Back to Chapter Listing
The final abolition of the Praetorian Guard was a measure of prudence as well as of revenge. Those haughty troops, whose numbers and privileges had been restored, and even augmented, by Maxentius, were forever suppressed by Constantine.
Their fortified camp was destroyed, and the few Praetorians who had escaped the fury
of the sword
were dispersed among the legions, and banished to the frontiers of the empire, where they might be serviceable without again becoming dangerous. 75
By suppressing the troops which were usually stationed in Rome, Constantine
gave the fatal blow to the dignity of the senate
and people, and the disarmed capital was exposed without protection to the insults or neglect of its distant master. We may observe, that in this last effort to preserve their expiring freedom, the Romans, from the apprehension of a tribute, had raised
Maxentius to the throne. He exacted that tribute from the senate under the name of a free gift. They implored the assistance of
Constantine. He vanquished the tyrant, and converted the free gift into a perpetual tax. The senators, according to the
declaration which was required of their property, were divided into several classes. The most opulent
paid annually eight
pounds of gold, the next class paid four, the last two, and those whose poverty might have claimed an exemption, were
assessed, however, at seven pieces of gold. Besides the regular members of the senate, their sons, their descendants, and even
their relations, enjoyed the vain privileges, and supported the heavy burdens, of the senatorial order; nor will it any longer excite
our surprise, that Constantine should be attentive to increase the number of persons who were included under so useful a
After the defeat of Maxentius
, the victorious emperor passed no more than two or three months in Rome, which he visited twice during the remainder of his life, to celebrate the solemn festivals of the tenth and of the twentieth years of his reign. Constantine was almost perpetually in motion, to exercise the legions, or to inspect the state of the provinces. Treves
, and Thessalonica
, were the occasional places of his residence, till he founded a new Rome on the confines of Europe and Asia. 77
Footnote 75: Praetoriae legiones ac subsidia factionibus aptiora quam urbi Romae, sublata penitus; simul arma atque usus indumenti militaris Aurelius Victor. Zosimus (l. ii. p. 89) mentions this fact as an historian, and it is very pompously celebrated in the ninth Panegyric.
Footnote 76: Ex omnibus provinciis optimates viros Curiae tuae pigneraveris ut Senatus dignitas . . . . ex totius Orbis flore consisteret. Nazarius in Panegyr. Vet x. 35. The word pigneraveris might almost seem maliciously chosen. Concerning the senatorial tax, see Zosimus, l. ii. p. 115, the second title of the sixth book of the Theodosian Code, with Godefroy's
Commentary, and Memoires de l'Academic des Inscriptions, tom. xxviii. p. 726.
Footnote 77: From the Theodosian Code, we may now begin to trace the motions of the emperors; but the dates both of time and place have frequently been altered by the carelessness of transcribers.
Before Constantine marched into Italy, he had secured the friendship, or at least the neutrality
, of Licinius
, the Illyrian emperor.
He had promised his sister Constantia in marriage to that prince; but the celebration of the nuptials was deferred till after the
conclusion of the war, and the interview of the two emperors at Milan, which was appointed for that purpose, appeared to
cement the union of their families and interests. 78
In the midst of the public festivity they were suddenly obliged to take leave of each other. An inroad of the Franks summoned Constantine to the Rhime, and the hostile approach of the sovereign of Asia demanded the immediate presence of Licinius. Maximin had been the secret ally of Maxentius, and without being discouraged
by his fate, he resolved to try the fortune of a civil war. He moved out of Syria
, towards the frontiers of Bithynia, in the depth of
winter. The season was severe and tempestuous; great numbers of men as well as horses perished in the snow; and as the
roads were broken up by incessant rains, he was obliged to leave behind him a considerable part of the heavy baggage, which
was unable to follow the rapidity of his forced marches. By this extraordinary effort of diligence, he arrived with a harassed but
formidable army, on the banks of the Thracian Bosphorus
before the lieutenants of Licinius were apprised of his hostile
intentions. Byzantium surrendered to the power of Maximin, after a siege of eleven days. He was detained some days under the
walls of Heraclea
; and he had no sooner taken possession of that city, than he was alarmed by the intelligence, that Licinius had
pitched his camp at the distance of only eighteen miles. After a fruitless negotiation, in which the two princes attempted to
seduce the fidelity of each other's adherents, they had recourse to arms. The emperor of the East commanded a disciplined and
veteran army of above seventy thousand men; and Licinius
, who had collected about thirty thousand Illyrians, was at first
oppressed by the superiority of numbers. His military skill, and the firmness of his troops, restored the day, and obtained a
decisive victory. The incredible speed which Maximin
exerted in his flight is much more celebrated than his prowess in the
battle. Twenty- four hours afterwards he was seen, pale, trembling, and without his Imperial ornaments, at Nicomedia, one
hundred and sixty miles from the place of his defeat. The wealth of Asia was yet unexhausted; and though the flower of his
veterans had fallen in the late action, he had still power, if he could obtain time, to draw very numerous levies from Syria
. But he survived his misfortune only three or four months. His death, which happened at Tarsus, was variously ascribed
to despair, to poison, and to the divine justice.
As Maximin was alike destitute of abilities and of virtue, he was lamented neither by the people nor by the soldiers. The provinces of the East, delivered from the terrors of civil war, cheerfully acknowledged
the authority of Licinius. 79
Footnote 78: Zosimus (l. ii. p. 89) observes, that before the war the sister of Constantine had been betrothed to Licinius. According to the younger Victor, Diocletian was invited to the nuptials; but having ventured to plead his age and infirmities, he received a second letter, filled with reproaches for his supposed partiality to the cause of Maxentius and Maximin.
Footnote 79: Zosimus mentions the defeat and death of Maximin as ordinary events; but Lactantius expatiates on them, (de M. P. c. 45-50,) ascribing them to the miraculous interposition of Heaven. Licinius at that time was one of the protectors of the church.
The vanquished emperor left behind him two children, a boy of about eight, and a girl of about seven, years old. Their
inoffensive age might have excited compassion
; but the compassion of Licinius was a very feeble resource, nor did it restrain
him from extinguishing the name and memory of his adversary. The death of Severianus
will admit of less excuse, as it was
dictated neither by revenge nor by policy. The conqueror had never received any injury from the father of that unhappy youth,
and the short and obscure reign of Severus
, in a distant part of the empire, was already forgotten. But the execution of
was an act of the blackest cruelty
and ingratitude. He was the natural son of Galerius
, the friend and benefactor of
Licinius. The prudent father had judged him too young to sustain the weight of a diadem; but he hoped that, under the
protection of princes who were indebted to his favor for the Imperial purple, Candidianus might pass a secure and honorable
life. He was now advancing towards the twentieth year of his age, and the royalty of his birth, though unsupported either by
merit or ambition, was sufficient to exasperate the jealous mind of Licinius. 80
To these innocent and illustrious victims of his tyranny
, we must add the wife and daughter of the emperor Diocletian. When that prince conferred on Galerius
the title of
Caesar, he had given him in marriage his daughter Valeria, whose melancholy adventures might furnish a very singular subject
for tragedy. She had fulfilled and even surpassed the duties of a wife. As she had not any children herself, she condescended to
adopt the illegitimate son of her husband, and invariably displayed towards the unhappy Candidianus the tenderness and anxiety
of a real mother. After the death of Galerius
, her ample possessions provoked the avarice, and her personal attractions excited
the desires, of his successor, Maximin. 81
He had a wife still alive; but divorce was permitted by the Roman law
, and the fierce passions of the tyrant demanded an immediate gratification. The answer of Valeria was such as became the daughter and
widow of emperors; but it was tempered by the prudence which her defenceless condition compelled her to observe. She
represented to the persons whom Maximin had employed on this occasion, "that even if honor could permit a woman of her
character and dignity to entertain a thought of second nuptials, decency at least must forbid her to listen to his addresses at a
time when the ashes of her husband, and his benefactor were still warm, and while the sorrows of her mind were still expressed
by her mourning
garments. She ventured to declare, that she could place very little confidence in the professions of a man
whose cruel inconstancy
was capable of repudiating a faithful and affectionate wife." 82
v On this repulse, the love of Maximin was converted into fury; and as witnesses and judges were always at his disposal, it was easy for him to cover his fury with an appearance of legal proceedings, and to assault the reputation as well as the happiness of Valeria. Her estates were
confiscated, her eunuch
s and domestic
s devoted to the most inhuman tortures; and several innocent and respectable matrons,
who were honored with her friendship, suffered death, on a false accusation of adultery. The empress herself, together with her
