Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/393

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319
OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

decline of the Roman state, far different from its infancy, was attended with every circumstance that could banish from an interregnum the prospect of obedience and harmony: an immense and tumultuous capital, a wide extent of empire, the servile equality of despotism, an army of four hundred thousand mercenaries, and the experience of frequent revolution. Yet, notwithstanding all these temptations, the discipline and memory of Aurelian still restrained the seditious temper of the troops, as well as the fatal ambition of their leaders. The flower of the legions maintained their stations on the banks of the Bosphorus, and the Imperial standard awed the less powerful camps of Rome and of the provinces. A generous though transient enthusiasm seemed to animate the military order; and we may hope that a few real patriots cultivated the returning friendship of the army and the senate, as the only expedient capable of restoring the republic to its ancient beauty and vigour.

A. D. 275, Sept. 25. The consul assembles the senate On the twenty-fifth of September, [1] near eight months after the murder of Aurelian, the consul convoked an assembly of the senate, and reported the doubtful and dangerous situation of the empire. He slightly insinuated that the precarious loyalty of the soldiers depended on the chance of every hour and of every accident; but he represented, with the most convincing eloquence, the various dangers that might attend any farther delay in the choice of an emperor. Intelligence, he said, was already received that the Germans had passed the Rhine and occupied some of the strongest and most opulent cities of Gaul. The ambition of the Persian king kept the East in perpetual alarms; Egypt, Africa, and Illyricum were exposed to foreign and domestic arms; and the levity of Syria would prefer even a female sceptre to the asnctity of the Roman laws. The consul then, addressing himself to Tacitus, the first of the senators, [2] required his opinion on the important subject of a proper candidate for the vacant throne.

Character of Tacitus If we can prefer personal merit to accidental greatness, we shall esteem the birth of Tacitus more truly noble than that of kings. He claimed his descent from the philosophic historian

  1. The first of these writers relates the story like an orator, the second like a lawyer, and the third like a moralist, and none of them probably without some intermixture of fable. [This date is confirmed by xxvii. 13, 6, whereas that of the former meeting of the senate, 3rd February, is probably false.]
  2. Vopiscus (in Hist. August, p. 227 [xxvii. 4]) calls him "primæ sententiæ consularis"; and soon afterwards, Princeps senatûs. It is natural to suppose that the monarchs of Rome, disdaining that humble title, resigned it to the most ancient of the senators.