Edward Gibbon.

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

. (page 3 of 49)
Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 3 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and Africa. A rigorous law, which was published at Constantinople, to
reduce the Arians by the dread of punishment within the pale of the
church, awakened the just resentment of Theodoric, who claimed for his
distressed brethren of the East the same indulgence which he had so long
granted to the Catholics of his dominions. At his stern command, the
Roman pontiff, with four _illustrious_ senators, embarked on an embassy,
of which he must have alike dreaded the failure or the success.
The singular veneration shown to the first pope who had visited
Constantinople was punished as a crime by his jealous monarch; the
artful or peremptory refusal of the Byzantine court might excuse an
equal, and would provoke a larger, measure of retaliation; and a mandate
was prepared in Italy, to prohibit, after a stated day, the exercise of
the Catholic worship. By the bigotry of his subjects and enemies, the
most tolerant of princes was driven to the brink of persecution; and the
life of Theodoric was too long, since he lived to condemn the virtue of
Boethius and Symmachus.

The senator Boethius is the last of the Romans whom Cato or Tully
could have acknowledged for their countryman. As a wealthy orphan,
he inherited the patrimony and honors of the Anician family, a name
ambitiously assumed by the kings and emperors of the age; and the
appellation of Manlius asserted his genuine or fabulous descent from
a race of consuls and dictators, who had repulsed the Gauls from the
Capitol, and sacrificed their sons to the discipline of the republic. In
the youth of Boethius the studies of Rome were not totally abandoned;
a Virgil is now extant, corrected by the hand of a consul; and the
professors of grammar, rhetoric, and jurisprudence, were maintained in
their privileges and pensions by the liberality of the Goths. But the
erudition of the Latin language was insufficient to satiate his ardent
curiosity: and Boethius is said to have employed eighteen laborious
years in the schools of Athens, which were supported by the zeal, the
learning, and the diligence of Proclus and his disciples. The reason and
piety of their Roman pupil were fortunately saved from the contagion
of mystery and magic, which polluted the groves of the academy; but
he imbibed the spirit, and imitated the method, of his dead and living
masters, who attempted to reconcile the strong and subtile sense of
Aristotle with the devout contemplation and sublime fancy of Plato.
After his return to Rome, and his marriage with the daughter of his
friend, the patrician Symmachus, Boethius still continued, in a palace
of ivory and marble, to prosecute the same studies. The church was
edified by his profound defence of the orthodox creed against the Arian,
the Eutychian, and the Nestorian heresies; and the Catholic unity was
explained or exposed in a formal treatise by the _indifference_ of three
distinct though consubstantial persons. For the benefit of his Latin
readers, his genius submitted to teach the first elements of the arts
and sciences of Greece. The geometry of Euclid, the music of Pythagoras,
the arithmetic of Nicomachus, the mechanics of Archimedes, the astronomy
of Ptolemy, the theology of Plato, and the logic of Aristotle, with
the commentary of Porphyry, were translated and illustrated by the
indefatigable pen of the Roman senator. And he alone was esteemed
capable of describing the wonders of art, a sun-dial, a water-clock,
or a sphere which represented the motions of the planets. From these
abstruse speculations, Boethius stooped, or, to speak more truly, he
rose to the social duties of public and private life: the indigent were
relieved by his liberality; and his eloquence, which flattery might
compare to the voice of Demosthenes or Cicero, was uniformly exerted in
the cause of innocence and humanity. Such conspicuous merit was felt
and rewarded by a discerning prince: the dignity of Boethius was adorned
with the titles of consul and patrician, and his talents were
usefully employed in the important station of master of the offices.
Notwithstanding the equal claims of the East and West, his two sons were
created, in their tender youth, the consuls of the same year. On the
memorable day of their inauguration, they proceeded in solemn pomp from
their palace to the forum amidst the applause of the senate and people;
and their joyful father, the true consul of Rome, after pronouncing an
oration in the praise of his royal benefactor, distributed a triumphal
largess in the games of the circus. Prosperous in his fame and fortunes,
in his public honors and private alliances, in the cultivation of
science and the consciousness of virtue, Boethius might have been styled
happy, if that precarious epithet could be safely applied before the
last term of the life of man.

