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

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splendor, the refined pleasures of Rome, with the tumult of a
Pannonian camp, which afforded neither leisure nor materials for
luxury. ^10 Commodus listened to the pleasing advice; but whilst
he hesitated between his own inclination and the awe which he
still retained for his father's counsellors, the summer
insensibly elapsed, and his triumphal entry into the capital was
deferred till the autumn. His graceful person, ^11 popular
address, and imagined virtues, attracted the public favor; the
honorable peace which he had recently granted to the barbarians,
diffused a universal joy; ^12 his impatience to revisit Rome was
fondly ascribed to the love of his country; and his dissolute
course of amusements was faintly condemned in a prince of
nineteen years of age.

[Footnote 9: According to Tertullian, Apolog. c. 25,) he died at
Sirmium. But the situation of Vindobona, or Vienna, where both
the Victors place his death, is better adapted to the operations
of the war against the Marcomanni and Quadi.]

[Footnote 10: Herodian, l. i. p. 12.]

[Footnote 11: Herodian, l. i. p. 16.]

[Footnote 12: This universal joy is well described (from the
medals as well as historians) by Mr. Wotton, Hist. of Rome, p.
192, 193.]
During the three first years of his reign, the forms, and
even the spirit, of the old administration, were maintained by
those faithful counsellors, to whom Marcus had recommended his
son, and for whose wisdom and integrity Commodus still
entertained a reluctant esteem. The young prince and his
profligate favorites revelled in all the license of sovereign
power; but his hands were yet unstained with blood; and he had
even displayed a generosity of sentiment, which might perhaps
have ripened into solid virtue. ^13 A fatal incident decided his
fluctuating character.

[Footnote 13: Manilius, the confidential secretary of Avidius
Cassius, was discovered after he had lain concealed several
years. The emperor nobly relieved the public anxiety by refusing
to see him, and burning his papers without opening them. Dion
Cassius, l. lxxii. p. 1209.]

One evening, as the emperor was returning to the palace,
through a dark and narrow portico in the amphitheatre, ^14 an
assassin, who waited his passage, rushed upon him with a drawn
sword, loudly exclaiming, "The senate sends you this." The menace
prevented the deed; the assassin was seized by the guards, and
immediately revealed the authors of the conspiracy. It had been
formed, not in the state, but within the walls of the palace.
Lucilla, the emperor's sister, and widow of Lucius Verus,
impatient of the second rank, and jealous of the reigning
empress, had armed the murderer against her brother's life. She
had not ventured to communicate the black design to her second
husband, Claudius Pompeiarus, a senator of distinguished merit
and unshaken loyalty; but among the crowd of her lovers (for she
imitated the manners of Faustina) she found men of desperate
fortunes and wild ambition, who were prepared to serve her more
violent, as well as her tender passions. The conspirators
experienced the rigor of justice, and the abandoned princess was
punished, first with exile, and afterwards with death. ^15
[Footnote 14: See Maffei degli Amphitheatri, p. 126.]

[Footnote 15: Dion, l. lxxi. p. 1205 Herodian, l. i. p. 16 Hist.
August p. 46.]

But the words of the assassin sunk deep into the mind of
Commodus, and left an indelible impression of fear and hatred
against the whole body of the senate. ^* Those whom he had
dreaded as importunate ministers, he now suspected as secret
enemies. The Delators, a race of men discouraged, and almost
extinguished, under the former reigns, again became formidable,
as soon as they discovered that the emperor was desirous of
finding disaffection and treason in the senate. That assembly,
whom Marcus had ever considered as the great council of the
nation, was composed of the most distinguished of the Romans; and
distinction of every kind soon became criminal. The possession
of wealth stimulated the diligence of the informers; rigid virtue
implied a tacit censure of the irregularities of Commodus;
important services implied a dangerous superiority of merit; and
the friendship of the father always insured the aversion of the
son. Suspicion was equivalent to proof; trial to condemnation.
The execution of a considerable senator was attended with the
death of all who might lament or revenge his fate; and when
Commodus had once tasted human blood, he became incapable of pity
or remorse.
[Footnote *: The conspirators were senators, even the assassin
himself. Herod. 81. - G.]

Of these innocent victims of tyranny, none died more
lamented than the two brothers of the Quintilian family, Maximus
and Condianus; whose fraternal love has saved their names from
oblivion, and endeared their memory to posterity. Their studies
and their occupations, their pursuits and their pleasures, were
still the same. In the enjoyment of a great estate, they never
admitted the idea of a separate interest: some fragments are now
extant of a treatise which they composed in common; ^* and in
every action of life it was observed that their two bodies were
animated by one soul. The Antonines, who valued their virtues,
and delighted in their union, raised them, in the same year, to
the consulship; and Marcus afterwards intrusted to their joint
care the civil administration of Greece, and a great military
command, in which they obtained a signal victory over the
Germans. The kind cruelty of Commodus united them in death. ^16

[Footnote *: This work was on agriculture, and is often quoted by
later writers. See P. Needham, Proleg. ad Geoponic. Camb. 1704.
- W.]
[Footnote 16: In a note upon the Augustan History, Casaubon has
collected a number of particulars concerning these celebrated
brothers. See p. 96 of his learned commentary.]

The tyrant's rage, after having shed the noblest blood of
the senate, at length recoiled on the principal instrument of his
cruelty. Whilst Commodus was immersed in blood and luxury, he
devolved the detail of the public business on Perennis, a servile
and ambitious minister, who had obtained his post by the murder
of his predecessor, but who possessed a considerable share of
vigor and ability. By acts of extortion, and the forfeited
estates of the nobles sacrificed to his avarice, he had
accumulated an immense treasure. The Praetorian guards were under
his immediate command; and his son, who already discovered a
military genius, was at the head of the Illyrian legions.
Perennis aspired to the empire; or what, in the eyes of Commodus,
amounted to the same crime, he was capable of aspiring to it, had
he not been prevented, surprised, and put to death. The fall of
a minister is a very trifling incident in the general history of
the empire; but it was hastened by an extraordinary circumstance,
which proved how much the nerves of discipline were already
relaxed. The legions of Britain, discontented with the
administration of Perennis, formed a deputation of fifteen
hundred select men, with instructions to march to Rome, and lay
their complaints before the emperor. These military petitioners,
by their own determined behaviour, by inflaming the divisions of
the guards, by exaggerating the strength of the British army, and
by alarming the fears of Commodus, exacted and obtained the
minister's death, as the only redress of their grievances. ^17
This presumption of a distant army, and their discovery of the
weakness of government, was a sure presage of the most dreadful
[Footnote 17: Dion, l. lxxii. p. 1210. Herodian, l. i. p. 22.
Hist. August. p. 48. Dion gives a much less odious character of
Perennis, than the other historians. His moderation is almost a
pledge of his veracity.
Note: Gibbon praises Dion for the moderation with which he
speaks of Perennis: he follows, nevertheless, in his own
narrative, Herodian and Lampridius. Dion speaks of Perennis not
only with moderation, but with admiration; he represents him as a
great man, virtuous in his life, and blameless in his death:
perhaps he may be suspected of partiality; but it is singular
that Gibbon, having adopted, from Herodian and Lampridius, their
judgment on this minister, follows Dion's improbable account of
his death. What likelihood, in fact, that fifteen hundred men
should have traversed Gaul and Italy, and have arrived at Rome
without any understanding with the Praetorians, or without
detection or opposition from Perennis, the Praetorian praefect?
Gibbon, foreseeing, perhaps, this difficulty, has added, that the
military deputation inflamed the divisions of the guards; but
Dion says expressly that they did not reach Rome, but that the
emperor went out to meet them: he even reproaches him for not
having opposed them with the guards, who were superior in number.

Herodian relates that Commodus, having learned, from a soldier,
the ambitious designs of Perennis and his son, caused them to be
attacked and massacred by night. - G. from W. Dion's narrative
is remarkably circumstantial, and his authority higher than
either of the other writers. He hints that Cleander, a new
favorite, had already undermined the influence of Perennis. - M.]

The negligence of the public administration was betrayed,
soon afterwards, by a new disorder, which arose from the smallest
beginnings. A spirit of desertion began to prevail among the
troops: and the deserters, instead of seeking their safety in
flight or concealment, infested the highways. Maternus, a
private soldier, of a daring boldness above his station,
collected these bands of robbers into a little army, set open the
prisons, invited the slaves to assert their freedom, and
plundered with impunity the rich and defenceless cities of Gaul
and Spain. The governors of the provinces, who had long been the
spectators, and perhaps the partners, of his depredations, were,
at length, roused from their supine indolence by the threatening
commands of the emperor. Maternus found that he was encompassed,
and foresaw that he must be overpowered. A great effort of
despair was his last resource. He ordered his followers to
disperse, to pass the Alps in small parties and various
disguises, and to assemble at Rome, during the licentious tumult
of the festival of Cybele. ^18 To murder Commodus, and to ascend
the vacant throne, was the ambition of no vulgar robber. His
measures were so ably concerted that his concealed troops already
filled the streets of Rome. The envy of an accomplice discovered
and ruined this singular enterprise, in a moment when it was ripe
for execution. ^19
[Footnote 18: During the second Punic war, the Romans imported
from Asia the worship of the mother of the gods. Her festival,
the Megalesia, began on the fourth of April, and lasted six days.

The streets were crowded with mad processions, the theatres with
spectators, and the public tables with unbidden guests. Order
and police were suspended, and pleasure was the only serious
business of the city. See Ovid. de Fastis, l. iv. 189, &c.]
[Footnote 19: Herodian, l. i. p. 23, 23.]

Suspicious princes often promote the last of mankind, from a
vain persuasion, that those who have no dependence, except on
their favor, will have no attachment, except to the person of
their benefactor. Cleander, the successor of Perennis, was a
Phrygian by birth; of a nation over whose stubborn, but servile
temper, blows only could prevail. ^20 He had been sent from his
native country to Rome, in the capacity of a slave. As a slave
he entered the Imperial palace, rendered himself useful to his
master's passions, and rapidly ascended to the most exalted
station which a subject could enjoy. His influence over the mind
of Commodus was much greater than that of his predecessor; for
Cleander was devoid of any ability or virtue which could inspire
the emperor with envy or distrust. Avarice was the reigning
passion of his soul, and the great principle of his
administration. The rank of Consul, of Patrician, of Senator, was
exposed to public sale; and it would have been considered as
disaffection, if any one had refused to purchase these empty and
disgraceful honors with the greatest part of his fortune. ^21 In
the lucrative provincial employments, the minister shared with
the governor the spoils of the people. The execution of the laws
was penal and arbitrary. A wealthy criminal might obtain, not
only the reversal of the sentence by which he was justly
condemned, but might likewise inflict whatever punishment he
pleased on the accuser, the witnesses, and the judge.
[Footnote 20: Cicero pro Flacco, c. 27.]

[Footnote 21: One of these dear-bought promotions occasioned a
current... that Julius Solon was banished into the senate.]

By these means, Cleander, in the space of three years, had
accumulated more wealth than had ever yet been possessed by any
freedman. ^22 Commodus was perfectly satisfied with the
magnificent presents which the artful courtier laid at his feet
in the most seasonable moments. To divert the public envy,
Cleander, under the emperor's name, erected baths, porticos, and
places of exercise, for the use of the people. ^23 He flattered
himself that the Romans, dazzled and amused by this apparent
liberality, would be less affected by the bloody scenes which
were daily exhibited; that they would forget the death of
Byrrhus, a senator to whose superior merit the late emperor had
granted one of his daughters; and that they would forgive the
execution of Arrius Antoninus, the last representative of the
name and virtues of the Antonines. The former, with more
integrity than prudence, had attempted to disclose, to his
brother-in-law, the true character of Cleander. An equitable
sentence pronounced by the latter, when proconsul of Asia,
against a worthless creature of the favorite, proved fatal to
him. ^24 After the fall of Perennis, the terrors of Commodus had,
for a short time, assumed the appearance of a return to virtue.
He repealed the most odious of his acts; loaded his memory with
the public execration, and ascribed to the pernicious counsels of
that wicked minister all the errors of his inexperienced youth.
But his repentance lasted only thirty days; and, under Cleander's
tyranny, the administration of Perennis was often regretted.
[Footnote 22: Dion (l. lxxii. p. 12, 13) observes, that no
freedman had possessed riches equal to those of Cleander. The
fortune of Pallas amounted, however, to upwards of five and
twenty hundred thousand pounds; Ter millies.]
[Footnote 23: Dion, l. lxxii. p. 12, 13. Herodian, l. i. p. 29.
Hist. August. p. 52. These baths were situated near the Porta
Capena. See Nardini Roma Antica, p. 79.]

