CHAPTER XLI. PERIOD OF MILITARY DESPOTISM. - DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE.
Soon after his accession Constantius died, and his son CONSTANTINE was proclaimed Caesar, against the wishes of Galerius. A bitter struggle followed, in which Constantine finally overcame all his opponents, and was declared sole Emperor. For his successes he was named the GREAT.
CONSTANTINE THE GREAT (306-337).
Constantine determined to build for his Empire a new capital, which should be worthy of him. He selected the site of BYZANTIUM as offering the greatest advantages; for, being defended on three sides by the sea and the Golden Horn, it could easily be made almost impregnable, while as a seaport its advantages were unrivalled, - a feature not in the least shared by Rome. The project was entered upon with energy; the city was built, and named CONSTANTINOPLE. To people it, the seat of government was permanently removed thither, and every inducement was offered to immigration. Thus was born the GREEK EMPIRE, destined to drag out a miserable existence for nearly a thousand years after Rome had fallen a prey to the barbarians. Its founder died, after a reign of thirty years, in his sixty-fourth year (337).
Constantine is entitled to great credit for the uniform kindness with which he treated his Christian subjects. It is said that his mother, HELENA, was a Christian, and that it was to her influence that this mildness was due. The sect, notwithstanding many persecutions, had kept on increasing, until now we find them a numerous and quite influential body. It was during his reign that the DECREE OF MILAN was issued, in 313, giving the imperial license to the religion of Christ; and also in this reign the famous COUNCIL OF NICE, in Bithynia (325), met to settle questions of creed.
In person Constantine was tall and majestic: he was dexterous in all warlike accomplishments; intrepid in war, affable in peace; patient and prudent in council, bold and unhesitating in action. Ambition alone led him to attack the East; and the very madness of jealousy marked his course after his success. He was filial in his affection towards his mother; but he can scarcely be called affectionate who put to death his father-in-law, his brother-in-law, his wife, and his son. If he was great in his virtues, in his faults he was contemptible.
DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE.
Constantine was succeeded by his three sons, CONSTANTINE II., CONSTANTIUS, and CONSTANS, who divided the Empire among themselves (337-353). Constantine and Constans almost at once quarrelled over the possession of Italy, and the difficulty was ended only by the death of the former. The other two brothers lived in harmony for some time, because the Persian war in the East occupied Constantius, while Constans was satisfied with a life of indolence and dissipation. Constans was murdered in 350, and his brother was sole Emperor. He died ten years later, and was succeeded by his cousin, Julian (360- 363)
JULIAN was a good soldier, and a man calculated to win the love and respect of all. But he attempted to restore the old religion, and thus gained for himself the epithet of APOSTATE. The Christians, however, had too firm a hold on the state to admit of their powers being shaken. The failure of Julian precluded any similar attempt afterward. After a reign of three years, he was killed in an expedition against the Persians. His successor, JOVIAN (363-364), who was chosen by the army, died after a reign of only seven months.
VALENTINIAN and VALENS (364-375). After a brief interregnum, the throne was bestowed on Valentinian, who associated with himself his brother Valens. The Empire was divided. Valens took the East, with Constantinople as his capital. Valentinian took the West, making MILAN the seat of his government. So completely had Rome fallen from her ancient position, that it is very doubtful if this monarch ever visited the city during his reign. [Footnote: Since the building of Constantinople no Emperor had lived in Rome. She had ceased to be mistress even of the West, and rapidly fell to the rank of a provincial city.] He died during a campaign on the Danube. His son GRATIAN (375-383) succeeded him. He discouraged Paganism, and under him Christianity made rapid strides. His uncle Valens was slain in a battle against the Goths; but so completely were the Eastern and Western Empires now separated, that Gratian did not attempt to make himself sole ruler, but appointed THEODOSIUS to the empty throne. Gratian, like so many of his predecessors, was murdered. His successors, MAXIMUS (383-388), VALENTINIAN II. (388-392), and EUGENIUS (392-394), were either deposed or assassinated, and again there was, for a short time, one ruler of the whole Empire, THEODOSIUS, whom Gratian had made Emperor of the East. He was sole Emperor for one year (394-395). On his death his two sons divided the Empire, HONORIUS (395-423) taking the West, and Arcadius the East.
Honorius was only six years old when he began to reign. He was placed under the care of a Vandal named STILICHO, to whom he was allied by marriage. Stilicho was a man of ability. The barbarians were driven from the frontiers on the Rhine and in Britain; a revolt in Africa was suppressed. Honorius himself was weak and jealous. He did not hesitate to murder Stilicho as soon as he was old enough to see the power he was wielding. With Stilicho's death his fortune departed. Rome was besieged, captured, and sacked by the barbarian ALARIC, in 410. When this evil was past, numerous contestants arose in different parts of the Empire, each eager for a portion of the fabric which was now so obviously crumbling to pieces.