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measuring the sentence by the law, or the penalty by the offense.
A poor woman threw herself at the emperor’s feet to complain of a
powerful neighbor, the brother of the empress, who had raised his
palace-wall to such an inconvenient height, that her humble
dwelling was excluded from light and air! On the proof of the
fact, instead of granting, like an ordinary judge, sufficient or
ample damages to the plaintiff, the sovereign adjudged to her use
and benefit the palace and the ground. Nor was Theophilus content
with this extravagant satisfaction: his zeal converted a civil
trespass into a criminal act; and the unfortunate patrician was
stripped and scourged in the public place of Constantinople. For
some venial offenses, some defect of equity or vigilance, the
principal ministers, a præfect, a quaestor, a captain of the
guards, were banished or mutilated, or scalded with boiling
pitch, or burnt alive in the hippodrome; and as these dreadful
examples might be the effects of error or caprice, they must have
alienated from his service the best and wisest of the citizens.
But the pride of the monarch was flattered in the exercise of
power, or, as he thought, of virtue; and the people, safe in
their obscurity, applauded the danger and debasement of their
superiors. This extraordinary rigor was justified, in some
measure, by its salutary consequences; since, after a scrutiny of
seventeen days, not a complaint or abuse could be found in the
court or city; and it might be alleged that the Greeks could be
ruled only with a rod of iron, and that the public interest is
the motive and law of the supreme judge. Yet in the crime, or the
suspicion, of treason, that judge is of all others the most
credulous and partial. Theophilus might inflict a tardy vengeance
on the assassins of Leo and the saviors of his father; but he
enjoyed the fruits of their crime; and his jealous tyranny
sacrificed a brother and a prince to the future safety of his
life. A Persian of the race of the Sassanides died in poverty and
exile at Constantinople, leaving an only son, the issue of a
plebeian marriage. At the age of twelve years, the royal birth of
Theophobus was revealed, and his merit was not unworthy of his
birth. He was educated in the Byzantine palace, a Christian and a
soldier; advanced with rapid steps in the career of fortune and
glory; received the hand of the emperor’s sister; and was
promoted to the command of thirty thousand Persians, who, like
his father, had fled from the Mahometan conquerors. These troops,
doubly infected with mercenary and fanatic vices, were desirous
of revolting against their benefactor, and erecting the standard
of their native king but the loyal Theophobus rejected their
offers, disconcerted their schemes, and escaped from their hands
to the camp or palace of his royal brother. A generous confidence
might have secured a faithful and able guardian for his wife and
his infant son, to whom Theophilus, in the flower of his age, was
compelled to leave the inheritance of the empire. But his
jealousy was exasperated by envy and disease; he feared the
dangerous virtues which might either support or oppress their
infancy and weakness; and the dying emperor demanded the head of
the Persian prince. With savage delight he recognized the
familiar features of his brother: “Thou art no longer
Theophobus,” he said; and, sinking on his couch, he added, with a
faltering voice, “Soon, too soon, I shall be no more Theophilus!”

Chapter XLVIII: Succession And Characters Of The Greek Emperors.—Part

The Russians, who have borrowed from the Greeks the greatest part
of their civil and ecclesiastical policy, preserved, till the
last century, a singular institution in the marriage of the Czar.
They collected, not the virgins of every rank and of every
province, a vain and romantic idea, but the daughters of the
principal nobles, who awaited in the palace the choice of their
sovereign. It is affirmed, that a similar method was adopted in
the nuptials of Theophilus. With a golden apple in his hand, he
slowly walked between two lines of contending beauties: his eye
was detained by the charms of Icasia, and in the awkwardness of a
first declaration, the prince could only observe, that, in this
world, women had been the cause of much evil; “And surely, sir,”
she pertly replied, “they have likewise been the occasion of much
good.” This affectation of unseasonable wit displeased the
Imperial lover: he turned aside in disgust; Icasia concealed her
mortification in a convent; and the modest silence of Theodora
was rewarded with the golden apple. She deserved the love, but
did not escape the severity, of her lord. From the palace garden
he beheld a vessel deeply laden, and steering into the port: on
the discovery that the precious cargo of Syrian luxury was the
property of his wife, he condemned the ship to the flames, with a
sharp reproach, that her avarice had degraded the character of an
empress into that of a merchant. Yet his last choice intrusted
her with the guardianship of the empire and her son Michael, who
was left an orphan in the fifth year of his age. The restoration
of images, and the final extirpation of the Iconoclasts, has
endeared her name to the devotion of the Greeks; but in the
fervor of religious zeal, Theodora entertained a grateful regard
for the memory and salvation of her husband. After thirteen years
of a prudent and frugal administration, she perceived the decline
of her influence; but the second Irene imitated only the virtues
of her predecessor. Instead of conspiring against the life or
government of her son, she retired, without a struggle, though
not without a murmur, to the solitude of private life, deploring
the ingratitude, the vices, and the inevitable ruin, of the
worthless youth. Among the successors of Nero and Elagabalus, we
have not hitherto found the imitation of their vices, the
character of a Roman prince who considered pleasure as the object
of life, and virtue as the enemy of pleasure. Whatever might have
been the maternal care of Theodora in the education of Michael
the Third, her unfortunate son was a king before he was a man. If
the ambitious mother labored to check the progress of reason, she
could not cool the ebullition of passion; and her selfish policy
was justly repaid by the contempt and ingratitude of the
headstrong youth. At the age of eighteen, he rejected her
authority, without feeling his own incapacity to govern the
empire and himself. With Theodora, all gravity and wisdom retired
from the court; their place was supplied by the alternate
dominion of vice and folly; and it was impossible, without
forfeiting the public esteem, to acquire or preserve the favor of
the emperor. The millions of gold and silver which had been
accumulated for the service of the state, were lavished on the
vilest of men, who flattered his passions and shared his
pleasures; and in a reign of thirteen years, the richest of
sovereigns was compelled to strip the palace and the churches of
their precious furniture. Like Nero, he delighted in the
amusements of the theatre, and sighed to be surpassed in the
accomplishments in which he should have blushed to excel. Yet the
studies of Nero in music and poetry betrayed some symptoms of a
liberal taste; the more ignoble arts of the son of Theophilus
were confined to the chariot-race of the hippodrome. The four
factions which had agitated the peace, still amused the idleness,
of the capital: for himself, the emperor assumed the blue livery;
the three rival colors were distributed to his favorites, and in
the vile though eager contention he forgot the dignity of his
person and the safety of his dominions. He silenced the messenger
of an invasion, who presumed to divert his attention in the most
critical moment of the race; and by his command, the importunate
beacons were extinguished, that too frequently spread the alarm
from Tarsus to Constantinople. The most skilful charioteers
obtained the first place in his confidence and esteem; their
merit was profusely rewarded; the emperor feasted in their
houses, and presented their children at the baptismal font; and
while he applauded his own popularity, he affected to blame the
cold and stately reserve of his predecessors. The unnatural lusts
which had degraded even the manhood of Nero, were banished from
the world; yet the strength of Michael was consumed by the
indulgence of love and intemperance. 1012 In his midnight revels,
when his passions were inflamed by wine, he was provoked to issue
the most sanguinary commands; and if any feelings of humanity
were left, he was reduced, with the return of sense, to approve
the salutary disobedience of his servants. But the most
extraordinary feature in the character of Michael, is the profane
mockery of the religion of his country. The superstition of the
Greeks might indeed excite the smile of a philosopher; but his
smile would have been rational and temperate, and he must have
condemned the ignorant folly of a youth who insulted the objects
of public veneration. A buffoon of the court was invested in the
robes of the patriarch: his twelve metropolitans, among whom the
emperor was ranked, assumed their ecclesiastical garments: they
used or abused the sacred vessels of the altar; and in their
bacchanalian feasts, the holy communion was administered in a
nauseous compound of vinegar and mustard. Nor were these impious
spectacles concealed from the eyes of the city. On the day of a
solemn festival, the emperor, with his bishops or buffoons, rode
on asses through the streets, encountered the true patriarch at
the head of his clergy; and by their licentious shouts and
obscene gestures, disordered the gravity of the Christian
procession. The devotion of Michael appeared only in some offence
to reason or piety: he received his theatrical crowns from the
statue of the Virgin; and an Imperial tomb was violated for the
sake of burning the bones of Constantine the Iconoclast. By this
extravagant conduct, the son of Theophilus became as contemptible
as he was odious: every citizen was impatient for the deliverance
of his country; and even the favorites of the moment were
apprehensive that a caprice might snatch away what a caprice had
bestowed. In the thirtieth year of his age, and in the hour of
intoxication and sleep, Michael the Third was murdered in his
chamber by the founder of a new dynasty, whom the emperor had
raised to an equality of rank and power.

1012 (return) [ In a campaign against the Saracens, he betrayed
both imbecility and cowardice. Genesius, c. iv. p. 94.—M.]

The genealogy of Basil the Macedonian (if it be not the spurious
offspring of pride and flattery) exhibits a genuine picture of
the revolution of the most illustrious families. The Arsacides,
the rivals of Rome, possessed the sceptre of the East near four
hundred years: a younger branch of these Parthian kings continued
to reign in Armenia; and their royal descendants survived the
partition and servitude of that ancient monarchy. Two of these,
Artabanus and Chlienes, escaped or retired to the court of Leo
the First: his bounty seated them in a safe and hospitable exile,
in the province of Macedonia: Adrianople was their final
settlement. During several generations they maintained the
dignity of their birth; and their Roman patriotism rejected the
tempting offers of the Persian and Arabian powers, who recalled
them to their native country. But their splendor was insensibly
clouded by time and poverty; and the father of Basil was reduced
to a small farm, which he cultivated with his own hands: yet he
scorned to disgrace the blood of the Arsacides by a plebeian
alliance: his wife, a widow of Adrianople, was pleased to count
among her ancestors the great Constantine; and their royal infant
was connected by some dark affinity of lineage or country with
the Macedonian Alexander. No sooner was he born, than the cradle
of Basil, his family, and his city, were swept away by an
inundation of the Bulgarians: he was educated a slave in a
foreign land; and in this severe discipline, he acquired the
hardiness of body and flexibility of mind which promoted his
future elevation. In the age of youth or manhood he shared the
deliverance of the Roman captives, who generously broke their
fetters, marched through Bulgaria to the shores of the Euxine,
defeated two armies of Barbarians, embarked in the ships which
had been stationed for their reception, and returned to
Constantinople, from whence they were distributed to their
respective homes. But the freedom of Basil was naked and
destitute: his farm was ruined by the calamities of war: after
his father’s death, his manual labor, or service, could no longer
support a family of orphans and he resolved to seek a more
conspicuous theatre, in which every virtue and every vice may
lead to the paths of greatness. The first night of his arrival at
Constantinople, without friends or money, the weary pilgrim slept
on the steps of the church of St. Diomede: he was fed by the
casual hospitality of a monk; and was introduced to the service
of a cousin and namesake of the emperor Theophilus; who, though
himself of a diminutive person, was always followed by a train of
tall and handsome domestics. Basil attended his patron to the
government of Peloponnesus; eclipsed, by his personal merit the
birth and dignity of Theophilus, and formed a useful connection
with a wealthy and charitable matron of Patras. Her spiritual or
carnal love embraced the young adventurer, whom she adopted as
her son. Danielis presented him with thirty slaves; and the
produce of her bounty was expended in the support of his
brothers, and the purchase of some large estates in Macedonia.
His gratitude or ambition still attached him to the service of
Theophilus; and a lucky accident recommended him to the notice of
the court. A famous wrestler, in the train of the Bulgarian
ambassadors, had defied, at the royal banquet, the boldest and
most robust of the Greeks. The strength of Basil was praised; he
accepted the challenge; and the Barbarian champion was overthrown
at the first onset. A beautiful but vicious horse was condemned
to be hamstrung: it was subdued by the dexterity and courage of
the servant of Theophilus; and his conqueror was promoted to an
honorable rank in the Imperial stables. But it was impossible to
obtain the confidence of Michael, without complying with his
vices; and his new favorite, the great chamberlain of the palace,
was raised and supported by a disgraceful marriage with a royal
concubine, and the dishonor of his sister, who succeeded to her
place. The public administration had been abandoned to the Caesar
Bardas, the brother and enemy of Theodora; but the arts of female
influence persuaded Michael to hate and to fear his uncle: he was
drawn from Constantinople, under the pretence of a Cretan
expedition, and stabbed in the tent of audience, by the sword of
the chamberlain, and in the presence of the emperor. About a
month after this execution, Basil was invested with the title of
Augustus and the government of the empire. He supported this
unequal association till his influence was fortified by popular
esteem. His life was endangered by the caprice of the emperor;
and his dignity was profaned by a second colleague, who had rowed
in the galleys. Yet the murder of his benefactor must be
condemned as an act of ingratitude and treason; and the churches
which he dedicated to the name of St. Michael were a poor and
puerile expiation of his guilt. The different ages of Basil the
First may be compared with those of Augustus. The situation of
the Greek did not allow him in his earliest youth to lead an army
against his country; or to proscribe the nobles of her sons; but
his aspiring genius stooped to the arts of a slave; he dissembled
his ambition and even his virtues, and grasped, with the bloody
hand of an assassin, the empire which he ruled with the wisdom
and tenderness of a parent.

