History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Book I

Chapter I

Irruption of Northern people upon the Roman territories — Visigoths — Barbarians called in by Stilicho — Vandals in Africa — Franks and Burgundians give their names to France and Burgundy — The Huns — Angles give the name to England — Attila, king of the Huns, in Italy — Genseric takes Rome — The Lombards.

The people who inhabit the northern parts beyond the Rhine and the Danube, living in a healthy and prolific region, frequently increase to such vast multitudes that part of them are compelled to abandon their native soil, and seek a habitation in other countries. The method adopted, when one of these provinces had to be relieved of its superabundant population, was to divide into three parts, each containing an equal number of nobles and of people, of rich and of poor. The third upon whom the lot fell, then went in search of new abodes, leaving the remaining two-thirds in possession of their native country.

These migrating masses destroyed the Roman empire by the facilities for settlement which the country offered when the emperors abandoned Rome, the ancient seat of their dominion, and fixed their residence at Constantinople; for by this step they exposed the western empire to the rapine of both their ministers and their enemies, the remoteness of their position preventing them either from seeing or providing for its necessities. To suffer the overthrow of such an extensive empire, established by the blood of so many brave and virtuous men, showed no less folly in the princes themselves than infidelity in their ministers; for not one irruption alone, but many, contributed to its ruin; and these barbarians exhibited much ability and perseverance in accomplishing their object.

The first of these northern nations that invaded the empire after the Cimbrians, who were conquered by Caius Marius, was the Visigoths — which name in our language signifies “Western Goths.” These, after some battles fought along its confines, long held their seat of dominion upon the Danube, with consent of the emperors; and although, moved by various causes, they often attacked the Roman provinces, were always kept in subjection by the imperial forces. The emperor Theodosius conquered them with great glory; and, being wholly reduced to his power, they no longer selected a sovereign of their own, but, satisfied with the terms which he granted them, lived and fought under his ensigns, and authority. On the death of Theodosius, his sons Arcadius and Honorius, succeeded to the empire, but not to the talents and fortune of their father; and the times became changed with the princes. Theodosius had appointed a governor to each of the three divisions of the empire, Ruffinus to the eastern, to the western Stilicho, and Gildo to the African. Each of these, after the death of Theodosius, determined not to be governors merely, but to assume sovereign dominion over their respective provinces. Gildo and Ruffinus were suppressed at their outset; but Stilicho, concealing his design, ingratiated himself with the new emperors, and at the same time so disturbed their government, as to facilitate his occupation of it afterward. To make the Visigoths their enemies, he advised that the accustomed stipend allowed to this people should be withheld; and as he thought these enemies would not be sufficient alone to disturb the empire, he contrived that the Burgundians, Franks, Vandals, and Alans (a northern people in search of new habitations), should assail the Roman provinces.

That they might be better able to avenge themselves for the injury they had sustained, the Visigoths, on being deprived of their subsidy, created Alaric their king; and having assailed the empire, succeeded, after many reverses, in overrunning Italy, and finally in pillaging Rome.

After this victory, Alaric died, and his successor, Astolphus, having married Placidia, sister of the emperors, agreed with them to go to the relief of Gaul and Spain, which provinces had been assailed by the Vandals, Burgundians, Alans, and Franks, from the causes before mentioned. Hence it followed, that the Vandals, who had occupied that part of Spain called Betica (now Andalusia), being pressed by the Visigoths, and unable to resist them, were invited by Boniface, who governed Africa for the empire, to occupy that province; for, being in rebellion, he was afraid his error would become known to the emperor. For these reasons the Vandals gladly undertook the enterprise, and under Genseric, their king, became lords of Africa.

