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Aurelian

Aurelian

 

AurelianAmong the Roman emperors after the beginning of the decline, Aurelian was distinguished for his military ability, rigid discipline and heroic valor. Claudius Lucius Domitius Aurellians was the sou of a peasant and was born September 9th, 2I4, A.D., at Sirmium in Paunonia. He enlisted in the army as a common soldier, and being tall, brave and of remark. able strength, became so noted for his exploits, that he was surnamed

 

Sword in hand." He obtained successively the rank of centurion, tribune, prefect of a legion, and general of a frontier. He is said to have killed forty-eight Sarmatians in one day. When he was tribune of a legion in Gaul, he repelled an in road of the Franks, who had crossed the Rhine, and now first appear in history. His success in war is ascribed partly to his strict attention to minute articles of discipline. Gaming, stealing and drunkenness were severely prohibited, his soldiers were required to be modest and frugal; their armor kept bright, and their 'weapons sharp.

 

In the reign of Valerian he was lieutenant to Ulpius Crinitus, captain-general of Illyria and Thrace, who adopted Aurelian and gave him his daughter Ulpia in marriage. Aurelian expelled the Goths from Illyria, and for this important service Valerian publicly thanked him and proclaimed him consul elect 257 A.D. He was eulogized as the liberator of Illyricum, the restorer of Gaul and the rival of Scipio. Valerian's successor, Claudius, appointed Aurelian captain general of Illyria and Thrace and commander-in-chief of the cavalry of the empire, and confided to him the defense of the frontier against the Goths. Claudius, in his last illness, recommended Aurelial1 as the most deserving of the throne and the best qualified to execute the great designs which he himself had undertaken. Aurelian was also proclaimed by the army and succeeded Claudius in 270 A.D.

 

The reign of Aurelian," says Gibbon, "lasted only four years and about nine months; but every instant of that short period was fined by some memorable achievement. He put an end to the Gothic war, chastised the Germans who invaded Italy, recovered Gaul, Spain and Britain out of the hands of Tetricus and destroyed the proud monarchy of Zenobia." He first marched against a numerous host of Goths and Vandals who had crossed the Danube and ravaged Pannonia. These barbarians were forced to subullt and give hostages, and terminate the war by a lasting treaty of peace. But the most important condition of peace was understood rather than expressed. Aurelian withdrew the Roman forces from Dacia and tacitly relinquished this province to the Goths and Vandals in order that the Danube might be the boundary of the empire. By this politic act be contracted and protected the frontier, for after Dacia became independent, it often served as a barrier of the empire against the invasions of Northern barbarians. In the same year, 270 A.D., the German tribe of Alemanni invaded Northern Italy, which they devastated. Aurelian was almost at the same time informed of the irruption and the retreat of the barbarians. When the Alemanni laden with spoils arrived at the Danube, a Roman army was concealed on the opposite bank and intercepted their return. Aurelian permitted half of their army to pass the river in fatal security and gained over them an easy victory. The other body of Alemanni, finding it impossible to cross the river while the roads in their rear were still open, marched rapidly to Italy and ravaged Cisalpine Gaul. When they were overtaken by the Roman army near Placentia, they avoided a battle and occupied a dense forest. Issuing by night they defeated the Romans with great slaughter 270 , and marched into Umbria. This victory caused consternation at Rome, and the barbarians were hourly expected at the gates. Aurelian, now obliged to conduct the campaign in person, gained a decisive victory over them near Fano, and the remnant of their host was exterminated near Pavia.

 

On the accession of Aurelian, his empire comprised Italy, Gaul, Spain, Africa, Illyricum, Dacia and Thrace. Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, had extended her sway over Syria, Egypt and a large part of Asia Minor. The most memorable event of his reign was his expedition against Zenobia in 272 A.D. The armies met on the Orantes near Antioch, where the heroic queen of Palmyra animated her army by her presence. The numerous forces of Zenobia consisted for the most part of light archers and of heavy cavalry clothed in complete steel. The Palmyrelles were defeated, and retreated to Emesa, where Aurelian gained another decisive victory. Zenobia retired within the walls of the populous and splendid capital, and prepared for an obstinate resistance. After a long siege her capital surrendered in 273 A.D., and was treated with unexpected lenity. AureJian obtained here an immense treasure of gold, silver, silk and precious stones, and leaving a garrison of six hundred men, returned to Emesa. The Emperor spared the life of Zenobia, but he put to death Longinus, her prime minister, as having counselled her obstinate resistance. When Aurelian reached Byzantium, he learned that the people of Palmyra had revolted and massacred the governor and garrison. Immediately marching back to Palmyra, he put to death nearly the whole population and razed the city to the ground.

