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The Caesars by Thomas de Quincey

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of Providence, in that case it will not be in our power to put him to
death, however much we may desire to do so. You know your great-
grandfather's saying,--No prince ever killed his own heir--no man, that
is, ever yet prevailed against one whom Providence had marked out as his
successor. On the other hand, if Providence opposes him, then, without any
cruelty on our part, he will spontaneously fall into some snare spread for
him by destiny. Besides, we cannot treat a man as under impeachment whom
nobody impeaches, and whom, by your own confession, the soldiers love.
Then again, in cases of high treason, even those criminals who are
convicted upon the clearest evidence, yet, as friendless and deserted
persons contending against the powerful, and matched against those who are
armed with the whole authority of the State, seem to suffer some wrong.
You remember what your grandfather said--Wretched, indeed, is the fate of
princes, who then first obtain credit in any charges of conspiracy which
they allege--when they happen to seal the validity of their charges
against the plotters, by falling martyrs to the plot. Domitian it was, in
fact, who first uttered this truth; but I choose rather to place it under
the authority of Hadrian, because the sayings of tyrants, even when they
are true and happy, carry less weight with them than naturally they ought.
For Cassius, then, let him keep his present temper and inclinations; and
the more so--being (as he is) a good General--austere in his discipline,
brave, and one whom the State cannot afford to lose. For as to what you
insinuate--that I ought to provide for my children's interests, by putting
this man judicially out of the way, very frankly I say to you--Perish my
children, if Avidius shall deserve more attachment than they, and if it
shall prove salutary to the State that Cassius should live rather than the
children of Marcus."

This letter affords a singular illustration of fatalism, such certainly as
we might expect in a Stoic, but carried even to a Turkish excess; and not
theoretically professed only, but practically acted upon in a case of
capital hazard. _That no prince ever killed his own successor_, i.e.,
that it was vain for a prince to put conspirators to death, because, by
the very possibility of doing so, a demonstration is obtained that such
conspirators had never been destined to prosper, is as condensed and
striking an expression of fatalism as ever has been devised. The rest of
the letter is truly noble, and breathes the very soul of careless
magnanimity reposing upon conscious innocence. Meantime, Cassius increased
in power and influence: his army had become a most formidable engine of
his ambition through its restored discipline; and his own authority was
sevenfold greater, because he had himself created that discipline in the
face of unequalled temptations hourly renewed and rooted in the very
centre of his head-quarters. "Daphne, by Orontes," a suburb of Antioch,
was infamous for its seductions; and _Daphnic luxury_ had become
proverbial for expressing an excess of voluptuousness, such as other
places could not rival by mere defect of means, and preparations elaborate
enough to sustain it in all its varieties of mode, or to conceal it from
public notice. In the very purlieus of this great nest, or sty of
sensuality, within sight and touch of its pollutions, did he keep his army
fiercely reined up, daring and defying them, as it were, to taste of the
banquet whose very odor they inhaled.

Thus provided with the means, and improved instruments, for executing his
purposes, he broke out into open rebellion; and, though hostile to the
_principatus_, or personal supremacy of one man, he did not feel his
republican purism at all wounded by the style and title of _Imperator_,--
that being a military term, and a mere titular honor, which had co-existed
with the severest forms of republicanism. _Imperator_, then, he was
saluted and proclaimed; and doubtless the writer of the warning letter
from Syria would now declare that the sequel had justified the fears which
Marcus had thought so unbecoming to a Roman emperor. But again Marcus
would have said, "Let us wait for the sequel of the sequel," and that
would have justified him. It is often found by experience that men, who
have learned to reverence a person in authority chiefly by his offices of
correction applied to their own aberrations,--who have known and feared
him, in short, in his character of reformer,--will be more than usually
inclined to desert him on his first movement in the direction of wrong.
Their obedience being founded on fear, and fear being never wholly
disconnected from hatred, they naturally seize with eagerness upon the
first lawful pretext for disobedience; the luxury of revenge is, in such a
case, too potent,--a meritorious disobedience too novel a temptation,--to
have a chance of being rejected. Never, indeed, does erring human nature
look more abject than in the person of a severe exactor of duty, who has
immolated thousands to the wrath of offended law, suddenly himself
becoming a capital offender, a glozing tempter in search of accomplices,
and in that character at once standing before the meanest of his own
dependents as a self-deposed officer, liable to any man's arrest, and,
_ipso facto_, a suppliant for his own mercy. The stern and haughty
Cassius, who had so often tightened the cords of discipline until they
threatened to snap asunder, now found, experimentally, the bitterness of
these obvious truths. The trembling sentinel now looked insolently in his
face; the cowering legionary, with whom "to hear was to obey," now mused
or even bandied words upon his orders; the great lieutenants of his
office, who stood next to his own person in authority, were preparing for
revolt, open or secret, as circumstances should prescribe; not the accuser
only, but the very avenger, was upon his steps; Nemesis, that Nemesis who
once so closely adhered to the name and fortunes of the lawful Cæsar,
turning against every one of his assassins the edge of his own
assassinating sword, was already at his heels; and in the midst of a
sudden prosperity, and its accompanying shouts of gratulation, he heard
the sullen knells of approaching death. Antioch, it was true, the great
Roman capital of the Orient, bore him, for certain motives of self-
interest, peculiar good-will. But there was no city of the world in which
the Roman Cæsar did not reckon many liege-men and partisans. And the very
hands, which dressed his altars and crowned his Prætorian pavilion, might
not improbably in that same hour put an edge upon the sabre which was to
avenge the injuries of the too indulgent and long-suffering Antoninus.
Meantime, to give a color of patriotism to his treason, Cassius alleged
public motives; in a letter, which he wrote after assuming the purple, he
says: "Wretched empire, miserable state, which endures these hungry blood-
suckers battening on her vitals!--A worthy man, doubtless, is Marcus; who,
in his eagerness to be reputed clement, suffers those to live whose
conduct he himself abhors. Where is that L. Cassius, whose name I vainly
inherit? Where is that Marcus,--not Aurelius, mark you, but Cato
Censorius? Where the good old discipline of ancestral times, long since
indeed disused, but now not so much as looked after in our aspirations?
Marcus Antoninus is a scholar; he enacts the philosopher; and he tries
conclusions upon the four elements, and upon the nature of the soul; and
he discourses learnedly upon the _Honestum_; and concerning the _Summum
Bonum_ he is unanswerable. Meanwhile, is he learned in the interests of
the State? Can he argue a point upon the public economy? You see what a
host of sabres is required, what a host of impeachments, sentences,
executions, before the commonwealth can reassume its ancient integrity!
What! shall I esteem as proconsuls, as governors, those who for that end
only deem themselves invested with lieutenancies or great senatorial
appointments, that they may gorge themselves with the provincial luxuries
and wealth? No doubt you heard in what way our friend the philosopher gave
the place of prætorian prefect to one who but three days before was a
bankrupt,--insolvent, by G--, and a beggar. Be not you content: that same
gentleman is now as rich as a prefect should be; and has been so, I tell
you, any time these three days. And how, I pray you, how--how, my good
sir? How but out of the bowels of the provinces, and the marrow of their
bones? But no matter, let them be rich; let them be blood-suckers; so
much, God willing, shall they regorge into the treasury of the empire. Let
but Heaven smile upon our party, and the Cassiani shall return to the
republic its old impersonal supremacy."

But Heaven did _not_ smile; nor did man. Rome heard with bitter
indignation of this old traitor's ingratitude, and his false mask of
republican civism. Excepting Marcus Aurelius himself, not one man but
thirsted for revenge. And that was soon obtained. He and all his
supporters, one after the other, rapidly fell (as Marcus had predicted)
into snares laid by the officers who continued true to their allegiance.
Except the family and household of Cassius, there remained in a short time
none for the vengeance of the senate, or for the mercy of the emperor. In
_them_ centred the last arrears of hope and fear, of chastisement or
pardon, depending upon this memorable revolt. And about the disposal of
their persons arose the final question to which the case gave birth. The
letters yet remain in which the several parties interested gave utterance
to the passions which possessed them. Faustina, the Empress, urged her
husband with feminine violence to adopt against his prisoners
comprehensive acts of vengeance. "Noli parcere hominibus," says she, "qui
tibi non pepercerunt; et nec mihi nec filiis nostris parcerent, si
vicissent." And elsewhere she irritates his wrath against the army as
accomplices for the time, and as a body of men "qui, nisi opprimuntur,
opprimunt." We may be sure of the result. After commending her zeal for
her own family, he says, "Ego vero et ejus liberis parcam, et genero, et
uxori; et ad senatum scribam ne aut proscriptio gravior sit, aut poena
crudelior;" adding that, had his counsels prevailed, not even Cassius
himself should have perished. As to his relatives, "Why," he asks, "should
I speak of pardon to them, who indeed have done no wrong, and are
blameless even in purpose?" Accordingly, his letter of intercession to the
senate protests, that, so far from asking for further victims to the crime
of Avidius Cassius, would to God he could call back from the dead many of
those who had fallen! With immense applause, and with turbulent
acclamations, the senate granted all his requests "in consideration of his
philosophy, of his long-suffering, of his learning and accomplishments, of
his nobility, of his innocence." And until a monster arose who delighted
in the blood of the guiltless, it is recorded that the posterity of
Avidius Cassius lived in security, and were admitted to honors and public
distinctions by favor of him, whose life and empire that memorable traitor
had sought to undermine under the favor of his guileless master's too
confiding magnanimity.


The Roman empire, and the Roman emperors, it might naturally be supposed
by one who had not as yet traversed that tremendous chapter in the history
of man, would be likely to present a separate and almost equal interest.
The empire, in the first place, as the most magnificent monument of human
power which our planet has beheld, must for that single reason, even
though its records were otherwise of little interest, fix upon itself the
very keenest gaze from all succeeding ages to the end of time. To trace
the fortunes and revolutions of that unrivalled monarchy over which the
Roman eagle brooded, to follow the dilapidations of that aêrial arch,
which silently and steadily through seven centuries ascended under the
colossal architecture of the children of Romulus, to watch the unweaving
of the golden arras, and step by step to see paralysis stealing over the
once perfect cohesion of the republican creations,--cannot but insure a
severe, though melancholy delight. On its own separate account, the
decline of this throne-shattering power must and will engage the foremost
place amongst all historical reviews. The "dislimning" and unmoulding of
some mighty pageantry in the heavens has its own appropriate grandeurs, no
less than the gathering of its cloudy pomps. The going down of the sun is
contemplated with no less awe than his rising. Nor is any thing portentous
in its growth, which is not also portentous in the steps and "moments" of
its decay. Hence, in the second place, we might presume a commensurate
interest in the characters and fortunes of the successive emperors. If the
empire challenged our first survey, the next would seem due to the Cæsars
who guided its course; to the great ones who retarded, and to the bad ones
who precipitated, its ruin.

Such might be the natural expectation of an inexperienced reader. But it
is _not_ so. The Cæsars, throughout their long line, are not interesting,
neither personally in themselves, nor derivatively from the tragic events
to which their history is attached. Their whole interest lies in their
situation--in the unapproachable altitude of their thrones. But,
considered with a reference to their human qualities, scarcely one in the
whole series can be viewed with a human interest apart from the
circumstances of his position. "Pass like shadows, so depart!" The reason
for this defect of all personal variety of interest in these enormous
potentates, must be sought in the constitution of their power and the very
necessities of their office. Even the greatest among them, those who by
way of distinction were called _the Great_, as Constantine and Theodosius,
were not great, for they were not magnanimous; nor could they be so under
_their_ tenure of power, which made it a duty to be suspicious, and, by
fastening upon all varieties of original temper one dire necessity of
bloodshed, extinguished under this monotonous cloud of cruel jealousy and
everlasting panic every characteristic feature of genial human nature,
that would else have emerged through so long a train of princes. There is
a remarkable story told of Agrippina, that, upon some occasion, when a
wizard announced to her, as truths which he had read in the heavens, the
two fatal necessities impending over her son,--one that he should ascend
to empire, the other that he should murder herself, she replied in these
stern and memorable words--_Occidat, dum imperet_. Upon which a
continental writer comments thus: "Never before or since have three such
words issued from the lips of woman; and in truth, one knows not which
most to abominate or to admire--the aspiring princess, or the loving
mother. Meantime, in these few words lies naked to the day, in its whole
hideous deformity, the very essence of Romanism and the imperatorial
power, and one might here consider the mother of Nero as the impersonation
of that monstrous condition."

This is true: _Occidat dum imperet_, was the watchword and very cognizance
of the Roman imperator. But almost equally it was his watchword--
_Occidatur dum imperet_. Doing or suffering, the Cæsars were almost
equally involved in bloodshed; very few that were not murderers, and
nearly all were themselves murdered.

