Story of the Goths - Henry Bradley

The Kingdom of Toulouse

King Wallia was now no longer a rebel, but the recognized champion of the Roman emperor in Spain. With a well-provisioned army, and the support, instead of the opposition, of all the barbarians who wished to be loyal subjects of the empire, he soon succeeded in conquering the whole of the peninsula except the mountain region of the northwest, and in the year 417 he sent to Honorius two captive Vandal kings who formed part of the procession in the triumph which the emperor celebrated at Rome.

For some reason or other it did not suit Constantius's purpose to allow the Visigoths to settle down in Spain, and he proposed that instead of that country they should have the province known as the second Aquitania. Wallia must surely have been overjoyed when he received this splendid offer. The province, which included Bordeaux, Agen, Angouleme, Poitiers, and many other cities, was one of the most beautiful and fertile in all the empire. "The Pearl of Gaul," "the Earthly Paradise," "the Queen of Provinces," are amongst the titles which it received from poets and orators of that time. To receive the undisputed possession of such a "land of corn and wine and oil," in exchange for a country exhausted as Spain was by many years of barbarian ravage, where he would have had to maintain his dominion by continual conflict with powerful enemies, was a piece of good fortune which Wallia could scarcely have dreamed of. And the concession included also some important cities beyond the Aquitanian frontier, chief amongst them being Toulouse, which became the residence of the kings of the Visigoths, and the capital of their dominions.

It was at the end of the year 418 that the Goths marched out of Spain to occupy their new kingdom; and in the following year Wallia died. He left no son to succeed him, though he had a daughter who became the mother of Rikimer, a man famous in the history of the Roman Empire.

The Visigoths chose as his successor, Theoderic, who seems to have been a Balthing, though not related either to Wallia or to Atawulf. You must be careful not to confound this Visigoth Theoderic, or his son of the same name, with the great Theoderic the Amaling, who began to reign over the Ostrogoths about the year 475. Theoderic the Visigoth was not such a great man as his namesake, but he must have been both a brave soldier and an able ruler, or he could not have kept the affection and obedience of his people for thirty-two years. His great object was to extend his kingdom, which was hemmed in on the north by the Franks (a German people who had just been allowed to settle in the country now called France, after their name); and on the west by another people of German invaders, the Burgunds; while the Roman Empire still kept possession of some rich cities, such as Arles and Narbonne, which were temptingly close to the Gothic boundary on the south.

When the emperor Honorius died, in 423, Theoderic led out his armies, professedly to fight for Placidia and her infant son (Valentinian III.) against a usurper named, John; but his real object was to add some of the rich Roman cities to his own dominions; as very soon appeared, for when John died and the rebel army had submitted, he did not lay down his arms, but captured several towns, and began to besiege the great city of Arles. The famous Roman general Aetius, who had at first supported the usurper, but had made his peace with Placidia, attacked the besieging party, and defeated them, taking their commander Aunwulf prisoner.

[Illustration] from The Goths by Henry Bradley


For many years the relations between the Goths and the Romans were very unsettled, treaties being made and quickly broken whenever it suited the convenience of either side. In 437 the Goths had been trying to take Narbonne, and the Roman generals, Aetius and Litorius, resolved to put them down thoroughly. Aetius did gain a great victory, but he was called away to Italy, and Litorius had not the skill to finish the work. He besieged Theoderic in his capital city, Toulouse, with such an overwhelming force that the Goths thought their case was hopeless, and sent Orientius the bishop of Auch, with many other bishops and clergy, to try to persuade the Roman general to grant honourable terms of peace. Litorius, who was more than half a heathen, treated the messengers with contempt; and so Theoderic gave the order to prepare for battle. Until the conflict began, the king was clothed in the dress of a penitent, and spent many hours in prayer. His soldiers, inspired by their king's piety, and by the thought that they were fighting for Christianity against heathenism (for Litorius's army was mostly composed of Huns), made a furious attack upon the camp of the besiegers, who were totally defeated. Litorius was taken prisoner, and had to walk through the streets of Toulouse in the triumph which Theoderic celebrated after the Roman fashion. The Christian writers tell how Litorius's soothsayers had promised him that he should go in triumph through the city—a promise which, like many of those given by heathen oracles in older days, was fulfilled in another sense than that in which it was understood.

After this sudden change in the position of affairs, the Romans themselves were fain to sue for peace. Theoderic, puffed up by his success, at first refused to come to any terms unless the Romans would leave him in undisturbed possession of the whole of Southern Gaul, west of the Rhone. But his friend Avitus, a distinguished Roman senator, of whom we shall hear again, persuaded him to renew the alliance, though what the conditions were we do not know.

