|« Prev||The Massacre||Next »|
Your hands are full of blood.—Isaiah i. 15.
Foiled at every turn, Gaïnas began to feel that his star was no longer in the ascendant; that fortune had abandoned him; that in the game of ambition he had been finally defeated; that Nemesis was but awaiting her opportunity. Tormented more and more by indecision and disappointment, and seeing in their effects the anger of a besetting demon, he gave out that he was ill, and that he should resort to the Chapel of St. John the Baptist at the Hebdomon. It was seven miles distant from the capital, and stood on the scene of the murder of Rufinus. Gaïnas said, ‘I will pray for the recovery of my health.’ He gave secret orders to his army to join him there, not in one body, but by detachments of ten thousand at a time. They were to bring with them from Constantinople their wives, their children—all their possessions. He felt that at Constantinople, as far as he was concerned, all was over. He would throw himself back on the wild and roving life of his ancestors. Asia had long been exhausted by rapine, but he would plunder the cities of Thrace and of Europe, and, making his way to the Danube, would there reoccupy the wide regions of wasted land, and make a new home for his people away from the curse of a dying and polluted civilisation.
But now disaster after disaster befell him, and never again did he enjoy a happy day.
Two-thirds of his army had joined him at the Hebdomon, when one of those workings of God’s unseen Providence, by men nicknamed ‘chance,’ which by no means unfrequently have decided the mightiest crises of history, let 263 loose the rush of the avalanche by which he was ultimately to be overwhelmed.
It only remained for the last division of the Gothic soldiers to shake the dust of Constantinople off their feet and join their chieftain, eager for fresh fields and pastures new. The city was full of the most painful disquietude and alarm. What did the Goths intend? Whither were they going? Was the end of the world at hand? What possible deliverance could be expected from the tyranny within or the terror without?
It was the 12th of July, 399. At the city gate of the Blachernæ suburb sat habitually an old beggar-woman. It was morning, and she had noticed that since the early dawn the Goths had been stealing by hundreds out of the city. She noticed, too, that they were all armed, though it seemed as if they were trying to conceal their arms. She was seized with misgiving. What were they going to do? Would they ere sunset assault and burn the city? Dropping her beggar’s dish, she wailed, and wrung her hands, and cried aloud to the gods. The Goths but imperfectly understood her words and her demeanour. They thought that she was cursing and insulting them, and one of the fiery barbarians lifted his sword to cleave her head. Indignant at such treatment of an old and well-known figure, a Roman struck the Goth to the ground. Then the Goths raised a wild and angry cry, and curious spectators came flocking up on every side. In the heat of the quarrel which arose both the soldiers and the multitude assumed a most threatening attitude. As the people outnumbered the soldiers in a proportion of three to one, the Goths became alarmed, and blood began to flow freely on both sides. Meanwhile the whole population of Constantinople seemed to be gathering in the streets, and there was no mistaking the significance of the fierce, indignant hum which betrayed the pent-up feelings of wrath with which the multitude regarded these alien intruders, who had so long imposed upon them an odious and insulting tyranny. At that early hour of morning twilight, before the stream of business and amusement had begun, all the citizens were free, and they naturally thronged to the scene of combat. More than this, the manhood of Constantinople showed on all occasions a 264 more Roman, and therefore a more vigorous, manhood than was the case in the other cities of the East. The most fearless of them had not only seized whatever implements were available, but had eagerly torn the swords out of the grasp of the dead and wounded Goths, and were using them with terrible effect. Hemmed in by a threatening mass of infuriated and implacable enemies, some of the Goths hewed their path to the nearest gate and forced their way through. At the head of these was Thorismund, who had been left to accompany the last contingent; for the wife of Gaïnas was so utterly reluctant to leave the charms of security and civilisation for the roving life of incessant battlefields, that she had been one of the last to leave her home with Walamir, her younger son. She was surrounded by an escort of her countrymen, but they were far too few for so frightful and unexpected an emergency. Thorismund and the soldiers with him had fought their way safely out of the city, and, in the self-confidence of Gothic courage, felt no doubt that the whole remainder of the army would follow them. In this conviction they marched forward, and chose a place for their camp at some distance from the walls. But their conviction was mistaken. The populace had completely got the upper hand over their deeply disheartened and far-outnumbered opponents. In that street warfare, suspecting treachery at every turn, the Goths fought with far less than their usual resistless impetuosity. They made a wild effort to keep their mastery over the gate, to follow their comrades, or at the worst to give them intelligence of their frightful position, and entreat them to send reinforcements. But they were too late: the citizens had seized and manned every path of egress. When Typhos sent to them, demanding that the gates should be handed over to his guards, so deep was their distrust of him that they flatly refused to obey. Conscious of their success, they raised the pæan of victory. The Goths outside the walls, being at some distance, mistook its import, and made sure that it meant the triumph of their countrymen. One of the Goths managed at the point of the sword to make his way out of the city by one of the less guarded gates, and he undeceived them. Then Thorismund, at the head of all the most valiant warriors whom 265 he could assemble, made his way back to the city. It was in vain. Every gate was shut against him. The walls bristled with hostile bows and spears. The young warrior could only rage in vain, while within the fatal circle the hapless barbarians got more and more entangled in the streets, and were at last hemmed inextricably into one narrow space, where, in despair almost too deep for attempted self-defence, they were being hacked, and hewn down, and stabbed by thousands of furious citizens, who were now mostly armed.
Through the burning heat of that dreadful morning the massacre went on, and a dozen Goths were struck down by stones from the windows, or pierced with arrows, or beaten to the ground with clubs and swords, for every one of their assailants whom they slew. Religious hatred, political hatred, race hatred, in their most enflamed bitterness, were incited to overwhelm for ever the detested, overbearing, and heretical barbarians.
The horrid scene still continued, and all attempt at interference would have been hopeless, for the multitude was mad with rage and the gratification of long-suppressed jealousy and revenge. The dominance of Gaïnas, in itself sufficiently detestable to the citizens, was identified in their minds with the still more execrated dominance of Typhos. Now that chance seemed to have offered them a hope of getting rid of both, they seized it with frantic avidity. Not much of the tumult was witnessed by Chrysostom, for the Silentiarii were posted at every entrance to the Forum, in order to secure the protection of the Palace. But his secretaries and some of the presbyters now and then brought him some description of the blood-bath which was deluging the streets, and as at least 7,000 Goths were still pent up in the city, the citizens, with scarcely any effectual retaliation, continued to slay and slay and slay. Distressed by the cries which reached his ears, and by his inability to prevent the massacre, Chrysostom ventured to seek an interview with Arcadius, and ask whether no energetic measure could be resorted to which might stay the fury of the sword. But the Emperor was stolidly obdurate. He regarded this dire event as a Divine intervention to rid him, in a 266 manner wholly unexpected, alike of Gothic and of Arian tyranny. Beyond protecting his own palace he refused to give a single order or take a single step.
On the other hand, the ardent spirit of youth naturally made it impossible for Philip and his two friends to sit quietly in the protected Patriarcheion while so fierce a battle was thundering through the city streets. It was obvious that they could not join in the fighting, for Goths and Byzantines alike were under the Archbishop’s care; but if any opportunity offered itself for deeds of mercy and service, they desired to seize it. All three of them were parabolani—that is, they were members of a guild ostensibly formed for the purpose of burying the dead, a duty which was often difficult, and was sometimes shockingly neglected. But this was not their only function: they were always ready for any other deed of mercy.