A philosopher, liberal of his wealth and parsimonious of his time, might
be insensible to the common allurements of ambition, the thirst of
gold and employment. And some credit may be due to the asseveration of
Boethius, that he had reluctantly obeyed the divine Plato, who enjoins
every virtuous citizen to rescue the state from the usurpation of vice
and ignorance. For the integrity of his public conduct he appeals to
the memory of his country. His authority had restrained the pride
and oppression of the royal officers, and his eloquence had delivered
Paulianus from the dogs of the palace. He had always pitied, and often
relieved, the distress of the provincials, whose fortunes were exhausted
by public and private rapine; and Boethius alone had courage to oppose
the tyranny of the Barbarians, elated by conquest, excited by avarice,
and, as he complains, encouraged by impunity. In these honorable
contests his spirit soared above the consideration of danger, and
perhaps of prudence; and we may learn from the example of Cato, that a
character of pure and inflexible virtue is the most apt to be misled by
prejudice, to be heated by enthusiasm, and to confound private enmities
with public justice. The disciple of Plato might exaggerate the
infirmities of nature, and the imperfections of society; and the mildest
form of a Gothic kingdom, even the weight of allegiance and gratitude,
must be insupportable to the free spirit of a Roman patriot. But the
favor and fidelity of Boethius declined in just proportion with the
public happiness; and an unworthy colleague was imposed to divide and
control the power of the master of the offices. In the last gloomy
season of Theodoric, he indignantly felt that he was a slave; but as his
master had only power over his life, he stood without arms and without
fear against the face of an angry Barbarian, who had been provoked to
believe that the safety of the senate was incompatible with his own. The
senator Albinus was accused and already convicted on the presumption of
_hoping_, as it was said, the liberty of Rome. "If Albinus be criminal,"
exclaimed the orator, "the senate and myself are all guilty of the same
crime. If we are innocent, Albinus is equally entitled to the protection
of the laws." These laws might not have punished the simple and barren
wish of an unattainable blessing; but they would have shown less
indulgence to the rash confession of Boethius, that, had he known of a
conspiracy, the tyrant never should. The advocate of Albinus was soon
involved in the danger and perhaps the guilt of his client; their
signature (which they denied as a forgery) was affixed to the original
address, inviting the emperor to deliver Italy from the Goths; and three
witnesses of honorable rank, perhaps of infamous reputation, attested
the treasonable designs of the Roman patrician. Yet his innocence
must be presumed, since he was deprived by Theodoric of the means of
justification, and rigorously confined in the tower of Pavia, while the
senate, at the distance of five hundred miles, pronounced a sentence of
confiscation and death against the most illustrious of its members. At
the command of the Barbarians, the occult science of a philosopher was
stigmatized with the names of sacrilege and magic. A devout and dutiful
attachment to the senate was condemned as criminal by the trembling
voices of the senators themselves; and their ingratitude deserved the
wish or prediction of Boethius, that, after him, none should be found
guilty of the same offence.

While Boethius, oppressed with fetters, expected each moment the
sentence or the stroke of death, he composed, in the tower of Pavia, the
_Consolation of Philosophy_; a golden volume not unworthy of the
leisure of Plato or Tully, but which claims incomparable merit from the
barbarism of the times and the situation of the author. The celestial
guide, whom he had so long invoked at Rome and Athens, now condescended
to illumine his dungeon, to revive his courage, and to pour into his
wounds her salutary balm. She taught him to compare his long prosperity
and his recent distress, and to conceive new hopes from the inconstancy
of fortune. Reason had informed him of the precarious condition of her
gifts; experience had satisfied him of their real value; he had enjoyed
them without guilt; he might resign them without a sigh, and calmly
disdain the impotent malice of his enemies, who had left him happiness,
since they had left him virtue. From the earth, Boethius ascended
to heaven in search of the Supreme Good; explored the metaphysical
labyrinth of chance and destiny, of prescience and free will, of
time and eternity; and generously attempted to reconcile the perfect
attributes of the Deity with the apparent disorders of his moral and
physical government. Such topics of consolation so obvious, so vague, or
so abstruse, are ineffectual to subdue the feelings of human nature. Yet
the sense of misfortune may be diverted by the labor of thought; and the
sage who could artfully combine in the same work the various riches
of philosophy, poetry, and eloquence, must already have possessed the
intrepid calmness which he affected to seek. Suspense, the worst of
evils, was at length determined by the ministers of death, who executed,
and perhaps exceeded, the inhuman mandate of Theodoric. A strong cord
was fastened round the head of Boethius, and forcibly tightened, till
his eyes almost started from their sockets; and some mercy may be
discovered in the milder torture of beating him with clubs till he
expired. But his genius survived to diffuse a ray of knowledge over the
darkest ages of the Latin world; the writings of the philosopher were
translated by the most glorious of the English kings, and the third
emperor of the name of Otho removed to a more honorable tomb the bones
of a Catholic saint, who, from his Arian persecutors, had acquired the
honors of martyrdom, and the fame of miracles. In the last hours of
Boethius, he derived some comfort from the safety of his two sons, of
his wife, and of his father-in-law, the venerable Symmachus. But the
grief of Symmachus was indiscreet, and perhaps disrespectful: he had
presumed to lament, he might dare to revenge, the death of an injured
friend. He was dragged in chains from Rome to the palace of Ravenna; and
the suspicions of Theodoric could only be appeased by the blood of an
innocent and aged senator.

