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The Caesars by Thomas de Quincey

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constitution which he had given to the office of imperator, that up to the
era of Dioclesian, no prince had dared utterly to neglect the senate, or
the people of Rome. He might hate the senate, like Severus, or Aurelian;
he might even meditate their extermination, like the brutal Maximin. But
this arose from any cause rather than from contempt. He hated them
precisely because he feared them, or because he paid them an involuntary
tribute of superstitious reverence, or because the malice of a tyrant
interpreted into a sort of treason the rival influence of the senate over
the minds of men. But, before Dioclesian, the undervaluing of the senate,
or the harshest treatment of that body, had arisen from views which were
_personal_ to the individual Cęsar. It was now made to arise from the
very constitution of the office, and the mode of the appointment. To
defend the empire, it was the opinion of Dioclesian that a single emperor
was not sufficient. And it struck him, at the same time, that by the very
institution of a plurality of emperors, which was now destined to secure
the integrity of the empire, ample provision might be made for the
personal security of each emperor. He carried his plan into immediate
execution, by appointing an associate to his own rank of Augustus in the
person of Maximian--an experienced general; whilst each of them in effect
multiplied his own office still farther by severally appointing a Cęsar,
or hereditary prince. And thus the very same partition of the public
authority, by means of a duality of emperors, to which the senate had
often resorted of late, as the best means of restoring their own
republican aristocracy, was now adopted by Dioclesian as the simplest
engine for overthrowing finally the power of either senate or army to
interfere with the elective privilege. This he endeavored to centre in the
existing emperors; and, at the same moment, to discourage treason or
usurpation generally, whether in the party choosing or the party chosen,
by securing to each emperor, in the case of his own assassination, an
avenger in the person of his surviving associate, as also in the persons
of the two Cęsars, or adopted heirs and lieutenants. The associate
emperor, Maximian, together with the two Cęsars--Galerius appointed by
himself, and Constantius Chlorus by Maximian--were all bound to himself by
ties of gratitude; all owing their stations ultimately to his own favor.
And these ties he endeavored to strengthen by other ties of affinity; each
of the Augusti having given his daughter in marriage to his own adopted
Cęsar. And thus it seemed scarcely possible that a usurpation should be
successful against so firm a league of friends and relations.

The direct purposes of Dioclesian were but imperfectly attained; the
internal peace of the empire lasted only during his own reign; and with
his abdication of the empire commenced the bloodiest civil wars which had
desolated the world since the contests of the great triumvirate. But the
collateral blow, which he meditated against the authority of the senate,
was entirely successful. Never again had the senate any real influence on
the fate of the world. And with the power of the senate expired
concurrently the weight and influence of Rome. Dioclesian is supposed
never to have seen Rome, except on the single occasion when he entered it
for the ceremonial purpose of a triumph. Even for that purpose it ceased
to be a city of resort; for Dioclesian's was the final triumph. And,
lastly, even as the chief city of the empire for business or for pleasure,
it ceased to claim the homage of mankind; the Cęsar was already born whose
destiny it was to cashier the metropolis of the world, and to appoint her
successor. This also may be regarded in effect as the ordinance of
Dioclesian; for he, by his long residence at Nicomedia, expressed his
opinion pretty plainly, that Rome was not central enough to perform the
functions of a capital to so vast an empire; that this was one cause of
the declension now become so visible in the forces of the state; and that
some city, not very far from the Hellespont or the Aegean Sea, would be a
capital better adapted by position to the exigencies of the times.

But the revolutions effected by Dioclesian did not stop here. The
simplicity of its republican origin had so far affected the external
character and expression of the imperial office, that in the midst of
luxury the most unbounded, and spite of all other corruptions, a majestic
plainness of manners, deportment, and dress, had still continued from
generation to generation, characteristic of the Roman imperator in his
intercourse with his subjects. All this was now changed; and for the Roman
was substituted the Persian dress, the Persian style of household, a
Persian court, and Persian manners, A diadem, or tiara beset with pearls,
now encircled the temples of the Roman Augustus; his sandals were studded
with pearls, as in the Persian court; and the other parts of his dress
were in harmony with these. The prince was instructed no longer to make
himself familiar to the eyes of men. He sequestered himself from his
subjects in the recesses of his palace. None, who sought him, could any
longer gain easy admission to his presence. It was a point of his new
duties to be difficult of access; and they who were at length admitted to
an audience, found him surrounded by eunuchs, and were expected to make
their approaches by genuflexions, by servile "adorations," and by real
acts of worship as to a visible god.

It is strange that a ritual of court ceremonies, so elaborate and
artificial as this, should first have been introduced by a soldier, and a
warlike soldier like Dioclesian. This, however, is in part explained by
his education and long residence in Eastern countries.

