Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors][merged small]

Sept, 25.

far different from its infancy, was attended with every circumstance that could banish from an interregnum the prospect of obedience and harmony: an immense and tumultuous capital, a wide extent of empire, the servile equality of despotism, an army of four hundred thousand mercenaries, and the experience of frequent revolutions. Yet, notwithstanding all these temptations, the discipline and memory of Aurelian still restrained the seditious temper of the troops, as well as the fatal ambition of their leaders. The flower of the legions maintained their stations on the banks of the Bosphorus, and the Imperial standard awed the less powerful camps of Rome and of the provinces. A generous though transient enthusiasm seemed to animate the military order; and we may hope that a few real patriots cultivated the returning friendship of the army and the senate as the only expedient capable of restoring the republic to its ancient beauty and vigour.

On the twenty-fifth of September, near eight months after the murder of Aurelian, the consul convoked an assembly of A.D. 275. the senate, and reported the doubtful and dangerous situa- The consul tion of the empire. He slightly insinuated that the pre- the senate. carious loyalty of the soldiers depended on the chance of every hour and of every accident; but he represented, with the most convincing eloquence, the various dangers that might attend any farther delay in the choice of an emperor. Intelligence, he said, was already received that the Germans had passed the Rhine and occupied some of the strongest and most opulent cities of Gaul. The ambition of the Persian king kept the East in perpetual alarms; Egypt, Africa, and Illyricum, were exposed to foreign and domestic arms; and the levity of Syria would prefer even a female sceptre to the sanctity of the Roman laws. The consul then, addressing himself to Tacitus, the first of the senators,' required his opinion on the important subject of a proper candidate for the vacant throne.

If we can prefer personal merit to accidental greatness, we sha.. esteem the birth of Tacitus more truly noble than that of Character kings. He claimed his descent from the philosophic of Tacitus. historian whose writings will instruct the last generations of mankind. The senator Tacitus was then seventy-five years of age.6

assembles

levity of Syria were exposed to to perpetual alarme

then, addressceptre to thous; and the

• Vopiscus (in Hist. August. p. 227 [Tacit. c. 4] calls him “primæ sententiæ consularis," and soon afterwards Princeps senatús. "It is natural to suppose that thn monarchs of Rome, disdaining that humble title, resigned it to the most ancient of the senators,

The only objection to this genealogy is, that the historian was named Cornelius, the emperor Claudius. But under the Lower Empire surnames were extremely various and uncertain.

• Zonaras, 1. xii. (c. 28] p. 637 [ed. Paris; p. 608, ed. Bonn). The Alexandrian Chronicle, by an obvious mistake, transfers that age to Aurelian.

TACITUS ELECTED EMPEROR.

CHAL. XL

lies of Elagabalus to the duties, the dangers, and of his immorta

The long period of his innocent life was adorned with wealth and honours. He had twice been invested with the consular dignity, and enjoyed with elegance and sobriety his ample patrimony of between two and three millions sterling. The experience of so wany princes, whom he had esteemed or endured, from the vain follies of Elagabalus to the useful rigour of Aurelian, taught him to form a just estimate of the duties, the dangers, and the temptations of their sublime station. From the assiduous study of his immortal ancestor he derived the knowledge of the Ronan constitution and of human nature. The voice of the people had already named Tacitus as the citizen the most worthy of empire. The ungrateful rumour reached his ears, and induced him to seek the retirement of one of his villas in Campania. He had passed two months in the delightful privacy of Baiæ, when he reluctantly obeyed the summons of the consulto resume his honourable place in the senate, and to assist the republic with his counsels on this important occasion.

He arose to speak, when, from every quarter of the house, he He is elected was saluted with the names of Augustus and Emperor. emperor; “Tacitus Augustus, the gods preserve thee! we choose “ thee for our sovereign, to thy care we intrust the republic and " the world. Accept the empire from the authority of the senate. “ It is due to thy rank, to thy conduct, to thy manners.” As soon as the tumult of acclamations subsided Tacitus attempted to decline ihe dangerous honour, and to express his wonder that they should elect his age and infirmities to succeed the martial vigour of Aurelian. “Are these limbs, conscript fathers! fitted to sustain " the weight of armour, or to practise the exercises of the camp ? “ The variety of climates, and the hardships of a military life, would “soon oppress a feeble constitution, which subsists only by the most “ tender management. My exhausted strength scarcely enables me “ to discharge the duty of a senator; how insufficient would it prove “ to the arduous labours of war and government! Can you hope “ that the legions will respect a weak old man, whose days have been “ spent in the shade of peace and retirement ? Can you desire that

? In the year 273 he was ordinary consul. But he must have been Suffectus many years before, and most probably under Valerian.

& Bis millies octingenties. Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 229. [Tacit. c, 10.) This Lum, according to the old standard, was equivalent to eight hundred and forty thousand Roman pounds of silver, each of the value of three pounds sterling. But in ihe age of Tacitus the coin had lost much of its weight and purity.

. After his accession he gave orders that ten copies of the historian should be annually transcribed and placed in the public libraries. The Roman libraries have long since perished, and the most valuable part of Tacitus was preserved in a single MS., and discovered in a monastery of Westphalia. See Bayle, Dictionnaire, Art. Tucite, and Lipsius ad Annal. ii. 9.

[ocr errors][merged small]

“ I should ever find reason to regret the favourable opinion of the * senate ?" 10

The reluctance of Tacitus, and it might possibly be sincere, was encountered by the affectionate obstinacy of the senate. and accepta Five hundred voices repeated at once, in eloquent confusion, the purple. that the greatest of the Roman princes, Numa, Trajan, Hadria), and the Antonines, had ascended the throne in a very advanced season of life; that the mind, not the body, a sovereign, not a soldier, was the object of their choice ; and that they expected from him no more than to guide by his wisdom the valour of the legions. These pressing though tumultuary instances were seconded by a more regular oration of Metius Falconius, the next on the consular bench to Tacitus himself. He reminded the assembly of the evils which Rome had endured from the vices of headstrong and capricious youths, congratulated them on the election of a virtuous and experienced senator, and with a manly, though perhaps a selfish, freedom, exhorted Tacitus to remember the reasons of his elevation, and to seek a successor, not in his own family, but in the republic. The speech of Falconius was enforced by a general acclamation. The emperor elect submitted to the authority of his country, and received the voluntary homage of his equals. The judgment of the senate was confirmed by the consent of the Roman people and of the Prætorian guards."

The administration of Tacitus was not unworthy of his life and principles. A grateful servant of the senate, he considered Authority that national council as the author, and himself as the the senate. subject, of the laws.12 He studied to heal the wounds which Imperial pride, civil discord, and military violence had inflicted on the constitution, and to restore, at least, the image of the ancient republic as it had been preserved by the policy of Augustus and the virtues of Trajan and the Antonines. It may not be useless to recapitulate some of the most important prerogatives which the senate appeared to have regained by the election of Tacitus.13 1. To invest one of their body, under the title of emperor, with the general command of the armies and the government of the frontier provinces. 2. To determine the list, or, as it was then styled, the College of Consuis. They were twelve in number, who, in successive pairs, each dur ing the space of two months, filled the year, and represented thu

19 Vopiscus is Hist. August. p. 227. [Tacit. c. 4.]

1 Hist. August. p. 228 lib.c. 7]. Tacitus addressed the Prætorians by the appellation of sanctissimi milites, and the people by that of sacratissinni Quirites,

13 In his manuizissions he never exceeded the number of an hundred, as limited by the Caninian law, which was enacted under Augustus, and at length repealed by Justiniau. See Casaubon ad locum Vopisci.

See the Lives of Tacitus, Florianus, and Probus, in the Augustan History; wo may be well assured that whatever the soldier gave the senator had already given.

[ocr errors]

JOY AND CONFIDENCE OF THE SENATE. CHup. XII. dignity of that ancient office. The authority of the senate, in the nomination of the consuls, was exercised with such independent freedom, that no regard was paid to an irregular request of the emperor in favour of his brother Florianus. “ The senate," exclaimed Tacitus, with the honest transport of a patriot, “under“ stand the character of a prince whom they have chosen.” 3. To appoint the proconsuls and presidents of the provinces, and to confe on all the magistrates their civil jurisdiction. 4. To receive appeals through the intermediate office of the præfect of the city from all the tribunals of the empire. 5. To give force and validity, by their decrees, to such as they should approve of the emperor's edicts. 6. To these several branches of authority we may add some inspection over the finances, since, even in the stern reign of Aurelian, it was in their power to divert a part of the revenue from the public service. 14

Circular epistles were sent, without delay, to all the principal cities Their joy and of the empire—Treves, Milan, Aquileia, Thessalonica, confidence. Corinth, Athens, Antioch, Alexandria, and Carthage—to claim their obedience, and to inform them of the happy revolution which had restored the Roman senate to its ancient dignity. Two of these epistles are still extant. We likewise possess two very singular fragments of the private correspondence of the senators on this occasion. They discover the most excessive joy and the most unbounded hopes. “Cast away your indolence,” it is thus that one of the senators addresses his friend, “emerge from your retirements “ of Baiæ and Puteoli. Give yourself to the city, to the senate. “ Rome flourishes, the whole republic flourishes. Thanks to the “ Roman army, to an army truly Roman, at length we have “ recovered our just authority, the end of all our desires. We hear “ appeals, we appoint proconsuls, we create emperors; perhaps, too, “ we may restrain them to the wise a word is sufficient."'15 These lofty expectations were, however, soon disappointed; nor, indeed, was it possible that the armies and the provinces should long obey the luxurious and unwarlike nobles of Rome. On the slightest touch the unsupported fabric of their pride and power fell to the ground. The expiring senate displayed a sudden lustre, blazed for a moment, and was extinguished for ever.

All that had yet passed at Rome was no more than a theatrical A.D. 276. representation, unless it was ratified by the more subacknow. stantial power of the legions. Leaving the senators to the army. enjoy their dream of freedom and ambition, Tacitus proceeded to the Thracian camp, and was there, by the Prætorian

· Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 216. [Aurel. c. 20.) The passage is perfectly clear, yet both Casaubon and Salmasius wish to correct it.

is Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 230, 232, 233. [Florian. c. 5 and 6.] The senatore celebrated the happy restoration with hecatombs and public rejoicings.

Tacitus is acknow ledged by

INVASION AND DEFEAT OF THE ALANI.

[ocr errors]

..D. 276

INVASION AND DEFEAT OF THE ALANI,
præfect, presented to the assembled troops as the prince whom they
themselves had demanded, and wbom the senate had bestowed. As
soon as the præfect was silent the emperor addressed himself to the
soldiers with eloquence and propriety. He gratified their avarice by
a liberal distribution of treasure under the names of pay and donative.
He engaged their esteem by a spirited declaration that, although his
age might disable him from the performance of military exploits, his
counsels should never be unworthy of a Roman general, the successor
of the brave Aurelian, 16

Whilst the deceased emperor was making preparations for a second
expedition into the East, he had negotiated with the Alani,"
a Scythian people, who pitched their tents in the neigh- invade Asia,
bourhood of the lake Mæotis. Those barbarians, allured pulsed by
by presents and subsidies, had promised to invade Persia
with a numerous body of light cavalry. They were faithful to
their engagements; but when they arrived on the Roman frontier
Aurelian was already dead, the design of the Persian war was at
least suspended, and the generals who, during the interregnum,
exercised a doubtful authority, were unprepared either to receive or
to oppose them. Provoked by such treatment, which they considered
as trifling and perfidious, the Alani had recourse to their own valour
for their payment and revenge; and as they moved with the usual
swiftness of Tartars, they had soon spread themselves over the pro-
vinces of Pontus, Cappadocia, Cilicia, and Galatia. The legions
who, from the opposite shores of the Bosphorus, could almost dis-
tinguish the lames of the cities and villages, impatiently urged their
general to lead them against the invaders. The conduct of Tacitus
was suitable to his age and station. He convinced the barbarians of
the faith, as well as of the power, of the empire. Great numbers of
the Alani, appeased by the punctual discharge of the engagements
which Aurelian bad contracted with them, relinquished their booty
and captives, and quietly retreated to their own deserts beyond the
Phasis. Against the remainder, who refused peace, the Roman
emperor waged, in person, a successful war. Seconded by an army of
brave and experienced veterans, in a few weeks he delivered the
provinces of Asia froin the terror of the Scythian invasion.??

The Alani invade Asia, and are re

Tacitus.

16 Hist, August. p. 228. [Vopisc. Tacit. c. 8.]

17 Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 230. (Tacit. c. 13.) Zosimus, 1. i. (c. 63] p. 57. Zonans, 1. xii. (c. 28] p. 637 [ed. Paris; p. 608, ed. "Bonn). Two passages in the Life of Probus (p. 236, 238 (Vopisc. Probus, c. 8 and 12]) convinco me that these Scythian invaders of Pontus were Alani. If we may believe Zosimus (1. i. (c. 64] p. 58), Florianus pursued them as far as the Cimmerian Bosphorus. But he bad scarcely time for so long and difficult an expedition.

. On the Alani, see ch xxvi. note 55.-M.

« ForrigeFortsett »