Events in the Later Roman Empire 451 – 458


“In the year 451, the western provinces had been menaced by the invasion of Attila the Hun and a large army. Attila and his forces crossed the Rhine River, and a remarkable Roman general, Aetius, had been able to patch together an equally remarkable confederation to meet them. He convinced the Germanic tribes residing in the area to join in resistance and, under his leadership, Visigoths, Franks, Bretons, and Burgundians joined forces with the small regular Roman army in defeating the enemy in battle at Chalons-sur Marne. More to the point, Aetius had been successful in enlisting the active assistance of some of the nobles resident in the area, among them being Avitus. The results of this co-operation were very encouraging to the West, and the Germanic leaders were impressed with the advantages of forming a western confederation under the leadership of Aetius. The Visigoths returned to their former status of Roman allies, the Sueves gave the Spanish province of Carthaginensis back to imperial administration. and the new Visigothic king, Theodoric II, began to search for new avenues of mutual action.

It was at this point that Aetius was murdered by enemies at the imperial court who were jealous of his successes. The effects of this assassination in the West were quite dramatic. Acting as if their chieftain had been killed and they were seeking vengeance according to German custom, the Franks and Alamanni moved south and west, occupying stretches of imperial territory and gaining control of some important imperial arms factories. Meanwhile, the court faction that had encompassed Aetius' death ignored the German attacks and concentrated on eliminating their political opponents. A group of the old followers of Aetius gathered to attempt to restore Aetius' vision of a Western Federation, by were betrayed. Many were killed (15 March, 455), and the other nobles of the region organized to defend their territory and their own lives. Avitus, who had survived the downfall of both Aetius and his friends, was sent by his neighbors to the Visigothic capital of Toulouse to enlist the assistance of the Visigoths. Meanwhile, Rome was in turmoil. Attila had appeared before the city and had been bought off by Pope Leo with the gift of a heavy tribute. Almost as soon as the Huns, who were suffering from an epidemic of some sort anyway, had departed, the Vandal fleet sailed up the Tiber River, and Vandal marines took and sacked Rome. This was followed by a flood that destroyed many of the poor neighborhoods of the city, and swept away many of the warehouses in which the city's food supply was stored. Hunger was followed by the effects of the sickness the Huns had left behind them. The Roman government, under the control of Petronius Maximus, a usurper, had proven completely unable to protect the city or its inhabitants. When Petronius ventured outside the imperial palace to speak to the masses, they came carrying rocks and stoned him to death. When the news reached Toulouse, the Westerners decided to attempt to seize imperial power and restore the policy of Aetius. The Visigothic king Theodoric, probably hoping to gain the power of the king-maker, recommended Avitus as emperor and promised to support him. The Gallo-Roman senators crowned Avitus at Arles, and, in September, he left for Rome with a strong detachment of Visigothic warriors.

Although Avitus was able to take power, he was unable to solve all of Rome's problems at once, and so was unable to hold on to that power. He fought and defeated the Vandals, but Rome faced a famine, and there was no food to be had to alleviate conditions until the Spring harvests would become available. Avitus may have been a bit gullible, since he agreed that it would look better if he were to send his Visigothic troops home, where they would no longer be an additional drain on the city's food supply. As soon as they had left, the old faction that had opposed Aetius stirred up a revolt among the Roman populace. Majorian, a Roman general who had been an enemy of Aetius, took command of the rebels, and managed to defeat and kill Avitus in October of 456. Majorian then set about rooting the Westerners and their sympathizers out of all positions of any power or prestige.

The Romans of Lugdunensis rose in revolt against Majorian, who had made himself the new emperor. The revolt was crushed, however.