Theoderic, however, did not think the Roman treaty was likely to last, and determined to have a second string to his bow. In order to secure the friendship of the Vandals, he gave his daughter in marriage to the son of their king, the fierce and cruel Gaiseric, who had lately conquered the Roman provinces of Africa, and had made Carthage the capital of his kingdom. The marriage had a frightful sequel. Gaiseric suspected that his daughter-in-law was plotting to poison her husband, and he cut off her nose and ears, and sent her back to her father.

Of course it was now impossible to think any more of alliance with the Vandals; and in the year 450 the Visigoths and the Romans were drawn more closely together by the approach of a great common danger.

The Huns, who for three-quarters of a century had been occupying the old seats of the Goths north of the Lower Danube and the Euxine, had under their famous king, Attila, moved westward, and were threatening to overrun both Gaul and Italy. The Hunnish army consisted, it is said, of half a million men, belonging to all the nations whom the Huns had subdued on their march. The Ostrogoths and Gepids, and many other Teutonic tribes, formed part of this immense host, and were marching to fight against their brethren in language and race, under the command of an Asiatic savage. In the face of such an enemy, Roman and Frank and Visigoth felt that they must forget their differences, and unite for mutual defence. Attila cunningly tried to persuade first one and then another of these three nations to take his part against the rest. But they saw very well that unless they joined to oppose his progress, Attila would conquer them one by one. Theoderic was, indeed, at first disposed to adopt a policy that was both selfish and foolish, namely, that of remaining quietly in his own kingdom, and only defending himself when he was attacked. Aetius had arrived at Arles from Italy, at the head of a small army, but he had no force sufficient to meet Attila without the aid of the Visigoths. After long persuasion from Aetius and Avitus, Theoderic was made to see the necessity of joining in the defence of Christendom against the heathen horde. But precious time had been wasted in these discussions, and before any resistance could be offered, Attila had marched, plundering and burning towns and desolating the country, through the regions since known by the famous names of Lorraine and Champagne, and had begun to besiege the important city of Orleans.

The city was strongly fortified and bravely defended.; but after a struggle of some days the gates were forced, and the vanguard of the Huns had passed through, when (as the church legend tells us in language borrowed from the story of Elijah), the messenger whom the holy bishop Anianius had sent to the walls to search the horizon beheld at last "a little cloud like a man's hand," which told that the saint's prayers were answered, and that the army of deliverance was approaching.

As soon as the coming of Aetius and Theoderic was known to Attila, he abandoned the neighbourhood of Orleans, and hastened across the Seine, to await the enemy in the plains of Champagne. The great battle—one of those which have decided the fate of—Europe was fought near the village of Moirey, a few miles from Troyes. It began with an attack by the Franks upon the Gepids, who were defeated with great slaughter. The Alans, who occupied the centre of the allied army, were routed by the Huns, and the Roman troops of Aetius were thrown into confusion; Theoderic was killed by a dart from the hand of an Ostrogoth named Andagis; but the bravery of the Visigoths carried the day, and Attila was compelled to retire to his camp, having lost a hundred and sixty thousand men.

Theoderic was buried on the spot where he fell, in sight of the vanquished enemy, with all the marks of honour which the Goths bestowed on their royal dead. His son Thorismund, to whose valour and skill the victory was chiefly due, was chosen by the army to be king in his father's stead.

In grim despair ("like a wounded lion," says Jordanes) Attila waited for the attack which he expected would result in the total ruin of his army. He ordered a funeral pile to be constructed, on which, in the event of defeat, he resolved to perish by fire, so that he might not fall, either alive or dead, into the power of his enemies.

The anticipated assault, however, was not made. Although the young king of the Visigoths was eager to complete his triumph and to revenge his father's death, he listened to the advice of Aetius, who

fearing, it is said, lest the Gothic power should become dangerously great recommended him to return to Toulouse in order to prevent his brothers from seizing on the kingdom in his absence. And so Attila was allowed to retire from Gaul undisturbed. His army was still strong enough to enable him to ravage the north of Italy for two years, and to compel the Romans to make a humiliating treaty of peace. But the battle of Moirey had not been fought in vain. The question whether barbarism or civilization should prevail in Western Europe was decided; and when Attila died in 453, the vast confederation of nations over whom he ruled had fell to pieces. The Ostrogoths established a kingdom in Pannonia, which included nearly all the present Austrian dominions south and west of the Danube; the Gepids settled east of them in Dacia; and the broken remnant of the Huns, after a fruitless invasion of the eastern empire, wandered away into Southern Russia, where they were overwhelmed by the successive swarms of kindred savages who continued to stream westward from Asia.

Thorismund did not long enjoy his kingdom. He quarreled with Aetius about the division of the Hunnish spoils, and began to levy war upon the Romans; against the wish of the more powerful party among his subjects, who desired to remain in friendship with the empire. A rebellion broke out, and in the year 453 Thorismund was murdered by two of his brothers, one of whom, Theoderic II., succeeded him in his kingdom, and reigned thirteen years.

The second Theoderic was no mere barbarian, but a man of cultivated mind, refined taste, and pleasing and graceful manners, though, like many other men of whom all this can be said, he was capable of the basest treachery and cruelty.

During Theoderic's lifetime events succeeded each other very fast at Rome. Valentinian III., Placidia's worthless son, was murdered by a senator, Petronius Maximus, who assumed the imperial diadem. He had reigned only four months when the Vandals under Gaiseric landed at the port of Rome. Maximus was about to take flight, but the people, disgusted with his cowardice, attacked him in the street, stoned him to death, and threw his body into the Tiber. Gaiseric entered Rome unresisted, and the work of destruction and plunder went on for fourteen days. The city suffered far more terribly than it had suffered at the hands of Alaric. All the gold and silver, and valuable possessions of every kind, whether public or private property, which could be removed, were carried away to the ships of Gaiseric. Amongst the spoil taken by the Vandals was the seven-branched candlestick, and the sacred vessels of the temple of Jerusalem, which had fallen into the hands of Titus when he captured the city. Many thousands of prisoners were taken to be sold into slavery at Carthage, and the empress Eudoxia, the widow of Valentinian, who had been compelled to marry her husband's murderer, was now obliged to follow in the train of the barbarian conqueror.

When the news of Maximus's death was received in Gaul, the Roman subjects in that province elected the prefect Avitus (whom we have already mentioned as the friend of the first Theoderic) to be emperor in his stead. The Visigoth king strongly supported his claim, and the senate at Rome did not dare to reject a candidate who was put forward by the most powerful king in Western Europe. The eastern emperor, Marcian, gave his consent, and Avitus took up his residence in the palace of the Caesars.

As the vassal of Avitus, Theoderic made an expedition against the Sueves, who had been attacking the little that remained of Roman territory in Spain. The Sueves were beaten, and their king, Rekihari, was captured and cruelly put to death. Theoderic would soon have conquered the whole peninsula, but in October, 456, his career was stopped by the news that the emperor had been deposed and killed. Avitus had incurred the displeasure of the "Warwick the kingmaker" of those days—Rikimer, the general of the barbarian troops in the Roman service. This remarkable man was the son of a Suevic father, and of the daughter of Wallia, king of the Visigoths. At this time he was practically sovereign of the western empire; and although he never took the imperial title himself, he continued, until his death in 472, to appoint and depose emperors just as he pleased. The history of Rome under the nominal rule of Majorian, Severus, Anthemius, and Olybrius, does not belong to our story; but the growing weakness of the empire, caused by the political confusion, and the occasional struggles between these emperors and their master, allowed the Visigoth kings to pursue their schemes of conquest without any serious check.

In 466, Theoderic, who had gained his throne by the murder of his brother, was himself murdered by his younger brother Euric. A skillful general and a cunning statesman, utterly destitute of conscience, shrinking from no act of cruelty or treachery necessary for the accomplishment of his plans, Euric raised the Visigoth kingdom to its highest point of power. He conquered the whole of the Spanish peninsula, with the exception of the northwestern corner, which he allowed the Suevic kings to hold as his vassals, and he destroyed the small remnant of Roman dominion in Gaul.

If you glance at the map accompanying this volume, you will see how Gaul was divided at the time of Euric's death in 485. The Visigoths held nearly all the country south of the Loire and west of the Rhone, besides the region since known as Provence, which includes the great cities of Aries and Marseilles. Their eastern neighbour was the kingdom of the Burgunds, ruled over by Gundobad, the nephew of Rikimer. North of the Loire was the so-called "Roman Kingdom," which had been founded by Syagrius, the son of the Roman general Aegidius, and which had its capital at Paris. And behind the kingdom of Syagrius, in the tract including Northeastern France, Belgium, and Holland, dwelt the nation of the Franks, who were destined in a few years to conquer the whole of Gaul, and eventually to bestow upon it the new name which it bears to this day.

