Imágenes de páginas



Some were sown up in the skins of newly-slaughtered animals, and thrown to the wild beasts, and many were actually beaten to death. The cruelties of Maximin were tolerated while they affected only a few of the rich and noble : but when he sent his officers to plunder all the cities throughout the empire of the independent revenues usually set apart for the provision or entertainment of the people at large, the general indignation was excited. Still more, when the tyrant comnianded that the temples should be stripped of their offerings, and had the statues of the gods melted down to satisfy the avarice of the soldiers who were his companions in crime. In many places the superstitious people died in defending their altars; but in a small town of Africa the messengers of Maximin were effectually resisted. The inhabitants made their rebellion generally acceptable by choosing as emperors, Gordian, the pro-consul of Africa, and his son. Gordian was eighty years of age, and so fond of study and of peace that he accepted the purple with real sorrow. His son was of the same tastes and disposition, and it is said, his library contained many thousand volumes : yet they were both able commanders, and the younger Gordian had long served with his father. The Gordians held their court at Carthage; and the Africans, who had never had the presence of an emperor since the visit of Adrian, were full of joy and pride. But their rejoicing was short ; for after a reign of only thirty-six days both the emperors were slain in a battle with the Mauritanian barbarians, who were assisted by troops in Maximin's interest. The news of their death caused great distress in Italy, as all were preparing to support them ; but in the general confusion one of the senators observed, that though the Gordians had been cut off there were others of their number equally fit to reign. After some tumult, Pupienus and Balbinus were chosen, and a boy of the Gordian family was appointed Cæsar, in remembrance of the late emperors. Nothing could exceed the fury of Maximin on hearing of these events : it is said, he beat his head against the wall, and raged liked a wild beast, so that even his son was afraid to approach him. He quickly prepared his armies to enter Italy; and having crossed the Alps besieged the strong city of Aquileia, as the first that resisted his advance. But his soldiers being discouraged by the obstinacy of its defence, the disease and famine spreading among them, and still more by the fierce tempers of Maximin, resolved to get free by destroying the tyrant and his son.



The strength of Maximin was not even put forth in selfdefence; for he was killed with his son as they lay asleep at noon-day in their tent, A.D. 238.

Upon the announcement of the death of Maximin the gates of Aquileia were opened, and the whole army consented to obey Pupienus and Balbinus. But these emperors were, in the meantime, weakening themselves by disunion. Pupienus was a rough soldier, distinguished for his military talents and strict justice; and Balbinus was an orator and a poet, beloved for his amiable character and generous disposition. The former despised the latter as a studious nobleman, and was in his turn held in contempt as an uneducated, low-born soldier. The guards did not like the severe Pupienus, nor fear the gentle Balbinus ; and taking advantage of their discord, slew them both as they were in distant parts of the same palace, while the people were celebrating the public games. Under the rule of the young Gordian, who was only sixteen years of age, they expected to be without control : but at the age of eighteen he escaped from the evil guidance of worthless ministers, and proved his wisdom by committing the direction of public affairs to Misitheus, a prudent and able counsellor. He studied the people's happiness at Rome, while Gordian was victorious abroad in a war with the Persians. It was on this occasion that the temple of Janus was opened for the last time.

In A.D. 241, Misitheus died, and Philip, an Arab by birth, and in his earlier life a robber, succeeded him as prefect, an officer only second in authority to the emperor himself. But not satisfied with this measure of power, he caused Gordian to be murdered whilst he was in the East. He had been generally beloved, and the mourning army raised a funeral monument in his honour on the banks of the Euphrates, A.D. 244.

The Prætorians were quite willing to raise their prefect to imperial power, and the senate were obliged to recognise Philip as the lawful emperor.

The Christians had enjoyed a long season of peace, which was only interrupted by the execution of some of the pastors by the command of Maximin, simply because they had been favoured by Alexander.

During this stormy period of frequent political changes, religious differences seemed to pass unheeded; and it also appears that the lukewarmness or worldliness of the Christians



did not expose them to persecution. Nothing can more clearly prove the low standard of Christianity than the fact of the profession of Philip himself. Origen remarks, at this period, that many Christians only came to the assemblies on solemn festivals, and then more for amusement than instruction. Some would not stay till the end of the lecture, others did not hear a word of it, but entertained themselves in a corner; and the ancient custom of staying to speak to the pastors, or ask questions expressive of interest in spiritual things was quite out of fashion. At the same time he speaks of the haughty manners and ambition of the bishops, and the wrong steps they took to get into places of honour or profit.

In A.D. 247, a thousand years after the foundation of Rome, the emperor celebrated the grandest idolatrous games : on this occasion of festivity two thousand gladiators shed their blood in the amphitheatre, for the entertainment of the gazing multitudes; and day after day these shocking exhibitions were witnessed' with the same delight.

In A.D. 249, a rebellion took place in one of the northerr provinces, and Philip sent thither Decius, one of his ablest generals. The unruly legions left him no choice but death or the empire; and in such circumstances it was not surprising that Decius accepted the purple, and led them into Italy. He professed indeed that it was his intention to restore the army to obedience; but Philip was slain in the first battle that took place, and his son and associate in the empire was murdered at Rome by the Prætorians. It has been remarked, that during the first four centuries of their existence the Romans were learning the arts of war and government in the school of poverty ; that in the next three centuries, by the use of these arts, they obtained such a vast extent of empire : and in the next three hundred years, which close our present period, there was apparent prosperity but inward decay. The causes of this decay have been thus explained. The small, but warlike people, who originally bore the name of Romans, were now confounded with the millions of provincials who had the name without preserving the spirit or the interest of Roman citizens. The people at large, burdened with taxes, were in a state of slavery; and the soldiers, who were the only free men, made the worst use of their independence. They had learned, by frequent experience, they could raise to the empire whomsoever



they pleased, whether a Syrian priest, a Thracian shepherd, or an Arab robber; and they had, in the same lawless spirit, destroyed their emperors again and again. The legions that guarded the frontiers were now weakened by insubjection to discipline and the introduction of luxury ; and the barbarians began to discover that the ways into the empire were more numerous and more easily passed.

These foreign enemies, however, were to the Romans what enemies without were to the Church—the means of making them vigilant and united ; and during the coming period we shall find the decline of the empire and of the Church thus delayed : the former gaining a little strength by vigorous contests with the barbarians, the latter purged and revived by the fires of persecution.


PENANCE.- CONFESSION. The Romans had such an idea of their own greatness that they commonly spoke of the empire as the whole world : yet the frequency of their foreign wars might have taught them otherwise ; and they were now getting more experience of the strength of the nations lying outside their boundaries.

In the course of our history it has been apparent that the barbarians, as they were called, were far more difficult to overcome than the more civilised nations. Multitudes perished by the sword, and still greater numbers were taken captives, before Gaul, Britain, and Germany could be counted among the provinces of the Roman empire : and even then, the natives who would not submit fled beyond the limits of this new dominion, and in the mountains and wildernesses of the north of Europe they multiplied and grew up in savage independence and determined enmity against the Roman name. Independent Germany (for the Romans had only that part west of the Rhine) extended over a third part of modern Europe; for the inhabi188


tants of those countries now known as Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Livonia, Prussia, and great part of Poland, were but different tribes of the same great nation, resembling each other in complexion, manners, and language. But they were quite distinct from the Sarmatians and Scythians of modern Russia and northern Asia, and frequently at war with the tribes that lived on their borders. It appears that the climate of Europe was formerly much colder than it is now; for the Rhine and Danube were frequently frozen over, so that the barbarians could transport over them not only numerous armies and horsemen, but the heavy waggons containing their families and goods. Moreover the reindeer, which cannot now live south of the Baltic, was common in the forests of Germany when they were entered by Cæsar. The same causes, namely, immense forests and large morasses, now produce the difference between the climate of Canada and that of the kingdoms of Europe in the same latitude. The ancient Germans were a vigorous race, great lovers of liberty, and equally bold in at. tacking foreign enemies as in resisting the absolute rule of any one man among themselves. Their divisions and want of arms alone disabled them from taking possession of the tempting provinces of the empire upon which they bordered, and whereon they trespassed whenever an opportunity offered. Their union, in the reign of Marcus Antoninus, enabled them to carry on a long and doubtful conflict ; and the German soldiers, then taken into Roman service, found opportunities of teaching their countrymen the arts of war and the use of superior arms. The Goths, Vandals, Alemanni, Lombards, &c., of whom we shall often have occasion to speak, were all Germanic tribes. The Goths came originally from the regions beyond the Baltic, where a remembrance of them is still preserved in the name of Gothland. Their religion was the invention of Odin, the law. giver of the north; and by him they were taught to worship an invisible Odin as the god of war. Fearing that his doctrine would be disbelieved if he died of disease or old age, the false prophet, when he felt his end approaching, called a large assembly of Swedes and Goths, and having mortally wounded himself in their presence, he assured them that he was going to prepare the feast of heroes in the palace of the god of war. It is probable their faith was confirmed in this manner, for it was generally believed that those who fell in battle would be happy

« AnteriorContinuar »