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Notwithstanding the vigilance and activity of Probus
, it was almost impossible that he could at once contain in obedienc
e every part of his wide- extended dominions. The barbarians, who broke their chains, had seized the favorable opportunity of a domestic war. When the emperor marched to the relief of Gaul
, he devolved the command of the East on Saturninus
. That general, a man of merit and experience, was driven into rebellion
absence of his sovereign
, the levity of the Alexandrian
people, the pressing instances of his friends, and his own fears; but from
the moment of his elevation, he never entertained a hope of empire, or even of life. "Alas!" he said, "the republic has lost a
useful servant, and the rashness
of an hour has destroyed the services of many years.” “You know not," continued he, "the misery
of sovereign power; a sword is perpetually suspended over our head. We dread our very guards, we distrust our companions.
The choice of action or of repose is no longer in our disposition, nor is there any age, or character, or conduct, that can protect
us from the censure of envy. In thus exalting me to the throne, you have doomed me to a life of cares, and to an untimely fate.
The only consolation which remains is, the assurance that I shall not fall alone." 51
But as the former part of his prediction was
verified by the victory, so the latter was disappointed by the clemency of Probus
. That amiable prince attempted even to save
the unhappy Saturninus
from the fury of the soldiers. He had more than once solicited the usurper himself to place some
confidence in the mercy of a sovereign who so highly esteemed his character, that he had punished, as a malicious informer
first who related the improbable news of his disaffection. 52
Saturninus might, perhaps, have embraced the generous offer,
had he not been restrained by the obstinate distrust of his adherents. Their guilt was deeper, and their hopes more sanguine
than those of their experienced leader.
Footnote 51: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 245, 246. The unfortunate orator had studied
rhetoric at Carthage; and was therefore more probably a Moor (Zosim. l. i. p. 60) than a Gaul, as Vopiscus calls him.
Footnote 52: Zonaras, l. xii. p. 638.
The revolt of Saturninus was scarcely extinguished in the East, before new troubles were excited in the West, by the rebellion of
, in Gaul. The most distinguished merit of those two officers was their respective prowess, of the one in
the combats of Bacchus
, of the other in those of Venus
yet neither of them was destitute of courage and capacity, and
both sustained, with honor, the august character which the fear of punishment had engaged them to assume, till they sunk at
length beneath the superior genius of Probus. He used the victory with his accustomed moderation, and spared the fortune, as
well as the lives of their innocent families. 54
Footnote 53: A very surprising instance is recorded of the prowess of Procufus. He had taken one hundred Sarmatian virgins.
The rest of the story he must relate in his own language: "Ex his una necte decem inivi; omnes tamen, quod in me erat, mulieres
intra dies quindecim reddidi. Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 246.
Footnote 54: Proculus, who was a native of Albengue, on the Genoese coast armed two thousand of his own slaves. His
riches were great, but they were acquired by robbery. It was afterwards a saying of his family, sibi non placere esse vel
principes vel latrones. Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 247.
The arms of Probus had now suppressed all the foreign and domestic
enemies of the state. His mild but steady administration
confirmed the reestablishment of the public tranquillity; nor was there
left in the provinces a hostile barbarian
, a tyrant
, or even a robber, to revive the memory of past disorders. It was time that the
emperor should revisit Rome, and celebrate his own glory and the general happiness. The triumph due to the valor of Probus
was conducted with a magnificence suitable to his fortune, and the people who had so lately admired the trophies of Aurelian,
gazed with equal pleasure on those of his heroic successor. 55 We cannot, on this occasion, forget the desperate courage of
about fourscore gladiator, reserved, with near six hundred others, for the inhuman sports of the amphitheater. Disdaining to
shed their blood for the amusement of the populace, they killed their keepers, broke from the place of their confinement, and
filled the streets of Rome with blood and confusion.
After an obstinate resistance
, they were overpowered and cut in pieces by
the regular forces; but they obtained at least an honorable death, and the satisfaction of a just revenge. 56
Footnote 55: Hist. August. p. 240.
Footnote 56: Zosim. l. i. p. 66.