The empire, then, must be regarded as the primary object of our interest;
and it is in this way only that any secondary interest arises for the
emperors. Now, with respect to the empire, the first question which
presents itself is,--Whence, that is, from what causes and from what era,
we are to date its decline? Gibbon, as we all know, dates it from the
reign of Commodus; but certainly upon no sufficient, or even plausible
grounds. Our own opinion we shall state boldly: the empire itself, from
the very era of its establishment, was one long decline of the Roman
power. A vast monarchy had been created and consolidated by the all-
conquering instincts of a republic--cradled and nursed in wars, and
essentially warlike by means of all its institutions [Footnote: Amongst
these institutions, none appear to us so remarkable, or fitted to
accomplish so prodigious a circle of purposes belonging to the highest
state policy, as the Roman method of colonization. Colonies were, in
effect, the great engine of Roman conquest; and the following are among a
few of the great ends to which they were applied. First of all, how came
it that the early armies of Rome served, and served cheerfully, without
pay? Simply because all who were victorious knew that they would receive
their arrears in the fullest and amplest form upon their final discharge,
viz. in the shape of a colonial estate--large enough to rear a family in
comfort, and seated in the midst of similar allotments, distributed to
their old comrades in arms. These lands were already, perhaps, in high
cultivation, being often taken from conquered tribes; but, if not, the new
occupants could rely for aid of every sort, for social intercourse, and
for all the offices of good neighborhood upon the surrounding proprietors
--who were sure to be persons in the same circumstances as themselves, and
draughted from the same legion. For be it remembered, that in the
primitive ages of Rome, concerning which it is that we are now speaking,
entire legions--privates and officers--were transferred in one body to the
new colony. "Antiquitus," says the learned Goesius, "deducebantur integral
legiones, quibus parta victoria." Neither was there much waiting for this
honorary gift. In later ages, it is true, when such resources were less
plentiful, and when regular pay was given to the soldiery, it was the
veteran only who obtained this splendid provision; but in the earlier
times, a single fortunate campaign not seldom dismissed the young recruit
to a life of ease and honor. "Multis legionibus," says Hyginus, "contigit
bellum feliciter transigere, et ad laboriosam agriculturæ requiem _primo
tyrocinii gradu_ pervenire. Nam cum signis et aquilâ et primis ordinibus
et tribunis deducebantur." Tacitus also notices this organization of the
early colonies, and adds the reason of it, and its happy effect, when
contrasting it with the vicious arrangements of the colonizing system in
his own days. "Olim," says he, "universæ legiones deducebantur cum
tribunis et centurionibus, et sui cujusque ordinis militibus, _ut consensu
et charitate rempublicam efficerent_." _Secondly_, not only were the
troops in this way paid at a time when the public purse was unequal to the
expenditure of war--but this pay, being contingent on the successful issue
of the war, added the strength of self-interest to that of patriotism in
stimulating the soldier to extraordinary efforts. Thirdly, not only did
the soldier in this way reap his pay, but also he reaped a reward, (and
that besides a trophy and perpetual monument of his public services,) so
munificent as to constitute a permanent provision for a family; and
accordingly he was now encouraged, nay, enjoined, to marry. For here was
an hereditary landed estate equal to the liberal maintenance of a family.
And thus did a simple people, obeying its instinct of conquest, not only
discover, in its earliest days, the subtle principle of Machiavel--_Let
war support war_; but (which is far more than Machiavel's view) they made
each present war support many future wars--by making it support a new
offset from the population, bound to the mother city by indissoluble ties
of privilege and civic duties; and in many other ways they made every war,
by and through the colonizing system to which it gave occasion,
serviceable to future aggrandizement. War, managed in this way, and with
these results, became to Rome what commerce or rural industry is to other
countries, viz. the only hopeful and general way for making a fortune.
_Fourthly_, by means of colonies it was that Rome delivered herself from
her surplus population. Prosperous and well-governed, the Roman citizens
of each generation outnumbered those of the generation preceding. But the
colonies provided outlets for these continual accessions of people, and
absorbed them faster than they could arise. [Footnote: And in this way we
must explain the fact--that, in the many successive numerations of the
people continually noticed by Livy and others, we do not find that sort of
multiplication which we might have looked for in a state so ably governed.
The truth is, that the continual surpluses had been carried off by the
colonizing drain, before they could become noticeable or troublesome.] And
thus the great original sin of modern states, that heel of Achilles in
which they are all vulnerable, and which (generally speaking) becomes more
oppressive to the public prosperity as that prosperity happens to be
greater (for in poor states and under despotic governments, this evil does
not exist), that flagrant infirmity of our own country, for which no
statesman has devised any commensurate remedy, was to ancient Rome a
perpetual foundation and well-head of public strength and enlarged
resources. With us of modern times, when population greatly outruns the
demand for labor, whether it be under the stimulus of upright government,
and just laws, justly administered, in combination with the manufacturing
system (as in England,) or (as in Ireland) under the stimulus of idle
habits, cheap subsistence, and a low standard of comfort--we think it much
if we can keep down insurrection by the bayonet and the sabre. _Lucro
ponamus_ is our cry, if we can effect even thus much; whereas Rome, in her
simplest and pastoral days, converted this menacing danger and standing
opprobrium of modern statesmanship to her own immense benefit. Not
satisfied merely to have neutralized it, she drew from it the vital
resources of her martial aggrandizement. For, _Fifthly_, these colonies
were in two ways made the corner-stones of her martial policy: 1st, They
were looked to as nurseries of their armies; during one generation the
original colonists, already trained to military habits, were themselves
disposable for this purpose on any great emergency; these men transmitted
heroic traditions to their posterity; and, at all events, a more robust
population was always at hand in agricultural colonies than could be had
in the metropolis. Cato the elder, and all the early writers, notice the
quality of such levies as being far superior to those drawn from a
population of sedentary habits. 2dly, The Italian colonies, one and all,
performed the functions which in our day are assigned to garrisoned towns
and frontier fortresses. In the earliest times they discharged a still
more critical service, by sometimes entirely displacing a hostile
population, and more often by dividing it and breaking its unity. In cases
of desperate resistance to the Roman arms, marked by frequent infraction
of treaties, it was usual to remove the offending population to a safer
situation, separated from Rome by the Tiber; sometimes entirely to
disperse and scatter it. But, where these extremities were not called for
by expediency or the Roman maxims of justice, it was judged sufficient to
_interpolate_, as it were, the hostile people by colonizations from Rome,
which were completely organized [Footnote: That is indeed involved in the
technical term of _Deductio_; for unless the ceremonies, religious and
political, of inauguration and organization, were duly complied with, the
colony was not entitled to be considered as _deducta_--that is, solemnly
and ceremonially transplanted from the metropolis.] for mutual aid, having
officers of all ranks dispersed amongst them, and for overawing the growth
of insurrectionary movements amongst their neighbors. Acting on this
system, the Roman colonies in some measure resembled the _English Pale_,
as existing at one era in Ireland. This mode of service, it is true,
became obsolete in process of time, concurrently with the dangers which it
was shaped to meet; for the whole of Italy proper, together with that part
of Italy called Cisalpine Gaul, was at length reduced to unity and
obedience by the almighty republic. But in forwarding that great end, and
indispensable condition towards all foreign warfare, no one military
engine in the whole armory of Rome availed so much as her Italian
colonies. The other use of these colonies, as frontier garrisons, or, at
any rate, as interposing between a foreign enemy and the gates of Rome,
they continued to perform long after their earlier uses had passed away;
and Cicero himself notices their value in this view. "Colonias," says he
[_Orat. in Rullum_], "sic idoneis in locis contra suspicionem periculi
collocarunt, ut esse non oppida Italiæ sed _propugnacula_ imperii
viderentur." _Finally_, the colonies were the best means of promoting
tillage, and the culture of vineyards. And though this service, as
regarded the Italian colonies, was greatly defeated in succeeding times by
the ruinous largesses of corn [_frumentationes_], and other vices of the
Roman policy after the vast revolution effected by universal luxury, it is
not the less true that, left to themselves and their natural tendency, the
Roman colonies would have yielded this last benefit as certainly as any
other. Large volumes exist, illustrated by the learning of Rigaltius,
Salmatius, and Goesius, upon the mere technical arrangements of the Roman
colonies. And whose libraries might be written on these same colonies
considered as engines of exquisite state policy.] and by the habits of the
people. This monarchy had been of too slow a growth--too gradual, and too
much according to the regular stages of nature herself in its development,
to have any chance of being other than well cemented; the cohesion of its
parts was intense; seven centuries of growth demand one or two at least
for palpable decay; and it is only for harlequin empires like that of
Napoleon, run up with the rapidity of pantomime, to fall asunder under the
instant reaction of a few false moves in politics, or a single unfortunate
campaign. Hence it was, and from the prudence of Augustus acting through a
very long reign, sustained at no very distant interval by the personal
inspection and revisions of Hadrian, that for some time the Roman power
seemed to be stationary. What else could be expected? The mere strength of
the impetus derived from the republican institutions, could not but
propagate itself, and cause even a motion in advance, for some time after
those institutions had themselves given way. And besides the military
institutions survived all others; and the army continued very much the
same in its discipline and composition, long after Rome and all its civic
institutions had bent before an utter revolution. It was very possible
even that emperors should have arisen with martial propensities, and
talents capable of masking, for many years, by specious but transitory
conquests, the causes that were silently sapping the foundations of Roman
supremacy; and thus by accidents of personal character and taste, an
empire might even have expanded itself in appearance, which, by all its
permanent and real tendencies, was even then shrinking within narrower
limits, and travelling downwards to dissolution. In reality, one such
emperor there was. Trajan, whether by martial inclinations, or (as is
supposed by some) by dissatisfaction with his own position at Rome, when
brought into more immediate connection with the senate, was driven into
needless war; and he achieved conquests in the direction of Dacia as well
as Parthia. But that these conquests were not substantial,--that they were
connected by no true cement of cohesion with the existing empire, is
evident from the rapidity with which they were abandoned. In the next
reign, the empire had already recoiled within its former limits; and in
two reigns further on, under Marcus Antoninus, though a prince of elevated
character and warlike in his policy, we find such concessions of territory
made to the Marcomanni and others, as indicate too plainly the shrinking
energies of a waning empire. In reality, if we consider the polar
opposition, in point of interest and situation, between the great officers
of the republic and the Augustus or Cæsar of the empire, we cannot fail to
see the immense effect which that difference must have had upon the
permanent spirit of conquest. Cæsar was either adopted or elected to a
situation of infinite luxury and enjoyment. He had no interests to secure
by fighting in person: and he had a powerful interest in preventing others
from fighting; since in that way only he could raise up competitors to
himself, and dangerous seducers of the army. A consul, on the other hand,
or great lieutenant of the senate, had nothing to enjoy or to hope for,
when his term of office should have expired, unless according to his
success in creating military fame and influence for himself. Those Cæsars
who fought whilst the empire was or seemed to be stationary, as Trajan,
did so from personal taste. Those who fought in after centuries, when the
decay became apparent, and dangers drew nearer, as Aurelian, did so from
the necessities of fear; and under neither impulse were they likely to
make durable conquests. The spirit of conquest having therefore departed
at the very time when conquest would have become more difficult even to
the republican energies, both from remoteness of ground and from the
martial character of the chief nations which stood beyond the frontier,--
it was a matter of necessity that with the republican institutions should
expire the whole principle of territorial aggrandizement; and that, if the
empire seemed to be stationary for some time after its establishment by
Julius, and its final settlement by Augustus, this was through no strength
of its own, or inherent in its own constitution, but through the continued
action of that strength which it had inherited from the republic. In a
philosophical sense, therefore, it may be affirmed, that the empire of the
Cæsars was _always_ in decline; ceasing to go forward, it could not do
other than retrograde; and even the first _appearances_ of decline can,
with no propriety, be referred to the reign of Commodus. His vices exposed
him to public contempt and assassination; but neither one nor the other
had any effect upon the strength of the empire. Here, therefore, is one
just subject of complaint against Gibbon, that he has dated the declension
of the Roman power from a commencement arbitrarily assumed; another, and a
heavier, is, that he has failed to notice the steps and separate
indications of decline as they arose,--the moments (to speak in the
language of dynamics) through which the decline travelled onwards to its
consummation. It is also a grievous offence as regards the true purposes
of history,--and one which, in a complete exposition of the imperial
history, we should have a right to insist on,--that Gibbon brings forward
only such facts as allow of a scenical treatment, and seems every where,
by the glancing style of his allusions, to presuppose an acquaintance with
that very history which he undertakes to deliver. Our immediate purpose,
however, is simply to characterize the office of emperor, and to notice
such events and changes as operated for evil, and for a final effect of
decay, upon the Cæsars or their empire. As the best means of realizing it,
we shall rapidly review the history of both, promising that we confine
ourselves to the true Cæsars, and the true empire, of the West.

The first overt act of weakness,--the first expression of conscious
declension, as regarded the foreign enemies of Rome, occurred in the reign
of Hadrian; for it is a very different thing to forbear making conquests,
and to renounce them when made. It is possible, however, that the cession
then made of Mesopotamia and Armenia, however sure to be interpreted into
the language of fear by the enemy, did not imply any such principle in
this emperor. He was of a civic and paternal spirit, and anxious for the
substantial welfare of the empire rather than its ostentatious glory. The
internal administration of affairs had very much gone into neglect since
the times of Augustus; and Hadrian was perhaps right in supposing that he
could effect more public good by an extensive progress through the empire,
and by a personal correction of abuses, than by any military enterprise.
It is, besides, asserted, that he received an indemnity in money for the
provinces beyond the Euphratus. But still it remains true, that in his
reign the God Terminus made his first retrograde motion; and this emperor
became naturally an object of public obloquy at Rome, and his name fell
under the superstitious ban of a fatal tradition connected with the
foundation of the capitol. The two Antonines, Titus and Marcus, who came
next in succession, were truly good and patriotic princes; perhaps the
only princes in the whole series who combined the virtues of private and
of public life. In their reigns the frontier line was maintained in its
integrity, and at the expense of some severe fighting under Marcus, who
was a strenuous general at the same time that he was a severe student. It
is, however, true, as we observed above, that, by allowing a settlement
within the Roman frontier to a barbarous people, Marcus Aurelius raised
the first ominous precedent in favor of those Gothic, Vandal, and Frankish
hives, who were as yet hidden behind a cloud of years. Homes had been
obtained by Trans-Danubian barbarians upon the sacred territory of Rome
and Cæsar: that fact remained upon tradition; whilst the terms upon which
they had been obtained, how much or how little connected with fear,
necessarily became liable to doubt and to oblivion. Here we pause to
remark, that the first twelve Cæsars, together with Nerva, Trajan,
Hadrian, and the two Antonines, making seventeen emperors, compose the
first of four nearly equal groups, who occupied the throne in succession
until the extinction of the Western Empire. And at this point be it
observed,--that is, at the termination of the first group,--we take leave
of all genuine virtue. In no one of the succeeding princes, if we except
Alexander Severus, do we meet with any goodness of heart, or even
amiableness of manners. The best of the future emperors, in a public
sense, were harsh and repulsive in private character.