Humanity will be disposed to encourage any report which testifies the
jurisdiction of conscience and the remorse of kings; and philosophy is
not ignorant that the most horrid spectres are sometimes created by the
powers of a disordered fancy, and the weakness of a distempered body.
After a life of virtue and glory, Theodoric was now descending with
shame and guilt into the grave; his mind was humbled by the contrast of
the past, and justly alarmed by the invisible terrors of futurity. One
evening, as it is related, when the head of a large fish was served
on the royal table, he suddenly exclaimed, that he beheld the angry
countenance of Symmachus, his eyes glaring fury and revenge, and his
mouth armed with long sharp teeth, which threatened to devour him. The
monarch instantly retired to his chamber, and, as he lay, trembling
with aguish cold, under a weight of bed-clothes, he expressed, in broken
murmurs to his physician Elpidius, his deep repentance for the murders
of Boethius and Symmachus. His malady increased, and after a dysentery
which continued three days, he expired in the palace of Ravenna, in
the thirty-third, or, if we compute from the invasion of Italy, in the
thirty-seventh year of his reign. Conscious of his approaching end, he
divided his treasures and provinces between his two grandsons, and fixed
the Rhone as their common boundary. Amalaric was restored to the
throne of Spain. Italy, with all the conquests of the Ostrogoths, was
bequeathed to Athalaric; whose age did not exceed ten years, but who
was cherished as the last male offspring of the line of Amali, by the
short-lived marriage of his mother Amalasuntha with a royal fugitive of
the same blood. In the presence of the dying monarch, the Gothic chiefs
and Italian magistrates mutually engaged their faith and loyalty to
the young prince, and to his guardian mother; and received, in the same
awful moment, his last salutary advice, to maintain the laws, to love
the senate and people of Rome, and to cultivate with decent reverence
the friendship of the emperor. The monument of Theodoric was erected by
his daughter Amalasuntha, in a conspicuous situation, which commanded
the city of Ravenna, the harbor, and the adjacent coast. A chapel of
a circular form, thirty feet in diameter, is crowned by a dome of one
entire piece of granite: from the centre of the dome four columns arose,
which supported, in a vase of porphyry, the remains of the Gothic king,
surrounded by the brazen statues of the twelve apostles. His spirit,
after some previous expiation, might have been permitted to mingle with
the benefactors of mankind, if an Italian hermit had not been witness,
in a vision, to the damnation of Theodoric, whose soul was plunged, by
the ministers of divine vengeance, into the volcano of Lipari, one of
the flaming mouths of the infernal world.

Chapter XL: Reign Of Justinian. - Part I.

Elevation Of Justin The Elder. - Reign Of Justinian. - I. The
Empress Theodora. - II. Factions Of The Circus, And Sedition
Of Constantinople. - III. Trade And Manufacture Of Silk. - IV.
Finances And Taxes. - V. Edifices Of Justinian. - Church Of
St. Sophia. - Fortifications And Frontiers Of The Eastern
Empire. - Abolition Of The Schools Of Athens, And The
Consulship Of Rome.

