« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
it was not long before Antony and Octavius remained the only masters of a Roman force. Octavius, though he could not conquer Sextus himself, did so by the arms of Agrippa, and the son of the Pompey the Great soon vanished from the scene, and was heard of no more. He it seems did not kill himself, but was privately butchered in some manner sufficiently obscure to have escaped much attention.
Each of the two brothers-in-law desired a rupture with the other, and they did not find it difficult to assign a cause. As is usual among potentates who become so circumstanced, they began by angry charges, each accusing the other of selfish ambition and treachery. They were both no
doubt correct in such accusations. Octavius harangued against Antony in the senate, and Antony replied by sending to Rome a formal divorce of his wife Octavia.
This it seems was tantamount to a declaration of war. Antony proclaimed himself as about to contend against the tyranny of Octavius, but Octavius more prudently declared war, not against Antony, but against Egypt. And so the world was once more in arms.
We will not attempt to describe the battle of Actium, but will refer our readers to Virgil and Mr. Merivale, giving a preference to the poet. From his authority, it would appear that the victory of Augustus (we may presume so to call him now, as he is so called by Virgil) was entirely owing to the interference of the Actian Apollo. The god who had been duly worshipped in his temple on the cliff bent his bow, and the Eastern tribes, terror-stricken, fled at the hurtling of his arrow. The historian attributes as little as the poet to the prowess or skill of the victor. Antony was a beaten man before the battle began. His mind was gone; his high courage sapped; his selfconfidence was at an end. Looking at the number of his forces, the weight of his vessels, the means at his disposal, and his own experience, one is inclined to say that he should have beaten his enemy, either by land or water. But he fought without an idea of conquering, and none who ever so fought have conquered. No god was necessary to make him fly, for he went into battle prepared
only for flight. The poison of Egypt had already quelled the courage of
the Roman warrior.
In truth, there was no battle at Actium, though so much merit has been given to Augustus for his victory. There was no battle, but only a complete rout. We all know that Cleopatra accompanied Antony when he went forth to meet Augustus
Bactra vehit,sequitur que nefas Egyptia conjux.
This in the eyes of Romans was the great offence; this was in their mind the cause of his discomfiture. And they were probably right. The Egyptian consort maintained it seems a sort of control over her own country's force through the whole campaign. It was but a divided command which Antony held, and a command divided with a woman. On the first opportunity which the wind allowed, Cleopatra fled.
She hoisted her purple sails on her gilded deck. [as Mr. Merivale tells us,] and threaded rapidly the maze of combatants, followed by the Egyptian squadron of sixty barks. movement, unexpected to the last by either party, was ascribed to woman's cowardice; but from what had already passed in the council, there can be no doubt that it was previously concerted. When Antonins himself, observing the appointed signal, leaped into a five-oared galley, and followed swiftly in her wake, the rage and shame of his adherents filled them with desperation.
Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat. There is no other explanation to be given of Antony's conduct, for it seems that he had no ulterior design. The great army which he had left on shore, and to which he should have trusted his safety, abandoned its general when it was found that the general had abandoned his army. Nor did Antony expect that it would be otherwise. He as his sole resource returned to Egypt with his queen, and here, in alternate periods of gloomy solitude and loud revelling orgies, wasted the few wretched remaining days of his momentous life. For an instant he is seen combating against the foe that had followed close upon his heels, with all the energy and promptness of his youth, and then he is found begging abjectly for favour, as no Ro
man should have begged. His mistress too was treacherous to him, and strove hard to save herself by the sale of her lover's life and her own charms. Augustus, however, knew that both were at his command, and would purchase neither. The two fugitives were abandoned by every friend, by every hope, by every chance of succour. Cleopatra, fearing she knew not what, retired to the costly tomb which she had prepared for her sepulture, and gave out that she had destroyed herself. Her lover, not to be outdone, and flattering himself that in spite of her well-known perfidy, the pearl of Egypt had at last died for love of him, determined to perish as became a Roman.
gave himself a mortal wound, and when wounded and sinking was car ried to the arms of his mistress. And thus he died.