 

During the revolt of Palmyra, an Egyptian rebel, named Firmus, had assumed the imperial purple, coined money and raised an army. He was quickly defeated by Aurelian and was put to death. Aurelian might now congratulate the senate, the people and himself, that be had restored universal peace and order. In 274 A.D. he celebrated a magnificent triumph, in which bis victories were attested by a long train of captives, Goth~ Vandals, Alemanni, Franks, Gauls and Syrians. Such a triumph had not been witnessed since the time of Pompey and Caesar. The attention of the spectators was engrossed by the beautiful figure of Zenobia, who, confined by golden chains was paraded on foot before the chariot of Aurelian.

 

He next devoted attention to domestic reforms and improvemcnts. Laws were enacted against luxury. He began to erect around Rome a new line of strongly fortified walls embracing a circuit of about twenty miles. His attempt to restore the integrity of the coin was opposed by a formidable sedition. Gibbon quotes a letter of Aurelian in which he says, "A sedition within the walls has just given birth to a very serious civil war. The workmen of the mint have risen in rebellion. Seven thousand of my soldiers have been slain in the contest." The noblest families of Rome were involved in the guilt or suspicion of this conspiracy and were treated with excessive cruelty.

 

In the autumn of 274 A.D., Aurelian, at the age of sixty, undertook an expedition against the Persians. His private secretary plotted against him and induced many officers of high rank to conspire with him by counterfeiting his master's hand and showing them a list of their own names devoted to death. On his march between Byzantium and Heraclea, he was killed by an officer named Mucapor in January, 275 A.D. Re was succeeded by Tacitus, a descendant of the celebrated historian.

 

THE ALEMANNI DRIVEN FROM ROME.

 

While the vigorous and moderate conduct of Aurelian restored the Illyrian frontier, the nation of the Alemanni violated the conditions of peace, which either Gallienus had purchased, or Claudius had imposed, and, inflamed by their impatient youth, suddenly flew to arms. Forty thousand horse appeared in the field, and the numbers of the infantry doubled those of the cavalry. The first objects of their avarice were a few cities of the Rhretian frontier but their hopes soon using with success, the rapid march of the Alemanni traced a line of devastation from the Danube to the Po.

 

The emperor was almost at the same time informed of the irruption, and of the retreat, of the barbarians. Collecting all active body of troops, he marched with silence and celerity along the skirts of the Hercynian forest; and the Alemanni, laden with the spoils of Italy, arrived at the Danube, without suspecting, that on the opposite bank, and in an advantageous post, a Roman army lay concealed and prepared to intercept their return. Aurelian indulged the fatal security of the barbarians, and permitted about half their forces to pass the river without disturbance and without precaution. Their situation and astonishment gave him an easy victory; his skillful con. duct improved the advantage. Disposing the legions in a semi·circular arm, he advanced the two horns of the crescent across the Danube, and wheeling them on a sudden towards the center, enclosed the rear of the German host. The dismayed barbarians, on whatsoever side they cast their eyes, beheld, with despair, a wasted country, a deep and rapid stream, a victorious and implacable enemy.

 

Reduced to this distressed condition, the Alemanni no longer disdained to sue for peace. Aurelian received their ambassadors at the head of his camp, and with every circumstance of martial pomp that could display the greatness and discipline of Rome. The legions stood to their arms in well ordered milks and awful silence. The principal commanders, distinguished by the ensigns of their rank, appeared on horseback on either side of the Imperial throne. Behind the throne the consecrated images of the emperor, and his predecessors, the golden eagles and the various titles of the legions, engraved in letters of gold, were exalted in the air all lofty pikes covered with silver. When Aurelian assumed his sent, his manly grace and majestic figure taught the barbarians to revere the person as well as the purple of their conqueror. The ambassadors fell prostrate on the ground in silence. They were commanded to rise, and permitted to speak. By the assistance of interpreters they exterminated their perfidy, magnified their exploits, expatiated c!:. the vicissitudes of fortune and the advantages of peace, and, with an in-timed confidence, demanded a large subsidy, as the price of the alliance which they offered to the Romans. The answer of the emperor was stern and imperious. He treated their offer with contempt, and their demand with indignation, reproached the barbarians, that they were as ignorant of the arts of war as of the laws of peace, and finally dismissed them with the choice only of submitting to his unconditioned mercy, or awaiting the utmost severity of his resentment. Aurelian had resigned a distant province to the Goths but it was dangerous to trust or to pardon these perfidious barbarians, whose formidable power kept Italy itself in perpetual alarms.

