Page images
PDF
EPUB

248

Commodus. flexible towards himself he was mild to the failings of others, and lamented that Avidius Caffius, the author and leader of a rebellion, had by a voluntary death withdrawn himself from his mercy. Though he regretted the calamities, and detested the ferocious features of war, he readily exposed himself to the dangers of it, nor was hę deterred by the severity of the climate from enduring, on the frozen banks of the Danube, the hardships of eight winter campaigns. But the weakness of his constitution was inferior to the strength of his mind, and his body funk at length beneath the accumulated pressure of inceflant fatigue ; yet his memory was revered by a grateful people, and his image, long after his death, was frequently preferyed among those of the houlehold gods.

CHA P. XLVII,

Commodus-His Tyranny-Pertinax~Why called the Tennisa

ball of Fortune.-The Empire exposed to sale-Didius Julianus--His laconic Speech to the Senate Is beheaded. -Severus-His despotic Government-His Expedition into Bria tain, where he builds a wall. Caracalla and Geta divide the Empire. Geta asasinated.-Caracalla murdered.Macrinus.--Heliogabalus,---His Female Senate.-His prodigality.-=Alexander's excellent Disposition. His Death.Maximin.-His gigantic size, und extraordinary appetite.

-His Tyranny.His Death. Pupienus, Balbinus, and Gordian put to death-Phillip celebrates the Secular Games, Is killed by a Sentinel.

HE inerits of Antoninus paved the way A. D. 186.

T.

the throne for Commodus; who was

acknowledged Emperor, first by the army, then by the senate and people, and Thortly after' by all the provinces. But though he owed the empire to the adoption of his supposed father, many were of opinion, that he was the {purious issue of a gladiator; his own conduct afterwards, and the wanton character of his mother Faustina, having, perhaps, given rile to the report.

“ If a manere called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed froin the death of Domitian to

the

the accession of Cominodus, *" a wretch, in whole mould
every sentiment of virtue and humanity was extinct. This
hated tyrant, after having oppressed his subjects thirteen
years, perished by poison, given him by his favourite con-
cubine Marcia.

The vacant throne was instantly filled by
Pertinax, præfect of the city, an ancient senator, A. D. 193.
of consular rank, whose conspicuous merit had
broke through the obscurity of his birth, and raised him to
the first honours of the state. The hafty zeal of this vir-
tuous prince to reform the corrupted state, proved fatal to
himself and his country. The soldiers dreading the strict-
ness of the ancient discipline, which he was preparing to
restore, and regretting the licentiousness of the former reign,
raised a general sedition; when, on the eighty-sixth day
only after the death of Cominodus, Pertinax fell by the
hand of one of his guards.

From the nuinber of his adventures, he was called the
Tennis-ball of Fortune : and certainly no man ever experi-
enced such a varicty of situations, with so blameless a cha-
racter.

The empire was now openly exposed to sale by the
prætorian guards, and purchased by Didius
Julianus. Upon being conducted to the senate- A. D. 192.
house, he addressed the few senators who were
present, in a very laconic speech. Fathers, you want an
emperor, and I am the fittest person you can choose. But
even this, short as it seems, was unneceffary, since the
senate had it not in their power to refuse their approbation.
His speech being backed by the army, to whom he had
given about a inillion of our money, succeeded. The
choice of the soldiers was confirmed by the senate, and
Didius was acknowledged emperor.

The provinces revolted; and new competitors offering
their claiins, Sevetus the highest bidder, was hailed Au-
gustus, and Didius Julianus was beheaded by a fentence of
the Senate, as a common criminal, after having purchased,
with an immense treafure, an anxious and precarious reiga
of only sixty-six days.

Having obtained the purple by ineans of
cruelty and bloodshed, Severus secured himself A. D. 193.
in the government, by inculcating the princi-
ples of despotisin, and passive obedience. His will was the
law of the empire. The fenate no longer poffered the
thadow of authority in the civil and military departinent;

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

*250

Caracalla and Geta. so that Severus may be considered as the principal author of the decline of the Roman empire. He made an expedition into Britain, in order to complete the long-attempted conquest of that island. In pursuing the enemy, his army fuffered most dreadful hardships. They were obliged to

hew their way through intricate forests, to drain extensive ''marshes, and form bridges over rapid rivers ; so that he loft

fifty thousand men by fatigue and fickness. However, he surmounted all these difficulties with unreinitting ardour; and prosecuted his successes with such vigour, that he compelled the enemy to sue for peace; which he granted upon their surrendering a considerable part of their country, together with all their arms and military preparations.

Having thus given peace to Britain, for its tetter security he built that famous wall, which still goes by his name, 'extending from Solway Frith, on the west, to the German ocean on the east.

It was eight feet broad, and twelve feet high, planted with towers, about a mile distant from e.ch other, and communicating by pipes of brass in the wall, which conveyed instructions from one garrison to another with incredible dispatch.

Severus died at York, in the sixty-fifth year of his age, and in the e ghteenth of a successful reign.

From this period the Roman empire gradually decayet, being haraffed on all sides by powerful invaders, and convulsedby the furious contests of domestic foes.

On the death of Severus, Caracalla and A. D. 211.

Geta, his fons, agreed to divide the empire.

