Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2, by Edward Gibbon, , at sacred-texts.com
The master of the Roman world, who aspired to erect an eternal monument of the glories of his reign could employ in the prosecution of that great work, the wealth, the labor, and all that yet remained of the genius of obedient millions. Some estimate may be formed of the expense bestowed with Imperial liberality on the foundation of Constantinople, by the allowance of about two millions five hundred thousand pounds for the construction of the walls, the porticos, and the aqueducts. 39 The forests that overshadowed the shores of the Euxine, and the celebrated quarries of white marble in the little island of Proconnesus, supplied an inexhaustible stock of materials, ready to be conveyed, by the convenience of a short water carriage, to the harbor of Byzantium. 40 A multitude of laborers and artificers urged the conclusion of the work with incessant toil: but the impatience of Constantine soon discovered, that, in the decline of the arts, the skill as well as numbers of his architects bore a very unequal proportion to the greatness of his designs. The magistrates of the most distant provinces were therefore directed to institute schools, to appoint professors, and by the hopes of rewards and privileges, to engage in the study and practice of architecture a sufficient number of ingenious youths, who had received a liberal education. 41 The buildings of the new city were executed by such artificers as the reign of Constantine could afford; but they were decorated by the hands of the most celebrated masters of the age of Pericles and Alexander. To revive the genius of Phidias and Lysippus, surpassed indeed the power of a Roman emperor; but the immortal productions which they had bequeathed to posterity were exposed without defence to the rapacious vanity of a despot. By his commands the cities of Greece and Asia were despoiled of their most valuable ornaments. 42 The trophies of memorable wars, the objects of religious veneration, the most finished statues of the gods and heroes, of the sages and poets, of ancient times, contributed to the splendid triumph of Constantinople; and gave occasion to the remark of the historian Cedrenus, 43 who observes, with some enthusiasm, that nothing seemed wanting except the souls of the illustrious men whom these admirable monuments were intended to represent. But it is not in the city of Constantine, nor in the declining period of an empire, when the human mind was depressed by civil and religious slavery, that we should seek for the souls of Homer and of Demosthenes.
During the siege of Byzantium, the conqueror had pitched his tent on the commanding eminence of the second hill. To perpetuate the memory of his success, he chose the same advantageous position for the principal Forum; 44 which appears to have been of a circular, or rather elliptical form. The two opposite entrances formed triumphal arches; the porticos, which enclosed it on every side, were filled with statues; and the centre of the Forum was occupied by a lofty column, of which a mutilated fragment is now degraded by the appellation of the burnt pillar. This column was erected on a pedestal of white marble twenty feet high; and was composed of ten pieces of porphyry, each of which measured about ten feet in height, and about thirty-three in circumference. 45 On the summit of the pillar, above one hundred and twenty feet from the ground, stood the colossal statue of Apollo. It was a bronze, had been transported either from Athens or from a town of Phrygia, and was supposed to be the work of Phidias. The artist had represented the god of day, or, as it was afterwards interpreted, the emperor Constantine himself, with a sceptre in his right hand, the globe of the world in his left, and a crown of rays glittering on his head. 46 The Circus, or Hippodrome, was a stately building about four hundred paces in length, and one hundred in breadth. 47 The space between the two metoe or goals were filled with statues and obelisks; and we may still remark a very singular fragment of antiquity; the bodies of three serpents, twisted into one pillar of brass. Their triple heads had once supported the golden tripod which, after the defeat of Xerxes, was consecrated in the temple of Delphi by the victorious Greeks. 48 The beauty of the Hippodrome has been long since defaced by the rude hands of the Turkish conquerors; !_0024 but, under the similar appellation of Atmeidan, it still serves as a place of exercise for their horses. From the throne, whence the emperor viewed the Circensian games, a winding staircase 49 descended to the palace; a magnificent edifice, which scarcely yielded to the residence of Rome itself, and which, together with the dependent courts, gardens, and porticos, covered a considerable extent of ground upon the banks of the Propontis between the Hippodrome and the church of St. Sophia. 50 We might likewise celebrate the baths, which still retained the name of Zeuxippus, after they had been enriched, by the munificence of Constantine, with lofty columns, various marbles, and above threescore statues of bronze. 51 But we should deviate from the design of this history, if we attempted minutely to describe the different buildings or quarters of the city. It may be sufficient to observe, that whatever could adorn the dignity of a great capital, or contribute to the benefit or pleasure of its numerous inhabitants, was contained within the walls of Constantinople. A particular description, composed about a century after its foundation, enumerates a capitol or school of learning, a circus, two theatres, eight public, and one hundred and fifty-three private baths, fifty-two porticos, five granaries, eight aqueducts or reservoirs of water, four spacious halls for the meetings of the senate or courts of justice, fourteen churches, fourteen palaces, and four thousand three hundred and eighty-eight houses, which, for their size or beauty, deserved to be distinguished from the multitude of plebeian inhabitants. 52
