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CHAPTER XII. Conduct of the Army and Senate after the death ofgolia-Rom of Tacitus,
Probus, Carus, and his
Such was the unhappy condition of the Roman emperors, that, whatever might be their conduct, their fate was commonly the same. A life of pleasure or virtue, of severity or mildness, of indolence or glory, alike led to an untimely grave; and almost every reign is closed by the same disgusting repetition of treason and murder. he death of Aurelian, however, is remarkable by its extraordinary consequences. The legions admired, lamented, and revenged, their victorious chief. The artifice of his perfidious secretary was discovered and punished. The deluded conspirators attended the funeral of their injured sovereign, with sincere or well-feigned contrition, and submitted to the unanimous resolution of the military order, which was signified by the following epistle. “The brave and fortunate armies to the senate and people of Rome. he crime of one man, and the error of many, have deprived us of the late emperor Aurelian. May it please you, venerable lords and fathers! to place him in the number of the gods, and to appoint a successor whom your judgment shall declare worthy of the imperias purple ! None of those, whose É. or misfortune has contributed to our loss, shall ever reign over us.”(1) The Roman senators heard, without surprise, that another emperor had been assassinated in his camp; they secretly rejoiced in the fall of Aurelian; but the modest and dutiful address of the legions, when it was communicated in full assembly by the consul, diffused the most pleasing astonishment. Such honours as fear and perhaps esteem could extort, they liberally poured forth on the memory of their deceased sovereign. Such acknowledgments as gratitude could inspire, they returned to the faithful armies of the republic, who entertained so just a sense of the legal authority of the senate in the choice of an emperor. et, notwithstanding this flattering appeal, the most prudent of the assembly declined o: their safety and dignity to the caprice of an armed multitude. The strength of the legions was, indeed, a pledge of their sincerity, since those who may command are seldom reduced to the necessity of dissembling; but could it naturally be expected, that a hasty repentance would correct the inveterate habits of fourscore years? Should the soldiers relapse into their accustomed seditions, their insolence might disgrace the majesty of the senate, and prove fatal to the object of its choice. Motives like these dictated a decree, by which the election of a new emperor was referred to the suffrage of the military order. [A. D. 275.] The contention that ensued is one of the best attested, but most improbable events in the history of mankind.(2) The troops, as if satiated with the exercise of power, again conjured the senate to invest one of its own body with the imperial purple. The senate still persisted in its refusal; the army in its request. The reciprocal offer was pressed and rejected at least three times, and while the obstinate modesty .*. party was resolved to receive a master from the hands of the other, eight months insensibly elapsed; an amazing period of tranquil anarchy, during which the Roman world remained without a sovereign, without an usurper, and without a sedition." The generals and magistrates appointed by Aurelian continued to execute their †. functions; and it is observed, that a proconsul of Asia was the only considerable person removed from his office, in the whole course of the interregnum.
a'. Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 222. Aurelius Victor mentions a formal deputation from the troops to senate. (2) Vopiscus, our principal authority, wrote at Rome, sixteen years only after the death of Aurelian; and, besides the recent notoriety of the facts, constantly draws his materials from the journals of the Senate, and the original papers of the Ulpian library. Zosimus and Zonaras appear as ignorant of this transaction as they were in general of the *gonstitution 2
An event somewhat similar, but much less authentic, is supposed to have happened after the death of Romulus, who, in his life and character, bore some nity with Aurelian. The throne was vacant during twelve months, till the election of a Sabine philosopher, and the public peace was guarded in the same manner by the union of the several orders of the state. But, in the time of Numa and Romulus, the arms of the people were controlled by the o of the patricians; and the balance of freedom was easily preserved in a small, and virtuous community.(3) The decline of the Roman state, far different from its infancy, was attended with every circumstance that could banish from an interregnum the prospect of obedience and harmony: an immense and tumultuous capital, a wide extent of empire, the servile equality of despotism, an army of four hundred thousand mercenaries, and the experience of frequent revolutions. Yet, notwithstanding these temptations, the discipline and memory of Aurelian still restrained the seditious temper of the troops, as well as the fatal ambition of their leaders. The flower of the legions maintained their stations on the banks of the Bosphorus, and the imperial standard awed the less powerful camps of Rome and of the provinces. A generous though transient enthusiasm seemed to animate the military order; and we may hope that a few real patriots cultivated the returning friendship of the army and the senate, as the only expedient capable of restoring the republic to its ancient beauty and vloour. A. D. 275.] On the twenty-fifth of September, near eight months after the murder of Aurelian, the consus convoked an assembly of the senate, and reported the doubtful and dangerous situation