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Contrast between the fates of the Eastern and Western Empires — The East recovers its strength — Leo I. and the Isaurians — The Emperor Zeno and the rebellion against him — Wars of Zeno with the two Theodorics, 478483 — The 'Henoticon '— Character of the Emperor Anastasius — Rebellion of the Isaurians — War with Persia, 503-5 — The 'Blue and Green' Factions — Rebellion of Vitalian — Accession of Justin I.
At Rome the emperors of the third quarter of the fifth century — all the ephemeral Caesars whose blood-stained annals fill the space between the death of Valentinian in. and the usurpation of Odoacer — had been the mere creatures of the barbarian, or semi-barbarian, 'patricians' and 'masters of the soldiers,' to whom they owed alike their elevations and their untimely ends. The history of those troubled years would be more logically arranged under the names of the Caesar-makers, Ricimer, Gundobad, Orestes, than under those of the unhappy puppets whom they manipulated.
But, when we turn our eyes eastward to Constantinople, we are surprised to find how entirely different was the aspect of affairs. The Western Empire was rapidly falling to pieces, province after province dropping out of the power of the emperor, and becoming part of the realm of some Gothic, Burgundian, or Vandal prince, who paid the most shadowy homage, or no homage at all, to the ephemeral Caesar at
Period I. c
Rome. The Eastern Empire, on the other hand, maintained Contrast be- its boundaries intact, and was slowly building ancTwfsternTM uP ^s strength for renewed activity in the next Empires. century. While nine emperors' reigns filled no more than twenty-one years at Rome (455-476), two emperors were reigning for thirty-four years (457-491) on the Bosphorus. And the character of the rulers of East and West was as different as their fates: the short-lived Roman Caesars were either impotent nobodies raised to the throne by the caprice of the barbarian, or ambitious young soldiers who vainly dreamed that they might yet redeem the evil day, and save the State. Their contemporaries in the East, Leo, Zeno, and Anastasius, were three elderly officials, men of experience, if not of great ability, who followed each other in peaceable succession, and devoted their declining years to a cautious defensive policy, with the result that they left a full treasury, a strong and loyal army, and an intact realm behind them.
At the beginning of the fifth century the eastern half of the
Empire had seemed no less likely than the western to fall
under the dominion of the barbarian, and crumble to pieces.
;» The Goths were cantoned all over Thrace, Moesia, and Asia
j Minor, and the Gothic general Gainas had taken possession
of the person and authority of the Emperor Arcadius. Had
he been a man of greater ability he might have made and
unmade emperors, as Ricimer afterwards did in the West.
But the schemes of Gainas were wrecked, and the Empire
saved by the great riot at Constantinople in 401, when the
> Gothic foederati were massacred, and their leader chased away
by the infuriated populace, who thus saved not only their
own homes, but the whole East, from the danger of Gothic
Though the European provinces of the Eastern Empire suffered grievously from Teutonic ravages during the first eighty years of the century, there was never again any danger that the barbarians would get hold of the machinery of government, and subvert the Empire from within. In the long reign of Theodosius n. (406-450), if no progress was made in strengthening the realm, at least no ground was lost.
Two external causes were, during this time, operating in favour of the Eastern Empire. The first was the absolute impregnability of Constantinople against any invader who could only assault it from the land side: the town could not be starved out,-—as Rome was starved by Alaric,—and its walls could laugh to scorn all such siege appliances as that age knew. Though Goth and Hun pushed their ravages far and wide in the Balkan peninsula, they never seriously attempted to molest the great central place of arms on which the East-Roman power based itself. The Western Empire had no such stronghold—capital, arsenal, har- importanceof hour, and centre of commerce all in one. ConstantiRavenna, where the Western Caesars took refuge nople-' in times of storm and stress, was in every way inferior to Constantinople as a base of armed resistance to the invader. Though its marshes made it strong, it did not cover or protect any considerable tract of country, and it was just far enough from its harbour to allow of an enemy cutting off its supplies.
