that from all the legions of the frontiers, the soldiers nuet distinguished for strength, valor, and fidelity, should be occasion ally draughted; and promoted, as an honor and reward, into the more eligible service of the guards.67 By this new institution, the Italian youth were diverted from the exercise of arms, and the capital was terrified by the strange aspect and manners of a multitude of barbarians. But Severus flattered himself, that-the legions would consider these chosen Piaeto rians as the representatives of the whole military order; and that the present aid of fifty thousand men, superior in arms and appointments to any force that could be brought into the field against them, would forever crush the hopes of rebellion, and secure the empire to himself and his posterity.

The command of these favored and formidable troops soon became the first office of the empire. As the government degenerated into military despotism, the Praetorian Praefect who in his origin had been a simple captain of the guards,* was placed not only at the head of the army, but of the finances, and even of the law. In every department of administration, he represented the person, and exercised the authority, of the emperor. The first praefect who enjoyed and abused this immense power was Plautianus, the favorite minister of Severus. His reign lasted above ten years, till the marriage of his daughter with the eldest son of the emperor, which seemed to assure his fortune, proved the occasion of his ruin.88 The animosities of the palace, by irritat

"Diem, 1 . lxxiv. p. 1243.

*■ One of his most daring and wanton acts of power, was the castration of a hundred free Romans, some of them married men, and even fathers of families; merely that his daugmtr, on her marriage with the young emperor, might bo attended by a train of eunuchs worthy of an eastern queen. Dion, 1. lxxvi. p. 1271.

• The Pnetorian Prefect had never been a simple captain of the guards from the first creation of this office, under Augustus, it possessed great power. That emperor, therefore, decreed that there should be always two i'raetorian Prefects, who could only be taken from the equestrian order. Tiberius first departed trotn the former clause of this edict*, Alexander Severus violated the second by naming senators prefects. It appears that it was under Commodus that the Pnetorian Prefects obtained the province of civil jurisdiction: it extended only to Italy, with the exception of Rome and its district, which was governed by the Prtpfectua wbi. As to the control of the finances, and the levying of taxes, it was not intrusted to them till after the great change that Constantine I. made in the organization of tbe empire; at least, I know no passage which assigns it to them befort that time; and Drakenborch, who has treated this question in his Disser Ution de offic io prefectorum prictorio, c. vi., does not quote one. — W the ambition and alarming the fears of Plautianus,* ti.reatrned to produce a revolution, and obliged the emperor, who still loved him, to consent with reluctance to his death.6' After the fall of Plautianus, an eminent lawyer, the celebrated Papinian, was appointed to execute the motley office of Prae torian Praefect.

Till the reign of Severus, the virtue and even the good sense of the emperors had been distinguished by their zeal or affected reverence for the senate, and by a tender regard to the nice frame of civil policy instituted by Augustus. But the youth of Severus had been trained in the implicit obedience of camps, and his riper years spent in the despotism of military command. His haughty and inflexible spirit could not discover, or would not acknowledge, the advantage of preserving an intermediate power, however imaginary, between the emperor and the army. He disdained to profess himself the, servant of an assembly that detested his person and trembled at his frown; he issued his commands, where his requests would have proved as effectual; assumed the conduct and style of a sovereign and a conqueror, and exercised, without disguise, the whole legislative, as well as the executive power.

The victory over the senate was easy and inglorious. Every eyn and every passion were directed to the supreme magistrate, who possessed the arms and treasure of the state; whilst the senate, neither elected by the people, nor guarded by military force, nor animated by public spirit, rested its

OT Dion, 1. lxxvi. p. 1274. Herodian, 1 . iii. p. 122, 129. The grammarian of Alexandria seems, as is not unusual, much better acquaint ed with this mysterious transaction, and more assured ol the gui.t of Plautianus than the Roman senator ventures to be.

• Plautianus was compatriot, relative, and the old friend, of Severus; he had so completely shut up all access to the emperor, that the latter was ignorant how far he abused his powers: at length, being informed of it, he began to limit his authority. The marriage of Plautilla with Caracalla was unfortunate; and the prince who had been forced to consent to it, menaced the father and the daughter with death when he should come to the throne. It was feared, after that, that Plautianus would avail himself of the power which he still possessed, against the Imperial family; and Severus caused him to be assassinated in his presence, upon the pretext of a conspiracy, which Dion considers fictitious. — W. This note is not, perhaps, very necos»ary. and does not contain the whole facts. Dion con •idcrs the conspiracy the invention of Caracalla, by whose command. almost by whose baud, Plautianus was slain in the presence of Scvr tus. — M.

