The Invasion of Europe
by the Barbarians
Decline of the Roman Power in the West
The forty years succeeding the collapse of the Empire of the Huns, from about 454 to 493, were marked by the gradual advance of the German power in Gaul and Spain; while before 493 Italy itself had  become a German kingdom. Now the steady increase of the barbarian power, and the steady decline of the imperial power, in the west during these years was largely conditioned (as was noted in an earlier lecture) by the existence and hostility of the Vandal power in north Africa. The Vandal king Gaiseric had formed a strong fleet with which he was able to attack and plunder Italy, as well as to occupy Sicily and Sardinia. I may here make a remark on the general significance of the Vandals in European history. Their kingdom lasted for just a hundred years. Then it was reconquered by the Empire, and the Vandal name disappeared from among the nations. What, then, was the historical significance of this people? Apart from devastation and destruction, what did they contribute, did they contribute anything, towards the permanent shaping of Europe? The destinies of Spain were not seriously affected by their settlement, which in the case of that country amounted to little more than a transit. The fortunes of Spain could not have been very different if the Vandals had never set foot in the peninsula. Nevertheless I conceive that the Vandals were an important factor, though they built up no abiding kingdom. Their occupation of Africa; the strong and formidable, though only temporary power which Gaiseric established at Carthage, supported by the sea-power which he organised in the Mediterranean—these were circumstances of inestimable consequence for the development of events in Europe. The presence of this enemy in Africa—and Gaiseric proved an enemy more irreconcilable than any other German foe—immeasurably weakened the Roman power in all the western provinces. It had the direct result of controlling  the corn supply of Italy, and it prevented the Roman government from acting with effectual vigour in either Gaul or Spam. If the Romans had continued to hold Africa—if the Vandals had not been there—there can be little doubt that the imperial power would have maintained itself for a far longer period in Italy, and would have offered far more effective opposition to the expansion of the Germans in Gaul and Spain. In my view, therefore, the contribution which the Vandals made to the shaping of Europe was this: the very existence of their kingdom in Africa, and of their naval power in the Mediterranean, acted as a powerful protection for the growth of the new German kingdoms in Gaul and Spain, and ultimately helped the founding of a German kingdom in Italy, by dividing, diverting, and weakening the forces of the Empire. The Vandals had got round, as it were, to the rear of the Empire; and the effect of their powerful presence there was enhanced by the hostile and aggressive attitude which they continuously adopted.
Now you must observe that the fact of Ricimer's being a German was a significant and determining factor in the situation. If he had not been a German, the situation would have been much simpler; for he could have assumed the imperial purple himself; the real and the nominal power would have been combined in the same hands; and the problem of government would have been solved. His German birth excluded this solution. This is a very remarkable thing. Germans like Stilicho and Ricimer, who attained to the highest posts in the imperial service, who might even intermarry with the imperial house, could not venture to take the last great step and mount the imperial throne. Just so much, just at the pinnacle, they were still outsiders. And they fully recognised this disability themselves. An Emperor Ricimer would have seemed to all men, and to Ricimer himself, impossible. This disability still resting upon men of pure German descent within the Empire, and their own deference to the prevailing sentiment, are highly significant.
It is also to be noted that in the intervals between the reigns of the emperors whom Ricimer set up and pulled down, when there was no emperor regnant in Italy, it did not mean that there was no emperor at all. At such times the imperial authority was entirely invested in the eastern emperor who reigned  at Constantinople, the Emperor Leo; and this, too, was fully acknowledged by Ricimer, who indeed selected two of his emperors by arrangement with Leo.
But hardly had the deadlock arisen between Gundobad and the Emperor Leo, when Gundobad disappeared from the scene. A new ambition was  suddenly opened to him, more alluring than the government of Italy, viz. the government of his father's Burgundian realm—a realm which was still nominally an imperial dependency. His father had died, and Gundobad withdrew to Burgundy to endeavour to secure his own election. He succeeded, and we shall meet him hereafter on the Burgundian throne. After his departure the Emperor Julius Nepos, Leo's candidate, landed in Italy and deposed Glycerius. But Nepos was not equal to the situation. He very wisely negotiated a peace with Euric, king of the West Goths, of whose reign I shall presently have to speak; and he then appointed a certain Roman, Orestes by name, to be commander-in-chief, magister militum, in Gaul, to defend the Roman territory there. Orestes had been in Attila's service: he had lived much with barbarians of all kinds, and Nepos thought that he was making a very clever choice in selecting Orestes to command an army of barbarian soldiers. I may point out that after the break-up of Attila's empire there had been an immense influx of barbarian mercenaries into the Roman service. The army which Orestes now commanded was composed not only of Germans drawn from families long settled in the Empire but also of these new adventurers who had drifted into Italy through Noricum and Pannonia. Nepos was deceived in Orestes; Orestes was ambitious, and instead of going to Gaul, as he had been told, he marched on Ravenna. Nepos immediately fled to Dalmatia. Italy was for the moment in the power of Orestes. He did not seize the Empire himself, he preferred the double arrangement which had prevailed in the time of Ricimer, though there was not now the same necessity for it. Keeping the military power  himself, he invested his child-son Romulus Augustulus with the imperial purple. But before Orestes had established his government he was surprised by a new situation. His host of barbarian soldiers, who were largely Heruls, suddenly formulated a demand. They were dissatisfied with the arrangements for quartering them. Their wives and children lived in the garrison towns in their neighbourhood, but they had no proper homes or hearths. The idea occurred to them that arrangements might be made in their behalf in Italy similar to those which had been made in Gaul, for instance, in behalf of the Visigoths and the Burgundians. Why should not they obtain permanent quarters, abiding homes, on the large estates, the latifundia, of Italy? This feeling prevailed in the host, and the officers formulated a demand which they laid before Orestes. The demand simply was that the normal system of hospitalitas should be adopted in Italy for their benefit, i.e. that a third part of the Italian soil should be divided among them. The sympathies or prejudices of Orestes were too Roman to let him entertain this demand; Italy had so far been sacrosanct from barbarian settlements. He refused, and his refusal led to a revolution. The mercenary soldiers found a leader in an officer who was thoroughly representative of themselves, an adventurer who had come from beyond the Danube to seek his fortunes, and had entered the service of the Empire. This was Odovacar: he was probably a Scirian, possibly a Rugian (there is a discrepancy in the authorities), at all events he belonged to one of the smaller East German peoples who had originally come from regions on the lower Oder, had formed part of Attila's empire, and had partly settled on the  middle Danube, partly entered Roman service after the fall of that empire. Odovacar now undertook to realise the claim of the soldiers, and consequently there was a revolution. Orestes was put to death, and his son the Emperor Romulus Augustulus abdicated. The power in Italy was in the hands of Odovacar. We are in the year 476.
This limited recognition was not what Odovacar had hoped for; the express reserve of the rights of Julius Nepos was most unsatisfactory; there was always a chance that those rights might at a favourable moment be enforced. Accordingly, while he accepted the patriciate from Zeno, and so legitimised his position as an imperial minister in the eyes of Italy, he fortified himself by assuming another title which must have expressed his relation to the barbarian army, viz. the title of king, rex. We do not know what solemnity or form accompanied the assumption of this title. But its effect was to give Odovacar the double character of a German king as well as an imperial officer. A close parallel to this double position is that of Alaric at the close of the fourth century. He was king of the Goths, but at the same time he was magister militum in Illyricum. So Odovacar was king of the Germans who through him obtained settlements in Italy, while he was also a Patricius, acting under the authority of the Emperor Zeno. There was thus theoretically no detachment of Italy from the Empire in the days of Odovacar any more than there had been a detachment of Illyricum in the days of Alaric. The position of Odovacar was still further regularised a few years later (480) by the death of Julius Nepos.
