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History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empir

Odoacer again appeared master of the field


[Footnote 17: Theodoric's march is supplied and illustrated by Ennodius, (p. 1598--1602,) when the bombast of the oration is translated into the language of common sense.]

Odoacer, a rival not unworthy of his arms, had already occupied the advantageous and well-known post of the River Sontius, near the ruins of Aquileia, at the head of a powerful host, whose independent kings [18] or leaders disdained the duties of subordination and the prudence of delays. No sooner had Theodoric gained a short repose and refreshment to his wearied cavalry, than he boldly attacked the fortifications of the enemy; the Ostrogoths showed more ardor to acquire, than the mercenaries to defend, the lands of Italy; and the reward of the first victory was the possession of the Venetian province as far as the walls of Verona. In the neighborhood of that city, on the steep banks of the rapid Adige, he was opposed by a new army, reenforced in its numbers, and not impaired in its courage: the contest was more obstinate, but the event was still more decisive; Odoacer fled to Ravenna, Theodoric advanced to Milan, and the vanquished troops saluted their conqueror with loud acclamations of respect and fidelity. But their want either of constancy or of faith soon exposed him to the most imminent danger; his vanguard, with several Gothic counts, which had been rashly intrusted to a deserter, was betrayed and destroyed near Faenza by his double treachery; Odoacer again appeared master of the field, and the invader, strongly intrenched in his camp of Pavia, was reduced to solicit the aid of a kindred nation, the Visigoths of Gaul. In the course of this History, the most voracious appetite for war will be abundantly satiated; nor can I much lament that our dark and imperfect materials do not afford a more ample narrative of the distress of Italy, and of the fierce conflict, which was finally decided by the abilities, experience, and valor of the Gothic king. Immediately before the battle of Verona, he visited the tent of his mother [19] and sister, and requested, that on a day, the most illustrious festival of his life, they would adorn him with the rich garments which they had worked with their own hands. "Our glory," said he, "is mutual and inseparable. You are known to the world as the mother of Theodoric; and it becomes me to prove, that I am the genuine offspring of those heroes from whom I claim my descent." The wife or concubine of Theodemir was inspired with the spirit of the German matrons, who esteemed their sons' honor far above their safety; and it is reported, that in a desperate action, when Theodoric himself was hurried along by the torrent of a flying crowd, she boldly met them at the entrance of the camp, and, by her generous reproaches, drove them back on the swords of the enemy. [20]

[Footnote 18: Tot reges, &c., (Ennodius, p. 1602.) We must recollect how much the royal title was multiplied and degraded, and that the mercenaries of Italy were the fragments of many tribes and nations.]

[Footnote 19: See Ennodius, p. 1603, 1604. Since the orator, in the king's presence, could mention and praise his mother, we may conclude that the magnanimity of Theodoric was not hurt by the vulgar reproaches of concubine and bastard. * Note: Gibbon here assumes that the mother of Theodoric was the concubine of Theodemir, which he leaves doubtful in the text.--M.]

[Footnote 20: This anecdote is related on the modern but respectable authority of Sigonius, (Op. tom. i. p. 580. De Occident. Impl. l. xv.:) his words are curious: "Would you return?" &c. She presented and almost displayed the original recess. * Note: The authority of Sigonius would scarcely have weighed with Gibboa except for an indecent anecdote. I have a recollection of a similar story in some of the Italian wars.--M.]


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