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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times|
Gaul Under Roman Dominion.
by Guizot, M.
|From the conquest of Gaul by Caesar, to the establishment there of the Franks under Clovis, she remained for more than five centuries under Roman dominion; first under the pagan, afterwards under the Christian empire. In her primitive state of independence she had struggled for ten years against the best armies and the greatest man of Rome; after five centuries of Roman dominion she opposed no resistance to the invasion of the barbarians, Germans, Goths, Alans, Burgundians, and Franks, who destroyed bit by bit the Roman empire. In this humiliation and, one might say, annihilation of a population so independent, so active, and so valiant at its first appearance in history, is to be seen the characteristic of this long epoch. It is worth while to learn and to understand how it was.
Gaul lived, during those five centuries, under very different rules and rulers. They may be summed up under five names, which correspond with governments very unequal in merit and defect, in good and evil wrought for their epoch:
1st, the Caesars from Julius to Nero (from 49 B.C. to A.D. 68); 2d, the Flavians, from Vespasian to Domitian (from A.D. 69 to 95); 3d, the Antonines, from Nerva to Marcus Aurelius (from A.D. 96 to 180); 4th, the imperial anarchy, or the thirty-nine emperors and the thirty-one tyrants, from Commodus to Carinus and Numerian (from A.D. 180 to 284); 5th, Diocletian (from A.D. 284 to 305).
Through all these governments, and in spite of their different results for their contemporary subjects, the fact already pointed out as the general and definitive characteristic of that long epoch, to wit, the moral and social decadence of Gaul as well as of the Roman empire, never ceased to continue and spread.
On quitting conquered Gaul to become master at Rome, Caesar neglected nothing to assure his conquest and make it conducive to the establishment of his empire. He formed, of all the Gallic districts that he had subjugated, a special province which received the name of Gallia Comata (Gaul of the long-hair), whilst the old province was called Gallia Toyata (Gaul of the toga). Caesar caused to be enrolled amongst his troops a multitude of Gauls, Belgians, Arvernians, and Aquitanians, of whose bravery he had made proof. He even formed, almost entirely of Gauls, a special legion called Alauda (lark), because it bore on the helmets a lark with outspread wings, the symbol of wakefulness. At the same time he gave in Gallia Comata, to the towns and families that declared for him, all kinds of favors, the rights of Roman citizenship, the title of allies, clients, and friends, even to the extent of the Julian name, a sign of the most powerful Roman patronage. He had, however, in the old Roman province, formidable enemies, especially the town of Marseilles, which declared against him and for Pompey. Caesar had the place besieged by one of his lieutenants, got possession of it, caused to be delivered over to him its vessels and treasure, and left in it a garrison of two legions. He established at Narbonne, Arles, Biterrce (Beziers) three colonies of veteran legionaries devoted to his cause, and near Antipolis (Antibes) a maritime colony called Forum Julii, nowadays Frejus, of which he proposed to make a rival to Marseilles. Much money was necessary to meet the expenses of such patronage and to satisfy the troops, old and new, of the conqueror of Gaul and Rome. Now there was at Rome an ancient treasure, founded more than four centuries previously by the Dictator Camillus, when he had delivered Rome from the Gauls—a treasure reserved for the expenses of Gallic wars, and guarded with religious respect as sacred money. In the midst of all discords and disorders at Rome, none had touched it. After his return from Gaul, Caesar one day ascended the Capitol with his soldiers, and finding, in the temple of Saturn, the door closed of the place where the treasure was deposited, ordered it to be forced. L. Metellus, tribune of the people, made strong opposition, conjuring Caesar not to bring on the Republic the penalty of such sacrilege: but "the Republic has nothing to fear," said Caesar; "I have released it from its oaths by subjugating Gaul. There are no more Gauls." He caused the door to be forced, and the treasure was abstracted and distributed to the troops, Gallic and Roman. Whatever Caesar may have said, there were still Gauls, for at the same time that he was distributing to such of them as he had turned into his own soldiers the money reserved for the expense of fighting them, he was imposing upon Gallia Comata, under the name of stipendium (soldier's pay), a levy of forty millions of sesterces—a considerable amount for a devastated country which, according to Plutarch, did not contain at that time more than three millions of inhabitants, and almost equal to that of the levies paid by the rest of the Roman provinces.
After Caesar, Augustus, left sole master of the Roman world, assumed in Gaul, as elsewhere, the part of pacificator, repairer, conservator, and organizer, whilst taking care, with all his moderation, to remain always the master. He divided the provinces into imperial and senatorial, reserving to himself the entire government of the former, and leaving the latter under the authority of the senate. Gaul "of the long hair," all that Caesar had conquered, was imperial province. Augustus divided it into three provinces, Lugdunensian (Lyonese), Belgian, and Aquitanian. He recognized therein sixty nations or distinct cityships which continued to have themselves the government of their own affairs, according to their traditions and manners, whilst conforming to the general laws of the empire, and abiding under the supervision of imperial governors, charged with maintaining everywhere, in the words of Pliny the Younger, "the majesty of Roman peace." Luydunum (Lyons), which had been up to that time of small importance and obscure, became the great town, the favorite cityship and ordinary abiding-place of the emperors when they visited Gaul. After having held at Narbonne (27 B.C.) a meeting of representatives from the different Gallic nations, Augustus went several times to Lyons, and even lived there, as it appears, a pretty long while, to superintend, no doubt, from thence, and to get into working order the new government of Gaul. After the departure of Augustus, his adopted son Drusus, who had just fulfilled, in Belgica and on the Rhine, a mission at the same time military and administrative, called together at Lyons delegates from the sixty Gallic cityships, to take part (B.C.12 or 10) in the inauguration of a magnificent monument raised, at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone, in honor of Rome and Augustus as the tutelary deities of Gaul. In the middle of a vast enclosure was placed a huge altar of white marble, on which were engraved the names of the sixty cityships "of the long hair." A colossal statue of the Gauls and sixty statues of the Gallic cityships occupied the enclosure. Two columns of granite, twenty-five feet high, stood close by the altar, and were surmounted by two colossal Victories, in white marble, ten feet high. Solemn festivals, gymnastic games, and oratorical and literary exercitations accompanied the inauguration; and during the ceremony it was announced, amidst popular acclamation, that a son had just been born to Drusus at Lyons itself, in the palace of the emperor, where the child's mother, Antonia, daughter of Marc Antony and Octavia (sister of Augustus), had been staying for some months. This child was one day to be the emperor Claudius.
