History of the decline and fall of the roman empire edward Gibbon, Esq

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every line betrays his own disappointment and envy, is obliged, however,

to say,--"--O Juvenes, circumspicit et stimulat vos. Materiamque sibi

Ducis indulgentia quaerit."--Satir. vii. 20. Note: Vespasian first gave

a salary to professors: he assigned to each professor of rhetoric, Greek

and Roman, centena sestertia. (Sueton. in Vesp. 18). Hadrian and the

Antonines, though still liberal, were less profuse.--G. from W.

Suetonius wrote annua centena L. 807, 5, 10.--M.]
[Footnote 1101: This judgment is rather severe: besides the physicians,

astronomers, and grammarians, among whom there were some very

distinguished men, there were still, under Hadrian, Suetonius, Florus,

Plutarch; under the Antonines, Arrian, Pausanias, Appian, Marcus

Aurelius himself, Sextus Empiricus, &c. Jurisprudence gained much by the

labors of Salvius Julianus, Julius Celsus, Sex. Pomponius, Caius, and

others.--G. from W. Yet where, among these, is the writer of original

genius, unless, perhaps Plutarch? or even of a style really elegant?--

The sublime Longinus, who, in somewhat a later period, and in the court

of a Syrian queen, preserved the spirit of ancient Athens, observes

and laments this degeneracy of his contemporaries, which debased their

sentiments, enervated their courage, and depressed their talents. "In

the same manner," says he, "as some children always remain pygmies,

whose infant limbs have been too closely confined, thus our tender

minds, fettered by the prejudices and habits of a just servitude,

are unable to expand themselves, or to attain that well-proportioned

greatness which we admire in the ancients; who, living under a popular

government, wrote with the same freedom as they acted." [111] This

diminutive stature of mankind, if we pursue the metaphor, was daily

sinking below the old standard, and the Roman world was indeed peopled

by a race of pygmies; when the fierce giants of the north broke in,

and mended the puny breed. They restored a manly spirit of freedom; and

after the revolution of ten centuries, freedom became the happy parent

of taste and science.

[Footnote 111: Longin. de Sublim. c. 44, p. 229, edit. Toll. Here, too,

we may say of Longinus, "his own example strengthens all his laws."

Instead of proposing his sentiments with a manly boldness, he insinuates

them with the most guarded caution; puts them into the mouth of a

friend, and as far as we can collect from a corrupted text, makes a show

of refuting them himself.]

Chapter III: The Constitution In The Age Of The Antonines.--Part I.
Of The Constitution Of The Roman Empire, In The Age Of The


The obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a state, in

which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is

intrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue,

and the command of the army. But, unless public liberty is protected

by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a

magistrate will soon degenerate into despotism. The influence of the

clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert

the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the

throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom

been seen on the side of the people. [101] A martial nobility and

stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and

collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable

of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring

[Footnote 101: Often enough in the ages of superstition, but not in the

interest of the people or the state, but in that of the church to which

all others were subordinate. Yet the power of the pope has often been of

great service in repressing the excesses of sovereigns, and in softening

manners.--W. The history of the Italian republics proves the error of

Gibbon, and the justice of his German translator's comment.--M.]
Every barrier of the Roman constitution had been levelled by the vast

ambition of the dictator; every fence had been extirpated by the cruel

hand of the triumvir. After the victory of Actium, the fate of the

Roman world depended on the will of Octavianus, surnamed Caesar, by

his uncle's adoption, and afterwards Augustus, by the flattery of the

senate. The conqueror was at the head of forty-four veteran legions,

[1] conscious of their own strength, and of the weakness of the

constitution, habituated, during twenty years' civil war, to every act

of blood and violence, and passionately devoted to the house of Caesar,

from whence alone they had received, and expected the most lavish

rewards. The provinces, long oppressed by the ministers of the republic,

sighed for the government of a single person, who would be the master,

not the accomplice, of those petty tyrants. The people of Rome, viewing,

with a secret pleasure, the humiliation of the aristocracy, demanded

only bread and public shows; and were supplied with both by the

liberal hand of Augustus. The rich and polite Italians, who had almost

universally embraced the philosophy of Epicurus, enjoyed the present

blessings of ease and tranquillity, and suffered not the pleasing dream

to be interrupted by the memory of their old tumultuous freedom. With

its power, the senate had lost its dignity; many of the most noble

families were extinct. The republicans of spirit and ability had

perished in the field of battle, or in the proscription. The door of the

assembly had been designedly left open, for a mixed multitude of more

than a thousand persons, who reflected disgrace upon their rank, instead

of deriving honor from it. [2]
[Footnote 1: Orosius, vi. 18. * Note: Dion says twenty-five, (or three,)

