Page images

But every part of the reign of Constantine and his immediate successors may possibly be regarded by some persons, as too early for the commencement of the third seal; and indeed I know not, that there is any necessity for concluding, that the events foretold in the second seal should be immediately followed by those prefigured in the third. Prophecies, so concisely expressed as the seals are, cannot possibly describe all the considerable events of a long period, but only the principal characteristic events. Perhaps, then, the reign of Valens, and the year 376, may form the true epoch, when the events of the third seal began to be accomplished. In this memorable year the Gothic nation, constituting nearly a million of persons, being driven from their ancient seats by an irresistible torrent of other Barbarians, the Huns and the Alani, were permitted by the emperor Valens to cross the Danube: but fatal were the consequences which attended that permission, for this immense body of Goths, exasperated by the ill treatment of the Roman officers, did, in this very year, rear the standard of a revolt in the provinces of the empire, and defeat an army of Romans.

But on this important æra I shall quote the words of Mr. Gibbon. In the disastrous period of the fall of the Roman empire, which may justly be dated from the reign of Valens, the happiness and security of each individual were personally attacked; and the arts and labor of ages were rudely defaced by the Barbarians of Scythia and Germany. The invasion of the Huns precipitated on the provinces of the West the Gothic nation, which advanced, in less than forty years, from the Danube to the Atlantic, and opened a way, by the success of their arms, to the inroads of so many hostile tribes, more savage than themselves.'

It was in the year 376, that the Roman legions, under the command of Lupicinus, one of the governors of Thrace, were completely defeated by the Goths. 'As they had been deprived, by the ministers of the emperor, of the common benefits of nature, and the fair intercourse of social life, they retaliated the injustice on the subjects of the

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


empire; and the crimes of Lupicinus were expiated by the ruin of the peaceful husbandmen of Thrace, the conflagration of their villages, and the massacre, or captivity, of their innocent families.' The hardy workmen, who labored in the gold mines of Thrace, for the emolument, and under the lash, of an unfeeling master,' having joined the Goths, conducted them, through the secret paths, to the most sequestered places, which had been chosen to secure the inhabitants, the cattle, and the magazines of corn. The imprudence of Valens and his ministers had introduced into the heart of the empire a nation of enemies; but the Visigoths might even yet have been reconciled, by the manly confession of past errors, and the sincere performance of former engagements. These healing and temperate measures seemed to concur with the timorous disposition of the sovereign of the East: but, on this occasion alone, Valens was brave; and his unseasonable bravery was fatal to himself and to his subjects.'

Only two years after the admission of the Goths into the Roman empire happened 'the battle of Hadrianople, which equalled, in the actual loss, and far surpassed, in the fatal consequences, the misfortune which Rome had formerly sustained in the fields of Cannæ.-Above two-thirds of the Roman army25 were destroyed;' and the emperor Valens, who commanded it in person, himself perished near the field of battle. 'The tide of the Gothic inundation rolled from the Walls of Hadrianople to the suburbs of Constantinople; and the Barbarians, who had no longer any resistance to apprehend from the scattered and vanquished troops of the East, spread themselves over the face of a fertile and cultivated country, as far as the confines of Italy, and the Hadriatic sea. Their mischievous disposition was shewn in the destruction of every object, which they wanted strength to remove, or taste to enjoy ; and they often consumed, with improvident rage, the harvests, or the granaries, which soon afterwards became ne

25 About 40,000 Romans fell

cessary for their own subsistence.' It may be added,' that the Goths, after the defeat of Valens, never abandoned the Roman territory.'


Their devastations had a double operation. The consumption of harvests, the conflagration of farms, and the massacre of husbandmen, constituted only part of the evil. The uncertain condition of their property discouraged the subjects of Theodosius,' the successor of Valens, from engaging in those useful and laborious undertakings, which require an immediate expence, and promise a slow and distant advantage. The frequent examples of ruin and desolation tempted them not to spare the remains of a patrimony, which might, every hour, become the prey of the rapacious Goth. And the mad prodigality, which prevails in the confusion of a shipwreck or a siege, may serve to explain the progress of luxury amidst the misfortunes and terrors of a sinking nation."

