The Arian League

Political bearings of the Arianism of the German invaders of the

Empire--Vandals, Suevi, Visigoths, Burgundians--Uprise of the power of

Clovis--His conversion to Christianity--His wars with Gundobad, king of

the Burgundians--With Alaric II., king of the Visigoths--Downfall of the

monarchy of Toulouse--Usurpation of Gesalic--Theodoric governs Spain as

guardian of his grandson Amalaric.

The position of Theodoric in relation both to his own subjects and to

the Empire was seriously modified by one fact to which hitherto I have

only alluded casually, the fact that he, like the great majority of the

Teutonic invaders of the Empire, was an adherent of the Arian form of

Christianity. In order to estimate at its true value the bearing of

religion, or at least of religious profession, on politics, at the time

of the fall of the Roman State, we might well look at the condition of

another dominion, founded under the combined influence of martial

spirit and religious zeal, which is now going to pieces under our very

eyes, I mean the Empire of the Ottomans. In the lands which are still

under the sway of the Sultan, religion may not be a great spiritual

force, but it is at any rate a great political lever. When you have said

that a man is a Moslem or a Druse, a member of the Orthodox or of the

Catholic Church, an Armenian or a Protestant, you have almost always

said enough to define his political position. Without the need of

additional information you have already got the elements of his civic

equation, and can say whether he is a loyal subject of the Porte, or

whether he looks to Russia or Greece, to France, Austria, or England as

the sovereign of his future choice. In fact, as has been often pointed

out, in the East at this day Religion is Nationality.

Very similar to this was the condition of the ancient world at the time

when the general movement of the Northern nations began. The battle with

heathenism was virtually over, Christianity being the unquestioned

conqueror; but the question, which of the many modifications of

Christianity devised by the subtle Hellenic and Oriental intellects

should be the victor, was a question still unsettled, and debated with

the keenest interest on all the shores of the Mediterranean. So keen

indeed was the interest that it sometimes seems almost to have blinded

the disputants to the fact that the Roman Empire, the greatest political

work that the world has ever seen, was falling in ruins around them.

When we want information about the march of armies and the fall of

States, the chroniclers to whom we turn for guidance, withholding that

which we seek, deluge us with trivial talk about the squabbles of monks

and bishops, about Timothy the Weasel and Peter the Fuller, and a host

of other self-seeking ecclesiastics, to whose names, to whose

characters, and to whose often violent deaths we are profoundly and

absolutely indifferent. But though a feeling of utter weariness comes

over the mind of most readers, while watching the theological sword-play

of the fourth and fifth centuries, the historical student cannot afford

to shut his eyes altogether to the battle of the creeds, which produced

results of such infinite importance to the crystallising process by

which Mediaeval Europe was formed out of the Roman Empire.

As I have just said, Theodoric the Ostrogoth, like almost all the great

Teutonic swarm-leaders, like Alaric the Visigoth, like Gaiseric the

Vandal, like Gundobad the Burgundian, was an Arian. On the other hand,

the Emperors, Zeno, for instance, and Anastasius, and the great majority

of the population of Italy and of the provinces of the Empire, were

Catholic. What was the amount of theological divergence which was

conveyed by these terms Arian and Catholic, or to speak more judicially

(for the Arians averred that they were the true Catholics and that their

opponents were heretics) Arian and Athanasian? As this is not the place

for a disquisition on disputed points of theology, it is sufficient to

say that, while the Athanasian held for truth the whole of the Nicene

Creed, the Arian--at least that type of Arian with whom we are here

concerned--would, in that part which relates to the Son of God, leave

out the words being of one substance with the Father, and would

substitute for them being like unto the Father in such manner as the

Scriptures declare. He would also have refused to repeat the words

which assert the Godhead of the Holy Spirit. These were important

differences, but it will be seen at once that they were not so broad as

those which now generally separate orthodox from heterodox


The reasons which led the barbarian invaders of the Empire to accept the

Arian form of Christianity are not yet fully disclosed to us. The cause

could not be an uncultured people's preference for a simple faith, for

the Arian champions were at least as subtle and technical in their

theology as the Athanasian, and often surpassed them in these qualities.

It is possible that some remembrances of the mythology handed down to

them by their fathers made them willing to accept a subordinate Christ,

a spiritualised Balder the Beautiful, divine yet subject to death,

standing as it were upon the steps of his father's throne, rather than

the dogma, too highly spiritualised for their apprehension, of One God

in Three Persons. But probably the chief cause of the Arianism of the

German invaders was the fact that the Empire itself was to a great

extent Arian when they were in friendly relations with it, and were

accepting both religion and civilisation at its hands, in the middle

years of the fourth century.

