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8. The Goths
It was no false rumour that had driven the populace of the suburbs to fly to the
security of the city walls. It was no ill-founded cry of terror that struck the ear of
Ulpius, as he stood at Numerian's window. The name of Rome had really lost its
pristine terrors; the walls of Rome, those walls which had morally guarded the
Empire by their renown, as they had actually guarded its capital by their strength,
were deprived at length of their ancient inviolability. An army of barbarians had
indeed penetrated for conquest and for vengeance to the City of the World! The
achievement which the invasions of six hundred years had hitherto attempted in
vain, was now accomplished, and accomplished by the men whose forefathers had
once fled like hunted beasts to their native fastnesses, before the legions of the
Caesars--'The Goths were at the gates of Rome!'
And now, as his warriors encamped around him, as he saw the arrayed hosts
whom his summons had gathered together, and his energy led on, threatening at
their doors the corrupt senate who had deceived, and the boastful populace who
had despised him, what emotions stirred within the heart of Alaric! As the words
of martial command fell from his lips, and his eyes watched the movements of the
multitudes around him, what exalted aspirations, what daring resolves, grew and
strengthened in the mind of the man who was the pioneer of that mighty
revolution, which swept from one quarter of the world the sway, the civilisation,
the very life and spirit of centuries of ancient rule! High thoughts gathered fast in
his mind; a daring ambition expanded within him--the ambition, not of the
barbarian plunderer, but of the avenger who had come to punish; not of the
warrior who combated for combat's sake, but of the hero who was vowed to
conquer and to sway. From the far-distant days when Odin was driven from his
territories by the romans, to the night polluted by the massacre of the hostages in
Aquileia, the hour of just and terrible retribution for Gothic wrongs had been
delayed through the weary lapse of years, and the warning convulsion of bitter
strifes, to approach at last under him. He looked on the towering walls before him,
the only invader since Hannibal by whom they had been beheld; and he felt as he
looked, that his new aspirations did not deceive him, that his dreams of dominion
were brightening into proud reality, that his destiny was gloriously linked with the
overthrow of Imperial Rome!
But even in the moment of approaching triumph, the leader of the Goths was still
wily in purpose and moderate in action. His impatient warriors waited but the
word to commence the assault, to pillage the city, and to slaughter the inhabitants;
but he withheld it. Scarcely had the army halted before the gates of Rome, when
the news was promulgated among their ranks, that Alaric, for purposes of his
own, had determined to reduce the city by a blockade.
The numbers of his forces, increased during his march by the accession of thirty
thousand auxiliaries, were now divided into battalions, varying in strength
according to the service that was required of them. These divisions stretched
round the city walls, and though occupying separate posts, and devoted to