(lv. 23.) The united triumvirs had but forty-three. (Appian. Bell. Civ.

iv. 3.) The testimony of Orosius is of little value when more certain

may be had.--W. But all the legions, doubtless, submitted to Augustus

after the battle of Actium.--M.]
[Footnote 2: Julius Caesar introduced soldiers, strangers, and

half-barbarians into the senate (Sueton. in Caesar. c. 77, 80.) The

abuse became still more scandalous after his death.]
The reformation of the senate was one of the first steps in which

Augustus laid aside the tyrant, and professed himself the father of

his country. He was elected censor; and, in concert with his faithful

Agrippa, he examined the list of the senators, expelled a few members,

[201] whose vices or whose obstinacy required a public example, persuaded

near two hundred to prevent the shame of an expulsion by a voluntary

retreat, raised the qualification of a senator to about ten thousand

pounds, created a sufficient number of patrician families, and accepted

for himself the honorable title of Prince of the Senate, [202] which had

always been bestowed, by the censors, on the citizen the most eminent

for his honors and services. [3] But whilst he thus restored the dignity,

he destroyed the independence, of the senate. The principles of a free

constitution are irrecoverably lost, when the legislative power is

nominated by the executive.

[Footnote 201: Of these Dion and Suetonius knew nothing.--W. Dion says the


[Footnote 202: But Augustus, then Octavius, was censor, and in virtue of

that office, even according to the constitution of the free republic,

could reform the senate, expel unworthy members, name the Princeps

Senatus, &c. That was called, as is well known, Senatum legere. It was

customary, during the free republic, for the censor to be named Princeps

Senatus, (S. Liv. l. xxvii. c. 11, l. xl. c. 51;) and Dion expressly

says, that this was done according to ancient usage. He was empowered

by a decree of the senate to admit a number of families among the

patricians. Finally, the senate was not the legislative power.--W]
[Footnote 3: Dion Cassius, l. liii. p. 693. Suetonius in August. c. 35.]
Before an assembly thus modelled and prepared, Augustus pronounced

a studied oration, which displayed his patriotism, and disguised his

ambition. "He lamented, yet excused, his past conduct. Filial piety had

required at his hands the revenge of his father's murder; the humanity

of his own nature had sometimes given way to the stern laws of

necessity, and to a forced connection with two unworthy colleagues:

as long as Antony lived, the republic forbade him to abandon her to

a degenerate Roman, and a barbarian queen. He was now at liberty to

satisfy his duty and his inclination. He solemnly restored the senate

and people to all their ancient rights; and wished only to mingle with

the crowd of his fellow-citizens, and to share the blessings which he

had obtained for his country." [4]

[Footnote 4: Dion (l. liii. p. 698) gives us a prolix and bombast speech

on this great occasion. I have borrowed from Suetonius and Tacitus the

general language of Augustus.]
It would require the pen of Tacitus (if Tacitus had assisted at this

assembly) to describe the various emotions of the senate, those that

were suppressed, and those that were affected. It was dangerous to

trust the sincerity of Augustus; to seem to distrust it was still more

dangerous. The respective advantages of monarchy and a republic have

often divided speculative inquirers; the present greatness of the Roman

state, the corruption of manners, and the license of the soldiers,

supplied new arguments to the advocates of monarchy; and these general

views of government were again warped by the hopes and fears of each

individual. Amidst this confusion of sentiments, the answer of

the senate was unanimous and decisive. They refused to accept the

resignation of Augustus; they conjured him not to desert the republic,

which he had saved. After a decent resistance, the crafty tyrant

submitted to the orders of the senate; and consented to receive the

government of the provinces, and the general command of the Roman

armies, under the well-known names of Proconsul and Imperator. [5] But

he would receive them only for ten years. Even before the expiration

of that period, he hope that the wounds of civil discord would be

completely healed, and that the republic, restored to its pristine

health and vigor, would no longer require the dangerous interposition

of so extraordinary a magistrate. The memory of this comedy, repeated

several times during the life of Augustus, was preserved to the last

ages of the empire, by the peculiar pomp with which the perpetual

monarchs of Rome always solemnized the tenth years of their reign. [6]

[Footnote 5: Imperator (from which we have derived Emperor) signified

under her republic no more than general, and was emphatically bestowed

by the soldiers, when on the field of battle they proclaimed their

victorious leader worthy of that title. When the Roman emperors assumed

it in that sense, they placed it after their name, and marked how often

they had taken it.]

