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

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[Footnote 131: The note of M. Guizot on the tribunitian power applies

to the French translation rather than to the original. The former

has, maintenir la balance toujours egale, which implies much more than

Gibbon's general expression. The note belongs rather to the history of

the Republic than that of the Empire.--M]
To these accumulated honors, the policy of Augustus soon added the

splendid as well as important dignities of supreme pontiff, and of

censor. By the former he acquired the management of the religion, and

by the latter a legal inspection over the manners and fortunes, of the

Roman people. If so many distinct and independent powers did not exactly

unite with each other, the complaisance of the senate was prepared to

supply every deficiency by the most ample and extraordinary concessions.

The emperors, as the first ministers of the republic, were exempted

from the obligation and penalty of many inconvenient laws: they were

authorized to convoke the senate, to make several motions in the same

day, to recommend candidates for the honors of the state, to enlarge

the bounds of the city, to employ the revenue at their discretion, to

declare peace and war, to ratify treaties; and by a most comprehensive

clause, they were empowered to execute whatsoever they should judge

advantageous to the empire, and agreeable to the majesty of things

private or public, human of divine. [14]

[Footnote 14: See a fragment of a Decree of the Senate, conferring

on the emperor Vespasian all the powers granted to his predecessors,

Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius. This curious and important monument is

published in Gruter's Inscriptions, No. ccxlii. * Note: It is also in

the editions of Tacitus by Ryck, (Annal. p. 420, 421,) and Ernesti,

(Excurs. ad lib. iv. 6;) but this fragment contains so many

inconsistencies, both in matter and form, that its authenticity may be


When all the various powers of executive government were committed to

the Imperial magistrate, the ordinary magistrates of the commonwealth

languished in obscurity, without vigor, and almost without business. The

names and forms of the ancient administration were preserved by Augustus

with the most anxious care. The usual number of consuls, praetors, and

tribunes, [15] were annually invested with their respective ensigns

of office, and continued to discharge some of their least important

functions. Those honors still attracted the vain ambition of the Romans;

and the emperors themselves, though invested for life with the powers of

the consul ship, frequently aspired to the title of that annual dignity,

which they condescended to share with the most illustrious of their

fellow-citizens. [16] In the election of these magistrates, the

people, during the reign of Augustus, were permitted to expose all

the inconveniences of a wild democracy. That artful prince, instead

of discovering the least symptom of impatience, humbly solicited their

suffrages for himself or his friends, and scrupulously practised all the

duties of an ordinary candidate. [17] But we may venture to ascribe to

his councils the first measure of the succeeding reign, by which the

elections were transferred to the senate. [18] The assemblies of the

people were forever abolished, and the emperors were delivered from

a dangerous multitude, who, without restoring liberty, might have

disturbed, and perhaps endangered, the established government.

[Footnote 15: Two consuls were created on the Calends of January; but in

the course of the year others were substituted in their places, till

the annual number seems to have amounted to no less than twelve. The

praetors were usually sixteen or eighteen, (Lipsius in Excurs. D. ad

Tacit. Annal. l. i.) I have not mentioned the Aediles or Quaestors

Officers of the police or revenue easily adapt themselves to any form

of government. In the time of Nero, the tribunes legally possessed

the right of intercession, though it might be dangerous to exercise it

(Tacit. Annal. xvi. 26.) In the time of Trajan, it was doubtful whether

the tribuneship was an office or a name, (Plin. Epist. i. 23.)]

[Footnote 16: The tyrants themselves were ambitious of the consulship.

The virtuous princes were moderate in the pursuit, and exact in the

discharge of it. Trajan revived the ancient oath, and swore before the

consul's tribunal that he would observe the laws, (Plin. Panegyric c.

[Footnote 17: Quoties Magistratuum Comitiis interesset. Tribus cum

candidatis suis circunbat: supplicabatque more solemni. Ferebat et ipse

suffragium in tribubus, ut unus e populo. Suetonius in August c. 56.]
[Footnote 18: Tum primum Comitia e campo ad patres translata sunt.

Tacit. Annal. i. 15. The word primum seems to allude to some faint

and unsuccessful efforts which were made towards restoring them to the

people. Note: The emperor Caligula made the attempt: he rest red the

Comitia to the people, but, in a short time, took them away again. Suet.

in Caio. c. 16. Dion. lix. 9, 20. Nevertheless, at the time of Dion,

they preserved still the form of the Comitia. Dion. lviii. 20.--W.]
By declaring themselves the protectors of the people, Marius and Caesar

had subverted the constitution of their country. But as soon as the

senate had been humbled and disarmed, such an assembly, consisting of

five or six hundred persons, was found a much more tractable and

useful instrument of dominion. It was on the dignity of the senate that

Augustus and his successors founded their new empire; and they affected,

on every occasion, to adopt the language and principles of Patricians.

In the administration of their own powers, they frequently consulted

the great national council, and seemed to refer to its decision the

most important concerns of peace and war. Rome, Italy, and the internal

provinces, were subject to the immediate jurisdiction of the senate.

With regard to civil objects, it was the supreme court of appeal; with

regard to criminal matters, a tribunal, constituted for the trial of

all offences that were committed by men in any public station, or that

affected the peace and majesty of the Roman people. The exercise of the

judicial power became the most frequent and serious occupation of the

senate; and the important causes that were pleaded before them afforded

a last refuge to the spirit of ancient eloquence. As a council of

state, and as a court of justice, the senate possessed very considerable

prerogatives; but in its legislative capacity, in which it was supposed

virtually to represent the people, the rights of sovereignty were

acknowledged to reside in that assembly. Every power was derived from

their authority, every law was ratified by their sanction. Their regular

meetings were held on three stated days in every month, the Calends, the

Nones, and the Ides. The debates were conducted with decent freedom;

and the emperors themselves, who gloried in the name of senators, sat,

voted, and divided with their equals. To resume, in a few words, the

system of the Imperial government; as it was instituted by Augustus, and

maintained by those princes who understood their own interest and that

of the people, it may be defined an absolute monarchy disguised by the

forms of a commonwealth. The masters of the Roman world surrounded their

throne with darkness, concealed their irresistible strength, and humbly

professed themselves the accountable ministers of the senate, whose

supreme decrees they dictated and obeyed. [19]

[Footnote 19: Dion Cassius (l. liii. p. 703--714) has given a very loose

and partial sketch of the Imperial system. To illustrate and often to

correct him, I have meditated Tacitus, examined Suetonius, and consulted

the following moderns: the Abbe de la Bleterie, in the Memoires de

l'Academie des Inscriptions, tom. xix. xxi. xxiv. xxv. xxvii. Beaufort

Republique Romaine, tom. i. p. 255--275. The Dissertations of Noodt and

Gronovius de lege Regia, printed at Leyden, in the year 1731 Gravina de

Imperio Romano, p. 479--544 of his Opuscula. Maffei, Verona Illustrata,

p. i. p. 245, &c.] The face of the court corresponded with the forms of

the administration. The emperors, if we except those tyrants whose

capricious folly violated every law of nature and decency, disdained

that pomp and ceremony which might offend their countrymen, but could

add nothing to their real power. In all the offices of life, they

affected to confound themselves with their subjects, and maintained with

them an equal intercourse of visits and entertainments. Their habit,

their palace, their table, were suited only to the rank of an opulent

senator. Their family, however numerous or splendid, was composed

entirely of their domestic slaves and freedmen. [20] Augustus or Trajan

would have blushed at employing the meanest of the Romans in those

menial offices, which, in the household and bedchamber of a limited

monarch, are so eagerly solicited by the proudest nobles of Britain.]
[Footnote 20: A weak prince will always be governed by his domestics.

The power of slaves aggravated the shame of the Romans; and the senate

paid court to a Pallas or a Narcissus. There is a chance that a modern

favorite may be a gentleman.]

The deification of the emperors [21] is the only instance in which they

departed from their accustomed prudence and modesty. The Asiatic Greeks

were the first inventors, the successors of Alexander the first objects,

of this servile and impious mode of adulation. [211] It was easily

transferred from the kings to the governors of Asia; and the Roman

magistrates very frequently were adored as provincial deities, with the

pomp of altars and temples, of festivals and sacrifices. [22] It was

natural that the emperors should not refuse what the proconsuls had

accepted; and the divine honors which both the one and the other

received from the provinces, attested rather the despotism than the

servitude of Rome. But the conquerors soon imitated the vanquished

nations in the arts of flattery; and the imperious spirit of the first

Caesar too easily consented to assume, during his lifetime, a place

among the tutelar deities of Rome. The milder temper of his successor

declined so dangerous an ambition, which was never afterwards revived,

except by the madness of Caligula and Domitian. Augustus permitted

indeed some of the provincial cities to erect temples to his honor, on

condition that they should associate the worship of Rome with that of

the sovereign; he tolerated private superstition, of which he might be

the object; [23] but he contented himself with being revered by the

senate and the people in his human character, and wisely left to his

successor the care of his public deification. A regular custom was

introduced, that on the decease of every emperor who had neither lived

nor died like a tyrant, the senate by a solemn decree should place him

in the number of the gods: and the ceremonies of his apotheosis were

blended with those of his funeral. [231] This legal, and, as it should

seem, injudicious profanation, so abhorrent to our stricter principles,

was received with a very faint murmur, [24] by the easy nature of

Polytheism; but it was received as an institution, not of religion, but

of policy. We should disgrace the virtues of the Antonines by comparing

them with the vices of Hercules or Jupiter. Even the characters of

Caesar or Augustus were far superior to those of the popular deities.

