Story of the Goths - Henry Bradley

How the Goths Fought with Constantine

During the fifty years' peace the history of the Goths is a blank. No chronicler has preserved even the name of any of their kings, or a single anecdote, true or fabulous, about their doings in that tranquil time. Probably we have lost little by this silence of the historians; for the story of an uncivilized people does not contain much that is worth telling, when there are no battles or migrations to record. We should like to know, however, on what sort of terms the Goths lived with the native Dacians, for there is good evidence that the whole of that people did not avail themselves of Aurelian's invitation to emigrate into Moesia, but continued in their ancient homes under Gothic rule. There is some reason for thinking that they were not reduced to slavery, but that the Goths learned to respect the superior civilization of their neighbours, and that the native inhabitants and the new settlers gradually became united into one people. If this were so, we can understand how it came to pass that, as we have already seen, the Gothic historian of the sixth century could reckon the heroes and sages of ancient Dacia among the ancestral glories of his own nation.

But we must not suppose that Dacia was the only country occupied at this time by the Goths. Vast as were the numbers of the host that sailed from the northern shores of the Black Sea in the year 269, a large Gothic population still remained behind. Whether or not the Goths of Southern Russia were included in the treaty which Aurelian made, they seem at any rate to have abstained from any invasion of the Roman Empire throughout the fifty years of which we are speaking. The Goths of Dacia and their eastern kinsmen were distinguished by the old names of Visigoths and Ostrogoths. How far they were respectively the descendants of those who had borne these names in earlier times we cannot tell. The Ostrogoths seem to have formed a united nation, while the Visigoths were independent of them, and were divided into separate tribes under different chieftains, without any common head.

Quiet and uneventful as were these fifty years in the history of the Gothic people, they were full of stirring incidents in the history of the Roman Empire. In the course of this period the Roman world was ruled by several emperors of uncommon ability, amongst whom was one man of surpassing genius, named Diocletian, who introduced important changes into the government. But of these it is not necessary here to speak, nor of the civil wars and the struggles with the Franks and other nations, which the empire had to sustain.

When the Goths first broke their long peace with Rome, it was in the reign of the emperor Constantine the Great. Two of the actions of this emperor had a profound effect on all succeeding history. He established Christianity as the state religion of the empire; and he removed the seat of government from Rome to his new city of Constantinople. Hence-forward we have to remember that although the empire is still called Roman, the ancient capital of the world from which that empire took its name is now only its second city.

The first conflict between the Goths and Constantine took place in the year 322, one year before the defeat of his colleague and rival Licinius made him undivided sovereign of the empire. The Visigoths and Ostrogoths, in one united army, joined by Slavonic tribes from the far east, had made an attack, under the command of a king named Aliquaca [Alhwakars] on the Roman provinces south of the Danube. The emperor defeated them in three successive battles, and compelled them to submit. But he thought it well to offer them honourable terms of surrender, and the result showed that he was wise in so doing; for when in the following year he fought his decisive battle against Licinius at Hadrianople, he was assisted by the army of Aliquaca, consisting, we are told, of forty thousand men.

Eight years after this, however, Constantine had again to meet the Goths as enemies. It seems that the Vandals, or a part of them, were then living irk what is now Western Hungary, divided from the Gothic territory by the river Theiss. Quarrels broke out between the two neighbouring peoples, and the Goths invaded the Vandal territory in overwhelming numbers. The Vandals appealed for help to the emperor, who listened to the prayer, and marched in person to chastise the aggressors. When the Goths heard of his approach, they crossed the Danube led by their two kings Araric and Aoric, and hastened to meet the Roman army. In the first battle Constantine underwent a serious defeat for the first time in his life. But in the succeeding battles of the campaign the victory was all on the side of the Romans. The emperor was helped by the descendants of the Greek colonists in the Crimea, who were no doubt glad of the opportunity to revenge themselves on their old oppressors. The Goths were thoroughly humbled, and were glad to beg for peace. It was always Constantine's policy—in dealing with barbarians at least

to try by kindness to make friends of his vanquished enemies; and the Gothic kings and nobles received handsome presents and special marks of honour. Once more a treaty of alliance was made between the Goths and the Romans, and by way of security for his faithfulness, King Araric had to leave his eldest son as a hostage in the emperor's hands.

After this war was ended the Goths seem not to have troubled the Roman Empire for more than thirty years; but in other directions they made important conquests. When Araric died, the people chose a new king, who was of another family. His name was Geberic, and he was descended from a line of famous heroes. We know nothing about his father Hilderic or about Ovida and Nidada, his grandfather and great-grandfather, but from the way in which Jordanes mentions them it is plain that their names and deeds must in his time have been very familiarly known from the old Gothic ballads. King Geberic determined to accomplish the task, in which his predecessor had failed, of dislodging the Vandals. Constantine did not say him nay, for the Vandals, ungrateful for the help which the Romans had given them, had themselves been making plundering raids into the Roman provinces. On the banks of the river Marosh a battle was fought, in which Wisumar, the Vandal king, was killed, and his army was routed with great slaughter. The conquered Vandals once more appealed to Constantine, and he gave them permission to settle in Pannonia and other parts of the empire. The Goths took possession of the deserted territory; and being thus freed from enemies on the west, they soon began to engage in schemes of aggression against their eastern neighbours. But of these we shall have to speak in the next chapter.