PERIOD OF MILITARY DESPOTISM.--DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE. COMMODUS (180-192).
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 (192-193). 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 JULI?NUS, 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 SEV?RUS, 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 MACR?NUS, 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 SEV?RUS 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 PALM?RA. 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 Palm?ra, 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.
DIOCLETIAN (284-305). 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. 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. Honorius was succeeded, after one of the longest reigns of the imperial line, by VALENTINIAN III. (423-455). The Empire was but a relic of its former self. Gaul, Spain, and Britain were practically lost; Illyria and Pannonia were in the hands of the Goths; and Africa was soon after seized by the barbarians. Valentinian was fortunate in the possession of AETIUS, a Scythian by birth, who for a time upheld the Roman name, winning for himself the title of LAST OF THE ROMANS. He was assassinated by his ungrateful master. A few months later, in 455, the Emperor himself was killed by a Senator, MAXIMUS, who succeeded him, but for only three months, when AV?TUS (455-456), a noble of Gaul, became Emperor. He was deposed by RICIMER (457-467), a Sueve, of considerable ability, who for some time managed the affairs of the Empire, making and unmaking its monarchs at pleasure. After the removal of Av?tus, ten months were allowed to elapse before a successor was appointed; and then the crown was bestowed upon MAJORIAN (457-461). SEV?RUS followed him, a man too weak to interfere with the plans of Ricimer. After his death, Ricimer ruled under the title of PATRICIAN, until the people demanded an Emperor, and he appointed ANTHEMIUS (467-472), who attempted to strengthen his position by marrying a daughter of Ricimer; but jealousy soon sprang up between them. Ricimer invited a horde of barbarians from across the Alps, with whom he captured and sacked Rome, and killed Anthemius. Shortly after, Ricimer himself died. Names which appear only as names now follow each other in rapid succession. Finally, in 476, ZENO, Emperor of the East, declared the office of EMPEROR OF THE WEST abolished, and gave the government of the DIOCESE OF ITALY to ODO?CER, with the title of Patrician.