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mands of his benefactor Galerius, who, reserving to CHAP. himself the intermediate countries from the confines * of Italy to those of Syria, firmly established his power over three-fourths of the monarchy. In the full confidence, that the approaching death of Constantius would leave him sole master of the Roman world, we are assured that he had arranged in his mind a long succession of future princes, and that he meditated his own retreat from public life, after he should have accomplished a glorious reign of about twenty years." But within less than eighteen months, two unex-Ambition pected revolutions overturned the ambitious schemes #!. of Galerius. The hopes of uniting the western pro-. vinces to his empire were disappointed by the elevation of Constantine, whilst Italy and Africa were lost by the successful revolt of Maxentius. I. The fame of Constantine has rendered posterity Birth, edu: attentive to the most minute circumstances of his life od and actions. The place of his birth, as well as the ." condition of his mother Helena, have been the sub- A.D. 274. ject not only of literary but of national disputes. Notwithstanding the recent tradition, which assigns for her father a British king, we are obliged to confess, that Helena was the daughter of an innkeeper;" but, at the same time, we may defend the legality of her marriage, against those who have represented her as the concubine of Constantius.' The great Con
g These schemes, however, rest only on the very doubtful authority of Lactantius, de M. P. c. 20.
* This tradition, unknown to the contemporaries of Constantine, was invented in the darkness of monasteries, was embellished by Jeffrey of Monmouth, and the writers of the xiith century, has been defended by our antiquarians of the last age, and is seriously related in the ponderous History of England, compiled by Mr. Carte (vol. i. p. 147). He transports, however, the kingdom of Coil, the imaginary father of Helena, from Essex to the wall of Antoninus.
* Eutropius (x. 2) expresses, in a few words, the real truth, and the occasion of the error, “er obscuriori matrimonio ejus filius.” Zosimus (l. ii. p. 78) eagerly seized the most unfavourable report, and is followed by Orosius (vii. 25), whose authority is oddly enough overlooked by the indefatigable but partial Tillemont. By insisting on the divorce of Helena, Diocletian acknowledged her marriage.
stantine was most probably born at Naissus, in Dacia ; and it is not surprising, that in a family and province distinguished only by the profession of arms, the youth should discover very little inclination to improve his mind by the acquisition of knowledge." He was about eighteen years of age when his father was promoted to the rank of Caesar; but that fortunate event was attended with his mother's divorce; and the splendour of an imperial alliance reduced the son of Helena to a state of disgrace and humiliation. Instead of following Constantius in the West, he remained in the service of Diocletian, signalized his valour in the wars of Egypt and Persia, and gradually rose to the honourable station of a tribune of the first order. The figure of Constantine was tall and majestic ; he was dexterous in all his exercises, intrepid in war, affable in peace; in his whole conduct, the active spirit of youth was tempered by habitual prudence; and while his mind was engrossed by ambition, he appeared cold and insensible to the allurements of pleasure. The favour of the people and soldiers, who had named him as a worthy candidate for the rank of Caesar, served only to exasperate the jealousy of Galerius; and though prudence might restrain him from exercising any open violence, an absolute monarch is seldom at a loss how to execute a sure and secret revenge.' Every hour increased the danger of Constantine, and the anxiety of his father, who, by repeated letters, expressed the warmest desire of embracing his son. For some time the policy of Galerius supplied him with delays and excuses, but it was impossible long to refuse so natural a request of his associate, without maintaining his refusal by arms. The permission of the journey was reluctantlygranted, and whatever precautions the emperor might have taken to intercept a return, the consequences of which he, with so much reason, apprehended, they were effectually disappointed by the incredible diligence of Constantine." Leaving the palace of Nicomedia in the night, he travelled post through Bithynia, Thrace, Dacia, Pannonia, Italy, and Gaul, and amidst the joyful acclamations of the people, reached the port of Boulogne, in the very moment when his father was preparing to embark for Britain."
A. D. 292.
3 There are three opinions with regard to the place of Constantine's birth. 1. Our English antiquarians were used to dwell with rapture on the words of his panegyrist; “Britannias illic oriendo nobiles fecisti.” But this celebrated passage may be referred with as much propriety to the accession as to the nativity of Constantine. 2. Some of the modern Greeks have ascribed the honour of his birth to Drepanum, a town on the gulf of Nicomedia (Cellarius, tom. ii. p. 174), which Constantine dignified with the name of Helenopolis, and Justinian adorned with many splendid buildings (Procop. de AEdificiis, v.2). It is indeed probable enough, that Helena's father kept an inn at Drepanum; and that Constantius might lodge there when he returned from a Persian embassy in the reign of Aurelian. But in the wandering life of a soldier, the place of his marriage, and the places where his children are born, have very little connexion with each other. 3. The claim of Naissus is supported by the anonymous writer, published at the end of Ammianus, p. 710, and who in general copied very good materials : and it is confirmed by Julius Firmicius (de Astrologià, l. i. c. 4), who flourished under the reign of Constantine himself. Some objections have been raised against the integrity of the text, and the application of the passage of Firmicius; but the former is established by the best MSS. and the latter is very ably defended by Lipsius de Magnitudine Romana, l. iv. c. 11. et Supplement.