The emperor Justinian was born near the ruins of Sardica, (the modern
Sophia,) of an obscure race of Barbarians, the inhabitants of a wild
and desolate country, to which the names of Dardania, of Dacia, and of
Bulgaria, have been successively applied. His elevation was prepared by
the adventurous spirit of his uncle Justin, who, with two other peasants
of the same village, deserted, for the profession of arms, the more
useful employment of husbandmen or shepherds. On foot, with a scanty
provision of biscuit in their knapsacks, the three youths followed the
high road of Constantinople, and were soon enrolled, for their strength
and stature, among the guards of the emperor Leo. Under the two
succeeding reigns, the fortunate peasant emerged to wealth and
honors; and his escape from some dangers which threatened his life was
afterwards ascribed to the guardian angel who watches over the fate of
kings. His long and laudable service in the Isaurian and Persian wars
would not have preserved from oblivion the name of Justin; yet they
might warrant the military promotion, which in the course of fifty years
he gradually obtained; the rank of tribune, of count, and of general;
the dignity of senator, and the command of the guards, who obeyed him
as their chief, at the important crisis when the emperor Anastasius
was removed from the world. The powerful kinsmen whom he had raised and
enriched were excluded from the throne; and the eunuch Amantius, who
reigned in the palace, had secretly resolved to fix the diadem on the
head of the most obsequious of his creatures. A liberal donative, to
conciliate the suffrage of the guards, was intrusted for that purpose
in the hands of their commander. But these weighty arguments were
treacherously employed by Justin in his own favor; and as no competitor
presumed to appear, the Dacian peasant was invested with the purple
by the unanimous consent of the soldiers, who knew him to be brave and
gentle, of the clergy and people, who believed him to be orthodox, and
of the provincials, who yielded a blind and implicit submission to
the will of the capital. The elder Justin, as he is distinguished from
another emperor of the same family and name, ascended the Byzantine
throne at the age of sixty-eight years; and, had he been left to his own
guidance, every moment of a nine years' reign must have exposed to his
subjects the impropriety of their choice. His ignorance was similar to
that of Theodoric; and it is remarkable that in an age not destitute
of learning, two contemporary monarchs had never been instructed in the
knowledge of the alphabet. But the genius of Justin was far inferior
to that of the Gothic king: the experience of a soldier had not
qualified him for the government of an empire; and though personally
brave, the consciousness of his own weakness was naturally attended with
doubt, distrust, and political apprehension. But the official business
of the state was diligently and faithfully transacted by the quæstor
Proclus; and the aged emperor adopted the talents and ambition of his
nephew Justinian, an aspiring youth, whom his uncle had drawn from the
rustic solitude of Dacia, and educated at Constantinople, as the heir of
his private fortune, and at length of the Eastern empire.

