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Constantine was most probably born at Naissus, in Dacia ;k and it is not surprising, that in a family and province distinguished only by the profession of arms, the youth should discover very little inclination to improve A.d. 292. I"8 mmd by the acquisition of knowledge.1 He was about eighteen years of age when his father was promoted to the rank of Caesar; but that fortunate event was attended with his mother's divorce; and the splendour of an imperial alliance reduced the son of Helena to a state of disgrace and humiliation. Instead of following Constantius in the west, he remained in the service of Diocletian, signalized his valour in the wars of Egypt and Persia, and gradually rose to the honourable station of a tribune of the first order. The figure of Constantine was tall and majestic; he was dexterous in all his exercises, intrepid in war, affable in peace; in his whole conduct, the active spirit of youth was tempered by habitual prudence; and while his mind was engrossed by ambition, he appeared cold and insensible to the allurements of pleasure. The favour of the people and soldiers, who had named him as a Worthy candidate for the rank of Caesar, served only to exasperate the jealousy of Galerius; and though prudence might restrain him from exercising any open violence, an abso
authority is oddly enough overlooked hy the indefatigable, but partial Tillemont. By insisting on the divorce of Helena, Diocletian acknowledged her marriage.
* There are three opinions with regard to the place of Constantino's birth. 1. Our English antiquarian* were used to dwell with rapture on the words of las panegyrist. "Britannias illic oriendo nobiles fecisti." But this celebrated passage may be referred with as much propriety to the accession as to the nativity of Constantine. 2. Some of the modem Greeks have ascribed the honour of his birth to Drcpanum, a town on the gulf of Nicomedia (Cellarins, tom. 2. p. 174.), which Constautine dignified with the name of Helenopolis, and Justinian adorned with many splendid buildings. (Procop. de /Kditiciis, 5. 2.) It is indeed probable enough, that Helena's father kept an inn at Drepanum; and that Constant ins might lodge there when he returned from a Persian embassy in the reign of Aurelian. But in the wandering life of a soldier, the place of his marriage, and the places where his children are bom, have very little connexion with each other. : >. The claim of Naissus is supported by the anonymous writer, published at the rm I of Ammianus, p. 710. and who in general copied very good materials; and it is confirmed by Julius Firmicius (de Astrologii, lib. 1. c. 4.), who flourished under the reign of Constantine himself. Some objections have been raised against the integrity of the text, and the application of the passage of Firmicius; but the former is established by the best MSS. and the latter is very ably defended by Lipsias de Magnitudine Romana,lib. 4- c. 11. et Supplement.
i Literis minus instructus. Anonym, ad Ammian. p. 710.
lute monarch is seldom at a loss how to execute a sure and secret revenge." Every hour increased the danger of Constantine, and the anxiety of his father, who, by repeated letters, expressed the warmest desire of embracing his son. For some time the policy of Galerius supplied him with delays and excuses, but it was impossible long to refuse so natural a request of his associate, without maintaining his refusal by arms. The permission of the journey was reluctantly granted, and whatever precautions the emperor might have taken to intercept a return, the consequences of which he, with so much reason, apprehended, they were effectually disappointed by the incredible diligence of Constantine." Leaving the palace of Nicomedia in the night, he travelled post through Bithynia, Thrace, Dacia, Pannonia, Italy, and Gaul; and, amidst the joyful acclamations of the people, reached the port of Boulogne, in the very moment when his father was preparing to embark for
The British expedition, and an easy victory Constan- over the barbarians of Caledonia, were the last et/v'auot exploits of the reign of Constantius. He ended of Con- his life m the imperial palace of York, fifteen A. D. 306, months after he had received the title of Augustus, JlUy 25' and almost fourteen years and a half after he had been promoted to the rank of Caesar. His death was immediately succeeded by the elevation of Constantine. The ideas of inheritance and succession are so very familiar, that the generality of mankind consider them as founded, not only in reason, but in nature itself. Our imagination readily transfers the same principles from private property to public dominion; and whenever a virtuous father leaves behind him a son, whose merit seems to justify the esteem, or even the hopes, of the people, the joint influence of prejudice and of affection operates with irresistible weight. The flower of the western armies had followed Constantius into Britain; and the national troops were reinforced by a numerous body of Alemanni, who obeyed the orders of Crocus, one of their hereditary chieftains.p The opinion of their own importance, and the assurance that Britain, Gaul, and Spain, would acquiesce in their nomination, were diligently inculcated to the legions by the adherents of Constantine. The soldiers were asked, Whether they could hesitate a moment between the honour of placing at their head the worthy son of their beloved emperor, and the ignominy of tamely expecting the arrival of some obscure stranger, on whom it might please the sovereign of Asia to bestow the armies and provinces of the west? It was insinuated to them, that gratitude and liberality held a distinguished place among the virtues of Constantine; nor did that artful prince shew himself to the troops, till they were prepared to salute him with the names of Augustus and emperor. The throne was the object of his desires; and had he been less actuated by ambition, it was his only means of safety. He was well acquainted with the character and sentiments of Galerius, and sufficiently apprized, that if he wished to live, he must determine to reign. The decent and even obstinate resistance which he chose to affect,q was contrived to justify his usurpation; nor did he yield to the acclamations of the army, till he had provided the proper materials for the letter, which he immediately despatched to the emperor of the east. Constantine informed him of the melancholy event of his father's death, modestly inserted his natural claim to the succession, and respectfully lamented, that the affectionate violence of his troops had not permitted him to solicit the imperial purple in the regular and constitutional manner. The first emotions of Galerius were those of surprise, disappointment, and rage; and as he could seldom restrain his passions, he loudly threatened that he would commit to the flames both the letter and the messenger. But He is his resentment insensibly subsided; and when kdgecTby ne recollected the doubtful chance of war, when Gaienun, ne liad weighed the character and strength of
» Calerins, or perhaps his own courage, exposed him to single combat with a Sarmatian (Anonym, p. 710.), and with a monstrous lion. See Praxagoras apud Phocium, p. 63. Praxagoras, an Athenian philosopher, had written a life of Constantine, in two books, which are now lost. He was a contemporary.
