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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David


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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





The Climax Of The Roman Empire








On the extinction of the Julian line, a new class of emperors succeeded,
by whom the prosperity of the empire was greatly advanced. We have now to
fall back on Niebuhr, Gibbon, and the Roman historians, and also make more
use of Smith's digest of these authors. But so much ground still remains
to go over, that we can only allude to salient points, and our notice of
succeeding emperors must be brief.

The empire was now to be the prize of successful soldiers, and
Galba, at the age of seventy-three, was saluted imperator by the legions
before the death of Nero, A.D. 68, and acknowledged by the Senate soon
after. There is nothing memorable in his short reign of a few months, and
he was succeeded by Otho, who only reigned three months, and he was
succeeded by Vitellius, who was removed by violent death, like Galba and
Otho. These three emperors left no mark, and were gluttons and
sensualists, who excited nothing but contempt; soldiers of fortune--only
respectable in inferior rank.

On the first of July, A.D. 69, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, of
humble family, arose, as general, to the highest honors of the State, and
was first proclaimed emperor at Alexandria, at the close of the Jewish
war, which he conducted to a successful issue. A brief contest with
Vitellius secured his recognition by the Senate, and the first of the
Flavian line began to reign--a man of great talents and virtues. On the
fall of Jerusalem, his son Titus returned to Rome, and celebrated a joint
triumph with his father, and the gates of the temple of Janus were
shut,--the first time since Augustus,--and universal peace was proclaimed.

One of the first acts of the new emperor was to purify the Senate,
reduced to two hundred members, soon followed by the restoration of the
finances. He rebuilt the capitol, erected the temple of Peace, the new
forum, the baths of Titus, and the Coliseum. He extended a generous
patronage to letters, and under his reign Quintilian, the great
rhetorician, and Pliny, the naturalist, flourished. It was in the ninth
year of his reign that an eruption of Vesuvius occurred, when Herculaneum
and Pompeii were destroyed, to witness which Pliny lost his life.
Vespasian had associated with himself his son Titus in the government, and
died, after a reign of ten years, exhausted by the cares of empire; and
Titus quietly succeeded him, but reigned only for two years and a quarter,
and was succeeded by his brother, Domitian, a man of some ability, but
cruel, like Nero. He was ten years younger than Titus, and was thirty
years of age when proclaimed emperor by the praetorians, and accepted by
the Senate, A.D. 81. At first he was a reformer, but soon was stained by
the most odious vices. He continued the vast architectural works of his
father and brother, and patronized learning.

It was during the reign of Domitian that Britain was finally
conquered by Agricola, who was recalled by the jealousy of the emperor,
after a series of successes which gave him immortality. The reduction of
this island did not seriously commence until the reign of Claudius. By
Nero, Suetonius Paulinus was sent to Britain, and under him Agricola took
his first lessons of soldiership. Under Vespasian he commanded the
twentieth legion in Britain, and was the twelfth Roman general sent to the
island. On his return to Rome he was made consul, and Britain was assigned
to him as his province, where he remained seven years, until he had
extended his conquests to the Grampian Hills. He taught the Britons the
arts and luxuries of civilized life, to settle in towns, and to build
houses and temples. Among the foes he encountered, the most celebrated was
Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, on the eastern coast, who led the incredible
number of two hundred and forty thousand against the Roman legions, but
was defeated, with the loss of eighty thousand,--some atonement for the
seventy thousand Romans, and their allies, who had been slain at
Londinium, when Suetonius Paulinus commanded.

The year of Agricola's recall, A.D. 84, forms the epoch of the
undisguised tyranny which Domitian subsequently exercised. The reign of
informers and proscriptions recommenced, and many illustrious men were
executed for insufficient reasons. The Christians were persecuted, and the
philosophers were banished, and yet he received the most fulsome flattery
from the poet Martial. The tyrant lived in seclusion, in his Alban villa,
and was finally assassinated, after a reign of fifteen years, A.D. 96.

