Page images
[ocr errors]


Constantine was not devoid of merit, nor did CHAP. his government always deserve the curses or the contempt of the Greeks. From the confession of his enemies, I am informed of the restoration of an ancient aqueduct, of the redemption of two thousand five hundred

hundred captives, of the uncommon plenty of the times, and of the new colonies with which he repeopled Constantinople and the Thracian cities. They reluctantly praise his activity and courage;

he was on horseback in the field at the head of his legions; and, although the fortune of his arms was various, he triumphed by sea and by land, on the Euphrates and the Danube, in civil and barbarian war. Hereti cal praise must be cast into the scale, to counterbalance the weight of orthodox invective. The Iconoclasts revered the virtues of the prince : forty years after his death they still prayed before the tomb of the saint. A miraculous vision was propagated by fanaticism or fraud : and the Christian hero appeared on a milk-white steed, brandishing his lance against the pagans of Bulgaria : “ An absurd fable," says the catholic historian, “ since Copronymus “ is chained with the demons in the abyss of “ hell." Leo IV, the son of the fifth and the father of

Leo IV, the sixth Constantine, was of a feeble constitu- A. D. Tas, tion both of mind and body, and the principal care of his reign was the settlement of the succession. The association of the young Constantine was urged by the officious zeal of his subjects; and the emperor, conscious of his

Sept. 14.

CHAP. decay, complied, after a prudent hesitation, XLVIII. with their unanimous wishes. The roya. in

fant, at the age of five years, was crowned with his mother Irene; and the national consent was ratified by every circumstance of pomp and solemnity, that could dazzle the eyes, or bind the conscience, of the Greeks. An oath of fidelity was administered in the palace, the church, and the hippodrome, to the several orders of the state, who abjured the holy names of the son, and mother, of God.

“ Be witness, “ O Christ! that we will watch over the safety 5. of Constantine the son of Leo, expose our “ lives in his service, and bear true allegiance “ to his person and posterity.” They pledged their faith on the wood of the true cross, and the act of their engagement was deposited on the altar of St. Sophia. The first to swear, and the first to violate their oath, were the five sons of Copronymus by a second marriage; and the story of these princes is singular and tragic. The right of primogeniture excluded them from the throne; the injustice of their elder brother defrauded them of a legacy of about two millions sterling ; some vain titles were not deemed a sufficient compensation for wealth and power; and they repeatedly conspired against their nephew, before and after the death of his father. Their first attempt was pardoned; for the second offence they were condemned to the ecclesiastical state: and for the third treason, Nicephorus, the eldest and most guilty, was deprived of his eyes, and his four brothers, Christopher Nicetas, Anthemeus, and


Eudoxas, were punished, as a milder sentence, CHAP.
by the amputation of their tongues. After five
years confinement, they escaped to the church
of St. Sophia, and displayed a pathetic spec-
tacle to the people.

Countrymen and Chris-
tians,” cried Nicephorus for himself and his
“ mute brethren, behold the sons of your em-

peror, if you can still recognise our features “ in this miserable state. A life, an imperfect

life, is all that the malice of our enemies has

spared. It is now threatened, and we now
“throw ourselves on your compassion.” The
rising murmur might have produced a revolu-
tion, had it not been checked by the presence
of a minister, who soothed the unhappy princes
with flattery and hope, and gently drew them
froin the sanctuary to the palace. They were
speedily embarked for Greece, and Athens was
allotted for the place of their exile. In this
calm retreat, and in their helpless condition,
Nicephorus and his brothers were tormented
by the thirst of power, and tempted by a Scla-
vonian chief, who offered to break their prison,
and to lead them in arms, and in the purple, to
the gates of Constantinople. But the Athenian
people, ever zealous in the cause of Irene, pre-
vented her justice or cruelty ; and the five sons
of Copronymus were plunged in eternal dark-
ness and oblivion,

For himself, that emperor had chosen a bar - Constanbarian wife, the daughter of the khan of the

and Irene, Chozars : but in the marriage of his heir, he 4. D. 780,

Sept. 8 preferred an Athenian virgin, an orphan, seventeen years old, whose sole fortune must have

tine VI,

[ocr errors]


CHAP. consisted in her personal accomplishments.

The nuptials of Leo and Irene were celebrated with royal pomp ; she soon acquired the love and confidence of a feeble husband, and in his testament he declared the empress guardian of the Roman world, and of their son Constantine VI, who was no more than ten years of age. During his childhood Irene most ably and assiduously discharged in her public administration the duties of a faithful mother : and her zeal in the restoration of images has deserved the name and honours of a saint, which she still occupies in the Greek calender. But the emperor attained the maturity of youth; the maternal yoke became more grievous ; and he listened to the favourites of his own age, who shared his pleasures, and were ambitious of sharing his


Their reasons convinced him of his right, their praises of his ability, to reign : and he consented to reward the services of Irene by a perpetual banishment to the isle of Sicily. But her vigilance and penetration easily disconcerted their rash projects; a similar, or more severe punishment was retaliated on themselves and their advisers; and Irene inflicted on the ungrateful prince the chastisement of a boy. After this contest the mother and the son were at the head of two domestic factions; and, instead of mild influence and voluntary obedience, she held in chains a captive and an enemy. The empress was overthrown by the abuse of victory; the oath of fidelity which she exacted to herself alone, was pronounced with reluctant murmurs; and the

[ocr errors]

bold refusal of the Armenian guards encourage CHAP,

XLVIII. ed a free and general declaration, that Constantine VI was the lawful emperor of the Romans. In this character he ascended his hereditary throne, and dismissed Irene to a life of solitude and repose. But her haughty spirit condescended to the arts of dissimulation: she flattered the bishops and eunuchs, revived the filial tenderness of the prince, regained his confidence, and betrayed his credulity. The character of Constantine was not destitute of sense or spirit; but his education had been studiously neglected ; and his ambitious mother exposed to the public censure the vices which she had nourished, and the actions which she had secretly advised: his divorce and second marriage offended the prejudices of the clergy, and by his imprudent rigour he forfeited the attachment of the Armenian guards. A powerful conspiracy was formed for the restoration of Irene; and the secret, though widely diffused, was faithfully kept above eight months, till the emperor, suspicious of his danger, escaped from Constantinople, with the design of appealing to the provinces and armies. By this hasty flight, the einpress was left on the brink of the precipice; yet before she implored the mercy

of her son, Irene addressed a private epistle to the friends whom she had placed about his person, with a menance, that unless they accomplished, she would reveal, their treason. Their fear rendered them intrepid ; they seized the emperor


« PreviousContinue »