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The Roman Empire of the West was finally and formally extinguished in 476, by the subversion of the imperial throne by Odoacer. But Rome had before been twice sacked, by Alaric and Genseric; and four distinct barbarian kingdoms had been founded within the limits of the empire. Upon the downfall of Rome succeeded a long period, which, viewed only in itself, and apart from its results, was the gloomiest the world had seen. The establishment of the barbarian kingdoms did not put an end to the movement of nations. Inundation succeeded inundation, each apparently overwhelming the harvests which had sprung up behind its predecessor. But the bread was cast upon the waters, and was found after many days.
The Eastern Empire might congratulate itself that it had escaped the overthrow which had befallen that of the West. He who, in the fifth and sixth centuries, should have endeavored prophetically to trace the rise and progress of a new civilization, would have looked towards the city of Constantine for its dawning; but would never have dreamed that the day-spring was to arise from Gaul, the perpetual battle-field of the Franks and Allemanni; or Britain, whose narrow seas were but a convenient highway for Saxon conquerors, and Danish and Norman pirates. But of all things least to be desired, the most undesirable is the perpetuation of an empire like that of the East. Terrible as death may be, it is yet preferable to the imınortality of the Struldbrugs. The lands which were most deeply furrowed by the barbarian ploughshare, have borne, are bearing, and shall yet bear the richest harvests. Modern civilization is no tree of paradise created in full foliage and fruitage. It is no hot-house plant, sheltered and tended with anxious care. It has sprung up from the hard and ungenial soil of the common earth. Tempest and flood have striven to wrench its roots from the ground. Its trunk has been
scarred by the woodman's axe, and its branches scathed by the lightning of heaven. Therefore has it spread its roots deep and wide in the soil as its branches stretch in the air. The fair Grecian culture which sprung up in a day, withered in a night—its decline was as sudden as its rise.
The planting of the Christian religion amid the worn-out and decaying Roman empire, was to some a strange anomaly. Human wisdom would have given it in charge to the early Roman state, whose victories should have been at the same time the triumphs of the true faith; and when the Roman arms conquered the kingdoms of the earth, the worship of the true God should have at the same time superseded that of the rabble rout of the deities of heathendom. Or again : if that was not to be—if Christianity was not to make its advent into the Roman Empire, and there become dominant until that Empire had become utterly corrupt, we would have had it display its miraculous power by renovating the corrupt state ; and from that very corruption producing a virtue which should have put to shame the boasted purity of the earlier and better days of Rome. The introduction and reception of the true faith should have wrought in the body politic a transformation like that which it effects in the individual character. The mighty argument for Christianity, drawn from this transforming power over the individual character, should have received an emphasis of enforcement by the example of a nation born in a day.
So would human wisdom have ordained it. But how different was the fact. Christianity wrought no renovation in the state. Rome under the Constantines was worse than under the Antonines, not to say than during the days of the republic. Nay, more; the church, instead of purifying the state, became actually corrupted by it, to a great extent, and in so far as it was not corrupt, it refused to mingle with it.
THE OVERTHROW OF THE SARACENS.
Christianity became an institution, with settled laws and an organized magistracy. Thus in the very heart of the Roman society, grew up another and altogether distinct society.
When, now, the barbarians overthrew the Roman Empire, the Church was not necessarily involved in the destruction. Emperors, prefects, pro-consuls, went down; but pastors, clergy, and bishops remained. Strong and well compacted must have been the organization of the Church in the fifth and sixth centuries, to have enabled it to endure the tempest which overthrew so many stately edifices. Had it remained as it was when first founded, a simple body of men bound together by a common faith and common feelings, and meeting together to communicate their common emotions and convictions, and to strengthen and confirm each other by the impartation of mutual exhortation-looking only to the natural operations of natural causes—we must believe that it could never have withistood the shock of the barbarian irruption.
The barbarians conquered the Empire, but the Church conquered the barbarians. Christmas day, 496, the flowing locks of Clovis, the grandson of that Merewig or Mcroveus who had aided in the repulse of Attila and the true founder of the Frankish monarchy, was sprinkled with holy water, by St. Remy, Archbishop of Rheims.
