful and
destructive than in the hands of the Saxons; who hated the valor of
their enemies, disdained the faith of treaties, and violated, without
remorse, the most sacred objects of the Christian worship. The fields
of battle might be traced, almost in every district, by monuments of
bones; the fragments of falling towers were stained with blood; the
last of the Britons, without distinction of age or sex, was massacred,
in the ruins of Anderida; and the repetition of such calamities was
frequent and familiar under the Saxon heptarchy. The arts and
religion, the laws and language, which the Romans had so carefully
planted in Britain, were extirpated by their barbarous successors.
After the destruction of the principal churches, the bishops, who had
declined the crown of martyrdom, retired with the holy relics into
Wales and Armorica; the remains of their flocks were left destitute of
any spiritual food; the practice, and even the remembrance, of
Christianity were abolished; and the British clergy might obtain some
comfort from the damnation of the idolatrous strangers. The kings of
France maintained the privileges of their Roman subjects; but the
ferocious Saxons trampled on the laws of Rome, and of the emperors.
The proceedings of civil and criminal jurisdiction, the titles of
honor, the forms of office, the ranks of society, and even the
domestic rights of marriage, testament, and inheritance, were finally
suppressed; and the indiscriminate crowd of noble and plebeian slaves
was governed by the traditionary customs, which had been coarsely
framed for the shepherds and pirates of Germany. The language of
science, of business, and of conversation, which had been introduced
by the Romans, was lost in the general desolation. A sufficient number
of Latin or Celtic words might be assumed by the Germans, to express
their new wants and ideas; but those illiterate
Pagans preserved and established the use of their national dialect.
Almost every name, conspicuous either in the church or state, reveals
its Teutonic origin; and the geography of England was universally
inscribed with foreign characters and appellations. The example of a
revolution, so rapid and so complete, may not easily be found; but it
will excite a probable suspicion, that the arts of Rome were less
deeply rooted in Britain than in Gaul or Spain; and that the native
rudeness of the country and its inhabitants was covered by a thin
varnish of Italian manners.

This strange alteration has persuaded historians, and even
philosophers, that the provincials of Britain were totally
exterminated; and that the vacant land was again peopled by the
perpetual influx, and rapid increase, of the German colonies. Three
hundred thousand Saxons are said
to have obeyed the summons of Hengist; the entire emigration of the
Angles was attested, in the age of Bede, by the solitude of their
native country; and our experience has shown the free propagation of
the human race, if they are cast on a fruitful wilderness, where their
steps are unconfined, and their subsistence is plentiful. The Saxon
kingdoms displayed the face of recent discovery and cultivation; the
towns were small, the villages were distant; the husbandry was languid
and unskilful; four sheep were equivalent to an acre of the best land;
an ample space of wood and morass was resigned to the vague dominion
of nature; and the modern bishopric of Durham, the whole territory
from the Tyne to the Tees, had returned to its primitive state of a
savage and solitary forest. Such imperfect population might have been
supplied, in some generations, by the English colonies; but neither
reason nor facts can justify the unnatural supposition, that the
Saxons of Britain remained alone in the desert which they had subdued.
After the sanguinary Barbarians had secured their dominion, and
gratified their revenge, it was their interest to preserve the
peasants as well as the cattle, of the unresisting country. In each
successive revolution, the patient herd becomes the property of its
new masters; and the salutary compact of food and labor is silently
ratified by their mutual necessities. Wilfrid, the apostle of Sussex,
accepted from his royal convert the gift of the peninsula of Selsey,
near Chichester, with the persons and property of its inhabitants, who
then amounted to eighty-seven families. He released them at once from
spiritual and temporal bondage; and two hundred and fifty slaves of
both sexes were baptized by their indulgent master. The kingdom of
Sussex, which spread from the sea to the Thames, contained seven
thousand families; twelve hundred were ascribed to the Isle of Wight;
and, if we multiply this vague computation, it may seem probable, that
England was cultivated by a million of servants, or villains, who were
attached to the estates of their arbitrary landlords. The indigent
Barbarians were often tempted to sell their children, or themselves
into perpetual, and even foreign, bondage; yet the special exemptions
which were granted to national slaves, sufficiently declare that they
were much less numerous than the strangers and captives, who had lost
their liberty, or changed their masters, by the accidents of war. When
time and religion had mitigated the fierce spirit of the Anglo-Saxons,
the laws encouraged the frequent practice of manumission; and their
subjects, of Welsh or Cambrian extraction, assumed the respectable
station of inferior freemen, possessed of lands, and entitled to the
rights of civil society. Such gentle treatment might secure the
allegiance of a fierce people, who had been recently subdued on the
confines of Wales and Cornwall. The sage Ina, the legislator of
Wessex, united the two nations in the bands of domestic alliance; and
four British lords of Somersetshire may be honorably distinguished in
the court of a Saxon monarch.