The most powerful factor in this change, the man who more than all

others was responsible for the conversion of the Germanic races to

Christianity, in its Arian form, was the Gothic Bishop, Ulfilas

(311-381), whose construction of an Alphabet and translation of the

Scriptures into the language of his fellow-countrymen have secured for

him imperishable renown among all who are interested in the history of

human speech. Ulfilas, who has been well termed The Apostle of the

Goths, seems to have embraced Christianity as a young man when he was

dwelling in Constantinople as a hostage (thus in some measure

anticipating the part which one hundred and thirty years later was to be

played by Theodoric), and having been ordained first Lector (Reader) and

afterwards (341) Bishop of Gothia, he spent the remaining forty years of

his life in missionary journeys among his countrymen in Dacia, in

collecting those of his converts who fled from the persecution of their

still heathen rulers, and settling them as colonists in Moesia, and, most

important of all, in his great work of the translation of the Bible into

Gothic. Of this work, as is well known, some precious fragments still

remain; most precious of all, the glorious Silver Manuscript of the

Gospels (Codex Argenteus), which is supposed to have been written in

the sixth century, and which, after many wanderings and an eventful

history, rests now in a Scandinavian land, in the Library of the

University of Upsala, It is well worth while to make a pilgrimage to

that friendly and hospitable Swedish city, if for no other purpose than

to see the letters (traced in silver on parchment of rich purple dye)

in which the skilful amanuensis laboriously transcribed the sayings of

Christ rendered by Bishop Ulfilas into the language of Alaric. For that

Codex Argenteus is oldest of all extant monuments of Teutonic speech,

the first fruit of that mighty tree which now spreads its branches over

half the civilised world.

With the theological bearings of the Arian controversy we have no

present concern; but it is impossible not to notice the unfortunate

political results of the difference of creed between the German invaders

and the great majority of the inhabitants of the Empire. The cultivators

of the soil and the dwellers in the cities had suffered much from the

misgovernment of their rulers during the last two centuries of Imperial

sway; they could, to some extent, appreciate the nobler moral qualities

of the barbarian settlers--their manliness, their truthfulness, their

higher standard of chastity; nor is it idle to suppose that if there had

been perfect harmony of religious faith between the new-comers and the

old inhabitants they might soon have settled down into vigorous and

well-ordered communities, such as Theodoric and Cassiodorus longed to

behold, combining the Teutonic strength with the Roman reverence for

law. Religious discord made it impossible to realise this ideal The

orthodox clergy loathed and dreaded the invaders infected, as they

said, with the Arian pravity. The barbarian kings, unaccustomed to

have their will opposed by men who never wielded a broadsword, were

masterful and high-handed in their demand for absolute obedience, even

when their commands related to the things of God rather than to the

things of Caesar; and the Arian bishops and priests who stood beside

their thrones, and who had sometimes long arrears of vengeance for past

insult or oppression to exact, often wrought up the monarch's mind to a

perfect frenzy of fanatical rage, and goaded him to cruel deeds which

made reconciliation between the warring creeds hopelessly impossible. In

Africa, the Vandal kings set on foot a persecution of their Catholic

subjects which rivalled, nay exceeded, the horrors of the persecution

under Diocletian. Churches were destroyed, bishops banished, and their

flocks forbidden to elect their successors: nay, sometimes, in the

fierce quest after hidden treasure, eminent ecclesiastics were stretched

on the rack, their mouths were filled with noisome dirt, or cords were

twisted round their foreheads or their shins. In Gaul, under the

Visigothic King Euric, the persecution was less savage, but it was

stubborn and severe. Here, too, the congregations were forbidden to

elect successors to their exiled bishops; the paths to the churches were

stopped up with thorns and briers; cattle grazed on the grass-grown

altar steps, and the rain came through the shattered roofs into the

dismantled basilicas.

Thus all round the shores of the Mediterranean there was strife and

bitter heart-burning between the Roman provincial and his Teutonic

guest, not so much because one was or called himself a Roman, while

the other called himself Goth, Burgundian, or Vandal, but because one

was Athanasian and the other Arian. With this strife of creeds

Theodoric, for the greater part of his reign, refused to concern

himself. He remained an Arian, as his fathers had been before him, but

he protected the Catholic Church in the privileges which she had

acquired, and he refused to exert his royal authority to either threaten

or allure men into adopting his creed. So evenly for many years did he

hold the balance between the rival faiths, that it was reported of him

that he put to death a Catholic priest who apostatised to Arianism in

order to attain the royal favour; and though this story does not perhaps

rest on sufficient authority, there can be no doubt that the general

testimony of the marvelling Catholic subjects of Theodoric would have

coincided with that already quoted (See page 128.) from the Bishop of

Ravenna that he attempted nothing against the Catholic faith.

Still, though determined not to govern in the interests of a sect, it

was impossible that Theodoric's political relations should not be, to a

certain extent, modified by his religious affinities. Let us glance at

the position of the chief States with which a ruler of Italy at the

close of the fifth century necessarily came in contact.

First of all we have the Empire, practically confined at this time to

the Balkan peninsula south of the Danube, Asia Minor, Syria, and

Egypt, and presided over by the elderly, politic, but unpopular

Anastasius. This State is Catholic, though, as we shall hereafter see,

not in hearty alliance with the Church of Rome.

Westward from the Empire, along the southern shore of the

Mediterranean, stretches the great kingdom of the Vandals, with

Carthage for its capital. They have a powerful navy, but their kings,

Gunthamund (484-496) and Thrasamund (496-523), do not seem to be

disposed to renew the buccaneering expeditions of their grandfather, the

great Vandal Gaiseric. They are decided Arians, and keep up a stern,

steady pressure on their Catholic subjects, who are spared, however, the

ruthless brutalities practised upon them by the earlier Vandal kings.