The second group, as we have classed them, terminating with Philip the
Arab, commences with Commodus. This unworthy prince, although the son of
the excellent Marcus Antoninus, turned out a monster of debauchery. At the
moment of his father's death, he was present in person at the head-
quarters of the army on the Danube, and of necessity partook in many of
their hardships. This it was which furnished his evil counsellors with
their sole argument for urging his departure to the capital. A council
having been convened, the faction of court sycophants pressed upon his
attention the inclemency of the climate, contrasting it with the genial
skies and sunny fields of Italy; and the season, which happened to be
winter, gave strength to their representations. What! would the emperor be
content for ever to hew out the frozen water with an axe before he could
assuage his thirst? And, again, the total want of fruit-trees--did that
recommend their present station as a fit one for the imperial court?
Commodus, ashamed to found his objections to the station upon grounds so
unsoldierly as these, affected to be moved by political reasons: some
great senatorial house might take advantage of his distance from home,--
might seize the palace, fortify it, and raise levies in Italy capable of
sustaining its pretensions to the throne. These arguments were combated by
Pompeianus, who, besides his personal weight as an officer, had married
the eldest sister of the young emperor. Shame prevailed for the present
with Commodus, and he dismissed the council with an assurance that he
would think farther of it. The sequel was easy to foresee. Orders were
soon issued for the departure of the court to Rome, and the task of
managing the barbarians of Dacia, was delegated to lieutenants. The system
upon which these officers executed their commission was a mixed one of
terror and persuasion. Some they defeated in battle; and these were the
majority; for Herodian says, _pleizous ton barbaron haplois echeirosanto_:
Others they bribed into peace by large sums of money. And no doubt this
last article in the policy of Commodus was that which led Gibbon to assign
to this reign the first rudiments of the Roman declension. But it should
be remembered, that, virtually, this policy was but the further
prosecution of that which had already been adopted by Marcus Aurelius.
Concessions and temperaments of any sort or degree showed that the
Pannonian frontier was in too formidable a condition to be treated with
uncompromising rigor. To _hamerimnon onoumenos_, purchasing an immunity
from all further anxiety, Commodus (as the historian expresses it) _panta
edidou ta aitoumena_--conceded all demands whatever. His journey to Rome
was one continued festival: and the whole population of Rome turned out to
welcome him. At this period he was undoubtedly the darling of the people:
his personal beauty was splendid; and he was connected by blood with some
of the greatest nobility. Over this flattering scene of hope and triumph
clouds soon gathered: with the mob, indeed, there is reason to think that
he continued a favorite to the last; but the respectable part of the
citizens were speedily disgusted with his self-degradation, and came to
hate him even more than ever or by any class he had been loved. The Roman
pride never shows itself more conspicuously throughout all history, than
in the alienation of heart which inevitably followed any great and
continued outrages upon his own majesty, committed by their emperor.
Cruelties the most atrocious, acts of vengeance the most bloody,
fratricide, parricide, all were viewed with more toleration than oblivion
of his own inviolable sanctity. Hence we imagine the wrath with which Rome
would behold Commodus, under the eyes of four hundred thousand spectators,
making himself a party to the contests of gladiators. In his earlier
exhibitions as an archer, it is possible that his matchless dexterity, and
his unerring eye, would avail to mitigate the censures: but when the Roman
Imperator actually descended to the arena in the garb and equipments of a
servile prize-fighter, and personally engaged in combat with such
antagonists, having previously submitted to their training and discipline--
the public indignation rose a to height, which spoke aloud the language
of encouragement to conspiracy and treason. These were not wanting: three
memorable plots against his life were defeated; one of them (that of
Maternus, the robber) accompanied with romantic circumstances, [Footnote:
On this occasion we may notice that the final execution of the vengeance
projected by Maternus, was reserved for a public festival, exactly
corresponding to the modern _carnival_; and from an expression used by
Herodian, it is plain that masquerading had been an ancient practice in
Rome.] which we have narrated in an earlier paper of this series. Another
was set on foot by his eldest sister, Lucilla; nor did her close
relationship protect her from capital punishment. In that instance, the
immediate agent of her purposes, Quintianus, a young man, of signal
resolution and daring, who had attempted to stab the emperor at the
entrance of the amphitheatre, though baffled in his purpose, uttered a
word which rang continually in the ears of Commodus, and poisoned his
peace of mind for ever. His vengeance, perhaps, was thus more effectually
accomplished than if he had at once dismissed his victim from life. "The
senate," he had said, "sends thee this through me:" and henceforward the
senate was the object of unslumbering suspicions to the emperor. Yet the
public suspicions settled upon a different quarter; and a very memorable
scene must have pointed his own in the same direction, supposing that he
had previously been blind to his danger. On a day of great solemnity, when
Rome had assembled her myriads in the amphitheatre, just at the very
moment when the nobles, the magistrates, the priests, all, in short, that
was venerable or consecrated in the State, with the Imperator in their
centre, had taken their seats, and were waiting for the opening of the
shows, a stranger, in the robe of a philosopher, bearing a staff in his
hand, (which also was the professional ensign [Footnote: See Casaubon's
notes upon Theophrastus.] of a philosopher,) stepped forward, and, by the
waving of his hand, challenged the attention of Commodus. Deep silence
ensued: upon which, in a few words, ominous to the ear as the handwriting
on the wall to the eye of Belshazzar, the stranger unfolded to Commodus
the instant peril which menaced both his life and his throne, from his
great servant Perennius. What personal purpose of benefit to himself this
stranger might have connected with his public warning, or by whom he might
have been suborned, was never discovered; for he was instantly arrested by
the agents of the great officer whom he had denounced, dragged away to
punishment, and put to a cruel death. Commodus dissembled his panic for
the present; but soon after, having received undeniable proofs (as is
alleged) of the treason imputed to Perennius, in the shape of a coin which
had been struck by his son, he caused the father to be assassinated; and,
on the same day, by means of forged letters, before this news could reach
the son, who commanded the Illyrian armies, he lured him also to
destruction, under the belief that he was obeying the summons of his
father to a private interview on the Italian frontier. So perished those
enemies, if enemies they really were. But to these tragedies succeeded
others far more comprehensive in their mischief, and in more continuous
succession than is recorded upon any other page of universal history. Rome
was ravaged by a pestilence--by a famine--by riots amounting to a civil
war--by a dreadful massacre of the unarmed mob--by shocks of earthquake--
and, finally, by a fire which consumed the national bank, [Footnote: Viz.
the Temple of Peace; at that time the most magnificent edifice in Rome.
Temples, it is well known, were the places used in ancient times as banks
of deposit. For this function they were admirably fitted by their
inviolable sanctity.] and the most sumptuous buildings of the city. To
these horrors, with a rapidity characteristic of the Roman depravity, and
possible only under the most extensive demoralization of the public mind,
succeeded festivals of gorgeous pomp, and amphitheatrical exhibitions,
upon a scale of grandeur absolutely unparalleled by all former attempts.
Then were beheld, and familiarized to the eyes of the Roman mob--to
children--and to women, animals as yet known to us, says Herodian, only in
pictures. Whatever strange or rare animal could be drawn from the depths
of India, from Siam and Pegu, or from the unvisited nooks of Ethiopia,
were now brought together as subjects for the archery of the universal
lord. [Footnote: What a prodigious opportunity for the zoologist!--And
considering that these shows prevailed, for 500 years, during all which
period the amphitheatre gave bounties, as it were, to the hunter and the
fowler of every climate, and that, by means of a stimulus so constantly
applied, scarcely any animal, the shyest, rarest, fiercest, escaped the
demands of the arena,--no one fact so much illustrates the inertia of the
public mind in those days, and the indifference to all scientific
pursuits, as that no annotator should have risen to Pliny the elder--no
rival to the immortal tutor of Alexander.] Invitations (and the
invitations of kings are commands) had been scattered on this occasion
profusely; not, as heretofore, to individuals or to families--but, as was
in proportion to the occasion where an emperor was the chief performer, to
nations. People were summoned by circles of longitude and latitude to come
and see _theasumenoi ha mæ proteron mæte heormkesun mæte ækaekoeisun_--
things that eye had not seen nor ear heard of] the specious miracles of
nature brought together from arctic and from tropic deserts, putting forth
their strength, their speed, or their beauty, and glorifying by their
deaths the matchless hand of the Roman king. There was beheld the lion
from Bilidulgerid, and the leopard from Hindostan--the rein-deer from
polar latitudes--the antelope from the Zaara--and the leigh, or gigantic
stag, from Britain. Thither came the buffalo and the bison, the white bull
of Northumberland and Galloway, the unicorn from the regions of Nepaul or
Thibet, the rhinoceros and the river-horse from Senegal, with the elephant
of Ceylon or Siam. The ostrich and the cameleopard, the wild ass and the
zebra, the chamois and the ibex of Angora,--all brought their tributes of
beauty or deformity to these vast aceldamas of Rome: their savage voices
ascended in tumultuous uproar to the chambers of the capitol: a million of
spectators sat round them: standing in the centre was a single statuesque
figure--the imperial sagittary, beautiful as an Antinous, and majestic as
a Jupiter, whose hand was so steady and whose eye so true, that he was
never known to miss, and who, in this accomplishment at least, was so
absolute in his excellence, that, as we are assured by a writer not
disposed to flatter him, the very foremost of the Parthian archers and of
the Mauritanian lancers [_Parthyaion oi toxichæs hachribentes, chai
Mauresion oi hachontixein harizoi_] were not able to contend with him.
Juvenal, in a well known passage upon the disproportionate endings of
illustrious careers, drawing one of his examples from Marius, says, that
he ought, for his own glory, and to make his end correspondent to his
life, to have died at the moment when he descended from his triumphal
chariot at the portals of the capitol. And of Commodus, in like manner, it
may be affirmed, that, had he died in the exercise of his peculiar art,
with a hecatomb of victims rendering homage to his miraculous skill, by
the regularity of the files which they presented, as they lay stretched
out dying or dead upon the arena,--he would have left a splendid and a
characteristic impression of himself upon that nation of spectators who
had witnessed his performance. He was the noblest artist in his own
profession that the world had seen--in archery he was the Robin Hood of
Rome; he was in the very meridian of his youth; and he was the most
beautiful man of his own times _Ton chath eauton hathropon challei
euprepestatos_. He would therefore have looked the part admirably of the
dying gladiator; and he would have died in his natural vocation. But it
was ordered otherwise; his death was destined to private malice, and to an
ignoble hand. And much obscurity still rests upon the motives of the
assassins, though its circumstances are reported with unusual minuteness
of detail. One thing is evident, that the public and patriotic motives
assigned by the perpetrators as the remote causes of their conspiracy,
cannot have been the true ones. The grave historian may sum up his
character of Commodus by saying that, however richly endowed with natural
gifts, he abused them all to bad purposes; that he derogated from his
noble ancestors, and disavowed the obligations of his illustrious name;
and, as the climax of his offences, that he dishonored the purple--
_aischrois epitædeumasin_--by the baseness of his pursuits. All that is
true, and more than that. But these considerations were not of a nature to
affect his parasitical attendants very nearly or keenly. Yet the story
runs--that Marcia, his privileged mistress, deeply affected by the
anticipation of some further outrages upon his high dignity which he was
then meditating, had carried the importunity of her deprecations too far;
that the irritated emperor had consequently inscribed her name, in company
with others, (whom he had reason to tax with the same offence, or whom he
suspected of similar sentiments,) in his little black book, or pocket
souvenir of death; that this book, being left under the cushion of a sofa,
had been conveyed into the hands of Marcia by a little pet boy, called
Philo-Commodus, who was caressed equally by the emperor and by Marcia;
that she had immediately called to her aid, and to the participation of
her plot, those who participated in her danger; and that the proximity of
their own intended fate had prescribed to them an immediate attempt; the
circumstances of which were these. At mid-day the emperor was accustomed
to bathe, and at the same time to take refreshments. On this occasion,
Marcia, agreeably to her custom, presented him with a goblet of wine,
medicated with poison. Of this wine, having just returned from the
fatigues of the chase, Commodus drank freely, and almost immediately fell
into heavy slumbers; from which, however, he was soon aroused by deadly
sickness. That was a case which the conspirators had not taken into their
calculations; and they now began to fear that the violent vomiting which
succeeded might throw off the poison. There was no time to be lost; and
the barbarous Marcia, who had so often slept in the arms of the young
emperor, was the person to propose that he should now be strangled. A
young gladiator, named Narcissus, was therefore introduced into the room;
what passed is not known circumstantially; but, as the emperor was young
and athletic, though off his guard at the moment, and under the
disadvantage of sickness, and as he had himself been regularly trained in
the gladiatorial discipline, there can be little doubt that the vile
assassin would meet with a desperate resistance. And thus, after all,
there is good reason to think that the emperor resigned his life in the
character of a dying gladiator. [Footnote: It is worthy of notice, that,
under any suspension of the imperatorial power or office, the senate was
the body to whom the Roman mind even yet continued to turn. In this case,
both to color their crime with a show of public motives, and to interest
this great body in their own favor by associating them in their own
dangers, the conspirators pretended to have found a long roll of
senatorial names included in the same page of condemnation with their own.
A manifest fabrication!]

So perished the eldest and sole surviving son of the great Marcus
Antoninus; and the crown passed into the momentary possession of two old
men, who reigned in succession each for a few weeks. The first of these
was Pertinax, an upright man, a good officer, and an unseasonable
reformer; unseasonable for those times, but more so for himself. Lætus,
the ringleader in the assassination of Commodus, had been at that time the
prætorian prefect--an office which a German writer considers as best
represented to modern ideas by the Turkish post of grand vizier. Needing a
protector at this moment, he naturally fixed his eyes upon Pertinax--as
then holding the powerful command of city prefect (or governor of Rome.)
Him therefore he recommended to the soldiery--that is, to the prætorian
cohorts. The soldiery had no particular objection to the old general, if
he and they could agree upon terms; his age being doubtless appreciated as
a first-rate recommendation, in a case where it insured a speedy renewal
of the lucrative bargain.

