Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire

Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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366--375.) Not an idea or a fact in the writings of Petrarch has probably escaped him.]

[Footnote 18: Giovanni Villani, l. xii. c. 89, 104, in Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, tom. xiii. p. 969, 970, 981--983.]

[Footnote 19: In his third volume of Italian antiquities, (p. 249--548,) Muratori has inserted the Fragmenta Historiæ Romanæ ab Anno 1327 usque ad Annum 1354, in the original dialect of Rome or Naples in the xivth century, and a Latin version for the benefit of strangers. It contains the most particular and authentic life of Cola (Nicholas) di Rienzi; which had been printed at Bracciano, 1627, in 4to., under the name of Tomaso Fortifiocca, who is only mentioned in this work as having been punished by the tribune for forgery. Human nature is scarcely capable of such sublime or stupid impartiality: but whosoever in the author of these Fragments, he wrote on the spot and at the time, and paints, without design or art, the manners of Rome and the character of the tribune. *

* Since the publication of my first edition of Gibbon, some new and very remarkable documents have been brought to light in a life of Nicolas Rienzi,--Cola di Rienzo und seine Zeit, -- by Dr. Felix Papencordt. The most important of these documents are letters from Rienzi to Charles the Fourth, emperor and king of Bohemia, and to the archbishop of Praque; they enter into the whole history of his adventurous career during its first period, and throw a strong light upon his extraordinary character. These documents were first discovered and made use of, to a certain extent, by Pelzel, the historian of Bohemia. The originals have disappeared, but a copy made by Pelzel for his own use is now in the library of Count Thun at Teschen. There seems no doubt of their authenticity. Dr. Papencordt has printed the whole in his Urkunden, with the exception of one long theological paper. -- M. 1845.]

In a quarter of the city which was inhabited only by mechanics and Jews, the marriage of an innkeeper and a washer woman produced the future deliverer of Rome. ^20 ^! From such parents Nicholas Rienzi Gabrini could inherit neither dignity nor fortune; and the gift of a liberal education, which they painfully bestowed, was the cause of his glory and untimely end. The study of history and eloquence, the writings of Cicero, Seneca, Livy, Cæsar, and Valerius Maximus, elevated above his equals and contemporaries the genius of the young plebeian: he perused with indefatigable diligence the manuscripts and marbles of antiquity; loved to dispense his knowledge in familiar language; and was often provoked to exclaim, "Where are now these Romans? their virtue, their justice, their power? why was I not born in those happy times?" ^21 When the republic addressed to the throne of Avignon an embassy of the three orders, the spirit and eloquence of Rienzi recommended him to a place among the thirteen deputies of the commons. The orator had the honor of haranguing Pope Clement the Sixth, and the satisfaction of conversing with Petrarch, a congenial mind: but his aspiring hopes were chilled by disgrace and poverty and the patriot was reduced to a single garment and the charity of the hospital. ^* From this misery he was relieved by the sense of merit or the smile of favor; and the employment of apostolic notary afforded him a daily stipend of five gold florins, a more honorable and extensive connection, and the right of contrasting, both in words and actions, his own integrity with the vices of the state. The eloquence of Rienzi was prompt and persuasive: the multitude is always prone to envy and censure: he was stimulated by the loss of a brother and the impunity of the assassins; nor was it possible to excuse or exaggerate the public calamities. The blessings of peace and justice, for which civil society has been instituted, were banished from Rome: the jealous citizens, who might have endured every personal or pecuniary injury, were most deeply wounded in the dishonor of their wives and daughters: ^22 they were equally oppressed by the arrogance of the nobles and the corruption of the magistrates; ^! and the abuse of arms or of laws was the only circumstance that distinguished the lions from the dogs and serpents of the Capitol. These allegorical emblems were variously repeated in the pictures which Rienzi exhibited in the streets and churches; and while the spectators gazed with curious wonder, the bold and ready orator unfolded the meaning, applied the satire, inflamed their passions, and announced a distant hope of comfort and deliverance. The privileges of Rome, her eternal sovereignty over her princes and provinces, was the theme of his public and private discourse; and a monument of servitude became in his hands a title and incentive of liberty. The decree of the senate, which granted the most ample prerogatives to the emperor Vespasian, had been inscribed on a copper plate still extant in the choir of the church of St. John Lateran. ^23 A numerous assembly of nobles and plebeians was invited to this political lecture, and a convenient theatre was erected for their reception. The notary appeared in a magnificent and mysterious habit, explained the inscription by a version and commentary, ^24 and descanted with eloquence and zeal on the ancient glories of the senate and people, from whom all legal authority was derived. The supine ignorance of the nobles was incapable of discerning the serious tendency of such representations: they might sometimes chastise with words and blows the plebeian reformer; but he was often suffered in the Colonna palace to amuse the company with his threats and predictions; and the modern Brutus ^25 was concealed under the mask of folly and the character of a buffoon. While they indulged their contempt, the restoration of the good estate, his favorite expression, was entertained among the people as a desirable, a possible, and at length as an approaching, event; and while all had the disposition to applaud, some had the courage to assist, their promised deliverer.