The Church, during these two centuries, inevitably came into possession of great political power, Civil government was annihilated; but in society men must have government; and from the necessity of the case, whoever has power must rule. If the officers of a vessel be swept away in a storm, and the vessel be left without a helmsman, the strongest man must take the helm-the possession of power gives the right, and imposes the obligation of its exercise. No power of government existed, save in the rulers of the Church, and the Church was obliged to govern. The power of the Church was simply a moral power; it was backed by no armies, upheld by no display of physical force. It rested upon opinion. It asserted that there was a law above all human authority, and which claimed the obedience of all. From this law it derived its spiritual power; and its civil power was an accident which resulted from the possession of its spiritual anthority.
When the conquerors of ihe Roman Empire
recognized this spiritual authority, the two circumstances were combined which have given to modern history its whole shape and character. Had another race and another faith been substituted for that which prevailed in Europe, the whole current of events would have been changed; and any event which involved the decision of this question, is a crisis, a turningpoint in the world's history.
Such a crisis took place in the latter half of the seventh, and the former half of the eighth centuries. To understand its character, we must, in thought, leave Europe--the battlefield where the contest was decided-and taking the wings of the morning, approach the Orient, the cradle of the human race.
The Arabian peninsula, occupying the space between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Arabian Seas, is one of the apparently least desirable spots which man has chosen for a dwelling-place. A dreary desert, intersected by black and naked ranges of mountains, burned by the fierce rays of the tropical sun. The winds which blow over these wastes parch instead of cooling the weary dwellers, and lift the sand into waves, in which caravans and armies have been lost. The element of water, elsewhere so common as to have almost become a synonym of worthlessness, is there a symbol of wealth ; a spring or a fountain is a treasure beyond price. The scanty population is confined to those fortunate spots where a stream or a fountain furnishes the means of subsistence.
The inhabitants of such a country must early have acquired a distinctive character. There is, in nations and races, as well as in individuals, a forming period, when it is decided for their whole duration what their character shall be. Up to a certain point, the national character, as well as the individual, is as yielding as water, and as ready to assume any form; but all at once a change passes over it, and it becomes as rigid as ice; as unyielding as the granite ranges which girdle a continent. This i character, once assumed, abides with a nation ? through every mutation of fortune. The Greek of to-day is essentially the same being as his ancestor who fought around Troy, in all his mental and physical attributes. The Jew bears everywhere, in body and mind, the stamp of his
No Oriental nation has yet overleaped the barriers which divide it from the Occidental ones.
There is this national character
THE OVERTHROW OF THE SARACENS.
underlying the individual, which distinguishes
The Arabs, we say, have possessed their pe-
Amid this people, so hitherto isolated from
At this age he presented himself before the people as the prophet of God; he called together forty of his kindred, and laid his claims before thein. “Friends and kinsmen," said he, " I offer you, and I alone can offer, the most precious of gifts: the treasures of this world, and of the world to come. God has commanded me to call you to his service. Who among you will support my burthen? Who among you will be my companion. and vizier ?” All answered with doubt or scorn save his cousin Ali, a youth of fourteen years. A man verging into years, and a boy, against the world.
A most unpromising beginning, one would say, for a new religion, with as little apparent prospect of success as when, six centuries be
fore, a poor and despised Galilean, with his twelve followers, as unknown and humble as himself, their leader, too, just about to meet an ignominious death, met together amid the gathering shades of a Judean evening, in an upper chamber, and by a simple ceremony, instituted a new faith. Who should have dreamed that these two events, so insignificant, apparently, and so widely severed in time, could ever have relations to each other? Two transactions taking place in Jerusalem and Mecca, at a distance of six centuries-transactions, too, so trifling as apparently to be beneath the notice of the historian—involved, a century later, the fate of the world, and were submitted to the arbitrament of battle in the heart of Europe. These two transactions-viewed in the light of their consequences—were the most noteworthy which have ever taken place in the world's history.
Had Mohammed been a true prophet, he could not have met a worse reception. He was denounced as a false prophet. As his family refused to abandon him, the tribe bound themselves to avoid all intercourse with them, and vowed the death of the prophet. Flight was his only resource. At the dead of night he left Mecca, and took refuge in a cave. His enemies pursued, and searched every hidingplace; but a spider had built her web across the mouth of the cave, and in their haste they concluded that the fugitive was not within. That frail web was a defence surer than a seven-fold shield. The prophet pursued his flight to Yathrub, since called Medina, that is, The City. This flight, from which the Mohammedan era commences, corresponds with our year 622, and marks the fifty-third year of the prophet's life.