The only demur arose with Pertinax himself: he had been leader of the
troops in Britain, then superintendent of the police in Rome, thirdly
proconsul in Africa, and finally consul and governor of Rome. In these
great official stations he stood near enough to the throne to observe the
dangers with which it was surrounded; and it is asserted that he declined
the offered dignity. But it is added, that, finding the choice allowed him
lay between immediate death [Footnote: Historians have failed to remark
the contradiction between this statement and the allegation that Lætus
selected Pertinax for the throne on a consideration of his ability to
protect the assassins of Commodus.] and acceptance, he closed with the
proposals of the praetorian cohorts, at the rate of about ninety-six
pounds per man; which largess he paid by bringing to sale the rich
furniture of the last emperor. The danger which usually threatened a Roman
Cæsar in such cases was--lest he should not be able to fulfill his
contract. But in the case of Pertinax the danger began from the moment
when he _had_ fulfilled it. Conceiving himself to be now released
from his dependency, he commenced his reforms, civil as well as military,
with a zeal which alarmed all those who had an interest in maintaining the
old abuses. To two great factions he thus made himself especially
obnoxious--to the praetorian cohorts, and to the courtiers under the last
reign. The connecting link between these two parties was Lætus, who
belonged personally to the last, and still retained his influence with the
first. Possibly his fears were alarmed; but, at all events, his cupidity
was not satisfied. He conceived himself to have been ill rewarded; and,
immediately resorting to the same weapons which he had used against
Commodus, he stimulated the praetorian guards to murder the emperor. Three
hundred of them pressed into the palace: Pertinax attempted to harangue
them, and to vindicate himself; but not being able to obtain a hearing, he
folded his robe about his head, called upon Jove the Avenger, and was
immediately dispatched.

The throne was again empty after a reign of about eighty days; and now
came the memorable scandal of putting up the empire to auction. There were
two bidders, Sulpicianus and Didius Julianus. The first, however, at that
time governor of Rome, lay under a weight of suspicion, being the father-
in-law of Pertinax, and likely enough to exact vengeance for his murder.
He was besides outbid by Julianus. Sulpician offered about one hundred and
sixty pounds a man to the guards; his rival offered two hundred, and
assured them besides of immediate payment; "for," said he, "I have the
money at home, without needing to raise it from the possessions of the
crown." Upon this the empire was knocked down to the highest bidder. So
shocking, however, was this arrangement to the Roman pride, that the
guards durst not leave their new creation without military protection. The
resentment of an unarmed mob, however, soon ceased to be of foremost
importance; this resentment extended rapidly to all the frontiers of the
empire, where the armies felt that the prætorian cohorts had no exclusive
title to give away the throne, and their leaders felt, that, in a contest
of this nature, their own claims were incomparably superior to those of
the present occupant. Three great candidates therefore started forward--
Septimius Severus, who commanded the armies in Illyria, Pescennius Niger
in Syria, and Albinus in Britain. Severus, as the nearest to Rome, marched
and possessed himself of that city. Vengeance followed upon all parties
concerned in the late murder. Julianus, unable to complete his bargain,
had already been put to death, as a deprecatory offering to the
approaching army. Severus himself inflicted death upon Lætus, and
dismissed the praetorian cohorts. Thence marching against his Syrian
rival, Niger, who had formerly been his friend, and who was not wanting in
military skill, he overthrew him in three great battles. Niger fled to
Antioch, the seat of his late government, and was there decapitated.
Meantime Albinus, the British commander-in-chief, had already been won
over by the title of Cæsar, or adopted heir to the new Augustus. But the
hollowness of this bribe soon became apparent, and the two competitors met
to decide their pretensions at Lyons. In the great battle which followed,
Severus fell from his horse, and was at first supposed to be dead. But
recovering, he defeated his rival, who immediately committed suicide.
Severus displayed his ferocious temper sufficiently by sending the head of
Albinus to Rome. Other expressions of his natural character soon followed:
he suspected strongly that Albinus had been favored by the senate; forty
of that body, with their wives and children, were immediately sacrificed
to his wrath; but he never forgave the rest, nor endured to live upon
terms of amity amongst them. Quitting Rome in disgust, he employed himself
first in making war upon the Parthians, who had naturally, from situation,
befriended his Syrian rival. Their capital cities he overthrew; and
afterwards, by way of employing his armies, made war in Britain. At the
city of York he died; and to his two sons, Geta and Caracalla, he
bequeathed, as his dying advice, a maxim of policy, which sufficiently
indicates the situation of the empire at that period; it was this--"To
enrich the soldiery at any price, and to regard the rest of their subjects
as so many ciphers." But, as a critical historian remarks, this was a
shortsighted and self-destroying policy; since in no way is the
subsistence of the soldier made more insecure, than by diminishing the
general security of rights and property to those who are not soldiers,
from whom, after all, the funds must be sought, by which the soldier
himself is to be paid and nourished. The two sons of Severus, whose bitter
enmity is so memorably put on record by their actions, travelled
simultaneously to Rome; but so mistrustful of each other, that at every
stage the two princes took up their quarters at different houses. Geta has
obtained the sympathy of historians, because he happened to be the victim;
but there is reason to think, that each of the brothers was conspiring
against the other. The weak credulity, rather than the conscious
innocence, of Geta, led to the catastrophe; he presented himself at a
meeting with his brother in the presence of their common mother, and was
murdered by Caracalla in his mother's arms. He was, however, avenged; the
horrors of that tragedy, and remorse for the twenty thousand murders which
had followed, never forsook the guilty Caracalla. Quitting Rome, but
pursued into every region by the bloody image of his brother, the emperor
henceforward led a wandering life at the head of his legions; but never
was there a better illustration of the poet's maxim, that

'Remorse is as the mind in which it grows:
If _that_ be gentle,' &c.

For the remorse of Caracalla put on no shape of repentance. On the
contrary, he carried anger and oppression wherever he moved; and protected
himself from plots only by living in the very centre of a nomadic camp.
Six years had passed away in this manner, when a mere accident led to his
assassination. For the sake of security, the office of praetorian prefect
had been divided between two commissioners, one for military affairs, the
other for civil. The latter of these two officers was Opilius Macrinus.
This man has, by some historians, been supposed to have harbored no bad
intentions; but, unfortunately, an astrologer had foretold that he was
destined to the throne. The prophet was laid in irons at Rome, and letters
were dispatched to Caracalla, apprizing him of the case. These letters, as
yet unopened, were transferred by the emperor, then occupied in witnessing
a race, to Macrinus, who thus became acquainted with the whole grounds of
suspicion against himself,--grounds which, to the jealousy of the emperor,
he well knew would appear substantial proofs. Upon this he resolved to
anticipate the emperor in the work of murder. The head-quarters were then
at Edessa; and upon his instigation, a disappointed centurion, named
Martialis, animated also by revenge for the death of his brother,
undertook to assassinate Caracalla. An opportunity soon offered, on a
visit which the prince made to the celebrated temple of the moon at
Carrhæ. The attempt was successful: the emperor perished; but Martialis
paid the penalty of his crime in the same hour, being shot by a Scythian
archer of the body-guard.

Macrinus, after three days' interregnum, being elected emperor, began his
reign by purchasing a peace from the Parthians. What the empire chiefly
needed at this moment, is evident from the next step taken by this
emperor. He labored to restore the ancient discipline of the armies in all
its rigor. He was aware of the risk he ran in this attempt; and that he
_was_ so, is the best evidence of the strong necessity which existed
for reform. Perhaps, however, he might have surmounted his difficulties
and dangers, had he met with no competitor round whose person the military
malcontents could rally. But such a competitor soon arose; and, to the
astonishment of all the world, in the person of a Syrian. The Emperor
Severus, on losing his first wife, had resolved to strengthen the
pretensions of his family by a second marriage with some lady having a
regal "genesis," that is, whose horoscope promised a regal destiny. Julia
Domna, a native of Syria, offered him this dowry, and she became the
mother of Geta. A sister of this Julia, called Moesa, had, through two
different daughters, two grandsons--Heliogabalus and Alexander Severus.
The mutineers of the army rallied round the first of these; a battle was
fought; and Macrinus, with his son Diadumenianus, whom he had adopted to
the succession, were captured and put to death. Heliogabalus succeeded,
and reigned in the monstrous manner which has rendered his name infamous
in history. In what way, however, he lost the affections of the army, has
never been explained. His mother, Sooemias, the eldest daughter of Moesa,
had represented herself as the concubine of Caracalla; and Heliogabalus,
being thus accredited as the son of that emperor, whose memory was dear to
the soldiery, had enjoyed the full benefit of that descent, nor can it be
readily explained how he came to lose it.

Here, in fact, we meet with an instance of that dilemma which is so
constantly occurring in the history of the Cæsars. If a prince is by
temperament disposed to severity of manners, and naturally seeks to
impress his own spirit upon the composition and discipline of the army, we
are sure to find that he was cut off in his attempts by private
assassination or by public rebellion. On the other hand, if he wallows in
sensuality, and is careless about all discipline, civil or military, we
then find as commonly that he loses the esteem and affections of the army
to some rival of severer habits. And in the midst of such oscillations,
and with examples of such contradictory interpretation, we cannot wonder
that the Roman princes did not oftener take warning by the misfortunes of
their predecessors. In the present instance, Alexander, the cousin of
Heliogabalus, without intrigues of his own, and simply (as it appears) by
the purity and sobriety of his conduct, had alienated the affections of
the army from the reigning prince. Either jealousy or prudence had led
Heliogabalus to make an attempt upon his rival's life; and this attempt
had nearly cost him his own through the mutiny which it caused. In a
second uproar, produced by some fresh intrigues of the emperor against his
cousin, the soldiers became unmanageable, and they refused to pause until
they had massacred Heliogabalus, together with his mother, and raised his
cousin Alexander to the throne.

The reforms of this prince, who reigned under the name of Alexander
Severus, were extensive and searching; not only in his court, which he
purged of all notorious abuses, but throughout the economy of the army. He
cashiered, upon one occasion, an entire legion: he restored, as far as he
was able, the ancient discipline; and, above all, he liberated the
provinces from military spoliation. "Let the soldier," said he, "be
contented with his pay; and whatever more he wants, let him obtain it by
victory from the enemy, not by pillage from his fellow-subject." But
whatever might be the value or extent of his reforms in the marching
regiments, Alexander could not succeed in binding the prætorian guards to
his yoke. Under the guardianship of his mother Mammæa, the conduct of
state affairs had been submitted to a council of sixteen persons, at the
head of which stood the celebrated Ulpian. To this minister the prætorians
imputed the reforms, and perhaps the whole spirit of reform; for they
pursued him with a vengeance which is else hardly to be explained. Many
days was Ulpian protected by the citizens of Rome, until the whole city
was threatened with conflagration; he then fled to the palace of the young
emperor, who in vain attempted to save him from his pursuers under the
shelter of the imperial purple. Ulpian was murdered before his eyes; nor
was it found possible to punish the ringleader in this foul conspiracy,
until he had been removed by something like treachery to a remote

Meantime, a great revolution and change of dynasty had been effected in
Parthia; the line of the Arsacidæ was terminated; the Parthian empire was
at an end; and the sceptre of Persia was restored under the new race of
the Sassanides. Artaxerxes, the first prince of this race, sent an embassy
of four hundred select knights, enjoining the Roman emperor to content
himself with Europe, and to leave Asia to the Persians. In the event of a
refusal, the ambassadors were instructed to offer a defiance to the Roman
prince. Upon such an insult, Alexander could not do less, with either
safety or dignity, than prepare for war. It is probable, indeed, that, by
this expedition, which drew off the minds of the soldiery from brooding
upon the reforms which offended them, the life of Alexander was prolonged.
But the expedition itself was mismanaged, or was unfortunate. This result,
however, does not seem chargeable upon Alexander. All the preparations
were admirable on the march, and up to the enemy's frontier. The invasion
it was, which, in a strategic sense, seems to have been ill combined.
Three armies were to have entered Persia simultaneously: one of these,
which was destined to act on a flank of the general line, entangled itself
in the marshy grounds near Babylon, and was cut off by the archery of an
enemy whom it could not reach. The other wing, acting upon ground
impracticable for the manoeuvres of the Persian cavalry, and supported by
Chosroes the king of Armenia, gave great trouble to Artaxerxes, and, with
adequate support from the other armies, would doubtless have been
victorious. But the central army, under the conduct of Alexander in
person, discouraged by the destruction of one entire wing, remained
stationary in Mesopotamia throughout the summer, and, at the close of the
campaign, was withdrawn to Antioch, _re infectâ_. It has been observed
that great mystery hangs over the operations and issue of this short war.
Thus much, however, is evident, that nothing but the previous exhaustion
of the Persian king saved the Roman armies from signal discomfiture; and
even thus there is no ground for claiming a victory (as most historians
do) to the Roman arms. Any termination of the Persian war, however,
whether glorious or not, was likely to be personally injurious to
Alexander, by allowing leisure to the soldiery for recurring to their
grievances. Sensible, no doubt, of this, Alexander was gratified by the
occasion which then arose for repressing the hostile movements of the
Germans. He led his army off upon this expedition; but their temper was
gloomy and threatening; and at length, after reaching the seat of war, at
Mentz, an open mutiny broke out under the guidance of Maximin, which
terminated in the murder of the emperor and his mother. By Herodian the
discontents of the army are referred to the ill management of the Persian
campaign, and the unpromising commencement of the new war in Germany. But
it seems probable that a dissolute and wicked army, like that of
Alexander, had not murmured under the too little, but the too much of
military service; not the buying a truce with gold seems to have offended
them, but the having led them at all upon an enterprise of danger and

