Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

guards were under his immediate command; and his son, who already discovered a military genius, was at the head of the Illyrian legions. Perennis aspired to the empire; or what, in the eyes of Commodus, amounted to the same crime, he was capable of aspiring to it, had he not been prevented, surprised, and put to death. [A.D. 156.] The fall of a minister is a trifling incident in the general history of the empire; but it was hastened by an extraordinary circumstance, which proved how much the nerves of discipline were already relaxed; the legions of Britain discontented with the administration of Peren: nis, formed a deputation of fifteen hundred select men, with instructions to march to Rome, and lay their complaints before the emperor. These military petitioners, by their own determined behaviour, by inflaming the divisions of the guards, by exaggerating the strength of the British army, and by alarming the fears of Commodus, exacted and obtained the minister's death, as the redress of their *...] This presumption of a distant army, and their discovery of the weakness of government, was a sure presage of the most dreadful convulsions.

The o: of the o: administration was betrayed soon afterward, by a new disorder which arose from the smallest beginnings. A spirit of desertion o to prevail among the troops; and the deserters, instead of seeking their safety in * or concealment, info the high ways. Maternus, a private soldier, of a daring boldness above his station, collected these bands of robbers into a little army, set open the prisons, invited the slaves to assert their freedom, and plundered with impunity the rich and defenceless cities of Gaul and Spain. The governors of the provinces who had long been the spectators, and perhaps the partners, of his depredations, were at length roused from their supine indolence by the o commands of the emperor. Maternus found that he was encompassed, and foresaw that he must be overpowered. A great effort of despair was his last resource. He ordered his followers to disperse, to pass the Alps in small parties and various disguises, and to assemble at Rome, during the licentious tumult of the festival of Cybele.(18). To mur. der Commodus and to ascend the vacant throne, was the ambition of no vulgar robber. His measures were so ably concerted, that his concealed troops already filled the streets of Rome. e envy of an accomplice discovered and ruined this singularenterprise, in a moment when it was ripe for execution.(19)

Suspicious princes often promote the lowest of mankind from a vain persuasion, that those who have no dependence, except on their favour, will have no attachment, except to the person of their benefactor. Cleander, the successor of Perennis, was a Phrygian by birth; of a nation, over whose stubborn, but servile temper, blows only could prevail.(20). He had been sent from his native country to Rome, in the capacity of a slave. As a slave he entered the Imperial palace, rendered himself useful to his master's o: and rapidly ascended to the most exalted station which a subject could enjoy. His influence over the mind of Commodus was much greater than that of his predecessor; for Cleander was devoid of any ability or virtue which could inspire the emperor with envy or distrust. Avarice was the reigning, passion of his soul, and the §. principle of his administration. The rank of Consul, of Patrician, of

enator, was exposed to public sale; and it would have been considered as disaffection, if any one had refused to purchase these so and disgraceful honours with the greatest part of his fortune.(21) In the lucrative provincial employments, the minister shared with the governor the spoils of the people The execution of the laws was venal and ..". A wealthy criminal might obtain, not only the reversal of the sentence by which he was justly con

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]

(17) Dion, 1. lxxii. p. 1210. Herodian, I. i. p. 22. Hist. August. p. 48. Dion gives a much less odious character of Perennis than the other historians. His moderation is almost a pledge of his veracity."

(18) During the second Punic war, the Romans imported from Asia the worship of the mother of the gods. Her festival, the Megalecia, began on the fourth of April, and lasted six days. The streets were crowded with mad processions, the theatres with spectators, and the public tables with unbidden guests Order and police were suspended, #"#. was the only serious business of the city. See Ovid. de Fastis, Liv. 189, &c. (19) Herodian, l. i. p. 23.38. (20), Cicero pro Flacco, c. 27. o: of these dear-bought promotions occasioned a current bon mot, that Julius Solon was banished

senate, "

