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The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon

Part 13 out of 15

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possession of that city, than he was alarmed by the intelligence,
that Licinius had pitched his camp at the distance of only
eighteen miles. After a fruitless negotiation, in which the two
princes attempted to seduce the fidelity of each other's
adherents, they had recourse to arms. The emperor of the East
commanded a disciplined and veteran army of above seventy
thousand men; and Licinius, who had collected about thirty
thousand Illyrians, was at first oppressed by the superiority of
numbers. His military skill, and the firmness of his troops,
restored the day, and obtained a decisive victory. The
incredible speed which Maximin exerted in his flight is much more
celebrated than his prowess in the battle. Twenty- four hours
afterwards he was seen, pale, trembling, and without his Imperial
ornaments, at Nicomedia, one hundred and sixty miles from the
place of his defeat. The wealth of Asia was yet unexhausted; and
though the flower of his veterans had fallen in the late action,
he had still power, if he could obtain time, to draw very
numerous levies from Syria and Egypt. But he survived his
misfortune only three or four months. His death, which happened
at Tarsus, was variously ascribed to despair, to poison, and to
the divine justice. As Maximin was alike destitute of abilities
and of virtue, he was lamented neither by the people nor by the
soldiers. The provinces of the East, delivered from the terrors
of civil war, cheerfully acknowledged the authority of Licinius.

[Footnote 78: Zosimus (l. ii. p. 89) observes, that before the
war the sister of Constantine had been betrothed to Licinius.
According to the younger Victor, Diocletian was invited to the
nuptials; but having ventured to plead his age and infirmities,
he received a second letter, filled with reproaches for his
supposed partiality to the cause of Maxentius and Maximin.]
[Footnote 79: Zosimus mentions the defeat and death of Maximin as
ordinary events; but Lactantius expatiates on them, (de M. P. c.
45-50,) ascribing them to the miraculous interposition of Heaven.

Licinius at that time was one of the protectors of the church.]

The vanquished emperor left behind him two children, a boy
of about eight, and a girl of about seven, years old. Their
inoffensive age might have excited compassion; but the compassion
of Licinius was a very feeble resource, nor did it restrain him
from extinguishing the name and memory of his adversary. The
death of Severianus will admit of less excuse, as it was dictated
neither by revenge nor by policy. The conqueror had never
received any injury from the father of that unhappy youth, and
the short and obscure reign of Severus, in a distant part of the
empire, was already forgotten. But the execution of Candidianus
was an act of the blackest cruelty and ingratitude. He was the
natural son of Galerius, the friend and benefactor of Licinius.
The prudent father had judged him too young to sustain the weight
of a diadem; but he hoped that, under the protection of princes
who were indebted to his favor for the Imperial purple,
Candidianus might pass a secure and honorable life. He was now
advancing towards the twentieth year of his age, and the royalty
of his birth, though unsupported either by merit or ambition, was
sufficient to exasperate the jealous mind of Licinius. ^80 To
these innocent and illustrious victims of his tyranny, we must
add the wife and daughter of the emperor Diocletian. When that
prince conferred on Galerius the title of Caesar, he had given
him in marriage his daughter Valeria, whose melancholy adventures
might furnish a very singular subject for tragedy. She had
fulfilled and even surpassed the duties of a wife. As she had
not any children herself, she condescended to adopt the
illegitimate son of her husband, and invariably displayed towards
the unhappy Candidianus the tenderness and anxiety of a real
mother. After the death of Galerius, her ample possessions
provoked the avarice, and her personal attractions excited the
desires, of his successor, Maximin. ^81 He had a wife still
alive; but divorce was permitted by the Roman law, and the fierce
passions of the tyrant demanded an immediate gratification. The
answer of Valeria was such as became the daughter and widow of
emperors; but it was tempered by the prudence which her
defenceless condition compelled her to observe. She represented
to the persons whom Maximin had employed on this occasion, "that
even if honor could permit a woman of her character and dignity
to entertain a thought of second nuptials, decency at least must
forbid her to listen to his addresses at a time when the ashes of
her husband, and his benefactor were still warm, and while the
sorrows of her mind were still expressed by her mourning
garments. She ventured to declare, that she could place very
little confidence in the professions of a man whose cruel
inconstancy was capable of repudiating a faithful and
affectionate wife." ^82 On this repulse, the love of Maximin was
converted into fury; and as witnesses and judges were always at
his disposal, it was easy for him to cover his fury with an
appearance of legal proceedings, and to assault the reputation as
well as the happiness of Valeria. Her estates were confiscated,
her eunuchs and domestics devoted to the most inhuman tortures;
and several innocent and respectable matrons, who were honored
with her friendship, suffered death, on a false accusation of
adultery. The empress herself, together with her mother Prisca,
was condemned to exile; and as they were ignominiously hurried
from place to place before they were confined to a sequestered
village in the deserts of Syria, they exposed their shame and
distress to the provinces of the East, which, during thirty
years, had respected their august dignity. Diocletian made
several ineffectual efforts to alleviate the misfortunes of his
daughter; and, as the last return that he expected for the
Imperial purple, which he had conferred upon Maximin, he
entreated that Valeria might be permitted to share his retirement
of Salona, and to close the eyes of her afflicted father. ^83 He
entreated; but as he could no longer threaten, his prayers were
received with coldness and disdain; and the pride of Maximin was
gratified, in treating Diocletian as a suppliant, and his
daughter as a criminal. The death of Maximin seemed to assure
the empresses of a favorable alteration in their fortune. The
public disorders relaxed the vigilance of their guard, and they
easily found means to escape from the place of their exile, and
to repair, though with some precaution, and in disguise, to the
court of Licinius. His behavior, in the first days of his reign,
and the honorable reception which he gave to young Candidianus,
inspired Valeria with a secret satisfaction, both on her own
account and on that of her adopted son. But these grateful
prospects were soon succeeded by horror and astonishment; and the
bloody executions which stained the palace of Nicomedia
sufficiently convinced her that the throne of Maximin was filled
by a tyrant more inhuman than himself. Valeria consulted her
safety by a hasty flight, and, still accompanied by her mother
Prisca, they wandered above fifteen months ^84 through the
provinces, concealed in the disguise of plebeian habits. They
were at length discovered at Thessalonica; and as the sentence of
their death was already pronounced, they were immediately
beheaded, and their bodies thrown into the sea. The people gazed
on the melancholy spectacle; but their grief and indignation were
suppressed by the terrors of a military guard. Such was the
unworthy fate of the wife and daughter of Diocletian. We lament
their misfortunes, we cannot discover their crimes; and whatever
idea we may justly entertain of the cruelty of Licinius, it
remains a matter of surprise that he was not contented with some
more secret and decent method of revenge. ^85

[Footnote 80: Lactantius de M. P. c. 50. Aurelius Victor touches
on the different conduct of Licinius, and of Constantine, in the
use of victory.]
[Footnote 81: The sensual appetites of Maximin were gratified at
the expense of his subjects. His eunuchs, who forced away wives
and virgins, examined their naked charms with anxious curiosity,
lest any part of their body should be found unworthy of the royal
embraces. Coyness and disdain were considered as treason, and
the obstinate fair one was condemned to be drowned. A custom was
gradually introduced, that no person should marry a wife without
the permission of the emperor, "ut ipse in omnibus nuptiis
praegustator esset." Lactantius de M. P. c. 38.]

[Footnote 82: Lactantius de M. P. c. 39.]

[Footnote 83: Diocletian at last sent cognatum suum, quendam
militarem ae potentem virum, to intercede in favor of his
daughter, (Lactantius de M. P. c. 41.) We are not sufficiently
acquainted with the history of these times to point out the
person who was employed.]

[Footnote 84: Valeria quoque per varias provincias quindecim
mensibus plebeio cultu pervagata. Lactantius de M. P. c. 51.
There is some doubt whether we should compute the fifteen months
from the moment of her exile, or from that of her escape. The
expression of parvagata seems to denote the latter; but in that
case we must suppose that the treatise of Lactantius was written
after the first civil war between Licinius and Constantine. See
Cuper, p. 254.]

[Footnote 85: Ita illis pudicitia et conditio exitio fuit.
Lactantius de M. P. c. 51. He relates the misfortunes of the
innocent wife and daughter of Discletian with a very natural
mixture of pity and exultation.]
The Roman world was now divided between Constantine and
Licinius, the former of whom was master of the West, and the
latter of the East. It might perhaps have been expected that the
conquerors, fatigued with civil war, and connected by a private
as well as public alliance, would have renounced, or at least
would have suspended, any further designs of ambition. And yet a
year had scarcely elapsed after the death of Maximin, before the
victorious emperors turned their arms against each other. The
genius, the success, and the aspiring temper of Constantine, may
seem to mark him out as the aggressor; but the perfidious
character of Licinius justifies the most unfavorable suspicions,
and by the faint light which history reflects on this
transaction, ^86 we may discover a conspiracy fomented by his
arts against the authority of his colleague. Constantine had
lately given his sister Anastasia in marriage to Bassianus, a man
of a considerable family and fortune, and had elevated his new
kinsman to the rank of Caesar. According to the system of
government instituted by Diocletian, Italy, and perhaps Africa,
were designed for his department in the empire. But the
performance of the promised favor was either attended with so
much delay, or accompanied with so many unequal conditions, that
the fidelity of Bassianus was alienated rather than secured by
the honorable distinction which he had obtained. His nomination
had been ratified by the consent of Licinius; and that artful
prince, by the means of his emissaries, soon contrived to enter
into a secret and dangerous correspondence with the new Caesar,
to irritate his discontents, and to urge him to the rash
enterprise of extorting by violence what he might in vain solicit
from the justice of Constantine. But the vigilant emperor
discovered the conspiracy before it was ripe for execution; and
after solemnly renouncing the alliance of Bassianus, despoiled
him of the purple, and inflicted the deserved punishment on his
treason and ingratitude. The haughty refusal of Licinius, when he
was required to deliver up the criminals who had taken refuge in
his dominions, confirmed the suspicions already entertained of
his perfidy; and the indignities offered at Aemona, on the
frontiers of Italy, to the statues of Constantine, became the
signal of discord between the two princes. ^87

[Footnote 86: The curious reader, who consults the Valesian
fragment, p. 713, will probably accuse me of giving a bold and
licentious paraphrase; but if he considers it with attention, he
will acknowledge that my interpretation is probable and

[Footnote 87: The situation of Aemona, or, as it is now called,
Laybach, in Carniola, (D'Anville, Geographie Ancienne, tom. i. p.
187,) may suggest a conjecture. As it lay to the north-east of
the Julian Alps, that important territory became a natural object
of dispute between the sovereigns of Italy and of Illyricum.]

The first battle was fought near Cibalis, a city of
Pannonia, situated on the River Save, about fifty miles above
Sirmium. ^88 From the inconsiderable forces which in this
important contest two such powerful monarchs brought into the
field, it may be inferred that the one was suddenly provoked, and
that the other was unexpectedly surprised. The emperor of the
West had only twenty thousand, and the sovereign of the East no
more than five and thirty thousand, men. The inferiority of
number was, however, compensated by the advantage of the ground.
Constantine had taken post in a defile about half a mile in
breadth, between a steep hill and a deep morass, and in that
situation he steadily expected and repulsed the first attack of
the enemy. He pursued his success, and advanced into the plain.
But the veteran legions of Illyricum rallied under the standard
of a leader who had been trained to arms in the school of Probus
and Diocletian. The missile weapons on both sides were soon
exhausted; the two armies, with equal valor, rushed to a closer
engagement of swords and spears, and the doubtful contest had
already lasted from the dawn of the day to a late hour of the
evening, when the right wing, which Constantine led in person,
made a vigorous and decisive charge. The judicious retreat of
Licinius saved the remainder of his troops from a total defeat;
but when he computed his loss, which amounted to more than twenty
thousand men, he thought it unsafe to pass the night in the
presence of an active and victorious enemy. Abandoning his camp
and magazines, he marched away with secrecy and diligence at the
head of the greatest part of his cavalry, and was soon removed
beyond the danger of a pursuit. His diligence preserved his
wife, his son, and his treasures, which he had deposited at
Sirmium. Licinius passed through that city, and breaking down
the bridge on the Save, hastened to collect a new army in Dacia
and Thrace. In his flight he bestowed the precarious title of
Caesar on Valens, his general of the Illyrian frontier. ^89

[Footnote 88: Cibalis or Cibalae (whose name is still preserved
in the obscure ruins of Swilei) was situated about fifty miles
from Sirmium, the capital of Illyricum, and about one hundred
from Taurunum, or Belgrade, and the conflux of the Danube and the
Save. The Roman garrisons and cities on those rivers are finely
illustrated by M. d'Anville in a memoir inserted in l'Academie
des Inscriptions, tom. xxviii.]

