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

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[Footnote 241: 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; [251] 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. [281]
[Footnote 25: Dion, l. lxxvii. p. 1307]
[Footnote 251: 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 281: 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 Marcinus.--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. [282] 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 281: 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 tumults. * 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. [381] 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 381: 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. 168.]
[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

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

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