Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

812 THE GOTHIS ATTACK LCH. x.

relaxed discipline of the Roman troops betrayed the most important posts where they were stationed, and the fear of deserved punishment induced great numbers of them to enlist under the Gothic standard. The various multitude of barbarians appeared, at length, under the walls of Marcianopolis, a city built by Trajan in honour of his sister, and at that time the capital of the second Moesia.” The inhabitants consented to ransom their lives and property, by the payment of a large sum of money, and the invaders retreated back into their deserts, animated rather than satisfied, with the first success of their arms against an opulent but feeble country. Intelligence was soon transmitted to the emperor Decius, that Cniva, king of the Goths, had passed the Danube a second time, with more considerable forces; that his numerous detachments scattered devastation over the provinces of Moesia, whilst the main body of the army, consisting of seventy thousand Germans and Sarmatians, a force equal to the most daring achievements, required the presence of the Roman monarch, and the exertion of his military power. Decius found the Goths engaged before Nicopolis, on the Jatrus, one of the many monuments of Trajan's victories.t. On his approach they raised the siege, but with a design only of marching away to a conquest of greater importance, the siege of Philippopolis, a city of Thrace, founded by the father of Alexander, near the foot of Mount Haemus.; Decius followed them through a difficult country, and by forced marches; but when he imagined himself at a considerable distance from the rear of the Goths, Cniva turned with rapid fury on his pursuers. The camp of the Romans was surprised and pillaged, and for the first time their emperor fled in disorder before a troop of half-armed barbarians. After a long resistance, Philippopolis, destitute of succour, was taken by storm. A j. thousand persons are reported to have been massacred in the sack of that great city.” Many prisoners of consequence became a valuable accession to the spoil; and Priscus, a brother of the late emperor Philip, blushed not to assume the purple under the protection of the barbarous enemies of Rome.t The time, however, consumed in that tedious siege, enabled Decius to revive the courage, restore the discipline, and recruit the numbers of his troops. He intercepted several parties of Carpi, and other Germans, who were hastening to share the victory of their countryment intrusted the passes of the mountains to officers of approved valour and fidelity, Ś repaired and strengthened the fortifications of the Danube, and exerted his utmost vigilance to oppose either the progress or the retreat of the Goths. $o by the return of fortune, he anxiously waited for an opportunity to retrieve, by a great and decisive blow, his own glory, and that of the Roman arms."[ At the same time when Decius was struggling with the violence of the tempest, his mind, calm and deliberate amidst the tumult of war, investigated the more general causes, that, since the age of the Antonines, had so impetuously urged the decline of the Roman greatness. He soon discovered that it was impossible to replace that greatness on a permanent basis, without restoring public virtue, ancient Popo and manners, and the o." majesty of the aws. To execute this noble but arduous design, he first resolved to revive the obsolete office of censor; an office

sentation of the ancient, since, in the hands of the Cossacks, it still remains in a state of nature. * In the sixteenth chapter of Jornandes, instead of secundo Moesiam, we may venture to substitute secundam, the second Moesia, of which Marcianopolis was certainly the capital. (See Hierocles de Provinciis, and Wesseling, ad locum, p. 636. Itinerar.) It is surprising how this palpable error of the scribe could escape the judicious correction of Grotius. [Marcianopolis is now Prebislaw, in Bulgaria. D'Anville, Géog. Anc. tom. i, p. 311.-GUIzot.] + The place is still called Nicop. The little stream on whose banks it stood falls into the Danube. D'Anville, Géographie Ancienne, tom.i, p. 307. f Stephan. Byzant. de Urbibus, p. 740. Wesseling, Itinerar. p. 136. Zonaras, by an odd mistake, ascribes the foundation of Philippopolis to the immediate predecessor of Decius. [It now bears the same name, or sometimes Philiba. Its situation amid three hills gave it also the name of Trimontium. D'Anville, Géog. Anc. tom. i, p. 295. --GUIzot.] * Ammian, 31, 5. + Aurel. Victor, c. 29. £ Victoriae Carpica, on some medals of Decius, insinuate these advantages. § Claudius (who afterwards reigned with so much glory) was posted in the pass of Thermopylae with two hundred Dardanians, one hundred heavy and one hundred and sixty light horse, sixty Cretan archers, and one thousand well-armed recruits. See an original letter from the emperor to his officer, in the Augustan History, p. 200. "I Jornandes, c. 16–18. Zosimus, l. 1, p. 22. In the general account of this war, it is easy to discover the opposite prejudices of the Gothic and the Grecian writer. In carelessness alone they are alike. * Montesquieu, Grandeur et Décadence des Romains, c. 8. He illustrates the nature and use of the censorship with his usual ingenuity, and with uncommon precision. + Vespasian and Titus were the last censors. Plin. Hist. Natur. 7, 49. Censorinus de Die Natali. The modesty of Trajan refused an honour which he deserved, and his example became a law to the Antonines. See Pliny's Panegyric, c. 45 and 60. £ Yet, in spite of this exemption, Pompey appeared before that tribunal during his consulship. The occasion indeed was equally singular and honourable. Plutarch in Pomp. p. 630. § See the original speech, in the Augustan Hist. p. 173, 174.

814 WALERIAN NOMINATED [Ch. x.

which, as long as it had subsisted in its pristine integrity, had so much contributed to the perpetuity of the state,” till it was usurped and gradually neglected by the Caesars.f Conscious that the favour of the sovereign may confer power, but that the esteem of the people can alone bestow authority, he submitted the choice of the censor to the unbiassed voice of the senate. By their unanimous votes, or rather . acclamations, Valerian, who was afterwards emperor, and who then served with distinction in the army of Decius, was declared the most worthy of that exalted io. As soon as the decree of the senate was transmitted to the emperor, he assembled a great council in his camp, and before the investiture of the censor elect, he apprized him of the difficulty and importance of his great office, “Happy Valerian,” said the prince to his distinguished subject, “happy in the of approbation of the senate and of the Roman republic Accept the censorship of mankind; and judge of our manners. "You will select those who deserve to continue members of the senate; you will restore the equestrian order to its ancient splendour; you will improve the revenue, yet moderate the public burdens. You will distinguish into regular classes the various and infinite multitude of citizens, and accurately review the military strength, the wealth, the virtue, and the resources of Rome. Your decisions shall obtain the force of laws. The army, the palace, the ministers of justice, and the great officers of the empire, are all subject to your tribunal. None are exempted, excepting only the ordinary consuls,f the prefect of the city, the king of the sacrifices, and (as long as she preserves her chastity inviolate) the eldest of the vestal virgins. Even these few, who may not dread the severity, will anxiously solicit the esteem of the Roman censor.”$ A magistrate, invested with such extensive powers, would

have appeared not so much the minister as the colleague of his sovereign.” Valerian justly dreaded an elevation so full of envy and suspicion. He modestly urged the alarming greatness of the trust, his own insufficiency, and the incurable corruption of the times. He artfully insinuated that the office of censor was inseparable from the imperial dignity, and that the feeble hands of a subject were unequal to the support of such an immense weight of cares and of power.f The approaching event of war soon put an end to the prosecution of a project so specious but so impracticable; and whilst it preserved Valerian from the danger, saved the emperor Decius from the disappointment which would most probably have attended it. A censor may maintain, he can never restore, the morals of a state. It is impossible for such a magistrate to exert his authority with benefit, or even with effect, unless he is supported with a quick sense of honour and virtue in the minds of the people; by a decent reverence for the public opinion, and by a train of useful prejudices combating on the side of national manners. In a period when these principles are annihilated, the censorial jurisdiction must either sink into empty pageantry, or be converted into a partial instrument of vexatious oppression.f It was easier to vanquish the Goths, than to eradicate the ublic vices, yet, even in the first of these enterprises, Decius ost his army and his life.

The Goths were now on every side surrounded and pursued by the Roman arms. The flower of their troops had perished in the long siege of Philippopolis, and the exhausted country could no longer afford subsistence for the remaining multitude of licentious barbarians. Reduced to this extremity, the Goths would gladly have purchased, by the surrender of all their booty and prisoners, the permission of an undisturbed retreat. But the emperor, confident of victory, and resolving, by the chastisement of these invaders, to strike a salutary terror into the nations of the north, refused to listen to any terms of accommodation. The highspirited barbarians preferred death to slavery. An obscure

* This transaction might deceive Zonaras, who supposes that Walerian was actually declared the colleague of Decius, l. 12, p. 625.

+ Hist. August. p. 174. The emperor's reply is omitted.

† Such as the attempts of Augustus towards a reformation of manners. Tacit. Annal. 3, 24.

316 VICTORY OF THE GOTris. [CH. x.

town of Moesia, called Forum Terebonii,” was the scene of the battle. The Gothic army was drawn up in three lines, and, either from choice or accident, the front of the third line was covered by a morass. In the beginning of the action, the son of Decius, a youth of the fairest hopes, and already associated to the honours of the purple, was slain by an arrow, in the sight of his afflicted father; who, summoning all his fortitude, admonished the dismayed troops, that the loss of a single soldier was of little importance to the republic.f. The conflict was terrible; it was the combat of despair against grief and rage. The first line of the Goths at length gave way in disorder: the second, advancing to sustain it, shared its fate; and the third only remained entire, prepared to dispute the passage of the morass, which was imprudently attempted by the presumption of the enemy. “Here the fortune of the day turned, and all things became adverse to the Romans; the place deep with ooze, sinking under those who stood, slippery to such as advanced; their armour heavy, the waters deep ; nor could they wield, in that uneasy situation, their weighty javelins. The barbarians, on the contrary, were inured to encounters in the bogs, their persons tall, their spears long, such as could wound at a distance.:” In this morass the Roman army, after an ineffectual struggle, was irrecoverably lost; nor could the body of the emperor ever be found.S. Such was the fate of Decius, in the fiftieth year of his age; an accomplished prince, active in war, and affable in peace;" who, together with his son, has deserved to be compared, both in life and death, with the brightest examples of ancientvirtue.**

This fatal blow humbled, for a very little time, the insolence of the legions. They appear to have patiently expected, and submissively obeyed, the decree of the senate

* Tillemont, Histoire des Empereurs, tom. iii, p. 598. As Zosimus and some of his followers mistake the Danube for the Tanais, they

place the field of battle in the plains of Scythia. + Aurelius Victor allows two distinct actions for the deaths of the two Decii, but I have preferred the account of Jornandes. + I have

ventured to copy from Tacitus (Annal. 1, 64) the picture of a similar engagement between a Roman army and a German tribe. § Jornandes, c. 18. Zosimus, l. 1, p. 22 (c. 23.) Zonaras, l. 12, p. 627. Aurelius Victor. * The Decii were killed before the end of the year 251, since the new princes took possession of the consulship on the ensuing calends of January. ** Hist. August. p. 223, gives them

« ForrigeFortsett »