Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. XII.: How the unrelenting Cruelty of the Emperors hastened the Dissolution of the Empire. The bad Reigns of Constantine and Constantius. The good Reign of Julian. The indiscreet behaviour of the Christians. Continued Tyranny; and end of the Em - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon's Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Sect. XII.: How the unrelenting Cruelty of the Emperors hastened the Dissolution of the Empire. The bad Reigns of Constantine and Constantius. The good Reign of Julian. The indiscreet behaviour of the Christians. Continued Tyranny; and end of the Em - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon’s Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3) [120 AD]
The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
How the unrelenting Cruelty of the Emperors hastened the Dissolution of the Empire. The bad Reigns ofConstantineandConstantius.The good Reign ofJulian.The indiscreet behaviour of the Christians. Continued Tyranny; and end of the Empire.
TO resume once more the subject of Accusations and the abused Law of Majesty; They were cankers in the heart of the Empire, which at last hastened its Dissolution. The Emperors, to gratify their own cruelty, were continually wasting the public Strength by sacrifices noble and many; and, to satiate their avarice or that of their creatures, encouraged endless seizures and confiscations. This crying Oppression was by the Emperor Constantine, before mentioned, carried higher than any of the Pagan Emperors had ever carried it. Besides his own rapine, which was merciless and excessive, he glutted his Favourites and Grandees with the spoil and fortunes of others; as Marcellinus witnesses h . His son Constantius followed his example, and was a more consuming Tyrant than the Father. I have already said something of his Character and Reign, which was chiefly conducted by inhuman villains, whose heads and hands were eternally engaged in the plunder and blood of his People. Such were his Counsellors, such his Governors of Provinces, which were sucked and devoured to the bone, and might say with truth, what a noble Dalmatian once told Tiberius; “Instead of sending us Shepherds to protect our flocks, you send us Wolves to devour them.” How many Governors in all Countries have deserved to be hanged, before they reached their Governments, because they went with design to rob and oppress?
These depredations were restrained during the Reign of Julian, who had as much capacity, as many virtues and accomplishments, as could well adorn private life, or a crown: he was brave, generous, wise, and humane; a Hero, a Philosopher, a Politician, a Friend and Father to mankind. It is pity such an amiable Character should have any blots; his had two; he was superstitious even to weakness, and had conceived an aversion to the Christians altogether unsuitable to his remarkable candor and equity; an aversion which they themselves improved too much, by a behaviour unworthy of so great a Prince, much more unworthy of so meek a Religion. They indeed treated him with eminent spite and outrage, traduced him, libelled him, and even mobbed him. Nothing could be a sharper Satire upon them, for such brutish conduct, than the singular meekness with which he bore it. The truth is, the Christians were then strangely degenerated from the primitive peaceableness and purity, become licentious and turbulent to the last degree, and perpetually instigated by the arrogance and ambition of the Bishops, who were come to contend with arms as well as curses, for the possession of opulent Churches. It was not uncommon with these ambitious men, to affront and revile the Emperors to their faces, to publish Invectives against them, to break the public Peace and to raise frequent Tumults and Seditions. As they were the most complaisant Courtiers when pleased; so they were the most implacable Incendiaries when disgusted. All this was enough to alarm any Prince, and to awaken resentment in the most flegmatic. Moreover a great part of the wealth and revenue, which used to go towards the public Charge, particularly to defend the Frontiers against the Barbarians, was diverted and appropriated to maintain the grandeur and pomp of the great Prelates; sacerdotes specie religionis fortunas omnes effundebant, as Tacitus says, upon another occasion.
As some parts of the behaviour of that great Prince, one wise and good in most things, but mistaken and even unjust in others, chiefly towards the Christians, ought to be censured and condemned; the behaviour of the Christians towards him can never be justified. They insulted him intolerably, with all the excesses of bitterness and ill-breeding, while he lived, and slandered and blackened him shamefully when dead; as much as some of them basely flattered and extolled other Emperors, who, though complaisant and liberal to the Ecclesiastics, were consuming Tyrants.
It is the business of Truth and of true Religion, to give even enemies their due, and friends no more than their due. To give Julian his; if we lay aside his Religion, I doubt whether we can find upon record one Prince that excelled him, or three that equalled him. He is indeed a pattern to princes, in spite of the anger and obloquy of Writers who were apparently animated by a spirit then too common, a spirit altogether narrow, monkish, and vindictive; such a one as the charitable Religion of Jesus disclaims, and wants not. To his benevolent Gospel and Precepts I sincerely wish all men to conform; but fewer signs of such conformity, or rather greater signs of the want of it, have I no where seen, than in the Conduct, Discourses, and Writiengs of such as have railed at others for their religious sentiments, real or imputed. I wish too that a temper so barbarous and Antichristian had been entirely confined to the Days of that Emperor, whose Administration will for ever recommend him to all calm and impartial men, as an astonishing example of virtue and parts.
The Reign of Jovian, whose intention seems to have been honest and good, was but short, and followed by those of Valentinian and Valens; Princes exceeding furious, suspicious and sanguinary. Under them the old Accusations, Confiscations and Carnage were revived without mercy, and continued thenceforward, with few intervals, till the Roman Empire was quite overthrown. The people in every part of it being quite harrassed and consumed, finding no relaxation from Oppressors and Accusations, no protection from Law, no refuge in the Clemency of the Emperors, grew desperate, and revolted to the Goths, Huns, Vandals, and other Invaders.
The Excellency of a limited Monarchy, especially of our own.
I Think it is Machiavel who observes, that two or three weak and bad Princes succeeding each other, are sufficient to ruin a State, where they govern by mere Will; but it may survive a long succession of foolish Princes limited by good Laws. Vespasian found three hundred millions (of our money) wanting to restore the Empire to a condition of subsisting. Monarchy, according to Plato, is the best Government, or the worst: to which opinion I subscribe; as I do to that of Philip De Comines, that England is the place in the world, where the Public is most equally administered, and where the people suffer the least violence. We are blessed with that form of Government which Tacitus mentions as the most perfect, and thinks the hardest to be framed; that happy ballance and mixture of interests which comprehends every interest i .
An English Monarch has one advantage which sets him above any arbitrary Monarch upon earth; he obliges his subjects by being obliged to them. As he protects them by defending their Property and Laws; so they, by supporting him, enable him to do it: while they give by choice, and not by force, they give chearfully. Princes who take all themselves, and leave nothing to their people to give, can never be beloved by their people. If it be true that we hate those whom we have hurt, it is equally true, that we are apt to love those whom we have obliged. Hence God is said, not only to love doing good, but to love the good that he does.
Arbitrary Princes would doubtless chuse to have the love and affections of their people, were the same to be acquired by furious and unaccountable Rule; but this is impossible. Hence dread of their power is all the share they can expect in the hearts of their subjects; and this is a compliment which their subjects pay to things the most hideous and vile; to Serpents; to mad and wild Beasts; to Plagues and Satan; to Pain and Poverty. But even this miserable compliment is not always paid to such princes: they are not always dreaded. When their terrors are become habitual, they cease, in a good measure, to be terrors; the people grow hardened and desperate; they themselves become scorned; and contempt, the most abject lot in life, becomes the portion of those who possess the highest. When Nero asked Subrius Flavius, one of the Conspirators against his life, from what motives he had renounced his Allegiance; “It was because I abhorred thee,” said he. The Consul Vestinius too was known to Nero, to despise his vile and unmanly spirit; and in the whole detection of that Conspiracy, and the punishment of the conspirators, nothing was so signal as the series of contempt poured upon that brutal Tyrant, in the heighth of his Power, and amidst the terrors of his Tyranny. Nothing, says Tacitus, mortified him so much. But when the Monster was deposed, he incurred such sovereign scorn, that he was doomed to be stripped naked, and scourged to death like a slave, with his head fastened in a pillory; his carcass to be cast afterwards from the Tarpeian Rock, and with a hook in his nose to be dragged to the Tiber.
Nor could the great reputation of Julius Cæsar, or that of Augustus, and all their Power, secure them from popular insults and despight. The mœchum calvum, and videsne ut cinædus orbem digito temperet; were contumelies which even their greatness could not escape. Mithridates King of Armenia, when despoiled of his Kingdom, experienced by the behaviour of his People, how much they reverenced him; they even assaulted him with reproaches and blows k . When the Emperor Vitellius was led along to the slaughter, with his hands bound behind him, his habit all torn, and himself a filthy spectacle; he found much the like usage. Numbers wounded him with reproaches; but none was found to bewail him; and the populace railed at him when dead, with the same baseness of heart, with which they had flattered him living l .
Of the general Debasement of Spirit and Adulation which accompany Power unlimited.
[h ]Proximorum fauces aperuit primus Constantinus.
[i ]Cunctas nationes & urbes populus, aut primores, aut singuli regunt. Delecta ex his & constituta Reipub. forma laudari facilius quam evenire, vel, fi evenit, haud diuturna esse potest.
[k ]Vulgus duro imperio habitum, probra ac verbera intentabat.
[l ]Vulgus eadem pravitate insectabatur interfectum, qua foverat viventem.