The administrative energy of Augustus was not confined to the erection of monuments and to festivals; he applied himself to the development in Gaul of the material elements of civilization and social order. His most intimate and able adviser, Agrippa, being settled at Lyons as governor of the Gauls, caused to be opened four great roads, starting from a milestone placed in the middle of the Lyonnese forum, and going, one centrewards to Saintes and the ocean, another southwards to Narbonne and the Pyrenees, the third north-westwards and towards the Channel by Amiens and Boulogne, and the fourth north-westwards and towards the Rhine. Agrippa founded several colonies, amongst others Cologne, which bore his name; and he admitted to Gallic territory bands of Germans who asked for an establishment there. Thanks to public security, Romans became proprietors in the Gallic provinces and introduced to them Italian cultivation. The Gallic chieftains, on their side, began to cultivate lands which had become their personal property. Towns were built or grew apace and became encircled by ramparts, under protection of which the populations came and placed themselves. The most learned and attentive observer of nature and Roman society, Pliny the Elder, attests that under Augustus Gallic agriculture and industry made vast progress.
But side by side with this work in the cause of civilization and organization, Augustus and his Roman agents were pursuing a work of quite a contrary tendency. They labored to extirpate from Gaul the spirit of nationality, independence, and freedom; they took every pains to efface everywhere Gallic memories and sentiments. Gallic towns were losing their old and receiving Roman names: Augustonemetum, Augusta, and Augustodunum took the place of Gergovia, Noviodunum, and Bibracte. The national Gallic religion, which was Druidism, was attacked as well as the Gallic fatherland, with the same design and by the same means; at one time Augustus prohibited this worship amongst the Gauls converted into Roman citizens, as being contrary to Roman belief; at another Roman Paganism and Gallic Druidism were fused together in the same temples and at the same altars, as if to fuse them in the same common indifference; Roman and Gallic names became applied to the same religious personification of such and such a fact or such and such an idea; Mars and Camul were equally the god of war; Belen and Apollo the god of light and healing; Diana and Arduinna the goddess of the chase. Everywhere, whether it was a question of the terrestrial fatherland or of religious faith, the old moral machinery of the Gauls was broken up or condemned to rust, and no new moral machinery was allowed to replace it; it was everywhere Roman and imperial authority that was substituted for the free, national action of the Gauls.
It is incredible that this hostility on the part of the powers that be towards moral sentiments, and this absence of freedom, should not have gravely compromised the material interest of the Gallic population. Public administration, however extensive its organization and energy, if it be not under the superintendence and restraint of public freedom and morality, soon falls into monstrous abuses, which itself is either ignorant of or wittingly suffers. Examples of this evil, inherent in despotism, abound even under the intelligent and watchful sway of Augustus. Here is a case in point. He had appointed as procurator, that is, financial commissioner, in "long-haired" Gaul, a native who, having been originally a slave and afterwards set free by Julius Caesar, had taken the Roman name of Licinius. This man gave himself up, during his administration, to a course of the most shameless extortion. The taxes were collected monthly; and so, taking advantage of the change of name which flattery had caused in the two months of July and August, sacred to Julius Caesar and Augustus respectively, he made his year consist of fourteen months, so that he might squeeze out fourteen contributions instead of twelve. "December," said he, "is surely, as its name indicates, the tenth month of the year," and he added thereto, in honor of the emperor, two others which he called the eleventh and twelfth. During one of the trips which Augustus made into Gaul, strong complaints were made against Licinius, and his robberies were denounced to the emperor. Augustus dared not support him, and seemed upon the point of deciding to bring him to justice, when Licinius conducted him to the place where was deposited all the treasure he had extorted, and, "See, my lord," said he, "what I have laid up for thee and for the Roman people, for fear lest the Gauls possessing so much gold should employ it against you both; for thee I have kept it, and to thee I deliver it." (Thierry, Histoire des Gaulois, t. iii. p. 295; Clerjon, Histoire de Lyon, t. i. p. 178-180.) Augustus accepted the treasure, and Licinius remained unpunished. In the case of financial abuses or other acts, absolute power seldom resists such temptations.
We may hear it said, and we may read in the writings of certain modern philosophers and scholars, that the victorious despotism of the Roman empire was a necessary and salutary step in advance, and that it brought about the unity and enfranchisement of the human race. Believe it not. There is mingled good and evil in all the events and governments of this world, and good often arises side by side with or in the wake of evil, but it is never from the evil that the good comes; injustice and tyranny have never produced good fruits. Be assured that whenever they have the dominion, whenever the moral rights and personal liberties of men are trodden under foot by material force, be it barbaric or be it scientific, there can result only prolonged evils and deplorable obstacles to the return of moral right and moral force, which, God be thanked, can never he obliterated from the nature and the history of man. The despotic imperial administration upheld for a long while the Roman empire, and not without renown; but it corrupted, enervated, and impoverished the Roman populations, and left them, after five centuries, as incapable of defending themselves as they were of governing.
Tiberius pursued in Gaul, but with less energy and less care for the provincial administration, the pacific and moderate policy of Augustus. He had to extinguish in Belgica, and even in the Lyonnese province, two insurrections kindled by the sparks that remained of national and Druidic spirit. He repressed them effectually, and without any violent display of vengeance. He made a trip to Gaul, took measures, quite insufficient, however, for defending the Rhine frontier from the incessantly repeated incursions of the Germans, and hastened back to Italy to resume the course of suspicion, perfidy, and cruelty which he pursued against the republican pride and moral dignity remaining amongst a few remnants of the Roman senate. He was succeeded by Germanicus' unworthy son, Caligula. After a few days of hypocrisy on the part of the emperor, and credulous hope on that of the people, they found a madman let loose to take the place of an unfathomable and gloomy tyrant. Caligula was much taken up with Gaul, plundering it and giving free rein in it to his frenzies, by turns disgusting or ridiculous. In a short and fruitless campaign on the banks of the Rhine, he had made too few prisoners for the pomp of a triumph; he therefore took some Gauls, the tallest he could find, of triumphal size, as he said, put them in German clothes, made them learn some Teutonic words, and sent them away to Rome to await in prison his return and his ovation. Lyons, where he staid some time, was the scene of his extortions and strangest freaks. He was playing at dice one day with some of his courtiers, and lost; he rose, sent for the tax-list of the province, marked down for death and confiscation some of those who were most highly rated, and said to the company, "You people, you play for a few drachmas; but as for me, I have just won by a single throw one hundred and fifty millions." At the rumor of a plot hatched against him in Italy, by some Roman nobles, he sent for and sold, publicly, their furniture, jewels, and slaves. As the sale was a success, he extended it to the old furniture of his own palaces in Italy: "I wish to fit out the Gauls," said he; "it is a mark of friendship I owe to the brave performed the part Roman people." He himself, at these sales, performed the part of salesman and auctioneer, telling the history of each article to enhance the price. "This belonged to my father, Germanicus; that comes to me from Agrippa; this vase is Egyptian, it was Antony's, Augustus took it at the battle of Actium." The imperial sales were succeeded by literary games, at which the losers had to pay the expenses of the prizes, and celebrate, in verse or prose, the praises of the winners; and if their compositions were pronounced bad, they were bound to wipe them out with a sponge or even with their tongues, unless they preferred to be beaten with a rod or soused in the Rhone. One day, when Caligula, in the character of Jupiter, was seated at his tribunal and delivering oracles in the middle of the public thoroughfare, a man of the people remained motionless in front of him, with eyes of astonishment fixed upon him. "What seem I to thee?" asked the emperor, flattered, no doubt, by this attention of the mob. "A great monstrosity," answered the Gaul. And that, at the end of about four years, was the universal cry: and against a mad emperor the only resource of the Roman world was at that time assassination. The captain of Caligula's guards rid Rome and the provinces of him.
He did just one sensible and useful thing during the whole of his stay in Gaul: he had a light-house constructed to illumine the passage between Gaul and Great Britain. Some traces of it, they say, have been discovered.
His successor, Claudius, brother of the great Germanicus, and married to his own niece, the second Agrippina, was, as has been already stated, born at Lyons, at the very moment when his father, Drusus, was celebrating there the erection of an altar to Augustus. During his whole reign he showed to the city of his birth the most lively good-will, and the constant aim as well as principal result of this good-will was to render the city of Lyons more and more Roman by effacing all Gallic characteristics and memories. She was endowed with Roman rights, monuments, and names, the most important or the most ostentatious; she became the colony supereminently, the great municipal town of the Gauls, the Claudian town; but she lost what had remained of her old municipal government, that is of her administrative and commercial independence. Nor was she the only one in Gaul to experience the good-will of Claudius. This emperor, the mark of scorn from his infancy, whom his mother, Antonia, called "a shadow of a man, an unfinished sketch of nature's drawing," and of whom his grand-uncle, Augustus, used to say, "We shall be forever in doubt, without any certainty of knowing whether he be or be not equal to public duties," Claudius, the most feeble indeed of the Caesars, in body, mind, and character, was nevertheless he who had intermittent glimpses of the most elevated ideas and the most righteous sentiments, and who strove the most sincerely to make them take the form of deeds. He undertook to assure to all free men of "long-haired" Gaul the same Roman privileges that were enjoyed by the inhabitants of Lyons; and amongst others, that of entering the senate of Rome and holding the great public offices. He made a formal proposal to that effect to the senate, and succeeded, not without difficulty, in getting it adopted. The speech that he delivered on this occasion has been to a great extent preserved to us, not only in the summary given by Tacitus, but also in an inscription on a bronze tablet, which split into many fragments at the time of the destruction of the building in which it was placed. The two principal fragments were discovered at Lyons, in 1528, and they are now deposited in the Museum of that city. They fully confirm the most equitable, and, it may be readily allowed, the most liberal act of policy that emanated from the earlier Roman emperors. "Claudius had taken it into his head," says Seneca, "to see all Greeks, Gauls, Spaniards, and Britons clad in the toga." But at the same time he took great care to spread everywhere the Latin tongue, and to make it take the place of the different national idioms. A Roman citizen, originally of Asia Minor, and sent on a deputation to Rome by his compatriots, could not answer in Latin the emperor's questions. Claudius took away his privileges, saying, "He is no Roman citizen who is ignorant of the language of Rome."
