Page images
PDF
EPUB

XLVIII.

CHAP. he might taste some moments of happiness in the

first transports of sincere and universal joy. Justinian had left behind him an ample treasure, the fruit of cruelty and rapine: but this useful fund was soon and idly dissipated by his successor. On the festival of his birth-day, Philippicus entertained the multitude with the games of the hippodrome; from thence he paraded through the streets with a thousand banners and a thousand trumpets; refreshed himself in the baths of Zeuxippus, and, returning to the palace, entertained his nobles with a sumptuous banquet. At the meridian hour he withdrew to his chamber, intoxicated with flattery and wine, and forgetful that his example had made every subject ambitious, and that every ambitious subject was his secret enemy. Some bold conspirators introduced themselves in the disorder of the feast; and the slumbering monarch was surprised, bound, blinded, and deposed, before he was

sensible of his danger. Yet the traitors were A. D. 113, deprived of their reward; and the free voice of

the senate and people promoted Artemius from
the office of secretary to that of emperor: he as-
sumed the title of Anastasius II, and displayed
in a short and troubled reign the virtues both
of
peace and war.

and war. But, after the extinction of the imperial line, the rule of obedience was violated, and every change diffused the seeds of new revolutions. In a mutiny of the fleet, an obscure and reluctant officer of the revenne was forcibly invested with the purple: after some months of a naval war, Anastasius resigned the sceptre; and the conqueror, Theodosius III,

Anasta. sius II,

June 4.

1

XLVIII.

sius III,

[ocr errors]

;

submitted in his turn to the superior ascendant CHAP. of Leo, the general and emperor of the oriental troops. His two predecessors were permitted Theodoto embrace the ecclesiastical profession: the

A. D. 7167 restless impatience of Anastasius tempted him January to risk and to lose his life in a treasonable enter. prise; but the last day's of Theodosius were honourable and secure. The single sublime word,

Health,” which he inscribed on his tomb, expresses the confidence of philosophy or religion; and the fame of his miracles was long preserved among the people of Ephesus. This convenient shelter of the church might sometimes impose a lesson of clemency; but it may

be questioned whether it is for the public interest to diminish the perils of unsuccessful ambition.

I have dwelt on the fall of a tyrant; I shall Leo III, briefly represent the founder of a new dynasty, rian, who is known to posterity by the invectives of March 25 his enemies, and whose public and private life is involved in the ecclesiastical story of the Iconoclasts. Yet in spite of the clamours of superstition, a favourable prejudice for the character of Leo the Isaurian, may be reasonably drawn from the obscurity of his birth, and the duration of his reign.-I. In an age of manly spirit, the prospect of an imperial reward would have kindled every energy of the mind, and produced a crowd of competitors as deserving as they were desirous to reign. Even in the corruption and debility of the modern Greeks, the elevation of a plebeian from the last to the first rank of society, supposes some qualifications above the level of the multitude. He would

the Isau.

A. D. 718

XLVIII.

CHAP. probably be ignorant and disdainful of specula

tive science; and, in the pursuit of fortune, he might absolve himself from the obligations of benevolence and justice: but to his character we may ascribe the useful virtues of prudence and fortitude, the knowledge of mankind, and the important art of gaining their confidence and directing their passions. It is agreed that Leo was a native of Isauria, and that Conon was his primitive name. The writers, whose awkward satire is praise, describe him as an itinerant pedlar, who drove an ass with some paltry merchandise to the country fairs; and foolishly relate that he met on the road some Jewish fortune-tellers, who promised him the Roman empire, on condition that he should abolish the worship of idols. A more probable account relates the migration of his father from Asia Minor to Thrace, where he exercised the lucrative trade of a grazier; and he must have acquired considerable wealth, since the first introduction of his son was procured by a supply of five hundred sheep to the imperial camp. His first service was in the guards of Justinian, where he soon attracted the notice, and by degrees the jealousy, of the tyrant. His valour and dexterity were conspicuous in the Colchian war: from Anastasius he received the command of the Anatolian legions, and by the suffrage of the soldiers he was raised to the empire with the general applause of the Roman world. II. In this dangerous elevation, Leo III supported himself against the envy of his equals, the discontent of a powerful faction, and the assaults

XLVIII.

[ocr errors]

of his foreign and domestic enemies. The ca- CHAP. tholics, who accuse his religious innovations, are obliged to confess that they were undertaken with temper and conducted with firmness. Their silence respects the wisdom of his administration and the purity of his manners.

After a reign of twenty-four years, he peaceably expired in the palace of Constantinople: and the purple which he had acquired, was transmitted by the right of inheritance to the third generation. In a long reign of thirty-four years, the son Coustan

tipe V, and successor of Leo, Constantine V, surnamed

CopronyCopronymus, attacked with less temperate zeal mus,

A. D. 741 the images or idols of the church. Their vota. June 18. ries have exhausted the bitterness of religious gall, in their portrait of this spotted panther, this antichrist, this flying dragon of the serpent's seed, who surpassed the vices of Elagabalus and Nero. His reign was a long butchery of whatever was most noble, or holy, or innocent, in his empire. In person, the

emperor

assisted at the execution of his victims, surveyed their agonies, listened to their groans, and indulged, without satiating, his appetite for blood ; a plate of noses was accepted as a grateful offering, and his domestics were often scourged or muti. lated by the royal hand. His surname was derived from his pollution of his baptismal font. The infant might be excused; but the manly pleasures of Copronymus degraded him below the level of a brute; his lust confounded the eternal distinctions of sex and species; and he seemed to extract some unnatural delight from

;

CHAP. the objects most offensive to human sense. In LVII. his religion, the Iconoclast was an heretic, a

Jew, a Mahometan, a pagan and an atheist; and his belief of an invisible power could be discovered only in his magic rites, human victims, and nocturnal sacrifices to Venus and the demons of antiquity. His life was stained with the most opposite vices, and the ulcers which covered his body, anticipated before his death the sentiment of hell-tortures. Of these accusations, which I have so patiently copied, a part is refuted by its own absurdity; and in the private anecdotes of the life of princes, the lie is more easy as the detection is more difficult. Without adopting the pernicious maxim, that where much is alleged, something must be true, I can however discern that Constantine V was dissolute and cruel. Calumny is more prone to exaggerate than to invent; and her licentious tongue is checked in some measure by the experience of the age and country to which she appeals. Of the bishops and monks, the generals and magistrates, who are said to have suffered under his reign, the numbers are recorded, the names were conspicuous, the execution was public, the mutilation visible and permanent. The catholics hated the person and government of Copronymus; but even their hatred is a proof of their oppression. They dissemble the provocations which might excuse or justify his rigour, but even these provocations must gradually infiame his resentment, and harden his temper in the use or the abuse of despotism. Yet the character of the fifth

« PreviousContinue »