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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

KING ATTILA

[12] FOR five centuries Gaul was now ruled by the Romans. The people hated their conquerors, for they were forced to pay them taxes, and until now, 50 B.C., they had been free, owing obedience to none. Taxes were to them the sign of their bondage.

Yet the Romans were not cruel to the people they had conquered. Indeed, they taught them many useful things, so that gradually the people became less wild and savage. Instead of mud huts they learned to build comfortable houses, and soon they possessed cities of which they were proud. They drained the dreary marshlands, made good roads and built bridges. They even dressed as did their conquerors, and spoke their language.

Many of the great forests, too, were cut down, and thus the wild beasts gradually disappeared, so that, instead of wild hogs, quiet sheep were to be seen browsing in the fields.

You remember that the winters in Gaul were bitterly cold. Now, as the forests were gradually cut down, the rays of the sun reached the earth and warmed it, so that the weather grew less severe.

In the south of Gaul the Romans then began to plant vines. These took root and spread, so that when Gaul became France the vine was already known all over the southern part of the country. Olives, too, began to be cultivated, and the olive crops were soon as valuable as the corn crops.

[13] Finding that the Druids, those mysterious white-robed priests, encouraged the Gauls to offer human sacrifices, the Romans banished them from the land. But while the Romans did their utmost to stamp out the ancient Druidical worship, in later years they brought to the Gauls a new religion, for about the year 244 A.D. Rome sent seven bishops into Gaul.

Little by little the Gospel spread among the fierce Gallic warriors, moving them sometimes to love and always to wonder, so strangely in their ears rang the tidings of peace and goodwill to man.

About seven years after the bishops reached Gaul, a church was founded at Paris, which in these far-off days was called Lutetia.

Lutetia had already become the capital of northern Gaul, and from this city the Christian religion began in 251 A.D. to spread rapidly all over the land.

Meanwhile the power of the Romans was growing less and less. And the wild barbarian tribes across the Rhine thought that now was the time to sweep down upon Gaul, and wrench her from the nation whose legions they had been used to fear.

The Germans, as these wild tribes were named, were in appearance much like the Gallic tribes they had come to conquer.

For the Germans had blue eyes and long yellow hair like the Gauls, although they were much taller than they, while over the Romans they towered like giants.

But while the Gauls wore bright colours and adorned themselves with ornaments, the Germans were content to wear only a rough skin, which they fastened round their bodies with a skewer or pin.

In other ways, too, the tribes were unlike each other, in spite of blue eyes and yellow hair.

The Gauls were ever ready to talk, to tell of their wonderful deeds, which deeds had not always taken place; [14] for the Gaul's imagination was as vivid as the clothes he liked to wear.

The Germans did not boast, indeed they talked but little. Yet they were determined and constant, and seldom failed in what they set their will to do.

In their home life, too, the Gauls and Germans had different customs. One of these was that the Gauls were served by slaves, whom they treated as they treated their beasts, while those who waited on the Germans sat round the hearths of their masters, and were treated as friends and comrades.

Three chief German tribes overran Gaul-the Visigoths, the Burgundians, and the Franks.

Julian, the Roman emperor, in 355 A.D. found that all his strength was needed to fight the Franks, who were the most powerful of the three German tribes. In spite of all he could do, however, northern Gaul was soon seized and held by these wild ambitious Germans.

The emperor therefore went himself to the north, and set up his court at Paris, or Lutetia, as this small village, built on a little island in the river Seine, was then called. He hoped by his presence to subdue the Franks.

But his hope was vain, and in 357 A.D. Lutetia itself, which Julian loved for its sea breezes and its vines and figs, was filled with Franks, and the emperor was forced to admit them to his court, and even to employ them in his army.

So great became the power of these persistent Franks, that in 387 A.D. Argobast, one of their chiefs, became Emperor of the West in all but name. The real emperor was Theodosius, but Argobast was powerful enough to put his own followers into every position of trust in the kingdom.

When Theodosius died, his successor Valentinian was determined to get rid of Argobast. He thought it would be a simple matter to depose the Frank, and himself handed [15] him a writ or paper, bidding him give up all claim to the imperial throne.

With true Frankish scorn for his enemy, Argobast tore up the writ, trampled it beneath his feet in the presence of Valentinian, and then went on his way as before.

When, a short time after this, Valentinian was strangled as he slept, Argobast put Eugenius, who had been a school master on the emperor's seat. He himself took the highest position next to the emperor, being called a "Mayor of the Palace."

In 394 A.D. Argobast, who was a pagan, led the emperor's forces to battle against the Christians in Gaul.

Eugenius, who himself was on the battlefield, was lulled and his army utterly defeated. Then Argobast fearing that he might be captured and slain by the enemy, fell upon his sword and died.

In northern Gaul the Franks were now more powerful than the Romans. In the south the Visigoths and Burgundians. the other great German tribes, had made a home for themselves, and were living more or less peaceably among the Romans and Gauls. The country might therefore soon have been at peace, but in 450 A.D. a barbarous people called the Huns invaded the land. The Huns came from the east, where they had already laid waste country and town. They had no wish to conquer Gaul and settle in it. All they cared for was to conquer and destroy.

'The Huns were led by their king, Attila, who was so cruel that he was named "The Scourge of God."

Against so dread a foe all the different tribes in Gaul united, being led by Theodoric, a Visigoth, and Aetius, a Roman general. It was a conflict on which much depended, for should the Huns conquer Gaul they would attack Spam, Italy and finally rule over the whole western world.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 451 A.D., Attila besieged Orleans. The town was considered sacred in those days and was called Aureliacum.

[16] For a time the city held out bravely, but at length the bishop sent a message to Aetius, saying, l If thou be not here this very day, my son, it will be too late."

Yet still Aetius did not come, and Orleans was forced to surrender. As the Huns began to plunder the city, however, loud shouts rent the air. Aetius and Theodoric had come at last. They fell upon the Huns so fiercely that Attila was forced to retreat.

At length they reached the plains of Chalons-sur-Marne. Aetius and Theodoric, who had followed, were now close behind. Attila ordered his men to halt. He was determined to fight and overthrow the bold Roman, the undaunted Visigoth, who had forced him to leave Orleans, his hardly won prize.

On the plains of Chalons-sur-Marne a terrible battle then began. All afternoon and evening the struggle lasted. Theodoric was slain, and when night came those who had fallen were too many to be numbered.

Aetius and his followers were victorious. Attila, expecting that his camp would be attacked, made ready a great funeral-pyre on which he meant to die rather than be captured by the Romans and Franks. But Aetius was worn out after the battle, and the Huns were free to retreat across the Rhine. Thus the country was saved from King Attila and his barbarous followers.

Gaul was now no longer a province of Rome. The German tribes had gradually taken possession of the country. Rome, indeed, had fallen on such evil days, that she soon ceased to have an emperor of her own. Even as her first emperor was a Romulus, so was her last, who in 476 A.D. was deposed. There was now no Emperor of the West, the Emperor of the East ruling supreme from the Bosphorus, until the year 800 A.D., when, as you shall hear, Charles the Great became the head of the Holy Roman Empire with the title "Emperor of Rome."


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