Claudius, however, was neither liberal nor humane towards a notable portion of the Gallic populations, to wit, the Druids. During his stay in Gaul he proscribed them and persecuted them without intermission; forbidding, under pain of death, their form of worship and every exterior sign of their ceremonies. He drove them away and pursued them even into Great Britain, whither he conducted, A.D. 43, a military expedition, almost the only one of his reign, save the continued struggle of his lieutenants on the Rhine against the Germans. It was evidently amongst the corporation of Druids and under the influence of religious creeds and traditions, that there was still pursued and harbored some of the old Gallic spirit, some passion for national independence, and some hatred of the Roman yoke. In proportion as Claudius had been popular in Gaul did his adopted son and successor, Nero, quickly become hated. There is nothing to show that he even went thither, either on the business of government or to obtain the momentary access of favor always excited in the mob by the presence and prestige of power. It was towards Greece and the East that a tendency was shown in the tastes and trips of Nero, imperial poet, musician, and actor. L. Verus, one of the military commandants in Belgica, had conceived a project of a canal to unite the Moselle to the Saone, and so the Mediterranean to the ocean; but intrigues in the province and the palace prevented its execution, and in the place of public works useful to Gaul, Nero caused a new census to be made of the population whom he required to squeeze to pay for his extravagance. It was in his reign, as is well known, that a fierce fire consumed a great part of Rome and her monuments. The majority of historians accuse Nero of having himself been the cause of it; but at any rate he looked on with cynical indifference, as if amused at so grand a spectacle, and taking pleasure in comparing it to the burning of Troy. He did more: he profited by it so far as to have built for himself, free of expense, that magnificent palace called "The Palace of Gold," of which he said, when he saw it completed, "At last I am going to be housed as a man should be." Five years before the burning of Rome, Lyons had been a prey to a similar scourge, and Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius, "Lugdunum, which was one of the show-places of Gaul, is sought for in vain to-day; a single night sufficed for the disappearance of a vast city; it perished in less time than I take to tell the tale." Nero gave upwards of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars towards the reconstruction of Lyons, a gift that gained him the city's gratitude, which was manifested, it is said, when his fall became imminent. It was, however, J. Vindex, a Gaul of Vienne, governor of the Lyonnese province, who was the instigator of the insurrection which was fatal to Nero, and which put Galba in his place.
When Nero was dead there was no other Caesar, no naturally indicated successor to the empire. The influence of the name of Caesar had spent itself in the crimes, madnesses, and incapacity of his descendants. Then began a general search for emperors; and the ambition to be created spread abroad amongst the men of note in the Roman world. During the eighteen months that followed the death of Nero, three pretenders—Galba, Otho, and Vitellius—ran this formidable risk. Galba was a worthy old Roman senator, who frankly said, "If the vast body of the empire could be kept standing in equilibrium without a head, I were worthy of the chief place in the state." Otho and Vitellius were two epicures, both indolent and debauched, the former after an elegant, and the latter after a beastly fashion. Galba was raised to the purple by the Lyonnese and Narbonnese provinces, Vitellius by the legions cantoned in the Belgic province: to such an extent did Gaul already influence the destinies of Rome. All three met disgrace and death within the space of eighteen months; and the search for an emperor took a turn towards the East, where the command was held by Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus, of Rieti in the duchy of Spoleto), a general sprung from a humble Italian family, who had won great military distinction, and who, having been proclaimed first at Alexandria, in Judea, and at Antioch, did not arrive until many months afterwards at Rome, where he commenced the twenty-six years' reign of the Flavian family.
Neither Vespasian nor his sons, Titus and Domitian, visited Gaul, as their predecessors had. Domitian alone put in a short appearance. The eastern provinces of the empire and the wars on the frontier of the Danube, towards which the invasions of the Germans were at that time beginning to be directed, absorbed the attention of the new emperors. Gaul was far, however, from remaining docile and peaceful at this epoch. At the vacancy that occurred after Nero and amid the claims of various pretenders, the authority of the Roman name and the pressure of the imperial power diminished rapidly; and the memory and desire of independence were reawakened. In Belgica the German peoplets, who had been allowed to settle on the left bank of the Rhine, were very imperfectly subdued, and kept up close communication with the independent peoplets of the right bank. The eight Roman legions cantoned in that province were themselves much changed; many barbarians had been enlisted amongst them, and did gallant service; but they were indifferent, and always ready for a new master and a new country. There were not wanting symptoms, soon followed by opportunities for action, of this change in sentiment and fact. In the very centre of Gaul, between the Loire and the Allier, a peasant, who has kept in history his Gallic name of Marie or Maricus, formed a band, and scoured the country, proclaiming national independence. He was arrested by the local authorities and handed over to Vitellius, who had him thrown to the beasts. But in the northern part of Belgica, towards the mouths of the Rhine, where a Batavian peoplet lived, a man of note amongst his compatriots and in the service of the Romans, amongst whom he had received the name of Claudius Civilis, embraced first secretly, and afterwards openly, the cause of insurrection. He had vengeance to take for Nero's treatment, who had caused his brother, Julius Paulus, to be beheaded, and himself to be put in prison, whence he had been liberated by Galba. He made a vow to let his hair grow until he was revenged. He had but one eye, and gloried in the fact, saying that it had been so with Hannibal and with Sertorius, and that his highest aspiration was to be like them. He pronounced first for Vitellius against Otho, then for Vespasian against Vitellius, and then for the complete independence of his nation against Vespasian. He soon had, amongst the Germans on the two banks of the Rhine and amongst the Gauls themselves, secret or declared allies. He was joined by a young Gaul from the district of Langres, Julius Sabinus, who boasted that, during the great war with the Gauls, his great-grandmother had taken