Augustus was a libertine as regards women, but he never became the slave of a woman. It was in vain that Cleopatra tried her well-accustomed wiles upon the iron heart of a third Roman Imperator. Augustus, we are told, looked coldly from her face, upbraided her for her policy as a queen, and demanded an inventory of her wealth. For him she could now answer but two purposes-to fill his coffers, and adorn his triumph. Cleopatra begged abjectly for her life, and the conqueror felt assured that she would consent to live to be dragged as a show through the streets of Rome. We remember how the gallant Vercingetorix had fared; how he, after six years of captivity, had been strangled in Rome by way of gracing the triumph of the great Cæsar, of the Cæsar who was famous for his mercy. Cleopatra may have fairly. surmised that neither her sex, nor her more than matured charms, would save her from some fate equally to be dreaded at the hands of a Cæsar who was not often merciful.
She deceived Augustus by her prayers and her humility. She again taught herself to believe that she had truly loved her Antony, and having sent to the conqueror an appeal, in which she begged to be buried with her lover, she succeeded in putting an end to her life. The historian is able to give us no more authenticated narrative of the manner of her death than that with which Shakespere
We are not
has made us familiar. forbidden to believe in those little asps hidden beneath the fig-leaves, with which we have so long been ec quainted. Augustus was balked of his living victim, and constrained to satisfy his triumphal pomp with a poor image of the dying lady. was not, however, debarred from blood. The boy Cæsarion was the child of Cleopatra, and she had claimed Caesar as the father of her son. Cæsarion therefore died. There was still surviving one of the conspirators against Cesar: he also died. Others also there were whom it was thought well to sacrifice, some for one cause, some for another. And then, we are told, Octavius, triumphant in victory and secure in power, wiped his blood-stained sword. Mr. Merivale seems almost to think that he would better have sustained his character, had he had resource to another proscription.
Having arranged his affairs in the East, Augustus returned to Rome, and enjoyed his triumph. This is the moment at which the Empire of the West commenced; 725 years from the building of the city, and 29 years before the birth of Christ. It is a memorable epoch in the world's history. In profane history there is none more memorable. From this commenced the system of qualified despotism which has prevailed so generally in Europe. All the emperors, czars, and autocratic kings who have since ruled in Germany, Russia, Spain, France, England, and Italy, have owed their power to the policy of Augustus, and have not the less owed to him the necessity of labouring in their great offices for the weal of their subjects.
It is in this that European tyrants have differed so widely from Eastern kings. The thrones of the latter have been soft and idle couches, their subjects attendant slaves, mere ministers to the pleasures of their lord, their kingdom a domain for the production of such luxuries as might gratify his tastes. But no seat can have been less soft than those on which the autocratic sovereigns of Europe have been forced to sit, no labour more oppressive both to the body and the mind than that they have been called upon to endure. It is true that many have failed to ac
complish their destiny, and that none failed more signally than those who inherited the throne of Augustus. But nearly all who so failed paid with their life the penalty of their failure.
The late Nicholas and the present Napoleon are true samples of sovereignity after the order of Augustus. That order peremptorily requires that its proud accolytes shall be unscrupulous, wise in policy, fertile in resources, laborious beyond all others, self-controlling, majestic in mein, farseeing, happy in the choice of servants, understanding in the ways of men, and above all things mindful of the material welfare of the multitude. Such was Augustus. Such attributes he united within himself perhaps more thoroughly than any of his successors on the various thrones of Europe. It was he who first created a throne of which the possessor should neither be a soldier nor a Sybariteneither an Alexander nor a Sardanapalus. It was he who first among the ancients perceived what was the true work of a ruler of men. His great rival Antony could fight, and drink, and lounge on conches with his lady-love. Augustus did none of these things; but he used unsparingly the brain which God had given him, and seated himself on a throne from which death alone could move him. It was his singular good fate to form an empire, and to enjoy the full fruition of his success for the long period of forty-two years.
