The Story of Switzerland by Lina Hug and Richard Stead - HTML preview

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erected public buildings of their own accord. The towns of the Valais,

Octodurum (Martigny), Sedunum (Sion), &c., had their own city

council and municipal officers, and received the Latin Right. In the

case of the Helvetians, those of the capital and those of the provinces

equally enjoyed that Right; whereas, with Augusta Rauracorum, the

case was different, only the colonists within the walled cities being

granted the like standing and liberties. On the whole it may be said

that, though Helvetia kept many of her own peculiarities, and some of

her ancient liberties, she submitted to Rome, and was greatly

influenced by the advanced civilization of the empire. The Helvetians,

indeed, underwent that change of speech and character, which split

them into two nations, French and Germans.

[Pg 36]

One of the chief factors contributing to the Roman colonization of

Helvetia was the military occupation of its northern frontier, though

this occupation weighed heavily on the country. The great object of

Rome was to keep back the Germans, who were for ever threatening

to break into the empire. Vindonissa was one of the military

headquarters, and its selection for the purpose was justified by its

excellent position, situated as it was on an elevated neck of land,

washed by three navigable rivers, the Aare, Reuss, and Limmat, and

at the junction of the two great roads connecting East and West

Helvetia with Italy. A capital system of roads, too, was planned all

over the country.

There would no doubt often be but little love lost between the

Helvetians and the soldiery in occupation. Tacitus ("Annals") tells of

one bloody episode. After the death of the madman hero, the twenty-

first legion, surnamed Rapax, or Rapacious, no doubt for good

reasons, was quartered at Vindonissa. Cæcina, a violent man,

lieutenant of Vitellius, then commander of the Rhine army, marched

into Helvetia to proclaim Vitellius emperor. But the Helvetians

supported his opponent Galba, not knowing that he had just been

murdered, and fell upon the messengers of Cæcina, and put them in

prison, after first seizing their letters. The lieutenant enraged at this

affront laid waste the neighbouring Aquæ (Baden near Zurich), a

flourishing watering-place much frequented for its amusements,

Tacitus tells us. Calling in the Rhætian cohorts, he drove them to the

Bœtzberg, and cut them down by thousands in the woods and

fastnesses of

[Pg 37]

Mount Jura; then, ravaging the country as he went, Cæcina marched

on to Aventicum, which at once surrendered. Alpinus, a notable

leader, was put to death, and the rest were left to the clemency of

Vitellius. However, the Roman soldiery demanded the destruction of

the nation, but Claudius Cossus, a Helvetian of great eloquence,

moving them to tears by his touching words, they changed their

minds, and begged that the Helvetians might be set at liberty.

However this military occupation was, after sixty years of duration,

drawing to a close. Under Domitian and Trajan all the land between

Strasburg and Augsburg, as far as the Main, was conquered and

annexed to the Roman Empire. An artificial rampart was formed

across country from the mouth of the Main to Regensburg on the

Danube, and the military cordon was removed from the Swiss frontier

to the new boundary line. Helvetia, now no longer the rendezvous of

the Roman legionaries, quietly settled into a Roman province, where

the language, customs, art, and learning of Rome were soon to be


If the military stations were starting-points of the new culture, it was

the more peaceful immigrants who introduced agriculture, commerce,

and wealth, or, at any rate, caused it to make progress. Gradually the

Helvetians amalgamated with the Romans, adopting even their

religion. Horticulture and vine-culture were introduced. A Roman

farmer grew vines on a patch of ground near Cully, on Lake Geneva,

and on an inscribed stone (dug up at St. Prex) begs Bacchus

[Pg 38]

( Liber Pater Cocliensis) to bless the vintage. He little anticipated that

his plantation would be the ancestor, as it were, of the famous La

Côte, now so highly valued.

Wherever the art-loving Roman fixed his abode he built his house,

with the wonderful Roman masonry, and furnished it with all the

luxury and art his refined taste suggested. Thus the country gradually

assumed a Roman aspect. Many towns and vici, or village

settlements, sprang up or increased in importance under Roman

influence—Zurich, Aquæ (Baden near Zurich), Kloten, Vindonissa,

and others.[10] Yet the eastern portion of the country could not compete in the matter of fine buildings with the western cantons.

