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Character of Constantine. — Gothic War. — Death qfConstantine. — Division of the Empire among his three Sons. — Persian War. — Tragic Deaths of Constantine the Younger and Constans. — Usurpation of Magnentius. — Civil War. — Victory of Constantius.
CxvP ^HE cnaracter of prince who removed the seat
of empire, and introduced such important changes
rfCwuitan- mto tne c^v^ and religious constitution of his countine. try, has fixed the attention, and divided 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. 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.
Chap. He loved glory, as the reward, perhaps as the moxv' tive,ofhis labours. The boundless ambition, which, from the moment of his accepting the purple at York, appears as the ruling passion of his soul, may be justified by the dangers of his own situation, by the character of his 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 *.
His vices. Had Constantine fallen on the banks of the Tyber, 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. In the life of Augustus, we behold the tyrant 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 dissimulaA. D. tion. The general peace which he maintained during
32j—337. the ]agt 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
* 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 Zneimus, and the Emperoi Julian, acknowledge his personal courage and military achievements.