When we declare that Augustus did not fight, we mean that he had no peculiar aptitude that way. Fighting enough he had had, and even now it was not destined that his empire should be long at peace. Prolonged quiescence indeed for Rome was not possible, as in these days it is not possible for British India. But it was his ambition to be at peace, and he succeeded at any rate in name. Though the empire was still doomed to border warfare, though it was still necessary to keep in subjection the conquered provinces, though the conquest of other provinces was forced upon it, nevertheless Augus tus succeeded in his object of closing the temple of Janus. The doors of this old Roman god's abode, (never open but in time of war, and never shut but in time of peace) had in fact
not been closed since the origin of the republic. Rome had always been at war. Tradition indeed told of some blissful era in the reign of an ancient and half mythic king, in which no battle had been waged; but Romans had not even any record of a time of peace but what such tradition afforded them. They had been essentially a warrior people, but their appetite had now been satiated by twenty years of civil contest, and the city panted for rest. Wars such as those which had added kingdom after kingdom to the dominion of the city, which had given power and wealth to Rome, and a high station to the very name of a Roman, were doubtless popular enough. But of late years their bloodshed had been not only less honourable but less profitable also. the battles that had been fought at Pharsalia and Mutina, at Philippi and at Actium, Romans had met Romans in the field, and though the legionary veterans of the victorious general might succeed in wringing fromthe state some rich largess either in land or money, the state itself could gain nothing by such warfare.
Augustus undoubtedly shewed that he understood the people whom he was about to rule, when with much ceremony he shut the temple of JaIt was not so much the declaration that the empire was at peace, as the indication of a wish to cease from constant warfare that raised his popularity to so high a pitch. Romans were weary of being led to victory and death; they were sick of their blood-stained eagles, and boastful lying standards, which still proclaimed themselves to be the ensigns of a senate and a republic. They were desirous of ease and plenty, and were contented to barter their free citizenship for subjection to a monarch, provided that that monarch would let them live and enjoy life. They had had enough of glory and to spare, food and amusement, panem et Circenses to such moderate wishes were they now contented to limit their demands on the man that was to rule them.
But food and amusement for men who will not work, cannot easily be found by even the most politic of emperors for any prolonged period; and Augustus had no more difficult
task than of giving, and of not giving, gratuitous bread to those who demanded it. It had long been the practice of candidates for public honor and high official place, to gain the good will of the people by shows and games, by the contests of gladiators and slaughter of wild beasts. Many an aspirant for popular favor, ruined by the huge cost of these necessary sports, had been driven to recruit his finances by proconsular extortion. To this, however, there was some limit, and costly as these exhibitions were, they ruined those only who paid for them. But the gifts of corn, extended nearly to all who would condescend to ask it, was doubly deleterious. The man who has once brought himself to live on alms will never work for bread if he can help it. Mr. Merivale tells us that three hundred and twenty thousand male citizens had sunk so low, at the beginning of the reign of Augustus. These, with the females and infants belonging to them, must have represented nearly a million of people. Under such circumstances, we can easily understand how difficult was the task of Augustus. These state beggars of course declined to till the fields from which the corn for the city's use should have been procured, and Rome was dependent for her supply of food on Sicily and Sardinia -on Africa and on Egypt. In these days of screw propellers and freetrade we hardly realize the danger of such a situation; but Augustus and his ministers realized it most fully. We are told that by the exercise of great firmness, he succeeded in reducing the number to two hundred thousand male recipients of this state charity.
This ruinous system had commenced with an attempt to provide plenteous supplies at ordinary prices in the Roman markets, at a time when nature was refusing such plenteous supplies to the world at large. Thus the city was to be provided with food at the expence of the rural dis tricts. That the laws of trade should have been so little understood some fifty years before Christ is by no means wonderful, but it is wonderful that we should have lived to see the policy of Pompey attempted within the last year or two in Paris, with what final result we are not yet in a
condition to declare. In both cases, the good will of the central city was especially necessary to the great man of the hour.
And now Augustus went through those progressive steps in the nomenclature of despotic power, which have been usual when any country has submitted to a new despot. Or rather, he set those examples which other new despots have followed. And it is impossible not to admire the depth of his political sagacity, his accurate knowledge of the people, and his unerring steps towards the goal of his ambition.
