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Complete Works of D.H. Lawrence, Page 899

D. H. Lawrence

  The Huns made themselves masters of the upper Danube. At places were stationed their great flat boats and their canoes made of hollowed tree-trunks. From time to time a chieftain would ride up with his bands and his wagons, out of Europe, bringing all his plunder. Then would be great excitement in the Hunnish villages. The Hun would bring with him fair women from Germany or Italy, as many as possible. Some of these he would keep for himself, some he would sell among his neighbours. Then he would bring fine cattle, fine furniture, gold, treasures of Roman villas, fruits, fine food, casks of wine. There would take place a great feasting and drinking. For the Huns also loved to get drunk at times. In Tartary they made a strong drink called koumiss, from fermented mare’s milk. But when they tasted wine, they liked this better, even as the Germans did not care for their own beer when they could get the wines of Italy.

  So the Hunnish villages grew rich, and a little civilised. The Huns were not so terrible at home. They treated the slaves and the captured women kindly, if roughly. The men were not cruel, save only in the wild flare of war, when they killed and burned everything before them, as in an intoxication.

  The nation was wild and lawless in itself, subject to no rule, but only willing to be led by a military leader or king. In the early fifth century the Hunnish king Rugilas sent his ambassadors or message-bearers both to the courts of Constantinople and of Ravenna. The Byzantine emperor paid a yearly tribute of 350 pounds weight of gold to the king of the Huns occupying the lands of the Danube and the river Theiss, allowing him also the title of Roman general. The Huns despised the Byzantines deeply. When Rugulas died in 433, his nephews Attila and Bleda immediately demanded an increased tribute, and the surrender of the Hunnish emigrants who had taken refuge in Constantinople. The Byzantines gave up the Huns, who were immediately crucified by their fellow- countrymen, for going to dwell in peace with the despised Romans of the East.

  Attila is the greatest of the Huns. He was a squat, broad-backed man with a large head and a flat face. But his little eyes sparkled with tremendous passions, his body had great nervous energy. A haughty little creature, he had a prancing way of walking, and he rolled his eyes fiercely, filling the onlookers with terror, and enjoying the terror he inspired.

  But he was exceedingly clever as well as powerful. He murdered his brother Bleda, and in 445 founded the great Hunnish kingdom that stretched from the Volga to the Danube. He had a fine wooden palace in Hungary, in the midst of a wooden town. His palace was clean, it had carven pillars and fair halls, with apartments for his many wives.

  Attila is perhaps the greatest barbarian conqueror that ever lived. His people loved him, worshipped him as a great magician. ‘ Attila, my Attila,’ sang the warriors.

  Attila first turned east. He subdued Russia, Germany, even Scandinavia — the very lands that Rome could never subdue. He spread east and came into contact with China, offering an alliance on equal terms with the emperor of that realm.

  In 450, however, Attila set out from his wooden palace on the upper Danube. Genseric, the ferocious Vandal of Africa, had asked him to attack the Romans of Italy from the north. The Franks of Gaul had invited his aid. And, rapacious Hun that he was, he had heard from the Hunnish armies who had been fighting in Gaul how rich that land was. Therefore he took his dreaded title, ‘ Attila, the Scourge of God,’ and moved with his bands across the lands we now call Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland, to the Rhine. There he summoned all the chiefs of Russia and Germany to his army.

  Over the Rhine came thousands and thousands of the mixed hose. Swift as clouds the hordes of Hunnish cavalry swept forward and ravaged Gaul. That rich and beautiful land thrilled with horror. Peasants in the country, people in the towns working peacefully and going their way looked up and saw horsemen appearing over the brow of the hill. In a few moments the forerunners became a dark swarm. Like a wind they came down. The towns might hastily shut their gates and hold out for a time. The trembling inhabitants looked over the walls and saw the host encamped. Then slowly over the hill-brow came the heavy wagons.

  In a sudden unexpected rush the Huns would be on the town. Grinning with war-excitement, the little men swarmed and slashed, killing every inhabitant in their glee of slaughter. They found priests and bishops hastily baptizing the infants, lest death should overtake the un- christened babies and their helpless souls be lost. This sight made the savage little Huns grin wider. Swiftly the priests and bishops were cut down, the babies tossed on spears. For the sight of the ceremonies of the Christian religion irritated the Huns extremely. Then the town was thoroughly pillaged, food and wine consumed. After the revel, when all was stripped, the retreating Huns fired the towns, and far-off Gauls knew by the redness of the sky what was happening. Cities burned to a blackened ruin, for even the stone buildings were usually supported by beams and pillars of timber; the poorer quarters were of wood.

