Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

But the most important care of Mamaea and her wise counsellors, was to form the character of the young emperor, on whose personal qualities the happiness or misery of the Roman world must ultimately depend. The fortunate soil assisted, and even prevented, the hand of cultivation. An excellent understanding soon convinced Alexander of the advantages of virtue, the pleasure of knowledge, and the necessity of labour. A natural mildness and moderation of temper preserved him from the assaults of passion and the allurements of vice. His unalterable regard for his mother, and his esteem for the wise Ulpian, guarded his inexperienced youth from the poison of flattery. The simple journal of his ordinary occupations exhibits a pleasing picture of an accomplished emperor,” and with some allowance for the difference of manners, might well deserve the imitation of modern princes. Alexander rose early: the first moments of the day were consecrated to rivate devotion, and his domestic chapel was filled with the images of those heroes, who, by improving or reforming human life, had deserved the grateful reverence of posterity.t But, as he deemed the service of mankind the most acceptable worship of the gods, the greatest part of his morning hours was employed in his council, where he discusse public affairs, and determined private causes, with *. and discretion above his years. The dryness of business was relieved by the charms of literature; and a portion of time was always set apart for his favourite studies of poetry, history, and ... The works of Virgil and Horace, the republics of Plato and Cicero, formed his taste, enlarged his understanding, and gave him the noblest ideas of man and government. The exercises of the body succeeded to those of the mind; and Alexander, who was tall, active, and robust, surpassed most of his equals in the gvian stic arts. Refreshed by the use of the bath and a slight dinner, he resumed, with new vigour, the business of the day; and, till the hour of supper, the principal meal of the Romans, he was attended by his secretariés, with whom he read, and answered the multitude of letters, memorials, and petitions, that must have been addressed to the master of the greatest

insinuates, that when any law was to be passed, the council was assisted by a number of able lawyers and experienced senators, whose opinions were separately given and taken down in writing. * See his life in the Augustan History. The undistinguishing compiler has buried these interesting anecdotes under a load of trivial and unmeaning circumstances. + Alexander admitted into his chapel every form »f worship practised within his empire: that of Jesus Christ, Abraham, Orpheus, Apollonius Tyaneus, and others. (Lamprid. in Hist. Aug. c. 29.) It is almost certain that his mother Mamaea had instructed him in the morals of Christianity. Historians generally say that she was converted to its faith; there is, at least, reason to believe, that she had begun to favour its principles. (See Tillemont on Alex. Sev.) Gibbon did not call this circumstance to mind; he seems even to have been desirous of lowering the character of this princess, by following, in almost all its parts, the narrative of Herodian, who is admitted by Capitolinus (in Maximino, c. 13) to have disliked Alexander Severus. Without trusting to the exaggerated praises bestowed by Lampridius, he might have distrusted the unjust severity of Herodian; above all, he ought not to have omitted to state, that the virtuous Alexander Severus confirmed all the privileges enjoyed by the Jews, and granted to Christians the free exercise of their religion. (Hist. Aug. p. 121.) Some public situation, used by the latter as a place of worship, was wanted for the purposes of a tavern. Application was made to Alexander, who answered, that it was much better to honour God there, who uatter in what form, than to encourage sottishness.-GUIzot.

art of the world. His table was served with the most

'ugal simplicity; and whenever he was at liberty to consult his own inclination, the company consisted of a few select friends, men of learning and virtue, amongst whom Ulpian was constantly invited. Their conversation was familiar and instructive; and the pauses were occasionally, enlivened by the recital of some pleasing composition, which supplied the place of the dancers, comedians, and even gladiators, SO frequently summoned to the tables of the rich and luxurious ltomans.” The dress of Alexander was plain and modest, his demeanour courteous and affable; at the proper hours his palace was open to all his subjects, but the voice of a crier was heard, as in the Eleusinian mysteries, pronouncing the same salutary admonition: Let none enter these holy walls, unless he is conscious of a pure and innocent mind.t

- Such a uniform tenor of life, which left not a moment for vice or folly, is a better proof of the wisdom and justice of Alexander's government, than all the trifling details preserved in the compilation of Lampridius. Since the accession of Commodus, the Roman world had experienced, during a term of forty years, the successive and various vices of four tyrants. From the death of Elagabalus, it

* See the thirteenth satire of Juvenal + Hist. August. p. 119. WOL. I. O

194 AUSPICIOUS CALM. - [Ch. VI.

enjoyed an auspicious calm of thirteen years. The provinces, relieved from the oppressive taxes invented by Caracalla and his pretended son, flourished in peace and prosperity, under the administration of magistrates, who were convinced by experience, that to deserve the love of the subjects, was their best and only method of obtaining the favour of their sovereign. While some gentle restraints were imposed on the innocent luxury of the Roman people, the price of provisions and the interest of money were reduced by the paternal care of Alexander, whose prudent liberality, without distressing the industrious, supplied the wants and amusements of the populace. The dignity, the freedom, the authority, of the senate were restored; and every virtuous senator might approach the person of the emperor, without fear and without a blush.* The name of Antoninus, ennobled by the virtues of Pius and Marcus, had been communicated by adoption to the dissolute Verus, and by descent to the cruel Commodus. It became the honourable appellation of the sons of Severus, was bestowed on young Diadumenianus, and at length prostituted to the infamy of the high-priest of Emesa. , Alexander, though pressed by the studied, and perhaps sincere, importunity of the senate, nobly refused the borrowed lustre of a name; whilst in his own conduct he laboured to restore the glories and felicity of the age of the genuine Antonines.” In the civil administration of Alexander, wisdom was enforced by power; and the people, sensible of the public felicity, repaid their benefactor with their love and gratitude. There still remained a greater, a more necessary, but a more difficult enterprise; the reformation of the military order, whose interest and temper, confirmed by long impunity, rendered them impatient of the restraints of discipline, and careless of the blessings of public tranquillity. In the execution of his design the emperor affected to display his love, and to conceal his fear, of the army. The most rigid economy in every other branch of the administration, supplied a fund of gold and silver for the ordinar pay, and the extraordinary rewards, of the troops. In their marches he relaxed the severe obligation of carrying seventeen days’ provisions on their shoulders. Ample magazines were formed along the public roads, and as soon as they entered the enemy's country, a numerous train of mules and camels waited on their haughty laziness. . . As Alexander despaired of correcting the luxury of his soldiers, he attempted at least to direct it to objects of martial pomp and ornament, fine horses, splendid armour, and shields enriched with silver and gold. He shared whatever fatigues he was obliged to impose, visited in person the sick and the wounded, preserved an exact register of their services and his own gratitude, and expressed, on every occasion, the warmest regard for a body of men, whose welfare, as he affected to declare, was so closely connected with that of the state. By the most gentle arts he laboured to inspire

* Delighted with his picture of Alexander's virtues, and contemplating as their result, the universal happiness of the Roman empire, Gibbon forgot the facts of history, some of which he himself had presently to relate. How could he otherwise have said, that the people “enjoyed an auspicious calm of thirteen years”? The disturbances and confusion which agitated that period, made the empire more like a scene of Mameluke dominion than of ancient Roman government. In city and province the despotic will of the soldiers was the only law; magistrates who displeased them were murdered; successive revolts instigated; rival emperors set up; and the hired defenders of the empire deserted their ranks, to swell the forces of its enemies. To these disorders of the tottering state, the well-meaning emperor could not, or at least did not, offer any other resistance than ineflectual wishes. The east was harassed by the Persians, and Gaul by the Germans, to say nothing of minor wars in Mauritania and Illyricum. In such circumstances imagination itself cannot create public or private happiness.-WENck. [In M. Guizot's last note Gibbon is condemned for being too cold in his praises of Alexander Severus, Here we find him censured by M. Wenck for the contrary fault of being too encomiastic. It may, then, be inferred, that he has actually kept the middle path of truth, between the opposite extremes which his French and German translators accuse him of having reached. The latter should have borne in mind that the happiness of the Roman people, described by Gibbon, was comparative, as contrasted with forty preceding years of tyrannical misrule; and Dr. Milman has justly told the former, that circumstances, the omission of which he

blames, are more appropriately introduced in other parts of the history.—ED.] * See in the Hist. August. p. 116, 117, the whole contest between Alexander and the senate, extracted from the journals of that assembly. It happened on the 6th of March, probably of the {. 223, when the Romans had enjoyed, almost a twelvemonth, the

lessings of his reign. Before the appellation of Antoninus was offered him as a title of honour, the senate waited to see whether Alexander would not assume it as a family name. + This rendered the soldiers more arrogant, and impoverished the state without obtaining one substantial advantage.—WENck. + It was a *

O

[ocr errors]

the fierce multitude with a sense of duty and to restore at least a faint image of that discipline to which the Romans owed their empire over so many other nations, as warlike and more powerful than themselves. But his prudence was vain, his courage fatal, and the attempt towards a reformation served only to inflame the ills it was meant to cure. The praetorian guards were attached to the youth of Aloilo They loved him as a tender pupil, whom they had saved from a tyrant's fury, and placed on the imperial throne. That amiable prince was sensible of the obligation; but as his gratitude was restrained within the limits of reason and justice, they soon were more dissatisfied with the virtues of Alexander, than they had ever been with the vices of Elagabalus. Their prefect, the wise Ulpian, was the friend of the laws, and of the people; he was considered as the enemy of the soldiers, and to his pernicious counsels every scheme of reformation was imputed. Some trifling accident blew up their discontent into a furious mutiny; and a civil war raged, during three days, in Rome, whilst the life of that excellent minister was defended by the grateful people. Terrified, at length, by the sight of some houses in flames, and by the threats of a general conflagration, the people yielded with a sigh, and left the virtuous but unfortunate ł. to his fate. He was pursued into the imperial palace, and massacred at the feet of his master, who vainly strove to cover him with the purple, and to obtain his pardon from the inexorable soldiers.” Such was

saying of the emperor's : Se milites magis servare, quam seipsum ; quod salus publica in his esset. Hist. August p. 130. * The three days' contest between the people and the praetorian guards, and the murder of Ulpian by the latter, were two distinct events, which Gibbon, misunderstanding Dion, has here blended into one. The last of them is the first related by that historian ; then turning back, as often was his custom, he says, that there had already been a civil war of three days between the people and the soldiers, during the life of Ulpian, but not on his account. It originated, as he states, in a very trifling circumstance. But the outbreak against Ulpian he attributes to his having, in his capacity of praetorian prefect, condemned to death his two predecessors, Chrestus and Flavian, whom the troops wished to avenge. Zosimus (l. 1, c. 11) imputes to Mamaea the sentence passed on them; but the military very willingly ascribed it to Ulpian, to whom it had been advantageous, and whom they hated.—WENck. [M. Wenck forgot here, as both he and M. Guizot have done elsewhere, that Gibbon's olject was rather to

« ForrigeFortsett »