demned; but might likewise inflict whatever punishment he pleased as the accuser, the witnesses, and the judge. these means, Cleander in the space of three years had accumulated nore wealth than had ever §. been possessed by any freedman.(22) Commodus was persectly satisfied with the magnificent presents which the artful courtier laid at his feet in the most seasonable moments. To divert the public envy, Cleander, under the emperor's name, erected baths, porticos, ..fplaces of exercise, for the use of the people,(23) He flattered himself that the Romans, dazzled and amused by this #. liberality, would be less affected . the bloody scenes which were daily exhibited: #: they would forget the death of Byrrhus, a senator to whose superior merit the late emperor had granted one of his daughters; and that they would forgive the execution of Arius Antoninus, the last representative of the name and virtues of the Antonines. The former, with more integrity than prudence, had attempted to disclose, to his brotherin-law, the true character of Cleander. An equitable sentence pronounced by the latter, when proconsul of Asia, against a worthless creature of the favourite, roved fatal to him.(24) After the fall of Perennis, the terrors of Commodus ad, for a short time, assumed the appearance of a return to virtue. He repealed the most odious of his acts, loaded his memory with the public, execration, and ascribed to the pernicious counsels of that wicked minister, all the errors of his inexperienced youth. But his repentance lasted only thirty days; * under Cleander's tyranny, the administration of Perennis was often regretted. A. D. 189.] Pestilence and famine contributed to fill up the measure of the calamities of Rome.(25) The first could be only imputed to the indignation of the gods; but a monopoly of corn, supported by the riches and power of the minister, was considered as the immediate cause of the second. The popular discontent, after it had long circulated in whispers, broke out in the assembled circus. The people quitted their favourite amusements, for the more delicious pleasure of revenge, rushed in crowds towards a palace in the suburbs, one of the emperor's retirements, and demanded, with angry clamours, the head of the public enemy. Cleander, who commanded ". Praetorian guards,(26) ordered a body of cavalry to sally forth, and disperse the seditious multitude: The multitude fled with precipitation toward the city; several were slain, and many more were trampled to death: but when the cavalry entered the streets, their pursuit was checked by a shower of stones and darts from the roofs and windows of the houses. The foot guards,(27) who had been long jealous of the prerogatives and insolence of the Praetorian cavalry, embraced the party of the people. The tumult became a regular engagement, and threatened a eneral massacre. The Praetorians, at length, gave way, oppressed with numers; and the tide of popular fury returned with oš violence against the gates of the palace, where Commodus lay, dissolved in luxury, and alone unconscious of the civil war. It was death to approach his person with the unwelcome news. He would have perished in this supine security, had not two women, his elder sister Fadilla, and Marcia, the most favoured of his concubines, ventured to break into his presence. Bathed in tears, and with dishevelled hair, they threw themselves at his feet; and, with all the pressing

(28), Dion (l. lxxii. p. 12, 13) observes, that no freedman had possessed riches equal to those of Cleander. o: o of Pallas announted, however, to upwards of five-and-twenty hundred thousand pounds; ontoutes. (23) Dion, l. lxxii. p. 12, 13. Herodian, l. i. p. 29. Hist. August. p. 52. These baths were situated near the Porta Capena. See Nardina Roma Antica, p. 79. (24) Hist. August. p. 48, (25) Herodian, l. i. p 28. Dion, l. lxxii. p. 1215. The latter says, that two thousand persons died every day at Rome during a considerable length of time. 26) Tuncque primum tres praefecti praetorio fuère: inter quos libertinus. From some remains of modesty, Cleander declined the title, while he assumed the powers of Praetorian prefect. As the other freedmen were styled, from their several departments, a rationibus, ab epistolis; Cleander called himself a pugione, as intrusted with the defence of his master's person. Salmasius and Casaubon seem to have ked very idly upon this passage.” . (27). Qi rms roxsw, root spartwrat. Herodian, 1. i. p. 31. It is doubtful whether he means the Pretorian infantry, or the cohortes urbanae, a body of six thousand men, but whose rank and discipline were not equal to their numbers. Neither Tillemont nor Wotton choose to decide this question.t

eloquence of fear, discovered to the affrighted emperor, the crimes of the min. ister, the rage of the people, and the impending ruin, which, in a few minutes would burst over his palace and person. Commodus started from his dream of pleasure, and commanded that the head of Cleander should be thrown out to the people. The desired spectacle instantly appeased the tumult; and the son of Marcus might even yet have regained the affection and confidence of his subjects.(28) But every sentiment of virtue and humanity was extinct in the mind of Commodus. While he thus abandoned the reins of empire to these unworthy favourites, he valued nothing in sovereign power, except the unbounded license of indulging his sensual appetites. His hours were spent in a seraglio of three hundred beautiful women, and as many boys, of every rank, and of every rovince; and wherever the arts of seduction proved ineffectual, the brutal over had recourse to violence. The ancient historians(29) have expatiated on these abandoned scenes of prostitution, which scorned every restraint of nature or modesty; but it would not be easy to translate their too faithful descriptions into the decency of modern language. The intervals of lust were filled up with the basest amusements. e influence of a polite age, and the labour of an attentive education, had never been able to infuse into his rude and brutish mind, the least tincture of learning; and he was the first of the Roman emperors totally devoid of taste for the pleasures of the understanding. Nero himself excelled, or affected to excel, in the elegant arts of music and poetry; nor should we despise his pursuits, had he not converted the pleasing relaxation of a leisure hour into the serious business and ambition of his life. But Commodus, from his earliest infancy, discovered an aversion to whatever was rational or liberal, and a fond attachment to the amusements of the populace ; the sports of the circus and amphitheatre, the combats of gladiators, and the *. of wild beasts. The masters in every branch of learning, whom Marcus provided for his son, were heard with inattention and disgust; while the Moors and Parthians, who taught him to dart the javelin and to shoot with the bow, found a disciple who delighted in his application, and soon, equalled the most skilful of his instructers, in the steadiness of the eye, and the dexterity of the hand. The servile crowd, whose fortune depended on their master's vices, applauded these ignoble pursuits. The perfidious voice of flattery reminded him, that by exploits of the same nature, by the defeat of the Nemaan lion, and the slaughter of the wild boar of Erymanthus, the Grecian Hercules had acquired a place among the gods, and an immortal memory, among men. They only forgot to observe, that, in the first ages of society, when the fiercer animals often dispute with man the possession of an unsettle ‘...; a successful war against those savages is one of the most innocent and beneficial labours of heroism. In the civilized state of the Roman empire, the wild beasts had long since retired from the face of man, and the neighbourhood of populous cities. To surprise them in their solitary haunts, and to transport them to Rome, that . might be slain in pomp by the hand of an emperor, was an enterprise equally ridiculous for the prince, and op. for the people.(30) Ignorant of these distinctions, Commodus eagerly embraced the glorious resemblance, and styled himself (as we still read on his medals)(31) the Roman Hercules. The club and the lion's hide were placed by the side of the throne, among the ensigns of sovereignty; and statues were erected, in which Commodus was represented in the character, and with the attributes, of the god, whose valour and dexterity he endeavoured to emulate in the daily course of his ferocious amusements.(32) (28) Dion Cassius, l. lxxii. p. 1215. Herodian, l. i. p. 32. Hist. August. p. 48. (29) Sororibus suis constupratis. Ipsas concubinas suas sub oculis suis stuprari jubebat. Nec irruen*...* se *num carebat infamiã, omni parte corporis atque ore in sexuni utrumque pollutus. Hist. 3. ro. African lions, when pressed by hunger, infested the open villages and cultivated country; and they infested them with impunity. The royal beast was reserved for the pleasures of the emperor and the capital; and the unfortunate peasant, who killed one of them, though in his own defence, incurred a very heavy penalty. This extraordinary game law was mitigated by Honorius, and finally repealed by Justinian. Codex Theodos. tom. v. p. 92, et Comment. Gothofred.

(31) Spanheim de Numismat. Dissertat. xii.1om. ii. p. 493. (32) Dion, l. xxii. p. 1216. Hist. August. p. 49

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed]
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »