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

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bloody daggers in their hands, ran through the streets, proclaiming

to the people and the soldiers the news of the happy revolution. The

enthusiasm of liberty was seconded by the promise of a large donative,

in lands and money; the statues of Maximin were thrown down; the capital

of the empire acknowledged, with transport, the authority of the two

Gordians and the senate; [24] and the example of Rome was followed by the

rest of Italy.

[Footnote 24: Herodian, l. vii. p. 244]
A new spirit had arisen in that assembly, whose long patience had been

insulted by wanton despotism and military license. The senate assumed

the reins of government, and, with a calm intrepidity, prepared to

vindicate by arms the cause of freedom. Among the consular senators

recommended by their merit and services to the favor of the emperor

Alexander, it was easy to select twenty, not unequal to the command of

an army, and the conduct of a war. To these was the defence of Italy

intrusted. Each was appointed to act in his respective department,

authorized to enroll and discipline the Italian youth; and instructed

to fortify the ports and highways, against the impending invasion of

Maximin. A number of deputies, chosen from the most illustrious of the

senatorian and equestrian orders, were despatched at the same time to

the governors of the several provinces, earnestly conjuring them to fly

to the assistance of their country, and to remind the nations of their

ancient ties of friendship with the Roman senate and people. The general

respect with which these deputies were received, and the zeal of Italy

and the provinces in favor of the senate, sufficiently prove that the

subjects of Maximin were reduced to that uncommon distress, in which

the body of the people has more to fear from oppression than from

resistance. The consciousness of that melancholy truth, inspires a

degree of persevering fury, seldom to be found in those civil wars

which are artificially supported for the benefit of a few factious and

designing leaders. [25]
[Footnote 25: Herodian, l. vii. p. 247, l. viii. p. 277. Hist. August. p


For while the cause of the Gordians was embraced with such diffusive

ardor, the Gordians themselves were no more. The feeble court of

Carthage was alarmed by the rapid approach of Capelianus, governor of

Mauritania, who, with a small band of veterans, and a fierce host of

barbarians, attacked a faithful, but unwarlike province. The younger

Gordian sallied out to meet the enemy at the head of a few guards, and

a numerous undisciplined multitude, educated in the peaceful luxury

of Carthage. His useless valor served only to procure him an honorable

death on the field of battle. His aged father, whose reign had not

exceeded thirty-six days, put an end to his life on the first news of

the defeat. Carthage, destitute of defence, opened her gates to the

conqueror, and Africa was exposed to the rapacious cruelty of a slave,

obliged to satisfy his unrelenting master with a large account of blood

and treasure. [26]

[Footnote 26: Herodian, l. vii. p. 254. Hist. August. p. 150-160. We

may observe, that one month and six days, for the reign of Gordian, is a

just correction of Casaubon and Panvinius, instead of the absurd reading

of one year and six months. See Commentar. p. 193. Zosimus relates, l.

i. p. 17, that the two Gordians perished by a tempest in the midst of

their navigation. A strange ignorance of history, or a strange abuse of

The fate of the Gordians filled Rome with just but unexpected terror.

The senate, convoked in the temple of Concord, affected to transact

the common business of the day; and seemed to decline, with trembling

anxiety, the consideration of their own and the public danger. A silent

consternation prevailed in the assembly, till a senator, of the name and

family of Trajan, awakened his brethren from their fatal lethargy. He

represented to them that the choice of cautious, dilatory measures had

been long since out of their power; that Maximin, implacable by nature,

and exasperated by injuries, was advancing towards Italy, at the head

of the military force of the empire; and that their only remaining

alternative was either to meet him bravely in the field, or tamely to

expect the tortures and ignominious death reserved for unsuccessful

rebellion. "We have lost," continued he, "two excellent princes; but

unless we desert ourselves, the hopes of the republic have not perished

with the Gordians. Many are the senators whose virtues have deserved,

and whose abilities would sustain, the Imperial dignity. Let us elect

two emperors, one of whom may conduct the war against the public enemy,

whilst his colleague remains at Rome to direct the civil administration.

I cheerfully expose myself to the danger and envy of the nomination,

and give my vote in favor of Maximus and Balbinus. Ratify my choice,

conscript fathers, or appoint in their place, others more worthy of the

empire." The general apprehension silenced the whispers of jealousy;

the merit of the candidates was universally acknowledged; and the house

resounded with the sincere acclamations of "Long life and victory to

the emperors Maximus and Balbinus. You are happy in the judgment of the

senate; may the republic be happy under your administration!" [27]

[Footnote 27: See the Augustan History, p. 166, from the registers of

the senate; the date is confessedly faulty but the coincidence of the

Apollinatian games enables us to correct it.]

Chapter VII: Tyranny Of Maximin, Rebellion, Civil Wars, Death Of Maximin.--Part II.

