« AnteriorContinuar »
ERA THE SEVENTH.
THE LIFE OF THEODOSIUS THE GREAT.
THE FINAL OVERTHROW OF THE PAGAN RELIGION; AND THE
SETTLEMENT OF THE GOTHS IN THE EASTERN EMPIRE.
1. The glory of the Roman State at the death of Constantine, was beginning in some degree to decline. His personal merits, as a sovereign and a conqueror, were so great, that during his lifetime no strong symptoms of danger were observable. But after his decease, it became apparent, that Constantinople flourished at the expense of Rome; and that this division of the empire into two separate seats of government, was a measure which, instead of strengthening it against the barbarian incursions, red only to render both parts of it weaker.
2. This evil was not remedied by the character or administration of the three sons, whom Constantine left to inherit his power.
To the eldest of these, who bore the name of his father, was assigned the provinces of Britain, Spain, Gaul, and a part of Africa. He reigned scarcely three years, having fallen by treachery, while engaged in a contest with his brother Constans, near Aquileia (A.D. 340). But the latter did not survive the fruits of his victory more than ten years; he was cut off in a conspiracy, formed by Magnentius - an ambitious soldier of German extraction (A.D. 350). His surviving brother, Constantius, now left the only legitimate heir of the dominions of Constantine, was not slow to assert his rights, and to punish the usurper and assassin, who being defeated in all his plans, and driven to despair, laid violent hands on himself. Thus, all the divided provinces of the empire were again peaceably reunited under one prince, within three years from the death of Constans (A.D. 353).
3. Constantius, who was the second son of his great father, had hitherto possessed only that fifth portion of the empire, which was included under the name of Mysia, Thrace, Asia, the East, and Egypt. In addition, therefore, to the territory of his elder brother, he was now Lord of Italy, Illyricum, Macedonia, Greece, the ports that border upon the Euxine, and the remainder of Africa. But this vast extent of dominion, was the inheritance of a prince, who possessed even a smaller portion of the virtues of his father, than either of his brothers. He was neither illustrious as a soldier or a sovereign; and was governed entirely by Eusebius, his chamberlain, and the eunuchs of the palace-a race of contemptible beings who were now beginning to acquire that ascendancy in the eastern court, which they long maintained. Exceiling in the arts of fattery and intrigue, they were thus enabled to assume the entire control of the councils of Constantius, and to take advantage of his fears, his indolence, and his vanity.
4. This feeble reign of eight years, in which he was the sole Emperor of the Roman world, and of 24 years in which his authority was shared with one or other of his brothers, was distinguished by no political event of importance. It was chiefly memorable for a severe persecution endured by Athanasius and his followers, in defence of the great principles of that religious creed, of which the chief tenets had been framed at the Council of Nice, under the auspices of Constantine the Great. His degenerate son, so far from following his noble example, became the great patron of the followers of Arius. The venerable man who at this time filled the episcopal chair of Egypt, at Alexandria, was thrice driven into exile ; and, for nearly twenty years, suffered a relentless persecution, from one or other of the royal tyrants (from A.D. 336 to A.D. 356). His followers were exposed to every indignity and hardship, and not a few of them became martyrs to the faith which they professed. Alexandria suffered most in this persecution (A.D. 356); but the whole of the eastern provinces groaned under the religious hostility of a prince, and of a scct, whose
virulence and bigotry were but little inferior to that which had been shown by their pagan predecessors.
5. The death of Constantius took place (A.D. 361), just in time to save him from the dishonour of having the sceptre snatched from his hands by Julian, his cousin, who had been raised to the rank of Cæsar (A.D. 355), and had distinguished himself by his great talents as a general in the wars of Gaul (A.D. 355-357). The empire now returned, by a strange revolution, to the only surviving descendant of the Constantines; and to him who was the son of the patrician, Constantius, a brother of the great hero himself. Gallus, the brother of Julian, had previously fallen a sacrifice to the just resentment of Constantius (A.D. 354). Julian was educated at Athens, having been sent there as to a place of honourable banishment; and thus become from his youth in heart a pagan philosopher. He possessed that lively wit, which united to a habit of intense application, must have ensured distinction in any rank of life. But the most artful dissimulation was mingled with his character; and this manifested itself more strongly as he approached the pinnacle of greatness. He then boldly confessed himself an unbeliever in Christianity, and a proselyte to the religion of his ancestors. Disavowing the principles of persecution, he laboured, however, to bring back Paganism by every artifice in his power. Among the suitle measures which this Apostate Emperor (as he is called) adopted, to discredit the truth of Christianity, was an attempt to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem, it being the common persuasion, that this was an impossible deed, according to the truth of prophecy. (Luke xxi. 24.) Julian made great efforts to give the lie to this prediction. The Jews were invited from all parts to return to the holy mountain of their fathers, and numbers were set to work in laying the foundations of the new temple. The greatest enthusiasm was displayed by many of the subjects of the Emperor, to assist him in this enterprise, and no worldly means were left wanting to ensure its success.
