Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/36

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
20
WESTERN EUROPE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

the state in which they lived. They accepted the Empire as a fact; they did not insist upon it as a necessity. The greatest Christian writer of the West, St. Augustine, said that the all-important community was the Heavenly City of God and that compared to the Heavenly City the fortunes of earthly states were unimportant. He and his friends withdrew from the service of the state, and though they performed notable works of charity and piety in their communities the Empire was nevertheless deprived of men who might have been outstanding political leaders. Thus, in the West, religious conviction did not reinforce patriotism, and men who would have died rather than renounce Christianity accepted the rule of conquering barbarian kings without protest.

This leads us to the heart of the problem. The most obvious symptom of decay was the occupation of the western part of the Empire by migrating Germanic peoples. Yet there were millions of Roman citizens, compared to a few hundred thousand Germanic invaders. At any stage in the collapse of the Empire the Roman or Romanized population could have driven out the Germans and restored the unity of the state if they had really wanted to do so. It would have cost them some lives; it would have devastated some property, but the price would not have been excessive by the standards of the early Empire. Yet the Roman population never made a move against the intruders. The bulk of the opposition was furnished by mercenaries usually Germans themselves who would fight only as long as they were well paid, and by a minority of Roman aristocrats who had preserved some memory of the old Roman patriotism. We can say with absolute truth that the Roman Empire fell because the great majority of its inhabitants made no effort to preserve it. They were not actively hostile to the Empire; they were merely indifferent The reasons for this indifference may or may not be the ones suggested above, but the fact of indifference cannot be denied. Rome had developed a well-arranged administrative system and an excellent set of laws; she had spread a