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History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 online

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advance and conquer: are we feeble? we retire and are concealed. Should
the Turks confine themselves within the walls of cities, the loss of a
battle would be the destruction of their empire. The bonzes preach only
patience, humility, and the renunciation of the world. Such, O king! is
not the religion of heroes." They entertained, with less reluctance, the
doctrines of Zoroaster; but the greatest part of the nation acquiesced,
without inquiry, in the opinions, or rather in the practice, of their
ancestors. The honors of sacrifice were reserved for the supreme deity;
they acknowledged, in rude hymns, their obligations to the air, the
fire, the water, and the earth; and their priests derived some profit
from the art of divination. Their unwritten laws were rigorous and
impartial: theft was punished with a tenfold restitution; adultery,
treason, and murder, with death; and no chastisement could be inflicted
too severe for the rare and inexpiable guilt of cowardice. As the
subject nations marched under the standard of the Turks, their cavalry,
both men and horses, were proudly computed by millions; one of their
effective armies consisted of four hundred thousand soldiers, and in
less than fifty years they were connected in peace and war with the
Romans, the Persians, and the Chinese. In their northern limits, some
vestige may be discovered of the form and situation of Kamptchatka, of
a people of hunters and fishermen, whose sledges were drawn by dogs, and
whose habitations were buried in the earth. The Turks were ignorant of
astronomy; but the observation taken by some learned Chinese, with a
gnomon of eight feet, fixes the royal camp in the latitude of forty-nine
degrees, and marks their extreme progress within three, or at least ten
degrees, of the polar circle. Among their southern conquests the most
splendid was that of the Nephthalites, or white Huns, a polite and
warlike people, who possessed the commercial cities of Bochara and
Samarcand, who had vanquished the Persian monarch, and carried their
victorious arms along the banks, and perhaps to the mouth, of the
Indus. On the side of the West, the Turkish cavalry advanced to the Lake
Mæotis. They passed that lake on the ice. The khan who dwelt at the foot
of Mount Altai issued his commands for the siege of Bosphorus, a city
the voluntary subject of Rome, and whose princes had formerly been the
friends of Athens. To the east, the Turks invaded China, as often as
the vigor of the government was relaxed: and I am taught to read in the
history of the times, that they mowed down their patient enemies like
hemp or grass; and that the mandarins applauded the wisdom of an emperor
who repulsed these Barbarians with golden lances. This extent of savage
empire compelled the Turkish monarch to establish three subordinate
princes of his own blood, who soon forgot their gratitude and
allegiance. The conquerors were enervated by luxury, which is always
fatal except to an industrious people; the policy of China solicited
the vanquished nations to resume their independence and the power of the
Turks was limited to a period of two hundred years. The revival of their
name and dominion in the southern countries of Asia are the events of
a later age; and the dynasties, which succeeded to their native realms,
may sleep in oblivion; since _their_ history bears no relation to the
decline and fall of the Roman empire.

Chapter XLII: State Of The Barbaric World. - Part II.

In the rapid career of conquest, the Turks attacked and subdued the
nation of the Ogors or Varchonites on the banks of the River Til,
which derived the epithet of Black from its dark water or gloomy
forests. The khan of the Ogors was slain with three hundred thousand
of his subjects, and their bodies were scattered over the space of four
days' journey: their surviving countrymen acknowledged the strength and
mercy of the Turks; and a small portion, about twenty thousand warriors,
preferred exile to servitude. They followed the well-known road of the
Volga, cherished the error of the nations who confounded them with the
Avars, and spread the terror of that false though famous appellation,
which had not, however, saved its lawful proprietors from the yoke of
the Turks. After a long and victorious march, the new Avars arrived at
the foot of Mount Caucasus, in the country of the Alani and Circassians,
where they first heard of the splendor and weakness of the Roman empire.
