Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/173

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99
OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

Legal jurisdiction of the senate over the emperors These effusions of impotent rage against a dead emperor, whom the senate had flattered when alive with the most abject senate over servility, betrayed a just but ungenerous spirit of revenge. The legality of these decrees was, however, supported by the principles of the Imperial constitution. To censure, to depose, or to punish with death, the first magistrate of the republic who had abused his delegated trust, was the ancient and undoubted prerogative of the Roman senate;[1] but that feeble assembly was obliged to content itself with inflicting on a fallen tyrant that public justice from which, during his life and reign, he had been shielded by the strong arm of military despotism.

Virtues of Pertinax Pertinax found a nobler way of condemning his predecessor's memory,—by the contrast of his own virtues with the vices of Commodus. On the day of his accession he resigned over to his wife and son his whole private fortune;[2] that they might have no pretence to solicit favours at the expense of the state. He refused to flatter the vanity of the former with the title of Augusta, or to corrupt the inexperienced youth of the latter by the rank of Cæsar. Accurately distinguishing between the duties of a parent and those of a sovereign, he educated his son with a severe simplicity, which, while it gave him no assured prospect of the throne, might in time have rendered him worthy of it. In public the behaviour of Pertinax was grave and affable. He lived with the virtuous part of the senate[3] (and, in a private station, he had been acquainted with the true character of each individual), without either pride or jealousy; considered them as friends and companions, with whom he had shared the dangers of the tyranny, and with whom he wished to enjoy the security of the present time. He very frequently invited them to familiar entertainments, the frugality of which was ridiculed by those who remembered and regretted the luxurious prodigality of Commodus.[4]
  1. The senate condemned Nero to be put to death more majorum. Sueton. c. 49.
  2. [This act has considerable significance in the history of the exchequer of the Roman Empire. Antoninus Pius had already acted in the same way, making over his private property to his daughter Faustina. The principle involved was the separation of the Emperor's private purse from the fiscus, or public money which came to him as Emperor. This separation was systematically carried out by Septimius Severus.]
  3. [The note of the policy of Pertinax was the restoration of the authority of the senate, which, during the preceding century, had been gradually becoming less and less. He assumed the title princeps senatus, and things looked like a return of the system of Augustus.]
  4. Dion (1. lxxiii. p. 122 [3]) speaks of these entertainments, as a senator who had supped with the emperor; Capitolinus (Hist. August, p. 58 [viii. 12]) like a slave who had received his intelligence from one of the scullions.