If the successors of Euric had been endowed with genius and energy equal to his, it is possible that the Visigoths might have made themselves masters of the whole Western world. But there was in the kingdom one fatal element of weakness, which perhaps not even a succession of rulers like Euric could have long prevented from working the destruction of the State. The Visigoth kings were Arians; the great mass of their subjects in Gaul were Catholics, and the hatred between religious parties was so great that it was almost impossible for a sovereign to win the attachment of subjects who regarded him as a heretic. The Arian Goths, to do them justice, scarcely ever were guilty of religious persecution. But when the Catholic bishops were found preaching rebellion, and conspiring against the throne, Euric put some of them to death, banished others, and refused to allow successors to be consecrated in their dioceses. Where there were no bishops, of course priests could not be ordained; the parishes were left without clergy, and the whole church organization fell into a state of ruin which excited the bitterest indignation both in the kingdom itself and among Catholic Christians in all the neighbouring lands.

Euric's son and successor, Alaric II. inherited neither his father's ability nor his strength of will. Before he had been two years on the throne, he had shown his own weakness by an act which disgusted many of his faithful subjects, and only earned for him the contempt of those whom it was intended to please.

The king of the Franks, Clovis, who though only a boy, had already shown the talents of a great general, had conquered the kingdom of Paris. King Syagrius fled to Toulouse, and was at first received with welcome. But when Clovis demanded that he should be given up, Alaric did not dare to refuse, and Syagrius, loaded with chains, was delivered into the hands of the Frankish ambassadors. "Faithless" as

the Goths were often called by their enemies, they were always proud of their observance of the duties of hospitality, and they were bitterly ashamed of this cowardly and treacherous deed of their king. And Alaric's Gaulish subjects, who looked eagerly forward to an opportunity of rebellion, were greatly encouraged by this proof of the feebleness of the hands into which the sceptre of the terrible Euric had fallen.

The only hope of deliverance from the Visigoth yoke, however, lay in a conquest of the kingdom by the Franks; and as Clovis was a heathen, there was reason to fear that the Catholics might find themselves worse off under his rule than even under that of Alaric. Some of the bishops, indeed, went so far as to say that it was better to serve a heathen than a heretic, and sent messages to Clovis assuring him of their sympathy in case of an invasion. But they did not succeed in pursuading their people to join them: however discontented they might be under Alaric, the Southern Gauls felt that to place themselves in the hands of Clovis, might be a remedy worse than the disease.

This state of things continued until the year 496, when the news came that Clovis had professed himself a Christian, and had been baptized by a Catholic bishop. The thought of inviting a Frankish invasion now rapidly gained ground among the southern Catholics, whose discontent with their own condition was increased by the reports which they received of the growing wealth and prosperity of the Church in Clovis's dominions. Many of the clergy began openly to preach rebellion, and to offer public prayers for the coming of the deliverer from the north.

Alaric felt his danger. At first he tried his father's plan of: banishing the rebellious bishops, and when that did not seem to answer, he tried to win over the Catholics by kindness, granting them increased privileges, and authorizing them to hold a council and to fill up the vacant bishoprics. But it was all to no purpose. The Catholics did not want to be tolerated or patronized, they wanted to rule. Alaric's concessions therefore satisfied nobody, while they were looked upon as a proof of weakness, which encouraged the hope that the Visigoth rule might be brought to an end without much difficulty.

Meanwhile the Frankish clergy were pressing on their king the duty of declaring a holy war against the heretic oppressor of their brethren. Clovis, we may be sure, was not unwilling, but first of all he had a quarrel to settle with his brother-in-law Gundobad, king of the Burgunds, who like Alaric was an Arian, though, unlike him, he had been able to gain the affection of his Catholic subjects. Gundobad was defeated, and the Burgunds entered into a treaty of alliance with the Franks. Although Alaric saw the danger to his own kingdom from the growth of the Frankish power, he did not dare to offer Gundobad any armed support, but he was imprudent enough to express his sympathy with the Burgunds. His utterances were reported to Clovis, who was very angry. Alaric was in a great fright, and wished to explain away what he had said. He wrote a letter to "his brother" Clovis, begging him to grant him an interview. The two kings met on an island in the Loire, near Amboise, where they feasted together, and conversed with every appearance of friendliness. But everyone knew that the peace would not last long. The situation was like that in the fable of "The Wolf and the Lamb." However much Alaric might cringe and flatter; Clovis would devour him all the same, as soon as he found it convenient to do so.

It was in the year 507 that Clovis declared war against the Visigoths. The real motive was the king's ambition and desire of conquest. Of course he tried to find an excuse for his aggression; but he did not consider it worthwhile even to pretend that Alaric had injured him. All he had to say was "that it was a shame that the Arians should possess the finest country in Gaul, and that it was his duty as a Catholic king to drive them out, and to add their lands to his own dominions." Neither Clovis, nor his clergy, or people, thought that any other justification was needed; and the Franks went to war against the Visigoths, like the Hebrews against the people of Canaan, convinced that they were doing God service, and that He was on their side.

