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THE FOURTH SEAL.
The Sword-Famine- Pestilence—the beasts of the Earth-and the fourth
of the Earth.
And when he had 'opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and se And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him: and power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth"
This seal evidently represents a period of great calamity:destruction by God's “four sore judgments, the sword and the famine, the noisome beasts and the pestilence.” For, to kill with death is the same as to kill with pestilence; the Greek word thanatos, death, being often put for pesti lence.
This is the plainest, perhaps, of all the Apocalyptic prophecies. Commentators who differ widely from one another in their explanations of the Apocalypse, agree in referring the fourth scal to the series of most disastrous events which began with the death of Alexander Severus, and went far, by their combined effects, towards depopulating the empire. All the characteristics of the prediction are so clearly marked in history that any one who will take the trouble of turning over some of Gibbon's pictured pages, may easily trace the events which fulfil it.
Alexander was murdered by his soldiers A. D. 235, in his tent on the Rhine; and succeeded by Maximin, a Thracian peasant, the supposed author of his death.
The following historical illustrations are copied from Gibbon 2
Compare in the Sep., Ezekiel, xiv., 21, (from which this part of the seal appears to be taken.
2 Decline and Fall, c. vii., 206, 208, 216, 223.
“ The dark and sanguinary soul of the tyrant (Maximin) was open to every suspicion against those among his subjects distinguished by birth and merit. Italy and the whole empire were infested with innumerable spies and informers
Confiscation, exile or simple death were esteemed uncommon instances of lenity. . His camp, occasionally removed from the banks of the Rhine to those of the Danube, was the seat of a stern despotism which trampled on every principle of law, and justice, and was supported by the avowed power of the sword. The tyrant's avarice, stimulated by the insatiate desires of the soldiers, at length attacked the public property. Every city of the empire was possessed of an independent revenue, destined to purchase corn for the multitude, and to supply the expenses of the games and entertainments. By a single act of authority, the whole mass of wealth was at once confiscated for the use of the treasury. The temples were stripped of their most valuable offerings of gold and silver, and the statues of gods, heroes, and emperors were melted down and coined into money. These impious orders could not be executed without tumult and massacres, as in many places the people chose rather to die in the defence of their altars, than to behold, in the midst of peace, their cities exposed to the cruelty and rapine of war.”
A. D. 237, Africa revolted, and the two Gordians, the father and son, were proclaimed emperors.
The rebellion was quickly suppressed by their defeat and death. “ Africa," says
• ” Gibbon, "was exposed to the rapacious cruelty of a slave, obliged to satisfy his unrelenting master with a large amount of blood and treasure.”
Maximus, Balbinus, and a third Gordian were then elected emperors.
Maximin, as soon as the tidings of the revolt of Rome and the senate reached him, marched into Italy and besieged Aquileia; where he and his son, whom he had associated in the empire, were murdered by their own soldiers.
Maximus and Balbinus soon met a like fate.
The third Gordian was murdered, after a short reign, in his nineteenth year, by (it is supposed) Philip the Arabian, who succeeded him, A. D. 244.
A. D. 249, the troops in Mæsia revolted: Decius, who was sent to quell the revolt, accepted from them the purple; met and defeated his old master, who fell in the battle, or was killed a few days afterwards in Verona.
It was in Philip's reign the Goths first passed the Danube; and as they and the other Barbaric nations, who invaded the empire will often come before us in the course of this work, a brief account of their origin and progress shall occasionally be given from the historian of the “ Decline and Fall."
The Goths are supposed to have crossed the Baltic, from Sweden, their original seat, at an early period, and to have settled in Pomerania and Prussia. Gibbon says:
“As early as the Christian era, and as late as the age of the Antonines, the Goths were established towards the mouth of the Vistula, and in the fertile provinces where the commercial cities of Thorn, Elbing, Koningsberg, and Dantzick, were long afterward founded.
In the age of the Antonines, the Goths were still seated in Prussia. About the reign of Alexander Severus, the Roman province of Dacia had already experienced their proximity by frequent and destructive inroads. In this interval, therefore, of about seventy years, we must place the second migration of the Goths from the Baltic to the Euxine. . . . The Scythian hordes which, towards the east, bordered on the new settlements of the Goths, presented nothing to their arms, except the doubtful chance of an unprofitable victory. But the prospect of the Roman territories was far more alluring; and the fields of Dacia were covered with rich harvests, sown by the bands of an industrions, and exposed to be gathered by those of a warlike, people. It is probable that the conquests of Trajan,' maintained by his successors, less for any real advantage than for ideal dignity, had contributed to weaken the empire on that side. The new and unsettled province of Dacia was neither strong enough to resist, nor rich enough to satiate, the rapaciousness of the barbarians. As long as the remote banks of the Niester were considered as the boundary of the Roman power, the fortifications of the Lower Danube were more carelessly guarded; and the inhabitants of Mæsia lived in supine security, fondly conceiving themselves at an inaccessible distance from any barbarian invaders. The irruption of the Goths, in the reign of Philip, fatally convinced them of their mistake. The king, or leader, of that fierce nation, traversed with contempt the province of Dacia, and passed both the Niester and the Danube without encountering any opposition capable of retarding his progress.