the fancy of Julius Caesar, and that he owed his name to him. News had just reached Gaul of the burning down, for the second time, of the Capitol during the disturbances at Rome on the death of Nero. The Druids came forth from the retreats where they had hidden since Claudius' proscription, and reappeared in the towns and country-places, proclaiming that "the Roman empire was at an end, that the Gallic empire was beginning, and that the day had come when the possession of all the world should pass into the hands of the Transalpine nations." The insurgents rose in the name of the Gallic empire, and Julius Sabinus assumed the title of Caesar. War commenced. Confusion, hesitation, and actual desertion reached the colonies and extended positively to the Roman legions. Several towns, even Troves and Cologne, submitted or fell into the hands of the insurgents. Several legions, yielding to bribery, persuasion, or intimidation, went over to them, some with a bad grace, others with the blood of their officers on their hands. The gravity of the situation was not misunderstood at Rome. Petilius Cerealis, a commander of renown for his campaigns on the Rhine, was sent off to Belgica with seven fresh legions. He was as skilful in negotiation and persuasion as he was in battle. The struggle that ensued was fierce, but brief; and nearly all the towns and legions that had been guilty of defection returned to their Roman allegiance. Civilis, though not more than half vanquished, himself asked leave to surrender. The Batavian might, as was said at the time, have inundated the country, and drowned the Roman armies. Vespasian, therefore, not being inclined to drive men or matters to extremity, gave Civilis leave to go into retirement and live in peace amongst the marshes of his own land. The Gallic chieftains alone, the projectors of a Gallic empire, were rigorously pursued and chastised. There was especially one, Julius Sabinus, the pretended descendant of Julius Caesar, whose capture was heartily desired. After the ruin of his hopes he took refuge in some vaults connected with one of his country houses. The way in was known only to two devoted freedmen of his, who set fire to the buildings, and spread a report that Sabinus had poisoned himself, and that his dead body had been devoured by the flames. He had a wife, a young Gaul named Eponina, who was in frantic despair at the rumor; but he had her informed, by the mouth of one of his freedmen, of his place of concealment, begging her at the same time to keep up a show of widowhood and mourning, in order to confirm the report already in circulation. "Well did she play her part," to use Plutarch's expression, "in her tragedy of woe." She went at night to visit her husband in his retreat, and departed at break of day; and at last would not depart at all. At the end of seven months, hearing great talk of Vespasian's clemency, she set out for Rome, taking with her her husband, disguised as a slave, with shaven head and a dress that made him unrecognizable. But the friends who were in their confidence advised them not to risk as yet the chance of imperial clemency, and to return to their secret asylum. There they lived for nine years, during which "as a lioness in her den, neither more nor less," says Plutarch, "Eponina gave birth to two young whelps, and suckled them herself at her teat." At last they were discovered and brought before Vespasian at Rome: "Caesar," said Eponina, showing him her children, "I conceived them and suckled them in a tomb, that there might be more of us to ask thy mercy."
But Vespasian was merciful only from prudence, and not by nature or from magnanimity; and he sent Sabinus to execution. Eponina asked that she might die with her husband, saying, "Caesar, do me this grace; for I have lived more happily beneath the earth and in the darkness than thou in the splendor of thy empire." Vespasian fulfilled her desire by sending her also to execution; and Plutarch, their contemporary, undoubtedly expressed the general feeling, when he ended his tale with the words, "In all the long reign of this emperor there was no deed so cruel or so piteous to see; and he was afterwards punished for it, for in a short time all his posterity was extinct."
In fact the Caesars and the Flavians met the same fate; the two lines began and ended alike; the former with Augustus and Nero, the latter with Vespasian and Domitian; first a despot, able, cold, and as capable of cruelty as of moderation, then a tyrant, atrocious and detested. And both were extinguished without a descendant. Then a rare piece of good fortune befell the Roman world. Domitian, two years before he was assassinated by some of his servants whom he was about to put to death, grew suspicious of an aged and honorable senator, Cocceius Nerva, who had been twice consul, and whom he had sent into exile, first to Tarenturn, and then in Gaul, preparatory, probably, to a worse fate. To this victim of proscription application was made by the conspirators who had just got rid of Domitian, and had to get another emperor. Nerva accepted, but not without hesitation, for he was sixty-four years old; he had witnessed the violent death of six emperors, and his grandfather, a celebrated jurist, and for a long while a friend of Tiberius, had killed himself, it is said, for grief at the iniquitous and cruel government of his friend. The short reign of Nerva was a wise, a just, and a humane, but a sad one, not for the people, but for himself. He maintained peace and order, recalled exiles, suppressed informers, re-established respect for laws and morals, turned a deaf ear to self-interested suggestions of vengeance, spoliation, and injustice, proceeding at one time from those who had made him emperor, at another from the Praetorian soldiers and the Roman mob, who regretted Domitian just as they had Nero. But Nerva did not succeed in putting a stop to mob-violence or murders prompted by cupidity or hatred. Finding his authority insulted and his life threatened, he formed a resolution which has been described and explained by a learned and temperate historian of the last century, Lenain de Tillemont (Histoire des Empereurs, &c., t. ii. p. 59), with so much justice and precision that it is a pleasure to quote his own words. "Seeing," says he, "that his age was despised, and that the empire required some one who combined strength of mind and body, Nerva, being free from that blindness which prevents one from discussing and measuring one's own powers, and from that thirst for dominion which often prevails over even those who are nearest to the grave, resolved to take a partner in the sovereign power, and showed his wisdom by making choice of Trajan." By this choice, indeed, Nerva commenced and inaugurated the finest period of the Roman empire, the period that contemporaries entitled the golden age, and that history has named the age of the Antonines. It is desirable to become acquainted with the real character of this period, for to it belong the two greatest historical events—the dissolution of ancient pagan, and the birth of modern Christian society.
