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The empire of the Romans in Europe was limited on the north and east by the Danube and the Rhine after the abandonment of Dacia in 256, and included Britain and the lowlands of Scotland in the north and the Chersonese on the Black Sea. Without these boundaries lay the vast terra incognita of Germany, Sarmatia and the northern peninsula. Of the early history of this unknown country we know only what is told by Greek and Roman historians in connection with wars and movements of people, where Greeks and Romans came in contact with Germans, Getae, Scyths and other people of the north and east.
After their conquest Spain and Gaul became thoroughly Romanized, and the country south of the Danube with its predominant Greek elements submitted to Roman rulership and laws. Though the empire was many times shaken by wars over the succession to the imperial throne, and though in the east Persia offered battle from time to time, the period from the reign of Augustus to the overthrow of the western empire in the fifth century was one of comparative peace and security, yet not of progress. Agriculture and the useful arts, instead of advancing, fell into decay. Learning waned and the ability to read and write, which under the republic had become common, was rare. The great works of Justinian in the next century, reducing the laws to form and system, never became generally known to the people of his exhausted and crumbling empire. Imperial rule produced neither moral nor material develop
Roman sentiment never condemned, but rather delighted in bloody spectacles and exhibitions of cruelty and barbarity. Slavery lay at the foundation of property rights. The ignorant multitude applauded the lavish expenditures and
barbaric display of the rich. Neither the government nor the property system rested on any moral basis. With the destruction of the middle order the integrity of the domestic system was broken, and that only sure repository of virtue and purity, the family, was subjected to the debasing influence of frequent divorces and remarriages at the dictation of interest or caprice.
With the republic also passed away that devotion to the public welfare, which had been the conspicuous virtue of Romans throughout the long and desperate struggles that gave Rome mastery of the known world. This was the Roman approximation to a conception of the universal moral principle of mutual help. In its place came oriental sordidness. Deprived of all participation in affairs of state, unless as the mere instruments of the imperial will, the ambition of the citizen was to gain wealth and through wealth enjoyment. The sure fruits of successful effort in this direction are cruelty and sensuality, which in turn bring disease and destruction. Out of the darkness came the Germanic tribes, whose history no records preserve. With manners and customs bearing more resemblance to those of the Romans of the early days than prevailed in the empire, they attacked the enervated Romans. In the early years of imperial rule the vast resources of the empire were such as to render victory over the comparatively insignificant tribes sure, if not easy. In the reign of Marcus Aurelius an irruption of the Marcomanni and allied tribes swept across the upper Danube over Pannonia, Noricum and Rhaetia to the Alps. They were driven back after fourteen years of war. In 236 the theretofore unknown tribes of the Alemanni crossed the Rhine, and the Goths appeared on the Danube. During the civil wars from the reign of Philip to Claudius, 244 to 249, the barbarians improved their opportunities, and the Alemanni and Franks poured into Gaul and Spain and even Africa. In 247 the Goths crossed the Danube and overran Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia and in 251 defeated and killed the emperor Decius. In the reign of Valerian 253-260 their fleets appeared on the Black Sea and ravaged the maritime towns of
Asia Minor. In the reign of Gallienus, 260 to 268, a fleet of five hundred sails appeared on the coast of Greece and sacked Athens, Corinth, Argos and Sparta. In 269 under the emperor Claudius the Romans defeated and drove them back across the Danube. Five years later a raid of Franks and Alemanni was repulsed on the Rhine. As a result of these conflicts the Romans were forced to recede and abandon Dacia and all possessions beyond the Rhine and Danube to the advancing barbarians. Under the vigorous and despotic reign of Diocletian the integrity of the empire was preserved and the authority of the government vigorously maintained, but there was no improvement in the moral tone of either people or government. Selfishness and want of social virtue called for a better corrective than a more vigorous assertion of authority and an increased burden of taxation. The removal of the capital to the Bosphorus was soon followed by the division into the eastern and western empires, and by the decay of imperial authority throughout the west.
