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THE DECLINE AND FALL
Reign Of Claudius — Defeat Of The Goths — Victories, Triumph, And Death Of Aurelian.
Under the deplorable reigns of Valerian and Gallienus the empire was oppressed and almost destroyed by the soldiers, the tyrants, and the barbarians. It was saved by a series of great princes, who derived their obscure origin from the martial provinces of Illyricum. Within a period of about thirty years, Claudius, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian and his colleagues, triumphed over the foreign and domestic enemies of the state, re-established, with the military discipline, the strength of the frontiers, and deserved the glorious title of Restorers of the Roman world.
The removal of an effeminate tyrant made way for a succession of heroes. The indignation of the people imputed all their Aureoius calamities to Gallienus, and the far greater part were, fZffia indeed, the consequence of his dissolute manners and care- ^ b^iged less administration. He was even destitute of a sense of ■'MUanhonour, which so frequently supplies the absence of public virtue; and as long as he was permitted to enjoy the possession of Italy, a victory of the barbarians, the loss of a province, or the rebellion of a general, seldom disturbed the tranquil course of his pleasures. At length a considerable army, stationed on the Upper Danube, invested with the Imperial purple their leader Aureoius, who, disdaining a confined and barren reign over the mountains of Rhaetia, passed the Alps, occupied Milan, threatened Rome, and challenged
VOL. II. H
2 DEATH OF CiALLIESTTS. Chap. XI.
Gallienus to dispute in the field the sovereignty of Italy. The emperor, provoked by the insult, and alarmed by the instant danger, suddenly exerted that latent vigour which sometimes broke through the indolence of his temper. Forcing himself from the luxury of the palace, he appeared in arms at the head of his legions, and advanced beyond the Po to encounter his competitor. The corrupted name of Pontirolo' still preserves the memory of a bridge over the Adda, which, during the action, must have proved an object of the utmost importance to both armies. The Rhaetian usurper, after receiving a total defeat and a dangerous wound, retired into Milan. The siege of that great city was immediately formed; the walls were battered * with every engine in use among the ancients; and Aureolus, doubtful of his internal strength and hopeless of foreign succours, already anticipated the fatal consequences of unsuccessful rebellion.
His last resource was an attempt to seduce the loyalty of the besiegers. He scattered libels through their camp, inviting the troops to desert an unworthy master, who sacrificed the public happiness to his luxury, and the lives of his most valuable subjects to the slightest suspicions. The arts of Aureolus diffused fears and discontent among the principal officers of his rival. A conspiracy was formed by Heraclianus, the Praetorian praefect, by Marcian, a general of rank and reputation, and by Cecrops," who commanded a numerous body of Dalmatian guards. The death of Gallienus was resolved, and, notwithstanding their desire of first terminating the siege of Milan, the extreme danger which accompanied every moment's delay obliged them to hasten the execution of their daring purpose. At a late hour of the night, but while the emperor still protracted the pleasures of the table, an alarm was suddenly given that Aureolus, at the head of all his forces, had made a desperate sally from the town; Gallienus, who was never deficient in personal bravery, started from his silken couch, and, without allowing himself time either to put on his armour or to assemble his guards, he mounted on horseback and rode full speed towards the supposed place of the attack. Encompassed by his declared or concealed enemies, he soon, amidst the nocturnal tumult, A.D.26S. received a mortal dart from an uncertain hand. Before he Lk"uhof0' expired, a patriotic sentiment rising in the mind of Galtaiuenus. i;enus induced him to name a deserving successor, and it
1 Pons Aurcoli, thirteen miles from Bergamo, and thirty-two from Milan. See Cluver. Italia Antiq. torn. i. p. 245. Near this place, iu the year 1703, the obstinate battle of Cassano was fought between the French and Austrians. The excellent relation of the Chevalier de Folard, who was present, gives a very distinct idea of the ground. See Polybe de Folard, torn. iii. p. 2:23-248.
* Trebellius Pollio calls him Cecropius or Ceronius.—S.
A.D. 268. ACCESSION OF CLAUDIUS. 3
was his last request that the Imperial ornaments should be delivered to Claudius, who then commanded a detached army in the neighbourhood of Pavia. The report at least was diligently propagated, and the order cheerfully obeyed by the conspirators, who had already agreed to place Claudius on the throne. On the first news of the emperor's death the troops expressed some suspicion and resentment, till the one was removed and the other assuaged by a donative of twenty pieces of gold to each soldier. They then ratified the election and acknowledged the merit of their new sovereign.2
The obscurity which covered the origin of Claudius, though it was afterwards embellished by some flattering fictions,3 sufficientlv betrays the meanness of his birth. We can only andeievadiscover that he was a native ot one ot the provinces emperor bordering on the Danube, that his youth was spent in arms, and that his modest valour attracted the favour and confidence of Decius. The senate and people already considered him as an excellent officer, equal to the most important trusts, and censured the inattention of Valerian, who suffered him to remain in the subordinate station of a tribune. But it was not long before that emperor distinguished the merit of Claudius, by declaring him general and chief of the Illyrian frontier, with the command of all the troops in Thrace, Ma?sia, Dacia, Pannonia, and Dalmatia, the appointments of the prefect of Egypt, the establishment of the pro-consul of Africa, and the sure prospect of the consulship. By his victories over the Goths he deserved from the senate the honour of a statue, and excited the jealous apprehensions of Gallienus. It was impossible that a soldier could esteem so dissolute a sovereign, nor is it easy to conceal a just contempt. Some unguarded expressions which dropped from Claudius were officiously transmitted to the royal ear. The emperor's answer to an officer of confidence describes in very lively colours his own character and that of the times. "There is not anything capable of "giving me more serious concern than the intelligence contained in "your last despatch,4 that some malicious suggestions have indisposed "towards us the mind of our friend and parent Claudius. As you "regard your allegiance, use every means to appease his resentment,
* On the death of Gallienus, see Trebellius Pollio in Hist. August, p. 181. [Gallieni II., c. 14.] Zosimus, 1. i. [c. 40J p. 37. Zonaras, 1. xii. [c. 25] p. 634 [ed. Paris; p. 6U2, ed. Bonn J. Eutrop. ix. 8. Aurelius Victor in Epitom. [c. 33.] Victor in Csesar. [c. 33.] I have compared and blended them all, but have chiefly followed Aurelius Victor, who seems to have had the best memoirs.
3 Some supposed him, oddly enough, to be a baBtard of the younger Gordian. Others took advantage of the province of Dardania to deduce his origin from Dardanus and the ancient kings of Troy.
* Notoria, a periodical and official despatch which the emperors received from the fntmentarii, or agents dispersed through the provinces. Of these we may speak hereafter.