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senate and people of Rome. The crime of one man, and the error of many, have deprived us of the late cmperor Aurelian. May it please you, venerable lords and fathers, to place him in the number of the gods, and to appoint a successor whom your judgment shall declare worthy of the imperial purple | None of those whose guilt or misfortune have contributed to our loss, shall ever reign over us.” The Roman senators heard, without surprise, that another emperor had been assassinated in his camp; they secretly rejoiced in the fall of Aurelian; but the modest and dutiful address of the legions, when it was communicated in full assembly by the consul, diffused the most pleasing astonishment. Such honours as fear and perhaps esteem could extort, they liberally go forth on the memory of their deceased sovereign. Such acknowledgments as gratitude could inspire, they returned to the faithful armies of the republic, who entertained so just a sense of the legal authority of the senate in the choice of an emperor. Yet, notwithstanding this flattering appeal, the most prudent of the assembly declined exposing their safety and dignity to the caprice of an armed multitude. The strength of the legions was, indeed, a pledge of their sincerity, since those who may command are seldom reduced to the necessity of dissembling; but could it naturally be expected that a hasty repentance would correct the inveterate habits of fourscore years? Should the soldiers relapse into their accustomed seditions, their insolence might disgrace the majesty of the senate, and prove fatal to the object of its choice. Motives like these dictated a decree, by which the election of a new emperor was referred to the suffrage of the military order. he contention that ensued is one of the best attested, but most improbable, events in the history of mankind.t The troops, as if satiated with the exercise of power, again conjured the senate to invest one of its own body with the imperial purple. The senate still persisted in its refusal: the army in its request. The reciprocal offer was pressed and rejected at least three times, and whilst the obstinate
two Victors. * Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 222. Aurelius Victor mentions a formal deputation from the troops to the senate. + Vopiscus, our principal authority, wrote at Rome, sixteen years only after the death of Aurelian; and, besides the recent notoriety st the tacts, constantly draws his raaterials from the journals of the senate, and the original papers of the Ulpian library. Zosimus and Zonaras appear as ignorant of this transaction as they were in general of the Roman constitution. * This interregnum lasted at the utmost seven months. Aurelian was assassinated about the middle of March, and Tacitus elected on the 25th September, in the year of Rome 1028.-GUIzot. [Six months (Clinton F. R. i. 312.)—ED. + Liv. 1, 17. Dionys. Halicarn, lib. 2, p. 115. Plutarch in Numa, p. 60. The first of these writers relates the story like an orator, the second like a lawyer, and the third like a moralist; and none of them probably without some intermixture of fable.
388 THE THIRONE WACANT, [ch. xv.1.
modesty of either party was resolved to receive a master from the hands of the other, eight months insensibly elapsed:* an amazing period of tranquil anarchy, during which the Roman world remained without a sovereign, without an usurper, and without a sedition. The generals and magistrates appointed by Aurelian continued to execute their ordinary functions; and it is observed, that a proconsul of Asia was the only considerable person removed from his office, in the whole course of the interregnum. An event somewhat similar, but much less authentic, is supposed to have happened after the death of Romulus, who, in his life and character, bore some affinity with Aurelian. The throne was vacant during twelve months, till the election of a Sabine philosopher; and the public peace was guarded in the same manner, by the union of the several orders of the state. But, in the time of Numa and Romulus, the arms of the people were controlled by the authority of the patricians; and the balance of freedom was easily preserved in a small and virtuous community.t The decline of the Roman state, 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 i. and vigour. On the 25th of September, near eight months after the murder of Aurelian, the consul convoked an assembly of the senate, and reported the doubtful and dangerous situation of the empire. He slightly insinuated that the precarious 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 shall esteem the ". of Tacitus more truly noble than that of kings. He claimed his descent from the philosophic historian, whose writings will instruct the last generations of mankind.t The senator Tacitus was then seventy-five years of age.: The long period of his innocent life was adorned with wealth and honours. He had twice been invested with the consular dignity, Ś and enjoyed with elegance and sobriety his ample patrimony of between 2,000,000l. and 3,000,000l. sterling." The experience of so
* Vopiscus (in Isist. August., p. 227) calls him ‘primae sententia, consularis;' and soon afterwards princeps senatus. It is natural to suppose, that the 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, lib. 12, p. 637. The Alexandrian Chronicle, by an obvious mistake, transfers that age to Aurelian. [Niebuhr (Lect. on Rom. Hist. 3, 288) doubts this advanced age of Tacitus.-ED.] § In the year 273, he was ordinary consul. But he must have been suffectus many years before, and most probably under Walerian. Ti Bis millies octingenties. Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 229. This sum, according to the old standard, was equivalent to eight hundred and forty thousand Roman pounds of silver, each of the value of 31. sterling. But in the 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. Tacite; and Lipsius ad Annal. 2, 9.
many 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 Roman 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 Baiae, when he reluctantly obeyed the summons of the consul to resume his honourable place in the senate, and to assist the republic with his counsels on this important occasion. He rose to speak, when, from every quarter of the house, he was saluted with the names Augustus and 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 acclamation subsided, Tacitus attempted to decline the 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 P 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 n 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 I should ever find reason to regret the favourable opinion of the senate?” The reluctance of Tacitus, and it might possibly be sincere, was encountered by the affectionate obstinacy of the senate. Five hundred voices repeated at once, in eloquent confusion, that the greatest of the Roman princes, Numa, Trajan, Hadrian, 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 ot headstrong and capricious youths, congratulated them or, 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 praetorian guards.t The administration of Tacitus was not unworthy of his life and principles. A grateful servant of the senate, he considered that national council as the author, and himself as the subject, of the laws. 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.S 1. To invest * Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 227. + Hist. August. 228. Tacitus addressed the praetorians by the appellation of sanctissimi milites, and the people by that of sacratissimi quirites. f In his manumissions he never exceeded the number of a hundred, as limited by the Caninian law, which was enacted under Augustus, and at length repealed by