The independent Britons appear to have relapsed into the state of
original barbarism, from whence they had been imperfectly reclaimed.
Separated by their enemies from the rest of mankind, they soon became
an object of scandal and abhorrence to the Catholic world.
Christianity was still professed in the mountains of Wales; but the
rude schismatics, in the form
of the clerical tonsure, and in the day of the celebration of Easter,
obstinately resisted the imperious mandates of the Roman pontiffs. The
use of the Latin language was insensibly abolished, and the Britons
were deprived of the art and learning which Italy communicated to her
Saxon proselytes. In Wales and Armorica, the Celtic tongue, the native
idiom of the West, was preserved and propagated; and the Bards, who
had been the companions of the Druids, were still protected, in the
sixteenth century, by the laws of Elizabeth. Their chief, a
respectable officer of the courts of Pengwern, or Aberfraw, or
Caermarthen, accompanied the king's servants to war: the monarchy of
the Britons, which he sung in the front of battle, excited their
courage, and justified their depredations; and the songster claimed
for his legitimate prize the fairest heifer of the spoil. His
subordinate ministers, the masters and disciples of vocal and
instrumental music, visited, in their respective circuits, the royal,
the noble, and the plebeian houses; and the public poverty, almost
exhausted by the clergy, was oppressed by the importunate demands of
the bards. Their rank and merit were ascertained by solemn trials, and
the strong belief of supernatural inspiration exalted the fancy of the
poet, and of his audience. The last retreats of Celtic freedom, the
extreme territories of Gaul and Britain, were less adapted to
agriculture than to pasturage: the wealth of the Britons consisted in
their flocks and herds; milk and flesh were their ordinary food; and
bread was sometimes esteemed, or rejected, as a foreign luxury.
Liberty had peopled the mountains of Wales and the morasses of
Armorica; but their populousness has been maliciously ascribed to the
loose practice of polygamy; and the houses of these licentious
barbarians have been supposed to contain ten wives, and perhaps fifty
children. Their disposition was rash and choleric; they were bold in
action and in speech; and as they were ignorant of the arts of peace,
they alternately indulged their passions in foreign and domestic war.
The cavalry of Armorica, the spearmen of Gwent, and the archers of
Merioneth, were equally formidable; but their poverty could seldom
procure either shields or helmets; and the inconvenient weight would
have retarded the speed and agility of their desultory operations. One
of the greatest of the English monarchs was requested to satisfy the
curiosity of a Greek emperor concerning the state of Britain; and
Henry II. could assert, from his personal experience, that Wales was
inhabited by a race of naked warriors, who encountered, without fear,
the defensive armor of their enemies.