The relations of the Vandals with the Ostrogothic kingdom seem to have

been of a friendly character during almost the whole reign of Theodoric.

Thrasamund, the fourth king who reigned at Carthage, married Amalafrida,

Theodoric's sister, who brought with her, as dowry, possession of the

strong fortress of Lilybaeum (Marsala), in the west of Sicily, and who

was accompanied to her new home by a brilliant train of one thousand

Gothic nobles with five thousand mounted retainers.

In the north and west of Spain dwell the nation of the Suevi, Teutonic

and Arian, but practically out of the sphere of European politics, and

who, half a century after the death of Theodoric, will be absorbed by

their Visigothic neighbours.

This latter state, the kingdom of the Visigoths, is apparently, at the

end of the fifth century, by far the most powerful of the new barbarian

monarchies. All Spain, except its north-western corner, and something

like half of Gaul--namely, that region which is contained between the

Pyrenees and the Loire, owns the sway of the young king, whose capital

city is Toulouse, and who, though a stranger in blood, bears the name

of the great Visigoth who first battered a breach in the walls of Rome,

the mighty Alaric. This Alaric II. (485-507), the son of Euric, who had

been the most powerful sovereign of his dynasty, inherited neither his

father's force of character (485-507) nor the bitterness of his

Arianism. The persecution of the Catholics was suspended, or ceased

altogether, and we may picture to ourselves the congregations again

wending their way by unblockaded paths to the house of prayer, the

churches once more roofed in and again made gorgeous by the stately

ceremonial of the Catholic rite. In other ways, too, Alaric showed

himself anxious to conciliate the favour of his Roman subjects. He

ordered an abstract of the Imperial Code to be prepared, and this

abstract, under the name of the Breviarium Alaricianum[92] is to this

day one of our most valuable sources of information as to Roman Law. He

is also said to have directed the construction of the canal, which still

bears his name (Canal d'Alaric), and which, connecting the Adour with

the Aisne, assists the irrigation of the meadows of Gascony. But all

these attempts to close the feud between the king and his orthodox

subjects were vain. When the day of trial came, it was seen, as it had

long been suspected, that the sympathies and the powerful influence of

the bishops and clergy were thrown entirely on the side of the Catholic


[Footnote 92: Sometimes called the Breviarium Aniani, from the name of

the Registrar whose signature attested each copy of the Breviarium.]

Between the Visigothic and Ostrogothic courts there was firm friendship

and alliance, the remembrance of their common origin and of many perils

and hardships shared together on the shores of the Euxine and in the

passes of the Balkans being fortified by the knowledge of the dangers to

which their common profession of Arianism exposed them amidst the

Catholic population of the Empire. The alliance, which had served

Theodoric in good stead when the Visigoths helped him in his struggle

with Odovacar, was yet further strengthened by kinship, the young king

of Toulouse having received in marriage a princess from Ravenna, whose

name is variously given as Arevagni or Ostrogotho.

A matrimonial alliance also connected Theodoric with the king of the

Burgundians. These invaders, who were destined so strangely to

disappear out of history themselves, while giving their name to such

wide and rich regions of mediaeval Europe, occupied at this time the

valleys of the Saone and the Rhone, as well as the country which we now

call Switzerland. Their king, Gundobad, a man somewhat older than

Theodoric, had once interfered zealously in the politics of Italy,

making and unmaking Emperors and striking for Odovacar against his

Ostrogothic rival. Now, however, his whole energies were directed to

extending his dominions in Gaul, and to securing his somewhat precarious

throne from the machinations of the Catholic bishops, his subjects. For

he, too, was by profession an Arian, though of a tolerant type, and

though he sometimes seemed on the point of crossing the abyss and

declaring himself a convert to the Nicene faith. Theudegotho, sister of

Arevagni, was given by her father, Theodoric in marriage to Sigismund,

the son and heir of Gundobad.

The event which intensified the fears of all these Arian kings, and

which left to each one little more than the hope that he might be the

last to be devoured, was the conversion to Catholicism of Clovis,[93]

the heathen king of the Franks, that fortunate barbarian who, by a

well-timed baptism, won for his tribe of rude warriors the possession of

the fairest land in Europe and the glory of giving birth to one of the

foremost nations in the world.

[Footnote 93: I call the Frankish king by the name by which he is best

known in history, though no doubt the more correct form is either

Hlodwig or Chlodovech. It is of course the same name with Ludovicus or

Louis I do not know whether the barbarian sound of Hlodwig offended the

delicate taste of Cassiodorus, but in the Various Letters he addresses

the king of the Franks as Ludum. It seems probable that there was some

harsh guttural before the L which Gregory of Tours endeavoured to

represent by Ch (Chlodovech), while Cassiodorus, receiving the name from

the Frankish barbarians, thought it safer to leave it unrepresented

(Ludum). In any case his n must have been due to some defective

understanding of the final sound.]

