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



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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 revolution.]
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 he 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. [581]
[Footnote 681: 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. [711] 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 711: 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. [731]

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



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