By the revolution of Britain, the limits of science, as well as of
empire, were contracted. The dark cloud, which had been cleared by the
Phnician discoveries, and finally dispelled by the arms of Cæsar,
again settled on the shores of the Atlantic, and a Roman province was
again lost among the fabulous Islands of the Ocean. One hundred and
fifty years after the reign of Honorius, the gravest historian of the
times describes the wonders of a remote isle, whose eastern and
western parts are divided by an antique wall, the boundary of life and
death, or, more properly, of truth and fiction. The east is a fair
country, inhabited by a civilized people: the air is healthy, the
waters are pure and plentiful, and the earth yields her regular and
fruitful increase. In the west, beyond the wall, the air is infectious
and mortal; the ground is covered with serpents; and this dreary
solitude is the region of departed spirits, who are transported from
the opposite shores in substantial boats, and by living rowers. Some
families of fishermen, the subjects of the Franks, are excused from
tribute, in consideration of the mysterious office which is performed
by these Charons of the ocean. Each in his turn is summoned, at the
hour of midnight, to hear the voices, and even the names, of the
ghosts: he is sensible of their weight, and he feels himself impelled
by an unknown, but irresistible power. After this dream of fancy, we
read with astonishment, that the name of this island is Brittia
; that it lies in the ocean, against the mouth of the Rhine, and less
than thirty miles from the continent; that it is possessed by three
nations, the Frisians, the Angles, and the Britons; and that some
Angles had appeared at Constantinople, in the train of the French
ambassadors. From these ambassadors Procopius might be informed of a
singular, though not improbable, adventure, which announces the
spirit, rather than the delicacy, of an English heroine. She had been
betrothed to Radiger, king of the Varni, a tribe of Germans who
touched the ocean and the Rhine; but the perfidious lover was tempted,
by motives of policy, to prefer his father's widow, the sister of
Theodebert, king of the Franks. The forsaken princess of the Angles,
instead of bewailing, revenged her disgrace. Her warlike subjects are
said to have been ignorant of the use, and even of the form, of a
horse; but she boldly sailed from Britain to the mouth of the Rhine,
with a fleet of four hundred ships, and an army of one hundred
thousand men. After the loss of a battle, the captive Radiger implored
the mercy of his victorious bride, who generously pardoned his
offence, dismissed her rival, and compelled the king of the Varni to
discharge with honor and fidelity the duties of a husband. This
gallant exploit appears to be the last naval enterprise of the
Anglo-Saxons. The arts of navigation, by which they acquired the
empire of Britain and of the sea, were soon neglected by the indolent
Barbarians, who supinely renounced all the commercial advantages of
their insular situation. Seven independent kingdoms were agitated by
perpetual discord; and the British worldwas seldom connected, either
in peace or war, with the nations of the Continent.

I have now accomplished the laborious narrative of the decline and
fall of the Roman empire, from the fortunate age of Trajan and the
Antonines, to its total extinction in the West, about five centuries
after the Christian era. At that unhappy period, the Saxons fiercely
struggled with the natives for the possession of Britain: Gaul and
Spain were divided between the powerful monarchies of the Franks and
Visigoths, and the dependent kingdoms of the Suevi and Burgundians:
Africa was exposed to the cruel persecution of the Vandals, and the
savage insults of the Moors: Rome and Italy, as far as the banks of
the Danube, were afflicted by an army of Barbarian mercenaries, whose
lawless tyranny was succeeded by the reign of Theodoric the Ostrogoth.
All the subjects of the empire, who, by the use of the Latin language,
more particularly deserved the name and privileges of Romans, were
oppressed by the disgrace and calamities of foreign conquest; and the
victorious nations of Germany established a new system of manners and
government in the western countries of Europe. The majesty of Rome was
faintly represented by the princes of Constantinople, the feeble and
imaginary successors of Augustus. Yet they continued to reign over the
East, from the Danube to the Nile and Tigris; the Gothic and Vandal
kingdoms of Italy and Africa were subverted by the arms of Justinian;
and the history of the Greek
emperors may still afford a long series of instructive lessons, and
interesting revolutions.

Chapter XXXVIII: Reign Of Clovis. -- Part VI.

