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

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established by Severus, that from all the legions of the
frontiers, the soldiers most distinguished for strength, valor,
and fidelity, should be occasionally draughted; and promoted, as
an honor and reward, into the more eligible service of the
guards. ^67 By this new institution, the Italian youth were
diverted from the exercise of arms, and the capital was terrified
by the strange aspect and manners of a multitude of barbarians.
But Severus flattered himself, that the legions would consider
these chosen Praetorians as the representatives of the whole
military order; and that the present aid of fifty thousand men,
superior in arms and appointments to any force that could be
brought into the field against them, would forever crush the
hopes of rebellion, and secure the empire to himself and his

[Footnote 66: Herodian, l. iii. p. 131.]

[Footnote 67: Dion, l. lxxiv. p. 1243.]

The command of these favored and formidable troops soon
became the first office of the empire. As the government
degenerated into military despotism, the Praetorian Praefect, who
in his origin had been a simple captain of the guards, ^* was
placed not only at the head of the army, but of the finances, and
even of the law. In every department of administration, he
represented the person, and exercised the authority, of the
emperor. The first praefect who enjoyed and abused this immense
power was Plautianus, the favorite minister of Severus. His
reign lasted above then years, till the marriage of his daughter
with the eldest son of the emperor, which seemed to assure his
fortune, proved the occasion of his ruin. ^68 The animosities of
the palace, by irritating the ambition and alarming the fears of
Plautianus, ^* threatened to produce a revolution, and obliged
the emperor, who still loved him, to consent with reluctance to
his death. ^69 After the fall of Plautianus, an eminent lawyer,
the celebrated Papinian, was appointed to execute the motley
office of Praetorian Praefect.

[Footnote *: The Praetorian Praefect had never been a simple
captain of the guards; from the first creation of this office,
under Augustus, it possessed great power. That emperor,
therefore, decreed that there should be always two Praetorian
Praefects, who could only be taken from the equestrian order
Tiberius first departed from the former clause of this edict;
Alexander Severus violated the second by naming senators
praefects. It appears that it was under Commodus that the
Praetorian Praefects obtained the province of civil jurisdiction.

it extended only to Italy, with the exception of Rome and its
district, which was governed by the Praefectus urbi. As to the
control of the finances, and the levying of taxes, it was not
intrusted to them till after the great change that Constantine I.
made in the organization of the empire at least, I know no
passage which assigns it to them before that time; and
Drakenborch, who has treated this question in his Dissertation de
official praefectorum praetorio, vi., does not quote one. - W.]
[Footnote 68: One of his most daring and wanton acts of power,
was the castration of a hundred free Romans, some of them married
men, and even fathers of families; merely that his daughter, on
her marriage with the young emperor, might be attended by a train
of eunuchs worthy of an eastern queen. Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1271.]

[Footnote *: Plautianus was compatriot, relative, and the old
friend, of Severus; he had so completely shut up all access to
the emperor, that the latter was ignorant how far he abused his
powers: at length, being informed of it, he began to limit his
authority. The marriage of Plautilla with Caracalla was
unfortunate; and the prince who had been forced to consent to it,
menaced the father and the daughter with death when he should
come to the throne. It was feared, after that, that Plautianus
would avail himself of the power which he still possessed,
against the Imperial family; and Severus caused him to be
assassinated in his presence, upon the pretext of a conspiracy,
which Dion considers fictitious. - W. This note is not, perhaps,
very necessary and does not contain the whole facts. Dion
considers the conspiracy the invention of Caracalla, by whose
command, almost by whose hand, Plautianus was slain in the
presence of Severus. - M.]
[Footnote 69: Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1274. Herodian, l. iii. p. 122,
129. The grammarian of Alexander seems, as is not unusual, much
better acquainted with this mysterious transaction, and more
assured of the guilt of Plautianus than the Roman senator
ventures to be.]

Till the reign of Severus, the virtue and even the good
sense of the emperors had been distinguished by their zeal or
affected reverence for the senate, and by a tender regard to the
nice frame of civil policy instituted by Augustus. But the youth
of Severus had been trained in the implicit obedience of camps,
and his riper years spent in the despotism of military command.
His haughty and inflexible spirit cou' not discover, or would not
acknowledge, the advantage of preserving an intermediate power,
however imaginary, between the emperor and the army. He
disdained to profess himself the servant of an assembly that
detested his person and trembled at his frown; he issued his
commands, where his requests would have proved as effectual;
assumed the conduct and style of a sovereign and a conqueror, and
exercised, without disguise, the whole legislative, as well as
the executive power.

The victory over the senate was easy and inglorious. Every
eye and every passion were directed to the supreme magistrate,
who possessed the arms and treasure of the state; whilst the
senate, neither elected by the people, nor guarded by military
force, nor animated by public spirit, rested its declining
authority on the frail and crumbling basis of ancient opinion.
The fine theory of a republic insensibly vanished, and made way
for the more natural and substantial feelings of monarchy. As
the freedom and honors of Rome were successively communicated to
the provinces, in which the old government had been either
unknown, or was remembered with abhorrence, the tradition of
republican maxims was gradually obliterated. The Greek
historians of the age of the Antonines ^70 observe, with a
malicious pleasure, that although the sovereign of Rome, in
compliance with an obsolete prejudice, abstained from the name of
king, he possessed the full measure of regal power. In the reign
of Severus, the senate was filled with polished and eloquent
slaves from the eastern provinces, who justified personal
flattery by speculative principles of servitude. These new
advocates of prerogative were heard with pleasure by the court,
and with patience by the people, when they inculcated the duty of
passive obedience, and descanted on the inevitable mischiefs of
freedom. The lawyers and historians concurred in teaching, that
the Imperial authority was held, not by the delegated commission,
but by the irrevocable resignation of the senate; that the
emperor was freed from the restraint of civil laws, could command
by his arbitrary will the lives and fortunes of his subjects, and
might dispose of the empire as of his private patrimony. ^71 The
most eminent of the civil lawyers, and particularly Papinian,
Paulus, and Ulpian, flourished under the house of Severus; and
the Roman jurisprudence, having closely united itself with the
system of monarchy, was supposed to have attained its full
majority and perfection.

[Footnote 70: Appian in Prooem.]

[Footnote 71: Dion Cassius seems to have written with no other
view than to form these opinions into an historical system. The
Pandea's will how how assiduously the lawyers, on their side,
laboree in the cause of prerogative.]

The contemporaries of Severus in the enjoyment of the peace
and glory of his reign, forgave the cruelties by which it had
been introduced. Posterity, who experienced the fatal effects of
his maxims and example, justly considered him as the principal
author of the decline of the Roman empire.

Chapter VI: Death Of Severus, Tyranny Of Caracalla, Usurpation Of

Part I.

The Death Of Severus. - Tyranny Of Caracalla. - Usurpation Of
Macrinus. - Follies Of Elagabalus. - Virtues Of Alexander
Severus. - Licentiousness Of The Army. - General State Of The
Roman Finances.

The ascent to greatness, however steep and dangerous, may
entertain an active spirit with the consciousness and exercise of
its own powers: but the possession of a throne could never yet
afford a lasting satisfaction to an ambitious mind. This
melancholy truth was felt and acknowledged by Severus. Fortune
and merit had, from an humble station, elevated him to the first
place among mankind. "He had been all things," as he said
himself, "and all was of little value" ^1 Distracted with the
care, not of acquiring, but of preserving an empire, oppressed
with age and infirmities, careless of fame, ^2 and satiated with
power, all his prospects of life were closed. The desire of
perpetuating the greatness of his family was the only remaining
wish of his ambition and paternal tenderness.

[Footnote 1: Hist. August. p. 71. "Omnia fui, et nihil
[Footnote 2: Dion Cassius, l. lxxvi. p. 1284.]

Like most of the Africans, Severus was passionately addicted
to the vain studies of magic and divination, deeply versed in the
interpretation of dreams and omens, and perfectly acquainted with
the science of judicial astrology; which, in almost every age
except the present, has maintained its dominion over the mind of
man. He had lost his first wife, while he was governor of the
Lionnese Gaul. ^3 In the choice of a second, he sought only to
connect himself with some favorite of fortune; and as soon as he
had discovered that the young lady of Emesa in Syria had a royal
nativity, he solicited and obtained her hand. ^4 Julia Domna (for
that was her name) deserved all that the stars could promise her.

She possessed, even in advanced age, the attractions of beauty,
^5 and united to a lively imagination a firmness of mind, and
strength of judgment, seldom bestowed on her sex. Her amiable
qualities never made any deep impression on the dark and jealous
temper of her husband; but in her son's reign, she administered
the principal affairs of the empire, with a prudence that
supported his authority, and with a moderation that sometimes
corrected his wild extravagancies. ^6 Julia applied herself to
letters and philosophy, with some success, and with the most
splendid reputation. She was the patroness of every art, and the
friend of every man of genius. ^7 The grateful flattery of the
learned has celebrated her virtues; but, if we may credit the
scandal of ancient history, chastity was very far from being the
most conspicuous virtue of the empress Julia. ^8

[Footnote 3: About the year 186. M. de Tillemont is miserably
embarrassed with a passage of Dion, in which the empress
Faustina, who died in the year 175, is introduced as having
contributed to the marriage of Severus and Julia, (l. lxxiv. p.
1243.) The learned compiler forgot that Dion is relating not a
real fact, but a dream of Severus; and dreams are circumscribed
to no limits of time or space. Did M. de Tillemont imagine that
marriages were consummated in the temple of Venus at Rome? Hist.
des Empereurs, tom. iii. p. 389. Note 6.]

[Footnote 4: Hist. August. p. 65.]

[Footnote 5: Hist. August. p. 5.]

[Footnote 6: Dion Cassius, l. lxxvii. p. 1304, 1314.]

[Footnote 7: See a dissertation of Menage, at the end of his
edition of Diogenes Laertius, de Foeminis Philosophis.]

[Footnote 8: Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1285. Aurelius Victor.]

Two sons, Caracalla ^9 and Geta, were the fruit of this
marriage, and the destined heirs of the empire. The fond hopes
of the father, and of the Roman world, were soon disappointed by
these vain youths, who displayed the indolent security of
hereditary princes; and a presumption that fortune would supply
the place of merit and application. Without any emulation of
virtue or talents, they discovered, almost from their infancy, a
fixed and implacable antipathy for each other.

[Footnote 9: Bassianus was his first name, as it had been that of
his maternal grandfather. During his reign, he assumed the
appellation of Antoninus, which is employed by lawyers and
ancient historians. After his death, the public indignation
loaded him with the nicknames of Tarantus and Caracalla. The
first was borrowed from a celebrated Gladiator, the second from a
long Gallic gown which he distributed to the people of Rome.]
Their aversion, confirmed by years, and fomented by the arts
of their interested favorites, broke out in childish, and
gradually in more serious competitions; and, at length, divided
the theatre, the circus, and the court, into two factions,
actuated by the hopes and fears of their respective leaders. The
prudent emperor endeavored, by every expedient of advice and
authority, to allay this growing animosity. The unhappy discord
of his sons clouded all his prospects, and threatened to overturn
a throne raised with so much labor, cemented with so much blood,
and guarded with every defence of arms and treasure. With an
impartial hand he maintained between them an exact balance of
favor, conferred on both the rank of Augustus, with the revered
name of Antoninus; and for the first time the Roman world beheld
three emperors. ^10 Yet even this equal conduct served only to
inflame the contest, whilst the fierce Caracalla asserted the
right of primogeniture, and the milder Geta courted the
affections of the people and the soldiers. In the anguish of a
disappointed father, Severus foretold that the weaker of his sons
would fall a sacrifice to the stronger; who, in his turn, would
be ruined by his own vices. ^11

[Footnote 10: The elevation of Caracalla is fixed by the accurate
M. de Tillemont to the year 198; the association of Geta to the
year 208.]
[Footnote 11: Herodian, l. iii. p. 130. The lives of Caracalla
and Geta, in the Augustan History.]