[Footnote 6: Dion. l. liii. p. 703, &c.]
Without any violation of the principles of the constitution, the general

of the Roman armies might receive and exercise an authority almost

despotic over the soldiers, the enemies, and the subjects of the

republic. With regard to the soldiers, the jealousy of freedom had, even

from the earliest ages of Rome, given way to the hopes of conquest,

and a just sense of military discipline. The dictator, or consul, had

a right to command the service of the Roman youth; and to punish an

obstinate or cowardly disobedience by the most severe and ignominious

penalties, by striking the offender out of the list of citizens, by

confiscating his property, and by selling his person into slavery.

[7] The most sacred rights of freedom, confirmed by the Porcian and

Sempronian laws, were suspended by the military engagement. In his

camp the general exercise an absolute power of life and death; his

jurisdiction was not confined by any forms of trial, or rules of

proceeding, and the execution of the sentence was immediate and without

appeal. [8] The choice of the enemies of Rome was regularly decided by

the legislative authority. The most important resolutions of peace and

war were seriously debated in the senate, and solemnly ratified by

the people. But when the arms of the legions were carried to a great

distance from Italy, the general assumed the liberty of directing

them against whatever people, and in whatever manner, they judged most

advantageous for the public service. It was from the success, not from

the justice, of their enterprises, that they expected the honors of a

triumph. In the use of victory, especially after they were no longer

controlled by the commissioners of the senate, they exercised the most

unbounded despotism. When Pompey commanded in the East, he rewarded

his soldiers and allies, dethroned princes, divided kingdoms, founded

colonies, and distributed the treasures of Mithridates. On his return

to Rome, he obtained, by a single act of the senate and people, the

universal ratification of all his proceedings. [9] Such was the power

over the soldiers, and over the enemies of Rome, which was either

granted to, or assumed by, the generals of the republic. They were,

at the same time, the governors, or rather monarchs, of the conquered

provinces, united the civil with the military character, administered

justice as well as the finances, and exercised both the executive and

legislative power of the state.

[Footnote 7: Livy Epitom. l. xiv. [c. 27.] Valer. Maxim. vi. 3.]
[Footnote 8: See, in the viiith book of Livy, the conduct of Manlius

Torquatus and Papirius Cursor. They violated the laws of nature and

humanity, but they asserted those of military discipline; and the

people, who abhorred the action, was obliged to respect the principle.]

[Footnote 9: By the lavish but unconstrained suffrages of the people,

Pompey had obtained a military command scarcely inferior to that of

Augustus. Among the extraordinary acts of power executed by the former

we may remark the foundation of twenty-nine cities, and the distribution

of three or four millions sterling to his troops. The ratification of

his acts met with some opposition and delays in the senate See Plutarch,

Appian, Dion Cassius, and the first book of the epistles to Atticus.]
From what has already been observed in the first chapter of this work,

some notion may be formed of the armies and provinces thus intrusted

to the ruling hand of Augustus. But as it was impossible that he could

personally command the regions of so many distant frontiers, he was

indulged by the senate, as Pompey had already been, in the permission

of devolving the execution of his great office on a sufficient number of

lieutenants. In rank and authority these officers seemed not inferior to

the ancient proconsuls; but their station was dependent and precarious.

They received and held their commissions at the will of a superior,

to whose auspicious influence the merit of their action was legally

attributed. [10] They were the representatives of the emperor. The

emperor alone was the general of the republic, and his jurisdiction,

civil as well as military, extended over all the conquests of Rome. It

was some satisfaction, however, to the senate, that he always delegated

his power to the members of their body. The imperial lieutenants were of

consular or praetorian dignity; the legions were commanded by senators,

and the praefecture of Egypt was the only important trust committed to a

Roman knight.

[Footnote 10: Under the commonwealth, a triumph could only be claimed by

the general, who was authorized to take the Auspices in the name of the

people. By an exact consequence, drawn from this principle of policy

and religion, the triumph was reserved to the emperor; and his most

successful lieutenants were satisfied with some marks of distinction,

which, under the name of triumphal honors, were invented in their

Within six days after Augustus had been compelled to accept so very

liberal a grant, he resolved to gratify the pride of the senate by

an easy sacrifice. He represented to them, that they had enlarged

his powers, even beyond that degree which might be required by the

melancholy condition of the times. They had not permitted him to refuse

the laborious command of the armies and the frontiers; but he must

insist on being allowed to restore the more peaceful and secure

provinces to the mild administration of the civil magistrate. In the

division of the provinces, Augustus provided for his own power and for

the dignity of the republic. The proconsuls of the senate, particularly

those of Asia, Greece, and Africa, enjoyed a more honorable character

than the lieutenants of the emperor, who commanded in Gaul or Syria. The

former were attended by lictors, the latter by soldiers. [105] A law

was passed, that wherever the emperor was present, his extraordinary

commission should supersede the ordinary jurisdiction of the governor;