  Such was the fate of beautiful Roman cities like Metz and Treves, and many others. The Huns advanced into Gaul, leaving the earth like a cinder behind them, strewn with the charred remains of men and women. It was said that wherever the horse of Attila set his foot, there the grass never grew again.

  As the Huns attacked the sacred city of Orleans, they were threatened by the approach of the Romans, led by the famous general Aetius, who was himself a Tartar from Asia, and the Visigoths of Aquitaine led by the aged Theodoric. Attila moved off. He kept to the open country, for he had a horror of being shut up in a town. Slowly, retiring with his wagons, he was followed by the Romans and the Visigoths, to whose aid came the Burgundians from the Rhone, and the Franks under Merwig. So Attila retreated beyond the Seine. He wanted to find a plain where he could spread out his vast host.

  At last, on the plain of Chalons, on the Marne, the two huge armies came together. On the one hand was Attila, with Huns, Goths, Burgundians, Saxons, Franks, Slavs, a countless host; on the other Aetius and Theodoric, with a vast army of Romans, Goths, Burgundians, Franks, Huns, bands from almost every tribe. It seemed as if one half of the barbaric world was camped against the other half.

  There was one hill commanding the plain. Aetius, with his Roman Gauls, and Thorismond, son of Theodoric, with his Goths, seized this position. And then, in the afternoon, the battle began. There was no plan. The two hosts just rushed at one another, and unspeakable hand-to-hand murder went on for hours, among masses and masses of different men. At last the Visigoths decided the day. They drove back the Ostrogoths, who were on Attila’s side, and attacked the startled Huns themselves on the flank. The Huns swerved in confusion, broke, and rushed to shelter behind their wall of chariots and wagons. The Goths also desisted. But the roaring bloody carnage went on, till night fell, and men could see to fight and kill no more.

  In the morning there was a great scene in both camps. The Goths could not find their king. It was decided he must be slain, and at last his body was found under a heap of dead. With wild cries of lamentation, and clashing of shields, they raised up Thorismond upon the shield, and proclaimed him king. Meanwhile Attila with his Huns was entrenched behind his wagons. Most of his army was gone. It is said he made himself ready for death: he had piled up a huge funeral pyre of saddles. If the Romans attacked his camp he would mount it and be consumed in the roaring flames.

  But Aetius with the Gallo-Romans was too exhausted to attack. He waited. Attila also waited. The days passed in suspense. At last suddenly Attila broke up his camp, and retreated east. Aetius followed. Attila moved northwards and re-crossed the Rhine. Gaul breathed free, and Europe was saved. For if, in 451, Attila had won this great battle of Chalons, on the Catalaunian plain beside the Marne, Europe would have fallen under Tartar sway, or at least would have suffered most terribly from the ‘ Scourge of God.’

  It is sad that the great generals of that day were so shamefully treated. We know of the execution of the great Vandal Stilicho in 408. Now Aetius, the one man who could support the tottering world, was foully murdered by the hand of the emperor Valentinian himself; whilst the youn
g Thorismond was slain by his own brothers.

  Attila was not finished. He was angry at his defeat, and very much irritated by Rome. The barbarian king was exceedingly proud. He considered himself superior to any monarch or emperor in the world. Therefore he ought to number the highest princess in the world among his already numerous wives. Therefore he demanded the hand of the Princess Honoria, sister of Valentinian. Hon- oria herself, being unhappy and foolish, had sent a ring to Attila, asking him to espouse her. The Romans were horrified beyond measure. Honoria was closely imprisoned. Attila’s demand was coldly refused.

  The matter rankled in the mind of the Hun. He had already many wives, but he wanted to add to them this princess of ancient and haughty Rome. In 452 he marched down from his wooden capital, through the eastern Alps, towards the Adriatic Sea. At the head of the Adriatic stood a noble city, Aquileia, mistress of that sea, and the key to Italy by the eastern route.

  In all his offended spite Attila fell upon Aquileia, and took it. Though it was a great and rich city, he destroyed it so savagely, so utterly, that thirty years later, men standing on the site of the town had to look hard to make out the ruins. The surrounding country was a neglected desert. Those people from Aquileia and the villages who had time to escape fled in terror deep into the marshes and islands of the shallow sea, made wretched huts, and miserably subsisted on fish and shell-fish. And this was the very beginning of that which later on became the world-famous city of Venice, built in the sea.