They humbly requested their confederate, the prince of the Alani, to
lead them to this source of riches; and their ambassador, with the
permission of the governor of Lazica, was transported by the Euxine
Sea to Constantinople. The whole city was poured forth to behold with
curiosity and terror the aspect of a strange people: their long hair,
which hung in tresses down their backs, was gracefully bound with
ribbons, but the rest of their habit appeared to imitate the fashion of
the Huns. When they were admitted to the audience of Justinian, Candish,
the first of the ambassadors, addressed the Roman emperor in these
terms: "You see before you, O mighty prince, the representatives of the
strongest and most populous of nations, the invincible, the irresistible
Avars. We are willing to devote ourselves to your service: we are able
to vanquish and destroy all the enemies who now disturb your repose.
But we expect, as the price of our alliance, as the reward of our valor,
precious gifts, annual subsidies, and fruitful possessions." At the time
of this embassy, Justinian had reigned above thirty, he had lived
above seventy-five years: his mind, as well as his body, was feeble
and languid; and the conqueror of Africa and Italy, careless of the
permanent interest of his people, aspired only to end his days in the
bosom even of inglorious peace. In a studied oration, he imparted to
the senate his resolution to dissemble the insult, and to purchase the
friendship of the Avars; and the whole senate, like the mandarins
of China, applauded the incomparable wisdom and foresight of their
sovereign. The instruments of luxury were immediately prepared to
captivate the Barbarians; silken garments, soft and splendid beds, and
chains and collars incrusted with gold. The ambassadors, content with
such liberal reception, departed from Constantinople, and Valentin, one
of the emperor's guards, was sent with a similar character to their camp
at the foot of Mount Caucasus. As their destruction or their success
must be alike advantageous to the empire, he persuaded them to invade
the enemies of Rome; and they were easily tempted, by gifts and
promises, to gratify their ruling inclinations. These fugitives, who
fled before the Turkish arms, passed the Tanais and Borysthenes, and
boldly advanced into the heart of Poland and Germany, violating the
law of nations, and abusing the rights of victory. Before ten years
had elapsed, their camps were seated on the Danube and the Elbe, many
Bulgarian and Sclavonian names were obliterated from the earth, and the
remainder of their tribes are found, as tributaries and vassals, under
the standard of the Avars. The chagan, the peculiar title of their king,
still affected to cultivate the friendship of the emperor; and Justinian
entertained some thoughts of fixing them in Pannonia, to balance the
prevailing power of the Lombards. But the virtue or treachery of an Avar
betrayed the secret enmity and ambitious designs of their countrymen;
and they loudly complained of the timid, though jealous policy, of
detaining their ambassadors, and denying the arms which they had been
allowed to purchase in the capital of the empire.

Perhaps the apparent change in the dispositions of the emperors may be
ascribed to the embassy which was received from the conquerors of the
Avars. The immense distance which eluded their arms could not extinguish
their resentment: the Turkish ambassadors pursued the footsteps of
the vanquished to the Jaik, the Volga, Mount Caucasus, the Euxine
and Constantinople, and at length appeared before the successor of
Constantine, to request that he would not espouse the cause of
rebels and fugitives. Even commerce had some share in this remarkable
negotiation: and the Sogdoites, who were now the tributaries of the
Turks, embraced the fair occasion of opening, by the north of the
Caspian, a new road for the importation of Chinese silk into the Roman
empire. The Persian, who preferred the navigation of Ceylon, had stopped
the caravans of Bochara and Samarcand: their silk was contemptuously
burnt: some Turkish ambassadors died in Persia, with a suspicion of
poison; and the great khan permitted his faithful vassal Maniach, the
prince of the Sogdoites, to propose, at the Byzantine court, a treaty of
alliance against their common enemies. Their splendid apparel and rich
presents, the fruit of Oriental luxury, distinguished Maniach and his
colleagues from the rude savages of the North: their letters, in the
Scythian character and language, announced a people who had attained the
rudiments of science: they enumerated the conquests, they offered
the friendship and military aid of the Turks; and their sincerity was
attested by direful imprecations (if they were guilty of falsehood)
against their own head, and the head of Disabul their master. The Greek
prince entertained with hospitable regard the ambassadors of a remote
