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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Arbogast called upon his countrymen



In Italy, Valentinian II. succeeded his brother Gratian. His chief minister was a Frank, named Arbogast, who, learning that he was to be dismissed from his place, had the young Valentinian assassinated, and set up a new Emperor, Eugene, in his stead. This act brought him into direct conflict with Theodosius. Arbogast called upon his countrymen, the Franks, who sent a large body of troops to his assistance, while Theodosius strengthened his army with 20,000 Gothic soldiers. Then, for the first time, Frank and Goth--West-German and East-German--faced each other as enemies. The Gothic auxiliaries of Theodosius were commanded by two leaders, Alaric and Stilicho, already distinguished among their people, and destined to play a remarkable part in the history of Europe. The battle between the two armies was fought near Aquileia, in the year 394. The sham Emperor, Eugene, was captured and beheaded, Arbogast threw himself upon his sword, and Theodosius was master of the West.

The Emperor, however, lived but a few months to enjoy his single rule. He died at Milan, in 395, after having divided the government of the Empire between his two sons. Honorius, the elder, was sent to Rome, with the Gothic chieftain, Stilicho, as his minister and guardian; while the boy Arcadius, at Constantinople, was intrusted to the care of a Gaul, named Rufinus. Alaric, perhaps a personal enemy of the latter, perhaps

jealous of the elevation of Stilicho to such an important place, refused to submit to the new government. He collected a large body of his countrymen, and set out on a campaign of plunder through Greece. Every ancient city, except Thebes, fell into his hands, and only Athens was allowed to buy her exemption from pillage.

The Gaul, Rufinus, took no steps to arrest this devastation; wherefore, it is said, he was murdered at the instigation of Stilicho, who then sent a fleet against Alaric. This undertaking was not entirely successful, and the government of Constantinople finally purchased peace by making Alaric the Imperial Legate in Illyria. In the year 403, he was sent to Italy, as the representative of the Emperor Arcadius, to overthrow the power of his former fellow-chieftain, Stilicho, who ruled in the name of Honorius. His approach, with a large army, threw the whole country into terror. Honorius shut himself up within the walls of Ravenna, while Stilicho called the legions from Gaul, and even from Britain, to his support. A great battle was fought near the Po, but without deciding the struggle; and Alaric had already begun to march towards Rome, when a treaty was made by which he and his army were allowed to return to Illyria with all the booty they had gathered in Italy.

[Sidenote: 408.]

Five years afterwards, when Stilicho was busy in endeavoring to keep the Franks and Alemanni out of Gaul, and to drive back the incursions of mixed German and Celtic bands which began to descend from the Alps, Alaric again made his appearance, demanding the payment of certain sums, which he claimed were due to him. Stilicho, having need of his military strength elsewhere, satisfied Alaric's claim by the payment of 4,000 pounds of gold; but the Romans felt themselves bitterly humiliated, and Honorius, listening to the rivals of Stilicho, gave his consent to the assassination of the latter and his whole family including the Emperor's own sister, Serena, whom Stilicho had married.

When the news of this atrocious act reached Alaric, he turned and marched back to Italy. There was now no skilful commander to oppose him: the cowardly Honorius took refuge in Ravenna, and the Goths advanced, without resistance, to the gates of Rome. The walls, built by Aurelian, were too strong to be taken by assault, but all supplies were cut off, and the final surrender of the city became only a question of time. When a deputation of Romans represented to Alaric that the people still numbered half a million, he answered: "The thicker the grass, the better the mowing!" They were finally obliged to yield to his demands, and pay a ransom consisting of 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, many thousands of silk robes, and a large quantity of spices,--a total value of something more than three millions of dollars. In addition to this, 40,000 slaves, mostly of Germanic blood, escaped to his camp and became free.

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