  Attila marched on into the plains of the Po. Vicenza, Verona, Bergamo ran with blood and were stripped by the greedy, insatiable Huns. Milan and Pavia submitted without resistance. The whole of the north was Attila’s. Milan was a royal city, a favourite with the later emperors. Attila took up his abode in the imperial palace.

  In the palace was a large picture painted on the wall. It represented the Roman emperor sitting on his throne, whilst all the other kings, mostly barbarians, kneeled before him and offered the bags containing tribute. This Attila would not allow. He sent for the court painter and bade him change the figures. When this was done, Attila was seen sitting upon the throne, with all the kings, including the Roman emperor, kneeling before him, bringing their tribute. ‘ That is nearer the truth,’ said Attila, as indeed it was.

  Attila remained in Milan, Italy trembled helpless. At last, after much fear and despair, the Romans sent a solemn embassy, which fell prostrate at the feet of Attila. They offered, in the name of the Emperor and of Rome, all their treasures, if the king of the Huns would spare Italy from further attack.

  Attila considered. He had been for some time in the sunny land. His men were spread about, feasting, drinking, living lives they were not accustomed to, and which were not natural to them. Disease and pestilence had broken out; the Huns were dying like flies. He must take them back into the cold, fresh air of the north.

  Therefore he accepted great treasures, and withdrew, threatening horrible revenge if the Princess Honoria were not sent to him. He slowly crossed Italy and entered the Alps, threading his way northwards towards the headwaters of the Danube, making for his capital in Hungary. All submitted to him on the way.

  As he passed he saw a princess of a barbarian tribe, and was pleased by her. So he took her with him. Crossing the Danube, he reached his palace, if we may call it such.

  There he made a great feast, a bridal feast for his new bride, whom he married that day in Hunnish fashion, and a feast to celebrate his return in triumph.

  The eating, the drinking, the singing, the praise were tremendous. At length all retired for the night. In the morning, it seemed the king lay very late. This was not his custom. The attendants began to listen. They could hear no sound. At last they knocked, and called to their king, but received no answer. Then they broke open the door.

  They saw the bride, crouching trembling in a corner beside the bed, covering herself in a veil, speechless. On the bed lay Attila, in a pool of blood. His powerful blood had been too much for his veins. In the night he had burst an artery, and was dead.

  This was in 453. The supreme power of the Huns passed with Attila, the Scourge of God — Attila, my Attila! None the Less the nation remained a danger to Europe. Still the clouds of little horsemen swept down on the settled lands. They came from Hungary and Austria, and followed the line of the Danube, bursting down on Bavaria, on Suabia, Germany, and France. This continued even till the tenth century. But the attacks became smaller and less perilous.

  The Huns themselves were conquered time after time by fresh Asiatic tribes. First came the Tartar Avars, at the end of the sixth century. They established themselves in Hungary, and were overthrown by Charlemagne. Then came the Magyars, another Tartar nation, who settled in Hungary about the year 900. We speak of the Hungarians of to-day as Magyars, for they use the Magyar language, though their race is mixed. After the Magyars other Tartars and Mongols have conquered Hungary, last of all the Turks. But since the Huns this land has been occupied by Asiatics. Before the Huns it was Slavonic.

  Chapter VII. Gaul

  Gadhel was an ancient mythical hero of prehistoric Europe, about whom we know little save that he gave his name to a great race of people, the Gadhels or Gaels.

  There are Gaels to-day in Great Britain. Their language, the Gaelic, is spoken in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Brittany. It was once the language of all France. France, Britain, Ireland, in the days before the Romans, were occupied by one great race, the Gaels, whom we call Celts.

  The Romans knew the Gaels or Celts quite early, for this race occupied parts of North Italy and made invasions to the south. About 388 B.C. the small struggling city of Rome was sacked by a Gallic host, and for two hundred years after this it was all the growing republic could do to make headway northwards. However, before Caesar’s time the Gauls of North Italy and of the Marseilles district had been subdued and Romanised.

  The Romans could not pronounce the word Gael, so they made it Gallus. Gallus is not pleasant to an English tongue, so we turn it into Gaul. The land of the Gauls was named Gallia by the Romans. This is the great country occupied to-day by France, and stretching to the Rhine.

