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No regular account of the transactions of his reign has come down to us; but his general policy was rather to preserve the bounds of the empire, than to extend them. He was wont to say, after Scipio, that he would rather save one citizen, than kill a thousand enemies. He died of fever at the age of 75, having reigned 23 years. On his death-bed he confirmed an adoption of Marcus Aurelius, which he had previously made, and nominated him as his successor.
Marcus Aurelius, who also took the name of Antoninus, accordingly succeeded to the empire; but associated with him Lucius Verus. Marcus Aurelius is frequently called Antoninus Philosophus, and is thus distinguished from his predecessor, Antoninus Pius. He is justly regarded as one of the best of the Roman emperors. Verus was almost a contrast to him in all the features of his character, being dissolute and ignorant; yet they seem to have conducted the affairs of the empire in uninterrupted amity.
When Antoninus came to the throne, he was urged by the pagan priests and others to persecute the Christians; but he received that proposal with indignation; and, on the contrary, interposed his authority for their protection. During his reign the empire was visited with several heavy calamities. An inundation of the Tiber destroyed a vast multitude of cattle, and caused a famine in Rome. This famine was followed by an invasion of the Parthians, and about the same time the Celti made an irruption into Gaul and Rhætia. Verus went against the Parthians, defeated them and drove them out of Mesopotamia. About the same time a pestilence ran over the empire, making dreadful havoc of the inhabitants. The Marcomanni, another German tribe, began to take up arms against the Romans. The two emperors marched to meet them, but Verus died by the way. In the conflict that ensued, the Romans were defeated with great slaughter. The emperor made vigorous preparations for renewing the war; but his army being blocked up by the Quadi, a German tribe, an incident happened which has given rise to many contradictory statements. The Roman
army were in danger of perishing with thirst, and the enemy assailed them in that condition, when suddenly a copious rain fell, which refreshed the Romans, while, at the same time, a storm of thunder and hail beat in the faces of the assailants, and enabled the Romans to overcome them. The pagan writers ascribe this interposition to magicians: the Christians ascribe it to the prayers of a body of Christians who were in the army, chiefly in the 12th legion, from which that legion obtained the name of the thundering legion. Soon after this Avidius Cassius revolted, but was killed by a centurion. In A. D. 179, the Marcomanni again invaded the empire. Antoninus went against them and obtained a victory over them; but died before he had completed the war, A.D. 180. During his reign, the Roman rampart which ran between the Forth and the Clyde in Scotland, known vulgarly by the name of Graham's Dyke, was built. Antoninus was succeeded by
Commodus, his son, a weak and dissolute prince, who has made himself remarkable only for his licentiousness, cruelty and injustice. After a reign of 13 years, he was assassinated by a conspiracy of the members of his household. He was succeeded by
Pertinax, A.D. 192, who had previously been nominated to the empire. He was of low birth, and had risen to eminence by his military virtues and talents. He reigned but three months; after which, he was murdered by the soldiery. The prætorian soldiers then set up the empire for sale; and it was purchased by a weak but rich man, named
Didius Julianus. Didius had amassed his money by avarice; and, continuing to manifest an avaricious
disposition, he soon became unpopular with the soldiers; and Severus, an African by birth, induced the army, which he commanded, to proclaim him emperor. Severus immediately marched towards Rome, and Didius was slain.
Severus succeeded him, A.D. 194, having overcome two other competitors for the throne. His reign was energetic, but cruel. He went against the Parthians, who were then invading the frontiers of the empire, and
overcame them,-compelled the submission of the King of Armenia, and destroyed several cities in Arabia Felix. He entered Rome in triumph; a splendid triumphal-arch having been erected to receive him, which is still in good preservation. The Roman subjects in Britain being harassed and in danger of being destroyed by the northern inhabitants, he went thither, drove back the Caledonians, and built a wall across the island between the Solway Frith and the German Ocean. He did not long survive his successes in Britain, but died at York, after an active though cruel reign of about 18 years.