a custom was introduced, that the new conquests belonged to the imperial

portion; and it was soon discovered that the authority of the Prtnce,

the favorite epithet of Augustus, was the same in every part of the

[Footnote 105: This distinction is without foundation. The

lieutenants of the emperor, who were called Propraetors, whether they

had been praetors or consuls, were attended by six lictors; those who

had the right of the sword, (of life and death over the soldiers.--M.)

bore the military habit (paludamentum) and the sword. The provincial

governors commissioned by the senate, who, whether they had been consuls

or not, were called Pronconsuls, had twelve lictors when they had been

consuls, and six only when they had but been praetors. The provinces of

Africa and Asia were only given to ex-consuls. See, on the Organization

of the Provinces, Dion, liii. 12, 16 Strabo, xvii 840.--W]

In return for this imaginary concession, Augustus obtained an important

privilege, which rendered him master of Rome and Italy. By a dangerous

exception to the ancient maxims, he was authorized to preserve his

military command, supported by a numerous body of guards, even in time

of peace, and in the heart of the capital. His command, indeed, was

confined to those citizens who were engaged in the service by the

military oath; but such was the propensity of the Romans to servitude,

that the oath was voluntarily taken by the magistrates, the senators,

and the equestrian order, till the homage of flattery was insensibly

converted into an annual and solemn protestation of fidelity.

Although Augustus considered a military force as the firmest foundation,

he wisely rejected it, as a very odious instrument of government. It was

more agreeable to his temper, as well as to his policy, to reign under

the venerable names of ancient magistracy, and artfully to collect, in

his own person, all the scattered rays of civil jurisdiction. With this

view, he permitted the senate to confer upon him, for his life, the

powers of the consular [11] and tribunitian offices, [12] which were,

in the same manner, continued to all his successors. The consuls had

succeeded to the kings of Rome, and represented the dignity of the

state. They superintended the ceremonies of religion, levied and

commanded the legions, gave audience to foreign ambassadors, and

presided in the assemblies both of the senate and people. The general

control of the finances was intrusted to their care; and though they

seldom had leisure to administer justice in person, they were considered

as the supreme guardians of law, equity, and the public peace. Such was

their ordinary jurisdiction; but whenever the senate empowered the first

magistrate to consult the safety of the commonwealth, he was raised by

that decree above the laws, and exercised, in the defence of liberty,

a temporary despotism. [13] The character of the tribunes was, in every

respect, different from that of the consuls. The appearance of the

former was modest and humble; but their persons were sacred and

inviolable. Their force was suited rather for opposition than for

action. They were instituted to defend the oppressed, to pardon

offences, to arraign the enemies of the people, and, when they judged it

necessary, to stop, by a single word, the whole machine of government.

As long as the republic subsisted, the dangerous influence, which

either the consul or the tribune might derive from their respective

jurisdiction, was diminished by several important restrictions. Their

authority expired with the year in which they were elected; the former

office was divided between two, the latter among ten persons; and,

as both in their private and public interest they were averse to

each other, their mutual conflicts contributed, for the most part, to

strengthen rather than to destroy the balance of the constitution. [131]

But when the consular and tribunitian powers were united, when they were

vested for life in a single person, when the general of the army was, at

the same time, the minister of the senate and the representative of the

Roman people, it was impossible to resist the exercise, nor was it easy

to define the limits, of his imperial prerogative.

[Footnote 11: Cicero (de Legibus, iii. 3) gives the consular office the

name of egia potestas; and Polybius (l. vi. c. 3) observes three powers

in the Roman constitution. The monarchical was represented and exercised

by the consuls.]

[Footnote 12: As the tribunitian power (distinct from the annual office)

was first invented by the dictator Caesar, (Dion, l. xliv. p. 384,) we

may easily conceive, that it was given as a reward for having so nobly

asserted, by arms, the sacred rights of the tribunes and people. See his

own Commentaries, de Bell. Civil. l. i.]
[Footnote 13: Augustus exercised nine annual consulships without

interruption. He then most artfully refused the magistracy, as well as

the dictatorship, absented himself from Rome, and waited till the fatal

effects of tumult and faction forced the senate to invest him with a

perpetual consulship. Augustus, as well as his successors, affected,

however, to conceal so invidious a title.]

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