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Conrad I. was deficient neither in energy nor in perseverance. His whole reign was filled with struggles against the usurpations of the greater nobles, but he was still far from having won a victory when he died. Except from his fellow-countrymen in Franconia, and from the higher clergy, he got little assistance in the strife, and his own last words were a warning to the Germans that they must choose a stronger king than himself if their kingdom was to survive.
It would be wearisome to relate the many campaigns of Conrad against his too-powerful subjects, to tell how the Palatine count Erchanger tried to make himself duke in sessmen. Suabia; how Arnulf, the son of that Luitpold against whom the Hungarians had slain, claimed the *** ducal power in Bavaria; how the great Saxon Henry, son of duke Otto—to be better known a few years later as king Henry the First—defied his liege lord to drive him out of Saxony. Conrad was generally unsuccessful in his strife against the rebels; it is true that he defeated, captured, and executed the would-be duke of Suabia, and that he drove Arnulf the Bavarian into exile for a time. But he utterly failed in his attempt to win back Austrasia from Charles the Simple, and his expedition into Saxony against duke Henry came to a disastrous end, so that he was compelled to make peace and to recognise Henry's ducal power over the whole country. It is said that Hatto, the great archbishop of Mainz, died of sheer anger and disgust on hearing of the triumph of the Saxon, against whom he had a personal grudge. Hatto had been the chief supporter of the central government in the reign of Conrad, as in the reign of Lewis the Child, and could not bear to see the forces of disunion finally victorious.
It need hardly be added that while civil war raged all over the German kingdom, the foreign enemy was more active than ever. Instead of afflicting only the eastern border
in 913 we find them before the walls of Coblenz: in 917
they surprised and burnt Basel, the south-westernmost of all the cities of the realm. Meanwhile the Suabians and Bavarians were too much occupied in resisting the king to be able either to unite or defend themselves. In this melancholy position of affairs Conrad I. died on the 23d of December 918. His last act was to assemble his brothers and his chief councillors at his bedside, and to warn them that if Germany was to be saved they must Death of find a stronger man than himself to crown as Conrad, 9”. king. He advised them not to look within his own family, but to elect his rival the powerful duke Henry of Saxony. Though Henry was an obstinate enemy of his own, Conrad considered him the strongest and most capable statesman in the realm, and putting aside all personal enmity gave his vote in the Saxon's favour. His advice was taken and the happiest results ensued. Here then we must leave Germany, still in evil plight, but on the eve of better things. She had yet to solve the question whether the work of Charles the Great — the blending of Frank, Saxon, Suabian, and Bavarian into a single nationality— was to endure, or whether the disruptive tendencies were still too strong. Fortunately for her there were two great forces at work in favour of unity. The Church owed her rise and growth in Germany to the protection of the great Frankish kings, and in gratitude always fought upon the side of royalty and union. But even more important was the pressure of hostile neighbours from without: it had become evident since the death of king Arnulf to even the most turbulent of the Suabian counts and the most unruly of the Saxon tribes, that if Germany was to survive she must submit herself to a single ruler. If the reigns of Lewis the Child and Conrad the Franconian had been disastrous failures, it was because the one was too young and the other too destitute both of heriditary claims and of personal followers. When a strong man with one of the great duchies at his back took Conrad's place, the problem of saving Germany was found not to be insoluble.
Nicephorus I. and his wars—He is slain by the Bulgarians—Short reign of Michael I.-Leo v. defeats the Bulgarians—His ecclesiastical troubles— Michael the Amorian dethrones him and reigns nine years—His policy— Reign of Theophilus—His wars with the Caliphs—He persecutes imageworshippers—Long minority of Michael III.-Restoration of imageworship—Orgies and end of Michael—Basil I. and the Macedonian dynasty.