As we are here come to one of the common-places of history, I need but

very briefly remind the reader of the chief stages in the upward course

of the young Frankish king. Born in 466, he succeeded his father,

Childeric, as one of the kings of the Salian Franks in 481. The lands of

the Salians occupied but the extreme northern corner of modern France,

and a portion of Flanders, and even here Clovis was but one of many

kinglets allied by blood but frequently engaged in petty and inglorious

wars one with another.

For five years the young Salian chieftain lived in peace with his

neighbours. In the twentieth year of his age (486) he sprang with one

bound into fame and dominion by attacking and overcoming the Roman

Syagrius, who with ill-defined prerogatives, and bearing the title not

of Emperor or of Prefect, but of King, had succeeded amidst the wreck of

the Western Empire in preserving some of the fairest districts of the

north of Gaul from barbarian domination. With the help of some of his

brother chiefs, Clovis overthrew this King of Soissons. Syagrius took

refuge at the court of Toulouse, and the Frankish king now felt himself

strong enough to send to the young Alaric, who had ascended the throne

only a year before, a peremptory message, insisting, under the penalty

of a declaration of war, on the surrender of the Roman fugitive. The

Visigoth was mean-spirited enough to purchase peace by delivering up his

guest, bound in fetters, to the ambassadors of Clovis, who shortly after

ordered him to be privily done to death. From that time, we may well

believe, Clovis felt confident that he should one day vanquish Alaric.

About seven years after this event (493) came his memorable marriage

with Clotilda,[94] a Burgundian princess, who, unlike her Arian uncle,

Gundobad, was enthusiastically devoted to the Catholic faith, and who

ceased not by private conversations and by inducing him to listen to the

sermons of the eloquent Bishop Remigius, to endeavour to win her husband

from the religion of his heathen forefathers to the creed of Rome and

of the Empire. Clovis, however, for some years wavered. Sprung himself,

according to the traditions of his people, from the sea-god Meroveus, he

was not in haste to renounce this fabulous glory, nor to acknowledge as

Lord, One who had been reared in a carpenter's shop at Nazareth. He

allowed Clotilda to have her eldest son baptised, but when the child

soon after died, he took that as a sign of the power and vengeance of

the old gods. A second son was born, was baptised, fell sick. Had that

child died, Clovis would probably have remained an obstinate heathen,

but the little one recovered, given back, as was believed, to the

earnest prayers of his mother.

It was perhaps during these years of indecision as to his future

religious profession, that Clovis consented to a matrimonial alliance

between his house and that of the Arian Theodoric. The great Ostrogoth

married, probably about the year 495, the sister of Clovis, Augofleda,

who, as we may reasonably conjecture, renounced the worship of the gods

of her people, and was baptised by an Arian bishop on becoming Queen of

the Goths and Romans. Unfortunately the meagre annals of the time give

us no hint of the character or history of the princess who was thus

transferred from the fens of Flanders to the marshes of Ravenna. Every

indication shows that she came from a far lower level of civilisation

than that which her husband's people occupied. Did she soon learn to

conform herself to the stately ceremonial which Ravenna borrowed from

Constantinople? Did she too speak of civilitas and the necessity of

obeying the Roman laws, and did she share the glorious colloquies

which her husband held with the exuberant Cassiodorus? When war came

between the Ostrogoth and the Frank, did she openly show her sympathy

with her brother Clovis, or did she forget her people and her father's

house and cleave with all her soul to the fortunes of Theodoric? As to

all these interesting questions the Various Letters, with all their

diffuseness, give us no more information than the most jejune of the

annalists. The only fact upon which we might found a conjecture is the

love of literature and of Roman civilisation displayed by her daughter,

Amalasuentha, which inclines us to guess that the mother may have thrown

off her Frankish wildness when she came into the softening atmosphere of


We return to the event so memorable in the history of the world, Clovis'

conversion to Christianity. In the year 486 he went forth to fight his

barbarian neighbours in the south-east, the Alamanni, The battle was a

stubborn and a bloody one, as well it might be when two such

thunder-clouds met, the savage Frank and the savage Alaman. Already the

Frankish host seemed wavering, when Clovis, lifting his eyes to heaven

and shedding tears in the agony of his soul, said: O Jesus Christ! whom

Clotilda declares to be the son of the living God, who art said to give

help to the weary, and victory to them that trust in thee, I humbly pray

for thy glorious aid, and promise that if thou wilt indulge me with the

victory over these enemies, I will believe in thee and be baptised in

thy name. For I have called on my own gods and have found that they are

of no power and do not help those who call upon them. Scarcely had he

spoken the words when the tide of battle turned. The Franks recovered

from their panic, the Alamanni turned to flight. Their king was slain,

and his people submitted to Clovis, who, returning, told his queen how

he had called upon her God in the day of battle and been delivered.

Then followed, after a short consultation with the leading men of his

kingdom, which made the change of faith in some degree a national act,

the celebrated scene in the cathedral of Rheims, where the king, having

confessed his faith in the Holy Trinity, was baptised in the name of the

Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, the poetical bishop uttering the

well-known words: Bow down thy head in lowliness, O Sicambrian; adore

what thou hast burned and burn what thou hast adored. The streets of

the city were hung with bright banners, white curtains adorned the

churches, and clouds of sweet incense filled all the great basilica in

which the new Constantine stooped to the baptismal water. He entered

the cathedral a mere Sicambrian chieftain, the descendant of the

sea-god: he emerged from it amid the acclamations of the joyous

provincials, the eldest son of the Church.

The result of this ceremony was to change the political relations of

every state in Gaul. Though the Franks were among the roughest and most

uncivilised of the tribes that had poured westwards across the Rhine, as

Catholics they were now sure of a welcome from the Catholic clergy of

every city, and where the clergy led, the Roman provincials, or in

other words the Latin-speaking laity, generally followed. Immediately

after his baptism Clovis received a letter of enthusiastic welcome Into

the true fold, written by Avitus, Bishop of Vienne, the most eminent

ecclesiastic of the Burgundian kingdom. I regret, says Avitus, that I

could not be present in the flesh at that most glorious solemnity. But

as your most sublime Humility had sent me a messenger to inform me of

your intention, when night fell I retired to rest already secure of your

conversion. How often my friends and I went over the scene in our

imaginations! We saw the band of holy prelates vying with one another in

the ambition of lowly service, each one wishing to comfort the royal

limbs with the water of life. We saw that head, so terrible to the

nations, bowed low before the servants of God; the hair which had grown

long under the helmet now crowned with the diadem of the holy anointing;

the coat of mail laid aside and the white limbs wrapped in linen robes

as white and spotless as themselves.

One thing only have I to ask of you, that you will spread the light

which you have yourself received to the nations around you. Scatter the

seeds of faith from out of the good treasure of your heart, and be not

ashamed, by embassies directed to this very end, to strengthen in other

States the cause of that God who has so greatly exalted your fortunes.

Shine on, for ever, upon those who are present, by lustre of your

diadem, upon those who are absent, by the glory of your name. We are

touched by your happiness; as often as you fight in those (heretical)

lands, we conquer.

The use of language like this, showing such earnest devotion to the

cause of Clovis in the subject of a rival monarch, well illustrates the

tendency of the Frankish king's conversion to loosen the bonds of

loyalty in the neighbouring States, and to facilitate the spread of his

dominion over the whole of Gaul. In fact, the Frankish kingdom, having

become Catholic, was like the magnetic mountain of Oriental fable, which

drew to itself all the iron nails of the ships which approached it, and

so caused them to sink in hopeless dissolution. Seeing this obvious

result of the conversion of the Frank, some historians, especially in

the last century, were disposed to look upon that conversion as a mere

hypocritical pretence. Later critics[95] have shown that this is not an

accurate account of the matter. Doubtless the motives which induced

Clovis to accept baptism and to profess faith in the Crucified One were

of the meanest, poorest, and most unspiritual kind. Few men have ever

been further from that which Christ called the Kingdom of Heaven than

this grasping and brutal Frankish chief, to whom robbery, falsehood,

murder were, after his baptism, as much as before it (perhaps even more

than before it), the ordinary steps in the ladder of his elevation. But

the rough barbaric soul had in its dim fashion a faith that the God of

the Christians was the mightiest God, and that it would go well with

those who submitted to him. In his rude style he made imaginary bargains

with the Most High: so much reverence to 'Clotilda's God,' so many

offerings at the shrine of St. Martin, so much land to the church of St.

Genovefa, on condition that I shall beat down my enemies before me and

extend my dominions from the Seine to the Pyrenees. This is the kind of

calculation which the missionaries in our own day are only too well

accustomed to hear from the lips of barbarous potentates like those of

Uganda and Fiji. A conversion thus effected brings no honour to any

church, and the utter selfishness and even profanity of the transaction

disgusts the devout souls of every communion. Still the conversion of

Clovis was not in its essence and origin a hypocritical scheme for

obtaining the support of the Catholic clergy in Gaul, how clearly so

ever the new convert may have soon perceived that from that support he

would suck no small advantage.

The first of his Arian neighbours whom Clovis struck at was the

Burgundian, Gundobad. In the year 500 he beseiged Dijon with a large

army. Gundobad called on his brother Godegisel, who reigned at Geneva,

for help, but that brother was secretly in league with Clovis, and at a

critical moment joined the invaders, who were for a time completely

successful. Gundobad was driven into exile and Godegisel accepting the

position of a tributary ally of his powerful Frankish friend, ruled over

the whole Burgundian kingdom. His rule however seems not to have been

heartily accepted by the Burgundian people. The exiled Gundobad

returned with a few followers, who daily increased in number; he found

himself strong enough to besiege Godegisel in Vienne; he at length

entered the city through the blow-hole of an aqueduct, slew his brother

with his own hand, and put his chief adherents to death with exquisite

torments. The Frankish troops who garrisoned Vienne were taken

prisoners, but honourably treated and sent to Toulouse to be guarded by

Alaric the Visigoth, who had probably assisted the enterprise of


The inactivity of Clovis during this counter-revolution in Burgundy is

not easily explained. Either there was some great explosion of

Burgundian national feeling against the Franks, which for the time made

further interference dangerous, or Gundobad, having added his brother's

dominions to his own, was now too strong for Clovis to meddle with, or,

which seems on the whole the most probable supposition, Gundobad

himself, secretly inclining towards the Catholic cause, had made peace

with Clovis through the mediation of the clergy, and came back to Vienne

to rule thenceforward as a dependent ally, though not an avowed

tributary, of Clovis and the Franks. We shall soon have occasion to

observe that in the crisis of its fortunes the confederacy of Arian

states could not count on the co-operation of Gundobad.

