Page images

first wife, he disobeyed the patriarch, and violated the laws, CHAP.

XLVIII. by his second marriage with his niece Martina; and the superstition of the Greeks beheld the judgment of heaven in the diseases of the father and the deformity of his offspring. But the opinion of an illegitimate birth is sufficient to distract the choice, and loosen the obedience, of the people: the ambition of Martina was quickened by maternal love, and perhaps by the envy of a step-mother; and the aged husband was too feeble to withstand the arts of conjugal allurements. Constantine, his eldest son, enjoyed in a mature age the title of Augustus; but the weakness of his constitution required a colleague and a guardian, and he yielded with secret reluctance to the partition of the empire. The A.D. 638,

July 4. senate was summoned to the palace to ratify or attest the association of Heracleonas, the son of Martina: the imposition of the diadem was consecrated by the prayer and blessing of the patriarch; the senators and patricians adored the majesty of the great emperor and the partners of his reign; and as soon as the doors were thrown open, they were hailed by the tumultuary but important voice of the soldiers. After an interval of five months, the pompous A. D. 639, ceremonies which formed the essence of the Byzantine state

January were celebrated in the cathedral and the hippodrome: the concord of the royal brothers was affectedly displayed by the younger leaning on the arm of the elder; and the name of Martina was mingled in the reluctant or venal acclamations of the people. Heraclius survived this association A. D. 641,

Feb. 11. about two years : his last testimony declared his two sons the equal heirs of the Eastern empire, and commanded thein to honour his widow Martina as “their mother and their sovereign.

When Martina first appeared on the throne with the name Constanand attribuies of royalty, she was checked by a firm, though A. D. 641, respectful, opposition; and the dying embers of freedom February were kindled by the breath of superstitious prejudice. “We

reverence,” exclaimed the voice of a citizen,

rence the inother of our princes; but to those princes alone “ our obedience is due; and Constantine, the elder emperor, “is of an age to sustain, in his own hands, the weight of " the sceptre. Your sex is excluded by nature from the “toils of government. How couid you combat, how could

[ocr errors]

we reve

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


CH AP. you answer, the Barbarians, who, with hostile or friendly XLVIII. « intentions, may approach the royal city? May heaven

avert from the Roman republic this national disgrace, “ which would provoke the patience of the slaves of Per“sia.” Martina descended from the throne with indignation, and sought a refuge in the female apartment of the palace. The reign of Constantine the third, lasted only one hundred and three days: he expired in the thirtieth year of his age, and, although his life had been a long malady, a

belief was entertained that poison had been the means, and Heracle- his cruel step-mother the author, of his untimely fate. Mar. A. D. 641, tina reaped indeed the harvest of his death, and assumed May 25.

the government in the name of the surviving emperor; but the incestuous widow of Heraclius was universally abhorred; the jealousy of the people was awakened, and the two orphans whom Constantine had left, became the objects of the public care. It was in vain that the son of Martina, who was no more than fifteen years of age, was taught to declare himself the guardian of his nephews, one of whom he had presented at the baptismal font: it was in vain that he swore on the wood of the true cross, to defend them against all their enemies. On his death-bed, the late emperor had dispatched a trusty servant to arm the troops and provinces of the East in the defence of his helpless children: the eloquence and liberality of Valentin had been successful, and from his camp of Chalcedon, he boldly demanded the punishment of the assassins, and the restoration of the lawful heir. The license of the soldiers who devoured the grapes and drank the wine of their Asiatic vineyards, provoked the citizens of Constantinople against the domestic authors of their calamities, and the dome of St. Sophia re-echoed, not with prayers and hymns, but with the clamours and imprecations of an enraged multitude. At their imperious command, Heracleonas appeared in the pulpit with the eldest of the royal orphans; Constans alone was saluted as emperor of the Romans, and a crown of gold, which had been taken from the tomb of Heraclius, was placed on his head, with the solemn benediction of the patriarch. But in the tumult of joy and indignation, the church was pillaged, the sanctuary was polluted by a promiscuous crowd of Jews and Barbarians; and the Monothelite Pyrrhus, a

creature of the empress, after dropping a protestation on CHAP. the altar, escaped by a prudent flight from the zeal of the XLVIII. Catholics. A more serious and bloody task was reserved for the senate, who derived a temporary strength from the consent of the soldiers and people. The spirit of Roman freedom revived the ancient and awful examples of the judgment of tyrants, and the Imperial culprits were deposed and condemned as the authors of the death of Constantine. But Punish.

ment of the severity of the conscript fathers was stained by the in- Martina discriminate punishment of the innocent and the guilty: and Hera

cleonas, Martina and Heracleonas were sentenced to the amputa- A. D. 641, tion, the former of her tongue, the latter of his nose; and September. after this cruel execution, they consumed the remainder of their days in exile and oblivion. The Greeks who were capable of reflection might find some consolation for their servitude, by observing the abuse of power when it was lodged for a moment in the hands of an aristocracy. We shall imagine ourselves transported five hundred Constans

II. A. D. years backwards to the age of the Antonines, if we listen to 641, Septhe oration which Constans II. pronounced in the twelfth tember. year of his age before the Byzantine senate. After returning his thanks for the just punishment of the assassins who had intercepted the fairest hopes of his father's reign, “By “the divine providence,” said the young emperor,“ and by

your righteous decree, Martina and her incestuous pro“geny have been cast headlong from the throne. Your

majesty and wisdom have prevented the Roman state " from degenerating into lawless tyranny. I therefore ex“ hort and beseech you to stand forth as the counsellors and “ judges of the common safety.” The senators were gratified by the respectful address and liberal donative of their sovereign; but these servile Greeks were unworthy and regardless of freedom; and in his mind, the lesson of an hour was quickly erazed by the prejudices of the age and the habits of despotism. He retained only a jealous fear lest the senate or people should one day invade the right of primogeniture, and seat his brother Theodosius on an equal throne. By the imposition of holy orders, the grandson of Heraclius was disqualified for the purple; but this ceremony, which seemed to profane the sacraments of the church, was insufficient to appease the suspicions of the ty

CHAP. rant, and the death of the deacon Theodosius could alone XLVIII.

expiate the crime of his royal birth. His murder was avenged by the imprecations of the people, and the assassin, in the fulness of power, was driven from his capital into voluntary and perpetual exile. Constans embarked for Greece; and, as if he meant to retort the abhorrence which he deserved, he is said, from the Imperial galley, to have spit against the walls of his native city. After passing the winter at Athens, he sailed to Tarentum in Italy, visited Rome, and concluded a long pilgrimage of disgrace and sacrilegious rapine, by fixing his residence at Syracuse. But if Constans could fly from his people, he could not fly from himself. The remorse of his conscience created a phantom who pursued him by land and sea, by day and by night; and the visionary Theodosius, presenting to his lips a cup of blood, said, or seemed to say, “ Drink, brother, drink:” a sure emblem of the aggravation of his guilt, since he had received from the hands of the deacon the mystic cup of the blood of Christ. Odious to himself and to mankind, Constans perished by domestic, perhaps by episcopal, treason, in the capital of Sicily. A servant who waited in the bath, after pouring warm water on his head, struck him violently with the vase. He fell, stunned by the blow, and suffocated by the water; and his attendants, who wondered at the tedious delay, beheld with indifference the corpse of their lifeless emperor. The troops of Sicily invested with the purple an obscure youth, whose inimitable beauty eluded, and it might easily elude, the declining art of the painters and sculptors

of the age.

person in

Constan- Constans had left in the Byzantine palace three sons, the tine IV.

eldest of whom had been clothed in his infancy with the pur-
A. D. 688, ple. When the father summoned them to attend his
September. Sicily, these precious hostages were detained by the Greeks,

and a firm refusal informed him that they were the children
of the state. The news of his murder was conveved with
almost supernatural speed from Syracuse to Constantinople;
and Constantine, the eldest of his sons, inherited his throne
without being the heir of the public hatred. His subjects
contributed, with zeal and alacrity, to chastise the guilt and
presumption of a province which had usurped the rights of
the senate and people; the young emperor sailed from the


Hellespont with a powerful fleet; and the legions of Rome CHAP. and Carthage were assembled under his standard in the

XLVIII. harbour of Syracuse. The defeat of the Sicilian tyrant was easy, his punishment just, and his beauteous head was exposed in the hippodrome: but I cannot applaud the clemency of a prince, who, among a crowd of victims, condemned the son of a patrician, for deploring with some bitterness the execution of a virtuous father. The youth was castrated: he survived the operation, and the memory of this indecent cruelty is preserved by the elevation of Germanus to the rank of a patriarch and saint. After pouring this bloody libation on his father's tomb, Constantine returned to his capital, and the growth of his young beard during the Sicilian voyage, was announced by the familiar surname of Pogonatus, to the Grecian world. But his reign, like that of his predecessor, was stained with fraternal discord. On his two brothers, Heraclius and Tiberius, he had bestowed the title of Augustus: an empty title, for they continued to languish without trust or power in the solitude of the palace. At their secret instigation, the troops of the Anatolian theme or province approached the city on the Asiatic side, demanded for the royal brothers, the partition or exercise of sovereignty, and supported their seditious claim by a theological argument. They were Christians (they cried), and orthodox Catholics; the sincere votaries of the holy and undivided Trinity. Since there are three equal persons in heaven, it is reasonable there should be three equal persons upon earth. The emperor invited these learned divines to a friendly conference, in which they might propose their arguments to the senate: they obeyed the summons, but the prospect of their bodies hanging on the gibbet in the suburb of Galata, reconciled their companions to the unity of the reign of Constantine. He pardoned his brothers, and their names were still pronounced in the public acclamations: but on the repetition or suspicion of a similar offence, the obnoxious princes were deprived of their titles and noses, in the presence of the Catholic bishops who were assembled at Constantinople in the sixth general synod. In the close of his life, Pogonatus was anxious only to establish the right of primogeniture: the hair of his two sons, Justinian and Heraclius, was offered on the shrine of St. Peter, as a

« PreviousContinue »