The eastern division of the Empire

Most fortunately for the eastern division of the Empire it had, early in this critical period, a statesman at the head of the Government who compre-hended the situation, and who had the sagacity to devise measures by which the strength of the impending storm might be greatly reduced, if not broken. During the first six years of the reign of Theodosius II., who ascended the throne when a child of eight years, the government was in the hands of Anthemius, the Praetorian Prefect of the East. His abilities and character had already made him conspicuous towards the close of the reign of Arcadius. Chrysostom admired him greatly, and described him as a person who honoured any office he held more than the office honoured him. And now that he was Regent of the Empire he did all in his power to prepare the ship of State to encounter the coming tempest. His first step for that purpose was to establish peace with Persia, the standing rival and foe of the Empire. In the next place, he forced the Huns who had appeared to the south of the Danube to retrace their steps, and placed a flotilla of warships upon the river to prevent the return of those fierce barbarians. At the same time he strengthened also the Illyrian fortresses to render the north-western frontier more secure. Then, warned by a bread riot in Con-stantinople due to a scarcity of wheat in the city, he made arrangements for a more regular supply of grain from Egypt, thus making the population of the capital more friendly to the Government And lastly, as the crowning act of his administration, he decided to array the city in new and better armour, and make it the strongest citadel in the Roman world. The great wall, flanked by ninety- six towers, which forms the innermost line of the fortifications along the landward side of the city, notwithstanding the changes it has undergone since his day, is even in its ruins, a magnificent monument to his wisdom, and to his devotion to the public weal Those ramparts proved the shield of European civilisation for more than a thousand years. Their erection was one of those great acts in history which confer priceless benefits on mankind.

The change made by Anthemius

The change made by Anthemius in the position of the landward walls involved also the extension of the seaward fortifications to join the extremities of the new western limits. But, although that work must have been included in the plans of Anthemius, it was postponed for no less than a quarter of a century. Lack of funds, or the demands of more urgent necessities, or that happy sense of security from naval attack, in which the Government of Constantinople was tempted to indulge, in view of the city’s geographical position, may account for the delay. But whatever the explanation of the postponement, the gap in the defences of the capital could not be left open indefinitely, and at length, in 489, the thirty-first year of the reign of Theodosius II., the shores of the city were enclosed by Cyrus, the then Prefect of the city. It was the year in which the Vandals took Carthage, and possibly the alarm excited by their successes in Africa roused Constantinople to defend itself at every point.

 

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