Book 1, Chapter 5, 296 AD to 410 AD – Decline of the Roman Power – Continued
“Such, upon the severest and most impartial examination of the facts which we possess, seems to have been the condition of the British population under the Romans. No otherwise can we even plausibly account for the instantaneous collapse of the imperial authority, it fell with one vast and sudden ruin, the moment the artificial supports upon which it relied, were removed. Had Britain not been utterly exhausted by maladministration it had there remained men to form a reserve, and resources to victual an army.
The last commander, who received the mandate of recall, would probably have thrown off his allegiance, and proclaimed himself a competitor for empire. Many tried the perilous game; all lost it, because the country was incapable of furnishing the means to maintain a contest: and in the meanwhile, the Saxons proceeded to settle the question in their own way. As such a state of society supplied no materials for the support of the Roman power, so it furnished no elements of self-subsistence when that power was removed, when that hour at length arrived, whose possibility overweening confidence in the fortune of the city had never condescended to contemplate. Before the eyes of all the nations, and amidst the ruins of a world falling to pieces in confusion, was this awful lesson written in gigantic characters by the hand of God, that authority which rules it, which rules for its own selfish ends alone, is smitten with weakness, and shall not endure. It was then that a long-delayed, but not the less awful retribution burst upon the enfeebled empire. Goth and Vandal, Frank and Sueve and Saxon lacerated its defenceless frontiers, the terrible Attila the Scourge of God ravaged with impunity its fairest provinces, the eternal city itself twice owed its safety to the superstition or the contemptuous mercy of the barbarians, whose forefathers had trembled at its name even in the depth of their forest fastnesses, the legions, unable to maintain themselves, and called but called in vain to defend a state perishing by its own corruptions, left Britain ex-posed to the attacks of fierce and barbarous enemies that thronged on every side.”
This occurred at the beginning of the fourth century, when Honorius, son of Theodosius, was emperor of the West. The reins of government, nominally held in his feeble hands, were in reality managed by Stilicho, whom the poet Claudian has panegyrised. For a time, Stilicho successfully resisted the inroads of the barbarians, calling to his aid the legions and the mercenary troops from distant provinces, but on his death or disgrace, there was no one competent to stem the fierce and mighty torrent which then swept downwards with resistless force, compelling the Romans, in self-defence, to abandon colonies and settlements in order to defend the central authority, a procedure which had never before been adopted in the national history, but which shows the weakened condition, to which the overgrown empire had been brought.
Chapter 5, Christianity in Britain
Chapter 5, Decline of the Roman Power
Effect Upon Britain
Chapter 5, The Romans Leave Britain
Categories: Book 1