The Empire Of The Dynasty Of The
Emperors of the West:
Honorius; born 384, Emperor 395-423.
Valentinian III; born 419, Emperor 425-455; son of Galla Placidia,
the daughter of Theodosius the Great, and the Empress of the West
Emperors of the East:
Arcadius: born 377, Emperor 395-408.
Theodosius II: born 401, Emperor 408-450.
Marcianus: Emperor 450-457; husband of Pulcheria (born 399, died
453), daughter of Arcadius.
The greatest event in the first half of the fifth century, the period in
which the degenerate descendants of Theodosius still retained the imperial
title, was the Barbarian Invasion, a truly epoch-making event. In 405 the
Vandals, Alans, and Suevi crossed the Rhine, followed later by the
Burgundians. August 24, 410, Alarich, the king of the West Goths, captured
Rome. In 419 the West Gothic kingdom was established with Toulouse as a
capital. In 429 the Vandals began to establish themselves in North Africa,
and about 450 the Saxons began to invade Britain, abandoned by the Romans
about 409. Although the West was thus falling to pieces, the theory of the
unity of the Empire was maintained and is expressed in the provision of
the new Theodosian Code of 439 for the uniformity of law throughout the
two parts of the Empire. This theory of unity was not lost for centuries
and was influential even into the eighth century.
(a) Jerome, Ep. 123, ad Ageruchiam. (MSL, 22:1057.)
The Barbarian Invasions in the opening years of the fifth century.
Jerome's letters are not to be considered a primary source for the
barbarian invasion, but they are an admirable source for the way
the invasion appeared to a man of culture and some patriotic
feeling. With this passage should be compared his Ep. 60, ad
Heliodorum, § 16, written in 396, in which he expresses his
belief that Rome was falling and describes the barbarian invaders.
The following letter was written 409.
§ 16. Innumerable savage tribes have overrun all parts of Gaul. The whole
country between the Alps and the Pyrenees, between the Rhine and the
ocean, have been laid waste by Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Alans, Gepidi,
Herules,(160) Saxons, Bergundians, Allemans and, alas for the common
weal--even the hordes of the Pannonians. For Asshur is joined with them
(Psalm 83:8). The once noble city of Mainz has been captured and
destroyed. In its church many thousands have been massacred. The people of
Worms have been extirpated after a long siege. The powerful city of
Rheims, the Ambiani [a tribe near Amiens], the Altrabtae [a tribe near
Arras], the Belgians on the outskirts of the world, Tournay, Speyer, and
Strassburg have fallen to Germany. The provinces of Aquitaine and of the
Nine Nations, of Lyons and Narbonne, with the exception of a few cities,
all have been laid waste. Those whom the sword spares without, famine
ravages within. I cannot speak of Toulouse without tears; it has been kept
hitherto from falling by the merits of its revered bishop, Exuperius. Even
the Spains are about to perish and tremble daily as they recall the
invasion of the Cymri; and what others have suffered once they suffer
continually in fear.
§ 17. I am silent about other places, that I may not seem to despair of
God's mercy. From the Pontic Sea to the Julian Alps, what was once ours is
ours no longer. When for thirty years the barrier of the Danube had been
broken there was war in the central provinces of the Roman Empire. Long
use dried our tears. For all, except a few old people, had been born
either in captivity or during a blockade, and they did not long for a
liberty which they had never known. Who will believe it? What histories
will seriously discuss it, that Rome has to fight within her borders, not
for glory but for bare life; and that she does not fight even, but buys
the right to exist by giving gold and sacrificing all her substance? This
humiliation has been brought upon her, not by the fault of her emperors,
both of them most religious men [Arcadius and Honorius], but by the crime
of a half-barbarian traitor,(161)
(b) Jerome, Prefaces to Commentary on Ezekiel. (MSL, 25, 15:75.)
The fall of Rome.
Jerome's account of the capture of Rome by Alarich is greatly
exaggerated (see his Ep. 127, ad Principiam). By his very
exaggeration, however, one gains some impression of the shock the
event must have occasioned in the Roman world.
Preface to Book I. Intelligence has suddenly been brought to me of the
death of Pammachus and Marcella, the siege of Rome [A. D. 408], and the
falling asleep of many of my brethren and sisters. I was so stupefied and
dismayed that day and night I could think of nothing but the welfare of
all. But when the bright light of all the world was put out,(162) or,
rather, when the Roman Empire was decapitated, and, to speak more
correctly, the whole world perished in one city, "I became dumb and
humbled myself, and kept silence from good words, but my grief broke out
afresh, my heart was hot within me, and while I was musing the fire was
kindled" [Psalm 39:3, 4].
Preface to Book III. Who would believe that Rome, built up by the conquest
of the whole world, had collapsed; that she had become both the mother of
nations and their tomb; that all the shores of the East, of Egypt, of
Africa, which had once belonged to the imperial city should be filled with
the hosts of her men-servants and maid-servants; that every day holy
Bethlehem should be receiving as mendicants men and women who were once
noble and abounding in every kind of wealth?
(c) Theodosius II, Novella I, de Theodosiani Codicis Auctoritate; Feb.
The Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian, Augusti, to Florentius, Praetorian
Prefect of the East.
Our clemency has often been at a loss to understand the cause of the fact
that, although so many rewards are held out for the maintenance of arts
and studies, so few and rare are they who are fully endowed with a
knowledge of the civil law, and that although so many have grown pale from
late studies, scarcely one or two have gained a sound and complete
learning. When we consider the enormous multitude of books, the diversity
in the forms of process, and the difficulty of legal cases, and, further,
the huge mass of imperial constitutions which, hidden as it were under a
veil of gross mist and darkness, precludes man's intellect from gaining a
knowledge of them, we have performed a task needful for our age, and, the
darkness having been dispelled, we have given light to the laws by a brief
compendium. Noble men of approved faithfulness were selected, men of
well-known learning, to whom the matter was intrusted. We have published
the constitutions of former princes, cleared by interpretation of
difficulties so that men may no longer have to wait formidable responses
from expert lawyers as from a shrine, since it is quite plain what is the
value of a donation, by what action an inheritance is to be sued for, with
what words a contract is to be made. Thus having wiped out the cloud of
volumes, on which many wasted their lives and explained nothing in the
end, we establish a compendious knowledge of the imperial constitutions
since the time of the divine Constantine, and permit no one after the
first day of next January to use in courts and daily practice of law the
imperial law, or to draw up pleadings except from these books which bear
our name and are kept in the sacred archives.
To this we add that henceforward no constitution can be passed in the West
or in any other place by the unconquerable Emperor, the son of our
clemency, the everlasting Augustus Valentinian, or possess any legal
validity, except the same by a divine pragmatica be communicated to us.
The same rule is to be observed in the acts which are promulgated by us in
the East; and those are to be condemned as spurious which are not recorded
in the Theodosian Code [certain documents excepted which were kept in the
registers of bureaux].
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