In 376 the Huns emerged from the unknown hives of Asia and pressed against the Goths, who sought the protection of the emperor. They were allowed to cross the Danube and settle in Moesia, but soon rose in arms against their protectors and in 378 defeated and killed Valens, overran Illyricum, and advanced to the gates of Constantinople. Theodosius made peace with them and took many into the army. While the boundaries of the empire were nominally maintained throughout the fourth century, there was a growing pressure from the northern tribes. As a result of their contact with the Romans, Goths, Franks and other nations acquired some knowledge of military science, and learned to supplement the hardy valor of their warriors with some measure of discipline and mutual support. On the other hand, civil wars, the dependence on mercenary troops, the utter disappearance of everything like unselfish devotion to the public welfare, the grinding burden of taxation levied to pay mercenaries, many of whom were barbarians, and to support the vile profligacy of the palace and the ever growing multitude of officeholders, the slavery or extreme poverty of all who labored, and the
want of courage and manhood in the favored few, who dissipated in wasteful luxury the best of all the toilers produced, left the empire enervated and spiritless. Barbarians who had fought in the armies of the emperors became qualified to lead armies, and Alaric, who had been favored by Theodosius, led the Goths from their settlements south of the Danube, where many of them had embraced the Christian religion, into Illyricum and Greece and thence into Italy, closing his triumphant career with the sacking of Rome in 410.
Contemporaneous with this movement of the Goths there was an irruption of the Vandals, Suevi and Alani into Gaul and thence into Spain, where they established permanent settlements and partitioned the country among the tribes. In 419 Ataulf as king of the Visigoths founded a monarchy in southwestern Gaul. In 429 the Vandal king, Genseric, crossed into Africa with his army and their families and established his authority there. He was recognized by the Emperor soon after and took Carthage in 439. The movements of these Germanic tribes were not solely in the form of attacks, starting from their homes beyond the great rivers, but were in part migrations into new homes assigned them by the emperors. Goths, Vandals and Franks learned Roman methods before achieving great victories. In 451 the Huns under Attila attacked the empire and invaded Gaul. Attila came as the ruler of a great dominion, including not only Huns but many German tribes. He drove the Goths before him, who in turn united with the Romans and aided in his defeat. In 455 the Vandals under Genseric invaded Italy from the south and sacked Rome. In 476 Odoacer, the Goth, was proclaimed king by the barbarian mercenaries in Italy, and although he nominally recognized the authority of the emperor of the east and received the style patrician, all real power was in his hands. Though a Goth, he recognized the Roman laws, and used the Roman system of administering them. He took onethird of the lands of the great proprietors and distributed them among his followers. Odoacer was overthrown, not by Romans, but by the Ostrogoths, who under Theodoric invaded Italy with their wives, children and chattels from the
Balkans, where they had tarried when their brethern the Visigoths moved westward.
Theodoric ruled Romans by Roman law and Goths in accordance with their own customs. He provided for his people from the lands confiscated by Odoacer, a great part of the holders of which had been killed in battle. The Goths were judged by their counts, and where a controvery arose between Goth and Roman, the case was heard by a mixed court. He had his body guard and its chief officers of Goths and also a full establishment of Roman officials. Theodoric extended his rule, not only over Italy, but also over the Germanic people in Rhaetia and Noricum, and over southern Gaul and Spain. The traditions of the Lombards related that they had dwelt on the Scandinavian peninsula, whence they had crossed the Baltic into Germany and pressed their way down to the Danube. In 552 Justinian's general Narses employed 5,000 of them as auxiliaries in his war in Italy, where they learned of its fertility and desolation. In 568, under the leadership cf Alboin, whom they had elected king, the whole nation, men, women, children, slaves and chattels, crossed the Alps and descended into Venetia, whence they spread over northern Italy. They came with primitive German customs, divided into tribes or clans led by elective chiefs called Aldanes. The tribes united in choosing a king when war rendered concert of action necessary, but his authority seems to have practically terminated when war was over. After Alboin had been murdered and Clepho, his successor, killed by a slave, they chose to do without a king for ten years, and the tribes ranged over Italy and across the Alps into Provence. Settlements were made by them in various parts of the peninsula alongside the Romans and remnants of the Goths. The Lombards were fierce and warlike, but never established a firm dominion over all Italy, though they became the dominant portion of its population. They retained their ancient customs and laws more persistently than the Goths, and in 643 their king, Rothari, published a compilation of their laws, which was promulgated, not as emanating from his authority alone, but with the counsel of his witan and the assent of the armed