[Footnote 24: Hist. August. p. 79.]

Chapter IV: The Cruelty, Follies And Murder Of Commodus.

Part II.

Pestilence and famine contributed to fill up the measure of
the calamities of Rome. ^25 The first could be only imputed to
the just indignation of the gods; but a monopoly of corn,
supported by the riches and power of the minister, was considered
as the immediate cause of the second. The popular discontent,
after it had long circulated in whispers, broke out in the
assembled circus. The people quitted their favorite amusements
for the more delicious pleasure of revenge, rushed in crowds
towards a palace in the suburbs, one of the emperor's
retirements, and demanded, with angry clamors, the head of the
public enemy. Cleander, who commanded the Praetorian guards, ^26
ordered a body of cavalry to sally forth, and disperse the
seditious multitude. The multitude fled with precipitation
towards the city; several were slain, and many more were trampled
to death; but when the cavalry entered the streets, their pursuit
was checked by a shower of stones and darts from the roofs and
windows of the houses. The foot guards, ^27 who had been long
jealous of the prerogatives and insolence of the Praetorian
cavalry, embraced the party of the people. The tumult became a
regular engagement, and threatened a general massacre. The
Praetorians, at length, gave way, oppressed with numbers; and the
tide of popular fury returned with redoubled violence against the
gates of the palace, where Commodus lay, dissolved in luxury, and
alone unconscious of the civil war. It was death to approach his
person with the unwelcome news. He would have perished in this
supine security, had not two women, his eldest sister Fadilla,
and Marcia, the most favored of his concubines, ventured to break
into his presence. Bathed in tears, and with dishevelled hair,
they threw themselves at his feet; and with all the pressing
eloquence of fear, discovered to the affrighted emperor the
crimes of the minister, the rage of the people, and the impending
ruin, which, in a few minutes, would burst over his palace and
person. Commodus started from his dream of pleasure, and
commanded that the head of Cleander should be thrown out to the
people. The desired spectacle instantly appeased the tumult; and
the son of Marcus might even yet have regained the affection and
confidence of his subjects. ^28

[Footnote 25: Herodian, l. i. p. 28. Dion, l. lxxii. p. 1215.
The latter says that two thousand persons died every day at Rome,
during a considerable length of time.]

[Footnote 26: Tuneque primum tres praefecti praetorio fuere:
inter quos libertinus. From some remains of modesty, Cleander
declined the title, whilst he assumed the powers, of Praetorian
praefect. As the other freedmen were styled, from their several
departments, a rationibus, ab epistolis, Cleander called himself
a pugione, as intrusted with the defence of his master's person.
Salmasius and Casaubon seem to have talked very idly upon this

Note: M. Guizot denies that Lampridius means Cleander as
praefect a pugione. The Libertinus seems to me to mean him. -

[Footnote 27: Herodian, l. i. p. 31. It is doubtful whether he
means the Praetorian infantry, or the cohortes urbanae, a body of
six thousand men, but whose rank and discipline were not equal to
their numbers. Neither Tillemont nor Wotton choose to decide this

[Footnote 28: Dion Cassius, l. lxxii. p. 1215. Herodian, l. i.
p. 32. Hist. August. p. 48.]

But every sentiment of virtue and humanity was extinct in
the mind of Commodus. Whilst he thus abandoned the reins of
empire to these unworthy favorites, he valued nothing in
sovereign power, except the unbounded license of indulging his
sensual appetites. His hours were spent in a seraglio of three
hundred beautiful women, and as many boys, of every rank, and of
every province; and, wherever the arts of seduction proved
ineffectual, the brutal lover had recourse to violence. The
ancient historians ^29 have expatiated on these abandoned scenes
of prostitution, which scorned every restraint of nature or
modesty; but it would not be easy to translate their too faithful
descriptions into the decency of modern language. The intervals
of lust were filled up with the basest amusements. The influence
of a polite age, and the labor of an attentive education, had
never been able to infuse into his rude and brutish mind the
least tincture of learning; and he was the first of the Roman
emperors totally devoid of taste for the pleasures of the
understanding. Nero himself excelled, or affected to excel, in
the elegant arts of music and poetry: nor should we despise his
pursuits, had he not converted the pleasing relaxation of a
leisure hour into the serious business and ambition of his life.
But Commodus, from his earliest infancy, discovered an aversion
to whatever was rational or liberal, and a fond attachment to the
amusements of the populace; the sports of the circus and
amphitheatre, the combats of gladiators, and the hunting of wild
beasts. The masters in every branch of learning, whom Marcus
provided for his son, were heard with inattention and disgust;
whilst the Moors and Parthians, who taught him to dart the
javelin and to shoot with the bow, found a disciple who delighted
in his application, and soon equalled the most skilful of his
instructors in the steadiness of the eye and the dexterity of the
[Footnote 29: Sororibus suis constupratis. Ipsas concubinas suas
sub oculis ...stuprari jubebat. Nec irruentium in se juvenum
carebat infamia, omni parte corporis atque ore in sexum utrumque
pollutus. Hist. Aug. p. 47.]
The servile crowd, whose fortune depended on their master's
vices, applauded these ignoble pursuits. The perfidious voice of
flattery reminded him, that by exploits of the same nature, by
the defeat of the Nemaean lion, and the slaughter of the wild
boar of Erymanthus, the Grecian Hercules had acquired a place
among the gods, and an immortal memory among men. They only
forgot to observe, that, in the first ages of society, when the
fiercer animals often dispute with man the possession of an
unsettled country, a successful war against those savages is one
of the most innocent and beneficial labors of heroism. In the
civilized state of the Roman empire, the wild beasts had long
since retired from the face of man, and the neighborhood of
populous cities. To surprise them in their solitary haunts, and
to transport them to Rome, that they might be slain in pomp by
the hand of an emperor, was an enterprise equally ridiculous for
the prince and oppressive for the people. ^30 Ignorant of these
distinctions, Commodus eagerly embraced the glorious resemblance,
and styled himself (as we still read on his medals ^31) the Roman
Hercules. ^* The club and the lion's hide were placed by the side
of the throne, amongst the ensigns of sovereignty; and statues
were erected, in which Commodus was represented in the character,
and with the attributes, of the god, whose valor and dexterity he
endeavored to emulate in the daily course of his ferocious
amusements. ^32
[Footnote 30: The African lions, when pressed by hunger, infested
the open villages and cultivated country; and they infested them
with impunity. The royal beast was reserved for the pleasures of
the emperor and the capital; and the unfortunate peasant who
killed one of them though in his own defence, incurred a very
heavy penalty. This extraordinary game-law was mitigated by
Honorius, and finally repealed by Justinian. Codex Theodos. tom.
v. p. 92, et Comment Gothofred.]

[Footnote 31: Spanheim de Numismat. Dissertat. xii. tom. ii. p.
[Footnote *: Commodus placed his own head on the colossal statue
of Hercules with the inscription, Lucius Commodus Hercules. The
wits of Rome, according to a new fragment of Dion, published an
epigram, of which, like many other ancient jests, the point is
not very clear. It seems to be a protest of the god against being
confounded with the emperor. Mai Fragm. Vatican. ii. 225. - M.]

[Footnote 32: Dion, l. lxxii. p. 1216. Hist. August. p. 49.]
Elated with these praises, which gradually extinguished the
innate sense of shame, Commodus resolved to exhibit before the
eyes of the Roman people those exercises, which till then he had
decently confined within the walls of his palace, and to the
presence of a few favorites. On the appointed day, the various
motives of flattery, fear, and curiosity, attracted to the
amphitheatre an innumerable multitude of spectators; and some
degree of applause was deservedly bestowed on the uncommon skill
of the Imperial performer. Whether he aimed at the head or heart
of the animal, the wound was alike certain and mortal. With
arrows whose point was shaped into the form of crescent, Commodus
often intercepted the rapid career, and cut asunder the long,
bony neck of the ostrich. ^33 A panther was let loose; and the
archer waited till he had leaped upon a trembling malefactor. In
the same instant the shaft flew, the beast dropped dead, and the
man remained unhurt. The dens of the amphitheatre disgorged at
once a hundred lions: a hundred darts from the unerring hand of
Commodus laid them dead as they run raging round the Arena.
Neither the huge bulk of the elephant, nor the scaly hide of the
rhinoceros, could defend them from his stroke. Aethiopia and
India yielded their most extraordinary productions; and several
animals were slain in the amphitheatre, which had been seen only
in the representations of art, or perhaps of fancy. ^34 In all
these exhibitions, the securest precautions were used to protect
the person of the Roman Hercules from the desperate spring of any
savage, who might possibly disregard the dignity of the emperor
and the sanctity of the god. ^35

[Footnote 33: The ostrich's neck is three feet long, and composed
of seventeen vertebrae. See Buffon, Hist. Naturelle.]

[Footnote 34: Commodus killed a camelopardalis or Giraffe, (Dion,
l. lxxii. p. 1211,) the tallest, the most gentle, and the most
useless of the large quadrupeds. This singular animal, a native
only of the interior parts of Africa, has not been seen in Europe
since the revival of letters; and though M. de Buffon (Hist.
Naturelle, tom. xiii.) has endeavored to describe, he has not
ventured to delineate, the Giraffe.

Note: The naturalists of our days have been more fortunate.
London probably now contains more specimens of this animal than
have been seen in Europe since the fall of the Roman empire,
unless in the pleasure gardens of the emperor Frederic II., in
Sicily, which possessed several. Frederic's collections of wild
beasts were exhibited, for the popular amusement, in many parts
of Italy. Raumer, Geschichte der Hohenstaufen, v. iii. p. 571.
Gibbon, moreover, is mistaken; as a giraffe was presented to
Lorenzo de Medici, either by the sultan of Egypt or the king of
Tunis. Contemporary authorities are quoted in the old work,
Gesner de Quadrupedibum p. 162. - M.]
[Footnote 35: Herodian, l. i. p. 37. Hist. August. p. 50.]
But the meanest of the populace were affected with shame and
indignation when they beheld their sovereign enter the lists as a
gladiator, and glory in a profession which the laws and manners
of the Romans had branded with the justest note of infamy. ^36 He
chose the habit and arms of the Secutor, whose combat with the
Retiarius formed one of the most lively scenes in the bloody
sports of the amphitheatre. The Secutor was armed with a helmet,
sword, and buckler; his naked antagonist had only a large net and
a trident; with the one he endeavored to entangle, with the other
to despatch his enemy. If he missed the first throw, he was
obliged to fly from the pursuit of the Secutor, till he had
prepared his net for a second cast. ^37 The emperor fought in
this character seven hundred and thirty-five several times.
These glorious achievements were carefully recorded in the public
acts of the empire; and that he might omit no circumstance of
infamy, he received from the common fund of gladiators a stipend
so exorbitant that it became a new and most ignominious tax upon
the Roman people. ^38 It may be easily supposed, that in these
engagements the master of the world was always successful; in the
amphitheatre, his victories were not often sanguinary; but when
he exercised his skill in the school of gladiators, or his own
palace, his wretched antagonists were frequently honored with a
mortal wound from the hand of Commodus, and obliged to seal their
flattery with their blood. ^39 He now disdained the appellation
of Hercules. The name of Paulus, a celebrated Secutor, was the
only one which delighted his ear. It was inscribed on his
colossal statues, and repeated in the redoubled acclamations ^40
of the mournful and applauding senate. ^41 Claudius Pompeianus,
the virtuous husband of Lucilla, was the only senator who
asserted the honor of his rank. As a father, he permitted his
sons to consult their safety by attending the amphitheatre. As a
Roman, he declared, that his own life was in the emperor's hands,
but that he would never behold the son of Marcus prostituting his
person and dignity. Notwithstanding his manly resolution
Pompeianus escaped the resentment of the tyrant, and, with his
honor, had the good fortune to preserve his life. ^42

[Footnote 36: The virtuous and even the wise princes forbade the
senators and knights to embrace this scandalous profession, under
pain of infamy, or, what was more dreaded by those profligate
wretches, of exile. The tyrants allured them to dishonor by
threats and rewards. Nero once produced in the arena forty
senators and sixty knights. See Lipsius, Saturnalia, l. ii. c.
2. He has happily corrected a passage of Suetonius in Nerone, c.
[Footnote 37: Lipsius, l. ii. c. 7, 8. Juvenal, in the eighth
satire, gives a picturesque description of this combat.]