But the same eastern training fell to the lot of Constantine, who was in
effect his successor; [Footnote: On the abdication of Dioclesian and of
Maximian, Galerius and Constantius succeeded as the new Augusti. But
Galerius, as the more immediate representative of Dioclesian, thought
himself entitled to appoint both Cęsars,--the Daza (or Maximus) in Syria,
Severus in Italy. Meantime, Constantine, the son of Constantius, with
difficulty obtaining permission from Galerius, paid a visit to his father;
upon whose death, which followed soon after, Constantine came forward as a
Cęsar, under the appointment of his father. Galerius submitted with a bad
grace; but Maxentius, a reputed son of Maximian, was roused by emulation
with Constantine to assume the purple; and being joined by his father,
they jointly attacked and destroyed Severus. Galerius, to revenge the
death of his own Cęsar, advanced towards Rome; but being compelled to a
disastrous retreat, he resorted to the measure of associating another
emperor with himself, as a balance to his new enemies. This was Licinius;
and thus, at one time, there were six emperors, either as Augusti or as
Cęsars. Galerius, however, dying, all the rest were in succession
destroyed by Constantine.] and the Oriental tone and standard established
by these two emperors, though disturbed a little by the plain and military
bearing of Julian, and one or two more emperors of the same breeding,
finally re-established itself with undisputed sway in the Byzantine court.

Meantime the institutions of Dioclesian, if they had destroyed Rome and
the senate as influences upon the course of public affairs, and if they
had destroyed the Roman features of the Cęsars, do, notwithstanding,
appear to have attained one of their purposes, in limiting the extent of
imperial murders. Travelling through the brief list of the remaining
Cęsars, we perceive a little more security for life; and hence the
successions are less rapid. Constantine, who (like Aaron's rod) had
swallowed up all his competitors _seriatim,_ left the empire to his
three sons; and the last of these most unwillingly to Julian. That
prince's Persian expedition, so much resembling in rashness and
presumption the Russian campaign of Napoleon, though so much below it in
the scale of its tragic results, led to the short reign of Jovian, (or
Jovinian,) which lasted only seven months. Upon his death succeeded the
house of Valentinian, [Footnote: Valentinian the First, who admitted his
brother Valens to a partnership in the empire, had, by his first wife, an
elder son, Gratian, who reigned and associated with himself Theodosius,
commonly called the Great. By his second wife he had Valentinian the
Second, who, upon the death of his brother Gratian, was allowed to share
the empire by Theodosius. Theodosius, by his first wife, had two sons,--
Arcadius, who afterwards reigned in the east, and Honorius, whose western
reign was so much illustrated by Stilicho. By a second wife, daughter to
Valentinian the First, Theodosius had a daughter, (half-sister, therefore,
to Honorius,) whose son was Valentinian the Third.] in whose descendant,
of the third generation, the empire, properly speaking, expired. For the
seven shadows who succeeded, from Avitus and Majorian to Julius Nepos and
Romulus Augustulus, were in no proper sense Roman emperors,--they were not
even emperors of the West,--but had a limited kingdom in the Italian
peninsula. Valentinian the Third was, as we have said, the last emperor of
the West.

But, in a fuller and ampler sense, recurring to what we have said of
Dioclesian and the tenor of his great revolutions, we may affirm that
Probus and Carus were the final representatives of the majesty of Rome:
for they reigned over the whole empire, not yet incapable of sustaining
its own unity; and in them were still preserved, not yet obliterated by
oriental effeminacy, those majestic features which reflected republican
consuls, and, through them, the senate and people of Rome. That, which had
offended Dioclesian in the condition of the Roman emperors, was the
grandest feature of their dignity. It is true that the peril of the office
had become intolerable; each Cęsar submitted to his sad inauguration with
a certainty, liable even to hardly any disguise from the delusions of
youthful hope, that for him, within the boundless empire which he
governed, there was no coast of safety, no shelter from the storm, no
retreat, except the grave, from the dagger of the assassin. Gibbon has
described the hopeless condition of one who should attempt to fly from the
wrath of the almost omnipresent emperor. But this dire impossibility of
escape was in the end dreadfully retaliated upon the emperor; persecutors
and traitors were found every where: and the vindictive or the ambitious
subject found himself as omnipresent as the jealous or the offended
emperor. The crown of the Cęsars was therefore a crown of thorns; and it
must be admitted, that never in this world have rank and power been
purchased at so awful a cost in tranquillity and peace of mind. The steps
of Cęsar's throne were absolutely saturated with the blood of those who
had possessed it: and so inexorable was that murderous fate which overhung
that gloomy eminence, that at length it demanded the spirit of martyrdom
in him who ventured to ascend it. In these circumstances, some change was
imperatively demanded. Human nature was no longer equal to the terrors
which it was summoned to face. But the changes of Dioclesian transmuted
that golden sceptre into a base oriental alloy. They left nothing behind
of what had so much challenged the veneration of man: for it was in the
union of republican simplicity with the irresponsibility of illimitable
power, it was in the antagonism between the merely human and approachable
condition of Cęsar as a man, and his divine supremacy as a potentate and
king of kings--that the secret lay of his unrivalled grandeur. This
perished utterly under the reforming hands of Dioclesian. Cęsar only it
was that could be permitted to extinguish Cęsar: and a Roman imperator it
was who, by remodelling, did in effect abolish, by exorcising from its
foul terrors, did in effect disenchant of its sanctity, that imperatorial
dignity, which having once perished, could have no second existence, and
which was undoubtedly the sublimest incarnation of power, and a monument
the mightiest of greatness built by human hands, which upon this planet
has been suffered to appear.

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