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CHAP. XLVIII.

place was supplied by the alternate dominion of vice and folly; and it was impossible, without forfeiting the public esteem, to acquire or preserve the favour of the emperor. The millions of gold and silver which had been accumulated for the service of the state, were lavished on the vilest of men, who flattered his passions and shared his pleasures; and in a reign of thirteen years, the richest of sovereigns was compelled to strip the palace and the churches of their precious furniture. Like Nero, he delighted in the amusements of the theatre, and sighed to be surpassed in the accomplishments in which he should have blushed to excel. Yet the studies of Nero in music and poetry betrayed some symptoms of a liberal taste; the more ignoble arts of the son of Theophilus were confined to the chariot-race of the hippodrome. The four factions which had agitated the peace, still amused the idleness, of the capital: for himself, the emperor assumed the blue livery; the three rival colours were distributed to his favourites, and in the vile though eager contention he forgot the dignity of his person and the safety of his dominions. He silenced the messenger of an invasion, who presumed to divert his attention in the most critical moment of the race; and by his command, the importunate beacons were extinguished, that too frequently spread the alarm from Tarsus to Constantinople. The most skilful charioteers obtained the first place in his confidence and esteem; their merit was profusely rewarded; the emperor feasted in their houses, and presented their children at the baptismal font; and while he applauded his own popularity, he affected to blame the cold and stately reserve of his predecessors. The unnatural lusts which had degraded even the manhood of Nero were banished from the world; yet the strength of Michael was consumed by the indulgence of love and intemperance. In his midnight revels, when his passions were inflamed by wine, he was provoked to issue the most sanguinary commands; and if any feelings of humanity were left, he was reduced, with the return of sense, to approve the salutary disobedience of his servants. But the most extraordinary feature in the character of Michael is the profane mockery of the religion of his country. The superstition of the Greeks might indeed excite the smile of a philosopher; but his smile would have been rational and temperate, and he must have condemned the ignorant folly of a youth who insulted the objects of public veneration. A buffoon of the court was invested in the robes of the patriarch: his twelve metropolitans, among whom the emperor was ranked, assumed their ecclesiastical garments: they used or abused the sacred vessels of the altar; and in their bacchanalian feasts, the holy communion was administered in a nauseous compound of vinegar and mustard. Nor were these impious spectacles concealed from the eyes of the city. On the day of a solemn festival, the emperor, with his bishops or buf. foons, rode on asses through the streets, encountered the true patriarch at the head of his clergy; and by their licentious shouts and obscene gestures disordered the gravity of the Christian procession. The devotion of Michael appeared only in some offence to reason or piety: he received his theatrical crowns from the statue of the Virgin; and an imperial tomb was violated for the sake of burning the bones of Constantine the Iconoclast. By this extravagant conduct, the son of Theophilus became as contemptible as he was odious: every citizen was impatient for the deliverance of his country; and even the favourites of the moment were apprehensive that a caprice might snatch away what a caprice had bestowed. In the thirtieth year of his age, and in the hour of intoxication and sleep, Michael the third was murdered in

CHAP.

XLVIII.

chap. XLVIII.

Basil I.
the Mace-
donian,
A. D. 867,
Sept. 24.

his chamber by the founder of a new dynasty, whom
the emperor had raised to an equality of rank and
power. .
The genealogy of Basil the Macedonian (if it be
not the spurious offspring of pride and flattery) ex-
hibits a genuine picture of the revolution of the
most illustrious families. The Arsacides, the rivals
of Rome, possessed the sceptre of the East near four
hundred years: a younger branch of these Parthian
kings continued to reign in Armenia; and their royal
descendants survived the partition and servitude of
that ancient monarchy. Two of these, Artabanus
and Chlienes, escaped or retired to the court of Leo
the first: his bounty seated them in a safe and hos-
pitable exile, in the province of Macedonia: Adrian-
ople was their final settlement. During several ge-
nerations they maintained the dignity of their birth;
and their Roman patriotism rejected the tempting
offers of the Persian and Arabian powers, who re-
called them to their native country. But their splen-
dour was insensibly clouded by time and poverty;
and the father of Basil was reduced to a small farm,
which he cultivated with his own hands; yet he
scorned to disgrace the blood of the Arsacides by a
plebeian alliance: his wife, a widow of Adrianople,
was pleased to count among her ancestors the great
Constantine; and their royal infant was connected
by some dark affinity of lineage or country with the
Macedonian Alexander. No sooner was he born,
than the cradle of Basil, his family, and his city, were
swept away by an inundation of the Bulgarians: he
was educated a slave in a foreign land; and in this
severe discipline he acquired the hardiness of body
and flexibility of mind which promoted his future
elevation. In the age of youth or manhood he shared
the deliverance of the Roman captives, who gene-
rously broke their fetters, marched through Bulgaria

to the shores of the Euxine, defeated two armies of barbarians, embarked in the ships which had been stationed, for their reception, and returned to Constantinople, from whence they were distributed to their respective homes. But the freedom of Basil was naked and destitute: his farm was ruined by the calamities of war: after his father's death, his manual labour, or service, could no longer support a family of orphans; and he resolved to seek a more conspicuous theatre, in which every virtue and every vice may lead to the paths of greatness. The first night of his arrival at Constantinople, without friends or money, the weary pilgrim slept on the steps of the church of St. Diomede: he was fed by the casual hospitality of a monk; and was introduced to the service of a cousin and namesake of the emperor Theophilus; who, though himself of a diminutive person, was always followed by a train of tall and handsome domestics. Basil attended his patron to the government of Peloponnesus; eclipsed, by his personal merit, the birth and dignity of Theophilus, and formed an useful connexion with a wealthy and charitable matron of Patras. Her spiritual or carnal love embraced the young adventurer, whom she adopted as her son. Danielis presented him with thirty slaves; and the produce of her bounty was expended in the support of his brothers, and the purchase of some large estates in Macedonia. His gratitude or ambition still attached him to the service of Theophilus: and a lucky accident recommended him to the notice of the court. A famous wrestler, in the train of the Bulgarian ambassadors, had defied, at the royal banquet, the boldest and most robust of the Greeks. The strength of Basil was praised; he accepted the challenge; and the barbarian champion was overthrown at the first onset. A beautiful but

vicious horse was condemned to be hamstrung: it was

CHAP. XLVIII. CHAP. XLVIII.

subdued by the dexterity and courage of the servant
of Theophilus; and his conqueror was promoted to
an honourable rank in the imperial stables. But it
was impossible to obtain the confidence of Michael
without complying with his vices; and his new fa-
vourite, the great chamberlain of the palace, was
raised and supported by a disgraceful marriage with
a royal concubine, and the dishonour of his sister,
who succeeded to her place. The public administra-
tion had been abandoned to the Caesar Bardas, the
brother and enemy of Theodora; but the arts of fe-
male influence persuaded Michael to hate and to fear
his uncle: he was drawn from Constantinople, under
the pretence of a Cretan expedition, and stabbed in
the tent of audience, by the sword of the chamber-
lain, and in the presence of the emperor. About a
month after this execution, Basil was invested with
the title of Augustus and the government of the
empire. He supported this unequal association till
his influence was fortified by popular esteem. His
life was endangered by the caprice of the emperor;
and his dignity was profaned by a second colleague,
who had rowed in the galleys. Yet the murder of
his benefactor must be condemned as an act of in-
gratitude and treason; and the churches which he
dedicated to the name of St. Michael were a poor
and puerile expiation of his guilt.
The different ages of Basil the first may be com-
pared with those of Augustus. The situation of the
Greek did not allow him in his earliest youth to lead
an army against his country, or to proscribe the no-
blest of her sons; but his aspiring genius stooped to
the arts of a slave; he dissembled his ambition and
even his virtues, and grasped, with the bloody hand
of an assassin, the empire which he ruled with the
wisdom and tenderness of a parent. A private citizen
may feel his interest repugnant to his duty; but it

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