The virtues and the reputation of the new emperors justified the most

sanguine hopes of the Romans. The various nature of their talents seemed

to appropriate to each his peculiar department of peace and war, without

leaving room for jealous emulation. Balbinus was an admired orator, a

poet of distinguished fame, and a wise magistrate, who had exercised

with innocence and applause the civil jurisdiction in almost all the

interior provinces of the empire. His birth was noble, [28] his fortune

affluent, his manners liberal and affable. In him the love of pleasure

was corrected by a sense of dignity, nor had the habits of ease deprived

him of a capacity for business. The mind of Maximus was formed in a

rougher mould. By his valor and abilities he had raised himself from

the meanest origin to the first employments of the state and army. His

victories over the Sarmatians and the Germans, the austerity of his

life, and the rigid impartiality of his justice, while he was a Praefect

of the city, commanded the esteem of a people whose affections were

engaged in favor of the more amiable Balbinus. The two colleagues had

both been consuls, (Balbinus had twice enjoyed that honorable office,)

both had been named among the twenty lieutenants of the senate; and

since the one was sixty and the other seventy-four years old, [29] they

had both attained the full maturity of age and experience.

[Footnote 28: He was descended from Cornelius Balbus, a noble Spaniard,

and the adopted son of Theophanes, the Greek historian. Balbus obtained

the freedom of Rome by the favor of Pompey, and preserved it by the

eloquence of Cicero. (See Orat. pro Cornel. Balbo.) The friendship of

Caesar, (to whom he rendered the most important secret services in the

civil war) raised him to the consulship and the pontificate, honors

never yet possessed by a stranger. The nephew of this Balbus triumphed

over the Garamantes. See Dictionnaire de Bayle, au mot Balbus, where he

distinguishes the several persons of that name, and rectifies, with his

usual accuracy, the mistakes of former writers concerning them.]

[Footnote 29: Zonaras, l. xii. p. 622. But little dependence is to

be had on the authority of a modern Greek, so grossly ignorant of

the history of the third century, that he creates several imaginary

emperors, and confounds those who really existed.]

After the senate had conferred on Maximus and Balbinus an equal portion

of the consular and tribunitian powers, the title of Fathers of their

country, and the joint office of Supreme Pontiff, they ascended to the

Capitol to return thanks to the gods, protectors of Rome. [30] The solemn

rites of sacrifice were disturbed by a sedition of the people. The

licentious multitude neither loved the rigid Maximus, nor did they

sufficiently fear the mild and humane Balbinus. Their increasing numbers

surrounded the temple of Jupiter; with obstinate clamors they asserted

their inherent right of consenting to the election of their sovereign;

and demanded, with an apparent moderation, that, besides the two

emperors, chosen by the senate, a third should be added of the family

of the Gordians, as a just return of gratitude to those princes who had

sacrificed their lives for the republic. At the head of the city-guards,

and the youth of the equestrian order, Maximus and Balbinus attempted to

cut their way through the seditious multitude. The multitude, armed with

sticks and stones, drove them back into the Capitol. It is prudent to

yield when the contest, whatever may be the issue of it, must be fatal

to both parties. A boy, only thirteen years of age, the grandson of the

elder, and nephew [301] of the younger Gordian, was produced to the people,

invested with the ornaments and title of Caesar. The tumult was appeased

by this easy condescension; and the two emperors, as soon as they had

been peaceably acknowledged in Rome, prepared to defend Italy against

the common enemy.
[Footnote 30: Herodian, l. vii. p. 256, supposes that the senate was at

first convoked in the Capitol, and is very eloquent on the occasion. The

Augustar History p. 116, seems much more authentic.]
[Footnote 301: According to some, the son.--G.]
Whilst in Rome and Africa, revolutions succeeded each other with such

