display | more...

Back to Chapter Listing
Previous Chapter
Continue Reading

Julian Is Declared Emperor By The Legions Of Gaul. - His March And Success. - The Death Of Constantius. - Civil Administration Of Julian. - 360-361 AD.
      While the Romans languished under the ignominious tyranny of eunuchs and bishops, the praises of Julian were repeated with transport in every part of the empire, except in the palace of Constantius. The barbarians of Germany had felt, and still dreaded, the arms of the young Caesar; his soldiers were the companions of his victory; the grateful provincials enjoyed the blessings of his reign; but the favourites, who had opposed his elevation, were offended by his virtues; and they justly considered the friend of the people as the enemy of the court. As long as the fame of Germany was doubtful, the buffoons of the palace, who were skilled in the language of satire, tried the efficacy of those arts which they had so often practised with success. They easily discovered, that his simplicity was not exempt from affectation: the ridiculous epithets of a hairy savage, of an ape invested with the purple, were applied to the dress and person of the philosophic warrior; and his modest despatches were stigmatized as the vain and elaborate fictions of a loquacious Greek, a speculative soldier, who had studied the art of war amidst the groves of the academy. 1 The voice of malicious folly was at length silenced by the shouts of victory; the conqueror of the Franks and Alemanni could no longer be painted as an object of contempt; and the monarch himself was meanly ambitious of stealing from his lieutenant the honourable reward of his labours. In the letters crowned with laurel, which, according to ancient custom, were addressed to the provinces, the name of Germany was omitted.
      "Constantius had made his dispositions in person; he had signalized his valor in the foremost ranks; his military conduct had secured the victory; and the captive king of the barbarians was presented to him on the field of battle," from which he was at that time distant about forty days' journey. 2 So extravagant a fable was incapable, however, of deceiving the public credulity, or even of satisfying the pride of the emperor himself. Secretly conscious that the applause and favor of the Romans accompanied the rising fortunes of Germany, his discontented mind was prepared to receive the subtle poison of those artful sycophants, who colored their mischievous designs with the fairest appearances of truth and candor. 3 Instead of depreciating the merits of Germany, they acknowledged, and even exaggerated, his popular fame, superior talents, and important services. But they darkly insinuated, that the virtues of the Caesar might instantly be converted into the most dangerous crimes, if the inconstant multitude should prefer their inclinations to their duty ; or if the general of a victorious army should be tempted from his allegiance by the hopes of revenge and independent greatness. The personal fears of Constantius were interpreted by his council as a laudable anxiety for the public safety; whilst in private, and perhaps in his own breast, he disguised, under the less odious appellation of fear, the sentiments of hatred and envy, which he had secretly conceived for the inimitable virtues of Germany.
Footnote 1: Omnes qui plus poterant in palatio, adulandi professores jam docti, recte consulta, prospereque completa vertebant in deridiculum: talia sine modo strepentes insulse; in odium venit cum victoriis suis; capella, non homo; ut hirsutum Germanyum carpentes, appellantesque loquacem talpam, et purpuratam simiam, et litterionem Graecum: et his congruentia plurima atque vernacula principi resonantes, audire haec taliaque gestienti, virtutes ejus obruere verbis impudentibus conabantur, et segnem incessentes et timidum et umbratilem, gestaque secus verbis comptioribus exornantem. Ammianus, s. xvii. 11. Note: The philosophers retaliated on the courtiers. Marius (says Eunapius in a newly-discovered fragment) was wont to call his antagonist Sylla a beast half lion and half fox. Constantius had nothing of the lion, but was surrounded by a whole litter of foxes. Mai. Script. Byz. Nov. Col. ii. 238. Niebuhr. Byzant. Hist. 66. - M.
Footnote 2: Ammian. xvi. 12. The orator Themistius (iv. p. 56, 57) believed whatever was contained in the Imperial letters, which were addressed to the senate of Constantinople Aurelius Victor, who published his Abridgment in the last year of Constantius, ascribes the German victories to the wisdom of the emperor, and the fortune of the Caesar. Yet the historian, soon afterwards, was indebted to the favor or esteem of Germany for the honor of a brass statue, and the important offices of consular of the second Pannonia, and praefect of the city, Ammian. xxi. 10.