By the afternoon the bodies of several hundreds of the Goths strewed the streets, and among them lay not a few of the citizens who had perished in the dreadful encounter. But seven thousand still remained, surrounded on every side by myriads of threatening faces and fiercely brandished arms. They determined to make one more desperate effort for their lives, and the word was passed among them to hew their way to the church which had been set apart for the worship of orthodox Goths. It was a church in which Chrysostom had taken deep interest. He had fancied that it might become a nucleus of proselytising influence to win back this grand nation of barbarians to the faith of the Catholics; and he had even taken pains to procure presbyters and mission-agents, familiar with the Gothic language, to set before the Arians in their beloved native tongue the fulness of the Nicene verity. Into this church, then, the Goths determined to fight a passage, feeling no doubt at all that the sacred right of asylum, which had protected the life of Eutropius, would suffice to secure their imperilled safety. It never occurred to them that they, who had so long been servants of the Empire, and had fought its battles, whatever may have been the errors into which they had of late been misled by their chiefs, would be treated with a fury too implacable to be sated by anything short of their complete extermination. 267 So with stern faces they turned to bay, and, cleaving themselves a lane through the living barrier of their enemies, fought their way towards the Gothic church. It was outside the great Forum, though at no great distance from it. They succeeded in their effort, though with ever-diminished numbers, since the crowd harassed them at every step and cut off every straggler.
David had been occupied in various parts of the city in tending any wounded citizen whom he could help to his home, or conduct to one of the Patriarch’s hospitals. Eutyches, who was much younger and of a more timid disposition, strayed as little as possible from the side of Philip. Their dress as parabolani accounted for their presence in the streets in a peaceful capacity, and it was not long before their benevolent efforts were signally rewarded; for their eyes were attracted by a spectacle which would have moved a heart of stone.
In the centre of the stream of Goths, protected to the utmost by their shields, yet very imperfectly sheltered from the missiles hurled down on the doomed warriors from roofs and lattices, walked a tall and stately woman with her son, a boy of fifteen, a perfect type of manly Gothic beauty, by her side. She was richly dressed, and the brooch which fastened her embroidered robes was set with large emeralds, but she was now in a deplorable condition of fatigue and wretchedness. Her long, fair tresses streamed dishevelled over her shoulders: the jewelled ribbon of silk, which had confined them at the back of her head, had been torn away, and they were stained with blood from a wound in her forehead, caused by a stone, which had struck her with violence. With feelings harrowed to their depths, she watched the awful catastrophe which had befallen this mass of her fellow-countrymen; and it had long dawned on her mind that, in the crushing and crimson surge of massacre which every now and then deluged the heterogeneous conflict, and for which she herself felt partly guilty, her life could only be saved by a miracle.
It was Liuba, the wife of Gaïnas, and the boy by her side was Walamir, who had formed so romantic an affection for Eutyches in his father’s tent. Walamir had never looked so beautiful or so noble. He was dressed in the armour of 268 his nation. The light of battle was in his eyes, and the sunlight which burned in his short, bright curls where they were uncovered by his helmet, made a sort of nimbus round his face. Boy as he was, he had fought like a hero. He carried a drawn sword in his hand, and a bow and quiver were slung over his back. Now and then, if chance offered, he would thrust the sword into its scabbard, snatch an arrow from his quiver, and aim it at some prominent assailant; but his mind was mainly absorbed in the effort to protect his mother, to whom his restless glances constantly returned. He himself had evidently been wounded. A sword-point had pierced his leg, for he limped with painful efforts, and often stumbled; and he was pale with loss of blood from a deep arrow-wound in his shoulder, which had dyed his white tunic and the wolfskin belted across his breast with deep red stains.
Eutyches was the first to catch a glimpse of him amid the serried ranks of his warriors. He caught Philip’s arms, and cried in an agitated voice: ‘Oh, Philip! let us press as near as we can, and try to save him.’
‘We will, my boy,’ cried Philip; ‘but oh! I fear the case is desperate.’
And now the Goths had reached the open space in front of the church, and by a natural movement they rushed forward to gain the entrance. The crowd pressed still more firmly on their ranks, to prevent them from reaching their asylum. Walamir and his mother were thrust on one side by the rush of the narrowing stream of soldiers, and, seizing his chance, a brutal citizen smote the wife of Gaïnas on the head with a club. She sank down without a groan, and would instantly have been trampled to death had not Philip leapt forward, and, aided by Eutyches—for the costume of the charitable brotherhood secured them from molestation—dragged her a little aside into the corner of the Galilee. Walamir had cut down the cowardly striker of a woman with a blow of his sword, and then, too faint from his wounds to make any further effort, sank with a low wail upon his mother’s corpse.