and powerful monarch: the sight of silk-worms and looms disappointed the
hopes of the Sogdoites; the emperor renounced, or seemed to renounce,
the fugitive Avars, but he accepted the alliance of the Turks; and the
ratification of the treaty was carried by a Roman minister to the foot
of Mount Altai. Under the successors of Justinian, the friendship of the
two nations was cultivated by frequent and cordial intercourse; the most
favored vassals were permitted to imitate the example of the great khan,
and one hundred and six Turks, who, on various occasions, had visited
Constantinople, departed at the same time for their native country. The
duration and length of the journey from the Byzantine court to Mount
Altai are not specified: it might have been difficult to mark a road
through the nameless deserts, the mountains, rivers, and morasses of
Tartary; but a curious account has been preserved of the reception of
the Roman ambassadors at the royal camp. After they had been purified
with fire and incense, according to a rite still practised under the
sons of Zingis, they were introduced to the presence of Disabul. In
a valley of the Golden Mountain, they found the great khan in his tent,
seated in a chair with wheels, to which a horse might be occasionally
harnessed. As soon as they had delivered their presents, which were
received by the proper officers, they exposed, in a florid oration, the
wishes of the Roman emperor, that victory might attend the arms of the
Turks, that their reign might be long and prosperous, and that a strict
alliance, without envy or deceit, might forever be maintained between
the two most powerful nations of the earth. The answer of Disabul
corresponded with these friendly professions, and the ambassadors were
seated by his side, at a banquet which lasted the greatest part of the
day: the tent was surrounded with silk hangings, and a Tartar liquor was
served on the table, which possessed at least the intoxicating qualities
of wine. The entertainment of the succeeding day was more sumptuous; the
silk hangings of the second tent were embroidered in various figures;
and the royal seat, the cups, and the vases, were of gold. A third
pavilion was supported by columns of gilt wood; a bed of pure and massy
gold was raised on four peacocks of the same metal: and before the
entrance of the tent, dishes, basins, and statues of solid silver, and
admirable art, were ostentatiously piled in wagons, the monuments of
valor rather than of industry. When Disabul led his armies against the
frontiers of Persia, his Roman allies followed many days the march of
the Turkish camp, nor were they dismissed till they had enjoyed their
precedency over the envoy of the great king, whose loud and intemperate
clamors interrupted the silence of the royal banquet. The power and
ambition of Chosroes cemented the union of the Turks and Romans,
who touched his dominions on either side: but those distant nations,
regardless of each other, consulted the dictates of interest, without
recollecting the obligations of oaths and treaties. While the successor
of Disabul celebrated his father's obsequies, he was saluted by the
ambassadors of the emperor Tiberius, who proposed an invasion of Persia,
and sustained, with firmness, the angry and perhaps the just reproaches
of that haughty Barbarian. "You see my ten fingers," said the great
khan, and he applied them to his mouth. "You Romans speak with as many
tongues, but they are tongues of deceit and perjury. To me you hold
one language, to my subjects another; and the nations are successively
deluded by your perfidious eloquence. You precipitate your allies
into war and danger, you enjoy their labors, and you neglect your
benefactors. Hasten your return, inform your master that a Turk is
incapable of uttering or forgiving falsehood, and that he shall speedily
meet the punishment which he deserves. While he solicits my friendship
with flattering and hollow words, he is sunk to a confederate of
my fugitive Varchonites. If I condescend to march against those
contemptible slaves, they will tremble at the sound of our whips; they
will be trampled, like a nest of ants, under the feet of my innumerable
cavalry. I am not ignorant of the road which they have followed to
invade your empire; nor can I be deceived by the vain pretence, that
Mount Caucasus is the impregnable barrier of the Romans. I know the
course of the Niester, the Danube, and the Hebrus; the most warlike
nations have yielded to the arms of the Turks; and from the rising to
the setting sun, the earth is my inheritance." Notwithstanding this
menace, a sense of mutual advantage soon renewed the alliance of
the Turks and Romans: but the pride of the great khan survived his
resentment; and when he announced an important conquest to his friend
the emperor Maurice, he styled himself the master of the seven races,
and the lord of the seven climates of the world.

