Famous Men of The Middle Ages
John H. Haaren, LL.D. and A. B. Poland, Ph.D.
Part 1 out of 3
XXXI Warwick the King-Maker (1428-1471). . . . 263
The Gods of the Teutons In the little volume called The Famous
Men of Rome you have read about the great empire which the Romans
established. Now we come to a time when the power of Rome was
broken and tribes of barbarians who lived north of the Danube and
the Rhine took possession of lands that had been part of the Roman
Empire. These tribes were the Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks and
Anglo-Saxons. From them have come the greatest nations of modern
times. All except the Huns belonged to the same race and are known
as Teutons. They were war-like, savage and cruel. They spoke the
same language--though in different dialects--and worshiped the same
gods. Like the old Greeks and Romans they had many gods.
Woden, who was also called Odin, was the greatest of all. His name
means "mighty warrior," and he was king of all the gods. He rode
through the air mounted on Sleipnir, an eightfooted horse fleeter
than the eagle. When the tempest roared the Teutons said it was
the snorting of Sleipnir. When their ships came safely into port
they said it was Woden's breath that had filled their sails and
wafted their vessels over the blue waters.
Thor, a son of Woden, ranked next to him among the gods. He rode
through the air in a chariot drawn by goats. The Germans called him
Donar and Thunar, words which are like our word thunder. From this
we can see that he was the thunder god. In his hand he carried a
wonderful hammer which always came back to his hand when he threw
it. Its head was so bright that as it flew through the air it made
the lightning. When it struck the vast ice mountains they reeled
and splintered into fragments, and thus Thor's hammer made thunder.
Another great god of our ancestors was Tiew. He was a son of
Woden and was the god of battle. He was armed with a sword which
flashed like lightning when he brandished it. A savage chief
named Attila routed the armies of the Romans and so terrified all
the world that he was called "The Scourge of God." His people
believed that he gained his victories because he had the sword of
Tiew, which a herdsman chanced to find where the god had allowed
it to fall. The Teutons prayed to Tiew when they went into battle.
Frija (free' ya) was the wife of Woden and the queen of the gods.
She ruled the bright clouds that gleam in the summer sky, and caused
them to pour their showers on meadow and forest and mountain.
Four of the days of the week are named after these gods. Tuesday
means the day of Tiew; Wednesday, the day of Woden; Thursday, the
day of Thor; and Friday, the day of Frija.
Frija's son was Baldur; who was the favorite of all the gods. Only
Loki, the spirit of evil, hated him. Baldur's face was as bright
as sunshine. His hair gleamed like burnished gold. Wherever he
went night was turned into day.
One morning when he looked toward earth from his father Woden's
palace black clouds covered the sky, but he saw a splendid rainbow
reaching down from the clouds to the earth. Baldur walked upon
this rainbow from the home of the gods to the dwellings of men.
The rainbow was a bridge upon which the gods used to come to earth.
When Baldur stepped from the rainbow-bridge to the earth he saw a
king's daughter so beautiful that he fell in love with her.
But an earthly prince had also fallen in love with her. So he and
Baldur fought for her hand. Baldur was a god and hence was very
much stronger than the prince. But some of Baldur's magic food
was given to the prince and it made him as strong as Baldur.
Frija heard about this and feared that Baldur was doomed to be
killed. So she went to every beast on the land and every fish of
the sea and every bird of the air and to every tree of the wood and
every plant of the field and made each promise not to hurt Baldur.
But she forgot the mistletoe. So Loki, who always tried to do
mischief, made an arrow of mistletoe, and gave it to the prince
who shot and killed Baldur with it.
Then all the gods wept, the summer breeze wailed, the leaves fell
from the sorrowing trees, the flowers faded and died from grief, and
the earth grew stiff and cold. Bruin, the bear, and his neighbors,
the hedgehogs and squirrels, crept into holes and refused to eat
for weeks and weeks.
The pleasure of all living things in Baldur's presence means the
happiness that the sunlight brings. The sorrow of all living things
at his death means the gloom of northern countries when winter
The Valkyries were beautiful female warriors. They had some
of Woden's own strength and were armed with helmet and shield and
spear. Like Woden, they rode unseen through the air and their
horses were almost as swift as Sleipnir himself. They swiftly
carried Woden's favorite warriors to Valhalla, the hall of the
slain. The walls of Valhalla were hung with shields; its ceiling
glittered with polished spearheads. From its five hundred and
forty gates, each wide enough for eight hundred men abreast to march
through, the warriors rushed every morning to fight a battle that
lasted till nightfall and began again at the break of each day.
When the heroes returned to Valhalla the Valkyries served them with
goblets of mead such as Woden drank himself.
The Teutons believed that before there were any gods or any world
there was a great empty space where the world now is. It was called
by the curious name Ginnungagap, which means a yawning abyss.
To the north of Ginnungagap it was bitterly cold. Nothing was
there but fields of snow and mountains of ice. To the south of
Ginnungagap was a region where frost and snow were never seen. It
was always bright, and was the home of light and heat. The sunshine
from the South melted the ice mountains of the North so that they
toppled over and fell into Ginnungagap. There they were changed
into a frost giant whose name was Ymir (e'mir). He had three sons.
They and their father were so strong that the gods were afraid of
So Woden and his brothers killed Ymir. They broke his body in pieces
and made the world of them. His bones and teeth became mountains
and rocks; his hair became leaves for trees and plants; out of his
skull was made the sky.
But Ymir was colder than ice, and the earth that was made of his
body was so cold that nothing could live or grow upon it. So the
gods took sparks from the home of light and set them in the sky.
Two big ones were the sun and moon and the little ones were the
stars. Then the earth became warm. Trees grew and flowers bloomed,
so that the world was a beautiful home for men.
Of all the trees the most wonderful was a great ash tree, sometimes
called the "world tree." Its branches covered the earth and reached
beyond the sky till they almost touched the stars. Its roots ran
in three directions, to heaven, to the frost giants' home and to
the under-world, beneath the earth.
Near the roots in the dark under-world sat the Norns, or fates.
Each held a bowl with which she dipped water out of a sacred spring
and poured it upon the roots of the ash tree. This was the reason
why this wonderful tree was always growing, and why it grew as high
as the sky.
When Woden killed Ymir he tried to kill all Ymir's children too;
but one escaped, and ever after he and his family, the frost giants,
tried to do mischief, and fought against gods and men.
According to the belief of the Teutons these wicked giants will
some day destroy the beautiful world. Even the gods themselves
will be killed in a dreadful battle with them. First of all will
come three terrible winters without any spring or summer. The sun
and moon will cease to shine and the bright stars will fall from the
sky. The earth will be shaken as when there is a great earthquake;
the waves of the sea will roar and the highest mountains will
totter and fall. The trees will be torn up by the roots, and even
the "world tree" will tremble from its roots to its topmost boughs.
At last the quivering earth will sink beneath the waters of the
Then Loki, the spirit of evil, will break loose from the fetters
with which the gods have bound him. The frost giants will join him.
They will try to make a secret attack on the gods. But Heimdall,
the sentry of heaven, will be on guard at the end of the rainbow-bridge.
He needs no more sleep than a bird and can see for a hundred miles
either by day or night. He only can sound the horn whose blast
can be heard through heaven and earth and the under-world. Loki
and his army will be seen by him. His loud alarm will sound and
bring the gods together. They will rush to meet the giants. Woden
will wield his spear--Tiew his glittering sword--Thor his terrible
hammer. These will all be in vain. The gods must die. But so
must the giants and Loki.
And then a new earth will rise from the sea. The leaves of its
forests will never fall; its fields will yield harvests unsown.
And in a hall far brighter than Woden's Valhalla the brave and good
will be gathered forever.
The time came when the people of Western Europe learned to believe
in one God and were converted to Christianity, but the old stories
about the gods and Valkyries and giants and heroes, who were half
gods and half men, were not forgotten.
These stories were repeated from father to son for generations,
and in the twelfth century a poet, whose name we do not know, wrote
them in verse. He called his poem the Nibelungenlied (song of the
Nibelungs). It is the great national poem of the Germans. The
legends told in it are the basis of Wagner's operas.
"Nibelungs" was the name given to some northern dwarfs whose king
had once possessed a great treasure of gold and precious stones but
had lost it. Whoever got possession of this treasure was followed
by a curse. The Nibelungenlied tells the adventures of those who
possessed the treasure.
In the grand old city of Worms, in Burgundy, there lived long ago
the princess Kriemhilda. Her eldest brother Gunther was king of
And in the far-away Netherlands, where the Rhine pours its waters
into the sea, dwelt a prince named Siegfried, son of Siegmund, the
Ere long Sir Siegfried heard of the beauty of fair Kriemhilda.
He said to his father, "Give me twelve knights and I will ride to
King Gunther's land. I must win the heart of Kriemhilda."
After seven days' journey the prince and his company drew near to
the gates of Worms. All wondered who the strangers were and whence
they came. Hagen, Kriemhilda's uncle, guessed. He said, "I never
have seen the famed hero of Netherlands, yet I am sure that yonder
knight is none but Sir Siegfried."
"And who," asked the wondering people, "may Siegfried be?"
"Siegfried," answered Sir Hagen, "is a truly wonderful knight.
Once when riding all alone, he came to a mountain where lay the
treasure of the king of the Nibelungs. The king's two sons had
brought it out from the cave in which it had been hidden, to divide
it between them. But they did not agree about the division. So
when Seigfied drew near both princes said, 'Divide for us, Sir
Siegfried, our father's hoard.' There were so many jewels that
one hundred wagons could not carry them, and of ruddy gold there
was even more. Seigfied made the fairest division he could, and as
a reward the princes gave him their father's sword called Balmung.
But although Siegfried had done his best to satisfy them with his
division, they soon fell to quarreling and fighting, and when he
tried to separate them they made an attack on him. To save his own
life he slew them both. Alberich, a mountain dwarf, who had long
been guardian of the Nibelung hoard, rushed to avenge his masters;
but Siegfried vanquished him and took from him his cap of darkness
which made its wearer invisible and gave him the strength of twelve
men. The hero then ordered Alberich to place the treasure again
in the mountain cave and guard it for him."
Hagen then told another story of Siegfried:
"Once he slew a fierce dragon and bathed himself in its blood, and
this turned the hero's skin to horn, so that no sword or spear can
When Hagen had told these tales he advised King Gunther and the
people of Burgundy to receive Siegfried with all honor.
So, as the fashion was in those times, games were held in
the courtyard of the palace in honor of Siegfried, and Kriemhilda
watched the sport from her window.
For a full year Siegfried stayed at the court of King Gunther,
but never in all that time told why he had come and never once saw
At the end of the year sudden tidings came that the Saxons and
Danes, as was their habit, were pillaging the lands of Burgundy.
At the head of a thousand Burgundian knights Siegfried conquered
both Saxons and Danes. The king of the Danes was taken prisoner
and the Saxon king surrendered.
The victorious warriors returned to Worms and the air was filled with
glad shouts of welcome. King Gunther asked Kriemhilda to welcome
Siegfried and offer him the thanks of all the land of Burgundy.
Siegfried stood before her, and she said, "Welcome, Sir Siegfried,
welcome; we thank you one and all." He bent before her and she
Far over the sea from sunny Burgundy lived Brunhilda, queen of
Iceland. Fair was she of face and strong beyond compare. If a
knight would woo and win her he must surpass her in three contests:
leaping, hurling the spear and pitching the stone. If he failed
in even one, he must forfeit his life.
King Gunther resolved to wed this strange princess and Siegfried
promised to help him. "But," said Siegfried, "if we succeed, I must
have as my wife thy sister Kriemhilda." To this Gunther agreed,
and the voyage to Iceland began.
When Gunther and his companions neared Brunhilda's palace the gates
were opened and the strangers were welcomed.
Siegfried thanked the queen for her kindness and told how Gunther
had come to Iceland in hope of winning her hand.
"If in three contests he gain the mastery," she said, "I will become
his wife. If not, both he and you who are with him must lose your
Brunhilda prepared for the contests. Her shield was so thick and
heavy that four strong men were needed to bear it. Three could
scarcely carry her spear and the stone that she hurled could just
be lifted by twelve.
Siegfried now helped Gunther in a wonderful way. He put on his
cap of darkness, so that no one could see him. Then he stood by
Gunther's side and did the fighting. Brunhilda threw her spear
against the kings bright shield and sparks flew from the steel.
But the unseen knight dealt Brunhilda such blows that she confessed
In the second and third contests she fared no better, and so
she had to become King Gunther's bride. But she said that before
she would leave Iceland she must tell all her kinsmen. Daily her
kinsfolk came riding to the castle, and soon an army had assembled.
Then Gunther and his friends feared unfair play. So Siegfried
put on his cap of darkness, stepped into a boat, and went to the
Nibelung land where Alberich the dwarf was guarding the wonderful
"Bring me here," he cried to the dwarf, "a thousand Nibelung
knights." At the call of the dwarf the warriors gathered around
Sir Siegfried. Then they sailed with him to Brunhilda's isle and
the queen and her kinsmen, fearing such warriors, welcomed them
instead of fighting. Soon after their arrival King Gunther and
his men, Siegfried and his Nibelungs, and Queen Brunhilda, with
two thousand of her kinsmen set sail for King Gunther's land.
As soon as they reached Worms the marriage of Gunther and Brunhilda
took place. Siegfried and Kriemhilda also were married, and after
their marriage went to Siegfried's Netherlands castle. There they
lived more happily than I can tell.
Now comes the sad part of the Nibelung tale.
Brunhilda and Gunther invited Siegfried and Kriemhilda to visit them
at Worms. During the visit the two queens quarreled and Brunhilda
made Gunther angry with Siegfried. Hagen, too, began to hate
Siegfried and wished to kill him.
But Siegfried could not be wounded except in one spot on which
a falling leaf had rested when he bathed himself in the dragon's
blood. Only Kriemhilda knew where this spot was. Hagen told her
to sew a little silk cross upon Siegfried's dress to mark the spot,
so that he might defend Siegfried in a fight.
No battle was fought, but Siegfried went hunting with Gunther and
Hagen one day and they challenged him to race with them. He easily
won, but after running he was hot and thirsty and knelt to drink
at a spring. Then Hagen seized a spear and plunged it through the
cross into the hero's body. Thus the treasure of the Nibelungs
brought disaster to Siegfried.
Gunther and Hagen told Kriemhilda that robbers in the wood had
slain her husband, but she could not be deceived.
Kriemhilda determined to take vengeance on the murderers of Siegfried,
and so she would not leave Worms. There, too, stayed one thousand
knights who had followed Siegfried from the Nibelung land.
Soon after Siegfried's death Kriemhilda begged her younger brother
to bring the Nibelung treasure from the mountain cave to Worms.
When it arrived Kriemhilda gave gold and jewels to rich and poor
in Burgundy, and Hagen feared that soon she would win the love of
all the people and turn them against him. So, one day, he took
the treasure and hid it in the Rhine. He hoped some day to enjoy
As Hagen now possessed the Nibelung treasure the name "Nibelungs"
was given to him and his companions.
Etzel, or as we call him, Attila, king of the Huns, heard of the
beauty of Kriemhilda and sent one of his knights to ask the queen
to become his wife.
At first she refused. However, when she remembered that Etzel
carried the sword of Tiew, she changed her mind, because, if she
became his wife, she might persuade him to take vengeance upon
Gunther and Hagen.
And so it came to pass.
Shortly after their marriage Etzel and Kriemhilda invited Gunther
and all his court to a grand midsummer festival in the land of the
Hagen was afraid to go, for he felt sure that Kriemhilda had not
forgiven the murder of Siegfried. However, it was decided that
the invitation should be accepted, but that ten thousand knights
should go with Gunther as a body-guard.
Shortly after Gunther and his followers arrived at Attila's court
a banquet was prepared. Nine thousand Burgundians were seated at
the board when Attila's brother came into the banquet hall with a
thousand well-armed knights. A quarrel arose and a fight followed.
Thousands of the Burgundians were slain. The struggle continued
for days. At last, of all the knights of Burgundy, Gunther and
Hagen alone were left alive. Then one of Kriemhilda's friends fought
with them and overpowered both. He bound them and delivered them
The queen ordered one of her knights to cut off Gunther's head, and
she herself cut off the head of Hagen with "Balmung," Siegfried's
wonderful sword. A friend of Hagen then avenged his death by
killing Kriemhilda herself.
Of all the Nibelungs who entered the land of the Huns one only ever
returned to Burgundy.
Alaric the Visigoth
King from 394-410 A.D.
Long before the beginning of the period known as the Middle Ages
a tribe of barbarians called the Goths lived north of the River
Danube in the country which is now known as Roumania. It was
then a part of the great Roman Empire, which at that time had two
capitals, Constantinople--the new city of Constantine--and Rome.
The Goths had come from the shores of the Baltic Sea and settled
on this Roman territory, and the Romans had not driven them back.
During the reign of the Roman Emperor Valens some of the Goths
joined a conspiracy against him. Valens punished them for this by
crossing the Danube and laying waste their country. At last the
Goths had to beg for mercy. The Gothic chief was afraid to set foot
on Roman soil, so he and Valens met on their boats in the middle
of the Danube and made a treaty of peace.
For a long time the Goths were at war with another tribe of barbarians
called Huns. Sometimes the Huns defeated the Goths and drove them
to their camps in the mountains. Sometimes the Goths came down to
the plains again and defeated the Huns.
At last the Goths grew tired of such constant fighting and thought
they would look for new settlements. They sent some of their
leading men to the Emperor Valens to ask permission to settle in
some country belonging to Rome. The messengers said to the emperor:
"If you will allow us to make homes in the country south of the
Danube we will be friends of Rome and fight for her when she needs
The emperor at once granted this request. He said to the Gothic
"Rome always needs good soldiers. Your people may cross the Danube
and settle on our land. As long as you remain true to Rome we will
protect you against your enemies."
These Goths were known as Visigoths, or Western Goths. Other
tribes of Goths who had settled in southern Russia, were called
Ostrogoths, or Eastern Goths.
After getting permission from the Emperor Valens a large number
of the Visigoths crossed the Danube with their families and their
cattle and settled in the country now called Bulgaria.