In these circumstances the intelligence of a war in Britain,
and of an invasion of the province by the barbarians of the
North, was received with pleasure by Severus. Though the
vigilance of his lieutenants might have been sufficient to repel
the distant enemy, he resolved to embrace the honorable pretext
of withdrawing his sons from the luxury of Rome, which enervated
their minds and irritated their passions; and of inuring their
youth to the toils of war and government. Notwithstanding his
advanced age, (for he was above threescore,) and his gout, which
obliged him to be carried in a litter, he transported himself in
person into that remote island, attended by his two sons, his
whole court, and a formidable army. He immediately passed the
walls of Hadrian and Antoninus, and entered the enemy's country,
with a design of completing the long attempted conquest of
Britain. He penetrated to the northern extremity of the island,
without meeting an enemy. But the concealed ambuscades of the
Caledonians, who hung unseen on the rear and flanks of his army,
the coldness of the climate and the severity of a winter march
across the hills and morasses of Scotland, are reported to have
cost the Romans above fifty thousand men. The Caledonians at
length yielded to the powerful and obstinate attack, sued for
peace, and surrendered a part of their arms, and a large tract of
territory. But their apparent submission lasted no longer than
the present terror. As soon as the Roman legions had retired,
they resumed their hostile independence. Their restless spirit
provoked Severus to send a new army into Caledonia, with the most
bloody orders, not to subdue, but to extirpate the natives. They
were saved by the death of their haughty enemy. ^12

[Footnote 12: Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1280, &c. Herodian, l. iii. p.
132, &c.]
This Caledonian war, neither marked by decisive events, nor
attended with any important consequences, would ill deserve our
attention; but it is supposed, not without a considerable degree
of probability, that the invasion of Severus is connected with
the most shining period of the British history or fable. Fingal,
whose fame, with that of his heroes and bards, has been revived
in our language by a recent publication, is said to have
commanded the Caledonians in that memorable juncture, to have
eluded the power of Severus, and to have obtained a signal
victory on the banks of the Carun, in which the son of the King
of the World, Caracul, fled from his arms along the fields of his
pride. ^13 Something of a doubtful mist still hangs over these
Highland traditions; nor can it be entirely dispelled by the most
ingenious researches of modern criticism; ^14 but if we could,
with safety, indulge the pleasing supposition, that Fingal lived,
and that Ossian sung, the striking contrast of the situation and
manners of the contending nations might amuse a philosophic mind.

The parallel would be little to the advantage of the more
civilized people, if we compared the unrelenting revenge of
Severus with the generous clemency of Fingal; the timid and
brutal cruelty of Caracalla with the bravery, the tenderness, the
elegant genius of Ossian; the mercenary chiefs, who, from motives
of fear or interest, served under the imperial standard, with the
free-born warriors who started to arms at the voice of the king
of Morven; if, in a word, we contemplated the untutored
Caledonians, glowing with the warm virtues of nature, and the
degenerate Romans, polluted with the mean vices of wealth and

[Footnote 13: Ossian's Poems, vol. i. p. 175.]

[Footnote 14: That the Caracul of Ossian is the Caracalla of the
Roman History, is, perhaps, the only point of British antiquity
in which Mr. Macpherson and Mr. Whitaker are of the same opinion;
and yet the opinion is not without difficulty. In the Caledonian
war, the son of Severus was known only by the appellation of
Antoninus, and it may seem strange that the Highland bard should
describe him by a nickname, invented four years afterwards,
scarcely used by the Romans till after the death of that emperor,
and seldom employed by the most ancient historians. See Dion, l.
lxxvii. p. 1317. Hist. August. p. 89 Aurel. Victor. Euseb. in
Chron. ad ann. 214.
Note: The historical authority of Macpherson's Ossian has
not increased since Gibbon wrote. We may, indeed, consider it
exploded. Mr. Whitaker, in a letter to Gibbon (Misc. Works, vol.
ii. p. 100,) attempts, not very successfully, to weaken this
objection of the historian. - M.]
The declining health and last illness of Severus inflamed
the wild ambition and black passions of Caracalla's soul.
Impatient of any delay or division of empire, he attempted, more
than once, to shorten the small remainder of his father's days,
and endeavored, but without success, to excite a mutiny among the
troops. ^15 The old emperor had often censured the misguided
lenity of Marcus, who, by a single act of justice, might have
saved the Romans from the tyranny of his worthless son. Placed
in the same situation, he experienced how easily the rigor of a
judge dissolves away in the tenderness of a parent. He
deliberated, he threatened, but he could not punish; and this
last and only instance of mercy was more fatal to the empire than
a long series of cruelty. ^16 The disorder of his mind irritated
the pains of his body; he wished impatiently for death, and
hastened the instant of it by his impatience. He expired at York
in the sixty-fifth year of his life, and in the eighteenth of a
glorious and successful reign. In his last moments he
recommended concord to his sons, and his sons to the army. The
salutary advice never reached the heart, or even the
understanding, of the impetuous youths; but the more obedient
troops, mindful of their oath of allegiance, and of the authority
of their deceased master, resisted the solicitations of
Caracalla, and proclaimed both brothers emperors of Rome. The new
princes soon left the Caledonians in peace, returned to the
capital, celebrated their father's funeral with divine honors,
and were cheerfully acknowledged as lawful sovereigns, by the
senate, the people, and the provinces. Some preeminence of rank
seems to have been allowed to the elder brother; but they both
administered the empire with equal and independent power. ^17

[Footnote 15: Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1282. Hist. August. p. 71.
Aurel. Victor.]
[Footnote 16: Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1283. Hist. August. p. 89]
[Footnote 17: Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1284. Herodian, l. iii. p.
Such a divided form of government would have proved a source
of discord between the most affectionate brothers. It was
impossible that it could long subsist between two implacable
enemies, who neither desired nor could trust a reconciliation.
It was visible that one only could reign, and that the other must
fall; and each of them, judging of his rival's designs by his
own, guarded his life with the most jealous vigilance from the
repeated attacks of poison or the sword. Their rapid journey
through Gaul and Italy, during which they never ate at the same
table, or slept in the same house, displayed to the provinces the
odious spectacle of fraternal discord. On their arrival at Rome,
they immediately divided the vast extent of the imperial palace.
^18 No communication was allowed between their apartments; the
doors and passages were diligently fortified, and guards posted
and relieved with the same strictness as in a besieged place.
The emperors met only in public, in the presence of their
afflicted mother; and each surrounded by a numerous train of
armed followers. Even on these occasions of ceremony, the
dissimulation of courts could ill disguise the rancor of their
hearts. ^19
[Footnote 18: Mr. Hume is justly surprised at a passage of
Herodian, (l. iv. p. 139,) who, on this occasion, represents the
Imperial palace as equal in extent to the rest of Rome. The
whole region of the Palatine Mount, on which it was built,
occupied, at most, a circumference of eleven or twelve thousand
feet, (see the Notitia and Victor, in Nardini's Roma Antica.) But
we should recollect that the opulent senators had almost
surrounded the city with their extensive gardens and suburb
palaces, the greatest part of which had been gradually
confiscated by the emperors. If Geta resided in the gardens that
bore his name on the Janiculum, and if Caracalla inhabited the
gardens of Maecenas on the Esquiline, the rival brothers were
separated from each other by the distance of several miles; and
yet the intermediate space was filled by the Imperial gardens of
Sallust, of Lucullus, of Agrippa, of Domitian, of Caius, &c., all
skirting round the city, and all connected with each other, and
with the palace, by bridges thrown over the Tiber and the
streets. But this explanation of Herodian would require, though
it ill deserves, a particular dissertation, illustrated by a map
of ancient Rome. (Hume, Essay on Populousness of Ancient
Nations. - M.)]

[Footnote 19: Herodian, l. iv. p. 139]

This latent civil war already distracted the whole
government, when a scheme was suggested that seemed of mutual
benefit to the hostile brothers. It was proposed, that since it
was impossible to reconcile their minds, they should separate
their interest, and divide the empire between them. The
conditions of the treaty were already drawn with some accuracy.
It was agreed that Caracalla, as the elder brother should remain
in possession of Europe and the western Africa; and that he
should relinquish the sovereignty of Asia and Egypt to Geta, who
might fix his residence at Alexandria or Antioch, cities little
inferior to Rome itself in wealth and greatness; that numerous
armies should be constantly encamped on either side of the
Thracian Bosphorus, to guard the frontiers of the rival
monarchies; and that the senators of European extraction should
acknowledge the sovereign of Rome, whilst the natives of Asia
followed the emperor of the East. The tears of the empress Julia
interrupted the negotiation, the first idea of which had filled
every Roman breast with surprise and indignation. The mighty
mass of conquest was so intimately united by the hand of time and
policy, that it required the most forcible violence to rend it
asunder. The Romans had reason to dread, that the disjointed
members would soon be reduced by a civil war under the dominion
of one master; but if the separation was permanent, the division
of the provinces must terminate in the dissolution of an empire
whose unity had hitherto remained inviolate. ^20

[Footnote 20: Herodian, l. iv. p. 144.]

Had the treaty been carried into execution, the sovereign of
Europe might soon have been the conqueror of Asia; but Caracalla
obtained an easier, though a more guilty, victory. He artfully
listened to his mother's entreaties, and consented to meet his
brother in her apartment, on terms of peace and reconciliation.
In the midst of their conversation, some centurions, who had
contrived to conceal themselves, rushed with drawn swords upon
the unfortunate Geta. His distracted mother strove to protect
him in her arms; but, in the unavailing struggle, she was wounded
in the hand, and covered with the blood of her younger son, while
she saw the elder animating and assisting ^21 the fury of the
assassins. As soon as the deed was perpetrated, Caracalla, with
hasty steps, and horror in his countenance, ran towards the
Praetorian camp, as his only refuge, and threw himself on the
ground before the statues of the tutelar deities. ^22 The
soldiers attempted to raise and comfort him. In broken and
disordered words he informed them of his imminent danger, and
fortunate escape; insinuating that he had prevented the designs
of his enemy, and declared his resolution to live and die with
his faithful troops. Geta had been the favorite of the soldiers;
but complaint was useless, revenge was dangerous, and they still
reverenced the son of Severus. Their discontent died away in
idle murmurs, and Caracalla soon convinced them of the justice of
his cause, by distributing in one lavish donative the accumulated
treasures of his father's reign. ^23 The real sentiments of the
soldiers alone were of importance to his power or safety. Their
declaration in his favor commanded the dutiful professions of the
senate. The obsequious assembly was always prepared to ratify
the decision of fortune; ^* but as Caracalla wished to assuage
the first emotions of public indignation, the name of Geta was
mentioned with decency, and he received the funeral honors of a
Roman emperor. ^24 Posterity, in pity to his misfortune, has cast
a veil over his vices. We consider that young prince as the
innocent victim of his brother's ambition, without recollecting
that he himself wanted power, rather than inclination, to
consummate the same attempts of revenge and murder. ^!

[Footnote 21: Caracalla consecrated, in the temple of Serapis,
the sword with which, as he boasted, he had slain his brother
Geta. Dion, l. lxxvii p. 1307.]

[Footnote 22: Herodian, l. iv. p. 147. In every Roman camp there
was a small chapel near the head-quarters, in which the statues
of the tutelar deities were preserved and adored; and we may
remark that the eagles, and other military ensigns, were in the
first rank of these deities; an excellent institution, which
confirmed discipline by the sanction of religion. See Lipsius de
Militia Romana, iv. 5, v. 2.]

[Footnote 23: Herodian, l. iv. p. 148. Dion, l. lxxvii. p.
[Footnote *: The account of this transaction, in a new passage of
Dion, varies in some degree from this statement. It adds that
the next morning, in the senate, Antoninus requested their
indulgence, not because he had killed his brother, but because he
was hoarse, and could not address them. Mai. Fragm. p. 228. -

[Footnote 24: Geta was placed among the gods. Sit divus, dum non
sit vivus said his brother. Hist. August. p. 91. Some marks of
Geta's consecration are still found upon medals.]

[Footnote !: The favorable judgment which history has given of
Geta is not founded solely on a feeling of pity; it is supported
by the testimony of contemporary historians: he was too fond of
the pleasures of the table, and showed great mistrust of his
brother; but he was humane, well instructed; he often endeavored
to mitigate the rigorous decrees of Severus and Caracalla. Herod
iv. 3. Spartian in Geta. - W.]

