16. The Creation of the French Realm

16.1 The Fall of Rome

Montesquieu attributed in 1734 the fall of Rome to the Romans, not to the barbarians nor the Christian faith. The roman civilization thrived on slavery, legal submission of women, an inflexible social structure backed by the bloody repression of any attempt at change, and the instantaneous fulfillment of carnal passions. In the year 100 of our era, Rome could not anymore live in opulence through the exploitation of its colonies and conquests. It was forced to count on its own resources in men and material, and these had been depleted by the limitation of births, epidemics, taxation, sexual perversions, drunkenness, squandering and war. The population was indifferent to its own lot.

In the year 9 AD the Germans inflicted in the Teutoburg forest, near Hanover, terrible losses on the roman legions commanded by Varus. This was a warning that the technological advances registered throughout the world (smelting of steel, raising of horses and camels, writing, organizational aptitudes) were assimilated and applied by prolific peripheral tribes. In this particular case, the commander of the German army was a Roman-trained officer.

The fall of Rome was due to the demographic weakening of a population that had suffered devastating epidemics of pest: in 80, the pest killed Titus. In 162, the pest killed daily 2000 Romans but the whole of the Empire was decimated. Famines set in, Septimus Severus (see fig. 14.1) was forced to devaluate the currency in 172. Socialism, imposed by Diocletian in 301, accentuated the economic decline, the corruption and the incompetence that the emperor endeavored to fight. One individual upon two was a civil servant bound to his hereditary function. This was followed, in 303, by a ferocious persecution of the viscerally anti-socialist Christians. The persecution was efficacious because based on the spirit of denunciation that socialism, backed by its intimate knowledge of all the economical wheels of the Empire, favored. The persecution stopped in 313 and Constantine moved the capital of the Empire to Byzantium, a move that favored the pacific occupation of the Western part of the empire by Germanic tribes, of which some were already christianized. The Empire was depopulated and the Germans were welcome to occupy deserted lands. Europe was fortunate on three accounts: the Germanic tribes who occupied the land were amenable to sedentarization, these tribes blended logic and reason with phylogenetically approved natural human exigencies to apprehend reality, and a civilizing spiritual force, Christianity, was simultaneously present to direct the burgeoning civilization toward humanness.

J. Duché (Histoire du monde. Tome 1. L’animal vertical. Flammarion, Paris, 1958.) sets the end of the Antique World at the year 311 for China, when the Huns captured the Emperor and burned down the Capital City, at the year 410 for Rome captured by the Visigoths of Alaric, and at the year 484 for the India of the Gupta, overrun by the White Huns, also named the Hephtalites. It was indeed the end of the Antique World but the fate of the three civilizations depended on the invaders. The Huns destroyed everything in India and China whereas the Christian Arian Visigoths, who had previously served the Basileus in his combat against paganism, sacked Rome with respect for the refugees in churches and preservation of the city, which was not burned down. Roman slaves opened the city to them and the Goths were unable to curb the greed of the slaves and the savagery of the Huns who participated in the sack.

In 450, the 500.000 men composing the hunnish squadrons of Attila invaded Gaul. The catholic clergy was the core of the resistance, which it organized by recruiting the military forces among the available Christian Visigoths and pagan Salian Franks. The Germans, who formed the essential of the forces commanded by the Roman general Aetius, had initially not understood the nature of the menace on sedentary civilization and had no intention to oppose the Nomads. However, Matthew had been explicit: (Mat. 22:21) “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”. This Christian policy had been restated in 401 by Augustine who stressed that all temporal powers have their weaknesses but must be supported for as much that they do not interfere with the Christian aspiration to salvation. The battle fought on the Champs catalauniques near Troyes in Northeast France was one of the most murderous ever fought and 162.000 men perished, including the old king of the Visigoths.

The Roman emperor Valentinian III killed popular Aetius by fear of loosing his throne to him and the legions disintegrated, leaving room for the Germanic tribes. These were civilized, but not to the same degree. Throughout Europe, they separated society in two starkly opposed classes: the nobility, i.e. themselves, and the “roman” population, which was pressured with taxes. The role of the third class, that of the priests, was to support the rulers. The Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Vandals rebuilt Spain, Italy and the African Province with competence on these terms. The Angles, Jutes and Saxons who coexisted in England had, among themselves, a rude but civilized behavior governed by the Council of the Elders (the Witanagemot). The Vikings utterly destroyed the lands they sacked but, after their occupation of England, did not destroy that Order. Coexistence in England was consecrated in 879 by the treaty of Wedmore, and the Norman William the conqueror (1066) respected this Order. William abolished torture in England, on the injunction of the Roman Church that had evolved the Canon Law. The Ripuarian Franks settled around 463 along the Rhine, from Aachen to Metz, and occupied in South Germany the region called Franconia. The Salian Franks occupied in a pacific way, from 356 on, what is now the south of the Netherlands, Belgium and the north of France, making of Tournai their Capital city.

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