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VI. Huns Looting A Roman Villa In Gaul (From the fainting by Georges Rochegrosse)

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[450-451 A.D.]

Scythia, from the Volga perhaps to the Danube, obeyed the warlike summons of Attila. From the royal village, in the plains of Hungary, his stan dard moved towards the west and, after a march of seven or eight hundred miles he reached the conflux of the Rhine and the Nicer (Neckar); where he was joined by the Franks, who adhered to his ally, the elder of the sons of Clodion. A troop of light barbarians, who roamed in quest of plunder, might choose the winter for the convenience of passing the river on the ice; but the innumerable cavalry of the Huns required such plenty of forage and provisions as could be procured only in a milder season; the Hercynian forest supplied materials for a bridge of boats; and the hostile myriads were poured, with resistless violence, into the Belgic provinces.

The consternation of Gaul was universal; and the various fortunes of its cities have been adorned by tradition with martyrdoms and miracles. Tricassae (Troyes) was saved by the merits of St. Lupus; St. Servatius was removed from the world, that he might not behold the ruin of Aduataca Tungrorum (Tongres); and the prayers of St. Genevieve diverted the march of Attila from the neighbourhood of Lutetia Parisiarum (Paris). But as the greatest part of the Gallic cities were alike destitute of saints and soldiers, they were besieged and stormed by the Huns, who practised, in the example of Mettis (Metz), their customary maxims of war. They involved, in a promiscuous massacre, the priests who served at the altar, and the infants, who, in the hour of danger, had been providently baptised by the bishop; the flourishing city was delivered to the flames, and a solitary chapel of St. Stephen marked the place where it formerly stood. From the Rhine and the Mosella (Moselle), Attila advanced into the heart of Gaul, crossed the Sequana (Seine) at Autesiodorum (Auxerre), and, after a long and laborious march, fixed his camp under the walls of Orleans. He was desirous of securing his conquests by the possession of an advantageous post, which commanded the passage of the Loire; and he depended on the secret invitation of Sangiban, king of the Alani, who had promised to betray the city and to revolt from the service of the empire. But this treacherous conspiracy was detected and disappointed. Orleans had been strengthened with recent fortifications; and the assaults of the Huns were vigorously repelled by the faithful valour of the soldiers or citizens, who defended the place.

The pastoral diligence of Anianus, a bishop of primitive sanctity and consummate prudence, exhausted every art of religious policy to support their courage till the arrival of the expected succours. After an obstinate siege, the walls were shaken by the battering-rams; the Huns had already occupied the suburbs; and the people who were incapable of bearing arms lay prostrate in prayer. Anianus, who anxiously counted the days and hours, despatched a trusty messenger to observe, from the rampart, the face of the distant country. He returned twice, without any intelligence that could inspire hope or comfort; but in his third report he mentioned a small cloud which he had faintly descried at the extremity of the horizon. "It is the aid of God !" exclaimed the bishop, in a tone of pious confidence; and the whole multitude repeated after him, "It is the aid of God!" The remote object, on which every eye was fixed, became each moment larger and more distinct; the Roman and Gothic banners were gradually perceived; and a favourable wind blowing aside the dust discovered, in deep array, the impatient squadrons of Aetius and Theodoric, who pressed forward to the relief of Orleans.

The facility with which Attila had penetrated into the heart of Gaul may be ascribed to his insidious policy, as well as to the terror of his arms. [451 A.D.]

His public declarations were skilfully mitigated by his private assurances; he alternately soothed and threatened the Romans and the Goths; and the courts of Ravenna and Tolosa, mutually suspicious of each other's intentions, beheld with supine indifference the approach of their common enemy. Aetius was the sole guardian of the public safety; but his wisest measures were embarrassed by a faction which, since the death of Placidia, infested the imperial palace; the youth of Italy trembled at the sound of the trumpet; and the barbarians, who, from fear or affection, were inclined to the cause of Attila, awaited with doubtful and venal faith the event of the war. The patrician passed the Alps at the head of some troops, whose strength and numbers scarcely deserved the name of an army. But on his arrival at Arelate, or Lugdunum he was confounded by the intelligence that the Visigoths, refusing to embrace the defence of Gaul, had determined to expect within their own territories the formidable invader whom they professed to despise. The senator Avitus, who after the honourable exercise of the praetorian prefecture had retired to his'estate in Auvergne, was persuaded to accept the important embassy, which he executed with ability and success. He represented to Theodoric that an ambitious conqueror, who aspired to the dominion of the earth, could be resisted only by the firm and unanimous alliance of the powers whom he laboured to oppress. The lively eloquence of Avitus inflamed the Gothic warriors by the description of the injuries which their ancestors had suffered from the Huns; whose implacable fury still pursued them from the Danube to the foot of the Pyrenees. He strenuously urged that it was the duty of every Christian to save from sacrilegious violation the churches of God and the relics of the saints; that it was the interest of every barbarian, who had acquired a settlement in Gaul, to defend the fields and vineyards which were cultivated for his use against the desolation of the Scythian shepherds. Theodoric yielded to the evidence of truth; adopted the measure at once the most prudent and the most honourable, and declared that, as the faithful ally of Aetius and the Romans, he was ready to expose his life and kingdom for the common safety of Gaul. The Visigoths, who at that time were in the mature vigour of their fame and power, obeyed with alacrity the signal of war; prepared their arms and horses, and assembled under the standard of their aged king, who was resolved with his two eldest sons Torismond and Theodoric, to command in person his numerous and valiant people. The example of the Goths determined several tribes or nations, that seemed to fluctuate between the Huns and the Romans. The indefatigable diligence of the patrician gradually collected the troops of Gaul and Germany, who had formerly acknowledged themselves the subjects, or soldiers, of the republic, but who now claimed the rewards of voluntary service and the rank of independent allies — the Laeti, the Armoricans, the Breones, the Saxons, the Burgundiones, the Sarmatians or Alani, the Ripuarians, and the Franks who followed Meroveus as their lawful prince. Such was the various army which, under the conduct of Aetius and Theodoric, advanced by rapid marches to relieve Orleans and to give battle to the innumerable host of Attila. On their approach, the king of the Huns immediately raised the siege, and sounded a retreat to recall the foremost of his troops from the pillage of a city which they had already entered. The valour of Attila was always guided by his prudence; and as he foresaw the fatal consequences of a defeat in the heart of Gaul, he repassed the Seine, and expected the enemy in the plains of Chalons, whose smooth and level surface was adapted to the opera

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