In course of time they became a very powerful nation, and in the
year 394 they chose as their king one of the chiefs named Alaric.
He was a brave man and a great soldier. Even when a child he took
delight in war, and at the age of sixteen he fought as bravely as
the older soldiers.
One night, not long after he became king, Alaric had a very strange
dream. He thought he was driving in a golden chariot through the
streets of Rome amid the shouts of the people, who hailed him as
emperor. This dream made a deep impression on his mind. He was
always thinking of it, and at last he began to have the idea that
he could make the dream come true.
"To be master of the Roman Empire," he said to himself, "that is
indeed worth trying for; and why should I not try? With my brave
soldiers I can conquer Rome, and I shall make the attempt."
So Alaric called his chiefs together and told them what he had made
up his mind to do.
The chiefs gave a cry of delight for they approved of the king's
proposal. In those days fighting was almost the only business of
chiefs, and they were always glad to be at war, especially when
there was hope of getting rich spoils. And so the Visigoth chiefs
rejoiced at the idea of war against Rome, for they knew that if they
were victorious they would have the wealth of the richest city of
the world to divide among themselves.
Soon they got ready a great army. With Alaric in command,
they marched through Thrace and Macedonia and before long reached
Athens. There were now no great warriors in Athens, and the city
surrendered to Alaric. The Goths plundered the homes and temples
of the Athenians and then marched to the state of Elis, in the
southwestern part of Greece. Here a famous Roman general named
Stilicho besieged them in their camp. Alaric managed to force his
way through the lines of the Romans and escaped. He marched to
Epirus. This was a province of Greece that lay on the east side
of the Ionian Sea. Arcadius, the Emperor of the East, now made
Alaric governor of this district and a large region lying near it.
The whole territory was called Eastern Illyricum and formed part
of the Eastern Empire.
Alaric now set out to make an attack on Rome, the capital of the
Western Empire. As soon as Honorius, Emperor of the West, learned
that Alaric was approaching, he fled to a strong fortress among
the mountains of North Italy. His great general Stilicho came to
his rescue and defeated Alaric near Verona. But even after this
Honorius was so afraid of Alaric that he made him governor of a
part of his empire called Western Illyricum and gave him a large
Honorius, however, did not keep certain of his promises to Alaric,
who consequently, in the year 408, marched to Rome and besieged
it. The cowardly emperor fled to Ravenna, leaving his generals to
make terms with Alaric. It was agreed that Alaric should withdraw
from Rome upon the payment of 5,000 pounds of gold and 30,000 pounds
When Honorius read the treaty he refused to sign it. Alaric then
demanded that the city be surrendered to him, and the people,
terrified, opened their gates and even agreed that Alaric should
appoint another emperor in place of Honorius.
This new emperor, however, ruled so badly that Alaric thought it
best to restore Honorius. Then Honorius, when just about to be
treated so honorably, allowed a barbarian chief who was an ally of
his to make an attack upon Alaric. The attack was unsuccessful,
and Alaric immediately laid siege to Rome for the third time. The
city was taken and Alaric's dream came true. In a grand procession
he rode at the head of his army through the streets of the great
Then began the work of destruction. The Goths ran in crowds through
the city, wrecked private houses and public buildings and seized
everything of value they could find. Alaric gave orders that no
injury should be done to the Christian churches, but other splendid
buildings of the great city were stripped of the beautiful and
costly articles that they contained, and all the gold and silver
was carried away from the public treasury.
In the midst of the pillage Alaric dressed himself in splendid
robes and sat upon the throne of the emperor, with a golden crown
upon his head.
While Alaric was sitting on the throne thousands of Romans were
compelled to kneel down on the ground before him and shout out his
name as conqueror and emperor. Then the theaters and circuses were
opened, and Roman athletes and gladiators had to give performances
for the amusement of the conquerors. After six days of pillage and
pleasure Alaric and his army marched through the gates, carrying
with them the riches of Rome.
Alaric died on his way to Sicily, which he had thought to conquer
also. He felt his death coming and ordered his men to bury him in
the bed of the river Busento and to put into his grave the richest
treasures that he had taken from Rome.
This order was carried out. A large number of Roman slaves were
set to work to dig a channel and turn the water of the Busento into
it. They made the grave in the bed of the river, put Alaric's body
into and closed it up. Then the river was turned back to its old
channel. As soon as the grave was covered up, and the water flowed
over it, the slaves who had done the work were put to death by the
Attila the Hun
King from 434-453 A.D.
The fierce and warlike tribe, called the Huns, who had driven the
Goths to seek new homes, came from Asia into Southeastern Europe
and took possession of a large territory lying north of the River
During the first half of the fifth century the Huns had a famous
king named Attila. He was only twenty-one years old when he
became their king. But although he was young, he was very brave
and ambitious, and he wanted to be a great and powerful king.
Not far from Attila's palace there was a great rocky cave in the
mountains. In this cave lived a strange man called the "Hermit
of the Rocks." No one knew his real name, or from what country he
had come. He was very old, with wrinkled face and long gray hair
Many persons believed that he was a fortune-teller, so people
often went to him to inquire what was to happen to them. One day,
shortly after he became king, Attila went to the cave to get his
"Wise man," said he, "look into the future and tell me what is
before me in the path of life."
The hermit thought for a few moments, and then said, "O King,
I see you a famous conqueror, the master of many nations. I see
you going from country to country, defeating armies and destroying
cities until men call you the 'Fear of the World.' You heap up
vast riches, but just after you have married the woman you love
grim death strikes you down."
With a cry of horror Attila fled from the cave. For a time he
thought of giving up his idea of becoming a great man. But he was
young and full of spirit, and very soon he remembered only what had
been said to him about his becoming a great and famous conqueror
and began to prepare for war. He gathered together the best men
from the various tribes of his people and trained them into a great
army of good soldiers.
About this time one of the king's shepherds, while taking care of
cattle in the fields, noticed blood dripping from the foot of one
of the oxen. The shepherd followed the streak of blood through the
grass and at last found the sharp point of a sword sticking out of
the earth. He dug out the weapon, carried it to the palace, and
gave it to King Attila. The king declared it was the sword of
Tiew, the god of war. He then strapped it to his side and said he
would always wear it.
"I shall never be defeated in battle," he cried, "as long as I
fight with the sword of Tiew."
As soon as his army was ready he marched with it into countries
which belonged to Rome. He defeated the Romans in several great
battles and captured many of their cities. The Roman Emperor
Theodosius had to ask for terms of peace. Attila agreed that there
should be peace, but soon afterwards he found out that Theodosius
had formed a plot to murder him. He was so enraged at this that
he again began war. He plundered and burned cities wherever he
went, and at last the emperor had to give him a large sum of money
and a portion of country south of the Danube.
This made peace, but the peace did not last long. In a few years
Attila appeared at the head of an army of 700,000 men. With this
great force he marched across Germany and into Gaul. He rode on a
beautiful black horse, and carried at his side the sword of Tiew.
He attacked and destroyed towns and killed the inhabitants without
mercy. The people had such dread of him that he was called the
"Scourge of God" and the "Fear of the World."
Attila and his terrible Huns marched through Gaul until they came
to the city of Orleans. Here the people bravely resisted the
invaders. They shut their gates and defended themselves in every
way they could. In those times all towns of any great size were
surrounded by strong walls. There was war constantly going on
nearly everywhere, and there were a great many fierce tribes and
chiefs who lived by robbing their neighbors. So the towns and
castles in which there was much money or other valuable property
were not safe without high and strong walls.
Attila tried to take Orleans, but soon after he began to attack the
walls he saw a great army at a distance coming towards the city.
He quickly gathered his forces together, marched to the neighboring
plain of Champagne and halted at the place where the city of Châlons
(shah-lon') now stands.
The army which Attila saw was an army of 300,000 Romans and
Visigoths. It was led by a Roman general name Aëtius (A-ë'-ti-us)
and the Visigoth king Theodoric (The-od'-o-ric). The Visigoths
after the death of Alaric had settled in parts of Gaul, and their
king had now agreed to join the Romans against the common enemy--the
terrible Huns. So the great army of the Romans and Visigoths marched
up and attacked the Huns at Châlons. It was a fierce battle. Both
sides fought with the greatest bravery. At first the Huns seemed
to be winning. They drove back the Romans and Visigoths from the
field, and in the fight Theodoric was killed.
Aëtius now began to fear that he would be beaten, but just at that
moment Thorismond (Thor'-is-mond), the son of Theodoric, made another
charge against the Huns. He had taken command of the Visigoths
when his father was killed, and now he led them on to fight. They
were all eager to have revenge for the death of their king, so they
fought like lions and swept across the plain with great fury. The
Huns were soon beaten on every side, and Attila himself fled to his
camp. It was the first time he had ever been defeated. Thorismond,
the conqueror, was lifted upon his shield on the battle-field and
hailed as king of the Visigoths.
When Attila reached his camp he had all his baggage and wagons
gathered in a great heap. He intended to set fire to it and jump
into the flames if the Romans should come there to attack him.
"Here I will perish in the flames," he cried, "rather than surrender
to my enemies."
But the Romans did not come to attack him, and in a few days he
marched back to his own country.