On his death a new era of prosperity and glory was inaugurated, by
the election of Nerva, and for five successive reigns the Roman world was
governed with virtue and ability. It is the golden era of Roman history,
praised by Gibbon and admired by all historians, during which the eyes of
contemporaries saw nothing but to panegyrize.

Marcus Cocceius Nerva was the great-grandson of a minister of
Octavius, and was born in Umbria. He was consul with Vespasian, A.D. 71,
and with Domitian, in A.D. 90, and was far advanced in life when chosen by
the Senate. The public events of his short but beneficent reign are
unimportant. He relieved poverty, diminished the expenses of the State,
and set, in his own life, an example of republican simplicity. But he did
not reign long enough to have his character tested. He died in sixteen
months after his elevation to the purple. His chief work was to create a
title for his successor, for he assumed the right of adoption, and made
choice of Trajan, without regard to his own kin, then at the head of the
armies of Germany.

The new emperor, one of the most illustrious that ever reigned at
Rome, was born in Spain, A.D. 52, and had spent his life in the camp. He
had a tall and commanding form, was social and genial in his habits, and
inspired universal respect. No better choice could have been made. He
entered his capital without pomp, unattended by guards, distinguished only
for the dignity of his bearing, allowing free access to his person, and
paying vows to the gods of his country. His wife, Plotina, bore herself as
the spouse of a simple senator, and his sister, Marciana, exhibited a
demeanor equally commendable.

The great external event of his reign was the war against the
Dacians, and their country was the last which the Romans subdued in
Europe. They belonged to the Thracian group of nations, and were identical
with the Getae. They inhabited the country which was bordered on the south
by the Danube and Moesia. They were engaged in frequent wars with the
Romans, and obtained a decided advantage, in the reign of Domitian, under
their king Decebalus. The honor of the empire was so far tarnished as to
pay a tribute to Dacia, but Trajan resolved to wipe away the disgrace, and
headed himself an expedition into this distant country, A.D. 101, with
eighty thousand veterans, subdued Decebalus, and added Dacia to the
provinces of the empire. He built a bridge over the Danube, on solid stone
piers, about two hundred and twenty miles below the modern Belgrade, which
was a remarkable architectural work, four thousand five hundred and
seventy feet in length. Enough treasures were secured by the conquest of
Dacia to defray the expenses of the war, and of the celebrated triumph
which commemorated his victories. At the games instituted in honor of this
conquest, eleven thousand beasts were slain, and ten thousand gladiators
fought in the Flavian Amphitheatre. The column on which his victories were
represented still remains to perpetuate his magnificence, with its two
thousand five hundred figures in bas-relief, winding in a spiral band
around it from the base to the summit--one of the most interesting relics
of antiquity. Near this column were erected the Forum Trajanum, and the
Basilica Ulpia, the former one thousand one hundred feet long, and the
basilica connected with it, surrounded with colonnades, and filled with
colossal statues. This enormous structure covered more ground than the
Flavian Amphitheatre, and was built by the celebrated Apollodorus, of
Damascus. It filled the whole space between the Capitoline and the
Quirinal. The double colonnade which surrounded it was one of the most
beautiful works of art in the world.

On the conquest of Dacia, Trajan devoted himself to the internal
administration of his vast empire. He maintained the dignity of the
Senate, and allowed the laws to take their course. He was untiring in his
efforts to provide for the material wants of his subjects, and in
developing the resources of the empire, nor did he rule by oppressive
exactions.

After seven years of wise administration, he again was called into
the field to extend the eastern frontier of the empire. His efforts were
directed against Armenia and Parthia. He reduced the former to a Roman
province, and advanced into those Caucasian regions where no Roman
imperator had preceded him, except Pompey, receiving the submission of
Iberians and Albanians. To overthrow Parthia was now his object, and he
advanced across the Tigris to Ctesiphon. In the Parthian capital he was
saluted as imperator; but, oppressed with gloom and enfeebled by sickness,
he did not presume to reach, as he had aspired, the limits of the
Macedonian conquest. He was too old for such work. He returned to Antioch,
sickened, and died in Cilicia, August, A.D. 117, after a prosperous and
even glorious reign of nineteen and a half years. But he had the
satisfaction of having raised the empire to a state of unparalleled
prosperity, and of having extended its limits on the east and on the west
to the farthest point it ever reached.