[Footnote 89: Zosimus (l. ii. p. 90, 91) gives a very particular
account of this battle; but the descriptions of Zosimus are
rhetorical rather than military]

Chapter XIV: Six Emperors At The Same Time, Reunion Of The

Part IV.

The plain of Mardia in Thrace was the theatre of a second
battle no less obstinate and bloody than the former. The troops
on both sides displayed the same valor and discipline; and the
victory was once more decided by the superior abilities of
Constantine, who directed a body of five thousand men to gain an
advantageous height, from whence, during the heat of the action,
they attacked the rear of the enemy, and made a very considerable
slaughter. The troops of Licinius, however, presenting a double
front, still maintained their ground, till the approach of night
put an end to the combat, and secured their retreat towards the
mountains of Macedonia. ^90 The loss of two battles, and of his
bravest veterans, reduced the fierce spirit of Licinius to sue
for peace. His ambassador Mistrianus was admitted to the
audience of Constantine: he expatiated on the common topics of
moderation and humanity, which are so familiar to the eloquence
of the vanquished; represented in the most insinuating language,
that the event of the war was still doubtful, whilst its
inevitable calamities were alike pernicious to both the
contending parties; and declared that he was authorized to
propose a lasting and honorable peace in the name of the two
emperors his masters. Constantine received the mention of Valens
with indignation and contempt. "It was not for such a purpose,"
he sternly replied, "that we have advanced from the shores of the
western ocean in an uninterrupted course of combats and
victories, that, after rejecting an ungrateful kinsman, we should
accept for our colleague a contemptible slave. The abdication of
Valens is the first article of the treaty." ^91 It was necessary
to accept this humiliating condition; and the unhappy Valens,
after a reign of a few days, was deprived of the purple and of
his life. As soon as this obstacle was removed, the tranquillity
of the Roman world was easily restored. The successive defeats
of Licinius had ruined his forces, but they had displayed his
courage and abilities. His situation was almost desperate, but
the efforts of despair are sometimes formidable, and the good
sense of Constantine preferred a great and certain advantage to a
third trial of the chance of arms. He consented to leave his
rival, or, as he again styled Licinius, his friend and brother,
in the possession of Thrace, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt; but
the provinces of Pannonia, Dalmatia, Dacia, Macedonia, and
Greece, were yielded to the Western empire, and the dominions of
Constantine now extended from the confines of Caledonia to the
extremity of Peloponnesus. It was stipulated by the same treaty,
that three royal youths, the sons of emperors, should be called
to the hopes of the succession. Crispus and the young
Constantine were soon afterwards declared Caesars in the West,
while the younger Licinius was invested with the same dignity in
the East. In this double proportion of honors, the conqueror
asserted the superiority of his arms and power. ^92
[Footnote 90: Zosimus, l. ii. p. 92, 93. Anonym. Valesian. p.
713. The Epitomes furnish some circumstances; but they
frequently confound the two wars between Licinius and

[Footnote 91: Petrus Patricius in Excerpt. Legat. p. 27. If it
should be thought that signifies more properly a son-in-law, we
might conjecture that Constantine, assuming the name as well as
the duties of a father, had adopted his younger brothers and
sisters, the children of Theodora. But in the best authors
sometimes signifies a husband, sometimes a father-in-law, and
sometimes a kinsman in general. See Spanheim, Observat. ad
Julian. Orat. i. p. 72.]

[Footnote 92: Zosimus, l. ii. p. 93. Anonym. Valesian. p. 713.
Eutropius, x. v. Aurelius Victor, Euseb. in Chron. Sozomen, l.
i. c. 2. Four of these writers affirm that the promotion of the
Caesars was an article of the treaty. It is, however, certain,
that the younger Constantine and Licinius were not yet born; and
it is highly probable that the promotion was made the 1st of
March, A. D. 317. The treaty had probably stipulated that the
two Caesars might be created by the western, and one only by the
eastern emperor; but each of them reserved to himself the choice
of the persons.]
The reconciliation of Constantine and Licinius, though it
was imbittered by resentment and jealousy, by the remembrance of
recent injuries, and by the apprehension of future dangers,
maintained, however, above eight years, the tranquility of the
Roman world. As a very regular series of the Imperial laws
commences about this period, it would not be difficult to
transcribe the civil regulations which employed the leisure of
Constantine. But the most important of his institutions are
intimately connected with the new system of policy and religion,
which was not perfectly established till the last and peaceful
years of his reign. There are many of his laws, which, as far as
they concern the rights and property of individuals, and the
practice of the bar, are more properly referred to the private
than to the public jurisprudence of the empire; and he published
many edicts of so local and temporary a nature, that they would
ill deserve the notice of a general history. Two laws, however,
may be selected from the crowd; the one for its importance, the
other for its singularity; the former for its remarkable
benevolence, the latter for its excessive severity. 1. The
horrid practice, so familiar to the ancients, of exposing or
murdering their new-born infants, was become every day more
frequent in the provinces, and especially in Italy. It was the
effect of distress; and the distress was principally occasioned
by the intolerant burden of taxes, and by the vexatious as well
as cruel prosecutions of the officers of the revenue against
their insolvent debtors. The less opulent or less industrious
part of mankind, instead of rejoicing in an increase of family,
deemed it an act of paternal tenderness to release their children
from the impending miseries of a life which they themselves were
unable to support. The humanity of Constantine; moved, perhaps,
by some recent and extraordinary instances of despair, ^* engaged
him to address an edict to all the cities of Italy, and
afterwards of Africa, directing immediate and sufficient relief
to be given to those parents who should produce before the
magistrates the children whom their own poverty would not allow
them to educate. But the promise was too liberal, and the
provision too vague, to effect any general or permanent benefit.
^93 The law, though it may merit some praise, served rather to
display than to alleviate the public distress. It still remains
an authentic monument to contradict and confound those venal
orators, who were too well satisfied with their own situation to
discover either vice or misery under the government of a generous
sovereign. ^94 2. The laws of Constantine against rapes were
dictated with very little indulgence for the most amiable
weaknesses of human nature; since the description of that crime
was applied not only to the brutal violence which compelled, but
even to the gentle seduction which might persuade, an unmarried
woman, under the age of twenty-five, to leave the house of her
parents. "The successful ravisher was punished with death; and
as if simple death was inadequate to the enormity of his guilt,
he was either burnt alive, or torn in pieces by wild beasts in
the amphitheatre. The virgin's declaration, that she had been
carried away with her own consent, instead of saving her lover,
exposed her to share his fate. The duty of a public prosecution
was intrusted to the parents of the guilty or unfortunate maid;
and if the sentiments of nature prevailed on them to dissemble
the injury, and to repair by a subsequent marriage the honor of
their family, they were themselves punished by exile and
confiscation. The slaves, whether male or female, who were
convicted of having been accessory to rape or seduction, were
burnt alive, or put to death by the ingenious torture of pouring
down their throats a quantity of melted lead. As the crime was
of a public kind, the accusation was permitted even to strangers.

The commencement of the action was not limited to any term of
years, and the consequences of the sentence were extended to the
innocent offspring of such an irregular union." ^95 But whenever
the offence inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigor
of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of
mankind. The most odious parts of this edict were softened or
repealed in the subsequent reigns; ^96 and even Constantine
himself very frequently alleviated, by partial acts of mercy, the
stern temper of his general institutions. Such, indeed, was the
singular humor of that emperor, who showed himself as indulgent,
and even remiss, in the execution of his laws, as he was severe,
and even cruel, in the enacting of them. It is scarcely possible
to observe a more decisive symptom of weakness, either in the
character of the prince, or in the constitution of the
government. ^97
[Footnote *: This explanation appears to me little probable.
Godefroy has made a much more happy conjecture, supported by all
the historical circumstances which relate to this edict. It was
published the 12th of May, A. D. 315. at Naissus in Pannonia, the
birthplace of Constantine. The 8th of October, in that year,
Constantine gained the victory of Cibalis over Licinius. He was
yet uncertain as to the fate of the war: the Christians, no
doubt, whom he favored, had prophesied his victory. Lactantius,
then preceptor of Crispus, had just written his work upon
Christianity, (his Divine Institutes;) he had dedicated it to
Constantine. In this book he had inveighed with great force
against infanticide, and the exposure of infants, (l. vi. c. 20.)
Is it not probable that Constantine had read this work, that he
had conversed on the subject with Lactantius, that he was moved,
among other things, by the passage to which I have referred, and
in the first transport of his enthusiasm, he published the edict
in question? The whole of the edict bears the character of
precipitation, of excitement, (entrainement,) rather than of
deliberate reflection - the extent of the promises, the
indefiniteness of the means, of the conditions, and of the time
during which the parents might have a right to the succor of the
state. Is there not reason to believe that the humanity of
Constantine was excited by the influence of Lactantius, by that
of the principles of Christianity, and of the Christians
themselves, already in high esteem with the emperor, rather than
by some "extraordinary instances of despair"? * * * See
Hegewisch, Essai Hist. sur les Finances Romaines

The edict for Africa was not published till 322: of that we
may say in truth that its origin was in the misery of the times.
Africa had suffered much from the cruelty of Maxentius.
Constantine says expressly, that he had learned that parents,
under the pressure of distress, were there selling their
children. This decree is more distinct, more maturely
deliberated than the former; the succor which was to be given to
the parents, and the source from which it was to be derived, are
determined. (Code Theod. l. xi. tit. 27, c 2.) If the direct
utility of these laws may not have been very extensive, they had
at least the great and happy effect of establishing a decisive
opposition between the principles of the government and those
which, at this time, had prevailed among the subjects of the
empire. - G.]
[Footnote 93: Codex Theodosian. l. xi. tit. 27, tom. iv. p. 188,
with Godefroy's observations. See likewise l. v. tit. 7, 8.]

[Footnote 94: Omnia foris placita, domi prospera, annonae
ubertate, fructuum copia, &c. Panegyr. Vet. x. 38. This oration
of Nazarius was pronounced on the day of the Quinquennalia of the
Caesars, the 1st of March, A. D. 321.]
[Footnote 95: See the edict of Constantine, addressed to the
Roman people, in the Theodosian Code, l. ix. tit. 24, tom. iii.
p. 189.]

[Footnote 96: His son very fairly assigns the true reason of the
repeal: "Na sub specie atrocioris judicii aliqua in ulciscendo
crimine dilatio nae ceretur." Cod. Theod. tom. iii. p. 193]

[Footnote 97: Eusebius (in Vita Constant. l. iii. c. 1) chooses
to affirm, that in the reign of this hero, the sword of justice
hung idle in the hands of the magistrates. Eusebius himself, (l.
iv. c. 29, 54,) and the Theodosian Code, will inform us that this
excessive lenity was not owing to the want either of atrocious
criminals or of penal laws.]