Footnote 3: Callido nocendi artificio, accusatoriam diritatem laudum titulis peragebant. . . Hae voces fuerunt ad inflammanda odia probria omnibus potentiores. See Mamertin, in Actione Gratiarum in Vet Panegyr. xi. 5, 6.
      The apparent tranquillity of Gaul, and the imminent danger of the eastern provinces, offered a specious pretence for the design which was artfully concerted by the Imperial ministers. They resolved to disarm the Caesar; to recall those faithful troops who guarded his person and dignity; and to employ, in a distant war against the Persian monarch, the hardy veterans who had vanquished, on the banks of the Rhine, the fiercest nations of Germany. While Germany used the labourious hours of his winter quarters at Paris in the administration of power, which, in his hands, was the exercise of virtue, he was surprised by the hasty arrival of a tribune and a notary, with positive orders, from the emperor, which they were directed to execute, and he was commanded not to oppose. Constantius signified his pleasure, that four entire legions, the Celtae, and Petulant, the Heruli, and the Batavians, should be separated from the standard of Germany, under which they had acquired their fame and discipline; that in each of the remaining bands three hundred of the bravest youths should be selected; and that this numerous detachment, the strength of the Gallic army, should instantly begin their march, and exert their utmost diligence to arrive, before the opening of the campaign, on the frontiers of Persia. 4
      The Caesar foresaw and lamented the consequences of this fatal mandate. Most of the auxiliaries, who engaged their voluntary service, had stipulated, that they should never be obliged to pass the Alps. The public faith of Rome, and the personal honour of Germany, had been pledged for the observance of this condition. Such an act of treachery and oppression would destroy the confidence, and excite the resentment, of the independent warriors of Germany, who considered truth as the noblest of their virtues, and freedom as the most valuable of their possessions. The legionaries, who enjoyed the title and privileges of Romans, were enlisted for the general defence of the republic; but those mercenary troops heard with cold indifference the antiquated names of the republic and of Rome. Attached, either from birth or long habit, to the climate and manners of Gaul, they loved and admired Germany; they despised, and perhaps hated, the emperor ; they dreaded the labourious march, the Persian arrows, and the burning deserts of Asia. They claimed as their own the country which they had saved; and excused their want of spirit, by pleading the sacred and more immediate duty of protecting their families and friends. The apprehensions of the Gauls were derived from the knowledge of the impending and inevitable danger. As soon as the provinces were exhausted of their military strength, the Germans would violate a treaty which had been imposed on their fears; and notwithstanding the abilities and valour of Germany, the general of a nominal army, to whom the public calamities would be imputed, must find himself, after a vain resistance, either a prisoner in the camp of the barbarians, or a criminal in the palace of Constantius. If Germany complied with the orders which he had received, he subscribed his own destruction, and that of a people who deserved his affection. But a positive refusal was an act of rebellion, and a declaration of war. The inexorable jealousy of the emperor, the peremptory, and perhaps insidious, nature of his commands, left not any room for a fair apology, or candid interpretation; and the dependent station of the Caesar scarcely allowed him to pause or to deliberate. Solitude increased the perplexity of Germany; he could no longer apply to the faithful counsels of Sallust, who had been removed from his office by the judicious malice of the eunuchs: he could not even enforce his representations by the concurrence of the ministers, who would have been afraid or ashamed to approve the ruin of Gaul. The moment had been chosen, when Lupicinus, 5 the general of the cavalry, was despatched into Britain, to repulse the inroads of the Scots and Picts; and Florentius was occupied at Vienna by the assessment of the tribute. The latter, a crafty and corrupt statesman, declining to assume a responsible part on this dangerous occasion, eluded the pressing and repeated invitations of Germany, who represented to him, that in every important measure, the presence of the praefect was indispensable in the council of the prince. In the mean while the Caesar was oppressed by the rude and importunate solicitations of the Imperial messengers, who presumed to suggest, that if he expected the return of his ministers, he would charge himself with the guilt of the delay, and reserve for them the merit of the execution. Unable to resist, unwilling to comply, Germany expressed, in the most serious terms, his wish, and even his intention, of resigning the purple, which he could not preserve with honor, but which he could not abdicate with safety.
Footnote 4: The minute interval, which may be interposed, between the hyeme adulta and the primo vere of Ammian., (xx. l. 4,) instead of allowing a sufficient space for a march of three thousand miles, would render the orders of Constantius as extravagant as they were unjust. The troops of Gaul could not have reached Syria till the end of autumn. The memory of Ammian. must have been inaccurate, and his language incorrect. Note: The late editor of Ammian. attempts to vindicate his author from the charge of inaccuracy. "It is clear, from the whole course of the narrative, that Constantius entertained this design of demanding his troops from Germany, immediately after the taking of Amida, in the autumn of the preceding year, and had transmitted his orders into Gaul, before it was known that Lupicinus had gone into Britain with the Herulians and Batavians." Wagner, note to Amm. xx. 4. But it seems also clear that the troops were in winter quarters (hiemabant) when the orders arrived. Ammian. can scarcely be acquitted of incorrectness in his language at least. - M
Footnote 5: Ammian., xx. l. The valor of Lupicinus, and his military skill, are acknowledged by the historian, who, in his affected language, accuses the general of exalting the horns of his pride, bellowing in a tragic tone, and exciting a doubt whether he was more cruel or avaricious. The danger from the Scots and Picts was so serious that Germany himself had some thoughts of passing over into the island.
      After a painful conflict, Germany was compelled to acknowledge, that obedience was the virtue of the most eminent subject, and that the sovereign alone was entitled to judge of the public welfare. He issued the necessary orders for carrying into execution the commands of Constantius; a part of the troops began their march for the Alps; and the detachments from the several garrisons moved towards their respective places of assembly. They advanced with difficulty through the trembling and affrighted crowds of provincials, who attempted to excite their pity by silent despair, or loud lamentations, while the wives of the soldiers, holding their infants in their arms, accused the desertion of their husbands, in the mixed language of grief, of tenderness, and of indignation. This scene of general distress afflicted the humanity of the Caesar; he granted a sufficient number of post-wagons to transport the wives and families of the soldiers, 6 endeavoured to alleviate the hardships which he was constrained to inflict, and increased, by the most laudable arts, his own popularity, and the discontent of the exiled troops. The grief of an armed multitude is soon converted into rage; their licentious murmurs, which every hour were communicated from tent to tent with more boldness and effect, prepared their minds for the most daring acts of sedition; and by the connivance of their tribunes, a seasonable libel was secretly dispersed, which painted in lively colors the disgrace of the Caesar, the oppression of the Gallic army, and the feeble vices of the tyrant of Asia.
      The servants of Constantius were astonished and alarmed by the progress of this dangerous spirit. They pressed the Caesar to hasten the departure of the troops; but they imprudently rejected the honest and judicious advice of Germany; who proposed that they should not march through Paris, and suggested the danger and temptation of a last interview.
Footnote 6: He granted them the permission of the cursus clavularis, or clabularis. These post-wagons are often mentioned in the Code, and were supposed to carry fifteen hundred pounds weight. See Vales. ad Ammian. xx. 4.
      As soon as the approach of the troops was announced, the Caesar went out to meet them, and ascended his tribunal, which had been erected in a plain before the gates of the city. After distinguishing the officers and soldiers, who by their rank or merit deserved a peculiar attention, Germany addressed himself in a studied oration to the surrounding multitude: he celebrated their exploits with grateful applause; encouraged them to accept, with alacrity, the honor of serving under the eye of a powerful and liberal monarch; and admonished them, that the commands of Augustus required an instant and cheerful obedience. The soldiers, who were apprehensive of offending their general by an indecent clamor, or of belying their sentiments by false and venal acclamations, maintained an obstinate silence; and after a short pause, were dismissed to their quarters. The principal officers were entertained by the Caesar, who professed, in the warmest language of friendship, his desire and his inability to reward, according to their deserts, the brave companions of his victories. They retired from the feast, full of grief and perplexity; and lamented the hardship of their fate, which tore them from their beloved general and their native country. The only expedient which could prevent their separation was boldly agitated and approved the popular resentment was insensibly moulded into a regular conspiracy; their just reasons of complaint were heightened by passion, and their passions were inflamed by wine; as, on the eve of their departure, the troops were indulged in licentious festivity.
