Chapter VI.—Gaïnas the Goth attempts to usurp the Sovereign Power; after filling Constantinople with Disorder, he is slain.
I shall now narrate some memorable circumstances that occurred at that period, in which it p. 141 will be seen how Divine Providence interposed by extraordinary agencies for the preservation of the city and Roman empire from the utmost peril. Gaïnas was a barbarian by extraction but after becoming a Roman subject, and having engaged in military service, and risen by degrees from one rank to another, he was at length appointed general-in-chief both of the Roman horse and foot. When he had obtained this lofty position, he forgot his position and relations, and was unable to restrain himself and on the other hand according to the common saying left no stone unturned in order to gain control of the Roman government. To accomplish this he sent for the Goths out of their own country, and gave the principal commissions in the army to his relations. Then when Tribigildus, one of his kinsmen who had the command of the forces in Phrygia, had at the instigation of Gaïnas broken out into open revolt, and was filling the people of Phrygia with confusion and dismay, he managed to have deputed to him the oversight of matters in the disturbed province. Now the Emperor Arcadius not suspecting [any harm] committed the charge of these affairs to him. Gaïnas therefore immediately set out at the head of an immense number of the barbarous Goths, apparently on an expedition against Tribigildus, but with the real intention of establishing his own unjust domination. On reaching Phrygia he began to subvert everything. Consequently the affairs of the Romans were immediately thrown into great consternation, not only on account of the vast barbarian force which Gaïnas had at his command, but also because the most fertile and opulent regions of the East were threatened with desolation. In this emergency the emperor, acting with much prudence, sought to arrest the course of the barbarian by address: he accordingly sent him an embassy with instructions to appease him for the present by every kind of concession. Gaïnas having demanded that Saturninus and Aurelian, two of the most distinguished of the senatorial order, and men of consular dignity, whom he knew to be unfavorable to his pretensions, should be delivered up to him, the emperor most unwillingly yielded to the exigency of the crisis; and these two persons, prepared to die for the public good, nobly submitted themselves to the emperors disposal. They therefore proceeded to meet the barbarian, at a place used for horse-racing some distance from Chalcedon, being resolved to endure whatever he might be disposed to inflict; but however they suffered no harm. The usurper simulating dissatisfaction, advanced to Chalcedon, whither the emperor Arcadius also went to meet him. Both then entered the church where the body of the martyr Euphemia is deposited, and there entered into a mutual pledge on oath that neither would plot against the other. The emperor indeed kept his engagement, having a religious regard to an oath, and being on that account beloved of God. But Gaïnas soon violated it, and did not swerve from his original purpose; on the contrary he was intent on carnage, plunder, and conflagration, not only against Constantinople, but also against the whole extent of the Roman empire, if he could by any means carry it into effect. The city was accordingly quite inundated by the barbarians, and its residents were reduced to a condition equivalent to that of captives. Moreover so great was the danger of the city that a comet of prodigious magnitude, reaching from heaven even to the earth, such as was never before seen, gave forewarning of it. 845 Gaïnas first most shamelessly attempted to make a seizure of the silver publicly exposed for sale in the shops: but when the proprietors, advised beforehand by report of his intention, abstained from exposing it on their counters, his thoughts were diverted to another object, which was to send an immense body of barbarians at night for the purpose of burning down the palace. Then indeed it appeared distinctly that God had providential care over the city: for a multitude of angels appeared to the rebels, in the form of armed men of gigantic stature, before whom the barbarians, imagining them to be a large army of brave troops, turned away with terror and departed. When this was reported to Gaïnas, it seemed to him quite incredible—for he knew that the greatest part of the Roman army was at a distance, dispersed as a garrison over the Eastern cities—and he sent others on the following night and repeatedly afterwards. Now as they constantly returned with the same statement—for the angels of God always presented themselves in the same form—he came with a great multitude, and at length became himself a spectator of the prodigy. Then supposing that what he saw was really a body of soldiers, and that they concealed themselves by day, and baffled his designs by night, he desisted from his attempt, and took another resolution which he conceived would be detrimental to the Romans; but the event proved it to be greatly to their advantage. Pretending to be under demoniacal possession, he went forth as if for prayer to the church of St. John the Apostle, which is seven miles distant from the city. Together with him went barbarians who carried out arms, having concealed them in casks and other specious coverings. And when the soldiers who guarded the city gates detected these, and would not suffer them to pass, the barbarians drew their swords and put them to p. 142 death. A fearful tumult thence arose in the city, and death seemed to threaten every one; nevertheless the city continued secure at that time, its gates being every where well defended. The emperor with timely wisdom proclaimed Gaïnas a public enemy, and ordered that all the barbarians who remained shut up in the city should be slain. Thus one day after the guards of the gates had been killed, the Romans attacked the barbarians within the walls near the church of the Goths—for thither such of them as had been left in the city had betaken themselves—and after destroying a great number of them they set the church on fire, and burnt it to the ground. Gaïnas being informed of the slaughter of those of his party who did not manage to get out of the city, and perceiving the failure of all his artifices, left St. Johns church, and advanced rapidly towards Thrace. On reaching the Chersonnese he endeavored to pass over from thence and take Lampsacus, in order that from that place he might make himself master of the Eastern parts. As the emperor had immediately dispatched forces in pursuit both by land and by sea, another wonderful interposition of Divine Providence occurred. For while the barbarians, destitute of ships, hastily put together rafts and were attempting to cross on them, suddenly the Roman fleet appeared, and the west wind began to blow hard. This afforded an easy passage to the Romans; but the barbarians with their horses, tossed up and down in their frail barks by the violence of the gale, were at length overwhelmed by the waves; many of them also were destroyed by the Romans. In this manner during the passage a vast number of the barbarians perished; but Gaïnas departing thence fled into Thrace, where he fell in with another body of the Roman forces and was slain by them together with the barbarians that attended him. 846 Let this cursory notice of Gaïnas suffice here.
Those who may desire more minute details of the circumstances of that war, should read The Gaïnea of Eusebius Scholasticus, 847 who was at that time a pupil of Troïlus the sophist; and having been a spectator of the war, related the events of it in an heroic poem consisting of four books; and inasmuch as the events alluded to had but recently taken place, he acquired for himself great celebrity. The poet Ammonius has also very lately composed another description in verse of the same transactions, which he recited before the emperor in the sixteenth consulate 848 of Theodosius the younger, which he bore with Faustus.
This war was terminated under the consulate of Stilicho and Aurelian. 849 The year following, 850 the consulate was celebrated by Fravitus also a Goth by extraction, who was honored by the Romans, and showed great fidelity and attachment to them, rendering important services in this very war. For this reason he attained to the dignity of consul. In that year on the tenth of April there was born a son to the Emperor Arcadius, the good Theodosius.
But while the affairs of the state were thus troubled, the dignitaries of the Church refrained not in the least from their disgraceful cabals against each other, to the great reproach of the Christian religion; for during this time the ecclesiastics incited tumults against each other. The source of the mischief originated in Egypt in the following manner.
Cf. Vergil, Georg. I. 488, Nec diri toties arsere cometæ; and Am. X. 272–274.142:846
Cf. an account of Gaïnas and his rebellion in Zosimus, V. 18–22.142:847
On the surname of Scholasticus, see Introd. p. ix. note 20, also Macar. Homil. 15, §24. On Eusebius Scholasticus, see Smith and Wace, Eusebius (134) Scholasticus.142:848