amazing rapidity, that the mind of Maximin was agitated by the most

furious passions. He is said to have received the news of the rebellion

of the Gordians, and of the decree of the senate against him, not with

the temper of a man, but the rage of a wild beast; which, as it could

not discharge itself on the distant senate, threatened the life of his

son, of his friends, and of all who ventured to approach his person. The

grateful intelligence of the death of the Gordians was quickly followed

by the assurance that the senate, laying aside all hopes of pardon or

accommodation, had substituted in their room two emperors, with whose

merit he could not be unacquainted. Revenge was the only consolation

left to Maximin, and revenge could only be obtained by arms. The

strength of the legions had been assembled by Alexander from all parts

of the empire. Three successful campaigns against the Germans and the

Sarmatians, had raised their fame, confirmed their discipline, and even

increased their numbers, by filling the ranks with the flower of the

barbarian youth. The life of Maximin had been spent in war, and the

candid severity of history cannot refuse him the valor of a soldier, or

even the abilities of an experienced general. [31] It might naturally be

expected, that a prince of such a character, instead of suffering the

rebellion to gain stability by delay, should immediately have marched

from the banks of the Danube to those of the Tyber, and that his

victorious army, instigated by contempt for the senate, and eager to

gather the spoils of Italy, should have burned with impatience to finish

the easy and lucrative conquest. Yet as far as we can trust to the

obscure chronology of that period, [32] it appears that the operations

of some foreign war deferred the Italian expedition till the ensuing

spring. From the prudent conduct of Maximin, we may learn that the

savage features of his character have been exaggerated by the pencil of

party, that his passions, however impetuous, submitted to the force

of reason, and that the barbarian possessed something of the generous

spirit of Sylla, who subdued the enemies of Rome before he suffered

himself to revenge his private injuries. [33]
[Footnote 31: In Herodian, l. vii. p. 249, and in the Augustan History,

we have three several orations of Maximin to his army, on the rebellion

of Africa and Rome: M. de Tillemont has very justly observed that they

neither agree with each other nor with truth. Histoire des Empereurs,

tom. iii. p. 799.]
[Footnote 32: The carelessness of the writers of that age, leaves us in

a singular perplexity. 1. We know that Maximus and Balbinus were killed

during the Capitoline games. Herodian, l. viii. p. 285. The authority

of Censorinus (de Die Natali, c. 18) enables us to fix those games with

certainty to the year 238, but leaves us in ignorance of the month

or day. 2. The election of Gordian by the senate is fixed with equal

certainty to the 27th of May; but we are at a loss to discover whether

it was in the same or the preceding year. Tillemont and Muratori, who

maintain the two opposite opinions, bring into the field a desultory

troop of authorities, conjectures and probabilities. The one seems

to draw out, the other to contract the series of events between those

periods, more than can be well reconciled to reason and history. Yet

it is necessary to choose between them. Note: Eckhel has more recently

treated these chronological questions with a perspicuity which gives

great probability to his conclusions. Setting aside all the historians,

whose contradictions are irreconcilable, he has only consulted the

medals, and has arranged the events before us in the following order:--

Maximin, A. U. 990, after having conquered the Germans, reenters

Pannonia, establishes his winter quarters at Sirmium, and prepares

himself to make war against the people of the North.

In the year 991, in the cal ends of January, commences his fourth

tribunate. The Gordians are chosen emperors in Africa, probably at the

beginning of the month of March. The senate confirms this election with

joy, and declares Maximin the enemy of Rome. Five days after he had

heard of this revolt, Maximin sets out from Sirmium on his march to

Italy. These events took place about the beginning of April; a little

after, the Gordians are slain in Africa by Capellianus, procurator

of Mauritania. The senate, in its alarm, names as emperors Balbus and

Maximus Pupianus, and intrusts the latter with the war against Maximin.

Maximin is stopped on his road near Aquileia, by the want of provisions,

and by the melting of the snows: he begins the siege of Aquileia at the

end of April. Pupianus assembles his army at Ravenna. Maximin and

his son are assassinated by the soldiers enraged at the resistance of

Aquileia: and this was probably in the middle of May. Pupianus returns

to Rome, and assumes the government with Balbinus; they are assassinated

towards the end of July Gordian the younger ascends the throne. Eckhel

de Doct. Vol vii 295.--G.]
[Footnote 33: Velleius Paterculus, l. ii. c. 24. The president de

Montesquieu (in his dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates) expresses the

sentiments of the dictator in a spirited, and even a sublime manner.]
When the troops of Maximin, advancing in excellent order, arrived at

the foot of the Julian Alps, they were terrified by the silence and

desolation that reigned on the frontiers of Italy. The villages and

open towns had been abandoned on their approach by the inhabitants, the

cattle was driven away, the provisions removed or destroyed, the bridges

broken down, nor was any thing left which could afford either shelter or

subsistence to an invader. Such had been the wise orders of the generals

of the senate: whose design was to protract the war, to ruin the army of

Maximin by the slow operation of famine, and to consume his strength in

the sieges of the principal cities of Italy, which they had plentifully

stored with men and provisions from the deserted country. Aquileia

received and withstood the first shock of the invasion. The streams that

issue from the head of the Hadriatic Gulf, swelled by the melting of the

winter snows, [34] opposed an unexpected obstacle to the arms of Maximin.

At length, on a singular bridge, constructed with art and difficulty, of

large hogsheads, he transported his army to the opposite bank, rooted up

the beautiful vineyards in the neighborhood of Aquileia, demolished the

suburbs, and employed the timber of the buildings in the engines and

towers, with which on every side he attacked the city. The walls, fallen

to decay during the security of a long peace, had been hastily repaired

on this sudden emergency: but the firmest defence of Aquileia consisted

in the constancy of the citizens; all ranks of whom, instead of being

dismayed, were animated by the extreme danger, and their knowledge

of the tyrant's unrelenting temper. Their courage was supported and

directed by Crispinus and Menophilus, two of the twenty lieutenants

of the senate, who, with a small body of regular troops, had thrown

themselves into the besieged place. The army of Maximin was repulsed in

repeated attacks, his machines destroyed by showers of artificial

fire; and the generous enthusiasm of the Aquileians was exalted into a

confidence of success, by the opinion that Belenus, their tutelar deity,

combated in person in the defence of his distressed worshippers. [35]
[Footnote 34: Muratori (Annali d' Italia, tom. ii. p. 294) thinks the

melting of the snows suits better with the months of June or July, than

with those of February. The opinion of a man who passed his life between

the Alps and the Apennines, is undoubtedly of great weight; yet I

observe, 1. That the long winter, of which Muratori takes advantage,

is to be found only in the Latin version, and not in the Greek text

of Herodian. 2. That the vicissitudes of suns and rains, to which the

soldiers of Maximin were exposed, (Herodian, l. viii. p. 277,) denote

the spring rather than the summer. We may observe, likewise, that these

several streams, as they melted into one, composed the Timavus, so

poetically (in every sense of the word) described by Virgil. They are

about twelve miles to the east of Aquileia. See Cluver. Italia Antiqua,

tom. i. p. 189, &c.]
[Footnote 35: Herodian, l. viii. p. 272. The Celtic deity was supposed

to be Apollo, and received under that name the thanks of the senate. A

temple was likewise built to Venus the Bald, in honor of the women of

Aquileia, who had given up their hair to make ropes for the military

The emperor Maximus, who had advanced as far as Ravenna, to secure that

important place, and to hasten the military preparations, beheld the

event of the war in the more faithful mirror of reason and policy. He

was too sensible, that a single town could not resist the persevering

efforts of a great army; and he dreaded, lest the enemy, tired with the

obstinate resistance of Aquileia, should on a sudden relinquish the

fruitless siege, and march directly towards Rome. The fate of the empire

and the cause of freedom must then be committed to the chance of a

battle; and what arms could he oppose to the veteran legions of the

Rhine and Danube? Some troops newly levied among the generous but

enervated youth of Italy; and a body of German auxiliaries, on whose

firmness, in the hour of trial, it was dangerous to depend. In the midst

of these just alarms, the stroke of domestic conspiracy punished the

crimes of Maximin, and delivered Rome and the senate from the calamities

that would surely have attended the victory of an enraged barbarian.
The people of Aquileia had scarcely experienced any of the common

miseries of a siege; their magazines were plentifully supplied, and

several fountains within the walls assured them of an inexhaustible

resource of fresh water. The soldiers of Maximin were, on the contrary,

exposed to the inclemency of the season, the contagion of disease, and

the horrors of famine. The open country was ruined, the rivers filled

with the slain, and polluted with blood. A spirit of despair and

disaffection began to diffuse itself among the troops; and as they

were cut off from all intelligence, they easily believed that the whole

empire had embraced the cause of the senate, and that they were left as

devoted victims to perish under the impregnable walls of Aquileia. The

fierce temper of the tyrant was exasperated by disappointments, which

he imputed to the cowardice of his army; and his wanton and ill-timed

cruelty, instead of striking terror, inspired hatred, and a just desire

of revenge. A party of Praetorian guards, who trembled for their wives

and children in the camp of Alba, near Rome, executed the sentence of

the senate.
Maximin, abandoned by his guards, was slain in his tent, with his son,

(whom he had associated to the honors of the purple,) Anulinus the

praefect, and the principal ministers of his tyranny. [36] The sight of

their heads, borne on the point of spears, convinced the citizens of

Aquileia that the siege was at an end; the gates of the city were thrown

open, a liberal market was provided for the hungry troops of Maximin,

and the whole army joined in solemn protestations of fidelity to the

senate and the people of Rome, and to their lawful emperors Maximus and

Balbinus. Such was the deserved fate of a brutal savage, destitute, as

he has generally been represented, of every sentiment that distinguishes

a civilized, or even a human being. The body was suited to the soul. The

stature of Maximin exceeded the measure of eight feet, and circumstances

almost incredible are related of his matchless strength and appetite.

[37] Had he lived in a less enlightened age, tradition and poetry

might well have described him as one of those monstrous giants, whose

supernatural power was constantly exerted for the destruction of

[Footnote 36: Herodian, l. viii. p. 279. Hist. August. p. 146. The

duration of Maximin's reign has not been defined with much accuracy,

except by Eutropius, who allows him three years and a few days, (l. ix.

1;) we may depend on the integrity of the text, as the Latin original is

checked by the Greek version of Paeanius.]

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