Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

During fourscore years (excepting only the short and doubtful respite of Vespasian's reign)(1) Rome groaned beneath an o tyranny, which exterminated the ancient families of the republic, and was fatal to almost every virtue and every talent that arose in that unhappy period. Under the reign of these monsters, the slavery of the Romans was accom É. with two peculiar circumstances, the one occasioned by their former iberty, the other by their extensive conquests, which rendered their condition more completely wretched than that of the victims of tyranny in any other ; or country. From these causes were derived, 1. The exquisite sensibility of the sufferers; and, 2. The impossibility of escaping from the hand of the oppo . When Persia was governed by the descendants of Sefi, a race of Princes, whose wanton cruelty often stained their divan, their table, and their bed, with the blood of their favourites, there is a saying recorded of a young nobleman, That he never departed from the sultan's presence, without satisfying himself whether his head was still on his shoulders. The experience of every day might almost o the skepticism of Rustan.(2) Yet the fatal sword, suspended above him É. a single thread, seems not to have disturbed the slumbers, or interrupted the tranquillity, of the Persian. The monarch's frown, he well knew, could level him with the dust; but the stroke of lightning or apoplex o be equally fatal; and it was the part of a wise man, to forget the inevitable calamities of human life in the enjoyment of the fleeting hour. He was dignified with the appellation of the king's slave; had, perhaps, been purchased from obscure parents, in a country which he had never known; and was trained up from his infancy in the severe discipline of the seraglio.(3). His name, his wealth, his honours, were the gift of a master, who might, without injustice, resume what he had o Rustan's knowledge, if he possessed any, could only serve to confirm his habits by prejudices. His language afforded not words for any form of government except absolute monarchy. The histo of the east informed him, that such had ever been the condition of o The Koran, and the interpreters of that divine book, inculcated to him, that the sultan was the descendant of the prophet, and the vicegerent of heaven; that patience was the first virtue of a *... and unlimited obedience the great duty of a subject. The minds of the Romans were very differently prepared for slavery. Oppressed beneath the weight of their own corruption and of military violence, they for a long while preserved the sentiments, or at least the ideas, of their freeborn ancestors. The education of Helvidius and Thrasea, of Tacitus and Pliny, was the same as that of Cato and Cicero. From Grecian philosophy, they had imbibed the justest and most liberal notions of the dignity of human nature, and the origin of civil society. The history of their own country had taught them to revere a free, a virtuous, and a victorious commonwealth: to abhor the successful crimes of Caesar and Augustus; and inwardly to despise those tyrants whom they adored with the most abject o As magistrates and senators, they were admitted into the great council which had once dictated laws to the earth, whose name still gave a sanction to the acts of the monarch, and whose authority was so often prostituted to the vilest purposes of tyranny. Tiberius, and those emperors who adopted his maxims, attempted to disguise their murders by the formalities of justice, and perhaps enjoyed a secret pleasure in rendering the senate their accomplice as well as their victim. By this

substituting to a coarse word a very fine image. “At Vitellius, umbraculis hortorum abditus, utignara animalia, quibus sicibum suggeras jacent torpentoue, praeterita, instantia, futura, pari oblivione dimiserat. Atque illum memore Arcino decidem et marcentem, &c.” Tacit. Hist. iii. 36. ii. 95. Sueton. in Vitell. c. 13. Dion Cassius, l. lxv. p. 1062. (1) The execution of Helvidius Priscus, and of the virtuous Eponina, disgraced the reign of Vespasian. (2) Voyage de Chardin en Perse, vol. iii. p. 293. (3) The practice of raising slaves to the great offices of state is still more common among the Turks than among the Persians. The miserable countries of Georgia and Circassia supply rulers to the greatest part of the east. (4) Chardin says, that European travellers have diffused among the Persians some ideas of the freedom and mildness of our governments. They have done them a very ill office

[graphic]
[merged small][ocr errors]

THE mildness of Marcus, which the rigid discipline of the Stoics was unable to eradicate, formed, at the same time, the most amiable, and the only defective, part of his character. His excellent understanding was often deceived by the ...; goodness of his heart. Artful men, who study the passions of princes, and conceal their own, approached his person in the disguise of philosophic sanctity, and acquired riches and honours by affecting to despise ...} His excessive indulgence to his brother,”his wife, and his son, exceeded the bounds of private virtue, and became a public injury, by the example and consequences of their vices. Faustina, the daughter of Pius and the wife of Marcus, has been as much celebrated for her gallantries as for her beauty. The #. simplicity of the o was ill calculated to engage her wanton, sevity, or to fix that ununded passion for variety, which often discovered personal merit in the meanest of mankind.(2) The cupid of the ancients was, in general, a very sensual deity; and the amours of an empress, as they exact on her side the lainest advances, are seldom susceptible of much sentimental delicacy. arcus was the only man in the empire who seemed ignorant or insensible of the irregularities of Faustina; which, according to the prejudices of every age, reflected some o: on the injured husband. He promoted several of her lovers to posts of honour and profit,(3) and during a connexion of thirty years, invariably gave her proofs of the most tender confidence, and of a respect which ended not with her life. In his meditations, he thanks the gods who had bestowed on him a wife, so faithful, so gentle, and of such a wonderful simplicity of manners.(4) . The obsequious senate, at his earnest request, declared her a goddess. She was represented in her temples, with the attributes of Juno, Venus, and Ceres; and it was decreed, that on the day of their nuptials, the youth of either sex should pay their vows before the altar of their chaste patroness.(5) The monstrous vices of the son have cast a shade on the purity of the father's virtues. It has been objected to Marcus, that he sacrificed the happiness of millions to a fond partiality for a worthless boy; and that he chose a successor in his own family, rather than in the republic. . Nothing, however, was neglected by the anxious father, and by the men of virtue and learning whom he summoned to his assistance to expand the narrow mind of young Commodus, to correct his growing vices, and to render him worthy of the throne, for which he was designed. But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous. The distasteful lesson of a grave philosopher was, in a moment, obliterated by the whisper of a profligate favourite; and Marcus himself blasted the fruits of this laboured education, by admitting his son at the age of fourteen or fifteen, to a full participation of the Imperial power. He lived but four years afterward; but he lived long enough to repent a rash measure, which raised the impetuous youth above the restraint of reason and authority. Most of the crimes which disturb the ...?peace of society, are produced

(1) See the complaints of Avidius Cassius, Hist. August. p. 45 These are, it is true, the complaints of faction; but even faction exaggerates rather than invents.

(2) Faustinam satis constat apud Cayetam, conditiones, sibi et nauticas et gladiatoris, elegisse. Hist. August. p. 30. Lampridius explains the sort of merit which Faustina chose, and the conditions which she exacted. Hist. August. p. 102. (3) Hist. August. p. 34.

(4) Meditat. l. i. The world has laughed at the credulity of Marcus; but Madame Dacier assures us, (and we may credit a lady,) that the husband will always be deceived, if the wife condescends to dissemble.

(5) Dion Cassius, l. lxxi. p. 1195. Hist. August. p. 33. Commentaire de Spanheim sur les Cesars do Julien, p. 289 The deification of Faustina is the only defect which Julian's criticism is able to discover in the all-accomplished character of Marcus.

by the restraints which the necessary, but unequal laws of property have imposed on the appetites of mankind, by confining to a few the possession of those objects that are coveted by many. Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is of the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the submission of the multitude. In the tumult of oivil discord, the laws of society lose their force, and their place is seldom supplied by those of humanity. The ardour of contention, the pride of victory, the despair of success, the memory of past injuries, and the fear of future dangers, all contribute to inflame the mind, and to silence the voice of pity. From such motives almost every page of history has been stained with civil blood; but these motives, will not account for the unprovoked cruelties of Commodus, who had nothing to wish, and every thing to enjoy. The beloved son of Marcus succeeded to his father, amidst the acclamations of the senate and armies,(6) and when he ascended the throne, the happy youth saw around him neither competitor to remove, nor enemies to punish. % this calm elevated station, it was surely natural that he should prefer the love of mankind to their detestation, the mild glories of his five predecessors, to the ignominious fate ot Nero, and Domitian. Yet Commodus was not, as he has been represented, a tiger, born with an insatiate thirst of human blood, and capable, from his infancy, of the most inhuman actions.(7): Nature had formed }. of a weak, rather than a wicked disposition. His simplicity and timidity rendered him the slave of his attendants, who gradually corrupted his mind. His cruelty, which at first obeyed the dictates of others, degenerated into habit, and at length became the o: passion of his soul.(8 Upon the death of his father, Commodus found himself embarrassed with the command of a great army, and the conduct of a difficult war against the Quadi and Marcomanni. (9). The servile and profligate youths whom Marcus had banished, soon regained their station and influence about the new emperor. They exaggerated the hardships and dangers of a campaign in the wild countries beyond the Danube; and they assured the indolent prince, that the terror of his name and the arms of his lieutenants would be sufficient to complete the conquest of the dismayed barbarians; or to impose such conditions, as were more advantageous than any conquest. By a dexterous application to his sensual appetites, they compared the tranquillity, the splendour, the refined pleasures of Rome, with the tumult of a Pannonian camp, which afforded neither leisure normaterials for luxury.(10) Commodus listened to the pleasing advice; but while he hesitated between his own inclination, and the awe which he still retained for his father's counsellors, the summer insensibly elapsed, and his triumphal entry into the capital was deferred till the autumn. Hisgraceful person,(11) o: address, and imagined virtues, attracted the ublic favour; the honourable peace which he had recently granted to the arbarians, diffused an universal joy ;(12) his impatience to revisit Rome was fondly ascribed to the love of his country; and his dissolute course of amusements was faintly condemned in a prince of nineteen years of age. During the three first years of his reign, the forms, and even the spirit of the old administration were maintained by those faithful counsellors, to whom Marcus had recommended his son, and for whose wisdom and integrity Commodus still entertained a reluctant esteem. The young prince and his profligate favourites revelled in all the license of . power; but his hands were yet unstained with blood; and he had even displayed a generosity of

[graphic]

(6) Commodus was the first Porphyrogenitus (born since his father's accession to the throne). By a new strain of flattery, the Egyptian medals date by the years of his life; as if they were synonymous so those of his reign. Tillemont. Hist, des Empereurs, tom. ii. É. 752.

(7) Hist. of: 46. (8) Dion Cassius, l. lxxii. p. 1203.

(9) According to Tertullian, (Apolog. c. 25) he died at Sirmium. But the situation of Windobona, or Vienna, where both the Victors place his death, is better adapted to the operations of the war against the

Marcomanni and Quadi. (10). Herodian, l. i. p. 12. % - w: (12) This universal joy is well described (from the medals as well as historians) r. Wotton, Hist, of Rome, p. 192,193.

sentiment, which .. perhaps have ripened into solid virtue.(13) A fatal incident decided his fluctuating character. One evening as the emperor was returning to the palace through a dark and narrow portico in the amphitheatre,(14) an assassin, who waited his passage, rushed upon him with a drawn sword, loudly exclaiming, “The senate sends you this.” . The menace prevented the deed; the assassin was seized by the #. and immediately revealed the authors of the conspiracy. It had been ormed, not in the state, but within the walls of the palace. Lucilla, the emperor's sister, and widow of Lucius Verus, impatient of the second rank, and jo of the reigning empress, had armed the murderer against her brother's ise. She had not ventured to communicate the black design to her second husband Claudius Pompeianus, a senator of distinguished merit and unshaken loyalty; but among the crowd of her lovers (for she imitated the manners of Faustina) she found men of desperate fortunes and wild ambition, who were prepared to serve her more violent, as well as her tender passions. The conspirators experienced the rigour of justice, and the abandoned princess was punished, first with exile, aft afterwards with death.(15) But the words of the assassin sunk deep into the mind of Commodus, and left an indelible impression of fear and hatred against the whole body of the senate.” Those whom he had dreaded as importunate ministers, he now suspected as secret enemies. The Delators, a race of men discouraged, and almost extinguished under the former reigns, again became formidable, as soon as they discovered that the emperor was desirous of finding disaffection and treason in the senate. That assembly, whom Marcus had ever considered as the great council of the nation, was composed of the most distinguished of the Romans; and distinction of every kind soon became criminal. The possession of wealth stimulated the diligence of the informers; rigid virtue implied a tacit censure of the irregularities of Commodus; important services implied a dangerous superiority of merit; and the friendship of the father always insured the aversion of the son. Suspicion was equivalent to proof; trial to condemnation. The execution of a considerable senator was attended with the death of all who might lament or revenge his fate; and when Commodus had once tasted human blood, he became incapable of pity or remorse. Of these innocent victims of tyranny, none died more lamented than the two brothers of the Quintilian family, Maximus and Condianus; whose fraternal love has saved their names from oblivion, and endeared their memory to posterity. Their studies and their occupations, their pursuits and their pleasures, were still the same. In the enjoyment of a great estate, they never admitted the idea of a separate interest; some fragments are now extant of a treatise which they composed in common;' and in every action of life it was observed, that their two bodies were animated by one soul... The Antonines, who valued their virtues, and delighted in their union, raised them, in the same year, to the consulship: and Marcus, afterward intrusted to their joint care, the civil administration of Greece, and a great o command, in which . obtained a signal victory over the Germans. The kind cruelty of Commodus united them in death.(16) The tyrant's rage, after having shed the noblest blood of the senate, at length recoiled on the principal instrument of his cruelty. While Commodus was immersed in blood and luxury, he devolved the detail of the public business on Perennis; a servile and ambitious minister, who had obtained his post by the murder of his predecessor, but who possessed a considerable share of vigour and ability. By acts of extortion, and the forfeited estates of the nobles sacrificed to his avarice, he had accumulated an immense treasure. The Praetorian

(13) Manilius, the confidential secretary of Avidius Cassius, was discovered after he had lain concealed several years. The emperor nobly relieved the public anxiety by refusing to see him, and burning his without opening them. Dion Cassius, l. lxxii. p. 1209. § See Maffei degli Amphitheatri, p. 126. (15) Dion, l. lxxii. p. 1205. Herodian, i. i. p. 16. Hist. *...* (16) In a note upon the Augustan History, Casaubon has collec

. 46. a number of particulars concarning these celebrated brothers. See p. 96 of his learned commentary.

« ForrigeFortsett »