The crime went not unpunished. Neither business, nor
pleasure, nor flattery, could defend Caracalla from the stings of
a guilty conscience; and he confessed, in the anguish of a
tortured mind, that his disordered fancy often beheld the angry
forms of his father and his brother rising into life, to threaten
and upbraid him. ^25 The consciousness of his crime should have
induced him to convince mankind, by the virtues of his reign,
that the bloody deed had been the involuntary effect of fatal
necessity. But the repentance of Caracalla only prompted him to
remove from the world whatever could remind him of his guilt, or
recall the memory of his murdered brother. On his return from
the senate to the palace, he found his mother in the company of
several noble matrons, weeping over the untimely fate of her
younger son. The jealous emperor threatened them with instant
death; the sentence was executed against Fadilla, the last
remaining daughter of the emperor Marcus; ^* and even the
afflicted Julia was obliged to silence her lamentations, to
suppress her sighs, and to receive the assassin with smiles of
joy and approbation. It was computed that, under the vague
appellation of the friends of Geta, above twenty thousand persons
of both sexes suffered death. His guards and freedmen, the
ministers of his serious business, and the companions of his
looser hours, those who by his interest had been promoted to any
commands in the army or provinces, with the long connected chain
of their dependants, were included in the proscription; which
endeavored to reach every one who had maintained the smallest
correspondence with Geta, who lamented his death, or who even
mentioned his name. ^26 Helvius Pertinax, son to the prince of
that name, lost his life by an unseasonable witticism. ^27 It was
a sufficient crime of Thrasea Priscus to be descended from a
family in which the love of liberty seemed an hereditary quality.
^28 The particular causes of calumny and suspicion were at length
exhausted; and when a senator was accused of being a secret enemy
to the government, the emperor was satisfied with the general
proof that he was a man of property and virtue. From this
well-grounded principle he frequently drew the most bloody
inferences. ^!
[Footnote 25: Dion, l. lxxvii. p. 1307]

[Footnote *: The most valuable paragraph of dion, which the
industry of M. Manas recovered, relates to this daughter of
Marcus, executed by Caracalla. Her name, as appears from Fronto,
as well as from Dion, was Cornificia. When commanded to choose
the kind of death she was to suffer, she burst into womanish
tears; but remembering her father Marcus, she thus spoke: - "O my
hapless soul, (... animula,) now imprisoned in the body, burst
forth! be free! show them, however reluctant to believe it, that
thou art the daughter of Marcus." She then laid aside all her
ornaments, and preparing herself for death, ordered her veins to
be opened. Mai. Fragm. Vatican ii p. 220. - M.]
[Footnote 26: Dion, l. lxxvii. p. 1290. Herodian, l. iv. p. 150.

Dion (p. 2298) says, that the comic poets no longer durst employ
the name of Geta in their plays, and that the estates of those
who mentioned it in their testaments were confiscated.]

[Footnote 27: Caracalla had assumed the names of several
conquered nations; Pertinax observed, that the name of Geticus
(he had obtained some advantage over the Goths, or Getae) would
be a proper addition to Parthieus, Alemannicus, &c. Hist.
August. p. 89.]

[Footnote 28: Dion, l. lxxvii. p. 1291. He was probably
descended from Helvidius Priscus, and Thrasea Paetus, those
patriots, whose firm, but useless and unseasonable, virtue has
been immortalized by Tacitus.
Note: M. Guizot is indignant at this "cold" observation of
Gibbon on the noble character of Thrasea; but he admits that his
virtue was useless to the public, and unseasonable amidst the
vices of his age. - M.]
[Footnote !: Caracalla reproached all those who demanded no
favors of him. "It is clear that if you make me no requests, you
do not trust me; if you do not trust me, you suspect me; if you
suspect me, you fear me; if you fear me, you hate me." And
forthwith he condemned them as conspirators, a good specimen of
the sorites in a tyrant's logic. See Fragm. Vatican p. - M.]

Chapter VI: Death Of Severus, Tyranny Of Caracalla, Usurpation Of

Part II.

The execution of so many innocent citizens was bewailed by
the secret tears of their friends and families. The death of
Papinian, the Praetorian Praefect, was lamented as a public
calamity. ^!! During the last seven years of Severus, he had
exercised the most important offices of the state, and, by his
salutary influence, guided the emperor's steps in the paths of
justice and moderation. In full assurance of his virtue and
abilities, Severus, on his death-bed, had conjured him to watch
over the prosperity and union of the Imperial family. ^29 The
honest labors of Papinian served only to inflame the hatred which
Caracalla had already conceived against his father's minister.
After the murder of Geta, the Praefect was commanded to exert the
powers of his skill and eloquence in a studied apology for that
atrocious deed. The philosophic Seneca had condescended to
compose a similar epistle to the senate, in the name of the son
and assassin of Agrippina. ^30 "That it was easier to commit than
to justify a parricide," was the glorious reply of Papinian; ^31
who did not hesitate between the loss of life and that of honor.
Such intrepid virtue, which had escaped pure and unsullied from
the intrigues courts, the habits of business, and the arts of his
profession, reflects more lustre on the memory of Papinian, than
all his great employments, his numerous writings, and the
superior reputation as a lawyer, which he has preserved through
every age of the Roman jurisprudence. ^32

[Footnote !!: Papinian was no longer Praetorian Praefect.
Caracalla had deprived him of that office immediately after the
death of Severus. Such is the statement of Dion; and the
testimony of Spartian, who gives Papinian the Praetorian
praefecture till his death, is of little weight opposed to that
of a senator then living at Rome. - W.]

[Footnote 29: It is said that Papinian was himself a relation of
the empress Julia.]

[Footnote 30: Tacit. Annal. xiv. 2.]
[Footnote 31: Hist. August. p. 88.]

[Footnote 32: With regard to Papinian, see Heineccius's Historia
Juris Roma ni, l. 330, &c.]

It had hitherto been the peculiar felicity of the Romans,
and in the worst of times the consolation, that the virtue of the
emperors was active, and their vice indolent. Augustus, Trajan,
Hadrian, and Marcus visited their extensive dominions in person,
and their progress was marked by acts of wisdom and beneficence.
The tyranny of Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian, who resided almost
constantly at Rome, or in the adjacent was confined to the
senatorial and equestrian orders. ^33 But Caracalla was the
common enemy of mankind. He left capital (and he never returned
to it) about a year after the murder of Geta. The rest of his
reign was spent in the several provinces of the empire,
particularly those of the East, and province was by turns the
scene of his rapine and cruelty. The senators, compelled by fear
to attend his capricious motions,were obliged to provide daily
entertainments at an immense expense, which he abandoned with
contempt to his guards; and to erect, in every city, magnificent
palaces and theatres, which he either disdained to visit, or
ordered immediately thrown down. The most wealthy families
ruined by partial fines and confiscations, and the great body of
his subjects oppressed by ingenious and aggravated taxes. ^34 In
the midst of peace, and upon the slightest provocation, he issued
his commands, at Alexandria, in Egypt for a general massacre.
From a secure post in the temple of Serapis, he viewed and
directed the slaughter of many thousand citizens, as well as
strangers, without distinguishing the number or the crime of the
sufferers; since as he coolly informed the senate, all the
Alexandrians, those who perished, and those who had escaped, were
alike guilty. ^35

[Footnote 33: Tiberius and Domitian never moved from the
neighborhood of Rome. Nero made a short journey into Greece.
"Et laudatorum Principum usus ex aequo, quamvis procul agentibus.

Saevi proximis ingruunt." Tacit. Hist. iv. 74.]

[Footnote 34: Dion, l. lxxvii. p. 1294.]

[Footnote 35: Dion, l. lxxvii. p. 1307. Herodian, l. iv. p. 158.

The former represents it as a cruel massacre, the latter as a
perfidious one too. It seems probable that the Alexandrians has
irritated the tyrant by their railleries, and perhaps by their

Note: After these massacres, Caracalla also deprived the
Alexandrians of their spectacles and public feasts; he divided
the city into two parts by a wall with towers at intervals, to
prevent the peaceful communications of the citizens. Thus was
treated the unhappy Alexandria, says Dion, by the savage beast of
Ausonia. This, in fact, was the epithet which the oracle had
applied to him; it is said, indeed, that he was much pleased with
the name and often boasted of it. Dion, lxxvii. p. 1307. - G.]

The wise instructions of Severus never made any lasting
impression on the mind of his son, who, although not destitute of
imagination and eloquence, was equally devoid of judgment and
humanity. ^36 One dangerous maxim, worthy of a tyrant, was
remembered and abused by Caracalla. "To secure the affections of
the army, and to esteem the rest of his subjects as of little
moment." ^37 But the liberality of the father had been restrained
by prudence, and his indulgence to the troops was tempered by
firmness and authority. The careless profusion of the son was
the policy of one reign, and the inevitable ruin both of the army
and of the empire. The vigor of the soldiers, instead of being
confirmed by the severe discipline of camps, melted away in the
luxury of cities. The excessive increase of their pay and
donatives ^38 exhausted the state to enrich the military order,
whose modesty in peace, and service in war, is best secured by an
honorable poverty. The demeanor of Caracalla was haughty and
full of pride; but with the troops he forgot even the proper
dignity of his rank, encouraged their insolent familiarity, and,
neglecting the essential duties of a general, affected to imitate
the dress and manners of a common soldier.

[Footnote 36: Dion, l. lxxvii. p. 1296.]

[Footnote 37: Dion, l. lxxvi. p. 1284. Mr. Wotton (Hist. of
Rome, p. 330) suspects that this maxim was invented by Caracalla
himself, and attributed to his father.]

[Footnote 38: Dion (l. lxxviii. p. 1343) informs us that the
extraordinary gifts of Caracalla to the army amounted annually to
seventy millions of drachmae (about two millions three hundred
and fifty thousand pounds.) There is another passage in Dion,
concerning the military pay, infinitely curious, were it not
obscure, imperfect, and probably corrupt. The best sense seems
to be, that the Praetorian guards received twelve hundred and
fifty drachmae, (forty pounds a year,) (Dion, l. lxxvii. p.
1307.) Under the reign of Augustus, they were paid at the rate of
two drachmae, or denarii, per day, 720 a year, (Tacit. Annal. i.
17.) Domitian, who increased the soldiers' pay one fourth, must
have raised the Praetorians to 960 drachmae, (Gronoviue de
Pecunia Veteri, l. iii. c. 2.) These successive augmentations
ruined the empire; for, with the soldiers' pay, their numbers too
were increased. We have seen the Praetorians alone increased
from 10,000 to 50,000 men.
Note: Valois and Reimar have explained in a very simple and
probable manner this passage of Dion, which Gibbon seems to me
not to have understood. He ordered that the soldiers should
receive, as the reward of their services the Praetorians 1250
drachms, the other 5000 drachms. Valois thinks that the numbers
have been transposed, and that Caracalla added 5000 drachms to
the donations made to the Praetorians, 1250 to those of the
legionaries. The Praetorians, in fact, always received more than
the others. The error of Gibbon arose from his considering that
this referred to the annual pay of the soldiers, while it relates
to the sum they received as a reward for their services on their
discharge: donatives means recompense for service. Augustus had
settled that the Praetorians, after sixteen campaigns, should
receive 5000 drachms: the legionaries received only 3000 after
twenty years. Caracalla added 5000 drachms to the donative of
the Praetorians, 1250 to that of the legionaries. Gibbon appears
to have been mistaken both in confounding this donative on
discharge with the annual pay, and in not paying attention to the
remark of Valois on the transposition of the numbers in the text.
- G]
It was impossible that such a character, and such conduct as
that of Caracalla, could inspire either love or esteem; but as
long as his vices were beneficial to the armies, he was secure
from the danger of rebellion. A secret conspiracy, provoked by
his own jealousy, was fatal to the tyrant. The Praetorian
praefecture was divided between two ministers. The military
department was intrusted to Adventus, an experienced rather than
able soldier; and the civil affairs were transacted by Opilius
Macrinus, who, by his dexterity in business, had raised himself,
with a fair character, to that high office. But his favor varied
with the caprice of the emperor, and his life might depend on the
slightest suspicion, or the most casual circumstance. Malice or
fanaticism had suggested to an African, deeply skilled in the
knowledge of futurity, a very dangerous prediction, that Macrinus
and his son were destined to reign over the empire. The report
was soon diffused through the province; and when the man was sent
in chains to Rome, he still asserted, in the presence of the
praefect of the city, the faith of his prophecy. That
magistrate, who had received the most pressing instructions to
inform himself of the successors of Caracalla, immediately
communicated the examination of the African to the Imperial
court, which at that time resided in Syria. But, notwithstanding
the diligence of the public messengers, a friend of Macrinus
found means to apprise him of the approaching danger. The
emperor received the letters from Rome; and as he was then
engaged in the conduct of a chariot race, he delivered them
unopened to the Praetorian Praefect, directing him to despatch
the ordinary affairs, and to report the more important business
that might be contained in them. Macrinus read his fate, and
resolved to prevent it. He inflamed the discontents of some
inferior officers, and employed the hand of Martialis, a
desperate soldier, who had been refused the rank of centurion.
The devotion of Caracalla prompted him to make a pilgrimage from
Edessa to the celebrated temple of the Moon at Carrhae. ^* He was
attended by a body of cavalry: but having stopped on the road for
some necessary occasion, his guards preserved a respectful
distance, and Martialis, approaching his person under a presence
of duty, stabbed him with a dagger. The bold assassin was
instantly killed by a Scythian archer of the Imperial guard.
Such was the end of a monster whose life disgraced human nature,
and whose reign accused the patience of the Romans. ^39 The
grateful soldiers forgot his vices, remembered only his partial
liberality, and obliged the senate to prostitute their own
dignity and that of religion, by granting him a place among the
gods. Whilst he was upon earth, Alexander the Great was the only
hero whom this god deemed worthy his admiration. He assumed the
name and ensigns of Alexander, formed a Macedonian phalanx of
guards, persecuted the disciples of Aristotle, and displayed,
with a puerile enthusiasm, the only sentiment by which he
discovered any regard for virtue or glory. We can easily
conceive, that after the battle of Narva, and the conquest of
Poland, Charles XII. (though he still wanted the more elegant
accomplishments of the son of Philip) might boast of having
rivalled his valor and magnanimity; but in no one action of his
life did Caracalla express the faintest resemblance of the
Macedonian hero, except in the murder of a great number of his
own and of his father's friends. ^40

[Footnote *: Carrhae, now Harran, between Edessan and Nisibis,
famous for the defeat of Crassus - the Haran from whence Abraham
set out for the land of Canaan. This city has always been
remarkable for its attachment to Sabaism - G]

[Footnote 39: Dion, l. lxxviii. p. 1312. Herodian, l. iv. p.
[Footnote 40: The fondness of Caracalla for the name and ensigns
of Alexander is still preserved on the medals of that emperor.
See Spanheim, de Usu Numismatum, Dissertat. xii. Herodian (l.
iv. p. 154) had seen very ridiculous pictures, in which a figure
was drawn with one side of the face like Alexander, and the other
like Caracalla.]

After the extinction of the house of Severus, the Roman
world remained three days without a master. The choice of the
army (for the authority of a distant and feeble senate was little
regarded) hung in anxious suspense, as no candidate presented
himself whose distinguished birth and merit could engage their
attachment and unite their suffrages. The decisive weight of the
Praetorian guards elevated the hopes of their praefects, and
these powerful ministers began to assert their legal claim to
fill the vacancy of the Imperial throne. Adventus, however, the
senior praefect, conscious of his age and infirmities, of his
small reputation, and his smaller abilities, resigned the
dangerous honor to the crafty ambition of his colleague Macrinus,
whose well-dissembled grief removed all suspicion of his being
accessary to his master's death. ^41 The troops neither loved nor
esteemed his character. They cast their eyes around in search of
a competitor, and at last yielded with reluctance to his promises
of unbounded liberality and indulgence. A short time after his
accession, he conferred on his son Diadumenianus, at the age of
only ten years, the Imperial title, and the popular name of
Antoninus. The beautiful figure of the youth, assisted by an
additional donative, for which the ceremony furnished a pretext,
might attract, it was hoped, the favor of the army, and secure
the doubtful throne of Macrinus.

[Footnote 41: Herodian, l. iv. p. 169. Hist. August. p. 94.]
The authority of the new sovereign had been ratified by the
cheerful submission of the senate and provinces. They exulted in
their unexpected deliverance from a hated tyrant, and it seemed
of little consequence to examine into the virtues of the
successor of Caracalla. But as soon as the first transports of
joy and surprise had subsided, they began to scrutinize the
merits of Macrinus with a critical severity, and to arraign the
nasty choice of the army. It had hitherto been considered as a
fundamental maxim of the constitution, that the emperor must be
always chosen in the senate, and the sovereign power, no longer
exercised by the whole body, was always delegated to one of its
members. But Macrinus was not a senator. ^42 The sudden
elevation of the Praetorian praefects betrayed the meanness of
their origin; and the equestrian order was still in possession of
that great office, which commanded with arbitrary sway the lives
and fortunes of the senate. A murmur of indignation was heard,
that a man, whose obscure ^43 extraction had never been
illustrated by any signal service, should dare to invest himself
with the purple, instead of bestowing it on some distinguished
senator, equal in birth and dignity to the splendor of the
Imperial station. As soon as the character of Macrinus was
surveyed by the sharp eye of discontent, some vices, and many
defects, were easily discovered. The choice of his ministers was
in many instances justly censured, and the dissastified
dissatisfied people, with their usual candor, accused at once his
indolent tameness and his excessive severity. ^44

[Footnote 42: Dion, l. lxxxviii. p. 1350. Elagabalus reproached
his predecessor with daring to seat himself on the throne;
though, as Praetorian praefect, he could not have been admitted
into the senate after the voice of the crier had cleared the
house. The personal favor of Plautianus and Sejanus had broke
through the established rule. They rose, indeed, from the
equestrian order; but they preserved the praefecture, with the
rank of senator and even with the annulship.]

[Footnote 43: He was a native of Caesarea, in Numidia, and began
his fortune by serving in the household of Plautian, from whose
ruin he narrowly escaped. His enemies asserted that he was born a
slave, and had exercised, among other infamous professions, that
of Gladiator. The fashion of aspersing the birth and condition
of an adversary seems to have lasted from the time of the Greek
orators to the learned grammarians of the last age.]

[Footnote 44: Both Dion and Herodian speak of the virtues and
vices of Macrinus with candor and impartiality; but the author of
his life, in the Augustan History, seems to have implicitly
copied some of the venal writers, employed by Elagabalus, to
blacken the memory of his predecessor.]
His rash ambition had climbed a height where it was
difficult to stand with firmness, and impossible to fall without
instant destruction. Trained in the arts of courts and the forms
of civil business, he trembled in the presence of the fierce and
undisciplined multitude, over whom he had assumed the command;
his military talents were despised, and his personal courage
suspected; a whisper that circulated in the camp, disclosed the
fatal secret of the conspiracy against the late emperor,
aggravated the guilt of murder by the baseness of hypocrisy, and
heightened contempt by detestation. To alienate the soldiers,
and to provoke inevitable ruin, the character of a reformer was
only wanting; and such was the peculiar hardship of his fate,
that Macrinus was compelled to exercise that invidious office.
The prodigality of Caracalla had left behind it a long train of
ruin and disorder; and if that worthless tyrant had been capable
of reflecting on the sure consequences of his own conduct, he
would perhaps have enjoyed the dark prospect of the distress and
calamities which he bequeathed to his successors.

In the management of this necessary reformation, Macrinus
proceeded with a cautious prudence, which would have restored
health and vigor to the Roman army in an easy and almost
imperceptible manner. To the soldiers already engaged in the
service, he was constrained to leave the dangerous privileges and
extravagant pay given by Caracalla; but the new recruits were
received on the more moderate though liberal establishment of
Severus, and gradually formed to modesty and obedience. ^45 One
fatal error destroyed the salutary effects of this judicious
plan. The numerous army, assembled in the East by the late
emperor, instead of being immediately dispersed by Macrinus
through the several provinces, was suffered to remain united in
Syria, during the winter that followed his elevation. In the
luxurious idleness of their quarters, the troops viewed their
strength and numbers, communicated their complaints, and revolved
in their minds the advantages of another revolution. The
veterans, instead of being flattered by the advantageous
distinction, were alarmed by the first steps of the emperor,
which they considered as the presage of his future intentions.
The recruits, with sullen reluctance, entered on a service, whose
labors were increased while its rewards were diminished by a
covetous and unwarlike sovereign. The murmurs of the army
swelled with impunity into seditious clamors; and the partial
mutinies betrayed a spirit of discontent and disaffection that
waited only for the slightest occasion to break out on every side
into a general rebellion. To minds thus disposed, the occasion
soon presented itself.

[Footnote 45: Dion, l. lxxxiii. p. 1336. The sense of the author
is as the intention of the emperor; but Mr. Wotton has mistaken
both, by understanding the distinction, not of veterans and
recruits, but of old and new legions. History of Rome, p. 347.]

The empress Julia had experienced all the vicissitudes of
fortune. From an humble station she had been raised to
greatness, only to taste the superior bitterness of an exalted
rank. She was doomed to weep over the death of one of her sons,
and over the life of the other. The cruel fate of Caracalla,
though her good sense must have long taught' er to expect it,
awakened the feelings of a mother and of an empress.
Notwithstanding the respectful civility expressed by the usurper
towards the widow of Severus, she descended with a painful
struggle into the condition of a subject, and soon withdrew
herself, by a voluntary death, from the anxious and humiliating
dependence. ^46 ^* Julia Maesa, her sister, was ordered to leave
the court and Antioch. She retired to Emesa with an immense
fortune, the fruit of twenty years' favor accompanied by her two
daughters, Soaemias and Mamae, each of whom was a widow, and each
had an only son. Bassianus, ^! for that was the name of the son
of Soaemias, was consecrated to the honorable ministry of high
priest of the Sun; and this holy vocation, embraced either from
prudence or superstition, contributed to raise the Syrian youth
to the empire of Rome. A numerous body of troops was stationed
at Emesa; and as the severe discipline of Macrinus had
constrained them to pass the winter encamped, they were eager to
revenge the cruelty of such unaccustomed hardships. The
soldiers, who resorted in crowds to the temple of the Sun, beheld
with veneration and delight the elegant dress and figure of the
young pontiff; they recognized, or they thought that they
recognized, the features of Caracalla, whose memory they now
adored. The artful Maesa saw and cherished their rising
partiality, and readily sacrificing her daughter's reputation to
the fortune of her grandson, she insinuated that Bassianus was
the natural son of their murdered sovereign. The sums
distributed by her emissaries with a lavish hand silenced every
objection, and the profusion sufficiently proved the affinity, or
at least the resemblance, of Bassianus with the great original.
The young Antoninus (for he had assumed and polluted that
respectable name) was declared emperor by the troops of Emesa,
asserted his hereditary right, and called aloud on the armies to
follow the standard of a young and liberal prince, who had taken
up arms to revenge his father's death and the oppression of the
military order. ^47
[Footnote 46: Dion, l. lxxviii. p. 1330. The abridgment of
Xiphilin, though less particular, is in this place clearer than
the original.]
[Footnote *: As soon as this princess heard of the death of
Caracalla, she wished to starve herself to death: the respect
shown to her by Macrinus, in making no change in her attendants
or her court, induced her to prolong her life. But it appears,
as far as the mutilated text of Dion and the imperfect epitome of
Xiphilin permit us to judge, that she conceived projects of
ambition, and endeavored to raise herself to the empire. She
wished to tread in the steps of Semiramis and Nitocris, whose
country bordered on her own. Macrinus sent her an order
immediately to leave Antioch, and to retire wherever she chose.
She returned to her former purpose, and starved herself to death.
- G.]

[Footnote !: He inherited this name from his great-grandfather of
the mother's side, Bassianus, father of Julia Maesa, his
grandmother, and of Julia Domna, wife of Severus. Victor (in his
epitome) is perhaps the only historian who has given the key to
this genealogy, when speaking of Caracalla. His Bassianus ex avi
materni nomine dictus. Caracalla, Elagabalus, and Alexander
Seyerus, bore successively this name. - G.]

[Footnote 47: According to Lampridius, (Hist. August. p. 135,)
Alexander Severus lived twenty-nine years three months and seven
days. As he was killed March 19, 235, he was born December 12,
205 and was consequently about this time thirteen years old, as
his elder cousin might be about seventeen. This computation suits
much better the history of the young princes than that of
Herodian, (l. v. p. 181,) who represents them as three years
younger; whilst, by an opposite error of chronology, he lengthens
the reign of Elagabalus two years beyond its real duration. For
the particulars of the conspiracy, see Dion, l. lxxviii. p. 1339.

Herodian, l. v. p. 184.]
Whilst a conspiracy of women and eunuchs was concerted with
prudence, and conducted with rapid vigor, Macrinus, who, by a
decisive motion, might have crushed his infant enemy, floated
between the opposite extremes of terror and security, which alike
fixed him inactive at Antioch. A spirit of rebellion diffused
itself through all the camps and garrisons of Syria, successive
detachments murdered their officers, ^48 and joined the party of
the rebels; and the tardy restitution of military pay and
privileges was imputed to the acknowledged weakness of Macrinus.
At length he marched out of Antioch, to meet the increasing and
zealous army of the young pretender. His own troops seemed to
take the field with faintness and reluctance; but, in the heat of
the battle, ^49 the Praetorian guards, almost by an involuntary
impulse, asserted the superiority of their valor and discipline.
The rebel ranks were broken; when the mother and grandmother of
the Syrian prince, who, according to their eastern custom, had
attended the army, threw themselves from their covered chariots,
and, by exciting the compassion of the soldiers, endeavored to
animate their drooping courage. Antoninus himself, who, in the
rest of his life, never acted like a man, in this important
crisis of his fate, approved himself a hero, mounted his horse,
and, at the head of his rallied troops, charged sword in hand
among the thickest of the enemy; whilst the eunuch Gannys, ^*
whose occupations had been confined to female cares and the soft
luxury of Asia, displayed the talents of an able and experienced
general. The battle still raged with doubtful violence, and
Macrinus might have obtained the victory, had he not betrayed his
own cause by a shameful and precipitate flight. His cowardice
served only to protract his life a few days, and to stamp
deserved ignominy on his misfortunes. It is scarcely necessary
to add, that his son Diadumenianus was involved in the same fate.

As soon as the stubborn Praetorians could be convinced that they
fought for a prince who had basely deserted them, they
surrendered to the conqueror: the contending parties of the Roman
army, mingling tears of joy and tenderness, united under the
banners of the imagined son of Caracalla, and the East
acknowledged with pleasure the first emperor of Asiatic

[Footnote 48: By a most dangerous proclamation of the pretended
Antoninus, every soldier who brought in his officer's head became
entitled to his private estate, as well as to his military

[Footnote 49: Dion, l. lxxviii. p. 1345. Herodian, l. v. p. 186.

The battle was fought near the village of Immae, about
two-and-twenty miles from Antioch.]

[Footnote *: Gannys was not a eunuch. Dion, p. 1355. - W]
The letters of Macrinus had condescended to inform the
senate of the slight disturbance occasioned by an impostor in
Syria, and a decree immediately passed, declaring the rebel and
his family public enemies; with a promise of pardon, however, to
such of his deluded adherents as should merit it by an immediate
return to their duty. During the twenty days that elapsed from
the declaration of the victory of Antoninus, (for in so short an
interval was the fate of the Roman world decided,) the capital
and the provinces, more especially those of the East, were
distracted with hopes and fears, agitated with tumult, and
stained with a useless effusion of civil blood, since whosoever
of the rivals prevailed in Syria must reign over the empire. The
specious letters in which the young conqueror announced his
victory to the obedient senate were filled with professions of
virtue and moderation; the shining examples of Marcus and
Augustus, he should ever consider as the great rule of his
administration; and he affected to dwell with pride on the
striking resemblance of his own age and fortunes with those of
Augustus, who in the earliest youth had revenged, by a successful
war, the murder of his father. By adopting the style of Marcus
Aurelius Antoninus, son of Antoninus and grandson of Severus, he
tacitly asserted his hereditary claim to the empire; but, by
assuming the tribunitian and proconsular powers before they had
been conferred on him by a decree of the senate, he offended the
delicacy of Roman prejudice. This new and injudicious violation
of the constitution was probably dictated either by the ignorance
of his Syrian courtiers, or the fierce disdain of his military
followers. ^50
[Footnote 50: Dion, l. lxxix. p. 1353.]

As the attention of the new emperor was diverted by the most
trifling amusements, he wasted many months in his luxurious
progress from Syria to Italy, passed at Nicomedia his first
winter after his victory, and deferred till the ensuing summer
his triumphal entry into the capital. A faithful picture,
however, which preceded his arrival, and was placed by his
immediate order over the altar of Victory in the senate house,
conveyed to the Romans the just but unworthy resemblance of his
person and manners. He was drawn in his sacerdotal robes of silk
and gold, after the loose flowing fashion of the Medes and
Phoenicians; his head was covered with a lofty tiara, his
numerous collars and bracelets were adorned with gems of an
inestimable value. His eyebrows were tinged with black, and his
cheeks painted with an artificial red and white. ^51 The grave
senators confessed with a sigh, that, after having long
experienced the stern tyranny of their own countrymen, Rome was
at length humbled beneath the effeminate luxury of Oriental
[Footnote 51: Dion, l. lxxix. p. 1363. Herodian, l. v. p. 189.]
The Sun was worshipped at Emesa, under the name of
Elagabalus, ^52 and under the form of a black conical stone,
which, as it was universally believed, had fallen from heaven on
that sacred place. To this protecting deity, Antoninus, not
without some reason, ascribed his elevation to the throne. The
display of superstitious gratitude was the only serious business
of his reign. The triumph of the god of Emesa over all the
religions of the earth, was the great object of his zeal and
vanity; and the appellation of Elagabalus (for he presumed as
pontiff and favorite to adopt that sacred name) was dearer to him
than all the titles of Imperial greatness. In a solemn
procession through the streets of Rome, the way was strewed with
gold dust; the black stone, set in precious gems, was placed on a
chariot drawn by six milk-white horses richly caparisoned. The
pious emperor held the reins, and, supported by his ministers,
moved slowly backwards, that he might perpetually enjoy the
felicity of the divine presence. In a magnificent temple raised
on the Palatine Mount, the sacrifices of the god Elagabalus were
celebrated with every circumstance of cost and solemnity. The
richest wines, the most extraordinary victims, and the rarest
aromatics, were profusely consumed on his altar. Around the
altar, a chorus of Syrian damsels performed their lascivious
dances to the sound of barbarian music, whilst the gravest
personages of the state and army, clothed in long Phoenician
tunics, officiated in the meanest functions, with affected zeal
and secret indignation. ^53

[Footnote 52: This name is derived by the learned from two Syrian
words, Ela a God, and Gabal, to form, the forming or plastic god,
a proper, and even happy epithet for the sun. Wotton's History of
Rome, p. 378
Note: The name of Elagabalus has been disfigured in various
ways. Herodian calls him; Lampridius, and the more modern
writers, make him Heliogabalus. Dion calls him Elegabalus; but
Elegabalus was the true name, as it appears on the medals.
(Eckhel. de Doct. num. vet. t. vii. p. 250.) As to its etymology,
that which Gibbon adduces is given by Bochart, Chan. ii. 5; but
Salmasius, on better grounds. (not. in Lamprid. in Elagab.,)
derives the name of Elagabalus from the idol of that god,
represented by Herodian and the medals in the form of a mountain,
(gibel in Hebrew,) or great stone cut to a point, with marks
which represent the sun. As it was not permitted, at Hierapolis,
in Syria, to make statues of the sun and moon, because, it was
said, they are themselves sufficiently visible, the sun was
represented at Emesa in the form of a great stone, which, as it
appeared, had fallen from heaven. Spanheim, Caesar. notes, p.
46. - G. The name of Elagabalus, in "nummis rarius legetur."
Rasche, Lex. Univ. Ref. Numm. Rasche quotes two. - M]

[Footnote 53: Herodian, l. v. p. 190.]

Chapter VI: Death Of Severus, Tyranny Of Caracalla, Usurpation Of

Part III.

To this temple, as to the common centre of religious
worship, the Imperial fanatic attempted to remove the Ancilia,
the Palladium, ^54 and all the sacred pledges of the faith of
Numa. A crowd of inferior deities attended in various stations
the majesty of the god of Emesa; but his court was still
imperfect, till a female of distinguished rank was admitted to
his bed. Pallas had been first chosen for his consort; but as it
was dreaded lest her warlike terrors might affright the soft
delicacy of a Syrian deity, the Moon, adorned by the Africans
under the name of Astarte, was deemed a more suitable companion
for the Sun. Her image, with the rich offerings of her temple as
a marriage portion, was transported with solemn pomp from
Carthage to Rome, and the day of these mystic nuptials was a
general festival in the capital and throughout the empire. ^55

[Footnote 54: He broke into the sanctuary of Vesta, and carried
away a statue, which he supposed to be the palladium; but the
vestals boasted that, by a pious fraud, they had imposed a
counterfeit image on the profane intruder. Hist. August., p.

[Footnote 55: Dion, l. lxxix. p. 1360. Herodian, l. v. p. 193.
The subjects of the empire were obliged to make liberal presents
to the new married couple; and whatever they had promised during
the life of Elagabalus was carefully exacted under the
administration of Mamaea.]

A rational voluptuary adheres with invariable respect to the
temperate dictates of nature, and improves the gratifications of
sense by social intercourse, endearing connections, and the soft
coloring of taste and the imagination. But Elagabalus, (I speak
of the emperor of that name,) corrupted by his youth, his
country, and his fortune, abandoned himself to the grossest
pleasures with ungoverned fury, and soon found disgust and
satiety in the midst of his enjoyments. The inflammatory powers
of art were summoned to his aid: the confused multitude of women,
of wines, and of dishes, and the studied variety of attitude and
sauces, served to revive his languid appetites. New terms and
new inventions in these sciences, the only ones cultivated and
patronized by the monarch, ^56 signalized his reign, and
transmitted his infamy to succeeding times. A capricious
prodigality supplied the want of taste and elegance; and whilst
Elagabalus lavished away the treasures of his people in the
wildest extravagance, his own voice and that of his flatterers
applauded a spirit of magnificence unknown to the tameness of his
predecessors. To confound the order of seasons and climates, ^57
to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to
subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of
his most delicious amusements. A long train of concubines, and a
rapid succession of wives, among whom was a vestal virgin,
ravished by force from her sacred asylum, ^58 were insufficient
to satisfy the impotence of his passions. The master of the
Roman world affected to copy the dress and manners of the female
sex, preferred the distaff to the sceptre, and dishonored the
principal dignities of the empire by distributing them among his
numerous lovers; one of whom was publicly invested with the title
and authority of the emperor's, or, as he more properly styled
himself, of the empress's husband. ^59
[Footnote 56: The invention of a new sauce was liberally
rewarded; but if it was not relished, the inventor was confined
to eat of nothing else till he had discoveredanother more
agreeable to the Imperial palate Hist. August. p. 111.]

[Footnote 57: He never would eat sea-fish except at a great
distance from the sea; he then would distribute vast quantities
of the rarest sorts, brought at an immense expense, to the
peasants of the inland country. Hist. August. p. 109.]

[Footnote 58: Dion, l. lxxix. p. 1358. Herodian, l. v. p. 192.]
[Footnote 59: Hierocles enjoyed that honor; but he would have
been supplanted by one Zoticus, had he not contrived, by a
potion, to enervate the powers of his rival, who, being found on
trial unequal to his reputation, was driven with ignominy from
the palace. Dion, l. lxxix. p. 1363, 1364. A dancer was made
praefect of the city, a charioteer praefect of the watch, a
barber praefect of the provisions. These three ministers, with
many inferior officers, were all recommended enormitate
membrorum. Hist. August. p. 105.]
It may seem probable, the vices and follies of Elagabalus
have been adorned by fancy, and blackened by prejudice. ^60 Yet,
confining ourselves to the public scenes displayed before the
Roman people, and attested by grave and contemporary historians,
their inexpressible infamy surpasses that of any other age or
country. The license of an eastern monarch is secluded from the
eye of curiosity by the inaccessible walls of his seraglio. The
sentiments of honor and gallantry have introduced a refinement of
pleasure, a regard for decency, and a respect for the public
opinion, into the modern courts of Europe; ^* but the corrupt and
opulent nobles of Rome gratified every vice that could be
collected from the mighty conflux of nations and manners. Secure
of impunity, careless of censure, they lived without restraint in
the patient and humble society of their slaves and parasites.
The emperor, in his turn, viewing every rank of his subjects with
the same contemptuous indifference, asserted without control his
sovereign privilege of lust and luxury.

[Footnote 60: Even the credulous compiler of his life, in the
Augustan History (p. 111) is inclined to suspect that his vices
may have been exaggerated.]

[Footnote *: Wenck has justly observed that Gibbon should have
reckoned the influence of Christianity in this great change. In
the most savage times, and the most corrupt courts, since the
introduction of Christianity there have been no Neros or
Domitians, no Commodus or Elagabalus. - M.]
The most worthless of mankind are not afraid to condemn in
others the same disorders which they allow in themselves; and can
readily discover some nice difference of age, character, or
station, to justify the partial distinction. The licentious
soldiers, who had raised to the throne the dissolute son of
Caracalla, blushed at their ignominious choice, and turned with
disgust from that monster, to contemplate with pleasure the
opening virtues of his cousin Alexander, the son of Mamaea. The
crafty Maesa, sensible that her grandson Elagabalus must
inevitably destroy himself by his own vices, had provided another
and surer support of her family. Embracing a favorable moment of
fondness and devotion, she had persuaded the young emperor to
adopt Alexander, and to invest him with the title of Caesar, that
his own divine occupations might be no longer interrupted by the
care of the earth. In the second rank that amiable prince soon
acquired the affections of the public, and excited the tyrant's
jealousy, who resolved to terminate the dangerous competition,
either by corrupting the manners, or by taking away the life, of
his rival. His arts proved unsuccessful; his vain designs were
constantly discovered by his own loquacious folly, and
disappointed by those virtuous and faithful servants whom the
prudence of Mamaea had placed about the person of her son. In a
hasty sally of passion, Elagabalus resolved to execute by force
what he had been unable to compass by fraud, and by a despotic
sentence degraded his cousin from the rank and honors of Caesar.
The message was received in the senate with silence, and in the
camp with fury. The Praetorian guards swore to protect
Alexander, and to revenge the dishonored majesty of the throne.
The tears and promises of the trembling Elagabalus, who only
begged them to spare his life, and to leave him in the possession
of his beloved Hierocles, diverted their just indignation; and
they contented themselves with empowering their praefects to
watch over the safety of Alexander, and the conduct of the
emperor. ^61
[Footnote 61: Dion, l. lxxix. p. 1365. Herodian, l. v. p. 195 -
201. Hist. August. p. 105. The last of the three historians
seems to have followed the best authors in his account of the

It was impossible that such a reconciliation should last, or
that even the mean soul of Elagabalus could hold an empire on
such humiliating terms of dependence. He soon attempted, by a
dangerous experiment, to try the temper of the soldiers. The
report of the death of Alexander, and the natural suspicion that
he had been murdered, inflamed their passions into fury, and the
tempest of the camp could only be appeased by the presence and
authority of the popular youth. Provoked at this new instance of
their affection for his cousin, and their contempt for his
person, the emperor ventured to punish some of the leaders of the
mutiny. His unseasonable severity proved instantly fatal to his
minions, his mother, and himself. Elagabalus was massacred by
the indignant Praetorians, his mutilated corpse dragged through
the streets of the city, and thrown into the Tiber. His memory
was branded with eternal infamy by the senate; the justice of
whose decree has been ratified by posterity. ^62

[See Island In The Tiber: Elagabalus was thrown into the Tiber
[Footnote 62: The aera of the death of Elagabalus, and of the
accession of Alexander, has employed the learning and ingenuity
of Pagi, Tillemont, Valsecchi, Vignoli, and Torre, bishop of
Adria. The question is most assuredly intricate; but I still
adhere to the authority of Dion, the truth of whose calculations
is undeniable, and the purity of whose text is justified by the
agreement of Xiphilin, Zonaras, and Cedrenus. Elagabalus reigned
three years nine months and four days, from his victory over
Macrinus, and was killed March 10, 222. But what shall we reply
to the medals, undoubtedly genuine, which reckon the fifth year
of his tribunitian power? We shall reply, with the learned
Valsecchi, that the usurpation of Macrinus was annihilated, and
that the son of Caracalla dated his reign from his father's
death? After resolving this great difficulty, the smaller knots
of this question may be easily untied, or cut asunder. Note:
This opinion of Valsecchi has been triumphantly contested by
Eckhel, who has shown the impossibility of reconciling it with
the medals of Elagabalus, and has given the most satisfactory
explanation of the five tribunates of that emperor. He ascended
the throne and received the tribunitian power the 16th of May, in
the year of Rome 971; and on the 1st January of the next year,
972, he began a new tribunate, according to the custom
established by preceding emperors. During the years 972, 973,
974, he enjoyed the tribunate, and commenced his fifth in the
year 975, during which be was killed on the 10th March. Eckhel de
Doct. Num. viii. 430 &c. - G.] In the room of Elagabalus, his
cousin Alexander was raised to the throne by the Praetorian
guards. His relation to the family of Severus, whose name he
assumed, was the same as that of his predecessor; his virtue and
his danger had already endeared him to the Romans, and the eager
liberality of the senate conferred upon him, in one day, the
various titles and powers of the Imperial dignity. ^63 But as
Alexander was a modest and dutiful youth, of only seventeen years
of age, the reins of government were in the hands of two women,
of his mother, Mamaea, and of Maesa, his grandmother. After the
death of the latter, who survived but a short time the elevation
of Alexander, Mamaea remained the sole regent of her son and of
the empire. [Footnote 63: Hist. August. p. 114. By this unusual
precipitation, the senate meant to confound the hopes of
pretenders, and prevent the factions of the armies.] In every age
and country, the wiser, or at least the stronger, of the two
sexes, has usurped the powers of the state, and confined the
other to the cares and pleasures of domestic life. In hereditary
monarchies, however, and especially in those of modern Europe,
the gallant spirit of chivalry, and the law of succession, have
accustomed us to allow a singular exception; and a woman is often
acknowledged the absolute sovereign of a great kingdom, in which
she would be deemed incapable of exercising the smallest
employment, civil or military. But as the Roman emperors were
still considered as the generals and magistrates of the republic,
their wives and mothers, although distinguished by the name of
Augusta were never associated to their personal honors; and a
female reign would have appeared an inexpiable prodigy in the
eyes of those primitive Romans, who married without love, or
loved without delicacy and respect. ^64 The haughty Agripina
aspired, indeed, to share the honors of the empire which she had
conferred on her son; but her mad ambition, detested by every
citizen who felt for the dignity of Rome, was disappointed by the
artful firmness of Seneca and Burrhus. ^65 The good sense, or the
indifference, of succeeding princes, restrained them from
offending the prejudices of their subjects; and it was reserved
for the profligate Elagabalus to discharge the acts of the senate
with the name of his mother Soaemias, who was placed by the side
of the consuls, and subscribed, as a regular member, the decrees
of the legislative assembly. Her more prudent sister, Mamaea,
declined the useless and odious prerogative, and a solemn law was
enacted, excluding women forever from the senate, and devoting to
the infernal gods the head of the wretch by whom this sanction
should be violated. ^66 The substance, not the pageantry, of
power. was the object of Mamaea's manly ambition. She maintained
an absolute and lasting empire over the mind of her son, and in
his affection the mother could not brook a rival. Alexander, with
her consent, married the daughter of a patrician; but his respect
for his father-in-law, and love for the empress, were
inconsistent with the tenderness of interest of Mamaea. The
patrician was executed on the ready accusation of treason, and
the wife of Alexander driven with ignominy from the palace, and
banished into Africa. ^67 [Footnote 64: Metellus Numidicus, the
censor, acknowledged to the Roman people, in a public oration,
that had kind nature allowed us to exist without the help of
women, we should be delivered from a very troublesome companion;
and he could recommend matrimony only as the sacrifice of private
pleasure to public duty. Aulus Gellius, i. 6.] [Footnote 65:
Tacit. Annal. xiii. 5.] [Footnote 66: Hist. August. p. 102,
107.] [Footnote 67: Dion, l. lxxx. p. 1369. Herodian, l. vi. p.
206. Hist. August. p. 131. Herodian represents the patrician as
innocent. The Augustian History, on the authority of Dexippus,
condemns him, as guilty of a conspiracy against the life of
Alexander. It is impossible to pronounce between them; but Dion
is an irreproachable witness of the jealousy and cruelty of
Mamaea towards the young empress, whose hard fate Alexander
lamented, but durst not oppose.] Notwithstanding this act of
jealous cruelty, as well as some instances of avarice, with which
Mamaea is charged, the general tenor of her administration was
equally for the benefit of her son and of the empire. With the
approbation of the senate, she chose sixteen of the wisest and
most virtuous senators as a perpetual council of state, before
whom every public business of moment was debated and determined.
The celebrated Ulpian, equally distinguished by his knowledge of,
and his respect for, the laws of Rome, was at their head; and the
prudent firmness of this aristocracy restored order and authority
to the government. As soon as they had purged the city from
foreign superstition and luxury, the remains of the capricious
tyranny of Elagabalus, they applied themselves to remove his
worthless creatures from every department of the public
administration, and to supply their places with men of virtue and
ability. Learning, and the love of justice, became the only
recommendations for civil offices; valor, and the love of
discipline, the only qualifications for military employments. ^68

