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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

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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 Decline Of The Empire








Able or virtuous princes had now ruled the Roman world, with a few
exceptions, from Julius Caesar to Commodus, a period of more than two
hundred years. Among these were some odious tyrants, or madmen, who were
removed by assassination. But some of these very tyrants governed with
ability, and such was the general prosperity, such the wonderful mechanism
of government for which the Romans had a genius, that the general
condition of the world was better than at any preceding period. All that
government could do to preserve and extend civilization was done, on the
whole. Despotism was not signally oppressive, and the regime of
Augustus, of Vespasian, and Hadrian was generally maintained. The Roman
governors, appointed by the emperors, ruled more wisely and beneficently
than in the time of the republic. Peace, security, and law reigned, and,
in consequence, the population increased, civilization advanced, and
wealth was accumulated. The whole empire rejoiced in populous cities, in
works of art, in literary culture, and in genial manners. Society was
pagan, but attractive, and Rome herself was the resort of travelers, the
centre of fashion and glory, the joy and the pride of the whole earth.
There were no destructive wars, except on the frontiers; all classes were
secure, the face of nature was cultivated and beautiful, and poets sung
the praises of civilization such as never existed but in isolated cities
and countries.

But now we observe the commencement of a great and melancholy
change. Prosperity had led to vice, false security, and pride. All classes
had become corrupt. Disproportionate fortunes, slavery, and luxury
undermined the moral health, and destroyed not only elevation of sentiment
but martial virtues. Literature declined in spirit and taste, and was
directed to frivolous subjects. Christianity had not become a power
sufficiently strong to change or modify the corrupt institutions
controlled by the powerful classes. The expensive luxury of the nobles was
almost incredible. The most distant provinces were ransacked for game,
fish, and fowl for the tables of the great. Usury was practiced at a
ruinous rate. Every thing was measured by the money standard. Art was
prostituted to please degraded tastes. There was no dignity of character;
women were degraded; only passing vanities made any impression on
egotistical classes; games and festivals were multiplied; gladiatorial
sports outraged humanity; the descendants of the proudest families prided
themselves chiefly on their puerile frivolities; the worst rites of
paganism were practiced; slaves performed the most important functions;
the circus and the theatre were engrossing pleasures; the baths were the
resort of the idle and the luxurious, who almost lived in them, and were
scenes of disgraceful orgies; great extravagance in dress and ornaments
was universal; the pleasures of the table degenerated to riotous excesses;
cooks, buffoons, and dancers received more consideration than scholars and
philosophers; everybody worshiped the shrine of mammon; all science was
directed to utilities that demoralized; sensualism reigned triumphant, and
the people lived as if there were no God.

Such a state must prepare the way for violence, and when external
dangers came there were not sufficient virtues to meet them. But the
decline was gradual, and dangers were still at a distance. Both nature and
art were the objects of perpetual panegyric, and the worldly and sensual
Romans dreamed only of a millennium of protracted joys.

The last experiment of a constitutional empire was succeeded by
undisguised military despotism, and no one now desired or expected the
restoration of the republic. The Senate was servile and submissive, the
people had no voice in public affairs, and the prefects of the imperial
guard were the recognized lieutenants and often masters of the emperors.

Pertinax succeeded to the sceptre of Commodus, a wise and good
man, and great hopes were entertained of a beneficent reign, when they
were suddenly blasted by a sedition of the praetorians, only eighty-six
days after the death of Commodus, and these guards publicly sold the
empire to Didius Julianus, a wealthy senator, at the price of one thousand
dollars to each soldier. Such a bargain disgusted the capital, and raised
the legions in the provinces to revolt. Each of the three principal armies
set up their own candidate, but L. Septimius Severus, who commanded in
Illyricum, was the fortunate one, and was confirmed by the Senate. Didius
Julianus was murdered after a brief reign of sixty-six days, and the
praetorians who had created the scandal were disbanded.

The reign of this general was able and fortunate, although he was cruel
and superstitious. His vigor prevented the separation of the empire for a
century; but he had powerful rivals in Clodius Albinus, in Britain, and
Pescennius Niger, in Syria, both of whom he subdued. At Lyons it is said
that one hundred and fifty thousand Romans fought on both sides, when
Albinus was killed. The full of Niger at the Hellespont insured the
submission of the East, and the victorious emperor penetrated as far as
Ctesiphon, and received the submission of Mesopotamia and Arabia. The
triumphal arch erected by him celebrated those military successes.

Having bestowed peace, and restored the dignity of the empire,
this martial prince established an undisguised military despotism, and
threw aside all deference to the Senate. He created a new guard of
praetorian soldiers four times as numerous as the old, which were recruited
from the ranks of the barbarians, who thus began to overawe the capital.
The commander of this great force was no less a man than the celebrated
jurist, Papianus, and he was the prime minister of the emperor. It was
during his reign that a violent persecution of the Christians took place,
A.D. 200, which called out the famous apology of Tertullian. Severus died
in Britain, to which he was summoned by an irruption of Caledonians, A.D.
211, having reigned nineteen years, and with a vigor worthy of Trajan.