The civil administration was sometimes interrupted by the
military defence of the empire. Crispus, a youth of the most
amiable character, who had received with the title of Caesar the
command of the Rhine, distinguished his conduct, as well as
valor, in several victories over the Franks and Alemanni, and
taught the barbarians of that frontier to dread the eldest son of
Constantine, and the grandson of Constantius. ^98 The emperor
himself had assumed the more difficult and important province of
the Danube. The Goths, who in the time of Claudius and Aurelian
had felt the weight of the Roman arms, respected the power of the
empire, even in the midst of its intestine divisions. But the
strength of that warlike nation was now restored by a peace of
near fifty years; a new generation had arisen, who no longer
remembered the misfortunes of ancient days; the Sarmatians of the
Lake Maeotis followed the Gothic standard either as subjects or
as allies, and their united force was poured upon the countries
of Illyricum. Campona, Margus, and Benonia, ^! appear to have
been the scenes of several memorable sieges and battles; ^99 and
though Constantine encountered a very obstinate resistance, he
prevailed at length in the contest, and the Goths were compelled
to purchased an ignominious retreat, by restoring the booty and
prisoners which they had taken. Nor was this advantage
sufficient to satisfy the indignation of the emperor. He
resolved to chastise as well as to repulse the insolent
barbarians who had dared to invade the territories of Rome. At
the head of his legions he passed the Danube after repairing the
bridge which had been constructed by Trajan, penetrated into the
strongest recesses of Dacia, ^100 and when he had inflicted a
severe revenge, condescended to give peace to the suppliant
Goths, on condition that, as often as they were required, they
should supply his armies with a body of forty thousand soldiers.
^101 Exploits like these were no doubt honorable to Constantine,
and beneficial to the state; but it may surely be questioned,
whether they can justify the exaggerated assertion of Eusebius,
that All Scythia, as far as the extremity of the North, divided
as it was into so many names and nations of the most various and
savage manners, had been added by his victorious arms to the
Roman empire. ^102

[Footnote 98: Nazarius in Panegyr. Vet. x. The victory of
Crispus over the Alemanni is expressed on some medals.

Note: Other medals are extant, the legends of which
commemorate the success of Constantine over the Sarmatians and
other barbarous nations, Sarmatia Devicta. Victoria Gothica.
Debellatori Gentium Barbarorum. Exuperator Omnium Gentium. St.
Martin, note on Le Beau, i. 148. - M.]
[Footnote !: Campona, Old Buda in Hungary; Margus, Benonia,
Widdin, in Maesia - G and M.]

[Footnote 99: See Zosimus, l. ii. p. 93, 94; though the narrative
of that historian is neither clear nor consistent. The Panegyric
of Optatianus (c. 23) mentions the alliance of the Sarmatians
with the Carpi and Getae, and points out the several fields of
battle. It is supposed that the Sarmatian games, celebrated in
the month of November, derived their origin from the success of
this war.]

[Footnote 100: In the Caesars of Julian, (p. 329. Commentaire de
Spanheim, p. 252.) Constantine boasts, that he had recovered the
province (Dacia) which Trajan had subdued. But it is insinuated
by Silenus, that the conquests of Constantine were like the
gardens of Adonis, which fade and wither almost the moment they

[Footnote 101: Jornandes de Rebus Geticis, c. 21. I know not
whether we may entirely depend on his authority. Such an
alliance has a very recent air, and scarcely is suited to the
maxims of the beginning of the fourth century.]
[Footnote 102: Eusebius in Vit. Constantin. l. i. c. 8. This
passage, however, is taken from a general declamation on the
greatness of Constantine, and not from any particular account of
the Gothic war.]

In this exalted state of glory, it was impossible that
Constantine should any longer endure a partner in the empire.
Confiding in the superiority of his genius and military power, he
determined, without any previous injury, to exert them for the
destruction of Licinius, whose advanced age and unpopular vices
seemed to offer a very easy conquest. ^103 But the old emperor,
awakened by the approaching danger, deceived the expectations of
his friends, as well as of his enemies. Calling forth that
spirit and those abilities by which he had deserved the
friendship of Galerius and the Imperial purple, he prepared
himself for the contest, collected the forces of the East, and
soon filled the plains of Hadrianople with his troops, and the
Straits of the Hellespont with his fleet. The army consisted of
one hundred and fifty thousand foot, and fifteen thousand horse;
and as the cavalry was drawn, for the most part, from Phrygia and
Cappadocia, we may conceive a more favorable opinion of the
beauty of the horses, than of the courage and dexterity of their
riders. The fleet was composed of three hundred and fifty
galleys of three ranks of oars. A hundred and thirty of these
were furnished by Egypt and the adjacent coast of Africa. A
hundred and ten sailed from the ports of Phoenicia and the Isle
of Cyprus; and the maritime countries of Bithynia, Ionia, and
Caria, were likewise obliged to provide a hundred and ten
galleys. The troops of Constantine were ordered to a rendezvous
at Thessalonica; they amounted to above a hundred and twenty
thousand horse and foot. ^104 Their emperor was satisfied with
their martial appearance, and his army contained more soldiers,
though fewer men, than that of his eastern competitor. The
legions of Constantine were levied in the warlike provinces of
Europe; action had confirmed their discipline, victory had
elevated their hopes, and there were among them a great number of
veterans, who, after seventeen glorious campaigns under the same
leader, prepared themselves to deserve an honorable dismission by
a last effort of their valor. ^105 But the naval preparations of
Constantine were in every respect much inferior to those of
Licinius. The maritime cities of Greece sent their respective
quotas of men and ships to the celebrated harbor of Piraeus, and
their united forces consisted of no more than two hundred small
vessels - a very feeble armament, if it is compared with those
formidable fleets which were equipped and maintained by the
republic of Athens during the Peloponnesian war. ^106 Since Italy
was no longer the seat of government, the naval establishments of
Misenum and Ravenna had been gradually neglected; and as the
shipping and mariners of the empire were supported by commerce
rather than by war, it was natural that they should the most
abound in the industrious provinces of Egypt and Asia. It is
only surprising that the eastern emperor, who possessed so great
a superiority at sea, should have neglected the opportunity of
carrying an offensive war into the centre of his rival's

[Footnote 103: Constantinus tamen, vir ingens, et omnia efficere
nitens quae animo praeparasset, simul principatum totius urbis
affectans, Licinio bellum intulit. Eutropius, x. 5. Zosimus, l.
ii. p 89. The reasons which they have assigned for the first
civil war, may, with more propriety, be applied to the second.]

[Footnote 104: Zosimus, l. ii. p. 94, 95.]

[Footnote 105: Constantine was very attentive to the privileges
and comforts of his fellow-veterans, (Conveterani,) as he now
began to style them. See the Theodosian Code, l. vii. tit. 10,
tom. ii. p. 419, 429.]
[Footnote 106: Whilst the Athenians maintained the empire of the
sea, their fleet consisted of three, and afterwards of four,
hundred galleys of three ranks of oars, all completely equipped
and ready for immediate service. The arsenal in the port of
Piraeus had cost the republic a thousand talents, about two
hundred and sixteen thousand pounds. See Thucydides de Bel.
Pelopon. l. ii. c. 13, and Meursius de Fortuna Attica, c. 19.]
Instead of embracing such an active resolution, which might
have changed the whole face of the war, the prudent Licinius
expected the approach of his rival in a camp near Hadrianople,
which he had fortified with an anxious care, that betrayed his
apprehension of the event. Constantine directed his march from
Thessalonica towards that part of Thrace, till he found himself
stopped by the broad and rapid stream of the Hebrus, and
discovered the numerous army of Licinius, which filled the steep
ascent of the hill, from the river to the city of Hadrianople.
Many days were spent in doubtful and distant skirmishes; but at
length the obstacles of the passage and of the attack were
removed by the intrepid conduct of Constantine. In this place we
might relate a wonderful exploit of Constantine, which, though it
can scarcely be paralleled either in poetry or romance, is
celebrated, not by a venal orator devoted to his fortune, but by
an historian, the partial enemy of his fame. We are assured that
the valiant emperor threw himself into the River Hebrus,
accompanied only by twelve horsemen, and that by the effort or
terror of his invincible arm, he broke, slaughtered, and put to
flight a host of a hundred and fifty thousand men. The credulity
of Zosimus prevailed so strongly over his passion, that among the
events of the memorable battle of Hadrianople, he seems to have
selected and embellished, not the most important, but the most
marvellous. The valor and danger of Constantine are attested by
a slight wound which he received in the thigh; but it may be
discovered even from an imperfect narration, and perhaps a
corrupted text, that the victory was obtained no less by the
conduct of the general than by the courage of the hero; that a
body of five thousand archers marched round to occupy a thick
wood in the rear of the enemy, whose attention was diverted by
the construction of a bridge, and that Licinius, perplexed by so
many artful evolutions, was reluctantly drawn from his
advantageous post to combat on equal ground on the plain. The
contest was no longer equal. His confused multitude of new
levies was easily vanquished by the experienced veterans of the
West. Thirty-four thousand men are reported to have been slain.
The fortified camp of Licinius was taken by assault the evening
of the battle; the greater part of the fugitives, who had retired
to the mountains, surrendered themselves the next day to the
discretion of the conqueror; and his rival, who could no longer
keep the field, confined himself within the walls of Byzantium.

[Footnote 107: Zosimus, l. ii. p. 95, 96. This great battle is
described in the Valesian fragment, (p. 714,) in a clear though
concise manner. "Licinius vero circum Hadrianopolin maximo
exercitu latera ardui montis impleverat; illuc toto agmine
Constantinus inflexit. Cum bellum terra marique traheretur,
quamvis per arduum suis nitentibus, attamen disciplina militari
et felicitate, Constantinus Licinu confusum et sine ordine
agentem vicit exercitum; leviter femore sau ciatus."]

The siege of Byzantium, which was immediately undertaken by
Constantine, was attended with great labor and uncertainty. In
the late civil wars, the fortifications of that place, so justly
considered as the key of Europe and Asia, had been repaired and
strengthened; and as long as Licinius remained master of the sea,
the garrison was much less exposed to the danger of famine than
the army of the besiegers. The naval commanders of Constantine
were summoned to his camp, and received his positive orders to
force the passage of the Hellespont, as the fleet of Licinius,
instead of seeking and destroying their feeble enemy, continued
inactive in those narrow straits, where its superiority of
numbers was of little use or advantage. Crispus, the emperor's
eldest son, was intrusted with the execution of this daring
enterprise, which he performed with so much courage and success,
that he deserved the esteem, and most probably excited the
jealousy, of his father. The engagement lasted two days; and in
the evening of the first, the contending fleets, after a
considerable and mutual loss, retired into their respective
harbors of Europe and Asia. The second day, about noon, a strong
south wind ^108 sprang up, which carried the vessels of Crispus
against the enemy; and as the casual advantage was improved by
his skilful intrepidity, he soon obtained a complete victory. A
hundred and thirty vessels were destroyed, five thousand men were
slain, and Amandus, the admiral of the Asiatic fleet, escaped
with the utmost difficulty to the shores of Chalcedon. As soon as
the Hellespont was open, a plentiful convoy of provisions flowed
into the camp of Constantine, who had already advanced the
operations of the siege. He constructed artificial mounds of
earth of an equal height with the ramparts of Byzantium. The
lofty towers which were erected on that foundation galled the
besieged with large stones and darts from the military engines,
and the battering rams had shaken the walls in several places.
If Licinius persisted much longer in the defence, he exposed
himself to be involved in the ruin of the place. Before he was
surrounded, he prudently removed his person and treasures to
Chalcedon in Asia; and as he was always desirous of associating
companions to the hopes and dangers of his fortune, he now
bestowed the title of Caesar on Martinianus, who exercised one of
the most important offices of the empire. ^109

[Footnote 108: Zosimus, l. ii. p. 97, 98. The current always
sets out of the Hellespont; and when it is assisted by a north
wind, no vessel can[Footnote Continuation: attempt the passage.
A south wind renders the force of the current almost
imperceptible. See Tournefort's Voyage au Levant, Let. xi.]
[Footnote 109: Aurelius Victor. Zosimus, l. ii. p. 93.
According to the latter, Martinianus was Magister Officiorum, (he
uses the Latin appellation in Greek.) Some medals seem to
intimate, that during his short reign he received the title of