A private citizen may feel his interest repugnant to his duty;
but it must be from a deficiency of sense or courage, that an
absolute monarch can separate his happiness from his glory, or
his glory from the public welfare. The life or panegyric of Basil
has indeed been composed and published under the long reign of
his descendants; but even their stability on the throne may be
justly ascribed to the superior merit of their ancestor. In his
character, his grandson Constantine has attempted to delineate a
perfect image of royalty: but that feeble prince, unless he had
copied a real model, could not easily have soared so high above
the level of his own conduct or conceptions. But the most solid
praise of Basil is drawn from the comparison of a ruined and a
flourishing monarchy, that which he wrested from the dissolute
Michael, and that which he bequeathed to the Mecedonian dynasty.
The evils which had been sanctified by time and example, were
corrected by his master-hand; and he revived, if not the national
spirit, at least the order and majesty of the Roman empire. His
application was indefatigable, his temper cool, his understanding
vigorous and decisive; and in his practice he observed that rare
and salutary moderation, which pursues each virtue, at an equal
distance between the opposite vices. His military service had
been confined to the palace: nor was the emperor endowed with the
spirit or the talents of a warrior. Yet under his reign the Roman
arms were again formidable to the Barbarians. As soon as he had
formed a new army by discipline and exercise, he appeared in
person on the banks of the Euphrates, curbed the pride of the
Saracens, and suppressed the dangerous though just revolt of the
Manichaeans. His indignation against a rebel who had long eluded
his pursuit, provoked him to wish and to pray, that, by the grace
of God, he might drive three arrows into the head of Chrysochir.
That odious head, which had been obtained by treason rather than
by valor, was suspended from a tree, and thrice exposed to the
dexterity of the Imperial archer; a base revenge against the
dead, more worthy of the times than of the character of Basil.
But his principal merit was in the civil administration of the
finances and of the laws. To replenish an exhausted treasury, it
was proposed to resume the lavish and ill-placed gifts of his
predecessor: his prudence abated one moiety of the restitution;
and a sum of twelve hundred thousand pounds was instantly
procured to answer the most pressing demands, and to allow some
space for the mature operations of economy. Among the various
schemes for the improvement of the revenue, a new mode was
suggested of capitation, or tribute, which would have too much
depended on the arbitrary discretion of the assessors. A
sufficient list of honest and able agents was instantly produced
by the minister; but on the more careful scrutiny of Basil
himself, only two could be found, who might be safely intrusted
with such dangerous powers; but they justified his esteem by
declining his confidence. But the serious and successful
diligence of the emperor established by degrees the equitable
balance of property and payment, of receipt and expenditure; a
peculiar fund was appropriated to each service; and a public
method secured the interest of the prince and the property of the
people. After reforming the luxury, he assigned two patrimonial
estates to supply the decent plenty, of the Imperial table: the
contributions of the subject were reserved for his defence; and
the residue was employed in the embellishment of the capital and
provinces. A taste for building, however costly, may deserve some
praise and much excuse: from thence industry is fed, art is
encouraged, and some object is attained of public emolument or
pleasure: the use of a road, an aqueduct, or a hospital, is
obvious and solid; and the hundred churches that arose by the
command of Basil were consecrated to the devotion of the age. In
the character of a judge he was assiduous and impartial; desirous
to save, but not afraid to strike: the oppressors of the people
were severely chastised; but his personal foes, whom it might be
unsafe to pardon, were condemned, after the loss of their eyes,
to a life of solitude and repentance. The change of language and
manners demanded a revision of the obsolete jurisprudence of
Justinian: the voluminous body of his Institutes, Pandects, Code,
and Novels, was digested under forty titles, in the Greek idiom;
and the Basilics, which were improved and completed by his son
and grandson, must be referred to the original genius of the
founder of their race. This glorious reign was terminated by an
accident in the chase. A furious stag entangled his horns in the
belt of Basil, and raised him from his horse: he was rescued by
an attendant, who cut the belt and slew the animal; but the fall,
or the fever, exhausted the strength of the aged monarch, and he
expired in the palace amidst the tears of his family and people.
If he struck off the head of the faithful servant for presuming
to draw his sword against his sovereign, the pride of despotism,
which had lain dormant in his life, revived in the last moments
of despair, when he no longer wanted or valued the opinion of

Of the four sons of the emperor, Constantine died before his
father, whose grief and credulity were amused by a flattering
impostor and a vain apparition. Stephen, the youngest, was
content with the honors of a patriarch and a saint; both Leo and
Alexander were alike invested with the purple, but the powers of
government were solely exercised by the elder brother. The name
of Leo the Sixth has been dignified with the title of
philosopher; and the union of the prince and the sage, of the
active and speculative virtues, would indeed constitute the
perfection of human nature. But the claims of Leo are far short
of this ideal excellence. Did he reduce his passions and
appetites under the dominion of reason? His life was spent in the
pomp of the palace, in the society of his wives and concubines;
and even the clemency which he showed, and the peace which he
strove to preserve, must be imputed to the softness and indolence
of his character. Did he subdue his prejudices, and those of his
subjects? His mind was tinged with the most puerile superstition;
the influence of the clergy, and the errors of the people, were
consecrated by his laws; and the oracles of Leo, which reveal, in
prophetic style, the fates of the empire, are founded on the arts
of astrology and divination. If we still inquire the reason of
his sage appellation, it can only be replied, that the son of
Basil was less ignorant than the greater part of his
contemporaries in church and state; that his education had been
directed by the learned Photius; and that several books of
profane and ecclesiastical science were composed by the pen, or
in the name, of the Imperial philosopher. But the reputation of
his philosophy and religion was overthrown by a domestic vice,
the repetition of his nuptials. The primitive ideas of the merit
and holiness of celibacy were preached by the monks and
entertained by the Greeks. Marriage was allowed as a necessary
means for the propagation of mankind; after the death of either
party, the survivor might satisfy, by a second union, the
weakness or the strength of the flesh: but a third marriage was
censured as a state of legal fornication; and a fourth was a sin
or scandal as yet unknown to the Christians of the East. In the
beginning of his reign, Leo himself had abolished the state of
concubines, and condemned, without annulling, third marriages:
but his patriotism and love soon compelled him to violate his own
laws, and to incur the penance, which in a similar case he had
imposed on his subjects. In his three first alliances, his
nuptial bed was unfruitful; the emperor required a female
companion, and the empire a legitimate heir. The beautiful Zoe
was introduced into the palace as a concubine; and after a trial
of her fecundity, and the birth of Constantine, her lover
declared his intention of legitimating the mother and the child,
by the celebration of his fourth nuptials. But the patriarch
Nicholas refused his blessing: the Imperial baptism of the young
prince was obtained by a promise of separation; and the
contumacious husband of Zoe was excluded from the communion of
the faithful. Neither the fear of exile, nor the desertion of his
brethren, nor the authority of the Latin church, nor the danger
of failure or doubt in the succession to the empire, could bend
the spirit of the inflexible monk. After the death of Leo, he was
recalled from exile to the civil and ecclesiastical
administration; and the edict of union which was promulgated in
the name of Constantine, condemned the future scandal of fourth
marriages, and left a tacit imputation on his own birth. In the
Greek language, purple and porphyry are the same word: and as the
colors of nature are invariable, we may learn, that a dark deep
red was the Tyrian dye which stained the purple of the ancients.
An apartment of the Byzantine palace was lined with porphyry: it
was reserved for the use of the pregnant empresses; and the royal
birth of their children was expressed by the appellation of
porphyrogenite, or born in the purple. Several of the Roman
princes had been blessed with an heir; but this peculiar surname
was first applied to Constantine the Seventh. His life and
titular reign were of equal duration; but of fifty-four years,
six had elapsed before his father’s death; and the son of Leo was
ever the voluntary or reluctant subject of those who oppressed
his weakness or abused his confidence. His uncle Alexander, who
had long been invested with the title of Augustus, was the first
colleague and governor of the young prince: but in a rapid career
of vice and folly, the brother of Leo already emulated the
reputation of Michael; and when he was extinguished by a timely
death, he entertained a project of castrating his nephew, and
leaving the empire to a worthless favorite. The succeeding years
of the minority of Constantine were occupied by his mother Zoe,
and a succession or council of seven regents, who pursued their
interest, gratified their passions, abandoned the republic,
supplanted each other, and finally vanished in the presence of a
soldier. From an obscure origin, Romanus Lecapenus had raised
himself to the command of the naval armies; and in the anarchy of
the times, had deserved, or at least had obtained, the national
esteem. With a victorious and affectionate fleet, he sailed from
the mouth of the Danube into the harbor of Constantinople, and
was hailed as the deliverer of the people, and the guardian of
the prince. His supreme office was at first defined by the new
appellation of father of the emperor; but Romanus soon disdained
the subordinate powers of a minister, and assumed with the titles
of Caesar and Augustus, the full independence of royalty, which
he held near five-and-twenty years. His three sons, Christopher,
Stephen, and Constantine were successively adorned with the same
honors, and the lawful emperor was degraded from the first to the
fifth rank in this college of princes. Yet, in the preservation
of his life and crown, he might still applaud his own fortune and
the clemency of the usurper. The examples of ancient and modern
history would have excused the ambition of Romanus: the powers
and the laws of the empire were in his hand; the spurious birth
of Constantine would have justified his exclusion; and the grave
or the monastery was open to receive the son of the concubine.
But Lecapenus does not appear to have possessed either the
virtues or the vices of a tyrant. The spirit and activity of his
private life dissolved away in the sunshine of the throne; and in
his licentious pleasures, he forgot the safety both of the
republic and of his family. Of a mild and religious character, he
respected the sanctity of oaths, the innocence of the youth, the
memory of his parents, and the attachment of the people. The
studious temper and retirement of Constantine disarmed the
jealousy of power: his books and music, his pen and his pencil,
were a constant source of amusement; and if he could improve a
scanty allowance by the sale of his pictures, if their price was
not enhanced by the name of the artist, he was endowed with a
personal talent, which few princes could employ in the hour of

The fall of Romanus was occasioned by his own vices and those of
his children. After the decease of Christopher, his eldest son,
the two surviving brothers quarrelled with each other, and
conspired against their father. At the hour of noon, when all
strangers were regularly excluded from the palace, they entered
his apartment with an armed force, and conveyed him, in the habit
of a monk, to a small island in the Propontis, which was peopled
by a religious community. The rumor of this domestic revolution
excited a tumult in the city; but Porphyrogenitus alone, the true
and lawful emperor, was the object of the public care; and the
sons of Lecapenus were taught, by tardy experience, that they had
achieved a guilty and perilous enterprise for the benefit of
their rival. Their sister Helena, the wife of Constantine,
revealed, or supposed, their treacherous design of assassinating
her husband at the royal banquet. His loyal adherents were
alarmed, and the two usurpers were prevented, seized, degraded
from the purple, and embarked for the same island and monastery
where their father had been so lately confined. Old Romanus met
them on the beach with a sarcastic smile, and, after a just
reproach of their folly and ingratitude, presented his Imperial
colleagues with an equal share of his water and vegetable diet.
In the fortieth year of his reign, Constantine the Seventh
obtained the possession of the Eastern world, which he ruled or
seemed to rule, near fifteen years. But he was devoid of that
energy of character which could emerge into a life of action and
glory; and the studies, which had amused and dignified his
leisure, were incompatible with the serious duties of a
sovereign. The emperor neglected the practice to instruct his son
Romanus in the theory of government; while he indulged the habits
of intemperance and sloth, he dropped the reins of the
administration into the hands of Helena his wife; and, in the
shifting scene of her favor and caprice, each minister was
regretted in the promotion of a more worthless successor. Yet the
birth and misfortunes of Constantine had endeared him to the
Greeks; they excused his failings; they respected his learning,
his innocence, and charity, his love of justice; and the ceremony
of his funeral was mourned with the unfeigned tears of his
subjects. The body, according to ancient custom, lay in state in
the vestibule of the palace; and the civil and military officers,
the patricians, the senate, and the clergy approached in due
order to adore and kiss the inanimate corpse of their sovereign.
Before the procession moved towards the Imperial sepulchre, a
herald proclaimed this awful admonition: “Arise, O king of the
world, and obey the summons of the King of kings!”

The death of Constantine was imputed to poison; and his son
Romanus, who derived that name from his maternal grandfather,
ascended the throne of Constantinople. A prince who, at the age
of twenty, could be suspected of anticipating his inheritance,
must have been already lost in the public esteem; yet Romanus was
rather weak than wicked; and the largest share of the guilt was
transferred to his wife, Theophano, a woman of base origin
masculine spirit, and flagitious manners. The sense of personal
glory and public happiness, the true pleasures of royalty, were
unknown to the son of Constantine; and, while the two brothers,
Nicephorus and Leo, triumphed over the Saracens, the hours which
the emperor owed to his people were consumed in strenuous
idleness. In the morning he visited the circus; at noon he
feasted the senators; the greater part of the afternoon he spent
in the sphoeristerium, or tennis-court, the only theatre of his
victories; from thence he passed over to the Asiatic side of the
Bosphorus, hunted and killed four wild boars of the largest size,
and returned to the palace, proudly content with the labors of
the day. In strength and beauty he was conspicuous above his
equals: tall and straight as a young cypress, his complexion was
fair and florid, his eyes sparkling, his shoulders broad, his
nose long and aquiline. Yet even these perfections were
insufficient to fix the love of Theophano; and, after a reign of
four 1013 years, she mingled for her husband the same deadly
draught which she had composed for his father.

1013 (return) [ Three years and five months. Leo Diaconus in
Niebuhr. Byz p. 50—M.]

