Classical civilization suffered a great shock when the
Germans descended on the empire and from its provinces carved out their
kingdoms. These barbarians were rude in manners, were very ignorant, and had
little taste for anything except fighting and bodily enjoyments. They were
unlike the Romans in dress and habits of life. They lived under different laws,
spoke different languages, obeyed different rulers. Their invasions naturally
ushered in a long period of confusion and disorder, during which the new race
slowly raised itself to a level of culture somewhat approaching that which the
Greeks and the Romans had attained.
The Germans in many ways did injury to classical
civilization. They sometimes destroyed Roman cities and killed or enslaved the
inhabitants. Even when the invaders settled peaceably in the empire, they took
possession of the land and set up their own tribal governments in place of the
Roman. They allowed aqueducts, bridges, and roads to go without repairs, and
theaters, baths, and other public buildings to sink into ruins. Having no
appreciation of education, the Germans failed to keep up the schools, universities,
and libraries. Being devoted chiefly to agriculture, they had no need for
foreign wares or costly articles of luxury, and hence they permitted industry
and commerce to languish. In short, large parts of western Europe, particularly
Gaul, Spain, and Britain, fell backward into a condition of ignorance,
superstition, and even barbarism.
But in closing our survey of the Germanic invasions we
need to dwell on the forces that made for progress, rather than on those that
made for decline. Classical civilization, we have already found reason to
believe, had begun to decay long before the Germans broke up the empire.
The Germans came, as Christianity had come, only to hasten the process of
decay. Each of these influences, in turn, worked to build up the fabric of a
new society on the ruins of the old. First Christianity infused the pagan world
with its quickening spirit and gave a new religion to mankind. Later followed
the Germans, who accepted Christianity, who adopted much of Graeco-Roman
culture, and then contributed their fresh blood and youthful minds and their
own vigorous life.