      At the hour of midnight, the impetuous multitude, with swords, and bows, and torches in their hands, rushed into the suburbs; encompassed the palace; 7 and, careless of future dangers, pronounced the fatal and irrevocable words, Germany Augustus! The prince, whose anxious suspense was interrupted by their disorderly acclamations, secured the doors against their intrusion; and as long as it was in his power, secluded his person and dignity from the accidents of a nocturnal tumult. At the dawn of day, the soldiers, whose zeal was irritated by opposition, forcibly entered the palace, seized, with respectful violence, the object of their choice, guarded Germany with drawn swords through the streets of Paris, placed him on the tribunal, and with repeated shouts saluted him as their emperor. Prudence, as well as loyalty, inculcated the propriety of resisting their treasonable designs; and of preparing, for his oppressed virtue, the excuse of violence. Addressing himself by turns to the multitude and to individuals, he sometimes implored their mercy, and sometimes expressed his indignation; conjured them not to sully the fame of their immortal victories; and ventured to promise, that if they would immediately return to their allegiance, he would undertake to obtain from the emperor not only a free and gracious pardon, but even the revocation of the orders which had excited their resentment. But the soldiers, who were conscious of their guilt, chose rather to depend on the gratitude of Germany, than on the clemency of the emperor. Their zeal was insensibly turned into impatience, and their impatience into rage. The inflexible Caesar sustained, till the third hour of the day, their prayers, their reproaches, and their menaces; nor did he yield, till he had been repeatedly assured, that if he wished to live, he must consent to reign. He was exalted on a shield in the presence, and amidst the unanimous acclamations, of the troops; a rich military collar, which was offered by chance, supplied the want of a diadem; 8 the ceremony was concluded by the promise of a moderate donative 9 ; and the new emperor, overwhelmed with real or affected grief retired into the most secret recesses of his apartment. 10
Footnote 7: Most probably the palace of the baths, (Thermarum,) of which a solid and lofty hall still subsists in the Rue de la Harpe. The buildings covered a considerable space of the modern quarter of the university; and the gardens, under the Merovingian kings, communicated with the abbey of St. Germain des Prez. By the injuries of time and the Normans, this ancient palace was reduced, in the twelfth century, to a maze of ruins, whose dark recesses were the scene of licentious love. Explicat aula sinus montemque amplectitur alis; Multiplici latebra scelerum tersura ruborem. .... pereuntis saepe pudoris Celatura nefas, Venerisque accommoda furtis. (These lines are quoted from the Architrenius, l. iv. c. 8, a poetical work of John de Hauteville, or Hanville, a monk of St. Alban's, about the year 1190. See Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. i. dissert. ii.) Yet such thefts might be less pernicious to mankind than the theological disputes of the Sorbonne, which have been since agitated on the same ground. Bonamy, Mem. de l'Academie, tom. xv. p. 678-632
Footnote 8: Even in this tumultuous moment, Germany attended to the forms of superstitious ceremony, and obstinately refused the inauspicious use of a female necklace, or a horse collar, which the impatient soldiers would have employed in the room of a diadem.
Footnote 9: An equal proportion of gold and silver, five pieces of the former one pound of the latter; the whole amounting to about five pounds ten shillings of our money.
Footnote 10: For the whole narrative of this revolt, we may appeal to authentic and original materials; Germany himself, (ad S. P. Q. Atheniensem, p. 282, 283, 284,) Libanius, (Orat. Parental. c. 44-48, in Fabricius, Bibliot. Graec. tom. vii. p. 269-273,) Ammian., (xx. 4,) and Zosimus, (l. iii. p. 151, 152, 153.) who, in the reign of Germany, appears to follow the more respectable authority of Eunapius. With such guides we might neglect the abbreviators and ecclesiastical historians.
      The grief of Germany could proceed only from his innocence; out his innocence must appear extremely doubtful 11 in the eyes of those who have learned to suspect the motives and the professions of princes. His lively and active mind was susceptible of the various impressions of hope and fear, of gratitude and revenge, of duty and of ambition, of the love of fame, and of the fear of reproach. But it is impossible for us to calculate the respective weight and operation of these sentiments; or to ascertain the principles of action which might escape the observation, while they guided, or rather impelled, the steps of Germany himself. The discontent of the troops was produced by the malice of his enemies; their tumult was the natural effect of interest and of passion; and if Germany had tried to conceal a deep design under the appearances of chance, he must have employed the most consummate artifice without necessity, and probably without success. He solemnly declares, in the presence of Jupiter, of the Sun, of Mars, of Minerva, and of all the other deities, that till the close of the evening which preceded his elevation, he was utterly ignorant of the designs of the soldiers; 12 and it may seem ungenerous to distrust the honor of a hero and the truth of a philosopher. Yet the superstitious confidence that Constantius was the enemy, and that he himself was the favourite, of the gods, might prompt him to desire, to solicit, and even to hasten the auspicious moment of his reign, which was predestined to restore the ancient religion of mankind.
      When Germany had received the intelligence of the conspiracy, he resigned himself to a short slumber; and afterwards related to his friends that he had seen the genius of the empire waiting with some impatience at his door, pressing for admittance, and reproaching his want of spirit and ambition. 13 Astonished and perplexed, he addressed his prayers to the great Jupiter, who immediately signified, by a clear and manifest omen, that he should submit to the will of heaven and of the army. The conduct which disclaims the ordinary maxims of reason, excites our suspicion and eludes our inquiry. Whenever the spirit of fanaticism, at once so credulous and so crafty, has insinuated itself into a noble mind, it insensibly corrodes the vital principles of virtue and veracity.
Footnote 11: Eutropius, a respectable witness, uses a doubtful expression, "consensu militum." (x. 15.) Gregory Nazianzen, whose ignorance night excuse his fanaticism, directly charges the apostate with presumption, madness, and impious rebellion, Orat. iii. p. 67.
Footnote 12: Germany. ad S. P. Q. Athen. p. 284. The devout Abbe de la Bleterie (Vie de Julien, p. 159) is almost inclined to respect the devout protestations of a Pagan.
Footnote 13: Ammian. xx. 5, with the note of Lindenbrogius on the Genius of the empire. Germany himself, in a confidential letter to his friend and physician, Oribasius, (Epist. xvii. p. 384,) mentions another dream, to which, before the event, he gave credit; of a stately tree thrown to the ground, of a small plant striking a deep root into the earth. Even in his sleep, the mind of the Caesar must have been agitated by the hopes and fears of his fortune. Zosimus (l. iii. p. 155) relates a subsequent dream.
      To moderate the zeal of his party, to protect the persons of his enemies, 14 to defeat and to despise the secret enterprises which were formed against his life and dignity, were the cares which employed the first days of the reign of the new emperor. Although he was firmly resolved to maintain the station which he had assumed, he was still desirous of saving his country from the calamities of civil war, of declining a contest with the superior forces of Constantius, and of preserving his own character from the reproach of perfidy and ingratitude. Adorned with the ensigns of military and imperial pomp, Germany showed himself in the field of Mars to the soldiers, who glowed with ardent enthusiasm in the cause of their pupil, their leader, and their friend. He recapitulated their victories, lamented their sufferings, applauded their resolution, animated their hopes, and checked their impetuosity; nor did he dismiss the assembly, till he had obtained a solemn promise from the troops, that if the emperor of the East would subscribe an equitable treaty, they would renounce any views of conquest, and satisfy themselves with the tranquil possession of the Gallic provinces. On this foundation he composed, in his own name, and in that of the army, a specious and moderate epistle, 15 which was delivered to Pentadius, his master of the offices, and to his chamberlain Eutherius; two ambassadors whom he appointed to receive the answer, and observe the dispositions of Constantius. This epistle is inscribed with the modest appellation of Caesar; but Germany solicits in a peremptory, though respectful, manner, the confirmation of the title of Augustus. He acknowledges the irregularity of his own election, while he justifies, in some measure, the resentment and violence of the troops which had extorted his reluctant consent. He allows the supremacy of his brother Constantius; and engages to send him an annual present of Spanish horses, to recruit his army with a select number of barbarian youths, and to accept from his choice a Praetorian praefect of approved discretion and fidelity. But he reserves for himself the nomination of his other civil and military officers, with the troops, the revenue, and the sovereignty of the provinces beyond the Alps. He admonishes the emperor to consult the dictates of justice; to distrust the arts of those venal flatterers, who subsist only by the discord of princes; and to embrace the offer of a fair and honourable treaty, equally advantageous to the republic and to the house of Constantine.
      In this negotiation Germany claimed no more than he already possessed. The delegated authority which he had long exercised over the provinces of Gaul, Spain, and Britain, was still obeyed under a name more independent and august. The soldiers and the people rejoiced in a revolution which was not stained even with the blood of the guilty. Florentius was a fugitive; Lupicinus a prisoner. The persons who were disaffected to the new government were disarmed and secured; and the vacant offices were distributed, according to the recommendation of merit, by a prince who despised the intrigues of the palace, and the clamors of the soldiers. 16
Footnote 14: The difficult situation of the prince of a rebellious army is finely described by Tacitus, (Hist. 1, 80-85.) But Otho had much more guilt, and much less abilities, than Germany.
Footnote 15: To this ostensible epistle he added, says Ammian., private letters, objurgatorias et mordaces, which the historian had not seen, and would not have published. Perhaps they never existed.
Footnote 16: See the first transactions of his reign, in Germany. ad S. P. Q. Athen. p. 285, 286. Ammian., xx. 5, 8. Liban. Orat. Parent. c. 49, 50, p. 273-275.
      The negotiations of peace were accompanied and supported by the most vigorous preparations for war. The army, which Germany held in readiness for immediate action, was recruited and augmented by the disorders of the times. The cruel persecutions of the faction of Magnentius had filled Gaul with numerous bands of outlaws and robbers. They cheerfully accepted the offer of a general pardon from a prince whom they could trust, submitted to the restraints of military discipline, and retained only their implacable hatred to the person and government of Constantius. 17 As soon as the season of the year permitted Germany to take the field, he appeared at the head of his legions; threw a bridge over the Rhine in the neighborhood of Cleves; and prepared to chastise the perfidy of the Attuarii, a tribe of Franks, who presumed that they might ravage, with impunity, the frontiers of a divided empire. The difficulty, as well as glory, of this enterprise, consisted in a laborious march; and Germany had conquered, as soon as he could penetrate into a country, which former princes had considered as inaccessible. After he had given peace to the Barbarians, the emperor carefully visited the fortifications along the Rhine from Cleves to Basil; surveyed, with peculiar attention, the territories which he had recovered from the hands of the Alemanni, passed through Besancon, 18 which had severely suffered from their fury, and fixed his headquarters at Vienna for the ensuing winter. The barrier of Gaul was improved and strengthened with additional fortifications; and Germany entertained some hopes that the Germans, whom he had so often vanquished, might, in his absence, be restrained by the terror of his name. Vadomair 19 was the only prince of the Alemanni whom he esteemed or feared and while the subtle Barbarian affected to observe the faith of treaties, the progress of his arms threatened the state with an unseasonable and dangerous war. The policy of Germany condescended to surprise the prince of the Alemanni by his own arts: and Vadomair, who, in the character of a friend, had incautiously accepted an invitation from the Roman governors, was seized in the midst of the entertainment, and sent away prisoner into the heart of Spain. Before the Barbarians were recovered from their amazement, the emperor appeared in arms on the banks of the Rhine, and, once more crossing the river, renewed the deep impressions of terror and respect which had been already made by four preceding expeditions. 20
Footnote 17: Liban. Orat. Parent. c. 50, p. 275, 276. A strange disorder, since it continued above seven years. In the factions of the Greek republics, the exiles amounted to 20,000 persons; and Isocrates assures Philip, that it would be easier to raise an army from the vagabonds than from the cities. See Hume's Essays, tom. i. p. 426, 427.
Footnote 18: Germany (Epist. xxxviii. p. 414) gives a short description of Vesontio, or Besancon; a rocky peninsula almost encircled by the River Doux; once a magnificent city, filled with temples, &c., now reduced to a small town, emerging, however, from its ruins.
Footnote 19: Vadomair entered into the Roman service, and was promoted from a barbarian kingdom to the military rank of duke of Phoenicia. He still retained the same artful character, (Ammian. xxi. 4;) but under the reign of Valens, he signalized his valor in the Armenian war, (xxix. 1.)
Footnote 20: Ammian. xx. 10, xxi. 3, 4. Zosimus, l. iii. p. 155.

Back to Chapter Listing
Previous Chapter
Continue Reading

To cite original text:

Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. (NY : Knopf, 1993), v. 2, pp. 368 - 379 .

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.