Such were still the resources, and such the abilities, of
Licinius, that, after so many successive defeats, he collected in
Bithynia a new army of fifty or sixty thousand men, while the
activity of Constantine was employed in the siege of Byzantium.
The vigilant emperor did not, however, neglect the last struggles
of his antagonist. A considerable part of his victorious army
was transported over the Bosphorus in small vessels, and the
decisive engagement was fought soon after their landing on the
heights of Chrysopolis, or, as it is now called, of Scutari. The
troops of Licinius, though they were lately raised, ill armed,
and worse disciplined, made head against their conquerors with
fruitless but desperate valor, till a total defeat, and a
slaughter of five and twenty thousand men, irretrievably
determined the fate of their leader. ^110 He retired to
Nicomedia, rather with the view of gaining some time for
negotiation, than with the hope of any effectual defence.
Constantia, his wife, and the sister of Constantine, interceded
with her brother in favor of her husband, and obtained from his
policy, rather than from his compassion, a solemn promise,
confirmed by an oath, that after the sacrifice of Martinianus,
and the resignation of the purple, Licinius himself should be
permitted to pass the remainder of this life in peace and
affluence. The behavior of Constantia, and her relation to the
contending parties, naturally recalls the remembrance of that
virtuous matron who was the sister of Augustus, and the wife of
Antony. But the temper of mankind was altered, and it was no
longer esteemed infamous for a Roman to survive his honor and
independence. Licinius solicited and accepted the pardon of his
offences, laid himself and his purple at the feet of his lord and
master, was raised from the ground with insulting pity, was
admitted the same day to the Imperial banquet, and soon
afterwards was sent away to Thessalonica, which had been chosen
for the place of his confinement. ^111 His confinement was soon
terminated by death, and it is doubtful whether a tumult of the
soldiers, or a decree of the senate, was suggested as the motive
for his execution. According to the rules of tyranny, he was
accused of forming a conspiracy, and of holding a treasonable
correspondence with the barbarians; but as he was never
convicted, either by his own conduct or by any legal evidence, we
may perhaps be allowed, from his weakness, to presume his
innocence. ^112 The memory of Licinius was branded with infamy,
his statues were thrown down, and by a hasty edict, of such
mischievous tendency that it was almost immediately corrected,
all his laws, and all the judicial proceedings of his reign, were
at once abolished. ^113 By this victory of Constantine, the Roman
world was again united under the authority of one emperor,
thirty-seven years after Diocletian had divided his power and
provinces with his associate Maximian.

[Footnote 110: Eusebius (in Vita Constantin. I. ii. c. 16, 17)
ascribes this decisive victory to the pious prayers of the
emperor. The Valesian fragment (p. 714) mentions a body of
Gothic auxiliaries, under their chief Aliquaca, who adhered to
the party of Licinius.]

[Footnote 111: Zosimus, l. ii. p. 102. Victor Junior in Epitome.

Anonym. Valesian. p. 714.]

[Footnote 112: Contra religionem sacramenti Thessalonicae
privatus occisus est. Eutropius, x. 6; and his evidence is
confirmed by Jerome (in Chronic.) as well as by Zosimus, l. ii.
p. 102. The Valesian writer is the only one who mentions the
soldiers, and it is Zonaras alone who calls in the assistance of
the senate. Eusebius prudently slides over this delicate
transaction. But Sozomen, a century afterwards, ventures to
assert the treasonable practices of Licinius.]

[Footnote 113: See the Theodosian Code, l. xv. tit. 15, tom. v. p
404, 405. These edicts of Constantine betray a degree of passion
and precipitation very unbecoming the character of a lawgiver.]

The successive steps of the elevation of Constantine, from
his first assuming the purple at York, to the resignation of
Licinius, at Nicomedia, have been related with some minuteness
and precision, not only as the events are in themselves both
interesting and important, but still more, as they contributed to
the decline of the empire by the expense of blood and treasure,
and by the perpetual increase, as well of the taxes, as of the
military establishment. The foundation of Constantinople, and
the establishment of the Christian religion, were the immediate
and memorable consequences of this revolution.

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part I.

The Progress Of The Christian Religion, And The Sentiments,
Manners, Numbers, And Condition Of The Primitive Christians. ^*

[Footnote *: In spite of my resolution, Lardner led me to look
through the famous fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of Gibbon. I
could not lay them down without finishing them. The causes
assigned, in the fifteenth chapter, for the diffusion of
Christianity, must, no doubt, have contributed to it materially;
but I doubt whether he saw them all. Perhaps those which he
enumerates are among the most obvious. They might all be safely
adopted by a Christian writer, with some change in the language
and manner. Mackintosh see Life, i. p. 244. - M.]

A candid but rational inquiry into the progress and
establishment of Christianity may be considered as a very
essential part of the history of the Roman empire. While that
great body was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow
decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into
the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new
vigor from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner
of the Cross on the ruins of the Capitol. Nor was the influence
of Christianity confined to the period or to the limits of the
Roman empire. After a revolution of thirteen or fourteen
centuries, that religion is still professed by the nations of
Europe, the most distinguished portion of human kind in arts and
learning as well as in arms. By the industry and zeal of the
Europeans, it has been widely diffused to the most distant shores
of Asia and Africa; and by the means of their colonies has been
firmly established from Canada to Chili, in a world unknown to
the ancients.

But this inquiry, however useful or entertaining, is
attended with two peculiar difficulties. The scanty and
suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us
to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the
church. The great law of impartiality too often obliges us to
reveal the imperfections of the uninspired teachers and believers
of the gospel; and, to a careless observer, their faults may seem
to cast a shade on the faith which they professed. But the
scandal of the pious Christian, and the fallacious triumph of the
Infidel, should cease as soon as they recollect not only by whom,
but likewise to whom, the Divine Revelation was given. The
theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion
as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A
more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must
discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption, which
she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and
degenerate race of beings. ^*

[Footnote *: The art of Gibbon, or at least the unfair impression
produced by these two memorable chapters, consists in confounding
together, in one undistinguishable mass, the origin and apostolic
propagation of the Christian religion with its later progress.
The main question, the divine origin of the religion, is
dexterously eluded or speciously conceded; his plan enables him
to commence his account, in most parts, below the apostolic
times; and it is only by the strength of the dark coloring with
which he has brought out the failings and the follies of
succeeding ages, that a shadow of doubt and suspicion is thrown
back on the primitive period of Christianity. Divest this whole
passage of the latent sarcasm betrayed by the subsequent one of
the whole disquisition, and it might commence a Christian
history, written in the most Christian spirit of candor. - M.]

Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by what means
the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the
established religions of the earth. To this inquiry, an obvious
but satisfactory answer may be returned; that it was owing to the
convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the ruling
providence of its great Author. But as truth and reason seldom
find so favorable a reception in the world, and as the wisdom of
Providence frequently condescends to use the passions of the
human heart, and the general circumstances of mankind, as
instruments to execute its purpose, we may still be permitted,
though with becoming submission, to ask, not indeed what were the
first, but what were the secondary causes of the rapid growth of
the Christian church. It will, perhaps, appear, that it was most
effectually favored and assisted by the five following causes:
I. The inflexible, and if we may use the expression, the
intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the
Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial
spirit, which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles
from embracing the law of Moses. ^!

II. The doctrine of a future life, improved by every
additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to
that important truth.
III. The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive
IV. The pure and austere morals of the Christians.

V. The union and discipline of the Christian republic,
which gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the
heart of the Roman empire.
[Footnote !: Though we are thus far agreed with respect to the
inflexibility and intolerance of Christian zeal, yet as to the
principle from which it was derived, we are, toto coelo, divided
in opinion. You deduce it from the Jewish religion; I would
refer it to a more adequate and a more obvious source, a full
persuasion of the truth of Christianity. Watson. Letters Gibbon,
i. 9. - M.]

I. We have already described the religious harmony of the
ancient world, and the facility ^* with which the most different
and even hostile nations embraced, or at least respected, each
other's superstitions. A single people refused to join in the
common intercourse of mankind. The Jews, who, under the Assyrian
and Persian monarchies, had languished for many ages the most
despised portion of their slaves, ^1 emerged from obscurity under
the successors of Alexander; and as they multiplied to a
surprising degree in the East, and afterwards in the West, they
soon excited the curiosity and wonder of other nations. ^2 The
sullen obstinacy with which they maintained their peculiar rites
and unsocial manners, seemed to mark them out as a distinct
species of men, who boldly professed, or who faintly disguised,
their implacable habits to the rest of human kind. ^3 Neither the
violence of Antiochus, nor the arts of Herod, nor the example of
the circumjacent nations, could ever persuade the Jews to
associate with the institutions of Moses the elegant mythology of
the Greeks. ^4 According to the maxims of universal toleration,
the Romans protected a superstition which they despised. ^5 The
polite Augustus condescended to give orders, that sacrifices
should be offered for his prosperity in the temple of Jerusalem;
^6 whilst the meanest of the posterity of Abraham, who should
have paid the same homage to the Jupiter of the Capitol, would
have been an object of abhorrence to himself and to his brethren.

But the moderation of the conquerors was insufficient to appease
the jealous prejudices of their subjects, who were alarmed and
scandalized at the ensigns of paganism, which necessarily
introduced themselves into a Roman province. ^7 The mad attempt
of Caligula to place his own statue in the temple of Jerusalem
was defeated by the unanimous resolution of a people who dreaded
death much less than such an idolatrous profanation. ^8 Their
attachment to the law of Moses was equal to their detestation of
foreign religions. The current of zeal and devotion, as it was
contracted into a narrow channel, ran with the strength, and
sometimes with the fury, of a torrent.

[Footnote *: This facility has not always prevented intolerance,
which seems inherent in the religious spirit, when armed with
authority. The separation of the ecclesiastical and civil power,
appears to be the only means of at once maintaining religion and
tolerance: but this is a very modern notion. The passions, which
mingle themselves with opinions, made the Pagans very often
intolerant and persecutors; witness the Persians, the Egyptians
even the Greeks and Romans.

1st. The Persians. - Cambyses, conqueror of the Egyptians,
condemned to death the magistrates of Memphis, because they had
offered divine honors to their god. Apis: he caused the god to
be brought before him, struck him with his dagger, commanded the
priests to be scourged, and ordered a general massacre of all the
Egyptians who should be found celebrating the festival of the
statues of the gods to be burnt. Not content with this
intolerance, he sent an army to reduce the Ammonians to slavery,
and to set on fire the temple in which Jupiter delivered his
oracles. See Herod. iii. 25 - 29, 37.
Xerxes, during his invasion of Greece, acted on the same
principles: l c destroyed all the temples of Greece and Ionia,
except that of Ephesus. See Paus. l. vii. p. 533, and x. p. 887.

Strabo, l. xiv. b. 941.
2d. The Egyptians. - They thought themselves defiled when
they had drunk from the same cup or eaten at the same table with
a man of a different belief from their own. "He who has
voluntarily killed any sacred animal is punished with death; but
if any one, even involuntarily, has killed a cat or an ibis, he
cannot escape the extreme penalty: the people drag him away,
treat him in the most cruel manner, sometimes without waiting for
a judicial sentence. * * * Even at the time when King Ptolemy
was not yet the acknowledged friend of the Roman people, while
the multitude were paying court with all possible attention to
the strangers who came from Italy * * a Roman having killed a
cat, the people rushed to his house, and neither the entreaties
of the nobles, whom the king sent to them, nor the terror of the
Roman name, were sufficiently powerful to rescue the man from
punishment, though he had committed the crime involuntarily."
Diod. Sic. i 83. Juvenal, in his 13th Satire, describes the
sanguinary conflict between the inhabitants of Ombos and of
Tentyra, from religious animosity. The fury was carried so far,
that the conquerors tore and devoured the quivering limbs of the

Ardet adhuc Ombos et Tentyra, summus utrinque
Inde furor vulgo, quod numina vicinorum
Odit uterque locus; quum solos credat habendos
Esse Deos quos ipse colit. Sat. xv. v. 85.