General Observations On The Fall Of The Roman Empire In The West.

The Greeks, after their country had been reduced into a province,
imputed the triumphs of Rome, not to the merit, but to the fortune, of
the republic. The inconstant goddess, who so blindly distributes and
resumes her favors, had now consented (such was the language of
envious flattery) to resign her wings, to descend from her globe, and
to fix her firm and immutable throne on the banks of the Tyber. A
wiser Greek, who has composed, with a philosophic spirit, the
memorable history of his own times, deprived his countrymen of this
vain and delusive comfort, by opening to their view the deep
foundations of the greatness of Rome. The fidelity of the citizens to
each other, and to the state, was confirmed by the habits of
education, and the prejudices of religion. Honor, as well as virtue,
was the principle of the republic; the ambitious citizens labored to
deserve the solemn glories of a triumph; and the ardor of the Roman
youth was kindled into active emulation, as often as they beheld the
domestic images of their ancestors. The temperate struggles of the
patricians and plebeians had finally established the firm and equal
balance of the constitution; which united the freedom of popular
assemblies, with the authority and wisdom of a senate, and the
executive powers of a regal magistrate. When the consul displayed the
standard of the republic, each citizen bound himself, by the
obligation of an oath, to draw his sword in the cause of his country,
till he had discharged the sacred duty by a military service of ten
years. This wise institution continually poured into the field the
rising generations of freemen and soldiers; and their numbers were
reënforced by the warlike and populous states of Italy, who, after a
brave resistance, had yielded to the valor and embraced the alliance,
of the Romans. The sage historian, who excited the virtue of the
younger Scipio, and beheld the ruin of Carthage, has accurately
described their military system; their levies, arms, exercises,
subordination, marches, encampments; and the invincible legion,
superior in active strength to the Macedonian phalanx of Philip and
Alexander. From these institutions of peace and war Polybius has
deduced the spirit and success of a people, incapable of fear, and
impatient of repose. The ambitious design of conquest, which might
have been defeated by the seasonable conspiracy of mankind, was
attempted and achieved; and the perpetual violation of justice was
maintained by the political virtues of prudence and courage. The arms
of the republic, sometimes vanquished in battle, always victorious in
war, advanced with rapid steps to the Euphrates, the Danube, the
Rhine, and the Ocean; and the images of gold, or silver, or brass,
that might serve to represent the nations and their kings, were
successively broken by the iron
monarchy of Rome.

The rise of a city, which swelled into an empire, may deserve, as a
singular prodigy, the reflection of a philosophic mind. But the
decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate
greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of
destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and as soon as
time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous
fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. The story of its
ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why
the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it
had subsisted so long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars,
acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the
freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the
purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public
peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline
which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the
enemy; the vigor of the military government was relaxed, and finally
dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman
world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians.

The decay of Rome has been frequently ascribed to the translation of
the seat of empire; but this History has already shown, that the
powers of government were divided
, rather than removed. The throne of Constantinople was erected in the
East; while the West was still possessed by a series of emperors who
held their residence in Italy, and claimed their equal inheritance of
the legions and provinces. This dangerous novelty impaired the
strength, and fomented the vices, of a double reign: the instruments
of an oppressive and arbitrary system were multiplied; and a vain
emulation of luxury, not of merit, was introduced and supported
between the degenerate successors of Theodosius. Extreme distress,
which unites the virtue of a free people, imbitters the factions of a
declining monarchy. The hostile favorites of Arcadius and Honorius
betrayed the republic to its common enemies; and the Byzantine court
beheld with indifference, perhaps with pleasure, the disgrace of Rome,
the misfortunes of Italy, and the loss of the West. Under the
succeeding reigns, the alliance of the two empires was restored; but
the aid of the Oriental Romans was tardy, doubtful, and ineffectual;
and the national schism of the Greeks and Latins was enlarged by the
perpetual difference of language and manners, of interests, and even
of religion. Yet the salutary event approved in some measure the
judgment of Constantine. During a long period of decay, his
impregnable city repelled the victorious armies of Barbarians,
protected the wealth of Asia, and commanded, both in peace and war,
the important straits which connect the Euxine and Mediterranean Seas.
The foundation of Constantinople more essentially contributed to the
preservation of the East, than to the ruin of the West.