He left two sons, who are best known by the names of Caracalla and
Geta, and both of whom, in their father's lifetime, had been raised to the
dignity of Augustus. The oldest son succeeded to the empire, and the year
after his elevation murdered his brother in his mother's arms. He also
executed Papinian, the praetorian prefect, because he refused to justify
the fratricide, together with twenty thousand persons who were the friends
of Geta. After this wholesale murder he left his capital, and never
returned to it, spending his time in different provinces, which were
alternately the scene of his cruelty and rapine, a victim of the foulest
superstitions of the East, and arrogant and vainglorious as he was savage.
His tyranny became unendurable, and he was murdered by an agent of the
praetorian prefect, A.D. 217, Opilius Macrinus, who became the next
emperor.

Macrinus was only elevated to the purple by promising rich
donations to the soldiers, for his rank was only that of a knight. He
undertook to restore discipline in the army, and the licentious soldiery
found a new candidate for the empire in the person of Avitus, of the
family of Severus, a beautiful boy of seventeen, who officiated as priest
of the sun in Syria, and whose name in history, from the god he served, is
called Elagabalus, or Heliogabalus. But Macrinus was at the head of a
formidable force, and fought his rival with bravery, but without success.
The battle was decided against him, and he was overtaken in flight and put
to death, A.D. 218.

With Elagabalus is associated the most repulsive and loathsome
reign of all the emperors. He was guilty of the most shameless
obscenities, and the most degrading superstitions. He painted and dressed
himself like an Oriental prince; he banqueted in halls hung with cloth of
gold, and enriched with jewels; he slept on mattresses stuffed with down
found only under the wings of partridges; he dined from tables of pure
gold; he danced in public, arrayed in the garb of a Syrian priest; and he
collected in his capital all the forms of idolatry and all the hideous
abominations which even Grecian paganism despised. This wretch, who
insulted every consecrated sentiment, was murdered after a reign of little
more than three years, A.D. 222, and his body was thrown into the Tiber,
and his memory branded with infamy by the Senate.

The praetorians, who now controlled the State, offered the purple
to his cousin, Alexander Severus, grand-nephew of Septimius Severus, an
emperor who adorned those degenerate times, and who resembled the great
Aurelius in the severity of his virtues. His prime minister--the prefect of
the praetorian guards--was the celebrated Ulpian, the greatest of Roman
jurists, and next to him in dignity and power was the historian, Dion
Cassius, consul, governor in Africa, and legate in Dalmatia.

The great labors of Alexander Severus were to quell the mutinous
spirit of the praetorian guards, who reveled in the spoil of the empire; to
subdue the Persians; and to repel barbarian inroads on the western
frontiers. It was while he was in Thrace that a young barbarian of
gigantic stature solicited permission to contend for the prize of
wrestling. Sixteen of the stoutest Roman soldiers he successively
overthrew, and he was permitted to enlist among the troops. The next day
he attracted the notice of the emperor, and again contended successfully
with seven of the Roman champions, and received, at the hand of the
emperor, a gold collar and a place in the body-guard. He rose, step by
step, till appointed to discipline the recruits of the army of the Rhine.
He became the favorite of the army, and was saluted as imperator. Severus
fled to his tent, and was assassinated, A.D. 235.

The savage, Maximin, who now governed the empire, ruled like a
barbarian, as he was, disdaining all culture, and hostile to all
refinements. Confiscations, exile, or death awaited the few illustrious
men who adorned the age. Only brute force was recognized as a claim to
imperial favor. The sole object of Maximin was to secure the favor of the
soldiers, barbarians like himself, whom he propitiated with exorbitant
donations, extorted by fines and confiscations, and derived from the sack
of temples. He lived in the camp, and knew nothing of the cities he ruled.

Such outrages of course provoked rebellion, and M. Antonius
Gordianus, the proconsul of Africa, a descendant of the Gracchi and of
Trajan, distinguished for wealth and culture, was proclaimed emperor, at
the age of eighty, who associated with him, in the government, his son.
The Senate confirmed the Gordians, who fixed their court at Carthage, but
Maximin suppressed the insurrection, and proceeded to Rome to satisfy his
vengeance. The Senate, in despair, conferred the purple on two members of
their own body, Maximus, an able soldier, and Balbinus, a poet and orator.
The praetorians supported their claims, and Maximin was assassinated in his
tent, A.D. 238. But the new emperors had scarcely given promise of a wise
administration, before they in turn were assassinated by the praetorians,
and Gordian, a grandson of the first of that name, was elevated to the
imperial dignity. He, again, was soon murdered in a mutiny of the
soldiers, who elected Philip as his successor, A.D. 244. This emperor,
whose reign was marked by the celebration of the secular games with
unwonted magnificence, to commemorate the one thousand years since Rome
was founded, was put to death by the praetorian guards the following year,
and the dignity of Augustus was conferred on Decius.