Indeed, in the eastern districts the Helvetian influence was never

predominated over by the Latin influence, and the Helvetians clung to

their native speech despite the Latin tongue being the official


But it was the mild and sunny west which most attracted the

foreigner, as it still does. Wealthy Romans settled in great numbers

between Mount Jura and the Pennine ranges. Every nook and corner

of the Canton Vaud bears even down to our days the stamp of

Roman civilization. The shores and sunny slopes of Geneva lake

were strewn with villas, and the woody strip of land between

Villeneuve and Lausanne and Geneva was almost as much in

request for country seats by the great amongst the Romans as that

delightful stretch of coast on the Bay of

[Pg 39]

Naples, from Posilippo to Pozzuoli and Baiæ, where Cicero and

Virgil, and many Romans of lesser mark, had their villegiatures.

But the most remarkable place, whether for art, learning, or opulence,

was Aventicum, the Helvetian capital. Of this town some mention has

been made above, and, did space permit, a full description might well

be given of this truly magnificent and truly Roman city. Its theatre,

academy, senate-house, courts, palaces, baths, triumphal arches,

and private buildings were wonderful. Am. Marcellinus, the Roman

writer, who saw Aventicum shortly after its partial destruction by the

Alamanni, greatly admired its palace's and temples, even in their

semi-ruinous condition. The city next in beauty and size was Augusta

Rauracorum (Basel Augst), where the ruins of a vast amphitheatre

still command our wondering admiration.

But this period of grandeur was followed by the gradual downfall of

the empire, which was already rotten at the core. The degenerate

Romans of the later times were unable to stand against the attacks of

the more vigorous Germans. The story is too long to tell in detail, but

a few points may be briefly noted. In 264 a.d. the Alamanni swept

through the country on their way to Gaul, levelling Augusta

Rauracorum with the ground, and considerably injuring Aventicum. At

the end of the third century the Romans relinquished their rampart

between the Rhine and the Danube, and fell back upon the old

military frontier of the first century. Helvetia thus underwent a second

military occupation. Yet the prestige of Rome

[Pg 40]

was gone. In 305 a.d. the Alamanni again overran Helvetia, and

completed the ruin of Aventicum. Weaker and weaker grew the

Roman power, and when the Goths pressed into Italy the imperial

troops were entirely withdrawn from Helvetia. As for the Helvetians

themselves, they were quite unable to offer any resistance, and when

the Alamanni once more burst into the land (406 a.d.), they were able

to secure entire possession of the eastern portions. The Burgundians,

another German tribe, followed suit, and in 443 a.d. fixed themselves

in West Helvetia. The inaccessible fastnesses of Graubünden alone

remained untouched by the tide of German invasion, which effected

such changes in the neighbouring districts.

At this period of worldly grandeur and internal decay, occurs another

historical event of the greatest importance, the rise of Christianity,

containing the vital elements necessary for bringing about the

spiritual regeneration of the world. The social and political

decomposition throughout the empire, the cruel tyranny of the

sovereigns, the decrepitude of the state and its institutions, the

growing indifference to the national religion, which showed itself in

the facile adoption of, or rather adaptation to, the Eastern forms of

worship—the adoption of the deities Isis and Mithra, for example—all

these and many other things unnecessary to mention, were

unmistakable signs that Roman rule was drawing to its close, and

they also prepared the way for the reception of the new doctrine. The

belief in one God of mercy and love; of one Saviour, the Redeemer of

the world; of a

[Pg 41]

future life,—were startling but good tidings to the poor and

oppressed, and made their influence felt also on the rich and

cultivated, who saw in Christianity a tolerance, benevolence, human

love, loftiness of principle and moral perfection which had not been

attained by the creeds of antiquity. The passionate ardour and force

of conviction amongst the Christians was such that they faced

suffering and death rather than abjure their tenets or desist from

preaching them to others.

The accounts of the introduction of Christianity into Switzerland are

mostly legendary, yet it is generally believed that it was not the work

of special missionaries. It is more likely that the new faith came to the

land as part and parcel of the Roman culture. Indeed this is now the

opinion most generally received. The military operations of the empire

required continual changes of locality on the part of the troops; thus

we find Egyptian, Numidian, and Spanish soldiers quartered on the

Rhine and the Danube, and such as they would most probably be the

first to bring in the new faith.