[Footnote 38: Hist. August. p. 50. Dion, l. lxxii. p. 1220. He
received, for each time, decies, about 8000l. sterling.]

[Footnote 39: Victor tells us, that Commodus only allowed his
antagonists a ...weapon, dreading most probably the consequences
of their despair.]
[Footnote 40: They were obliged to repeat, six hundred and
twenty-six times, Paolus first of the Secutors, &c.]

[Footnote 41: Dion, l. lxxii. p. 1221. He speaks of his own
baseness and danger.]

[Footnote 42: He mixed, however, some prudence with his courage,
and passed the greatest part of his time in a country retirement;
alleging his advanced age, and the weakness of his eyes. "I
never saw him in the senate," says Dion, "except during the short
reign of Pertinax." All his infirmities had suddenly left him,
and they returned as suddenly upon the murder of that excellent
prince. Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1227.]

Commodus had now attained the summit of vice and infamy.
Amidst the acclamations of a flattering court, he was unable to
disguise from himself, that he had deserved the contempt and
hatred of every man of sense and virtue in his empire. His
ferocious spirit was irritated by the consciousness of that
hatred, by the envy of every kind of merit, by the just
apprehension of danger, and by the habit of slaughter, which he
contracted in his daily amusements. History has preserved a long
list of consular senators sacrificed to his wanton suspicion,
which sought out, with peculiar anxiety, those unfortunate
persons connected, however remotely, with the family of the
Antonines, without sparing even the ministers of his crimes or
pleasures. ^43 His cruelty proved at last fatal to himself. He
had shed with impunity the noblest blood of Rome: he perished as
soon as he was dreaded by his own domestics. Marcia, his
favorite concubine, Eclectus, his chamberlain, and Laetus, his
Praetorian praefect, alarmed by the fate of their companions and
predecessors, resolved to prevent the destruction which every
hour hung over their heads, either from the mad caprice of the
tyrant, ^* or the sudden indignation of the people. Marcia
seized the occasion of presenting a draught of wine to her lover,
after he had fatigued himself with hunting some wild beasts.
Commodus retired to sleep; but whilst he was laboring with the
effects of poison and drunkenness, a robust youth, by profession
a wrestler, entered his chamber, and strangled him without
resistance. The body was secretly conveyed out of the palace,
before the least suspicion was entertained in the city, or even
in the court, of the emperor's death. Such was the fate of the
son of Marcus, and so easy was it to destroy a hated tyrant, who,
by the artificial powers of government, had oppressed, during
thirteen years, so many millions of subjects, each of whom was
equal to their master in personal strength and personal
abilities. ^44

[Footnote 43: The prefects were changed almost hourly or daily;
and the caprice of Commodus was often fatal to his most favored
chamberlains. Hist. August. p. 46, 51.]

[Footnote *: Commodus had already resolved to massacre them the
following night they determined o anticipate his design. Herod.
i. 17. - W.]
[Footnote 44: Dion, l. lxxii. p. 1222. Herodian, l. i. p. 43.
Hist. August. p. 52.]

The measures of he conspirators were conducted with the
deliberate coolness and celerity which the greatness of the
occasion required. They resolved instantly to fill the vacant
throne with an emperor whose character would justify and maintain
the action that had been committed. They fixed on Pertinax,
praefect of the city, an ancient senator of consular rank, whose
conspicuous merit had broke through the obscurity of his birth,
and raised him to the first honors of the state. He had
successively governed most of the provinces of the empire; and in
all his great employments, military as well as civil, he had
uniformly distinguished himself by the firmness, the prudence,
and the integrity of his conduct. ^45 He now remained almost
alone of the friends and ministers of Marcus; and when, at a late
hour of the night, he was awakened with the news, that the
chamberlain and the praefect were at his door, he received them
with intrepid resignation, and desired they would execute their
master's orders. Instead of death, they offered him the throne
of the Roman world. During some moments he distrusted their
intentions and assurances. Convinced at length of the death of
Commodus, he accepted the purple with a sincere reluctance, the
natural effect of his knowledge both of the duties and of the
dangers of the supreme rank. ^46
[Footnote 45: Pertinax was a native of Alba Pompeia, in Piedmont,
and son of a timber merchant. The order of his employments (it
is marked by Capitolinus) well deserves to be set down, as
expressive of the form of government and manners of the age. 1.
He was a centurion. 2. Praefect of a cohort in Syria, in the
Parthian war, and in Britain. 3. He obtained an Ala, or squadron
of horse, in Maesia. 4. He was commissary of provisions on the
Aemilian way. 5. He commanded the fleet upon the Rhine. 6. He
was procurator of Dacia, with a salary of about 1600l. a year.
7. He commanded the veterans of a legion. 8. He obtained the
rank of senator. 9. Of praetor. 10. With the command of the
first legion in Rhaetia and Noricum. 11. He was consul about the
year 175. 12. He attended Marcus into the East. 13. He commanded
an army on the Danube. 14. He was consular legate of Maesia.
15. Of Dacia. 16. Of Syria. 17. Of Britain. 18. He had the
care of the public provisions at Rome. 19. He was proconsul of
Africa. 20. Praefect of the city. Herodian (l. i. p. 48) does
justice to his disinterested spirit; but Capitolinus, who
collected every popular rumor, charges him with a great fortune
acquired by bribery and corruption.]
[Footnote 46: Julian, in the Caesars, taxes him with being
accessory to the death of Commodus.]

Laetus conducted without delay his new emperor to the camp
of the Praetorians, diffusing at the same time through the city a
seasonable report that Commodus died suddenly of an apoplexy; and
that the virtuous Pertinax had already succeeded to the throne.
The guards were rather surprised than pleased with the suspicious
death of a prince, whose indulgence and liberality they alone had
experienced; but the emergency of the occasion, the authority of
their praefect, the reputation of Pertinax, and the clamors of
the people, obliged them to stifle their secret discontents, to
accept the donative promised by the new emperor, to swear
allegiance to him, and with joyful acclamations and laurels in
their hands to conduct him to the senate house, that the military
consent might be ratified by the civil authority.
This important night was now far spent; with the dawn of
day, and the commencement of the new year, the senators expected
a summons to attend an ignominious ceremony. ^* In spite of all
remonstrances, even of those of his creatures who yet preserved
any regard for prudence or decency, Commodus had resolved to pass
the night in the gladiators' school, and from thence to take
possession of the consulship, in the habit and with the
attendance of that infamous crew. On a sudden, before the break
of day, the senate was called together in the temple of Concord,
to meet the guards, and to ratify the election of a new emperor.
For a few minutes they sat in silent suspense, doubtful of their
unexpected deliverance, and suspicious of the cruel artifices of
Commodus: but when at length they were assured that the tyrant
was no more, they resigned themselves to all the transports of
joy and indignation. Pertinax, who modestly represented the
meanness of his extraction, and pointed out several noble
senators more deserving than himself of the empire, was
constrained by their dutiful violence to ascend the throne, and
received all the titles of Imperial power, confirmed by the most
sincere vows of fidelity. The memory of Commodus was branded
with eternal infamy. The names of tyrant, of gladiator, of
public enemy resounded in every corner of the house. They
decreed in tumultuous votes, ^* that his honors should be
reversed, his titles erased from the public monuments, his
statues thrown down, his body dragged with a hook into the
stripping room of the gladiators, to satiate the public fury; and
they expressed some indignation against those officious servants
who had already presumed to screen his remains from the justice
of the senate. But Pertinax could not refuse those last rites to
the memory of Marcus, and the tears of his first protector
Claudius Pompeianus, who lamented the cruel fate of his
brother-in- law, and lamented still more that he had deserved it.

[Footnote *: The senate always assembled at the beginning of the
year, on the night of the 1st January, (see Savaron on Sid.
Apoll. viii. 6,) and this happened the present year, as usual,
without any particular order. - G from W.]

[Footnote *: What Gibbon improperly calls, both here and in the
note, tumultuous decrees, were no more than the applauses and
acclamations which recur so often in the history of the emperors.

The custom passed from the theatre to the forum, from the forum
to the senate. Applauses on the adoption of the Imperial decrees
were first introduced under Trajan. (Plin. jun. Panegyr. 75.)
One senator read the form of the decree, and all the rest
answered by acclamations, accompanied with a kind of chant or
rhythm. These were some of the acclamations addressed to
Pertinax, and against the memory of Commodus. Hosti patriae
honores detrahantur. Parricidae honores detrahantur. Ut salvi
simus, Jupiter, optime, maxime, serva nobis Pertinacem. This
custom prevailed not only in the councils of state, but in all
the meetings of the senate. However inconsistent it may appear
with the solemnity of a religious assembly, the early Christians
adopted and introduced it into their synods, notwithstanding the
opposition of some of the Fathers, particularly of St.
Chrysostom. See the Coll. of Franc. Bern. Ferrarius de veterum
acclamatione in Graevii Thesaur. Antiq. Rom. i. 6. - W.
This note is rather hypercritical, as regards Gibbon, but
appears to be worthy of preservation. - M.]

[Footnote 47: Capitolinus gives us the particulars of these
tumultuary votes, which were moved by one senator, and repeated,
or rather chanted by the whole body. Hist. August. p. 52.]

These effusions of impotent rage against a dead emperor,
whom the senate had flattered when alive with the most abject
servility, betrayed a just but ungenerous spirit of revenge.

The legality of these decrees was, however, supported by the
principles of the Imperial constitution. To censure, to depose,
or to punish with death, the first magistrate of the republic,
who had abused his delegated trust, was the ancient and undoubted
prerogative of the Roman senate; ^48 but the feeble assembly was
obliged to content itself with inflicting on a fallen tyrant that
public justice, from which, during his life and reign, he had
been shielded by the strong arm of military despotism. ^*

[Footnote 48: The senate condemned Nero to be put to death more
majorum. Sueton. c. 49.]

[Footnote *: No particular law assigned this right to the senate:
it was deduced from the ancient principles of the republic.
Gibbon appears to infer, from the passage of Suetonius, that the
senate, according to its ancient right, punished Nero with death.

The words, however, more majerum refer not to the decree of the
senate, but to the kind of death, which was taken from an old law
of Romulus. (See Victor. Epit. Ed. Artzen p. 484, n. 7. - W.]

Pertinax found a nobler way of condemning his predecessor's
memory; by the contrast of his own virtues with the vices of
Commodus. On the day of his accession, he resigned over to his
wife and son his whole private fortune; that they might have no
pretence to solicit favors at the expense of the state. He
refused to flatter the vanity of the former with the title of
Augusta; or to corrupt the inexperienced youth of the latter by
the rank of Caesar. Accurately distinguishing between the duties
of a parent and those of a sovereign, he educated his son with a
severe simplicity, which, while it gave him no assured prospect
of the throne, might in time have rendered him worthy of it. In
public, the behavior of Pertinax was grave and affable. He lived
with the virtuous part of the senate, (and, in a private station,
he had been acquainted with the true character of each
individual,) without either pride or jealousy; considered them as
friends and companions, with whom he had shared the danger of the
tyranny, and with whom he wished to enjoy the security of the
present time. He very frequently invited them to familiar
entertainments, the frugality of which was ridiculed by those who
remembered and regretted the luxurious prodigality of Commodus.
[Footnote 49: Dion (l. lxxiii. p. 1223) speaks of these
entertainments, as a senator who had supped with the emperor;
Capitolinus, (Hist. August. p. 58,) like a slave, who had
received his intelligence from one the scullions.]
To heal, as far as I was possible, the wounds inflicted by
the hand of tyranny, was the pleasing, but melancholy, task of
Pertinax. The innocent victims, who yet survived, were recalled
from exile, released from prison, and restored to the full
possession of their honors and fortunes. The unburied bodies of
murdered senators (for the cruelty of Commodus endeavored to
extend itself beyond death) were deposited in the sepulchres of
their ancestors; their memory was justified and every consolation
was bestowed on their ruined and afflicted families. Among these
consolations, one of the most grateful was the punishment of the
Delators; the common enemies of their master, of virtue, and of
their country. Yet even in the inquisition of these legal
assassins, Pertinax proceeded with a steady temper, which gave
every thing to justice, and nothing to popular prejudice and
The finances of the state demanded the most vigilant care of
the emperor. Though every measure of injustice and extortion had
been adopted, which could collect the property of the subject
into the coffers of the prince, the rapaciousness of Commodus had
been so very inadequate to his extravagance, that, upon his
death, no more than eight thousand pounds were found in the
exhausted treasury, ^50 to defray the current expenses of
government, and to discharge the pressing demand of a liberal
donative, which the new emperor had been obliged to promise to
the Praetorian guards. Yet under these distressed circumstances,
Pertinax had the generous firmness to remit all the oppressive
taxes invented by Commodus, and to cancel all the unjust claims
of the treasury; declaring, in a decree of the senate, "that he
was better satisfied to administer a poor republic with
innocence, than to acquire riches by the ways of tyranny and
dishonor. "Economy and industry he considered as the pure and
genuine sources of wealth; and from them he soon derived a
copious supply for the public necessities. The expense of the
household was immediately reduced to one half. All the
instruments of luxury Pertinax exposed to public auction, ^51
gold and silver plate, chariots of a singular construction, a
superfluous wardrobe of silk and embroidery, and a great number
of beautiful slaves of both sexes; excepting only, with attentive
humanity, those who were born in a state of freedom, and had been
ravished from the arms of their weeping parents. At the same
time that he obliged the worthless favorites of the tyrant to
resign a part of their ill- gotten wealth, he satisfied the just
creditors of the state, and unexpectedly discharged the long
arrears of honest services. He removed the oppressive
restrictions which had been laid upon commerce, and granted all
the uncultivated lands in Italy and the provinces to those who
would improve them; with an exemption from tribute during the
term of ten years. ^52
[Footnote 50: Decies. The blameless economy of Pius left his
successors a treasure of vicies septies millies, above two and
twenty millions sterling. Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1231.]

[Footnote 51: Besides the design of converting these useless
ornaments into money, Dion (l. lxxiii. p. 1229) assigns two
secret motives of Pertinax. He wished to expose the vices of
Commodus, and to discover by the purchasers those who most
resembled him.]

[Footnote 52: Though Capitolinus has picked up many idle tales of
the private life of Pertinax, he joins with Dion and Herodian in
admiring his public conduct.]

Such a uniform conduct had already secured to Pertinax the
noblest reward of a sovereign, the love and esteem of his people.

Those who remembered the virtues of Marcus were happy to
contemplate in their new emperor the features of that bright
original; and flattered themselves, that they should long enjoy
the benign influence of his administration. A hasty zeal to
reform the corrupted state, accompanied with less prudence than
might have been expected from the years and experience of
Pertinax, proved fatal to himself and to his country. His honest
indiscretion united against him the servile crowd, who found
their private benefit in the public disorders, and who preferred
the favor of a tyrant to the inexorable equality of the laws. ^53

[Footnote 53: Leges, rem surdam, inexorabilem esse. T. Liv. ii.
Amidst the general joy, the sullen and angry countenance of
the Praetorian guards betrayed their inward dissatisfaction.
They had reluctantly submitted to Pertinax; they dreaded the
strictness of the ancient discipline, which he was preparing to
restore; and they regretted the license of the former reign.
Their discontents were secretly fomented by Laetus, their
praefect, who found, when it was too late, that his new emperor
would reward a servant, but would not be ruled by a favorite. On
the third day of his reign, the soldiers seized on a noble
senator, with a design to carry him to the camp, and to invest
him with the Imperial purple. Instead of being dazzled by the
dangerous honor, the affrighted victim escaped from their
violence, and took refuge at the feet of Pertinax. A short time
afterwards, Sosius Falco, one of the consuls of the year, a rash
youth, ^54 but of an ancient and opulent family, listened to the
voice of ambition; and a conspiracy was formed during a short
absence of Pertinax, which was crushed by his sudden return to
Rome, and his resolute behavior. Falco was on the point of being
justly condemned to death as a public enemy had he not been saved
by the earnest and sincere entreaties of the injured emperor, who
conjured the senate, that the purity of his reign might not be
stained by the blood even of a guilty senator.

[Footnote 54: If we credit Capitolinus, (which is rather
difficult,) Falco behaved with the most petulant indecency to
Pertinax, on the day of his accession. The wise emperor only
admonished him of his youth and in experience. Hist. August. p.

These disappointments served only to irritate the rage of
the Praetorian guards. On the twenty-eighth of March, eighty-six
days only after the death of Commodus, a general sedition broke
out in the camp, which the officers wanted either power or
inclination to suppress. Two or three hundred of the most
desperate soldiers marched at noonday, with arms in their hands
and fury in their looks, towards the Imperial palace. The gates
were thrown open by their companions upon guard, and by the
domestics of the old court, who had already formed a secret
conspiracy against the life of the too virtuous emperor. On the
news of their approach, Pertinax, disdaining either flight or
concealment, advanced to meet his assassins; and recalled to
their minds his own innocence, and the sanctity of their recent
oath. For a few moments they stood in silent suspense, ashamed
of their atrocious design, and awed by the venerable aspect and
majestic firmness of their sovereign, till at length, the despair
of pardon reviving their fury, a barbarian of the country of
Tongress ^55 levelled the first blow against Pertinax, who was
instantly despatched with a multitude of wounds. His head,
separated from his body, and placed on a lance, was carried in
triumph to the Praetorian camp, in the sight of a mournful and
indignant people, who lamented the unworthy fate of that
excellent prince, and the transient blessings of a reign, the
memory of which could serve only to aggravate their approaching
misfortunes. ^56

[Footnote 55: The modern bishopric of Liege. This soldier
probably belonged to the Batavian horse-guards, who were mostly
raised in the duchy of Gueldres and the neighborhood, and were
distinguished by their valor, and by the boldness with which they
swam their horses across the broadest and most rapid rivers.
Tacit. Hist. iv. 12 Dion, l. lv p. 797 Lipsius de magnitudine
Romana, l. i. c. 4.]

[Footnote 56: Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1232. Herodian, l. ii. p. 60.
Hist. August. p. 58. Victor in Epitom. et in Caesarib.
Eutropius, viii. 16.]

Chapter V: Sale Of The Empire To Didius Julianus.

Part I.

Public Sale Of The Empire To Didius Julianus By The Praetorian
Guards - Clodius Albinus In Britain, Pescennius Niger In Syria,
And Septimius Severus In Pannonia, Declare Against The Murderers
Of Pertinax - Civil Wars And Victory Of Severus Over His Three
Rivals - Relaxation Of Discipline - New Maxims Of Government.

The power of the sword is more sensibly felt in an extensive
monarchy, than in a small community. It has been calculated by
the ablest politicians, that no state, without being soon
exhausted, can maintain above the hundredth part of its members
in arms and idleness. But although this relative proportion may
be uniform, the influence of the army over the rest of the
society will vary according to the degree of its positive
strength. The advantages of military science and discipline
cannot be exerted, unless a proper number of soldiers are united
into one body, and actuated by one soul. With a handful of men,
such a union would be ineffectual; with an unwieldy host, it
would be impracticable; and the powers of the machine would be
alike destroyed by the extreme minuteness or the excessive weight
of its springs. To illustrate this observation, we need only
reflect, that there is no superiority of natural strength,
artificial weapons, or acquired skill, which could enable one man
to keep in constant subjection one hundred of his
fellow-creatures: the tyrant of a single town, or a small
district, would soon discover that a hundred armed followers were
a weak defence against ten thousand peasants or citizens; but a
hundred thousand well-disciplined soldiers will command, with
despotic sway, ten millions of subjects; and a body of ten or
fifteen thousand guards will strike terror into the most numerous
populace that ever crowded the streets of an immense capital.
The Praetorian bands, whose licentious fury was the first
symptom and cause of the decline of the Roman empire, scarcely
amounted to the last- mentioned number ^1 They derived their
institution from Augustus. That crafty tyrant, sensible that
laws might color, but that arms alone could maintain, his usurped
dominion, had gradually formed this powerful body of guards, in
constant readiness to protect his person, to awe the senate, and
either to prevent or to crush the first motions of rebellion. He
distinguished these favored troops by a double pay and superior
privileges; but, as their formidable aspect would at once have
alarmed and irritated the Roman people, three cohorts only were
stationed in the capital, whilst the remainder was dispersed in
the adjacent towns of Italy. ^2 But after fifty years of peace
and servitude, Tiberius ventured on a decisive measure, which
forever rivetted the fetters of his country. Under the fair
pretences of relieving Italy from the heavy burden of military
quarters, and of introducing a stricter discipline among the
guards, he assembled them at Rome, in a permanent camp, ^3 which
was fortified with skilful care, ^4 and placed on a commanding
situation. ^5

[Footnote 1: They were originally nine or ten thousand men, (for
Tacitus and son are not agreed upon the subject,) divided into as
many cohorts. Vitellius increased them to sixteen thousand, and
as far as we can learn from inscriptions, they never afterwards
sunk much below that number. See Lipsius de magnitudine Romana,
i. 4.]

[Footnote 2: Sueton. in August. c. 49.]

[Footnote 3: Tacit. Annal. iv. 2. Sueton. in Tiber. c. 37. Dion
Cassius, l. lvii. p. 867.]

[Footnote 4: In the civil war between Vitellius and Vespasian,
the Praetorian camp was attacked and defended with all the
machines used in the siege of the best fortified cities. Tacit.
Hist. iii. 84.]

[Footnote 5: Close to the walls of the city, on the broad summit
of the Quirinal and Viminal hills. See Nardini Roma Antica, p.
174. Donatus de Roma Antiqua, p. 46.

Note: Not on both these hills: neither Donatus nor Nardini
justify this position. (Whitaker's Review. p. 13.) At the
northern extremity of this hill (the Viminal) are some
considerable remains of a walled enclosure which bears all the
appearance of a Roman camp, and therefore is generally thought to
correspond with the Castra Praetoria. Cramer's Italy 390. - M.]
Such formidable servants are always necessary, but often
fatal to the throne of despotism. By thus introducing the
Praetorian guards as it were into the palace and the senate, the
emperors taught them to perceive their own strength, and the
weakness of the civil government; to view the vices of their
masters with familiar contempt, and to lay aside that reverential
awe, which distance only, and mystery, can preserve towards an
imaginary power. In the luxurious idleness of an opulent city,
their pride was nourished by the sense of their irresistible
weight; nor was it possible to conceal from them, that the person
of the sovereign, the authority of the senate, the public
treasure, and the seat of empire, were all in their hands. To
divert the Praetorian bands from these dangerous reflections, the
firmest and best established princes were obliged to mix
blandishments with commands, rewards with punishments, to flatter
their pride, indulge their pleasures, connive at their
irregularities, and to purchase their precarious faith by a
liberal donative; which, since the elevation of Claudius, was
enacted as a legal claim, on the accession of every new emperor.

[Footnote 6: Claudius, raised by the soldiers to the empire, was
the first who gave a donative. He gave quina dena, 120l.
(Sueton. in Claud. c. 10: ) when Marcus, with his colleague
Lucius Versus, took quiet possession of the throne, he gave
vicena, 160l. to each of the guards. Hist. August. p. 25, (Dion,
l. lxxiii. p. 1231.) We may form some idea of the amount of these
sums, by Hadrian's complaint that the promotion of a Caesar had
cost him ter millies, two millions and a half sterling.]

The advocate of the guards endeavored to justify by
arguments the power which they asserted by arms; and to maintain
that, according to the purest principles of the constitution,
their consent was essentially necessary in the appointment of an
emperor. The election of consuls, of generals, and of
magistrates, however it had been recently usurped by the senate,
was the ancient and undoubted right of the Roman people. ^7 But
where was the Roman people to be found? Not surely amongst the
mixed multitude of slaves and strangers that filled the streets
of Rome; a servile populace, as devoid of spirit as destitute of
property. The defenders of the state, selected from the flower
of the Italian youth, ^8 and trained in the exercise of arms and
virtue, were the genuine representatives of the people, and the
best entitled to elect the military chief of the republic. These
assertions, however defective in reason, became unanswerable when
the fierce Praetorians increased their weight, by throwing, like
the barbarian conqueror of Rome, their swords into the scale. ^9

[Footnote 7: Cicero de Legibus, iii. 3. The first book of Livy,
and the second of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, show the authority
of the people, even in the election of the kings.]

[Footnote 8: They were originally recruited in Latium, Etruria,
and the old colonies, (Tacit. Annal. iv. 5.) The emperor Otho
compliments their vanity with the flattering titles of Italiae,
Alumni, Romana were juventus. Tacit. Hist. i. 84.]

[Footnote 9: In the siege of Rome by the Gauls. See Livy, v. 48.

Plutarch. in Camill. p. 143.]
The Praetorians had violated the sanctity of the throne by
the atrocious murder of Pertinax; they dishonored the majesty of
it by their subsequent conduct. The camp was without a leader,
for even the praefect Laetus, who had excited the tempest,
prudently declined the public indignation. Amidst the wild
disorder, Sulpicianus, the emperor's father-in-law, and governor
of the city, who had been sent to the camp on the first alarm of
mutiny, was endeavoring to calm the fury of the multitude, when
he was silenced by the clamorous return of the murderers, bearing
on a lance the head of Pertinax. Though history has accustomed us
to observe every principle and every passion yielding to the
imperious dictates of ambition, it is scarcely credible that, in
these moments of horror, Sulpicianus should have aspired to
ascend a throne polluted with the recent blood of so near a
relation and so excellent a prince. He had already begun to use
the only effectual argument, and to treat for the Imperial
dignity; but the more prudent of the Praetorians, apprehensive
that, in this private contract, they should not obtain a just
price for so valuable a commodity, ran out upon the ramparts;
and, with a loud voice, proclaimed that the Roman world was to be
disposed of to the best bidder by public auction. ^10

[Footnote 10: Dion, L. lxxiii. p. 1234. Herodian, l. ii. p. 63.
Hist. August p. 60. Though the three historians agree that it
was in fact an auction, Herodian alone affirms that it was
proclaimed as such by the soldiers.]

This infamous offer, the most insolent excess of military
license, diffused a universal grief, shame, and indignation
throughout the city. It reached at length the ears of Didius
Julianus, a wealthy senator, who, regardless of the public
calamities, was indulging himself in the luxury of the table. ^11
His wife and his daughter, his freedmen and his parasites, easily
convinced him that he deserved the throne, and earnestly conjured
him to embrace so fortunate an opportunity. The vain old man
hastened to the Praetorian camp, where Sulpicianus was still in
treaty with the guards, and began to bid against him from the
foot of the rampart. The unworthy negotiation was transacted by
faithful emissaries, who passed alternately from one candidate to
the other, and acquainted each of them with the offers of his
rival. Sulpicianus had already promised a donative of five
thousand drachms (above one hundred and sixty pounds) to each
soldier; when Julian, eager for the prize, rose at once to the
sum of six thousand two hundred and fifty drachms, or upwards of
two hundred pounds sterling. The gates of the camp were
instantly thrown open to the purchaser; he was declared emperor,
and received an oath of allegiance from the soldiers, who
retained humanity enough to stipulate that he should pardon and
forget the competition of Sulpicianus. ^*

[Footnote 11: Spartianus softens the most odious parts of the
character and elevation of Julian.]

[Footnote *: One of the principal causes of the preference of
Julianus by the soldiers, was the dexterty dexterity with which
he reminded them that Sulpicianus would not fail to revenge on
them the death of his son-in-law. (See Dion, p. 1234, 1234. c.
11. Herod. ii. 6.) - W.]

It was now incumbent on the Praetorians to fulfil the
conditions of the sale. They placed their new sovereign, whom
they served and despised, in the centre of their ranks,
surrounded him on every side with their shields, and conducted
him in close order of battle through the deserted streets of the
city. The senate was commanded to assemble; and those who had
been the distinguished friends of Pertinax, or the personal
enemies of Julian, found it necessary to affect a more than
common share of satisfaction at this happy revolution. ^12 After
Julian had filled the senate house with armed soldiers, he
expatiated on the freedom of his election, his own eminent
virtues, and his full assurance of the affections of the senate.
The obsequious assembly congratulated their own and the public
felicity; engaged their allegiance, and conferred on him all the
several branches of the Imperial power. ^13 From the senate
Julian was conducted, by the same military procession, to take
possession of the palace. The first objects that struck his
eyes, were the abandoned trunk of Pertinax, and the frugal
entertainment prepared for his supper. The one he viewed with
indifference, the other with contempt. A magnificent feast was
prepared by his order, and he amused himself, till a very late
hour, with dice, and the performances of Pylades, a celebrated
dancer. Yet it was observed, that after the crowd of flatterers
dispersed, and left him to darkness, solitude, and terrible
reflection, he passed a sleepless night; revolving most probably
in his mind his own rash folly, the fate of his virtuous
predecessor, and the doubtful and dangerous tenure of an empire
which had not been acquired by merit, but purchased by money. ^14

[Footnote 12: Dion Cassius, at that time praetor, had been a
personal enemy to Julian, i. lxxiii. p. 1235.]

[Footnote 13: Hist. August. p. 61. We learn from thence one
curious circumstance, that the new emperor, whatever had been his
birth, was immediately aggregated to the number of patrician
Note: A new fragment of Dion shows some shrewdness in the
character of Julian. When the senate voted him a golden statue,
he preferred one of brass, as more lasting. He "had always
observed," he said, "that the statues of former emperors were
soon destroyed. Those of brass alone remained." The indignant
historian adds that he was wrong. The virtue of sovereigns alone
preserves their images: the brazen statue of Julian was broken to
pieces at his death. Mai. Fragm. Vatican. p. 226. - M.]

[Footnote 14: Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1235. Hist. August. p. 61. I
have endeavored to blend into one consistent story the seeming
contradictions of the two writers.

Note: The contradiction as M. Guizot observed, is
irreconcilable. He quotes both passages: in one Julianus is
represented as a miser, in the other as a voluptuary. In the one
he refuses to eat till the body of Pertinax has been buried; in
the other he gluts himself with every luxury almost in the sight
of his headless remains. - M.]

He had reason to tremble. On the throne of the world he
found himself without a friend, and even without an adherent.
The guards themselves were ashamed of the prince whom their
avarice had persuaded them to accept; nor was there a citizen who
did not consider his elevation with horror, as the last insult on
the Roman name. The nobility, whose conspicuous station, and
ample possessions, exacted the strictest caution, dissembled
their sentiments, and met the affected civility of the emperor
with smiles of complacency and professions of duty. But the
people, secure in their numbers and obscurity, gave a free vent
to their passions. The streets and public places of Rome
resounded with clamors and imprecations. The enraged multitude
affronted the person of Julian, rejected his liberality, and,
conscious of the impotence of their own resentment, they called
aloud on the legions of the frontiers to assert the violated
majesty of the Roman empire.
The public discontent was soon diffused from the centre to
the frontiers of the empire. The armies of Britain, of Syria,
and of Illyricum, lamented the death of Pertinax, in whose
company, or under whose command, they had so often fought and
conquered. They received with surprise, with indignation, and
perhaps with envy, the extraordinary intelligence, that the
Praetorians had disposed of the empire by public auction; and
they sternly refused to ratify the ignominious bargain. Their
immediate and unanimous revolt was fatal to Julian, but it was
fatal at the same time to the public peace, as the generals of
the respective armies, Clodius Albinus, Pescennius Niger, and
Septimius Severus, were still more anxious to succeed than to
revenge the murdered Pertinax. Their forces were exactly
balanced. Each of them was at the head of three legions, ^15
with a numerous train of auxiliaries; and however different in
their characters, they were all soldiers of experience and

[Footnote 15: Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1235.]

Clodius Albinus, governor of Britain, surpassed both his
competitors in the nobility of his extraction, which he derived
from some of the most illustrious names of the old republic. ^16
But the branch from which he claimed his descent was sunk into
mean circumstances, and transplanted into a remote province. It
is difficult to form a just idea of his true character. Under
the philosophic cloak of austerity, he stands accused of
concealing most of the vices which degrade human nature. ^17 But
his accusers are those venal writers who adored the fortune of
Severus, and trampled on the ashes of an unsuccessful rival.
Virtue, or the appearances of virtue, recommended Albinus to the
confidence and good opinion of Marcus; and his preserving with
the son the same interest which he had acquired with the father,
is a proof at least that he was possessed of a very flexible
disposition. The favor of a tyrant does not always suppose a
want of merit in the object of it; he may, without intending it,
reward a man of worth and ability, or he may find such a man
useful to his own service. It does not appear that Albinus
served the son of Marcus, either as the minister of his
cruelties, or even as the associate of his pleasures. He was
employed in a distant honorable command, when he received a
confidential letter from the emperor, acquainting him of the
treasonable designs of some discontented generals, and
authorizing him to declare himself the guardian and successor of
the throne, by assuming the title and ensigns of Caesar. ^18 The
governor of Britain wisely declined the dangerous honor, which
would have marked him for the jealousy, or involved him in the
approaching ruin, of Commodus. He courted power by nobler, or,
at least, by more specious arts. On a premature report of the
death of the emperor, he assembled his troops; and, in an
eloquent discourse, deplored the inevitable mischiefs of
despotism, described the happiness and glory which their
ancestors had enjoyed under the consular government, and declared
his firm resolution to reinstate the senate and people in their
legal authority. This popular harangue was answered by the loud
acclamations of the British legions, and received at Rome with a
secret murmur of applause. Safe in the possession of his little
world, and in the command of an army less distinguished indeed
for discipline than for numbers and valor, ^19 Albinus braved the
menaces of Commodus, maintained towards Pertinax a stately
ambiguous reserve, and instantly declared against the usurpation
of Julian. The convulsions of the capital added new weight to
his sentiments, or rather to his professions of patriotism. A
regard to decency induced him to decline the lofty titles of
Augustus and Emperor; and he imitated perhaps the example of
Galba, who, on a similar occasion, had styled himself the
Lieutenant of the senate and people. ^20

[Footnote 16: The Posthumian and the Ce'onian; the former of whom
was raised to the consulship in the fifth year after its
[Footnote 17: Spartianus, in his undigested collections, mixes up
all the virtues and all the vices that enter into the human
composition, and bestows them on the same object. Such, indeed
are many of the characters in the Augustan History.]

[Footnote 18: Hist. August. p. 80, 84.]

