reproaching the pusillanimity of their indolent sovereign, and celebrating the heroic spirit ot Constantine (63). Before Maxentius left Rome, he consulted the Sibylline books. The guardians of these ancient oracles were as well versed in the arts of this world as they were ignorant of the secrets of fate; and they returned him a very prudent answer, which might adapt itself to the event, and secure their reputation whatever should be the chance of arms (64).

The celerity of Constantine's march has been compared to the victory of rapid conquest of Italy by the first of the Caesars; nor is the flat- B°m°! tering parallel repugnant to the truth of history, since no more ^j"; than fifty-eight days elapsed between the surrender of Verona and the final decision of the war. Constantine had always apprehended that the tyrant would consult the dictates of fear, and perhaps of prudence; and that, instead of risking his last hopes in a general engagement, he would shut himself up within the walls of Rome. His ample magazines secured him against danger of famine; and as the situation of Constantine admitted not of delay, he might have been reduced to the sad necessity of destroying with fire and sword the Imperial city, the noblest reward of his victory, and the deliverance of which had been the motive, or rather indeed the pretence, of the civil war (65). It was with equal surprise and pleasure, that on his arrival at a place called Saxa Rubra, about nine miles from Rome (66"), he discovered the army of Maxentius prepared to give him battle (67). Their long front filled a very spacious plain, and their deep array reached to the banks of the Tiber, which covered their rear, and forbade their retreat. We are informed, and we may believe, that Constantine disposed his troops with consummate skill, and that he chose for himself the post of honour and danger. Distinguished by the splendour of his arms, he charged in person the cavalry of his rival; and his irresistible attack determined the fortune of-the day. The cavalry of Maxentius was principally composed either of unwieldy cuirassiers, or of light Moors and Numidians. They yielded to the vigour of the Gallic horse, which possessed more activity than the one, more firmness than the other. The defeat of the two wings left the in


(63) Sec Panegyr. Vet. xi. 16. Lactantins de M. P. c. 44.

(64] Illo die hostem Romanorum esse periturum. The vanquished prince became of course the enemy of Rome.

(65) See Pancgyr. Vet. ix. 16. x. 27. The former of these orators magnifies the hoards of corn, which Maxentius had collected from Africa and the Islands. And yet, if there is any truth in the scarcity mentioned by Eusehius (in Vit. Constantin. l. i. c. 36.), the Imperial granaries must have been open only to the soldiers.

(66) Maxentius. . . tandem urbe in Saxa Rubra, millia fcrme novem Kgerrime progressus. Aurelius Victor. See Ccllarius Geograph. Antiq. tom. i. p. 463. Saxa Rubra was in the neighbourhood of the Cremera, a trifling rivulet, illustrated by the valour and glorious death of the three hundred Fahii.

(67) The post which Maxentius had taken, with the Tiber in his rear, is very clearly described by the two Panegyrists, ix. 16. x. 28.

fantry without any protection on its flanks, and the undisciplined Italians fled without reluctance from the standard of a tyrant whom they had always hated, and whom they no longer feared. The Praetorians, conscious that their offences were beyond the reach of mercy, were animated by revenge and despair. Notwithstanding their repeated efforts, those brave veterans were unable to recover the victory: they obtained, however, an honourable death; and it was observed that their bodies covered the same ground which had been occupied by their ranks (68). The confusion then became general, and the dismayed troops of Maxentius, pursued by an implacable enemy, rushed by thousands into the deep and rapid stream of the Tiber. The emperor himself attempted to escape back into the city over the Milvian bridge, but the crowds which pressed together through that narrow passage forced him into the river, where he was immediately drowned by the weight of his armour (69). His body, which had sunk very deep into the mud, was found with some difficulty the next day. The sight of his head, when it was exposed to the eyes of the people, convinced them of their deliverance, and admonished them to receive, with acclamations of loyalty and gratitude, the fortunate Constantine, who thus achieved by his valour and ability the most splendid enterprise of his life (70). His reception, In the use of victory, Constantine neither deserved the praise of clemency, nor incurred the censure of immoderate rigour (71). He inflicted the same treatment, to which a defeat would have exposed his own person and family, put to death the two sons of the tyrant, and carefully extirpated his whole race. The most distinguished adherents of Maxentius must have expected to share his

(68) Exceptis latrocinii illius primis auctoribus, qui desperata Tenia, locum quem pngna e sumpserant texere corporibus. Panegyr. Vet. ix. 17.

(69) A very idle rumour soon prevailed, that Maxentius, who had not taken any precaution for his own retreat, had contnved a very artful snare tollestroy the army of the pursuers; hut that the wooden bridge which was to have been loosened on the approach of Constantine, unluckily broke down under the weight of the flying Italians. M. de Tillemont (Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. part. i. p. 576.) very seriously examines whether, in contradiction to common sense, the testimony of Eusebius and Zosimus ought to prevail over the silence of Lactantius, Nazarius, and the anonymous, but contemporary orator, who composed the ninth Panegyric. *

(70) Zosimus, 1. ii. p. 86—88., and the two Panegyries, the former of which was pronounced a few months afterwards, afford the clearest notion of ibis great battle. Lactantius, Eusebius, and even the Epitomes, supply several useful hints.

(71) Zosimus, the enemy of Constantine, allows (1. ii. p. 88.), that only a few of the friends of Maxentius were put to death; but we may remark the expressive passage of Nazarius (Panegyr. Vet. x. 6.). Omnibus qui labefactari statum ejus poterant cum stirpe deletis. 'f The other orator [ Panegyr. Vet. ix. 20, 21.) contents himself with observing, that Constantine, when he entered Rome, did not imitate the cruel massacres of Cinna, of Marius, or of Sylla.


* Manso (Beylage, vt.) examines the question, for destroying it in order to check the pursuit:

and adduces two manifest allusions to the bridge it broke down accidentally, or in the confusion

from the Life of Constantine by Praxagoras, and was destroyed, as has not unfrequently been the

from Libanins. Is it not very probable that such case, before the proper time. —M.
a bridge was thrown over the river to facilitate i This may refer to the son or sons of Maxen-

the advance, and to secure the retreat, of the army tius. — M.
of Maxentius? In case of defeat, orders were given

fate, as they had shared his prosperity and his crimes; but when the Roman people loudly demanded a greater number of victims, the conqueror resisted, with firmness and humanity, those servile Clamours, which were dictated by flattery as well as by resentment. Informers were punished and discouraged; the innocent, who had suffered under the late tyranny, were recalled from exile, and restored to their estates. A general act of oblivion quieted the minds tod settled the property of the people, both in Italy and in Africa (72). The first time that Constantino honoured the senate with his presence, he recapitulated his own services and exploits in a modest oration, assured that illustrious order of his sincere regard, and promised to re-establish its ancient dignity and privileges. The grateful senate repaid these unmeaning professions by the empty titles of honour, which it was yet in their power to bestow; and without presuming to ratify the authority of Constantine, they passed a decree to assign him the first rank among the three Angusti who governed the Roman world (73). Games and festivals were instituted to preserve the fame of his victory, and several edifices, raised at the expense of Maxentius, were dedicated to the honour of his successful rival. The triumphal arch of Constantine still remains a melancholy proof of the decline of the arts, and a singular testimony of the meanest vanity. As it was not possible to find in the capital of the empire a sculptor who was capable of adorning that public monument, the arch of Trajan, without any respect either for his memory or for the rules of propriety, was stripped of its most elegant figures. The difference of times and persons, of actions and characters, was totally disregarded. The Parthian captives appear prostrate at the feet of a prince who never carried his arms beyond tBe Euphrates; and curious antiquarians can still discover the head of Trajan on the trophies of Constantine. The new ornaments which it was necessary to introduce between the vacancies of ancient sculpture, are executed in the rudest and most unskilful manner (74).

The final abolition of the Praetorian guards was a measure of and conduct prudence as well as of revenge. Those haughty troops, whose atRomenumbers and privileges had been restored, and even augmented, by Maxentius, were for ever suppressed by Constantine. Their fortified camp was destroyed, and the few Prastorians who had escaped the fury of the sword, were dispersed among the legions, and banished to the frontiers of the empire, where they might be service

(72) See the two Panegyries, and the laws of this and the ensuing year, in the Thcodosian Code.

(73) Panegyr. Vet. ix. 20. Lactantius de M. P. c. 44. Maximiii, who was confessedly the eldest Casar, claimed, with some show of reason, the first rank among the Augusti.

(74) Adhuc cuncta opera quae magnificc construxerat, urhis fanum, atque basilicam, Flavii meritis patres sacravere. Aurelius Victor. With regard to the theft of Trajan's trophies, consult Flaminius Vacca, apud Montfaucon, Diarium Italtcum, p. 250., and I'Antiquite Expliquee of the latter, tom. W. p. 171.

able without again becoming dangerous (75). By suppressing the troops which were usually stationed in Rome, Constantine gave the fatal blow to the dignity of the senate and people, and the disarmed capital was exposed without protection to the insults or neglect of its distant master. We may observe, that in this last effort to preserve their expiring freedom, the Romans, from the apprehension of a tribute, had raised Maxentius to the throne. He exacted that tribute from the senate under the name of a free gift. They implored the assistance of Constantine. He vanquished the tyrant, and converted the free gift into a perpetual tax. The senators, according to the declaration which was required of their property, were divided into several classes. The most opulent paid annually eight pounds of gold, the next class paid four, the last two, and those whose poverty might have claimed an exemption were assessed however at seven pieces of gold. Besides the regular members of the senate, their sons, their descendants, and even their relations, enjoyed the vain privileges, and supported the heavy burdens, of the senatorial order; nor will it any longer excite our surprise, that Constantine should be attentive to increase the number of persons who were included under so useful a description (76). After the defeat of Maxentius, the victorious emperor passed no more than two or three months in Rome, which he visited twice during the remainder of his life, to celebrate the solemn festivals of the tenth and of the twentieth years of his reign. Constantine Was almost perpetually in motion to exercise the legions, or to inspect the state of the provinces. Treves, Milan, Aquileia, Sirmium, Naissus, and Thessalonica, were the occasional places of his residence, till he founded a New Rome on the confines of Europe and Asia (77). • His alliance Before Constantine marched into Italy, he had secured the D^sis!*' friendship, or at least the neutrality, of Licinius, the Illyrian emMarch. peror< He had promised his sister Constantia in marriage to that prince; but the celebration of the nuptials was deferred till after 'the conclusion of the war, and the interview of the two emperors at Milan, which was appointed for that purpose, appeared to cement the union of their families and interests (78). In the midst

[75) Praetoriae legiones ac subsidia factionibus aptiora quam urbi Romae, sublata penitus; simul arma atquc usus indumenti militaris. Aurclius Victor. Zosimus (1. ii. p. 89.) mentions this fact as an historian, and it is very pompously celebrated in the ninth Panegyric.

(76) Ex omnibus provinces optimates viroe Curiae tuae pigneraveris; ut Senatus dignitas. ... ex totius Orbis flore consisteret. NazariusinPanegyr. Vet.x. 35. The word pigneraveris might almost seem maliciously chosen. Concerning the senatorial tax, see Zosimus, 1. ii. p. 115. the second title of the sixth book of the Theodosian Code, with G-odefroy's Commentary, and Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions, tom, xxviii. p. 7'26.

(77) From the Theodosian Code, we may now begin to trace the motions of the emperors; but the dates both of time and place have frequently been altered by the carelessness of transcribers.

(78) Zosimus (1. ii. p. 89.) observes, that before the war the sister of Coustantinc had been betrothed to Licinius. According to the younger Victor, Diocletian was invited to the nuptials; but having ventured to plead his age and inlirmities, he received a second letter filled with reproaches for his supposed partiality to the cause of Maxentius and Maximin.

of the public festivity they were suddenly obliged to take leave of each other. An inroad of the Franks summoned Constantino to the Rhine, and the hostile approach of the sovereign of Asia demanded the immediate presence of Licinius. Maximin had been war between the secret ally of Maxentius, and without being discouraged by his ''luHS^* fate, he resolved to try the fortune of a civil war. He moved out *•D-3l3. of-Syria, towards the frontiers of Bithynia, in the depth of winter. The season was severe and tempestuous; great numbers of men as well as horses, perished in the snow; and as the roads were broken up by incessant rains, he was obliged to leave behind him a considerable part of the heavy baggage, which was unable to follow the rapidity of his forced marches. By this extraordinary effort of diligence, he arrived, with a harassed but formidable army, on the banks of the Thracian Bosphorus before the lieutenants of Licinius were apprised of his hostile intentions. Byzantium surrendered to the power of Maximin, after a siege of eleven days. He was detained some days under the walls of Heraclca; and he had no sooner taken possession of that city, than he was alarmed by the intelligence, that Licinius had pitched his camp at the distance of only eighteen miles. After a fruitless negotiation, in which the two The defeat, princes attempted to seduce the fidelity of each other's adherents, Apnl 30' they had recourse to arms. The emperor of the East commanded a disciplined and veteran army of above seventy thousand men; and Licinius, who had collected about thirty thousand Illyrians, was at first oppressed by the superiority of numbers. His military skill, and the firmness of his troops, restored the day, and obtained a decisive victory. The incredible speed which Maximin exerted in his flight, is much more celebrated than his prowess in the battle. Twenty-four hours-afterwards he was seen pale, trembling, and without his Imperial ornaments, at Nicomedia, one hundred and sixty miles from the place of his defeat. The wealth of Asia was yet unexhausted; and though the flower of his veterans had fallen in the late action, he had still power, if he could obtain time, to draw very numerous levies from Syria and Egypt. But and death he survived his misfortune only three or four months. His death, oftAugfuTMer' which happened at Tarsus, was variously ascribed to despair, to poison, and to the divine justice. As Maximin was alike destitute of abilities and of virtue, he was lamented neither by the people nor . by the soldiers. The provinces of the East, delivered from the terrors of civil war, cheerfully acknowledged the authority of Licinius (79).

The vanquished emperor left behind him two children, a boy of

(79) Zosimus mentions the defeat and death of Maximin as ordinary events j but Lactantius expatiates on them (de M. P. c. 45—50.), ascrihing them to the miraculous interposition of Heaven. Licinius at that time was one of the protectors of the church.


« ForrigeFortsett »