Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

death, and he there coinmenced his bright and auspicious reign; a memorable epoch in the history of Europe at large! The military events connected with the sway of Constantine in Britain are happily few in number, and are confined to a short-lived war, on the borders of the wall, with the Mæatæ, and the Caledonians, who, from about this time, are generally described under the naines of Picts and Scots. When these contests were terminated, by the submission of the refractory tribes, a general peace prevailed throughout the province for the remainder of Constantine's long reign. The blessjngs of this tranquil era were in.' calculably augmented by the aid which the governing power afforded to the cause of Christianity; and, through that medium, to an improvement in the inorals and manners of the Britons. Constantine died on the 22d of May, A. D. 337.

Aster the death of this successful ruler, the provinces of the empire were divided between his three sons, Constantine, Constans, and Constantius. Britain, together with Gaul, Spain, and part of Germany, became the portion of Constantine, the eldest of these princes; but he was so far dissatisfied with the arrangement, that he entered on active hostilities, and, in the year 340, invaded the territories of his brother Constans, but fell into an ambush near Aquileia, and was slain, together with a great part of his army. Constans then seized on his dominions, and thus obtained the governient of the whole of the westeru provinces. He passed into Britain iu the year 343, for the purpose of chase tising the Scots and l'icts, who had renewed their ancient depredations to the south of the wall; and, if the flattering testimony of medals might be received as satisfactory evidence, it would appear that he inflicted a dreadful and very memorable vengeance

on

some supposing her to be the daughter of a British King, and others that she was of a mean origin, and was the mistress of Constantius. Several of these writers affirm that her illustrious son, Constantine, was also born in Britain ; but it may be observed that neither of the above assertions is corruborated by the testimony of contemporary authors. See these questions amply discussed in Murant's llist. of Colchester, B. I. p. 28-3+.

on the northern tribes. But these passports to fame must be re. garded with suspicion, in the latter ages of the empire; and it is observable that Firmicus, who was sufficiently inclined to notice the most attractive points of cuminendation in regard to this Emperor, confines his encomium to a topic which will appear at present little worthy of ardent admiration. In words, to the following effect, he celebrates the voyage of Constans from Gaul to Britaio, at a season when the wind might be expected to blow hard, and the water to be rough: “In winter (which never had been, nor will be done again) your oars triumphed over the swel. ling, furious, waves of the British ocean.”

Constans, who committed many acts of tyranny, and personally sank the prey of frivolous pleasures, was murdered on the continent, in the year 350, through a conspiracy among his principal officers, with Magnentius, one of their own number, but of British extraction, at their head. The western parts of the empire, including Britain, submitted to the successful factious leader; but Constantius, Emperor of the East, the youngest son of Constantine the Great, speedily marched to revenge the death of his brother. Magnentius was defeated, in a sanguinary engagement, near Mursa, in Pannonia ; and, subsequently, quit., ted his life and pretensions, by self-destruction, at Lyons, in the month of August, 353.

The whole of the Roman empire thus fell under the sway of Constantius, who deputed the administration of affairs in Bri. tain to several successive governors, or vicars, as they were then termed. The only military occurreuces of this reign, in which the British proviuce was implicated, relate to incursions of the Scots and Picts. Some formidable irruptions of these people took place in the year 360. Julian, termed the Apostate, who was afterwards Emperor, was then intrusted with the government of the western parts of the empire. He sent Lupicinus, with some well chosen troops, to the assistance of the impe.. rial army; and the insurgents, who had plunder for their only

., object,

object, quickly retired; but had the triumph of securing their booty.

During the short reign of the Emperor Julian, and that of his successor Jovian, the inhabitants of South Britain remained free from any serious disturbance; but we now approach the ages in which the Roman sway in Britain is seen gradually declining; and the day is not far distant in which that great people volun- , tarily relinquish the ascendancy which had been so long preserved with wisdom of action, although the unjustifiable motive of lust of power appears to have operated as the prevailing incentive.