[Footnote 19: Pertinax, who governed Britain a few years before,
had been left for dead, in a mutiny of the soldiers. Hist.
August. p 54. Yet they loved and regretted him; admirantibus eam
virtutem cui irascebantur.]
[Footnote 20: Sueton. in Galb. c. 10.]

Personal merit alone had raised Pescennius Niger, from an
obscure birth and station, to the government of Syria; a
lucrative and important command, which in times of civil
confusion gave him a near prospect of the throne. Yet his parts
seem to have been better suited to the second than to the first
rank; he was an unequal rival, though he might have approved
himself an excellent lieutenant, to Severus, who afterwards
displayed the greatness of his mind by adopting several useful
institutions from a vanquished enemy. ^21 In his government Niger
acquired the esteem of the soldiers and the love of the
provincials. His rigid discipline foritfied the valor and
confirmed the obedience of the former, whilst the voluptuous
Syrians were less delighted with the mild firmness of his
administration, than with the affability of his manners, and the
apparent pleasure with which he attended their frequent and
pompous festivals. ^22 As soon as the intelligence of the
atrocious murder of Pertinax had reached Antioch, the wishes of
Asia invited Niger to assume the Imperial purple and revenge his
death. The legions of the eastern frontier embraced his cause;
the opulent but unarmed provinces, from the frontiers of
Aethiopia ^23 to the Hadriatic, cheerfully submitted to his
power; and the kings beyond the Tigris and the Euphrates
congratulated his election, and offered him their homage and
services. The mind of Niger was not capable of receiving this
sudden tide of fortune: he flattered himself that his accession
would be undisturbed by competition and unstained by civil blood;
and whilst he enjoyed the vain pomp of triumph, he neglected to
secure the means of victory. Instead of entering into an
effectual negotiation with the powerful armies of the West, whose
resolution might decide, or at least must balance, the mighty
contest; instead of advancing without delay towards Rome and
Italy, where his presence was impatiently expected, ^24 Niger
trifled away in the luxury of Antioch those irretrievable moments
which were diligently improved by the decisive activity of
Severus. ^25 [Footnote 21: Hist. August. p. 76.]

[Footnote 22: Herod. l. ii. p. 68. The Chronicle of John Malala,
of Antioch, shows the zealous attachment of his countrymen to
these festivals, which at once gratified their superstition, and
their love of pleasure.]
[Footnote 23: A king of Thebes, in Egypt, is mentioned, in the
Augustan History, as an ally, and, indeed, as a personal friend
of Niger. If Spartianus is not, as I strongly suspect, mistaken,
he has brought to light a dynasty of tributary princes totally
unknown to history.]
[Footnote 24: Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1238. Herod. l. ii. p. 67. A
verse in every one's mouth at that time, seems to express the
general opinion of the three rivals; Optimus est Niger, [Fuscus,
which preserves the quantity. - M.] bonus After, pessimus Albus.
Hist. August. p. 75.]

[Footnote 25: Herodian, l. ii. p. 71.]

The country of Pannonia and Dalmatia, which occupied the
space between the Danube and the Hadriatic, was one of the last
and most difficult conquests of the Romans. In the defence of
national freedom, two hundred thousand of these barbarians had
once appeared in the field, alarmed the declining age of
Augustus, and exercised the vigilant prudence of Tiberius at the
head of the collected force of the empire. ^26 The Pannonians
yielded at length to the arms and institutions of Rome. Their
recent subjection, however, the neighborhood, and even the
mixture, of the unconquered tribes, and perhaps the climate,
adapted, as it has been observed, to the production of great
bodies and slow minds, ^27 all contributed to preserve some
remains of their original ferocity, and under the tame and
uniform countenance of Roman provincials, the hardy features of
the natives were still to be discerned. Their warlike youth
afforded an inexhaustible supply of recruits to the legions
stationed on the banks of the Danube, and which, from a perpetual
warfare against the Germans and Sarmazans, were deservedly
esteemed the best troops in the service.

[Footnote 26: See an account of that memorable war in Velleius
Paterculus, is 110, &c., who served in the army of Tiberius.]

[Footnote 27: Such is the reflection of Herodian, l. ii. p. 74.
Will the modern Austrians allow the influence?]

The Pannonian army was at this time commanded by Septimius
Severus, a native of Africa, who, in the gradual ascent of
private honors, had concealed his daring ambition, which was
never diverted from its steady course by the allurements of
pleasure, the apprehension of danger, or the feelings of
humanity. ^28 On the first news of the murder of Pertinax, he
assembled his troops, painted in the most lively colors the
crime, the insolence, and the weakness of the Praetorian guards,
and animated the legions to arms and to revenge. He concluded
(and the peroration was thought extremely eloquent) with
promising every soldier about four hundred pounds; an honorable
donative, double in value to the infamous bribe with which Julian
had purchased the empire. ^29 The acclamations of the army
immediately saluted Severus with the names of Augustus, Pertinax,
and Emperor; and he thus attained the lofty station to which he
was invited, by conscious merit and a long train of dreams and
omens, the fruitful offsprings either of his superstition or
policy. ^30

[Footnote 28: In the letter to Albinus, already mentioned,
Commodus accuses Severus, as one of the ambitious generals who
censured his conduct, and wished to occupy his place. Hist.
August. p. 80.]

[Footnote 29: Pannonia was too poor to supply such a sum. It was
probably promised in the camp, and paid at Rome, after the
victory. In fixing the sum, I have adopted the conjecture of
Casaubon. See Hist. August. p. 66. Comment. p. 115.]

[Footnote 30: Herodian, l. ii. p. 78. Severus was declared
emperor on the banks of the Danube, either at Carnuntum,
according to Spartianus, (Hist. August. p. 65,) or else at
Sabaria, according to Victor. Mr. Hume, in supposing that the
birth and dignity of Severus were too much inferior to the
Imperial crown, and that he marched into Italy as general only,
has not considered this transaction with his usual accuracy,
(Essay on the original contract.)

Note: Carnuntum, opposite to the mouth of the Morava: its
position is doubtful, either Petronel or Haimburg. A little
intermediate village seems to indicate by its name (Altenburg)
the site of an old town. D'Anville Geogr. Anc. Sabaria, now
Sarvar. - G. Compare note 37. - M.]

The new candidate for empire saw and improved the peculiar
advantage of his situation. His province extended to the Julian
Alps, which gave an easy access into Italy; and he remembered the
saying of Augustus, That a Pannonian army might in ten days
appear in sight of Rome. ^31 By a celerity proportioned to the
greatness of the occasion, he might reasonably hope to revenge
Pertinax, punish Julian, and receive the homage of the senate and
people, as their lawful emperor, before his competitors,
separated from Italy by an immense tract of sea and land, were
apprised of his success, or even of his election. During the
whole expedition, he scarcely allowed himself any moments for
sleep or food; marching on foot, and in complete armor, at the
head of his columns, he insinuated himself into the confidence
and affection of his troops, pressed their diligence, revived
their spirits, animated their hopes, and was well satisfied to
share the hardships of the meanest soldier, whilst he kept in
view the infinite superiority of his reward.
[Footnote 31: Velleius Paterculus, l. ii. c. 3. We must reckon
the march from the nearest verge of Pannonia, and extend the
sight of the city as far as two hundred miles.]

The wretched Julian had expected, and thought himself
prepared, to dispute the empire with the governor of Syria; but
in the invincible and rapid approach of the Pannonian legions, he
saw his inevitable ruin. The hasty arrival of every messenger
increased his just apprehensions. He was successively informed,
that Severus had passed the Alps; that the Italian cities,
unwilling or unable to oppose his progress, had received him with
the warmest professions of joy and duty; that the important place
of Ravenna had surrendered without resistance, and that the
Hadriatic fleet was in the hands of the conqueror. The enemy was
now within two hundred and fifty miles of Rome; and every moment
diminished the narrow span of life and empire allotted to Julian.

He attempted, however, to prevent, or at least to protract,
his ruin. He implored the venal faith of the Praetorians, filled
the city with unavailing preparations for war, drew lines round
the suburbs, and even strengthened the fortifications of the
palace; as if those last intrenchments could be defended, without
hope of relief, against a victorious invader. Fear and shame
prevented the guards from deserting his standard; but they
trembled at the name of the Pannonian legions, commanded by an
experienced general, and accustomed to vanquish the barbarians on
the frozen Danube. ^32 They quitted, with a sigh, the pleasures
of the baths and theatres, to put on arms, whose use they had
almost forgotten, and beneath the weight of which they were
oppressed. The unpractised elephants, whose uncouth appearance,
it was hoped, would strike terror into the army of the north,
threw their unskilful riders; and the awkward evolutions of the
marines, drawn from the fleet of Misenum, were an object of
ridicule to the populace; whilst the senate enjoyed, with secret
pleasure, the distress and weakness of the usurper. ^33

[Footnote 32: This is not a puerile figure of rhetoric, but an
allusion to a real fact recorded by Dion, l. lxxi. p. 1181. It
probably happened more than once.]

[Footnote 33: Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1233. Herodian, l. ii. p. 81.
There is no surer proof of the military skill of the Romans, than
their first surmounting the idle terror, and afterwards
disdaining the dangerous use, of elephants in war.

Note: These elephants were kept for processions, perhaps for
the games. Se Herod. in loc. - M.]

Every motion of Julian betrayed his trembling perplexity.
He insisted that Severus should be declared a public enemy by the
senate. He entreated that the Pannonian general might be
associated to the empire. He sent public ambassadors of consular
rank to negotiate with his rival; he despatched private assassins
to take away his life. He designed that the Vestal virgins, and
all the colleges of priests, in their sacerdotal habits, and
bearing before them the sacred pledges of the Roman religion,
should advance in solemn procession to meet the Pannonian
legions; and, at the same time, he vainly tried to interrogate,
or to appease, the fates, by magic ceremonies and unlawful
sacrifices. ^34

[Footnote 34: Hist. August. p. 62, 63.

Note: Quae ad speculum dicunt fieri in quo pueri praeligatis
oculis, incantate..., respicere dicuntur. * * * Tuncque puer
vidisse dicitur et adventun Severi et Juliani decessionem. This
seems to have been a practice somewhat similar to that of which
our recent Egyptian travellers relate such extraordinary
circumstances. See also Apulius, Orat. de Magia. - M.]

Chapter V: Sale Of The Empire To Didius Julianus.

Part II.

Severus, who dreaded neither his arms nor his enchantments,
guarded himself from the only danger of secret conspiracy, by the
faithful attendance of six hundred chosen men, who never quitted
his person or their cuirasses, either by night or by day, during
the whole march. Advancing with a steady and rapid course, he
passed, without difficulty, the defiles of the Apennine, received
into his party the troops and ambassadors sent to retard his
progress, and made a short halt at Interamnia, about seventy
miles from Rome. His victory was already secure, but the despair
of the Praetorians might have rendered it bloody; and Severus had
the laudable ambition of ascending the throne without drawing the
sword. ^35 His emissaries, dispersed in the capital, assured the
guards, that provided they would abandon their worthless prince,
and the perpetrators of the murder of Pertinax, to the justice of
the conqueror, he would no longer consider that melancholy event
as the act of the whole body. The faithless Praetorians, whose
resistance was supported only by sullen obstinacy, gladly
complied with the easy conditions, seized the greatest part of
the assassins, and signified to the senate, that they no longer
defended the cause of Julian. That assembly, convoked by the
consul, unanimously acknowledged Severus as lawful emperor,
decreed divine honors to Pertinax, and pronounced a sentence of
deposition and death against his unfortunate successor. Julian
was conducted into a private apartment of the baths of the
palace, and beheaded as a common criminal, after having
purchased, with an immense treasure, an anxious and precarious
reign of only sixty-six days. ^36 The almost incredible
expedition of Severus, who, in so short a space of time,
conducted a numerous army from the banks of the Danube to those
of the Tyber, proves at once the plenty of provisions produced by
agriculture and commerce, the goodness of the roads, the
discipline of the legions, and the indolent, subdued temper of
the provinces. ^37
[Footnote 35: Victor and Eutropius, viii. 17, mention a combat
near the Milvian bridge, the Ponte Molle, unknown to the better
and more ancient writers.]

