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- Medieval Europe - 4/25 -


King of Italy in all but name. It cost them four years of hard fighting to overthrow this self-constituted representative of the Empire. After that they had no overt opposition to fear. To the Italians there was little difference between Odoacer and Theodoric. The change of rulers did not affect their material interests, since Theodoric merely appropriated that proportion of the cultivated land (one-third) which Odoacer had claimed for his followers. Nor was submission inconsistent with the loyalty demanded by the Eastern Empire; since for the moment it suited imperial policy to accept the Visigothic King as the successor of Odoacer. Theodoric reigned over Italy for thirty-three years (493-526). A tolerant and enlightened ruler, he spared no effort to give his rule a legal character, and to protect the Italians against oppression. Two eminent Romans, Liberius and Cassiodorus, acted successively as his confidential advisers and interpreted his policy to their countrymen. No attempt was made to fuse the Ostrogoths with the Italians. The invaders remained, an army quartered on the soil, subject for most purposes to their own law. But the law of the Italians was similarly respected; Theodoric applied the Roman law of crime impartially to both races; and he rigourously interdicted the prosecution of private wars and feuds. Unfortunately his subordinates were less scrupulous than himself. The Ostrogothic soldiery maintained the national character for lawlessness; the royal officers and judges were corrupt; men of means were harassed by blackmailers and false informers; the poor and helpless were frequently enslaved by force or fraud. The Italians could not forgive the Arian tenets of their new rulers, even though the orthodox were tolerated and protected. Naturally the clergy and the remnants of the Roman aristocracy sighed for an imperial restoration. And Theodoric, rightly or wrongly, came to suspect them all of treason. In his later years he meted out a terrible and barbarous justice to the supposed authors of conspiracy--notably to the Senator Boethius, who was beaten to death with clubs after a long period of rigourous imprisonment. Boethius has vindicated his own fair name, and blackened for ever that of Theodoric, by his immortal treatise, the _Consolation of Philosophy_, composed in hourly expectation of death. A Christian it would seem, but certainly nurtured on the precepts of Plato and the Stoics, Boethius turned in his extremity to these teachers for reassurance on the doubts which must always afflict the just man enmeshed in undeserved misfortune. Himself a philosopher only in his sublime optimism and his resolve to treat the inevitable as immaterial, Boethius rivets the attention by his absolute honesty. His book, revered in the Middle Ages as all but inspired, will be read with interest and sympathy so long as honest men are vexed by human oppression and the dispensations of a seemingly capricious destiny. But the footprints of the Ostrogoths are effaced from the soil of Italy; the name of Theodoric is scantily commemorated by some mosaics and a rifled mausoleum at Ravenna. Here at least Time has done justice in the end; from all that age of violent deeds and half-sincere ideals nothing has passed into the spiritual heritage of mankind but the communings of one undaunted sufferer with his soul and God.

Theodoric died in 526, bequeathing his crown to his only daughter's son. Eight years afterwards the boy king, worn out by premature excess, was laid in the grave; his mother was murdered to clear the path of an ambitious kinsman; and, while the succession was still in doubt, the Emperor Justinian launched upon Italy the still invincible armies of the Empire, led by Belisarius, the greatest general of the time and already famous as the deliverer of Africa from the Vandals (536). The intrigues of his court rivals, rather than the resources of the divided Ostrogoths, robbed Belisarius of a decisive victory, and prolonged the struggle for years after he had been superseded. But in 553 the last embers of resistance were quenched in blood. Italy, devastated and depopulated, was reorganised as an imperial province with an elaborate hierarchy of civil and military officials. The change was welcome to the orthodox clergy, the more so because Justinian gave large powers in local administration to their bishops. Of outward pomp there was enough to gild corruption and inefficiency with a deceptive splendour; but in fact the restored Empire was little more civilised, in the true sense of the word, than the barbarian states of the past and future. Upon the Italians the Emperor conferred the boon of his famous _Corpus Juris_, a compendium of that legal wisdom which constitutes the best title of Rome to the world's gratitude. For the future it was momentous that Italy learned, at this early date, to regard the _Corpus_ as the perfection of legal wisdom. Through the Italian schools of later times (Ravenna, Bologna, etc.) the _Corpus_ has influenced the law of every European state and has dictated the principles of scientific jurisprudence. But in the sixth century good laws availed nothing for want of good government.

In 568, only fifteen years after the restoration, the Lombards descended upon Italy from the Middle Danube, following the track of Theodoric and inspirited by the fame of his success. A few years made them masters of the North Italian plain still known as Lombardy. Within three-quarters of a century they had demonstrated the hollowness of the Byzantine power. The power of their kings, whose capital was Pavia, extended on the one side into Liguria and Tuscany, on the other into Emilia and Friuli; far away in the south, behind the line of fortresses which linked Rome with Ravenna, the semi-independent dukes of Spoleto and Benevento were masters of the land on both sides of the Apennines, excepting Naples and the toe of the Bruttian peninsula. Apart from these districts there remained in the imperial allegiance only the fisher-folk of the Venetian lagoons and the lands which afterwards were to be known as the Papal States. What the Byzantines achieved by the maintenance of this precarious foothold was nothing less than the political disruption of Italy. The Lombard duchies of the south were kept separate from the parent state; with the result that their ruins were built long afterwards into the fabric of a South Italian monarchy which was irreconcilably hostile to the political heirs of the Lombard kings. In many respects the Lombards showed capacity for governing a subject population. They adopted the Latin language; they forsook Arianism for Catholicism; they accommodated themselves to city life; they were liberal patrons of Italian art and industry. Although they introduced a strictly Teutonic form of administration, their rule compared not unfavourably with the makeshift methods of Byzantine statesmanship. In Imperial Italy we see the strange spectacle of a military despotism tempered by the usurped privileges and jurisdictions of the great proprietors, or by the ill-defined temporal pretensions of the bishops. In Lombard Italy matters were at least no worse. The Lombards were aliens; but so were the Greeks. The Greeks treated the Italians as inferiors. But the Lombards intermarried freely with their subjects, and the Lombard legislators (Rotharis, Luitprand) recognised no invidious privileges of race.

