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The arms of Aurelian
had vanquished the foreign and domestic foes of the republic
. We are assured, that, by his salutary rigor
crimes and factions, mischievous arts and pernicious connivance, the luxurious growth of a feeble and oppressive government,
were eradicated throughout the Roman world. 87
But if we attentively reflect how much swifter is the progress of corruption
than its cure, and if we remember that the years abandoned to public disorders exceeded the months allotted to the martial
reign of Aurelian, we must confess that a few short intervals of peace were insufficient for the arduous work of reformation.
Even his attempt to restore the integrity of the coin was opposed by a formidable insurrection. The emperor's vexation
out in one of his private letters. "Surely," says he, "the gods have decreed that my life should be a perpetual warfare. A
sedition within the walls has just now given birth to a very serious civil war.
The workmen of the mint, at the instigation of
Felicissimus, a slave to whom I had entrusted an employment in the finances, have risen in rebellion
. They are at length
suppressed; but seven thousand of my soldiers have been slain in the contest, of those troops whose ordinary station is in
Dacia, and the camps along the Danube
Other writers, who confirm the same fact, add likewise, that it happened soon
after Aurelian's triumph; that the decisive engagement was fought on the Caelian hill; that the workmen of the mint had
adulterated the coin; and that the emperor restored the public credit, by delivering out good money in exchange for the bad,
which the people was commanded to bring into the treasury
Footnote 87: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 221.
Footnote 88: Hist. August. p. 222. Aurelian calls these soldiers Hiberi Riporiences Castriani, and Dacisci.
Footnote 89: Zosimus, l. i. p. 56. Eutropius, ix. 14. Aurel Victor.
We might content ourselves with relating this extraordinary transaction, but we cannot dissemble how much in its present
form it appears to us inconsistent and incredible. The debasement of the coin is indeed well suited to the administration of
; nor is it unlikely that the instruments of the corruption might dread the inflexible justice of Aurelian
. But the
guilt, as well as the profit
, must have been confined to a very few; nor is it easy to conceive by what arts they could arm a people
whom they had injured, against a monarch
whom they had betrayed. We might naturally expect that such miscreants should
have shared the public detestation with the informers and the other ministers of oppression
; and that the reformation of the
coin should have been an action equally popular with the destruction of those obsolete accounts, which by the emperor's order
were burnt in the forum of Trajan
In an age when the principles of commerce
were so imperfectly understood, the most
desirable end might perhaps be effected by harsh and injudicious means; but a temporary grievance of such a nature can
scarcely excite and support a serious civil war
. The repetition of intolerable taxes, imposed either on the land or on the
necessaries of life, may at last provoke those who will not, or who cannot, relinquish their country. But the case is far
otherwise in every operation which, by whatsoever expedients, restores the just value of money. The transient evil is soon
obliterated by the permanent benefit, the loss is divided among multitudes; and if a few wealthy individuals experience a
sensible diminution of treasure, with their riches, they at the same time lose the degree of weight and importance which they
derived from the possession of them. However Aurelian might choose to disguise the real cause of the insurrection, his
reformation of the coin could furnish only a faint pretence to a party already powerful and discontented. Rome, though deprived
of freedom, was distracted by faction. The people, towards whom the emperor, himself a plebeian
, always expressed a peculiar
fondness, lived in perpetual dissension with the senate, the equestrian
order, and the Praetorian Guard
Nothing less than
the firm though secret conspiracy of those orders, of the authority of the first, the wealth of the second, and the arms of the
third, could have displayed a strength capable of contending in battle with the veteran legions of the Danube
, which, under the
conduct of a martial sovereign, had achieved the conquest of the West and of the East.
Footnote 90: Hist. August. p. 222. Aurel Victor.
Footnote 91: It already raged before Aurelian's return from Egypt. See Vipiscus, who quotes an original letter. Hist. August.
Whatever was the cause or the object of this rebellion, imputed with so little probability to the workmen of the mint, Aurelian
used his victory with unrelenting rigor. 92
He was naturally of a severe disposition. A peasant and a soldier, his nerves
yielded not easily to the impressions of sympathy
, and he could sustain without emotion the sight of tortures and death. Trained
from his earliest youth in the exercise of arms, he set too small a value on the life of a citizen
, chastised by military execution
the slightest offences, and transferred the stern discipline of the camp into the civil administration
of the laws. His love of
justice often became a blind and furious passion and whenever he deemed his own or the public safety endangered, he
disregarded the rules of evidence, and the proportion of punishments. The unprovoked rebellion with which the Romans
rewarded his services, exasperated his haughty spirit. The noblest families of the capital were involved in the guilt or suspicion
of this dark conspiracy
. A nasty spirit of revenge urged the bloody prosecution, and it proved fatal to one of the nephews of the
emperor. The executioners (if we may use the expression of a contemporary poet) were fatigued, the prisons were crowded,
and the unhappy senate lamented the death or absence of its most illustrious members. 93
Nor was the pride of Aurelian less
offensive to that assembly than his cruelty. Ignorant or impatient of the restraints of civil institutions, he disdained to hold his
power by any other title than that of the sword, and governed by right of conquest
an empire which he had saved and subdued.
Footnote 92: Vopiscus in Hist. August p. 222. The two Victors. Eutropius ix. 14. Zosimus (l. i. p. 43) mentions only three
senators, and placed their death before the eastern war.
Footnote 93: Nulla catenati feralis pompa senatus Carnificum lassabit opus; nec carcere pleno Infelix raros numerabit curia
Patres. Calphurn. Eclog. i. 60.
Footnote 94: According to the younger Victor, he sometimes wore the diadem, Deus and Dominus appear on his medals.
It was observed by one of the most sagacious of the Roman princes, that the talents of his predecessor Aurelian were better
suited to the command of an army, than to the government of an empire. 95
Conscious of the character in which nature and
experience had enabled him to excel, he again took the field a few months after his triumph. It was expedient to exercise the
restless temper of the legions in some foreign war, and the Persian monarch, exulting in the shame of Valerian
, still braved
with impunity the offended majesty of Rome. At the head of an army, less formidable by its numbers than by its discipline
valor, the emperor advanced as far as the Straits which divide Europe from Asia. He there experienced that the most absolute
power is a weak defense against the effects of despair. He had threatened one of his secretaries who was accused of extortion
and it was known that he seldom threatened in vain. The last hope which remained for the criminal, was to involve some of the
principal officers of the army in his danger, or at least in his fears. Artfully counterfeiting his master's hand, he showed them,
in a long and bloody list, their own names devoted to death. Without suspecting or examining the fraud, they resolved to secure
their lives by the murder of the emperor
. On his march, between Byzantium
, Aurelian was suddenly attacked by
the conspirators, whose stations gave them a right to surround his person, and after a short resistance, fell by the hand of
, a general whom he had always loved and trusted. He died regretted by the army, detested by the senate, but
universally acknowledged as a warlike and fortunate prince
, the useful, though severe reformer of a degenerate
Footnote 95: It was the observation of Dioclatian. See Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 224.
Footnote 96: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 221. Zosimus, l. i. p. 57. Eutrop ix. 15. The two Victors.
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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. 317-321.