Maximin succeeded, whose feats of strength, when he first courted the
notice of the Emperor Severus, have been described by Gibbon. He was at
that period a Thracian peasant; since then he had risen gradually to high
offices; but, according to historians, he retained his Thracian brutality
to the last. That may have been true; but one remark must be made upon
this occasion: Maximin was especially opposed to the senate; and, wherever
that was the case, no justice was done to an emperor. Why it was that
Maximin would not ask for the confirmation of his election from the
senate, has never been explained; it is said that he anticipated a
rejection. But, on the other hand, it seems probable that the senate
supposed its sanction to be despised. Nothing, apparently, but this
reciprocal reserve in making approaches to each other, was the cause of
all the bloodshed which followed. The two Gordians, who commanded in
Africa, were set up by the senate against the new emperor; and the
consternation of that body must have been great, when these champions were
immediately overthrown and killed. They did not, however, despair:
substituting the two governors of Rome, Pupienus and Balbinus, and
associating to them the younger Gordian, they resolved to make a stand;
for the severities of Maximin had by this time manifested that it was a
contest of extermination. Meantime, Maximin had broken up from Sirmium,
the capital of Pannonia, and had advanced to Aquileia,--that famous
fortress, which in every invasion of Italy was the first object of attack.
The senate had set a price upon his head; but there was every probability
that he would have triumphed, had he not disgusted his army by immoderate
severities. It was, however, but reasonable that those, who would not
support the strict but equitable discipline of the mild Alexander, should
suffer under the barbarous and capricious rigor of Maximin. That rigor was
his ruin: sunk and degraded as the senate was, and now but the shadow of a
mighty name, it was found on this occasion to have long arms when
supported by the frenzy of its opponent. Whatever might be the real
weakness of this body, the rude soldiers yet felt a blind traditionary
veneration for its sanction, when prompting them as patriots to an act
which their own multiplied provocations had but too much recommended to
their passions. A party entered the tent of Maximin, and dispatched him
with the same unpitying haste which he had shown under similar
circumstances to the gentle-minded Alexander. Aquileia opened her gates
immediately, and thus made it evident that the war had been personal to

A scene followed within a short time which is in the highest degree
interesting. The senate, in creating two emperors at once (for the boy
Gordian was probably associated to them only by way of masking their
experiment), had made it evident that their purpose was to restore the
republic and its two consuls. This was their meaning; and the experiment
had now been twice repeated. The army saw through it: as to the double
number of emperors, _that_ was of little consequence, farther than as
it expressed their intention, viz. by bringing back the consular
government, to restore the power of the senate, and to abrogate that of
the army. The prætorian troops, who were the most deeply interested in
preventing this revolution, watched their opportunity, and attacked the
two emperors in the palace. The deadly feud, which had already arisen
between them, led each to suppose himself under assault from the other.
The mistake was not of long duration. Carried into the streets of Rome,
they were both put to death, and treated with monstrous indignities. The
young Gordian was adopted by the soldiery. It seems odd that even thus far
the guards should sanction the choice of the senate, having the purposes
which they had; but perhaps Gordian had recommended himself to their favor
in a degree which might outweigh what they considered the original vice of
his appointment, and his youth promised them an immediate impunity. This
prince, however, like so many of his predecessors, soon came to an unhappy
end. Under the guardianship of the upright Misitheus, for a time he
prospered; and preparations were made upon a great scale for the energetic
administration of a Persian war. But Misitheus died, perhaps by poison, in
the course of the campaign; and to him succeeded, as prætorian prefect, an
Arabian officer, called Philip. The innocent boy, left without friends,
was soon removed by murder; and a monument was afterwards erected to his
memory, at the junction of the Aboras and the Euphrates. Great obscurity,
however, clouds this part of history; nor is it so much as known in what
way the Persian war was conducted or terminated.

Philip, having made himself emperor, celebrated, upon his arrival in Rome,
the secular games, in the year 247 of the Christian era--that being the
completion of a thousand years from the foundation of Rome. But Nemesis
was already on his steps. An insurrection had broken out amongst the
legions stationed in Mœsia; and they had raised to the purple some officer
of low rank. Philip, having occasion to notice this affair in the senate,
received for answer from Decius, that probably the pseudo-imperator would
prove a mere evanescent phantom. This conjecture was confirmed; and Philip
in consequence conceived a high opinion of Decius, whom (as the
insurrection still continued) he judged to be the fittest man for
appeasing it. Decius accordingly went, armed with the proper authority.
But on his arrival, he found himself compelled by the insurgent army to
choose between empire and death. Thus constrained, he yielded to the
wishes of the troops; and then hastening with a veteran army into Italy,
he fought the battle of Verona, where Philip was defeated and killed,
whilst the son of Philip was murdered at Rome by the prætorian guards.

With Philip ends, according to our distribution, the second series of the
Cæsars, comprehending Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Septimius
Severus, Caracalla, and Geta, Macrinus, Heliogabalus, Alexander Severus,
Maximin, the two Gordians, Pupienus and Balbinus, the third Gordian, and
Philip the Arab.

In looking back at this series of Cæsars, we are horror-struck at the
blood-stained picture. Well might a foreign writer, in reviewing the same
succession, declare, that it is like passing into a new world when the
transition is made from this chapter of the human history to that of
modern Europe. From Commodus to Decius are sixteen names, which, spread
through a space of 59 years, assign to each Cæsar a reign of less than
four years. And Casaubon remarks, that, in one period of 160 years, there
were 70 persons who assumed the Roman purple; which gives to each not much
more than two years. On the other hand, in the history of France, we find
that, through a period of 1200 years, there have been no more than 64
kings: upon an average, therefore, each king appears to have enjoyed a
reign of nearly nineteen years. This vast difference in security is due to
two great principles,--that of primogeniture as between son and son, and
of hereditary succession as between a son and every other pretender. Well
may we hail the principle of hereditary right as realizing the praise of
Burke applied to chivalry, viz., that it is "the cheap defence of
nations;" for the security which is thus obtained, be it recollected, does
not regard a small succession of princes, but the whole rights and
interests of social man: since the contests for the rights of belligerent
rivals do not respect themselves only, but very often spread ruin and
proscription amongst all orders of men. The principle of hereditary
succession, says one writer, had it been a discovery of any one
individual, would deserve to be considered as the very greatest ever made;
and he adds acutely, in answer to the obvious, but shallow objection to it
(viz. its apparent assumption of equal ability for reigning in father and
son for ever), that it is like the Copernican system of the heavenly
bodies,--contradictory to our sense and first impressions, but true


To return, however, to our sketch of the Cæsars--at the head of the third
series we place Decius. He came to the throne at a moment of great public
embarrassment. The Goths were now beginning to press southwards upon the
empire. Dacia they had ravaged for some time; "and here," says a German
writer, "observe the shortsightedness of the Emperor Trajan." Had he left
the Dacians in possession of their independence, they would, under their
native kings, have made head against the Goths. But, being compelled to
assume the character of Roman citizens, they had lost their warlike
qualities. From Dacia the Goths had descended upon Moesia; and, passing
the Danube, they laid siege to Marcianopolis, a city built by Trajan in
honor of his sister. The inhabitants paid a heavy ransom for their town;
and the Goths were persuaded for the present to return home. But sooner
than was expected, they returned to Moesia, under their king, Kniva; and
they were already engaged in the siege of Nicopolis, when Decius came in
sight at the head of the Roman army. The Goths retired, but it was to
Thrace; and, in the conquest of Philippopolis, they found an ample
indemnity for their forced retreat and disappointment. Decius pursued, but
the king of the Goths turned suddenly upon him; the emperor was obliged to
fly; the Roman camp was plundered; Philippopolis was taken by storm; and
its whole population, reputed at more than a hundred thousand souls,

Such was the first great irruption of the barbarians into the Roman
territory: and panic was diffused on the wings of the winds over the whole
empire. Decius, however, was firm, and made prodigious efforts to restore
the balance of power to its ancient condition. For the moment he had some
partial successes. He cut off several detachments of Goths, on their road
to reinforce the enemy; and he strengthened the fortresses and garrisons
of the Danube. But his last success was the means of his total ruin. He
came up with the Goths at Forum Terebronii, and, having surrounded their
position, their destruction seemed inevitable. A great battle ensued, and
a mighty victory to the Goths. Nothing is now known of the circumstances,
except that the third line of the Romans was entangled inextricably in a
morass (as had happened in the Persian expedition of Alexander). Decius
perished on this occasion--nor was it possible to find his dead body. This
great defeat naturally raised the authority of the senate, in the same
proportion as it depressed that of the army; and by the will of that body,
Hostilianus, a son of Decius, was raised to the empire; and ostensibly on
account of his youth, but really with a view to their standing policy of
restoring the consulate, and the whole machinery of the republic, Gallus,
an experienced commander, was associated in the empire. But no skill or
experience could avail to retrieve the sinking power of Rome upon the
Illyrian, frontier. The Roman army was disorganized, panic-stricken,
reduced to skeleton battalions. Without an army, what could be done? And
thus it may really have been no blame to Gallus, that he made a treaty
with the Goths more degrading than any previous act in the long annals of
Rome. By the terms of this infamous bargain, they were allowed to carry
off an immense booty, amongst which was a long roll of distinguished
prisoners; and Cæsar himself it was--not any lieutenant or agent that
might have been afterwards disavowed--who volunteered to purchase their
future absence by an annual tribute. The very army which had brought their
emperor into the necessity of submitting to such abject concessions, were
the first to be offended with this natural result of their own failures.
Gallus was already ruined in public opinion, when further accumulations
arose to his disgrace. It was now supposed to have been discovered, that
the late dreadful defeat of Forum Terebronii was due to his bad advice;
and, as the young Hostilianus happened to die about this time of a
contagious disorder, Gallus was charged with his murder. Even a ray of
prosperity, which just now gleamed upon the Roman arms, aggravated the
disgrace of Gallus, and was instantly made the handle of his ruin.
Æmilianus, the governor of Moesia and Pannonia, inflicted some check or
defeat upon the Goths; and in the enthusiasm of sudden pride, upon an
occasion which contrasted so advantageously for himself with the military
conduct of Decius and Gallus, the soldiers of his own legion raised
Æmilianus to the purple. No time was to be lost. Summoned by the troops,
Æmilianus marched into Italy; and no sooner had he made his appearance
there, than the prætorian guards murdered the Emperor Gallus and his son
Volusianus, by way of confirming the election of Æmilianus. The new
emperor offered to secure the frontiers, both in the east and on the
Danube, from the incursions of the barbarians. This offer may be regarded
as thrown out for the conciliation of all classes in the empire. But to
the senate in particular he addressed a message, which forcibly
illustrates the political position of that body in those times. Æmilianus
proposed to resign the whole civil administration into the hands of the
senate, reserving to himself only the unenviable burthen of the military
interests. His hope was, that in this way making himself in part the
creation of the senate, he might strengthen his title against competitors
at Rome, whilst the entire military administration going on under his own
eyes, exclusively directed to that one object, would give him some chance
of defeating the hasty and tumultuary competitions so apt to arise amongst
the legions upon the frontier. We notice the transaction chiefly as
indicating the anomalous situation of the senate. Without power in a
proper sense, or no more, however, than the indirect power of wealth, that
ancient body retained an immense _auctoritas_--that is, an influence
built upon ancient reputation, which, in their case, had the strength of a
religious superstition in all Italian minds. This influence the senators
exerted with effect, whenever the course of events had happened to reduce
the power of the army. And never did they make a more continuous and
sustained effort for retrieving their ancient power and place, together
with the whole system of the republic, than during the period at which we
are now arrived. From the time of Maximin, in fact, to the accession of
Aurelian, the senate perpetually interposed their credit and authority,
like some _Deus ex machinâ_ in the dramatic art. And if this one fact
were all that had survived of the public annals at this period, we might
sufficiently collect the situation of the two other parties in the empire
--the army and the imperator; the weakness and precarious tenure of the
one, and the anarchy of the other. And hence it is that we can explain the
hatred borne to the senate by vigorous emperors, such as Aurelian,
succeeding to a long course of weak and troubled reigns. Such an emperor
presumed in the senate, and not without reason, that same spirit of
domineering interference as ready to manifest itself, upon any opportunity
offered, against himself, which, in his earlier days, he had witnessed so
repeatedly in successful operation upon the fates and prospects of others.

The situation indeed of the world--that is to say, of that great centre of
civilization, which, running round the Mediterranean in one continuous
belt of great breadth, still composed the Roman Empire, was at this time
most profoundly interesting. The crisis had arrived. In the East, a new
dynasty (the Sassanides) had remoulded ancient elements into a new form,
and breathed a new life into an empire, which else was gradually becoming
crazy from age, and which, at any rate, by losing its unity, must have
lost its vigor as an offensive power. Parthia was languishing and drooping
as an anti-Roman state, when the last of the Arsacidæ expired. A perfect
_Palingenesis_ was wrought by the restorer of the Persian empire, which
pretty nearly re-occupied (and gloried in re-occupying) the very area that
had once composed the empire of Cyrus. Even this _Palingenesis_ might have
terminated in a divided empire: vigor might have been restored, but in the
shape of a polyarchy, (such as the Saxons established in England,) rather
than a monarchy; and in reality, at one moment that appeared to be a
probable event. Now, had this been the course of the revolution, an
alliance with one of these kingdoms would have tended to balance the
hostility of another (as was in fact the case when Alexander Severus saved
himself from the Persian power by a momentary alliance with Armenia.) But
all the elements of disorder had in that quarter re-combined themselves
into severe unity: and thus was Rome, upon her eastern frontier, laid open
to a new power of juvenile activity and vigor, just at the period when the
languor of the decaying Parthian had allowed the Roman discipline to fall
into a corresponding declension. Such was the condition of Rome upon her
oriental frontier. [Footnote: And it is a striking illustration of the
extent to which the revolution had gone, that, previously to the Persian
expedition of the last Gordian, Antioch, the Roman capital of Syria, had
been occupied by the enemy.] On the northern, it was much worse. Precisely
at the crisis of a great revolution in Asia, which demanded in that
quarter more than the total strength of the empire, and threatened to
demand it for ages to come, did the Goths, under their earliest
denomination of _Getæ_ with many other associate tribes, begin to push
with their horns against the northern gates of the empire: the whole line
of the Danube, and, pretty nearly about the same time, of the Rhine, (upon
which the tribes from Swabia, Bavaria, and Franconia, were beginning to
descend,) now became insecure; and these two rivers ceased in effect to be
the barriers of Rome. Taking a middle point of time between the Parthian
revolution and the fatal overthrow of Forum Terebronii, we may fix upon
the reign of Philip the Arab, [who naturalized himself in Rome by the
appellation of Marcus Julius,] as the epoch from which the Roman empire,
already sapped and undermined by changes from within, began to give way,
and to dilapidate from without. And this reign dates itself in the series
by those ever-memorable secular or jubilee games, which celebrated the
completion of the thousandth year from the foundation of Rome. [Footnote:
This Arab emperor reigned about five years; and the jubilee celebration
occurred in his second year. Another circumstance gives importance to the
Arabian, that, according to one tradition, he was the first Christian
emperor. If so, it is singular that one of the bitterest persecutors of
Christianity should have been his immediate successor--Decius.]

