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CHAP. on the Asiatic shore, and he was transported XLVIII.
to the porphyry apartment of the palace, where he had first seen the light. In the inind of Irene, ambition had stifled every sentiment of humanity and nature ; and it was decreed in her bloody council, that Constantine should be rendered incapable of the throne : her emissaries assaulted the sleeping prince, and stabbed their daggers with such violence and precipitation into his eyes, as if they meant to execute a mortal sentence. An ambiguous passage of Theophanes persuaded the annalist of the church that death was the immediate consequence of this barbarous execution. The catholics have been deceived or subdued by the authority of Baronius; and protestant zeal has re-echoed the words of a cardinal, desirous, as it should seem, to favour the patroness of images. Yet the blind son of Irene survived many years, oppressed by the court and forgotten by the world : the Isaurian dynasty was silently extinguished ; and the memory of Constantine was recalled only by the nuptials of his daughter Euphrosyne with the
emperor Michael II. Irene,
The most bigotted orthodoxy has justly exeA. D. 792, crated the unnatural mother, who may not August 19.
easily be paralleled in the history of crimes. To her bloody deed, superstition has attributed a subsequent darkness of seventeen days ; during which
many vessels in mid-day were driven from their course, as if the sun, a globe of fire so vast and so remote, could sympathise with the atoms of a revolving planet. On earth, the
crime of Irene was left five years unpunished : CHAP. her reign was crowned with external splendour; and if she could silence the voice of conscience, she neither heard nor regarded the reproaches of mankind. The Roman world bowed to the government of a female ; and as she moved through the streets of Constantinople, the reins of four milk-white steeds were held by as many patricians, who marched on foot before the golden chariot of their queen. But these patricians were for the most part eunuchs; and their black ingratitude justified, on this occasion, the popular hatred and contempt. Raised, enriched, intrusted with the first dignities of the empire, they basely conspired against their benefactress; the great treasurer Nicephorus was secretly invested with the purple ; her successor was introduced into the palace, and crowned at St. Sophia by the venal patriarch. In their first interview, she recapitulated with dignity the revolutions of her life, gently accused the perfidy of Nicephorus, insinuated that he owed his life to her unsuspicious clemency, and, for the throne and treasures which she resigned, solicited a decent and honourable retreat. His avarice refused this modest compensation; and, in her exile of the isle of Lesbos, the empress earned a scanty subsistence by the labours of her distaff.
Many tyrants have reigned undoubtedly more Nicepho. criminal than Nicephorus, but none perhaps 1. D. 802, have more deeply incurred the universal abhorrence of their people. His character was stain
ed with the three odious vices of hypocrisy, XLVIII. ingratitude, and avarice; his want of virtue
was not redeemed by any superior talents, nor his want of talents, by any pleasing qualifications. Unskilful and unfortunate in war, Nice. phorus was vanquished by the Saracens, and slain by the Bulgarians; and the advantage of
his death overbalanced, in the public opinion, Stauracius, the destruction of a Roman army.
His son July 25.'' and heir Stauracius escaped from the field with
a mortal wound: yet six months of an expiring life were sufficient to refute bis indecent, though popular declaration, that he would in all things avoid the example of his father. On the near prospect of his decease, Michael, the great master of the palace, and the husband of his sister Procopia, was named by every person of the palace and city, except by his envious brother. Tenaciousof a sceptre now falling from his hand, he conspired against the life of his successor, and cherished the idea of changing to a democracy the Roman empire. But these rash projects served only to inflame the zeal of the people and to remove the scruples
of the candidate: Michael I. accepted the purMichael I, ple, and before he sunk into the grave, the son Rhangabe, of Nicephorus implored the clemency of his October 2. new sovereign.
Had Michael in an age of peace ascended an hereditary throne, he might have reigned and died the father of his people: but his mild virtues were adapted to the shade of private life, nor was he capable of controlling the ambition of his equals, or of resisting the arms of the victorious Bulgarians. While
his want of ability and success exposed him to CHAP. the contempt of the soldiers, the masculine spirit of his wife Procopia awakened their indignation. Even the Greeks of the ninth century were provoked by the insolence of a female, who, in the front of the standards, presumed to direct their discipline and animate their valour; and their licentious clamours advised the new Semiramis to reverence the majesty of a Roman camp. After an unsuccessful campaign, the emperor left, in their winterquarters of Thrace, a disaffected army under the command of his enemies ; and their artful eloquence persuaded the soldiers to break the dominion of the eunuchs, to degrade the husband of Procopia, and to assert the right of a military election. They marched towards the capital; yet the clergy, the senate, and the people of Constantinople, adhered to the cause of Michael ; and the troops and treasures of Asia might have protracted the mischiefs of
But his humanity (by the ambitious, it will be terıned his weakness) protested, that not a drop of Christian blood should be shed in his quarrel, and his messengers presented the conquerors with the keys of the city and the palace. They were disarmed by his innocence and submission ; his life and his eyes were spared; and the imperial monk enjoyed the comforts of solitude and religion above thirty-two years after he had been stripped of the purple and separated from bis wife.
A rebel, in the time of Nicephorus, the famous and unfortunate Bardanes, had once the curiosity
CHAP. to consult an Asiatic prophet, who, after prog
nosticating his fall, announced the fortunes of Leo V, the his three principal officers, Leo the Armenian, A. D. 813, Michael the Phrygian, and Thomas the CapadoJuly 11. cian, the successive reigns of the two former,
the fruitless and fatal enterprise of the third. This prediction was verified, or rather was produced, by the event. Ten years afterwards, when the Thracian camp rejected the husband of Procopia, the crown was presented to the same Leo, the first in military rank and the secret author of the mutiny. As he affected to hesitate,—“With this sword,” said his companion Michael, “I will open the gates of Con“stantinople to your imperial sway; or instant
ly plunge it into your bosom, if you obstinately resist the just desires of your fellow“soldiers.” The compliance of the Armenian was rewarded with the empire, and he reigned seven years and an half under the name of Leo V. Educated in a camp, and ignorant both of laws and letters, he introduced into his civil government the rigour and even cruelty of military discipline; but if his severity was sometimes dangerous to the innocent, it was always formidable to the guilty. His religious inconstancy was taxed by the epithet of Cameleon, but the catholics have acknowledged by the voice of a saint and confessors, that the life of the Iconoclast was useful to the republic. The zeal of his companion Michael was repaid with riches, honours, and military command; and his subordinate talents were beneficially employed in the public service. Yet the Phrygian was dis