By his marriage with this impious woman, Romanus the younger left
two sons, Basil the Second and Constantine the Ninth, and two
daughters, Theophano and Anne. The eldest sister was given to
Otho the Second, emperor of the West; the younger became the wife
of Wolodomir, great duke and apostle of russia, and by the
marriage of her granddaughter with Henry the First, king of
France, the blood of the Macedonians, and perhaps of the
Arsacides, still flows in the veins of the Bourbon line. After
the death of her husband, the empress aspired to reign in the
name of her sons, the elder of whom was five, and the younger
only two, years of age; but she soon felt the instability of a
throne which was supported by a female who could not be esteemed,
and two infants who could not be feared. Theophano looked around
for a protector, and threw herself into the arms of the bravest
soldier; her heart was capacious; but the deformity of the new
favorite rendered it more than probable that interest was the
motive and excuse of her love. Nicephorus Phocus united, in the
popular opinion, the double merit of a hero and a saint. In the
former character, his qualifications were genuine and splendid:
the descendant of a race illustrious by their military exploits,
he had displayed in every station and in every province the
courage of a soldier and the conduct of a chief; and Nicephorus
was crowned with recent laurels, from the important conquest of
the Isle of Crete. His religion was of a more ambiguous cast; and
his hair-cloth, his fasts, his pious idiom, and his wish to
retire from the business of the world, were a convenient mask for
his dark and dangerous ambition. Yet he imposed on a holy
patriarch, by whose influence, and by a decree of the senate, he
was intrusted, during the minority of the young princes, with the
absolute and independent command of the Oriental armies. As soon
as he had secured the leaders and the troops, he boldly marched
to Constantinople, trampled on his enemies, avowed his
correspondence with the empress, and without degrading her sons,
assumed, with the title of Augustus, the preeminence of rank and
the plenitude of power. But his marriage with Theophano was
refused by the same patriarch who had placed the crown on his
head: by his second nuptials he incurred a year of canonical
penance; 1014 a bar of spiritual affinity was opposed to their
celebration; and some evasion and perjury were required to
silence the scruples of the clergy and people. The popularity of
the emperor was lost in the purple: in a reign of six years he
provoked the hatred of strangers and subjects: and the hypocrisy
and avarice of the first Nicephorus were revived in his
successor. Hypocrisy I shall never justify or palliate; but I
will dare to observe, that the odious vice of avarice is of all
others most hastily arraigned, and most unmercifully condemned.
In a private citizen, our judgment seldom expects an accurate
scrutiny into his fortune and expense; and in a steward of the
public treasure, frugality is always a virtue, and the increase
of taxes too often an indispensable duty. In the use of his
patrimony, the generous temper of Nicephorus had been proved; and
the revenue was strictly applied to the service of the state:
each spring the emperor marched in person against the Saracens;
and every Roman might compute the employment of his taxes in
triumphs, conquests, and the security of the Eastern barrier.

1014 (return) [ The canonical objection to the marriage was his
relation of Godfather sons. Leo Diac. p. 50.—M.]

1015 (return) [ He retook Antioch, and brought home as a trophy
the sword of “the most unholy and impious Mahomet.” Leo Diac. p.

Chapter XLVIII: Succession And Characters Of The Greek Emperors.—Part

Among the warriors who promoted his elevation, and served under
his standard, a noble and valiant Armenian had deserved and
obtained the most eminent rewards. The stature of John Zimisces
was below the ordinary standard: but this diminutive body was
endowed with strength, beauty, and the soul of a hero. By the
jealousy of the emperor’s brother, he was degraded from the
office of general of the East, to that of director of the posts,
and his murmurs were chastised with disgrace and exile. But
Zimisces was ranked among the numerous lovers of the empress: on
her intercession, he was permitted to reside at Chalcedon, in the
neighborhood of the capital: her bounty was repaid in his
clandestine and amorous visits to the palace; and Theophano
consented, with alacrity, to the death of an ugly and penurious
husband. Some bold and trusty conspirators were concealed in her
most private chambers: in the darkness of a winter night,
Zimisces, with his principal companions, embarked in a small
boat, traversed the Bosphorus, landed at the palace stairs, and
silently ascended a ladder of ropes, which was cast down by the
female attendants. Neither his own suspicions, nor the warnings
of his friends, nor the tardy aid of his brother Leo, nor the
fortress which he had erected in the palace, could protect
Nicephorus from a domestic foe, at whose voice every door was
open to the assassins. As he slept on a bear-skin on the ground,
he was roused by their noisy intrusion, and thirty daggers
glittered before his eyes. It is doubtful whether Zimisces
imbrued his hands in the blood of his sovereign; but he enjoyed
the inhuman spectacle of revenge. 1016 The murder was protracted
by insult and cruelty: and as soon as the head of Nicephorus was
shown from the window, the tumult was hushed, and the Armenian
was emperor of the East. On the day of his coronation, he was
stopped on the threshold of St. Sophia, by the intrepid
patriarch; who charged his conscience with the deed of treason
and blood; and required, as a sign of repentance, that he should
separate himself from his more criminal associate. This sally of
apostolic zeal was not offensive to the prince, since he could
neither love nor trust a woman who had repeatedly violated the
most sacred obligations; and Theophano, instead of sharing his
imperial fortune, was dismissed with ignominy from his bed and
palace. In their last interview, she displayed a frantic and
impotent rage; accused the ingratitude of her lover; assaulted,
with words and blows, her son Basil, as he stood silent and
submissive in the presence of a superior colleague; and avowed
her own prostitution in proclaiming the illegitimacy of his
birth. The public indignation was appeased by her exile, and the
punishment of the meaner accomplices: the death of an unpopular
prince was forgiven; and the guilt of Zimisces was forgotten in
the splendor of his virtues. Perhaps his profusion was less
useful to the state than the avarice of Nicephorus; but his
gentle and generous behavior delighted all who approached his
person; and it was only in the paths of victory that he trod in
the footsteps of his predecessor. The greatest part of his reign
was employed in the camp and the field: his personal valor and
activity were signalized on the Danube and the Tigris, the
ancient boundaries of the Roman world; and by his double triumph
over the Russians and the Saracens, he deserved the titles of
savior of the empire, and conqueror of the East. In his last
return from Syria, he observed that the most fruitful lands of
his new provinces were possessed by the eunuchs. “And is it for
them,” he exclaimed, with honest indignation, “that we have
fought and conquered? Is it for them that we shed our blood, and
exhaust the treasures of our people?” The complaint was reechoed
to the palace, and the death of Zimisces is strongly marked with
the suspicion of poison.

1016 (return) [ According to Leo Diaconus, Zimisces, after
ordering the wounded emperor to be dragged to his feet, and
heaping him with insult, to which the miserable man only replied
by invoking the name of the “mother of God,” with his own hand
plucked his beard, while his accomplices beat out his teeth with
the hilts of their swords, and then trampling him to the ground,
drove his sword into his skull. Leo Diac, in Niebuhr Byz. Hist. l
vii. c. 8. p. 88.—M.]

Under this usurpation, or regency, of twelve years, the two
lawful emperors, Basil and Constantine, had silently grown to the
age of manhood. Their tender years had been incapable of
dominion: the respectful modesty of their attendance and
salutation was due to the age and merit of their guardians; the
childless ambition of those guardians had no temptation to
violate their right of succession: their patrimony was ably and
faithfully administered; and the premature death of Zimisces was
a loss, rather than a benefit, to the sons of Romanus. Their want
of experience detained them twelve years longer the obscure and
voluntary pupils of a minister, who extended his reign by
persuading them to indulge the pleasures of youth, and to disdain
the labors of government. In this silken web, the weakness of
Constantine was forever entangled; but his elder brother felt the
impulse of genius and the desire of action; he frowned, and the
minister was no more. Basil was the acknowledged sovereign of
Constantinople and the provinces of Europe; but Asia was
oppressed by two veteran generals, Phocas and Sclerus, who,
alternately friends and enemies, subjects and rebels, maintained
their independence, and labored to emulate the example of
successful usurpation. Against these domestic enemies the son of
Romanus first drew his sword, and they trembled in the presence
of a lawful and high-spirited prince. The first, in the front of
battle, was thrown from his horse, by the stroke of poison, or an
arrow; the second, who had been twice loaded with chains, 1017
and twice invested with the purple, was desirous of ending in
peace the small remainder of his days. As the aged suppliant
approached the throne, with dim eyes and faltering steps, leaning
on his two attendants, the emperor exclaimed, in the insolence of
youth and power, “And is this the man who has so long been the
object of our terror?” After he had confirmed his own authority,
and the peace of the empire, the trophies of Nicephorus and
Zimisces would not suffer their royal pupil to sleep in the
palace. His long and frequent expeditions against the Saracens
were rather glorious than useful to the empire; but the final
destruction of the kingdom of Bulgaria appears, since the time of
Belisarius, the most important triumph of the Roman arms. Yet,
instead of applauding their victorious prince, his subjects
detested the rapacious and rigid avarice of Basil; and in the
imperfect narrative of his exploits, we can only discern the
courage, patience, and ferociousness of a soldier. A vicious
education, which could not subdue his spirit, had clouded his
mind; he was ignorant of every science; and the remembrance of
his learned and feeble grandsire might encourage his real or
affected contempt of laws and lawyers, of artists and arts. Of
such a character, in such an age, superstition took a firm and
lasting possession; after the first license of his youth, Basil
the Second devoted his life, in the palace and the camp, to the
penance of a hermit, wore the monastic habit under his robes and
armor, observed a vow of continence, and imposed on his appetites
a perpetual abstinence from wine and flesh. In the sixty-eighth
year of his age, his martial spirit urged him to embark in person
for a holy war against the Saracens of Sicily; he was prevented
by death, and Basil, surnamed the Slayer of the Bulgarians, was
dismissed from the world with the blessings of the clergy and the
curse of the people. After his decease, his brother Constantine
enjoyed, about three years, the power, or rather the pleasures,
of royalty; and his only care was the settlement of the
succession. He had enjoyed sixty-six years the title of Augustus;
and the reign of the two brothers is the longest, and most
obscure, of the Byzantine history.

1017 (return) [ Once by the caliph, once by his rival Phocas.
Compare De Beau l. p. 176.—M.]

A lineal succession of five emperors, in a period of one hundred
and sixty years, had attached the loyalty of the Greeks to the
Macedonian dynasty, which had been thrice respected by the
usurpers of their power. After the death of Constantine the
Ninth, the last male of the royal race, a new and broken scene
presents itself, and the accumulated years of twelve emperors do
not equal the space of his single reign. His elder brother had
preferred his private chastity to the public interest, and
Constantine himself had only three daughters; Eudocia, who took
the veil, and Zoe and Theodora, who were preserved till a mature
age in a state of ignorance and virginity. When their marriage
was discussed in the council of their dying father, the cold or
pious Theodora refused to give an heir to the empire, but her
sister Zoe presented herself a willing victim at the altar.
Romanus Argyrus, a patrician of a graceful person and fair
reputation, was chosen for her husband, and, on his declining
that honor, was informed, that blindness or death was the second
alternative. The motive of his reluctance was conjugal affection
but his faithful wife sacrificed her own happiness to his safety
and greatness; and her entrance into a monastery removed the only
bar to the Imperial nuptials. After the decease of Constantine,
the sceptre devolved to Romanus the Third; but his labors at home
and abroad were equally feeble and fruitless; and the mature age,
the forty-eight years of Zoe, were less favorable to the hopes of
pregnancy than to the indulgence of pleasure. Her favorite
chamberlain was a handsome Paphlagonian of the name of Michael,
whose first trade had been that of a money-changer; and Romanus,
either from gratitude or equity, connived at their criminal
intercourse, or accepted a slight assurance of their innocence.
But Zoe soon justified the Roman maxim, that every adulteress is
capable of poisoning her husband; and the death of Romanus was
instantly followed by the scandalous marriage and elevation of
Michael the Fourth. The expectations of Zoe were, however,
disappointed: instead of a vigorous and grateful lover, she had
placed in her bed a miserable wretch, whose health and reason
were impaired by epileptic fits, and whose conscience was
tormented by despair and remorse. The most skilful physicians of
the mind and body were summoned to his aid; and his hopes were
amused by frequent pilgrimages to the baths, and to the tombs of
the most popular saints; the monks applauded his penance, and,
except restitution, (but to whom should he have restored?)
Michael sought every method of expiating his guilt. While he
groaned and prayed in sackcloth and ashes, his brother, the
eunuch John, smiled at his remorse, and enjoyed the harvest of a
crime of which himself was the secret and most guilty author. His
administration was only the art of satiating his avarice, and Zoe
became a captive in the palace of her fathers, and in the hands
of her slaves. When he perceived the irretrievable decline of his
brother’s health, he introduced his nephew, another Michael, who
derived his surname of Calaphates from his father’s occupation in
the careening of vessels: at the command of the eunuch, Zoe
adopted for her son the son of a mechanic; and this fictitious
heir was invested with the title and purple of the Caesars, in
the presence of the senate and clergy. So feeble was the
character of Zoe, that she was oppressed by the liberty and power
which she recovered by the death of the Paphlagonian; and at the
end of four days, she placed the crown on the head of Michael the
Fifth, who had protested, with tears and oaths, that he should
ever reign the first and most obedient of her subjects.

