Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

114 MAXENTIUS EMPEROR. Chap. XIV.

injury was aggravated by the insult, and the sense of private interest was quickened by that of national honour. The conquest of Macedonia, as we have already observed, had delivered the Roman people from the weight of personal taxes. Though they had experienced every form of despotism, they had now enjoyed that exemption near five hundred years; nor could they patiently brook the insolence of an Illyrian peasant, who, from his distant residence in Asia, presumed to number Rome among the tributary cities of his empire.* The rising fury of the people was encouraged by the authority, or at least the connivance, of the senate; and the feeble remains of the Praetorian guards, who had reason to apprehend their own dissolution, embraced so honourable a pretence, and declared their readiness to draw their swords in the service of their oppressed country. It was the wish, and it soon became the hope, of every citizen that, after expelling from Italy their foreign tyrants, they should elect a prince who, by the place of his residence, and by his maxims of government, might once more deserve the title of Roman emperor. The name, as well as the situation of Maxentius, determined in his favour the popular enthusiasm.

Maxentius was the son of the emperor Maximian, and he had Mwtentiua married the daughter of Galerius. His birth and alliance TMi"ror seemed to offer him the fairest promise of succeeding to the *tDR30fc empire; but his vices and incapacity procured him the Oct 28. same exclusion from the dignity of Caesar which Constantine had deserved by a dangerous superiority of merit. The policy of Galerius preferred such associates as would never disgrace the choice, nor dispute the commands, of their benefactor. An obscure stranger

* Notwithstanding the discontent of the the j<us Itulicum, and that this name conpeople, the system of taxation which had tinued to be employed, although no longer prevailed in the provinces was now perma- appropriate, since Italy hail ceased to nently established in Italy. This has possess any special rights. The taxation been shown by Savigny, who quotes a of Italy did not arise from the avarice of remarkable passage of Aurelius Victor (de the emperor, but was necessary in conseCiesar. c. 39):—"Hinc denique parti Ita- quence of the division of the empire. So lias invectum tributorum ingens malum;" long as Italy and all the provinces were where "pars Italia;" does not mean a under one and the same government, the part of Italy, but the land of Italy, for, provinces alone might bear the expenses even in classical writers, "pars" fre- without any great hardship; but when quently signifies a land or country. The Italy and Africa were formed into a sepa*' tributa" were the land-tax and poll-tax, rate kingdom, it was impossible that the which were established in the provinces whole burden of the government should under the early emperors. See note, vol. i. be borne by Africa alone. It is true that p. 302, scq. Thus there was now one this division did not long continue; but uniform system of taxation throughout the it was natural that Italy should never Roman empire, of which an account is regain its exemption from taxation, more given below, in c. xvii. It may, however, especially as it came to be regarded less be observed here that exemption from and less as the ruling land. Savigny, taxation continued to be enjoyed by those Romische Stouorverfassung, in Vermischte towns in the provinces which possessed Schriften, vol. ii. p. 108, seq.—S.

A.D. 306. DEATH OF SEVEKUS. 115

was therefore raised to the throne of Italy, and the son of the late emperor of the West was left to enjoy the luxury of a private fortune in a villa a few miles distant from the capital. The gloomy passions of his soul, shame, vexation, and rage, were inflamed by envy on the news of Constantine's success; but the hopes of Maxentius revived with the public discontent, and he was easily persuaded to unite his personal injury and pretensions with the cause of the Roman people. Two Praetorian tribunes and a commissary of provisions undertook the management of the conspiracy; and, as every order of men was actuated by the same spirit, the immediate event was neither doubtful nor difficult. The prsefect of the city and a few magistrates, who maintained their fidelity to Severus, were massacred by the guards; and Maxentius, invested with the Imperial ornaments, was acknowledged, by the applauding senate and people, as the protector of the Roman freedom and dignity. It is uncertain whether Maximian was previously acquainted with the conspiracy; but as soon as the standard of rebellion was erected at Rome, the old emperor Maximi»n broke from the retirement where the authority of Diocletian the purpic. had condemned him to pass a life of melancholy solitude, and concealed his returning ambition under the disguise of paternal tenderness. At the request of his son and of the senate he condescended to reassume the purple. His ancient dignity, his experience, and his fame in arms added strength as well as reputation to the party of Maxentius.22

