Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

242 THE GENERAL MISITHEUS. [CH. VII.

•f the eunuchs” and still more that he is sensible of his deliverance. The emperor acknowledges, with an amiable confusion, the errors of his past conduct; and laments with singular propriety, the misfortunes of a monarch, from whom a venal tribe of courtiers perpetually labour to conceal the truth.* The life of Misitheus had been spent in the profession of letters, not of arms; yet such was the ol. genius of that great man, that when he was appointed praetorian prefect, he discharged the military duties of his place with vigour and ability. The Persians had invaded Mesopotamia and threatened Antioch. By the persuasion of his fatherin-law, the young emperor quitted the luxury of Rome, opened, for the last time recorded in history, the temple of Janus, and marched in person into the east. On his approach with a great army, the Persians withdrew their garrisons from the cities which they had already taken, and retired from the Euphrates to the Tigris. Gordian enjoyed the pleasure of announcing to the senate the first success of his arms, which he ascribed with a becoming modesty and gratitude to the wisdom of his father and prefect. During the whole expedition, Misitheus watched over the safety and discipline of the army; whilst he prevented their dangerous murmurs by maintaining a regular plenty in the camp, and by establishing aniple magazines of vinegar, bacon, straw, barley, and wheat, in all the cities of the frontier. S. But the prosperity of Gordian expired with Misitheus, who died of a |. not without very strong suspicions of poison. Philip, his successor in the prefecture, was an Arab by birth, and consequently, in the earlier part of his life, a robber by profession. His rise from so obscure a station to the first dignities of the empire, seems to prove

Fol * Hist. August. p. 161. From some hints in the two letters, I should suspect that the eunuchs were not expelled the palace without some degree of gentle violence : and that the young Gordian rather approved of, than consented to, their disgrace. t Duxit uxorem filam Misithei, quem causã eloquentiae dignum parentela suá putavit; et praefectum statim fecit; post quod, non puerile jam et contemptibile videbatur imperium. f They were several times defeated. Capitol. 5, 26.—WENck. § Hist. August. . 162. Aurelius Victor. Porphyrius in Wit. Plotin. ap. Fabricium. iblioth. Graec. l. 4, c. 36. The I hilosopher Plotinus accompanied the

that he was a bold and able leader. But his boldness prompted him to aspire to the throne, and his abilities were employed to supplant—not to serve his indulgent master; The minds, of the soldiers were irritated by an artificial scarcity, created by his contrivance in the camp; and the distress of the army was attributed to the youth and ineapacity of the prince. It is not in our power to trace the successive steps of the secret conspiracy and open sedition which were at length fatal to Gordian. A sepulchral monument was erected to his memory on the spot” where he was killed, near the conflux of the Euphrates with the little river Aboras.t. The fortunate Philip, raised to the empire by the votes of the soldiers, found a ready obedience from the senate and the provinces.t We cannot forbear transcribing the ingenious, though somewhat fanciful description, which a celebrated writer of our own times had traced of the military government of the Roman empire. “What in that time was called the