* Literis minus instructus. Anonym. ad Ammian. p. 710.
The British expedition, and an easy victory over Peath of
the barbarians of Caledonia, were the last exploits of:
the reign of Constantius. He ended his life in the ..."
imperial palace of York, fifteen months after he had of received the title of Augustus, and almost fourteen July 3.
years and a half after he had been promoted to the rank of Caesar. His death was immediately succeeded
| Galerius, or perhaps his own courage, exposed him to single combat with a Sarmatian (Anonym. p. 710) and with a monstrous lion. See Praxagoras apud Photium, p. 63. Praxagoras, an Athenian philosopher, had written a life of Constantine, in two books, which are now lost. He was a contemporary.
m Zosimus, l. ii. p. 78, 79. Lactantius de M. P. c. 24. The former tells a very foolish story, that Constantine caused all the post-horses, which he had used, to be hamstrung. Such a bloody execution, without preventing a pursuit, would have scattered suspicions, and might have stopped his journey.
"Anonym. p. 710. Panegyr. Veter. vii. 4. But Zosimus, l. ii. p. 79. Eusebius de Wit. Constant. l. i. c. 21. and Lactantius de M. P. c. 24, suppose. with less accuracy, that he found his father on his death-bed,
CHAP. by the elevation of Constantine. The ideas of in
heritance and succession are so very familiar, that the generality of mankind consider them as founded, not only in reason, but in nature itself. Our imagination readily transfers the same principles from private property to public dominion: and whenever a virtuous father leaves behind him a son whose merit seems to justify the esteem, or even the hopes, of the people, the joint influence of prejudice and of affection operates with irresistible weight. The flower of the western armies had followed Constantius into Britain, and the national troops were reinforced by a numerous body of Alemanni, who obeyed the orders of Crocus, one of their hereditary chieftains.” The opinion of their own importance, and the assurance that Britain, Gaul, and Spain, would acquiesce in their nomination, were diligently inculcated to the legions by the adherents of Constantine. The soldiers were asked, Whether they could hesitate a moment between the honour of placing at their head the worthy son of their beloved emperor, and the ignominy of tamely expecting the arrival of some obscure stranger, on whom it might please the sovereign of Asia to bestow the armies and provinces of the West? It was insinuated to them, that gratitude and liberality held a distinguished place among the virtues of Constantine; nor did that artful prince show himself to the troops, till they were prepared to salute him with the names of Augustus and Emperor. The throne was the object of his desires; and had he been less actuated by ambition, it was his only means of safety. He was well acquainted with the character and sentiments of Galerius, and sufficiently apprized, that if
• Cunctis qui aderant annitentibus, sed praecipue Croco (alii Eroco) Alamannorum Rege, auxilii gratia Constantium comitato, imperium capit. Victor Junior, c. 41. This is perhaps the first instance of a barbarian king, who assisted the Roman arms with an independent body of his own subjects. The practice grew familiar, and at last became fatal.
he wished to live he must determine to reign. The CHAP. decent and even obstinate resistance which he chose * to affect" was contrived to justify his usurpation; nor did he yield to the acclamations of the army, till he had provided the proper materials for a letter, which he immediately despatched to the emperor of the East. Constantine informed him of the melancholy event of his father's death, modestly asserted his natural claim to the succession, and respectfully lamented, that the affectionate violence of his troops had not permitted him to so, cit the imperial purple in the regular and constitutional manner. The first emotions of Galerius were those of surprise, disappointment, and rage; and as he could seldom restrain his passions, he loudly threatened, that he would commit to the flames both the letter and the messenger. But his resentment insensibly subsided; and . nowledged when he recollected the doubtful chance of war, when by Galois, he had weighed the character and strength of his *. : adversary, he consented to embrace the honourable ...; accommodation which the prudence of Constantine that of Auhad left open to him. Without either condemning go." or ratifying the choice of the British army, Galerius accepted the son of his deceased colleague, as the sovereign of the provinces beyond the Alps; but he gave him only the title of Caesar, and the fourth rank among the Roman princes, whilst he conferred the vacant place of Augustus on his favourite Severus. The apparent harmony of the empire was still preserved, and Constantine, who already possessed the substance, expected, without impatience, an oppor
tunity of obtaining the honours, of supreme power."
P His panegyrist Eumenius (vii. 8.) ventures to affirm, in the presence of Constantine, that he put spurs to his horse, and tried, but in vain, to escape from the hands of his soldiers.
* Lactantius de M. P. c. 25. Eumenius (vii. 8.) gives a rhetorical turn to the whole transaction.