Resuming our sketch of the Imperial history, we may remark the natural
embarrassment which must have possessed the senate, when two candidates
for the purple were equally earnest in appealing to them, and their
deliberate choice, as the best foundation for a valid election. Scarcely
had the ground been cleared for Æmilianus, by the murder of Gallus and his
son, when Valerian, a Roman senator, of such eminent merit, and
confessedly so much the foremost noble in all the qualities essential to
the very delicate and comprehensive functions of a Censor, [Footnote: It
has proved a most difficult problem, in the hands of all speculators upon
the imperial history, to fathom the purposes, or throw any light upon the
purposes, of the Emperor Decius, in attempting the revival of the ancient
but necessarily obsolete office of a public censorship. Either it was an
act of pure verbal pedantry, or a mere titular decoration of honor, (as if
a modern prince should create a person Arch-Grand-Elector, with no objects
assigned to his electing faculty,) or else, if it really meant to revive
the old duties of the censorship, and to assign the very same field for
the exercise of those duties, it must be viewed as the very grossest
practical anachronism that has ever been committed. We mean by an
anachronism, in common usage, that sort of blunder when a man ascribes to
one age the habits, customs, or generally the characteristics of another.
This, however, may be a mere lapse of memory, as to a matter of fact, and
implying nothing at all discreditable to the understanding, but only that
a man has shifted the boundaries of chronology a little this way or that;
as if, for example, a writer should speak of printed books as existing at
the day of Agincourt, or of artillery as existing in the first Crusade,
here would be an error, but a venial one. A far worse kind of anachronism,
though rarely noticed as such, is where a writer ascribes sentiments and
modes of thought incapable of co-existing with the sort or the degree of
civilization then attained, or otherwise incompatible with the structure
of society in the age or the country assigned. For instance, in Southey's
Don Roderick there is a cast of sentiment in the Gothic king's remorse and
contrition of heart, which has struck many readers as utterly unsuitable
to the social and moral development of that age, and redolent of modern
methodism. This, however, we mention only as an illustration, without
wishing to hazard an opinion upon the justice of that criticism. But even
such an anachronism is less startling and extravagant when it is confined
to an ideal representation of things, than where it is practically
embodied and brought into play amongst the realities of life. What would
be thought of a man who should attempt, in 1833, to revive the ancient
office of _Fool_, as it existed down to the reign, suppose, of our
Henry VIII. in England? Yet the error of the Emperor Decius was far
greater, if he did in sincerity and good faith believe that the Rome of
his times was amenable to that license of unlimited correction, and of
interference with private affairs, which republican freedom and simplicity
had once conceded to the censor. In reality, the ancient censor, in some
parts of his office, was neither more nor less than a compendious
legislator. Acts of attainder, divorce bills, &c., illustrate the case in
England; they are cases of law, modified to meet the case of an
individual; and the censor, having a sort of equity jurisdiction, was
intrusted with discretionary powers for reviewing, revising, and amending,
_pro re nata_, whatever in the private life of a Roman citizen seemed, to
his experienced eye, alien to the simplicity of an austere republic;
whatever seemed vicious or capable of becoming vicious, according to their
rude notions of political economy; and, generally, whatever touched the
interests of the commonwealth, though not falling within the general
province of legislation, either because it might appear undignified in its
circumstances, or too narrow in its range of operation for a public
anxiety, or because considerations of delicacy and prudence might render
it unfit for a public scrutiny. Take one case, drawn from actual
experience, as an illustration: A Roman nobleman, under one of the early
emperors, had thought fit, by way of increasing his income, to retire into
rural lodgings, or into some small villa, whilst his splendid mansion in
Rome was let to a rich tenant. That a man, who wore the _laticlave_,
(which in practical effect of splendor we may consider equal to the ribbon
and star of a modern order,) should descend to such a degrading method of
raising money, was felt as a scandal to the whole nobility. [Footnote:
This feeling still exists in France. "One winter," says the author of _The
English Army in France_, vol. ii. p. 106-7, "our commanding officer's wife
formed the project of hiring the chateau during the absence of the owner;
but a more profound insult could not have been offered to a Chevalier de
St. Louis. Hire his house! What could these people take him for? A sordid
wretch who would stoop to make money by such means? They ought to be
ashamed of themselves. He could never respect an Englishman again." "And
yet," adds the writer, "this gentleman (had an officer been billeted
there) would have _sold_ him a bottle of wine out of his cellar, or a
billet of wood from his stack, or an egg from his hen-house, at a profit
of fifty per cent., not only without scruple, but upon no other terms. It
was as common as ordering wine at a tavern, to call the servant of any
man's establishment where we happened to be quartered, and demand an
account of the cellar, as well as the price of the wine we selected!" This
feeling existed, and perhaps to the same extent, two centuries ago, in
England. Not only did the aristocracy think it a degradation to act the
part of landlord with respect to their own houses, but also, except in
select cases, to act that of tenant. Thus, the first Lord Brooke, (the
famous Fulke Greville,) writing to inform his next neighbor, a woman of
rank, that the house she occupied had been purchased by a London citizen,
confesses his fears that he shall in consequence lose so valuable a
neighbor; for, doubtless, he adds, your ladyship will not remain as tenant
to "such a fellow." And yet the man had notoriously held the office of
Lord Mayor, which made him, for the time, _Right Honorable_. The Italians
of this day make no scruple to let off the whole, or even part, of their
fine mansions to strangers.]

Yet what could be done? To have interfered with his conduct by an express
law, would be to infringe the sacred rights of property, and to say, in
effect, that a man should not do what he would with his own. This would
have been a remedy far worse than the evil to which it was applied; nor
could it have been possible so to shape the principle of a law, as not to
make it far more comprehensive than was desired. The senator's trespass
was in a matter of decorum; but the law would have trespassed on the first
principles of justice. Here, then, was a case within the proper
jurisdiction of the censor; he took notice, in his public report, of the
senator's error; or probably, before coming to that extremity, he
admonished him privately on the subject. Just as, in England, had there
been such an officer, he would have reproved those men of rank who mounted
the coach-box, who extended a public patronage to the "fancy," or who rode
their own horses at a race. Such a reproof, however, unless it were made
practically operative, and were powerfully supported by the whole body of
the aristocracy, would recoil upon its author as a piece of impertinence,
and would soon be resented as an unwarrantable liberty taken with private
rights; the censor would be kicked, or challenged to private combat,
according to the taste of the parties aggrieved. The office is clearly in
this dilemma: if the censor is supported by the state, then he combines in
his own person both legislative and executive functions, and possesses a
power which is frightfully irresponsible; if, on the other hand, he is
left to such support as he can find in the prevailing spirit of manners,
and the old traditionary veneration for his sacred character, he stands
very much in the situation of a priesthood, which has great power or none
at all, according to the condition of a country in moral and religious
feeling, coupled with the more or less primitive state of manners. How,
then, with any rational prospect of success, could Decius attempt the
revival of an office depending so entirely on moral supports, in an age
when all those supports were withdrawn? The prevailing spirit of manners
was hardly fitted to sustain even a toleration of such an office; and as
to the traditionary veneration for the sacred character, from long disuse
of its practical functions, that probably was altogether extinct. If these
considerations are plain and intelligible even to us, by the men of that
day they must have been felt with a degree of force that could leave no
room for doubt or speculation on the matter. How was it, then, that the
emperor only should have been blind to such general light?

In the absence of all other, even plausible, solutions of this difficulty,
we shall state our own theory of the matter. Decius, as is evident from
his fierce persecution of the Christians, was not disposed to treat
Christianity with indifference, under any form which it might assume, or
however masked. Yet there were quarters in which it lurked not liable to
the ordinary modes of attack. Christianity was creeping up with inaudible
steps into high places,--nay, into the very highest. The immediate
predecessor of Decius upon the throne, Philip the Arab, was known to be a
disciple of the new faith; and amongst the nobles of Rome, through the
females and the slaves, that faith had spread its roots in every
direction. Some secrecy, however, attached to the profession of a religion
so often proscribed. Who should presume to tear away the mask which
prudence or timidity had taken up? A _delator_, or professional informer,
was an infamous character. To deal with the noble and illustrious, the
descendants of the Marcelli and the Gracchi, there must be nothing less
than a great state officer, supported by the censor and the senate, having
an unlimited privilege of scrutiny and censure, authorized to inflict the
brand of infamy for offences not challenged by express law, and yet
emanating from an elder institution, familiar to the days of reputed
liberty. Such an officer was the censor; and such were the antichristian
purposes of Decius in his revival.] that Decius had revived that office
expressly in his behalf, entered Italy at the head of the army from Gaul.
He had been summoned to his aid by the late emperor, Gallus; but, arriving
too late for his support, he determined to avenge him. Both Æmilianus and
Valerian recognised the authority of the senate, and professed to act
under that sanction; but it was the soldiery who cut the knot, as usual,
by the sword. Æmilianus was encamped at Spoleto; but as the enemy drew
near, his soldiers, shrinking no doubt from a contest with veteran troops,
made their peace by murdering the new emperor, and Valerian was elected in
his stead. This prince was already an old man at the time of his election;
but he lived long enough to look back upon the day of his inauguration as
the blackest in his life. Memorable were the calamities which fell upon
himself, and upon the empire, during his reign. He began by associating to
himself his son Gallienus; partly, perhaps, for his own relief, partly to
indulge the senate in their steady plan of dividing the imperial
authority. The two emperors undertook the military defence of the empire,
Gallienus proceeding to the German frontier, Valerian to the eastern.
Under Gallienus, the Franks began first to make themselves heard of.
Breaking into Gaul they passed through that country and Spain; captured
Tarragona in their route; crossed over to Africa, and conquered
Mauritania. At the same time, the Alemanni, who had been in motion since
the time of Caracalla, broke into Lombardy, across the Rhætian Alps. The
senate, left without aid from either emperor, were obliged to make
preparations for the common defence against this host of barbarians.
Luckily, the very magnitude of the enemy's success, by overloading him
with booty, made it his interest to retire without fighting; and the
degraded senate, hanging upon the traces of their retiring footsteps,
without fighting, or daring to fight, claimed the honors of a victory.
Even then, however, they did more than was agreeable to the jealousies of
Gallienus, who, by an edict, publicly rebuked their presumption, and
forbade them in future to appear amongst the legions, or to exercise any
military functions. He himself, meanwhile, could devise no better way of
providing for the public security, than by marrying the daughter of his
chief enemy, the king of the Marcomanni. On this side of Europe, the
barbarians were thus quieted for the present; but the Goths of the
Ukraine, in three marauding expeditions of unprecedented violence, ravaged
the wealthy regions of Asia Minor, as well as the islands of the
Archipelago; and at length, under the guidance of deserters, landed in the
port of the Pyræus. Advancing from this point, after sacking Athens and
the chief cities of Greece, they marched upon Epirus, and began to
threaten Italy. But the defection at this crisis of a conspicuous
chieftain, and the burden of their booty, made these wild marauders
anxious to provide for a safe retreat; the imperial commanders in Moesia
listened eagerly to their offers: and it set the seal to the dishonors of
the state, that, after having traversed so vast a range of territory
almost without resistance, these blood-stained brigands were now suffered
to retire under the very guardianship of those whom they had just visited
with military execution.

Such were the terms upon which the Emperor Gallienus purchased a brief
respite from his haughty enemies. For the moment, however, he _did_
enjoy security. Far otherwise was the destiny of his unhappy father. Sapor
now ruled in Persia; the throne of Armenia had vainly striven to maintain
its independency against his armies, and the daggers of his hired
assassins. This revolution, which so much enfeebled the Roman means of
war, exactly in that proportion increased the necessity for it. War, and
that instantly, seemed to offer the only chance for maintaining the Roman
name or existence in Asia, Carrhæ and Nisibis, the two potent fortresses
in Mesopotamia, had fallen; and the Persian arms were now triumphant on
both banks of the Euphrates. Valerian was not of a character to look with
indifference upon such a scene, terminated by such a prospect; prudence
and temerity, fear and confidence, all spoke a common language in this
great emergency; and Valerian marched towards the Euphrates with a fixed
purpose of driving the enemy beyond that river. By whose mismanagement the
records of history do not enable us to say, some think of Macrianus, the
prætorian prefect, some of Valerian himself, but doubtless by the
treachery of guides co-operating with errors in the general, the Roman
army was entangled in marshy grounds; partial actions followed, and
skirmishes of cavalry, in which the Romans became direfully aware of their
situation; retreat was cut off, to advance was impossible; and to fight
was now found to be without hope. In these circumstances they offered to
capitulate. But the haughty Sapor would hear of nothing but unconditional
surrender; and to that course the unhappy emperor submitted. Various
traditions [Footnote: Some of these traditions have been preserved, which
represent Sapor as using his imperial captive for his stepping-stone, or
_anabathrum_, in mounting his horse. Others go farther, and pretend
that Sapor actually flayed his unhappy prisoner whilst yet alive. The
temptation to these stories was perhaps found in the craving for the
marvellous, and in the desire to make the contrast more striking between
the two extremes in Valerian's life.] have been preserved by history
concerning the fate of Valerian: all agree that he died in misery and
captivity; but some have circumstantiated this general statement by
features of excessive misery and degradation, which possibly were added
afterwards by scenical romancers, in order to heighten the interest of the
tale, or by ethical writers, in order to point and strengthen the moral.
Gallienus now ruled alone, except as regarded the restless efforts of
insurgents, thirty of whom are said to have arisen in his single reign.
This, however, is probably an exaggeration. Nineteen such rebels are
mentioned by name; of whom the chief were Calpurnius Piso, a Roman
senator; Tetricus, a man of rank who claimed a descent from Pompey,
Crassus, and even from Numa Pompilius, and maintained himself some time in
Gaul and Spain; Trebellianus, who founded a republic of robbers in Isauria
which survived himself by centuries; and Odenathus, the Syrian. Others
were mere _Terra filii,_ or adventurers, who flourished and decayed
in a few days or weeks, of whom the most remarkable was a working armorer
named Marius. Not one of the whole number eventually prospered, except
Odenathus; and he, though originally a rebel, yet, in consideration of
services performed against Persia, was suffered to retain his power, and
to transmit his kingdom of Palmyra to his widow Zenobia. He was even
complimented with the title of Augustus. All the rest perished. Their
rise, however, and local prosperity at so many different points of the
empire, showed the distracted condition of the state, and its internal
weakness. That again proclaimed its external peril. No other cause had
called forth this diffusive spirit of insurrection than the general
consciousness, so fatally warranted, of the debility which had emasculated
the government, and its incompetency to deal vigorously with the public
enemies. [Footnote: And this incompetency was _permanently_ increased
by rebellions that were brief and fugitive: for each insurgent almost
necessarily maintained himself for the moment by spoliations and robberies
which left lasting effects behind them; and too often he was tempted to
ally himself with some foreign enemy amongst the barbarians, and perhaps
to introduce him into the heart of the empire.] The very granaries of
Rome, Sicily and Egypt, were the seats of continued distractions; in
Alexandria, the second city of the empire, there was even a civil war
which lasted for twelve years. Weakness, dissension, and misery were
spread like a cloud over the whole face of the empire.

