Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

received them with intrepid resignation, and desired they would execute their master's orders. Instead of death, they offered him the throne of the Roman world. During some moments he distrusted their intentions, and assurances. Convinced at length of the death of Commodus, he accepted the purple with a sincere reluctance, the natural effect of his knowledge both of the duties and of the dangers of the supreme rank.(46) Laetus conducted without delay his new emperor to the camp of the Praetorians, diffusing at the same time through the city a seasonable report that Commodus died suddenly of an apoplexy; and that the virtuous Pertinax had alread succeeded to the throne. The guards were rather surprised than pleased wi the suspicious death of a prince, whose indulgence and liberality they alone had experienced; but the emergency of the occasion, the authority of their Praefect, the reputation of Pertinax, and the clamours of the people, obliged them to stifle their secret discontents, to accept the donative promised of the new emperor, to swear allegiance to him, and with joyful acclamations and laurels in their hands to conduct him to the senate-house, that the military consent might be ratified by the civil authority. This important night was now far spent; with the dawn of day, and the commencement of the new year, the senators expected a summons to attend an ignominious ceremony.” In spite of all remonstrances, even of those of his crea: tures, who yet preserved any regard for prudence or decency, Commodus had resolved to pass the night in the gladiator's school, and from thence to take possession of the consulship, in the habit and with the attendance of that infamous crew. On a sudden, before the break of day, the senate was called together in the temple of Concord, to meet the guards, and to ratify the election of a new emperor. For a few minutes they sat in silent suspense, doubtful of their unexpected deliverance, and suspicious of the cruel artifices of Commodus; but when at length they were assured that the tyrant was no more, they . themselves to all the transports of joy and indignation. Pertinax, who modestly represented the meanness of his extraction, and pointed out several noble senators more deserving than himself of the empire, was constrained by their dutiful violence to ascend the throne, and received all the titles of Imperial power, confirmed by the most sincere vows of fidelity. The memory of Commodus was branded with eternal infamy. The names of #. of gladiator, of H. enemy, resounded in every corner of the house. hey decreed in tumultuous votes,t that his honours should be reversed, his titles erased from the public monuments, his statues thrown down, his body dragged with a hook into the stripping-room of the gladiators, to satiate the public fury; and they expressed some indignation against those officious servants who had already presumed to screen his remains from the justice of the senate. But Pertinax could not refuse those last rites to the memory of Marcus, and the tears of his first protector Claudius Pompeianus, who lamented the cruel fate of his brother-in-law, and lamented still more that he had deserved it.(47) These effusions of impotent rage against a dead emperor, whom the senate had flattered when alive with the most abject servility, betrayed a just but ungenerous spirit of revenge. The legality of these decrees was however supported by the principles of the imperial constitution. To censure, to depose, or to punish with death, the first magistrate of the republic, who had abused his delegated trust, was the ancient and undoubted prerogative of the Roman senate (48) but that feeble assembly was obliged to content itself with inflicting on a fallen tyrant that o justice, from which, during his life and reign, he had been shielded by the strong arm of military despotism." [A. D. 193] Pertinax found a nobler way of condemning his predecessor's memory; by the contrast of his own virtues, with the vices of Commodus. On the day of his accession, he resigned over to his wife and son his whole private fortune

{ Julian, in the Cesars, taxes him with being accessary to the death of Commodus.

47) Capitolinus gives us the particulars of these tumultuary votes, which were moved by one senator

and repeated, or rather chanted, by the whole body. Hist. August. p. 53.
(48). The senate condemned Nero to be put to death more majorum. Sueton. c. 49.

that they might have no pretence to solicit favours at the expense of the state. He refused to flatter the ". of the former with the title of Augusta: or to corrupt the inexperienced youth of the latter by the rank of Caesar. Accurately distinguishing between the duties of a parent, and those of a sovereign, he educated his son with a severe simplicity, which, while it gave him no assured rospect of the throne, might in time have rendered him worthy of it. In pubE. the behaviour of Pertinax was grave and affable. He lived with the virtuous part of the senate o in a private station he had been acquainted with the true character of each individual,) without either pride or jealousy; considered them as friends and companions, with whom he had shared the dangers of the tyranny, and with whom he wished to enjoy the security of the present time. . He very frequently invited them to familiar entertainments, the frugality of which was ridiculed by those who remembered and regretted the luxurious prodigality of Commodus.(49) To heal, as far as it was possible, the wounds inflicted by the hand of tyranny, was the pleasing, but melancholy task of Pertinax. The innocent victims, w yet survived, were recalled from exile, released from prison, and restored to the full possession of their honours and fortunes. The unburied bodies of murdered senators (for the cruelty of Commodus endeavoured to extend itself beyond death) were deposited in the sepulchres of their ancestors; their memory was justified; and every consolation was bestowed on their ruined and afflicted families. Among these consolations, one of the most grateful was the punishment of the Delators; the common enemies of their master, of virtue, and of their country. Yet even in the inquisition of these legal assassins, Per: tinax proceeded with a steady temper, which gave every thing to justice, and nothing to popular o: and resentment. The finances of the state demanded the most vigilant care of the emperor. Though every measure of injustice and extortion had been adopted, which could collect the property of the subject into the coffers of the prince; the rapaciousness of Commodus had been so very inadequate to his extravagance, that, upon his death, no more than eight thousand pounds were found in the exhausted treasury,(50) to defray the current expenses of government, and to discharge the pressing demand of a liberal donative, which the new emperor had beer obliged to promise, the Praetorian guards. Yet under these distressed circum. stances, Pertinax had the generous firmness, to remit all the oppressive taxes invented by Commodus, and to cancel all the unjust claims of the treasury; declaring, in a decree of the senate, “that he was better satisfied to administer a poor republic with innocence, than to acquire riches by the ways of tyranny and dishonour.” . Economy and industry he considered as the pure and genuine sources of wealth; and from them, he soon derived a copious supply for the public necessities. The expense of the household was immediately reduced to one-half. All the instruments of luxury, Pertinax exposed to public auction,(51) gold and silver plate, charriots of a singular construction, a superfluous wardrobe of silk and embroidery, and a great number of beautiful slaves of both sexes; excepting only with attentive humanity, those who were born in a state of freedom, and had been ravished from the arms of their weeping parents. At the same time that he obliged the worthless favourites of the tyrant to resign a part of their ill-gotten wealth, he satisfied the just creditors of the state, and unexpectedly discharged the long arrears of honest services. He removed the oppressive restrictions which had been laid upon commerce, and granted all the uncultivated lands in Italy and the provinces, to those who would improve them; with an exemption from tribute, during the term of ten years.(52)

(49) Dion (l. lxxiii. p. 1223,) speaks of these entertainments, as a senator who had supped with the emperor. Capitolinus (Hist. August. p. 58), like a slave, who had received his intelligence from one of the scullions.

(50) Decies. The blameless economy of Pius left his successor a treasure of vicies septies millies, above two-and-twenty millions sterling. Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1231.

(51) Besides the design of converting these useless ornaments into money, Dion (l. lxxiii. p. 1289) assigns two secret motives of Pertinax. He wished to expose the vice of Commodus. and to discover by the purchasers those who most resembled him.

(52) Though Capitolinus has picked up many idle tales of the private life of Pertinax, he joins with Dion and Herodian in admiring his public conduro

[ocr errors]

Such an uniform conduct had already secured to Pertinax the noblest reward of a sovereign, the love and esteem of his people. Those who remembered the virtues of Marcus were happy to contemplate in their new emperor the features of that bright original; and flattered themselves, that they should long enjoy the benign influence of his administration. . A hasty zeal to reform the corrupted state, accompanied with less prudence than might have been expected from the

ears and experience of Pertinax, proved fatal to himself and to his country. #. honest indiscretion united against him the servile crowd, who found their private benefit in the public disorders, and who preferred the favour of a tyrant to the inexorable equality of the laws.(53)

Amidst the general joy, the sullen and a countenance of the Praetorian guards betrayed their inward dissatisfaction. They had reluctantly submitted to Pertinax; they dreaded the strictness of the ancient discipline, which he was preparing to restore; and they regretted the license of the former reign. Their discontents were secretly fomented by Laetus their praefect, who found, when it was too late, that his new emperor would reward a servant, but would not be ruled by a favourite. On the third day of his reign the soldiers seized on a noble senator, with a design to carry him to the camp, and to invest him with the Imperial purple. Instead of being dazzled by the dangerous honour, the affrighted victim escaped from their violence, and took refuge at the feet of Pertinax. A short time afterward Sosius Falco, one of the consuls of the year, a rash youth, o but of an ancient and opulent family, listened to the voice of ambition; and a conspiracy was formed during a short absence of Pertinax, which was crushed by his sudden return to Rome and his resolute behaviour. Falco was on the point of being justly condemned to death as a public enemy, had he not been saved by the earnest and sincere entreaties of the injured emperor; who conjured the senate, that the purity of his reign might not be stained by the blood even of a guilty senator.

These disappointments served only to irritate the rage of the Praetorian guards. On the twenty-eighth of March, eighty-six days only after the death of Commodus, a general sedition broke out in the camp, which the officers wanted either power or inclination to suppress. Two or three hundred of the most desperate soldiers marched at noonday, with arms in their hands and fury in their looks, towards the Imperial palace. The gates were thrown open by their companions upon guard; and by the domestics of the old court, who had already formed a secret conspiracy against the life of the too virtuous emperor. On the news of their approach, Pertinax, disdaining either flight or concealment, advanced to meet his assassins; and recalled to their minds his own innocence, and the sanctity of their recent oath. . For a few moments they stood in silent suspense, ashamed of their atrocious design, and awed by the venerable aspect and majestic firmness of their sovereign, till at length the despair of pardon reviving their fury, a barbarian of the ..". of To (55) levelled the first blow against Pertinax, who was instantly despatched with a umultitude of wounds. is head separated from, his body, and placed on a lance, was carried in triumph to the É. camp, in the sight of a mournful and indignant people, who lamented the unworthy fate of that excellent prince, and the transient blessings of a reign, the memory of which could serve only to aggravate their approaching misfortunes.(56)

53) Leges, rem surdam, inexorabilem esse. T. Liv. ii. 3.

54). If we credit Capitolinus, (which is rather difficult,) Falco behaved with the most petulant inde. cency to Pertinax, on the day of his accession. The wise emperor only admonished him of his youth and inexperience. Hist. August. p. 55.

(55) The modern bishopric of Liege. This soldier probably belonged to the Batavian horse-guards, who were o raised in the dutchy of Gueldres and the neighbourhood, and were distinguished by their valour, and by the holdness with which they swam their horses across the broadest and most rapid rivers. Tacit. Hist. iv. 12. Dion, l. lv. p. 797. Lipsius de magnitudine Romana, I. I. c. 4.

(56) Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1232. Herodian, l. ii. p.60. Hist. August. p. 58. Victor in Epitom. et in Caesarib Eutropius, viii. 16.

CHAPTER W. Public Sale of the Empire to Didius Julianus by the Pratorian guards—Clo

dius Albinus in Britain, Pescennius Niger in Syria, and Septimius Severus in Pannonia, declare against the murderers of Pertinar-Civil wars and victo of Severus over his three rivals—Relaxation of discipline–New marims o government.

THE power of the sword is more sensibly felt in an extensive monarchy, than in a small community. It has been calculated by the ablest politicians, that no state, without being soon exhausted, can maintain above the hundredth part of its members in arms and idleness. But although this relative proportion may be uniform, the influence of the army over the rest of the society will, vary according to the degree of its positive strength. The advantages of military science and discipline cannot be exerted, unless a proper number of soldiers are united into one body, and actuated by one soul. With a handful of men, such an union would be ineffectual; with an unwieldy host, it would be impracticable; and the powers of the machine would be alike o by the extreme minuteness, or the excessive weight, of its springs. To illustrate this observation we need only reflect, that there is no superiority of natural strength, artificial weapons, or acquired skill, which could enable one man to keep in constant subjection one hundred of his fellow-creatures; the tyrant of a single town, or a small district, would soon discover that a hundred armed followers were a weak defence against ten thousand peasants, or citizens; but a hundred thousand well-disciplined soldiers will command, with despotic sway, ten millions of subjects; and a body of ten or fifteen thousand guards, will strike terror into the most numerous populace that ever crowded the streets of an immense capital.

The Praetorian bands, whose licentious fury was the first symptom and cause of the decline of the Roman empire, scarcely amounted to the last mentioned number.(1) They derived their institution from Augustus. That crafty tyrant, sensible that laws might colour, but that arms alone could maintain his usurped dominion, had ...; formed this powerful body of guards in constant readiness to protect his person, to awe the senate, and either to prevent or to crush the first motions of rebellion. He distinguished these favoured troops § a double pay, and superior privileges; but, as their formidable aspect would at once have alarmed and irritated the Roman people, three cohorts only were stationed in the capital; while the remainder were dispersed in the adjacent towns of Italy.(2) But after fifty years of peace and servitude, Tiberius ventured on a decisive measure, jo for ever riveted the fetters of his country. Under the fair pretences of relieving Italy from the heavy burthen of military quarters, and of introducing a stricter discipline among the guards, he assembled them at Rome, in a permanent camp,(3) which was fortified with skill and care,(4) and placed on a commanding situation.(5)

Such formidable servants are always necessary, but often fatal to the throne of despotism. By thus introducing the Praetorian guards, as it were, into the palace and the senate, the emperors taught them to perceive their own strength, and the weakness of the civil government; to view the vices of their masters with familiar contempt, and to lay aside that reverential awe, which distance only, and mystery can preserve toward an imaginary power. In the luxurious

(1) #. were originally nine or ten thousand men, (for Tacitus and Dion are not agreed upon the subject) divided into as many cohorts. Vitellius increased them to sixteen thousand, and as far as we can learn from inscriptions, they never afterward sunk much below that number. See Lipsius de magnitudine Romană, i. 4. (2) Sueton. in August. c. 49. (3) Tacit. Annal. iv. 2. Sueton. in Tiber. c. 37. Dion Cassius, l. lvii. p. 867. (4) In the civil war between Vitellius and Vespasian, the Praetorian camp was attacked and defended with all the machines used in the siege of the best fortified cities. Tacit. Hist. iii. 84. (3) Close to the walls of the city, on the broad summit of the Quirinal and Viminal hills. See Nardin Roma Antica, p. 174. Donatus de Ruma Antiqua, p. 46.”

idleness of an opulent city, their pride was nourished by the sense of their irresistible weight; nor was it possible to conceal from them, that the person of the sovereign, the authority of the senate, the public treasure, and the seat of empire, were all in their hands. To divert the Praetorian bands from these dangerous reflections, the firmest and best established princes were obliged to mix blandishments with commands, rewards with punishments, to flatter their pride, indulge their pleasures, connive at their irregularities, and to purchase their precarious faith by a liberal donative; which, since the elevation of Clau dius, was exacted as a legal claim on the accession of every new emperor.(6) The advocates of the guards endeavoured to justify by arguments, the power which they asserted by arms; and to maintain that, according to the purest principles of the constitution, their consent was .." necessary in the appointment of an emperor. The election of consuls, of generals, and of magistrates, however it had been recently usurped by the senate, was the ancient and undoubted right of the Roman people. (7). But where was the Roman people to be found ! Not surely among the mixed multitude of slaves and strangers that filled the streets of Rome; a servile populace, as devoid of #. as destitute of property. The defenders of the state, selected from the ower of the Italian youth.(8) and trained in the exercise of arms and virtues, were the genuine representatives of the people, and the best entitled to elect the military chief of the republic. These assertions, however defective in reason, became unanswerable, when the fierce Praetorians increased their weight, by throwing, like the barbarian conqueror of Rome, their swords into the jo The Praetorians had violated the sanctity of the throne, by the atrocious murder of Pertinax ; they dishonoured the majesty of it, by their subsequent conduct. The camp was without a leader, for even the Praefect Laetus, who had excited the tempest, prudently declined the o: indignation. Amidst the wild disorder Sulpicianus, the emperor's father-in-law, and governor of the city, who had been sent to the camp on the first alarm of mutiny, was endeavouring to calm the fury of the multitude, when he was silenced by the clamorous return of the murderers, bearing on a lance the head of Pertinax. Though history has accustomed us to observe every principle and every passion yielding to the imperious dictates of ambition, it is scarcely credible that, in these moments of horror, Sulpicianus should have aspired to ascend a throne Fo with the recent blood of so near a relation, and so excellent a prince. e had already begun to use the only effectual argument, and to treat for the imperial dignity; but the more prudent of the Praetorians, apprehensive that in this F. contract, they should not obtain a o price for so valuable a commodity, ran out upon the ramparts; and, with a loud voice, proclaimed that the Roman world was to be disposed of to the best bidder by public auction.(10 This infamous offer, the most insolent excess of military license, diffused an universal grief, shame, and indignation, throughout the city. It reached at length the ears of Didius Julianus, a wealthy senator, who, regardless of the public calamities, was indulging himself in the luxury of the table.(11). His wife and his daughter, his freedmen and his parasites, easily convinced him that he deserved the throne, and earnestly conjured him to embrace so fortunate

(6) Claudius, raised by the soldiers to the empire, was the first who gave a donative. He gave quina dena, 120l. (Sueton. in Claud. c. 10.) When Marcus, with his colleague Lucius Verus, took quiet possession of the throne, he gave vicema, 160l., to each of the guards. Hist. August. p. 25 (Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1231). . We may form some idea of the amount of these sums, by Hadrian's complaint, that the pro motion of a Cesar had cost him termillies, two millions and a half sterling. (7) Cicero de Legibus, iii. 3 . The first book of Livy, and the second of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, show the authority of the people, even in the election of the kings. (8) They were originally recruited in Latium, Etruria, and the old colonies. (Tacit. Annal. iv. 5.) The emperor Otho compliments their vanity with the flattering titles of Italia: Aiumni, Romana vers juventus. Tacit. Hist, i. 84. (9) In the siege of Rome by the Gauls. , See Livy, v.48. Plutarch. in Camil. p. 143. (10) Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1234. Herodian, l ii. p. 63. Hist. August. p. 60. Though the three historians agree that it was in fact an auction, Herodian alone affirms that it was proclaimed as such by the soldiera. 11) Spartianus softens the most odious parts of the character and elevation of Julian.

« ForrigeFortsett »