The History, 21.16

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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16In accurately distinguishing the virtues and vices of Constantius, it will be well to take the virtues first. Always preserving the dignity of the imperial authority, he proudly and magnanimously disdained popularity. In conferring the higher dignities he was very sparing, and allowed very few changes to be made in the administration of the finances. Nor did he ever encourage the arrogance of the soldiers.

2Nor under him was any general promoted to the title of most illustrious. For there was also, as we have already mentioned, the title of most perfect. Nor had the governor of a province occasion to court a commander of cavalry; as Constantius never allowed those officers to meddle with civil affairs. But all officers, both military and civil, were according to the respectful usages of old, inferior to that of the prefect of the prætorium, which was the most honourable of all.

3In taking care of the soldiers he was very cautious: an examiner into their merits, sometimes over-scrupulous, giving dignities about the palace as if with scales. Under him no one who was not well known to him, or who was favoured merely by some sudden impulse, ever received any high appointment in the palace. But only such as had served ten years in some capacity or other could look for such appointments as master of the ceremonies or treasurer. The successful candidates could always be known beforehand; and it very seldom happened that any military officer was transferred to a civil office; while on the other hand none but veteran soldiers were appointed to command troops.

4He was a diligent cultivator of learning, but, as his blunted talent was not suited to rhetoric, he devoted himself to versification; in which, however, he did nothing worth speaking of.

5In his way of life he was economical and temperate, and by moderation in eating and drinking he preserved such robust health that he was rarely ill, though when ill dangerously so. For repeated experience and proof has shown that this is the case with persons who avoid licentiousness and luxury.

6He was contented with very little sleep, which he took when time and season allowed; and throughout his long life he was so extremely chaste that no suspicion was ever cast on him in this respect, though it is a charge which, even when it can find no ground, malignity is apt to fasten on princes.

7In riding and throwing the javelin, in shooting with the bow, and in all the accomplishments of military exercises, he was admirably skilful. That he never blew his nose in public, never spat, never was seen to change countenance, and that he never in all his life ate any fruit I pass over, as what has been often related before.

8Having now briefly enumerated his good qualities with which we have been able to become acquainted, let us now proceed to speak of his vices. In other respects he was equal to average princes, but if he had the slightest reason (even if founded on wholly false information) for suspecting any one of aiming at supreme power, he would at once institute the most rigorous inquiry, trampling down right and wrong alike, and outdo the cruelty of Caligula, Domitian, or Commodus, whose barbarity he rivalled at the very beginning of his reign, when he shamefully put to death his own connections and relations.

9And his cruelty and morose suspicions, which were directed against everything of the kind, were a cruel addition to the sufferings of the unhappy persons who were accused of sedition or treason.

10And if anything of the kind got wind, he instituted investigations of a more terrible nature than the law sanctioned, appointing men of known cruelty as judges in such cases; and in punishing offenders he endeavoured to protract their deaths as long as nature would allow, being in such cases more savage than even Gallienus. For he, though assailed by incessant and real plots of rebels, such as Aureolus, Posthumus, Ingenuus, and Valens who was surnamed the Thessalonian, and many others, often mitigated the penalty of crimes liable to sentence of death; while Constantius caused facts which were really unquestionable to be looked upon as doubtful by the excessive inhumanity of his tortures.

11In such cases he had a mortal hatred of justice, even though his great object was to be accounted just and merciful: and as sparks flying from a dry wood, by a mere breath of wind are sometimes carried on with unrestrained course to the danger of the country villages around, so he also from the most trivial causes kindled heaps of evils, being very unlike that wise emperor Marcus Aurelius, who, when Cassius in Syria aspired to the supreme power, and when a bundle of letters which he had written to his accomplices, was taken with their bearer, and brought to him, ordered them at once to be burned, while he was still in Illyricum, in order that he might not know who had plotted against him, and so against his will be obliged to consider some persons as his enemies.

12And, as some right-thinking people are of opinion, it was rather an indication of great virtue in Constantius to have quelled the empire without shedding more blood, than to have revenged himself with such cruelty.

13As Cicero also teaches us, when in one of his letters to Nepos he accuses Cæsar of cruelty, “For,” says he, “felicity is nothing else but success in what is honourable;” or to define it in another way, “Felicity is fortune assisting good counsels, and he who is not guided by such cannot be happy. Therefore in wicked and impious designs such as those of Cæsar there could be no felicity; and in my judgment Camillus when in exile was happier than Manlius at the same time, even if Manlius had been able to make himself king, as he wished.”

14The same is the language of Heraclitus of Ephesus, when he remarks that men of eminent capacity and virtue, through the caprice of fortune, have often been overcome by men destitute of either talent or energy. But that that glory is the best when power, existing with high rank, forces, as it were, its inclinations to be angry and cruel, and oppressive under the yoke, and so erects a glorious trophy in the citadel of its victorious mind.

15But as in his foreign wars this emperor was unsuccessful and unfortunate, on the other hand in his civil contests he was successful; and in all those domestic calamities he covered himself with the horrid blood of the enemies of the republic and of himself; and yielding to his elation at these triumphs in a way neither right nor usual, he erected at a vast expense triumphal arches in Gaul and the two Pannonias, to record his triumphs over his own provinces; engraving on them the titles of his exploits . . . as long as they should last, to those who read the inscriptions.

16He was preposterously addicted to listening to his wives, and to the thin voices of his eunuchs, and some of his courtiers, who applauded all his words, and watched everything he said, whether in approval or disapproval, in order to agree with it.

17The misery of these times was further increased by the insatiable covetousness of his tax-collectors, who brought him more odium than money; and to many persons this seemed the more intolerable, because he never listened to any excuse, never took any measures for relief of the provinces when oppressed by the multiplicity of taxes and imposts; and in addition to all this he was very apt to take back any exemptions which he had granted.

18He confused the Christian religion, which is plain and simple, with old women’s superstitions; in investigating which he preferred perplexing himself to settling its questions with dignity, so that he excited much dissension; which he further encouraged by diffuse wordy explanations: he ruined the establishment of public conveyances by devoting them to the service of crowds of priests, who went to and fro to different synods, as they call the meetings at which they endeavour to settle everything according to their own fancy.

19As to his personal appearance and stature, he was of a dark complexion with prominent eyes; of keen sight, soft hair, with his cheeks carefully shaved, and bright looking. From his waist to his neck he was rather long, his legs were very short and crooked, which made him a good leaper and runner.

20When the body of the deceased emperor had been laid out, and placed in a coffin, Jovianus, at that time the chief officer of the guard, was ordered to attend it with royal pomp to Constantinople, to be buried among his relations.

21While he was proceeding on the vehicle which bore the remains, samples of the military provisions were brought to him as an offering, as is usual in the case of princes; and the public animals were paraded before him; and a concourse of people came out to meet him as was usual; which, with other similar demonstrations, seemed to portend to Jovianus, as the superintendent of his funeral, the attainment of the empire, but an authority only curtailed and shadowy.

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