Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

peror of the family of Theodosius. He faithfully imitated the hereditary weakness of his cousin and his two uncles, without inheriting the gentleness, the purity, the innocence, which alleviate, in their characters, the want of spirit and ability. , Valentinian was less excusable, since he had passions, without virtue; even his religion was questionable; and though he never deviated into the paths of heresy, he scandalized the pious Christians by his attachment to the profane arts of magic and divination. As early as the time of Cicero and Varro, it was the opinion of the Roman augurs, that the twelve vultures which Romulus had seen, represented the iwelve centuries, assigned for the fatal period of his city.” This prophecy, disregarded perhaps in the season of health and prosperity, inspired the people with gloomy apprehensions, when the twelfth century, clouded with disgrace and misfortune, was almost elapsed;" and even posterity must acknowledge with some surprise, that the arbitrary interpretation of an accidental or fabulous circumstance has been seriously verified in the downfall of the Western empire. But its fall was announced by a clearer omen than the flight of vultures; the IRoman government appeared every day less formidable to its enemies, more odious and oppressive to its subjects." The taxes were multiplied with the public distress; economy was neglected in proportion as it became necessary; and the injustice of the rich shifted the unequal burden from themselves to the people, whom they defrauded of the indulgences that might sometimes have alleviated their misery. The severe inquisition which confiscated their goods, and tortured their persons, compelled the subjects of Valentinian to prefer the more simple tyranny of the Barbarians, to fly to the woods and mountains, or to embrace the vile and abject condition of mercenary servants. They abjured and abhorred the name of Roman citizens, which had formerly excited the ambition of mankind. The Armorican provinces of Gaul, and the greatest part of Spain, were thrown into a state of disorderly independence, by the confederations of the Bagaudae; and the Imperial ministers pursued with proscriptive laws, and ineffectual arms, the rebels whom they had made.” If all the Barbarian conquerors had been annihilated in the same hour, their total destruction would not have restored the empire of the West: and if Rome still survived, she survived the loss of freedom, of virtue, and of honor.

i. c. 4, pp. 186, 187, 188) is a fabulous writer for the events which precede his own memory. His narrative must therefore be supplied and corrected by five or six Chronicles, none of which were composed in Rome or Italy; and which can only express, in broken sentences, the popular rumors, as they were conveyed to Gaul, Spain, Africa, Constantinople, or Alexandria. 15 This interpretation of Vettius, a celebrated augur, was quoted by Varro, in the xviiith book of his Antiquities. Censorinus, de Die Natali, c. 17, pp. 90,91, edit. Havercamp. 70 According to Varro, the twelfth century, would expire A.D. 447; but the uncertainty of the true aera of Rome might allow some latitude of anticipation or delay. The poets of the age, Claudian (de Bell. Getico, 265) and Sidonius (in Panegyr. Avit. 357), may be admitted as fair witnesses of the popular opinion.

Jam reputant annos, interceptogue volatil

Vulturis, incidun's properatis Saecula metis.

# # # # * #

Jam prope fata tui bissenas Vulturis alas

Implebant; scis namgue tuos, scis, Itoma, labores.
See Dubos, Hist. Critique, tom. i. pp. 340–346.

” The fifth book of Salvian is filled with pathetic lamentations and vehement invectives. . His immodcrate freedom serves to prove the weakness, as well as the corruption, of the Roman government. His book was published after the loss of Africa (A. D. 439), and before Attila's war (A. D. 451).

78 The Bagaudae of Spain, who fought pitched battles with the Roman troops, are re eatedly mentioned in the Chronicle of Idatius. Salvian has described their distress and rebellion in very forcible language. Itaque momen civium Itomanorum * * * nunc ultro repudiatur ac fugitur, nec vile tamen sed etiam abominabile poene habetur * * * * Et hinc est utletiam hi quid ad Barbaros nonconfugiunt, Barbaritamen esse coguntur, scilicetut est pars magna Hispanorum, et non minima Gallorum * * * * De Bagaudis nunc milli sermo est, que per malos judices et cruentos spoliati, afflicti necati, postduan jus Romanae libertatis amis erant, etiam honorem Romani nominis perdiderunt * * * * Vocamus rabelles, vocamus perditos quos esse compulimus criminosos. De Gubernat. Dei. l. W. pp. 158, 159.

CHAPTER XXXVI.

SACK OF ROME BY GENSERIC, KING OF THE VANDALS.—HIS NAVAL DEPREDATIONS.—SUCCESSION OF THE LAST EMPERORS OF THE WEST, MAXIMUS, AVITUS, MAJORIAN, SEVERUS, ANTHEMIUS, OLYBRIUS, GLYCERIUS, NEPOS, AUGUSTULUS.—TOTAL EXTINCTION OF THE WESTERN EMPIRE.REIGN OF ODOACER, THE FIRST BARBARIAN KING OF ITALY.

THE loss or desolation of the provinces, from the Ocean to the Alps, impaired the glory and greatness of Rome; her internal prosperity was irretrievably destroyed by the separation of Africa. The rapacious Vandals confiscated the patrimonial estates of the senators, and intercepted the regular subsidies, which relieved the poverty and encouraged the idleness of the plebeians. The distress of the Romans was soon aggravated by an unexpected attack; and the province, so long cultivated for their use by industrious and obedient subjects, was armed against them by an ambitious Barbarian. The Vandals and Alani, who followed the successful standard of Genseric, had acquired a rich and fertile territory, which stretched along the coast above ninety days’ journey from Tangier to Tripoli; but their narrow limits were pressed and confined, on either side, by the sandy desert, and the Mediterranean. The discovery and conquest of the Black nations, that might dwell beneath the torrid zone, could not tempt the rational ambition of Genseric ; but he cast his eyes towards the sea; he resolved to create a naval power, and his bold resolution was executed with steady and active perseverance. The woods of Mount Atlas afforded an inexhaustible nursery of timber: his new subjects were skilled in the arts of navigation and shipbuilding; he animated his daring Vandals to embrace a mode of warfare which would render every maritime country accessible to their arms; the Moors and Africans were allured by the hopes of plunder; and, after an interval of six centuries, the fleets that issued from the port of Carthage again claimed the empire of the Mediterranean. The success of the Vandals, the conquest of Sicily, the sack of Palermo, and the frequent descents on the coast of Lucania,

Vol. III.-14

awakened and alarmed the mother of Valentinian, and the sister of Theodosius. Alliances were formed ; and armaments, expensive and ineffectual, were prepared, for the destruction of the common enemy; who reserved his courage to encounter those dangers which his policy could not prevent or elude. The designs of the Roman government were repeatedly baffled by his artful delays, ambiguous promises, and apparent concessions; and the interposition of his formidable confederate, the king of the Huns, recalled the emperors from the conquest of Africa to the care of their domestic safety. The revolutions of the palace, which left the Western empire without a defender, and without a lawful prince, dispelled the apprehensions, and stimulated the avarice, of Genseric. He immediately equipped a numerous fleet of Vandals and Moors, and cast anchor at the mouth of the Tiber, about three months after the death of Valentinian, and the elevation of Maximus to the Imperial throne. The private life of the senator Petronius Maximus' was often alleged as a rare example of human felicity. His birth was noble and illustrious, since he descended from the Anician family; his dignity was supported by an adequate patrimony in land and money; and these advantages of fortune were accompanied with liberal arts and decent manners, which adorn or imitate the inestimable gifts of enius and virtue. The luxury of his palace and table was É. and elegant. Whenever Maximus appeared in public, he was surrounded by a train of grateful and obsequious clients; * and it is possible that among these clients, he might deserve and possess some real friends. His merit was rewarded by the favor of the prince and senate: he thrice exercised the office of Praetorian praefect of Italy; he was twice invested with the consulship, and he obtained the rank of patrician. These civil honors were not incompatible with the enjoyment of leisure and tranquillity; his hours, according to the demands of pleasure or reason, were accurately distributed by a water-clock; and this avarice of time may be allowed to prove the sense which Maximus entertained of his own happiness. The injury which he 1 Sidonius Apollinaris composed the thirteenth epistle of the second book, to refute the paradox of his friend Serranus, who entertained a singuiar, though generous, enthusiasm for the deceased emperor. This epistle, with some indulÉ. may claim the praise of an elegant composition; and it throws much ight on the character of Maximus.

2 Clientum, praevia, pedisequa, circumfusa, populositas, is the train which Sidonius himself (l. i. epist. 9) assigns to another senator of consular rank. . .

received from the emperor Valentinian appears to excuse the most bloody revenge. Yet a philosopher might have reflected, that, if the resistance of his wife had been sincere, her chastity was still inviolate, and that it could never be restored if she had consented to the will of the adulterer. A patriot would have hesitated before he plunged himself and his country into those inevitable calamities which must follow the extinction of the royal house of Theodosius. The imprudent Maximus disregarded these salutary considerations; he gratified his resentment and ambition; he saw the bleeding corpse of Valentinian at his feet; and he heard himself saluted Emperor by the unanimous voice of the senate and people. But the day of his inauguration was the last day of his happiness. He was imprisoned (such is the lively expression of Sidonius) in the palace; and after passing a sleepless night, he sighed that he had attained the summit of his wishes, and aspired only to descend from the dangerous elevation. Oppressed by the weight of the diadem, he communicated his anxious thoughts to his friend and quaestor Fulgentius; and when he looked back with unavailing regret on the secure pleasures of his former life, the emperor exclaimed, “O fortunate Damocles,” thy reign began and ended with the same dinner;” a well-known allusion, which Fulgentius afterwards repeated as an instructive lesson for princes and subjects. The reign of Maximus continued about three months. His hours, of which he had lost the command, were disturbed by remorse, or guilt, or terror, and his throne was Shaken by the seditions of the soldiers, the people, and the confederate Barbarians. The marriage of his son Palladius with the eldest daughter of the late emperor, might tend to establish the hereditary succession of his family; but the violence which he offered to the empress Eudoxia, could proceed only from the blind impulse of lust or revenge. His own wife, the cause of these tragic events, had been seasonably removed by death ; and the widow of Valentinian was compelled to violate her decent mourning, perhaps her real grief, and to submit to the embraces of a pre

s Districtus ensis cui super impiá. Cervice pendet, non Siculae dapes s) ulcem elaborabunt saporem : Non avium citharacque cantus Somnum reducent, IIorat. Carm. iii. 1. Sidonius concludes his letter with the story of Damocles which Cicero (Tusculan. v. 20, 21) had so illinuitably told.

« ForrigeFortsett »