Very soon, however, he was again on the war path. This time
he invaded Italy. He attacked and plundered the town of Aquileia
(Aq'-ui-le'-i-a), and the terrified inhabitants fled for their
lives to the hills and mountains. Some of them took refuge in the
islands and marshes of the Adriatic Sea. Here they founded Venice.
The people of Rome and the Emperor Valentinian were greatly alarmed
at the approach of the dreaded Attila. He was now near the city,
and they had no army strong enough to send against him. Rome
would have been again destroyed if it had not been for Pope Leo I
who went to the camp of Attila and persuaded him not to attack the
city. It is said that the barbarian king was awed by the majestic
aspect and priestly robes of Leo. It is also told that the apostles
Peter and Paul appeared to Attila in his camp and threatened him
with death if he should attack Rome. He did not go away, however,
without getting a large sum of money as ransom.
Shortly after leaving Italy Attila suddenly died. Only the day
before his death he had married a beautiful woman whom he loved
The Huns mourned their king in a barbarous way. They shaved their
heads and cut themselves on their faces with knives, so that their
blood, instead of their tears, flowed for the loss of their great
leader. They enclosed his body in three coffins--one of gold,
one of silver, and one of iron--and they buried him at night, in
a secret spot in the mountains. When the funeral was over, they
killed the slaves who had dug the grave, as the Visigoths had done
after the burial of Alaric.
After the death of Attila we hear little more of the Huns.
Genseric the Vandal
King from 427-477 A.D.
The Vandals were another wild and fierce tribe that came from the
shores of the Baltic and invaded central and southern Europe in
the later times of the Roman Empire.
In the fifth century some of these people occupied a region in
the south of Spain. One of their most celebrated kings was name
Genseric (Gen'-ser-ic). He became king in 427, when he was but
twenty-one years of age. He was lame in one leg and looked as if
he were a very ordinary person.
Like most of the Vandals, he was a cruel and cunning man, but he
had great ability in many ways. He fought in battles even when
a boy and was known far and wide for his bravery and skill as a
About the time that Genseric became king, the governor of the Roman
province in the north of Africa, on the Mediterranean coast, was
a man called Count Boniface. This Count Boniface had been a good
and loyal officer of Rome; but a plot was formed against him by
Aëtius, the general who had fought Attila at Châlons. The Roman
emperor at the time of the plot was Valentinian III. He was then
too young to act as ruler, so the affairs of government were managed
by his mother Placidia (Pla-cid'-i-a).
Aëtius advised Placidia to dismiss Boniface and call him home from
Africa. He said the count was a traitor, and that he was going
to make war against Rome. At the same time he wrote secretly to
Count Boniface and told him that if he came to Rome the empress
would put him to death.
Boniface believed this story, and he refused to return to Rome.
He also sent a letter to Genseric, inviting him to come to Africa
with an army.
Genseric was greatly delighted to receive the invitation from
Boniface. He had long wanted to attack Rome and take from her some
of the rich countries she had conquered, and now a good opportunity
offered. So he got ready a great army of his brave Vandals, and
they sailed across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa.
They soon gained possession of that part of the African coast on
which they had landed, and marched into other parts of the coast
and captured towns and cities. By this time Boniface had learned
all about the wicked plot of Aëtius. He now regretted having
invited the Vandals to Africa and tried to induce them to return
to Spain, but Genseric sternly refused.
"Never," he said, "shall I go back to Spain until I am master of
"Then," cried Boniface, "I will drive you back."
Soon afterwards there was a battle between the Romans and Vandals,
and the Romans were defeated. They were also defeated in several
other battles. At last they had to flee for safety to two or three
towns which the Vandals had not yet taken. One of these towns was
Genseric captured this town after a siege of thirteen months. Then
he burned the churches and other buildings, and laid waste the
neighboring country. This was what the Vandals did whenever they
took a town, and so the word VANDAL came to mean a person who
needlessly or wantonly destroys valuable property.
A great many of the natives of Africa joined the army of Genseric.
They had for a long time been ill-treated by the Romans and were
glad to see them defeated. Genseric continued his work of conquest
until he took the city of Carthage, which he made the capital of
his new kingdom in Africa.
But he was not content with conquering merely on land. He built
great fleets and sailed over the Mediterranean, capturing trading
vessels. For many years he plundered towns along the coasts, so
that the name of Genseric became a terror to the people of all the
countries bordering the Mediterranean.
One day a Roman ship came to Carthage with a messenger from the
Empress Eudoxia to Genseric. Eudoxia was the widow of Valentinian
III. After ruling several years, Valentinian had just been murdered
by a Roman noble named Maximus, who had at once made himself emperor.
When the messenger entered the room where Genseric was, he said:
"Great king, I bring you a message from the Empress Eudoxia. She
begs your help. She and her two beautiful daughters are in danger
in Rome. She wishes you to protect them against Maximus. She
invites you to come with an army to Rome and take the city. She
and her friends will help you as much as they can."
With a cry of joy Genseric sprang to his feet and exclaimed:
"Tell the empress that I accept her invitation. I shall set out
for Rome immediately. I shall set out for Rome immediately. I
shall protect Eudoxia and her friends."
Genseric then got ready a fleet and a great army, and sailed across
the Mediterranean to the mouth of the Tiber. When the Emperor
Maximus heard that the Vandals were coming he prepared to flee from
the city, and he advised the Senate to do the same. The people
were so angry at this that they put him to death and threw his body
into the river.
Three days later Genseric and his army were at the gates of Rome.
There was no one to oppose them, and they marched in and took
possession of the city. It was only forty-five years since Alaric
had been there and carried off all the valuable things he could
find. But since then Rome had become again grand and wealthy, so
there was plenty for Genseric and his Vandals to carry away. They
spent fourteen days in the work of plunder. They sacked the temples
and public buildings and private houses and the emperor's palace,
and they took off to their ships immense quantities of gold and
silver and jewels and furniture, and destroyed hundreds of beautiful
and priceless works of art.
The Vandal king also put to death a number of Roman citizens and
carried away many more as slaves. He took Eudoxia and her daughters
with him to Carthage. One of the daughters was soon afterwards
married to Genseric's eldest son, Hunneric.
Some years after the capture of Rome by Genseric, there was a
Roman emperor named Majorian (Ma-jo'-ri-an). He was a good ruler
and a brave man. The Vandals still continued to attack and plunder
cities in Italy and other countries belonging to Rome, and Majorian
resolved to punish them. So he got together a great army and built
a fleet of three hundred ships to carry his troops to Carthage.
But he first marched his men across the Alps, through Gaul, and
down to the seaport of Carthagena in Spain, where his fleet was
stationed. He took this route because he expected to add to his
forces as he went along. Before sailing with his army for Carthage
he wished very much to see with his own eyes what sort of people
the Vandals were and whether they were so powerful at home as was
So he dyed his hair and disguised himself in other ways and went
to Carthage, pretending that he was a messenger or ambassador from
the Roman emperor, coming to talk about peace. Genseric received
him with respect and entertained him hospitably, not knowing that
he was the Emperor Majorian. Of course peace was not made. The
emperor left Carthage after having got as much information as he
But Genseric did not wait for the Roman fleet to come to attack
him in his capital. When he got word that it was in the Bay of
Carthagena, he sailed there with a fleet of his own and in a single
day burned or sank nearly all the Roman ships.
After this the Vandals became more than ever the terror of
the Mediterranean and all the countries bordering upon it. Every
year their ships went round the coasts from Asia Minor to Spain,
attacking and plundering cities on their way and carrying off
All the efforts of the Romans failed to put a stop to these ravages.
The Emperor Leo, who ruled over the eastern division of the Empire,
fitted out a great fleet at Constantinople to make another attempt
to suppress the pirates. There were more than a thousand ships in
this fleet and they carried a hundred thousand men. The command of
the expedition was given to Basilicus (Bas-il'-i-cus), the brother
of Emperor Leo's wife.
Basilicus sailed with his ships to Africa and landed the army
not far from Carthage. Genseric asked for a truce for five days
to consider terms of peace, and the truce was granted. But the
cunning Vandal was not thinking of peace. He only wanted time to
carry out a plan he had made to destroy the Roman fleet.
One dark night, during the truce, he filled the largest of his ships
with some of the bravest of his soldiers, and they sailed silently
and cautiously in among the Roman ships, towing behind them large
boats filled with material that would easily burn.
These boats were set on fire and floated against the Roman vessels,
which also were soon on fire. The flames quickly spread, and in
a very short time a great part of the Roman fleet was destroyed.
Basilicus fled with as many ships as he could save, and returned
This was the last attempt of the Romans to conquer the Vandals.
Genseric lived to a good old age, and when he died, in 477, all the
countries he had conquered during his life still remained parts of
the Vandal dominions.
Theodoric the Ostrogoth
King from 475-526 A.D.
The Ostrogoths, or East Goths, who had settled in Southern Russia,
at length pushed southward and westward to the mouth of the Danube.
They were continually invading countries belonging to the Romans
and their warlike raids were dreaded by the emperors of the Eastern
Roman Empire, who lived at Constantinople. One emperor gave them
land and money, and thus stopped their invasions for a time.
