Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

and completed by his immediate successors, may CHAP.

XVII. not only amuse the fancy by the singular picture of a great empire, but will tend to illustrate the secret and internal causes of its rapid decay. In the pursuit of any remarkable institution, we may be frequently led into the more early or the more recent times of the Roman history; but the proper limits of this inquiry will be included within a period of about one hundred and thirty years, from the accession of Constantine to the publication of the Theodosian code ;from which, as well as from the Notitia of the east and west, we derive the most copious and authentic information of the state of the empire. This variety of objects will suspend, for some time, the course of the narrative; but the interruption will be censured only by those readers who are insensible to the importance of laws and manners, while they peruse, with eager curiosity, the transient intrigues of a court, or the accidental event of a battle,

The manly pride of the Romans, content with Hierarchy substantial power, had left to the vanity of the state. East the forms and ceremonies of ostentatious

of the

The Theodosian code was promulgated A. D. 438. See the Prolegomena of Godefroy, c. i, p. 185.

b Pancirolus, in his elaborate commentary, assigns to the Notitia a date almost similar to that of the Theodosian code ; but his proofs, or rather conjectures, are extremely feeble. I should be rather inclined to place this useful work between the final division of the empire (A. D. 395), and the successful invasion of Gaul by the Barbarians (A. D. 4077. See Histoire des Anciens Peuples de l'Europe, tom. vij, p. 40.

XVII.

CHAP. greatness. But when they lost even the sem.

blance of those virtues which were derived from their ancient freedom, the simplicity of Roman manners was insensibly corrupted by the stately affectation of the courts of Asia. The distinctions of personal merit and influence, so conspicuous in a republic, so feeble and obscure under a monarchy, were abolished by the despotism of the emperors; who substituted in their room a severe subordination of rank and office, from the titled slaves who were seated on the steps of the throne, to the meanest instruments of arbitrary power. This multitude of abject dependents was interested in the support of the actual government, from the dread of a revolution, which might at once confound their hopes, and intercept the reward of their services. In this divine hierarchy (for such it is frequently styled), every rank was marked with the most scrupulous exactness, and its dignity was displayed in a variety of trifling and solemn ceremonies, which it was a study to learn, and a sacrilege to neglect. The purity of the Latin language was debased, by adopting, in the intercourse of pride and flattery, a profusion

. Scilicet externæ superbiæ 'sueto, non inerat notitia nostri (per. haps nostre); apud quos vis imperii valet, inania transmittuntur. Tacit. Annal. xv, 31. The gradation from the style of freedom and simplictiy, to that of form and servitude, may be traced in the Epistles of Cicero, of Pliny, and of Symmacus.

• The emperor Gratian, after confirming a law of precedency published by Valentinian, the father of his divinity, thus continues : Siquis igitur indebitum sibi locum usurpaverit, nulla se ignoratione defendat ; sitque plane sacrilegii reus, qui divina præceptą neglexeris. Cod. Theod. l. vi, tit. v, leg, 2.

[ocr errors]

of epithets, which Tully would scarcely have un- CHAP.

XVII. derstood, and which Augustus would have rejected with indignation. The principal officers of the empire were saluted, even by the sovereign himself, with the deceitful titles of your Sincerity, your Gravity, your Excellency, your Eminency, your sublime and wonderful Magnitude, your illustrious and magnificent Highness. The codicils br patents of their office were curiously emblazoned with such emblems' as were best adapted to explain its nature and high dignity; the image or portrait of the reigning emperors; a triumphal car; the book of mandates placed on a table; covered with a rich carpet, and illuminated by four tapers; the allegorical figures of the provinces which they governed'; or the appellations and standards of the troops whom they commanded. Some of these official ensigns were really exhibited in their hall of audience; others preceded their

pompous march whenever they appeared in public; and every circumstance of their demean- . our, their dress, their ornaments, and their train, was calculated to inspire a deep reverence for the representatives of supreme majesty. By a philosophic observer, the system of the Roman government might have been mistaken fora splendid theatre, filled with players of every charactér and degree, who repeated the language, and imitated the passions of their original model.'

e Consult the Notitia Dignitatum, at the end of the Theodosian code, tom. vi, p. 316.

* Pancirolus ad Notitiam utriusque imperii, p. 39. But his explanations are obscure, and he does not sufficiently distinguish the painted emblems from the effective ensigns of office.

[blocks in formation]

All the magistrates of sufficient importance to find a place in the general state of the empire, were accurately divided into three classes. 1, the Illustrious ; 2, the Spectabiles, or Respectable ; and 3, the Clarissimi, whom we may translate by the word honourable. In the times of Roman simplicity, the last-mentioned epithet was used only as a vague expression of dem ference, till it became at length the peculiar and appropriated title of all who were members of the senate, and consequently of all who, from that venerable body, were selected to govern the provinces. The vanity of those who, from their rank and office, might claim a superior distinction above the rest of the senatorial order, was long afterwards indulged with the new appellation of Respectable: but the title of Illustrious was always reserved to some eminent personages, who were obeyed or reverenced by the two subordinate classes. It was communicated only, 1, To the consuls and patricians; II, To the prætorian præfects, with the præfects of Rome and Constan. tinople ; 11, To the masters-general of the cavalry and the infantry; and, iv, To the seven mi. nisters of the palace, who exercised their sacred functions about the person of the emperor." Among those illustrious magistrates who were esteemed co-ordinate with each other, the seniori

СНАР.
XVII.

Three
ranks of
honour.

3 In the Pandects, which may be referred to the reigns of the An. tonines, Clarissimus is the ordinary and legal title of a senator.

to Pancirol. p. 12-17. I have not taken any notice of the two inferior ranks, Perfectissimus and Egregius, which were given to many persons who were not raised to the senatorial dignity.

suls.

ty of appointment gave place to the union of dig, chap. nities. By the expedient of honorary codicils, XVII. the emperors, who were fond of multiplying their favours, might sometimes gratify the vanity, though not the ambition, of impatient courtiers." · I. As long as the Roman consuls were the first the conmagistrates of a free state, they derived their right to power from the choice of the people. As long

as the emperors condescended to disguise the ser• vitude which they imposed, the consuls were still

elected by the real or apparent suffrage of the senate. From the reign of Diocletian even these vestiges of liberty were abolished, and the successful candidates who were invested with the annual honours of the consulship, affected to deplore the humiliating condition of their predecessors. The Scipios and the Catos had been reduced to solicit the votes of plebeians, to pass through the tedious and expensive forms of a popular election, and to expose their dignity to the shame of a public refusal; while their own happier fate had reserved them for an age and government in which the rewards of virtue were assigned by the unerring wisdom of a gracious sovereign. In the epistles which the emperor addressed to the two consuls elect, it was declared,

i Cod. Theodos. 1. vi, tit. vi. The rules of precedency are ascera tained with the most minute accuracy by the emperors, and illus. trated with equal prolixity by their learned interpreter.

Cod. Theodos. l. vi, tit. xxii. · Ausonius (in Gratiarum Actione) basely expatiates on this une worthy topic, which is managed by Mamertinus (Panegyr. Vetxig 16-19) with somewhat more freedom and ingenuity.

« IndietroContinua »