Thousands of the Goths had now pressed into the church, till it was full from end to end, and those who could not enter were slain with scarcely the shadow of 269 resistance. While the tumult roared about the gates one rioter aimed an infamous blow at Walamir, who, lying prostrate and with outstretched arms, was now conscious of nothing but that his mother was dead and his people were perishing. The force of the blow was broken, for without a moment’s hesitation Philip felled the man with a blow on the temple from his clenched fist. But Walamir had swooned, and Philip and Eutyches, seeing that his mother was past help, gently disengaged his arms from her corpse. Philip had often been with his master to the church, and was well acquainted with its precincts. The humble residence of the presbyter, a venerable Goth, was at the back of the church, and the entrance to it lay through a shady little garden, entered by a wicket-gate which was scarcely observable amid the mass of creepers which twined about it in rank luxuriance. Through this wicket he and Eutyches carried the poor wounded lad, and the humble presbyter, thankful for the opportunity of helping one of his countrymen, laid the young Ostrogoth on his own bed, and entrusted him to the charge of his sister, who kept his house.
There for a time we must leave him, and narrate the savage and shameful tragedy which thereon ensued. For not even in the church were the hunted remnant of the Goths to find a secure refuge. They were within; they had barred the gates; they determined, if the place were assaulted by violence, to sell their lives dear. But the mob of their assailants, thwarted for the moment, had forced their way through the soldiers into the Forum, and were now yelling at the Royal Gate of the Palace, demanding that Arcadius should give them leave to violate the right of asylum and put a final end to the to terror of Gothic intimidation. It was always the impulse of Arcadius to yield. Perhaps he thought it useless to attempt resistance. Perhaps he fancied in his muddled and bewildered religionism that a holocaust of the Goths could not be but a pleasing sacrifice to God. Perhaps he fell back on his own edict that State criminals of the worst dye could not be protected by the rights of sanctuary. Be that as it may, he declined to interfere. Then the mob flew back to the church, pressed into their service every ladder which could be found, swarmed to the 270 roofs of the sacred building, and tore them up, and broke them down with axes and hammers and battering-rams. Below was the dreadful spectacle of thousands of warriors densely wedged together in the sacred space, unable to defend themselves, unable to strike a single blow; above, on the ladders and walls and roofs, were the faces of their enemies, distorted by hatred and malignant triumph. There are scenes and occasions in which men become transformed into incarnate demons. It was so on that dreadful day with the mob of Constantinople. Pitiless as at the games of the Amphitheatre, they gloated on the final scene of slaughter, which incarnadined the sacred place with rivers of gore. Many of the Goths, seeing their desperate extremity, embraced their brethren-in-arms, and heroically fell by their own or one another’s friendly swords. Others sat down on the pavement, with their heads bowed upon their knees, awaiting whatever form of death might come. Many who were Christians joined in the lilt of some Christian chant; others who were still Pagans raised fragments of the songs of their native land. The butchery did not last long when hundreds were hurling down on them showers of stones, and masses of burning wood, and huge fragments of masonry, and most of them chose rather to die by each other’s hands. In the course of an hour not one was left alive. Portions of the church had caught fire, and there were places where the creeping streams of fire were quenched in blood. By evening, through the dismantled roofs of the wrecked edifice, the silent heavens looked down on masses of ruin, and blackened beams, and shattered rafters, and heaps of dying men and charred corpses, and broken arms.
History knows but of one scene which resembles this in its tragedy: it is the massacre of Corcyra. But in the massacre of Corcyra, B.C. 425, only 300 perished. That was on Mount Istone, not in any temple or sacred place. In this massacre at Constantinople 7,000 were helplessly and pitilessly butchered in a church which but a day or two before had rung with hymns and murmured with prayers to the White Christ, to the God of all mercy and all compassion.
|« Prev||The Massacre||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version