CHAPTER XL. THE FIVE GOOD EMPERORS.
NERVA was appointed by the Senate to succeed Domitian, and was the first Emperor who did not owe his advancement to military force or influence. He associated with himself MARCUS ULPIUS TRAJANUS, then in command of the army on the Rhine. Nerva ruled only sixteen months; but during that time he restored tranquillity among the people, conferring happiness and prosperity upon every class.
Nerva was succeeded by TRAJAN, whose character has its surest guaranty in the love and veneration of his subjects; and it is said that, long afterwards, the highest praise that could be bestowed on a ruler was that he was "more fortunate than Augustus, and better than Trajan." Trajan was a soldier, and, if he lacked the refinements of a peaceful life, he was nevertheless a wise and firm master.
He added to the Empire Dacia, the country included between the Danube and the Theiss, the Carpathians and the Pruth. This territory became so thoroughly Romanized that the language of its inhabitants to-day is founded on that of their conquerors nearly eighteen centuries ago. It was in honor of this campaign into Dacia that the famous COLUMN OF TRAJAN, which still remains, was erected.
Trajan also annexed to the Empire Arabia Petraea, which afforded an important route between Egypt and Syria. His invasion of Parthia, however, resulted in no permanent advantage.
During the reign of Trajan the Roman Empire REACHED THE SUMMIT OF ITS POWER; but the first signs of decay were beginning to be seen in the financial distress of all Italy, and the decline of the free peasantry, until in the next century they were reduced to a condition of practical serfdom.
The literature of Trajan's reign was second only to that of the Augustan age. His time has often been called the SILVER AGE. Its prose writers were, however, unlike those of the Augustan age, far superior to its poets. The most famous prose writers were TACITUS, PLINY THE YOUNGER, and QUINTILIAN.
The poets of this period were JUVENAL, PERSIUS, MARTIAL, LUCAN, and STATIUS, of whom the last two were of an inferior order.
Trajan was succeeded by his cousin's son, HADRIAN, a native of Spain. One of the first acts of Hadrian was to relinquish the recent conquests of Trajan, and to restore the old boundaries of the Empire. The reasons for this were that they had reached the utmost limits which could lend strength to the power of Rome, or be held in subjection without constant and expensive military operations. The people occupying the new conquests were hardy and warlike, scattered over a country easy of defence, and certain to strive constantly against a foreign yoke.
Hadrian displayed constant activity in travelling over the Empire, to overlook personally its administration and protection. He visited Britain, where he crushed the inroads of the Caledonians and built a fortified line of works, known as the PICTS' WALL, extending from sea to sea. The remains of this great work are still to be seen, corresponding nearly to the modern boundary between England and Scotland. He also visited the East, where the Jews were making serious trouble, and completed their overthrow.
On his return to the city, the Emperor devoted himself to its adornment. Several of his works, more or less complete, still remain. The most famous of these is the MAUSOLÉUM (Tomb) OF HADRIAN, now known as the Castle of San Angelo.
Hadrian was afflicted with bad health, suffering much from diseases from which he could find no relief. On account of this, and to secure a proper succession, he associated with himself in the government TITUS AURELIUS ANTONÍNUS, and required him to adopt Marcus Annius Verus and Lucius Verus. In 138, soon after this arrangement was made, Hadrian died, leaving the Empire to Titus.
TITUS AURELIUS ANTONÍNUS PIUS (138-161).
ANTONÍNUS, a native of Gaul, was fifty-two years old when he succeeded to the throne. The cognomen PIUS was conferred upon him by the Senate on account of the affectionate respect which he had shown for Hadrian. He was a man of noble appearance, firm and prudent, and under him the affairs of state moved smoothly.
MARCUS AURELIUS ANTONÍNUS (161-180).
On the death of Antonínus, Marcus Annius Verus succeeded him under the title of Marcus Aurelius Antonínus.
The Moors made an invasion into Spain; the barbarians broke into Gaul; the army in Britain attempted to set up another Emperor; and the Parthians in the East were in an uneasy state. The Eastern war, however, ended favorably, and the Parthian king purchased peace by ceding Mesopotamia to Rome. But the returning army brought with it a pestilence, which spread devastation throughout the West. The Christians were charged with being the cause of the plague, and were cruelly persecuted. Among the victims were Justin Martyr at Rome, and Polycarp at Smyrna.
The death of Lucius Verus in 168 released Aurelius from a colleague who attracted attention only by his unfitness for his position. The Emperor was thus relieved of embarrassments which might well have become his greatest danger. The remainder of his reign, however, was scarcely less unhappy.
The dangers from the troublesome barbarians grew greater and greater. Rome had now passed the age of conquest, and began to show inability even to defend what she had acquired. For fourteen years Aurelius was engaged on the frontiers fighting these barbarians, and endeavoring to check their advance. He died at Vienna while thus occupied, in the fifty-ninth year of his life (180).
Peace was shortly afterwards made with the barbarians, a peace bought with money; an example often followed in later times, when Rome lacked the strength and courage to enforce her wishes by force of arms.