According to the advice, or rather the orders, of his colleague, the emperor Severus immediately hastened to Rome, in the full Defeat and confidence that, by his unexpected celerity, he should easily severTM. suppress the tumult of an unwarlike populace, commanded by a licentious youth. But he found on his arrival the gates of the city shut against him, the walls filled with men and arms, an experienced general at the head of the rebels, and his own troops without spirit or affection. A large body of Moors deserted to the enemy, allured by the promise of a large donative; and, if it be true that they had been levied by Maximian in his African war, preferring the natural feelings of gratitude to the artificial ties of allegiance. Anulinus, the Praetorian preefect, declared himself in favour of Maxentius, and drew after him the most considerable part of the troops accustomed to obey his commands. Rome, according to the expression of an orator, recalled her armies; and the unfortunate Severus, destitute of force and of counsel, retired, or rather fled, with precipitation to

M The sixth Panegyric represents the conduct of Maximian in the most favourable light; and the ambiguous expression of Aurelius Victor fde Coesar. c. 40], "retractante diu," may signify either that he contrived, or that he opposed, the conspiracy. See Zosimus, 1. ii. [c. 9] p. 79, and Lactantius de M. P. c. 26.

116 MARRIAGE OF COXSTASTDfE. Chap. XIV.

Ravenna. Here he might for some time have been safe. The fortifications of Ravenna were able to resist the attempts, and the morasses that surrounded the town were sufficient to prevent the approach, of the Italian army. The sea, which Severus commanded with a powerful fleet, secured him an inexhaustible supply of provisions, and gave a free entrance to the legions which, on the return of spring, would advance to his assistance from Illyricum and the East. Maximian, who conducted the siege in person, was soon convinced that he might waste his time and his army in the fruitless enterprise, and that he had nothing to hope either from force or famine. With an art more suitable to the character of Diocletian than to his own, he directed his attack not so much against the walls of Ravenna as against the mind of Severus. The treachery which he had experienced disposed that unhappy prince to distrust the most sincere of his friends and adherents. The emissaries of Maximian easily persuaded his credulity that a conspiracy was formed to betray the town, and prevailed upon his fears not to expose himself to the discretion of an irritated conqueror, but to accept the faith of au honourable capitulation. He was at first received with humanity and treated with respect. Maximian conducted the captive emperor to Rome, and gave him the most solemn assurances that he had secured his life by the resignation of the purple. But Severus could A.d. 307. obtain only an easy death and an Imperial funeral. When Fcbmuy. tne sentence wa3 signified to him, the manner of executing it was left to his own choice; he preferred the favourite mode of the ancients, that of opening his veins; and, as soon as he expired, his body was carried to the sepulchre which had been constructed for the family of Gallienus.23

Though the characters of Constantine and Maxentius had very

little affinity with each other, their situation and interest

pveg his were the same, and prudence seemed to require that they

daughter , , , f . ■ * J

Kausia. and should unite their forces against the common enemy.

the title of -kt ■ l_ J- T_ ■ • <• i ■ •

Augustus, to ^Notwithstanding the superiority ox his age and dignity, A.d. 307. ' the indefatigable Maximian passed the Alps, and, courting a personal interview with the sovereign of Gaul, carried with him his daughter Fausta as the pledge of the new alliance. The marriage was celebrated at Aries with every circumstance of magnificence; and the ancient colleague of Diocletian, who again

23 The circumstances of this war, and the death of Severus, are very doubtfully and variously told in our ancient fragments (see Tillemont, Hist, des Empereurs, torn. iv. part i. p. 555). I have endeavoured to extract from them a consistent and probable narration."

"Manso justly observes that two totally different narratives might be formed, almost upon equal authority. Beylage, iv.—M.

A.D. 307. GALEKIUS INVADES ITALY. 117

assorted his claim to the Western empire, conferred on his son-in-law and ally the title of Augustus. By consenting to receive that honour from Maximian, Constantine seemed to embrace the cause of Rome and of the senate; but his professions were ambiguous, and his assistance slow and ineffectual. He considered with attention the approaching contest between the masters of Italy and the emperor of the East, and was prepared to consult his own safety or ambition in the event of the war.24