(4) Northern Gaul remains to be considered. It was here that the Frankish monarchy developed; and we deal last with the Franks because they were destined to harvest the chief fruits of barbarian conquest and colonisation. By the close of the eighth century Africa, Spain, and Britain were the only western provinces of the Empire in which they had failed to establish themselves as the sole or the dominant power; and moreover they had penetrated by that time farther into Central Europe than any Roman statesman, since Tiberius, had extended his schemes of conquest. The expansion of the Franks was a slow process, interrupted by periods of stagnation or relapse; and we can only trace it in the barest outline.

Known from an early date to the Romans as vagrant marauders, the Franks had been heavily chastised by most of the soldier emperors from Probus to Julian. Some of them were forcibly settled as serf-colonists on the left bank of the Rhine; others (the _Salian_ Franks) appropriated to themselves a large part of Batavia, the marsh country at the mouths of the Scheldt and Rhine; a third group (the _Ripuarians_) occupied the lands between the Rhine and the Meuse, in the neighbourhood of Koln and Bonn. The Salians and Ripuarians counted as allies (_foederati_) of the Empire, at least from the time of Aetius; under whom, like the Visigoths, they fought against the Huns at Troyes (451). Their aggressions were checked on the West by the Roman governors of the country lying between the Somme and the Loire; and their power was impaired by the partition of the Salian people among a swarm of petty kings. But in 481, with the accession of Clovis to the throne of Tournai, there began a period of consolidation and advance. In 486 Clovis overthrew the Roman governor Syagrius and usurped his power. In 496 he annexed the purely Teutonic principality which the Alemanni had recently established in the country now known as Suabia. This victory was the occasion of his conversion to Christianity. The legend goes that, in the crisis of the final battle, Clovis appealed to the God of his pious wife: "I have called on my gods and they have forsaken me. To Thee I turn, in Thee will I believe, if Thou wilt deliver me." He kept his word, and was baptised by St. Remi, the Bishop of Rheims, thus becoming a member of the orthodox communion, and the hope of all the Gallic clergy, who had hitherto submitted with an ill grace to the heretical rulers of the Visigoths and the Burgundians. A crafty and ambitious savage, the King of Tournai quickly realised the advantage of alliance with the native Church. In the year 500 he turned upon the Burgundians in the hope of making them his tributaries. He failed in his object, for the Burgundian King made a timely feint of conversion to orthodoxy and otherwise conciliated the Gallo-Roman population. But over Alaric II the Visigoth, who had been so impolitic as to persecute orthodox bishops, the Franks secured an easy and dramatic triumph. "It irks me," said Clovis to his army, "that these Arians should rule in Gaul." The Aquitanians welcomed him as a Crusader; Alaric, after a single defeat, took refuge in his Spanish dominions, where he was left to rule in peace. At one stroke the power of the Franks had advanced from the Loire to the Pyrenees (507). The latter days of Clovis were prosperously occupied in exterminating rival Frankish dynasties and the more dangerous of his own kindred. He died, after a reign of thirty years, in the odour of sanctity: "God increased his kingdom every day, because he walked with an upright heart and did what was pleasing in the eyes of God." He was buried in the Gallo-Roman part of his dominions, at Paris, which he had chosen as his capital. The province of Syagrius, later known as Neustria or Western Francia, was the natural centre of the Frankish state, nor was Clovis indifferent to the traditions and the luxury of an older civilisation. In Aquitaine he posed as the representative of the Empire, and he rode through the streets of Tours in the purple robe of a consul, which he had received from the Emperor Anastasius. The hope at Constantinople was that he would treat Theodoric the Ostrogoth as he had already treated Alaric; this was the first of many occasions on which the network of imperial diplomacy was woven round a Frankish king. Church and Empire conspired to inflame the ambitions and enlarge the schemes of Merovingian and Carolingian conquerors.

But the Franks, more faithfully than any of their rivals, held to the barbarian usage of dividing a kingdom, in the manner of a family estate, equally between the sons of a dead sovereign. Logically pursued this custom of inheritance would have led to utter disintegration, such as Germany exhibited in the fourteenth century. Among the Franks a partition was followed, as a matter of course, by fratricidal conflicts and consequent reunion of the kingdom in the hands of the ultimate survivor; but even so the energies of the nation were squandered upon civil wars. The descendants of Clovis did little to augment the realm that he bequeathed to them; this little was done in the fifty years following his death. The Burgundians, Bavarians and Thuringians were subdued; Provence was bought from the Ostrogoths at the price of armed support against Justinian; the Saxons were compelled to promise tribute. From 561 to 688 the power and the morale of the Franks steadily declined. Dagobert I (628-638), the most renowned of the Merovingians after Clovis, could only chastise rebels and strengthen the defences of the eastern frontier. He released the Saxons from tribute; he was unable to prevent an adventurer of his own race, the merchant Samo, from organising the Slavs of Bohemia and the neighbouring lands in a powerful and aggressive federation. Already in his time the East Franks


Medieval Europe - 4/25

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