Page:15 decisive battles of the world (New York).djvu/168

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162 BATTLE OF CHALONS.


vultures, which were said to have appeared to Romulus when he founded the city, signified the time during which the Roman power should endure. The twelve vultures denoted twelve centuries. This interpretation of the vision of the birds of destiny was current among learned Romans, even when there were yet many of the twelve centuries to run, and while the imperial city was at the zenith of its power. But as the allotted time drew nearer and nearer to its conclusion, and as Rome grew weaker and weaker beneath the blows of barbaric invaders, the terrible omen was more and more talked and thought of; and in Attila's time, men watched for the momentary extinction of the Roman state with the last beat of the last vulture's wing. Moreover, among the numerous legends connected with the foundation of the city, and the fratricidal death of Remus, there was one most terrible one, which told that Romulus did not put his brother to death in accident or in hasty quarrel, but that

"He slew his gallant twin With inexpiable sin,"

deliberately, and in compliance with the warnings of supernatural powers. The shedding of a brother's blood was believed to have been the price at which the founder of Rome had purchased from destiny her twelve centuries of existence.*

We may imagine, therefore, with what terror in this, the twelve hundredth year after the foundation of Rome, the inhabitants of the Roman empire must have heard the tidings that the royal brethren, Attila and Bleda, had founded a new capital on the Danube, which was designed to rule over the ancient capital on the Tiber; and that Attila, like Romulus, had consecrated the foundations of his new city by murdering his brother; so that for the new cycle of centuries then about to commence, dominion had been bought from the gloomy spirits of destiny in favor of the Hun by a sacrifice of equal awe and value with that which had formerly obtained it for the Roman.

It is to be remembered that not only the pagans, but also the Christians of that age, knew and believed in these legends and omens, however they might differ as to the nature of the super-human agency by which such mysteries had been made known

  • See a curious justification of Attila for murdering his brother, by a

zealous Hungarian advocate, in the note to Pray's "Annales Hunnorum," p. 117. The example of Romulus is the main authority quoted.