What mighty calamities were inflicted on the Roman empire, during the joint reigns of Arcadius and Honorius, the sons and successors of Theodosius, every man is apprised, who is acquainted with the history of its decline and subversion. On this point there can be no dispute. To the great events, which happened during their administration, it will, therefore, be sufficient very concisely to refer. During the reigns of the feeble sons of Theodosius, Greece was ravaged and over-run by the Goths; Spain andGaul were invaded and occupied by various tribes of fierce Barbarians; and Italy and Rome were plundered by Alaric, the commander of the Gothic armies. From the long account of these varied devastations, I shall cite only two short extracts. The banks of the Rhine were crowned, like those of the Tyber, with elegant houses and well cultivated farms.-This scene of peace and plenty was suddenly changed into a desert; and the prospect of the smoaking ruins could alone distinguish the solitude of nature


26 Vol. IV. p. 340-443; vol. V. p. 88.

27 It extends in vol. V. from p. 176 to p. 362.

from the desolation of man. The following account of the misfortunes of Spain is in the language of its most eloquent historian, Mariana. "The irruption of these nations was followed by the most dreadful calamities: as the Barbarians exercised their indiscriminate cruelty on the fortunes of the Romans and the Spaniards; and ravaged with equal fury the cities and the open country. The progress of famine reduced the miserable inhabitants to feed on the flesh of their fellow-creatures.-Pestilence soon appeared, the inseparable companion of famine ;" and "a large proportion of the people was swept away29."

Seven years after the death of Honorius, Africa became the theatre of the most terrible devastations. "The long and narrow tract of the African coast was filled with frequent monuments of Roman art and magnificence.-A simple reflection will impress every thinking mind with the clearest idea of fertility and cultivation: the country was extremely populous; the inhabitants reserved a liberal subsistence for their own use; and the annual exportation, particularly of wheat, was so regular and plentiful, that Africa deserved the name of the common granary of Rome and of mankind. On a sudden, the seven fruitful provinces, from Tangier to Tripoli, were overwhelmed by the invasion of the Vandals.-The Vandals, where they found resistance, seldom gave quarter; and the deaths of their valiant countrymen were expiated by the ruin of the cities under whose walls they had fallen.' About the year 442, the whole breadth of Europe, as it extends above 500 miles from the Euxine to the Hadriatic, was at once invaded, and occupied, and desolated, by the myriads of Barbarians whom Attila led into the field. The words, the most expressive of total extirpation and erasure, are applied to the calamities which they inflicted on seventy cities of the Eastern empire.' And, in a short time, the situation of Italy itself became equally deplorable with that of the provinces. Since the age of Tiberius, the decay of agriculture had been felt in


28 Vol. V. p 225

29 Gibbon, vol. V. p. 352.

Italy; and it was a just subject of complaint, that the life of the Roman people depended on the accidents of the winds and waves. In the division and the decline of the empire, the tributary provinces of Egypt and Africa were withdrawn; the numbers of the inhabitants continually diminished with the means of subsistence; and the country was exhausted by the irretrievable losses of war, famine, and pestilence. St. Ambrose has deplored the ruin of a populous district, which had been once adorned with the flourishing cities of Bologna, Modena, Regium, and Placentia. Pope Gelasius was a subject of Odoacer; and he affirms, with strong exaggeration, that in Æmilia, Tuscany, and the adjacent provinces, the human species was almost extirpated 30.'

'While the kingdoms of the Franks and Visigoths were established in Gaul and Spain, the Saxons atchieved the conquest of Britain.' But it maintained, alone and unaided, ' 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.' And after a war of an hundred years, the independant Britons still occupied the whole extent of the Western coast, from the wall of Antoninus to the extreme promontary of Cornwall.-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.' Such, indeed, was the destruction of the natives, that 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;' and an ample space of wood and morass was resigned to the vague dominion of nature","

In another part of the globe the Bulgarians displayed an

30 Vol. VI. p. 20, 52, 53, 234.

31 Vol. VI. p. 379, 386, 388, 392, 395.

« PreviousContinue »