Perhaps this was the first time that a Christian nation ever made war with no other professed reasons than those of religious differences; unhappily it was very far from being the last.

Alaric was in despair. He had to meet not only the Franks, but the Burgunds as well; his army had been for many years neglected, and his treasury had become empty. He compelled, or tried to compel, all the able-bodied men in his kingdom to become soldiers, and tried all sorts of means to get money to pay them. First he had recourse, like James II. of England and many other kings in their time of need, to the plan of debasing the coinage, and then he compelled the rich people to lend him money, which there was little hope of their ever getting back. But with all his efforts Alaric could neither raise the men nor the money that he needed. His only hope lay in foreign help. His father-in-law, the great Theoderic the Amaling, who, as you will learn in another chapter, was at this time King of Italy, had promised to send him a body of troops. Alaric was therefore anxious to put off fighting until these Ostrogoth allies had arrived, and so he abandoned the defence of the northern and eastern parts of his kingdom, and took up his position in the southwest, near Poitiers. Just at this time one of the Catholic bishops in Alaric's dominions—Galactorius of Bearn—raised an army in his own diocese, and marched at its head intending to join the Franks. Before he had got very far, however, this warlike prelate was attacked by the Goths, and fell, as his fellow religionists thought, "gloriously fighting."

As the ancient heathen had their "oracles," so the Christians of the sixth century had theirs. It was to the tombs of famous saints that people used to resort when they wished to know whether any undertaking which they had engaged in would be successful or not. The priest in charge of the tomb would receive their questions, and on the following morning communicate the answers which he professed the saint had revealed to him in a dream. When Clovis with his army had entered Tours, he sent messengers to inquire at the sepulchre of St. Martin what would be the result of his war against the Visigoths. The messengers were told that the answer would be contained in the words of the psalm which they should hear as soon as they entered the church. The verses proved to be the following: "Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle. Thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me. Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies, that I might destroy them that hate me."

Encouraged by this response, the Franks marched through the territories of Alaric, eager for the conflict with the enemy whom God had given into their hands. The church historians tell of the "signs and wonders" which were granted them on their way to assure them of the continuance of the Divine favour. It is said that when they had come to the banks of the river Vienne, their progress was stopped by finding the stream swollen by the heavy rains, so that it seemed impossible for them to cross. But while they were considering what to do, a beautiful white hart was seen to wade across the river, thus showing them the place of a ford, over which the army was able to pass. The place was long afterwards called "the hart's ford." Very likely this story was suggested by the name itself, which may be compared with those of Hertford and Hartford in England. As the Franks approached the city of Poitiers, they saw in the sky above the cathedral a blaze of light which reminded them of the "pillar of fire" that went before the chosen people in the desert.

The rapidity of Clovis's advance was 1sotfiething quite unexpected by the Visigoths. Alaric still clung to the hope of being able to avoid a battle until the arrival of Theoderic's Ostrogoths, and wished to retreat. But the Franks were of course anxious to fight as soon as possible, and they were so close behind, and their movements were so rapid, that a retreat on the part of the Goths would have been nothing but a flight, Alaric's officers were of opinion that it was better to offer a bold front to the enemy where they were than to be pursued and overtaken, and the king, sorely against his will, was obliged to yield to their advice. He drew up his army on "the field of Voclad" (the name still survives as Vouille or Vougle) on the banks of the Clain, a few miles south of Poitiers, and prepared to receive the attack of the Franks.

The battle which followed decided the fate of Gaul. The Visigoths were totally defeated, and their king was killed. Alaric's son, Amalaric, a child five years of age, was carried across the Pyrenees into Spain: During the next two years Clovis conquered, with very little resistance, almost all the Gaulish dominions of the Visigoths, and added them to his own. The "Kingdom of Toulouse" was no more.

So, as Jordanes says, the greatness of the Visigoths, which had been built up by the first Alaric, fell to ruin under the second. But Clovis was not allowed to fulfill his intention of thoroughly destroying their power, for the great Theoderic of Italy took up the cause of his grandson Amalaric. The final result of many struggles between Theoderic and the Franks was that the Visigoths were allowed to remain masters of Spain, and of a strip of seacoast bordering on the Gulf of Lyons.

Of the fortunes of this diminished kingdom, which lasted just 200 years, we shall afterwards have to tell. But for the present we must leave the Visigoths, whose history is no longer the main thread of the story of the Goths. We have to relate how the Ostrogoths won the kingdom of Italy, how they ruled there, and how at length they fell.