The circumstances which led to this declension, and ultimate fall, of power, are too well known, to require minute notice in the present page. We have seen that the empire had long been found too extensive for a single ruler; and that, like attenuated gold, what it obtained in glitter it lost in solidity.- Pressed, nearly on all sides, by those whom it had subjugated in its florid vigour, the Roman government was no longer able to bestow deliberate attention on this distant province. Ils armies in Britain grew restless of control; the Franks and Saxons, enemies rising into power on the decrepitude of Italy, assailed the shores nearest to Gaul, and most exposed to their piracies; while the Britons, artfully trained by their conquerors to habits of peace, except in such instances as were useful to the supply of the Roman levies, were quite unable to defend themselves in the state of allegiance to which they were, probably, well inclined. It is matter of surprise that, in this situation of affairs, the Roman military in Britain did not strenuously endeavour to establish an independent government. But it appears, from the tenour of bistory, that they refrained froin making any serious efforts towards the attainment of such an object.

When Valentinian and his brother Valens ascended the imperial throne, in 364; the province of Britaiu was subject to threatening irruptions. On the maritime parts of the south it was plundered by the Frauks and Sasons; whilst the north was

oppressed

oppressed by a more severe visitation. In the latter direction, the Scots, Picts, and Attacotti, acquiring fresh ardour from the known exigencies of the empire, carried their incursive ravages to a greater extent than on any previous occasion; and not only opposed the Romans in the open field, but obtained some advantages, and slew two of their Generals. These ferocious tribes continued to plunder the province, with impunity, for three successive years. The Emperor Valentinian then sent a considerable army to the relief of South Britain, under the command of Theodosius, one of the most successful Generals of that age.

Theodosius was appointed governor of Britain, in the year 367; and his conduct in this high office was equally applauded by the imperial court and by the tributary inhabitants. On his arrival he found that the enemy had penetrated as far as London, then termed Augusta, and had there seized a great booty and many prisoners. He divided his troops into distinct parties; and falling upon the northern marauders, thus incumbered with spoil, he compelled them to take to flight, and to abandon the fruits of their expedition. He then set the prisoners at liberty; and, after restoring the greater part of the redeemed spoil to its lawful owners, entered London in just and honourable triumph. He now solicited the presence of Civilis, a person of talent and integrity; who was accordingly sent, with the authority of Præfect in Britain, to take charge of the administration of civil affairs. Dulcitius, an officer of tried courage, was commissioned, nearly at the same time, to assist him in the command of the army. It is worthy of observation that many Roman officers and soldiers had joined in the ravages of the northern tribes, during the late confused season. The greater number of these, however, returned to their duty, on a proclamation being issued by the General, promising pardon to all who surrendered within a limited time.

Theodosius took the field early in the succeeding year; and, after encountering some opposition, forced the enemy to retire to

the north of the wall of Severus. Anxious to restore the Roman territory to its ancient dignity, he pursued the fugitives still further, and drove them beyond the rampart erected in the reign of Antoninus Pius; which frontier he repaired with considerable labour.

The remaining acts of this able General and wise governor, were chiefly directed towards the internal regulation of the country which he had thus rescued from the devastating hands of its northern foes. Under his direction, many fortified places, which had sunk into neglect during the security of a long peace, were restored to a defensible character; and he encouraged and assisted the Provincials in a repair of the numerous towns whiclo had experienced damage from the late incursions. He, likewise, corrected many abuses in the mode of levying taxes, and materially improved the internal polity and condition of the province. Theodosius quitted Britain in the year 369, honoured with the approbation of the Emperor, and rewarded by the blessings of the people to whom he was so eminent a benefactor.

A profound tranquillity prevailed in Britain for several years subsequent to the departure of the above celebrated commander ; but this happy interval of bloodshed was interrupled by an event so disastrous, that the inhabitants felt its ill effects through many sliccessive ages.-Gratian, the son of Valentinian, ascended the imperial throne in the year 375, and admitted to a nominal share in the supremacy, his brother, then not more than four or five years of age, under the title of Valentinian the Seconda But, finding himself unequal to the task of governing the whole of the dilated empire, in a period so prolific of difficulties and convulsions, he associated with himself and his puerile coadjutor, Theodosius, son of the General of that name who obtained great re. nown in Britain. The exaltation of this officer took place in 379; but the measure was so displeasing to the ambitious temper of Maximus, a General whose valour was well known in Britain, that the latterdisdained allegiance, and assumed the purple in this

island,

« НазадПродовжити »