3d. The Greeks. - "Let us not here," says the Abbe Guenee,
"refer to the cities of Peloponnesus and their severity against
atheism; the Ephesians prosecuting Heraclitus for impiety; the
Greeks armed one against the other by religious zeal, in the
Amphictyonic war. Let us say nothing either of the frightful
cruelties inflicted by three successors of Alexander upon the
Jews, to force them to abandon their religion, nor of Antiochus
expelling the philosophers from his states. Let us not seek our
proofs of intolerance so far off. Athens, the polite and learned
Athens, will supply us with sufficient examples. Every citizen
made a public and solemn vow to conform to the religion of his
country, to defend it, and to cause it to be respected. An
express law severely punished all discourses against the gods,
and a rigid decree ordered the denunciation of all who should
deny their existence. * * * The practice was in unison with the
severity of the law. The proceedings commenced against
Protagoras; a price set upon the head of Diagoras; the danger of
Alcibiades; Aristotle obliged to fly; Stilpo banished; Anaxagoras
hardly escaping death; Pericles himself, after all his services
to his country, and all the glory he had acquired, compelled to
appear before the tribunals and make his defence; * * a priestess
executed for having introduced strange gods; Socrates condemned
and drinking the hemlock, because he was accused of not
recognizing those of his country, &c.; these facts attest too
loudly, to be called in question, the religious intolerance of
the most humane and enlightened people in Greece." Lettres de
quelques Juifs a Mons. Voltaire, i. p. 221. (Compare Bentley on
Freethinking, from which much of this is derived.) - M.

4th. The Romans. - The laws of Rome were not less express
and severe. The intolerance of foreign religions reaches, with
the Romans, as high as the laws of the twelve tables; the
prohibitions were afterwards renewed at different times.
Intolerance did not discontinue under the emperors; witness the
counsel of Maecenas to Augustus. This counsel is so remarkable,
that I think it right to insert it entire. "Honor the gods
yourself," says Maecenas to Augustus, "in every way according to
the usage of your ancestors, and compel others to worship them.
Hate and punish those who introduce strange gods, not only for
the sake of the gods, (he who despises them will respect no one,)
but because those who introduce new gods engage a multitude of
persons in foreign laws and customs. From hence arise unions
bound by oaths and confederacies, and associations, things
dangerous to a monarchy." Dion Cass. l. ii. c. 36. (But, though
some may differ from it, see Gibbon's just observation on this
passage in Dion Cassius, ch. xvi. note 117; impugned, indeed, by
M. Guizot, note in loc.) - M.

Even the laws which the philosophers of Athens and of Rome
wrote for their imaginary republics are intolerant. Plato does
not leave to his citizens freedom of religious worship; and
Cicero expressly prohibits them from having other gods than those
of the state. Lettres de quelques Juifs a Mons. Voltaire, i. p.
226. - G.

According to M. Guizot's just remarks, religious intolerance
will always ally itself with the passions of man, however
different those passions may be. In the instances quoted above,
with the Persians it was the pride of despotism; to conquer the
gods of a country was the last mark of subjugation. With the
Egyptians, it was the gross Fetichism of the superstitious
populace, and the local jealousy of neighboring towns. In
Greece, persecution was in general connected with political
party; in Rome, with the stern supremacy of the law and the
interests of the state. Gibbon has been mistaken in attributing
to the tolerant spirit of Paganism that which arose out of the
peculiar circumstances of the times. 1st. The decay of the old
Polytheism, through the progress of reason and intelligence, and
the prevalence of philosophical opinions among the higher orders.

2d. The Roman character, in which the political always
predominated over the religious party. The Romans were contented
with having bowed the world to a uniformity of subjection to
their power, and cared not for establishing the (to them) less
important uniformity of religion. - M.]

[Footnote 1: Dum Assyrios penes, Medosque, et Persas Oriens fuit,
despectissima pars servientium. Tacit. Hist. v. 8. Herodotus,
who visited Asia whilst it obeyed the last of those empires,
slightly mentions the Syrians of Palestine, who, according to
their own confession, had received from Egypt the rite of
circumcision. See l. ii. c. 104.]

[Footnote 2: Diodorus Siculus, l. xl. Dion Cassius, l. xxxvii.
p. 121. Tacit Hist. v. 1 - 9. Justin xxxvi. 2, 3.]

Tradidit arcano quaecunque volumine Moses,
Non monstrare vias cadem nisi sacra colenti,
Quaesitum ad fontem solos deducere verpas.

The letter of this law is not to be found in the present volume
of Moses. But the wise, the humane Maimonides openly teaches that
if an idolater fall into the water, a Jew ought not to save him
from instant death. See Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, l. vi. c.

Note: It is diametrically opposed to its spirit and to its
letter, see, among other passages, Deut. v. 18. 19, (God) "loveth
the stranger in giving him food and raiment. Love ye, therefore,
the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." Comp.
Lev. xxiii. 25. Juvenal is a satirist, whose strong expressions
can hardly be received as historic evidence; and he wrote after
the horrible cruelties of the Romans, which, during and after the
war, might give some cause for the complete isolation of the Jew
from the rest of the world. The Jew was a bigot, but his
religion was not the only source of his bigotry. After how many
centuries of mutual wrong and hatred, which had still further
estranged the Jew from mankind, did Maimonides write? - M.]
[Footnote 4: A Jewish sect, which indulged themselves in a sort
of occasional conformity, derived from Herod, by whose example
and authority they had been seduced, the name of Herodians. But
their numbers were so inconsiderable, and their duration so
short, that Josephus has not thought them worthy of his notice.
See Prideaux's Connection, vol. ii. p. 285.

Note: The Herodians were probably more of a political party
than a religious sect, though Gibbon is most likely right as to
their occasional conformity. See Hist. of the Jews, ii. 108. -

[Footnote 5: Cicero pro Flacco, c. 28.

Note: The edicts of Julius Caesar, and of some of the cities
in Asia Minor (Krebs. Decret. pro Judaeis,) in favor of the
nation in general, or of the Asiatic Jews, speak a different
language. - M.]

[Footnote 6: Philo de Legatione. Augustus left a foundation for
a perpetual sacrifice. Yet he approved of the neglect which his
grandson Caius expressed towards the temple of Jerusalem. See
Sueton. in August. c. 93, and Casaubon's notes on that passage.]

[Footnote 7: See, in particular, Joseph. Antiquitat. xvii. 6,
xviii. 3; and de Bell. Judiac. i. 33, and ii. 9, edit.

Note: This was during the government of Pontius Pilate.
(Hist. of Jews, ii. 156.) Probably in part to avoid this
collision, the Roman governor, in general, resided at Caesarea. -

[Footnote 8: Jussi a Caio Caesare, effigiem ejus in templo
locare, arma potius sumpsere. Tacit. Hist. v. 9. Philo and
Josephus gave a very circumstantial, but a very rhetorical,
account of this transaction, which exceedingly perplexed the
governor of Syria. At the first mention of this idolatrous
proposal, King Agrippa fainted away; and did not recover his
senses until the third day. (Hist. of Jews, ii. 181, &c.)]
This inflexible perseverance, which appeared so odious or so
ridiculous to the ancient world, assumes a more awful character,
since Providence has deigned to reveal to us the mysterious
history of the chosen people. But the devout and even scrupulous
attachment to the Mosaic religion, so conspicuous among the Jews
who lived under the second temple, becomes still more surprising,
if it is compared with the stubborn incredulity of their
forefathers. When the law was given in thunder from Mount Sinai,
when the tides of the ocean and the course of the planets were
suspended for the convenience of the Israelites, and when
temporal rewards and punishments were the immediate consequences
of their piety or disobedience, they perpetually relapsed into
rebellion against the visible majesty of their Divine King,
placed the idols of the nations in the sanctuary of Jehovah, and
imitated every fantastic ceremony that was practised in the tents
of the Arabs, or in the cities of Phoenicia. ^9 As the protection
of Heaven was deservedly withdrawn from the ungrateful race,
their faith acquired a proportionable degree of vigor and purity.

The contemporaries of Moses and Joshua had beheld with careless
indifference the most amazing miracles. Under the pressure of
every calamity, the belief of those miracles has preserved the
Jews of a later period from the universal contagion of idolatry;
and in contradiction to every known principle of the human mind,
that singular people seems to have yielded a stronger and more
ready assent to the traditions of their remote ancestors, than to
the evidence of their own senses. ^10

[Footnote 9: For the enumeration of the Syrian and Arabian
deities, it may be observed, that Milton has comprised in one
hundred and thirty very beautiful lines the two large and learned
syntagmas which Selden had composed on that abstruse subject.]

[Footnote 10: "How long will this people provoke me? and how
long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I
have shown among them?" (Numbers xiv. 11.) It would be easy, but
it would be unbecoming, to justify the complaint of the Deity
from the whole tenor of the Mosaic history.
Note: Among a rude and barbarous people, religious
impressions are easily made, and are as soon effaced. The
ignorance which multiplies imaginary wonders, would weaken and
destroy the effect of real miracle. At the period of the Jewish
history, referred to in the passage from Numbers, their fears
predominated over their faith, - the fears of an unwarlike
people, just rescued from debasing slavery, and commanded to
attack a fierce, a well-armed, a gigantic, and a far more
numerous race, the inhabitants of Canaan. As to the frequent
apostasy of the Jews, their religion was beyond their state of
civilization. Nor is it uncommon for a people to cling with
passionate attachment to that of which, at first, they could not
appreciate the value. Patriotism and national pride will contend,
even to death, for political rights which have been forced upon a
reluctant people. The Christian may at least retort, with
justice, that the great sign of his religion, the resurrection of
Jesus, was most ardently believed, and most resolutely asserted,
by the eye witnesses of the fact. - M.]

The Jewish religion was admirably fitted for defence, but it
was never designed for conquest; and it seems probable that the
number of proselytes was never much superior to that of
apostates. The divine promises were originally made, and the
distinguishing rite of circumcision was enjoined, to a single
family. When the posterity of Abraham had multiplied like the
sands of the sea, the Deity, from whose mouth they received a
system of laws and ceremonies, declared himself the proper and as
it were the national God of Israel and with the most jealous care
separated his favorite people from the rest of mankind. The
conquest of the land of Canaan was accompanied with so many
wonderful and with so many bloody circumstances, that the
victorious Jews were left in a state of irreconcilable hostility
with all their neighbors. They had been commanded to extirpate
some of the most idolatrous tribes, and the execution of the
divine will had seldom been retarded by the weakness of humanity.

With the other nations they were forbidden to contract any
marriages or alliances; and the prohibition of receiving them
into the congregation, which in some cases was perpetual, almost
always extended to the third, to the seventh, or even to the
tenth generation. The obligation of preaching to the Gentiles
the faith of Moses had never been inculcated as a precept of the
law, nor were the Jews inclined to impose it on themselves as a
voluntary duty.

In the admission of new citizens, that unsocial people was
actuated by the selfish vanity of the Greeks, rather than by the
generous policy of Rome. The descendants of Abraham were
flattered by the opinion that they alone were the heirs of the
covenant, and they were apprehensive of diminishing the value of
their inheritance by sharing it too easily with the strangers of
the earth. A larger acquaintance with mankind extended their
knowledge without correcting their prejudices; and whenever the
God of Israel acquired any new votaries, he was much more
indebted to the inconstant humor of polytheism than to the active
zeal of his own missionaries. ^11 The religion of Moses seems to
be instituted for a particular country as well as for a single
nation; and if a strict obedience had been paid to the order,
that every male, three times in the year, should present himself
before the Lord Jehovah, it would have been impossible that the
Jews could ever have spread themselves beyond the narrow limits
of the promised land. ^12 That obstacle was indeed removed by the
destruction of the temple of Jerusalem; but the most considerable
part of the Jewish religion was involved in its destruction; and
the Pagans, who had long wondered at the strange report of an
empty sanctuary, ^13 were at a loss to discover what could be the
object, or what could be the instruments, of a worship which was
destitute of temples and of altars, of priests and of sacrifices.

