Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Section 3
§3. State of Affairs in 311.
In the meantime, while the extreme west of the empire was enjoying the mild rule of Constantine, the other corners of the now quadrangular and now hexagonal world, over which during this time Maximinus, Galerius, Licinius, Maximian, and Maxentius had tried to reign, had had a much less comfortable time. Every emperor wanted a corner to himself, and, having his corner, wanted that of some one else or feared that some one else wanted his. In order clearly to understand Constantine, a glimpse of the state of affairs in these other parts of the empire, together with some idea of the kind of men with whom he had to deal is essential, and may be gotten from a brief view of (1) The rulers, (2) Characters of the rulers, (3) Condition of the ruled.
I. The Rulers.
The intricate process of evolution and devolution of emperors, mysterious to the uninitiated as a Chinese puzzle, is briefly as follows: In 305 Diocletian and Maximian had abdicated (Lact. c. 18; Eutrop. 9. 27; Vict. Cæs.), Galerius and Constantius succeeding as Augusti and Severus, Maximinus Daza succeeding them as Cæsars (Lact. c. 19). In 306 Constantius died, Constantine was proclaimed Augustus by his army, Maxentius by the Pretorian Guards (cf. above), and Severus by Galerius (Lact. c. 25), while Maximian resumed the purple (see above)—four emperors, Galerius, Severus, Maximian, and Maxentius, with two Cæsars, Constantine and Maximinus, one with a pretty definite claim to the purple, and the other bound not to be left out in the cold. In 307 Licinius was appointed Augustus by Galerius (Lact. c. 29; Vict. Cæs.; Zos. 2. 11; Anon. Vales.; Eutrop. 10. 4), who also threw a sop to Cerberus by naming Constantine and Maximin “sons of emperors” (Lact. c. 32; Coins in Eckhel 8 (1838) 52. 3). Constantine was given title of Augustus by Maximianus (?), and Maximinus about this time was forced, as he said, by his army to assume the title. Meantime the growing procession of emperors was reduced by one. Severus, sent against Maxentius, was deserted by his soldiers, captured, and slain in 307 (Lact. c. 26; Zos. 2. 10; Anon. Vales.; Eutrop. 10. 2; Vict. Cæs. &c. &c.), leaving still six emperors or claimants,—Galerius, Licinius, Maxentius, Maximian, Maximinus, and Constantine. In 308, making the best of a bad matter, Galerius appointed Constantine and Maximin Augusti (see above), leaving the situation unchanged, and so it remained until the death of Maximian in 310 (see above), and of Galerius in May, 311 (Lact. c. 33; Vict. Cæs., Vict. Epit.; Zos. 2. 11) reduced the number to four.
II. Characters of the Rulers.
Constantines own character has been hinted at and will be studied later. Severus was the least significant of the others, having a brief reign and being little mentioned by historians. Diocletians characterization of him was, according to Lactantius (c. 18), as ejaculated to Galerius, “That dancing, carousing drunkard who turns night into day and day into night.” The average character of the other emperors was that of the prisoners for life in our modern state prisons. Galerius, “that pernicious wild beast” (Lact. c. 25), was uneducated, drunken (Anon. Vales. p. 472); fond of boasting himself to be the illegitimate son of a dragon (Lact. 9; Vict. Epit. p. 49), and sanguinary and ferocious to an extraordinary degree (Lact. c. 9. 21, 22, &c.). Licinius, characterized by “ingratitude” and “cold-blooded ferocity,” was “not only totally p. 415 indifferent to human life and suffering, and regardless of any principle of law or justice which might interfere with the gratification of his passions, but he was systematically treacherous and cruel, possessed of not one redeeming quality save physical courage and military skill” (Ramsay, in Smith Dict. 2, p. 784; compare Euseb. H. E. 10. 8; V. C. 1. 49–56), and “in avaricious cupidity worst of all” (Vict. Epit. p. 51). Maximinus character “stands forth as pre-eminent for brutal licentiousness and ferocious cruelty—lust hard by hate” (Plumptre, in Smith & W. 3, p. 872), and according to Lactantius, c. 38, “that which distinguished his character and in which he transcended all former emperors was his desire of debauching women.” He was cruel, superstitious, gluttonous, rapacious, and “so addicted to intoxication that in his drunken frolics he was frequently deranged and deprived of his reason like a madman” (Euseb. H. E. 8. 14). Maximianus has been thought to be on the whole the least outrageous, and his somewhat defective moral sense respecting treachery and murder has been noted (cf. above). He has been described as “thoroughly unprincipled…base and cruel” (Ramsay, in Smith Dict. 2, p. 981). He is described by Victor, (Epit. p. 48) as “ferus natura, ardens libidine,” being addicted to extraordinary and unnatural lust (Lact. c. 8). Truly a choice “best” in this rogues gallery. Of Maxentius it is said (Tyrwhitt, in Smith & W. 3, p. 865): “His wickedness seems to have transcended description, and to have been absolutely unredeemed by any saving feature.” He “left no impurity or licentiousness untouched” (Euseb. H. E. 8. 14; cf. Eutrop. 10. 4; Lact. 9). He was marked by “impiety,” “cruelty,” “lust,” and tyranny (Paneg.  c. 4). He was the most disreputable of all,—unmitigatedly disreputable. With all due allowance for the prejudice of Christian historians, from whom such strong statements are mainly drawn, yet enough of the details are confirmed by Victor, Epit., the Panegyrists, Eutropius, and other non-Christian writers to verify the substantial facts of the ferocity, drunkenness, lust, covetousness, and oppression of this precious galaxy of rulers.
III. Condition of the Ruled.
Under such rulers there was a reign of terror during this period which contrasted strangely with the state of things under Constantine. Galerius was “driving the empire wild with his taxations” (cf. Lact. c. 23 and 26), affording in this also a marked contrast with the course of Constantine in Gaul. Maxentius led in the unbridled exercise of passion (Euseb. H. E. 8. 14; cf. Lact. c. 18), but in this he differed from the others little except in degree (compare Euseb. V. C. 1. 55 on Licinius), and according to Lactantius (c. 28) he was surpassed by Maximin. In brief, all did according to their own sweet wills, and the people had to stand it as best they could. The worst was that the oppression did not end with the emperors nor the friends and officials to whom they delegated power to satisfy their desires at the expense of the helpless. Their armies were necessary to them. The soldiers had to be conciliated and exactions made to meet their demands. They followed the examples of their royal leaders in all manner of excesses and oppressions. No property or life or honor was safe.
The persecution of the Christians reached a climax of horror in this period. The beginning of the tenth persecution was, to be sure, a little before this (303), but its main terror was in this time. Galerius and Maximian are said indeed to have persecuted less during this period, and Maxentius not at all; but Galerius was the real author and sanguinary promoter of the persecution which is ascribed to Diocletian (Lact. c. 11), while Maximian was, in 304, the author of the celebrated “Fourth Edict” which made death the penalty of Christianity, and Maxentius was only better because impartial—he persecuted both Christian and heathen (Euseb. V. C. 1. 33–6; H. E. 8. 14; Eutrop. 10. 4). 3010 The persecution under Maximin was of peculiar atrocity (Euseb. H. E. 8. 17; 9. 6, &c.; Lact. c. 26–27), so that the whole of this period in the East, excepting a slight breathing space in 308, was a terror to Christians, and it is said that “these two years were the most prolific of bloodshed of any in the whole history of Roman persecup. 416 tions” (Marriott, in Smith & W. 2, p. 594). It was not until the very end of this period 3011 that Galerius, in terror of death, issued the famous first edict of toleration. 3012 Such was the condition of things in July, 311. The deaths of Severus in 307, Maximian in 310, and Galerius in 311, had cleared the stage so far as to leave but four Augusti, Licinius and Maximin in the East, Constantine and Maxentius in the West. The only well-ordered and contented section of the world was that of Constantine. In all the others there was oppression, excess, and discontent, the state of things at Rome being on the whole the most outrageous.
“Raging against the nobles with every kind of destruction,” Eutrop. 10. 4.416:3011
Edict of toleration was April 30; Constantines anniversary, July 24.416:3012
This edict was signed by Constantine and Licinius as well as by Galerius. The Latin text is found in Lactantius, de mort. pers. c. 24, and the Greek translation in Eusebius, H. E. 8. 17.
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