of the empire. He slightly insinuated, that the precarious loyalty of the soldiers depended on the chance of every hour, and of every accident; but he represented, with the most convincing eloquence, the various dangers that o attend any farther delay in the choice of an emperor. Intelligence, he said, was already received, that the Germans had passed the Rhine, and occupied some of the strongest and most opulent cities of Gaul. The ambition of the Persian king kept the East in perpetual alarms; pt, Africa, and Illyricum, were exposed to foreign and domestic arms, and the levity of Syria would prefer even a female sceptre to the sanctity of the Roman laws. The consul then addressing himself to Tacitus, the first of the senators,(4) required his opinion on the important subject of a o candidate for the vacant throne. f we can prefer personal merit to accidental greatness, we shallesteem the birth of Tacitus more truly noble than that of kings. He claimed his descent from the philosophic historian, whose writings will instruct the last generations of mankind.(5). The senator Tacitus was then seventy-five years of age.(6) The long period of his innocent life was adorned with wealth and honours. He had twice been invested with the consular dignity,(7) and enjoyed with ...; and sobriety his ample patrimony of between two and three millions sterling (8) the experience of so many princes, whom he had esteemed or endured, from the vain follies of Elagabalus to the useful rigour of Aurelian, taught him to form a just estimate of the duties, the dangers and the temptations, of their sublime station. From the assiduous study of his immortal ancestor
he derived the knowledge of the Roman constitution, and of human nature.(9) The voice of the people had already named Tacitus as the citizen the most worthy of empire. The ungrateful rumour reached his ears, and induced him to seek the retirement of one of his villas in Campania. He passed two months in the delightful privacy of Baiae, when he reluctantly obeyed the summons of the consul to resume his honourable place in the senate, and to assist the republic with his counsels on this important occasion. He arose to speak, when, from every quarter of the house, he was saluted with the names of Augustus and emperor. “Tacitus Augustus, the gods preserve thee, we choose thee for our sovereign, to thy care we intrust the republic and the world. . Accept the empire from the authority of the senate. It is due to thy rank, to thy conduct, to thy manners.” As soon as the tumult of acclamations subsided, Tacitus attempted to decline the dangerous honour, and to express his wonder, that they should elect his age and infirmities to succeed the martial vigour of Aurelian. “Are these limbs, conscript fathers' fitted to sustain the weight of armour, or to practise the exercises of the camp 2 The variety of climates, and the hardships of a military life, would soon oppress a feeble constitution, which subsists only by the most tender management. My exhausted strength scarcely enables me to discharge the duty of a senator; how insufficient would it prove to the arduous labours of war and government? Can you hope that the legions will respect a weak, old man, whose days have been spent in the shade of peace and retirement? Canyou desire that I should ever find reason to regret the favourable opinion of the senate?”(10) The reluctance of Tacitus, and it might possibly be sincere, was encountered by the affectionate obstinacy of the senate. Five hundred voices repeated at once, in eloquent confusion, that the greatest of the Roman princes, Numa, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, had ascended the throne in a very advanced season of life; that the mind, not the body, a sovereign, not a soldier, was the object of their choice; and that they expected from him no more than to guide by his wisdom the valour of the legions. . These pressing though tumustuary instances were seconded by a more regular oration of Metius Falconius, the next on the consular bench to Tacitus himself. He reminded the assembly of the evils which Rome had endured from the vices of headstrong and capricious youths, congratulated them on the election of a virtuous and experienced senator, and with a manly, though perhaps a selfish, freedom, exhorted Tacitus to remember the reasons of his elevation, and to seek a successor, not in his own family, but in the republic. The speech of Falconius was enforced by a general acclamation. The emperor, elect submitted to the authority of his country, and received the voluntary homage of his equals. The judgment of the senate was confirmed by the consent of the Roman people, and of the praetorian guards.(11) The administration of Tacitus was not unworthy of his life and principles. A teful servant of the senate, he considered that national council as the author, and himself as the subject of the o He studied to heal the wounds which imperial pride, civil discord, and military violence, had inflicted on the constitution, and to restore, at least, the image of the ancient republic, as it had been preserved by the policy of Augustus, and the virtues of Trajan and the Antonines. It may not be useless to recapitulate some of the most important prerogatives which the senate appeared to have regained by the election of Tacitus.(13) 1. To invest one of their body, under the title of
(9) After his accession, he gave orders that ten copies of the historian should be annually transcribed and placed in the public libraries. The Roman libraries have long since perished, and the most valuable
rt of Tacitus was preserved in a single MS. and discovered in a monastery of Westphalia. See Bayle, }. Art. Tacite, and Lipsius ad Annal. ii. 9. (10) Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 237.
(11) Hist. August. p. 328. Tacitus addressed the praetorians by the appellation of sanctissimi milites, and the people by that of sacratissimi Quirites.
(12) In his manumissions he never exceeded the number of a hundred, as limited by the Caninian law, which was enacted under Augustus, and at length repealed by Justinian. See Casaubon ad locum Wodisci.
#; see the lives of Tacitus, Florianus, and Probus, in the Augustan History; we maybe well assured, that whatever the soldier gave, the senator had already given.
emperor, with the general command of the armies, and the government of the frontier provinces. 2. To determine the list, or as it was then styled, the College of Consuls. They were twelve in number, who, in successive pairs, each, during the space of two months, filled the year, and represented the dignity of that ancient office. The authority of the senate, in the nomination of the consuls, was exercised with such independent freedom, that no regard was paid to an irregular request of the emperor in favour of his brother Florianus. “The senate,” exclaimed Tacitus, with the honest transport of a patriot, “understand the character of a prince whom they have chosen.” 3. To appoint the proconsuls and presidents of the provinces, and to confer on all the magistrates their civil jurisdiction. 4. To receive appeals through the intermediate office of the praefect of the city from all the tribunals of the empire. 5. To give force and validity, by their decrees, to such as they should approve of the emperor's edicts... 6. To these several branches of authority, we may add some inspection over the finances, since, even in the stern reign of Aurelian, it was in their power to divert a part of the revenue from the public service.(14) Circular epistles were sent, without delay, to all the principal cities of the empire, Treves, Milan, Aquileia, Thessalonica, Corinth, Å. Antioch, Alexandria, and Carthage, to claim their obedience, and to inform them of the happy revolution, which É. restored the Roman senate to its ancient dignity. Two of these epistles are still extant. We likewise possess two very singular fragments of the private correspondence of the senators on this occasion. They discover the most excessive joy, and the most unbounded hopes. “Cast awa your indolence,” it is thus that one of the senators addressed his friend, “emerge from your retirements at Baiae and Puteoli. Give yourself to the city, to the senate. Rome flourishes, the whole republic flourishes. Thanks to the Roman army, to an army truly Roman; at length we have recovered our just authority, % end of all our desires. We hear appeals, we appoint proconsuls we create emperors; perhaps too we may restrain them—to the wise, a word is sufficient.”(15) These lofty expectations, were, however, soon disappointed ; nor, indeed, was it possible, that the armies and the provinces should long obey the luxurious and unwarlike nobles of Rome. On the slightest touch, the unsupported fabric of their pride and power fell to the ground. The expiring senate displayed a sudden lustre, blazed for a moment, and was extinguished for ever. [A. D. 276.] All that had yet passed at Rome, was no more than a theatrical representation, unless it was ratified by the more substantial power of the legions. Leaving the senators to enjoy their dream of freedom and ambition, Tacitus proceeded to the Thracian camp, and was there, by the praetorian F. presented to the assembled troops, as the prince whom they themselves ad demanded, and whom the senate had bestowed. As soon as the praefect was silent, the emperor addressed himself to the soldiers with eloquence and propriety. He gratified their avarice by a liberal distribution of treasure, under the names of pay and donative. He j. ed their esteem by a spirited declaration, that although his age might disable him from the performance of military exploits, his counsels should never be unworthy of a Roman general, the successor of the brave Aurelian.(16) While the deceased emperor was making preparations for a second expedition into the East, he had negotiated with the Ålani, a Scythian people, who pitched their tents in the neighbourhood of the lake Maeotis. Those barbarians, allured o resents and subsidies, had promised to invade Persia with a numerous body of light cavalry. They were faithful to their engagements; but when they arrived on the Roman frontier Aurelian was already dead, the design of the Persian war was at least suspended, and the o who, during their inter regnum, exercised a doubtful authority, were unprepared either to receive or
(14) Wopiscus in Hist. August. p. 216. The passage is perfectly clear; yet both Casaubon and Salma sius wish to correct it.
(15) Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 230.232, 233. The senators celebrated the happy restoration with becatombs and public rejoicings. (16) Hist. August p 228