The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire - John Lord - ebook

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire ebook

John Lord

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The assassination of Cæsar was not immediately followed with the convulsions which we should naturally expect. The people were weary of war, and sighed for repose, and, moreover, were comparatively indifferent on whom the government fell, since their liberties were hopelessly prostrated. Only one thing was certain, that power would be usurped by some one, and most probably by the great chieftains who represented Cæsar's interests. The most powerful men in Rome at this time, were Marcus Antonius, the most able of Cæsar's lieutenants, the most constant of his friends, and the nearest of his relatives, although a man utterly unprincipled; Octavius, grandson of Julius, whom Cæsar adopted as his heir, a young man of nineteen; Lepidus, colleague consul with Cæsar, the head of the ancient family of the Lepidi, thirteen of whom had been honored with curule magistracies; Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey; Brutus and Cassius, chief conspirators; Dolabella, a man of consular rank, and one of the profligate nobles of his time; Hirtia and Pansa, consuls; Piso, father-in-law of Cæsar, of a powerful family, which boasted of several consuls; and Cicero - still influential from his great weight of character. All these men were great nobles, and had filled the highest offices...

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THE RISE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

John Lord

OZYMANDIAS PRESS

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All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.

Copyright © 2016 by John Lord

Published by Ozymandias Press

Interior design by Pronoun

Distribution by Pronoun

ISBN: 9781531291945

TABLE OF CONTENTS

THE CIVIL WARS FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF CÆSAR.—ANTONIUS.—AUGUSTUS

THE ROMAN EMPIRE ON THE ACCESSION OF AUGUSTUS

THE SIX CÆSARS OF THE JULIAN LINE

THE CLIMAX OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

THE DECLINE OF THE EMPIRE

THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE

THE CIVIL WARS FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF CÆSAR.—ANTONIUS.—AUGUSTUS

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THE ASSASSINATION OF CÆSAR WAS not immediately followed with the convulsions which we should naturally expect. The people were weary of war, and sighed for repose, and, moreover, were comparatively indifferent on whom the government fell, since their liberties were hopelessly prostrated. Only one thing was certain, that power would be usurped by some one, and most probably by the great chieftains who represented Cæsar’s interests.

The most powerful men in Rome at this time, were Marcus Antonius, the most able of Cæsar’s lieutenants, the most constant of his friends, and the nearest of his relatives, although a man utterly unprincipled; Octavius, grandson of Julius, whom Cæsar adopted as his heir, a young man of nineteen; Lepidus, colleague consul with Cæsar, the head of the ancient family of the Lepidi, thirteen of whom had been honored with curule magistracies; Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey; Brutus and Cassius, chief conspirators; Dolabella, a man of consular rank, and one of the profligate nobles of his time; Hirtia and Pansa, consuls; Piso, father-in-law of Cæsar, of a powerful family, which boasted of several consuls; and Cicero—still influential from his great weight of character. All these men were great nobles, and had filled the highest offices.

The man who, to all appearance, had the fairest chance for supreme command in those troubled times, was Antony, whose mother was Julia, Cæsar’s sister. He was grandson to the great orator M. Antonius, who flourished during the civil wars between Marius and Sulla, and was distinguished for every vice, folly, and extravagance which characterized the Roman nobles. But he was a man of consummate ability as a general, was master of the horse, and was consul with Cæsar, when he was killed, B.C.44. He was also eloquent, and pronounced the funeral oration of the murdered Imperator, as nearest of kin. He had possession of Cæsar’s papers, and was the governor of Cisalpine Gaul. He formed a union with Lepidus, to whom he offered the office of Pontifex Maximus, the second office in the State. As consul, he could unlock the public treasury, which he rifled to the extent of seven hundred million of sesterces—the vast sum left by Cæsar. One of his brothers was prætor, and another, a tribune. He convened the Senate, and employed, by the treasure he had at command, the people to overawe the Senate, as the Jacobin clubs of the French revolution overawed the Assembly. He urged the Senate to ratify Cæsar’s acts and confirm his appointments, and in this was supported by Cicero and a majority of the members. Now that the deed was done, he wished to have the past forgotten. This act of amnesty confirmed his fearful pre-eminence, and the inheritance of the mighty dead seemingly devolved upon him. The conspirators came to terms with him, and were even entertained by him, and received the provinces which he assigned to them. Brutus received Macedonia; Cassius, Syria; Trebonius, Asia; Cimber, Bythinia; and Decimus, Cisalpine Gaul. Dolabella was his colleague in the consulship,—a personal enemy, yet committed to his policy.