The only act of his short reign was his base ingratitude to his
benefactors, the eunuch and the empress. The disgrace of the
former was pleasing to the public: but the murmurs, and at length
the clamors, of Constantinople deplored the exile of Zoe, the
daughter of so many emperors; her vices were forgotten, and
Michael was taught, that there is a period in which the patience
of the tamest slaves rises into fury and revenge. The citizens of
every degree assembled in a formidable tumult which lasted three
days; they besieged the palace, forced the gates, recalled their
mothers, Zoe from her prison, Theodora from her monastery, and
condemned the son of Calaphates to the loss of his eyes or of his
life. For the first time the Greeks beheld with surprise the two
royal sisters seated on the same throne, presiding in the senate,
and giving audience to the ambassadors of the nations. But the
singular union subsisted no more than two months; the two
sovereigns, their tempers, interests, and adherents, were
secretly hostile to each other; and as Theodora was still averse
to marriage, the indefatigable Zoe, at the age of sixty,
consented, for the public good, to sustain the embraces of a
third husband, and the censures of the Greek church. His name and
number were Constantine the Tenth, and the epithet of Monomachus,
the single combatant, must have been expressive of his valor and
victory in some public or private quarrel. But his health was
broken by the tortures of the gout, and his dissolute reign was
spent in the alternative of sickness and pleasure. A fair and
noble widow had accompanied Constantine in his exile to the Isle
of Lesbos, and Sclerena gloried in the appellation of his
mistress. After his marriage and elevation, she was invested with
the title and pomp of Augusta, and occupied a contiguous
apartment in the palace. The lawful consort (such was the
delicacy or corruption of Zoe) consented to this strange and
scandalous partition; and the emperor appeared in public between
his wife and his concubine. He survived them both; but the last
measures of Constantine to change the order of succession were
prevented by the more vigilant friends of Theodora; and after his
decease, she resumed, with the general consent, the possession of
her inheritance. In her name, and by the influence of four
eunuchs, the Eastern world was peaceably governed about nineteen
months; and as they wished to prolong their dominion, they
persuaded the aged princess to nominate for her successor Michael
the Sixth. The surname of Stratioticus declares his military
profession; but the crazy and decrepit veteran could only see
with the eyes, and execute with the hands, of his ministers.
Whilst he ascended the throne, Theodora sunk into the grave; the
last of the Macedonian or Basilian dynasty. I have hastily
reviewed, and gladly dismiss, this shameful and destructive
period of twenty-eight years, in which the Greeks, degraded below
the common level of servitude, were transferred like a herd of
cattle by the choice or caprice of two impotent females.

From this night of slavery, a ray of freedom, or at least of
spirit, begins to emerge: the Greeks either preserved or revived
the use of surnames, which perpetuate the fame of hereditary
virtue: and we now discern the rise, succession, and alliances of
the last dynasties of Constantinople and Trebizond. The Comneni,
who upheld for a while the fate of the sinking empire, assumed
the honor of a Roman origin: but the family had been long since
transported from Italy to Asia. Their patrimonial estate was
situate in the district of Castamona, in the neighborhood of the
Euxine; and one of their chiefs, who had already entered the
paths of ambition, revisited with affection, perhaps with regret,
the modest though honorable dwelling of his fathers. The first of
their line was the illustrious Manuel, who in the reign of the
second Basil, contributed by war and treaty to appease the
troubles of the East: he left, in a tender age, two sons, Isaac
and John, whom, with the consciousness of desert, he bequeathed
to the gratitude and favor of his sovereign. The noble youths
were carefully trained in the learning of the monastery, the arts
of the palace, and the exercises of the camp: and from the
domestic service of the guards, they were rapidly promoted to the
command of provinces and armies. Their fraternal union doubled
the force and reputation of the Comneni, and their ancient
nobility was illustrated by the marriage of the two brothers,
with a captive princess of Bulgaria, and the daughter of a
patrician, who had obtained the name of Charon from the number of
enemies whom he had sent to the infernal shades. The soldiers had
served with reluctant loyalty a series of effeminate masters; the
elevation of Michael the Sixth was a personal insult to the more
deserving generals; and their discontent was inflamed by the
parsimony of the emperor and the insolence of the eunuchs. They
secretly assembled in the sanctuary of St. Sophia, and the votes
of the military synod would have been unanimous in favor of the
old and valiant Catacalon, if the patriotism or modesty of the
veteran had not suggested the importance of birth as well as
merit in the choice of a sovereign. Isaac Comnenus was approved
by general consent, and the associates separated without delay to
meet in the plains of Phrygia at the head of their respective
squadrons and detachments. The cause of Michael was defended in a
single battle by the mercenaries of the Imperial guard, who were
aliens to the public interest, and animated only by a principle
of honor and gratitude. After their defeat, the fears of the
emperor solicited a treaty, which was almost accepted by the
moderation of the Comnenian. But the former was betrayed by his
ambassadors, and the latter was prevented by his friends. The
solitary Michael submitted to the voice of the people; the
patriarch annulled their oath of allegiance; and as he shaved the
head of the royal monk, congratulated his beneficial exchange of
temporal royalty for the kingdom of heaven; an exchange, however,
which the priest, on his own account, would probably have
declined. By the hands of the same patriarch, Isaac Comnenus was
solemnly crowned; the sword which he inscribed on his coins might
be an offensive symbol, if it implied his title by conquest; but
this sword would have been drawn against the foreign and domestic
enemies of the state. The decline of his health and vigor
suspended the operation of active virtue; and the prospect of
approaching death determined him to interpose some moments
between life and eternity. But instead of leaving the empire as
the marriage portion of his daughter, his reason and inclination
concurred in the preference of his brother John, a soldier, a
patriot, and the father of five sons, the future pillars of an
hereditary succession. His first modest reluctance might be the
natural dictates of discretion and tenderness, but his obstinate
and successful perseverance, however it may dazzle with the show
of virtue, must be censured as a criminal desertion of his duty,
and a rare offence against his family and country. The purple
which he had refused was accepted by Constantine Ducas, a friend
of the Comnenian house, and whose noble birth was adorned with
the experience and reputation of civil policy. In the monastic
habit, Isaac recovered his health, and survived two years his
voluntary abdication. At the command of his abbot, he observed
the rule of St. Basil, and executed the most servile offices of
the convent: but his latent vanity was gratified by the frequent
and respectful visits of the reigning monarch, who revered in his
person the character of a benefactor and a saint. If Constantine
the Eleventh were indeed the subject most worthy of empire, we
must pity the debasement of the age and nation in which he was
chosen. In the labor of puerile declamations he sought, without
obtaining, the crown of eloquence, more precious, in his opinion,
than that of Rome; and in the subordinate functions of a judge,
he forgot the duties of a sovereign and a warrior. Far from
imitating the patriotic indifference of the authors of his
greatness, Ducas was anxious only to secure, at the expense of
the republic, the power and prosperity of his children. His three
sons, Michael the Seventh, Andronicus the First, and Constantine
the Twelfth, were invested, in a tender age, with the equal title
of Augustus; and the succession was speedily opened by their
father’s death. His widow, Eudocia, was intrusted with the
administration; but experience had taught the jealousy of the
dying monarch to protect his sons from the danger of her second
nuptials; and her solemn engagement, attested by the principal
senators, was deposited in the hands of the patriarch. Before the
end of seven months, the wants of Eudocia, or those of the state,
called aloud for the male virtues of a soldier; and her heart had
already chosen Romanus Diogenes, whom she raised from the
scaffold to the throne. The discovery of a treasonable attempt
had exposed him to the severity of the laws: his beauty and valor
absolved him in the eyes of the empress; and Romanus, from a mild
exile, was recalled on the second day to the command of the
Oriental armies.

Her royal choice was yet unknown to the public; and the promise
which would have betrayed her falsehood and levity, was stolen by
a dexterous emissary from the ambition of the patriarch. Xiphilin
at first alleged the sanctity of oaths, and the sacred nature of
a trust; but a whisper, that his brother was the future emperor,
relaxed his scruples, and forced him to confess that the public
safety was the supreme law. He resigned the important paper; and
when his hopes were confounded by the nomination of Romanus, he
could no longer regain his security, retract his declarations,
nor oppose the second nuptials of the empress. Yet a murmur was
heard in the palace; and the Barbarian guards had raised their
battle-axes in the cause of the house of Lucas, till the young
princes were soothed by the tears of their mother and the solemn
assurances of the fidelity of their guardian, who filled the
Imperial station with dignity and honor. Hereafter I shall relate
his valiant, but unsuccessful, efforts to resist the progress of
the Turks. His defeat and captivity inflicted a deadly wound on
the Byzantine monarchy of the East; and after he was released
from the chains of the sultan, he vainly sought his wife and his
subjects. His wife had been thrust into a monastery, and the
subjects of Romanus had embraced the rigid maxim of the civil
law, that a prisoner in the hands of the enemy is deprived, as by
the stroke of death, of all the public and private rights of a
citizen. In the general consternation, the Caesar John asserted
the indefeasible right of his three nephews: Constantinople
listened to his voice: and the Turkish captive was proclaimed in
the capital, and received on the frontier, as an enemy of the
republic. Romanus was not more fortunate in domestic than in
foreign war: the loss of two battles compelled him to yield, on
the assurance of fair and honorable treatment; but his enemies
were devoid of faith or humanity; and, after the cruel extinction
of his sight, his wounds were left to bleed and corrupt, till in
a few days he was relieved from a state of misery. Under the
triple reign of the house of Ducas, the two younger brothers were
reduced to the vain honors of the purple; but the eldest, the
pusillanimous Michael, was incapable of sustaining the Roman
sceptre; and his surname of Parapinaces denotes the reproach
which he shared with an avaricious favorite, who enhanced the
price, and diminished the measure, of wheat. In the school of
Psellus, and after the example of his mother, the son of Eudocia
made some proficiency in philosophy and rhetoric; but his
character was degraded, rather than ennobled, by the virtues of a
monk and the learning of a sophist. Strong in the contempt of
their sovereign and their own esteem, two generals, at the head
of the European and Asiatic legions, assumed the purple at
Adrianople and Nice. Their revolt was in the same months; they
bore the same name of Nicephorus; but the two candidates were
distinguished by the surnames of Bryennius and Botaniates; the
former in the maturity of wisdom and courage, the latter
conspicuous only by the memory of his past exploits. While
Botaniates advanced with cautious and dilatory steps, his active
competitor stood in arms before the gates of Constantinople. The
name of Bryennius was illustrious; his cause was popular; but his
licentious troops could not be restrained from burning and
pillaging a suburb; and the people, who would have hailed the
rebel, rejected and repulsed the incendiary of his country. This
change of the public opinion was favorable to Botaniates, who at
length, with an army of Turks, approached the shores of
Chalcedon. A formal invitation, in the name of the patriarch, the
synod, and the senate, was circulated through the streets of
Constantinople; and the general assembly, in the dome of St.
Sophia, debated, with order and calmness, on the choice of their
sovereign. The guards of Michael would have dispersed this
unarmed multitude; but the feeble emperor, applauding his own
moderation and clemency, resigned the ensigns of royalty, and was
rewarded with the monastic habit, and the title of Archbishop of
Ephesus. He left a son, a Constantine, born and educated in the
purple; and a daughter of the house of Ducas illustrated the
blood, and confirmed the succession, of the Comnenian dynasty.