Publius AElius Hadrian succeeded this great emperor, and was born
in Rome A.D. 76, and was a son of the first cousin of Trajan. He made
extraordinary attainments as a youth, and served honorably in the armies
of his country, especially during the Dacian wars. At twenty-five he was
quaestor, at thirty-one he was praetor, and in the following year was made
consul, for the forms of the old republic were maintained under the
emperors. He was adopted by Trajan, and left at the head of the army at
Antioch at the age of forty-two, when Trajan died on his way to Rome. He
was at once proclaimed emperor by the army, and its choice was confirmed
by the Senate.

He entered upon his reign with matured knowledge and experience,
and sought the development of the empire rather than its extension beyond
the Euphrates. He therefore withdrew his armies from Armenia, Mesopotamia,
and Parthia, and returned to Rome to celebrate, in Trajan's name, a
magnificent triumph, and by employing the spoils of war in largesses and
remission of taxes. Averse to the extension of the empire, he still aimed
to secure its limits from hostile inroads, and was thus led to repel
invasions in Dacia and Britain. He marched at the head of his legions,
bareheaded and on foot, as far as Moesia, and in another campaign through
Gaul to the Rhine, and then crossed over to Britain, and secured the
northern frontier, by a wall sixty-eight and a half miles in length,
against the Caledonians. He then returned to Gaul, passed through Spain,
crossed the straits to Mauritania, threatened by the Moors, restored
tranquillity, and then advanced to the frontiers of Parthia. He then
returned through Asia Minor, and across the AEgean to Athens, and commenced
the splendid works with which he adorned the intellectual capital of the
empire. Before returning to Rome, he visited Carthage and Sicily.

Five years later, he made a second progress through the empire,
which lasted ten years, with some intervals, spent in his capital,
residing chiefly at Athens, constructing great architectural works, and
holding converse with philosophers and scholars. During this period he
visited Alexandria, whose schools were rivaled only by those of Athens,
studying the fantastic philosophy of the Gnostics, and probably examining
the Christian system. He ascended the Nile as far as Thebes, and then
repaired to Antioch, and returned to Rome through Asia Minor. In his
progress, he not merely informed himself of the condition of the empire,
but corrected abuses, and made the Roman rule tolerable.

His remaining years were spent at Rome, diligently administrating
the affairs of his vast government, founding libraries and schools, and
decorating his capital with magnificent structures. His temple of Venus at
Rome was the largest ever erected in the city, and his mausoleum, stripped
of its ornaments, now forms the Castle of St. Angelo. Next to the
Coliseum, it was the grandest architectural monument in Rome. He also
built a villa at Tivoli, whose remains are among the most interesting
which seventeen centuries have preserved.

This good emperor made a noble choice for his successor, Titus Aurelius
Antonius, and soon after died childless, A.D. 138, after a peaceful reign
of twenty-one years, in which, says Merivale, "he reconciled, with eminent
success, things hitherto found irreconcilable: a contented army and a
peaceful frontier; an abundant treasury with lavish expenditure; a free
Senate and stable monarchy; and all this without the lustre of a great
military reputation, the foil of an odious predecessor, or disgust at
recent civil commotions. He recognized, in theory, both conquerors and
conquered as one people, and greeted in person every race among his
subjects." He had personal defects of character, but his reign is one of
the best of the imperial series, and marked the crowning age of Roman
civilization.