Disputes have often arisen between the sovereigns of Asia for the title
of king of the world; while the contest has proved that it could not
belong to either of the competitors. The kingdom of the Turks was
bounded by the Oxus or Gihon; and _Touran_ was separated by that great
river from the rival monarchy of _Iran_, or Persia, which in a smaller
compass contained perhaps a larger measure of power and population. The
Persians, who alternately invaded and repulsed the Turks and the Romans,
were still ruled by the house of Sassan, which ascended the throne
three hundred years before the accession of Justinian. His contemporary,
Cabades, or Kobad, had been successful in war against the emperor
Anastasius; but the reign of that prince was distracted by civil and
religious troubles. A prisoner in the hands of his subjects, an exile
among the enemies of Persia, he recovered his liberty by prostituting
the honor of his wife, and regained his kingdom with the dangerous and
mercenary aid of the Barbarians, who had slain his father. His nobles
were suspicious that Kobad never forgave the authors of his expulsion,
or even those of his restoration. The people was deluded and inflamed by
the fanaticism of Mazdak, who asserted the community of women, and the
equality of mankind, whilst he appropriated the richest lands and
most beautiful females to the use of his sectaries. The view of these
disorders, which had been fomented by his laws and example, imbittered
the declining age of the Persian monarch; and his fears were increased
by the consciousness of his design to reverse the natural and customary
order of succession, in favor of his third and most favored son, so
famous under the names of Chosroes and Nushirvan. To render the youth
more illustrious in the eyes of the nations, Kobad was desirous that he
should be adopted by the emperor Justin: the hope of peace inclined
the Byzantine court to accept this singular proposal; and Chosroes might
have acquired a specious claim to the inheritance of his Roman parent.
But the future mischief was diverted by the advice of the quæstor
Proclus: a difficulty was started, whether the adoption should
be performed as a civil or military rite; the treaty was abruptly
dissolved; and the sense of this indignity sunk deep into the mind
of Chosroes, who had already advanced to the Tigris on his road to
Constantinople. His father did not long survive the disappointment of
his wishes: the testament of their deceased sovereign was read in the
assembly of the nobles; and a powerful faction, prepared for the event,
and regardless of the priority of age, exalted Chosroes to the throne of
Persia. He filled that throne during a prosperous period of forty-eight
years; and the Justice of Nushirvan is celebrated as the theme of
immortal praise by the nations of the East.

But the justice of kings is understood by themselves, and even by their
subjects, with an ample indulgence for the gratification of passion and
interest. The virtue of Chosroes was that of a conqueror, who, in the
measures of peace and war, is excited by ambition, and restrained by
prudence; who confounds the greatness with the happiness of a nation,
and calmly devotes the lives of thousands to the fame, or even the
amusement, of a single man. In his domestic administration, the just
Nushirvan would merit in our feelings the appellation of a tyrant. His
two elder brothers had been deprived of their fair expectations of the
diadem: their future life, between the supreme rank and the condition of
subjects, was anxious to themselves and formidable to their master: fear
as well as revenge might tempt them to rebel: the slightest evidence
of a conspiracy satisfied the author of their wrongs; and the repose of
Chosroes was secured by the death of these unhappy princes, with their
families and adherents. One guiltless youth was saved and dismissed by
the compassion of a veteran general; and this act of humanity, which was
revealed by his son, overbalanced the merit of reducing twelve nations
to the obedience of Persia. The zeal and prudence of Mebodes had fixed
the diadem on the head of Chosroes himself; but he delayed to attend the
royal summons, till he had performed the duties of a military review: he
was instantly commanded to repair to the iron tripod, which stood before
the gate of the palace, where it was death to relieve or approach the
victim; and Mebodes languished several days before his sentence was
pronounced, by the inflexible pride and calm ingratitude of the son
of Kobad. But the people, more especially in the East, is disposed to
forgive, and even to applaud, the cruelty which strikes at the loftiest
heads; at the slaves of ambition, whose voluntary choice has exposed
them to live in the smiles, and to perish by the frown, of a capricious
monarch. In the execution of the laws which he had no temptation to
violate; in the punishment of crimes which attacked his own dignity, as
well as the happiness of individuals; Nushirvan, or Chosroes, deserved
the appellation of _just_. His government was firm, rigorous, and
impartial. It was the first labor of his reign to abolish the dangerous
theory of common or equal possessions: the lands and women which the
sectaries of Mazdak has usurped were restored to their lawful owners;
and the temperate chastisement of the fanatics or impostors confirmed
the domestic rights of society. Instead of listening with blind
confidence to a favorite minister, he established four viziers over
the four great provinces of his empire, Assyria, Media, Persia, and
Bactriana. In the choice of judges, præfects, and counsellors, he strove
to remove the mask which is always worn in the presence of kings: he
wished to substitute the natural order of talents for the accidental
distinctions of birth and fortune; he professed, in specious language,
his intention to prefer those men who carried the poor in their bosoms,
and to banish corruption from the seat of justice, as dogs were excluded
from the temples of the Magi. The code of laws of the first Artaxerxes
was revived and published as the rule of the magistrates; but the
assurance of speedy punishment was the best security of their virtue.
