The History of Florence—Book I

Chapter II

State of the Roman Empire under Zeno—Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths

At this time the ancient Roman Empire was governed by the following prices: Zeno, reigning in Constantinople, commanded the whole of the Eastern Empire; the Ostrogoths ruled Mesia and Pannonia; the Visigoths, Suevi, and Alans held Gascony and Spain; the Vandals, Africa; the Franks and Burgundians, France; and the Eruli and Thüringi, Italy. The kingdom of the Ostrogoths had descended to Theodoric, nephew of Velamir, who, being on terms of friendship with Zeno the Eastern Emperor, wrote to him that the Ostrogoths thought it an injustice that they, being superior in valor to the people thereabout, should be inferior to them in dominion; and that it was impossible for him to restrain them within the bounds of Pannonia. So, seeing himself under the necessity of allowing them to take arms and go in search of new abodes, he wished first to acquaint Zeno with it, in order that he might provide for them, by granting some country in which they might establish themselves, by his good favor, with greater propriety and convenience. Zeno, partly from fear and partly from a desire to drive Odoacer out of Italy, gave Theodoric permission to lead his people against him, and take possession of the country. Leaving his friends the Zepidi in Pannonia, Theodoric marched into Italy, slew Odoacer and his son, and moved by the same reasons which had induced Valentinian to do so, established his court at Ravenna, and like Odoacer took the title of King of Italy.

Character of Theodoric

Theodoric possessed great talents, both for war and peace; in the former he was always conqueror, and in the latter he conferred very great benefits upon the cities and people under him. He distributed the Ostrogoths over the country, each district under its leader, that he might more conveniently command them in war and govern them in peace. He enlarged Ravenna, restored Rome, and, with the exception of military discipline, conferred upon the Romans every honor. He kept within their proper bounds, wholly by the influence of his character, all the barbarian kings who occupied the empire; he built towns and fortresses between the point of the Adriatic and the Alps, in order, with greater facility, to impede the passage of any new hordes of barbarians who might design to assail Italy; and if toward the latter end of his life, so many virtues had not benn sullied by acts of cruelty, caused by the various jealousies of his people, such as the deaths of Symmachus and Boetius, men of great holiness, every point of his character would have deserved the highest praise. By his virtue and goodness, not only Rome and Italy, but every part of the Western Empire, freed from the continual troubles which they had suffered from the frequent influx of barharians, acquired new vigor, and began to live in an orderly and civilized manner. For surely if any times were truly miserable for Italy and the provinces overrun by the barbarians, they were those which occurred from Arcadius and Honorius to Theodoric. If we only consider the evils which arise to a republic or a kingdom by a change of prince or of government; not by foreign interference, but by civil discord (in which we may see how even slight variations suffice to ruin the most powerful kingdoms or States), we may then easily imagine how much Italy and the other Roman provinces suffered, when they not only changed their forms of government and their princes, but also their laws, customs, modes of living, religion, language, and name. Any one of such changes, by itself, without being united with others, might, with thinking of it to say nothing of the seeing and suffering, infuse terror into the strongest minds.

Changes in the Roman Empire

From these causes proceeded the ruin as well as the origin and extension of many cities. Among those which were ruined were Aquileia, Luni, Chiusi, Popolonia, Fiesole, and many others. The new cities were Venice, Sienna, Ferrara, Aquila, with many towns and castles which for brevity we omit. Those which became extended were Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Milan, Naples, and Bologna; to all of which may be added, the ruin and restoration of Rome, and of many other cities not previously mentioned.

New Languages—New Names

From this devastation and new population arose new languages, as we see in the different dialects of France, Spain, and Italy; which, partaking of the native idiom of the new people and of the old Roman, formed a new manner of discourse. Besides, not only were the names of provinces changed, but also of lakes, rivers, seas, and men; for France, Spain, and Italy are full of fresh names, wholly different from the ancient; as, onfitting many others, we see that the Po, the Garda, the Archipelago, are names quite different from those which the ancients used; whilst instead of Cĉsar, and Pompey, we have Peter, Matthew, John, etc.