 

Immediately after this conference, it should seem that some unexpected emergency required the emperor's presence in Pannonia. He devolved on his lieutenants the care of finishing the destruction of the Alemanni, either by the sword, or by the surer operation of famine. But all active despair has often triumphed over the indolent assurance of success. The barbarians, finding it impossible to traverse the Danube and the Roman camp, broke through the posts in their rear, which were more feebly or less carefully guarded and with incredible diligence, but by a different road, returned towards the mountains of Italy. Aurelian, who considered the war as totally extinguished, received the mortifying intelligence of tho escape of the Alemanni, and of the ravage which they had already committed in the territory of Milan. The legions were commanded to follow, with as much expedition as those heavy bodies were capable of exerting, the rapid flight of an enemy whose infantry and cavalry moved with almost equal swiftness. A few days afterwards, the emperor himself marched to the relief of Italy, at the head of a chosen body of auxiliaries among whom were the hostages and cavalry of the Vandals, and of all the Praetorian guards who had served in the wats of the Danube.

 

As the light troops of the Alemanni had spread themselves from the Alps to the Apennine, the incessant vigilance of Aurelian and his officers was exercised in the discovery, the attack, and the pursuit of the numerous detachments. Notwithstanding this desultory war, three considerable battles are mentioned, in which the principal force of both armies was obstinately engaged. The success was various, In the first, fought near Placentia, the Romans received so severe a blow, that, according to the expression of a writer extremely partial to Aurelian, the immediate dissolution of the empire was apprehended. The crafty barbarians, who had lined the woods, suddenly attacked the legions in the dusk of the evening, and, it is most probable, after the fatigue and disorder of a long march, The fury of their charge was irresistible; but, at length, after a dreadful slaughter, the patient firmness of the emperor rallied his troops, and restored, in some degree, the honor of his arms. The second battle was fought near Fano in Umbria; on the spot which, five hundred years before, had been fatal to the brother of Hannibal. Thus far the successful Germans had advanced along the .Emilian and Flaminian way, with a design of sacking the defenseless mistress of the world. But Aurelian, who, watchful for the safety of Rome, still hung on their rear, found in this place the decisive moment of giving them a total and irretrievable defeat. The flying remnant of their host was exterminated in a third and last battle near Pavia; and Italy was delivered from the inroads of the Alemanni.

 

Fear has been the original parent of superstition, and every new calamity urges trembling mortals to deprecate the wrath of their invisible enemies. Though the best hope of the republic was in the valor and conduct of Aurelian, yet such was the public consternation, when the barbarians were hourly expected at the gates of Rome, that, by a decree of the Senate, the Sibylline books were consulted. Even the emperor himself, from a motive either of religion or of policy, recommended this salutary measure, chided the tardiness of the Senate, and offered to supply whatever expense, whatever animals, whatever captives of any nation, the gods should require. Notwithstanding this liberal offer, it does not appear, that any human victims expiated with their blood the sins of the Roman people. The Sibylline books enjoined ceremonies of a more harmless nature, processions of priests in white robes, attended by a chorus of youths and virgins ilustrations of the city and adjacent country; and sacrifices, whose powerful influence disabled the barbarians from passing the mystic ground on which they had been celebrated. However puerile in themselves, these superstitious arts were subservient to the success of the war; and if, in the decisive battle of Fano, the Alemanni fancied they saw ail army of spectres combating on the side of Aurelian, he received a real and effectual aid from this imaginary reinforcement.

 

But whatever confidence might be placed in ideal ramparts, the experience of the past, and the dread of the future, induced the Romans to construct fortifications of a grosser and more substantial kind. The seven bills of Rome had been surrounded by the successors of Romulus, with an ancient wall of more than thirteen miles. The vast enclosure may seem dis-proportioned to the strength and numbers of the infant state. But it was necessary to secure an ample extent of pasture and arable land, against the frequent and sudden incursions of the tribes of Latium, the perpetual enemies of the republic. With the progress of Roman greatness, the city and its inhabitants gradually increased, filled up the vacant space, pierced through the useless walls, covered the field of Mars, and, on every side, followed the public highways in long and beautiful suburbs. The extent of the new walls erected by Aurelian, and finished in the reign of Probus, was magnified by popular estimation to near fifty, but is reduced by accurate measurement to about twenty-one miles. It was a great but a melancholy labor, since the defence of the capital betrayed the decline of the monarchy. The Romans of a more prosperous age, who trusted to the arms of the legions the safety of the frontier camps, were very far from entertaining a suspicion that it would ever become necessary to fortify the seat of empire against the inroads of the barbarians. -E. GIBBON.

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