The populousness of his favored city was the next and most serious object of the attention of its founder. In the dark ages which succeeded the translation of the empire, the remote and the immediate consequences of that memorable event were strangely confounded by the vanity of the Greeks and the credulity of the Latins. 53 It was asserted, and believed, that all the noble families of Rome, the senate, and the equestrian order, with their innumerable attendants, had followed their emperor to the banks of the Propontis; that a spurious race of strangers and plebeians was left to possess the solitude of the ancient capital; and that the lands of Italy, long since converted into gardens, were at once deprived of cultivation and inhabitants. 54 In the course of this history, such exaggerations will be reduced to their just value: yet, since the growth of Constantinople cannot be ascribed to the general increase of mankind and of industry, it must be admitted that this artificial colony was raised at the expense of the ancient cities of the empire. Many opulent senators of Rome, and of the eastern provinces, were probably invited by Constantine to adopt for their country the fortunate spot, which he had chosen for his own residence. The invitations of a master are scarcely to be distinguished from commands; and the liberality of the emperor obtained a ready and cheerful obedience. He bestowed on his favorites the palaces which he had built in the several quarters of the city, assigned them lands and pensions for the support of their dignity, 55 and alienated the demesnes of Pontus and Asia to grant hereditary estates by the easy tenure of maintaining a house in the capital. 56 But these encouragements and obligations soon became superfluous, and were gradually abolished. Wherever the seat of government is fixed, a considerable part of the public revenue will be expended by the prince himself, by his ministers, by the officers of justice, and by the domestics of the palace. The most wealthy of the provincials will be attracted by the powerful motives of interest and duty, of amusement and curiosity. A third and more numerous class of inhabitants will insensibly be formed, of servants, of artificers, and of merchants, who derive their subsistence from their own labor, and from the wants or luxury of the superior ranks. In less than a century, Constantinople disputed with Rome itself the preeminence of riches and numbers. New piles of buildings, crowded together with too little regard to health or convenience, scarcely allowed the intervals of narrow streets for the perpetual throng of men, of horses, and of carriages. The allotted space of ground was insufficient to contain the increasing people; and the additional foundations, which, on either side, were advanced into the sea, might alone have composed a very considerable city. 57
The frequent and regular distributions of wine and oil, of corn or bread, of money or provisions, had almost exempted the poorest citizens of Rome from the necessity of labor. The magnificence of the first Caesars was in some measure imitated by the founder of Constantinople: 58 but his liberality, however it might excite the applause of the people, has in curred the censure of posterity. A nation of legislators and conquerors might assert their claim to the harvests of Africa, which had been purchased with their blood; and it was artfully contrived by Augustus, that, in the enjoyment of plenty, the Romans should lose the memory of freedom. But the prodigality of Constantine could not be excused by any consideration either of public or private interest; and the annual tribute of corn imposed upon Egypt for the benefit of his new capital, was applied to feed a lazy and insolent populace, at the expense of the husbandmen of an industrious province. 59 *_0025 Some other regulations of this emperor are less liable to blame, but they are less deserving of notice. He divided Constantinople into fourteen regions or quarters, 60 dignified the public council with the appellation of senate, 61 communicated to the citizens the privileges of Italy, 62 and bestowed on the rising city the title of Colony, the first and most favored daughter of ancient Rome. The venerable parent still maintained the legal and acknowledged supremacy, which was due to her age, her dignity, and to the remembrance of her former greatness. 63