Five notable sovereigns, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius swayed the Roman empire during this period (A.D. 96-150). What Nerva was has just been described; and he made no mistake in adopting Trajan as his successor. Trajan, unconnected by origin, as Nerva also had been, with old Rome, was born in Spain, near Seville, and by military service in the East had made his first steps towards fortune and renown. He was essentially a soldier—a moral and a modest soldier; a friend to justice and the public weal; grand in what he undertook for the empire he governed; simple and modest on his own score; respectful towards the civil authority and the laws; untiring and equitable in the work of provincial administration; without any philosophical system or pretensions; full of energy and boldness, honesty and good sense. He stoutly defended the empire against the Germans on the banks of the Danube, won for it the province of Dacia, and, being more taken up with the East than the West, made many Asiatic conquests, of which his successor, Hadrian, lost no time in abandoning, wisely no doubt, a portion. Hadrian, adopted by Trajan, and a Spaniard too, was intellectually superior and morally very inferior to him. He was full of ambition, vanity, invention, and restlessness; he was sceptical in thought and cynical in manners; and he was overflowing with political, philosophical, and literary views and pretensions. He passed the twenty-one years of his reign chiefly in travelling about the empire, in Asia, Africa, Greece, Spain, Gaul, and Great Britain, opening roads, raising ramparts and monuments, founding schools of learning and museums, and encouraging among the provinces, as well as at Rome, the march of administration, legislation, and intellect, more for his own pleasure and his own glorification than in the interest of his country and of society. At the close of this active career, when he was ill and felt that he was dying, he did the best deed of his life. He had proved, in the discharge of high offices, the calm and clear-sighted wisdom of Titus Antoninus, a Gaul, whose family came originally from Nimes; he had seen him one day coming to the senate and respectfully supporting the tottering steps of his aged father (or father-in-law, according to Aurelius Victor); and he adopted him as his successor. Antoninus Pius, as a civilian, was just what Trajan had been as a warrior—moral and modest; just and frugal; attentive to the public weal; gentle towards individuals; full of respect for laws and rights; scrupulous in justifying his deeds before the senate and making them known to the populations by carefully posted edicts; and more anxious to do no wrong or harm to anybody than to gain lustre from brilliant or popular deeds. "He surpasses all men in goodness," said his contemporaries, and he conferred on the empire the best of gifts, for he gave it Marcus Aurelius for its ruler.
It has been said that Marcus Aurelius was philosophy enthroned. Without any desire to contest or detract from that compliment, let it be added that he was conscientiousness enthroned. It is his grand and original characteristic that he governed the Roman empire and himself with a constant moral solicitude, ever anxious to realize that ideal of personal virtue and general justice which he had conceived, and to which he aspired. His conception, indeed, of virtue and justice was incomplete, and even false in certain cases; and in more than one instance, such as the persecution of the Christians, he committed acts quite contrary to the moral law which he intended to put in practice towards all men; but his respect for the moral law was profound, and his intention to shape his acts according to it, serious and sincere. Let us cull a few phrases from that collection of his private thoughts, which he entitled For Self, and which is really the most faithful picture man ever left of himself and the pains he took with himself. "There is," says he, "relationship between all beings endowed with reason. The world is like a superior city within which the other cities are but families. . . . I have conceived the idea of a government founded on laws of general and equal application. Beware lest thou Caesarze thyself, for it is what happens only too often. Keep thyself simple, good, unaltered, worthy, grave, a friend to justice, pious, kindly disposed, courageous enough for any duty. . . . Reverence the gods, preserve mankind. Life is short; the only possible good fruit of our earthly existence is holiness of intention and deeds that tend to the common weal. . . . My soul, be thou covered with shame! Thy life is well nigh gone, and thou hast not yet learned how to live." Amongst men who have ruled great states, it is not easy to mention more than two, Marcus Aurelius and Saint Louis, who have been thus passionately concerned about the moral condition of their souls and the moral conduct of their lives. The mind of Marcus Aurelius was superior to that of Saint Louis; but Saint Louis was a Christian, and his moral ideal was more pure, more complete, more satisfying, and more strengthening for the soul than the philosophical ideal of Marcus Aurelius. And so Saint Louis was serene and confident as to his fate and that of the human race, whilst Marcus Aurelius was disquieted and sad— sad for himself and also for humanity, for his country and for his times: "O, my sole," was his cry, "wherefore art thou troubled, and why am I so vexed?"
We are here brought closer to the fact which has already been foreshadowed, and which characterizes the moral and social condition of the Roman world at this period. It would be a great error to take the five emperors just spoken of—Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius—as representatives of the society amidst which they lived, and as giving in a certain degree the measure of its enlightenment, its morality, its prosperity, its disposition, and condition in general. Those five princes were not only picked men, superior in mind and character to the majority of their contemporaries, but they were men almost isolated in their generation; in them there was a resumption of all that had been acquired by Greek and Roman antiquity of enlightenment and virtue, practical wisdom and philosophical morality: they were the heirs and the survivors of the great minds and the great politicians of Athens and Rome, of the Areopagus and the Senate. They were not in intellectual and moral harmony with the society they governed, and their action upon it served hardly to preserve it partially and temporarily from the evils to which it was committed by its own vices and to break its fall. When they were thoughtful and modest as Marcus Aurelius was, they were gloomy and disposed to discouragement, for they had a secret foreboding of the uselessness of their efforts.
