Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/392

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
318
THE DECLINE AND FALL

appeal, the most prudent of the assembly declined exposing their safety and dignity to the caprice of an armed multitude. The strength of the legions was, indeed, a pledge of their sincerity, since those who may command are seldom reduced to the necessity of dissembling; but could it naturally be expected, that a hasty repentance would correct the inveterate habits of fourscore years? Should the soldiers relapse into their accustomed seditions, their insolence might disgrace the majesty of the senate, and prove fatal to the object of its choice. Motives like these dictated a decree by which the election of a new emperor was referred to the suffrage of the military order.

A.D. 275, Feb 3. A peaceful interregnum of eight months The contention that ensued is one of the best attested, but, most improbable, events in the history of mankind.[1] The troops, as if satiated with the exercise of power, again conjured the senate to invest one of its own body with the Imperial purple. The senate still persisted in its refusal; the army in its request. The reciprocal offer was pressed and rejected at least three times, and, whilst the obstinate modesty of either party was resolved to receive a master from the hands of the other, eight months insensibly elapsed; an amazing period of tranquil anarchy, during which the Roman world remained without a sovereign, without an usurper, and without a sedition. The generals and magistrates appointed by Aurelian continued to execute their ordinary functions; and it is observed that a proconsul of Asia was the only considerable person removed from his office in the whole course of the interregnum.

An event somewhat similar, but much less authentic, is supposed to have happened after the death of Romulus, who, in his life and character, bore some affinity with Aurelian. The throne was vacant during twelve months till the election of a Sabine philosopher, and the public peace was guarded in the same manner by the union of the several orders of the state. But, in the time of Numa and Romulus, the arms of the people were controlled by the authority of the Patricians; and the balance of freedom was easily preserved in a small and virtuous community.[2] The

  1. Vopiscus, our principal authority, wrote at Rome sixteen years only after the death of Aurelian; and, besides the recent notoriety of the facts, constantly draws his materials from the Journals of the Senate, and the original papers of the Ulpian library. [See Appendix I.] Zosimus and Zonaras appear as ignorant of this transaction as they were in general of the Roman constitution. [The interregnum was six months, according to Vopiscus, xxvii. I, I, and xxvi. 40, 4. Eight months results from combining the date 3rd February (xxvi. 41, 3) with 25th September (xxvii. 3, 2). But see last chapter, note 103.]
  2. Liv. i. 17. Dionys. Halicarn. I. ii. p. 115 [57]. Plutarch, in Numa, p. 60.