Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/43

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27
THE MAKING OF EUROPE

consistent system. They could ensure the survival of Christianity; they could not ensure the survival of the Empire. The latter task was left to the emperors and their subordinates. These secular leaders made heroic efforts to save the state during the fourth and fifth centuries, but they were only partially successful. They could not solve the basic problem — that of interesting the inhabitants of the Empire in the fate of their government. In the West there was mere indifference; in many parts of the East there was active hostility, based on religious and cultural differences. Only in the Balkans and Asia Minor was there much support for government and only in this area was loyalty to Christianity identified with loyalty to the state. The other provinces of the Empire were unwilling or unable to defend themselves and were ready to submit to any invader.

Potential invaders could be found everywhere on the long frontiers of the Empire, but in the fourth and fifth centuries Rome's most dangerous neighbors were the Germans of Central and Eastern Europe. They were familiar enough with conditions in the Empire to covet its material resources and to realize its political and military weakness. For centuries they had been filtering across the border into the promised land, raiding when Rome was weak, enlisting in the army when she was strong. Many Roman generals and most of their troops were German, and the nominally Roman provinces along the Rhine and Danube were full of semi-civilized German tribes which had been conquered and settled in strategic locations as frontier guards.

This natural drift of Germans into the Empire was greatly accelerated in the fourth century by the sudden irruption of the Huns into Eastern Europe. The Huns were one of those nomadic peoples of Central Asia whose periodic raids have repeatedly changed the history of the great coastal civilizations of the Eurasian landmass. Ordinarily scattered and disunited, the nomads were occasionally brought together by able leaders, and when this happened they formed an almost irresistible force. Tireless and