Nor was their gloom groundless: in spite of their honest plans and of brilliant appearances, the degradation, material as well as moral, of Roman society went on increasing. The wars, the luxury, the dilapidations, and the disturbances of the empire always raised its expenses much above its receipts. The rough miserliness of Vespasian and the wise economy of Antoninus Pius were far from sufficient to restore the balance; the aggravation of imposts was incessant; and the population, especially the agricultural population, dwindled away more and more, in Italy itself, the centre of the state. This evil disquieted the emperors, when they were neither idiots nor madmen; Claudius, Vespasian, Nerva, and Trajan labored to supply a remedy, and Augustus himself had set them the example. They established in Italy colonies of veterans to whom they assigned lands; they made gifts thereof to indigent Roman citizens; they attracted by the title of senator rich citizens from the provinces, and when they had once installed them as landholders in Italy, they did not permit them to depart without authorization. Trajan decreed that every candidate for the Roman magistracies should be bound to have a third of his fortune invested in Italian land, "in order," says Pliny the Younger, "that those who sought the public dignities should regard Rome and Italy not as an inn to put up at in travelling, but as their home." And Pliny the Elder, going as a philosophical observer to the very root of the evil, says, in his pompous manner, "In former times our generals tilled their fields with their own hands; the earth, we may suppose, opened graciously beneath a plough crowned with laurels and held by triumphal hands, maybe because those great men gave to tillage the same care that they gave to war, and that they sowed seed with the same attention with which they pitched a camp; or maybe, also, because everything fructifies best in honorable hands, because everything is done with the most scrupulous exactitude. . . . Nowadays these same fields are given over to slaves in chains, to malefactors who are condemned to penal servitude, and on whose brow there is a brand. Earth is not deaf to our prayers; we give her the name of mother; culture is what we call the pains we bestow on her . . . but can we be surprised if she render not to slaves the recompense she paid to generals?"
What must have been the decay of population and of agriculture in the provinces, when even in Italy there was need of such strong protective efforts, which were nevertheless so slightly successful?
Pliny had seen what was the fatal canker of the Roman empire in the country as well as in the towns: slavery or semi-slavery.
Landed property was overwhelmed with taxes, was subject to conditions which branded it with a sort of servitude, and was cultivated by a servile population, in whose hands it became almost barren. The large holders were thus disgusted, and the small ruined or reduced to a condition more and more degraded. Add to this state of things in the civil department a complete absence of freedom and vitality in the political; no elections, no discussion, no public responsibility; characters weakened by indolence and silence, or destroyed by despotic power, or corrupted by the intrigues of court or army. Take a step farther; cast a glance over the moral department; no religious creeds and nothing left of even Paganism but its festivals and frivolous or shameful superstitions. The philosophy of Greece and the old Roman manner of life had raised up, it is true, in the higher ranks of society Stoics and jurists, the former the last champions of morality and the dignity of human nature, the latter the last enlightened servants of the civil community. But neither the doctrines of the Stoics nor the science and able reasoning of the jurists were lights and guides within the reach and for the use of the populace, who remained a prey to the vices and miseries of servitude or public disorders, oscillating between the wearisomeness of barren ignorance and the corruptiveness of a life of adventure. All the causes of decay were at this time spreading throughout Roman society; not a single preservative or regenerative principle of national life was in any force or any esteem.
After the death of Marcus Aurelius the decay manifested and developed itself, almost without interruption, for the space of a century, the outward and visible sign of it being the disorganization and repeated falls of the government itself. The series of emperors given to the Roman world by heirship or adoption, from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius, was succeeded by what may be termed an imperial anarchy; in the course of one hundred and thirty-two years the sceptre passed into the hands of thirty-nine sovereigns with the title of emperor (Augustus), and was clutched at by thirty-one pretenders, whom history has dubbed tyrants, without other claim than their fiery ambition and their trials of strength, supported at one time in such and such a province of the empire by certain legions or some local uprising, at another, and most frequently in Italy itself, by the Praetorian guards, who had at their disposal the name of Rome and the shadow of a senate. There were Italians, Africans, Spaniards, Gauls, Britons, Illyrians, and Asiatics; and amongst the number were to be met with some cases of eminence in war and politics, and some even of rare virtue and patriotism, such as Pertinax, Septimius Severus, Alexander Severus, Deeius, Claudius Gothicus, Aurelian, Tacitus, and Probus. They made great efforts, some to protect the empire against the barbarians, growing day by day more aggressive, others to re-establish within it some sort of order, and to restore to the laws some sort of force. All failed, and nearly all died a violent death, after a short-lived guardianship of a fabric that was crumbling to pieces in every part, but still under the grand name of Roman Empire. Gaul had her share in this series of ephemeral emperors and tyrants; one of the most wicked and most insane, though issue of one of the most valorous and able, Caracalla, son of Septimius Severus, was born at Lyons, four years after the death of Marcus Aurelius. A hundred years later Narbonne gave in two years to the Roman world three emperors, Carus and his two sons, Carinus and Numerian. Amongst the thirty-one tyrants who did not attain to the title of Augustus, six were Gauls; and the last two, Amandus and AElianus, were, A.D. 285, the chiefs of that great insurrection of peasants, slaves or half-slaves, who, under the name of Bagaudians (signifying, according to Ducange, a wandering troop of insurgents from field and forest), spread themselves over the north of Gaul, between the Rhine and the Loire, pillaging and ravaging in all directions, after having themselves endured the pillaging and ravages of the fiscal agents and soldiers of the empire. A contemporary witness, Lactantius, describes the causes of this popular outbreak in the following words: "So enormous had the imposts become, that the tillers' strength was exhausted; fields became deserts and farms were changed into forests. The fiscal agents measured the land by the clod; trees, vinestalks, were all counted. The cattle were marked; the people registered. Old age or sickness was no excuse; the sick and the infirm were brought up; every one's age was put down; a few years were added on to the children's, and taken off from the old men's. Meanwhile the cattle decreased, the people died, and there was no deduction made for the dead."
It is said that to excite the confidence and zeal of their bands, the two chiefs of the Bagaudians had medals struck, and that one exhibited the head of Amandus, "Emperor, Caesar, Augustus, pious and prosperous," with the word "Hope" on the other side.