His reign is memorable for a savage persecution of the Christians,
and the victories of the Goths, who, in the preceding reign, had
penetrated to Dacia, and conquered Moesia. The next twenty years were
mournful and disgraceful. The emperor marched against these barbarians in
person, but was defeated by them in Thrace, and lost his life at a place
called Abrutum, A.D. 251. The Goths continued their ravages along the
coasts of the Euxine, and made themselves masters of the Crimea. They then
sailed, with a large fleet, to the northern parts of the Euxine, took
Pityus and Trapezus, attacked the wealthy cities of the Thracian
Bosphorus, conquered Chalcedon, Nicomedia, and Nice, and retreated laden
with spoil. The next year, with five hundred boats, they pursued their
destructive navigation, destroyed Cyzicus, crossed the AEgean, landed at
Athens, plundered Thebes, Argos, Corinth and Sparta, advanced to the
coasts of Epirus, and devastated the whole Illyrian peninsula. In their
ravages they destroyed the famous temple of Ephesus, and, wearied with
plunder, returned through Moesia to their own settlements beyond the
Danube.

During this raid, the son of Decius, Hostilianus, reigned in
conjunction with Gallus, one of the generals of Decius, but were put to
death by AEmilianus, governor of Pannonia and Moesia, who had succeeded in
gaining a victory over the new and terrible enemy. He was in turn
overthrown by Valerianus--a nobleman of great distinction, who signalized
himself by considerable military ability, and who associated with himself
in the empire his son, Gallienus, A.D. 253, whose frivolities were an
offset to the virtues of his father. Valerian was taken prisoner by Sapor,
king of Persia, and shortly after died, and the Roman world relapsed under
the sway of his son, and at a time of great calamity, memorable for the
successes of the Goths, and the direst pestilence which had ever visited
the empire. Gallienus--not without accomplishments, but utterly unfit to
govern an empire in the stormy times which witnessed the fierce irruptions
of the Goths--was slain by a conspiracy of his officers, A.D. 268.

The empire was now threatened by barbarians, and wasted by
pestilence, and distracted by rebellions and riots. It was on the verge of
ruin; but the ruin was averted for one hundred years by a succession of
great princes, who traced their origin to the martial province of
Illyricum. The first of these emperors was Claudius, one of the generals
of Gallienus, and was fifty-four years of age when invested with the
purple. He led the armies of the waning empire against the Alemanni, who
had invaded Italy, and drove them beyond the Alps. But a fiercer tribe of
Germanic barbarians remained to be subdued or repelled--those who had
devastated Greece--the Goths. They again appeared upon the Euxine with a
fleet, variously estimated from two thousand to six thousand vessels,
carrying three hundred and twenty thousand men. A division of this vast,
but undisciplined force, invaded Crete and Cyprus, but the main body
ravaged Macedonia, and undertook the siege of Thessalonica. Claudius
advanced to meet them, and gained at Naissus a complete victory, where
fifty thousand of the barbarians perished. A desultory war followed in
Thrace, Macedonia, and Moesia, which resulted in the destruction of the
Gothic fleet, and an immense booty in captives and cattle.

Claudius survived this great, but not decisive victory, but two
years, and was carried off by pestilence, at Sirmiun, A.D. 270; but not
until he had designated for his successor a still greater man--the
celebrated Aurelian, whose father had been a peasant. Every day of his
short reign was filled with wonders. He put an end to the Gothic war,
chastised the Germans who invaded Italy, recovered Gaul, Britain, and
Spain, defeated the Alemanni, who devastated the empire from the Po to the
Danube, destroyed the proud monarchy which Zenobia had built up in the
deserts of the East, took the queen captive, and carried her to Rome,
where he celebrated the most magnificent triumph which the world had seen
since the days of Pompey and Caesar. This celebrated woman, equaling
Cleopatra in beauty, and Boadicea in valor, and blending the popular
manners of the Roman princes with the stately pomp of Oriental kings, had
retired, on her defeat, to the beautiful city which Solomon had built,
shaded with palms, and ornamented with palaces. There, in that Tadmor of
the wilderness, Palmyra, the capital of her empire, which embraced a large
part of Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, she had cultivated the learning of
the Greeks, and the Oriental tongues of the countries she ruled, excelling
equally in the chase and in war, the most truly accomplished woman of
antiquity,--sprung, like Cleopatra, from the Greek kings of Egypt. Among
her counselors was the celebrated Longinus--the most conspicuous ornament
of the last age of Greek classic literature, and a philosopher who taught
the wisdom of Plato. When Palmyra was taken by Aurelian, this great man,
who had stimulated Zenobia in her rebellion, was executed, without
uttering a word of complaint, together with the people of the city, with
remorseless barbarity, and the city of Solomon became an inconsiderable
Arab town. The queen, who had fled, was pursued and taken, and graced the
magnificent triumph of the martial emperor. The captive queen was made to
precede the triumphal chariot, on foot, loaded with fetters of gold, and
arrayed in the most gorgeous dress of her former empire. She was not
executed, but permitted to reside in the capital in the state of princes.

This great and brilliant triumph--one of the last glories of the
setting sun of Roman greatness--seemed to augur the restoration of the
empire. The emperor was sanguine, and boasted that all external danger had
passed away. But in a few months he was summoned to meet new enemies in
the East, and he was murdered by a conspiracy of his officers, probably in
revenge for the cruelties and massacres he had inflicted at Rome. In one
of his reforms a sedition arose, and was quelled inexorably by the
slaughter of seven thousand of the soldiers, besides a large number of the
leading nobles.

His sceptre descended to Tacitus, A.D. 275, a descendant of the
great historian: a man, says Niebuhr, "who was great in every thing that
could distinguish a senator; he possessed immense property, of which he
made a brilliant use; he was a man of unblemished character; he possessed
the knowledge of a statesman, and had, in his youth, shown great military
skill." Scarcely was he inaugurated as emperor before he marched against
the Alans, a Scythian tribe, who had ravaged Pontus, Cappadocia, Cilicia,
and Galatea. He, however, lost his life amid the hardships of his first
campaign, at the age of seventy-five, and after a brief reign of six
months.

The veteran general, M. Aurelius Probus, the commander of the
Eastern provinces, was proclaimed emperor by the legions, although
originally of peasant rank. He was forty-five years of age, and united the
military greatness of Aurelian with political prudence, in all respects
the best choice which could have been made, and one of the best and
greatest of all the emperors. His six years of administration were marked
by uninterrupted successes, and he won a fame equal to that of the ancient
heroes. He restored peace and order in all the provinces; he broke the
power of the Sarmatians; he secured the alliance of the Goths; he drove
the Isaurians to their strongholds among their inaccessible mountains; he
chastised the rebellious cities of Egypt; he delivered Gaul from the
Germanic barbarians; he drove the Franks to their morasses at the mouth of
the Rhine; he vanquished the Burgundians who had wandered in quest of
booty from the banks of the Oder; he defeated the Lygii, a fierce tribe on
the borders of Silesia; he extended his victories to the Elbe, and erected
a wall, two hundred miles in length, from the Danube to the Rhine; so that
"there was not left," says Gibbon, "in all the provinces, a hostile
barbarian, or tyrant, or even a robber." After having destroyed four
hundred thousand of the barbarians, he returned to his capital to
celebrate a triumph, which equaled in splendor that of Aurelian. He, too,
fancied that all external enemies were subdued forever, and that Rome
should henceforth rejoice in eternal peace. But scarcely had the paeans of
victory been sung by a triumphant and infatuated people, when he was
assassinated in a mutiny of his own troops, whom he had compelled to labor
in draining the marshes around Sirmium, A.D. 282.

The soldiers, repenting the act as soon as it was done, conferred
the purple on the praetorian prefect, and notified the Senate of its
choice. And the choice was a good one; and the new emperor, Carus, at
sixty years of age, conferring the title of Caesar upon his two sons,
Carinus and Numerianus, whom he left to govern the West, hastened against
the Sarmatians, who had overrun Illyricum. Successful in his objects, he
advanced, in the depth of winter, through Thrace and Asia Minor to the
confines of Persia. The Persian king, wishing to avert the storm, sent his
ambassadors to the imperial camp, and found the emperor seated on the
grass, dining from peas and bacon, in all the simplicity of the early
successors of Mohammed. But before he could advance beyond the Tigris, his
tent was struck by lightning, and he was killed, on Christmas day, A.D.
283.

Carinus and Numerian succeeded to the vacant throne. The former,
at Rome, disgraced his trust by indolence and shameless vices; while the
latter, in the camp, was unfit, though virtuous, to control the turbulent
soldiers, and was found murdered in his bed the very day that Carinus
celebrated the games with unusual magnificence.

The army raised C. Valerius Diocletianus to the vacant dignity,
and his first act was to execute the murderer of Numerian. His next was to
encounter Carinus in battle, who was slain, A.D. 285, and
Diocletian--perhaps the greatest emperor after Augustus--reigned alone.
Diocletian is, however, rendered infamous in ecclesiastical history, as
the most bitter of all the persecutors of the Christians, now a large and
growing body; but he was a man of the most distinguished abilities, though
of obscure birth, in a little Dalmatian town. He commenced his illustrious
reign at the age of thirty-nine, and reigned twenty years,--more as a
statesman than warrior,--politic, judicious, indefatigable in business, and
steady in his purposes.

This emperor inaugurated a new era, and a new policy of
government. The cares of State in a disordered age, when the empire was
threatened on every side by hostile barbarians, and disgraced by
insurrections and tumults, induced Diocletian to associate with himself
three colleagues, who had won fame in the wars of Aurelian and Carus.
Maximian, Galerius, and Constantine--one of whom had the dignity of
Augustus, and two that of Caesar.

Maximian, associated with Diocletian, with the rank of Augustus, had been
also an Illyrian peasant, and was assigned to the government of the
western provinces, while Diocletian retained that of the eastern. Maximum
established the seat of his government at Milan, giving a death-blow to
the Senate, which, though still mentioned honorably by name, was
henceforth severed from the imperial court. The empire had been ruled by
soldiers ever since pressing dangers had made it apparent that only men of
martial virtues could preserve it from the barbarians. But now the most
undisguised military rule, uninfluenced by old constitutional form, was
the only recognized authority, and the warlike emperors, bred in the camp,
had a disdain of the ancient capital, as well as great repugnance to the
enervated praetorian soldiers, who made and unmade emperors, whose
privileges were abolished forever. Milan was selected for the seat of
imperial government, from its proximity to the frontier, perpetually
menaced by the barbarians; and this city, before a mere military post, now
assumed the splendor of an imperial city, and was defended by a double
wall.

Diocletian made choice, at first, of Nicomedia, the old capital of
the Bithynian kings, as the seat of his Eastern government, equally
distant from the Danube and the Euphrates. He assumed the manner and state
of an Oriental monarch. He wore a diadem set with pearls, and a robe of
silk and gold instead of the simple toga with its purple stripe. His shoes
were studded with precious stones, and his court was marked by Oriental
ceremonials. His person was difficult of access, and the avenues to his
palace were guarded by various classes of officers. No one could approach
him without falling prostrate in adoration, and he was addressed as "My
lord the emperor." But he did not live in Oriental seclusion, and was
perpetually called away by pressing dangers.

The Caesars Galerius and Constantius were sent to govern the
provinces on the frontiers; the former, from his capital, Sirmium, in
Illyricum, watched the whole frontier of the Danube; the latter spent his
time in Britain. Galerius was adopted by Diocletian, and received his
daughter Valeria in marriage; while Constantius was adopted by Maximian,
and married his daughter Theodora.

The division of the empire under these four princes nearly corresponded
with the prefectures which Constantine subsequently established, and which
were deemed necessary to preserve the empire from dissolution--a
dissolution inevitable, had it not been for the great emperors whom the
necessities of the empire had raised up, but whose ruin was only for a
time averted. Not even able generals and good emperors could save the
corrupted empire. It was doomed. Vice had prepared the way for violence.
The four emperors, who now labored to prevent a catastrophe, were engaged
in perpetual conflicts, and through their united efforts peace was
restored throughout the empire, and the last triumph that Rome ever saw
was celebrated by them.

Only one more enemy, to the eye of Diocletian, remained to be
subdued, and this was Christianity. But this enemy was unconquerable.
Silently, surely, without pomp, and without art, the new religion had made
its way, against all opposition, prejudice, and hatred, from Jews and
pagans alike, and was now a power in the empire. The followers of the
hated sect were, however, from the humble classes, and but few great men
had arisen among them, and even these were unimportant to the view of
philosophers and rulers. The believers formed an esoteric circle, and were
lofty, stern, and hostile to all the existing institutions of society.
They formed an imperium in imperio, but did not aim, at this time, to
reach political power. They were scattered throughout the great cities of
the empire, and were ruled by their bishops and ministers. They did not
make war on men, but on their ideas and habits and customs. They avoided
all external conflicts, and contended with devils and passions. But
government distrusted and disliked them, and sought at different times to
exterminate them. There had already been nine signal persecutions from the
time of Nero, and yet they had constantly increased in numbers and
influence. But now a more serious attack was to be made upon them by the
emperors, provoked, probably, by the refusal of some Christians to take
the military oath, and serve in the armies, on conscientious principles:
but interpreted by those in authority as disloyalty in a great national
crisis. The mind of the emperor was alienated; and both Galerius and
Diocletian resolved that a religion which seemed hostile to the political
relations of the empire, should be suppressed. A decree was issued to
destroy all the Christian churches, to confiscate their property, to burn
the sacred writings, to deprive Christians of their civil rights, and even
to doom them to death. The decree which was publicly exhibited in
Nicomedia, was torn down by a Christian, who expressed the bitterest
detestation of the tyrannical governors. The fires which broke out in the
palace were ascribed to the Christians, and the command was finally issued
to imprison all the ministers of religion, and punish those who protected
them. A persecution which has had no parallel in history, was extended to
all parts of the empire. The whole civil power, goaded by the old priests
of paganism, was employed in searching out victims, and all classes of
Christians were virtually tormented and murdered. The earth groaned for
ten years under the sad calamity, and there was apparently no hope. But
whether scourged, or lacerated, or imprisoned, or burned, the martyrs
showed patience, faith, and moral heroism, and invoked death to show its
sting, and the grave its victory.

