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