Caracalla and Geta, the sons of Severus, being acknowledged as emperors by the army, A.D. 211, began to manifest their hatred of one another even before their arrival at Rome. Caracalla, at length, resolving to govern alone, rushed into Geta's apartment, followed by a troop of ruffians, and murdered Geta in his mother's arms. He then became one of the most execrable tyrants that ever disgraced the empire. He even outdid Nero and Domitian in his barbarities; till Macrinus, the commander of the forces in Mesopotamia, was roused to get rid of him, and employed a person to assassinate him, after he had reigned six years. The soldiers then fixed upon
Macrinus as emperor, not knowing the part which he had taken in the assassination of Caracalla. He was permitted to reign little more than one year, when, having been defeated by some seditious legions of his own army, he was pursued and killed.
Heliogabalus, a boy of about 14 years of age, was then called to the throne by the army. His whole reign was a compound of effeminacy, prodigality and cruelty. At length, after four years, the soldiers became tired of him, mutinied, pursued him into his
palace, dragged him out, murdered him, and threw his body into the Tiber. Heliogabalus was succeeded by
Alexander, his cousin german. He was a prince of great energy, strict justice, and great humanity. Although but 16 years of age when he was called to the empire, he was one of the most accomplished and able of the emperors. In his reign, the Germans began to pour, in immense swarms, into the empire. They passed the Rhine and the Danube, and threw Italy itself into extreme consternation. The emperor resisted them in person, and drove them back; he was, however, cut off by a mutiny among his own soldiers, after a reign of 13 years.
Maximin, who had been the chief promoter of the sedition against Alexander, was then chosen emperor. He was a man of great stature, strength and courage. He had, by his extraordinary personal qualifications, attracted the notice of the emperor Severus, who introduced him into his body guard; and from that station he rose to the throne itself. The leading feature of his character was brutal ferocity, which his elevation gave him ample means of indulging. He, however, carried on his military operations with great vigour, and defeated the Germans in several battles. His cruelties provoked several attempts to destroy him, none of which succeeded, till the soldiers, having gained over his guards, entered his tent while he was asleep, and slew both him and his son, after a reign of three years. After him
Pupienus and Balbienus reigned A. D. 238, but disagreeing between themselves, they were both slain by the soldiers. After the murder, the soldiers, passing along the street, met
Gordian, whom they declared emperor on the spot. A. D. 238. He was a youth of 16 years of age, and of good dispositions and abilities. The army, however, soon began to be dissatisfied, and their complaints were artificially fomented by one Philip an Arabian. Philip succeeded in having himself associated in the empire with Gordian; and when he found his authority sufficiently strong, he ordered Gordian to be slain.
Philip then became emperor, and associated his son with him, A. D. 243, a boy of six years of age. The army, however, soon revolted in favor of Decius Julianus, his general, when Philip was put to death, and
Decius became emperor A. D. 248. He was a man of talent and moderation, and seemed for a time, to retard the fall of the empire. He was killed, after a reign of two years and a half, by an ambuscade of the enemy. He was a furious persecutor of the Christians.
Gallus, who had betrayed the Roman army, had sufficient address to get himself proclaimed emperor, A. D. 251. He was the first that agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Goths to induce them to cease from disturbing the empire. Gallus wished for relief from foreign enemies, that he might give himself up to indulgence. Meanwhile, however, he permitted the Pagans to wreak their malice on the Christians, who were becoming very numerous. A pestilence raged throughout the empire with great fury in his reign. At length his general Emilianus revolted from him, and Gallus and his son were slain in the battle that ensued. The senate refused to acknowledge Æmilianus, and an army that was stationed near the Alps chose
Valerian, their commander, to succeed to the throne A. D. 253. He seemed to set about. reforming the state with vigour, but the Persians invading Syria, Valerian was taken prisoner, and suffered an imprisonment of seven years, in which he was treated with every indignity. When Valerian was taken prisoner,
Gallienus his son proposed to revenge the insult, and was chosen emperor, A. D. 259. But it soon appeared that he was more intent on the indulgences than the labours of royalty; and set himself down to a life of ease and luxury. At this time, there were no less than 30 competitors for the throne, who are sometimes absurdly called the 30 tyrants, in reference to the Athenian rulers after the Peloponnesian war. One of these aspirants to the throne had taken possession of Milan. Gallienus was obliged to march against him, but was slain during the expedition, by his own soldiers.
Flavius Claudius was named to succeed him, A. D.