« ForrigeFortsett »
the empire. The spontaneous offering was at length exacted as the debt of duty; and instead of being confined to the occasion of a triumph, it was supposed to be granted by the several cities and provinces of the monarchy, as often as the emperor condescended to announce his accession, his consulship, the birth of a son, tủe creation of a Cæsar, a victory over the barbarians, or any other real or imaginary event which graced the annals of his reign. The peculiar free gift of the senate of Rome was fixed by custom at sixteen hundred pounds of gold, or about 64,0001. sterling. The oppressed subjects celebrated their own felicity, that their sovereign should graciously consent to accept this feeble but voluntary testimony of their loyalty and gratitude.
A people elated by pride, or soured by discon
tent, are seldom qualified to form a just estimate of their actual situation. The subjects of Constantine were incapable of discerning the decline of genius and manly virtue, which so far degraded them below the dignity of their ancestors; but they could feel and lament the rage of tyranny, the relaxation of discipline, and the increase of taxes. The impartial historian, who acknowledges the justice of their complaints, will observe some favourable circumstances which tended to alleviate the misery of their condition. The threatening tempest of barbarians, which so soon subverted the foundations of Roman greatness, was still repelled, or suspended, on the frontiers. The arts of luxury and literature were cultivated, and the elegant pleasures of society were enjoyed, by the inhabitants of a considerable portion of the globe. The forms, the pomp,
and the expense, of the civil administration, contributed to re
" See Lipsius de Magnitud. Romana, lib. 2. c. 9. The Tarragonese Spain presented the emperor Claudius with a crown of gold of seven, and Gaul with another of nine, hundred pounds weight. I have followed the rational emendation of Lipsius.
& Cod. Theod. lib. 12. tit. 13. The senators were supposed to be exempt from the Auruw Coronarium; but the Auri Oblatio, which was required at their hands, was precisely of the same nature.
strain the irregular licence of the soldiers; and although the laws were violated by power, or perverted by subtlety, the sage principles of the Roman jurisprudence preserved a sense of order and equity, unknown to the despotic governments of the east. The rights of mankind might derive some protection from religion and philosophy; and the name of freedom, which could no longer alarm, might sometimes admonish, the successors of Augustus, that they did not reign over a nation of slaves or barbarians.h
Character of Constantine.--Gothic war.-
-Death of Constantine. Division of the empire among his three sons.—Persian war.Tragic deaths of Constantine the younger and Constans.-Usurp
ation of Magnentius.—Civil war.–Victory of Constantius. Character
The character of the prince who removed the of Con
seat of empire, and introduced such important
changes into the civil and religious constitution of his country, 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, 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 con
The great Theodosius, in his judicious advice to his son, (Claudian in 4. consulat. Honorii, 214, &c.) distinguishes the station of a Roman prince from that of a Parthian monarch. Virtue was necessary for the one; birth might suffice for the other.
fessed 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.
The person, as well as the mind, of Constan
tine, had been enriched by nature with her choicest endowments. His stature was lofty, his countenance majestic, his deportment graceful; 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 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 shewed, 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 dispatch of business, his diligence was indefatigable; and the active powers of
a On ne se trompera point sur Constantin, en croyant tout le mal qu'en dit Eusebe, et tout le bien qu'en dit Zosime. Fleury, Hist. Ecclesiastique, tom. 3. 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.
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 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.
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
• The virtues of Constantine are collected for the most part from Eutropius, and the younger Victor, two sincere Payans, who wrote after the extinction of his family. Even Zosimus, and the emperor Julian, acknowledge his personal courage and military achievements.
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 A. D.323 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. His unworthy favourites, enriched by the boundless liberality of their master, usurped with impunity the privilege of rapine and corruption. 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
c See Eutropius, 10. 6. In primo Imperii tempore optimis principibus, ultimo mediis comparandus. From the ancient Greek version of Peanius, (edit. Havercamp. p. 697.) I am inclined to suspect that Eutropius had originally written ris mediis, and that the offensive monosyllable was dropped by the wilful inadrertency of transcribers. Aurelius Victor expresses the general opinion by a vulgar and indeed obscure proverb. Trachala decem annis præstantissimus ; duodecim sequentibus latro; decem novissimis pupillus ob immodicas profusiones.
& Julian. Orat. 1. p. 8. in a flattering discourse pronounced before the son of Constantine, and Cæsares, p. 335. Zosimus, p. 114, 115. The stately buildings of Constantinople, &c. may be quoted as a lasting and unexceptionable proof of the profuseness of their founder.
e The impartial Ammianus deserves all our confidence. Proximorum fauces aperuit primus omnium Constantinus. lib. 16. c. 8. Eusebius himself confesses the abuse, (Vit
. Constantin. lib. 4. c. 29. 54.) and some of the imperial laws feebly point out the remedy. See above, p. 296. of this volume.