John Comnenus, the brother of the emperor Isaac, survived in
peace and dignity his generous refusal of the sceptre. By his
wife Anne, a woman of masculine spirit and a policy, he left
eight children: the three daughters multiplied the Comnenian
alliance with the noblest of the Greeks: of the five sons, Manuel
was stopped by a premature death; Isaac and Alexius restored the
Imperial greatness of their house, which was enjoyed without toil
or danger by the two younger brethren, Adrian and Nicephorus.
Alexius, the third and most illustrious of the brothers was
endowed by nature with the choicest gifts both of mind and body:
they were cultivated by a liberal education, and exercised in the
school of obedience and adversity. The youth was dismissed from
the perils of the Turkish war, by the paternal care of the
emperor Romanus: but the mother of the Comneni, with her aspiring
face, was accused of treason, and banished, by the sons of Ducas,
to an island in the Propontis. The two brothers soon emerged into
favor and action, fought by each other’s side against the rebels
and Barbarians, and adhered to the emperor Michael, till he was
deserted by the world and by himself. In his first interview with
Botaniates, “Prince,” said Alexius with a noble frankness, “my
duty rendered me your enemy; the decrees of God and of the people
have made me your subject. Judge of my future loyalty by my past
opposition.” The successor of Michael entertained him with esteem
and confidence: his valor was employed against three rebels, who
disturbed the peace of the empire, or at least of the emperors.
Ursel, Bryennius, and Basilacius, were formidable by their
numerous forces and military fame: they were successively
vanquished in the field, and led in chains to the foot of the
throne; and whatever treatment they might receive from a timid
and cruel court, they applauded the clemency, as well as the
courage, of their conqueror. But the loyalty of the Comneni was
soon tainted by fear and suspicion; nor is it easy to settle
between a subject and a despot, the debt of gratitude, which the
former is tempted to claim by a revolt, and the latter to
discharge by an executioner. The refusal of Alexius to march
against a fourth rebel, the husband of his sister, destroyed the
merit or memory of his past services: the favorites of Botaniates
provoked the ambition which they apprehended and accused; and the
retreat of the two brothers might be justified by the defence of
their life and liberty. The women of the family were deposited in
a sanctuary, respected by tyrants: the men, mounted on horseback,
sallied from the city, and erected the standard of civil war. The
soldiers who had been gradually assembled in the capital and the
neighborhood, were devoted to the cause of a victorious and
injured leader: the ties of common interest and domestic alliance
secured the attachment of the house of Ducas; and the generous
dispute of the Comneni was terminated by the decisive resolution
of Isaac, who was the first to invest his younger brother with
the name and ensigns of royalty. They returned to Constantinople,
to threaten rather than besiege that impregnable fortress; but
the fidelity of the guards was corrupted; a gate was surprised,
and the fleet was occupied by the active courage of George
Palaeologus, who fought against his father, without foreseeing
that he labored for his posterity. Alexius ascended the throne;
and his aged competitor disappeared in a monastery. An army of
various nations was gratified with the pillage of the city; but
the public disorders were expiated by the tears and fasts of the
Comneni, who submitted to every penance compatible with the
possession of the empire. The life of the emperor Alexius has
been delineated by a favorite daughter, who was inspired by a
tender regard for his person and a laudable zeal to perpetuate
his virtues. Conscious of the just suspicions of her readers, the
princess Anna Comnena repeatedly protests, that, besides her
personal knowledge, she had searched the discourses and writings
of the most respectable veterans: and after an interval of thirty
years, forgotten by, and forgetful of, the world, her mournful
solitude was inaccessible to hope and fear; and that truth, the
naked perfect truth, was more dear and sacred than the memory of
her parent. Yet, instead of the simplicity of style and narrative
which wins our belief, an elaborate affectation of rhetoric and
science betrays in every page the vanity of a female author. The
genuine character of Alexius is lost in a vague constellation of
virtues; and the perpetual strain of panegyric and apology
awakens our jealousy, to question the veracity of the historian
and the merit of the hero. We cannot, however, refuse her
judicious and important remark, that the disorders of the times
were the misfortune and the glory of Alexius; and that every
calamity which can afflict a declining empire was accumulated on
his reign by the justice of Heaven and the vices of his
predecessors. In the East, the victorious Turks had spread, from
Persia to the Hellespont, the reign of the Koran and the
Crescent: the West was invaded by the adventurous valor of the
Normans; and, in the moments of peace, the Danube poured forth
new swarms, who had gained, in the science of war, what they had
lost in the ferociousness of manners. The sea was not less
hostile than the land; and while the frontiers were assaulted by
an open enemy, the palace was distracted with secret treason and
conspiracy. On a sudden, the banner of the Cross was displayed by
the Latins; Europe was precipitated on Asia; and Constantinople
had almost been swept away by this impetuous deluge. In the
tempest, Alexius steered the Imperial vessel with dexterity and
courage. At the head of his armies, he was bold in action,
skilful in stratagem, patient of fatigue, ready to improve his
advantages, and rising from his defeats with inexhaustible vigor.
The discipline of the camp was revived, and a new generation of
men and soldiers was created by the example and precepts of their
leader. In his intercourse with the Latins, Alexius was patient
and artful: his discerning eye pervaded the new system of an
unknown world and I shall hereafter describe the superior policy
with which he balanced the interests and passions of the
champions of the first crusade. In a long reign of thirty-seven
years, he subdued and pardoned the envy of his equals: the laws
of public and private order were restored: the arts of wealth and
science were cultivated: the limits of the empire were enlarged
in Europe and Asia; and the Comnenian sceptre was transmitted to
his children of the third and fourth generation. Yet the
difficulties of the times betrayed some defects in his character;
and have exposed his memory to some just or ungenerous reproach.
The reader may possibly smile at the lavish praise which his
daughter so often bestows on a flying hero: the weakness or
prudence of his situation might be mistaken for a want of
personal courage; and his political arts are branded by the
Latins with the names of deceit and dissimulation. The increase
of the male and female branches of his family adorned the throne,
and secured the succession; but their princely luxury and pride
offended the patricians, exhausted the revenue, and insulted the
misery of the people. Anna is a faithful witness that his
happiness was destroyed, and his health was broken, by the cares
of a public life; the patience of Constantinople was fatigued by
the length and severity of his reign; and before Alexius expired,
he had lost the love and reverence of his subjects. The clergy
could not forgive his application of the sacred riches to the
defence of the state; but they applauded his theological learning
and ardent zeal for the orthodox faith, which he defended with
his tongue, his pen, and his sword. His character was degraded by
the superstition of the Greeks; and the same inconsistent
principle of human nature enjoined the emperor to found a
hospital for the poor and infirm, and to direct the execution of
a heretic, who was burned alive in the square of St. Sophia. Even
the sincerity of his moral and religious virtues was suspected by
the persons who had passed their lives in his familiar
confidence. In his last hours, when he was pressed by his wife
Irene to alter the succession, he raised his head, and breathed a
pious ejaculation on the vanity of this world. The indignant
reply of the empress may be inscribed as an epitaph on his tomb,
“You die, as you have lived—A Hypocrite!”

It was the wish of Irene to supplant the eldest of her surviving
sons, in favor of her daughter the princess Anne whose philosophy
would not have refused the weight of a diadem. But the order of
male succession was asserted by the friends of their country; the
lawful heir drew the royal signet from the finger of his
insensible or conscious father and the empire obeyed the master
of the palace. Anna Comnena was stimulated by ambition and
revenge to conspire against the life of her brother, and when the
design was prevented by the fears or scruples of her husband, she
passionately exclaimed that nature had mistaken the two sexes,
and had endowed Bryennius with the soul of a woman. The two sons
of Alexius, John and Isaac, maintained the fraternal concord, the
hereditary virtue of their race, and the younger brother was
content with the title of Sebastocrator, which approached the
dignity, without sharing the power, of the emperor. In the same
person the claims of primogeniture and merit were fortunately
united; his swarthy complexion, harsh features, and diminutive
stature, had suggested the ironical surname of Calo-Johannes, or
John the Handsome, which his grateful subjects more seriously
applied to the beauties of his mind. After the discovery of her
treason, the life and fortune of Anne were justly forfeited to
the laws. Her life was spared by the clemency of the emperor; but
he visited the pomp and treasures of her palace, and bestowed the
rich confiscation on the most deserving of his friends. That
respectable friend Axuch, a slave of Turkish extraction, presumed
to decline the gift, and to intercede for the criminal: his
generous master applauded and imitated the virtue of his
favorite, and the reproach or complaint of an injured brother was
the only chastisement of the guilty princess. After this example
of clemency, the remainder of his reign was never disturbed by
conspiracy or rebellion: feared by his nobles, beloved by his
people, John was never reduced to the painful necessity of
punishing, or even of pardoning, his personal enemies. During his
government of twenty-five years, the penalty of death was
abolished in the Roman empire, a law of mercy most delightful to
the humane theorist, but of which the practice, in a large and
vicious community, is seldom consistent with the public safety.
Severe to himself, indulgent to others, chaste, frugal,
abstemious, the philosophic Marcus would not have disdained the
artless virtues of his successor, derived from his heart, and not
borrowed from the schools. He despised and moderated the stately
magnificence of the Byzantine court, so oppressive to the people,
so contemptible to the eye of reason. Under such a prince,
innocence had nothing to fear, and merit had every thing to hope;
and, without assuming the tyrannic office of a censor, he
introduced a gradual though visible reformation in the public and
private manners of Constantinople. The only defect of this
accomplished character was the frailty of noble minds, the love
of arms and military glory. Yet the frequent expeditions of John
the Handsome may be justified, at least in their principle, by
the necessity of repelling the Turks from the Hellespont and the
Bosphorus. The sultan of Iconium was confined to his capital, the
Barbarians were driven to the mountains, and the maritime
provinces of Asia enjoyed the transient blessings of their
deliverance. From Constantinople to Antioch and Aleppo, he
repeatedly marched at the head of a victorious army, and in the
sieges and battles of this holy war, his Latin allies were
astonished by the superior spirit and prowess of a Greek. As he
began to indulge the ambitious hope of restoring the ancient
limits of the empire, as he revolved in his mind, the Euphrates
and Tigris, the dominion of Syria, and the conquest of Jerusalem,
the thread of his life and of the public felicity was broken by a
singular accident. He hunted the wild boar in the valley of
Anazarbus, and had fixed his javelin in the body of the furious
animal; but in the struggle a poisoned arrow dropped from his
quiver, and a slight wound in his hand, which produced a
mortification, was fatal to the best and greatest of the
Comnenian princes.

Chapter XLVIII: Succession And Characters Of The Greek Emperors.—Part

A premature death had swept away the two eldest sons of John the
Handsome; of the two survivors, Isaac and Manuel, his judgment or
affection preferred the younger; and the choice of their dying
prince was ratified by the soldiers, who had applauded the valor
of his favorite in the Turkish war. The faithful Axuch hastened
to the capital, secured the person of Isaac in honorable
confinement, and purchased, with a gift of two hundred pounds of
silver, the leading ecclesiastics of St. Sophia, who possessed a
decisive voice in the consecration of an emperor. With his
veteran and affectionate troops, Manuel soon visited
Constantinople; his brother acquiesced in the title of
Sebastocrator; his subjects admired the lofty stature and martial
graces of their new sovereign, and listened with credulity to the
flattering promise, that he blended the wisdom of age with the
activity and vigor of youth. By the experience of his government,
they were taught, that he emulated the spirit, and shared the
talents, of his father whose social virtues were buried in the
grave. A reign of thirty seven years is filled by a perpetual
though various warfare against the Turks, the Christians, and the
hordes of the wilderness beyond the Danube. The arms of Manuel
were exercised on Mount Taurus, in the plains of Hungary, on the
coast of Italy and Egypt, and on the seas of Sicily and Greece:
the influence of his negotiations extended from Jerusalem to Rome
and Russia; and the Byzantine monarchy, for a while, became an
object of respect or terror to the powers of Asia and Europe.
Educated in the silk and purple of the East, Manuel possessed the
iron temper of a soldier, which cannot easily be paralleled,
except in the lives of Richard the First of England, and of
Charles the Twelfth of Sweden. Such was his strength and exercise
in arms, that Raymond, surnamed the Hercules of Antioch, was
incapable of wielding the lance and buckler of the Greek emperor.
In a famous tournament, he entered the lists on a fiery courser,
and overturned in his first career two of the stoutest of the
Italian knights. The first in the charge, the last in the
retreat, his friends and his enemies alike trembled, the former
for his safety, and the latter for their own. After posting an
ambuscade in a wood, he rode forwards in search of some perilous
adventure, accompanied only by his brother and the faithful
Axuch, who refused to desert their sovereign. Eighteen horsemen,
after a short combat, fled before them: but the numbers of the
enemy increased; the march of the reenforcement was tardy and
fearful, and Manuel, without receiving a wound, cut his way
through a squadron of five hundred Turks. In a battle against the
Hungarians, impatient of the slowness of his troops, he snatched
a standard from the head of the column, and was the first, almost
alone, who passed a bridge that separated him from the enemy. In
the same country, after transporting his army beyond the Save, he
sent back the boats, with an order under pain of death, to their
commander, that he should leave him to conquer or die on that
hostile land. In the siege of Corfu, towing after him a captive
galley, the emperor stood aloft on the poop, opposing against the
volleys of darts and stones, a large buckler and a flowing sail;
nor could he have escaped inevitable death, had not the Sicilian
admiral enjoined his archers to respect the person of a hero. In
one day, he is said to have slain above forty of the Barbarians
with his own hand; he returned to the camp, dragging along four
Turkish prisoners, whom he had tied to the rings of his saddle:
he was ever the foremost to provoke or to accept a single combat;
and the gigantic champions, who encountered his arm, were
transpierced by the lance, or cut asunder by the sword, of the
invincible Manuel. The story of his exploits, which appear as a
model or a copy of the romances of chivalry, may induce a
reasonable suspicion of the veracity of the Greeks: I will not,
to vindicate their credit, endanger my own: yet I may observe,
that, in the long series of their annals, Manuel is the only
prince who has been the subject of similar exaggeration. With the
valor of a soldier, he did not unite the skill or prudence of a
general; his victories were not productive of any permanent or
useful conquest; and his Turkish laurels were blasted in his last
unfortunate campaign, in which he lost his army in the mountains
of Pisidia, and owed his deliverance to the generosity of the
sultan. But the most singular feature in the character of Manuel,
is the contrast and vicissitude of labor and sloth, of hardiness
and effeminacy. In war he seemed ignorant of peace, in peace he
appeared incapable of war. In the field he slept in the sun or in
the snow, tired in the longest marches the strength of his men
and horses, and shared with a smile the abstinence or diet of the
camp. No sooner did he return to Constantinople, than he resigned
himself to the arts and pleasures of a life of luxury: the
expense of his dress, his table, and his palace, surpassed the
measure of his predecessors, and whole summer days were idly
wasted in the delicious isles of the Propontis, in the incestuous
love of his niece Theodora. The double cost of a warlike and
dissolute prince exhausted the revenue, and multiplied the taxes;
and Manuel, in the distress of his last Turkish campaign, endured
a bitter reproach from the mouth of a desperate soldier. As he
quenched his thirst, he complained that the water of a fountain
was mingled with Christian blood. “It is not the first time,”
exclaimed a voice from the crowd, “that you have drank, O
emperor, the blood of your Christian subjects.” Manuel Comnenus
was twice married, to the virtuous Bertha or Irene of Germany,
and to the beauteous Maria, a French or Latin princess of
Antioch. The only daughter of his first wife was destined for
Bela, a Hungarian prince, who was educated at Constantinople
under the name of Alexius; and the consummation of their nuptials
might have transferred the Roman sceptre to a race of free and
warlike Barbarians. But as soon as Maria of Antioch had given a
son and heir to the empire, the presumptive rights of Bela were
abolished, and he was deprived of his promised bride; but the
Hungarian prince resumed his name and the kingdom of his fathers,
and displayed such virtues as might excite the regret and envy of
the Greeks. The son of Maria was named Alexius; and at the age of
ten years he ascended the Byzantine throne, after his father’s
decease had closed the glories of the Comnenian line.

