CHAPTER XLI. PERIOD OF MILITARY DESPOTISM. - DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE.
On the death of Aurelius, his son, Commodus, hastened to Rome, and was received by both the Senate and army without opposition. His character was the opposite of that of his good father. In ferocity and vindictiveness he was almost unequalled, even among the Emperors of unhappy Rome. By means of informers, who were well paid, he rid himself of the best members of the Senate. His government became so corrupt, he himself so notorious in crime, that he was unendurable. His proudest boasts were of his triumphs in the amphitheatre, and of his ability to kill a hundred lions with as many arrows. After a reign of twelve years his servants rid the Empire of his presence.
PERTINAX, the Praefect of the city, an old and experienced Senator, followed Commodus. His reign of three months was well meant, but as it was not supported by the military it was of no effect. His attempted reforms were stopped by his murder.
JULIANUS (193). - SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS (193-211).
The Praetorians now offered the crown to the highest bidder, who proved to be DIDIUS JULIÁNUS, a wealthy Senator. He paid about a thousand dollars to each soldier of the Guard, twelve thousand in number. After enjoying the costly honor two months he was deposed and executed.
In the mean time several soldiers had been declared Emperor by their respective armies. Among them was SEPTIMIUS SEVÉRUS, an African, belonging to the army of the Danube.
Sevérus was an able soldier. He disarmed the Praetorians, banished them from Rome, and filled their place with fifty thousand legionaries, who acted as his body guard. The person whom he placed in command of this guard was made to rank next to himself, with legislative, judicial, and financial powers. The Senate he reduced to a nonentity.
After securing the capital, Sevérus carried on a campaign against the Parthians, and was victorious over the rulers of Mesopotamia and Arabia. In 203 he erected, in commemoration of these victories, a magnificent arch, which still stands at the head of the Forum. He died at Eboracum (York), in Britain, while making preparations for a campaign against the Caledonians.
CARACALLA, MACRINUS, AND HELIOGABALUS.
Sevérus left two sons, both of whom he had associated with himself in the government. No sooner was he dead than they quarrelled, and the elder, CARACALLA, murdered the other with his own hand in the presence of their mother.
Caracalla was blood-thirsty and cruel. After a short reign (211-216) he was murdered by one of his soldiers. By him were begun the famous baths which bore his name, and of which extensive remains still exist. Caracalla was succeeded by MACRÍNUS, who reigned but one year, and was followed by HELIOGABALUS (218-222), a priest of the sun, a true Oriental, with but few virtues. His end was like that of his predecessors. The Praetorians revolted and murdered him.
FROM ALEXANDER SEVERUS TO THE AGE OF THE THIRTY TYRANTS (222-268).
ALEXANDER SEVÉRUS was a good man, and well educated. But he endeavored in vain to check the decline of the state. The military had become all powerful, and he could effect nothing against it. During his reign (222-235), the famous baths begun by Caracalla were finished.
Sevérus was killed in a mutiny led by MAXIMIN, who was Emperor for three years (235-238), and was then murdered by his mutinous soldiers.
GORDIAN, his successor (238-244), was also slain by his own soldiers in his camp on the Euphrates, and PHILIP (244-249) and DECIUS (249-251) both fell in battle. Under Decius was begun a persecution of the Christians severer than any that preceded it.
The next seventeen years (251-268) is a period of great confusion. Several generals in different provinces were declared Emperor. The Empire nearly fell to pieces, but finally rallied without loss of territory. Its weakness, however, was apparent to all. This period is often called the AGE OF THE THIRTY TYRANTS.
FIVE GOOD EMPERORS (268-283).
FIVE GOOD EMPERORS now ruled and revived somewhat the shattered strength of the government: CLAUDIUS (268-270); AURELIAN (270-275); TACITUS (275-276); PROBUS (276-282); and CARUS (282-283). Aurelian undertook a campaign against the famous ZENOBIA, Queen of PALMÝRA. In her he found a worthy foe, one whose political ability was rendered more brilliant by her justice and courage. Defeated in the field, she fortified herself in Palmýra, which was taken after a siege and destroyed. Zenobia was carried to Rome, where she graced the triumph of her conqueror, but was afterwards permitted to live in retirement. Aurelian was the first who built the walls of Rome in their present position.
With this ruler, the last vestige of the old republican form of government at Rome disappears. Old Rome was dead. Her Senate had lost the last remnant of its respectability. Seeing the necessity of a more united country and a firmer rule, DIOCLETIAN associated with himself MAXIMIAN, a gigantic soldier, who signalized his accession by subduing a dangerous revolt in Gaul. He also appointed two officers, GALERIUS and CONSTANTIUS, whom he called CAESARS, - one to have charge of the East, and the other of the West. By means of these assistants he crushed all revolts, strengthened the waning power of the Empire, and imposed peace and good order upon the world.
Diocletian and Maximian afterwards resigned, and allowed their two Caesars to assume the rank of AUGUSTI, and they in their turn appointed Caesars as assistants.