The persecution of the Christians--this attempt to suppress
religion thought to be hostile to the imperial authority, and not without
some plausibility, since many Christians refused to be enrolled in the
armies, and suffered death sooner than enlist--was the last great act of
Diocletian. Whether wearied with the cares of State, or disgusted with his
duties, or ill, or craving rest and repose, he took the extraordinary
resolution of abdicating his throne, at the very summit of his power, and
at the age of fifty-nine. He influenced Maximian to do the same, and the
two Augusti gave place to the two Caesars. The double act of resignation
was performed at Nicomedia and Milan, on the same day, May 1, A.D. 305.
Diocletian took a graceful farewell of his soldiers, and withdrew to a
retreat near his native city of Salonae, on the coast of the Adriatic. He
withdrew to a magnificent palace, which he had built on a square of six
hundred feet, in a lovely and fertile spot, in sight of the sea, and the
mountains, and luxurious plains. He there devoted himself to the pleasures
of agriculture, and planted cabbages with his own hand, and refused all
solicitations to resume his power. But his repose was alloyed by the sight
of increasing troubles, and the failure of the system he had inaugurated.
If the empire could not be governed by one master, it could not be
governed by four, with their different policies and rivalries. He lived
but nine years in retirement; but long enough to see his religious policy
reversed, by the edict of Milan, which confirmed the Christian religion,
and the whole imperial fabric which he had framed reversed by Constantine.

Confusion followed his abdication. Civil wars instead of barbaric
wasted the empire. The ancient heart of the empire had no longer the
presence of an Augustus, and a new partition virtually took place, by
which Italy and Africa became dependencies of the East. Galerius--now
Augustus--assumed the right to nominate the two new Caesars, one of whom was
his sister's son, who assumed the name of Galerius Valerius Maximinus, to
whom were assigned Syria and Egypt, and the other was his faithful
servant, Severus, who was placed over Italy and Africa. According to the
forms of the constitution, he was subordinate to Constantius, but he was
devoted to Galerius. The emperor Constantius, then in Boulogne, was dying,
and his son, Constantine, was at the court of Galerius. Though summoned to
the bedside of his father, Galerius sought to retain him, but Constantine
abruptly left Nicomedia, evaded Severus, traversed Europe, and reached his
father, who was just setting out for Britain, to repel an invasion of the
Caledonians. He reached York only to die, A.D. 306, and with his last
breath transmitted his empire to his son, and commended him to the
soldiers. Galerius was transported with rage, but was compelled to submit,
and named Constantine Caesar over the western provinces, who was not
elevated to the dignity of Augustus till two years later.

The elevation of Severus to supreme power in Italy by Galerius, filled the
abdicated emperor Maximian with indignation, and humiliated the Roman
people. The praetorians rose against the party of Severus, who retired to
Ravenna, and soon after committed suicide. The Senate assumed their old
prerogative, and conferred the purple on Maxentius, the son of Maximilian.
Galerius again assumed the power of nominating an Augustus, and bestowed
the purple, made vacant by the death of Severus, on an old comrade,
Licinius, originally a Dacian peasant.

Thus, there were six emperors at a time; Constantine, in Britain;
Maximian, who resumed the purple; Maxentius, his son; Licinius Galerius,
in the East; and Maximin, his nephew. Maximian crossed the Alps in person,
won over Constantine to his party, and gave him his daughter, Fausta, in
marriage, and conferred upon him the rank of Augustus; so, in the West,
Maxentius and Constantine affected to be subordinate to Maximian; while,
in the East, Licinius and Maximin obeyed the orders of their benefactor,
Galerius. The sovereigns of the East and West were hostile to each other,
but their mutual fears produced an apparent tranquillity, and a feigned
reconciliation.

The first actual warfare, however, broke out between Maximian and
his son. Maxentius insisted on the renewed abdication of his father, and
had the support of the praetorian guards. Driven into exile, he returned to
Gaul, and took refuge with his son and daughter, who received him kindly;
but in the absence of Constantine, he seized the treasure to bribe his
troops, and was holding communication with Maxentius when Constantine
returned from the Rhine. The old intriguer had only time to throw himself
into Marseilles, where he strangled himself, when the city was hard
pressed by Constantine, A.D. 310.

In a year after, Galerius died, like Herod Agrippa, a prey to
loathsome vermin--morbus pediculosus, and his dominions were divided
between Maximin and Licinius, each of whom formed secret alliances with
Maxentius and Constantine, between whom was war.

The tyranny of Maxentius led his subjects to look to Constantine
as a deliverer, who marched to the relief of the Senate and Roman people.
He crossed the Alps with forty thousand men. Maxentius collected a force
of one hundred and seventy thousand, to maintain which he had the wealth
of Italy, Africa, and Sicily. Constantine first encountered the
lieutenants of Maxentius in the plains of Turin, and gained a complete
victory, the prize of which was Milan, the new capital of Italy. He was
advancing to Rome on the Flaminian way, before Maxentius was aroused to
his danger, being absorbed in pleasures. A few miles from Rome was fought
the battle of Saxa Rubra, A.D. 312, between the rival emperors, at which
Maxentius perished, and Constantine was greeted by the Senate as the first
of the three surviving Augusti. The victory of Constantine was
commemorated by a triumphal arch, which still remains, and which was only
a copy of the arch of Trajan. The ensuing winter was spent in Rome, during
which Constantine abolished forever the praetorian guards, which had given
so many emperors to the world. In the spring Constantine gave his daughter
Constantia in marriage to Licinius, but was soon called away to the Rhine
by an irruption of Franks, while Licinius marched against Maximin, and
defeated him under the walls of Heracles. Maximin retreated to Nicomedia,
and was about to renew the war, when he died at Tarsus, and Licinius
became master of the Eastern provinces.