The last of the rebels who directed his rebellion personally against
Gallienus was Aureolus. Passing the Rhætian Alps, this leader sought out
and defied the emperor. He was defeated, and retreated upon Milan; but
Gallienus, in pursuing him, was lured into an ambuscade, and perished from
the wound inflicted by an archer. With his dying breath he is said to have
recommended Claudius to the favor of the senate; and at all events
Claudius it was who succeeded. Scarcely was the new emperor installed,
before he was summoned to a trial not only arduous in itself, but terrific
by the very name of the enemy. The Goths of the Ukraine, in a new armament
of six thousand vessels, had again descended by the Bosphorus into the
south, and had sat down before Thessalonica, the capitol of Macedonia.
Claudius marched against them with the determination to vindicate the
Roman name and honor: "Know," said he, writing to the senate, "that
320,000 Goths have set foot upon the Roman soil. Should I conquer them,
your gratitude will be my reward. Should I fall, do not forget who it is
that I have succeeded; and that the republic is exhausted." No sooner did
the Goths hear of his approach, than, with transports of ferocious joy,
they gave up the siege, and hurried to annihilate the last pillar of the
empire. The mighty battle which ensued, neither party seeking to evade it,
took place at Naissus. At one time the legions were giving way, when
suddenly, by some happy manoeuvre of the emperor, a Roman corps found its
way to the rear of the enemy. The Goths gave way, and their defeat was
total. According to most accounts they left 50,000 dead upon the field.
The campaign still lingered, however, at other points, until at last the
emperor succeeded in driving back the relics of the Gothic host into the
fastnesses of the Balkan; and there the greater part of them died of
hunger and pestilence. These great services performed, within two years
from his accession to the throne, by the rarest of fates the Emperor
Claudius died in his bed at Sirmium, the capitol of Pannonia. His brother
Quintilius who had a great command at Aquileia, immediately assumed the
purple; but his usurpation lasted only seventeen days, for the last
emperor, with a single eye to the public good, had recommended Aurelian as
his successor, guided by his personal knowledge of that general's
strategic qualities. The army of the Danube confirmed the appointment; and
Quintilius committed suicide. Aurelian was of the same harsh and
forbidding character as the Emperor Severus: he had, however, the
qualities demanded by the times; energetic and not amiable princes were
required by the exigences of the state. The hydra-headed Goths were again
in the field on the Illyrian quarter: Italy itself was invaded by the
Alemanni; and Tetricus, the rebel, still survived as a monument of the
weakness of Gallienus. All these enemies were speedily repressed, or
vanquished, by Aurelian. But it marks the real declension of the empire, a
declension which no personal vigor in the emperor was now sufficient to
disguise, that, even in the midst of victory, Aurelian found it necessary
to make a formal surrender, by treaty, of that Dacia which Trajan had
united with so much ostentation to the empire. Europe was now again in
repose; and Aurelian found himself at liberty to apply his powers as a
reorganizer and restorer to the East. In that quarter of the world a
marvellous revolution had occurred. The little oasis of Palmyra, from a
Roman colony, had grown into the leading province of a great empire. This
island of the desert, together with Syria and Egypt, formed an independent
monarchy under the sceptre of Zenobia. [Footnote: Zenobia is complimented
by all historians for her magnanimity; but with no foundation in truth.
Her first salutation to Aurelian was a specimen of abject flattery; and
her last _public_ words were evidences of the basest treachery in
giving up her generals, and her chief counsellor Longinus, to the
vengeance of the ungenerous enemy.] After two battles lost in Syria,
Zenobia retreated to Palmyra. With great difficulty Aurelian pursued her;
and with still greater difficulty he pressed the siege of Palmyra. Zenobia
looked for relief from Persia; but at that moment Sapor died, and the
Queen of Palmyra fled upon a dromedary, but was pursued and captured.
Palmyra surrendered and was spared; but unfortunately, with a folly which
marks the haughty spirit of the place unfitted to brook submission,
scarcely had the conquering army retired when a tumult arose, and the
Roman garrison was slaughtered. Little knowledge could those have had of
Aurelian's character, who tempted him to acts but too welcome to his cruel
nature by such an outrage as this. The news overtook the emperor on the
Hellespont. Instantly, without pause, "like Até hot from hell," Aurelian
retraced his steps--reached the guilty city--and consigned it, with all
its population, to that utter destruction from which it has never since
arisen. The energetic administration of Aurelian had now restored the
empire--not to its lost vigor, that was impossible--but to a condition of
repose. That was a condition more agreeable to the empire than to the
emperor. Peace was hateful to Aurelian; and he sought for war, where it
could seldom be sought in vain, upon the Persian frontier. But he was not
destined to reach the Euphrates; and it is worthy of notice, as a
providential ordinance, that his own unmerciful nature was the ultimate
cause of his fate. Anticipating the emperor's severity in punishing some
errors of his own, Mucassor, a general officer in whom Aurelian placed
especial confidence, assassinated him between Byzantium and Heraclea. An
interregnum of eight months succeeded, during which there occurred a
contest of a memorable nature. Some historians have described it as
strange and surprising. To us, on the contrary, it seems that no contest
could be more natural. Heretofore the great strife had been in what way to
secure the reversion or possession of that great dignity; whereas now the
rivalship lay in declining it. But surely such a competition had in it,
under the circumstances of the empire, little that can justly surprise us.
Always a post of danger, and so regularly closed by assassination, that in
a course of two centuries there are hardly to be found three or four cases
of exception, the imperatorial dignity had now become burdened with a
public responsibility which exacted great military talents, and imposed a
perpetual and personal activity. Formerly, if the emperor knew himself to
be surrounded with assassins, he might at least make his throne, so long
as he enjoyed it, the couch of a voluptuary. The "_ave imperator!_" was
then the summons, if to the supremacy in passive danger, so also to the
supremacy in power, and honor, and enjoyment. But now it was a summons to
never-ending tumults and alarms; an injunction to that sort of vigilance
without intermission, which, even from the poor sentinel, is exacted only
when on duty. Not Rome, but the frontier; not the _aurea domus,_ but a
camp, was the imperial residence. Power and rank, whilst in that
residence, could be had in no larger measure by Cæsar _as_ Cæsar, than by
the same individual as a military commander-in-chief; and, as to
enjoyment, _that_ for the Roman imperator was now extinct. Rest there
could be none for him. Battle was the tenure by which he held his office;
and beyond the range of his trumpet's blare, his sceptre was a broken
reed. The office of Cæsar at this time resembled the situation (as it is
sometimes described in romances) of a knight who has achieved the favor of
some capricious lady, with the present possession of her castle and ample
domains, but which he holds under the known and accepted condition of
meeting all challenges whatsoever offered at the gate by wandering
strangers, and also of jousting at any moment with each and all amongst
the inmates of the castle, as often as a wish may arise to benefit by the
chances in disputing his supremacy.

It is a circumstance, moreover, to be noticed in the aspect of the Roman
monarchy at this period, that the pressure of the evils we are now
considering, applied to this particular age of the empire beyond all
others, as being an age of transition from a greater to an inferior power.
Had the power been either greater or conspicuously less, in that
proportion would the pressure have been easier, or none at all. Being
greater, for example, the danger would have been repelled to a distance so
great that mere remoteness would have disarmed its terrors, or otherwise
it would have been violently overawed. Being less, on the other hand, and
less in an eminent degree, it would have disposed all parties, as it did
at an after period, to regular and formal compromises in the shape of
fixed annual tributes. At present the policy of the barbarians along the
vast line of the northern frontier, was, to tease and irritate the
provinces which they were not entirely able, or prudentially unwilling, to
dismember. Yet, as the almost annual irruptions were at every instant
ready to be converted into _coup-de-mains_ upon Aquileia--upon
Verona--or even upon Rome itself, unless vigorously curbed at the outset,
--each emperor at this period found himself under the necessity of
standing in the attitude of a champion or propugnator on the frontier line
of his territory--ready for all comers--and with a pretty certain prospect
of having one pitched battle at the least to fight in every successive
summer. There were nations abroad at this epoch in Europe who did not
migrate occasionally, or occasionally project themselves upon the
civilized portion of the globe, but who made it their steady regular
occupation to do so, and lived for no other purpose. For seven hundred
years the Roman Republic might be styled a republic militant: for about
one century further it was an empire triumphant; and now, long retrograde,
it had reached that point at which again, but in a different sense, it
might be styled an empire militant. Originally it had militated for glory
and power; now its militancy was for mere existence. War was again the
trade of Rome, as it had been once before: but in that earlier period war
had been its highest glory now it was its dire necessity.

Under this analysis of the Roman condition, need we wonder, with the crowd
of unreflecting historians, that the senate, at the era of Aurelian's
death, should dispute amongst each other--not, as once, for the possession
of the sacred purple, but for the luxury and safety of declining it? The
sad pre-eminence was finally imposed upon Tacitus, a senator who traced
his descent from the historian of that name, who had reached an age of
seventy--five years, and who possessed a fortune of three millions
sterling. Vainly did the agitated old senator open his lips to decline the
perilous honor; five hundred voices insisted upon the necessity of his
compliance; and thus, as a foreign writer observes, was the descendant of
him, whose glory it had been to signalize himself as the hater of
despotism, under the absolute necessity of becoming, in his own person, a

The aged senator then was compelled to be emperor, and forced, in spite of
his vehement reluctance, to quit the comforts of a palace, which he was
never to revisit, for the hardships of a distant camp. His first act was
strikingly illustrative of the Roman condition, as we have just described
it. Aurelian had attempted to disarm one set of enemies by turning the
current of their fury upon another. The Alani were in search of plunder,
and strongly disposed to obtain it from Roman provinces. "But no," said
Aurelian; "if you do that, I shall unchain my legions upon you. Be better
advised: keep those excellent dispositions of mind, and that admirable
taste for plunder, until you come whither I will conduct you. Then
discharge your fury, and welcome; besides which, I will pay you wages for
your immediate abstinence; and on the other side the Euphrates you shall
pay yourselves." Such was the outline of the contract; and the Alans had
accordingly held themselves in readiness to accompany Aurelian from Europe
to his meditated Persian campaign. Meantime, that emperor had perished by
treason; and the Alani were still waiting for his successor on the throne
to complete his engagements with themselves, as being of necessity the
successor also to his wars and to his responsibilities. It happened, from
the state of the empire, as we have sketched it above, that Tacitus really
_did_ succeed to the military plans of Aurelian. The Persian expedition
was ordained to go forward; and Tacitus began, as a preliminary step in
that expedition, to look about for his good allies the barbarians. Where
might they be, and how employed? Naturally, they had long been weary of
waiting. The Persian booty might be good after _its_ kind; but it was far
away; and, _en attendant_, Roman booty was doubtless good after _its_
kind. And so, throughout the provinces of Cappadocia, Pontus, &c., far as
the eye could stretch, nothing was to be seen but cities and villages in
flames. The Roman army hungered and thirsted to be unmuzzled and slipped
upon these false friends. But this, for the present, Tacitus would not
allow. He began by punctually fulfilling all the terms of Aurelian's
contract,--a measure which barbarians inevitably construed into the
language of fear. But then came the retribution. Having satisfied public
justice, the emperor now thought of vengeance: he unchained his legions: a
brief space of time sufficed for a long course of vengeance: and through
every outlet of Asia Minor the Alani fled from the wrath of the Roman
soldier. Here, however, terminated the military labors of Tacitus: he died
at Tyana in Cappadocia, as some say, from the effects of the climate of
the Caucasus, co-operating with irritations from the insolence of the
soldiery; but, as Zosimus and Zonaras expressly assure us, under the
murderous hands of his own troops. His brother Florianus at first usurped
the purple, by the aid of the Illyrian army; but the choice of other
armies, afterwards confirmed by the senate, settled upon Probus, a general
already celebrated under Aurelian. The two competitors drew near to each
other for the usual decision by the sword, when the dastardly supporters
of Florian offered up their chosen prince as a sacrifice to his
antagonist. Probus, settled in his seat, addressed himself to the regular
business of those times,--to the reduction of insurgent provinces, and the
liberation of others from hostile molestations. Isauria and Egypt he
visited in the character of a conqueror, Gaul in the character of a
deliverer. From the Gaulish provinces he chased in succession the Franks,
the Burgundians, and the Lygians. He pursued the intruders far into their
German thickets; and nine of the native German princes came spontaneously
into his camp, subscribed such conditions as he thought fit to dictate,
and complied with his requisitions of tribute in horses and provisions.
This, however, is a delusive gleam of Roman energy, little corresponding
with the true condition of the Roman power, and entirely due to the
_personal_ qualities of Probus. Probus himself showed his sense of the
true state of affairs, by carrying a stone wall, of considerable height,
from the Danube to the Neckar. He made various attempts also to effect a
better distribution of barbarous tribes, by dislocating their settlements,
and making extensive translations of their clans, according to the
circumstances of those times. These arrangements, however, suggested often
by short-sighted views, and carried into effect by mere violence, were
sometimes defeated visibly at the time, and, doubtless, in very few cases
accomplished the ends proposed. In one instance, where a party of Franks
had been transported into the Asiatic province of Pontus, as a column of
defence against the intrusive Alans, being determined to revisit their own
country, they swam the Hellespont, landed on the coasts of Asia Minor and
of Greece, plundered Syracuse, steered for the Straits of Gibraltar,
sailed along the shores of Spain and Gaul, passing finally through the
English Channel and the German Ocean, right onwards to the Frisic and
Batavian coasts, where they exultingly rejoined their exulting friends.
Meantime, all the energy and military skill of Probus could not save him
from the competition of various rivals. Indeed, it must then have been
felt, as by us who look back on those times it is now felt, that, amidst
so continued a series of brief reigns, interrupted by murders, scarcely
any idea could arise answering to our modern ideas of treason and
usurpation. For the ideas of fealty and allegiance, as to a sacred and
anointed monarch, could have no time to take root. Candidates for the
purple must have been viewed rather as military rivals than as traitors to
the reigning Cæsar. And hence one reason for the slight resistance which
was often experienced by the seducers of armies. Probus, however, as
accident in his case ordered it, subdued all his personal opponents,--
Saturninus in the East, Proculus and Bonoses in Gaul. For these victories
he triumphed in the year 281. But his last hour was even then at hand. One
point of his military discipline, which he brought back from elder days,
was, to suffer no idleness in his camps. He it was who, by military labor,
transferred to Gaul and to Hungary the Italian vine, to the great
indignation of the Italian monopolist. The culture of vineyards, the
laying of military roads, the draining of marshes, and similar labors,
perpetually employed the hands of his stubborn and contumacious troops. On
some work of this nature the army happened to be employed near Sirmium,
and Probus was looking on from a tower, when a sudden frenzy of
disobedience seized upon the men: a party of the mutineers ran up to the
emperor, and with a hundred wounds laid him instantly dead. We are told by
some writers that the army was immediately seized with remorse for its own
act; which, if truly reported, rather tends to confirm the image,
otherwise impressed upon us, of the relations between the army and Cæsar
as pretty closely corresponding with those between some fierce wild beast
and its keeper; the keeper, if not uniformly vigilant as an Argus, is
continually liable to fall a sacrifice to the wild instincts of the brute,
mastering at intervals the reverence and fear under which it has been
habitually trained. In this case, both the murdering impulse and the
remorse seem alike the effects of a brute instinct, and to have arisen
under no guidance of rational purpose or reflection. The person who
profited by this murder was Carus, the captain of the guard, a man of
advanced years, and a soldier, both by experience and by his propensities.
He was proclaimed emperor by the army; and on this occasion there was no
further reference to the senate, than by a dry statement of the facts for
its information. Troubling himself little about the approbation of a body
not likely in any way to affect his purposes (which were purely martial,
and adapted to the tumultuous state of the empire), Carus made immediate
preparations for pursuing the Persian expedition,--so long promised, and
so often interrupted. Having provided for the security of the Illyrian
frontier by a bloody victory over the Sarmatians, of whom we now hear for
the first time, Carus advanced towards the Euphrates; and from the summit
of a mountain he pointed the eyes of his eager army upon the rich
provinces of the Persian empire. Varanes, the successor of Artaxerxes,
vainly endeavored to negotiate a peace. From some unknown cause, the
Persian armies were not at this juncture disposable against Carus: it has
been conjectured by some writers that they were engaged in an Indian war.
Carus, it is certain, met with little resistance. He insisted on having
the Roman supremacy acknowledged as a preliminary to any treaty; and,
having threatened to make Persia as bare as his own skull, he is supposed
to have kept his word with regard to Mesopotamia. The great cities of
Ctesiphon and Seleucia he took; and vast expectations were formed at Rome
of the events which stood next in succession, when, on Christmas day, 283,
a sudden and mysterious end overtook Carus and his victorious advance. The
story transmitted to Rome was, that a great storm, and a sudden darkness,
had surprised the camp of Carus; that the emperor, previously ill, and
reposing in his tent, was obscured from sight; that at length a cry had
arisen,--"The emperor is dead!" and that, at the same moment, the imperial
tent had taken fire. The fire was traced to the confusion of his
attendants; and this confusion was imputed by themselves to grief for
their master's death. In all this it is easy to read pretty
circumstantially a murder committed on the emperor by corrupted servants,
and an attempt afterwards to conceal the indications of murder by the
ravages of fire. The report propagated through the army, and at that time
received with credit, was, that Carus had been struck by lightning: and
that omen, according to the Roman interpretation, implied a necessity of
retiring from the expedition. So that, apparently, the whole was a bloody
intrigue, set on foot for the purpose of counteracting the emperor's
resolution to prosecute the war. His son Numerian succeeded to the rank of
emperor by the choice of the army. But the mysterious faction of murderers
were still at work. After eight months' march from the Tigris to the
Thracian Bosphorus, the army halted at Chalcedon. At this point of time a
report arose suddenly, that the Emperor Numerian was dead. The impatience
of the soldiery would brook no uncertainty: they rushed to the spot;
satisfied themselves of the fact; and, loudly denouncing as the murderer
Aper, the captain of the guard, committed him to custody, and assigned to
Dioclesian, whom at the same time they invested with the supreme power,
the duty of investigating the case. Dioclesian acquitted himself of this
task in a very summary way, by passing his sword through the captain
before he could say a word in his defence. It seems that Dioclesian,
having been promised the empire by a prophetess as soon as he should have
killed a wild boar [Aper], was anxious to realize the omen. The whole
proceeding has been taxed with injustice so manifest, as not even to seek
a disguise. Meantime, it should be remembered that, _first,_ Aper, as the
captain of the guard, was answerable for the emperor's safety; _secondly,_
that his anxiety to profit by the emperor's murder was a sure sign that he
had participated in that act; and, _thirdly,_ that the assent of the
soldiery to the open and public act of Dioclesian, implies a conviction on
their part of Aper's guilt. Here let us pause, having now arrived at the
fourth and last group of the Cæsars, to notice the changes which had been
wrought by time, co-operating with political events, in the very nature
and constitution of the imperial office.

If it should unfortunately happen, that the palace of the Vatican, with
its thirteen thousand [Footnote: "_Thirteen thousand chambers_."--The
number of the chambers in this prodigious palace is usually estimated at
that amount. But Lady Miller, who made particular inquiries on this
subject, ascertained that the total amount, including cellars and closets,
capable of receiving a bed, was fifteen thousand.] chambers, were to take
fire--for a considerable space of time the fire would be retarded by the
mere enormity of extent which it would have to traverse. But there would
come at length a critical moment, at which the maximum of the retarding
effect having been attained, the bulk and volume of the flaming mass would
thenceforward assist the flames in the rapidity of their progress. Such
was the effect upon the declension of the Roman empire from the vast
extent of its territory. For a very long period that very extent, which
finally became the overwhelming cause of its ruin, served to retard and to
disguise it. A small encroachment, made at any one point upon the
integrity of the empire, was neither much regarded at Rome, nor perhaps in
and for itself much deserved to be regarded. But a very narrow belt of
encroachments, made upon almost every part of so enormous a circumference,
was sufficient of itself to compose something of an antagonist force. And
to these external dilapidations, we must add the far more important
dilapidations from within, affecting all the institutions of the State,
and all the forces, whether moral or political, which had originally
raised it or maintained it. Causes which had been latent in the public
arrangements ever since the time of Augustus, and had been silently
preying upon its vitals, had now reached a height which would no longer
brook concealment. The fire which had smouldered through generations had
broken out at length into an open conflagration. Uproar and disorder, and
the anarchy of a superannuated empire, strong only to punish and impotent
to defend, were at this time convulsing the provinces in every point of
the compass. Rome herself had been menaced repeatedly. And a still more
awful indication of the coming storm had been felt far to the south of
Rome. One long wave of the great German deluge had stretched beyond the
Pyrenees and the Pillars of Hercules, to the very soil of ancient
Carthage. Victorious banners were already floating on the margin of the
Great Desert, and they were not the banners of Cæsar. Some vigorous hand
was demanded at this moment, or else the funeral knell of Rome was on the
point of sounding. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that, had the
imbecile Carinus (the brother of Numerian) succeeded to the command of the
Roman armies at this time, or any other than Dioclesian, the empire of the
west would have fallen to pieces within the next ten years.

Dioclesian was doubtless that man of iron whom the times demanded; and a
foreign writer has gone so far as to class him amongst the greatest of
men, if he were not even himself the greatest. But the position of
Dioclesian was remarkable beyond all precedent, and was alone sufficient
to prevent his being the greatest of men, by making it necessary that he
should be the most selfish. For the case stood thus: If Rome were in
danger, much more so was Cæsar. If the condition of the empire were such
that hardly any energy or any foresight was adequate to its defence, for
the emperor, on the other hand, there was scarcely a possibility that he
should escape destruction. The chances were in an overbalance against the
empire; but for the emperor there was no chance at all. He shared in all
the hazards of the empire; and had others so peculiarly pointed at
himself, that his assassination was now become as much a matter of certain
calculation, as seed-time or harvest, summer or winter, or any other
revolution of the seasons. The problem, therefore, for Dioclesian was a
double one,--so to provide for the defence and maintenance of the empire,
as simultaneously (and, if possible, through the very same institution) to
provide for the personal security of Cæsar. This problem he solved, in
some imperfect degree, by the only expedient perhaps open to him in that
despotism, and in those times. But it is remarkable, that, by the
revolution which he effected, the office of Roman Imperator was completely
altered, and Cæsar became henceforwards an Oriental Sultan or Padishah.
Augustus, when moulding for his future purposes the form and constitution
of that supremacy which he had obtained by inheritance and by arms,
proceeded with so much caution and prudence, that even the style and title
of his office was discussed in council as a matter of the first moment.
The principle of his policy was to absorb into his own functions all those
offices which conferred any real power to balance or to control his own.
For this reason he appropriated the tribunitian power; because that was a
popular and representative office, which, as occasions arose, would have
given some opening to democratic influences. But the consular office he
left untouched; because all its power was transferred to the imperator, by
the entire command of the army, and by the new organization of the
provincial governments. [Footnote: In no point of his policy was the
cunning or the sagacity of Augustus so much displayed, as in his treaty of
partition with the senate, which settled the distribution of the
provinces, and their future administration. Seeming to take upon himself
all the trouble and hazard, he did in effect appropriate all the power,
and left to the senate little more than trophies of show and ornament. As
a first step, all the greater provinces, as Spain and Gaul, were
subdivided into many smaller ones. This done, Augustus proposed that the
senate should preside over the administration of those amongst them which
were peaceably settled, and which paid a regular tribute; whilst all those
which were the seats of danger,--either as being exposed to hostile
inroads, or to internal commotions,--all, therefore, in fact, _which
could justify the keeping up of a military force,_ he assigned to
himself. In virtue of this arrangement, the senate possessed in Africa
those provinces which had been formed out of Carthage, Cyrene, and the
kingdom of Numidia; in Europe, the richest and most quiet part of Spain
_(Hispania Bætica),_ with the large islands of Sicily, Sardinia,
Corsica, and Crete, and some districts of Greece; in Asia, the kingdoms of
Pontus and Bithynia, with that part of Asia Minor technically called Asia;
whilst, for his own share, Augustus retained Gaul, Syria, the chief part
of Spain, and Egypt, the granary of Rome; finally, all the military posts
on the Euphrates, on the Danube, or the Rhine.

Yet even the showy concessions here made to the senate were defeated by
another political institution, settled at the same time. It had been
agreed that the governors of provinces should be appointed by the emperor
and the senate jointly. But within the senatorian jurisdiction, these
governors, with the title of _Proconsuls,_ were to have no military
power whatsoever; and the appointments were good only for a single year.
Whereas, in the imperatorial provinces, where the governor bore the title
of _Proprætor,_ there was provision made for a military establishment; and
as to duration, the office was regulated entirely by the emperor's
pleasure. One other ordinance, on the same head, riveted the vassalage of
the senate. Hitherto, a great source of the senate's power had been found
in the uncontrolled management of the provincial revenues; but at this
time, Augustus so arranged that branch of the administration, that,
throughout the senatorian or proconsular provinces, all taxes were
immediately paid into the _ararium_, or treasury of the state; whilst the
whole revenues of the proprætorian (or imperatorial) provinces, from this
time forward, flowed into the _fiscus_, or private treasure of the
individual emperor.] And in all the rest of his arrangements, Augustus had
proceeded on the principle of leaving as many openings to civic
influences, and impressing upon all his institutions as much of the old
Roman character, as was compatible with the real and substantial supremacy
established in the person of the emperor. Neither is it at all certain, as
regarded even this aspect of the imperatorial office, that Augustus had
the purpose, or so much as the wish, to annihilate all collateral power,
and to invest the chief magistrate with absolute irresponsibility. For
himself, as called upon to restore a shattered government, and out of the
anarchy of civil wars to recombine the elements of power into some shape
better fitted for duration (and, by consequence, for insuring peace and
protection to the world) than the extinct republic, it might be reasonable
to seek such an irresponsibility. But, as regarded his successors,
considering the great pains he took to discourage all manifestations of
princely arrogance, and to develop, by education and example, the civic
virtues of patriotism and affability in their whole bearing towards the
people of Rome, there is reason to presume that he wished to remove them
from popular control, without, therefore, removing them from popular

Hence it was, and from this original precedent of Augustus, aided by the

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