When public evils have reached such a pitch, and nevertheless the day has not yet arrived for the entire disappearance of the system that causes them, there arises nearly always a new power which, in the name of necessity, applies some remedy to an intolerable condition. A legion cantoned amongst the Tungrians (Tongres), in Belgica, had on its muster-roll a Dalmatian named Diocletian, not yet very high in rank, but already much looked up to by his comrades on account of his intelligence and his bravery. He lodged at a woman's, who was, they said, a Druidess, and had the prophetic faculty. One day when he was settling his account with her, she complained of his extreme parsimony: "Thou'rt too stingy, Diocletian," said she; and he answered laughing, "I'll be prodigal when I'm emperor." "Laugh not," rejoined she: "thou'lt be emperor when thou hast slain a wild boar" (aper). The conversation got about amongst Diocletian's comrades. He made his way in the army, showing continual ability and valor, and several times during his changes of quarters and frequent hunting expeditions he found occasion to kill wild boars; but he did not immediately become emperor, and several of his contemporaries, Aurelian, Tacitus, Probus, Carus, and Numerian, reached the goal before him. "I kill the wild boars," said he to one of his friends, "and another eats them." The last mentioned of these ephemeral emperors, Numerian, had for his father-in-law and inseparable comrade a Praetorian prefect named Arrius Aper. During a campaign in Mesopotamia Numerian was assassinated, and the voice of the army pronounced Aper guilty. The legions assembled to deliberate about Numerian's death and to choose his successor. Aper was brought before the assembly under a guard of soldiers. Through the exertions of zealous friends the candidature of Diocletian found great favor. At the first words pronounced by him from a raised platform in the presence of the troops, cries of "Diocletian Augustus "were raised in every quarter. Other voices called on him to express his feelings about Numerian's murderers. Drawing his sword, Diocletian declared on oath that he was innocent of the emperor's death, but that he knew who was guilty and would find means to punish him. Descending suddenly from the platform, he made straight for the Praetorian prefect, and saying, "Aper, be comforted; thou shalt not die by vulgar hands; by the right hand of great AEneas thou fallest," he gave him his death-wound. "I have killed the prophetic wild boar," said he in the evening to his confidants; and soon afterwards, in spite of the efforts of certain rivals, he was emperor.
"Nothing is more difficult than to govern," was a remark his comrades had often heard made by him amidst so many imperial catastrophes. Emperor in his turn, Diocletian treasured up this profound idea of the difficulty of government, and he set to work, ably, if not successfully, to master it. Convinced that the empire was too vast, and that a single man did not suffice to make head against the two evils that were destroying it,—war against barbarians on the frontiers, and anarchy within,—he divided the Roman world into two portions, gave the West to Maximian, one of his comrades, a coarse but valiant soldier, and kept the East himself. To the anarchy that reigned within he opposed a general despotic administrative organization, a vast hierarchy of civil and military agents, everywhere present, everywhere masters, and dependent upon the emperor alone. By his incontestable and admitted superiority, Diocletian remained the soul of these two bodies. At the end of eight years he saw that the two empires were still too vast; and to each Augustus he added a Caesar,—Galerius and Constantius Chlorus,—who, save a nominal, rather than real, subordination to the two emperors, had, each in his own state, the imperial power with the same administrative system. In this partition of the Roman world, Gaul had the best of it: she had for master, Constantius Chlorus, a tried warrior, but just, gentle, and disposed to temper the exercise of absolute power with moderation and equity. He had a son, Constantine, at this time eighteen years of age, whom he was educating carefully for government as well as for war. This system of the Roman empire, thus divided between four masters, lasted thirteen years; still fruitful in wars and in troubles at home, but without victories, and with somewhat less of anarchy. In spite of this appearance of success and durability, absolute power failed to perform its task; and, weary of his burden and disgusted with the imperfection of his work, Diocletian abdicated A.D. 303. No event, no solicitations of his old comrades in arms and empire, could draw him from his retreat on his native soil of Salona, in Dalmatia. "If you could see the vegetables planted by these hands," said he to Maximian and Galerius, "you would not make the attempt." He had persuaded or rather dragged his first colleague, Maximian, into abdication after him; and so Galerius in the East, and Constantius Chlorus in the West, remained sole emperors. After the retirement of Diocletian, ambitions, rivalries, and intrigues were not slow to make head; Maximian reappeared on the scene of empire, but only to speedily disappear (A.D. 310), leaving in his place his son Maxentius. Constantius Chlorus had died A.D. 306, and his son, Constantine, had immediately been proclaimed by his army Caesar and Augustus. Galerius died A.D. 311 and Constantine remained to dispute the mastery with Maxentius in the West, and in the East with Maximinus and Licinius, the last colleagues taken by Diocletian and Galerius. On the 29th of October, A.D. 312, after having gained several battles against Maxentius in Italy, at Milan, Brescia, and Verona, Constantine pursued and defeated him before Rome, on the borders of the Tiber, at the foot of the Milvian bridge; and the son of Maximian, drowned in the Tiber, left to the son of Constantins Chlorus the Empire of the West, to which that of the East was destined to be in a few years added, by the defeat and death of Licinius. Constantine, more clear-sighted and more fortunate than any of his predecessors, had understood his era, and opened his eyes to the new light which was rising upon the world. Far from persecuting the Christians, as Diocletian and Galerius had done, he had given them protection, countenance, and audience; and towards him turned all their hopes. He had even, it is said, in his last battle against Maxentius, displayed the Christian banner, the cross, with this inscription: Hoc signo vinces ("with this device thou shalt conquer "). There is no knowing what was at that time the state of his soul, and to what extent it was penetrated by the first rays of Christian faith; but it is certain that he was the first amongst the masters of the Roman world to perceive and accept its influence. With him Paganism fell, and Christianity mounted the throne. With him the decay of Roman society stops, and the era of modern society commences.