Yet even in their fallen state, the Jews, still asserting their
lofty and exclusive privileges, shunned, instead of courting, the
society of strangers. They still insisted with inflexible rigor
on those parts of the law which it was in their power to
practise. Their peculiar distinctions of days, of meats, and a
variety of trivial though burdensome observances, were so many
objects of disgust and aversion for the other nations, to whose
habits and prejudices they were diametrically opposite. The
painful and even dangerous rite of circumcision was alone capable
of repelling a willing proselyte from the door of the synagogue.

[Footnote 11: All that relates to the Jewish proselytes has been
very ably by Basnage, Hist. des Juifs, l. vi. c. 6, 7.]

[Footnote 12: See Exod. xxiv. 23, Deut. xvi. 16, the
commentators, and a very sensible note in the Universal History,
vol. i. p. 603, edit. fol.]
[Footnote 13: When Pompey, using or abusing the right of
conquest, entered into the Holy of Holies, it was observed with
amazement, "Nulli intus Deum effigie, vacuam sedem et inania
arcana." Tacit. Hist. v. 9. It was a popular saying, with regard
to the Jews, "Nil praeter nubes et coeli numen adorant."]
[Footnote 14: A second kind of circumcision was inflicted on a
Samaritan or Egyptian proselyte. The sullen indifference of the
Talmudists, with respect to the conversion of strangers, may be
seen in Basnage Histoire des Juifs, l. xi. c. 6.]

Under these circumstances, Christianity offered itself to
the world, armed with the strength of the Mosaic law, and
delivered from the weight of its fetters. An exclusive zeal for
the truth of religion, and the unity of God, was as carefully
inculcated in the new as in the ancient system: and whatever was
now revealed to mankind concerning the nature and designs of the
Supreme Being, was fitted to increase their reverence for that
mysterious doctrine. The divine authority of Moses and the
prophets was admitted, and even established, as the firmest basis
of Christianity. From the beginning of the world, an
uninterrupted series of predictions had announced and prepared
the long-expected coming of the Messiah, who, in compliance with
the gross apprehensions of the Jews, had been more frequently
represented under the character of a King and Conqueror, than
under that of a Prophet, a Martyr, and the Son of God. By his
expiatory sacrifice, the imperfect sacrifices of the temple were
at once consummated and abolished. The ceremonial law, which
consisted only of types and figures, was succeeded by a pure and
spiritual worship, equally adapted to all climates, as well as to
every condition of mankind; and to the initiation of blood was
substituted a more harmless initiation of water. The promise of
divine favor, instead of being partially confined to the
posterity of Abraham, was universally proposed to the freeman and
the slave, to the Greek and to the barbarian, to the Jew and to
the Gentile. Every privilege that could raise the proselyte from
earth to heaven, that could exalt his devotion, secure his
happiness, or even gratify that secret pride which, under the
semblance of devotion, insinuates itself into the human heart,
was still reserved for the members of the Christian church; but
at the same time all mankind was permitted, and even solicited,
to accept the glorious distinction, which was not only proffered
as a favor, but imposed as an obligation. It became the most
sacred duty of a new convert to diffuse among his friends and
relations the inestimable blessing which he had received, and to
warn them against a refusal that would be severely punished as a
criminal disobedience to the will of a benevolent but
all-powerful Deity.

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part II.

The enfranchisement of the church from the bonds of the
synagogue was a work, however, of some time and of some
difficulty. The Jewish converts, who acknowledged Jesus in the
character of the Messiah foretold by their ancient oracles,
respected him as a prophetic teacher of virtue and religion; but
they obstinately adhered to the ceremonies of their ancestors,
and were desirous of imposing them on the Gentiles, who
continually augmented the number of believers. These Judaizing
Christians seem to have argued with some degree of plausibility
from the divine origin of the Mosaic law, and from the immutable
perfections of its great Author. They affirmed, that if the
Being, who is the same through all eternity, had designed to
abolish those sacred rites which had served to distinguish his
chosen people, the repeal of them would have been no less clear
and solemn than their first promulgation: that, instead of those
frequent declarations, which either suppose or assert the
perpetuity of the Mosaic religion, it would have been represented
as a provisionary scheme intended to last only to the coming of
the Messiah, who should instruct mankind in a more perfect mode
of faith and of worship: ^15 that the Messiah himself, and his
disciples who conversed with him on earth, instead of authorizing
by their example the most minute observances of the Mosaic law,
^16 would have published to the world the abolition of those
useless and obsolete ceremonies, without suffering Christianity
to remain during so many years obscurely confounded among the
sects of the Jewish church. Arguments like these appear to have
been used in the defence of the expiring cause of the Mosaic law;
but the industry of our learned divines has abundantly explained
the ambiguous language of the Old Testament, and the ambiguous
conduct of the apostolic teachers. It was proper gradually to
unfold the system of the gospel, and to pronounce, with the
utmost caution and tenderness, a sentence of condemnation so
repugnant to the inclination and prejudices of the believing

[Footnote 15: These arguments were urged with great ingenuity by
the Jew Orobio, and refuted with equal ingenuity and candor by
the Christian Limborch. See the Amica Collatio, (it well
deserves that name,) or account of the dispute between them.]

[Footnote 16: Jesus . . . circumcisus erat; cibis utebatur
Judaicis; vestitu simili; purgatos scabie mittebat ad sacerdotes;
Paschata et alios dies festos religiose observabat: Si quos
sanavit sabbatho, ostendit non tantum ex lege, sed et exceptis
sententiis, talia opera sabbatho non interdicta. Grotius de
Veritate Religionis Christianae, l. v. c. 7. A little
afterwards, (c. 12,) he expatiates on the condescension of the

The history of the church of Jerusalem affords a lively
proof of the necessity of those precautions, and of the deep
impression which the Jewish religion had made on the minds of its
sectaries. The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all
circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided
united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. ^17 It was
natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was
founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was
governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of
his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy. ^18
The distant churches very frequently appealed to the authority of
their venerable Parent, and relieved her distresses by a liberal
contribution of alms. But when numerous and opulent societies
were established in the great cities of the empire, in Antioch,
Alexandria, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, the reverence which
Jerusalem had inspired to all the Christian colonies insensibly
diminished. The Jewish converts, or, as they were afterwards
called, the Nazarenes, who had laid the foundations of the
church, soon found themselves overwhelmed by the increasing
multitudes, that from all the various religions of polytheism
enlisted under the banner of Christ: and the Gentiles, who, with
the approbation of their peculiar apostle, had rejected the
intolerable weight of the Mosaic ceremonies, at length refused to
their more scrupulous brethren the same toleration which at first
they had humbly solicited for their own practice. The ruin of
the temple of the city, and of the public religion of the Jews,
was severely felt by the Nazarenes; as in their manners, though
not in their faith, they maintained so intimate a connection with
their impious countrymen, whose misfortunes were attributed by
the Pagans to the contempt, and more justly ascribed by the
Christians to the wrath, of the Supreme Deity. The Nazarenes
retired from the ruins of Jerusalem ^* to the little town of
Pella beyond the Jordan, where that ancient church languished
above sixty years in solitude and obscurity. ^19 They still
enjoyed the comfort of making frequent and devout visits to the
Holy City, and the hope of being one day restored to those seats
which both nature and religion taught them to love as well as to
revere. But at length, under the reign of Hadrian, the desperate
fanaticism of the Jews filled up the measure of their calamities;
and the Romans, exasperated by their repeated rebellions,
exercised the rights of victory with unusual rigor. The emperor
founded, under the name of Aelia Capitolina, a new city on Mount
Sion, ^20 to which he gave the privileges of a colony; and
denouncing the severest penalties against any of the Jewish
people who should dare to approach its precincts, he fixed a
vigilant garrison of a Roman cohort to enforce the execution of
his orders. The Nazarenes had only one way left to escape the
common proscription, and the force of truth was on this occasion
assisted by the influence of temporal advantages. They elected
Marcus for their bishop, a prelate of the race of the Gentiles,
and most probably a native either of Italy or of some of the
Latin provinces. At his persuasion, the most considerable part
of the congregation renounced the Mosaic law, in the practice of
which they had persevered above a century. By this sacrifice of
their habits and prejudices, they purchased a free admission into
the colony of Hadrian, and more firmly cemented their union with
the Catholic church. ^21

[Footnote 17: Paene omnes Christum Deum sub legis observatione
credebant Sulpicius Severus, ii. 31. See Eusebius, Hist.
Ecclesiast. l. iv. c. 5.]
[Footnote 18: Mosheim de Rebus Christianis ante Constantinum
Magnum, page 153. In this masterly performance, which I shall
often have occasion to quote he enters much more fully into the
state of the primitive church than he has an opportunity of doing
in his General History.]

[Footnote *: This is incorrect: all the traditions concur in
placing the abandonment of the city by the Christians, not only
before it was in ruins, but before the seige had commenced.
Euseb. loc. cit., and Le Clerc. - M.]
[Footnote 19: Eusebius, l. iii. c. 5. Le Clerc, Hist.
Ecclesiast. p. 605. During this occasional absence, the bishop
and church of Pella still retained the title of Jerusalem. In
the same manner, the Roman pontiffs resided seventy years at
Avignon; and the patriarchs of Alexandria have long since
transferred their episcopal seat to Cairo.]

[Footnote 20: Dion Cassius, l. lxix. The exile of the Jewish
nation from Jerusalem is attested by Aristo of Pella, (apud
Euseb. l. iv. c. 6,) and is mentioned by several ecclesiastical
writers; though some of them too hastily extend this interdiction
to the whole country of Palestine.]
[Footnote 21: Eusebius, l. iv. c. 6. Sulpicius Severus, ii. 31.
By comparing their unsatisfactory accounts, Mosheim (p. 327, &c.)
has drawn out a very distinct representation of the circumstances
and motives of this revolution.]

When the name and honors of the church of Jerusalem had been
restored to Mount Sion, the crimes of heresy and schism were
imputed to the obscure remnant of the Nazarenes, which refused to
accompany their Latin bishop. They still preserved their former
habitation of Pella, spread themselves into the villages adjacent
to Damascus, and formed an inconsiderable church in the city of
Beroea, or, as it is now called, of Aleppo, in Syria. ^22 The
name of Nazarenes was deemed too honorable for those Christian
Jews, and they soon received, from the supposed poverty of their
understanding, as well as of their condition, the contemptuous
epithet of Ebionites. ^23 In a few years after the return of the
church of Jerusalem, it became a matter of doubt and controversy,
whether a man who sincerely acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah,
but who still continued to observe the law of Moses, could
possibly hope for salvation. The humane temper of Justin Martyr
inclined him to answer this question in the affirmative; and
though he expressed himself with the most guarded diffidence, he
ventured to determine in favor of such an imperfect Christian, if
he were content to practise the Mosaic ceremonies, without
pretending to assert their general use or necessity. But when
Justin was pressed to declare the sentiment of the church, he
confessed that there were very many among the orthodox
Christians, who not only excluded their Judaizing brethren from
the hope of salvation, but who declined any intercourse with them
in the common offices of friendship, hospitality, and social
life. ^24 The more rigorous opinion prevailed, as it was natural
to expect, over the milder; and an eternal bar of separation was
fixed between the disciples of Moses and those of Christ. The
unfortunate Ebionites, rejected from one religion as apostates,
and from the other as heretics, found themselves compelled to
assume a more decided character; and although some traces of that
obsolete sect may be discovered as late as the fourth century,
they insensibly melted away, either into the church or the
synagogue. ^25

[Footnote 22: Le Clerc (Hist. Ecclesiast. p. 477, 535) seems to
have collected from Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, and other
writers, all the principal circumstances that relate to the
Nazarenes or Ebionites. The nature of their opinions soon
divided them into a stricter and a milder sect; and there is some
reason to conjecture, that the family of Jesus Christ remained
members, at least, of the latter and more moderate party.]
[Footnote 23: Some writers have been pleased to create an Ebion,
the imaginary author of their sect and name. But we can more
safely rely on the learned Eusebius than on the vehement
Tertullian, or the credulous Epiphanius. According to Le Clerc,
the Hebrew word Ebjonim may be translated into Latin by that of
Pauperes. See Hist. Ecclesiast. p. 477.

