Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire




Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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Chapter LXIX: State Of Rome From The Twelfth Century. -- Part II.

Yet the courage of Arnold was not devoid of discretion: he was protected, and had perhaps been invited, by the nobles and people; and in the service of freedom, his eloquence thundered over the seven hills. Blending in the same discourse the texts of Livy and St. Paul, uniting the motives of gospel, and of classic, enthusiasm, he admonished the Romans, how strangely their patience and the vices of the clergy had degenerated from the primitive times of the church and the city. He exhorted them to assert the inalienable rights of men and Christians; to restore the laws and magistrates of the republic; to respect the name of the emperor; but to confine their shepherd to the spiritual government of his flock. ^26 Nor could his spiritual government escape the censure and control of the reformer; and the inferior clergy were taught by his lessons to resist the cardinals, who had usurped a despotic command over the twenty-eight regions or parishes of Rome. ^27 The revolution was not accomplished without rapine and violence, the diffusion of blood and the demolition of houses: the victorious faction was enriched with the spoils of the clergy and the adverse nobles. Arnold of Brescia enjoyed, or deplored, the effects of his mission: his reign continued above ten years, while two popes, Innocent the Second and Anastasius the Fourth, either trembled in the Vatican, or wandered as exiles in the adjacent cities. They were succeeded by a more vigorous and fortunate pontiff. Adrian the Fourth, ^28 the only Englishman who has ascended the throne of St. Peter; and whose merit emerged from the mean condition of a monk, and almost a beggar, in the monastery of St. Albans. On the first provocation, of a cardinal killed or wounded in the streets, he cast an interdict on the guilty people; and from Christmas to Easter, Rome was deprived of the real or imaginary comforts of religious worship. The Romans had despised their temporal prince: they submitted with grief and terror to the censures of their spiritual father: their guilt was expiated by penance, and the banishment of the seditious preacher was the price of their absolution. But the revenge of Adrian was yet unsatisfied, and the approaching coronation of Frederic Barbarossa was fatal to the bold reformer, who had offended, though not in an equal degree, the heads of the church and state. In their interview at Viterbo, the pope represented to the emperor the furious, ungovernable spirit of the Romans; the insults, the injuries, the fears, to which his person and his clergy were continually exposed; and the pernicious tendency of the heresy of Arnold, which must subvert the principles of civil, as well as ecclesiastical, subordination. Frederic was convinced by these arguments, or tempted by the desire of the Imperial crown: in the balance of ambition, the innocence or life of an individual is of small account; and their common enemy was sacrificed to a moment of political concord. After his retreat from Rome, Arnold had been protected by the viscounts of Campania, from whom he was extorted by the power of Cæsar: the præfect of the city pronounced his sentence: the martyr of freedom was burned alive in the presence of a careless and ungrateful people; and his ashes were cast into the Tyber, lest the heretics should collect and worship the relics of their master. ^29 The clergy triumphed in his death: with his ashes, his sect was dispersed; his memory still lived in the minds of the Romans. From his school they had probably derived a new article of faith, that the metropolis of the Catholic church is exempt from the penalties of excommunication and interdict. Their bishops might argue, that the supreme jurisdiction, which they exercised over kings and nations, more especially embraced the city and diocese of the prince of the apostles. But they preached to the winds, and the same principle that weakened the effect, must temper the abuse, of the thunders of the Vatican.

[Footnote 26: He advised the Romans,

Consiliis armisque sua moderamina summa

Arbitrio tractare suo: nil juris in hâc re

Pontifici summo, modicum concedere regi

Suadebat populo. Sic læsâ stultus utrâque

Majestate, reum geminæ se fecerat aulæ.

Nor is the poetry of Gunther different from the prose of Otho.]

[Footnote 27: See Baronius (A.D. 1148, No. 38, 39) from the Vatican MSS. He loudly condemns Arnold (A.D. 1141, No. 3) as the father of the political heretics, whose influence then hurt him in France.]

[Footnote 28: The English reader may consult the Biographia Britannica, Adrian IV.; but our own writers have added nothing to the fame or merits of their countrymen.]

[Footnote 29: Besides the historian and poet already quoted, the last adventures of Arnold are related by the biographer of Adrian IV. (Muratori. Script. Rerum Ital. tom. iii. P. i. p. 441, 442.)]

The love of ancient freedom has encouraged a belief that as early as the tenth century, in their first struggles against the Saxon Othos, the commonwealth was vindicated and restored by the senate and people of Rome; that two consuls were annually elected among the nobles, and that ten or twelve plebeian magistrates revived the name and office of the tribunes of the commons. ^30 But this venerable structure disappears before the light of criticism. In the darkness of the middle ages, the appellations of senators, of consuls, of the sons of consuls, may sometimes be discovered. ^31 They were bestowed by the emperors, or assumed by the most powerful citizens, to denote their rank, their honors, ^32 and perhaps the claim of a pure and patrician descent: but they float on the surface, without a series or a substance, the titles of men, not the orders of government; ^33 and it is only from the year of Christ one thousand one hundred and forty-four that the establishment of the senate is dated, as a glorious æra, in the acts of the city. A new constitution was hastily framed by private ambition or popular enthusiasm; nor could Rome, in the twelfth century, produce an antiquary to explain, or a legislator to restore, the harmony and proportions of the ancient model. The assembly of a free, of an armed, people, will ever speak in loud and weighty acclamations. But the regular distribution of the thirty-five tribes, the nice balance of the wealth and numbers of the centuries, the debates of the adverse orators, and the slow operations of votes and ballots, could not easily be adapted by a blind multitude, ignorant of the arts, and insensible of the benefits, of legal government. It was proposed by Arnold to revive and discriminate the equestrian order; but what could be the motive or measure of such distinction? ^34 The pecuniary qualification of the knights must have been reduced to the poverty of the times: those times no longer required their civil functions of judges and farmers of the revenue; and their primitive duty, their military service on horseback, was more nobly supplied by feudal tenures and the spirit of chivalry. The jurisprudence of the republic was useless and unknown: the nations and families of Italy who lived under the Roman and Barbaric laws were insensibly mingled in a common mass; and some faint tradition, some imperfect fragments, preserved the memory of the Code and Pandects of Justinian. With their liberty the Romans might doubtless have restored the appellation and office of consuls; had they not disdained a title so promiscuously adopted in the Italian cities, that it has finally settled on the humble station of the agents of commerce in a foreign land. But the rights of the tribunes, the formidable word that arrested the public counsels, suppose or must produce a legitimate democracy. The old patricians were the subjects, the modern barons the tyrants, of the state; nor would the enemies of peace and order, who insulted the vicar of Christ, have long respected the unarmed sanctity of a plebeian magistrate. ^35

[Footnote 30: Ducange (Gloss. Latinitatis Mediæ et Infimæ Ætatis, Decarchones, tom. ii. p. 726) gives me a quotation from Blondus, (Decad.

  1. l. ii.:) Duo consules ex nobilitate quotannis fiebant, qui ad vetustum consulum exemplar summærerum præessent. And in Sigonius (de Regno Italiæ, l. v. Opp. tom. ii. p. 400) I read of the consuls and tribunes of the xth century. Both Blondus, and even Sigonius, too freely copied the classic method of supplying from reason or fancy the deficiency of records.]

[Footnote 31: In the panegyric of Berengarius (Muratori, Script. Rer. Ital. tom. ii. P. i. p. 408) a Roman is mentioned as consulis natus in the beginning of the xth century. Muratori (Dissert. v.) discovers, in the years 952 and 956, Gratianus in Dei nomine consul et dux, Georgius consul et dux; and in 1015, Romanus, brother of Gregory VIII., proudly, but vaguely, styles himself consul et dux et omnium Roma norum senator.]

[Footnote 32: As late as the xth century, the Greek emperors conferred on the dukes of Venice, Naples, Amalphi, &c., the title of upatoV or consuls, (see Chron. Sagornini, passim;) and the successors of Charlemagne would not abdicate any of their prerogative. But in general the names of consul and senator, which may be found among the French and Germans, signify no more than count and lord, (Signeur, Ducange Glossar.) The monkish writers are often ambitious of fine classic words.]

[Footnote 33: The most constitutional form is a diploma of Otho III.,


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Fall of Roman Empire
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