There were now but two emperors, one in the East, and the other in
the West. Constantine celebrated the restoration of tranquillity by
promulgating at Milan an edict in favor of universal religious toleration,
and the persecution of the Christians by the pagans was ended forever, in
Europe. About this time Constantine himself was converted to the new
religion. In his march against Maxentius, it is declared by Eusebius, that
he saw at noonday a cross in the heavens, inscribed with the words, "By
this conquer." It is also asserted that the vision of the cross was seen
by the whole army, and the cross henceforth became the standard of the
Christian emperors. It was called the Labarum, and is still seen on the
coins of Constantine, and was intrusted to a chosen guard of fifty men. It
undoubtedly excited enthusiasm in the army, now inclined to accept the new
faith, and Constantine himself joined the progressive party, and made
Christianity the established religion of the empire. Henceforth the
protection of the Christian religion became one of the cherished objects
of his soul, and although his life was stained by superstitions and many
acts of cruelty and wickedness, Constantine stands out in history as the
first Christian emperor. For this chiefly he is famous, and a favorite
with ecclesiastical writers. The edict of Milan is an era in the world's
progress. But he was also a great sovereign, and a great general.

The harmony between so ambitious a man and Licinius was not of
long duration. Rival interests and different sympathies soon led to the
breaking out of hostilities, and Licinius was defeated in two great
battles, and resigned to Constantine all his European possessions, except
Thrace. The nine successive years were spent by Licinius in slothful and
vicious pleasures, while Constantine devoted his energies to the
suppression of barbarians, and the enactment of important laws. He
repulsed the Gothic and Sarmatian hordes, who had again crossed the
Danube, and pursued them into Dacia; nor did the Goths secure peace until
they had furnished forty thousand recruits to the Roman armies. This
recruiting of the imperial armies from the barbarians was one of the most
melancholy signs of decaying strength, and indicated approaching ruin.

In the year 323 a new civil war broke out between Constantine and
Licinius. The aged and slothful Eastern emperor roused himself to a grand
effort and marshalled an army of one hundred and fifty thousand foot and
fifteen thousand horse on the plains of Hadrianople, while his fleet of
three hundred and fifty triremes commanded the Hellespont. Constantine
collected an army of one hundred and twenty thousand men at Thessalonica,
and advanced to attack his foe, intrenched in a strong position. The
battle was decided in favor of Constantine, who slew thirty-four thousand
of his enemies, and took the fortified camp of Licinius, who fled to
Byzantium, July, A.D. 323.

The fleet of Licinius still remained, and with his superior naval
force he might have baffled his rival. But fortune, or valor, again
decided in favor of the Western emperor, and after a fight of two days the
admiral of Licinius retired to Byzantium. The siege of this city was now
pressed with valor by Constantine, and Licinius fled with his treasures to
Chalcedon, and succeeded in raising another army of fifty thousand men.
These raw levies were, however, powerless against the veterans of
Constantine, whom he led in person. The decisive battle was fought at
Chrysopolis, and Licinius retired to Nicomedia, but soon after abdicated,
and was banished to Thessalonica. There he was not long permitted to
remain, being executed by order of Constantine, one of the foul blots on
his memory and character.

The empire was now reunited under a single man, at the cost of
vast treasures and lives. The policy of Diocletian had only inaugurated
civil war. There is no empire so vast which can not be more easily
governed by one man than by two or four. It may be well for empires to be
subdivided, like that of Charlemagne, but it is impossible to prevent
civil wars when the power is shared equally by jealous rivals. It was
better for the Roman world to be united under Octavius, than divided
between him and Antony.

On the fall of Byzantium, Constantine was so struck with its
natural advantages, that he resolved to make it the capital of the empire.
Placed on the inner of two straits which connect the Euxine and the AEgean
with the Mediterranean, on the frontiers of both Europe and Asia, it
seemed to be the true centre of political power, while its position could
be itself rendered impregnable against any external enemy that threatened
the Roman world. The wisdom of the choice of Constantine, and his
unrivaled sagacity, were proved by the fact, that while Rome was
successively taken and sacked by Goths and Vandals, Constantinople
remained the capital of the eastern Roman empire for eleven continuous
centuries.