Note: The opinion of Le Clerc is generally admitted; but
Neander has suggested some good reasons for supposing that this
term only applied to poverty of condition. The obscure history
of their tenets and divisions, is clearly and rationally traced
in his History of the Church, vol. i. part ii. p. 612, &c., Germ.
edit. - M.]

[Footnote 24: See the very curious Dialogue of Justin Martyr with
the Jew Tryphon. The conference between them was held at Ephesus,
in the reign of Antoninus Pius, and about twenty years after the
return of the church of Pella to Jerusalem. For this date
consult the accurate note of Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques,
tom. ii. p. 511.

Note: Justin Martyr makes an important distinction, which
Gibbon has neglected to notice. * * * There were some who were
not content with observing the Mosaic law themselves, but
enforced the same observance, as necessary to salvation, upon the
heathen converts, and refused all social intercourse with them if
they did not conform to the law. Justin Martyr himself freely
admits those who kept the law themselves to Christian communion,
though he acknowledges that some, not the Church, thought
otherwise; of the other party, he himself thought less favorably.
The former by some are considered the Nazarenes the atter the
Ebionites - G and M.]
[Footnote 25: Of all the systems of Christianity, that of
Abyssinia is the only one which still adheres to the Mosaic
rites. (Geddes's Church History of Aethiopia, and Dissertations
de La Grand sur la Relation du P. Lobo.) The eunuch of the queen
Candace might suggest some suspicious; but as we are assured
(Socrates, i. 19. Sozomen, ii. 24. Ludolphus, p. 281) that the
Aethiopians were not converted till the fourth century, it is
more reasonable to believe that they respected the sabbath, and
distinguished the forbidden meats, in imitation of the Jews, who,
in a very early period, were seated on both sides of the Red Sea.

Circumcision had been practised by the most ancient Aethiopians,
from motives of health and cleanliness, which seem to be
explained in the Recherches Philosophiques sur les Americains,
tom. ii. p. 117.]

While the orthodox church preserved a just medium between
excessive veneration and improper contempt for the law of Moses,
the various heretics deviated into equal but opposite extremes of
error and extravagance. From the acknowledged truth of the
Jewish religion, the Ebionites had concluded that it could never
be abolished. From its supposed imperfections, the Gnostics as
hastily inferred that it never was instituted by the wisdom of
the Deity. There are some objections against the authority of
Moses and the prophets, which too readily present themselves to
the sceptical mind; though they can only be derived from our
ignorance of remote antiquity, and from our incapacity to form an
adequate judgment of the divine economy. These objections were
eagerly embraced and as petulantly urged by the vain science of
the Gnostics. ^26 As those heretics were, for the most part,
averse to the pleasures of sense, they morosely arraigned the
polygamy of the patriarchs, the gallantries of David, and the
seraglio of Solomon. The conquest of the land of Canaan, and the
extirpation of the unsuspecting natives, they were at a loss how
to reconcile with the common notions of humanity and justice. ^*
But when they recollected the sanguinary list of murders, of
executions, and of massacres, which stain almost every page of
the Jewish annals, they acknowledged that the barbarians of
Palestine had exercised as much compassion towards their
idolatrous enemies, as they had ever shown to their friends or
countrymen. ^27 Passing from the sectaries of the law to the law
itself, they asserted that it was impossible that a religion
which consisted only of bloody sacrifices and trifling
ceremonies, and whose rewards as well as punishments were all of
a carnal and temporal nature, could inspire the love of virtue,
or restrain the impetuosity of passion. The Mosaic account of
the creation and fall of man was treated with profane derision by
the Gnostics, who would not listen with patience to the repose of
the Deity after six days' labor, to the rib of Adam, the garden
of Eden, the trees of life and of knowledge, the speaking
serpent, the forbidden fruit, and the condemnation pronounced
against human kind for the venial offence of their first
progenitors. ^28 The God of Israel was impiously represented by
the Gnostics as a being liable to passion and to error,
capricious in his favor, implacable in his resentment, meanly
jealous of his superstitious worship, and confining his partial
providence to a single people, and to this transitory life. In
such a character they could discover none of the features of the
wise and omnipotent Father of the universe. ^29 They allowed that
the religion of the Jews was somewhat less criminal than the
idolatry of the Gentiles; but it was their fundamental doctrine,
that the Christ whom they adored as the first and brightest
emanation of the Deity appeared upon earth to rescue mankind from
their various errors, and to reveal a new system of truth and
perfection. The most learned of the fathers, by a very singular
condescension, have imprudently admitted the sophistry of the
Gnostics. ^* Acknowledging that the literal sense is repugnant to
every principle of faith as well as reason, they deem themselves
secure and invulnerable behind the ample veil of allegory, which
they carefully spread over every tender part of the Mosaic
dispensation. ^30

[Footnote 26: Beausobre, Histoire du Manicheisme, l. i. c. 3, has
stated their objections, particularly those of Faustus, the
adversary of Augustin, with the most learned impartiality.]

[Footnote *: On the "war law" of the Jews, see Hist. of Jews, i.
137. - M.]
[Footnote 27: Apud ipsos fides obstinata, misericordia in
promptu: adversus amnes alios hostile odium. Tacit. Hist. v. 4.
Surely Tacitus had seen the Jews with too favorable an eye. The
perusal of Josephus must have destroyed the antithesis.

Note: Few writers have suspected Tacitus of partiality
towards the Jews. The whole later history of the Jews illustrates
as well their strong feelings of humanity to their brethren, as
their hostility to the rest of mankind. The character and the
position of Josephus with the Roman authorities, must be kept in
mind during the perusal of his History. Perhaps he has not
exaggerated the ferocity and fanaticism of the Jews at that time;
but insurrectionary warfare is not the best school for the
humaner virtues, and much must be allowed for the grinding
tyranny of the later Roman governors. See Hist. of Jews, ii. 254.
- M.]

[Footnote 28: Dr. Burnet (Archaeologia, l. ii. c. 7) has
discussed the first chapters of Genesis with too much wit and
freedom. ^!

Note: Dr. Burnet apologized for the levity with which he had
conducted some of his arguments, by the excuse that he wrote in a
learned language for scholars alone, not for the vulgar.
Whatever may be thought of his success in tracing an Eastern
allegory in the first chapters of Genesis, his other works prove
him to have been a man of great genius, and of sincere piety. -
[Footnote 29: The milder Gnostics considered Jehovah, the
Creator, as a Being of a mixed nature between God and the Daemon.

Others confounded him with an evil principle. Consult the second
century of the general history of Mosheim, which gives a very
distinct, though concise, account of their strange opinions on
this subject.]

[Footnote *: The Gnostics, and the historian who has stated these
plausible objections with so much force as almost to make them
his own, would have shown a more considerate and not less
reasonable philosophy, if they had considered the religion of
Moses with reference to the age in which it was promulgated; if
they had done justice to its sublime as well as its more
imperfect views of the divine nature; the humane and civilizing
provisions of the Hebrew law, as well as those adapted for an
infant and barbarous people. See Hist of Jews, i. 36, 37, &c. -

[Footnote 30: See Beausobre, Hist. du Manicheisme, l. i. c. 4.
Origen and St. Augustin were among the allegorists.]

It has been remarked with more ingenuity than truth, that
the virgin purity of the church was never violated by schism or
heresy before the reign of Trajan or Hadrian, about one hundred
years after the death of Christ. ^31 We may observe with much
more propriety, that, during that period, the disciples of the
Messiah were indulged in a freer latitude, both of faith and
practice, than has ever been allowed in succeeding ages. As the
terms of communion were insensibly narrowed, and the spiritual
authority of the prevailing party was exercised with increasing
severity, many of its most respectable adherents, who were called
upon to renounce, were provoked to assert their private opinions,
to pursue the consequences of their mistaken principles, and
openly to erect the standard of rebellion against the unity of
the church. The Gnostics were distinguished as the most polite,
the most learned, and the most wealthy of the Christian name; and
that general appellation, which expressed a superiority of
knowledge, was either assumed by their own pride, or ironically
bestowed by the envy of their adversaries. They were almost
without exception of the race of the Gentiles, and their
principal founders seem to have been natives of Syria or Egypt,
where the warmth of the climate disposes both the mind and the
body to indolent and contemplative devotion. The Gnostics
blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets,
which they derived from oriental philosophy, and even from the
religion of Zoroaster, concerning the eternity of matter, the
existence of two principles, and the mysterious hierarchy of the
invisible world. ^32 As soon as they launched out into that vast
abyss, they delivered themselves to the guidance of a disordered
imagination; and as the paths of error are various and infinite,
the Gnostics were imperceptibly divided into more than fifty
particular sects, ^33 of whom the most celebrated appear to have
been the Basilidians, the Valentinians, the Marcionites, and, in
a still later period, the Manichaeans. Each of these sects could
boast of its bishops and congregations, of its doctors and
martyrs; ^34 and, instead of the Four Gospels adopted by the
church, ^! the heretics produced a multitude of histories, in
which the actions and discourses of Christ and of his apostles
were adapted to their respective tenets. ^35 The success of the
Gnostics was rapid and extensive. ^36 They covered Asia and
Egypt, established themselves in Rome, and sometimes penetrated
into the provinces of the West. For the most part they arose in
the second century, flourished during the third, and were
suppressed in the fourth or fifth, by the prevalence of more
fashionable controversies, and by the superior ascendant of the
reigning power. Though they constantly disturbed the peace, and
frequently disgraced the name, of religion, they contributed to
assist rather than to retard the progress of Christianity. The
Gentile converts, whose strongest objections and prejudices were
directed against the law of Moses, could find admission into many
Christian societies, which required not from their untutored mind
any belief of an antecedent revelation. Their faith was
insensibly fortified and enlarged, and the church was ultimately
benefited by the conquests of its most inveterate enemies. ^37

[Footnote 31: Hegesippus, ap. Euseb. l. iii. 32, iv. 22.
Clemens Alexandrin Stromat. vii. 17.

Note: The assertion of Hegesippus is not so positive: it is
sufficient to read the whole passage in Eusebius, to see that the
former part is modified by the matter. Hegesippus adds, that up
to this period the church had remained pure and immaculate as a
virgin. Those who labored to corrupt the doctrines of the gospel
worked as yet in obscurity - G]

[Footnote 32: In the account of the Gnostics of the second and
third centuries, Mosheim is ingenious and candid; Le Clerc dull,
but exact; Beausobre almost always an apologist; and it is much
to be feared that the primitive fathers are very frequently

Note The Histoire du Gnosticisme of M. Matter is at once the
fairest and most complete account of these sects. - M.]

[Footnote 33: See the catalogues of Irenaeus and Epiphanius. It
must indeed be allowed, that those writers were inclined to
multiply the number of sects which opposed the unity of the

[Footnote 34: Eusebius, l. iv. c. 15. Sozomen, l. ii. c. 32.
See in Bayle, in the article of Marcion, a curious detail of a
dispute on that subject. It should seem that some of the
Gnostics (the Basilidians) declined, and even refused the honor
of Martyrdom. Their reasons were singular and abstruse. See
Mosheim, p. 539.]

