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GAÏNAS MEETS HIS DOOM
Desinat elatis quisquam confidere rebus,
Instabilesque Deos ac lubrica numina discat…,
…Qui Sidonio velari credidit auro
Nudus pascit aves.
Claud., In Ruf. ii. 440.
Such were the frightful tidings which reached the Ostrogothic chieftain in his camp at the Hebdomon. His wife had been slain; one-third of his army had been massacred; the gates of Constantinople were closed, and its walls garrisoned against him. His brave son, Thorismund, was with him, but he knew not the fate of the son of his heart, his beloved and beautiful Walamir. But there was no time to waste in anguish or in funeral obsequies—the case demanded instant action. Typhos was still left in power as Prætorian Præfect at Constantinople, and with Typhos he was in secret agreement. But this last thread of hope was speedily cut short. True that Typhos seemed almost indispensable to Arcadius for the moment, because, bad as he was, the unscrupulous thoroughness of his impartial oppression helped to replenish the exhausted treasury. But the breach between the Emperor and the Goths was now irreparable. Gaïnas was declared a public enemy. An extraordinary commission was appointed to examine into the misdeeds of Typhos. His manifold acts of treachery were exposed. He was flung into prison. For a time his execution was only averted by the intercession of Aurelian, who was now recalled from his undeserved banishment. But doomsday came to Typhos at last, as it comes in turn to all transgressors. Amid universal detestation, unaided by the vast treasures he had amassed for such brief enjoyment, he expiated his manifold 272 malfeasance under the hands of the common executioner, and his wife died, shunned and execrated, in abject misery.
Gaïnas broke up his camp, and marched forward to ravage the lands of Thrace. But there comes to many a man who was once the spoiled favourite of fortune a time when he finds that everything has turned for him to thorns. Gaïnas and his army were utterly baulked of the rich plunder which they had hoped to win from the depopulation of Thrace. The Romans had everywhere been encouraged to contempt and defiance by the disaster of the barbarians at Constantinople. Gaïnas found the cities not undefended, like those of Asia; not with crumbling walls, but powerfully garrisoned and amply fortified. To take them by siege was impossible: time and siege-trains alike were lacking. In the place of harvests he found only wastes of stubble: the fields had been reaped already, the grain stored, the cattle driven into places of safety. It seemed as if he and all his Goths were engaged in a fruitless raid, in which at last they would be reduced to starve.
Overwhelmed with anxiety and despair, he made his way towards the Hellespont. He would once more cross to the lands of Asia, which, ravaged as they had been, still seemed to offer an inexhaustible resource. But meanwhile another event had happened.
Fravitta, a Goth by birth, a Pagan in religion, was, as we have said, by conviction a member of the Roman party. He had married a Roman wife; he accepted the duties of civilisation as the only rôle hereafter open to his fellow-countrymen. The line of Claudian was often on his lips:—
We are all one nation.
’Quod cuncti gens una sumus.’
Already, in his earlier days, he had, at peril of his own life, saved Theodosius from the dangerous conspiracy of Eriulph. His fiery youth was passed, but his courage was unquenched, his allegiance unshaken. He came forward and offered his sword and his services to Arcadius. The Emperor elevated him to the rank of Commander-in-Chief 273 in place of Gaïnas, and he promised to make the rebellious Goths accept the yoke, or to drive them back beyond the Danube.
The safety of Thrace had been practically secured by the prudence of its own inhabitants and the bold front which they presented to the enemy. Still, Fravitta watched the movements of Gaïnas, and received early notice of his intention to fall back on the Hellespont. Fravitta arranged his forces on the Asiatic shore, and confronted the Gothic army, which was extended along the coasts of the Chersonese from Parium to opposite Abydos; he also assembled a fleet of Liburnian galleys to prevent the passage of the straits.
Gaïnas grew desperate. He and his army were suffering from the pressure of famine. Cross over to Asia he must, at whatever cost; and yet he had not a single ship, and there was a fleet to bar his passage!
