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Which O Nile" bour of
CHAP. invented to batter or undermine the walls, were řepXVIII.
dered ineffectual by the superior skill of the Romans; and many days had vainly elapsed, when Sapor em. braced a resolution, worthy of an eastern monarch, who believed that the elements themselves were sab. ject to his power. At the stated season of the melt. ing of the snows in Armenia, the river Mygdonius, which divides the plain and the city of Nisibis, forms, like the Niles, an inundation over the adjacent coun. try. By the labour of the Persians, the course of the river was stopt below the town, and the waters were confined on every side by solid mounds of earth. On this artificial lake, a fleet of armed vessels filled with soldiers, and with engines which discharged stones of five hundred pounds weight, advanced in order of bat. tle, and engaged, almost upon a level, the troops wbich defended the ramparts. The irresistible force of the waters was alternately fatal to the contending parties, till at length a portion of the walls, unable to sustain the accumulated pressure, gave way at once, and ex. posed an ample breach of one hundred and fifty feet. The Persians were instantly driven to the assault, and the fate of Nisibis depended on the event of the day. The heavy-armed cavalry, who led the van of a deep column, were embarrassed in the mud, and great pum. bers were drowned in the unseen holes which had been filled by the rushing waters. The elephants, made furious by their wounds, increased the disorder, and trampled down thousands of the Persian archers. The Great King, who, from an exalted throne, beheld the misfortunes of his arms, sounded, with reluctant indignation, the signal of the retreat, and suspended for some hours the prosecution of the attack. But the vigilant citizens improved the opportunity of the night; and the return of day discovered a new wall of six feet in height, rising every moment to fill up the interyal of the breach. Notwithstanding the disappoint
66 Julian. Orat. i. p. 27. Though Niebuhr (tom. ii. p. 307.) a los a very considerable swell to the Mygdonius, over which he saw a bridge of twelve arches; it is difficult, however, to understand this parallel of a tri. fling rivulet with a mighty river. There are many circumstances obscure, and almost unintelligible, in the description of these stupendous water. works.
ment of his hopes, and the loss of more than twenty CHAP. thousand men, Sapor still pressed the reduction of Nisibis, with an obstinate firmness, which could have yielded only to the necessity of defending the eastern provincos of Persia against a formidable invasion of the Massagetão?. Alarmed by this intelligence, he hastily relinquished the siege, and marched with rapid diligence from the banks of the Tigris to those of the Oxus. The danger and difficulties of the Scythian war engaged him soon afterwards to conclude, or at least to observe, a truce with the Roman emperor, which was equally grateful to both princes; as Constantius himself, after the deaths of his two brothers, was involved, by the revolutions of the west, in a civil contest, which required, and seemed to exceed, the most vigorous exertion of bis undivided strength.
After the partition of the empire, three years had civil war, scarcely elapsed before the sons of Constantine seem-a ed impatient to convince mankind that they were inca- stantine, pable of contenting themselves with the dominions A. D. 340,
March. which they were unqualified to govern. The eldest" of those princes soon complained, that he was defrauded of his just proportion of the spoils of their murdered kinsmen; and though he might yield to the superior guilt and merit of Constantius, he exacted from Constans the cession of the African provinces, as an equivalent for the rich countries of Macedonia and Greece, which his brother had acquired by the death of Dalmatius. The want of sincerity, which Constantine experienced in a tedious and fruitless negociation, exasperated the fierceness of his temper; and he ea. gerly listened to those favourites who suggested to him that his honour, as well as his interest, was concerned in the prosecution of the quarrel. At the head of a tumultuary band, suited for rapine rather than for conquest, be suddenly broke into the dominions of Constans, by the way of the Julian Alps, and the country round Aquileia felt the first effects of his re
67 We are obliged to Zonaras (tom. ii. 1. xii. p. 11.) for this invasion of the Massagetæ, which is perfectly consistent with the general series of events, to which we are darkly led by the broken history of Ammianus. VOL. II.
CHAP. sentment. The measures of Constans, who then reXVIII.
sided in Dacia, were directed with more prudence and ability. On the news of his brother's invasion, he detached a select and disciplined body of his Illyrian troops, proposing to follow them in person, with the remainder of his forces. But the conduct of his lieutenants soon terminated the unnatural contest. By the artful appearances of flight, Constantine was betrayed into an ambuscade, which bail been concealed in a wood, where the rash youth, with a few attendants, was surprised, surrounded, and slain. His body, after it had been found in the obscure stream of the Alsa, obtained the honours of an Imperial sepulchre; but his provinces transferred their allegiance to the conqueror, who, refusing to admit his eldest brother Constantius to any share in these new acquisitions, maintained the undisputed possession of more than two
thirds of the Roman empire. Murder of The fate of Constans himself was delayed about ten
S. years longer, and the revenge of his brother's death February. was reserved for the more ignoble hand of a domestic
traitor. The pernicious tendency of the system introduced by Constantine, was displayed in the feeble administration of his sons; who, by their vices and weakness, soon lost the esteem and affections of their people. The pride assumed by Constans, from the unmerited success of his arms, was rendered more con. temptible by his want of abilities and application. His fond partiality towards some German captives, distinguished only by the charms of youth, was an object of scandal to the people", and Magnentius, an ambitious soldier, who was himself of Barbarian ex
68 The causes and the events of this civil war are related with much perplexity and contradiction. I have chiefly followed Zonaras, and the younger Victor. The monody (ad calcem Eutrop. edit. Havercamp.) pronounced on the death of Constantine, might have been very instructive; but prudence and false taste engaged the orator to involve himself in vague declamation.
69 Quarum (gentium) obsides pretio quæsitos pueros venutiores, quod cultius habuerat, libidine hujusmodi arsisse pro certo habetur. Had not the depraved taste of Constans been publicly avowed, the elder Victor, who held a considerable office in his brother's reign, would not have asserted it in such positive ternis.
traction was encouraged by the public discontent to chaP. assert the honour of the Roman name. The chosen bands of Jovians and Herculians, who acknowledged Magnentius as their leader, maintained the most res. pectable and important station in the Imperial camp. The friendship of Marcellinus, count of the sacred largesses, supplied with a liberal hand the means of seduction. The soldiers were convinced by the most specious arguments, that the republic summoned them to break the bonds of hereditary servitude: and, by the choice of an active and vigilant prince, to reward the same virtues which had raised the ancestors of the degenerate Constans from a private condition to the throne of the world. As soon as the conspiracy was ripe for execution, Marcellinus, under the pretence of celebrating his son's birth-day, gave a splendid entertainment to the illustrious aud honourable persons of the court of Gaul, which then resided in the city of Autup. The intemperance of the feast was artfully protracted till a very late hour of the night; and the unsuspecting guests were tempted to indulge themselves in a dangerous and guilty freedom of conversa. tion. On a sudden the doors were thrown open, and Magnentius, who had retired for a few moments, returned into the apartment, invested with the diadem and purple. The conspirators instantly saluted him with the titles of Augustus and Emperor. The surprise, the terror, the intoxication, the ambitious hopes, and the mutual ignorance of the rest of the assembly, prompted them to join their voices to the general acclamation. The guards hastened to take the oath of fidelity; the gates of the town were shut; and before the dawn of day, Magnentius became master of the troops and treasure of the palace and city of Autun. By his secrecy and diligence be entertained some
70 Julian. Orat. i. and ii. Zosim. 1. ii. p. 134. Victor in Epitome. There is reason to believe that Magnentius was born in one of those Barbarian Colonies which Constantius Chlorus had established in Gaul (see this llistory, vol. i.). His behaviour may remind us of the patriot earl of Leicester, the famous Simon de Montfort, who could persuade the good people of England, that he a Frenchman by birth, had taken arms 10 de: liver them from foreign favourites.
CHAP. hopes of surprising the person of Constans, who was XVIII.
pursuing in the adjacent forest his favourite amusement of hunting, or perhaps some pleasures of a more pri. vate and criminal nature. The rapid progress of fame allowed him, however, an instant for tilight, though the desertion of his soldiers and subjects deprived him of the power of resistance. Before he could reach a seaport in Spain, where he intended to embark, he was overtaken near Helena,? at the foot of the Pyrenees, by a party of light cavalry, whose chief, regardless of the sanctity of a temple, executed his commission by
the murder of the son of Constantine. 12 Magnen. As soon as the death of Constans had decided this tius and easy but important revolution, the example of the court seurmo of Autun was imitated by the provinces of the west. the purple The authority of Magnentius was acknowledged A. D. 350, 1.
" through the whole extent of the two great præfectures of Gaul and Italy; and the usurper prepared, by every act of oppression, to collect a treasure, which might discharge the obligation of an immense donative, and supply the expenses of a civil war. The martial conn. tries of Illyricum, from the Danube to the extremity of Greece, had long obeyed the government of Vetranio, an aged general, beloved for the simplicity of his manners, and who had acquired some reputation by his experience and services in war?3. Attached by habit, by duty, and by gratitude, to the house of Constantine, he immediately gave the strongest assurances to the only surviving son of his late master, that he would ex. pose, with unshaken fidelity, bis person and his troops, to inflict a just revenge on the traitors of Gaul, But
71 This ancient city had once flourished under the name of Illiberis (Pomponius Mela, ii. 5). The munificence of Constantine gave it new splen. dor, and his mother's name. Helena (it is still called Elne) became the seat of a bishop, wbo long afterwards transferred his residence to Perpignan, the capital of modern Rousillon. See d’Anville Notice de l'Ancienne Gaule, p. 380, Longuerue Description de la France, p. 223. and the Marca His. panica, 1. i. c. 2.
72 Zosimus, 1. ii. p. 119, 120. Zonaras, tom. ii. 1. xiii. p. 13. and the Abbreviators.
73 Eutropius (x. 10.) describes Vetranio with more temper, and proba. bly with more truth, than either of the two Victors. Vetranio was born of obscure parents in the wildest parts of Mæsia; and so much had his education been neglected, that, after his elevation, he studied the alphabet.