The fraternal concord of the two sons of the great Alexius had
been sometimes clouded by an opposition of interest and passion.
By ambition, Isaac the Sebastocrator was excited to flight and
rebellion, from whence he was reclaimed by the firmness and
clemency of John the Handsome. The errors of Isaac, the father of
the emperors of Trebizond, were short and venial; but John, the
elder of his sons, renounced forever his religion. Provoked by a
real or imaginary insult of his uncle, he escaped from the Roman
to the Turkish camp: his apostasy was rewarded with the sultan’s
daughter, the title of Chelebi, or noble, and the inheritance of
a princely estate; and in the fifteenth century, Mahomet the
Second boasted of his Imperial descent from the Comnenian family.
Andronicus, the younger brother of John, son of Isaac, and
grandson of Alexius Comnenus, is one of the most conspicuous
characters of the age; and his genuine adventures might form the
subject of a very singular romance. To justify the choice of
three ladies of royal birth, it is incumbent on me to observe,
that their fortunate lover was cast in the best proportions of
strength and beauty; and that the want of the softer graces was
supplied by a manly countenance, a lofty stature, athletic
muscles, and the air and deportment of a soldier. The
preservation, in his old age, of health and vigor, was the reward
of temperance and exercise. A piece of bread and a draught of
water was often his sole and evening repast; and if he tasted of
a wild boar or a stag, which he had roasted with his own hands,
it was the well-earned fruit of a laborious chase. Dexterous in
arms, he was ignorant of fear; his persuasive eloquence could
bend to every situation and character of life, his style, though
not his practice, was fashioned by the example of St. Paul; and,
in every deed of mischief, he had a heart to resolve, a head to
contrive, and a hand to execute. In his youth, after the death of
the emperor John, he followed the retreat of the Roman army; but,
in the march through Asia Minor, design or accident tempted him
to wander in the mountains: the hunter was encompassed by the
Turkish huntsmen, and he remained some time a reluctant or
willing captive in the power of the sultan. His virtues and vices
recommended him to the favor of his cousin: he shared the perils
and the pleasures of Manuel; and while the emperor lived in
public incest with his niece Theodora, the affections of her
sister Eudocia were seduced and enjoyed by Andronicus. Above the
decencies of her sex and rank, she gloried in the name of his
concubine; and both the palace and the camp could witness that
she slept, or watched, in the arms of her lover. She accompanied
him to his military command of Cilicia, the first scene of his
valor and imprudence. He pressed, with active ardor, the siege of
Mopsuestia: the day was employed in the boldest attacks; but the
night was wasted in song and dance; and a band of Greek comedians
formed the choicest part of his retinue. Andronicus was surprised
by the sally of a vigilant foe; but, while his troops fled in
disorder, his invincible lance transpierced the thickest ranks of
the Armenians. On his return to the Imperial camp in Macedonia,
he was received by Manuel with public smiles and a private
reproof; but the duchies of Naissus, Braniseba, and Castoria,
were the reward or consolation of the unsuccessful general.
Eudocia still attended his motions: at midnight, their tent was
suddenly attacked by her angry brothers, impatient to expiate her
infamy in his blood: his daring spirit refused her advice, and
the disguise of a female habit; and, boldly starting from his
couch, he drew his sword, and cut his way through the numerous
assassins. It was here that he first betrayed his ingratitude and
treachery: he engaged in a treasonable correspondence with the
king of Hungary and the German emperor; approached the royal tent
at a suspicious hour with a drawn sword, and under the mask of a
Latin soldier, avowed an intention of revenge against a mortal
foe; and imprudently praised the fleetness of his horse as an
instrument of flight and safety. The monarch dissembled his
suspicions; but, after the close of the campaign, Andronicus was
arrested and strictly confined in a tower of the palace of

In this prison he was left about twelve years; a most painful
restraint, from which the thirst of action and pleasure
perpetually urged him to escape. Alone and pensive, he perceived
some broken bricks in a corner of the chamber, and gradually
widened the passage, till he had explored a dark and forgotten
recess. Into this hole he conveyed himself, and the remains of
his provisions, replacing the bricks in their former position,
and erasing with care the footsteps of his retreat. At the hour
of the customary visit, his guards were amazed by the silence and
solitude of the prison, and reported, with shame and fear, his
incomprehensible flight. The gates of the palace and city were
instantly shut: the strictest orders were despatched into the
provinces, for the recovery of the fugitive; and his wife, on the
suspicion of a pious act, was basely imprisoned in the same
tower. At the dead of night she beheld a spectre; she recognized
her husband: they shared their provisions; and a son was the
fruit of these stolen interviews, which alleviated the
tediousness of their confinement. In the custody of a woman, the
vigilance of the keepers was insensibly relaxed; and the captive
had accomplished his real escape, when he was discovered, brought
back to Constantinople, and loaded with a double chain. At length
he found the moment, and the means, of his deliverance. A boy,
his domestic servant, intoxicated the guards, and obtained in wax
the impression of the keys. By the diligence of his friends, a
similar key, with a bundle of ropes, was introduced into the
prison, in the bottom of a hogshead. Andronicus employed, with
industry and courage, the instruments of his safety, unlocked the
doors, descended from the tower, concealed himself all day among
the bushes, and scaled in the night the garden-wall of the
palace. A boat was stationed for his reception: he visited his
own house, embraced his children, cast away his chain, mounted a
fleet horse, and directed his rapid course towards the banks of
the Danube. At Anchialus in Thrace, an intrepid friend supplied
him with horses and money: he passed the river, traversed with
speed the desert of Moldavia and the Carpathian hills, and had
almost reached the town of Halicz, in the Polish Russia, when he
was intercepted by a party of Walachians, who resolved to convey
their important captive to Constantinople. His presence of mind
again extricated him from danger. Under the pretence of sickness,
he dismounted in the night, and was allowed to step aside from
the troop: he planted in the ground his long staff, clothed it
with his cap and upper garment; and, stealing into the wood, left
a phantom to amuse, for some time, the eyes of the Walachians.
From Halicz he was honorably conducted to Kiow, the residence of
the great duke: the subtle Greek soon obtained the esteem and
confidence of Ieroslaus; his character could assume the manners
of every climate; and the Barbarians applauded his strength and
courage in the chase of the elks and bears of the forest. In this
northern region he deserved the forgiveness of Manuel, who
solicited the Russian prince to join his arms in the invasion of
Hungary. The influence of Andronicus achieved this important
service: his private treaty was signed with a promise of fidelity
on one side, and of oblivion on the other; and he marched, at the
head of the Russian cavalry, from the Borysthenes to the Danube.
In his resentment Manuel had ever sympathized with the martial
and dissolute character of his cousin; and his free pardon was
sealed in the assault of Zemlin, in which he was second, and
second only, to the valor of the emperor.

No sooner was the exile restored to freedom and his country, than
his ambition revived, at first to his own, and at length to the
public, misfortune. A daughter of Manuel was a feeble bar to the
succession of the more deserving males of the Comnenian blood;
her future marriage with the prince of Hungary was repugnant to
the hopes or prejudices of the princes and nobles. But when an
oath of allegiance was required to the presumptive heir,
Andronicus alone asserted the honor of the Roman name, declined
the unlawful engagement, and boldly protested against the
adoption of a stranger. His patriotism was offensive to the
emperor, but he spoke the sentiments of the people, and was
removed from the royal presence by an honorable banishment, a
second command of the Cilician frontier, with the absolute
disposal of the revenues of Cyprus. In this station the Armenians
again exercised his courage and exposed his negligence; and the
same rebel, who baffled all his operations, was unhorsed, and
almost slain by the vigor of his lance. But Andronicus soon
discovered a more easy and pleasing conquest, the beautiful
Philippa, sister of the empress Maria, and daughter of Raymond of
Poitou, the Latin prince of Antioch. For her sake he deserted his
station, and wasted the summer in balls and tournaments: to his
love she sacrificed her innocence, her reputation, and the offer
of an advantageous marriage. But the resentment of Manuel for
this domestic affront interrupted his pleasures: Andronicus left
the indiscreet princess to weep and to repent; and, with a band
of desperate adventurers, undertook the pilgrimage of Jerusalem.
His birth, his martial renown, and professions of zeal, announced
him as the champion of the Cross: he soon captivated both the
clergy and the king; and the Greek prince was invested with the
lordship of Berytus, on the coast of Phoenicia.

In his neighborhood resided a young and handsome queen, of his
own nation and family, great-granddaughter of the emperor Alexis,
and widow of Baldwin the Third, king of Jerusalem. She visited
and loved her kinsman. Theodora was the third victim of his
amorous seduction; and her shame was more public and scandalous
than that of her predecessors. The emperor still thirsted for
revenge; and his subjects and allies of the Syrian frontier were
repeatedly pressed to seize the person, and put out the eyes, of
the fugitive. In Palestine he was no longer safe; but the tender
Theodora revealed his danger, and accompanied his flight. The
queen of Jerusalem was exposed to the East, his obsequious
concubine; and two illegitimate children were the living
monuments of her weakness. Damascus was his first refuge; and, in
the characters of the great Noureddin and his servant Saladin,
the superstitious Greek might learn to revere the virtues of the
Mussulmans. As the friend of Noureddin he visited, most probably,
Bagdad, and the courts of Persia; and, after a long circuit round
the Caspian Sea and the mountains of Georgia, he finally settled
among the Turks of Asia Minor, the hereditary enemies of his
country. The sultan of Colonia afforded a hospitable retreat to
Andronicus, his mistress, and his band of outlaws: the debt of
gratitude was paid by frequent inroads in the Roman province of
Trebizond; and he seldom returned without an ample harvest of
spoil and of Christian captives. In the story of his adventures,
he was fond of comparing himself to David, who escaped, by a long
exile, the snares of the wicked. But the royal prophet (he
presumed to add) was content to lurk on the borders of Judaea, to
slay an Amalekite, and to threaten, in his miserable state, the
life of the avaricious Nabal. The excursions of the Comnenian
prince had a wider range; and he had spread over the Eastern
world the glory of his name and religion.

By a sentence of the Greek church, the licentious rover had been
separated from the faithful; but even this excommunication may
prove, that he never abjured the profession of Chistianity.

His vigilance had eluded or repelled the open and secret
persecution of the emperor; but he was at length insnared by the
captivity of his female companion. The governor of Trebizond
succeeded in his attempt to surprise the person of Theodora: the
queen of Jerusalem and her two children were sent to
Constantinople, and their loss imbittered the tedious solitude of
banishment. The fugitive implored and obtained a final pardon,
with leave to throw himself at the feet of his sovereign, who was
satisfied with the submission of this haughty spirit. Prostrate
on the ground, he deplored with tears and groans the guilt of his
past rebellion; nor would he presume to arise, unless some
faithful subject would drag him to the foot of the throne, by an
iron chain with which he had secretly encircled his neck. This
extraordinary penance excited the wonder and pity of the
assembly; his sins were forgiven by the church and state; but the
just suspicion of Manuel fixed his residence at a distance from
the court, at Oenoe, a town of Pontus, surrounded with rich
vineyards, and situate on the coast of the Euxine. The death of
Manuel, and the disorders of the minority, soon opened the
fairest field to his ambition. The emperor was a boy of twelve or
fourteen years of age, without vigor, or wisdom, or experience:
his mother, the empress Mary, abandoned her person and government
to a favorite of the Comnenian name; and his sister, another
Mary, whose husband, an Italian, was decorated with the title of
Caesar, excited a conspiracy, and at length an insurrection,
against her odious step-mother. The provinces were forgotten, the
capital was in flames, and a century of peace and order was
overthrown in the vice and weakness of a few months. A civil war
was kindled in Constantinople; the two factions fought a bloody
battle in the square of the palace, and the rebels sustained a
regular siege in the cathedral of St. Sophia. The patriarch
labored with honest zeal to heal the wounds of the republic, the
most respectable patriots called aloud for a guardian and
avenger, and every tongue repeated the praise of the talents and
even the virtues of Andronicus. In his retirement, he affected to
revolve the solemn duties of his oath: “If the safety or honor of
the Imperial family be threatened, I will reveal and oppose the
mischief to the utmost of my power.” His correspondence with the
patriarch and patricians was seasoned with apt quotations from
the Psalms of David and the epistles of St. Paul; and he
patiently waited till he was called to her deliverance by the
voice of his country. In his march from Oenoe to Constantinople,
his slender train insensibly swelled to a crowd and an army: his
professions of religion and loyalty were mistaken for the
language of his heart; and the simplicity of a foreign dress,
which showed to advantage his majestic stature, displayed a
lively image of his poverty and exile. All opposition sunk before
him; he reached the straits of the Thracian Bosphorus; the
Byzantine navy sailed from the harbor to receive and transport
the savior of the empire: the torrent was loud and irresistible,
and the insects who had basked in the sunshine of royal favor
disappeared at the blast of the storm. It was the first care of
Andronicus to occupy the palace, to salute the emperor, to
confine his mother, to punish her minister, and to restore the
public order and tranquillity. He then visited the sepulchre of
Manuel: the spectators were ordered to stand aloof, but as he
bowed in the attitude of prayer, they heard, or thought they
heard, a murmur of triumph or revenge: “I no longer fear thee, my
old enemy, who hast driven me a vagabond to every climate of the
earth. Thou art safely deposited under a seven-fold dome, from
whence thou canst never arise till the signal of the last
trumpet. It is now my turn, and speedily will I trample on thy
ashes and thy posterity.” From his subsequent tyranny we may
impute such feelings to the man and the moment; but it is not
extremely probable that he gave an articulate sound to his secret
thoughts. In the first months of his administration, his designs
were veiled by a fair semblance of hypocrisy, which could delude
only the eyes of the multitude; the coronation of Alexius was
performed with due solemnity, and his perfidious guardian,
holding in his hands the body and blood of Christ, most fervently
declared that he lived, and was ready to die, for the service of
his beloved pupil. But his numerous adherents were instructed to
maintain, that the sinking empire must perish in the hands of a
child, that the Romans could only be saved by a veteran prince,
bold in arms, skilful in policy, and taught to reign by the long
experience of fortune and mankind; and that it was the duty of
every citizen to force the reluctant modesty of Andronicus to
undertake the burden of the public care. The young emperor was
himself constrained to join his voice to the general acclamation,
and to solicit the association of a colleague, who instantly
degraded him from the supreme rank, secluded his person, and
verified the rash declaration of the patriarch, that Alexius
might be considered as dead, so soon as he was committed to the
custody of his guardian. But his death was preceded by the
imprisonment and execution of his mother. After blackening her
reputation, and inflaming against her the passions of the
multitude, the tyrant accused and tried the empress for a
treasonable correspondence with the king of Hungary. His own son,
a youth of honor and humanity, avowed his abhorrence of this
flagitious act, and three of the judges had the merit of
preferring their conscience to their safety: but the obsequious
tribunal, without requiring any reproof, or hearing any defence,
condemned the widow of Manuel; and her unfortunate son subscribed
the sentence of her death. Maria was strangled, her corpse was
buried in the sea, and her memory was wounded by the insult most
offensive to female vanity, a false and ugly representation of
her beauteous form. The fate of her son was not long deferred: he
was strangled with a bowstring; and the tyrant, insensible to
pity or remorse, after surveying the body of the innocent youth,
struck it rudely with his foot: “Thy father,” he cried, “was a
knave, thy mother a whore, and thyself a fool!”

The Roman sceptre, the reward of his crimes, was held by
Andronicus about three years and a half as the guardian or
sovereign of the empire. His government exhibited a singular
contrast of vice and virtue. When he listened to his passions, he
was the scourge; when he consulted his reason, the father, of his
people. In the exercise of private justice, he was equitable and
rigorous: a shameful and pernicious venality was abolished, and
the offices were filled with the most deserving candidates, by a
prince who had sense to choose, and severity to punish. He
prohibited the inhuman practice of pillaging the goods and
persons of shipwrecked mariners; the provinces, so long the
objects of oppression or neglect, revived in prosperity and
plenty; and millions applauded the distant blessings of his
reign, while he was cursed by the witnesses of his daily
cruelties. The ancient proverb, That bloodthirsty is the man who
returns from banishment to power, had been applied, with too much
truth, to Marius and Tiberius; and was now verified for the third
time in the life of Andronicus. His memory was stored with a
black list of the enemies and rivals, who had traduced his merit,
opposed his greatness, or insulted his misfortunes; and the only
comfort of his exile was the sacred hope and promise of revenge.
The necessary extinction of the young emperor and his mother
imposed the fatal obligation of extirpating the friends, who
hated, and might punish, the assassin; and the repetition of
murder rendered him less willing, and less able, to forgive. 1018
A horrid narrative of the victims whom he sacrificed by poison or
the sword, by the sea or the flames, would be less expressive of
his cruelty than the appellation of the halcyon days, which was
applied to a rare and bloodless week of repose: the tyrant strove
to transfer, on the laws and the judges, some portion of his
guilt; but the mask was fallen, and his subjects could no longer
mistake the true author of their calamities. The noblest of the
Greeks, more especially those who, by descent or alliance, might
dispute the Comnenian inheritance, escaped from the monster’s
den: Nice and Prusa, Sicily or Cyprus, were their places of
refuge; and as their flight was already criminal, they aggravated
their offence by an open revolt, and the Imperial title. Yet
Andronicus resisted the daggers and swords of his most formidable
enemies: Nice and Prusa were reduced and chastised: the Sicilians
were content with the sack of Thessalonica; and the distance of
Cyprus was not more propitious to the rebel than to the tyrant.
His throne was subverted by a rival without merit, and a people
without arms. Isaac Angelus, a descendant in the female line from
the great Alexius, was marked as a victim by the prudence or
superstition of the emperor. 1019 In a moment of despair, Angelus
defended his life and liberty, slew the executioner, and fled to
the church of St. Sophia. The sanctuary was insensibly filled
with a curious and mournful crowd, who, in his fate,
prognosticated their own. But their lamentations were soon turned
to curses, and their curses to threats: they dared to ask, “Why
do we fear? why do we obey? We are many, and he is one: our
patience is the only bond of our slavery.” With the dawn of day
the city burst into a general sedition, the prisons were thrown
open, the coldest and most servile were roused to the defence of
their country, and Isaac, the second of the name, was raised from
the sanctuary to the throne. Unconscious of his danger, the
tyrant was absent; withdrawn from the toils of state, in the
delicious islands of the Propontis. He had contracted an indecent
marriage with Alice, or Agnes, daughter of Lewis the Seventh, of
France, and relict of the unfortunate Alexius; and his society,
more suitable to his temper than to his age, was composed of a
young wife and a favorite concubine. On the first alarm, he
rushed to Constantinople, impatient for the blood of the guilty;
but he was astonished by the silence of the palace, the tumult of
the city, and the general desertion of mankind. Andronicus
proclaimed a free pardon to his subjects; they neither desired,
nor would grant, forgiveness; he offered to resign the crown to
his son Manuel; but the virtues of the son could not expiate his
father’s crimes. The sea was still open for his retreat; but the
news of the revolution had flown along the coast; when fear had
ceased, obedience was no more: the Imperial galley was pursued
and taken by an armed brigantine; and the tyrant was dragged to
the presence of Isaac Angelus, loaded with fetters, and a long
chain round his neck. His eloquence, and the tears of his female
companions, pleaded in vain for his life; but, instead of the
decencies of a legal execution, the new monarch abandoned the
criminal to the numerous sufferers, whom he had deprived of a
father, a husband, or a friend. His teeth and hair, an eye and a
hand, were torn from him, as a poor compensation for their loss:
and a short respite was allowed, that he might feel the
bitterness of death. Astride on a camel, without any danger of a
rescue, he was carried through the city, and the basest of the
populace rejoiced to trample on the fallen majesty of their
prince. After a thousand blows and outrages, Andronicus was hung
by the feet, between two pillars, that supported the statues of a
wolf and an a sow; and every hand that could reach the public
enemy, inflicted on his body some mark of ingenious or brutal
cruelty, till two friendly or furious Italians, plunging their
swords into his body, released him from all human punishment. In
this long and painful agony, “Lord, have mercy upon me!” and “Why
will you bruise a broken reed?” were the only words that escaped
from his mouth. Our hatred for the tyrant is lost in pity for the
man; nor can we blame his pusillanimous resignation, since a
Greek Christian was no longer master of his life.

1018 (return) [ Fallmerayer (Geschichte des Kaiserthums von
Trapezunt, p. 29, 33) has highly drawn the character of
Andronicus. In his view the extermination of the Byzantine
factions and dissolute nobility was part of a deep-laid and
splendid plan for the regeneration of the empire. It was
necessary for the wise and benevolent schemes of the father of
his people to lop off those limbs which were infected with
irremediable pestilence— “and with necessity, The tyrant’s plea,
excused his devilish deeds!!”—Still the fall of Andronicus was a
fatal blow to the Byzantine empire.—M.]

1019 (return) [ According to Nicetas, (p. 444,) Andronicus
despised the imbecile Isaac too much to fear him; he was arrested
by the officious zeal of Stephen, the instrument of the Emperor’s

I have been tempted to expatiate on the extraordinary character
and adventures of Andronicus; but I shall here terminate the
series of the Greek emperors since the time of Heraclius. The
branches that sprang from the Comnenian trunk had insensibly
withered; and the male line was continued only in the posterity
of Andronicus himself, who, in the public confusion, usurped the
sovereignty of Trebizond, so obscure in history, and so famous in
romance. A private citizen of Philadelphia, Constantine Angelus,
had emerged to wealth and honors, by his marriage with a daughter
of the emperor Alexius. His son Andronicus is conspicuous only by
his cowardice. His grandson Isaac punished and succeeded the
tyrant; but he was dethroned by his own vices, and the ambition
of his brother; and their discord introduced the Latins to the
conquest of Constantinople, the first great period in the fall of
the Eastern empire.

If we compute the number and duration of the reigns, it will be
found, that a period of six hundred years is filled by sixty
emperors, including in the Augustan list some female sovereigns;
and deducting some usurpers who were never acknowledged in the
capital, and some princes who did not live to possess their
inheritance. The average proportion will allow ten years for each
emperor, far below the chronological rule of Sir Isaac Newton,
who, from the experience of more recent and regular monarchies,
has defined about eighteen or twenty years as the term of an
ordinary reign. The Byzantine empire was most tranquil and
prosperous when it could acquiesce in hereditary succession; five
dynasties, the Heraclian, Isaurian, Amorian, Basilian, and
Comnenian families, enjoyed and transmitted the royal patrimony
during their respective series of five, four, three, six, and
four generations; several princes number the years of their reign
with those of their infancy; and Constantine the Seventh and his
two grandsons occupy the space of an entire century. But in the
intervals of the Byzantine dynasties, the succession is rapid and
broken, and the name of a successful candidate is speedily erased
by a more fortunate competitor. Many were the paths that led to
the summit of royalty: the fabric of rebellion was overthrown by
the stroke of conspiracy, or undermined by the silent arts of
intrigue: the favorites of the soldiers or people, of the senate
or clergy, of the women and eunuchs, were alternately clothed
with the purple: the means of their elevation were base, and
their end was often contemptible or tragic. A being of the nature
of man, endowed with the same faculties, but with a longer
measure of existence, would cast down a smile of pity and
contempt on the crimes and follies of human ambition, so eager,
in a narrow span, to grasp at a precarious and shortlived
enjoyment. It is thus that the experience of history exalts and
enlarges the horizon of our intellectual view. In a composition
of some days, in a perusal of some hours, six hundred years have
rolled away, and the duration of a life or reign is contracted to
a fleeting moment: the grave is ever beside the throne: the
success of a criminal is almost instantly followed by the loss of
his prize and our immortal reason survives and disdains the sixty
phantoms of kings who have passed before our eyes, and faintly
dwell on our remembrance. The observation that, in every age and
climate, ambition has prevailed with the same commanding energy,
may abate the surprise of a philosopher: but while he condemns
the vanity, he may search the motive, of this universal desire to
obtain and hold the sceptre of dominion. To the greater part of
the Byzantine series, we cannot reasonably ascribe the love of
fame and of mankind. The virtue alone of John Comnenus was
beneficent and pure: the most illustrious of the princes, who
procede or follow that respectable name, have trod with some
dexterity and vigor the crooked and bloody paths of a selfish
policy: in scrutinizing the imperfect characters of Leo the
Isaurian, Basil the First, and Alexius Comnenus, of Theophilus,
the second Basil, and Manuel Comnenus, our esteem and censure are
almost equally balanced; and the remainder of the Imperial crowd
could only desire and expect to be forgotten by posterity. Was
personal happiness the aim and object of their ambition? I shall
not descant on the vulgar topics of the misery of kings; but I
may surely observe, that their condition, of all others, is the
most pregnant with fear, and the least susceptible of hope. For
these opposite passions, a larger scope was allowed in the
revolutions of antiquity, than in the smooth and solid temper of
the modern world, which cannot easily repeat either the triumph
of Alexander or the fall of Darius. But the peculiar infelicity
of the Byzantine princes exposed them to domestic perils, without
affording any lively promise of foreign conquest. From the
pinnacle of greatness, Andronicus was precipitated by a death
more cruel and shameful than that of the malefactor; but the most
glorious of his predecessors had much more to dread from their
subjects than to hope from their enemies. The army was licentious
without spirit, the nation turbulent without freedom: the
Barbarians of the East and West pressed on the monarchy, and the
loss of the provinces was terminated by the final servitude of
the capital.

The entire series of Roman emperors, from the first of the
Caesars to the last of the Constantines, extends above fifteen
hundred years: and the term of dominion, unbroken by foreign
conquest, surpasses the measure of the ancient monarchies; the
Assyrians or Medes, the successors of Cyrus, or those of


Chapter XLIX: Conquest Of Italy By The Franks.—Part I.

Introduction, Worship, And Persecution Of Images.—Revolt Of Italy
And Rome.—Temporal Dominion Of The Popes.—Conquest Of Italy By The
Franks.—Establishment Of Images.—Character And Coronation Of
Charlemagne.—Restoration And Decay Of The Roman Empire In The
West.—Independence Of Italy.— Constitution Of The Germanic Body.

In the connection of the church and state, I have considered the
former as subservient only, and relative, to the latter; a
salutary maxim, if in fact, as well as in narrative, it had ever
been held sacred. The Oriental philosophy of the Gnostics, the
dark abyss of predestination and grace, and the strange
transformation of the Eucharist from the sign to the substance of
Christ’s body, 1 I have purposely abandoned to the curiosity of
speculative divines. But I have reviewed, with diligence and
pleasure, the objects of ecclesiastical history, by which the
decline and fall of the Roman empire were materially affected,
the propagation of Christianity, the constitution of the Catholic
church, the ruin of Paganism, and the sects that arose from the
mysterious controversies concerning the Trinity and incarnation.
At the head of this class, we may justly rank the worship of
images, so fiercely disputed in the eighth and ninth centuries;
since a question of popular superstition produced the revolt of
Italy, the temporal power of the popes, and the restoration of
the Roman empire in the West.

1 (return) [ The learned Selden has given the history of
transubstantiation in a comprehensive and pithy sentence: “This
opinion is only rhetoric turned into logic,” (his Works, vol.
iii. p. 2037, in his Table-Talk.)]

The primitive Christians were possessed with an unconquerable
repugnance to the use and abuse of images; and this aversion may
be ascribed to their descent from the Jews, and their enmity to
the Greeks. The Mosaic law had severely proscribed all
representations of the Deity; and that precept was firmly
established in the principles and practice of the chosen people.
The wit of the Christian apologists was pointed against the
foolish idolaters, who bowed before the workmanship of their own
hands; the images of brass and marble, which, had they been
endowed with sense and motion, should have started rather from
the pedestal to adore the creative powers of the artist. 2
Perhaps some recent and imperfect converts of the Gnostic tribe
might crown the statues of Christ and St. Paul with the profane
honors which they paid to those of Aristotle and Pythagoras; 3
but the public religion of the Catholics was uniformly simple and
spiritual; and the first notice of the use of pictures is in the
censure of the council of Illiberis, three hundred years after
the Christian aera. Under the successors of Constantine, in the
peace and luxury of the triumphant church, the more prudent
bishops condescended to indulge a visible superstition, for the
benefit of the multitude; and, after the ruin of Paganism, they
were no longer restrained by the apprehension of an odious
parallel. The first introduction of a symbolic worship was in the
veneration of the cross, and of relics. The saints and martyrs,
whose intercession was implored, were seated on the right hand of
God; but the gracious and often supernatural favors, which, in
the popular belief, were showered round their tomb, conveyed an
unquestionable sanction of the devout pilgrims, who visited, and
touched, and kissed these lifeless remains, the memorials of
their merits and sufferings. 4 But a memorial, more interesting
than the skull or the sandals of a departed worthy, is the
faithful copy of his person and features, delineated by the arts
of painting or sculpture. In every age, such copies, so congenial
to human feelings, have been cherished by the zeal of private
friendship, or public esteem: the images of the Roman emperors
were adored with civil, and almost religious, honors; a reverence
less ostentatious, but more sincere, was applied to the statues
of sages and patriots; and these profane virtues, these splendid
sins, disappeared in the presence of the holy men, who had died
for their celestial and everlasting country. At first, the
experiment was made with caution and scruple; and the venerable
pictures were discreetly allowed to instruct the ignorant, to
awaken the cold, and to gratify the prejudices of the heathen
proselytes. By a slow though inevitable progression, the honors
of the original were transferred to the copy: the devout
Christian prayed before the image of a saint; and the Pagan rites
of genuflection, luminaries, and incense, again stole into the
Catholic church. The scruples of reason, or piety, were silenced
by the strong evidence of visions and miracles; and the pictures
which speak, and move, and bleed, must be endowed with a divine
energy, and may be considered as the proper objects of religious
adoration. The most audacious pencil might tremble in the rash
attempt of defining, by forms and colors, the infinite Spirit,
the eternal Father, who pervades and sustains the universe. 5 But
the superstitious mind was more easily reconciled to paint and to
worship the angels, and, above all, the Son of God, under the
human shape, which, on earth, they have condescended to assume.
The second person of the Trinity had been clothed with a real and
mortal body; but that body had ascended into heaven: and, had not
some similitude been presented to the eyes of his disciples, the
spiritual worship of Christ might have been obliterated by the
visible relics and representations of the saints. A similar
indulgence was requisite and propitious for the Virgin Mary: the
place of her burial was unknown; and the assumption of her soul
and body into heaven was adopted by the credulity of the Greeks
and Latins. The use, and even the worship, of images was firmly
established before the end of the sixth century: they were fondly
cherished by the warm imagination of the Greeks and Asiatics: the
Pantheon and Vatican were adorned with the emblems of a new
superstition; but this semblance of idolatry was more coldly
entertained by the rude Barbarians and the Arian clergy of the
West. The bolder forms of sculpture, in brass or marble, which
peopled the temples of antiquity, were offensive to the fancy or
conscience of the Christian Greeks: and a smooth surface of
colors has ever been esteemed a more decent and harmless mode of
imitation. 6

2 (return) [ Nec intelligunt homines ineptissimi, quod si sentire
simulacra et moveri possent, adoratura hominem fuissent a quo
sunt expolita. (Divin. Institut. l. ii. c. 2.) Lactantius is the
last, as well as the most eloquent, of the Latin apologists.
Their raillery of idols attacks not only the object, but the form
and matter.]

3 (return) [ See Irenaeus, Epiphanius, and Augustin, (Basnage,
Hist. des Eglises Reformees, tom. ii. p. 1313.) This Gnostic
practice has a singular affinity with the private worship of
Alexander Severus, (Lampridius, c. 29. Lardner, Heathen
Testimonies, vol. iii. p. 34.)]

4 (return) [ See this History, vol. ii. p. 261; vol. ii. p. 434;
vol. iii. p. 158-163.]

5 (return) [ (Concilium Nicenum, ii. in Collect. Labb. tom. viii.
p. 1025, edit. Venet.) Il seroit peut-etre a-propos de ne point
souffrir d’images de la Trinite ou de la Divinite; les defenseurs
les plus zeles des images ayant condamne celles-ci, et le concile
de Trente ne parlant que des images de Jesus Christ et des
Saints, (Dupin, Bibliot. Eccles. tom. vi. p. 154.)]

6 (return) [ This general history of images is drawn from the
xxiid book of the Hist. des Eglises Reformees of Basnage, tom.
ii. p. 1310-1337. He was a Protestant, but of a manly spirit; and
on this head the Protestants are so notoriously in the right,
that they can venture to be impartial. See the perplexity of poor
Friar Pagi, Critica, tom. i. p. 42.]

The merit and effect of a copy depends on its resemblance with
the original; but the primitive Christians were ignorant of the
genuine features of the Son of God, his mother, and his apostles:
the statue of Christ at Paneas in Palestine 7 was more probably
that of some temporal savior; the Gnostics and their profane
monuments were reprobated; and the fancy of the Christian artists
could only be guided by the clandestine imitation of some heathen
model. In this distress, a bold and dexterous invention assured
at once the likeness of the image and the innocence of the
worship. A new super structure of fable was raised on the popular
basis of a Syrian legend, on the correspondence of Christ and
Abgarus, so famous in the days of Eusebius, so reluctantly
deserted by our modern advocates. The bishop of Caesarea 8
records the epistle, 9 but he most strangely forgets the picture
of Christ; 10 the perfect impression of his face on a linen, with
which he gratified the faith of the royal stranger who had
invoked his healing power, and offered the strong city of Edessa
to protect him against the malice of the Jews. The ignorance of
the primitive church is explained by the long imprisonment of the
image in a niche of the wall, from whence, after an oblivion of
five hundred years, it was released by some prudent bishop, and
seasonably presented to the devotion of the times. Its first and
most glorious exploit was the deliverance of the city from the
arms of Chosroes Nushirvan; and it was soon revered as a pledge
of the divine promise, that Edessa should never be taken by a
foreign enemy. It is true, indeed, that the text of Procopius
ascribes the double deliverance of Edessa to the wealth and valor
of her citizens, who purchased the absence and repelled the
assaults of the Persian monarch. He was ignorant, the profane
historian, of the testimony which he is compelled to deliver in
the ecclesiastical page of Evagrius, that the Palladium was
exposed on the rampart, and that the water which had been
sprinkled on the holy face, instead of quenching, added new fuel
to the flames of the besieged. After this important service, the
image of Edessa was preserved with respect and gratitude; and if
the Armenians rejected the legend, the more credulous Greeks
adored the similitude, which was not the work of any mortal
pencil, but the immediate creation of the divine original. The
style and sentiments of a Byzantine hymn will declare how far
their worship was removed from the grossest idolatry. “How can we
with mortal eyes contemplate this image, whose celestial splendor
the host of heaven presumes not to behold? He who dwells in
heaven, condescends this day to visit us by his venerable image;
He who is seated on the cherubim, visits us this day by a
picture, which the Father has delineated with his immaculate
hand, which he has formed in an ineffable manner, and which we
sanctify by adoring it with fear and love.” Before the end of the
sixth century, these images, made without hands, (in Greek it is
a single word, 11 were propagated in the camps and cities of the
Eastern empire: 12 they were the objects of worship, and the
instruments of miracles; and in the hour of danger or tumult,
their venerable presence could revive the hope, rekindle the
courage, or repress the fury, of the Roman legions. Of these
pictures, the far greater part, the transcripts of a human
pencil, could only pretend to a secondary likeness and improper
title: but there were some of higher descent, who derived their
resemblance from an immediate contact with the original, endowed,
for that purpose, with a miraculous and prolific virtue. The most
ambitious aspired from a filial to a fraternal relation with the
image of Edessa; and such is the veronica of Rome, or Spain, or
Jerusalem, which Christ in his agony and bloody sweat applied to
his face, and delivered to a holy matron. The fruitful precedent
was speedily transferred to the Virgin Mary, and the saints and
martyrs. In the church of Diospolis, in Palestine, the features
of the Mother of God 13 were deeply inscribed in a marble column;
the East and West have been decorated by the pencil of St. Luke;
and the Evangelist, who was perhaps a physician, has been forced
to exercise the occupation of a painter, so profane and odious in
the eyes of the primitive Christians. The Olympian Jove, created
by the muse of Homer and the chisel of Phidias, might inspire a
philosophic mind with momentary devotion; but these Catholic
images were faintly and flatly delineated by monkish artists in
the last degeneracy of taste and genius. 14

7 (return) [ After removing some rubbish of miracle and
inconsistency, it may be allowed, that as late as the year 300,
Paneas in Palestine was decorated with a bronze statue,
representing a grave personage wrapped in a cloak, with a
grateful or suppliant female kneeling before him, and that an
inscription was perhaps inscribed on the pedestal. By the
Christians, this group was foolishly explained of their founder
and the poor woman whom he had cured of the bloody flux, (Euseb.
vii. 18, Philostorg. vii. 3, &c.) M. de Beausobre more reasonably
conjectures the philosopher Apollonius, or the emperor Vespasian:
in the latter supposition, the female is a city, a province, or
perhaps the queen Berenice, (Bibliotheque Germanique, tom. xiii.
p. 1-92.)]

8 (return) [ Euseb. Hist. Eccles. l. i. c. 13. The learned
Assemannus has brought up the collateral aid of three Syrians,
St. Ephrem, Josua Stylites, and James bishop of Sarug; but I do
not find any notice of the Syriac original or the archives of
Edessa, (Bibliot. Orient. tom. i. p. 318, 420, 554;) their vague
belief is probably derived from the Greeks.]

9 (return) [ The evidence for these epistles is stated and
rejected by the candid Lardner, (Heathen Testimonies, vol. i. p.
297-309.) Among the herd of bigots who are forcibly driven from
this convenient, but untenable, post, I am ashamed, with the
Grabes, Caves, Tillemonts, &c., to discover Mr. Addison, an
English gentleman, (his Works, vol. i. p. 528, Baskerville’s
edition;) but his superficial tract on the Christian religion
owes its credit to his name, his style, and the interested
applause of our clergy.]

10 (return) [ From the silence of James of Sarug, (Asseman.
Bibliot. Orient. p. 289, 318,) and the testimony of Evagrius,
(Hist. Eccles. l. iv. c. 27,) I conclude that this fable was
invented between the years 521 and 594, most probably after the
siege of Edessa in 540, (Asseman. tom. i. p. 416. Procopius, de
Bell. Persic. l. ii.) It is the sword and buckler of, Gregory
II., (in Epist. i. ad. Leon. Isaur. Concil. tom. viii. p. 656,
657,) of John Damascenus, (Opera, tom. i. p. 281, edit. Lequien,)
and of the second Nicene Council, (Actio v. p. 1030.) The most
perfect edition may be found in Cedrenus, (Compend. p. 175-178.)]

11 (return) [ See Ducange, in Gloss. Graec. et Lat. The subject
is treated with equal learning and bigotry by the Jesuit Gretser,
(Syntagma de Imaginibus non Manu factis, ad calcem Codini de
Officiis, p. 289-330,) the ass, or rather the fox, of
Ingoldstadt, (see the Scaligerana;) with equal reason and wit by
the Protestant Beausobre, in the ironical controversy which he
has spread through many volumes of the Bibliotheque Germanique,
(tom. xviii. p. 1-50, xx. p. 27-68, xxv. p. 1-36, xxvii. p.
85-118, xxviii. p. 1-33, xxxi. p. 111-148, xxxii. p. 75-107,
xxxiv. p. 67-96.)]

12 (return) [ Theophylact Simocatta (l. ii. c. 3, p. 34, l. iii.
c. 1, p. 63) celebrates it; yet it was no more than a copy, since
he adds (of Edessa). See Pagi, tom. ii. A.D. 588 No. 11.]

13 (return) [ See, in the genuine or supposed works of John
Damascenus, two passages on the Virgin and St. Luke, which have
not been noticed by Gretser, nor consequently by Beausobre,
(Opera Joh. Damascen. tom. i. p. 618, 631.)]

14 (return) [ “Your scandalous figures stand quite out from the
canvass: they are as bad as a group of statues!” It was thus that
the ignorance and bigotry of a Greek priest applauded the
pictures of Titian, which he had ordered, and refused to accept.]

The worship of images had stolen into the church by insensible
degrees, and each petty step was pleasing to the superstitious
mind, as productive of comfort, and innocent of sin. But in the
beginning of the eighth century, in the full magnitude of the
abuse, the more timorous Greeks were awakened by an apprehension,
that under the mask of Christianity, they had restored the
religion of their fathers: they heard, with grief and impatience,
the name of idolaters; the incessant charge of the Jews and
Mahometans, 15 who derived from the Law and the Koran an immortal
hatred to graven images and all relative worship. The servitude
of the Jews might curb their zeal, and depreciate their
authority; but the triumphant Mussulmans, who reigned at
Damascus, and threatened Constantinople, cast into the scale of
reproach the accumulated weight of truth and victory. The cities
of Sy

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