Such a divided form of government would have proved a source of discord between the most affectionate brothers. It was impossible that it could long fubfift between two implacable enemies. It was visible that one only could reign, and that the other must fall. The unfortunate Geta was ailaffinated, and Caracalla, after a feries of cruelties, was inurdered in the fixth year of his reign. Such was the end of a monster, whose life disgraced human 'nature.

After the death of Caracalla the Roman orld remained three days without a inafter The prætorian guards confidered the power of bestowing it as almost a legal claim. The prudence of Adventus, the senior præfect, rejected the dangerous pre-eminence, and they were induced reluctantly to grant it to the craftv Macrinus, whom they neither loved nor esteemed. Heliogabalus, the natural son of Caracalla, foon fupplaated hiin, and he was put to death, after a ihort reign of

one year
and two months.

Helio

Heliogabalus was priest of a temple dedicated to the fun, in Einefa, a city of Phænicia; A.'D. 218. and though ut fourteen years old, was greatly loved by the army, for the beauty of his person, and the memory of his father, whoin they still considered as their greatest benefactor.

He was so partial to the ladies, that he built a senatehouse for women, with suitable orders, habits, and distinctions, of which his mother was made president. All their debates turned upon the failions of the day, and the different formalities to be used at giving and receiving visits *.

His prodigality was so boundless, that he always drefied in cloth ol gold and purple, en, iched with precious stones, and never wore the same habit twice. He was often heard to say, that such dishes as were cheaply obtaineil, were Scarce worth eating. His fuppers, therefore, generally cost fix thousand crowns, and often fixty thousand.

Having been persuaded by his grand-ınother to adopt his çoufin, Alexander, as his successor, Heliogabalus was foon after put to death by the foldiers, who threw his body into the Tiber, with heavy weights, that none might find it in order to give it burial.

Alexander was declared emperor without opposition. The fenate, with their usual adulation, A. D. 2:2. wished to confer new titles upon him; but he modely declined thein all, ailedging, that titles were then only honourable, when given to merit not to station. His liberality endeared him to the arıny, his virtues to the senate. But though he poflefled the titles and powers of imperial dignity, it was toon perceived, that the reins of government were held by the hands of two women, his mother Mamza, and his grandmother Mæla. This was the cause of his ruin. 'The foldiers openly exclained, that they were governed by an avaricious woman, and a mean-pirited boy, and resolved upon electing an emperor, capabie of ruling alone. Maximin, an old experienced commander, held conferences with the soldiers, and inilained the fedition. At length, being determined to dispatch their present emperor, they fent an executioner who iinmediately struck off his head; and shortly after that of his mother. He died in the twenty-ninth year of his age, after a prosperous reign of theirteen years and nine days; his death proving, that neither virtue nor justice can guard us against the misfortunes of this life ; and that good inen are to expect their reward in a place of more equitable distribution.

Maximin, who had been the chief promoter of Alexander's death, was chosen emperor. He was a peasant of Ilooke.

Thrace

Maximin.

Thrace, and, in the progress of the Emperor Severus through that province, was first elevated to royal notice, and approbation. His strength and skill displayed in wrestling and running, procured him permission to enlist among the troops; and his valour and strict attention to discipline advanced him, during the reign of Severus and his son, to the rank of centurion.

· He was of a gigantic size, being no less than eight feet and an half high; and, it is said, that he generally ate forty pounds of flesh every day, and drank fix gallons of wine.

His mind, uncultivated by literature, his appearance unpolished by the arts of civil life, were contrasted with the amiable manners of the unhappy Alexander ; and the tyrant, conscious of his own deficiences, and depending on the attachment of his soldiers, perfecuted with unrelenting cruelty the rest of mankind. Desirous of extirpating the remembrance of his original obscurity, he confounded in the same indiscriminate ruin, those who had spurned at his humbler fortunes, with thofe who had relieved his diftress and assisted his rising hopes. Magnus a consular senator, was accused of conspiring against him. Without even the form of a trial, Magnus was put to death, and four thousand of his supposed accomplices involved in his fate. The nobility of Rome, who had governed provinces, who had commanded armies, and triumphed as confuls, were sewed up in the hides of Naughtered animals, expofed to wild beafts, and beaten to death with clubs. From his camp on the Rhine or Danube, (for he scorned to visit Italy or Rome) he issued, in the language of_despotism, the unfeeling dictates of fanguinary barbarism, and trampled on every principle of law or justice, supported by the avowed power of his sword. As long as the cruelty of Maximin was confined to the senators of Rome, or the courtiers who attended him, the body of the people regarded it with indiffe- . rence; but their resentment was aroused as soon as the avarice of the tyrant attacked public property.

Being superseded by the election of Pupienus and Babinus, as joint Emperors, he passed the Alps, and entering Italy, he approached the city of Aquileia, which he was astonished to find prepared for the most obftinate resistance, and resolved to hold out a regular fiege. His first attempt was to take the city by storm; but the besieged threw down such quantities of scalding pitch and fulphur upon his soldiers, that they were unable to continue the assault. He then determined upon a blockade; but the inhabitants were so resolute, that even the old men and children were seen combating upon the walls, while the women cut off their hair, to furnish the soldiers with bow-strings. Maximin's rage, at this unexpected op

position,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »