Abbildungen der Seite

The desola


SECT. dominion or independence, the countries of Europe were

successively laid waste, a great part of their inhabitants tion which perished in the field, many were carried into slavery, and it occasion. a feeble remnant, incapable of further resistance, submit

ted to the Roman power. 'The im- The Romans having thus desolated Europe, set themwhich it in selves to civilize it. The form of government which they troduced. established in the conquered provinces, though severe,

was regular, and preserved public tranquillity. As a consolation for the loss of liberty, they communicated their arts, sciences, language, and manners, to their new subjects. Europe began to breathe, and to recover strength after the calamities which it had undergone; agriculture was encouraged; population increased; the ruined cities were rebuilt ; new towns were founded; an appearance of prosperity succeeded, and repaired in some

measure the havoc of war. The bad This state, however, was far from being happy or faconsequen: vourable to the improvement of the human mind. The donir.ion. vanquished nations were disarmed by their conquerors,

and overawed by soldiers kept in pay to restrain them. They were given up as a prey to rapacious governors, who plundered them with impunity; and were drained of their wealth by exorbitant taxes, levied with so little attention to the situation of the provinces, that the impositions were often increased in proportion to their inability to support them. They were deprived of their most enterprising citizens, who resorted to a distant capital in quest of preferment or of riches; and were accustomed in all their actions to look up to a superior, and tamely to receive his commands. Under so many depressing circumstances, it was hardly possible that they could retain vigour or generosity of mind. The martial and independent spirit, which had distinguished their ancestors, became, in a great measure, extinct among all the people subjected to the Roman yoke; they lost not only the habit but even the capacity of deciding for themselves, or of acting from the impulse of their own minds;

and the dominion of the Romans, like that of all great SECT. empires, degraded and debased the human species * A society in such a state could not subsist long. The irrup

tion of the There were defects in the Roman government, even in its barbarous most perfect form, which threatened its dissolution. Time nations. ripened these original seeds of corruption, and gave birth to many new disorders. A constitution, unsound and worn out, must have fallen into pieces of itself, without any external shock. The violent irruption of the Gothis, Vandals, Huns, and other barbarians, hastened this event, and precipitated the downfal of the empire. New nations seemed to arise, and to rush from unknown regions, in order to take vengeance on the Romans for the calamities which they had inflicted on mankind. These fierce tribes either inhabited the various provinces in Germany which had never been subdued by the Romans, or were scattered over those vast countries in the north of Europe, and north-west of Asia, which are now occupied by the Danes, the Swedes, the Poles, the subjects of the Russian empire, and the Tartars. Their condition and transactions, previous to their invasion of the empire, are but little known. Almost all our information with respect to these is derived from the Romans; and as they did not penetrate far into countries which were at that time uncultivated and uninviting, the accounts of their original state given by the Roman historians are extremely imperfect. The rude inhabitants themselves, destitute of science as well as of records, and without leisure or curiosity to inquire into remote events, retained, perhaps, some indistinct memory of recent occurren. ces; but beyond these, all was buried in oblivion, or involved in darkness and in fable to The prodigious swarms which poured in upon the

State of the empire from the beginning of the fourth century to the countries final extinction of the Roman power, have given rise to from which

they issued. an opinion that the countries whence they issued were crowded with inhabitants; and various theories have




[ocr errors]

SECT. been formed to account for such an extraordinary degree

of population as hath produced these countries the appellation of the storehouse of nations. But if we consider, that the countries possessed by the people who invaded the empire were of vast extent; that a great part of these was covered with woods and marshes; that some of the most considerable of the barbarous nations subsisted entirely by hunting or pasturage, in both which states of society large tracts of land are required for maintaining a few inhabitants; and that all of them were strangers to the arts and industry, without which population cannot increase to any great degree; we must conclude, that these countries could not be so populous in ancient times as they are in the present, when they still continue to be less

peopled than any other part of Europe or Asia. The people

But the same circumstances that prevented the barfit for da: barous nations from becoming populous, contributed to ring enterprises. inspire or to strengthen the martial spirit by which they

were distinguished. Inured, by the rigour of their climate or the poverty of their soil, to hardships which rendered their bodies firm, and their minds vigorous; accustomed to a course of life which was a continual preparation for action; and disdaining every occupation but that of war or of hunting; they undertook and prosecuted their military enterprises with an ardour and impetuosity, of which men softened by the refinements of more polished times

can scarcely form any idea *. 'The mo- Their first inroads into the empire proceeded rather tives of their first

from the love of plunder than from the desire of new excursions. settlements. Roused to arms by some enterprising or

popular leader, they sallied out of their forest; broke in upon the frontier provinces with irresistible violence; put all who opposed them to the sword; carried off the most valuable effects of the inhabitants; dragged along multitudes of captives in chains; wasted all before them with fire or sword; and returned in triumph to their wilds and fustnesses. Their success, together with the accounts


[ocr errors]

which they gave of the unknown conveniences and luxu. SECT. ries that abounded in countries better cultivated, or blessed with a milder climate than their own, excited new adventurers, and exposed the frontier to new devastation.

Wben nothing was left to plunder in the adjacent Their rea. provinces, ravaged by frequent excursions, they marched eling in the farther from home, and finding it difficult or dangerous countries to return, they began to settle in the countries which they conquered. had subdued. The sudden and short excursions in quest of booty, which had alarmed and disquieted the empire, ceased; a more dreadful calamity impended. Great bodies of armed men, with their wives and children, and slaves and flocks, issued forth, like regular colonies, in quest of new settlements. People who had no cities, and seldom any fixed habitation, were so little attached to their native soil, that they migrated without reluctance from one place to another. New adventurers followed them. The lands which they deserted were occupied by more remote tribes of barbarians. These, in their turns,

The extent pushed forward into more fertile countries, and, like a of their torrent continually increasing, rolled on, and swept every

stilething before them. In less than two centuries from their first irruption, barbarians of various names and lineage plundered and took possession of Thrace, Pannonia, Gaul, Spain, Africa, and at last of Italy and Rome itself. The vast fabric of the Roman power, which it had been the work of ages to perfect, was in that short period overturned from the foundation.

Many concurring causes prepared the way for this the cirgreat revolution, and insured success to the nations which cumstances invaded the empire. The Roman commonwealth had casioned conquered the world by the wisdom of its civil maxims

fal of the and the rigour of its military discipline. But, under the Roman emperors, the former were forgotten or despised, and the empire. latter was gradually relaxed. The armies of the empire, in the fourth and fifth centuries, bore scarcely any resemblance to those invincible legions which had been victorious wherever they marched. Instead of freemen,



[ocr errors]

SKCT. who voluntarily took arms from the love of glory or of

their country, provincials and barbarians were bribed or forced into service. These were too feeble or too proud to submit to the fatigue of military duty. They even complained of the weight of their defensire armour as intolerable, and laid it aside. Infantry, from which the armies of ancient Rome derived their vigour and stability, fell into contempt; the effeminate and undisciplined soldiers of latter times could hardly be brought to venture into the field but on horseback. These wretched troops, however, were the only guardians of the empire. The jealousy of despotism had deprived the people of the use of arms; and subjects, oppressed and rendered inca pable of defending themselves, bad neither spirit nor inclination to resist their invaders, from whom they had little to fear, because their condition could hardly be rendered more unhappy. At the same time that the martial spirit became extinct, the revenues of the empire gradually diminished. The taste for the luxuries of the East increased to such a pitch in the imperial court, that great sums were carried into India, from which, in the channel of commerce, money never returns. By the large subsidies paid to the barbarous nations, a still greater quantity of specie was withdrawn from circulation. The frontier provinces, wasted by frequent incursions, became unable to pay the customary tribute ; and the wealth of the world, which had long centered in the capital of the empire, ceased to flow thither in the same abundance, or was diverted into other channels. The limits of the empire continued to be as extensive as ever, while the spirit requisite for its defence declined, and its resources were exhausted. A vast body, languid, and almost unanimated, became incapable of any effort to save itself, and was easily overpowered. The emperors, who had the absolute direction of this disordered system, sunk in the softness of eastern luxury, shut up within the walls of a palace, ignorant of war, unacquainted with affairs, and governed entirely by women and eunuchs, or by

« ZurückWeiter »