Ten years of toil ard struggle followed, of toil and struggle, sometimes almost of despair, but of ultimate success and triumph. Then the angel of death stood by the prophet's side. “Oh God !--pardon my sins—I come-among my fellow-citizens on high,” were his last broken words. The religion which he founded sways half of the world he knew; and in ninety years from his death the empire of his successors extended over more territory than the Romans had conquered for eight centuries.
Immediately on the death of Mohammed, his followers, whoin we best know under the name of Saracens, set out on their career of conquest. Persia, Syria, Palestina
THE OVERTHROW OF THE SARACENS.
terranean shores of Africa, fell successively under their sway, within the space of seventy years. The Caliphs became the most powerful sovereigns on the globe. The Saracens, spite of their fury and fanaticism, must have wondered at the rapidity of their conquests, and were little disposed to accept the sea as their limit. They passed the narrow strait which separates Europe from Africa, under the command of a leader who has given his name to the point of landing-Gebel-el-Tarik, the mountain of Tarik, or as we now shorten it, Gibraltar. The Goths, the sons of those who had humbled Rome, no longer possessed the martial virtues of their ancestors. The fate of the Gothic kingdom was decided by a three days' battle, fought near the town of Xeres; the monarch met his fate in flying from the lost field.
The conquest of Spain was but one triumphal march. The Saracens pushed their forces northward, crossing in succession the five great ranges of mountains, and the rivers which flow between them. Spain had resisted the Roman power for two centuries; but the Saraceps, only a few months after them, landing at the Straits of Gibraltar, on the south, stood as conquerors on the shores of the Bay of Biscay, on the north, and at the foot of the Pyrenees on the east.
These events bring us to the close of the first century after the Hegira, or the year 721 of our era. The throne of France was filled nominally by the last descendants of the Merovingian race, whom history contemptuously groups together under the name of the Sluggards, who made their appearance once a year, drawn on their bullock-carts, at the assembly of the Franks, to ratify the acts of the mayors of the palace, who performed the functions of royalty. The great tributary dukes despised the weakness of their monarch, and began to assume the state and authority of independent monarchs. Of these, the most powerful was Eudes, Duke of Aquitaine.
Suddenly, upon the slopes of the Pyrenees, appeared the banners, hitherto unknown in France, of the Saracens. Abd-al-Rahman, the Servant of the Merciful, their leader, had formed the design of reducing to subjection to the Prophet the whole of Europe which remained unsubdued. Nor was the project altogether chimerical. The Saracens had marched a full thousand miles, from the banks of the Guadal
quiver to those of the Garronne, and almost without a check. An advance of equal extent would bring them to the Thames and the Elbe. The natural obstacles were no greater than they had surmounted. The Rhine was no more defensible than the Euphrates or the Nile. No mountain chain like the Pyrenees barred their way. The Straits of Dover were as passable as those of Gibraltar. Constantinople and Italy were threatened from Africa, and would fall an easy prey if the north and west of Europe were conquered. The Goths, Gascons, and Franks of the south assembled under the standard of Eudes, to oppose the invaders, but suffered a defeat so terrible that, according to the mournful confession of the ancient chroniclers, God alone could count the slain. This victory placed full half of France in the power of the Saracens, and overthrew the last barrier of Christendom save one.
The post of mayor of the palace, and real sovereign of Neustria and Austrasia, was held by Charles, the illegitimate son of Pepin Henstal. He had just driven the Saxons across the Weser, and forced the Germanic tribes toward the Danube, when from the south arose a great cry and supplication for aid against the Saracens. Gathering his forces, he marched southward towards the Loire. Midway between Poictiers and Tours, in the very centre of France, he came in sight of the Saracens.