[Footnote 68: Herodian, l. vi. p. 203. Hist. August. p. 119. The
latter insinuates, that when any law was to be passed, the
council was assisted by a number of able lawyers and experienced
senators, whose opinions were separately given, and taken down in
writing.] But the most important care of Mamaea and her wise
counsellors, was to form the character of the young emperor, on
whose personal qualities the happiness or misery of the Roman
world must ultimately depend. The fortunate soil assisted, and
even prevented, the hand of cultivation. An excellent
understanding soon convinced Alexander of the advantages of
virtue, the pleasure of knowledge, and the necessity of labor. A
natural mildness and moderation of temper preserved him from the
assaults of passion, and the allurements of vice. His unalterable
regard for his mother, and his esteem for the wise Ulpian,
guarded his unexperienced youth from the poison of flattery. ^*
[Footnote *: Alexander received into his chapel all the religions
which prevailed in the empire; he admitted Jesus Christ, Abraham,
Orpheus, Apollonius of Tyana, &c. It was almost certain that his
mother Mamaea had instructed him in the morality of Christianity.
Historians in general agree in calling her a Christian; there is
reason to believe that she had begun to have a taste for the
principles of Christianity. (See Tillemont, Alexander Severus)
Gibbon has not noticed this circumstance; he appears to have
wished to lower the character of this empress; he has throughout
followed the narrative of Herodian, who, by the acknowledgment of
Capitolinus himself, detested Alexander. Without believing the
exaggerated praises of Lampridius, he ought not to have followed
the unjust severity of Herodian, and, above all, not to have
forgotten to say that the virtuous Alexander Severus had insured
to the Jews the preservation of their privileges, and permitted
the exercise of Christianity. Hist. Aug. p. 121. The Christians
had established their worship in a public place, of which the
victuallers (cauponarii) claimed, not the property, but
possession by custom. Alexander answered, that it was better that
the place should be used for the service of God, in any form,
than for victuallers. - G. I have scrupled to omit this note, as
it contains some points worthy of notice; but it is very unjust
to Gibbon, who mentions almost all the circumstances, which he is
accused of omitting, in another, and, according to his plan, a
better place, and, perhaps, in stronger terms than M. Guizot. See
Chap. xvi. - M.] The simple journal of his ordinary occupations
exhibits a pleasing picture of an accomplished emperor, ^69 and,
with some allowance for the difference of manners, might well
deserve the imitation of modern princes. Alexander rose early:
the first moments of the day were consecrated to private
devotion, and his domestic chapel was filled with the images of
those heroes, who, by improving or reforming human life, had
deserved the grateful reverence of posterity. But as he deemed
the service of mankind the most acceptable worship of the gods,
the greatest part of his morning hours was employed in his
council, where he discussed public affairs, and determined
private causes, with a patience and discretion above his years.
The dryness of business was relieved by the charms of literature;
and a portion of time was always set apart for his favorite
studies of poetry, history, and philosophy. The works of Virgil
and Horace, the republics of Plato and Cicero, formed his taste,
enlarged his understanding, and gave him the noblest ideas of man
and government. The exercises of the body succeeded to those of
the mind; and Alexander, who was tall, active, and robust,
surpassed most of his equals in the gymnastic arts. Refreshed by
the use of the bath and a slight dinner, he resumed, with new
vigor, the business of the day; and, till the hour of supper, the
principal meal of the Romans, he was attended by his secretaries,
with whom he read and answered the multitude of letters,
memorials, and petitions, that must have been addressed to the
master of the greatest part of the world. His table was served
with the most frugal simplicity, and whenever he was at liberty
to consult his own inclination, the company consisted of a few
select friends, men of learning and virtue, amongst whom Ulpian
was constantly invited. Their conversation was familiar and
instructive; and the pauses were occasionally enlivened by the
recital of some pleasing composition, which supplied the place of
the dancers, comedians, and even gladiators, so frequently
summoned to the tables of the rich and luxurious Romans. ^70 The
dress of Alexander was plain and modest, his demeanor courteous
and affable: at the proper hours his palace was open to all his
subjects, but the voice of a crier was heard, as in the
Eleusinian mysteries, pronouncing the same salutary admonition:
"Let none enter these holy walls, unless he is conscious of a
pure and innocent mind." ^71 [Footnote 69: See his life in the
Augustan History. The undistinguishing compiler has buried these
interesting anecdotes under a load of trivial unmeaning
circumstances.] [Footnote 70: See the 13th Satire of Juvenal.]
[Footnote 71: Hist. August. p. 119.] Such a uniform tenor of
life, which left not a moment for vice or folly, is a better
proof of the wisdom and justice of Alexander's government, than
all the trifling details preserved in the compilation of
Lampridius. Since the accession of Commodus, the Roman world had
experienced, during the term of forty years, the successive and
various vices of four tyrants. From the death of Elagabalus, it
enjoyed an auspicious calm of thirteen years. ^* The provinces,
relieved from the oppressive taxes invented by Caracalla and his
pretended son, flourished in peace and prosperity, under the
administration of magistrates, who were convinced by experience
that to deserve the love of the subjects, was their best and only
method of obtaining the favor of their sovereign. While some
gentle restraints were imposed on the innocent luxury of the
Roman people, the price of provisions and the interest of money,
were reduced by the paternal care of Alexander, whose prudent
liberality, without distressing the industrious, supplied the
wants and amusements of the populace. The dignity, the freedom,
the authority of the senate was restored; and every virtuous
senator might approach the person of the emperor without a fear
and without a blush. [Footnote *: Wenck observes that Gibbon,
enchanted with the virtue of Alexander has heightened,
particularly in this sentence, its effect on the state of the
world. His own account, which follows, of the insurrections and
foreign wars, is not in harmony with this beautiful picture. -
M.] The name of Antoninus, ennobled by the virtues of Pius and
Marcus, had been communicated by adoption to the dissolute Verus,
and by descent to the cruel Commodus. It became the honorable
appellation of the sons of Severus, was bestowed on young
Diadumenianus, and at length prostituted to the infamy of the
high priest of Emesa. Alexander, though pressed by the studied,
and, perhaps, sincere importunity of the senate, nobly refused
the borrowed lustre of a name; whilst in his whole conduct he
labored to restore the glories and felicity of the age of the
genuine Antonines. ^72 [Footnote 72: See, in the Hist. August.
p. 116, 117, the whole contest between Alexander and the senate,
extracted from the journals of that assembly. It happened on the
sixth of March, probably of the year 223, when the Romans had
enjoyed, almost a twelvemonth, the blessings of his reign. Before
the appellation of Antoninus was offered him as a title of honor,
the senate waited to see whether Alexander would not assume it as
a family name.] In the civil administration of Alexander,
wisdom was enforced by power, and the people, sensible of the
public felicity, repaid their benefactor with their love and
gratitude. There still remained a greater, a more necessary, but
a more difficult enterprise; the reformation of the military
order, whose interest and temper, confirmed by long impunity,
rendered them impatient of the restraints of discipline, and
careless of the blessings of public tranquillity. In the
execution of his design, the emperor affected to display his
love, and to conceal his fear of the army. The most rigid economy
in every other branch of the administration supplied a fund of
gold and silver for the ordinary pay and the extraordinary
rewards of the troops. In their marches he relaxed the severe
obligation of carrying seventeen days' provision on their
shoulders. Ample magazines were formed along the public roads,
and as soon as they entered the enemy's country, a numerous train
of mules and camels waited on their haughty laziness. As
Alexander despaired of correcting the luxury of his soldiers, he
attempted, at least, to direct it to objects of martial pomp and
ornament, fine horses, splendid armor, and shields enriched with
silver and gold. He shared whatever fatigues he was obliged to
impose, visited, in person, the sick and wounded, preserved an
exact register of their services and his own gratitude, and
expressed on every occasion, the warmest regard for a body of
men, whose welfare, as he affected to declare, was so closely
connected with that of the state. ^73 By the most gentle arts he
labored to inspire the fierce multitude with a sense of duty, and
to restore at least a faint image of that discipline to which the
Romans owed their empire over so many other nations, as warlike
and more powerful than themselves. But his prudence was vain, his
courage fatal, and the attempt towards a reformation served only
to inflame the ills it was meant to cure. [Footnote 73: It was a
favorite saying of the emperor's Se milites magis servare, quam
seipsum, quod salus publica in his esset. Hist. Aug. p. 130.]
The Praetorian guards were attached to the youth of Alexander.
They loved him as a tender pupil, whom they had saved from a
tyrant's fury, and placed on the Imperial throne. That amiable
prince was sensible of the obligation; but as his gratitude was
restrained within the limits of reason and justice, they soon
were more dissatisfied with the virtues of Alexander, than they
had ever been with the vices of Elagabalus. Their praefect, the
wise Ulpian, was the friend of the laws and of the people; he was
considered as the enemy of the soldiers, and to his pernicious
counsels every scheme of reformation was imputed. Some trifling
accident blew up their discontent into a furious mutiny; and the
civil war raged, during three days, in Rome, whilst the life of
that excellent minister was defended by the grateful people.
Terrified, at length, by the sight of some houses in flames, and
by the threats of a general conflagration, the people yielded
with a sigh, and left the virtuous but unfortunate Ulpian to his
fate. He was pursued into the Imperial palace, and massacred at
the feet of his master, who vainly strove to cover him with the
purple, and to obtain his pardon from the inexorable soldiers. ^*
Such was the deplorable weakness of government, that the emperor
was unable to revenge his murdered friend and his insulted
dignity, without stooping to the arts of patience and
dissimulation. Epagathus, the principal leader of the mutiny, was
removed from Rome, by the honorable employment of praefect of
Egypt: from that high rank he was gently degraded to the
government of Crete; and when at length, his popularity among the
guards was effaced by time and absence, Alexander ventured to
inflict the tardy but deserved punishment of his crimes. ^74
Under the reign of a just and virtuous prince, the tyranny of the
army threatened with instant death his most faithful ministers,
who were suspected of an intention to correct their intolerable
disorders. The historian Dion Cassius had commanded the Pannonian
legions with the spirit of ancient discipline. Their brethren of
Rome, embracing the common cause of military license, demanded
the head of the reformer. Alexander, however, instead of yielding
to their seditious clamors, showed a just sense of his merit and
services, by appointing him his colleague in the consulship, and
defraying from his own treasury the expense of that vain dignity:
but as was justly apprehended, that if the soldiers beheld him
with the ensigns of his office, they would revenge the insult in
his blood, the nominal first magistrate of the state retired, by
the emperor's advice, from the city, and spent the greatest part
of his consulship at his villas in Campania. ^75 ^* [Footnote *:
Gibbon has confounded two events altogether different - the
quarrel of the people with the Praetorians, which lasted three
days, and the assassination of Ulpian by the latter. Dion relates
first the death of Ulpian, afterwards, reverting back according
to a manner which is usual with him, he says that during the life
of Ulpian, there had been a war of three days between the
Praetorians and the people. But Ulpian was not the cause. Dion
says, on the contrary, that it was occasioned by some unimportant
circumstance; whilst he assigns a weighty reason for the murder
of Ulpian, the judgment by which that Praetorian praefect had
condemned his predecessors, Chrestus and Flavian, to death, whom
the soldiers wished to revenge. Zosimus (l. 1, c. xi.) attributes
this sentence to Mamaera; but, even then, the troops might have
imputed it to Ulpian, who had reaped all the advantage and was
otherwise odious to them. - W.] [Footnote 74: Though the author
of the life of Alexander (Hist. August. p. 182) mentions the
sedition raised against Ulpian by the soldiers, he conceals the
catastrophe, as it might discover a weakness in the
administration of his hero. From this designed omission, we may
judge of the weight and candor of that author.] [Footnote 75:
For an account of Ulpian's fate and his own danger, see the
mutilated conclusion of Dion's History, l. lxxx. p. 1371.]
[Footnote *: Dion possessed no estates in Campania, and was not
rich. He only says that the emperor advised him to reside, during
his consulate, in some place out of Rome; that he returned to
Rome after the end of his consulate, and had an interview with
the emperor in Campania. He asked and obtained leave to pass the
rest of his life in his native city, (Nice, in Bithynia: ) it was
there that he finished his history, which closes with his second
consulship. - W.]]

Chapter VI: Death Of Severus, Tyranny Of Caracalla, Usurpation Of

Part IV.

The lenity of the emperor confirmed the insolence of the
troops; the legions imitated the example of the guards, and
defended their prerogative of licentiousness with the same
furious obstinacy. The administration of Alexander was an
unavailing struggle against the corruption of his age. In
llyricum, in Mauritania, in Armenia, in Mesopotamia, in Germany,
fresh mutinies perpetually broke out; his officers were murdered,
his authority was insulted, and his life at last sacrificed to
the fierce discontents of the army. ^76 One particular fact well
deserves to be recorded, as it illustrates the manners of the
troops, and exhibits a singular instance of their return to a
sense of duty and obedience. Whilst the emperor lay at Antioch,
in his Persian expedition, the particulars of which we shall
hereafter relate, the punishment of some soldiers, who had been
discovered in the baths of women, excited a sedition in the
legion to which they belonged. Alexander ascended his tribunal,
and with a modest firmness represented to the armed multitude the
absolute necessity, as well as his inflexible resolution, of
correcting the vices introduced by his impure predecessor, and of
maintaining the discipline, which could not be relaxed without
the ruin of the Roman name and empire. Their clamors interrupted
his mild expostulation. "Reserve your shout," said the undaunted
emperor, "till you take the field against the Persians, the
Germans, and the Sarmatians. Be silent in the presence of your
sovereign and benefactor, who bestows upon you the corn, the
clothing, and the money of the provinces. Be silent, or I shall
no longer style you solders, but citizens, ^77 if those indeed
who disclaim the laws of Rome deserve to be ranked among the
meanest of the people." His menaces inflamed the fury of the
legion, and their brandished arms already threatened his person.
"Your courage," resumed the intrepid Alexander, "would be more
nobly displayed in the field of battle; me you may destroy, you
cannot intimidate; and the severe justice of the republic would
punish your crime and revenge my death." The legion still
persisted in clamorous sedition, when the emperor pronounced,
with a cud voice, the decisive sentence, "Citizens! lay down
your arms, and depart in peace to your respective habitations."
The tempest was instantly appeased: the soldiers, filled with
grief and shame, silently confessed the justice of their
punishment, and the power of discipline, yielded up their arms
and military ensigns, and retired in confusion, not to their
camp, but to the several inns of the city. Alexander enjoyed,
during thirty days, the edifying spectacle of their repentance;
nor did he restore them to their former rank in the army, till he
had punished with death those tribunes whose connivance had
occasioned the mutiny. The grateful legion served the emperor
whilst living, and revenged him when dead. ^78
[Footnote 76: Annot. Reimar. ad Dion Cassius, l. lxxx. p. 1369.]
[Footnote 77: Julius Caesar had appeased a sedition with the same
word, Quirites; which, thus opposed to soldiers, was used in a
sense of contempt, and reduced the offenders to the less
honorable condition of mere citizens. Tacit. Annal. i. 43.]