At this time Theodosius, son of Arcadius, succeeded to the empire; and, bestowing little attention on the affairs of the west, caused those who had taken possession to think of securing their acquisitions. Thus the Vandals ruled Africa; the Alans and Visigoths, Spain; while the Franks and Burgundians not only took Gaul, but each gave their name to the part they occupied; hence one is called France, the other Burgundy. The good fortune of these brought fresh people to the destruction of the empire, one of which, the Huns, occupied the province of Pannonia, situated upon the nearer shore of the Danube, and which, from their name, is still called Hungary. To these disorders it must be added, that the emperor, seeing himself attacked on so many sides, to lessen the number of his enemies, began to treat first with the Vandals, then with the Franks; a course which diminished his own power, and increased that of the barbarians. Nor was the island of Britain, which is now called England, secure from them; for the Britons, being apprehensive of those who had occupied Gaul, called the Angli, a people of Germany, to their aid; and these under Vortigern their king, first defended, and then drove them from the island, of which they took possession, and after themselves named the country England. But the inhabitants, being robbed of their home, became desperate by necessity and resolved to take possession of some other country, although they had been unable to defend their own. They therefore crossed the sea with their families, and settled in the country nearest to the beach, which from themselves is called Brittany. The Huns, who were said above to have occupied Pannonia, joining with other nations, as the Zepidi, Eurili, Turingi, and Ostro, or eastern Goths, moved in search of new countries, and not being able to enter France, which was defended by the forces of the barbarians, came into Italy under Attila their king. He, a short time previously, in order to possess the entire monarchy, had murdered his brother Bleda; and having thus become very powerful, Andaric, king of the Zepidi, and Velamir, king of the Ostrogoths, became subject to him. Attila, having entered Italy, laid siege to Aquileia, where he remained without any obstacle for two years, wasting the country round, and dispersing the inhabitants. This, as will be related in its place, caused the origin of Venice. After the taking and ruin of Aquileia, he directed his course towards Rome, from the destruction of which he abstained at the entreaty of the pontiff, his respect for whom was so great that he left Italy and retired into Austria, where he died. After the death of Attila, Velamir, king of the Ostrogoths, and the heads of the other nations, took arms against his sons Henry and Uric, slew the one and compelled the other, with his Huns, to repass the Danube and return to their country; while the Ostrogoths and the Zepidi established themselves in Pannonia, and the Eruli and the Turingi upon the farther bank of the Danube.

Attila having left Italy, Valentinian, emperor of the west, thought of restoring the country; and, that he might be more ready to defend it against the barbarians, abandoned Rome, and removed the seat of government to Ravenna. The misfortunes which befell the western empire caused the emperor, who resided at Constantinople, on many occasions to give up the possession of it to others, as a charge full of danger and expense; and sometimes, without his permission, the Romans, seeing themselves so abandoned, created an emperor for their defense, or suffered some one to usurp the dominion. This occurred at the period of which we now speak, when Maximus, a Roman, after the death of Valentinian, seized the government, and compelled Eudocia, widow of the late emperor, to take him for her husband; but she, being of imperial blood, scorned the connection of a private citizen; and being anxious to avenge herself for the insult, secretly persuaded Genseric, king of the Vandals and master of Africa to come to Italy, representing to him the advantage he would derive from the undertaking, and the facility with which it might be accomplished. Tempted by the hope of booty, he came immediately, and finding Rome abandoned, plundered the city during fourteen days. He also ravaged many other places in Italy, and then, loaded with wealth, withdrew to Africa. The Romans, having returned to their city, and Maximus being dead, elected Avitus, a Roman, as his successor. After this, several important events occurred both in Italy and in the countries beyond; and after the deaths of many emperors the empire of Constantinople devolved upon Zeno, and that of Rome upon Orestes and Augustulus his son, who obtained the sovereignty by fraud. While they were designing to hold by force what they had obtained by treachery, the Eruli and the Turingi, who, after the death of Attila, as before remarked, had established themselves upon the farther bank of the Danube, united in a league and invaded Italy under Odoacer their general. Into the districts which they left unoccupied, the Longobardi or Lombards, also a northern people, entered, led by Godogo their king. Odoacer conquered and slew Orestes near Pavia, but Augustulus escaped. After this victory, that Rome might, with her change of power, also change her title, Odoacer, instead of using the imperial name, caused himself to be declared king of Rome. He was the first of those leaders who at this period overran the world and thought of settling in Italy; for the others, either from fear that they should not be able to hold the country, knowing that it might easily be relieved by the eastern emperors, or from some unknown cause, after plundering her, sought other countries wherein to establish themselves.

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