Since the eunuch Amantius had been defrauded of his money, it became
necessary to deprive him of his life. The task was easily accomplished
by the charge of a real or fictitious conspiracy; and the judges were
informed, as an accumulation of guilt, that he was secretly addicted to
the Manichæan heresy. Amantius lost his head; three of his companions,
the first domestics of the palace, were punished either with death or
exile; and their unfortunate candidate for the purple was cast into a
deep dungeon, overwhelmed with stones, and ignominiously thrown, without
burial, into the sea. The ruin of Vitalian was a work of more difficulty
and danger. That Gothic chief had rendered himself popular by the civil
war which he boldly waged against Anastasius for the defence of the
orthodox faith, and after the conclusion of an advantageous treaty, he
still remained in the neighborhood of Constantinople at the head of a
formidable and victorious army of Barbarians. By the frail security of
oaths, he was tempted to relinquish this advantageous situation, and
to trust his person within the walls of a city, whose inhabitants,
particularly the _blue_ faction, were artfully incensed against him
by the remembrance even of his pious hostilities. The emperor and his
nephew embraced him as the faithful and worthy champion of the church
and state; and gratefully adorned their favorite with the titles of
consul and general; but in the seventh month of his consulship, Vitalian
was stabbed with seventeen wounds at the royal banquet; and Justinian,
who inherited the spoil, was accused as the assassin of a spiritual
brother, to whom he had recently pledged his faith in the participation
of the Christian mysteries. After the fall of his rival, he was
promoted, without any claim of military service, to the office of
master-general of the Eastern armies, whom it was his duty to lead
into the field against the public enemy. But, in the pursuit of fame,
Justinian might have lost his present dominion over the age and weakness
of his uncle; and instead of acquiring by Scythian or Persian trophies
the applause of his countrymen, the prudent warrior solicited their
favor in the churches, the circus, and the senate, of Constantinople.
The Catholics were attached to the nephew of Justin, who, between the
Nestorian and Eutychian heresies, trod the narrow path of inflexible and
intolerant orthodoxy. In the first days of the new reign, he prompted
and gratified the popular enthusiasm against the memory of the deceased
emperor. After a schism of thirty-four years, he reconciled the proud
and angry spirit of the Roman pontiff, and spread among the Latins a
favorable report of his pious respect for the apostolic see. The thrones
of the East were filled with Catholic bishops, devoted to his interest,
the clergy and the monks were gained by his liberality, and the people
were taught to pray for their future sovereign, the hope and pillar of
the true religion. The magnificence of Justinian was displayed in the
superior pomp of his public spectacles, an object not less sacred
and important in the eyes of the multitude than the creed of Nice or
Chalcedon: the expense of his consulship was esteemed at two hundred and
twenty-eight thousand pieces of gold; twenty lions, and thirty leopards,
were produced at the same time in the amphitheatre, and a numerous train
of horses, with their rich trappings, was bestowed as an extraordinary
gift on the victorious charioteers of the circus. While he indulged the
people of Constantinople, and received the addresses of foreign kings,
the nephew of Justin assiduously cultivated the friendship of the
senate. That venerable name seemed to qualify its members to declare
the sense of the nation, and to regulate the succession of the Imperial
throne: the feeble Anastasius had permitted the vigor of government
to degenerate into the form or substance of an aristocracy; and the
military officers who had obtained the senatorial rank were followed by
their domestic guards, a band of veterans, whose arms or acclamations
might fix in a tumultuous moment the diadem of the East. The treasures
of the state were lavished to procure the voices of the senators, and
their unanimous wish, that he would be pleased to adopt Justinian for
his colleague, was communicated to the emperor. But this request, which
too clearly admonished him of his approaching end, was unwelcome to the
jealous temper of an aged monarch, desirous to retain the power which
he was incapable of exercising; and Justin, holding his purple with both
his hands, advised them to prefer, since an election was so profitable,
some older candidate. Not withstanding this reproach, the
senate proceeded to decorate Justinian with the royal epithet of
_nobilissimus_; and their decree was ratified by the affection or the
fears of his uncle. After some time the languor of mind and body, to
which he was reduced by an incurable wound in his thigh, indispensably
required the aid of a guardian. He summoned the patriarch and senators;
and in their presence solemnly placed the diadem on the head of his
nephew, who was conducted from the palace to the circus, and saluted
by the loud and joyful applause of the people. The life of Justin was
prolonged about four months; but from the instant of this ceremony, he
was considered as dead to the empire, which acknowledged Justinian, in
the forty-fifth year of his age, for the lawful sovereign of the East.

From his elevation to his death, Justinian governed the Roman empire
thirty-eight years, seven months, and thirteen days. The events of his
reign, which excite our curious attention by their number, variety, and
importance, are diligently related by the secretary of Belisarius, a
rhetorician, whom eloquence had promoted to the rank of senator and
præfect of Constantinople. According to the vicissitudes of courage or
servitude, of favor or disgrace, Procopius successively composed the
_history_, the _panegyric_, and the _satire_ of his own times. The eight
books of the Persian, Vandalic, and Gothic wars, which are continued
in the five books of Agathias, deserve our esteem as a laborious and
successful imitation of the Attic, or at least of the Asiatic, writers
of ancient Greece. His facts are collected from the personal experience
and free conversation of a soldier, a statesman, and a traveller; his
style continually aspires, and often attains, to the merit of strength
and elegance; his reflections, more especially in the speeches, which he
too frequently inserts, contain a rich fund of political knowledge;
and the historian, excited by the generous ambition of pleasing and
instructing posterity, appears to disdain the prejudices of the people,
and the flattery of courts. The writings of Procopius were read and
applauded by his contemporaries: but, although he respectfully laid them

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 3 of 49)