As the happiness of a future
life is the great object of religion, we may hear without surprise or
scandal, that the introduction or at least the abuse, of Christianity
had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire. The
clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and
pusillanimity: the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the
last remains of military spirit were buried in the cloister: a large
portion of public and private wealth was consecrated to the specious
demands of charity and devotion; and the soldiers' pay was lavished on
the useless multitudes of both sexes, who could only plead the merits
of abstinence and chastity. * Faith, zeal, curiosity, and the more
earthly passions of malice and ambition, kindled the flame of
theological discord; the church, and even the state, were distracted
by religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody, and
always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted from
camps to synods; the Roman world was oppressed by a new species of
tyranny; and the persecuted sects became the secret enemies of their
country. Yet party spirit, however pernicious or absurd, is a
principle of union as well as of dissension. The bishops, from
eighteen hundred pulpits, inculcated the duty of passive obedience to
a lawful and orthodox sovereign; their frequent assemblies, and
perpetual correspondence, maintained the communion of distant
churches; and the benevolent temper of the gospel was strengthened,
though confined, by the spiritual alliance of the Catholics. The
sacred indolence of the monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and
effeminate age; but if superstition had not afforded a decent retreat,
the same vices would have tempted the unworthy Romans to desert, from
baser motives, the standard of the republic. Religious precepts are
easily obeyed, which indulge and sanctify the natural inclinations of
their votaries; but the pure and genuine influence of Christianity may
be traced in its beneficial, though imperfect, effects on the
Barbarian proselytes of the North. If the decline of the Roman empire
was hastened by the conversion of Constantine, his victorious religion
broke the violence of the fall, and mollified the ferocious temper of
the conquerors.

This awful revolution may be usefully applied to the instruction of
the present age. It is the duty of a patriot to prefer and promote the
exclusive interest and glory of his native country: but a philosopher
may be permitted to enlarge his views, and to consider Europe as one
great republic whose various inhabitants have obtained almost the same
level of politeness and cultivation. The balance of power will
continue to fluctuate, and the prosperity of our own, or the
neighboring kingdoms, may be alternately exalted or depressed; but
these partial events cannot essentially injure our general state of
happiness, the system of arts, and laws, and manners, which so
advantageously distinguish, above the rest of mankind, the Europeans
and their colonies. The savage nations of the globe are the common
enemies of civilized society; and we may inquire, with anxious
curiosity, whether Europe is still threatened with a repetition of
those calamities, which formerly oppressed the arms and institutions
of Rome. Perhaps the same reflections will illustrate the fall of that
mighty empire, and explain the probable causes of our actual security.