The importance of the occasion called for the presence and abilities of Galerius. At the head of a powerful army collected Gaierhumfrom Illyricum and the East, he entered Italy, resolved to v*'le8 ltalyrevenge the death of Severus and to chastise the rebellious Romans; or, as he expressed his intentions, in the furious language of a barbarian, to extirpate the senate, and to destroy the people by the sword. But the skill of Maximian had concerted a prudent system of defence. The invader found every place hostile, fortified, and inaccessible; and though he forced his way as far as Narni, within sixty miles of Rome, his dominion in Italy was confined to the narrow limits of his camp. Sensible of the increasing difficulties of his enterprise, the haughty Galerius made the first advances towards a reconciliation, and despatched two of his most considerable officers to tempt the Roman princes by the offer of a conference, and the declaration of his paternal regard for Maxentius, who might obtain much more from his liberality than he could hope from the doubtful chance of war.*5 The offers of Galerius were rejected with firmness, his perfidious friendship refused with contempt, and it was not long before he discovered that, unless he provided for his safety by a timely retreat, he had some reason to apprehend the fate of Severus. The wealth which the Romans defended against his rapacious tyranny, they freely contributed for his destruction. The name of Maximian, the popular arts of his son, the secret distribution of large sums, and the promise of still more liberal rewards, checked the ardour and corrupted the fidelity of the Illyrian legions; and when Galerius at length gave the signal of the retreat, it was with some difficulty that he could prevail on his veterans not to desert a banner which had so often conducted them to victory and honour. A contemporary writer assigns two other causes for the failure of the

M The sixth Panegyric was pronounced to celebrate the elevation of Constantine; but the prudent orator avoids the mention either of Galerius or of Maxentius. He introduces only one slight allusion to the actual troubles, and to the majesty of Rome.*

* With regard to this negotiation, see the fragments of an anonymous historian, published by Valesius at the end of his edition of Ammianus Marcellinus, p. 711. These fragments have furnished us with several curious, and, as it should seem, authentic anecdotes.

"Compare Manso, Beyliige, iv. p. 302. Gibbon's account is at least as probable as that of his critic.—M.

118 RETREAT OF GALERIUS. Chap. XIV.

expedition; but they are both of such a nature that a cautious historian will scarcely venture to adopt them. We are told that Galerius, who had formed a very imperfect notion of the greatness of Rome by the cities of the East with which he was acquainted, found his forces inadequate to the siege of that immense capital. But the extent of a city serves only to render it more accessible to the enemy: Rome had long since been accustomed to submit on the approach of a conqueror; nor could the temporary enthusiasm of the people have long contended against the discipline and valour of the legions. We are likewise informed that the legions themselves were struck with horror and remorse, and that those pious sons of the republic refused to violate the sanctity of their venerable parent.26 But when we recollect with how much ease, in the more ancient civil wars, the zeal of party and the habits of military obedience had converted the native citizens of Rome into her most implacable enemies, we shall be inclined to distrust this extreme delicacy of strangers and barbarians who had never beheld Italy till they entered it in a hostile manner. Had they not been restrained by motives of a more interested nature, they would probably have answered Galerius in the words of Caesar's veterans: "If our general wishes to lead us to the banks of the "Tiber, we are prepared to trace out his camp. Whatsoever walls "he has determined to level with the ground, our hands are ready "to work the engines: nor shall we hesitate, should the name of the "devoted city be Rome itself." These are indeed the expressions of a poet; but of a poet who has been distinguished, and even censured, for his strict adherence to the truth of history.27

The legions of Galerius exhibited a very melancholy proof of their disposition by the ravages which they committed in their retreat. They murdered, they ravished, they plundered, they drove away the flocks and herds of the Italians; they burnt the villages through which they passed, and they endeavoured to destroy the country which it had not been in their power to subdue. During the whole march Maxentius hung on their rear, but he very prudently declined a general engagement with those brave and desperate veterans. His father had undertaken a second journey into Gaul, with the hope of persuading Constantine, who had assembled an army on the frontier, to join the pursuit, and to complete the

*• Lactantius de M. P. c. 27. The former of these reasons is probably taken from Virgil's Shepherd: "Mam * * * ego huic nostra? similem, Meliboee, putavi, &c." Lactantius delights in these poetical allusions.

17 Castra super Tusci Bi ponere Tybridis undas (jubeas)

Hesperios audax veniam metator in agros.
Tu quoscunque voles In planum effundore inuros.
His ariea actus disperget saxa lacortis;
Ilia licet penitus tolli quam jusseris urbem
Roma sit. Lucau. Pharsal. i. 381.

« ForrigeFortsett »