The first name which he assumed was that of "Imperator"-as being a humble title applying merely to military command, and having no reference to civic rule. To our ears this term, modernized into the customary name of Emperor, is the most princely which man can assume. But it was not so then. The General at the head of troops was always entitled to be so called, providing he had achieved a certain amount of military success; and as the new prince of course kept up his army, he equally of course kept up the name. This name, it is true, he offered to resign with many magnanimous protestations as to his indifference to military supremacy, and anxiety for the city's welfare. But such protestations were well understood, and he was prevailed on without much difficulty to wave his objections. Had he called himself "Dictator," as his uncle had done, he would have offended deeply the scruples of his countrymen. The name of Triumvir also was unpopular; but no harm could be thought of a ruler whose ambition could satisfy itself with the soldier's rank which he had won in fighting his country's battles. And thus mighty monarchs, who have themselves fought no battles at all, but merely allowed their deputies to do so for them, have from that day to this been called Emperors.
He then assumed a power which is in our days, and in our country, the most valued appanage of sovereignty. He constituted himself the fountain of titled honor in the state, and this he did with most excellent state-craft. There had been among Rome's great officers, in her palmy days, a class, by no means least in dignity, who were called Censors To them be
longed the privilege of excluding from the senate such as were unworthy, and of substituting for them such as were deemed fit for the high position. Augustus now became, not Censor, but the depositor of the censorial power; and in that capacity not only weeded the senate as he thought fit, but renewed the patrician families, which, in the slaughter of the civil wars, had been as nearly extirpated as were ours in the days of the Roses. In other words, he made whom he would noble; and he made also whom he would ignoble. And by doing so, he declared how great was the difference between his own standing and that of the highest of his nobility.
In the same way he became perpetual prince; and in the same way the word prince has come to bear its present signification. It had been customary in Rome that some good and venerable man should be named as "Princeps Senatus," or leader, as it were, of the Roman House of Lords. Augustus was so named in perpetuity; and following emperors, inheriting the distinction, were denominated princes, they and all their families, when there was no longer any House of Lords to lead.
Then arose a question as to the familiar name by which he should be known to his people. That of Octavius was simply that of his family. His father had been called Octavius, and his sister was Octavia. necessary that he should assume some distinctive name, that might be popular, and at the same time have within it a savor of the divinity which he had assumed. There seems to have been some difference on the matter. His advisers were divided in opinion; one suggested that of Quirinus, the divine founder of the city; others that of Romulus, the man founder. But Augustus was considered less objectional. Mr. Merivale tells us how everything appertaining to the gods was august, and explains that the name could not be other than lucky. It soon became popular, and has not yet lost its popularity.
He had already taken on himself the duties of the old Censors, and with the duties much more power than had even belonged to the Censors; and his next step was to assume also the office of tribune of the people. It would be too tedious to explain
here what were the vast privileges of the tribunes: they are well understood by most readers of this Magazine; and it is probably known to all, that they were established with a view of repressing the power of the nobles, and would in effect have placed the commanding power of the state in the hands of the people, had the office been filled by disinterested patriots. But the office had seldom been so filled, and had in latter ages been used for the vilest purposes of sedition. Augustus now became sole Tribune as well as God, and Emperor, and Prince, and Censor.
He became sole and perpetual tribune-but to ease himself from a portion of the enormous weight of rule which he had to bear, he joined with him in the tribuneship, first one son-in-law, and then another-first Agrippa, and afterwards Tiberius.
Rome had been customarily ruled by high officers who were elected annually, and who at the end of this year of office either sunk again into private life, or were chosen for higher places-or went abroad as the governors of kingdoms. All such elections and arrangements were now apparently unnecessary. Augustus chose his own lieutenant-governors; and when he had found a useful man to fill an office, it was not probable that he would lose his services because he had done a year's work. Nevertheless, he continued to fill the annual office with some affectation of an adherence to old Roman customs. The two Consuls were duly chosen, of which he was himself one, we forget now how many times. When he did not deign to fill one of the consular chairs, he had a seat between them. He appointed whom he would, and frequently many in the year. It was often sufficient honor for a noble Roman to have been one of the emperor's consuls, even for a day. The prætors also were appointed annually, and continued to exercise the highest judicial authority of the state; and the names at any rate of the questors and ædiles were maintained.
It was the policy of Augustus to restore or confirm the old republican names, while he utterly swept away the habits of the republic; and he performed his task with consummate wisdom. He contrived to mould to his purpose institutions, to which his