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

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freedom and variety of study to the design and composition of a regular

work, which animates, while it confines, the daily application of the

Caprice and accident may influence my choice; but the dexterity of

self-love will contrive to applaud either active industry or philosophic

Downing Street, May 1, 1788.
P. S. I shall embrace this opportunity of introducing two verbal

remarks, which have not conveniently offered themselves to my notice.

1. As often as I use the definitions of beyond the Alps, the Rhine,

the Danube, &c., I generally suppose myself at Rome, and afterwards at

Constantinople; without observing whether this relative geography may

agree with the local, but variable, situation of the reader, or the

historian. 2. In proper names of foreign, and especially of Oriental

origin, it should be always our aim to express, in our English version,

a faithful copy of the original. But this rule, which is founded on

a just regard to uniformity and truth, must often be relaxed; and the

exceptions will be limited or enlarged by the custom of the language and

the taste of the interpreter. Our alphabets may be often defective; a

harsh sound, an uncouth spelling, might offend the ear or the eye of our

countrymen; and some words, notoriously corrupt, are fixed, and, as

it were, naturalized in the vulgar tongue. The prophet Mohammed can

no longer be stripped of the famous, though improper, appellation of

Mahomet: the well-known cities of Aleppo, Damascus, and Cairo, would

almost be lost in the strange descriptions of Haleb, Demashk, and Al

Cahira: the titles and offices of the Ottoman empire are fashioned by

the practice of three hundred years; and we are pleased to blend the

three Chinese monosyllables, Con-fu-tzee, in the respectable name of

Confucius, or even to adopt the Portuguese corruption of Mandarin. But

I would vary the use of Zoroaster and Zerdusht, as I drew my information

from Greece or Persia: since our connection with India, the genuine

Timour is restored to the throne of Tamerlane: our most correct writers

have retrenched the Al, the superfluous article, from the Koran; and we

escape an ambiguous termination, by adopting Moslem instead of Musulman,

in the plural number. In these, and in a thousand examples, the shades

of distinction are often minute; and I can feel, where I cannot explain,

the motives of my choice.

Chapter I: The Extent Of The Empire In The Age Of The Antonines--Part I.


The Extent And Military Force Of The Empire In The Age Of

The Antonines.

In the second century of the Christian Aera, the empire of Rome

comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized

portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were

guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful

influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the

provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages

of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved

with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the

sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive

powers of government. During a happy period of more than fourscore

years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and

abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. It is the

design of this, and of the two succeeding chapters, to describe the

prosperous condition of their empire; and after wards, from the death

of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its

decline and fall; a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is

still felt by the nations of the earth.
The principal conquests of the Romans were achieved under the republic;

and the emperors, for the most part, were satisfied with preserving

those dominions which had been acquired by the policy of the senate,

the active emulations of the consuls, and the martial enthusiasm of the

people. The seven first centuries were filled with a rapid succession of

triumphs; but it was reserved for Augustus to relinquish the ambitious

design of subduing the whole earth, and to introduce a spirit of

moderation into the public councils. Inclined to peace by his temper

and situation, it was easy for him to discover that Rome, in her present

exalted situation, had much less to hope than to fear from the chance

of arms; and that, in the prosecution of remote wars, the undertaking

became every day more difficult, the event more doubtful, and the

possession more precarious, and less beneficial. The experience of

Augustus added weight to these salutary reflections, and effectually

convinced him that, by the prudent vigor of his counsels, it would be

easy to secure every concession which the safety or the dignity of Rome

might require from the most formidable barbarians. Instead of exposing

his person and his legions to the arrows of the Parthians, he obtained,

by an honorable treaty, the restitution of the standards and prisoners

which had been taken in the defeat of Crassus. [1]

[Footnote 1: Dion Cassius, (l. liv. p. 736,) with the annotations

of Reimar, who has collected all that Roman vanity has left upon the

subject. The marble of Ancyra, on which Augustus recorded his own

exploits, asserted that he compelled the Parthians to restore the

ensigns of Crassus.]
His generals, in the early part of his reign, attempted the reduction

of Ethiopia and Arabia Felix. They marched near a thousand miles to

the south of the tropic; but the heat of the climate soon repelled the

invaders, and protected the un-warlike natives of those sequestered

regions. [2] The northern countries of Europe scarcely deserved the

expense and labor of conquest. The forests and morasses of Germany were

filled with a hardy race of barbarians, who despised life when it was

separated from freedom; and though, on the first attack, they seemed to

yield to the weight of the Roman power, they soon, by a signal act

of despair, regained their independence, and reminded Augustus of the

vicissitude of fortune. [3] On the death of that emperor, his testament

was publicly read in the senate. He bequeathed, as a valuable legacy to

his successors, the advice of confining the empire within those limits

which nature seemed to have placed as its permanent bulwarks and

boundaries: on the west, the Atlantic Ocean; the Rhine and Danube on

the north; the Euphrates on the east; and towards the south, the sandy

deserts of Arabia and Africa. [4]
[Footnote 2: Strabo, (l. xvi. p. 780,) Pliny the elder, (Hist. Natur. l.