But if we may
believe the testimony of more than one of the writers of the same age, the attempt was entirely frustrated by such indications of the Divine displeasure as could not be mistaken. An earthquake—a whirlwind, and an eruption of balls of fire, so discouraged and terrified the workmen, that the scheme
was for the time laid aside. The attention of Julian was now called to the still more pressing enterprise of a war with the Persians. He purposed, however, as soon as this was finished, to renew the operations at Jerusalem, and declared, that he would then wage a far more active warfare against Christianity, than he had yet done. But the designs of the Emperor were cut short in a manner that he had not expected; for while he was leading his troops, with sanguine hopes of soon overturning the throne of Persia, and just as he was on the point of obtaining a great victory over Sapor, his formidable foe, a javelin discharged from some unknown hand pierced his side. runs, that when he found himself mortally wounded, he took a handful of the blood which Aowed from his wound, and throwing it into the air, exclaimed, “ Vicisti, O Galilæe!" “ Thou hast conquered, 0 Galilean!"
6. The brilliant career of this Apostate prince was thus terminated, after a reign of somewhat less than two years as Emperor (A.D. 363). He was succeeded by Jovian, or Jovinian, his captain-general of the imperial guards. This reign, which promised to be a beneficial one, and worthy of a sovereign, who was sincerely attached to Chistianity and its institutions, was closed suddenly, after a period of only eight months, by an accident of an uncertain kind; some ascribing his death to a supper upon poisonous mushrooms; others to his having slept in a room that was loaded with the fumes of charcoal.
7. Valentinian was next chosen to govern the empire,a tribune of the Salarii—whose bold conduct in maintaining his principles as a Christian, in the presence of Julian, had occasioned his banishment. With the aid of his brother, Valens, whom he chose as his colleague, assigning to him the eastern division of the empire, he laboured successfully to sustain the glory of the Roman arms. He himself conquered the Alemanni, and other tribes of the Germans, who had invaded Gaul (A.D. 368); and the forces of Valens reduced the Gothic nations, who were now threatening the empire (A.D. 367-369), to such a state of submission, that they remained quiet for several years afterwards.
8. An event happened nearly about this time in the natural world, that might have been thought ominous of those revolutions with which the political world was threatened. In the second year of the reign of Valentinian and Valens, on the morning of the 25th of July (A.D. 365), the whole of the Roman Empire was almost at the same moment shaken by an earthquake, and so violent was the impression on the sea as well as the land, that at many places on the coasts of the Mediterranean, large ships were left dry on the shores, and a considerable extent of its bed was exposed. But the tide soon returned with the weight of a deluge; and the inundation was of a most destructive kind, particularly in Egypt, where at Alexandria not less than 50,000 persons were swept away by the waters.
9. But the political calamities, of which this inundation were a faint type and sign, did not come immediately; and the reign of Valetinian was upon the whole favourable to the welfare of the empire and of Christianity. It closed in a premature manner, ten years after that remarkable event just referred to. He ended his life in an ignoble and awful manner, dying in one of those paroxysms of rage to which he was unhappily subject; and while reproaching the ambassadors of the Quadi, for the perfidy their nation had shown in violating a treaty of peace (A.D. 375).
10. Shortly after his death, the empire sustained a severe blow from the movements of the Huns; who, spreading themselves over the regions north of the Danube, forced the Gothic nations who were settled there, to seek a shelter within the boundary of the Roman tertitory. The imprudence of Valens and his ministers, who consented too hastily, to admit as friends within the heart of the empire, a large body of dangerous guests, soon discovered itself. They shook off the yoke which they had professed themselves, at first, willing to wear, and broke out into a revolt (A.D. 377), which, though at first suppressed, was afterwards attended with much worse consequences.
At Hadrianople a conflict at length took place, in which the Roman arms sustained as great a defeat as had formerly befallen them in the fields of Cannæ. A large proportion of their forces were destroyed, and Valens himself perished amidst the flames of a cottage, to which his soldiers had carried him in a wounded state, from the field of battle (A.D. 378).
11. At this disastrous period, Gratian, the eldest son of Valentinian, found himself alone in the possession of the empire-a position which required at once an able coad