Their behavior was inspected by a thousand eyes, their words were
overheard by a thousand ears, the secret or public agents of the
throne; and the provinces, from the Indian to the Arabian confines,
were enlightened by the frequent visits of a sovereign, who affected
to emulate his celestial brother in his rapid and salutary career.
Education and agriculture he viewed as the two objects most deserving of
his care. In every city of Persia orphans, and the children of the poor,
were maintained and instructed at the public expense; the daughters were
given in marriage to the richest citizens of their own rank, and the
sons, according to their different talents, were employed in mechanic
trades, or promoted to more honorable service. The deserted villages
were relieved by his bounty; to the peasants and farmers who were found
incapable of cultivating their lands, he distributed cattle, seed, and
the instruments of husbandry; and the rare and inestimable treasure of
fresh water was parsimoniously managed, and skilfully dispersed over the
arid territory of Persia. The prosperity of that kingdom was the effect
and evidence of his virtues; his vices are those of Oriental despotism;
but in the long competition between Chosroes and Justinian, the
advantage both of merit and fortune is almost always on the side of the

To the praise of justice Nushirvan united the reputation of knowledge;
and the seven Greek philosophers, who visited his court, were invited
and deceived by the strange assurance, that a disciple of Plato
was seated on the Persian throne. Did they expect, that a prince,
strenuously exercised in the toils of war and government, should
agitate, with dexterity like their own, the abstruse and profound
questions which amused the leisure of the schools of Athens? Could they
hope that the precepts of philosophy should direct the life, and control
the passions, of a despot, whose infancy had been taught to consider his
absolute and fluctuating will as the only rule of moral obligation? The
studies of Chosroes were ostentatious and superficial: but his example
awakened the curiosity of an ingenious people, and the light of science
was diffused over the dominions of Persia. At Gondi Sapor, in the
neighborhood of the royal city of Susa, an academy of physic was
founded, which insensibly became a liberal school of poetry, philosophy,
and rhetoric. The annals of the monarchy were composed; and while recent
and authentic history might afford some useful lessons both to the
prince and people, the darkness of the first ages was embellished by the
giants, the dragons, and the fabulous heroes of Oriental romance. Every
learned or confident stranger was enriched by the bounty, and flattered
by the conversation, of the monarch: he nobly rewarded a Greek
physician, by the deliverance of three thousand, captives; and the
sophists, who contended for his favor, were exasperated by the wealth
and insolence of Uranius, their more successful rival. Nushirvan
believed, or at least respected, the religion of the Magi; and some
traces of persecution may be discovered in his reign. Yet he allowed
himself freely to compare the tenets of the various sects; and the
theological disputes, in which he frequently presided, diminished the
authority of the priest, and enlightened the minds of the people. At his
command, the most celebrated writers of Greece and India were translated
into the Persian language; a smooth and elegant idiom, recommended by
Mahomet to the use of paradise; though it is branded with the epithets
of savage and unmusical, by the ignorance and presumption of Agathias.
Yet the Greek historian might reasonably wonder that it should be
found possible to execute an entire version of Plato and Aristotle in
a foreign dialect, which had not been framed to express the spirit of
freedom and the subtilties of philosophic disquisition. And, if the
reason of the Stagyrite might be equally dark, or equally intelligible
in every tongue, the dramatic art and verbal argumentation of the
disciple of Socrates, appear to be indissolubly mingled with the grace
and perfection of his Attic style. In the search of universal knowledge,

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 16 of 49)