army, prompted by the love of knowledge, and by the hope of penetrating as far as India. * About twenty miles from the little town of Circesium, on the frontier of the two empires. [The modern name of this place is Kerkisia, in the angle formed by the Chaboras, now Al Khabour, where it flows into the Euphrates. This spot appeared to Diocletian so advantageous that he fortified it strongly, as "bulwark to the empire, in that part of Mesopotamia. (D'Anville, Géog. Anc. tom. ii. p. 196,)—Guizot.] [At every such conflux of streams, the migrations of nomade races were arrested, and the natural strength of the positions caused them to be selected for the first settlement of rude tribes. At similar points the residences of former Celtic inhabitants may be traced from Asia across Europe, by names, now in most instances corrupted, which originally denoted “a meeting of waters.” Chaboras seems to be one of these. It is the Chebar or Habor, and Circesium is the Carchemish of Scripture. . See Layard's Nineveh, and Babylon, pp. 234, 284, &c.—ED.] + The inscription (which contained a very singular pun), was erased by the order of Licinius, who claimed some degree of relationship to Philip (Hist. August. p. 165), but the tumulus, or mound of earth, which formed the sepulchre, still subsisted in the time of Julian. See Ammian. Marcellin. 23, 5. : Aurelius Victor. Eutrop. 9, 2. Qrosius, 7, 20. Ammianus Marcellinus, 23, 5. Zosimus, l. 1, p. 19. Philip, who was a native of Bostra, was about forty years of age. [Bostra is now called Bosnah. It was anciently the metropolis of a province designated Arabia, and the capital of Auranitis, the name of which is still preserved in the form of Bedi Hauran; its boundary is lost in the deserts of Arabia (D'Anville, Géog. Anc. tom. ii. p. 88). According to Aurelius Victor, Philip 'was a native of Trachoritis, another Arabian district—Guizor.] R 2

244 THE EMPEROR PHILIP. [CH. VIz.

Roman empire, was only an irregular republic, not unlike the aristocracy” of Algiers,f where the militia, possessed of the sovereignty, creates and deposes a magistrate, who is styled a Dey. Perhaps, indeed, it may be laid down as a general rule, that a military government is, in some respects, more republican than monarchical. Nor can it be said that the soldiers only partook of the government by their disobedience and rebellions. The speeches made to them by the emperors, were they not at length of the same nature as those formerly pronounced to the people by the consuls and the tribunes?: And although the armies had no regular place or forms of assembly; though their debates were short, their action sudden, and their resolves seldom the result of cool reflection, did they not dispose with absolute sway, of the public fortune? What was the emperor, except the minister of a violent government, elected for the private benefit of the soldiers ? “When the army had elected Phikip, who was praetorian prefect to the third Gordian; the latter demanded, that he might remain sole emperor; he was unable to obtain it. He requested that the power might be equally divided between them; the army would not listen to his speech. He consented to be degraded to the rank of Caesar; the favour was refused him. He desired, at least, he might be o praetorian prefect; his prayer was rejected. Finally, he pleaded for his life. The army in these several judgments, exercised the supreme magistracy.” According to the historian, whose doubtful narrative the president De Montesquieu has adopted, Philip, who, during the whole transaction, had preserved a sullen silence, was inclined to i. the innocent life of his benefactor; till, recollecting that his innocence might excite a dangerous compassion in the Roman world, he commanded, without regard to his suppliant cries, that he should be seized, stripped, and led away to instant death. After a moment's pause, the inhuman sentence was executed.* On his return from the east to Rome, Philip, desirous of obliterating the memory of his crimes, and of captivating the affections of the people, solemnized the secular games with infinite pomp o magnificence. Since their institution or revival by Augustus,t they had been celebrated by Claudius, by Domitian, and by Severus, and were now renewed the fifth time, on the accomplishment of the full E. of a thousand years from the foundation of Rome. very circumstance of the secular games was skilfully adapted to inspire the superstitious mind with deep and solemn reverence. The long interval between them; ex

* Can the epithet of aristocracy be applied, with any propriety, to the government of Algiers ? Every military government floats between the extremes of absolute monarchy and wild democracy. + The military republic of the Mamelukes in Egypt would have afforded M. de Montesquieu (see Considérations sur la Grandeur et la Décadence des Romains, c. 16,) a juster and more noble parallel. † The dif. ference was, that the authority of the senate and the people was legal, that of troops, in the administration of public affairs, an illegal exercise of force. Of this the emperors themselves were fully aware; the tyrannical used the army as a support of their government and instru: memt of their crimes; the good flattered a power which they could not weaken, as despotic usurpers are flattered by those whose doom is in their hands.-WENCK. * The Augustan History (p. 163, 164) cannot, in this instance, be reconciled with itself or with probability. How could Philip condemn his predecessor, and yet consecrate his memory? How could he order his public execution, and yet, in his letters to the senate, exculpate himself from the guilt of his death? Philip, though an ambitious usurper, was by no means a mad tyrant, Some chronological difficulties have likewise been discovered by the nice eyes of Tillemont and Muratori, in this supposed association of Philip to the empire. [These apparent contradictions in the Augustan History may be reconciled. Capitolinus does not say that Philip ordered the public execution of Gordian. Instead of in conspectum, we must read e conspectu, as altered by Salmasius and Gruter, from a very good MS. After Gordian had been deposed, on account of his youth and alleged incapacity for government, Philip detained him in prison; but the order for his death, as Capitolinus expressly says, was not immediately carried into effect. A respite of some days was allowed, during which he died of a natural disease, which Philip announced to the senate at Rome. Zosimus (lib. 1, c. 19) confirms this. It was nothing new for Philip to place Gordian among the gods. Caracalla, Macrinus, and others deified their prodecessors or colleagues, according to the well-known “Sit divus, modo non sit vivus.” The difficulties raised by Tillemont and Muratori. prove that Philip, during the last days of Gordian, had shared the imperial power without the title. —WENck.] + The account of the last supposed celebration, though in an enlightened period of history, was so very doubtful and obscure, that the alternative seems not doubtful. When the popish jubilees, the copy of the secular games, were invented by Boniface VIII. the crafty pope pretended that he only revived an ancient institution. See M. le Chais, Lettres sur le. Tubilés. †: Either of a hundred, or a hundred and ten years. Varro and Livy adopted the former opinion, but the infallible authority of the Sibyl consecrated the latter (Censorinus, de Die Natal. c. 17). The emperors Claudius and Philip, however, did not treat the oracle with implicit respect. * The idea of the secular games is best understood from the poem of Horace, and the description of Zosimus, l. 2, p. 167, &c. + This common opinion has been shown to be erroneous. Dionys. Halicar. lib. 1, p. 4, 72, 75, edit. Sylburg.—WENck. † The received calculation of Varro assigns to the foundation of Rome, an era that corresponds with the seven hundred and fifty-fourth year before Christ. But so little is the chronology of Rome to be depended on in the more early ages, that Sir Isaac Newton has brought the same event as low as the year 627. [The Roman chronologists, who had better opportunities than we have to ascertain the date of their city's foundation, made a difference of only a few years in their calculations. In his note on Guthrie's Universal History, vol. iv. p. 98, Heyne has given a brief but clear view of the question, and adduced other writers. Newton is not himself in his historical and chronological paradoxes, of which it may also be said, “Le grand Newton fit son Apocalypse.”—WENck.]

246 THE SECULAR GAMES. [CH. VII.

ceeded the term of human life; and as none of the spectators had already seen them, none could flatter themselves with the expectation of beholding them a second time. The mystic sacrifices were performed, during three nights, on the banks of the Tiber; and the Campus Martius resounded with music and dances, and was illuminated with innumerable lamps and torches. Slaves and strangers were excluded from any participation in these national ceremonies. A chorus of twenty-seven youths, and as many virgins, of noble families, whose parents were both alive, implored the propitious gods in favour of the present, and for the hope of the rising generation; requesting, in religious hymns, and, according to the faith of their ancient oracles, they would still maintain the virtue, the felicity, and the empire, of the Roman people.* The magnificence of Philip's shows and entertainments dazzled the eyes of the multitude. The devout were employed in the rites of superstition, whilst the reflecting few revolved in their minds the past history and the future fate of the empire. Since Romulus, with a small band of shepherds and outlaws,t fortified himself on the hills near the Tiber, ten centuries had already elapsed. During the first four ages, the Romans, in the laborious school of poverty, had acquired the virtues of war and government; by the vigorous exertion of those virtues, and by the assistance of fortune, they had obtained, in the course of the three succeeding centuries, an absolute empire over many countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The last three hundred years

« ForrigeFortsett »