"Zoeimus, lib. 2. p. 78,79. Lactantius de M. P. c. 24. The former tells a very foolish story, that Constantine caused all the post-horses which he had used to be hamstrung. Such a bloody execution, without preventing a pursuit, would have scattered suspicions, and might have stopped his journey.
0 Anonym, p. 710. Panegyr. Veter. 7. 4. But Zosimus, hb. 2. p. 79. Eusebius de Vit . Constant. lib. 1. c. S1. and Lactantius de M. P. c. 24. suppose, with less accuracy, that he found his father on his death-bed.
P Cunctis qui aderant annitentibus, sed precipue,Croco (aiii Etoco) Alamannocum rege auxilli gratiil Constantium comitato, imperium capit. Victor Junior, c. 41. This is perhaps the first instance of a barbarian king who assisted the Roman arms with an independent body of his own subjects. The practice grew familiar, and at last became fatal.
i His panegyrist Eumenius (7, 8.) ventures to affirm, in the presence of Conetantine, that he put spurs to his horse, and tried, but in vain to escape from the hands of his soldiers.
who gives & °
tim only his adversary, he consented to embrace the ho6 0 nourable accommodation which the prudence of
f Constantine had left open to him. Without toSeveni3. either condemning or ratifying the choice of the British army, Galerius accepted the son of his deceased colleague as the sovereign of the provinces beyond the Alps; but he gave him only the title of Caesar, and the fourth rank among the Roman princes, whilst he conferred the vacant place of Augustus on his favourite Severus. The apparent harmony of the empire was still preserved; and Constantine, who already possessed the substance, expected, without impatience, an opportunity of obtaining the honours, of supreme power/ The bro- The children of Constantius by his second then and marriage were six in number, three of either sex, Consun- and whose imperial descent might have solicited tine" a preference over the meaner extraction of the son of Helena. But Constantine was in the thirty-second year of his age, in the full vigour both of mind and body, at the time when the eldest of his brothers could not possibly be more than thirteen years old. His claim of superior merit had been allowed and ratified by the dying emperor." In his last moments, Constantius bequeathed to his eldest son the care of the safety as well as greatness of the family; conjuring him to assume both the authority and the sentiments of a father with regard to the children of Theodora. Their liberal education, advantageous marriages, the secure dignity of their lives, and the first honours of the state with which they were invested, attest the fraternal affection of Constantine; and as those princes possessed a mild and grateful disposition, they submitted without reluctance to the superiority of his genius and fortune.'
'Lactantius de M. P. c. 25, Eumenius (7 , 8.) gives a rhetorical turn to the whole transaction.
II. The ambitious spirit of Galerius was scarcely reconciled to the disappointment of his yiews upon the Gallic provinces, before the unof expected loss of Italy wounded his pride as well as power in a still more sensible part. The long absence of the emperors had filled Rome with discontent and indignation; and the people gradually discovered, that the preference given to Nicomedia and Milan was not to be ascribed to the particular inclination of Diocletian, but to the permanent form of government which he had instituted. It was in vain that, a few months after his abdication, his successors dedicated, under his name, those magnificent baths, whose ruins still supply the ground as well as the materials for so many churches and con^ vents." The tranquillity of those elegant recesses of ease
• The choice of Constantine, by his dying father, which is warranted by reason, and insinuated by Eumenius, seems to be confirmed by the most unexceptionable authority, the concurring evidence of Lactantius (de M. P. c. 24.), and of Ubanius (Oration 1.); of Eusebius (in Vit. Constuiitin. lib. 1. c. 18. 81.); and of Julian (Oration 1.)
i Of the three sisters of Constantine, Constantia married the emperor Licinius, Anastasia the Caesar Bassianus, and Eutropia the consul Nepotianus. The three brothers were Dalmatius, Julius Constantius, and Annibalianus, of whom we shall have occasion to speak hereafter.
II See Gruter Inscript. p. 178. The six princes are all mentioned; Diocletian and Maximian as the senioi Augusti and fathers of the emperors. They jointly dedicate, for the use of their votes Romans, this magnificent edifice. The architects have delineated the ruins of these Terms ; and these antiquarians, particularly Donatua and Nardini, have ascertained the ground which they covered. One of the great rooms is now the Carthusian church; and even one of the porter's lodges is sufficient to form another church, which belongs to the Feuillans.