vi. c. 32, 35, [28, 29,]) and Dion Cassius, (l. liii. p. 723, and l. liv.

p. 734,) have left us very curious details concerning these wars. The

Romans made themselves masters of Mariaba, or Merab, a city of Arabia

Felix, well known to the Orientals. (See Abulfeda and the Nubian

geography, p. 52) They were arrived within three days' journey of the

spice country, the rich object of their invasion.
Note: It is the city of Merab that the Arabs say was the residence of

Belkis, queen of Saba, who desired to see Solomon. A dam, by which the

waters collected in its neighborhood were kept back, having been swept

away, the sudden inundation destroyed this city, of which, nevertheless,

vestiges remain. It bordered on a country called Adramout, where a

particular aromatic plant grows: it is for this reason that we real in

the history of the Roman expedition, that they were arrived within three

days' journey of the spice country.--G. Compare Malte-Brun, Geogr. Eng.

trans. vol. ii. p. 215. The period of this flood has been copiously

discussed by Reiske, (Program. de vetusta Epocha Arabum, ruptura

cataractae Merabensis.) Add. Johannsen, Hist. Yemanae, p. 282. Bonn,

1828; and see Gibbon, note 16. to Chap. L.--M.

Note: Two, according to Strabo. The detailed account of Strabo makes

the invaders fail before Marsuabae: this cannot be the same place as

Mariaba. Ukert observes, that Aelius Gallus would not have failed for

want of water before Mariaba. (See M. Guizot's note above.) "Either,

therefore, they were different places, or Strabo is mistaken." (Ukert,

Geographic der Griechen und Romer, vol. i. p. 181.) Strabo, indeed,

mentions Mariaba distinct from Marsuabae. Gibbon has followed Pliny in

reckoning Mariaba among the conquests of Gallus. There can be little

doubt that he is wrong, as Gallus did not approach the capital of

Sabaea. Compare the note of the Oxford editor of Strabo.--M.]

[Footnote 3: By the slaughter of Varus and his three legions. See the first

book of the Annals of Tacitus. Sueton. in August. c. 23, and Velleius

Paterculus, l. ii. c. 117, &c. Augustus did not receive the melancholy

news with all the temper and firmness that might have been expected from

his character.]
[Footnote 4: Tacit. Annal. l. ii. Dion Cassius, l. lvi. p. 833, and the

speech of Augustus himself, in Julian's Caesars. It receives great light

from the learned notes of his French translator, M. Spanheim.]
Happily for the repose of mankind, the moderate system recommended

by the wisdom of Augustus, was adopted by the fears and vices of his

immediate successors. Engaged in the pursuit of pleasure, or in the

exercise of tyranny, the first Caesars seldom showed themselves to the

armies, or to the provinces; nor were they disposed to suffer, that

those triumphs which their indolence neglected, should be usurped by the

conduct and valor of their lieutenants. The military fame of a subject

was considered as an insolent invasion of the Imperial prerogative;

and it became the duty, as well as interest, of every Roman general, to

guard the frontiers intrusted to his care, without aspiring to conquests

which might have proved no less fatal to himself than to the vanquished

barbarians. [5]

[Footnote 5: Germanicus, Suetonius Paulinus, and Agricola were checked

and recalled in the course of their victories. Corbulo was put to death.

Military merit, as it is admirably expressed by Tacitus, was, in the

strictest sense of the word, imperatoria virtus.]

The only accession which the Roman empire received, during the first

century of the Christian Aera, was the province of Britain. In this

single instance, the successors of Caesar and Augustus were persuaded to

follow the example of the former, rather than the precept of the latter.

The proximity of its situation to the coast of Gaul seemed to invite

their arms; the pleasing though doubtful intelligence of a pearl

fishery, attracted their avarice; [6] and as Britain was viewed in the

light of a distinct and insulated world, the conquest scarcely formed

any exception to the general system of continental measures. After a war

of about forty years, undertaken by the most stupid, [7] maintained

by the most dissolute, and terminated by the most timid of all the

emperors, the far greater part of the island submitted to the Roman

yoke. [8] The various tribes of Britain possessed valor without conduct,

and the love of freedom without the spirit of union. They took up arms

with savage fierceness; they laid them down, or turned them against each

other, with wild inconsistency; and while they fought singly, they

were successively subdued. Neither the fortitude of Caractacus, nor the

despair of Boadicea, nor the fanaticism of the Druids, could avert the

slavery of their country, or resist the steady progress of the Imperial

generals, who maintained the national glory, when the throne was

disgraced by the weakest, or the most vicious of mankind. At the very

time when Domitian, confined to his palace, felt the terrors which

he inspired, his legions, under the command of the virtuous Agricola,

defeated the collected force of the Caledonians, at the foot of the

Grampian Hills; and his fleets, venturing to explore an unknown and

dangerous navigation, displayed the Roman arms round every part of the

island. The conquest of Britain was considered as already achieved; and

it was the design of Agricola to complete and insure his success, by the

easy reduction of Ireland, for which, in his opinion, one legion and a

few auxiliaries were sufficient. [9] The western isle might be improved

into a valuable possession, and the Britons would wear their chains

with the less reluctance, if the prospect and example of freedom were on

every side removed from before their eyes.
[Footnote 6: Caesar himself conceals that ignoble motive; but it is

mentioned by Suetonius, c. 47. The British pearls proved, however,

of little value, on account of their dark and livid color. Tacitus

observes, with reason, (in Agricola, c. 12,) that it was an inherent

defect. "Ego facilius crediderim, naturam margaritis deesse quam nobis


[Footnote 7: Claudius, Nero, and Domitian. A hope is expressed by

Pomponius Mela, l. iii. c. 6, (he wrote under Claudius,) that, by the

success of the Roman arms, the island and its savage inhabitants would

soon be better known. It is amusing enough to peruse such passages in

the midst of London.]
[Footnote 8: See the admirable abridgment given

by Tacitus, in the life of Agricola, and copiously, though perhaps not

completely, illustrated by our own antiquarians, Camden and Horsley.]
[Footnote 9: The Irish writers, jealous of their national honor,

are extremely provoked on this occasion, both with Tacitus and with

But the superior merit of Agricola soon occasioned his removal from the

government of Britain; and forever disappointed this rational, though

extensive scheme of conquest. Before his departure, the prudent general

had provided for security as well as for dominion. He had observed,

that the island is almost divided into two unequal parts by the opposite

gulfs, or, as they are now called, the Friths of Scotland. Across the

narrow interval of about forty miles, he had drawn a line of military

stations, which was afterwards fortified, in the reign of Antoninus

Pius, by a turf rampart, erected on foundations of stone. [10] This wall

of Antoninus, at a small distance beyond the modern cities of Edinburgh

and Glasgow, was fixed as the limit of the Roman province. The native

Caledonians preserved, in the northern extremity of the island, their

wild independence, for which they were not less indebted to their

poverty than to their valor. Their incursions were frequently repelled

and chastised; but their country was never subdued. [11] The masters of

the fairest and most wealthy climates of the globe turned with contempt

from gloomy hills, assailed by the winter tempest, from lakes concealed

in a blue mist, and from cold and lonely heaths, over which the deer of

the forest were chased by a troop of naked barbarians. [12]
[Footnote 10: See Horsley's Britannia Romana, l. i. c. 10. Note:

Agricola fortified the line from Dumbarton to Edinburgh, consequently

within Scotland. The emperor Hadrian, during his residence in Britain,

about the year 121, caused a rampart of earth to be raised between

Newcastle and Carlisle. Antoninus Pius, having gained new victories over

the Caledonians, by the ability of his general, Lollius, Urbicus,

caused a new rampart of earth to be constructed between Edinburgh and

Dumbarton. Lastly, Septimius Severus caused a wall of stone to be built

parallel to the rampart of Hadrian, and on the same locality. See John

Warburton's Vallum Romanum, or the History and Antiquities of the Roman

Wall. London, 1754, 4to.--W. See likewise a good note on the Roman wall

in Lingard's History of England, vol. i. p. 40, 4to edit--M.]

[Footnote 11: The poet Buchanan celebrates with elegance and spirit (see

his Sylvae, v.) the unviolated independence of his native country. But,

if the single testimony of Richard of Cirencester was sufficient to

create a Roman province of Vespasiana to the north of the wall, that

independence would be reduced within very narrow limits.]
[Footnote 12: See Appian (in Prooem.) and the uniform imagery of

Ossian's Poems, which, according to every hypothesis, were composed by a

native Caledonian.]
Such was the state of the Roman frontiers, and such the maxims of

Imperial policy, from the death of Augustus to the accession of Trajan.

That virtuous and active prince had received the education of a soldier,

and possessed the talents of a general. [13] The peaceful system of his

predecessors was interrupted by scenes of war and conquest; and the

legions, after a long interval, beheld a military emperor at their head.