The most famous of the Ostrogoth kings was Theodoric (The-od'-or-ic)
the Great. He was the son of Theodemir (The-od'-e-mir), who was
also a king of the Ostrogoths. When Theodoric was eight years old
he was sent to Constantinople to be held as a hostage by Leo, the
Emperor of the East. In former times, when kings made treaties
with one another, it was customary for one to give to the other a
pledge or security that he would fulfill the conditions of the treaty.
The pledge usually given was some important person or persons,
perhaps the king's son or a number of his chief men. Persons so
given as a security were called hostages. When Theodoric was a boy
he was given as a hostage for his father's good faith in carrying
out a treaty with the Emperor and was sent to Constantinople to
live. Here the youth was well treated by Leo. He was educated
with great care and trained in all the exercises of war.
Theodemir died in 475, and then Theodoric returned to his own country
and became king of the Ostrogoths. At this time he was eighteen
years of age. He was handsome and brave and people loved him, for
in those days a man who was tall and strong and brave was liked by
For some years after he became king Theodoric had frequent wars with
other Gothic kings and also with the Roman Emperor Zeno (Ze'-no).
He was nearly always successful in battle, and at last Zeno began
to think it would be better to try to make friends with him. So
he gave Theodoric some rich lands and made him commander of the
Imperial Guard of Constantinople.
But the Emperor soon became tired of having the Ostrogoth king at
his court, and to get rid of him he agreed that Theodoric should
go with his army to Italy, and take that country from Odoacer
(O-do-a'-cer). Theodoric was delighted at the proposal and began
at once to make his preparations.
Odoacer was at that time king of Italy. Before he became king he
had been a general in the army of Romulus Augustulus, the Western
Roman Emperor. The soldiers of the army were not satisfied with
their pay, and when they asked for more they did not get it. Then
they drove Romulus Augustulus from the throne, and chose Odoacer
to succeed him. But Odoacer would not take the name of emperor.
He was called the "patrician" of Italy, and he ruled the country
Theodoric started for Italy, not only with a great army, but with
all the people of his country. He meant to take Italy and be its
king and settle in it with all his Ostrogoths. When he set out he
had with him two hundred and fifty thousand persons--men, women,
and children--with a great number of horses and wagons to carry
them and their things. He had also an army of sixty thousand brave
It was a long and weary journey from the shores of the Black Sea
overland to the foot of the Alps Mountains and across the Alps
into Italy. Here and there on the way they met savage tribes that
tried to stop them, but Theodoric defeated the savages and took a
great many of them prisoners. He made these prisoners, women as
well as men, help carry the baggage and do other work.
The journey took months, but at last the Ostrogoths reached the
top of the Alps. Then they could see, stretched out before them,
the beautiful land of Italy. They were all delighted. They shouted
and danced with joy, and Theodoric cried out:
"There is the country which shall be our home. Let us march on.
It certainly shall be ours."
Then they passed quickly down, and soon they were in Italy. Odoacer
had heard of their coming and he got ready an army to drive them
away. Theodoric also got his fighting men ready. The two armies
met, and there was a great battle near the town of Aquileia. Odoacer
was defeated. Then he tried to get Theodoric to leave Italy by
offering him a large sum of money.
"I will give you," said he, "thousands of pounds of gold and silver
if you agree to go back to your own country."
But Theodoric would not go. He said he had as good a right to
be king of Italy as Odoacer, and he would remain and conquer the
country and be its king. Soon after there was another battle, near
Verona, and Odoacer was again defeated.
Theodoric came very near being killed in battle. He was saved only
by the courage of his mother. She was in his camp, and at one time
she saw a number of the Ostrogoths running away from that part
of the battle-field where her son was fighting, thus leaving him
without support. The mother rushed forward and stopped the fleeing
men. She made them feel that it was a shame for them to desert
their leader, and they at once returned to the field and fought
beside their king until the battle was won.
After the battle of Verona, Odoacer went with his army to the city
of Ravenna, and remained there for some time. Theodoric followed
with his Ostrogoths and tried to take the city, but there was a
very strong wall around it, and the Ostrogoths could not capture
it. Although Theodoric was not able to take Ravenna, he did not
remain idle. He marched off to other parts of the country, and
took possession of towns and districts wherever he went.
After a while Odoacer got together a better army than he had before,
and made another effort to defeat Theodoric. But he again failed.
Theodoric defeated him in another great battle, which was fought
on the banks of the River Adda. After this battle Odoacer again
fled to Ravenna. Theodoric followed again and laid siege to the
city. This time his army surrounded it and kept provisions from
being sent in, and at last, when there was no food in the city for
the soldiers or the people to eat, Odoacer had to surrender.
A treaty was then made between the two kings and both agreed that
they should rule together over Italy, each to have equal power.
But a few days afterwards Theodoric murdered Odoacer while sitting
at a banquet, and then made himself the sole king of Italy. He
divided one-third of the land of the country among his own followers.
So the Ostrogoths settled in Italy, and Ostrogoths, Romans, and
Visigoths were governed by Theodoric as one people.
Theodoric died at the age of seventy-one after ruling Italy for
King from 481-511 A.D.
While the power of the Roman Empire was declining there dwelt on
the banks of the River Rhine a number of savage Teuton tribes called
Franks. The word Frank means FREE, and those tribes took pride in
being known as Franks or freemen.
The Franks occupied the east bank of the Rhine for about two hundred
years. Then many of the tribes crossed the river in search of new
homes. The region west of the river was at that time called Gaul.
Here the Franks established themselves and became a powerful people.
From their name the country was afterwards called FRANCE.
Each tribe of the Franks had its own king. The greatest of all
these kings was Chlodwig, or Clovis, as we call him, who became
ruler of his tribe in the year 481, just six years after Theodoric
became king of the Ostrogoths. Clovis was then only sixteen years
of age. But though he was so young he proved in a very short time
that he could govern as well as older men. He was intelligent and
brave. No one ever knew him to be afraid of anything even when he
was but a child. His father, who was named Childeric (chil'-der-ic),
often took him to wars which the Franks had with neighboring
tribes, and he was very proud of his son's bravery. The young man
was also a bold and skillful horseman. He could tame and ride the
most fiery horse.
When Clovis became king of the Franks a great part of Gaul still
belonged to Rome. This part was then governed by a Roman general,
named Syagrius (sy-ag'-ri-us). Clovis resolved to drive the Romans
out of the country, and he talked over the matter with the head
men of his army.
"My desire," said he, "is that the Franks shall have possession of
every part of this fair land. I shall drive the Romans and their
friends away and make Gaul the empire of the Franks."
At this time the Romans had a great army in Gaul. It was encamped
near the city of Soissons (swah-son') and was commanded by Syagrius.
Clovis resolved to attack it and led his army at once to Soissons.
When he came near the city he summoned Syagrius to surrender.
Syagrius refused and asked for an interview with the commander of
the Franks. Clovis consented to meet him, and an arrangement was
made that the meeting should take place in the open space between
the two armies. When Clovis stepped out in front of his own army,
accompanied by some of his savage warriors, Syagrius also came
forward. But the moment he saw the king of the Franks he laughed
loudly and exclaimed:
"A boy! A boy has come to fight me! The Franks with a boy to lead
them have come to fight the Romans."
Clovis was very angry at this insulting language and shouted back:
"Ay, but this boy will conquer you."
Then both sides prepared for battle. The Romans thought that they
would win the victory easily, but they were mistaken. Every time
that they made a charge upon the Franks they were beaten back by
the warriors of Clovis. The young king himself fought bravely at
the head of his men and with his own sword struck down a number
of the Romans. He tried to find Syagrius and fight with him; but
the Roman commander was nowhere to be found. Early in the battle
he had fled from the field, leaving his men to defend themselves
as best they could.
The Franks gained a great victory. With their gallant boy
king leading them on they drove the Roman's before them, and when
the battle was over they took possession of the city of Soissons.
Clovis afterwards conquered all the other Frankish chiefs and made
himself king of all the Franks.
Not very long after Clovis became king he heard of a beautiful
young girl, the niece of Gondebaud (gon'-de-baud), king of Burgundy,
and he thought he would like to marry her. Her name was Clotilde
(clo-tilde'), and she was an orphan, for her wicked uncle Gondebaud
had killed her father and mother. Clovis sent one of his nobles
to Gondebaud to ask her for his wife. At first Gondebaud thought
of refusing to let the girl go. He feared that she might have
him punished for the murder of her parents if she became the wife
of so powerful a man as Clovis. But he was also afraid that by
refusing he would provoke the anger of Clovis; so he permitted the
girl to be taken to the court of the king of the Franks. Clovis
was delighted when he saw her; and they were immediately married.
Clotilde was a devout Christian, and she wished very much to
convert her husband, who, like most of his people, was a worshiper
of the heathen gods. But Clovis was not willing to give up his
own religion. Nevertheless Clotilde continued to do every thing
she could to persuade him to become a Christian.
Soon after his marriage Clovis had a war with a tribe called the
Alemanni. This tribe had crossed the Rhine from Germany and taken
possession of some of the eastern provinces of Gaul. Clovis speedily
got his warriors together and marched against them. A battle was
fought at a place called Tolbiac, not far from the present city
of Cologne. In this battle the Franks were nearly beaten, for the
Alemanni were fierce and brave men and skillful fighters. When
Clovis saw his soldiers driven back several times he began to lose
hope, but at that moment he thought of his pious wife and of the
powerful God of whom she had so often spoken. Then he raised his
hands to heaven and earnestly prayed to that God.
"O God of Clotilde," he cried, "help me in this my hour of need.
If thou wilt give me victory now I will believe in thee."
Almost immediately the course of the battle began to change in
favor of the Franks. Clovis led his warriors forward once more,
and this time the Alemanni fled before them in terror. The Franks
gained a great victory, and they believed it was in answer to the
prayer of their king.
When Clovis returned home he did not forget his promise. He told
Clotilde how he had prayed to her God for help and how his prayer
had been heard, and he said he was now ready to become a Christian.
Clotilde was very happy on hearing this, and she arranged that her
husband should be baptized in the church of Rheims on the following
Meanwhile Clovis issued a proclamation to his people declaring that
he was a believer in Christ, and giving orders that all the images
and temples of the heathen gods should be destroyed. This was
immediately done, and many of the people followed his example and
Clovis was a very earnest and fervent convert. One day the bishop
of Rheims, while instructing him in the doctrines of Christianity,
described the death of Christ. As the bishop proceeded Clovis became
much excited, and at last jumped up from his seat and exclaimed:
"Had I been there with my brave Franks I would have avenged His
On Christmas day a great multitude assembled in the church at Rheims
to witness the baptism of the king. A large number of his fierce
warriors were baptized at the same time. The service was performed
with great ceremony by the bishop of Rheims, and the title of "Most
Christian King" was conferred on Clovis by the Pope. This title
was ever afterwards borne by the kings of France.
Like most of the kings and chiefs of those rude and barbarous
times, Clovis often did cruel and wicked things. When Rheims was
captured, before he became a Christian, a golden vase was taken by
some soldiers from the church. The bishop asked Clovis to have it
returned, and Clovis bade him wait until the division of spoils.
All the valuable things taken by soldiers in war were divided among
the whole army, each man getting his share according to rank. Such
things were called spoils.
When the next time came for dividing spoils Clovis asked that he
might have the vase over and above his regular share, his intention
being to return it to the bishop. But one of the soldiers objected,
saying that the king should have no more than his fair share, and
at the same time shattered the vase with his ax. Clovis was very
angry, but at the time said nothing. Soon afterwards, however, there
was the usual examination of the arms of the soldiers to see that
they were in proper condition for active service. Clovis himself
took part in the examination, and when he came to the soldier who
had broken the vase he found fault with the condition of his weapons
and with one blow of his battle-ax struck the man dead.
The next war that Clovis engaged in was with some tribes of the
Goths who occupied the country called Aquitaine lying south of the
River Loire. He defeated them and added Aquitaine to the kingdom
of the Franks.
Clovis afterwards made war upon other people of Gaul and defeated
them. At last all the provinces from the lower Rhine to the
Pyrenees Mountains were compelled to acknowledge him as king. He
then went to reside at the city of Paris, which he made the capital
of his kingdom. He died there A.D. 511.
The dynasty or family of kings to which he belonged is known in
history as the Merovingian dynasty. It was so called from Merovæus
(Me-ro-væ'-us), the father of Childeric and grandfather of Clovis.
Justinian the Great
Emperor from 527-565 A.D.
In the time of Clovis the country now called Bulgaria was inhabited
by Goths. One day a poor shepherd boy, about sixteen years of
age, left his mountain home in that country to go to the city of
Constantinople, which was many miles away. The boy had no money
to pay the expenses of the journey, but he was determined to go,
even though he should have to walk every step of the road and live
on fruits that he could gather by the way. He was a bright, clever
boy who had spent his life hitherto in a village, but was now eager
to go out into the world to seek his fortune.
Some years before, this boy's uncle, who was named Justin, had gone
to Constantinople and joined the Roman army. He was so brave and
so good a soldier that he soon came to be commander of the imperial
guard which attended the emperor.
The poor shepherd boy had heard of the success of his uncle, and
this was the reason why he resolved to set off for the big city. So
he started down the mountain and trudged along the valley in high
hope, feeling certain that he would reach the end of his journey
in safety. It was a difficult and dangerous journey, and it took
him several weeks, for he had to go through dark forests and to
cross rivers and high hills; but at last one afternoon in midsummer
he walked through the main gate of Constantinople, proud and happy
that he had accomplished his purpose.
He had no trouble in finding his Uncle Justin; for everybody in
Constantinople knew the commander of the emperor's guards. And when
the boy appeared at the great man's house and told who he was, his
uncle received him with much kindness. He took him into his own
family, and gave him the best education that could be had in the
As the boy was very talented and eager for knowledge he soon became
an excellent scholar. He grew up a tall, good-looking man, with
black eyes and curly hair, and he was always richly dressed. He was
well liked at the emperor's court, and was respected by everybody
on account of his learning.
One day a great change came for both uncle and nephew. The emperor
died; and the people chose Justin to succeed him. He took the
title of Justinus I (Jus-ti'-nus), and so the young scholar, who
had once been a poor shepherd boy, was now nephew of an emperor.
After some years Justinus was advised by his nobles to take the
young man, who had adopted the name of Justinian, to help him in
ruling the empire. Justinus agreed to this proposal, for he was
now old and in feeble health, and not able himself to attend to the
important affairs of government. He therefore called the great
lords of his court together and in their presence he placed a crown
on the head of his nephew, who thus became joint emperor with his
uncle. The uncle died only a few months after, and then Justinian
was declared emperor. This was in the year 527. Justinian reigned
for nearly forty years and did so many important things that he
was afterwards called Justinian the Great.
He had many wars during his reign, but he himself did not take part
in them. He was not experienced as a soldier, for he had spent
most of his time in study. He was fortunate enough, however, to
have two great generals to lead his armies. One of them was named
Belisarius and the other Narses.
Belisarius was one of the greatest soldiers that ever lived. He
gained wonderful victories for Justinian, and conquered some of
the old Roman provinces that had been lost for many years.
The victories of these two generals largely helped to make the reign
of Justinian remarkable in history. Many years before he ascended
the throne the Vandals, as you have read, conquered the northern
part of Africa and established a kingdom there with Carthage as
its capital. The Vandal king in the time of Justinian was named
Gelimer (Gel'-i-mer), and he lived in Carthage.
Justinian resolved to make war on this king in order to recover
Northern Africa and make it again a part of the Empire. So
Belisarius was sent to Africa with an army of thirty-five thousand
men and five thousand horses, that were carried on a fleet of six
hundred ships. It took this fleet three months to make the voyage
from Constantinople to Africa. The same voyage may now be made
in a very few days. But in the time of Belisarius there were no
steamships, and nothing was known of the power of steam for moving
machinery. The ships or galleys were sailing vessels; and when
there was no wind they could make no progress except by rowing.
When Belisarius reached Africa he left five men as a guard in each
vessel, and with the body of his army he marched for some days
along the coast. The people received him in a friendly way, for
they had grown tired of the rule of the Vandals, and preferred to
be under the government of the Romans.
About ten miles from Carthage he met a large army led by the brother
of Gelimer. A battle immediately took place, and the Vandals
were utterly defeated. Gelimer's brother was killed, and the king
himself, who had followed with another army and joined the fight,
was also defeated and fled from the field. Belisarius then proceeded
to Carthage and took possession of the city.
Soon afterwards Gelimer collected another army and fought the Romans
in another battle, twenty miles from Carthage; but Belisarius again
defeated him and the Vandal king again fled. This was the end of
the Vandal king in Africa. In a short time Gelimer gave himself
up to Belisarius, who took him to Constantinople. Justinian set
apart an estate for him to live upon, and the conquered king passed
the rest of his life in peaceful retirement.
After conquering the Vandals Justinian resolved to conquer Italy,
which was then held by the Ostrogoths. A large army was got
together and put under the command of Belisarius and Narses, who
immediately set out for Italy. When they arrived there they marched
straight to Rome, and after some fighting took possession of the
city. But in a few months, Vitiges (vit'-i-ges), king of the Goths,
appeared with an army before the gates and challenged Belisarius
and Narses to come out and fight.
The Roman generals, however, were not then ready to fight, and so
the Ostrogoth king laid siege to the city, thinking that he would
compel the Romans to surrender.
But instead of having any thought of surrender, Belisarius was
preparing his men for fight, and when they were ready he attacked
Vitiges and defeated him. Vitiges retired to Ravenna, and
Belisarius quickly followed, and made such an assault on the city
that it was compelled to surrender. The Ostrogoth army was captured,
and Vitiges was taken to Constantinople a prisoner.
Belisarius and Narses then went to Northern Italy, and, after a long
war, conquered all the tribes there. Thus the power of Justinian
was established throughout the whole country, and the city of Rome
was again under the dominion of a Roman emperor.
While his brave generals were winning these victories for the Empire,
Justinian himself was busy in making improvements of various kinds
at the capital. He erected great public buildings, which were not
only useful but ornamental to the city. The most remarkable of
them was the very magnificent cathedral of St. Sophia (So-phi'-a),
for a long time the grandest church structure in the world. The
great temple still exists in all its beauty and grandeur, but is
now used as a Mohammedan mosque.
But the most important thing that Justinian did--the work for
which he is most celebrated--was the improving and collecting of
the laws. He made many excellent new laws and reformed many of
the old laws, so that he became famous as one of the greatest of
the world's legislators. For a long time the Roman laws had been
difficult to understand. There was a vast number of them, and
different writers differed widely as to what the laws really were
and what they meant. Justinian employed a great lawyer, named
Tribonian (trib-o'-ni-an), to collect and simplify the principal
laws. The collection which he made was called the CODE OF JUSTINIAN.
It still exists, and is the model according to which most of the
countries of Europe have made their laws.
Justinian also did a great deal of good by establishing a number
of manufactures in Constantinople. It was he who first brought
silk-worms into Europe.
To the last year of his life Justinian was strong and active and
a hard worker. He often worked or studied all day and all night
without eating or sleeping. He died in 565 at the age of eighty-three
Lived from 570-632 A.D.
A great number of people in Asia and Africa and much of those in
Turkey in Europe profess the Mohammedan (Mo-ham'-me-dan) religion.
They are called Mohammedans, Mussulmans (Mus'-sul-mans) or Moslems;
and the proper name for their religion is "Islam," which means
obedience, or submission.
The founder of this religion was a man named Mohammed (Mo-ham'-med),
or Mahomet (Ma-hom'-et). He was born in the year 570, in Mecca, a
city of Arabia. His parents were poor people, though, it is said,
they were descended from Arabian princes. They died when Mohammed
was a child, and his uncle, a kind-hearted man named AbuTalib
(A'-bu-Ta-lïb'), took him home and brought him up.
When the boy grew old enough he took care of his uncle's sheep and
camels. Sometimes he went on journeys with his uncle to different
parts of Arabia, to help him in his business as a trader. On these
journeys Mohammed used to ride on a camel, and he soon became a
Mohammed was very faithful and honest in all his work. He always
spoke the truth and never broke a promise. "I have given my
promise," he would say, "and I must keep it." He became so well
known in Mecca for being truthful and trustworthy that people gave
him the name of El Amin, which means "the truthful."
At this time he was only sixteen years of age; but the rich traders
had so much confidence in him that they gave him important business
to attend to, and trusted him with large sums of money. He often
went with caravans to a port on the shore of the Red Sea, sixty-five
miles from Mecca, and sold there the goods carried by the camels.
Then he guided the long line of camels back to Mecca, and faithfully
paid over to the owners of the goods the money he had received.
Mohammed had no school education. He could neither read nor write.
But he was not ignorant. He knew well how to do the work intrusted
to him, and was a first-rate man of business.
One day, when Mohammed was about twenty-five years old, he was
walking through the bazaar or market-place, of Mecca when he met the
chief camel-driver of a wealthy woman named Khadijah (Kha-dï'-jah).
This woman was a widow, who was carrying on the business left her
by her husband. As soon as the camel-driver saw Mohammed he stopped
him and said:
"My mistress wishes to see you before noon. I think she intends
to engage you to take charge of her caravans."
Mohammed waited to hear no more. As quickly as possible he went
to the house of Khadijah; for he was well pleased at the thought
of being employed in so important a service. The widow received
him in a very friendly way. She said:
"I have heard much of you among the traders. They say that though
you are so young you are a good caravan manager and can be trusted.
Are you willing to take charge of my caravans and give your whole
time and service to me?"
Mohammed was delighted.
"I accept your offer," said he, "and I shall do all I can to serve
and please you."
Khadijah then engaged him as the manager of her business; and he
served her well and faithfully. She thought a great deal of him,
and he was much attracted to her, and soon they came to love one
another and were married.
As he was now the husband of a rich woman he did not need to work
very hard. He still continued to attend to his wife's business;
but he did not make so many journeys as before. He spent much of
his time in thinking about religion. He learned all that he could
about Judaism and Christianity; but he was not satisfied with either
At that time most of the people of Arabia worshiped idols. Very
few of them were Christians.
Mohammed was very earnest and serious. In a cave on Mount Hira,
near Mecca, he spent several weeks every year in prayer and religious
meditation. He declared that, while praying in his cave, he often
had visions of God and heaven. He said that many times the angel
Gabriel appeared to him and revealed to him the religion which he
afterwards taught his followers. As he himself could not write,
he committed to memory all that the angel told him, and had it
written in a book. This book is called the "Koran," which means,
like our own word Bible, the "Book." The Koran is the Bible of
When Mohammed returned home after the angel had first spoken to
him, he told his wife of what he had seen and heard. She at once
believed and so became a convert to the new religion. She fell
upon her knees at the feet of her husband and cried out:
"There is but one God. Mohammed is God's prophet."
Mohammed then told the story to other members of his family. Some
of them believed and became his first followers. Soon afterwards
he began to preach to the people. He spoke in the market and
other public places. Most of those who heard him laughed at what
he told them; but some poor people and a few slaves believed him
and adopted the new religion. Others said he was a dreamer and a
Mohammed, however, paid no heed to the insults he received. He
went on telling about the appearance of Gabriel and preaching the
doctrines which he said the angel had ordered him to teach the
Often while speaking in public Mohammed had what he called a "vision
of heavenly things." At such times his face grew pale as death,
his eyes became red and staring, he spoke in a loud voice, and his
body trembled violently. Then he would tell what he had seen in
After a time the number of his followers began to increase. People
came from distant parts of Arabia and from neighboring countries
to hear him. One day six of the chief men of Medina (Me-dï'-na),
one of the largest cities of Arabia, listened earnestly to his
preaching and were converted. When they returned home they talked
of the new religion to their fellow-citizens, and a great many of
them became believers.
But the people of Mecca, Mohammed's own home, were nearly all opposed
to him. They would not believe what he preached, and they called
him an impostor. The people of the tribe to which he himself
belonged were the most bitter against him. They even threatened
to put him to death as an enemy of the gods.
About this time Mohammed's uncle and wife died, and he had
then hardly any friends in Mecca. He therefore resolved to leave
that city and go to Medina. Numbers of the people there believed
his doctrines and wished him to come and live among them. So he
secretly left his native town and fled from his enemies. With a
few faithful companions he made his escape to Medina.
It was in the year of our Lord 622 that Mohammed fled from Mecca.
This event is very important in Mohammedan history. It is called
"the flight of the prophet," or "the Hejira (Hej'-i-ra)," a word
which means FLIGHT. The Hejira is the beginning of the Mohammedan
era; and so in all countries where the rulers and people are
Mohammedans, the years are counted from the Hejira instead of from
the birth of Christ.
On his arrival in Medina the people received Mohammed with great
rejoicing. He lived there the remainder of his life. A splendid
church was built for him in Medina. It was called a mosque, and
all Mohammedan churches, or places of worship, are called by this
name. It means a place for prostration or prayer.
Mohammed thought that it was right to spread his religion by force,
and to make war on "unbelievers", as he called all people who did
not accept his teaching. He therefore got together an army and
fought battles and unbelievers. He gained many victories. He
marched against Mecca with an army of ten thousand men, and the
city surrendered with little resistance. The people then joined
his religion and destroyed their idols. Before very long all the
inhabitants of Arabia and many of the people of the neighboring
countries became Mohammedans.
Mohammed died in Medina in the year of our Lord 632, or year 11
of the Hejira. He was buried in the mosque in which he had held
religious services for so many years; and Medina has ever since
been honored, because it contains the tomb of the Prophet. It is
believed by his followers that the body still lies in the coffin
in the same state as when it was first buried. There is also a
story that the coffin of Mohammed rests somewhere between heaven
and earth, suspended in the air. But this fable was invented by
enemies to bring ridicule on the prophet and his religion.
The tomb of Mohammed is visited every year by people from all
Mohammedan countries. Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet, is also
visited by vast numbers of pilgrims. Every Mussulman is bound by
his religion to make a visit or pilgrimage to Mecca at least once
in his life. Whenever a Mussulman prays, no matter in what part
of the world he may be, he turns his face towards Mecca, as if he
were always thinking of going there.
Good Mohammedans pray five times every day, and there is a church
officer called a muezzin (mu-ez'-zin), who gives them notice of
the hour for prayer. This he does by going on the platform, or
balcony, of the minaret, or tower, of the mosque and chanting in
a loud voice such words as these:
"Come to prayer, come to prayer. There is no god but God. He
giveth life, and he dieth not. I praise his perfection. God is
In Mecca there is a mosque called the Great Mosque. It is a large
enclosure in the form of a quadrangle, or square, which can hold
35,000 persons. It is enclosed by arcades with pillars of marble
and granite, and has nineteen gates, each with a minaret or pointed
tower above it.
Within this enclosure is a famous building called the "Kaaba
(Ka'-a-ba)," or cube. It is nearly a cube in shape. It its wall,
at one corner, is the celebrated "Black Stone." Moslems regard
this stone with the greatest reverence. They say that it came
down from heaven. It is said to have been once white, but has
become dark from being wept upon and touched by so many millions
of pilgrims. It really is reddish-brown in color.
Before the time of Mohammed the Kaaba was a pagan temple; but when
he took possession of Mecca he made the old temple the centre of
worship for his own religion.