As Constantine urged the progress of the work with the impatience of a lover, the walls, the porticos, and the principal edifices were completed in a few years, or, according to another account, in a few months; 64 but this extraordinary diligence should excite the less admiration, since many of the buildings were finished in so hasty and imperfect a manner, that under the succeeding reign, they were preserved with difficulty from impending ruin. 65 But while they displayed the vigor and freshness of youth, the founder prepared to celebrate the dedication of his city. 66 The games and largesses which crowned the pomp of this memorable festival may easily be supposed; but there is one circumstance of a more singular and permanent nature, which ought not entirely to be overlooked. As often as the birthday of the city returned, the statute of Constantine, framed by his order, of gilt wood, and bearing in his right hand a small image of the genius of the place, was erected on a triumphal car. The guards, carrying white tapers, and clothed in their richest apparel, accompanied the solemn procession as it moved through the Hippodrome. When it was opposite to the throne of the reigning emperor, he rose from his seat, and with grateful reverence adored the memory of his predecessor. 67 At the festival of the dedication, an edict, engraved on a column of marble, bestowed the title of Second or New Rome on the city of Constantine. 68 But the name of Constantinople 69 has prevailed over that honorable epithet; and after the revolution of fourteen centuries, still perpetuates the fame of its author. 70
The foundation of a new capital is naturally connected with the establishment of a new form of civil and military administration. The distinct view of the complicated system of policy, introduced by Diocletian, improved by Constantine, and completed by his immediate successors, may not only amuse the fancy by the singular picture of a great empire, but will tend to illustrate the secret and internal causes of its rapid decay. In the pursuit of any remarkable institution, we may be frequently led into the more early or the more recent times of the Roman history; but the proper limits of this inquiry will be included within a period of about one hundred and thirty years, from the accession of Constantine to the publication of the Theodosian code; 71 from which, as well as from the Notitia *_0026 of the East and West, 72 we derive the most copious and authentic information of the state of the empire. This variety of objects will suspend, for some time, the course of the narrative; but the interruption will be censured only by those readers who are insensible to the importance of laws and manners, while they peruse, with eager curiosity, the transient intrigues of a court, or the accidental event of a battle.
39 Six hundred centenaries, or sixty thousand pounds' weight of gold. This sum is taken from Codinus, Antiquit. Const. p. 11; but unless that contemptible author had derived his information from some purer sources, he would probably have been unacquainted with so obsolete a mode of reckoning.
40 For the forests of the Black Sea, consult Tournefort, Lettre XVI. for the marble quarries of Proconnesus, see Strabo, l. xiii. p. 588, (881, edit. Casaub.) The latter had already furnished the materials of the stately buildings of Cyzicus.
41 See the Codex Theodos. l. xiii. tit. iv. leg. 1. This law is dated in the year 334, and was addressed to the praefect of Italy, whose jurisdiction extended over Africa. The commentary of Godefroy on the whole title well deserves to be consulted.
42 Constantinopolis dedicatur poene omnium urbium nuditate. Hieronym. Chron. p. 181. See Codinus, p. 8, 9. The author of the Antiquitat. Const. l. iii. (apud Banduri Imp. Orient. tom. i. p. 41) enumerates Rome, Sicily, Antioch, Athens, and a long list of other cities. The provinces of Greece and Asia Minor may be supposed to have yielded the richest booty.
43 Hist. Compend. p. 369. He describes the statue, or rather bust, of Homer with a degree of taste which plainly indicates that Cadrenus copied the style of a more fortunate age.
44 Zosim. l. ii. p. 106. Chron. Alexandrin. vel Paschal. p. 284, Ducange, Const. l. i. c. 24. Even the last of those writers seems to confound the Forum of Constantine with the Augusteum, or court of the palace. I am not satisfied whether I have properly distinguished what belongs to the one and the other.
45 The most tolerable account of this column is given by Pocock. Description of the East, vol. ii. part ii. p. 131. But it is still in many instances perplexed and unsatisfactory.
46 Ducange, Const. l. i. c. 24, p. 76, and his notes ad Alexiad. p. 382. The statue of Constantine or Apollo was thrown down under the reign of Alexius Comnenus.
Note: On this column (says M. von Hammer) Constantine, with singular shamelessness, placed his own statue with the attributes of Apollo and Christ. He substituted the nails of the Passion for the rays of the sun. Such is the direct testimony of the author of the Antiquit. Constantinop. apud Banduri. Constantine was replaced by the "great and religious" Julian, Julian, by Theodosius. A. D. 1412, the key stone was loosened by an earthquake. The statue fell in the reign of Alexius Comnenus, and was replaced by the cross. The Palladium was said to be buried under the pillar. Von Hammer, Constantinopolis und der Bosporos, i. 162. - M.