  The Gauls or Celts were not savages. From very early times they had taken some part in the glowing life of the Mediterranean. In the south of Gaul was the great port of Massilia, now called Marseilles. Massilia was founded six hundred years before Christ, by settlers from the Eastern Mediterranean. It soon rose to importance, and became the rival of the superb Carthage, that wonderful city of the Phoenicians in North Africa, opposite the toe of Sicily. Massilia at length surpassed Tyre and Sidon and Carthage, and was itself surpassed only by the newer great city of Alexandria.

  A great bustle of trade was carried on in Massilia long before Julius Caesar was born to change the world. Merchants arrived from Egypt, Greece, Syria, Africa, and Rome, disembarked on the quays, and loading their goods on horse-back — wine, iron goods, weapons, armour, spices, clothing — passed through the land of Gaul. Since Gaul was in constant communication with Britain, no doubt these merchants crossed into our island with their goods, though not many would find their way so far. In return, Gaul exported to Rome and Africa her woollen robes, her fine cured hams, her mountain cheeses, her great dogs. So that the land of Gaul, though wild and disorderly and barbaric, was by no means savage or primitive.

  The Gauls south of the Seine were middle-sized men, taller than the short Romans. They had long fair hair, blue eyes, ruddy, round, blunt faces. Their heads, too, were round, bullet-shaped. They wore linen clothes, close breeches and a close tunic. The Gauls were famous for their breeches, which were disgraceful to Roman eyes.

  North of the Seine dwelt the Belgae, another race of Gauls or Celts. They differed from their southern neighbours only in their stature, for they were taller, in the long shape of their heads, and in their fiercer, more stubborn tempers. Perhaps in the Celtic blood of the Belgae was mingled a stream of German blood, for the Rhine made no unsurpassable barrier between Belgae and Germa

  It is supposed that the Gauls had been in earlier days much more powerful and civilised than they were when Caesar advanoed upon them. We know from the Celtic legends, and the legends of King Arthur, that once they had fine companies of knights, all equal like a brotherhood, sitting at a round table. In those days the Celtic freemen were under no man’s heel, they feared none, unless it were the Druids. The Druids were the religious body. They were three classes: the Ouadd or sacrificing priest, who performed sacrifices and did the: lowest priestly work; then the bards who, filled with holy inspiration, sang the glowing chants and records which moved the souls of the knights and listeners in the banqueting halls; then the holy Druid himself, who dwelt in the dim groves of the forest, and was rarely seen by the world. In the shadow of his oak retreat the Druid lived like a hermit, meditating on the sacred mysteries, trying to find out the will of that great God called the Terrible, the Unknown. In these dark groves he gave education to the young men of good birth. From him they learned the long poems or psalms or legends in which all the knowledge of the Celtic race was embodied. And then at times the Druid came forth, when some awful sacrifice was to be performed, perhaps in the great stone circles like Stonehenge, or in the oak groves. Again he was seen on the most solemn day when the mistletoe was cut. Only the Druid himself might approach the sacred mistletoe. At due time he advanced from the solemn procession, having purified himself, fasted, and prayed. The great oak-tree rose before him, the terrible Tree sacred to the One Supreme God. On the oak, between the clefts, grew the golden bough, the delicate fountain, the holy mistletoe. In deep reverence before the awful tree, the Druid trembled with mystery as he reached to cut the golden bough, the mistletoe, the golden child of the Almighty Tree, the fair Son of the terrible Father.

  Thus we see that the centre of the ancient life of the Celts was the Druid. It was he who knew all that there was to be known: he knew of the sun and the stars, and their motions, of the seasons and their changes; he knew of the processes of birth and the mysteries of death; and also he was acquainted with the chicf knights in the land, and fully informed concerning the dangerous enemies without. It was he who prophesied, counselled, sent forth orders, suggested war and plans of battle, and controlled justice, and made condemnation. Indeed, from his dark secret retreats the Druid governed the Celtic world: for the priests were all united under the Arch-Druid. The knights and chiefs or kings whom the knights elected from among themselves reverenced the Druid, obeyed him implicitly, and dreaded above all things the terrible threat of excommunication. And since the bards sang in the halls of the knights, and sang as they were informed by the Druid, so the mind of the knight was formed under the influence of the mystic priest, even without his knowing it.