[Footnote 36: Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1240. Herodian, l. ii. p. 83.
Hist. August. p. 63.]

[Footnote 37: From these sixty-six days, we must first deduct
sixteen, as Pertinax was murdered on the 28th of March, and
Severus most probably elected on the 13th of April, (see Hist.
August. p. 65, and Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iii. p.
393, note 7.) We cannot allow less than ten days after his
election, to put a numerous army in motion. Forty days remain
for this rapid march; and as we may compute about eight hundred
miles from Rome to the neighborhood of Vienna, the army of
Severus marched twenty miles every day, without halt or

The first cares of Severus were bestowed on two measures the
one dictated by policy, the other by decency; the revenge, and
the honors, due to the memory of Pertinax. Before the new
emperor entered Rome, he issued his commands to the Praetorian
guards, directing them to wait his arrival on a large plain near
the city, without arms, but in the habits of ceremony, in which
they were accustomed to attend their sovereign. He was obeyed by
those haughty troops, whose contrition was the effect of their
just terrors. A chosen part of the Illyrian army encompassed
them with levelled spears. Incapable of flight or resistance,
they expected their fate in silent consternation. Severus
mounted the tribunal, sternly reproached them with perfidy and
cowardice, dismissed them with ignominy from the trust which they
had betrayed, despoiled them of their splendid ornaments, and
banished them, on pain of death, to the distance of a hundred
miles from the capital. During the transaction, another
detachment had been sent to seize their arms, occupy their camp,
and prevent the hasty consequences of their despair. ^38
[Footnote 38: Dion, l. lxxiv. p. 1241. Herodian, l. ii. p. 84.]
The funeral and consecration of Pertinax was next solemnized
with every circumstance of sad magnificence. ^39 The senate, with
a melancholy pleasure, performed the last rites to that excellent
prince, whom they had loved, and still regretted. The concern of
his successor was probably less sincere; he esteemed the virtues
of Pertinax, but those virtues would forever have confined his
ambition to a private station. Severus pronounced his funeral
oration with studied eloquence, inward satisfaction, and
well-acted sorrow; and by this pious regard to his memory,
convinced the credulous multitude, that he alone was worthy to
supply his place. Sensible, however, that arms, not ceremonies,
must assert his claim to the empire, he left Rome at the end of
thirty days, and without suffering himself to be elated by this
easy victory, prepared to encounter his more formidable rivals.
[Footnote 39: Dion, (l. lxxiv. p. 1244,) who assisted at the
ceremony as a senator, gives a most pompous description of it.]

The uncommon abilities and fortune of Severus have induced
an elegant historian to compare him with the first and greatest
of the Caesars. ^40 The parallel is, at least, imperfect. Where
shall we find, in the character of Severus, the commanding
superiority of soul, the generous clemency, and the various
genius, which could reconcile and unite the love of pleasure, the
thirst of knowledge, and the fire of ambition? ^41 In one
instance only, they may be compared, with some degree of
propriety, in the celerity of their motions, and their civil
victories. In less than four years, ^42 Severus subdued the
riches of the East, and the valor of the West. He vanquished two
competitors of reputation and ability, and defeated numerous
armies, provided with weapons and discipline equal to his own.
In that age, the art of fortification, and the principles of
tactics, were well understood by all the Roman generals; and the
constant superiority of Severus was that of an artist, who uses
the same instruments with more skill and industry than his
rivals. I shall not, however, enter into a minute narrative of
these military operations; but as the two civil wars against
Niger and against Albinus were almost the same in their conduct,
event, and consequences, I shall collect into one point of view
the most striking circumstances, tending to develop the character
of the conqueror and the state of the empire.
[Footnote 40: Herodian, l. iii. p. 112]

[Footnote 41: Though it is not, most assuredly, the intention of
Lucan to exalt the character of Caesar, yet the idea he gives of
that hero, in the tenth book of the Pharsalia, where he describes
him, at the same time, making love to Cleopatra, sustaining a
siege against the power of Egypt, and conversing with the sages
of the country, is, in reality, the noblest panegyric.

Note: Lord Byron wrote, no doubt, from a reminiscence of
that passage - "It is possible to be a very great man, and to be
still very inferior to Julius Caesar, the most complete
character, so Lord Bacon thought, of all antiquity. Nature seems
incapable of such extraordinary combinations as composed his
versatile capacity, which was the wonder even of the Romans
themselves. The first general; the only triumphant politician;
inferior to none in point of eloquence; comparable to any in the
attainments of wisdom, in an age made up of the greatest
commanders, statesmen, orators, and philosophers, that ever
appeared in the world; an author who composed a perfect specimen
of military annals in his travelling carriage; at one time in a
controversy with Cato, at another writing a treatise on punuing,
and collecting a set of good sayings; fighting and making love at
the same moment, and willing to abandon both his empire and his
mistress for a sight of the fountains of the Nile. Such did
Julius Caesar appear to his contemporaries, and to those of the
subsequent ages who were the most inclined to deplore and
execrate his fatal genius." Note 47 to Canto iv. of Childe
Harold. - M.]
[Footnote 42: Reckoning from his election, April 13, 193, to the
death of Albinus, February 19, 197. See Tillemont's Chronology.]

Falsehood and insincerity, unsuitable as they seem to the
dignity of public transactions, offend us with a less degrading
idea of meanness, than when they are found in the intercourse of
private life. In the latter, they discover a want of courage; in
the other, only a defect of power: and, as it is impossible for
the most able statesmen to subdue millions of followers and
enemies by their own personal strength, the world, under the name
of policy, seems to have granted them a very liberal indulgence
of craft and dissimulation. Yet the arts of Severus cannot be
justified by the most ample privileges of state reason. He
promised only to betray, he flattered only to ruin; and however
he might occasionally bind himself by oaths and treaties, his
conscience, obsequious to his interest, always released him from
the inconvenient obligation. ^43

[Footnote 43: Herodian, l. ii. p. 85.]

If his two competitors, reconciled by their common danger,
had advanced upon him without delay, perhaps Severus would have
sunk under their united effort. Had they even attacked him, at
the same time, with separate views and separate armies, the
contest might have been long and doubtful. But they fell, singly
and successively, an easy prey to the arts as well as arms of
their subtle enemy, lulled into security by the moderation of his
professions, and overwhelmed by the rapidity of his action. He
first marched against Niger, whose reputation and power he the
most dreaded: but he declined any hostile declarations,
suppressed the name of his antagonist, and only signified to the
senate and people his intention of regulating the eastern
provinces. In private, he spoke of Niger, his old friend and
intended successor, ^44 with the most affectionate regard, and
highly applauded his generous design of revenging the murder of
Pertinax. To punish the vile usurper of the throne, was the duty
of every Roman general. To persevere in arms, and to resist a
lawful emperor, acknowledged by the senate, would alone render
him criminal. ^45 The sons of Niger had fallen into his hands
among the children of the provincial governors, detained at Rome
as pledges for the loyalty of their parents. ^46 As long as the
power of Niger inspired terror, or even respect, they were
educated with the most tender care, with the children of Severus
himself; but they were soon involved in their father's ruin, and
removed first by exile, and afterwards by death, from the eye of
public compassion. ^47
[Footnote 44: Whilst Severus was very dangerously ill, it was
industriously given out, that he intended to appoint Niger and
Albinus his successors. As he could not be sincere with respect
to both, he might not be so with regard to either. Yet Severus
carried his hypocrisy so far, as to profess that intention in the
memoirs of his own life.]

[Footnote 45: Hist. August. p. 65.]

[Footnote 46: This practice, invented by Commodus, proved very
useful to Severus. He found at Rome the children of many of the
principal adherents of his rivals; and he employed them more than
once to intimidate, or seduce, the parents.]

[Footnote 47: Herodian, l. iii. p. 95. Hist. August. p. 67, 68.]

Whilst Severus was engaged in his eastern war, he had reason
to apprehend that the governor of Britain might pass the sea and
the Alps, occupy the vacant seat of empire, and oppose his return
with the authority of the senate and the forces of the West. The
ambiguous conduct of Albinus, in not assuming the Imperial title,
left room for negotiation. Forgetting, at once, his professions
of patriotism, and the jealousy of sovereign power, he accepted
the precarious rank of Caesar, as a reward for his fatal
neutrality. Till the first contest was decided, Severus treated
the man, whom he had doomed to destruction, with every mark of
esteem and regard. Even in the letter, in which he announced his
victory over Niger, he styles Albinus the brother of his soul and
empire, sends him the affectionate salutations of his wife Julia,
and his young family, and entreats him to preserve the armies and
the republic faithful to their common interest. The messengers
charged with this letter were instructed to accost the Caesar
with respect, to desire a private audience, and to plunge their
daggers into his heart. ^48 The conspiracy was discovered, and
the too credulous Albinus, at length, passed over to the
continent, and prepared for an unequal contest with his rival,
who rushed upon him at the head of a veteran and victorious army.

[Footnote 48: Hist. August. p. 84. Spartianus has inserted this
curious letter at full length.]

The military labors of Severus seem inadequate to the
importance of his conquests. Two engagements, ^* the one near
the Hellespont, the other in the narrow defiles of Cilicia,
decided the fate of his Syrian competitor; and the troops of
Europe asserted their usual ascendant over the effeminate natives
of Asia. ^49 The battle of Lyons, where one hundred and fifty
thousand Romans ^50 were engaged, was equally fatal to Albinus.
The valor of the British army maintained, indeed, a sharp and
doubtful contest, with the hardy discipline of the Illyrian
legions. The fame and person of Severus appeared, during a few
moments, irrecoverably lost, till that warlike prince rallied his
fainting troops, and led them on to a decisive victory. ^51 The
war was finished by that memorable day. ^*

[Footnote *: There were three actions; one near Cyzicus, on the
Hellespont, one near Nice, in Bithynia, the third near the Issus,
in Cilicia, where Alexander conquered Darius. (Dion, lxiv. c. 6.

Herodian, iii. 2, 4.) - W Herodian represents the second battle
as of less importance than Dion - M.]
[Footnote 49: Consult the third book of Herodian, and the
seventy-fourth book of Dion Cassius.]

[Footnote 50: Dion, l. lxxv. p. 1260.]

[Footnote 51: Dion, l. lxxv. p. 1261. Herodian, l. iii. p. 110.
Hist. August. p. 68. The battle was fought in the plain of
Trevoux, three or four leagues from Lyons. See Tillemont, tom.
iii. p. 406, note 18.]
[Footnote *: According to Herodian, it was his lieutenant Laetus
who led back the troops to the battle, and gained the day, which
Severus had almost lost. Dion also attributes to Laetus a great
share in the victory. Severus afterwards put him to death,
either from fear or jealousy. - W. and G. Wenck and M. Guizot
have not given the real statement of Herodian or of Dion.
According to the former, Laetus appeared with his own army
entire, which he was suspected of having designedly kept
disengaged when the battle was still doudtful, or rather after
the rout of severus. Dion says that he did not move till Severus
had won the victory. - M.]