mother Prisca, was condemned to exile; and as they were ignominiously hurried from place to place before they were confined
to a sequestered village in the deserts of Syria
, they exposed their shame and distress to the provinces of the East, which,
during thirty years, had respected their august dignity. Diocletian made several ineffectual efforts to alleviate the misfortunes of
his daughter; and, as the last return that he expected for the Imperial purple, which he had conferred upon Maximin, he
entreated that Valeria might be permitted to share his retirement of Salona
, and to close the eyes of her afflicted father. 83
He entreated; but as he could no longer threaten, his prayers were received with coldness and disdain; and the pride of Maximin was gratified, in treating Diocletian as a suppliant, and his daughter as a criminal. The death of Maximin seemed to assure the empresses of a favorable alteration in their fortune. The public disorders relaxed the vigilance of their guard, and they easily found means to escape from the place of their exile, and to repair, though with some precaution, and in disguise, to the court of Licinius
. His behavior, in the first days of his reign, and the honorable reception which he gave to young Candidianus
Valeria with a secret satisfaction, both on her own account and on that of her adopted son. But these grateful prospects were
soon succeeded by horror and astonishment; and the bloody executions which stained the palace of Nicomedia sufficiently
convinced her that the throne of Maximin was filled by a tyrant more inhuman than himself. Valeria consulted her safety by a
hasty flight, and, still accompanied by her mother Prisca
, they wandered above fifteen months 84
through the provinces, concealed in the disguise of plebeian
habits. They were at length discovered at Thessalonica; and as the sentence of their death was already pronounced, they were immediately beheaded, and their bodies thrown into the sea. The people gazed on the melancholy spectacle; but their grief and indignation were suppressed by the terrors of a military guard. Such was the unworthy fate of the wife and daughter of Diocletian.
We lament their misfortunes, we cannot discover their crimes; and whatever idea we may justly entertain of the cruelty of Licinius
, it remains a matter of surprise that he was not contented with some more secret and decent method of revenge. 85
Footnote 80: Lactantius de M. P. c. 50. Aurelius Victor touches on the different conduct of Licinius, and of Constantine, in the use of victory.
Footnote 81: The sensual appetites of Maximin were gratified at the expense of his subjects. His eunuchs, who forced away wives and virgins, examined their naked charms with anxious curiosity, lest any part of their body should be found unworthy of the royal embraces. Coyness and disdain were considered as treason, and the obstinate fair one was condemned to be drowned. A custom was gradually introduced, that no person should marry a wife without the permission of the emperor, "ut ipse in omnibus nuptiis praegustator esset." Lactantius de M. P. c. 38.
Footnote 82: Lactantius de M. P. c. 39.
Footnote 83: Diocletian at last sent cognatum suum, quendam militarem ae potentem virum, to intercede in favor of his daughter, (Lactantius de M. P. c. 41.) We are not sufficiently acquainted with the history of these times to point out the person who was employed.
Footnote 84: Valeria quoque per varias provincias quindecim mensibus plebeio cultu pervagata. Lactantius de M. P. c. 51. There is some doubt whether we should compute the fifteen months from the moment of her exile, or from that of her escape. The expression of parvagata seems to denote the latter; but in that case we must suppose that the treatise of Lactantius was written after the first civil war between Licinius and Constantine. See Cuper, p. 254.
Footnote 85: Ita illis pudicitia et conditio exitio fuit. Lactantius de M. P. c. 51. He relates the misfortunes of the innocent wife and daughter of Discletian with a very natural mixture of pity and exultation.
The Roman world was now divided between Constantine and Licinius, the former of whom was master of the West, and the latter of the East.