After Mohammed died a person was appointed to be his successor as
head of the Moslem church. He was called the caliph, a word which
means SUCCESSOR; and this title has been borne ever since by the
religious chief of the Mohammedans. In modern times the sultans
or rulers of Turkey have been commonly regarded as the caliphs.
Arab scholars, however, say that really the sherif (she-rïf'),
i.e., the governor of Mecca, is entitled by the Koran to hold this
Charles Martel, 714-741 A.D. and Pepin, 741-768 A.D.
After the death of Mohammed the Saracens, as Mohammedans are also
called, became great warriors. They conquered many countries and
established the Mohammedan religion in them. In 711 the Saracens
invaded and conquered a great part of Spain and founded a powerful
kingdom there, which lasted about seven hundred years.
They intended to conquer the land of the Franks next, and then all
They thought it would be easy to conquer the Franks, because the
Frankish king at that time was a very weak man. He was one of a
number of kings who were called the "Do-nothings." They reigned
from about 638 to 751. They spent all their time in amusements and
pleasures, leaving the affairs of the government to be managed by
persons called MAYORS OF THE PALACE.
The mayors of the palace were officers who at first managed the
king's household. Afterwards they were made guardians of kings
who came to the throne when very young. So long as the king was
under age the mayor of the palace acted as chief officer of the
government in his name. And as several of the young kings, even
when they were old enough to rule, gave less attention to business
than to pleasure, the mayors continued to do all the business,
until at last they did everything that the king ought to have done.
They made war, led armies in battle, raised money and spent it,
and carried on the government as they pleased, without consulting
The "Do-nothings" had the title of king, but nothing more. In
fact, they did not desire to have any business to do. The things
they cared for were dogs, horses and sport.
One of the most famous of the mayors was a man named Pepin (Pep'-in).
Once a year, it is said, Pepin had the king dressed in his finest
clothes and paraded through the city of Paris, where the court was
held. A splendid throng of nobles and courtiers accompanied the
king, and did him honor as he went along the streets in a gilded
chariot drawn by a long line of beautiful horses. The king was
cheered by the people, and he acknowledged their greetings most
After the parade the king was escorted to the great hall of the
palace, which was filled with nobles. Seated on a magnificent
throne, he saluted the assemblage and made a short speech. The
speech was prepared beforehand by Pepin, and committed to memory by
the king. At the close of the ceremony the royal "nobody" retired
to his country house and was not heard of again for a year.
Pepin died in 714 A.D., and his son Charles, who was twenty-five
years old at that time, succeeded him as mayor of the palace. This
Charles is known in history as Charles Martel. He was a brave
young man. He had fought in many of his father's battles and so
had become a skilled soldier. His men were devoted to him.
While he was mayor of the palace he led armies in several wars
against the enemies of the Franks. The most important of his
wars was one with the Saracens, who came across the Pyrenees from
Spain and invaded the land of the Franks, intending to establish
Mohammedanism there. Their army was led by Abd-er-Rahman
(Abd-er-Rah'-man), the Saracen governor of Spain.
On his march through the southern districts of the land of the
Franks Abd-er-Rahman destroyed many towns and villages, killed a
number of the people, and seized all the property he could carry
off. He plundered the city of Bordeaux (bor-do'), and, it is said,
obtained so many valuable things that every soldier "was loaded
with golden vases and cups and emeralds and other precious stones."
But meanwhile Charles Martel was not idle. As quickly as he could
he got together a great army of Franks and Germans and marched against
the Saracens. The two armies met between the cities of Tours and
Poitiers (pwaw-te-ay) in October, 732. For six days there was
nothing but an occasional skirmish between small parties from both
sides; but on the seventh day a great battle took place.
Both Christians and Mohammedans fought with terrible earnestness.
The fight went on all day, and the field was covered with the bodies
of the slain. But towards evening, during a resolute charge made
by the Franks, Abd-er-Rahman was killed. Then the Saracens gradually
retired to their camp.
It was not yet known, however, which side had won; and the Franks
expected that the fight would be renewed in the morning.
But when Charles Martel, with his Christian warriors, appeared on
the field at sunrise there was no enemy to fight. The Mohammedans
had fled in the silence and darkness of the night and had left behind
them all their valuable spoils. There was now no doubt which side
The battle of Tours, or Poitiers, as it should be called, is
regarded as one of the decisive battles of the world. It decided
that Christians, and not Moslems, should be the ruling power in
Charles Martel is especially celebrated as the hero of this battle.
It is said that the name MARTEL was given to him because of his
bravery during the fight. Marteau (mar-to') is the French word for
hammer, and one of the old French historians says that as a hammer
breaks and crushes iron and steel, so Charles broke and crushed
the power of his enemies in the battle of Tours.
But though the Saracens fled from the battlefield of Tours, they
did not leave the land of the Franks; and Charles had to fight
other battles with them, before they were finally defeated. At
last, however, he drove them across the Pyrenees, and they never
again attempted to invade Frankland.
After his defeat of the Saracens Charles Martel was looked upon as
the great champion of Christianity; and to the day of his death, in
741, he was in reality, though not in name, the king of the Franks.
Charles Martel had two sons, Pepin and Carloman. For a time they
ruled together, but Carloman wished to lead a religious life, so he
went to a monastery and became a monk. Then Pepin was sole ruler.
Pepin was quite low in stature, and therefore was called Pepin the
Short. But he had great strength and courage. A story is told of
him, which shows how fearless he was.
One day he went with a few of his nobles to a circus to see a fight
between a lion and a bull. Soon after the fight began, it looked
as though the bull was getting the worst of it. Pepin cried out
to his companions:
"Will one of you separate the beasts?"
But there was no answer. None of them had the courage to make the
attempt. Then Pepin jumped from his seat, rushed into the arena,
and with a thrust of his sword killed the lion.
In the early years of Pepin's rule as mayor of the palace the
throne was occupied by a king named Childeric (Chil'-der-ic) III.
Like his father and the other "do-nothing" kings, Childeric cared
more for pleasures and amusements than for affairs of government.
Pepin was the real ruler, and after a while he began to think that
he ought to have the title of king, as he had all the power and
did all the work of governing and defending the kingdom.
So he sent some friends to Rome to consult the Pope. They said to
"Holy father, who ought to be the king of France--the man who has
the title, or the man who has the power and does all the duties of
"Certainly," replied the Pope, "the man who has the power and does
"Then, surely," said they, "Pepin ought to be the king of the
Franks; for he has all the power."
The Pope gave his consent, and Pepin was crowned king of the Franks;
and thus the reign of Childeric ended and that of Pepin began.
During nearly his whole reign Pepin was engaged in war. Several
times he went to Italy to defend the Pope against the Lombards.
These people occupied certain parts of Italy, including the province
still called Lombardy.
Pepin conquered them and gave as a present to the Pope that part
of their possessions which extended for some distance around Rome.
This was called "Pepin's Donation." It was the beginning of what
is known as the "temporal power" of the Popes, that is, their power
as rulers of part of Italy.
Pepin died in 768.
King from 768-814 A.D.
Pepin had two sons Charles and Carloman. After the death of their
father they ruled together, but in a few years Carloman died, and
then Charles became sole king.
This Charles was the most famous of the kings of the Franks. He
did so many great and wonderful things that he is called Charlemagne
(shar-le-main'), which means Charles the Great.
He was a great soldier. For thirty years he carried on a war
against the Saxons. Finally he conquered them, and their great
chief, Wittekind, submitted to him. The Saxons were a people of
Germany, who then lived near the land of the Franks. They spoke
the same language and were of the same race as the Franks, but had
not been civilized by contact with the Romans.
They were still pagans, just as the Franks had been before Clovis
became a Christian. They actually offered human sacrifices.
After Charlemagne conquered them he made their lands part of his
kingdom. A great number of them, among whom was Wittekind, then
became Christians and were baptized; and soon they had churches
and schools in many parts of their country.
Another of Charlemagne's wars was against the Lombards.
Pepin, as you have read, had defeated the Lombards and given to
the Pope part of the country held by them. The Lombard king now
invaded the Pope's lands and threatened Rome itself; so the Pope
sent to Charlemagne for help.
Charlemagne quickly marched across the Alps and attacked the Lombards.
He drove them out of the Pope's lands and took possession of their
After he had conquered the Lombards he carried on war, in 778,
in Spain. A large portion of Spain was then held by the Moorish
Saracens. But a Mohammedan leader from Damascus had invaded
their country, and the Moors invited Charlemagne to help them. He
therefore led an army across the Pyrenees. He succeeded in putting
his Moorish friends in possession of their lands in Spain and then
set out on his return to his own country.
On the march his army was divided into two parts. The main body
was led by Charlemagne himself. The rear guard was commanded by
a famous warrior named Roland. While marching through the narrow
pass of Roncesvalles (ron-thes-val'-yes), among the Pyrenees, Roland's
division was attacked by a tribe called the Basques (basks), who
lived on the mountain slopes of the neighboring region.
High cliffs walled in the pass on either side. From the tops of
these cliffs the Basques hurled down rocks and trunks of trees upon
the Franks, and crushed many of them to death. Besides this, the
wild mountaineers descended into the pass and attacked them with
weapons. Roland fought bravely; but at last he was overpowered,
and he and all his men were killed.
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