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alone had raised Pescennius Niger, from an obscure
birth and station, to the government of Syria
; a lucrative and
important command, which in times of civil confusion gave him a near
prospect of the throne. Yet his parts seem to have been better
suited to the second than to the first rank; he was an unequal rival,
though he might have approved himself an excellent lieutenant
, who afterwards displayed the greatness of his mind by
adopting several useful institutions from a vanquished enemy.
his government Niger acquired the esteem of the soldiers and the love of
the provincials. His rigid discipline foritfied the valor and
confirmed the obedience
of the former, whilst the voluptuous Syrians
were less delighted with the mild firmness of his administration
than with the affability of his manners, and the apparent pleasure with
which he attended their frequent and pompous
soon as the intelligence of the atrocious murder of Pertinax
, the wishes of Asia invited Niger to assume the
Imperial purple and revenge his death. The legions of the eastern
frontier embraced his cause; the opulent but unarmed provinces,
from the frontiers of Aethiopia 23
to the Hadriatic
cheerfully submitted to his power; and the kings beyond the Tigris and
congratulated his election, and offered him their homage
and services. The mind of Niger was not capable of receiving this
sudden tide of fortune: he flattered himself that his accession would be
undisturbed by competition
and unstained by civil blood; and
whilst he enjoyed the vain pomp of triumph, he neglected to secure the
means of victory. Instead of entering into an effectual
negotiation with the powerful armies of the West, whose resolution might
decide, or at least must balance, the mighty contest; instead
of advancing without delay towards Rome and Italy, where his presence
was impatiently expected, 24
Niger trifled away in the
luxury of Antioch those irretrievable moments which were diligently
improved by the decisive activity of Severus
Hist. August. p. 76.
Footnote 22: Herod. l. ii. p. 68. The Chronicle of John
Malala, of Antioch, shows the zealous attachment of his countrymen to
festivals, which at once gratified their superstition, and their love of
Footnote 23: A king of
Thebes, in Egypt, is mentioned,
in the Augustan History, as an ally, and, indeed, as a personal friend of
Niger. If Spartianus is not, as I strongly suspect, mistaken, he
has brought to light a dynasty of tributary princes totally unknown to
Footnote 24: Dion, l. lxxiii. p.
1238. Herod. l. ii. p. 67.
A verse in every one's mouth at that time, seems to express the general
opinion of the three rivals; Optimus est Niger, Fuscus, which
preserves the quantity. - M. bonus After, pessimus Albus. Hist. August. p.
Footnote 25: Herodian, l. ii. p. 71.
The country of Pannonia
, which occupied the space
between the Danube
and the Hadriatic, was one of the last and most
difficult conquests of the Romans. In the defence of national freedom,
two hundred thousand of these barbarians had once appeared in
the field, alarmed the declining age of Augustus, and exercised the
vigilant prudence of Tiberius
at the head of the collected force of
the empire. 26
The Pannonians yielded at length to the
arms and institutions of Rome. Their recent subjection, however, the
neighborhood, and even the mixture, of the unconquered tribes, and
perhaps the climate, adapted, as it has been observed, to the
production of great bodies and slow minds, 27
contributed to preserve some remains of their original ferocity, and under
and uniform countenance of Roman provincials, the hardy features of
the natives were still to be discerned. Their warlike
afforded an inexhaustible supply of recruits to the legions stationed on
the banks of the Danube, and which, from a perpetual warfare
against the Germans and Sarmazans, were deservedly esteemed the
best troops in the service.
Footnote 26: See an account of that memorable war in
Velleius Paterculus, is 110, &c., who served in the army of
Footnote 27: Such is the reflection of Herodian, l. ii. p.
74. Will the modern Austrians allow the influence?
The Pannonian army was at this time commanded by Septimius
, a native of Africa, who, in the gradual ascent of private
honors, had concealed his daring ambition, which was never diverted
from its steady course by the allurements of pleasure, the
apprehension of danger, or the feelings of humanity. 28
the first news of the murder of Pertinax, he assembled his troops, painted
in the most lively colors the crime, the insolence, and the weakness of
the Praetorian guard
s, and animated the legions to arms and to
revenge. He concluded (and the peroration was thought extremely
eloquent) with promising every soldier about four hundred pounds;
an honorable donative, double in value to the infamous bribe with which
had purchased the empire. 29
The acclamations of
army immediately saluted Severus with the names of Augustus, Pertinax,
and Emperor; and he thus attained the lofty station to which
he was invited, by conscious merit and a long train of dream
s, the fruitful offsprings either of his superstition
Footnote 28: In the letter to Albinus, already
mentioned, Commodus accuses Severus, as one of the ambitious
generals who censured
his conduct, and wished to occupy his place. Hist. August. p.
Footnote 29: Pannonia was too poor to supply such a
sum. It was probably promised in the camp, and paid at Rome, after the
victory. In fixing the sum, I have adopted the conjecture of Casaubon.
See Hist. August. p. 66. Comment. p. 115.
Footnote 30: Herodian, l. ii. p. 78. Severus was declared
emperor on the banks of the Danube, either at Carnuntum, according to
Spartianus, (Hist. August. p. 65,) or else at Sabaria, according to Victor.
Mr. Hume, in supposing that the birth and dignity of Severus
were too much inferior to the Imperial crown, and that he marched into
Italy as general only, has not considered this transaction with
his usual accuracy, (Essay on the original contract.)
Note: Carnuntum, opposite to the mouth of the Morava: its position is
doubtful, either Petronel or Haimburg. A little intermediate village
seems to indicate by its name (Altenburg) the site of an old town.
D'Anville Geogr. Anc. Sabaria, now Sarvar. - G. Compare note 37. -
The new candidate for empire saw and improved the peculiar advantage
of his situation. His province extended to the Julian Alps
which gave an easy access into Italy; and he remembered the saying of
Augustus, That a Pannonian army might in ten days appear in
sight of Rome. 31
By a celerity proportioned to the
greatness of the occasion, he might reasonably hope to revenge
Julian, and receive the homage
of the senate and people, as their
lawful emperor, before his competitors, separated from Italy by an
immense tract of sea and land, were apprised of his success, or even of
his election. During the whole expedition
, he scarcely allowed
himself any moments for sleep or food; marching on foot, and in
complete armor, at the head of his columns, he insinuated himself
into the confidence and affection of his troops, pressed their diligence
revived their spirits, animated
their hopes, and was well
satisfied to share the hardships of the meanest soldier, whilst he kept in
view the infinite superiority of his reward.
Velleius Paterculus, l. ii. c. 3. We must reckon the march from the nearest
verge of Pannonia, and extend the sight of the city as far as
two hundred miles.
The wretched Julian had expected, and thought himself prepared, to
dispute the empire with the governor of Syria
; but in the invincible
and rapid approach of the Pannonian legions, he saw his inevitable ruin.
The hasty arrival of every messenger increased his just
apprehensions. He was successively informed, that Severus had passed
the Alps; that the Italian cities, unwilling or unable to oppose
his progress, had received him with the warmest professions of joy and
duty; that the important place of Ravenna
without resistance, and that the Hadriatic fleet was in the hands of the
conqueror. The enemy was now within two hundred and fifty
miles of Rome; and every moment diminished the narrow span of life
and empire allotted to Julian.
He attempted, however, to prevent, or at least to protract, his ruin. He
implored the venal faith of the Praetorians, filled the city with
unavailing preparations for war, drew lines round the suburb
s, and even
strengthened the fortifications of the palace; as if those last
intrenchments could be defended, without hope of relief, against a
victorious invader. Fear and shame prevented the guards from
deserting his standard; but they trembled at the name of the Pannonian
legions, commanded by an experienced general, and
accustomed to vanquish
the barbarians on the frozen Danube.
They quitted, with a sigh, the pleasures of the baths and
put on arms, whose use they had almost forgotten, and beneath the
weight of which they were oppressed. The unpractised elephants,
whose uncouth appearance, it was hoped, would strike terror into the
army of the north, threw their unskilful riders; and the awkward
evolutions of the marines, drawn from the fleet of Misenum, were an
object of ridicule to the populace; whilst the senate enjoyed, with
secret pleasure, the distress and weakness of the usurper. 33
Footnote 32: This is not a puerile figure of rhetoric, but
an allusion to a real fact recorded by Dion, l. lxxi. p. 1181. It probably
happened more than once.
Footnote 33: Dion, l. lxxiii. p. 1233. Herodian, l. ii. p.
81. There is no surer proof of the military skill of the Romans, than their
surmounting the idle terror, and afterwards disdaining the dangerous
use, of elephants in war.
Note: These elephants were kept for processions, perhaps for the games.
Se Herod. in loc. - M.
Every motion of Julian betrayed his trembling perplexity
. He insisted
that Severus should be declared a public enemy by the senate. He
entreated that the Pannonian general might be associated to the
empire. He sent public ambassadors of consular rank to negotiate with
his rival; he despatched private assassins to take away his life. He
designed that the Vestal virgin
s, and all the colleges of priests, in
their sacerdotal habits, and bearing before them the sacred pledges of
the Roman religion, should advance in solemn procession to
meet the Pannonian legions; and, at the same time, he vainly tried to
interrogate, or to appease, the fates, by magic
unlawful sacrifices. 34
Footnote 34: Hist. August. p. 62, 63.
Note: Quae ad speculum dicunt fieri in quo pueri praeligatis oculis,
incantate..., respicere dicuntur. * * * Tuncque puer vidisse dicitur
et adventun Severi et Juliani decessionem. This seems to have been a
practice somewhat similar to that of which our recent Egyptian
travellers relate such extraordinary circumstances. See also Apulius, Orat.
de Magia. - M.
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