Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/153

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79
OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

ministers prepared to serve, the fear or the avarice, the lust or the cruelty, of their masters.

Memory of Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian These gloomy apprehensions had been already justified by the experience of the Romans. The annals of the emperors exhibit a strong and various picture of human nature, which we should vainly seek among the mixed and doubtful characters of modern history. In the conduct of those monarchs we may trace the utmost lines of vice and virtue; the most exalted perfection and the meanest degeneracy of our own species. The golden age of Trajan and the Antonines had been preceded by an age of iron. It is almost superfluous to enumerate the unworthy successor's of Augustus. Their unparalleled vices, and the splendid theatre on which they were acted, have saved them from oblivion. The dark unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the stupid Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius,[1] and the timid inhuman Domitian, are condemned to everlasting infamy. During fourscore years (excepting only the short and doubtful respite of Vespasian's reign),[2] Rome groaned beneath an unremitting tyranny, which exterminated the ancient families of the republic, and was fatal to almost every virtue and every talent that arose in that unhappy period.

Peculiar misery of the Romans under their tyrants Under the reign of these monsters[3] the slavery of the Romans was accompanied with two peculiar circumstances, the one occasioned by their former liberty, the other by their extensive conquests, which rendered their condition more wretched than that of the victims of tyranny in any other age or country. From these causes were derived, 1. The exquisite sensibility of the sufferers; and 2. The impossibility of escaping from the hand of the oppressor.

Insensibility of the Orientals I. When Persia was governed by the descendants of Sefi, a insensibility race of princes whose wanton cruelty often stained their divan, orientals their table, and their bed with the blood of their favourites, there is a saying recorded of a young nobleman, That he never
  1. Vitellius consumed in mere eating at least six millions of our money, in about seven months. It is not easy to express his vices with dignity, or even decency. Tacitus fairly calls him a hog; but it is by substituting for a coarse word a very fine image. "At Vitellius, umbraculis hortorum abditus, ut ignava animalia, quibus si cibum suggeras jacent torpentque, præterita, instantia, futura, pari oblivione dimiserat. Atque ilium nemore Aricino desidem et marcentem," &c. Tacit. Hist. iii. 36, ii. 95. Sueton. in Vitell. c. 13. Dio. Cassius, 1. lxv. p. 1062 [3].
  2. The execution of Helvidius Priscus and of the virtuous Eponina disgraced the reign of Vespasian.
  3. [But there is another side to this picture, which may be seen by studying Mommsen's volume on the provinces].