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CHAPTER XIX: ARCADIUS AND HONORIUS (AD 395–423)

The great emperor Theodosius was succeeded in 395 by his two sons, Arcadius, who was eighteen years of age, and Honorius, who was only eleven. Arcadius had the East, and Honorius the West; and after this division, the empire was never again united in anything like the full extent of its old greatness. The reigns of these princes were full of misfortunes, especially in the western empire, where swarms of barbarians poured down from the north, and did a vast deal of mischief. One of these barbarous nations, the Goths, whose king was named Alaric, thrice besieged Rome itself. The first time, Alaric was bought off by a large sum of money. After the second siege, he set up an emperor of his own making; and after the third siege, the city was given up to his soldiers for plunder. Rude as these Goths were, they had been brought over to a kind of Christianity, although it was not the true faith of the Church. There had, indeed, been Christians among the Goths nearly 150 years before this time, for many of them had been converted by Christian captives, whom they carried off in the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, about the year 260; and a Gothic bishop, named Theophilus, had sat at the council of Nicaea. But great changes had since been wrought among them by a remarkable man named Ulfilas, who was consecrated as their bishop in the year 348. He found that they did not know the use of letters, so he made an alphabet for them, and translated the Scriptures into their language, and he taught them many useful arts. Thus he got such an influence over them, that they received all his words as law, and he was called “the Moses of the Goths.” But, unhappily, Ulfilas was drawn into Arianism, and this was the doctrine which 94he taught to his people, instead of the sound faith which had before been preached to them by Theophilus and others. But still, although their Christianity was not of the right kind, it had good effects on these rough people; and so it appeared when Rome was given over by the conqueror Alaric to his soldiers. Although they destroyed temples, they paid great respect to churches; and they did not commit such terrible acts of cruelty and violence as had been usual when cities were taken by heathen armies.

I need not say more about these sad times; but I must not forget to tell what was done by a monk, named Telemachus, in the reign of Honorius. In the year 403, one of the emperor's generals defeated Alaric in the north of Italy; and the Romans, who in those days were not much used to victories, made the most of this one, and held great games in honour of it. Now the public games of the Romans were generally of a cruel kind. We have seen how, in former days, they used to let wild beasts loose against the Christian martyrs in their amphitheatres (page 9); and another of their favourite pastimes was to set men who were called gladiators (that is, swordsmen) to fight and kill each other in those same places. The love of these shows of gladiators was so strong in the people of Rome, that Constantine had not ventured to do away with them there, although he would not allow any such things in the new Christian capital which he built. And the custom of setting men to slaughter one another for the amusement of the lookers on had lasted at Rome down to the time of Honorius.

Telemachus, then, who was an eastern monk, was greatly shocked that Christians should take pleasure in these savage sports, and when he heard of the great games which were preparing, he resolved to bear his witness against them. For this purpose, therefore, he went all the way to Rome, and got into the amphitheatre, close to the arena (as the place where the gladiators fought was called); and when 95the fight had begun, he leaped over the barrier which separated him from the arena, rushed in between the gladiators, and tried to part them. The people who crowded the vast building grew furious at being baulked of their amusement; they shouted out with rage, and threw stones, or whatever else they could lay their hands on, at Telemachus, so that he was soon pelted to death. But when they saw him lying dead, their anger suddenly cooled, and they were struck with horror at the crime of which they had been guilty, although they had never thought of the wickedness of feasting their eyes on the bloodshed of gladiators. The emperor said that the death of Telemachus was really a martyrdom, and proposed to do away with the shows of gladiators, and the people, who were now filled with sorrow and shame, agreed to give up their cruel diversions. So the life of the brave monk was not thrown away, since it was the means of saving the lives of many, and of preserving multitudes from the sin of sacrificing their fellowmen for their sport.

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