[Footnote !: M. Hahn has restored the Marcionite Gospel with
great ingenuity. His work is reprinted in Thilo. Codex. Apoc.
Nov. Test. vol. i. - M.]
[Footnote 35: See a very remarkable passage of Origen, (Proem. ad
Lucam.) That indefatigable writer, who had consumed his life in
the study of the Scriptures, relies for their authenticity on the
inspired authority of the church. It was impossible that the
Gnostics could receive our present Gospels, many parts of which
(particularly in the resurrection of Christ) are directly, and as
it might seem designedly, pointed against their favorite tenets.
It is therefore somewhat singular that Ignatius (Epist. ad Smyrn.
Patr. Apostol. tom. ii. p. 34) should choose to employ a vague
and doubtful tradition, instead of quoting the certain testimony
of the evangelists.
Note: Bishop Pearson has attempted very happily to explain
this singularity.' The first Christians were acquainted with a
number of sayings of Jesus Christ, which are not related in our
Gospels, and indeed have never been written. Why might not St.
Ignatius, who had lived with the apostles or their disciples,
repeat in other words that which St. Luke has related,
particularly at a time when, being in prison, he could have the
Gospels at hand? Pearson, Vind Ign. pp. 2, 9 p. 396 in tom. ii.
Patres Apost. ed. Coteler - G.]
[Footnote 36: Faciunt favos et vespae; faciunt ecclesias et
Marcionitae, is the strong expression of Tertullian, which I am
obliged to quote from memory. In the time of Epiphanius (advers.
Haereses, p. 302) the Marcionites were very numerous in Italy,
Syria, Egypt, Arabia, and Persia.]
[Footnote 37: Augustin is a memorable instance of this gradual
progress from reason to faith. He was, during several years,
engaged in the Manichaear sect.]

But whatever difference of opinion might subsist between the
Orthodox, the Ebionites, and the Gnostics, concerning the
divinity or the obligation of the Mosaic law, they were all
equally animated by the same exclusive zeal; and by the same
abhorrence for idolatry, which had distinguished the Jews from
the other nations of the ancient world. The philosopher, who
considered the system of polytheism as a composition of human
fraud and error, could disguise a smile of contempt under the
mask of devotion, without apprehending that either the mockery,
or the compliance, would expose him to the resentment of any
invisible, or, as he conceived them, imaginary powers. But the
established religions of Paganism were seen by the primitive
Christians in a much more odious and formidable light. It was
the universal sentiment both of the church and of heretics, that
the daemons were the authors, the patrons, and the objects of
idolatry. ^38 Those rebellious spirits who had been degraded from
the rank of angels, and cast down into the infernal pit, were
still permitted to roam upon earth, to torment the bodies, and to
seduce the minds, of sinful men. The daemons soon discovered and
abused the natural propensity of the human heart towards
devotion, and artfully withdrawing the adoration of mankind from
their Creator, they usurped the place and honors of the Supreme
Deity. By the success of their malicious contrivances, they at
once gratified their own vanity and revenge, and obtained the
only comfort of which they were yet susceptible, the hope of
involving the human species in the participation of their guilt
and misery. It was confessed, or at least it was imagined, that
they had distributed among themselves the most important
characters of polytheism, one daemon assuming the name and
attributes of Jupiter, another of Aesculapius, a third of Venus,
and a fourth perhaps of Apollo; ^39 and that, by the advantage of
their long experience and aerial nature, they were enabled to
execute, with sufficient skill and dignity, the parts which they
had undertaken. They lurked in the temples, instituted festivals
and sacrifices, invented fables, pronounced oracles, and were
frequently allowed to perform miracles. The Christians, who, by
the interposition of evil spirits, could so readily explain every
preternatural appearance, were disposed and even desirous to
admit the most extravagant fictions of the Pagan mythology. But
the belief of the Christian was accompanied with horror. The
most trifling mark of respect to the national worship he
considered as a direct homage yielded to the daemon, and as an
act of rebellion against the majesty of God.

[Footnote 38: The unanimous sentiment of the primitive church is
very clearly explained by Justin Martyr, Apolog. Major, by
Athenagoras, Legat. c. 22. &c., and by Lactantius, Institut.
Divin. ii. 14 - 19.]

[Footnote 39: Tertullian (Apolog. c. 23) alleges the confession
of the daemons themselves as often as they were tormented by the
Christian exorcists]

Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.

Part III.

In consequence of this opinion, it was the first but arduous
duty of a Christian to preserve himself pure and undefiled by the
practice of idolatry. The religion of the nations was not merely
a speculative doctrine professed in the schools or preached in
the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of polytheism
were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or
pleasure, of public or of private life; and it seemed impossible
to escape the observance of them, without, at the same time,
renouncing the commerce of mankind, and all the offices and
amusements of society. ^40 The important transactions of peace
and war were prepared or concluded by solemn sacrifices, in which
the magistrate, the senator, and the soldier, were obliged to
preside or to participate. ^41 The public spectacles were an
essential part of the cheerful devotion of the Pagans, and the
gods were supposed to accept, as the most grateful offering, the
games that the prince and people celebrated in honor of their
peculiar festivals. ^42 The Christians, who with pious horror
avoided the abomination of the circus or the theatre, found
himself encompassed with infernal snares in every convivial
entertainment, as often as his friends, invoking the hospitable
deities, poured out libations to each other's happiness. ^43 When
the bride, struggling with well-affected reluctance, was forced
into hymenaeal pomp over the threshold of her new habitation, ^44
or when the sad procession of the dead slowly moved towards the
funeral pile; ^45 the Christian, on these interesting occasions,
was compelled to desert the persons who were the dearest to him,
rather than contract the guilt inherent to those impious
ceremonies. Every art and every trade that was in the least
concerned in the framing or adorning of idols was polluted by the
stain of idolatry; ^46 a severe sentence, since it devoted to
eternal misery the far greater part of the community, which is
employed in the exercise of liberal or mechanic professions. If
we cast our eyes over the numerous remains of antiquity, we shall
perceive, that besides the immediate representations of the gods,
and the holy instruments of their worship, the elegant forms and
agreeable fictions consecrated by the imagination of the Greeks,
were introduced as the richest ornaments of the houses, the
dress, and the furniture of the Pagan. ^47 Even the arts of music
and painting, of eloquence and poetry, flowed from the same
impure origin. In the style of the fathers, Apollo and the Muses
were the organs of the infernal spirit; Homer and Virgil were the
most eminent of his servants; and the beautiful mythology which
pervades and animates the compositions of their genius, is
destined to celebrate the glory of the daemons. Even the common
language of Greece and Rome abounded with familiar but impious
expressions, which the imprudent Christian might too carelessly
utter, or too patiently hear. ^48

[Footnote 40: Tertullian has written a most severe treatise
against idolatry, to caution his brethren against the hourly
danger of incurring that guilt. Recogita sylvam, et quantae
latitant spinae. De Corona Militis, c. 10.]
[Footnote 41: The Roman senate was always held in a temple or
consecrated place. (Aulus Gellius, xiv. 7.) Before they entered
on business, every senator dropped some wine and frankincense on
the altar. Sueton. in August. c. 35.]

[Footnote 42: See Tertullian, De Spectaculis. This severe
reformer shows no more indulgence to a tragedy of Euripides, than
to a combat of gladiators. The dress of the actors particularly
offends him. By the use of the lofty buskin, they impiously
strive to add a cubit to their stature. c. 23.]
[Footnote 43: The ancient practice of concluding the
entertainment with libations, may be found in every classic.
Socrates and Seneca, in their last moments, made a noble
application of this custom. Postquam stagnum, calidae aquae
introiit, respergens proximos servorum, addita voce, libare se
liquorem illum Jovi Liberatori. Tacit. Annal. xv. 64.]

[Footnote 44: See the elegant but idolatrous hymn of Catullus, on
the nuptials of Manlius and Julia. O Hymen, Hymenaee Io! Quis
huic Deo compararier ausit?]

[Footnote 45: The ancient funerals (in those of Misenus and
Pallas) are no less accurately described by Virgil, than they are
illustrated by his commentator Servius. The pile itself was an
altar, the flames were fed with the blood of victims, and all the
assistants were sprinkled with lustral water.]

[Footnote 46: Tertullian de Idololatria, c. 11.

Note: The exaggerated and declamatory opinions of Tertullian
ought not to be taken as the general sentiment of the early
Christians. Gibbon has too often allowed himself to consider the
peculiar notions of certain Fathers of the Church as inherent in
Christianity. This is not accurate. - G.]
[Footnote 47: See every part of Montfaucon's Antiquities. Even
the reverses of the Greek and Roman coins were frequently of an
idolatrous nature. Here indeed the scruples of the Christian
were suspended by a stronger passion.
Note: All this scrupulous nicety is at variance with the
decision of St. Paul about meat offered to idols, 1 Cor. x. 21 -
32. - M.]
[Footnote 48: Tertullian de Idololatria, c. 20, 21, 22. If a
Pagan friend (on the occasion perhaps of sneezing) used the
familiar expression of "Jupiter bless you," the Christian was
obliged to protest against the divinity of Jupiter.]

The dangerous temptations which on every side lurked in
ambush to surprise the unguarded believer, assailed him with
redoubled violence on the days of solemn festivals. So artfully
were they framed and disposed throughout the year, that
superstition always wore the appearance of pleasure, and often of
virtue. Some of the most sacred festivals in the Roman ritual
were destined to salute the new calends of January with vows of
public and private felicity; to indulge the pious remembrance of
the dead and living; to ascertain the inviolable bounds of
property; to hail, on the return of spring, the genial powers of
fecundity; to perpetuate the two memorable areas of Rome, the
foundation of the city and that of the republic, and to restore,
during the humane license of the Saturnalia, the primitive
equality of mankind. Some idea may be conceived of the
abhorrence of the Christians for such impious ceremonies, by the
scrupulous delicacy which they displayed on a much less alarming
occasion. On days of general festivity, it was the custom of the
ancients to adorn their doors with lamps and with branches of
laurel, and to crown their heads with a garland of flowers. This
innocent and elegant practice might perhaps have been tolerated
as a mere civil institution. But it most unluckily happened that
the doors were under the protection of the household gods, that
the laurel was sacred to the lover of Daphne, and that garlands
of flowers, though frequently worn as a symbol of joy or
mourning, had been dedicated in their first origin to the service
of superstition. The trembling Christians, who were persuaded in
this instance to comply with the fashion of their country, and
the commands of the magistrate, labored under the most gloomy
apprehensions, from the reproaches of his own conscience, the
censures of the church, and the denunciations of divine
vengeance. ^50
[Footnote 49: Consult the most labored work of Ovid, his
imperfect Fasti. He finished no more than the first six months
of the year. The compilation of Macrobius is called the
Saturnalia, but it is only a small part of the first book that
bears any relation to the title.]

[Footnote 50: Tertullian has composed a defence, or rather
panegyric, of the rash action of a Christian soldier, who, by
throwing away his crown of laurel, had exposed himself and his
brethren to the most imminent danger. By the mention of the
emperors, (Severus and Caracalla,) it is evident, notwithstanding
the wishes of M. de Tillemont, that Tertullian composed his
treatise De Corona long before he was engaged in the errors of
the Montanists. See Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. iii. p. 384.
Note: The soldier did not tear off his crown to throw it
down with contempt; he did not even throw it away; he held it in
his hand, while others were it on their heads. Solus libero
capite, ornamento in manu otioso. - G
Note: Tertullian does not expressly name the two emperors,
Severus and Caracalla: he speaks only of two emperors, and of a
long peace which the church had enjoyed. It is generally agreed
that Tertullian became a Montanist about the year 200: his work,
de Corona Militis, appears to have been written, at the earliest
about the year 202 before the persecution of Severus: it may be
maintained, then, that it is subsequent to the Montanism of the
author. See Mosheim, Diss. de Apol. Tertull. p. 53. Biblioth.

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