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Chapter 19

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 he
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 the
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.