The death of Julius Nepos is an event which has some significance; it marks the cessation of a separate line of emperors in the west. But if I have made clear the circumstances of the revolution headed by Odovacar, you will perceive that this event, though of importance in the history of Italy, has not the importance and significance which has been commonly ascribed  to it. The year 476 has been generally taken as a great landmark, and the event has been commonly described as the fall of the Western Empire. This unfortunate expression conveys a wholly erroneous idea of the bearings of Odovacar's revolution. Let me observe in the first place that the expression 'Western Empire' is constitutionally improper; it may be convenient as a loose expression for the western provinces of the Empire which, since Theodosius the Great, had been ruled by an emperor at Rome or Ravenna; but there was only one empire, and at the time no one would have dreamed of talking of two. On several occasions during the fifth century the death or deposition of an emperor at Rome or Ravenna had been followed by a considerable space of time in which no successor was elected. During such time the supremacy and authority of the emperor at Constantinople were always acknowledged. Now at any of those times it would have been quite possible for the emperor at Constantinople to have asserted his authority in the western provinces, or for Italy and the western provinces to have said to him: "We do not want a second emperor; you are sufficient." And if such a thing had happened, no one could have possibly described it as a fall of the Western Empire. Yet what happened in 476 was exactly analogous. In the second place, this event concerns specially the history of Italy, in the same way as the settlements of the Visigoths and Burgundians concerned the history of Gaul; and the settlement of the Germans in Italy does not directly affect the western provinces as a whole. It is then a misleading misuse of words to speak of a fall of the Western Empire in 476: the revolution of that year marks but a stage,  and that not the last stage, in the encroachments of the barbarian settlers in the western provinces.
Odovacar was not hampered, as Ricimer had been, by the nominal authority of a resident emperor; he was able to pursue his own policy without any embarrassment, and to act as an independent ruler. His policy was one of peace; he was entirely averse from aggression. It must be noted, too, that his position was much easier than that of Ricimer, because the Vandal hostilities had ceased. Gaiseric had died in 477; and two years before his death he had made peace with Rome, and Odovacar had induced him to restore Sicily in return for a yearly payment. The cessation of the Vandal danger was of immense importance for Odovacar's government; the only task before it which involved warfare was to meet a danger which threatened on the northern frontier of Italy. This danger sprang from the kingdom of the Rugians on the Danube, to the north of Noricum. The Danubian provinces were completely disorganised; government had practically ceased; and the provincials were exposed not only to the oppression of the Rugians but to the incursions of other Germans—Alamanni, Thuringians, and Heruls. There is a famous work which gives a very vivid picture of the condition of Noricum and the adjacent lands at this period. It is the Life of St. Severinus, written a few years later by Eugippius, and I recommend it to your attention. Severinus was the only protection the provincials had, except the walls of their towns; he was a powerful protector, for he exercised immense influence upon the barbarians. This influence, due to his strong personality and his devoted life, was increased by a belief in his miraculous powers and prophetic faculty. But  though the self-sacrificing efforts of this monk did something to alleviate the condition of those lands and to restrain the cruelties of the barbarians, the miseries of the time in that quarter of Europe can hardly be exaggerated. Odovacar came to the rescue. He overthrew the Rugian kingdom, which had no elements of strength, and he removed the Roman provincials from the dangerous frontier to the shelter of Italy.
It is obvious that the order of things introduced by Odovacar could hardly be permanent. His position was essentially weak. He was a patrician and he was a king, but in neither capacity had he any firm support. He had received from Constantinople only a reserved recognition; and as a German king he had no people. For the Germans to whom he owed his elevation were a mixed company of adventurers, fragments of many folks; there was no close or intimate bond among them, no national feeling. Odovacar, however, attempted and not unsuccessfully to found his power on closer co-operation with the senate.
The regime was in its very nature transitory. Its significance is twofold; on the one hand as a continuation of the regime of Ricimer—this side is represented by Odovacar in his character of patrician; on the other hand, as preparing for the foundation of a true German kingdom in Italy—this side is represented in his character as king.
[The Ostrogothic Conquest of Italy]