declining authority on the frail and crumbling basis of ancient opinion. The fine theory of a republic insensibly vanished, and made way for the more natural 'and substantial feelings of monarchy. As the freedom and honors of Rome were successively communicated to the provinces, in which the old government had been either unknown, or was remembered with abhorrence, the tradition of republican maxims was gradually obliterated. The Greek historians of the age of (he Antonines70 observe, with a malicious pleasure, that although the sovereign of Rome, in compliance with an obsolete prejudice, abstained from the name of king, he possessed the full measure of regal power. In the reign of Severus, the senate was filled with polished and eloquent slaves from the eastern provinces, who justified personal flattery by speculative principles of servitude. These new advocates of prerogative were heard with pleasure by the court, and with patience by the people, when they inculcated the duty of passive obedience, and descanted on the inevitable mischiefs of freedom. The lawyers and historians concurred in teaching, that the Imperial authority was held, not by the delegated commission, but by the irrevocable resignation of the senate; hat the emperor was freed from the restraint of civil laws, could command by his arbitrary will the lives and fortunes of his subjects, and might dispose of the empire as of his private patrimony.7* The most eminent of the civil lawyers, and particularly Papinian, Paulus, and Ulpian, flourished under the house of Severus; and the Roman jurisprudence, having closely united itself with the system of monarchy, was supposed to have attained its full maturity and perfection.

The contemporaries of Severus, in the enjoyment of the peace and glory of his reign, forgave the cruelties by which it had been introduced. Posterity, who experienced the fatal effects of his maxims and example, justly considered him as the principal author of the decline of the Roman empire.

70 Appian in Prooem.

71 Dion Cassius seems to have written with no other view than to 'orm these opinions into an historical system. The Pandects will ihow how assiduously the lawyers, on their side, labored :'n the cause )f prerogative.

[ocr errors]





The ascent to greatness, however steep and dangerous, may entertain an active spirit with the consciousness and exercise of its own powers: but the possession of a throne could never yet afford a lasting satisfaction to an ambitious mind. This melancholy truth was felt and acknowledged by Severus. Fortune and merit had, from an humble station, elevated him to the first place among mankind. "He had been all things," as he said himself, " and all was of little value." 1 Distracted with the care, not of acquiring, but of preserving an empire, oppressed with age and infirmities, careless of fume,3 and satiated with power, all his prospects of life were closed. The desire of perpetuating the greatness of his family was the only remaining wish of his ambition and paternal tenderness.

Like most of the Africans, Severus was passionately addicted to the vain studies of magic and divination, deeply versed in the interpretation of dreams and omens, and perfectly acquainted with the science of judicial astrology ; which, in almost every age, except the present, has maintained its dominion over the mind of man. He had lost his first wife, while he was governor of the Lionnese Gaul.3 In the choice of a second, he sought only to connect himself with some favorite of fortune; and as soon as he had discovered that the

1 Hist. August, p. 71. "Omnia fui, et nihil expedit"

* Dion Cassius, 1 . bucvi. p. 1284.

* About the year 186. M. de Tillemont is miserably embarrassed with a passage of Dion, in which the empress Faustina, who died in the year 175, is introduced as having contributed to the marriage of Severus and Julia, (1 . lxxiv. p. 1243.) The learned compiler forgot that Dion is relating not a real fact, but a dream of Severus; and dreams are circumscribed to no limits of tin. c or space. Did M. da Tillemont imagine that marriages were contummated in the temple of Venus at Borne f Hist, des Empereurs, torn. iii. p. 389. Note V

young lady of Emesa in Syria had a royal nativity, he sohcit fid and obtained her hand.4 Julia Domnu^for that was ner name) deserved all that the stars could promise her. She possessed, even in advanced age, the attractions of beauty,5 and united to a hvely imagination a firmness of mind, and strength of judgment, seldom bestowed on her sex. Her amiable qualities never made any deep impression on the dark and jealous temper of her husband; but in her son's reign, she administered the principal affairs of the empire, with a prudence that supported his authority, and with a moderation that sometimes corrected his wild extravagancies.8 Julia applied herself to letters and philosophy, with some success, and with the most splendid reputation. She was the patroness of every art, and the friend of every man of genius.7 The grateful flattery of the learned has celebrated her virtues; but, if we may credit the scandal of ancient history, chastity was very far from being the most conspicuous virtue of the empress Julia.8

Two sons, Caracalla 9 and Geta, were the fruit of this marriage, and the destined heirs of the empire. The fond hopes of the father, and of the Roman world, were soon disappointed by these vain youths, who displayed the indolent security of hereditary princes; and a presumption that fortune would supply the place of merit and application. Without any emulation of virtue or talents, they discovered, almost from their infancy, a fixed and implacable antipathy for each other.

Their aversion, confirmed by years, and fomented by the arts of their interested favorites, broke out in childish, and gradually in more serious competitions; and, at length, divided the theatre, the circus, and the court, into two factions, actu

J Hist. August, p. 65.

'Hint. August, p. 5.

'Dion Cassius, 1. lxxvii. p. 1304, 1314.

7 See a dissertation of Menage, at the end of his edition of Diogenes Laertius, de Fee minis Philoaophis.

8 Dion, 1 . lxxvi. p. 1285. Aurelius Victor.

• Basaianus was his first name, as it had been that of his maternal grandfather. During his reign, he assumed the appellation of Antoninus, which is employed by lawyers and ancient historians. After his death, the public indignation loaded him with the nicknames of Tarantus frid Caracalla. The first was borrowed from a celebrated Gladiator, the second from a long Gallic gown which he distributed o the people of Rome.

« ForrigeFortsett »