The various multitude of the barbarians appeared, at length, under the walls of Marcianopolis, a city built by Trajan in honour of his sister, at that time the capital of the second
I See Note B at the end of the rol.
Mæsia. The inhabitants consented to ransom their lives and property, by the payment of a large sum of money, and the invaders retreated back into their deserts, animated rather than satisfied with the first success of their arms against an opulent but feeble country. Intelligence was soon transmitted to the emperor, that Cniva, king of the Goths, had passed the Danube a second time with more considerable forces; that his numerous detachments scattered devastation over the province of Mæsia," &c.1
Decius immediately marched against the Goths, was defeated, and his camp taken and pillaged. Philippopolis was then stormed, and “ a hundred thousand persons are reported to have been massacred in the sack of that great city.”
The Romans were again, October, A.D. 251, defeated in a second battle, at an obscure town of Mæsia, called Forum Trebonii; when Decius and his son, whom he had associated in the honours of the purple,” were both slain.
Their successor, Gallus, purchased “ a peace from the Goths by the payment of an annual tribute.”
He and his son Volusianus were murdered in May, A.D. 253.
His successor, Æmilianus, met the same fate before the end of the year.
Valerian next “obtained possession of the throne,” and immediately invested with the supreme honours his son Gallienus.” “The joint government of the father and of the son subsisted about seven years, and the sole administration of Gallienus continued about eight years. But the whole period was one uninterrupted series of confusion and calamity. The Roman empire was at one and the same time, and on every side, attacked by the blind fury of foreign invaders, and the wild ambition of domestic usurpers." The most dangerous
.? enemies of Rome during the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus were, I. the Franks, II. the Alemanni, III. The Goths, IV. the Persiars.3
I. THE FRANKS.
“ As the posterity of the Franks,” says Gibbon, composes one of the greatest and inost enlightened nations of Europe, the powers of learn. ing and ingenuity have been exhausted in the discovery of their unlet
I Decline and Fall, c. x.
2 See Note C, at the end of the vol. 3 Decline and Fall, vol. i. c. x, p. 305.
At length the most rational critics, rejecting the fictitious emigrations of ideal conquerors, have acquiesced in a sentiment whose simplicity persuades us of its truth. They suppose that about the year 240, a new confederacy was formed under the name of Franks, by the old inbabitants of the Lower Rhine and the Weser. ... The Rhine, though dignified with the title of safeguard of the provinces, was an imperfect barrier against the daring spirit of enterprise with which the Franks were actuated. Their rapid devastations stretched from the river to the foot of the Pyrennees; nor were they stopped by those mountains. Spain, which had never dreaded, was unable to resist, the inroads of the Germans. During twelve years, the greatest part of the reign of Gallienus, that opulent country was the theatre of unequal and destructive hostilities. Tarragona, the flourishing capital of a peaceful province, was sacked and almost destroyed; and so late as the days of Orosius, who wrote in the fifth century, wretched cottages, scattered amidst the ruins of magnificent cities, still recorded the rage of the barbarians. When the exhausted country no longer supplied a variety of plunder, the Franks seized upon some vessels in the ports of Spain, and transported themselves into Mauritania. The distant province was astonished with the fury of these barbarians, who seemed to fall from a new world, as their name, manners, and complexion, were equally unknown on the coast of Africa.”
II. THE ALEMANNI.
“ The wide-extended name of the Suevi filled the interior countries of Germany, from the banks of the Oder to those of the Danube. In the reign of the emperor Caracalla, an innumerable swarm of Suevi appeared on the banks of the Mein, and in the neighbourhood of the Roman provinces, in quest either of food, of plunder, or of glory. The hasty army of volunteers gradually coalesced into a great and permanent nation; and, as it was composed from so many different tribes, assumed the name of Alemanni, or All-men; to denote at once their various lineage and their common bravery. This warlike people of Germans had been astonished by the immense preparations of Alexander Severus ; they were dismayed by the arms of his successor—a barbarian equal in valour and fierceness to themselves. But still hovering on the frontiers of the empire, they increased the general disorder that ensued after the death of Decius. They inflicted severe wounds on the rich provinces of Gaul; they
Decline and Fall, c. x. p. 308.