At first the Roman authorities looked upon Christians as state rebels,

and fierce persecutions followed. The oldest Christian legend of this

country tells of such a conflict between the state officials and the

Christians, and no doubt contains some admixture of truth, as many

of these stories do. A legion levied at Thebes in Egypt—hence called

the Thebaïde—was sent to Cologne to take the place of troops

required to quell a rising in Britain. Coming to the Valais, they were

required by the Emperor Maximian to sacrifice to

[Pg 42]

the heathen gods (a.d. 280-300), but being mostly Christians they

refused, and were massacred with their chief, Mauritius. Some,

however, escaped for the time, but were called upon to receive the

martyr's crown later on, and in other places. Two such, Ursus and

Victor, came to Soleure with sixty-six companions, and were put to

death by order of Hirtæus, the Roman governor. Two others, Felix

and his sister Regula, reached Zurich, where their successful

conversions irritated Decius, who put them to the rack, and then

beheaded them. Yet, wonderful to tell, the legend goes on, they

seized their heads that had fallen, and, walking with them to the top

of a hill close by, buried themselves, bodies and heads too. This

wonderful feat was an exact counterpart of that reported to have been

performed also by Ursus and Victor at Soleure. Felix and Regula

became the patron saints of Zurich, and play a conspicuous part in its

local history. Tradition says that Charlemagne himself in later days

erected a minster on their burial spot. Thus, as ever, the blood of

martyrs became the seed of the Church.


SANCTUS CAROLUS). (By Dr. Imhoof, Winterthur.)

The Roman towns Geneva, St Maurice, Augusta Rauracorum,

Aventicum, Vindonissa, and Curia had

[Pg 43]

been episcopal sees since the third century, though some of these

sees were in process of time removed to other places. Thus,

Augusta, Vindonissa, and St. Maurice were removed to Basel,

Constance, and Sion respectively.



We know little of them, most likely they were but vici (village settlements).

Aquæ alone we know from Tacitus was a city-like watering-place; Kloten

had handsome villas, but what it was we do not know.

[Pg 44]





The fifth century was remarkable for what may be called the

dislocation of the peoples of Europe—the migrations of the Germans

into the Roman Empire, and, mightiest movement of all, the irruption

of the Huns under their terrible king Attila, the "Scourge of God." The

mere sight of the hideous Asiatics filled men with horror. Never afoot,

but ever on their ill-shaped but rapid steeds, to whose backs they

seemed as if they were glued, and on which they lived well-nigh day

and night, it seemed as if man and horse had grown into one being.

Their large heads ill-matched their meagre bodies; their tawny faces

with deep-set eyes and high, protruding cheek-bones made them

resemble rough-cut figures in stone rather than human beings. The

Goths regarded them as the offspring of spirits of the desert and of

witches. These masses of Asiatic barbarism, which had burst

[Pg 45]

into Europe, stayed for awhile in Hungary, but soon rolled towards the

West, dislodging all the peoples with whom they came in contact.

Marching to the Rhine, they drove the Burgundians from their

settlements in the district of Worms, a land so rich in song and saga,

and entered Gaul to found a new kingdom. But the doom of the Huns

was at hand, for Aëtius the Roman general, and the last defender of

the empire, defeated them, a.d. 451, in a truly gigantic battle on the

Catalaunian Plain, in the Champagne country. The slaughter was so

terrible that the saying went abroad that the river ran high with the

blood of 300,000 men.

But it was clear that the tottering empire could not defend itself

against a whole world in commotion. The time had come when Rome

was to leave the stage of history. The great German nation was

forming. It would be tedious and profitless to mention all the German

tribes beyond the Rhine and Danube, a well-nigh endless list of

names, impossible to remember. Besides, the petty tribes and clans

gradually formed alliances with each other for greater security, and,

dropping their ancient names, took collective ones more familiar to

our ears—Saxons, Franks, Thuringi, Burgundians, Alamanni, and


Of these the Alamanni and the Burgundians are those from whom the

Swiss are descended, and thus Switzerland, like England, has to look

back to Germany as its ancestral home. The tall, fair-haired, true-

hearted Alamanni for whom Caracalla had such an admiration that to

be like them he wore a red wig,

[Pg 46]

are said to have been descendants of the Semnones, who had

migrated from Lusatia on the Spree (in Silesia) to the Main. The

name Alamanni is generally held by the learned to be derived from

alah, a temple-grove, and implies a combination of various tribes,

"the people of the Divine grove." The Suevi, of whom the Semnones

were the most conspicuous tribe, had a sacred grove in the district of

the Spree, where they met for worship. In the fifth century we find the

Alamanni occupying the district from the Main to the Black Forest,

East Helvetia, and Alsatia as far as the Vosges.

When this formidable horde took possession of Eastern Helvetia they

found but little trouble from the Celto-Roman population, who, thinned

by previous invasions, and unaccustomed to fighting, could offer no

serious resistance, and sank into slaves and servants. The towns

were laid in ruins, the country ravaged, and all culture trodden under

foot. It seemed as if "the hand on the dial of history had been put

back by centuries,"[11] and civilization had once more to begin her work. They outnumbered the natives, and were not absorbed by

them, but on the contrary on the half-decayed stock of the Roman

province the Alamanni were grafted as a true German people,

retaining their old language, institutions, and mode of living.

