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A.D. 323-337. CHAHACTEIl OF CONSTANTINE. 345
Character Ok Constantine.— Gothic War. — Death Of Constantine.— Division Of The Empire Among His Three Sons.—Persian War.—Tragic Deaths Of Constantine The Younger And Constans. — Usurpation Of Maonentius. — Civil War. — Victory Of Constantius.
The character of the prince who removed the seat of empire, and introduced such important changes into the civil and religious character of constitution of his country, has fixed the attention, and CousUDtinedivided the opinions, of mankind. By the grateful zeal of the Christians the deliverer of the church has been decorated with every attribute of a hero, and even of a saint; while the discontent of the vanquished party has compared Constantine to the most abhorred of those tyrants who, by their vice and weakness, dishonoured the Imperial purple. The same passions have, in some degree, been perpetuated to succeeding generations, and the character of Constantine is considered, even in the present age, as an object either of satire or of panegyric. By the impartial union of those defects which are confessed by his warmest admirers, and of those virtues which are acknowledged by his most implacable enemies, we might hope to delineate a just portrait of that extraordinary man, which the truth and candour of history should adopt without a blush.1 But it would soon appear that the vain attempt to blend such discordant colours, and to reconcile such inconsistent qualities, must produce a figure monstrous rather than human, unless it is viewed in its proper and distinct lights by a careful separation of the different periods of the reign of Constantine.
The person, as well as the mind, of Constantine had been enriched by nature with her choicest endowments. His stature was „ . lofty, his countenance majestic, his deportment gracefiil; his strength and activity were displayed in every manly exercise, and, from his earliest youth to a very advanced season of life, he preserved the vigour of his constitution by a strict adherence to the domestic virtues of chastity and temperance. He delighted in the social intercourse of familiar conversation; and though he might
1 On ne Be trompera point sur Constantin en croyant tout le mal qu'en dit Eusebe, et tout le bien qu'en dit Zosime. Fleury, Hist. Ecclcaiastique, torn. iii. p. 233. Eusebius and Zosimus form indeed the two extremes of flattery and invective. The intermediate shades are expressed by those writers whose character or situation variously tempered the influence of their religious zeal.
346 CHARACTER OK CONSTANTINE. Chap. XVIII.
sometimes indulge his disposition to raillery with less reserve than was required by the severe dignity of his station, the courtesy and liberality of his manners gained the hearts of all who approached him. The sincerity of his friendship has been suspected; yet he showed, on some occasions, that he was not incapable of a warm and lasting attachment The disadvantage of an illiterate education had not prevented him from forming a just estimate of the value of learning; and the arts and sciences derived some encouragement from the munificent protection of Constantine. In the despatch of business his diligence was indefatigable; and the active powers of his mind were almost continually exercised in reading, writing, or meditating, in giving audience to ambassadors, and in examining the complaints of his subjects. Even those who censured the propriety of his measures were compelled to acknowledge that he possessed magnanimity to conceive, and patience to execute, the most arduous designs, without being checked either by the prejudices of education or by the clamours of the multitude. In the field he infused his own intrepid spirit into the troops, whom he conducted with the talents of a consummate general; and to his abilities, rather than to his fortune, we may ascribe the signal victories which he obtained over the foreign and domestic foes of the republic. He loved glory as the reward, perhaps as the motive, of his labours. The boundless ambition which, from the moment of his accepting the purple at York, appears as the ruling passion of hi3 soul, may be justified by the dangers of his own situation, by the character of hi3 rivals, by the consciousness of superior merit, and by the prospect that his success would enable him to restore peace and order to the distracted empire. In his civil wars against Maxentius and Licinius he had engaged on his side the inclinations of the people, who compared the undissembled vices of those tyrants with the spirit of wisdom and justice which seemed to direct the general tenor of the administration of Constantine.*
Had Constantine fallen on the banks of the Tiber, or even in the plains of Hadrianople, such is the character which, with a few exceptions, he might have transmitted to posterity. But the conclusion of his reign (according to the moderate and indeed tender sentence of a writer of the same age) degraded him from the rank which he had acquired among the most deserving of the Roman princes.3 In the life of Augustus we behold the tyrant
* The virtues of Constantine are collected for the most part from Eutropius and the younger Victor, two sincere pagans, who wrote after the extinction of his family. Even Zosimus and the Emperor Julian acknowledge his personal courage and military achievements.
3 See Eutropius, x. 6 . In primo Imperii tempore optimis principibus, ultimo mediis comparandus. From the ancient Greek version of Poeanius (edit. Havercamp. p. 697), I am inclined to suspect that Eutropius had originally written rkr mediis; and that the offensive monosyllable was dropped by the wilful inadvertency of transcribers. Aurelius Victor expresses the general opinion by a vulgar and indeed obscure proverb. Trachala decern annis praestantissimus; duodecim sequentibus latro; decern novissimispupilhis ob immodicas profusiones. [Epit. c. 41.]
A.D. 323-337. CHARACTER OF CONSTANTINE. 347
of the republic converted almost by imperceptible degrees into the father of his country and of human kind. In that of Constantine we may contemplate a hero, who had so long inspired his subjects with love and his enemies with terror, degenerating into a cruel and dissolute monarch, corrupted by his fortune, or raised by conquest above the necessity of dissimulation. The general peace which he maintained during the last fourteen years of his reign was
a period of apparent splendour rather than of real prosperity; and the old age of Constantine was disgraced by the opposite yet reconcileable vices of rapaciousness and prodigality. The accumulated treasures found in the palaces of Maxentius and Licinius were lavishly consumed; the various innovations introduced by the conqueror were attended with an increasing expense; the cost of his buildings, his court, and his festivals required an immediate and plentiful supply; and the oppression of the people was the only fund which could support the magnificence of the sovereign.4 His unworthy favourites, enriched by the boundless liberality of their master, usurped with impunity the privilege of rapine and corruption.5 A secret but universal decay was felt in every part of the public administration, and the emperor himself, though he still retained the obedience, gradually lost the esteem, of his subjects. The dress and manners which, towards the decline of life, he chose to affect, served only to degrade him in the eyes of mankind. The Asiatic pomp which had been adopted by the pride of Diocletian assumed an air of softness and effeminacy in the person of Constantine. He is represented with false hair of various colours, laboriously arranged by the skilful artists of the times; a diadem of a new and more expensive fashion; a profusion of gems and pearls, of collars and bracelets; and a variegated flowing robe of silk, most curiously embroidered with flowers of gold. In such apparel, scarcely to be excused by the youth and folly of Elagabalus, we are at a loss to discover the wisdom of an aged monarch and the simplicity of a Roman veteran.6 A mind thus
4 Julian, Orat. i. p. 8, in a flattering discourse pronounced before the son of Constantine; and Ciesares, p. 335. Zosimus, [1. ii. c. 38] p. 114, 115. The stately buildings of Constantinople, &c, may be quoted as a lasting and unexceptionable proof of the profuseness of their founder.
* The impartial Ammianua deserves all our confidence. Proximorum fauces aperuit primus omnium Constantinus. 1. xvi. c. 8. Eusebius himself confesses the abuse (Vit. Constantin. 1. iv. c. 29, 54); and some of the Imperial laws feebly point out the remedy. See above, pp. 316, 317 of this volume.
• Julian, in the Csesars, attempts to ridicule his uncle. His suspicious testimony ia confirmed however by the learned Spanheim, with the authority of medals (see Commentaire, p. 1 .r;6, 299, 397, 459). EuaebiuB (Orat. c. 5) alleges that Constantine dressed for the public, not for himself. Were this admitted, the vainest coxcomb could never want an excuse.
Zi6 FAMILY OF CUS3IA5HSE. CilAF. XVIII.
relaxed by prosperity and indulgence was incapable of rising to that magnanimity which dizains suspicion and dares to forgive. The deaths of Maximian and Licinius may perhaps be justified by the maiiiiK of policy as they are taught in the schools of tyrants; but an impartial narrative of the executions, or rather murders, which sullied the declining age of Constantine, will suggest to our most candid thoughts the idea of a prince who could sacrifice, without reluctance, the laws of justice and the feelings of nature to the dictates either of his passions or of his interest.
The same fortune which so invariably followed the standard of Constantine seemed to secure the hopes and comforts of his domestic life. Those among his predecessors who had enjoyed the longest and most prosperous reigns, Augustus, Trajan, and Diocletian, had been disappointed of posterity; and the frequent revolutions had never allowed sufficient time for any Imperial family to grow up and multiply under the shade of the purple. But the royalty of the Flavian line, which had been first ennobled by the Gothic Claudius, descended through several generations; and Constantine himself derived from his royal father the hereditary honours which he transmitted to his children. The emperor had been twice married. Minervina, the obscure but lawful object of his youthful attachment,7 had left him only one son, who was called Crispus. By Fausta, the daughter of Maximian, he had three daughters, and three sons known by the kindred names of Constantine, Constantius, and Constans. The unambitious brothers of the great Constantine, Julius Constantius, Dalmatius, and Hannibalianus,8 were permitted to enjoy the most honourable rank and the most affluent fortune that could be consistent with a private station. The youngest of the three lived without a name and died without posterity. His two elder brothers obtained in marriage the daughters of wealthy senators, and propagated new branches of the Imperial race. Gallus and Julian afterwards became the most illustrious of the children of Julius Constantius, the Patrician. The two sons of Dalmatius, who had been decorated with the vain title of Censor, were named Dalmatius and Hannibalianus. The two sisters of the great Constantine, Anastasia
'Zosimus [1. ii. c. 20] and Zonaras agree in representing Minervina as the concubine of Constantine; but Ducange has very gallantly rescued her character, by producing a decisive passage from one of the panegyrics: "Ab ipso fine pueritite te matrimonii legibus dedisti."
* Ducange (Familue Byzantinte, p. 44) bestows on him, after Zonaras, the name of Constantine; a name somewhat unlikely, as it was already occupied by the elder brother. That of HannibalianuB is mentioned in the Paschal Chronicle, and is approved by Tillemont, Hist, des Empereurs, torn. iv. p. 527.
The following is the genealogical table of the family of Constantino:—
Crispus, brother of the emperor Claudius Gothicus.
Claudia = Eutropius.
Helena = Constantius I., Chlorus = Theodora,
I Imp. ob. 306. daughter of Maximianus, Imp. For issue of Constantius Chlorus by
| Theodora, see below.
! Imp. ob. 337. I daughter of Maximianus.
Constantia Postuma = Oratianus,
Imp. ob. 383.
Issue of Constantius I. (chlorus) by Theodora.
Minervina = Constantinus I. = Fausta,
Galla =r Constantius = Basilina.