Importance of Religion

Among so many variations, that of religion was not of little importance; for while combating the customs of the ancient faith with the miracles of the new, very serious troubles and discords were created among men. And if Christians had been united in one faith, fewer disorders would have followed; but the contentions among themselves of the churches of Rome, Greece, and Ravenna, joined to those of the heretics sects with the Catholic, served in many ways to render the world miserable. Africa is a proof of this; having suffered more horrors from the Arian sect, whose doctrines were believed by the Vandals, than from any avarice or natural cruelty of the people themselves. Living amid so many persecutions, the countenances of men bore witness of the terrible impressions upon their minds; for beside the evils they suffered from the disordered state of the world, they scarcely could have recourse to the help of God, in whom the unhappy hope for relief; for the greater part of them, being uncertain what divinity they ought to address, died miserably, without help and without hope.

Theodoric Dies

Having been the first to put a stop to so many evils, Theodoric deserves the highest praise; for during the thirty-eight years he reigned in Italy he brought the country to such a state of greatness that her previous sufferings were no longer recognizable. But at his death, the kingdom descending to Atalaric, son of Amalasontha his daughter, and the malice of fortune not being yet exhausted, the old evils soon returned; for Atalaric died soon after his grandfather, and the kingdom coming into the possession of his mother, she was betrayed by Theodatus, whom she had called to assist her in the government. He put her to death and made himself king; and having thus become odious to the Ostrogoths, the Emperor Justinian entertained the hope of driving him out of Italy. Justinian appointed Belisarius to the command of this expedition, as he had already conquered Africa, expelled the Vandals, and reduced the country to the imperial rule.

Belisarius in Italy

Belisarius took posession of Sicily, and, from thence passing into Italy, occupied Naples and Rome. The Goths, seeing this, slew Theodatus, their King, whom they considered the cause of their misfortunes, and elected Vitiges in his stead, who after some skirmishes, was besieged and taken by Belisarius at Ravenna; but before he had time to secure the advantage of his victory Belisarius was recalled by Justinian, and Joannes and Vitalis were appointed in his place. Their principles and practices were so different from those of Belisarins, that the Goths took courage and created Ildovadus, Governor of Verona, their King. After Ildovadus, who was slain, came Totila, who routed the imperial forces, took Tuscany and Naples, and recovered nearly the whole of what Belisarius had taken from them. On this account Justinian determined to send him into Italy again; but, coming with only a small force, he lost the reputation which his former victories had won for him, in less time than he had taken to acquire it. Totila being at Ostia with his forces, took Rome before his eyes; but being unable to hold or to leave the city, he destroyed the greater part of it, drove out the citizens, and took the senators away with him. Thinking little of Belisarius, he led his people into Calabria, to attack the forces which had been sent from Greece.

Totila Takes Rome—Narses Destroys the Goths

Belisarius, seeing the city abandoned, turned his mind to the performance of an honorable work. Viewing the ruins of Rome, he determined to rebuild her walls and recall her inhabitants with as little delay as possible. But fortune was opposed to this laudable enterprise; for Justinian, being at this lime assailed by the Parthians, recalled him; and his duty to his sovereign compelled him to abandon Italy to Totila, who again took Rome, but did not treat her with such severity as upon the former occasion; for at the entreaty of St. Benedict, who in those days had great reputation for sanctity, he endeavored to restore her. In the meantime, Justinian having arranged matters with the Parthians, again thought of sending a force to the relief of Italy; but the Sclavi, another Northern people, having crossed the Danube and attacked Illyria and Thrace, prevented him, so that Totila held almost the whole country. Having conquered the Sclavonians, Justinian sent Narses, a eunuch, a man of great military talent, who, having arrived in Italy, routed and slew Totila. The Goths who escaped sought refuge in Pavia, where they created Teias their King. On the other hand, Narses after the victory took Rome, and coming to an engagement with Teias and Nocera, slew him and routed his army. By this victory, the power of the Goths in Italy was quite annihilated, after having existed for seventy years from the coming of Theodoric to the death of Teias.

New Form of Government in Italy—Narses Invites the Lombards into Italy

No sooner was Italy delivered from the Goths than Justinian died, and was succeeded by Justin, his son, who, at the instigation of Sophia, his wife, recalled Narses, and sent Longinus in his stead. Like those who preceded him, he made his abode at Ravenna, and beside this, gave a new form to the government of Italy; for he did not appoint governors of provinces, as the Goths had done, but in every city and town of importance, placed a ruler whom he called a duke. Neither in this arrangement did he respect Rome more than the other cities; for having set aside the consuls and Senate, names which up to this time had been preserved, he placed her under a duke, who was sent every year from Ravenna, and called her the Duchy of Rome; while to him who remained at Ravenna, and governed the whole of Italy for the Emperor, was given the name of Exarch. This division of the country facilitated the ruin of Italy, and gave the Lombards an early occasion of occupying it. Narses was greatly enraged with the Emperor for having recalled him from the government of the province, which he had won with his own valor and blood; whilst Sophia, not content with the injury done by withdrawing him, treated him in the most offensive manner, saying she wished him to come back that he might spin with the other eunuchs. Full of indignation, Narses persuaded Alboin, King of the Lombards, who then reigned in Pannonia, to invade and take possession of Italy.

Alboin Slays Cunimund, King of the Zepidi

The Lombards, as was said before, occupied those places upon the Danube which had been vacated by the Eruli and Thüringi, when Odoacer their King led them into Italy; where, having been established for some time, their dominions were held by Alboin, a man ferocious and bold, under whom they crossed the Danube, and coming to an engagement with Cunimund, King of the Zepidi, who held Pannonia, conquered and slew him. Alboin finding Rosamond, daughter of Cunimund, amongst the captives, took her to wife, and made himself sovereign of Pannonia; and moved by his savage nature, caused the skull of Cunimund to be formed into a cup, from which, in memory of the victory, he drank. Being invited into Italy by Narses, with whom he had been in friendship during the war with the Goths, he left Pannonia to the Huns, who after the death of Attila had returned to their country. Finding, on his arrival, the province divided into so many parts, he presently occupied Pavia, Milan, Verona, Vicenza, the whole of Tuscany, and the greater part of Flamminia, which is now called Romagna. These great and rapid acquisitions made him think the conquest of Italy already secured; he therefore gave a great feast at Verona, and having become elevated with wine, ordered the skull of Cunimund to be filled, and caused it to be presented to the queen Rosamond, who sat opposite, saying loud enough for her to hear, that upon occasion of such great joy she should drink with her father.

Helmichis destroys Alboin

These words were like a dagger to the lady's bosom, and she resolved to have revenge. Knowing that Helmichis, a noble Lombard, was in love with one of her maids, she arranged with the young woman, that Helmichis, without being acquainted with the fact, should sleep with her instead of his mistress. Having effected her design, Rosamond discovered herself to Helmichis, and gave him the choice either of killing Alboin, and taking herself and the kingdom as his reward, or of being put to death as the ravisher of the queen. Helmichis consented to destroy Alboin; but after the murder, finding they could not occupy the kingdom, and fearful that the Lombards would put them to death for the love they bore to Alboin, they seized the royal treasure, and fled with it to Longinus, at Ravenna, who received them favorably.

Death of Helmichis and Rosamond

During these troubles the Emperor Justin died, and was succeeded by Tiberius, who, occupied in the wars with the Parthians, could not attend to the affairs of Italy; and this seeming to Longinus to present an opportunity, by means of Rosamond and her wealth, of becoming King of the Lombards and of the whole of Italy, he communicated his design to her, persuaded her to destroy Helmichis, and so take him for her husband. To this end, having prepared poisoned wine, she with her own hand presented it to Helmichis, who complained of thirst as he came from the bath. Having drunk half of it, he suspected the truth, from the unusual sensation it occasioned, and compelled her to drink the remainder; so that in a few hours both came to their end, and Longinus was deprived of the hope of becoming king.

The Lombards Change the Form of Government

In the meantime the Lombards, having drawn themselves together in Pavia, which was become the principal seat of their empire, made Clefis their king. He rebuilt Imola, destroyed by Narses, and occupied Rimini and almost every place up to Rome; but he died in the course of his victories. Clefis was cruel to such a degree, not only toward strangers, but to his own Lombards, that these people, sickened of royal power, did not create another king, but appointed among themselves thirty dukes to govern the rest. This prevented the Lombards from occupying the whole of Italy, or of extending their dominion further than Benevento; for, of the cities of Rome, Ravenna, Cremona, Mantua, Padua, Monselice, Parma, Bologna, Faenza, Forli, and Cesena, some defended themselves for a time, and others never fell under their dominion; since, not having a king, they became less prompt for war, and when they afterward appointed one, they were, by living in freedom, become less obedient, and more apt to quarrel amongst themselves; which from the first prevented a fortunate issue of their military expeditions, and was the ultimate cause of their being driven out of Italy. The affairs of the Lombards being in the state just described, the Romans and Longinus came to an agreement with them, that each should lay down their arms and enjoy what they already possessed.