The first exploits of Trajan were against the Dacians, the most warlike

of men, who dwelt beyond the Danube, and who, during the reign of

Domitian, had insulted, with impunity, the Majesty of Rome. [14] To the

strength and fierceness of barbarians they added a contempt for

life, which was derived from a warm persuasion of the immortality and

transmigration of the soul. [15] Decebalus, the Dacian king, approved

himself a rival not unworthy of Trajan; nor did he despair of his own

and the public fortune, till, by the confession of his enemies, he had

exhausted every resource both of valor and policy. [16] This memorable

war, with a very short suspension of hostilities, lasted five years;

and as the emperor could exert, without control, the whole force of the

state, it was terminated by an absolute submission of the barbarians.

[17] The new province of Dacia, which formed a second exception to the

precept of Augustus, was about thirteen hundred miles in circumference.

Its natural boundaries were the Niester, the Teyss or Tibiscus, the

Lower Danube, and the Euxine Sea. The vestiges of a military road may

still be traced from the banks of the Danube to the neighborhood of

Bender, a place famous in modern history, and the actual frontier of the

Turkish and Russian empires. [18]
[Footnote 13: See Pliny's Panegyric, which seems founded on facts.]
[Footnote 14: Dion Cassius, l. lxvii.]
[Footnote 15: Herodotus, l. iv. c. 94. Julian in the Caesars, with

Spanheims observations.]

[Footnote 16: Plin. Epist. viii. 9.]
[Footnote 17: Dion Cassius, l. lxviii. p. 1123, 1131. Julian in

Caesaribus Eutropius, viii. 2, 6. Aurelius Victor in Epitome.]

[Footnote 18: See a Memoir of M. d'Anville, on the Province of Dacia, in

the Academie des Inscriptions, tom. xxviii. p. 444--468.]

Trajan was ambitious of fame; and as long as mankind shall continue

to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their

benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the

most exalted characters. The praises of Alexander, transmitted by a

succession of poets and historians, had kindled a dangerous emulation in

the mind of Trajan. Like him, the Roman emperor undertook an expedition

against the nations of the East; but he lamented with a sigh, that his

advanced age scarcely left him any hopes of equalling the renown of the

son of Philip. [19] Yet the success of Trajan, however transient, was

rapid and specious. The degenerate Parthians, broken by intestine

discord, fled before his arms. He descended the River Tigris in triumph,

from the mountains of Armenia to the Persian Gulf. He enjoyed the honor

of being the first, as he was the last, of the Roman generals, who ever

navigated that remote sea. His fleets ravaged the coast of Arabia; and

Trajan vainly flattered himself that he was approaching towards the

confines of India. [20] Every day the astonished senate received the

intelligence of new names and new nations, that acknowledged his

sway. They were informed that the kings of Bosphorus, Colchos, Iberia,

Albania, Osrhoene, and even the Parthian monarch himself, had accepted

their diadems from the hands of the emperor; that the independent tribes

of the Median and Carduchian hills had implored his protection; and that

the rich countries of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, were reduced

into the state of provinces. [21] But the death of Trajan soon clouded

the splendid prospect; and it was justly to be dreaded, that so many

distant nations would throw off the unaccustomed yoke, when they were no

longer restrained by the powerful hand which had imposed it.

[Footnote 19: Trajan's sentiments are represented in a very just and

lively manner in the Caesars of Julian.]

[Footnote 20: Eutropius and Sextus Rufus have endeavored to perpetuate

the illusion. See a very sensible dissertation of M. Freret in the

Academie des Inscriptions, tom. xxi. p. 55.]
[Footnote 21: Dion Cassius, l. lxviii.; and the Abbreviators.]

Chapter I: The Extent Of The Empire In The Age Of The Antonines.--Part II.

It was an ancient tradition, that when the Capitol was founded by one of

the Roman kings, the god Terminus (who presided over boundaries, and

was represented, according to the fashion of that age, by a large stone)

alone, among all the inferior deities, refused to yield his place to

Jupiter himself. A favorable inference was drawn from his obstinacy,

which was interpreted by the augurs as a sure presage that the

boundaries of the Roman power would never recede. [22] During many ages,

the prediction, as it is usual, contributed to its own accomplishment.

But though Terminus had resisted the Majesty of Jupiter, he submitted

to the authority of the emperor Hadrian. [23] The resignation of all

the eastern conquests of Trajan was the first measure of his reign.

He restored to the Parthians the election of an independent sovereign;

withdrew the Roman garrisons from the provinces of Armenia, Mesopotamia,

and Assyria; and, in compliance with the precept of Augustus, once more

established the Euphrates as the frontier of the empire. [24] Censure,

which arraigns the public actions and the private motives of princes,

has ascribed to envy, a conduct which might be attributed to the

prudence and moderation of Hadrian. The various character of that

emperor, capable, by turns, of the meanest and the most generous

sentiments, may afford some color to the suspicion. It was, however,

scarcely in his power to place the superiority of his predecessor in a

more conspicuous light, than by thus confessing himself unequal to the

task of defending the conquests of Trajan.

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