[Footnote 78: Hist. August. p. 132.]

The resolutions of the multitude generally depend on a
moment; and the caprice of passion might equally determine the
seditious legion to lay down their arms at the emperor's feet, or
to plunge them into his breast. Perhaps, if this singular
transaction had been investigated by the penetration of a
philosopher, we should discover the secret causes which on that
occasion authorized the boldness of the prince, and commanded the
obedience of the troops; and perhaps, if it had been related by a
judicious historian, we should find this action, worthy of Caesar
himself, reduced nearer to the level of probability and the
common standard of the character of Alexander Severus. The
abilities of that amiable prince seem to have been inadequate to
the difficulties of his situation, the firmness of his conduct
inferior to the purity of his intentions. His virtues, as well
as the vices of Elagabalus, contracted a tincture of weakness and
effeminacy from the soft climate of Syria, of which he was a
native; though he blushed at his foreign origin, and listened
with a vain complacency to the flattering genealogists, who
derived his race from the ancient stock of Roman nobility. ^79
The pride and avarice of his mother cast a shade on the glories
of his reign; an by exacting from his riper years the same
dutiful obedience which she had justly claimed from his
unexperienced youth, Mamaea exposed to public ridicule both her
son's character and her own. ^80 The fatigues of the Persian war
irritated the military discontent; the unsuccessful event ^*
degraded the reputation of the emperor as a general, and even as
a soldier. Every cause prepared, and every circumstance
hastened, a revolution, which distracted the Roman empire with a
long series of intestine calamities.

[Footnote 79: From the Metelli. Hist. August. p. 119. The
choice was judicious. In one short period of twelve years, the
Metelli could reckon seven consulships and five triumphs. See
Velleius Paterculus, ii. 11, and the Fasti.]

[Footnote 80: The life of Alexander, in the Augustan History, is
the mere idea of a perfect prince, an awkward imitation of the
Cyropaedia. The account of his reign, as given by Herodian, is
rational and moderate, consistent with the general history of the
age; and, in some of the most invidious particulars, confirmed by
the decisive fragments of Dion. Yet from a very paltry
prejudice, the greater number of our modern writers abuse
Herodian, and copy the Augustan History. See Mess de Tillemont
and Wotton. From the opposite prejudice, the emperor Julian (in
Caesarib. p. 315) dwells with a visible satisfaction on the
effeminate weakness of the Syrian, and the ridiculous avarice of
his mother.]

[Footnote *: Historians are divided as to the success of the
campaign against the Persians; Herodian alone speaks of defeat.
Lampridius, Eutropius, Victor, and others, say that it was very
glorious to Alexander; that he beat Artaxerxes in a great battle,
and repelled him from the frontiers of the empire. This much is
certain, that Alexander, on his return to Rome, (Lamp. Hist. Aug.
c. 56, 133, 134,) received the honors of a triumph, and that he
said, in his oration to the people. Quirites, vicimus Persas,
milites divites reduximus, vobis congiarium pollicemur, cras
ludos circenses Persicos donabimus. Alexander, says Eckhel, had
too much modesty and wisdom to permit himself to receive honors
which ought only to be the reward of victory, if he had not
deserved them; he would have contented himself with dissembling
his losses. Eckhel, Doct. Num. vet. vii. 276. The medals
represent him as in triumph; one, among others, displays him
crowned by Victory between two rivers, the Euphrates and the
Tigris. P. M. TR. P. xii. Cos. iii. PP. Imperator paludatus D.
hastam. S. parazonium, stat inter duos fluvios humi jacentes, et
ab accedente retro Victoria coronatur. Ae. max. mod. (Mus. Reg.
Gall.) Although Gibbon treats this question more in detail when
he speaks of the Persian monarchy, I have thought fit to place
here what contradicts his opinion. - G]

The dissolute tyranny of Commodus, the civil wars occasioned
by his death, and the new maxims of policy introduced by the
house of Severus, had all contributed to increase the dangerous
power of the army, and to obliterate the faint image of laws and
liberty that was still impressed on the minds of the Romans. The
internal change, which undermined the foundations of the empire,
we have endeavored to explain with some degree of order and
perspicuity. The personal characters of the emperors, their
victories, laws, follies, and fortunes, can interest us no
farther than as they are connected with the general history of
the Decline and Fall of the monarchy. Our constant attention to
that great object will not suffer us to overlook a most important
edict of Antoninus Caracalla, which communicated to all the free
inhabitants of the empire the name and privileges of Roman
citizens. His unbounded liberality flowed not, however, from the
sentiments of a generous mind; it was the sordid result of
avarice, and will naturally be illustrated by some observations
on the finances of that state, from the victorious ages of the
commonwealth to the reign of Alexander Severus.
The siege of Veii in Tuscany, the first considerable
enterprise of the Romans, was protracted to the tenth year, much
less by the strength of the place than by the unskillfulness of
the besiegers. The unaccustomed hardships of so many winter
campaigns, at the distance of near twenty miles from home, ^81
required more than common encouragements; aud the senate wisely
prevented the clamors of the people, by the institution of a
regular pay for the soldiers, which was levied by a general
tribute, assessed according to an equitable proportion on the
property of the citizens. ^82 During more than two hundred years
after the conquest of Veii, the victories of the republic added
less to the wealth than to the power of Rome. The states of
Italy paid their tribute in military service only, and the vast
force, both by sea and land, which was exerted in the Punic wars,
was maintained at the expense of the Romans themselves. That
high-spirited people (such is often the generous enthusiasm of
freedom) cheerfully submitted to the most excessive but voluntary
burdens, in the just confidence that they should speedily enjoy
the rich harvest of their labors. Their expectations were not
disappointed. In the course of a few years, the riches of
Syracuse, of Carthage, of Macedonia, and of Asia, were brought in
triumph to Rome. The treasures of Perseus alone amounted to near
two millions sterling, and the Roman people, the sovereign of so
many nations, was forever delivered from the weight of taxes. ^83
The increasing revenue of the provinces was found sufficient to
defray the ordinary establishment of war and government, and the
superfluous mass of gold and silver was deposited in the temple
of Saturn, and reserved for any unforeseen emergency of the
state. ^84

[Footnote 81: According to the more accurate Dionysius, the city
itself was only a hundred stadia, or twelve miles and a half,
from Rome, though some out-posts might be advanced farther on the
side of Etruria. Nardini, in a professed treatise, has combated
the popular opinion and the authority of two popes, and has
removed Veii from Civita Castellana, to a little spot called
Isola, in the midway between Rome and the Lake Bracianno.

Note: See the interesting account of the site and ruins of
Veii in Sir W Gell's topography of Rome and its Vicinity. v. ii.
p. 303. - M.]
[Footnote 82: See the 4th and 5th books of Livy. In the Roman
census, property, power, and taxation were commensurate with each
[Footnote 83: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xxxiii. c. 3. Cicero de
Offic. ii. 22. Plutarch, P. Aemil. p. 275.]

[Footnote 84: See a fine description of this accumulated wealth
of ages in Phars. l. iii. v. 155, &c.]

History has never, perhaps, suffered a greater or more
irreparable injury than in the loss of the curious register ^*
bequeathed by Augustus to the senate, in which that experienced
prince so accurately balanced the revenues and expenses of the
Roman empire. ^85 Deprived of this clear and comprehensive
estimate, we are reduced to collect a few imperfect hints from
such of the ancients as have accidentally turned aside from the
splendid to the more useful parts of history. We are informed
that, by the conquests of Pompey, the tributes of Asia were
raised from fifty to one hundred and thirty-five millions of
drachms; or about four millions and a half sterling. ^86 ^! Under
the last and most indolent of the Ptolemies, the revenue of Egypt
is said to have amounted to twelve thousand five hundred talents;
a sum equivalent to more than two millions and a half of our
money, but which was afterwards considerably improved by the more
exact economy of the Romans, and the increase of the trade of
Aethiopia and India. ^87 Gaul was enriched by rapine, as Egypt
was by commerce, and the tributes of those two great provinces
have been compared as nearly equal to each other in value. ^88
The ten thousand Euboic or Phoenician talents, about four
millions sterling, ^89 which vanquished Carthage was condemned to
pay within the term of fifty years, were a slight acknowledgment
of the superiority of Rome, ^90 and cannot bear the least
proportion with the taxes afterwards raised both on the lands and
on the persons of the inhabitants, when the fertile coast of
Africa was reduced into a province. ^91

[Footnote *: See Rationarium imperii. Compare besides Tacitus,
Suet. Aug. c. ult. Dion, p. 832. Other emperors kept and
published similar registers. See a dissertation of Dr. Wolle, de
Rationario imperii Rom. Leipsig, 1773. The last book of Appian
also contained the statistics of the Roman empire, but it is
lost. - W.]

[Footnote 85: Tacit. in Annal. i. ll. It seems to have existed
in the time of Appian.]

[Footnote 86: Plutarch, in Pompeio, p. 642.]

[Footnote !: Wenck contests the accuracy of Gibbon's version of
Plutarch, and supposes that Pompey only raised the revenue from
50,000,000 to 85,000,000 of drachms; but the text of Plutarch
seems clearly to mean that his conquests added 85,000,000 to the
ordinary revenue. Wenck adds, "Plutarch says in another part,
that Antony made Asia pay, at one time, 200,000 talents, that is
to say, 38,875,000l. sterling." But Appian explains this by
saying that it was the revenue of ten years, which brings the
annual revenue, at the time of Antonv, to 3,875 000l. sterling. -

[Footnote 87: Strabo, l. xvii. p. 798.]

[Footnote 88: Velleius Paterculus, l. ii. c. 39. He seems to
give the preference to the revenue of Gaul.]

[Footnote 89: The Euboic, the Phoenician, and the Alexandrian
talents were double in weight to the Attic. See Hooper on
ancient weights and measures, p. iv. c. 5. It is very probable
that the same talent was carried from Tyre to Carthage.]

[Footnote 90: Polyb. l. xv. c. 2.]

[Footnote 91: Appian in Punicis, p. 84.]

Spain, by a very singular fatality, was the Peru and Mexico
of the old world. The discovery of the rich western continent by
the Phoenicians, and the oppression of the simple natives, who
were compelled to labor in their own mines for the benefit of
strangers, form an exact type of the more recent history of
Spanish America. ^92 The Phoenicians were acquainted only with
the sea-coast of Spain; avarice, as well as ambition, carried the
arms of Rome and Carthage into the heart of the country, and
almost every part of the soil was found pregnant with copper,
silver, and gold. ^* Mention is made of a mine near Carthagena
which yielded every day twenty-five thousand drachmns of silver,
or about three hundred thousand pounds a year. ^93 Twenty
thousand pound weight of gold was annually received from the
provinces of Asturia, Gallicia, and Lusitania. ^94

[Footnote 92: Diodorus Siculus, l. 5. Oadiz was built by the
Phoenicians a little more than a thousand years before Christ.
See Vell. Pa ter. i.2.]
[Footnote *: Compare Heeren's Researches vol. i. part ii. p.]
[Footnote 93: Strabo, l. iii. p. 148.]

[Footnote 94: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xxxiii. c. 3. He mentions
likewise a silver mine in Dalmatia, that yielded every day fifty
pounds to the state.]
We want both leisure and materials to pursue this curious
inquiry through the many potent states that were annihilated in
the Roman empire. Some notion, however, may be formed of the
revenue of the provinces where considerable wealth had been
deposited by nature, or collected by man, if we observe the
severe attention that was directed to the abodes of solitude and
sterility. Augustus once received a petition from the
inhabitants of Gyarus, humbly praying that they might be relieved
from one third of their excessive impositions. Their whole tax
amounted indeed to no more than one hundred and fifty drachms, or
about five pounds: but Gyarus was a little island, or rather a
rock, of the Aegean Sea, destitute of fresh water and every
necessary of life, and inhabited only by a few wretched
fishermen. ^95
[Footnote 95: Strabo, l. x. p. 485. Tacit. Annal. iu. 69, and
iv. 30. See Tournefort (Voyages au Levant, Lettre viii.) a very

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