Never had a mightier cause been subjected to the decision of a battle. If the Franks lost, they lost all. The whole power of the kingdom of Austrasia and Neustria was gathered under the command of Charles. If this was overthrown, no second army could be gathered. If the tide of Saracen conquest passed this last barrier of Christianity, the whole of Europe would be easily conquered. The nations of Asia, Africa, and Europe now advanced to a contest which was to change the history of the world. The Saracens, on the one hand, were flushed with conquest, and inspired with the reckless courage which can be imparted only by a prevailing religious enthusiasm. Why should they fear death, who were sure of either the palm of victory or the crown of martyrdom? If the Franks, on the other hand, lacked the assurance of hope, they were inspired with the courage of desperation. If they wanted the spiritual weapons furnished by a long career of victory, they were yet the equals of their enemy in number, and their superiors in
THE OVERTHROW OF THE SARACENS.
bodily stature and in arms; for the weapons of
Six days of fierce but desultory combat ensued, in which the advantage was mainly on the side of the Saracens. But still, though galled and harassed by the archers and light cavalry of the East, the Franks slowly pressed on toward the centre of the hostile encampment. The morning of the seventh day saw them engaged in a still more close and desperate struggle. Brought thus hand to hand, the greater strength and endurance of the fairhaired sons of the North began to prevail over the fiery zeal of the slighter though more active natives of the desert. The zeal and determination of the peers and paladins of France seemed roused to a yet higher pitch of enthusiasm as the sun sank slowly to the west. The great sword of Charles hewed deep its gory way into the hostile lines. Just as the slant
of the setting sun shone over the field, and was giving the signal that the contest of the day must soon close, the two leaders Charles and Abd-el-Rahman stood opposed to each other, face to face. It was but for an instant. The Saracen sank, cloven down by the trenchant blade of the Frank. The fall of Abd-el-Rahman turned the wavering balance. His followers fled from the field, and the morning sun shone upon the Saracen power broken and shattered. Charles received the surname of Martel, the Hammer, from the blows with which he had shattered the army of the invaders, as the iron hammer breaks the flinty rock. The victory was complete. In the battle and the pursuit which ensued three hundred and seventy-five thousand Moslems are said to have been slain.
The long agony was over, the great contest was decided. Europe was to be Christian, not Mohammedan. The pope, not the mufti, was to give laws from the Vatican; the cathedral, not the mosque, was to rise from the plains of France and Germany—the Bible, not the Koran, to be taught in the halls of Oxford. The advance of the Oriental race into the North and West of Europe was checked—the sons of Shem were not to dwell in the tents of Japheth.
In most cases it argues little wisdom to say what would have been the result, had such and such things been different from what they were; for so many concurrent and opposing causes
causes, too, of which we often know nothing till we behold them in their effect-go to produce any great results, that we are quite unable to calculate what might have been. In this instance however, it is not so. The success of the Saracens at Tours must have caused the subjugation of Europe to their power, for there was no further obstacle in their
If the ocean overthrows the last dyke, it is safe to prophesy an inundation. The event of the battle of Tours involved questions higher than those which have been decided by the great battles of modern days—whether a Charles or a Philip shall rule Spain--whether the French frontier shall pass the Rhine-whether Austria or Prussia shall have Silesia-whether a harlot shall be revenged for an epigramwhether Napoleon or the Bourbons shall occupy the throne of France—whether, in a word, this man or that shall rule that people or this. It was a struggle of races—of religions. Orient or Occident ? Saracen or Frank ? Christianity or Mohammedanism ? The Bible or the Koran ? These were the questions to which Charles Martel was hammering out answers,
It cannot be denied that, at this time, the Saracens were further advanced in civilization than the Franks. But they had reached the limit of their career in the march of improvement, while the western nations had but begun theirs. What would now have been the state of Europe had they prevailed, we can see by looking at the Mediterranean shores of Africa and Asia which they did subdue. Where now is the long array of cities, where the cultivated fields which made the former the delight and granary of the Roman Empire ? Here is presented the only instance in which Christianity, after once being fully established, has been overthrown, utterly and entirely. The Saracens wrested Asia Minor from the Eastern empire, as the barbarians did Britain, Gaul, and Germany from the Western, and each has shown what they could do to advance civilization. Had the Saracens succeeded in their attempt, the seas which girdle Britain would have rendered her but a nest of pirates like the African coasts; and France and Germany would have stood where Turkey and Persia now stand ; and our own country, if its discovery had been committed to them, would have received no higher form of civilization than they have carried into India and Africa.