The reign of Constantine as sole emperor was marked by another
event, A.D. 325. which had a great influence on the subsequent condition
of the world in a moral and religious point of view, and this was the
famous Council of Nicaea, which assembled to settle points of faith and
discipline in the new religion which was now established throughout the
empire. It is called the first Ecumenical, or General Council, and was
attended by three hundred and eighteen bishops, with double the number of
presbyters, assembled from all parts of the Christian world. Here the
church and the empire met face to face. In this council the emperor left
the cares of State, and the command of armies, to preside over discussions
on the doctrine of the Trinity, as expounded by two great rival
parties,--one headed by Athanasius, then archdeacon, afterward archbishop
of Alexandria--the greatest theologian that had as yet appeared in the
church,--and the other by Arius, a simple presbyter of Alexandria, but a
man of subtle and commanding intellect. Arius maintained that the Son, the
second person of the Trinity, derived his being from the Father within the
limits of time, and was secondary to him in power and glory. Athanasius
maintained that the Son was co-eternal with the Father, and the same in
substance with the Father. This theological question had long been
discussed, and the church was divided between the two parties, each of
which exhibited extreme acrimony. Constantine leaned to the orthodox side,
although his most influential adviser, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, the
historian, inclined to the Arian view. But the emperor was more desirous
to secure peace and unity, than the ascendency of any dogma, and the
doctrine of Athanasius became the standard of faith, and has since
remained the creed of the church.

After the settlement of the faith of the church, now becoming the
great power of the world, the reign of Constantine was disgraced by a
domestic tragedy seldom paralleled in history. His son, Crispus, by a
low-born woman, conspicuous for talents and virtues, either inflamed the
jealousy of his father, or provoked him by a secret conspiracy. It has
never been satisfactorily settled whether he was a rival or a conspirator,
but he was accused, tried, and put to death, in the twentieth year of the
reign, while Constantine was celebrating at Rome the festival of his
vicennalia. After this bloody tragedy, for which he is generally
reproached, he took his final departure from Rome, and four years after,
the old capital was degraded to the rank of a secondary city, and
Constantinople was dedicated as the new capitol of the empire. From the
eastern promontory to the Golden Horn, the extreme length of
Constantinople was three Roman miles, and the circumference measured ten,
inclosing an area of two thousand acres, besides the suburbs. The new city
was divided into fourteen wards, and was ornamented with palaces, fora,
and churches. The church of St. Sophia was built on the site of an old
temple, and was in the form of a Greek cross, surmounted by a beautiful
and lofty dome. In a century afterward, Constantinople rivaled Rome in
magnificence. It had a capitol, a circus, two theatres, eight public
baths, fifty-two porticoes, eight aqueducts, four halls, and fourteen
churches, and four thousand three hundred and eighty-three large palatial
residences.

After the building of this new and beautiful city, Constantine
devoted himself to the internal regulation of the empire, which he divided
into four prefectures, subdivided into thirteen dioceses, each governed by
vicars or vice-prefects, who were styled counts and dukes. The provinces
were subdivided to the number of one hundred and sixteen. Three of these
were governed by proconsuls, thirty-seven by consuls, five by correctors,
and seventy-one by presidents, chosen from the legal profession, and
called clarissimi. The prefecture of the East embraced the Asiatic
provinces, together with Egypt, Thrace, and the lower Moesia; that of
Illyricum contained the countries between the Danube, the AEgean, and the
Adriatic; that of Italy extended over the Alps to the Danube; and that of
the Gauls embraced the western provinces beyond the Rhine and the Alps.

The military power was separated from the civil. There were two
master-generals, one of infantry, and the other of cavalry, afterward
increased to eight, under whom were thirty-five commanders, ten of whom
were counts, and twenty dukes. The legions were reduced from six thousand
to fifteen hundred men. Their number was one hundred and thirty-two, and
the complete force of the empire was six hundred and forty-five thousand,
holding five hundred and eighty-three permanent stations.

The ministers of the palace, who exercised different functions
about the presence of the emperor, were seven in number: the prefect of
the bed-chamber; a eunuch, who waited on the emperor; the master of
offices--the supreme magistrate of the palace; the quaestor--at the head of
the judicial administration, and who composed the orations and edicts of
the emperor; the treasurer, and two counts of domestics, who commanded the
body-guard.

The bishopric nearly corresponded with the civil divisions of the
empire, and the bishops had different ranks. We now observe archbishops
and metropolitans.

The new divisions complicated the machinery of government, and led to the
institution of many new offices, which greatly added to the expense of
government, for which taxation became more rigorous and oppressive. The
old constitution was completely subverted, and the emperor became an
Oriental monarch.

Constantine was called away from his labors of organization to
resist the ambition of Sapor II., when he died, at the age of sixty-four,
at his palace near Nicomedia, A.D. 337, after a memorable but tumultuous
reign--memorable for the recognition of Christianity as a State religion;
tumultuous, from civil wars and contests with barbarians. Constantinople,
not Rome, became the future capital of the empire.





Next: The Fall Of The Empire

Previous: The Climax Of The Roman Empire



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