To form such a confederacy and to league together all the older Arian

monarchies against this one aspiring Catholic state, which threatened to

absorb them all, was now the main purpose of Theodoric. He seems,

however, to have remained meanwhile on terms of courtesy and apparent

harmony with his powerful brother-in-law.

He congratulated him on a second victorious campaign against the

Alamanni (about 503 or 504), and he took some trouble to comply with a

request, which Clovis had made to him, to find out a skilful harper who

might be sent to his court. The letter[96] which relates to this

transaction is a curious specimen of Cassiodorus' style. It is addressed

to the young philosopher Boethius, a man whose varied accomplishments

adorned the middle period of the reign of Theodoric, and whose tragical

death was to bring sadness over its close. To this man, whose knowledge

of the musical art was pre-eminent in his generation, Cassiodorus

addresses one of the longest letters in his collection (it would occupy

about six pages of an ordinary octavo), only one or two sentences of

which relate to the business in hand. The letter begins: Since the king

of the Franks, attracted by the fame of our banquets, has with earnest

prayers besought us to send him a harper (citharoedus), our only hope

of executing his commission lies in you, whom we know to be accomplished

in musical learning. For it will be easy for you to choose a

well-skilled man, having yourself been able to attain to that high and

abstruse study. Then follow a string of reflections on the soothing

power of music, a description of the five modes [97] (Dorian,

Phrygian, Aeolian, Ionian, and Lydian) and of the diapason; instances of

the power of music drawn from the Scriptures and from heathen mythology,

a discussion on the harmony of the spheres, and a doubt whether the

enjoyment of this astral music be rightly placed among the delights of

heaven. At length the marvellous state-paper draws to a close, But

since we have made this pleasing digression[98] (because it is always

agreeable to talk about learning with learned men) let your Wisdom

choose out for us the best harper of the day, for the purpose that we

have mentioned. Herein will you accomplish a task somewhat like that of

Orpheus, when he with sweet sounds tamed the fierce hearts of savage

creatures. The thanks which we owe you will be expressed by liberal

compensation, for you obey our rule, and to the utmost of your power

render it illustrious by your attainments.

Evidently the court of Theodoric was regarded as a centre of light and

civilisation by his Teutonic neighbours, the lords of the new kingdoms

to the north of him. King Gundobad desired to become the possessor of a

clepsydra or water-clock, such as had long been used in Athens and

Rome, to regulate the time allotted to the orators in public debates. He

also wished to obtain an accurately graduated sun-dial. For both he made

request to Theodoric, and again[99] the universal genius Boethius was

applied to, Cassiodorus writes him, in his master's name, a letter which

gives us some interesting information as to the past career of Boethius,

and then proceeds to give a specification of the required machines, in

language so magnificent as to be, at any rate to modern mechanicians,

hopelessly unintelligible. Then a shorter letter, to accompany the clock

and dial, is written to King Gundobad. This letter, which is written in

a slightly condescending tone, says that the tie of affinity between the

two kings makes it right that Gundobad should receive benefits from

Theodoric: Let Burgundy under your sway learn to examine the most

curious objects, and to praise the inventions of the ancients. Through

you she is laying aside her old barbarian tastes, and while she admires

the prudence of her King she rightly desires the works of wise men of

old. Let her mark out the different intervals of the day by her actions:

let her in the most fitting manner assign the occupation of each hour.

This is to lead the true human life, as distinguished from that of the

brutes, who know the flight of time only by the cravings of their


[Footnote 99: Strictly speaking not again but previously, for the

letter about the water-clock precedes the letter about the harper.]

A time, however, was approaching when this pleasant interchange of

courtesies between the three sovereigns, Ostrogothic, Frankish, and

Burgundian, was to be succeeded by the din of wan Alaric the Visigoth,

alarmed at the victorious progress of the Frankish king, sent a message

to this effect: If my brother is willing, let him consider my proposal

that, by the favour of God, we should have an interview with one

another. Clovis accepted the offer, and the two kings met on an island

in the Loire near Amboise.[100] But either no alliance could be formed,

owing to religious differences, or the treaty so made was too weak for

the strain which it had to bear, and it became manifest before long that

war would soon break out between Francia and Gothia.

Theodoric exerted himself strenuously to prevent the impending struggle,

which, as he too surely foresaw, would bring only disaster to his

Visigothic allies. He caused his eloquent secretary to write letters to

Clovis, to Alaric, to Gundobad, to the neighbours of the Franks on their

eastern border, the kings of the Heruli, the Warni, and the Thuringians.

To Clovis he dilated on the horrors which war brings upon the

inhabitants of the warring lands, who have a right to expect that the

kinship of their lords will keep them at peace. A few paltry words were

no sufficient cause of war between two such monarchs, and it was the act

of a passionate and hot-headed man to be mobilising his troops while he

was sending his first embassy. To Alaric he sent an earnest warning

against engaging in war with Clovis: You are surrounded by an

innumerable multitude of subjects, and you are proud of the remembrance

of the defeat of Attila, but war is a terribly dangerous game, and you

know not how the long peace may have softened the warlike fibre of your

people. He besought Gundobad to join with him in preserving peace

between the combatants, to each of whom he had offered his arbitration.