[Footnote 20: The first and splendid period of Rienzi, his tribunitian government, is contained in the xviiith chapter of the Fragments, (p. 399--479,) which, in the new division, forms the iid book of the history in xxxviii. smaller chapters or sections.]

[Footnote !: But see in Dr. Papencordt's work, and in Rienzi's own words, his claim to be a bastard son of the emperor Henry the Seventh, whose intrigue with his mother Rienzi relates with a sort of proud shamelessness. Compare account by the editor of Dr. Papencordt's work in Quarterly Review vol. lxix. -- M. 1845.]

[Footnote 21: The reader may be pleased with a specimen of the original idiom: Fò da soa juventutine nutricato di latte de eloquentia, bono gramatico, megliore rettuorico, autorista bravo. Deh como et quanto era veloce leitore! moito usava Tito Livio, Seneca, et Tullio, et Balerio Massimo, moito li dilettava le magnificentie di Julio Cesare raccontare. Tutta la die se speculava negl' intagli di marmo lequali iaccio intorno Roma. Non era altri che esso, che sapesse lejere li antichi pataffii. Tutte scritture antiche vulgarizzava; quesse fiure di marmo justamente interpretava. On come spesso diceva, "Dove suono quelli buoni Romani? dove ene loro somma justitia? poleramme trovare in tempo che quessi fiuriano!"]

[Footnote *: Sir J. Hobhouse published (in his Illustrations of Childe Harold) Rienzi's joyful letter to the people of Rome on the apparently favorable termination of this mission. -- M. 1845.]

[Footnote 22: Petrarch compares the jealousy of the Romans with the easy temper of the husbands of Avignon, (Mémoires, tom. i. p. 330.)]

[Footnote !: All this Rienzi, writing at a later period to the archbishop of Prague, attributed to the criminal abandonment of his flock by the supreme pontiff. See Urkunde apud Papencordt, p. xliv. Quarterly Review, p. 255. -- M. 1845.]

[Footnote 23: The fragments of the Lex regia may be found in the Inscriptions of Gruter, tom. i. p. 242, and at the end of the Tacitus of Ernesti, with some learned notes of the editor, tom. ii.]

[Footnote 24: I cannot overlook a stupendous and laughable blunder of Rienzi. The Lex regia empowers Vespasian to enlarge the Pomrium, a word familiar to every antiquary. It was not so to the tribune; he confounds it with pomarium, an orchard, translates lo Jardino de Roma cioene Italia, and is copied by the less excusable ignorance of the Latin translator (p. 406) and the French historian, (p. 33.) Even the learning of Muratori has slumbered over the passage.]

[Footnote 25: Priori (Bruto) tamen similior, juvenis uterque, longe ingenio quam cujus simulationem induerat, ut sub hoc obtentû liberator ille P R. aperiretur tempore suo . . . . Ille regibus, hic tyrannis contemptus, (Opp (Opp. p. 536.) *

* Fatcor attamen quod-nunc fatuum. nunc hystrionem, nunc gravem nunc simplicem, nunc astutum, nunc fervidum, nunc timidum simulatorem, et dissimulatorem ad hunc caritativum finem, quem dixi, constitusepius memet ipsum. Writing to an archbishop, (of Prague,) Rienzi alleges scriptural examples. Saltator coram archa David et insanus apparuit coram Rege; blanda, astuta, et tecta Judith astitit Holoferni; et astute Jacob meruit benedici, Urkunde xlix. -- M. 1845.]

A prophecy, or rather a summons, affixed on the church door of St. George, was the first public evidence of his designs; a nocturnal assembly of a hundred citizens on Mount Aventine, the first step to their execution. After an oath of secrecy and aid, he represented to the conspirators the importance and facility of their enterprise; that the nobles, without union or resources, were strong only in the fear nobles, of their imaginary strength; that all power, as well as right, was in the hands of the people; that the revenues of the apostolical chamber might relieve the public distress; and that the pope himself would approve their victory over the common enemies of government and freedom. After securing a faithful band to protect his first declaration, he proclaimed through the city, by sound of trumpet, that on the evening of the following day, all persons should assemble without arms before the church of St. Angelo, to provide for the reestablishment of the good estate. The whole night was employed in the celebration of thirty masses of the Holy Ghost; and in the morning, Rienzi, bareheaded, but in complete armor, issued from the church, encompassed by the hundred conspirators. The pope's vicar, the simple bishop of Orvieto, who had been persuaded to sustain a part in this singular ceremony, marched on his right hand; and three great standards were borne aloft as the emblems of their design. In the first, the banner of liberty, Rome was seated on two lions, with a palm in one hand and a globe in the other; St. Paul, with a drawn sword, was delineated in the banner of justice; and in the third, St. Peter held the keys of concord and peace. Rienzi was encouraged by the presence and applause of an innumerable crowd, who understood little, and hoped much; and the procession slowly rolled forwards from the castle of St. Angelo to the Capitol. His triumph was disturbed by some secret emotions which he labored to suppress: he ascended without opposition, and with seeming confidence, the citadel of the republic; harangued the people from the balcony; and received the most flattering confirmation of his acts and laws. The nobles, as if destitute of arms and counsels, beheld in silent consternation this strange revolution; and the moment had been prudently chosen, when the most formidable, Stephen Colonna, was absent from the city. On the first rumor, he returned to his palace, affected to despise this plebeian tumult, and declared to the messenger of Rienzi, that at his leisure he would cast the madman from the windows of the Capitol. The great bell instantly rang an alarm, and so rapid was the tide, so urgent was the danger, that Colonna escaped with precipitation to the suburb of St. Laurence: from thence, after a moment's refreshment, he continued the same speedy career till he reached in safety his castle of Palestrina; lamenting his own imprudence, which had not trampled the spark of this mighty conflagration. A general and peremptory order was issued from the Capitol to all the nobles, that they should peaceably retire to their estates: they obeyed; and their departure secured the tranquillity of the free and obedient citizens of Rome.

But such voluntary obedience evaporates with the first transports of zeal; and Rienzi felt the importance of justifying his usurpation by a regular form and a legal title. At his own choice, the Roman people would have displayed their attachment and authority, by lavishing on his head the names of senator or consul, of king or emperor: he preferred the ancient and modest appellation of tribune; ^* the protection of the commons was the essence of that sacred office; and they were ignorant, that it had never been invested with any share in the legislative or executive powers of the republic. In this character, and with the consent of the Roman, the tribune enacted the most salutary laws for the restoration and maintenance of the good estate. By the first he fulfils the wish of honesty and inexperience, that no civil suit should be protracted beyond the term of fifteen days. The danger of frequent perjury might justify the pronouncing against a false accuser the same penalty which his evidence would have inflicted: the disorders of the times might compel the legislator to punish every homicide with death, and every injury with equal retaliation. But the execution of justice was hopeless till he had previously abolished the tyranny of the nobles. It was formally provided, that none, except the supreme magistrate, should possess or command the gates, bridges, or towers of the state; that no private garrisons should be introduced into the towns or castles of the Roman territory; that none should bear arms, or presume to fortify their houses in the city or country; that the barons should be responsible for the safety of the highways, and the free passage of provisions; and that the protection of malefactors and robbers should be expiated by a fine of a thousand marks of silver. But these regulations would have been impotent and nugatory, had not the licentious nobles been awed by the sword of the civil power. A sudden alarm from the bell of the Capitol could still summon to the standard above twenty thousand volunteers: the support of the tribune and the laws required a more regular and permanent force. In each harbor of the coast a vessel was stationed for the assurance of commerce; a standing militia of three hundred and sixty horse and thirteen hundred foot was levied, clothed, and paid in the thirteen quarters of the city: and the spirit of a commonwealth may be traced in the grateful allowance of one hundred florins, or pounds, to the heirs of every soldier who lost his life in the service of his country. For the maintenance of the public defence, for the establishment of granaries, for the relief of widows, orphans, and indigent convents, Rienzi applied, without fear of sacrilege, the revenues of the apostolic chamber: the three branches of hearth-money, the salt-duty, and the customs, were each of the annual produce of one hundred thousand florins; ^26 and scandalous were the abuses, if in four or five months the amount of the salt-duty could be trebled by his judicious economy. After thus restoring the forces and finances of the republic, the tribune recalled the nobles from their solitary independence; required their personal appearance in the Capitol; and imposed an oath of allegiance to the new government, and of submission to the laws of the good estate. Apprehensive for their safety, but still more apprehensive of the danger of a refusal, the princes and barons returned to their houses at Rome in the garb of simple and peaceful citizens: the Colonna and Ursini, the Savelli and Frangipani, were confounded before the tribunal of a plebeian, of the vile buffoon whom they had so often derided, and their disgrace was aggravated by the indignation which they vainly struggled to disguise. The same oath was successively pronounced by the several orders of society, the clergy and gentlemen, the judges and notaries, the merchants and artisans, and the gradual descent was marked by the increase of sincerity and zeal. They swore to live and die with the republic and the church, whose interest was artfully united by the nominal association of the bishop of Orvieto, the pope's vicar, to the office of tribune. It was the boast of Rienzi, that he had delivered the throne and patrimony of St. Peter from a rebellious aristocracy; and Clement the Sixth, who rejoiced in its fall, affected to believe the professions, to applaud the merits, and to confirm the title, of his trusty servant. The speech, perhaps the mind, of the tribune, was inspired with a lively regard for the purity of the faith: he insinuated his claim to a supernatural mission from the Holy Ghost; enforced by a heavy forfeiture the annual duty of confession and communion; and strictly guarded the spiritual as well as temporal welfare of his faithful people. ^27

[Footnote *: Et ego, Deo semper auctore, ipsa die pristinâ (leg. primâ) Tribunatus, quæ quidem dignitas a tempore deflorati Imperii, et per annos Vo et ultra sub tyrannicà occupatione vacavit, ipsos omnes potentes indifferenter Deum at justitiam odientes, a meâ, ymo a Dei facie fugiendo vehementi Spiritu dissipavi, et nullo effuso cruore trementes expuli, sine ictu remanente Romane terre facie renovatâ. Libellus Tribuni ad Cæsarem, p. xxxiv. -- M. 1845.]

[Footnote 26: In one MS. I read (l. ii. c. 4, p. 409) perfumante quatro solli, in another, quatro florini, an important variety, since the florin was worth ten Roman solidi, (Muratori, dissert. xxviii.) The former reading would give us a population of 25,000, the latter of 250,000 families; and I much fear, that the former is more consistent with the decay of Rome and her territory.]

[Footnote 27: Hocsemius, p. 498, apud du Cerçeau, Hist. de Rienzi, p. 194. The fifteen tribunitian laws may be found in the Roman historian (whom for brevity I shall name) Fortifiocca, l. ii. c. 4.]

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Fall of Roman Empire