|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
THE FALL OF ROME
THE TWILIGHT OF ROME
 THE text-books of ancient History give the date 476 as the
year in which Rome fell, because in that year the last emperor
was driven off his throne. But Rome, which was not built in
a day, took a long time falling. The process was so slow and
so gradual that most Romans did not realise how their old
world was coming to an end. They complained about the unrest
of the times—they grumbled about the high prices of food
and about the low wages of the workmen—they cursed the
profiteers who had a monopoly of the grain and the wool and
the gold coin. Occasionally they rebelled against an unusually
rapacious governor. But the majority of the people during the
first four centuries of our era ate and drank (whatever their
purse allowed them to buy) and hated or loved (according to
their nature) and went to the theatre (whenever there was a
free show of fighting gladiators) or starved in the slums of the
big cities, utterly ignorant of the fact that their empire had
outlived its usefulness and was doomed to perish.
How could they realise the threatened danger? Rome
made a fine showing of outward glory. Well-paved roads connected
the different provinces, the imperial police were active
and showed little tenderness for highwaymen. The frontier
was closely guarded against the savage tribes who seemed to
be occupying the waste lands of northern Europe. The whole
world was paying tribute to the mighty city of Rome, and a
 score of able men were working day and night to undo the
mistakes of the past and bring about a return to the happier
conditions of the early Republic.
But the underlying causes of the decay of the State, of
which I have told you in a former chapter, had not been
removed and reform therefore was impossible.
Rome was, first and last and all the time, a city-state as
Athens and Corinth had been city-states in ancient Hellas. It
had been able to dominate the Italian peninsula. But Rome
as the ruler of the entire civilised world was a political
impossibility and could not endure. Her young men were killed in
her endless wars. Her farmers were ruined by long military
service and by taxation. They either became professional
beggars or hired themselves out to rich landowners who gave
them board and lodging in exchange for their services and
made them "serfs," those unfortunate human beings who are
neither slaves nor freemen, but who have become part of the
soil upon which they work, like so many cows, and the trees.
The Empire, the State, had become everything. The common
citizen had dwindled down to less than nothing. As for
the slaves, they had heard the words that were spoken by Paul.
They had accepted the message of the humble carpenter of
Nazareth. They did not rebel against their masters. On the
contrary, they had been taught to be meek and they obeyed
their superiors. But they had lost all interest in the affairs
of this world which had proved such a miserable place of abode.
They were willing to fight the good fight that they might enter
into the Kingdom of Heaven. But they were not willing to
engage in warfare for the benefit of an ambitious emperor who
aspired to glory by way of a foreign campaign in the land of
the Parthians or the Numidians or the Scots.
And so conditions grew worse as the centuries went by.
The first Emperors had continued the tradition of "leadership"
which had given the old tribal chieftains such a hold upon
their subjects. But the Emperors of the second and third
centuries were Barrack-Emperors, professional soldiers, who
existed by the grace of their body-guards, the so-called
Prae-  torians. They succeeded each other with terrifying rapidity,
murdering their way into the palace and being murdered out
of it as soon as their successors had become rich enough to bribe
the guards into a new rebellion.
Meanwhile the barbarians were hammering at the gates of
the northern frontier. As there were no longer any native
Roman armies to stop their progress, foreign mercenaries had
to be hired to fight the invader. As the foreign soldier happened
to be of the same blood as his supposed enemy, he was
apt to be quite lenient when he engaged in battle. Finally,
by way of experiment, a few tribes were allowed to settle
within the confines of the Empire. Others followed. Soon
these tribes complained bitterly of the greedy Roman
tax-gatherers, who took away their last penny. When they got
no redress they marched to Rome and loudly demanded that
they be heard.
WHEN THE BARBARIANS GOT THROUGH WITH A ROMAN CITY
This made Rome very uncomfortable as an Imperial residence.
Constantine (who ruled from 323 to 337) looked for
a new capital. He chose Byzantium, the gate-way for the
commerce between Europe and Asia. The city was renamed
 Constantinople, and the court moved eastward. When Constantine
died, his two sons, for the sake of a more efficient
administration, divided the Empire between them. The elder
lived in Rome and ruled in the west. The younger stayed in
Constantinople and was master of the east.
Then came the fourth century and the terrible visitation
of the Huns, those mysterious Asiatic horsemen who for more
than two centuries maintained themselves in Northern Europe
and continued their career of bloodshed until they were defeated
near Chalons-sur-Marne in France in the year 451.
As soon as the Huns had reached the Danube they had begun
to press hard upon the Goths. The Goths, in order to save
themselves, were thereupon obliged to invade Rome. The
Emperor Valens tried to stop them, but was killed near
Adrianople in the year 378. Twenty-two years later, under
their king, Alaric, these same West Goths marched westward
and attacked Rome. They did not plunder, and destroyed
only a few palaces. Next came the Vandals, and showed less
respect for the venerable traditions of the city. Then the
Burgundians. Then the East Goths. Then the Alemanni.
Then the Franks. There was no end to the invasions. Rome
at last was at the mercy of every ambitious highway robber
who could gather a few followers.
In the year 402 the Emperor fled to Ravenna, which was
a sea-port and strongly fortified, and there, in the year 475,
Odoacer, commander of a regiment of the German mercenaries,
who wanted the farms of Italy to be divided among themselves,
gently but effectively pushed Romulus Augustulus, the
last of the emperors who ruled the western division, from his
throne, and proclaimed himself Patriarch or ruler of Rome.
The eastern Emperor, who was very busy with his own affairs,
recognised him, and for ten years Odoacer ruled what was
left of the western provinces.
A few years later, Theodoric, King of the East Goths,
invaded the newly formed Patriciat, took Ravenna, murdered
Odoacer at his own dinner table, and established a Gothic
 Kingdom amidst the ruins of the western part of the Empire.
This Patriciate state did not last long. In the sixth century a
motley crowd of Longobards and Saxons and Slavs and Avars
invaded Italy, destroyed the Gothic kingdom, and established
a new state of which Pavia became the capital.
Then at last the imperial city sank into a state of utter
neglect and despair. The ancient palaces had been plundered
time and again. The schools had been burned down. The
teachers had been starved to death. The rich people had been
thrown out of their villas which were now inhabited by
evil-smelling and hairy barbarians. The roads had fallen into
decay. The old bridges were gone and commerce had come
to a standstill. Civilisation—the product of thousands of years
of patient labor on the part of Egyptians and Babylonians and
Greeks and Romans, which had lifted man high above the
most daring dreams of his earliest ancestors, threatened to
perish from the western continent.
THE INVASIONS OF THE BARBARIANS
It is true that in the far east, Constantinople continued to
be the centre of an Empire for another thousand years. But
it hardly counted as a part of the European continent. Its
interests lay in the east. It began to forget its western origin.
Gradually the Roman language was given up for the Greek.
The Roman alphabet was discarded and Roman law was written
in Greek characters and explained by Greek judges. The
Emperor became an Asiatic despot, worshipped as the god-like
kings of Thebes had been worshipped in the valley of the
Nile, three thousand years before. When missionaries of the
Byzantine church looked for fresh fields of activity, they went
eastward and carried the civilisation of Byzantium into the
vast wilderness of Russia.
As for the west, it was left to the mercies of the Barbarians.
For twelve generations, murder, war, arson, plundering were
the order of the day. One thing—and one thing alone—saved
Europe from complete destruction, from a return to the days
of cave-men and the hyena.
This was the church—the flock of humble men and women
 who for many centuries had confessed themselves the followers
of Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth, who had been
killed that the mighty Roman Empire might be saved the
trouble of a street-riot in a little city somewhere along the
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