The Goths did not know the art of shipbuilding, and, even had they done so, time would have failed them for the purpose. Behind them was hungry desolation; before them a determined army and the wild sea-waves. Gaïnas ordered every tree they could find in the peninsula to be cut down, and rude rafts to be constructed from the trunks lashed together. These rafts, helmless and rudderless as they were, were laden with men and horses, and launched to the chances of the sea-currents to sweep them whither they would. Gaïnas felt strangely confident of victory, and waited on the shore to watch the success of his plan. But Fravitta was more than ready for him. His galleys were at some distance from the coast, and he had armed them with iron prows. A strong west wind came to his aid. No sooner did he observe the rafts in the grasp of the isthmus-currents than he swept down on one of the largest, split it, sank it, and dashed its struggling occupants, cavalry and infantry together, into the deep sea. Those who could not swim were instantly drowned, the more easily because many of them were encumbered with the weight of their armour. Those who could swim flung away their arms; but the galleys drove amongst them, and struck them down, or they were pushed under the billows by the points of hostile spears.274
In this way thousands were destroyed. Gaïnas saw a vast contingent of his army perish ignominiously under his very eyes. There was no possibility of assembling a new host. His prestige was gone; his auspices appeared to be branded with fatality; his troops were daily weakened by desertions. Already the advanced detachments of Fravitta’s Romans began to harry his rear as he fled through the Thracian plains, so void of sustenance. In despairing rage he slaughtered all the Roman hostages and prisoners who were with him, and made his way towards the Danube, determined to re-seek the home of his youth, and there achieve some fresh plan of vengeance, or end the clouded and dishonoured remnant of his days.
By the time he reached the banks of the Danube there were but few followers with him; but among them were his son Thorismund and the band of warriors who were specially devoted to the service of that fine young chieftain. Gaïnas, now more than ever in the grasp of the demon, spurred his foaming warhorse towards the stream, plunged recklessly into it, and swam it far ahead of the majority of his followers. Unhappily for him, the shore on which he landed was in possession of the Huns and their king, Uldes. This chieftain, who had many plans for the future, was most anxious to gain the favour and confidence of the Emperor of the East, and he well knew that he could offer him no more precious gift than the head of the enemy who for so many years had kept him in terrified subjection. Gaïnas, with about a dozen of his escort, rode up to Uldes, and asked permission simply to pass through his territory to their own old lands. The ugly face of the Hun only gathered into a frown. He gave a signal to his troop, and they closed in dense ranks round the unhappy Ostrogoth. He saw that his time was come. One gleam of joy alone lightened his last hour: it was that his son Thorismund was not one of those who had thus been shut up with him in the serried army of these treacherous enemies, so that it might still be possible for him to swim back across the Danube, and escape. Nothing remained but to sell his life as dearly as he could, and to this task he set himself with all the stern delight of battle.
‘Ha!’ he, shouted, raising his voice to its full pitch, 275 ’it is treachery and death. Fly, Thorismund! But you, my brave comrades, you are Goths; let some, at least, of these grinning fiends accompany us to the realms of Hela! They think that we will tamely lay down our arms! They know us not. At them, my warriors!’
Gaïnas himself spurred his horse straight at Uldes; but the Hun swerved from his charge, and the Ostrogoth found himself in the very thick of the Hunnish legion. He fought like a lion. Many a Hun bit the ground before his strong arm and practiced sword; but he was already separate from his little band. In a few minutes every one of them had been slain, and Gaïnas, now covered with wounds, was dragged from his steed, and received his death-stab. In his last moments all the passions and instincts of his Pagan forefathers had come back to him, and as his life-blood ebbed away he felt, in one flash of consolation, that the Valkyrie would not be ashamed of him, for he had not died tamely, but as an Ostrogoth should die, with his broken sword in his grasp, and leaning on his broken shield, yet in the midst of foes whom he had slain. They tore off his golden collar and his ornaments, and then, from the neck on which it had towered in its pride of strength and comeliness, they struck off the warrior’s head, and spiked it on the summit of a lance, to send it to Arcadius as a gage of friendship and the best pledge of the Hunnish king’s allegiance.
And it was thus that Gaïnas also met his doom.
But Thorismund and his followers, seeing the dread event, recrossed the Danube at full speed—for of what use would it be to throw away their lives in an attack upon a host which outnumbered them by a hundred to one? When they had reached a place of safety they drew rein, and after brief consultation determined to make their way to Illyricum, and there offer their swords to Alaric the Visigoth for his contemplated invasion of the West.
‘Alaric was ever jealous of Gaïnas,’ said an old warrior. ’They rarely acted together.’
‘They were comrades-in-arms at the battle of the Frigidus,’ said Thorismund, ‘and the Ostrogoths are brothers of the Visigoths. Alaric will not refuse a 276 suppliant who will aid him in exacting vengeance from the cruel and perfidious Romans. They have cheated and oppressed us. They deceived and massacred our noble youth. They have just slaughtered whole holocausts of our warriors in their accursed streets. We will still beat them to the dust. If not Constantinople, at least Rome, shall yet be in our hands. Courage, my Ostrogoths! If we cannot conquer, we will die in our simplicity.’
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