The Alamanni did not at once develop into a civilized and cultivated

people, but retained their fondness for war and hunting, and other

characteristics of their ancient life. Their grand and majestic

[Pg 47]

woods had stamped themselves on the intrepid, dauntless spirits,

whose deep subjectiveness and truthful natures contrasts strongly

with the polished artfulness of the Romans. For the mighty aspects of

nature—forest, mountain, sea—play their part in moulding the

character of a nation. And their impenetrable woods had influenced

the destinies of the Germans in the early periods of their history—had

saved them from the Roman yoke, the labyrinths of swamp and river,

defying even the forces of the well-nigh all-powerful empire. Then,

too, when hard fighting was afoot, and men had burnt their

homesteads before the advance of the foe, the vast forest formed a

safe retreat for women and children. The original house, by the way,

was a mere wooden tent on four posts, and could be carried off on

carts that fitted underneath. The next stage was a hut in the style of

the Swiss mountain-shed, but it was still movable—was, in fact, a

chattel the more to be taken along on their wanderings.[12]

Their mode of settling in their new country was curious enough,

though the early settlement of England was very similar in character.

Disliking walled towns of the Roman fashion, the Germans felt their

freedom of movement impeded and their minds oppressed by living

within the prison-like fortifications of strong cities. But loving seclusion

and independence, nevertheless, they built extensive farmsteads,

where each man was his own master. To the homestead were added

fields, meadows, and an extensive farmyard; the whole hedged about

so as

[Pg 48]

to keep the owner aloof from his neighbours. Each farmer pitched his

tent wherever "spring or mead, or sylvan wood tempted him," reports

Tacitus. This liking for seclusion on the part of the Germans is well

shown in the case of Zurich, for at one time the canton had three

thousand farm homesteads, as against a hundred hamlets and twelve


The mode of partitioning the land shows democratic features. It was

divided amongst the community according to the size of families and

herds of cattle, but one large plot was left for the common use. The

large Allmend, or common, supplied wood for the community, and

there, too, might feed every man's flocks and herds. The nobleman

as such had no domains specially set apart for him, his position and

privileges were honorary. He might be chosen as a high officer of a

district, or even a duke, or leader of the army, in time of war. Payment

for such services was unknown. Money was scarce, and indeed its

use was mainly taught them by the Romans. Not only did flocks and

herds form their chief wealth, but were the standard of value, each

article being estimated as worth so much in cattle.

Society was from the very first sharply and clearly divided into two

great classes—the landowners and the bondsmen—the "free and the

unfree." The former class was again split into "lesser men," "middle men," and "first men," or Athelinge (Adelige), these last named being

of noble blood, and owners of most land and the greatest number of

slaves and cattle. The "unfree" were either Hœrige that belonged to the estate they tilled, and might be sold

[Pg 49]

with it, or slaves who could call nothing their own, for whatever they

saved fell to their lord at their death, if he so willed. A shire or large

district was subdivided into hundreds. The whole of the free men met

on some hallowed spot, under some sacred tree, with their priests

and leaders. Here, besides performing religious exercises, they

discussed war and peace, dispensed justice, chose their officers of

state, and their leader if war was imminent. War and jurisdiction were

the whole, or well-nigh the whole, of public life at that early stage. The

popular assemblies, done away with by the feudal system, revived

later on in the form of the famous "Landsgemeinde" of the forest

district, which are still in use in some of the cantons. Blood money, or

wergild, was exacted from wrong-doers as in Saxon times in England.

The tariff drawn up for bodily injuries reveals the mercenary and

brawling temper of a semi-civilized people.

At the time they settled in Switzerland the Alamanni were heathens,

and worshipped nature-deities—in groves, near springs, or

mountains—the names of some of which we still trace in the names

of the days of the week. Their religion, which was that common to all

Germany, reveals the German mind—full of reverie, deep

thoughtfulness, and wild romantic fancy that leads to a tragical issue.

Like most heathen people the Alamanni clothed their gods in their

own flesh and blood. Woden and his attendant deities, shield-

maidens—Freyr and Freya, the king and queen of the elves—dwarfs,

giants, spirits—all these are well known to us, and are indeed the


[Pg 50]

of the fairy tales of our youth. The bright spirits, the Asen, war against

the spirit of darkness, the giants, and lose ground, for they have

broken the treaties made with them. The Asen are the benevolent

powers of nature, spring sunshine, and fertilizing rain, and live in

bright palaces,