The civil wars of modern Europe have been distinguished, not
only by the fierce animosity, but likewise by the obstinate
perseverance, of the contending factions. They have generally
been justified by some principle, or, at least, colored by some
pretext, of religion, freedom, or loyalty. The leaders were
nobles of independent property and hereditary influence. The
troops fought like men interested in the decision of the quarrel;
and as military spirit and party zeal were strongly diffused
throughout the whole community, a vanquished chief was
immediately supplied with new adherents, eager to shed their
blood in the same cause. But the Romans, after the fall of the
republic, combated only for the choice of masters. Under the
standard of a popular candidate for empire, a few enlisted from
affection, some from fear, many from interest, none from
principle. The legions, uninflamed by party zeal, were allured
into civil war by liberal donatives, and still more liberal
promises. A defeat, by disabling the chief from the performance
of his engagements, dissolved the mercenary allegiance of his
followers, and left them to consult their own safety by a timely
desertion of an unsuccessful cause. It was of little moment to
the provinces, under whose name they were oppressed or governed;
they were driven by the impulsion of the present power, and as
soon as that power yielded to a superior force, they hastened to
implore the clemency of the conqueror, who, as he had an immense
debt to discharge, was obliged to sacrifice the most guilty
countries to the avarice of his soldiers. In the vast extent of
the Roman empire, there were few fortified cities capable of
protecting a routed army; nor was there any person, or family, or
order of men, whose natural interest, unsupported by the powers
of government, was capable of restoring the cause of a sinking
party. ^52

[Footnote 52: Montesquieu, Considerations sur la Grandeur et la
Decadence des Romains, c. xiii.]

Yet, in the contest between Niger and Severus, a single city
deserves an honorable exception. As Byzantium was one of the
greatest passages from Europe into Asia, it had been provided
with a strong garrison, and a fleet of five hundred vessels was
anchored in the harbor. ^53 The impetuosity of Severus
disappointed this prudent scheme of defence; he left to his
generals the siege of Byzantium, forced the less guarded passage
of the Hellespont, and, impatient of a meaner enemy, pressed
forward to encounter his rival. Byzantium, attacked by a numerous
and increasing army, and afterwards by the whole naval power of
the empire, sustained a siege of three years, and remained
faithful to the name and memory of Niger. The citizens and
soldiers (we know not from what cause) were animated with equal
fury; several of the principal officers of Niger, who despaired
of, or who disdained, a pardon, had thrown themselves into this
last refuge: the fortifications were esteemed impregnable, and,
in the defence of the place, a celebrated engineer displayed all
the mechanic powers known to the ancients. ^54 Byzantium, at
length, surrendered to famine. The magistrates and soldiers were
put to the sword, the walls demolished, the privileges
suppressed, and the destined capital of the East subsisted only
as an open village, subject to the insulting jurisdiction of
Perinthus. The historian Dion, who had admired the flourishing,
and lamented the desolate, state of Byzantium, accused the
revenge of Severus, for depriving the Roman people of the
strongest bulwark against the barbarians of Pontus and Asia ^55
The truth of this observation was but too well justified in the
succeeding age, when the Gothic fleets covered the Euxine, and
passed through the undefined Bosphorus into the centre of the

[Footnote 53: Most of these, as may be supposed, were small open
vessels; some, however, were galleys of two, and a few of three
ranks of oars.]
[Footnote 54: The engineer's name was Priscus. His skill saved
his life, and he was taken into the service of the conqueror.
For the particular facts of the siege, consult Dion Cassius (l.
lxxv. p. 1251) and Herodian, (l. iii. p. 95;) for the theory of
it, the fanciful chevalier de Folard may be looked into. See
Polybe, tom. i. p. 76.]

[Footnote 55 : Notwithstanding the authority of Spartianus, and
some modern Greeks, we may be assured, from Dion and Herodian,
that Byzantium, many years after the death of Severus, lay in

Footnote *: There is no contradiction between the relation
of Dion and that of Spartianus and the modern Greeks. Dion does
not say that Severus destroyed Byzantium, but that he deprived it
of its franchises and privileges, stripped the inhabitants of
their property, razed the fortifications, and subjected the city
to the jurisdiction of Perinthus. Therefore, when Spartian,
Suidas, Cedrenus, say that Severus and his son Antoninus restored
to Byzantium its rights and franchises, ordered temples to be
built, &c., this is easily reconciled with the relation of Dion.
Perhaps the latter mentioned it in some of the fragments of his
history which have been lost. As to Herodian, his expressions
are evidently exaggerated, and he has been guilty of so many
inaccuracies in the history of Severus, that we have a right to
suppose one in this passage. - G. from W Wenck and M. Guizot have
omitted to cite Zosimus, who mentions a particular portico built
by Severus, and called, apparently, by his name. Zosim. Hist.
ii. c. xxx. p. 151, 153, edit Heyne. - M.]
Both Niger and Albinus were discovered and put to death in
their flight from the field of battle. Their fate excited
neither surprise nor compassion. They had staked their lives
against the chance of empire, and suffered what they would have
inflicted; nor did Severus claim the arrogant superiority of
suffering his rivals to live in a private station. But his
unforgiving temper, stimulated by avarice, indulged a spirit of
revenge, where there was no room for apprehension. The most
considerable of the provincials, who, without any dislike to the
fortunate candidate, had obeyed the governor under whose
authority they were accidentally placed, were punished by death,
exile, and especially by the confiscation of their estates. Many
cities of the East were stripped of their ancient honors, and
obliged to pay, into the treasury of Severus, four times the
amount of the sums contributed by them for the service of Niger.

[Footnote 56: Dion, l. lxxiv. p. 1250.]

Till the final decision of the war, the cruelty of Severus
was, in some measure, restrained by the uncertainty of the event,
and his pretended reverence for the senate. The head of Albinus,
accompanied with a menacing letter, announced to the Romans that
he was resolved to spare none of the adherents of his unfortunate
competitors. He was irritated by the just auspicion that he had
never possessed the affections of the senate, and he concealed
his old malevolence under the recent discovery of some
treasonable correspondences. Thirty-five senators, however,
accused of having favored the party of Albinus, he freely
pardoned, and, by his subsequent behavior, endeavored to convince
them, that he had forgotten, as well as forgiven, their supposed
offences. But, at the same time, he condemned forty-one ^57
other senators, whose names history has recorded; their wives,
children, and clients attended them in death, ^* and the noblest
provincials of Spain and Gaul were involved in the same ruin. ^!
Such rigid justice - for so he termed it - was, in the opinion of
Severus, the only conduct capable of insuring peace to the people
or stability to the prince; and he condescended slightly to
lament, that to be mild, it was necessary that he should first be
cruel. ^58
[Footnote 57: Dion, (l. lxxv. p. 1264;) only twenty-nine senators
are mentioned by him, but forty-one are named in the Augustan
History, p. 69, among whom were six of the name of Pescennius.
Herodian (l. iii. p. 115) speaks in general of the cruelties of

[Footnote *: Wenck denies that there is any authority for this
massacre of the wives of the senators. He adds, that only the
children and relatives of Niger and Albinus were put to death.
This is true of the family of Albinus, whose bodies were thrown
into the Rhone; those of Niger, according to Lampridius, were
sent into exile, but afterwards put to death. Among the
partisans of Albinus who were put to death were many women of
rank, multae foeminae illustres. Lamprid. in Sever. - M.]

[Footnote !: A new fragment of Dion describes the state of Rome
during this contest. All pretended to be on the side of Severus;
but their secret sentiments were often betrayed by a change of
countenance on the arrival of some sudden report. Some were
detected by overacting their loyalty, Mai. Fragm. Vatican. p. 227
Severus told the senate he would rather have their hearts than
their votes. - Ibid. - M.]

[Footnote 58: Aurelius Victor.]

The true interest of an absolute monarch generally coincides
with that of his people. Their numbers, their wealth, their
order, and their security, are the best and only foundations of
his real greatness; and were he totally devoid of virtue,
prudence might supply its place, and would dictate the same rule
of conduct. Severus considered the Roman empire as his property,
and had no sooner secured the possession, than he bestowed his
care on the cultivation and improvement of so valuable an
acquisition. Salutary laws, executed with inflexible firmness,
soon corrected most of the abuses with which, since the death of
Marcus, every part of the government had been infected. In the
administration of justice, the judgments of the emperor were
characterized by attention, discernment, and impartiality; and
whenever he deviated from the strict line of equity, it was
generally in favor of the poor and oppressed; not so much indeed
from any sense of humanity, as from the natural propensity of a
despot to humble the pride of greatness, and to sink all his
subjects to the same common level of absolute dependence. His
expensive taste for building, magnificent shows, and above all a
constant and liberal distribution of corn and provisions, were
the surest means of captivating the affection of the Roman
people. ^59 The misfortunes of civil discord were obliterated.
The clam of peace and prosperity was once more experienced in the
provinces; and many cities, restored by the munificence of
Severus, assumed the title of his colonies, and attested by
public monuments their gratitude and felicity. ^60 The fame of
the Roman arms was revived by that warlike and successful
emperor, ^61 and he boasted, with a just pride, that, having
received the empire oppressed with foreign and domestic wars, he
left it established in profound, universal, and honorable peace.
[Footnote 59: Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1272. Hist. August. p. 67.
Severus celebrated the secular games with extraordinary
magnificence, and he left in the public granaries a provision of
corn for seven years, at the rate of 75,000 modii, or about 2500
quarters per day. I am persuaded that the granaries of Severus
were supplied for a long term, but I am not less persuaded, that
policy on one hand, and admiration on the other, magnified the
hoard far beyond its true contents.]

[Footnote 60: See Spanheim's treatise of ancient medals, the
inscriptions, and our learned travellers Spon and Wheeler, Shaw,
Pocock, &c, who, in Africa, Greece, and Asia, have found more
monuments of Severus than of any other Roman emperor whatsoever.]

[Footnote 61: He carried his victorious arms to Seleucia and
Ctesiphon, the capitals of the Parthian monarchy. I shall have
occasion to mention this war in its proper place.]

[Footnote 62: Etiam in Britannis, was his own just and emphatic
expression Hist. August. 73.]

Although the wounds of civil war appeared completely healed,
its mortal poison still lurked in the vitals of the constitution.

Severus possessed a considerable share of vigor and ability; but
the daring soul of the first Caesar, or the deep policy of
Augustus, were scarcely equal to the task of curbing the
insolence of the victorious legions. By gratitude, by misguided
policy, by seeming necessity, Severus was reduced to relax the
nerves of discipline. ^63 The vanity of his soldiers was
flattered with the honor of wearing gold rings their ease was
indulged in the permission of living with their wives in the
idleness of quarters. He increased their pay beyond the example
of former times, and taught them to expect, and soon to claim,
extraordinary donatives on every public occasion of danger or
festivity. Elated by success, enervated by luxury, and raised
above the level of subjects by their dangerous privileges, ^64
they soon became incapable of military fatigue, oppressive to the
country, and impatient of a just subordination. Their officers
asserted the superiority of rank by a more profuse and elegant
luxury. There is still extant a letter of Severus, lamenting the
licentious stage of the army, ^* and exhorting one of his
generals to begin the necessary reformation from the tribunes
themselves; since, as he justly observes, the officer who has
forfeited the esteem, will never command the obedience, of his
soldiers. ^65 Had the emperor pursued the train of reflection, he
would have discovered, that the primary cause of this general
corruption might be ascribed, not indeed to the example, but to
the pernicious indulgence, however, of the commander-in-chief.
[Footnote 63: Herodian, l. iii. p. 115. Hist. August. p. 68.]
[Footnote 64: Upon the insolence and privileges of the soldier,
the 16th satire, falsely ascribed to Juvenal, may be consulted;
the style and circumstances of it would induce me to believe,
that it was composed under the reign of Severus, or that of his

[Footnote *: Not of the army, but of the troops in Gaul. The
contents of this letter seem to prove that Severus was really
anxious to restore discipline Herodian is the only historian who
accuses him of being the first cause of its relaxation. - G. from
W Spartian mentions his increase of the pays. - M.]

[Footnote 65: Hist. August. p. 73.]

The Praetorians, who murdered their emperor and sold the
empire, had received the just punishment of their treason; but
the necessary, though dangerous, institution of guards was soon
restored on a new model by Severus, and increased to four times
the ancient number. ^66 Formerly these troops had been recruited
in Italy; and as the adjacent provinces gradually imbibed the
softer manners of Rome, the levies were extended to Macedonia,
Noricum, and Spain. In the room of these elegant troops, better
adapted to the pomp of courts than to the uses of war, it was

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