It behoves us old, men to moderate the wrath of the royal youths, who

should reverence our age, though they are still in the flower of their

hot youth.[101] The kings of the barbarians were reminded of the

friendship which Alaric's father, Euric, had shown them in old days, and

invited to join in a League of Peace, in order to check the lawless

aggressions of Clovis, which threatened danger to all.

The diplomatic action of Theodoric was powerless to avert the war;

possibly even it may have stimulated Clovis to strike rapidly before a

hostile coalition could be formed against him.

At an assembly of his nation (perhaps the Camp of March) in the early

part of 507, he impetuously declared: I take it grievously amiss that

these Arians should hold so large a part of Gaul. Let us go and overcome

them with God's help, and bring the land into subjection to us. The

saying pleased the whole multitude, and the collected army inarched

southward to the Loire. On their way they passed through the territory

owned by the monastery of St. Martin of Tours, the greatest saint of

Gaul. Here the king commanded them to abstain religiously from all

depredations, taking only grass for their horses, and water from the

streams. One of the soldiers, finding a quantity of hay in the

possession of a peasant, took it from him, arguing that hay was grass,

and so came within the permitted exception. He was, however, at once cut

down with a sword, the king exclaiming. What hope shall we have of

victory if we offend the blessed Martin? Having first prayed for a

sign, Clovis sent his messengers with gifts to the great basilica of

Tours, and behold! when these messengers set foot in the sacred

building, the choristers were singing an antiphon, taken from the 18th

Psalm: Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle, thou hast

subdued under me those that rose up against me.

Meanwhile, Alaric, taken at unawares, short of men and short of money,

was endeavouring to remedy the latter deficiency by a depreciation of

the currency. To swell his slender battalions he evidently looked to his

father-in-law, Theodoric, whose peace-making letter had ended with these

words: We look upon your enemy as the common enemy of all. Whoever

strives against you will rightly have to deal with me, as a foe. Yet

notwithstanding this assurance, no Ostrogothic troops came at this time

to the help of the Visigoths. In the great dearth of historical

material, our account of these transactions has to be made up from

scattered and fragmentary notices, which do not enable us to explain

this strange inaction of so true-hearted an ally. It is not imputed to

him as a fault by any contemporary authority, and it seems reasonable to

suppose that not the will, but the power, to help his menaced son-in-law

was wanting. One alarming change in the situation had revealed itself

since Theodoric ordered his secretary to write the letters recommending

an anti-Frankish confederacy of kings. Gundobad the Burgundian was now

the declared ally of Clovis, and promised himself a share of the spoil.

So powerful an enemy on the flank, threatening the communications of the

two Gothic states, may very probably have been the reason why no timely

succour was sent from Ravenna to Toulouse.

Clovis and his Frankish host, hungering for the spoil, pressed forwards,

and succeeded, apparently without opposition, in crossing the broad

river Loire. Alaric had taken up a strong position at the Campus

Vogladensis (Vouille: dep. Vienne), about ten miles from Poitiers.

Here he wished to remain on the defensive till the expected succours

from Theodoric could arrive, but his soldiers, confident in their power

to beat the Franks unassisted, began to revile their king's over-caution

and his father-in-law's delay, and forced Alaric to fight.[102] The

Goths began hurling their missile weapons, but the daring Franks rushed

in upon them and commenced a hand-to-hand encounter, in which they were

completely victorious. The Goths turned to flee, and Clovis, riding up

to where Alaric was fighting, slew him with his own hand. He himself had

immediately afterwards a narrow escape from two of the enemy, who,

coming suddenly upon him, thrust their long spears at him, one on each

side. The strength of his coat of mail, however, and the speed of his

horse saved him from a disaster which might possibly even then have

turned the tide of victory.

The result of this battle was the complete overthrow of the Visigothic

kingdom of Toulouse. In a certain sense it survived, and for two

centuries played a great part in Europe as the Spanish kingdom of

Toledo, but, as competitors for dominion in Gaul, the Visigoths

henceforward disappear from history. There seems to have been a certain

want of toughness in the Visigothic fibre, a tendency to rashness

combined with a tendency to panic, which made it possible for their

enemies to achieve a complete triumph over them in a single battle.

(376) Athanaric staked his all on one battle with the Huns, and lost, by

the rivers of Bessarabia. (507) Alaric II., as we have seen, staked his

all on one battle with the Franks, and lost, on the Campus Vogladensis.

(701) Two centuries later Roderic staked his all upon one battle with

the Moors, and lost, at Xeres de la Frontera.

All through the year 507 the allied forces of Franks and Burgundians

seem to have poured over the south-west and south of Gaul, annexing

Angouleme, Saintonge, Auvergne, and Gascony to the dominions of Clovis,

and Provence to the dominions of Gundobad. Only the strong city of

Aries, and perhaps the fortress of Carcassonne (that most interesting

relic of the early Middle Ages, which still shows the handiwork of

Visigothic kings in its walls), still held out for the son of Alaric.