The second great factor in the vitality of the Eastern Empire was the prolonged freedom from foreign war enjoyed by its Asiatic provinces. After the revolt of Gainas in 401, the Goths disappeared from Asia Minor, and no other invaders made any serious breach into that peninsula, into Syria, or into Egypt, for a hundred and forty years. Two short Persian wars, in 420-421 and 502-505, led to nothing worse than partial ravages on the Mesopotamian frontier. It is true that the Asiatic provinces of the empire were not altogether spared by the sword in the fifth century, but such tr~*bles as they suffered were due to native revolts, chiefly of the Isaurians among the mountains of southern Asia Minor. These risings were local, and led to no very widespread damage, nor was the fighting caused by the revolts of the rebel-emperors Basiliscus and Leontius, in the reign of Zeno, much more destructive. On the whole, the four oriental 'dioceses' of the Eastern Empire must have enjoyed in the Prosperity of fifth century a far greater measure of peace and the East. prosperity than they had known, or were to know, in the previous and the succeeding ages. It was their wealth, duly garnered into the imperial treasury, that made the emperors strong to defend their European possessions. We shall soon see that their military resources also were to count in a most effective way in the reorganisation of the EastRoman army.
But the strength of Constantinople and the wealth of Asia might have proved of no avail had they fallen into the hands of a series of emperors like Honorius or Valentian in. We must in common fairness grant that the personal characters of the Emperors Leo I., Zeno, and Anastasius I. had also the most important influence on the empire. These three cautious, persistent, and careful princes, who neither endangered the empire by over-great enterprise and ambition, nor let it fall to pieces by want of energy, were exactly the men most fitted to tide over a time of transition.
Leo, the first of these three emperors, was already dead when Romulus Augustulus was deposed in the West. He had left his mark on Constantinopolitan history by his summary execution of Aspar, the last of the great barbarian ' masters of the soldiers,' who rose to a dangerous height of power in the East; and still more by his very important scheme for reorganising the army, by enrolling a large proportion of native-born subjects of the empire in its ranks. Recognising the peril of trusting entirely to Teutonic mercenaries,—the fatal error that had ruined the Western Empire,—Leo had enlisted, in as great numbers as he could obtain, the hardy Leo and the mountaineers of Asia Minor, more especially the isaurians. Isaurians. His predecessors had distrusted their unruly and predatory habits, but Leo saw that they supplied good and trustworthy fighting material, and dealt with them as the elder Pitt dealt with the Highlanders after the rebellion of 1745, teaching them to use in the service of the government the wild courage that had so often been turned against it. Leo had indeed done all that he could for the Isaurians, and had at last married his elder daughter Ariadne to Zeno, an Isaurian by birth, and one of the chief officers of his court.
It was this Zeno who was seated on the throne of the Eastern realm at the moment that Odoacer made himself ruler of Italy, and to him was addressed the celebrated petition of the Roman Senate which besought him to allow East and West alike to repose under the shadow of his name, but to confide the practical governance of Italy to the patrician Odoacer. Zeno was neither so able nor so respectable a sovereign as his father-in-law: two faults, a caution which verged on actual cowardice and a taste for low debauchery, have blasted his reputation. His enemies were never tired of taunting him with his Isaurian birth, and recalling The Emperor to memory that his real name was Tarakodissa, Zeno, 475-49'the son of Rusumbladeotus, for he had only taken the Greek appellation of Zeno when he came to court. But though he was by birth an obscure provincial, and by nature something of a coward and a free liver, Zeno had his merits. He was a mild and not an extortionate administrator, had a liberal hand, a good eye for picking out able servants, was sanguine and persevering in all that he undertook, and pursued in Church matters a policy of moderation and conciliation, which may bring him credit now, though in his own time it provoked many strictures from the orthodox. The worst charges that can be laid to his account were acts that were prompted by his timidity rather than by any other motive,— two or three arbitrary executions of officers whom he rightly or wrongly suspected of plotting against his life. After three rebellions which came within an ace of success, it is not unnatural that he grew somewhat nervous about his own safety.
Zeno's reign was more troubled in this way than those of his predecessor and successor. His well-known lack of daring tempted men to conspire against him, but they reckoned without his cunning and his perseverance, and in every case