I. The Romans were ignorant of the extent of their danger, and the
number of their enemies. Beyond the Rhine and Danube, the Northern
countries of Europe and Asia were filled with innumerable tribes of
hunters and shepherds, poor, voracious, and turbulent; bold in arms,
and impatient to ravish the fruits of industry. The Barbarian world
was agitated by the rapid impulse of war; and the peace of Gaul or
Italy was shaken by the distant revolutions of China. The Huns, who
fled before a victorious enemy, directed their march towards the West;
and the torrent was swelled by the gradual accession of captives and
allies. The flying tribes who yielded to the Huns assumed in their
turn the spirit of conquest; the endless column of Barbarians pressed
on the Roman empire with accumulated weight; and, if the foremost were
destroyed, the vacant space was instantly replenished by new
assailants. Such formidable emigrations can no longer issue from the
North; and the long repose, which has been imputed to the decrease of
population, is the happy consequence of the progress of arts and
agriculture. Instead of some rude villages, thinly scattered among its
woods and morasses, Germany now produces a list of two thousand three
hundred walled towns: the Christian kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and
Poland, have been successively established; and the Hanse merchants,
with the Teutonic knights, have extended their colonies along the
coast of the Baltic, as far as the Gulf of Finland. From the Gulf of
Finland to the Eastern Ocean, Russia now assumes the form of a
powerful and civilized empire. The plough, the loom, and the forge,
are introduced on the banks of the Volga, the Oby, and the Lena; and
the fiercest of the Tartar hordes have been taught to tremble and
obey. The reign of independent Barbarism is now contracted to a narrow
span; and the remnant of Calmucks or Uzbecks, whose forces may be
almost numbered, cannot seriously excite the apprehensions of the
great republic of Europe. Yet this apparent security should not tempt
us to forget, that new enemies, and unknown dangers, may possibly
arise from some obscure people, scarcely visible in the map of the
world, The Arabs or Saracens, who spread their conquests from India to
Spain, had languished in poverty and contempt, till Mahomet breathed
into those savage bodies the soul of enthusiasm.

II. The empire of Rome was firmly established by the singular and
perfect coalition of its members. The subject nations, resigning the
hope, and even the wish, of independence, embraced the character of
Roman citizens; and the provinces of the West were reluctantly torn by
the Barbarians from the bosom of their mother country. But this union
was purchased by the loss of national freedom and military spirit; and
the servile provinces, destitute of life and motion, expected their
safety from the mercenary troops and governors, who were directed by
the orders of a distant court. The happiness of a hundred millions
depended on the personal merit of one or two men, perhaps children,
whose minds were corrupted by education, luxury, and despotic power.
The deepest wounds were inflicted on the empire during the minorities
of the sons and grandsons of Theodosius; and, after those incapable
princes seemed to attain the age of manhood, they abandoned the church
to the bishops, the state to the eunuchs, and the provinces to the
Barbarians. Europe is now divided into twelve powerful, though unequal
kingdoms, three respectable commonwealths, and a variety of smaller,
though independent, states: the chances of royal and ministerial
talents are multiplied, at least, with the number of its rulers; and a
Julian, or Semiramis, may reign in the North, while Arcadius and
Honorius again slumber on the thrones of the South. The abuses of
tyranny are restrained by the mutual influence of fear and shame;
republics have acquired order and stability; monarchies have imbibed
the principles of freedom, or, at least, of moderation; and some sense
of honor and justice is introduced into the most defective
constitutions by the general manners of the times. In peace, the
progress of knowledge and industry is accelerated by the emulation of
so many active rivals: in war, the European forces are exercised by
temperate and undecisive contests. If a savage conqueror should issue
from the deserts of Tartary, he must repeatedly vanquish the robust
peasants of Russia, the numerous armies of Germany, the gallant nobles
of France, and the intrepid freemen of Britain; who, perhaps, might
confederate for their common defence. Should the victorious Barbarians
carry slavery and desolation as far as the Atlantic Ocean, ten
thousand vessels would transport beyond their pursuit the remains of
civilized society; and Europe would revive and flourish in the
American world, which is already filled with her colonies and

III. Cold, poverty, and a life of danger and fatigue, fortify the
strength and courage of Barbarians. In every age they have oppressed
the polite and peaceful nations of China, India, and Persia, who
neglected, and still neglect, to counterbalance these natural powers
by the resources of military art. The warlike states of antiquity,
Greece, Macedonia, and Rome, educated a race of soldiers; exercised
their bodies, disciplined their courage, multiplied their forces by
regular evolutions, and converted the iron, which they possessed, into
strong and serviceable weapons. But this superiority insensibly
declined with their laws and manners; and the feeble policy of
Constantine and his successors armed and instructed, for the ruin of
the empire, the rude valor of the Barbarian mercenaries. The military
art has been changed by the invention of gunpowder; which enables man
to command the two most powerful agents of nature, air and fire.
Mathematics, chemistry, mechanics, architecture, have been applied to
the service of war; and the adverse parties oppose to each other the
most elaborate modes of attack and of defence. Historians may
indignantly observe, that the preparations of a siege would found and
maintain a flourishing colony; yet we cannot be displeased, that the
subversion of a city should be a work of cost and difficulty; or that
an industrious people should be protected by those arts, which survive
and supply the decay of military virtue. Cannon and fortifications now
form an impregnable barrier against the Tartar horse; and Europe is
secure from any future irruption of Barbarians; since, before they can
conquer, they must cease to be barbarous. Their gradual advances in
the science of war would always be accompanied, as we may learn from
the example of Russia, with a proportionable improvement in the arts
of peace and civil policy; and they themselves must deserve a place
among the polished nations whom they subdue.

Should these speculations be found doubtful or fallacious, there still
remains a more humble source of comfort and hope. The discoveries of
ancient and modern navigators, and the domestic history, or tradition,
of the most enlightened nations, represent the human savage
, naked both in body and mind and destitute of laws, of arts, of
ideas, and almost of language. From this abject condition, perhaps the
primitive and universal state of man, he has gradually arisen to
command the animals, to fertilize the earth, to traverse the ocean and
to measure the heavens. His progress in the improvement and exercise
of his mental and corporeal faculties has been irregular and various;
infinitely slow in the beginning, and increasing by degrees with
redoubled velocity: ages of laborious ascent have been followed by a
moment of rapid downfall; and the several climates of the globe have
felt the vicissitudes of light and darkness. Yet the experience of
four thousand years should enlarge our hopes, and diminish our
apprehensions: we cannot determine to what height the human species
may aspire in their advances towards perfection; but it may safely be
presumed, that no people, unless the face of nature is changed, will
relapse into their original barbarism. The improvements of society may
be viewed under a threefold aspect. 1. The poet or philosopher
illustrates his age and country by the efforts of a single mind; but
those superior powers of reason or fancy are rare and spontaneous
productions; and the genius of Homer, or Cicero, or Newton, would
excite less admiration, if they could be created by the will of a
prince, or the lessons of a preceptor. 2. The benefits of law and
policy, of trade and manufactures, of arts and sciences, are more
solid and permanent: and many individuals may be qualified, by
education and discipline, to promote, in their respective stations,
the interest of the community. But this general order is the effect of
skill and labor; and the complex machinery may be decayed by time, or
injured by violence. 3. Fortunately for mankind, the more useful, or,
at least, more necessary arts, can be performed without superior
talents, or national subordination: without the powers of one, or the
union of many. Each village, each family, each individual, must always
possess both ability and inclination to perpetuate the use of fire and
of metals; the propagation and service of domestic animals; the
methods of hunting and fishing; the rudiments of navigation; the
imperfect cultivation of corn, or other nutritive grain; and the
simple practice of the mechanic trades. Private genius and public
industry may be extirpated; but these hardy plants survive the
tempest, and strike an everlasting root into the most unfavorable
soil. The splendid days of Augustus and Trajan were eclipsed by a
cloud of ignorance; and the Barbarians subverted the laws and palaces
of Rome. But the scythe, the invention or emblem of Saturn, still
continued annually to mow the harvests of Italy; and the human feasts
of the Læstrigons have never been renewed on the coast of Campania.

Since the first discovery of the arts, war, commerce, and religious
zeal have diffused, among the savages of the Old and New World, these
inestimable gifts: they have been successively propagated; they can
never be lost. We may therefore acquiesce in the pleasing conclusion,
that every age of the world has increased, and still increases, the
real wealth, the happiness, the knowledge, and perhaps the virtue, of
the human race.


Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest