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The Praetorian guards were attached to the youth of Alexander. They loved him as a tender pupil, whom they had saved from a tyrant's fury, and placed on the imperial throne. That amiable prince was sensible of the obligation; but as his gratitude was restrained within the limits of reason and justice, they soon were more dissatisfied with the virtues of Alexander, than they had ever been with the vices of Elagabalus. Their praefect, the wise Ulpian, was the friend of the laws and of the people; he was considered as the enemy of the soldiers, and to his pernicious counsels every scheme of reformation was imputed. Some trifling accident blew up their discontent into a furious mutiny; and the civil war raged, during three days, in Rome, whilst the life of that excellent minister was defended by the grateful people. Terrified, at length, by the sight of some houses in flames, and by the threats of a general conflagration, the people yielded with a sigh, and left the virtuous but unfortunate Ulpian to his fate. He was
pursued into the imperial palace, and massacred at the feet of his master, who vainly strove to cover him with the purple, and to
obtain his pardon from the inexorable soldiers. * Such was the deplorable weakness of government, that the emperor was unable to
revenge his murdered friend and his insulted dignity, without stooping to the arts of patience and dissimulation. Epagathus, the
principal leader of the mutiny, was removed from Rome, by the honorable employment of praefect of Egypt: from that high rank he
was gently degraded to the government of Crete; and when at length, his popularity among the guards was effaced by time and
absence, Alexander ventured to inflict the tardy but deserved punishment of his crimes. 74 Under the reign of a just and virtuous
prince, the tyranny of the army threatened with instant death his most faithful ministers, who were suspected of an intention to correct
their intolerable disorders. The historian Dion Cassius had commanded the Pannonian legions with the spirit of ancient discipline. Their
brethren of Rome, embracing the common cause of military license, demanded the head of the reformer. Alexander, however, instead
of yielding to their seditious clamors, showed a just sense of his merit and services, by appointing him his colleague in the consulship,
and defraying from his own treasury the expense of that vain dignity: but as was justly apprehended, that if the soldiers beheld him
with the ensigns of his office, they would revenge the insult in his blood, the nominal first magistrate of the state retired, by the
emperor's advice, from the city, and spent the greatest part of his consulship at his villas in Campania. 75 *
Footnote *: Gibbon has confounded two events altogether different - the quarrel of the people with the Praetorians, which lasted three days, and the assassination of Ulpian by the latter. Dion relates first the death of Ulpian, afterwards, reverting back according to a manner which is usual with him, he says that during the life of Ulpian, there had been a war of three days between the Praetorians and the people. But
Ulpian was not the cause. Dion says, on the contrary, that it was occasioned by some unimportant circumstance; whilst he assigns a
weighty reason for the murder of Ulpian, the judgment by which that Praetorian praefect had condemned his predecessors, Chrestus
and Flavian, to death, whom the soldiers wished to revenge. Zosimus (l. 1, c. xi.) attributes this sentence to Mamaera; but, even then,
the troops might have imputed it to Ulpian, who had reaped all the advantage and was otherwise odious to them. - W.
Footnote 74: Though the author of the life of Alexander (Hist. August. p. 182) mentions the sedition raised against Ulpian by the soldiers, he conceals the catastrophe, as it might discover a weakness in the administration of his hero. From this designed omission, we may
judge of the weight and candor of that author.
Footnote 75: For an account of Ulpian's fate and his own danger, see the mutilated conclusion of Dion's History, l. lxxx. p. 1371.
Footnote *: Dion possessed no estates in Campania, and was not rich. He only says that the emperor advised him to reside, during his consulate, in some place out of Rome; that he returned to Rome after the end of his consulate, and had an interview with the emperor in Campania. He asked and obtained leave to pass the rest of his life in his native city, (Nice, in Bithynia: ) it was there that he finished his history, which closes with his second consulship. - W.
The lenity of the emperor confirmed the insolence of the troops; the legions imitated the example of the guards, and defended their
prerogative of licentiousness with the same furious obstinacy. The administration of Alexander was an unavailing struggle against the
corruption of his age. In llyricum, in Mauritania, in Armenia, in Mesopotamia, in Germany, fresh mutinies perpetually broke out; his
officers were murdered, his authority was insulted, and his life at last sacrificed to the fierce discontents of the army. 76 One
particular fact well deserves to be recorded, as it illustrates the manners of the troops, and exhibits a singular instance of their return to
a sense of duty and obedience. Whilst the emperor lay at Antioch, in his Persian expedition, the particulars of which we shall hereafter
relate, the punishment of some soldiers, who had been discovered in the baths of women, excited a sedition in the legion to which they
belonged. Alexander ascended his tribunal, and with a modest firmness represented to the armed multitude the absolute necessity, as
well as his inflexible resolution, of correcting the vices introduced by his impure predecessor, and of maintaining the discipline, which
could not be relaxed without the ruin of the Roman name and empire. Their clamors interrupted his mild expostulation. "Reserve your
shout," said the undaunted emperor, "till you take the field against the Persians, the Germans, and the Sarmatians. Be silent in the
presence of your sovereign and benefactor, who bestows upon you the corn, the clothing, and the money of the provinces. Be silent,
or I shall no longer style you solders, but citizens, 77 if those indeed who disclaim the laws of Rome deserve to be ranked among the
meanest of the people." His menaces inflamed the fury of the legion, and their brandished arms already threatened his person. "Your
courage," resumed the intrepid Alexander, "would be more nobly displayed in the field of battle; me you may destroy, you cannot
intimidate; and the severe justice of the republic would punish your crime and revenge my death." The legion still persisted in
clamorous sedition, when the emperor pronounced, with a cud voice, the decisive sentence, "Citizens! lay down your arms, and depart
in peace to your respective habitations." The tempest was instantly appeased: the soldiers, filled with grief and shame, silently
confessed the justice of their punishment, and the power of discipline, yielded up their arms and military ensigns, and retired in
confusion, not to their camp, but to the several inns of the city. Alexander enjoyed, during thirty days, the edifying spectacle of their
repentance; nor did he restore them to their former rank in the army, till he had punished with death those tribunes whose connivance
had occasioned the mutiny. The grateful legion served the emperor whilst living, and revenged him when dead. 78
Footnote 76: Annot. Reimar. ad Dion Cassius, l. lxxx. p. 1369.
Footnote 77: Julius Caesar had appeased a sedition with the same word, Quirites; which, thus opposed to soldiers, was used in a sense of contempt, and reduced the offenders to the less honorable condition of mere citizens. Tacit. Annal. i. 43.
Footnote 78: Hist. August. p. 132.
The resolutions of the multitude generally depend on a moment; and the caprice of passion might equally determine the seditious legion
to lay down their arms at the emperor's feet, or to plunge them into his breast. Perhaps, if this singular transaction had been
investigated by the penetration of a philosopher, we should discover the secret causes which on that occasion authorized the boldness
of the prince, and commanded the obedience of the troops; and perhaps, if it had been related by a judicious historian, we should find
this action, worthy of Caesar himself, reduced nearer to the level of probability and the common standard of the character of
Alexander Severus. The abilities of that amiable prince seem to have been inadequate to the difficulties of his situation, the firmness of
his conduct inferior to the purity of his intentions. His virtue s, as well as the vices of Elagabalus, contracted a tincture of weakness
and effeminacy from the soft climate of Syria, of which he was a native; though he blushed at his foreign origin, and listened with a
vain complacency to the flattering genealogists, who derived his race from the ancient stock of Roman nobility. 79 The pride and
avarice of his mother cast a shade on the glories of his reign; an by exacting from his riper years the same dutiful obedience which she
had justly claimed from his unexperienced youth, Mamaea exposed to public ridicule both her son's character and her own. 80 The
fatigues of the Persian war irritated the military discontent; the unsuccessful event * degraded the reputation of the emperor as a
general, and even as a soldier. Every cause prepared, and every circumstance hastened, a revolution, which distracted the Roman
empire with a long series of intestine calamities.
Footnote 79: From the Metelli. Hist. August. p. 119. The choice was judicious. In one short period of twelve years, the Metelli could
reckon seven consulships and five triumphs. See Velleius Paterculus, ii. 11, and the Fasti.
Footnote 80: The life of Alexander, in the Augustan History, is the mere idea of a perfect prince, an awkward imitation of the
Cyropaedia. The account of his reign, as given by Herodian, is rational and moderate, consistent with the general history of the age;
and, in some of the most invidious particulars, confirmed by the decisive fragments of Dion. Yet from a very paltry prejudice, the
greater number of our modern writers abuse Herodian, and copy the Augustan History. See Mess de Tillemont and Wotton. From the
opposite prejudice, the emperor Julian (in Caesarib. p. 315) dwells with a visible satisfaction on the effeminate weakness of the Syrian,
and the ridiculous avarice of his mother.
Footnote *: Historians are divided as to the success of the campaign against the Persians; Herodian alone speaks of defeat.
Lampridius, Eutropius, Victor, and others, say that it was very glorious to Alexander; that he beat Artaxerxes in a great battle, and
repelled him from the frontiers of the empire. This much is certain, that Alexander, on his return to Rome, (Lamp. Hist. Aug. c. 56,
133, 134,) received the honors of a triumph, and that he said, in his oration to the people. Alexander, says Eckhel, had too much modesty
and wisdom to permit himself to receive honors which ought only to be the reward of victory, if he had not deserved them; he would
have contented himself with dissembling his losses. Eckhel, Doct. Num. vet. vii. 276. The medals represent him as in triumph; one,
among others, displays him crowned by Victory between two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris.
The dissolute tyranny of Commodus, the civil wars occasioned by his death, and the new maxims of policy introduced by the house
of Severus, had all contributed to increase the dangerous power of the army, and to obliterate the faint image of laws and liberty that
was still impressed on the minds of the Romans. The internal change, which undermined the foundations of the empire, we have
endeavored to explain with some degree of order and perspicuity. The personal characters of the emperors, their victories, laws,
follies, and fortunes, can interest us no farther than as they are connected with the general history of the Decline and Fall of the
monarchy. Our constant attention to that great object will not suffer us to overlook a most important edict of Antoninus Caracalla,
which communicated to all the free inhabitants of the empire the name and privileges of Roman citizens. His unbounded liberality
flowed not, however, from the sentiments of a generous mind; it was the sordid result of avarice, and will naturally be illustrated by
some observations on the finances of that state, from the victorious ages of the commonwealth to the reign of Alexander Severus. The
siege of Veii in Tuscany, the first considerable enterprise of the Romans, was protracted to the tenth year, much less by the strength
of the place than by the unskillfulness of the besiegers. The unaccustomed hardships of so many winter campaigns, at the distance of
near twenty miles from home, 81 required more than common encouragements; aud the senate wisely prevented the clamors of the
people, by the institution of a regular pay for the soldiers, which was levied by a general tribute, assessed according to an equitable
proportion on the property of the citizens. 82 During more than two hundred years after the conquest of Veii, the victories of the
republic added less to the wealth than to the power of Rome. The states of Italy paid their tribute in military service only, and the vast
force, both by sea and land, which was exerted in the Punic wars, was maintained at the expense of the Romans themselves. That
high-spirited people (such is often the generous enthusiasm of freedom) cheerfully submitted to the most excessive but voluntary
burdens, in the just confidence that they should speedily enjoy the rich harvest of their labors. Their expectations were not
disappointed. In the course of a few years, the riches of Syracuse, of Carthage, of Macedonia, and of Asia, were brought in triumph
to Rome. The treasures of Perseus alone amounted to near two millions sterling, and the Roman people, the sovereign of so many
nations, was forever delivered from the weight of taxes. 83 The increasing revenue of the provinces was found sufficient to defray
the ordinary establishment of war and government, and the superfluous mass of gold and silver was deposited in the temple of Saturn,
and reserved for any unforeseen emergency of the state. 84
Footnote 81: According to the more accurate Dionysius, the city itself was only a hundred stadia, or twelve miles and a half, from
Rome, though some out-posts might be advanced farther on the side of Etruria. Nardini, in a professed treatise, has combated the
popular opinion and the authority of two popes, and has removed Veii from Civita Castellana, to a little spot called Isola, in the midway
between Rome and the Lake Bracianno.
Footnote 82: See the 4th and 5th books of Livy. In the Roman census, property, power, and taxation were commensurate with each
Footnote 83: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xxxiii. c. 3. Cicero de Offic. ii. 22. Plutarch, P. Aemil. p. 275.
Footnote 84: See a fine description of this accumulated wealth of ages in Phars. l. iii. v. 155, &c.
History has never, perhaps, suffered a greater or more irreparable injury than in the loss of the curious register * bequeathed by
Augustus to the senate, in which that experienced prince so accurately balanced the revenues and expenses of the Roman empire. 85
Deprived of this clear and comprehensive estimate, we are reduced to collect a few imperfect hints from such of the ancients as have
accidentally turned aside from the splendid to the more useful parts of history. We are informed that, by the conquests of Pompey, the
tributes of Asia were raised from fifty to one hundred and thirty-five millions of drachms; or about four millions and a half sterling.
86 ! Under the last and most indolent of the Ptolemies, the revenue of Egypt is said to have amounted to twelve thousand five
hundred talents; a sum equivalent to more than two millions and a half of our money, but which was afterwards considerably
improved by the more exact economy of the Romans, and the increase of the trade of Aethiopia and India. 87 Gaul was enriched by
rapine, as Egypt was by commerce, and the tributes of those two great provinces have been compared as nearly equal to each other in
value. 88 The ten thousand Euboic or Phoenician talents, about four millions sterling, 89 which vanquished Carthage was
condemned to pay within the term of fifty years, were a slight acknowledgment of the superiority of Rome, 90 and cannot bear the
least proportion with the taxes afterwards raised both on the lands and on the persons of the inhabitants, when the fertile coast of
Africa was reduced into a province. 91
Footnote *: See Rationarium imperii. Compare besides Tacitus, Suet. Aug. c. ult. Dion, p. 832. Other emperors kept and published
similar registers. See a dissertation of Dr. Wolle, de Rationario imperii Rom. Leipsig, 1773. The last book of Appian also contained the
statistics of the Roman empire, but it is lost. - W.
Footnote 85: Tacit. in Annal. i. ll. It seems to have existed in the time of Appian.
Footnote 86: Plutarch, in Pompeio, p. 642.
Footnote !: Wenck supposes that Pompey only raised the revenue from
50,000,000 to 85,000,000 of drachms; but the text of Plutarch seems clearly to mean that his conquests added 85,000,000 to the
Footnote 87: Strabo, l. xvii. p. 798.
Footnote 88: Velleius Paterculus, l. ii. c. 39. He seems to give the preference to the revenue of Gaul.
Footnote 89: The Euboic, the Phoenician, and the Alexandrian talents were double in weight to the Attic. See Hooper on ancient
weights and measures, p. iv. c. 5. It is very probable that the same talent was carried from Tyre to Carthage.
Footnote 90: Polyb. l. xv. c. 2.
Footnote 91: Appian in Punicis, p. 84.
Spain, by a very singular fatality, was the Peru and Mexico of the old world. The discovery of the rich western continent by the
Phoenicians, and the oppression of the simple natives, who were compelled to labor in their own mines for the benefit of strangers,
form an exact type of the more recent history of Spanish America. 92 The Phoenicians were acquainted only with the sea-coast of
Spain; avarice, as well as ambition, carried the arms of Rome and Carthage into the heart of the country, and almost every part of the
soil was found pregnant with copper, silver, and gold. * Mention is made of a mine near Carthagena which yielded every day
twenty-five thousand drachmns of silver, or about three hundred thousand pounds a year. 93 Twenty thousand pound weight of gold
was annually received from the provinces of Asturia, Gallicia, and Lusitania. 94
Footnote 92: Diodorus Siculus, l. 5. Oadiz was built by the Phoenicians a little more than a thousand years before Christ. See Vell. Pater. i.2.
Footnote *: Compare Heeren's Researches vol. i. part ii. p.
Footnote 93: Strabo, l. iii. p. 148.
Footnote 94: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xxxiii. c. 3. He mentions likewise a silver mine in Dalmatia, that yielded every day fifty pounds to the
We want both leisure and materials to pursue this curious inquiry through the many potent states that were annihilated in the
Roman empire. Some notion, however, may be formed of the revenue of the provinces where considerable wealth had been deposited
by nature, or collected by man, if we observe the severe attention that was directed to the abodes of solitude and sterility. Augustus
once received a petition from the inhabitants of Gyarus, humbly praying that they might be relieved from one third of their excessive
impositions. Their whole tax amounted indeed to no more than one hundred and fifty drachms, or about five pounds: but Gyarus was
a little island, or rather a rock, of the Aegean Sea, destitute of fresh water and every necessary of life, and inhabited only by a few
wretched fishermen. 95
Footnote 95: Strabo, l. x. p. 485. Tacit. Annal. iu. 69, and iv. 30. See Tournefort (Voyages au Levant, Lettre
viii.) a very lively picture of the actual misery of Gyarus.
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To cite original text:
Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. 1st ed. (London : Printed for W. Strahan ; and T. Cadell, 1776-1788.), pp. 158-164.