Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

THE

HISTORY

OF THE

DECLINE AND FALL

OF THE

ROMAN EMPIRE.

CHAP, XVII.

Foundation oj Constantinople Political system of

Constantine, and his successors---Military discipline--The palace-The finances.

XVII.

The unfortunate Licinius was the last rival chap. who opposed the greatness, and the last captive who adorned the triumph, of Constantine. After a tranquil and prosperous reign, the conqueror bequeathed to his family the inheritance of the Roman empire; a new capital, a new policy, and a new religion ; and the innovations which he established have been embraced and consecrated by succeeding generations. The age of the great Constantine and his sons is filled with important events; but the historian must be oppressed by their number and

[blocks in formation]

XVII.

CHAP, variety, unless he diligently separates from each

other the scenes which are connected only by the order of time. He will describe the political institutions that gave strength and stability to the empire, before he proceeds to relate the wars and revolutions which hastened its decline. He will adopt the division unknown to the ancients, of civil and ecclesiastical affairs : the victory of the Christians, and their intestine discord, will supply copious and distinct mate

rials both for edification and for scandal. Design of

After* the defeat and abdication of Licinius, a new ca- his victorious rival proceeded to lay the foundapital. A. D. 324. tions of a city, destined to reign, in future times,

the mistress of the East, and to survive the empire and religion of Constantine. The motives, whether of pride or of policy, which first induced Diocletian to withdraw himself from the ancient seat of government, had acquired additional weight by the example of his successors, and the habits of forty years. Rome was insensibly confounded with the dependent kingdoms which had once acknowledged her supremacy; and the country of the Cæsars was viewed with cold indifference by a martial prince, born in the neighbourhood of the Danube, educated in the courts and armies of Asia, and invested with the purple by the legions of Britain. The Italians, who had received Constantine as their deliverer, submis. sively obeyed the edicts which he sometimes condescended to address to the senate and people of Rome; but they were seldom honoured with the presence of their new sovereign. During the vi- cu ap. gour of his age, Constantine, according to the va

XVII. rious exigencies of peace and war, moved with slow dignity, or with active diligence, along the frontiers of his extensive dominions; and was always prepared to take the field either against a foreign or a domestic enemy. But as he gradually reached the summit of prosperity and the decline of life, he began to meditate the design of fixing in a more permanent station the strength as well as majesty of the throne. In the choice of an advantageous situation, he preferred the confines of Europe and Asia; to curb, with a powerful arm, the barbarians who dwelt between the Danube and the Tanais; to watch with an eye of jealousy the conduct of the Persian monarch, who indignantly supported the yoke of an ignominious treaty. With these views, Diocletian had selected and embellished the residence of Nicomedia: but the memory of Diocletian was justly abhorred by the protector of the church; and Constantine was not insensible to the ambition of founding a city which might perpetuate the glory of his own name. During the late operations of the war against Licinius, he had sufficient opportunity to contemplate, both as a soldier and as a statesman, the incomparable position of Byzanti-Situation um ; and to observe how strongly it was guarded tium by nature against an hostile attack, whilst it was accessible on every side to the benefits of commercial intercourse. Many ages before Constantine, one of the most judicious historians of antiqui

of Byzna

XVII.

tion of

CHAP. tyo had described the advantages of a situation,

from whence a feeble colony of Greeks derived the command of the sea, and the honours of a

flourishing and independent republic. Descrip- If we survey Byzantium in the extent which it Constanti. acquired with the august name of Constantinople, nople. the figure of the imperial city may be represented

under that of an unequal triangle. The obtuse point, which advances towards the east and the shores of Asia, meets and repels the waves of the

Thracian Bosphorus. The northern side of the city is bounded by the harbour; and the southern is washed by the Propontis, or sea of Marmara. The basis of the triangle is opposed to the west, and terminates the continent of Europe. But the admirable form and division of the circumjacent land and water cannot, without a more ample explanation, be clearly or sufficiently understood.

The winding channel through which the waphorus.

ters of the Euxine flow with a rapid and incessant course towards the Mediterranean, received the appellation of Bosphorus, a name not less cele

The Bos

a

Polybius, 1. iv, p. 423. edit. Casaubon. He observes that the. peace of the Byzantines was frequently disturbed, and the extent of their territory contracted, by the inroads of the wild Thracians.

b The navigator Byzas, who was styled the son of Neptune, founded the city 656 years before the Christian æra, His followers were drawn from Argos and Megara. Byzantium was afterwards rebuilt and fortified by the Spartan general Pausanias. See Scaliger Ani. madvers. ad Euseb. p. 81. Ducange Constantinopolis, l. i, part i, cap. 15, 16. With regard to the wars of the Byzantines against Philip, 'the Gauls, and the kings of Bithynia, we should trust none but the ancient writers who lived before the greatness of the imperial city had excited a spirit of dattery and fiction.

brated in the history, than in the fables of an- CHAP. tiquity. A crowd of temples and of votive al- XVII. tars profusely scattered along its steep and woody banks, attested the unskilfulness, the terrors, and the devotion of the Grecian navigators, who, after the example of the Argonauts, explored the dangers of the inhospitable Euxine. On these banks tradition long preserved the memory of the palace of Phineus, infested by the obscene harpies ; and of the sylvan reign of Amycus, who defied the son of Leda to the combat of the Cestus.e The streights of the Bosphorus are terminated by the Cyanean rocks, which, according to the description of the poets, had once floated on the face of the waters; and were destined by the gods to protect the entrance of the Euxine against the eye of profane curiosity. From the Cyanean rocks to the point and harbour of Byzantium, the

• The Bosphorus has been very minutely described by Dionysius of Byzantium, who lived in the time of Domitian (Hudson Geograph. Minor. tom. iii), and by Gilles or Gyllius, a French traveller of the sixteenth century. Tournefort (Lettre xv) seems to have used his own eyes and the learning of Gyllius.

. There are very few conjectures so happy as that of Le Cierc (Bibliotheque Universelle, tom. i, p. 148), who supposes that the harpies were only locusts. The Syriac or Phænician name of those insects, their noisy flight, the stench and devastation which they occasion, and the north wind which drives them into the sea, all contribute to form this striking resemblance.

e The residence of Amycus was in Asia, between the old and the new castles, at a place called Lauras Infana. That of Phineus was in Europe, near the village of Mauromole and the Black sea. See Gyllius de Bosph. 1. ii, c. 23. Tournefort, Lettre xv..

f The deception was occasioned by several pointed rocks, alternately covered and abandoned by the waves. At present there are two small islands, one towards either shore : that o. Europe is distinguished by the column of Pompey.

« IndietroContinua »