In 508 the long delayed forces of Theodoric appeared upon the scene

under his brave general, Tulum, and dealt some severe blows at the

allied Frankish and Burgundian armies. In 509 another army, under Duke

Mammo, crossed the Cottian Alps near Briancon, laid waste part of

Dauphine, and probably compelled a large detachment of the Burgundian

army to return for the defence of their homes. And lastly, in 510,

Theodoric's general, Ibbas, inflicted a crushing defeat on the allied

armies, leaving, it is said, thirty thousand Franks dead upon the field.

The number is probably much exaggerated (as these historical bulletins

are apt to be), but there can be no doubt that a great and important

victory was won by the troops of Theodoric. The immediate result of this

victory was the raising of the siege of Aries, whose valiant defenders

had held out against storm and blockade, famine and treachery within,

Franks and Burgundians without, for the space of two years and a half.

Ultimately, and perhaps before many months had passed, the victory of

Ibbas led to a cessation of hostilities, if not to a formal treaty of

peace, between the three powers which disputed the possession of Gaul.

The terms practically arranged were these. Clovis remained in possession

of far the largest part of Alaric's dominions, Aquitaine nearly up to

the roots of the Pyrenees, and so much of Languedoc (including Toulouse,

the late capital of the Visigoths) as lay west of the mountains of the

Cevennes. Theodoric obtained the rest of Languedoc and Provence, the

first province being deemed to be a part of the Visigothic, the second

of the Ostrogothic, dominions, Gundobad obtained nothing, but lost some

towns on his southern frontier--a fitting reward for his tortuous and

shifty policy.

In the meantime something like civil war had been waged on the other

side of the Pyrenees for the Spanish portion of the Visigothic

inheritance. Alaric, slain on the field of Vouille, had left two sons,

one Amalaric, his legitimate heir and the grandson of Theodoric, but

still a child, the other a young man, but of illegitimate birth, named

Gesalic. This latter was, on the death of his father, proclaimed king by

some fraction of the Visigothic people. Had Gesalic shown courage and

skill in winning back the lost inheritance of his father, Theodoric,

whose own descent was not legitimate according to strict church law,

would not, perhaps, have interfered with his claim to the succession.

But the young man was as weak and cowardly as his birth was base, and

the strenuous efforts of Theodoric, seconded probably by many of the

Visigoths who had first acclaimed him as king, were directed to getting

rid of this futile pretender. Gesalic, defeated by Gundobad at Narbonne

(which, for a time, became the possession of the Burgundians), fled over

the Pyrenees to Barcelona, and from thence across the sea to Carthage.

Thrasamund, king of the Vandals, aided him with money and promised him

support, being probably deceived by the glozing tongue of Gesalic, and

looking upon him simply as a brave young Visigoth battling for his

rightful inheritance with the Franks. A correspondence followed between

Ravenna and Carthage, in which Theodoric bitterly complained of the

protection given by his brother-in-law to an intriguer and a rebel; and,

on the receipt of Theodoric's letter, Thrasamund at once disclaimed all

further intention of helping the pretender and sent rich presents to his

offended kinsman, which Theodoric graciously returned. Gesalic again

appeared in Barcelona, still doubtless wearing the insignia of kingship,

but was defeated by the same Duke Ibbas who had raised the siege of

Aries, and, fleeing into Gaul, probably in order to claim the protection

of the enemy of his house, King Gundobad, he was overtaken by the

soldiers of Theodoric near the river Durance, and was put to death by

his captors. Thus there remained but one undisputed heir to what was

left of the great Visigothic kingdom, the little child Amalaric,

Theodoric's grandson. He was brought up in Spain, but, apparently with

the full consent of the Visigothic people, his grandsire assumed the

reins of government, ruling in his own name but with a tacit

understanding that Amalaric and no other should succeed him.

(510-525) There was thus for fifteen years a combination of states which

Europe has not witnessed before or since, though Charles V. and some of

his descendants were not far from achieving it. All of Italy and all of

Spain (except the north-west corner, which was held by the Suevi) obeyed

the rule of Theodoric, and the fair regions of Provence and

Languedoc,[103] acknowledging the same master, were the ligament that

united them. Of the character of the government of Theodoric in Spain,

history tells us scarcely anything; but there is reason to think that it

was as wise and beneficent as his government of Italy, its chief fault

being probably the undue share of power which was grasped by the

Ostrogothic minister Theudis, whom Theodoric had appointed as guardian

to his grandson, and who, having married a wealthy Spanish lady, assumed

a semi-royal state, and became at last so mighty that Theodoric himself

did not dare to insist upon the recall which he had veiled under the

courteous semblance of an invitation to his palace at Ravenna.

Thus then the policy of Theodoric towards his kinsmen and

co-religionists in Gaul had failed, but it had not been a hopeless

failure. He had missed, probably through no fault of his own, through

the rashness of Alaric and the treachery of Gundobad, the right moment

for saving the kingdom of Toulouse from shipwreck, but he had vindicated

in adversity the honour of the Gothic name, and he had succeeded in

saving a considerable part of the cargo which the stately vessel had


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