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At the birth of Jesus Christ, nearly the whole of that territory that had been successively occupied by the Babylonian, the Persian, and Grecian monarchies, was under the dominion of the city of Rome, now itself governed by a despotic monarch, retaining, indeed, the forms of a republic, but really under the absolute government of a military chief. And besides the territory of the former monarchies, this great empire now included under its sway those western countries, Spain, France, Holland, or Batavia, as far as Britain, which were scarcely known to history, even at the latest of the former eras. It was, with the single exception of Palestine, pagan. That country was inhabited by the Jews; who derived their religion with more or less purity, from the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
Birth of Jesus Christ.
After the birth of the Saviour of the world, Augustus continued to govern the empire with much good judgment and clemency, attending to its internal order and prosperity, and to its protection from foreign invasion. Towards the end of his reign he adopted his step-son, Tiberius, and appointed him his successor in the empire. He died, A.D. 14, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, and the forty-first of his reign.
Tiberius succeeded him, a man naturally of dark suspicious temper-a disposition which was fostered by the circumstances in which he was placed-till he became a torment to himself, and a scourge to all who fell within his reach. In the 12th year of his reign, he retired to the Island of Capreæ, opposite to Naples, which he has rendered infamous by his cruelties, and his abominable debaucheries. In this retreat he remained issuing his murderous edicts, till the 23d year
of his reign, and 78th of his age; when he was seized with illness, and in that state, was put to death by one of his attendants. Previous to his death, he had appointed Caligula his successor, who seems to have recommended himself to him chiefly by his profligacy. It was in the 18th year of the reign of Tiberius, that the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified.
Caligula succeeded him, but was remarkable for nothing but his extravagant vices. His cruelty, his rapacity, his profligacy, and his licentiousness, were without bounds, till the injuries which he inflicted on the citizens of every rank, became intolerable. A conspiracy was formed to murder him, which proved successful, in the 4th year of his reign, and the 29th of his age. When Caligula was slain, no successor had been named; the Senate met, and some of the senators proposed to avail themselves of the opportunity of re-establishing the liberty of the city and empire: but they were opposed by the populace and the soldiery, who preferred to the government of a senate, the largesses and the shows by which the emperors sought to secure their favor. The soldiers and the populace, therefore, were resolved to have an emperor; and some of them passing round the palace, found Claudius, the uncle of Caligula, a man about 50 years of age, who had been known chiefly by his imbecility:-him they took upon their shoulders, and proclaimed emperor.
Claudius began, as most of the emperors did, to reign well. He paid great attention to the making of aquæducts, roads, bridges, harbours, and other works of public utility; but, partly under the influence of an infamous woman, his wife, and partly through suspicions and fears to which his exalted rank exposed him, he became jealous and cruel, and a multitude of persons of the first families in Rome fell a sacrifice to his apprehensions. At length his wife, becoming apprehensive for her own safety, caused him to be poisoned, after he had reigned 13 years, A.D. 54. In the reign of Claudius, Britain was invaded a second time by the Romans. They were resisted by Boadicia, a British Queen; but her army was totally defeated, and the Britons deprived of the
power, and, as it would appear, the inclination to resist. He was succeeded by
Nero, son of Agrippina, the second wife of Claudius. He, too, began to reign well, but afterwards rushed with such headlong fury into every species of wickedness, as to eclipse the enormities even of Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius. The first indication which he gave of the native cruelty of his heart, was the ordering his mother Agrippina to be executed, and coolly observing, when he saw her dead body, that he never had thought his mother was so handsome a woman. The whole of his future life was divided between the most frivolous occupations, and the perpetration of cruelties the recitals of which make the soul to shudder. Chariot-driving was his favourite amusement. He also valued himself upon his skill in music, and even condescended to appear as a public performer. But on the other hand, his thirst for blood was insatiable.
During his reign, a great part of Rome was burned; and most historians attribute to him the conflagration. To remove the odium of it from himself, he attributed it to the Christians, who were then beginning to attract attention; and upon that pretence commenced an inhuman persecution against them. Some of them were covered with the skins of wild beasts, and in this disguise, devoured by dogs; some were crucified, and others burned alive. It was in this persecution that Paul was imprisoned the second time, as mentioned in his second epistle to Timothy, and in all probability suffered death. Peter also, it is generally believed? suffered about the same time.
Seneca, the celebrated philosopher, had been his tutor; and Nero, having taken up some suspicion that he was accessary to a conspiracy against him, sent him an order to die; which order Seneca obeyed. Lucian, the poet also, the nephew of Seneca, received a similar order, for the same cause, and obeyed it. Nero murdered his wife, Octavia, that he might marry an infamous woman, named Poppæa, and her he afterwards killed by a kick, while she was in a state of pregnancy.
For thirteen years was he permitted thus to outrage.
human nature, till at length the empire was roused to rid itself of such a monster. Servius Galba, who was at that time governor of Spain, and much revered both by the soldiery and the citizens, accepted an invitation that was given to him to march an army towards Rome. When Nero heard that Galba had declared against him, he gave himself up for lost. He made one or two efforts to put himself to death, but his courage always failed him. He at length fled out of the city, to the country house of one his freedmen. There again he purposed to put himself to death, but dared not, till he heard that the senate had decreed that he should be put in the pillory, and scourged to death, and that the soldiers were actually in pursuit of him for that purpose. Then, by the assistance of an attendant, he gave himself a mortal wound with a dagger, and expired, just as the soldiers who pursued him burst into his apartment.
Galba succeeded him, and soon found that, being raised to the throne by the army, it required more steadiness of purpose and of conduct than he could command to keep the soldiers in subordination. In his attempts to do so he rendered himself unpopular, and furnished an opportunity for Otho who had been a favourite of his, and who expected to succeed him, to attempt to undermine and depose him. In this Otho succeeded:-the soldiers bore him on their shoulders to the Forum, where they found Galba, and put him to death.
Otho, accordingly, succeeded to the throne, but did not possess long his newly acquired dignity. Other commanders of armies, finding that the throne was at the disposal of the soldiery, began to aspire to that dangerous elevation. Vitellius, who commanded the army in Germany, persuaded his soldiers to proclaim him emperor, and immediately marched towards Rome. Otho went to meet him; and, after a desperate conflict of several days, in which the two armies, felt that they were contending for the disposal of the whole Roman. world, fought with great obstinacy and fury. At length
Otho was defeated, and soon afterwards killed himself, having reigned three months and five days.
Vitellius was then declared emperor by the Senate. He entered Rome as a town that he had taken by conquest, and immediately gave himself up to the indulgence of all kinds of luxury and profusion, and rendered himself proverbial for his gluttony. By these degrading practices, as well as by his cruelties, he too soon became unpopular; and the legions of the east availed themselves of the opportunity of declaring their general Vespasian emperor. When the first army from the east entered Italy, Vitellius sent one of his generals to meet it, but he being defeated, Vitellius proposed to resign the empire to Vespasian, on condition of his life being spared, and a sufficient revenue allotted for his support. Other circumstances, however, occurred to induce him to attempt to defend himself in the city. Vespasian's commander laid siege to the city, forced his way into it, slaughtered a large proportion of the army of Vitellius, and at length some of the soldiers, finding Vitellius himself hid in an obscure corner, put a halter round his neck, killed him by blows, and then dragged his body through the streets and cast it into
Vespasian was now declared Emperor by the Senate, A.D. 70. He was a man of rather low extraction, his father having been a collector of taxes. His name being Flavius Vespasian, his accession to the empire is sometimes regarded as the commencement of a new dynasty called the Flavian, as distinguished from the Julian, which preceded it. When the way to the empire opened to him, he was engaged in subduing the Jews who had revolted; and being under the necessity of coming to Rome, he left his son, Titus, to conduct the Jewish war.
Vespasian was not tainted with the vices of the preceding emperor. He was a man of rather austere manners. He set himself steadily to reform the profligacy of both the citizens and the army, and was respected by both. His government is not charged with