It might perhaps have been expected that the conquerors, fatigued with civil war, and connected by a private as well as public alliance, would have renounced, or at least would have suspended, any further designs of ambition. And yet a year had scarcely elapsed after the death of Maximin, before the victorious emperors turned their arms against each other. The genius, the success, and the aspiring temper of Constantine, may seem to mark him out as the aggressor; but the perfidious character of Licinius justifies the most unfavorable suspicions, and by the faint light which history reflects on this transaction, 86
we may discover a conspiracy fomented by his arts against the authority of his colleague. Constantine
had lately given his sister Anastasia in marriage to Bassianus, a man of a considerable family and fortune, and had elevated his new kinsman to the rank of Caesar
. According to the system of government instituted by Diocletian, Italy, and perhaps Africa, were designed for his department in the empire.
But the performance of the promised favor was either attended with so much delay, or accompanied with so many unequal
conditions, that the fidelity of Bassianus
was alienated rather than secured by the honorable distinction which he had obtained.
His nomination had been ratified by the consent of Licinius; and that artful prince, by the means of his emissaries, soon
contrived to enter into a secret and dangerous correspondence with the new Caesar, to irritate his discontents, and to urge him
to the rash enterprise of extorting by violence what he might in vain solicit from the justice of Constantine. But the vigilant
emperor discovered the conspiracy before it was ripe for execution; and after solemnly renouncing the alliance of Bassianus,
despoiled him of the purple, and inflicted the deserved punishment on his treason and ingratitude. The haughty refusal of
Licinius, when he was required to deliver up the criminals who had taken refuge in his dominions, confirmed the suspicions
already entertained of his perfidy; and the indignities offered at Aemona
, on the frontiers of Italy, to the statues of Constantine,
became the signal of discord between the two princes. 87
Footnote 86: The curious reader, who consults the Valesian fragment, p. 713, will probably accuse me of giving a bold and licentious paraphrase; but if he considers it with attention, he will acknowledge that my interpretation is probable and consistent.
Footnote 87: The situation of Aemona, or, as it is now called, Laibach, in Carniola, (D'Anville, Geographie Ancienne, tom. i. p. 187,) may suggest a conjecture. As it lay to the north-east of the Julian Alps, that important territory became a natural object of dispute between the sovereigns of Italy and of Illyricum.
The first battle was fought near Cibalis
, a city of Pannonia, situated on the River Save, about fifty miles above Sirmium
From the inconsiderable forces which in this important contest two such powerful monarchs brought into the field, it may be inferred that the one was suddenly provoked, and that the other was unexpectedly surprised. The emperor of the West had
only twenty thousand, and the sovereign of the East no more than five and thirty thousand, men. The inferiority
of number was,
however, compensated by the advantage of the ground. Constantine
had taken post in a defile about half a mile in breadth,
between a steep hill and a deep morass, and in that situation he steadily expected and repulsed the first attack of the enemy. He
pursued his success, and advanced into the plain. But the veteran legions of Illyricum rallied under the standard of a leader who
had been trained to arms in the school of Probus
and Diocletian. The missile weapons
on both sides were soon exhausted; the
two armies, with equal valor, rushed to a closer engagement of swords and spears, and the doubtful contest had already lasted
from the dawn of the day to a late hour of the evening, when the right wing, which Constantine led in person, made a vigorous
and decisive charge. The judicious retreat of Licinius
saved the remainder of his troops from a total defeat; but when he
computed his loss, which amounted to more than twenty thousand men, he thought it unsafe to pass the night in the presence of
an active and victorious enemy. Abandoning his camp and magazines, he marched away with secrecy and diligence at the head
of the greatest part of his cavalry
, and was soon removed beyond the danger of a pursuit. His diligence preserved his wife, his
son, and his treasures, which he had deposited at Sirmium
. Licinius passed through that city, and breaking down the bridge on
the Save, hastened to collect a new army in Dacia
. In his flight he bestowed the precarious title of Caesar on
Valens, his general of the Illyrian frontier. 89
Footnote 88: Cibalis or Cibalae (whose name is still preserved in the obscure ruins of Swilei) was situated about fifty miles from Sirmium, the capital of Illyricum, and about one hundred from Taurunum, or Belgrade, and the conflux of the Danube and the Save. The Roman garrisons and cities on those rivers are finely illustrated by M. d'Anville in a memoir inserted in l'Academie des Inscriptions, tom. xxviii.
Footnote 89: Zosimus (l. ii. p. 90, 91) gives a very particular account of this battle; but the descriptions of Zosimus are rhetorical rather than military.
Back to Chapter Listing
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. 430-438.