Antonius Pius, his successor, had less ability, but a still more
faultless character. He sprung from the ranks of the nobility; was consul
in the third year of Hadrian, and was prefect of Asia until his adoption,
when he took up his residence in Rome, and never left its neighborhood
during the remainder of his life. His peaceful reign is barren of external
events, but fruitful in the peace and security of his subjects, and the
only drawback in his happiness was the licentious character of his wife,
who bore him two sons and two daughters. The sons died before his
elevation, but one of his daughters married M. Annius Verus, whom he
adopted as his successor, and associated with him in the government of the
empire. He died after a reign of twenty-three years, and was buried in the
mausoleum of Hadrian, which he completed. His character is thus drawn by
his son-in-law and successor, Marcus Aurelius: "In my father, I noticed
mildness of manner with firmness of resolution, contempt of vainglory,
industry in business, and accessibility of person. He knew how to relax,
as well as when to labor. From him I learned to acquiesce in every
fortune, to exercise foresight in public affairs, to rise superior to
vulgar praises, to worship the gods without superstition, to serve mankind
without ambition, to be sober and steadfast, to be content with little, to
be no sophist or dreaming bookworm, to be practical and active, to be neat
and cheerful, to be temperate, modest in dress, and indifferent to the
beauty of slaves and furniture, not to be led away by novelties, yet to
render honor to true philosophers." What a picture of a heathen emperor,
drawn by a pagan philosopher!--the single purpose of ruling for the
happiness of their subjects, and realizing the idea of a paternal
government, and this in one of the most corrupt periods of Roman society.

Marcus Aurelius, like Trajan and Hadrian, derived his origin from
Spain, but was born in Italy. His features are the most conspicuously
preserved in the repositories of ancient art, as his name is the most
honorably enshrined on the pages of history--the noblest and most august
type of the ancient rulers of the world, far transcending any Jewish king
in the severity of his virtues, and the elevation of his soul. His life
was modeled on the strictest discipline of the stoical philosophy, of
which he was the brightest ornament. He was nearly forty years of age on
the death of his father-in-law, although for twenty-three years he had sat
side by side with him on the tribunals of the State. His reign, therefore,
was virtually a long one, and he was devoted to all the duties which his
station imposed. He was great as ruler, as he was profound as a
philosopher.

It was under his illustrious reign that the barbarians formed a
general union for the invasion of the Roman world, and struck the first of
those fatal blows under which the empire finally succumbed. We have but
little information of the long contest with Germans, Sarmatians,
Marcomanni, Quadi, and Alani, on the banks of the Danube, who were pressed
forward by the Scythian tribes. They were repelled, indeed, but they soon
after advanced, with renovated forces, when the empire was weakened by the
miserable emperors who succeeded Aurelius. And although this great prince
commemorated his victory over the barbarians by a column similar to that
of Trajan, still they were far from being subdued, and a disgraceful
peace, which followed his death, shows that they were exceedingly
formidable. He died at Sirmium, or Vindobona (Vienna), exhausted by
incessant wars and the cares of State, A.D. 180, in the fifty-ninth year
of his age, and twentieth of his reign. The concurrent testimony of
historians represents this emperor as the loftiest character that ever
wielded a sceptre among the nations of antiquity, although we can not
forget that he was a persecutor of the Christians.

His son, Commodus, succeeded him, and the thirteen years of his
inglorious reign are summed up in conflicts with the Moors, Dacians, and
Germans. Skillful generals, by their successes, warded off the attacks of
barbarians, but the character and rule of the emperor resembled that of
Nero and Domitian. He was weak, cruel, pleasure-seeking, and dissolute.
His time was divided between private vices and disgraceful public
exhibitions. He fought as a gladiator more than seven hundred times, and
against antagonists whose only weapons were tin and lead. He also laid
claim to divinity, and was addicted to debasing superstitions. He
destroyed the old ministers of his father, and decimated the Senate. All
who excited his jealousy, or his covetousness, were put out of the way. He
was poisoned by his favorite mistress, Marcia, and the Senate set the
brand of infamy on his name. Thus perished the last of the line of the
Antonines, even as the Julian line was ended by the assassination of Nero,
and the Flavian by that of Domitian, and the empire became once again the
prize of the soldier, A. D. 192.





Next: The Decline Of The Empire

Previous: The Six Caesars Of The Julian Line



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