Cæsar had left three hundred sesterces to every citizen, (about £3,) and his gardens beyond the Tiber to the use of the people. Such gifts operated in producing an intense gratitude for the memory of a man who had proved so great a benefactor, and his public funeral was of unprecedented splendor. Antony, as his nearest heir, and the first magistrate, pronounced the oration, which was a consummate piece of dramatic art, in which he inflamed the passions of the people, and stimulated them to frenzy, so that they turned upon the assassins with fury. But he assured the Senate of his moderation, abolished the dictatorship forever, and secured his own personal safety by a body-guard.

He had, however, a powerful rival in the young Octavius, who had been declared by Cæsar’s will his principal heir, then absent in Apollonia. He resolved to return at once and claim his inheritance, and was warmly received at Brundusium by the veteran troops, and especially by Cicero, who saw in him a rival to Antony. Octavius flattered the old orator, and ingratiated himself in the favor of everybody by his unassuming manners, and his specious language. He entered Rome under favorable omens, paid his court to the senators, and promised to fulfill his uncle’s requests. He was received by Antony in the gardens of Pompeius, and claimed at once his inheritance. Antony replied that it was not private property but the public treasure, and was, moreover, spent. Octavius was not to be put off, and boldly declared that he would and could pay the legacies, and contrived to borrow the money. Such an act secured unrivaled popularity. He gave magnificent shows, and then claimed that the jeweled crown of Cæsar should be exhibited on the festival which he instituted to Venus, and to whose honor Cæsar had vowed to build a temple, on the morning of his victory at Pharsalia. The tribunes, instigated by Antonius, refused to sanction this mark of honor, but fortune favored Octavius, and, in the enthusiasm of the festival, which lasted eleven days, the month Quintilius was changed to Julius—the first demigod whom the Senate had translated to Olympus.

Meanwhile Brutus and Cassius retired from public affairs, lingering in the neighborhood of Rome, and the provinces promised to them were lost. At Antium they had an interview with Cicero, who advised them to keep quiet, and not venture to the capital, where the people were inflamed against them. Their only encouragement was the successes of Sextus Pompeius in Spain, who had six legions at his command. Cicero foresaw that another civil war was at hand, and had the gloomiest forebodings, for one or the other of the two great chieftains of the partisans of Cæsar was sure of ultimately obtaining the supreme power. The humiliating conviction that the murder of Cæsar was a mistake, was now deeply impressed upon his mind, since it would necessarily inaugurate another bloody war. Self banished from Rome, this great and true patriot wandered from place to place to divert his mind. But neither the fascinations of literature, nor the attractions of Tusculum, Puteoli, Pompeii, and Neapolis, where he had luxurious villas, could soothe his anxious and troubled soul. Religious, old, and experienced, he could only ponder on the coming and final prostration of that cause of constitutional liberty to which he was devoted.

Antonius, also aware of the struggle which was impending, sought to obtain the government of Cisalpine Gaul, and of the six legions destined for the Parthian war. But he was baffled by the Senate, and by the intrigues of Octavius, who sheltered himself behind the august name of the man by whom he had been adopted. He therefore made a hollow reconciliation with Octavius, and by his means, obtained the Gaulish provinces. Cicero, now only desirous to die honorably, returned to Rome to accept whatever fate was in store for him, and defend to the last his broken cause. It was then, in the Senate, that he launched forth those indignant philippies against Antonius, as a public enemy, which are among his greatest efforts, and which most triumphantly attest his moral courage.

The hollow reconciliation between Antonius and Octavius was not of long duration, and the former, as consul, repaired to Brundusium to assume command of the legions stationed there, and Octavius collected his forces in Campania. Both parties complained of each other, and both invoked the name of Cæsar. Cicero detested the one, and was blinded as to the other.

The term of office as consul, which Antonius held, had now expired, and Hirtius, one of the new consuls, marched into Cisalpine Gaul, and Octavius placed himself under his command. The Senate declared a state of public danger. The philippics of Cicero had taken effect, and the Senate and the government were now opposed to Antonius, as the creator of a new revolution. The consuls crossed swords with Antonius at Forum Gallorum, and the consul Pansa fell, but success was with the government. Another success at Mutina favored the government party, which Octavius had joined. On the news of this victory, Cicero delivered his fourteenth and last philippic against Antonius, who now withdrew from Cisalpine Gaul, and formed a junction with Lepidus beyond the Alps. Octavius declined to pursue him, and Plancus hesitated to attack him, although joined by Decimus, one of the murderers of Cæsar, with ten legions. Octavius now held aloof from the government army, from which it was obvious that he had ambitious views of his own to further, and was denounced by Plancus to Cicero. The veteran statesman, at last, perceived that Octavius, having deserted Decimus (who, of all the generals, was the only one on whose fidelity the State could securely lean), was not to be further relied upon, and cast his eyes to Macedonia and Syria, to which provinces Brutus and Cassius had retired. The Senate, too, now distrusted Octavius, and treated him with contumely; but supported by veteran soldiers, he demanded the consulship, and even secretly corresponded with Antonius, and assured him of his readiness to combine with him and Lepidus, and invited them to follow him to Rome. He marched at the head of eight legions, pretending all the while to be coerced by them. The Senate, overawed, allowed him, at twenty years of age, to assume the consulship, with Pedius, grand-nephew of Cæsar, for his colleague. Since Hirtius and Pansa had both fallen, Octavius, then leaving the city in the hands of a zealous colleague, opened negotiations with Antonius and Lepidus, perceiving that it was only in conjunction with them that his usurpation could be maintained. They met for negotiations at Bononia, and agreed to share the empire between them. They declared themselves triumvirs for the settlement of the commonwealth, and after a conference of three days, divided between themselves the provinces and legions. They then concerted a general proscription of their enemies. The number whom they thus doomed to destruction was three hundred senators and two thousand knights, from the noblest families of Rome, among whom were brothers, uncles, and favorite officers. The possession of riches was fatal to some, and of beautiful villas to others. Cicero was among this number, as was to be expected, for he had exhausted the Latin language in vituperations of Antonius, whom he hated beyond all other mortals, and which hatred was itself a passion. He spoke of Cæsar with awe, of Pompey with mortification, of Crassus with dislike, and of Antony with bitter detestation and unsparing malice. It was impossible that he could escape, even had he fled to the ends of the earth. The vacillation of his last hours, his deep distress, and mournful agonies are painted by Plutarch. He fell a martyr to the cause of truth, and public virtue, and exalted patriotism, although his life was sullied by weakness and infirmities, such as vanity, ambition, and jealousy. In the dark and wicked period which he adorned by his transcendent talents and matchless services, he lived and died in faith—the most amiable and the most noble of all his contemporaries.

The triumvirs had now gratified their vengeance by a series of murders never surpassed in the worst ages of religious and political fanaticism. And all these horrible crimes were perpetrated in the name of that great and august character who had won the world by his sword. The prestige of that mighty name sanctioned their atrocities and upheld their power. Cæsar still lived, although assassinated, and the triumvirs reigned as his heirs or avengers, even as Louis Napoleon grasped the sceptre of his uncle, not from any services he had rendered, but as the heir of his conquests. The Romans loved Cæsar as the French loved Napoleon, and submitted to the rule of the triumvirs, as the French submitted to the usurpations of the proscribed prisoner of Ham. And in the anarchy which succeeded the assassination of the greatest man of antiquity, it must need be that the strongest would seize the reins, since all liberty and exalted patriotism had fled.

But these usurpers did not secure their power without one more last struggle of the decimated and ruined aristocracy. They rallied under the standards of Brutus and Cassius in Macedonia and Syria. The one was at the head of eight legions, and the other of eleven, a still formidable force. Sextus Pompeius also still lived, and had intrenched himself in Sicily. A battle had still to be fought before the republic gave its last sigh. Cicero ought to have joined these forces, and might have done so, but for his vacillation. So Lepidus, as consul, took control of Rome and the interests of Italy, while Antonius marched against Brutus and Cassius in the East, and Octavius assailed Sextus in Sicily; unable, however, to attack him without ships, he joined his confederate. Their united forces were concentrated in Philippi, in Thrace, and there was fought the last decisive battle between the republicans, if the senatorial and aristocratic party under Brutus and Cassius can be called republicans, and the liberators, as they called themselves, or the adherents of Cæsar. The republicans had a force of eighty thousand infantry and twenty thousand cavalry, while the triumvirs commanded a still superior force. The numbers engaged in this great conflict exceeded all former experience, and the battle of Philippi was the most memorable in Roman annals, since all the available forces of the empire were now arrayed against each other. The question at issue was, whether power should remain with the old constitutional party, or with the party of usurpation which Cæsar had headed and led to victory. It was whether Rome should be governed by the old forms, or by an imperator with absolute authority. The forces arrayed on that fatal battle-field—the last conflict for liberty ever fought at Rome—were three times as great as fought at Pharsalia. On that memorable battle-field the republic perished. The battle was fairly and bravely fought on both sides, but victory inclined to the Cæsarians, in two distinct actions, after an interval of twenty days, B.C. 42. Both Cassius and Brutus fell on their own swords, and their self-destruction, in utter despair of their cause, effectually broke up their party.

