Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

A.D. 274. BIRTH OF CONSTANTINE. 109

of Constantius would leave him sole master of the Roman world, we are assured that he had arranged in his mind a long succession of future princes, and that he meditated his own retreat from public life after he should have accomplished a glorious reign of about twenty years.7

But, within less than eighteen months, two unexpected revolutions overturned the ambitious schemes of Galerius. The hopes AmbUion of uniting the western provinces to his empire were disap- S^Siri pointed by the elevation of Constantine; whilst Italy and ^y^0TMAfrica were lost by the successful revolt of Maxentius.

I. The fame of Constantine has rendered posterity attentive to the most minute circumstances of his life and actions. The place of his birth, as well as the condition of his mother cation, and Helena, have been the subject not only of literary but of constantine. national disputes. Notwithstanding the recent tradition which assigns for her father a British king,8 we are obliged to confess that Helena was the daughter of an innkeeper; but at the same time we may defend the legality of her marriage against those who have represented her as the concubine of Constantius.9 The great Constantine was most probably born at Naissus, in Dacia ;10 and it is not

'These schemes, however, rest only on the very doubtful authority of Lactantius de M. P. c. 20.

8 This tradition, unknown to the contemporaries of Constantine, was invented in the darkness of monasteries, was embellished by Jeffrey of Monmouth and the writers of the xiith century, has been defended by our antiquarians of the last age, and is seriously related in the ponderous History of England compiled by Mr. Carte (vol. i. p. 147). He transports, however, the kingdom of Coil, the imaginary father of Helena, from Essex to the wall of Antoninus.

'Eutropius (x. 2) expresses, in a few words, the real truth, and the occasion of the error, "ex obscuriori mutrimonio ejus filius." Zosimus (1. ii. [c. 8] p. 78) eagerly seized the most unfavourable report, and is followed by Orosius (vii. 25), whose authority is oddly enough overlooked by the indefatigable but partial Tillemont. By insisting on the divorce of Helena, Diocletian acknowledged her marriage.

10 There are three opinions with regard to the place of Constantino's birth. 1. Our English antiquarians were used to dwell with rapture on the words of his panegyrist, "Britannias illic oriendo nobiles fecisti." But this celebrated passage maybe referred with as much propriety to the accession as to the nativity of Constantine. 2. Some of the modern Greeks have ascribed the honour of his birth toDrepanum, a town on the gulf of Nicomedia (Cellarius, torn. ii. p. 174), which Constantine dignified with the name of Helenopohs, and Justinian adorned with many splendid buildings (Procop. de EdificiU, v. 2). It is indeed probable enough that Helena's father kept an inn at Drepanum, and that Constantius might lodge there when he returned from a Persian embassy in the reign of Aurelian. But in the wandering life of a soldier, the place of his marriage, and the places where his children are born, have very little connection with each other. 3. The claim of Naissus is supported by the anonymous writer, published at the end of Ammianus, p. 710 [vol. ii. p. 295, ed. Bip.J, and who in general copied very good materials: and it is confirmed by Julius Firmicus (do Astrologia, 1. i. c. 4), who flourished under the reign of Constantine himself. Some objections have been raised against the integrity of the text, and the application of the passage, of Firmicus; but the former is established by the bestMSS., and the latter is very ably defended by Lipsius de Magnitudine Kouiana, 1. iv. c. 11, et Supplement."

■ Other authorities place the birth Them. ii. 9, p. 26; quoted by Clinton, of Constantine at Naissus. See Steph. Fast. Rom. vol. ii. p. 80.—S. Byss. s. v. Nain't; Constantin. Porphyr.

HO ESCAPE OF COXSTAXTIXE. Chap. XIV.

surprising that, in a family and province distinguished only by the profession of arms, the youth should discover very little inclination to improve his mind by the acquisition of knowledge.11 He was about eighteen years of age when his father was promoted to the rank of Caesar; but that fortunate event was attended with his mother's divorce; and the splendour of an Imperial alliance reduced the son of Helena to a state of disgrace and humiliation. Instead of following Constantius in the West, he remained in the service of Diocletian, signalised his valour in the wars of Egypt and Persia, and gradually rose to the honourable station of a tribune of the first order. The figure of Constantine was tall and majestic; he was dexterous in all his exercises, intrepid in war, affable in peace; in his whole conduct the active spirit of youth was tempered by habitual prudence; and while his mind was engrossed by ambition, he appeared cold and insensible to the allurements of pleasure. The favour of the people and soldiers, who had named him as a worthy candidate for the rank of Caesar, served only to exasperate the jealousy of Galerius; and though prudence might restrain him from exercising any open violence, an absolute monarch is seldom at a loss how to execute a sure and secret revenge.1* Every hour increased the danger of Constantine, and the anxiety of his father, who, by repeated letters, expressed the warmest desire of embracing his son. For some time the policy of Galerius supplied him with delays and excuses, but it was impossible long to refuse so natural a request of his associate without maintaining his refusal by arms. The permission of the journey was reluctantly granted, and, whatever precautions the emperor might have taken to intercept a return, the consequences of which he with so much reason apprehended, they were effectually disappointed by the incredible diligence of Constantine.13 Leaving the palace of Nicomedia in the night, he travelled post through Bithynia, Thrace, Dacia, Pannonia, Italy, and Gaul, and, amidst the joyful acclamations of the people, reached the port of Boulogne in the very moment when his father was preparing to embark for Britain.14

11 Literis minus instructus. Anonym, ad Ammian. p. 710.

'* Galerius, or perhaps his own courage, exposed him to single combat with a Sarmatian (Anonym, p. 710), and with a monstrous lion. See Prazagoras apud Photium, p. 63. Praxagoras, an Athenian philosopher, had written a life of Constantine in two books, which are now lost. He was a contemporary.

"Zosimus, 1. ii. [c. 8] p. 78, 79. Lactantius de M. P. c. 24. The former tells a very foolish story, that Constantine caused all the post-horses which he had used to be hamstrung. Such a bloody execution, without preventing a pursuit, would have scattered suspicions, and might have stopped his journey."

14 Anonym, p. 710. Panegyr. Veter. vii. 7. But Zosimue, 1. ii. [c. 9] p. 79,

• Zosimus is not the only writer who Manso (Leben Constantins, p. 18) ob

tells this story. Aurelius Victor (de Caesar, serves that the story has been exaggerated;

40; Epit. 41) says the same thing—G. he took this precaution during the first

—as also the Anonymus Valesii.—M. stage of his journey.—M.

A.d. 306. DEATH OF CONSTANTRTS. Ill

The British expedition, and an easy victory over the barbarians of Caledonia, were the last exploits of the reign of Con- DMth(rf stantius. He ended his life in the Imperial palace of York, consumtius,

x . * ana ©leva

fifteen months after he had received the title of Augustus, tion of

i , i/. ,. , i i i Coustontinc.

and almost fourteen years and a halt alter he had been pro- A.d. 306.

July 2o

moted to the rank of Caesar. His death was immediately succeeded by the elevation of Constantine. The ideas of inheritance and succession are so very familiar, that the generality of mankind consider them as founded not only in reason but in nature itself. Our imagination readily transfers the same principles from private property to public dominion: and whenever a virtuous father leaves behind him a son whose merit seems to justify the esteem, or even the hopes, of the people, the joint influence of prejudice and of affection operates with irresistible weight. The flower of the western armies had followed Constantius into Britain, and the national troops were reinforced by a numerous body of Alemanni, who obeyed the orders of Crocus, one of their hereditary chieftains.15 The opinion of their own importance, and the assurance that Britain, Gaul, and Spain would acquiesce in their nomination, were diligently inculcated to the legions by the adherents of Constantine. The soldiers were asked whether they could hesitate a moment between the honour of placing at their head the worthy son of their beloved emperor and the ignominy of tamely expecting the arrival of some obscure stranger, on whom it might please the sovereign of Asia to bestow the armies and provinces of the West? It was insinuated to them that gratitude and liberality held a distinguished place among the virtues of Constantine; nor did that artful prince show himself to the troops till they were prepared to salute him with the names of Augustus and Emperor. The throne was the object of his desires; and had he been less actuated by ambition, it was his only means of safety. He was well acquainted with the character and sentiments of Galerius, and sufficiently apprised that, if he wished to live, he must determine to reign. The decent, and even obstinate, resistance which he chose to 112

Eusebius de Vit. Constant. 1. i. c. 21, and Lactantius de M. P. c. 24, suppose, with less accuracy, that he found his father on his death-bed.*

14 Cunctis qui aderant annitentibus, sed prsecipue Croco (alii Eroco) [Erich?] Alemanuorum Rege, auxilii gratia Constantium comitato, imperium capit. Victor Junior, c. 41. This is perhaps the first instance of a barbarian king who assisted the Roman arms with an independent body of bis own subjects. The practice grew familiar, and at last became fatal.b

* Aurelius Victor (de Csesar. 40; Epit. the old Saxon Heritogo f A.-S. Heretoga,

41) agrees with Zosimus, Eusebius, and Germ. Herzog), dux. See Lappenberg's

Lactantius.—S. Hist, of England, translated by Thorpe,

b The name Erocus may perhaps be a vol. i. p. 47.—S. corruption of Ertocus, a Latinization of

CONSTANTINE ACKNOWLEDGED CÆSAR,

CHAP. XIV.

"

U

by Galerius, UllanG VI WA
who gives
him only

that of Augustus to Severus.

affectio was contrived to justify his usurpation; nor did he yield to the acclamations of the army till he had provided the proper materials for a letter, which he immediately despatched to the emperor of the East. Constantine informed him of the melancholy event of his father's death, modestly asserted his natural claim to the succession, and respectfully lamented that the affectionate violence of his troops had not permitted him to solicit the Imperial purple in the regular and constitutional manner. The first emotions of Galerius were those of surprise, disappointment, and rage; and, as he could seldom restrain his passions, he loudly threatened that he would commit to the flames both the letter and the messenger. But his resentment He is ac- insensibly subsided ; and when he recollected the doubtful knowledge chance of war, when he had weighed the character and

strength of his adversary, he consented to embrace the the title of honourable accommodation which the prudence of Constan

tine had left open to him. Without either condemning or

ratifying the choice of the British army, Galerius accepted the son of his deceased colleague as the sovereign of the provinces beyond the Alps; but he gave him only the title of Cæsar, and the fourth rank among the Roman princes, whilst he conferred the vacant place of Augustus on his favourite Severus. The apparent harmony of the empire was still preserved, and Constantine, who already possessed the substance, expected, without impatience, an opportunity of obtaining the honours of supreme power. 17 The children of Constantius by his second marriage were six in

number, three of either sex, and whose Imperial descent and sisters of might have solicited a preference over the meaner extrac

ce tion of the son of Helena. But Constantine was in the thirty-second year of his age, in the full vigour both of mind and body, at the time when the eldest of his brothers could not possibly be more than thirteen years old. His claim of superior merit had been allowed and ratified by the dying emperor.18 In his last moments Constantius bequeathed to his eldest son the care of the safety, as well as greatness, of the family ; conjuring him to assume both the authority and the sentiments of a father with regard to the children of Theodora. Their liberal education, advantageous marriages, the secure dignity of their lives, and the first honours of the

16 His panegyrist Eumenius (vii. 8) ventures to affirm, in the presence of Constantine, that he put spurs to his horse, and tried, but in vain, to escape from the hands of his soldiers.

17 Lactantius de M. P. c. 25. Eumenius (vii. 8) gives a rhetorical turn to the whole transaction.

18 The choice of Constantine by his dying father, which is warranted by reason, and insinuated by Eumenius, seems to be confirmed by the most unexceptionable authority, the concurring evidence of Lactantius (de M. P. c. 24) and of Libanius (Oratio i.), of Eusebius (in Vit. Constantin. 1. i. c. 21) and of Julian (Oratio i. [p. 71).

The brothers

Constantine.

A.D. 306. IMPATIENCE OF TAXATION. 113

state with which they were invested, attest the fraternal affection of Constantine; and, as those princes possessed a mild and grateful disposition, they submitted without reluctance to the superiority of his genius and fortune.19 a

II. The ambitious spirit of Galerius was scarcely reconciled to the disappointment of his views upon the Gallic provinces Discontent before the unexpected loss of Italy wounded his pride as mans at the well as power in a still more sensible part. The long ot taxes. absence of the emperors had filled Rome with discontent and indignation; and the people gradually discovered that the preference given to Nicomedia and Milan was not to be ascribed to the particular inclination of Diocletian, but to the permanent form of government which he had instituted. It was in vain that, a few months after his abdication, his successors dedicated, under his name, those magnificent baths whose ruins still supply the ground as well as the materials for so many churches and convents.20 The tranquillity of those elegant recesses of ease and luxury was disturbed by the impatient murmurs of the Romans, and a report was insensibly circulated that the sums expended in erecting those buildings would soon be required at their hands. About that time the avarice of Galerius, or perhaps the exigencies of the state, had induced him to make a very strict and rigorous inquisition into the property of his subjects for the purpose of a general taxation, both on their lands and on their persons. A very minute survey appears to have been taken of their real estates; and, wherever there was the slightest suspicion of concealment, torture was very freely employed to obtain a sincere declaration of their personal wealth.21 The privileges which had exalted Italy above the rank of the provinces were no longer regarded: and the officers of the revenue already began to number the Roman people, and to settle the proportion of the new taxes. Even when the spirit of freedom had been utterly extinguished, the tamest subjects have sometimes ventured to resist an unprecedented invasion of their property; but on this occasion the

19 Of the three sisters of Constantine, Constantia married the emperor Licinius, Anastasia the Casar Bassianus, and Eutropia the consul Nepotianus. The three brothers were, Dalmatius, Julius Constantius, and Annibalianus, of whom we shall have occasion to apeak hereafter.

30 See Oruter Inscrip. p. 178. The six princes are all mentioned, Diocletian and Haximian as the senior Augusti, and fathers of the emperors. They jointly dedicate, for the use of their own Romans, this magnificent edifice. The architects have delineated the ruins of these Thenna; and the antiquarians, particularly Donatus and >'ardini, have ascertained the ground which they covered. One of the great rooms is now the Carthusian church; and even one of the porter's lodges is sufficient to form another church, which belongs to the Feuillans.

■" Se« Lactantius de M. P. c. 26, 31.

"See genealogical table at the beginning of c. xviii.—S. VOL. II.

« ForrigeFortsett »