The military discipline which reigned in the camps of Probus was less cruel than that of Aurelian
, but it was equally rigid and
exact. The latter had punished the irregularities of the soldiers with unrelenting severity, the former prevented them by employing
the legions in constant and useful labors. When Probus
commanded in Egypt, he executed many considerable works for the
splendor and benefit of that rich country. The navigation
of the Nile
, so important to Rome itself, was improved; and temples,
buildings, porticos, and palaces were constructed by the hands of the soldiers, who acted by turns as architects, as engineers,
and as husbandmen. 57
It was reported of Hannibal
, that in order to preserve his troops from the dangerous temptations of
idleness, he had obliged them to form large plantations of olive-trees along the coast of Africa. 58
From a similar principle,
Probus exercised his legions in covering with rich vineyards the hills of Gaul
, and two considerable spots are
described, which were entirely dug and planted by military labor. 59
One of these, known under the name of Mount Almo,
was situated near Sirmium
, the country where Probus was born, for which he ever retained a partial affection, and whose
gratitude he endeavored to secure, by converting into tillage a large and unhealthy tract of marshy ground. An army thus
employed constituted perhaps the most useful, as well as the bravest, portion of Roman subjects.
Footnote 57: Hist. August. p. 236.
Footnote 58: Aurel. Victor. in Prob. But the policy of Hannibal, unnoticed by any more ancient writer, is irreconcilable with the
history of his life. He left Africa when he was nine years old, returned to it when he was forty- five, and immediately lost his
army in the decisive battle of Zama. Livilus, xxx. 37.
Footnote 59: Hist. August. p. 240. Eutrop. ix. 17. Aurel. Victor. in Prob. Victor Junior. He revoked the prohibition of
Domitian, and granted a general permission of planting vines to the Gauls, the Britons, and the Pannonians.
But in the
prosecution of a favorite scheme, the best of men, satisfied with the rectitude of their intentions, are subject to forget the bounds
; nor did Probus himself sufficiently consult the patience and disposition of his fierce legionaries. 60
of the military profession seem only to be compensated by a life of pleasure and idleness; but if the duties of the soldier are
incessantly aggravated by the labors of the peasant
, he will at last sink under the intolerable burden, or shake it off with
indignation. The imprudence of Probus is said to have inflamed the discontent of his troops. More attentive to the interests of
mankind than to those of the army, he expressed the vain hope, that, by the establishment of universal peace, he should soon
abolish the necessity of a standing and mercenary force. 61
The unguarded expression proved fatal to him. In one of the
hottest days of summer, as he severely urged the unwholesome labor of draining the marshes of Sirmium
, the soldiers, impatient
of fatigue, on a sudden threw down their tools, grasped their arms, and broke out into a furious mutiny
. The emperor, conscious
of his danger, took refuge in a lofty tower, constructed for the purpose of surveying the progress of the work. 62
was instantly forced, and a thousand swords were plunged at once into the bosom of the unfortunate Probus
. The rage of the
troops subsided as soon as it had been gratified. They then lamented their fatal rashness, forgot the severity of the emperor,
whom they had massacred, and hastened to perpetuate, by an honorable monument, the memory of his virtues and victories.
Footnote 60: Julian bestows a severe, and indeed excessive, censure on the rigor of Probus, who, as he thinks, almost
deserved his fate.
Footnote 61: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 241. He lavishes on this idle hope a large stock of very foolish
Footnote 62: Turris ferrata. It seems to have been a movable tower, and cased with iron.
Footnote 63: Probus, et vere probus situs est; Victor omnium gentium Barbararum; victor etiam tyrannorum.
When the legions had indulged their grief and repentance for the death of Probus, their unanimous consent declared Carus, his
, the most deserving of the Imperial throne. Every circumstance that relates to this prince appears of a mixed
and doubtful nature. He gloried in the title of Roman Citizen; and affected to compare the purity of his blood with the foreign
and even barbarous
origin of the preceding emperors; yet the most inquisitive of his contemporaries, very far from admitting his
claim, have variously deduced his own birth, or that of his parents, from Illyricum
, from Gaul, or from Africa. 64
soldier, he had received a learned education; though a senator, he was invested with the first dignity of the army; and in an age
when the civil and military professions began to be irrecoverably separated from each other, they were united in the person of
. Notwithstanding the severe justice which he exercised against the assassins of Probus, to whose favor and esteem he
was highly indebted, he could not escape the suspicion of being accessory to a deed from whence he derived the principal
advantage. He enjoyed, at least, before his elevation, an acknowledged character of virtue and abilities; 65
but his austere
temper insensibly degenerated into moroseness and cruelty; and the imperfect writers of his life almost hesitate whether they
shall not rank him in the number of Roman tyrants. 66
When Carus assumed the purple, he was about sixty years of age, and
his two sons, Carinus
had already attained the season of manhood. 67
Footnote 64: Yet all this may be conciliated. He was born at Narbonne in Illyricum, confounded by Eutropius with the more
famous city of that name in Gaul. His father might be an African, and his mother a noble Roman. Carus himself was educated in
the capital. See Scaliger Animadversion. ad Euseb. Chron. p. 241.
Footnote 65: Probus had requested of the senate an equestrian statue and a marble palace, at the public expense, as a just
recompense of the singular merit of Carus. Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 249.
Footnote 66: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 242, 249. Julian excludes the emperor Carus and both his sons from the banquet of
Footnote 67: John Malala, tom. i. p. 401. But the authority of that ignorant Greek is very slight. He ridiculously derives from Carus the city of Carrhae, and the province of Caria, the latter of which is mentioned by Homer.
The authority of the senate expired with Probus
; nor was the repentance of the soldiers displayed by the same dutiful regard for
the civil power, which they had testified after the unfortunate death of Aurelian
. The election of Carus was decided without
expecting the approbation of the senate, and the new emperor contented himself with announcing, in a cold and stately epistle,
that he had ascended the vacant throne. 68
A behavior so very opposite to that of his amiable predecessor afforded no
favorable presage of the new reign: and the Romans, deprived of power and freedom, asserted their privilege of licentious
The voice of congratulation and flattery was not, however, silent; and we may still peruse, with pleasure and
contempt, an eclogue
, which was composed on the accession of the emperor Carus. Two shepherds, avoiding the noontide
heat, retire into the cave of Faunus
. On a spreading beech they discover some recent characters. The rural deity
in prophetic verses, the felicity
promised to the empire under the reign of so great a prince. Faunus
hails the approach of that
hero, who, receiving on his shoulders the sinking weight of the Roman world, shall extinguish war and faction, and once again
restore the innocence and security of the golden age
Footnote 68: Hist. August. p. 249. Carus congratulated the senate, that one of their own order was made emperor.
Footnote 69: Hist. August. p. 242.
Footnote 70: See the first eclogue of Calphurnius. The design of it is preferes by Fontenelle to that of Virgil's Pollio. See tom.
iii. p. 148.
It is more than probable, that these elegant trifles never reached the ears of a veteran
general, who, with the consent
of the legions, was preparing to execute the long-suspended design of the Persian
war. Before his departure for this distant
expedition, Carus conferred on his two sons, Carinus
, the title of Caesar, and investing the former with almost an
equal share of the Imperial power, directed the young prince, first to suppress some troubles which had arisen in Gaul, and
afterwards to fix the seat of his residence at Rome, and to assume the government
of the Western provinces. 71
The safety of
Illyricum was confirmed by a memorable defeat of the Sarmatians; sixteen thousand of those barbarian tribes
remained on the field of
battle, and the number of captives amounted to twenty thousand. The old emperor, animated with the fame and prospect of
victory, pursued his march, in the midst of winter, through the countries of Thrace
and Asia Minor
, and at length, with his
younger son, Numerian, arrived on the confines of the Persian monarchy
. There, encamping on the summit of a lofty mountain,
he pointed out to his troops the opulence and luxury of the enemy whom they were about to invade.
Footnote 71: Hist. August. p. 353. Eutropius, ix. 18. Pagi. Annal.
The successor of Artaxerxes
, * Varanes
, or Bahram
though he had subdued the Segestans, one of the most warlike nations of Upper Asia, 72
was alarmed at the approach of the
Romans, and endeavored to retard their progress by a negotiation of peace. !
His ambassadors entered the camp about sunset,
at the time when the troops were satisfying their hunger with a frugal repast. The Persians expressed their desire of being introduced to the
presence of the Roman emperor. They were at length conducted
to a soldier, who was seated on the grass. A piece of stale bacon and a few hard peas composed his supper. A coarse woolen
garment of purple was the only circumstance that announced his dignity. The conference was conducted with the same
disregard of courtly elegance. Carus, taking off a cap which he wore to conceal his baldness, assured the ambassadors, that,
unless their master acknowledged the superiority of Rome, he would speedily render Persia as naked of trees as his own head
was destitute of hair. 73
Notwithstanding some traces of art and preparation, we may discover in this scene the manners of
, and the severe simplicity which the martial princes, who succeeded Gallienus
, had already restored in the Roman camps.
The ministers of the Great King trembled and retired.
Footnote *: Three monarchs had intervened, Sapor, (Shahpour,) Hormisdas, (Hormooz,) Varanes; Baharam the First. - M.
Footnote 72: Agathias, l. iv. p. 135. We find one of his sayings in the Bibliotheque Orientale of M. d'Herbelot. "The definition
of humanity includes all other virtues."
Footnote !: The manner in which his life was saved by the Chief Pontiff from a conspiracy of his nobles, is as remarkable
as his saying.
Footnote 73: Synesius tells this story of Carinus; and it is much more natural to understand it of Carus, than (as Petavius and Tillemont choose to do) of Probus.
The threats of Carus
were not without effect. He ravaged Mesopotamia
, cut in pieces whatever opposed his passage, made
himself master of the great cities of Seleucia
, (which seemed to have surrendered without resistance,) and
carried his victorious arms beyond the Tigris
He had seized the favorable moment for an invasion. The Persian
were distracted by domestic factions, and the greater part of their forces were detained on the frontiers of India. Rome and the
East received with transports the news of such important advantages. Flattery and hope painted, in the most lively colors, the
fall of Persia, the conquest
, the submission of Egypt, and a lasting deliverance from the inroads of the Scythian
But the reign of Carus
was destined to expose the vanity
of predictions. They were scarcely uttered before they
were contradicted by his death; an event attended with such ambiguous circumstances, that it may be related in a letter from his
own secretary to the prefect of the city. "Carus," says he, "our dearest emperor, was confined by sickness to his bed, when a
arose in the camp. The darkness which overspread the sky was so thick, that we could no longer distinguish
each other; and the incessant flashes of lightning took from us the knowledge
of all that passed in the general confusion.
Immediately after the most violent clap of thunder, we heard a sudden cry that the emperor was dead; and it soon appeared,
that his chamberlains, in a rage of grief, had set fire to the royal pavilion; a circumstance which gave rise to the report that Carus
was killed by lightning
. But, as far as we have been able to investigate the truth, his death was the natural effect of his disorder."
Footnote 74: Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 250. Eutropius, ix. 18. The two Victors.
Footnote 75: To the Persian victory of Carus I refer the dialogue of the Philopatris, which has so long been an object of
dispute among the learned. But to explain and justify my opinion, would require a dissertation. Note: Niebuhr, in the new
edition of the Byzantine Historians, (vol. x.) has boldly assigned the Philopatris to the tenth century, and to the reign of
Nicephorus Phocas. But the whole tone of the work appears to me altogether inconsistent with
any period in which philosophy did not stand, as it were, on some ground of equality with Christianity. The doctrine of the
Trinity is sarcastically introduced rather as the strange doctrine of a new religion, than the established tenet of a faith universally
prevalent. The argument, adopted from Solanus, concerning the formula of the procession of the Holy Ghost, is utterly
worthless, as it is a mere quotation in the words of the Gospel of St. John, xv. 26. The only argument of any value is the historic
one, from the allusion to the recent violation of many virgins in the Island of Crete. But neither is the language of Niebuhr quite
accurate, nor his reference to the Acroases of Theodosius satisfactory. When, then, could this occurrence take place? Why not
in the devastation of the island by the Gothic pirates, during the reign of Claudius. Hist. Aug. in Claud. p. 814. edit. Var. Lugd.
Bat 1661. - M.
Footnote 76: Hist. August. p. 250. Yet Eutropius, Festus, Rufus, the two Victors, Jerome, Sidonius Apollinaris, Syncellus, and
Zonaras, all ascribe the death of Carus to lightning.
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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. 340-347.