The empire was now in the hands of the triumvirs. The last contest was decisive. Future struggles were worse than useless. Destiny had proclaimed the extinction of Roman liberties for ever. It was vice and faction which had prepared the way for violence, and the last appeal to the sword had settled the fate of the empire, henceforth to be governed by a despot.

But there being now three despots among the partisans of Cæsar, who sought to grasp his sceptre, Which should prevail? Antonius was the greatest general; Octavius was the greatest man; Lepidus was the tool of both. The real rivalry was between Octavius and Antonius. But they did not at once quarrel. Antonius undertook the subjugation of the eastern provinces, and Octavius repaired to Rome. The former sought, before the great encounter with his rival, to gain military éclat from new victories; the latter to control factions and parties in the capital. They first got rid of Lepidus, now that their more powerful enemies were subdued, and compelled him to surrender the command in Italy and content himself with the government of Africa. Antonius, commanding no less than twenty-eight legions, which, with auxiliaries, numbered one hundred and seventy thousand, had perhaps the best chance. His exactions were awful; but he squandered his treasures, and gave vent to his passions.

The real cause of his overthrow was Cleopatra, for had he not been led aside by his inordinate passion for this woman, and had he exercised his vast power with the wisdom and ability which he had previously shown, the most able of all of Cæsar’s generals, he probably would have triumphed over every foe. On his passage through Cilicia, he was met by Cleopatra, in all the pomp and luxury of an Oriental sovereign. She came to deprecate his wrath, ostensibly, and ascended the Cydnus in a bark with gilded stern and purple sails, rowed with silver oars, to the sound of pipes and flutes. She reclined, the most voluptuous of ancient beauties, under a spangled canopy, attended by Graces and Cupids, while the air was scented with the perfumes of Olympus. She soon fascinated the most powerful man in the empire, who, forgetting his ambition, resigned himself to love. Octavius, master of himself, and of Italy, confiscated lands for the benefit of the soldiership prepared for future contingencies. Though Antonius married Octavia, the sister of Octavius, he was full of intrigues against him and Octavius, on his part, proved more than a match in duplicity and concealed hostilities. They, however, pretended to be friends; and the treaty of Brundusium, celebrated by Virgil, would seem to indicate that the world was now to enjoy the peace it craved. After a debauch, Antonius left Rome for the East, and Octavius for Gaul, each with a view of military conquests. Antonius, with his new wife, had seemingly forgotten Cleopatra, and devoted himself to the duties of the camp with an assiduity worthy of Cæsar himself. Octavius has a naval conflict with Sextus, and is defeated, but Sextus fails to profit from his victory, and Octavius, with the help of his able lieutenants, and re-enforced by Antonius, again attacks Sextus, and is again defeated. In a third conflict he is victorious, and Sextus escapes to the East. Lepidus, ousted and cheated by both Antonius and Octavius, now combines with Sextus and the Pompeians, and makes head against Octavius; but is deserted by his soldiers, and falls into the hands of his enemy, who spares his life in contempt. He had owed his elevation to his family influence, and not to his own abilities. Sextus, at last, was taken and slain.

At this juncture Octavius was at the head of the Cæsarian party. He had won the respect and friendship of the Romans by his clemency and munificence. He was not a great general, but he was served by a great general, Agrippa, and by another minister of equal talents, Mecrenas. He controlled even more forces than Antonius, no less than forty-five legions of infantry, and twenty-five thousand cavalry, and thirty-seven thousand light-armed auxiliaries. Antonius, on the other hand, had forfeited the esteem of the Romans by his prodigalities, by his Oriental affectations, and by his slavery to Cleopatra.