THE East Roman Empire was always at its best when it was subject for several generations to princes of the same family; it was always at its worst in the periods between the fall of one dynasty and the rise of another, when the crown had become for the moment a prize that could be grasped by every successful general or intriguing statesman. In such times attempts at usurpation grew so frequent that civil war became an endemic disease, and while the empire was troubled within, foreign enemies were always ready to take their opportunity to assail it from without. We have already noted one of these anarchic and disastrous intervals, that between 695 and 717, when the house of Heraclius had fallen, and that of Leo the Isaurian had not yet come to the front. We have now to record a second period of short reigns, and of troubles both at home and abroad, between the deposition of the empress Irene and the establishment on the throne of Michael the Amorian, the founder of the next dynasty. This period, which
filled the years between 802 and 820, was by no means so disastrous as that which followed the fall of Justinian II. in the earlier century, but, nevertheless, it was distinctly a time of decline and decay, from which the empire took many years to recover. The wicked empress Irene was dethroned, as we have already had occasion to relate, by a palace-conspiracy, headed by her high-treasurer, Nicephorus. The new monarch was a man of mature years, who was known merely as a capable finance minister, and had never been suspected of any great ambition. When he had seized the reins of government he proved that he had more character, more self-will, and more energy than his contemporaries had credited him with. He put down with success two rebellions of discontented military chiefs, who thought that they had as good a right to the throne as he, and established himself so firmly on his seat that none could shake him. In matters ecclesiastical he reversed the policy of the superstitious Irene, and showed a perfect tolerance for the Iconoclasts, as well as for all the other dissident sects in the empire. He kept a firm hand over the patriarch and clergy, who would have been glad to persecute these schismatics, a fact which probably explains the bitterness with which the chroniclers of the succeeding age write of him, a bitterness which nothing in his actions seems to justify. He was neither cruel nor arbitrary in his rule, and the only accusation against him which seems to have the least foundation, is that after his accession he still remained too much of the high-treasurer, caring more for a good balance in the exchequer than for the welfare of his subjects. Nicephorus's reign was not untroubled by wars. Haroun-alRaschid still sat on the throne of Bagdad, and the caliphate was still a dangerous neighbour to the empire. Nicephorus refused to pay the tribute which Irene had promised to the Saracen, so Haroun renewed the intermittent war with the East Romans, which had dragged on, with short intervals, ever since the days of Constantine Copronymus. The emperor was not favoured by fortune in the war; it would seem that the maladministration of Irene's eunuch-ministers had caused war with the army to deteriorate, and matters went so ill that ****P* Nicephorus was glad to buy a peace when Haroun offered to grant him one. The emperor was to pay 30, ooo solidi annually, beside—a curious detail—six large gold medals of greater weight for himself, and one for his son and heir, Stauracius. In spite of this humiliating treaty it was not the Saracen war that was to prove Nicephorus's direst trouble; nor did he fare very badly in his struggle with Charles the Great. The long and desultory war with the new western empire terminated in a treaty which left Frank and East Roman exactly where they started. Not even Venice, which was now completely surrounded by the dominions of Charles, and which had been for a time in his hands, was sacrificed. Nor did Nicephorus find himself compelled to take what he would have regarded as the degrading step of recognising Charles as his equal and colleague in the administration of the empire. It was a war with the comparatively insignificant power of the Bulgarians which was to be the worst of the disasters of Nicephorus. Since the failure of the great expedition of Constantine vi. in 796, the predatory tribe behind the Balkans had been growing more and more venturesome. Under a new king, the cruel but able Crumn, they were making raids far into Thrace, which at last drove Nicephorus to take the field against them in person. At the head of a great army, drawn from all the European and Asiatic themes, and accompanied by his son Stauracius, he crossed the Balkans in 811. Victory at first crowned his arms; he defeated the Bulgarians in the open field, and took and plundered their king's palace. But a few days later, as his victorious army lay carelessly encamped and paying no heed to the defeated enemy, it was Nicephorus beset by a fierce night-attack. In the confusion o: and panic which followed the emperor was slain, 811. and his son Stauracius desperately wounded. Left without a leader the Byzantine army broke up, and retired