But it was the misfortune of the former to live in an enlightened age,

and their actions were too faithfully recorded to admit of such a

mixture of fable and mystery, as the devotion of the vulgar requires. As

soon as their divinity was established by law, it sunk into oblivion,

without contributing either to their own fame, or to the dignity of

succeeding princes.

[Footnote 21: See a treatise of Vandale de Consecratione Principium.

It would be easier for me to copy, than it has been to verify, the

quotations of that learned Dutchman.]
[Footnote 211: This is inaccurate. The successors of Alexander were not

the first deified sovereigns; the Egyptians had deified and worshipped

many of their kings; the Olympus of the Greeks was peopled with

divinities who had reigned on earth; finally, Romulus himself had

received the honors of an apotheosis (Tit. Liv. i. 16) a long time

before Alexander and his successors. It is also an inaccuracy to

confound the honors offered in the provinces to the Roman governors, by

temples and altars, with the true apotheosis of the emperors; it was not

a religious worship, for it had neither priests nor sacrifices. Augustus

was severely blamed for having permitted himself to be worshipped as

a god in the provinces, (Tac. Ann. i. 10: ) he would not have incurred

that blame if he had only done what the governors were accustomed to

do.--G. from W. M. Guizot has been guilty of a still greater inaccuracy

in confounding the deification of the living with the apotheosis of the

dead emperors. The nature of the king-worship of Egypt is still

very obscure; the hero-worship of the Greeks very different from the

adoration of the "praesens numen" in the reigning sovereign.--M.]
[Footnote 22: See a dissertation of the Abbe Mongault in the first

volume of the Academy of Inscriptions.]

[Footnote 23: Jurandasque tuum per nomen ponimus aras, says Horace to

the emperor himself, and Horace was well acquainted with the court of

Augustus. Note: The good princes were not those who alone obtained

the honors of an apotheosis: it was conferred on many tyrants. See

an excellent treatise of Schaepflin, de Consecratione Imperatorum

Romanorum, in his Commentationes historicae et criticae. Bale, 1741, p.

[Footnote 231: The curious satire in the works of Seneca, is the strongest

remonstrance of profaned religion.--M.]

[Footnote 24: See Cicero in Philippic. i. 6. Julian in Caesaribus. Inque

Deum templis jurabit Roma per umbras, is the indignant expression of

Lucan; but it is a patriotic rather than a devout indignation.]
In the consideration of the Imperial government, we have frequently

mentioned the artful founder, under his well-known title of Augustus,

which was not, however, conferred upon him till the edifice was almost

completed. The obscure name of Octavianus he derived from a mean family,

in the little town of Aricia. [241] It was stained with the blood of the

proscription; and he was desirous, had it been possible, to erase all

memory of his former life. The illustrious surname of Caesar he had

assumed, as the adopted son of the dictator: but he had too much good

sense, either to hope to be confounded, or to wish to be compared with

that extraordinary man. It was proposed in the senate to dignify their

minister with a new appellation; and after a serious discussion, that of

Augustus was chosen, among several others, as being the most expressive

of the character of peace and sanctity, which he uniformly affected.

[25] Augustus was therefore a personal, Caesar a family distinction.

The former should naturally have expired with the prince on whom it was

bestowed; and however the latter was diffused by adoption and female

alliance, Nero was the last prince who could allege any hereditary claim

to the honors of the Julian line. But, at the time of his death, the

practice of a century had inseparably connected those appellations with

the Imperial dignity, and they have been preserved by a long succession

of emperors, Romans, Greeks, Franks, and Germans, from the fall of

the republic to the present time. A distinction was, however, soon

introduced. The sacred title of Augustus was always reserved for the

monarch, whilst the name of Caesar was more freely communicated to his

relations; and, from the reign of Hadrian, at least, was appropriated

to the second person in the state, who was considered as the presumptive

heir of the empire. [251]
[Footnote 241: Octavius was not of an obscure family, but of a considerable

one of the equestrian order. His father, C. Octavius, who possessed

great property, had been praetor, governor of Macedonia, adorned with

the title of Imperator, and was on the point of becoming consul when he

died. His mother Attia, was daughter of M. Attius Balbus, who had also

been praetor. M. Anthony reproached Octavius with having been born in

Aricia, which, nevertheless, was a considerable municipal city: he was

vigorously refuted by Cicero. Philip. iii. c. 6.--W. Gibbon probably

meant that the family had but recently emerged into notice.--M.]
[Footnote 25: Dion. Cassius, l. liii. p. 710, with the curious

Annotations of Reimar.]

[Footnote 251: The princes who by their birth or their adoption belonged

to the family of the Caesars, took the name of Caesar. After the

death of Nero, this name designated the Imperial dignity itself, and

afterwards the appointed successor. The time at which it was employed in

the latter sense, cannot be fixed with certainty. Bach (Hist. Jurisprud.

Rom. 304) affirms from Tacitus, H. i. 15, and Suetonius, Galba, 17, that

Galba conferred on Piso Lucinianus the title of Caesar, and from that

time the term had this meaning: but these two historians simply say that

he appointed Piso his successor, and do not mention the word Caesar.

Aurelius Victor (in Traj. 348, ed. Artzen) says that Hadrian first

received this title on his adoption; but as the adoption of Hadrian is

still doubtful, and besides this, as Trajan, on his death-bed, was

not likely to have created a new title for his successor, it is more

probable that Aelius Verus was the first who was called Caesar when

adopted by Hadrian. Spart. in Aelio Vero, 102.--W.]

Chapter III: The Constitution In The Age Of The Antonines.--Part II.

The tender respect of Augustus for a free constitution which he had

destroyed, can only be explained by an attentive consideration of the

character of that subtle tyrant. A cool head, an unfeeling heart, and a

cowardly disposition, prompted him at the age of nineteen to assume the

mask of hypocrisy, which he never afterwards laid aside. With the same

hand, and probably with the same temper, he signed the proscription of

Cicero, and the pardon of Cinna. His virtues, and even his vices, were

artificial; and according to the various dictates of his interest, he

was at first the enemy, and at last the father, of the Roman world.

[26] When he framed the artful system of the Imperial authority, his

moderation was inspired by his fears. He wished to deceive the people

by an image of civil liberty, and the armies by an image of civil

[Footnote 26: As Octavianus advanced to the banquet of the Caesars,

his color changed like that of the chameleon; pale at first, then red,

afterwards black, he at last assumed the mild livery of Venus and

the Graces, (Caesars, p. 309.) This image, employed by Julian in his

ingenious fiction, is just and elegant; but when he considers this

change of character as real and ascribes it to the power of philosophy,

he does too much honor to philosophy and to Octavianus.]

I. The death of Caesar was ever before his eyes. He had lavished wealth

and honors on his adherents; but the most favored friends of his uncle

were in the number of the conspirators. The fidelity of the legions

might defend his authority against open rebellion; but their vigilance

could not secure his person from the dagger of a determined republican;

and the Romans, who revered the memory of Brutus, [27] would applaud the

imitation of his virtue. Caesar had provoked his fate, as much as by

the ostentation of his power, as by his power itself. The consul or the

tribune might have reigned in peace. The title of king had armed the

Romans against his life. Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed

by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and

people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured

that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom. A feeble senate and

enervated people cheerfully acquiesced in the pleasing illusion, as

long as it was supported by the virtue, or even by the prudence, of

the successors of Augustus. It was a motive of self-preservation, not a

principle of liberty, that animated the conspirators against Caligula,

Nero, and Domitian. They attacked the person of the tyrant, without

aiming their blow at the authority of the emperor.

[Footnote 27: Two centuries after the establishment of monarchy, the

emperor Marcus Antoninus recommends the character of Brutus as a perfect

model of Roman virtue. * Note: In a very ingenious essay, Gibbon has

ventured to call in question the preeminent virtue of Brutus. Misc

Works, iv. 95.--M.]
There appears, indeed, one memorable occasion, in which the senate,

after seventy years of patience, made an ineffectual attempt to

re-assume its long-forgotten rights. When the throne was vacant by the

murder of Caligula, the consuls convoked that assembly in the Capitol,

condemned the memory of the Caesars, gave the watchword liberty to the

few cohorts who faintly adhered to their standard, and during

eight-and-forty hours acted as the independent chiefs of a free

commonwealth. But while they deliberated, the praetorian guards had

resolved. The stupid Claudius, brother of Germanicus, was already in

their camp, invested with the Imperial purple, and prepared to support

his election by arms. The dream of liberty was at an end; and the senate

awoke to all the horrors of inevitable servitude. Deserted by the

people, and threatened by a military force, that feeble assembly was

compelled to ratify the choice of the praetorians, and to embrace the

benefit of an amnesty, which Claudius had the prudence to offer, and the

generosity to observe. [28]

[See The Capitol: When the throne was vacant by the murder of Caligula,

the consuls convoked that assembly in the Capitol.]

[Footnote 28: It is much to be regretted that we have lost the part

of Tacitus which treated of that transaction. We are forced to content

ourselves with the popular rumors of Josephus, and the imperfect hints

of Dion and Suetonius.]

II. The insolence of the armies inspired Augustus with fears of a still

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