47 Tournefort (Lettre XII.) computes the Atmeidan at four hundred paces. If he means geometrical paces of five feet each, it was three hundred toises in length, about forty more than the great circus of Rome. See D'Anville, Mesures Itineraires, p. 73.
48 The guardians of the most holy relics would rejoice if they were able to produce such a chain of evidence as may be alleged on this occasion. See Banduri ad Antiquitat. Const. p. 668. Gyllius de Byzant. l. ii. c. 13. 1. The original consecration of the tripod and pillar in the temple of Delphi may be proved from Herodotus and Pausanias. 2. The Pagan Zosimus agrees with the three ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius, Socrates, and Sozomen, that the sacred ornaments of the temple of Delphi were removed to Constantinople by the order of Constantine; and among these the serpentine pillar of the Hippodrome is particularly mentioned. 3. All the European travellers who have visited Constantinople, from Buondelmonte to Pocock, describe it in the same place, and almost in the same manner; the differences between them are occasioned only by the injuries which it has sustained from the Turks. Mahomet the Second broke the under jaw of one of the serpents with a stroke of his battle axe Thevenot, l. i. c. 17.
Note: See note 75, ch. lxviii. for Dr. Clarke's rejection of Thevenot's authority. Von Hammer, however, repeats the story of Thevenot without questioning its authenticity. - M.
!_0024 In 1808 the Janizaries revolted against the vizier Mustapha Baisactar, who wished to introduce a new system of military organization, besieged the quarter of the Hippodrome, in which stood the palace of the viziers, and the Hippodrome was consumed in the conflagration. - G.
49 The Latin name Cochlea was adopted by the Greeks, and very frequently occurs in the Byzantine history. Ducange, Const. i. c. l, p. 104.
50 There are three topographical points which indicate the situation of the palace. 1. The staircase which connected it with the Hippodrome or Atmeidan. 2. A small artificial port on the Propontis, from whence there was an easy ascent, by a flight of marble steps, to the gardens of the palace. 3. The Augusteum was a spacious court, one side of which was occupied by the front of the palace, and another by the church of St. Sophia.
51 Zeuxippus was an epithet of Jupiter, and the baths were a part of old Byzantium. The difficulty of assigning their true situation has not been felt by Ducange. History seems to connect them with St. Sophia and the palace; but the original plan inserted in Banduri places them on the other side of the city, near the harbor. For their beauties, see Chron. Paschal. p. 285, and Gyllius de Byzant. l. ii. c. 7. Christodorus (see Antiquitat. Const. l. vii.) composed inscriptions in verse for each of the statues. He was a Theban poet in genius as well as in birth: -
Baeotum in crasso jurares aere natum.
Note: Yet, for his age, the description of the statues of Hecuba and of Homer are by no means without merit. See Antholog. Palat. (edit. Jacobs) i. 37 - M.
52 See the Notitia. Rome only reckoned 1780 large houses, domus; but the word must have had a more dignified signification. No insulae are mentioned at Constantinople. The old capital consisted of 42 streets, the new of 322.
53 Liutprand, Legatio ad Imp. Nicephornm, p. 153. The modern Greeks have strangely disfigured the antiquities of Constantinople. We might excuse the errors of the Turkish or Arabian writers; but it is somewhat astonishing, that the Greeks, who had access to the authentic materials preserved in their own language, should prefer fiction to truth, and loose tradition to genuine history. In a single page of Codinus we may detect twelve unpardonable mistakes; the reconciliation of Severus and Niger, the marriage of their son and daughter, the siege of Byzantium by the Macedonians, the invasion of the Gauls, which recalled Severus to Rome, the sixty years which elapsed from his death to the foundation of Constantinople, &c.
54 Montesquieu, Grandeur et Decadence des Romains, c. 17.
55 Themist. Orat. iii. p. 48, edit. Hardouin. Sozomen, l. ii. c. 3. Zosim. l. ii. p. 107. Anonym. Valesian. p. 715. If we could credit Codinus, (p. 10,) Constantine built houses for the senators on the exact model of their Roman palaces, and gratified them, as well as himself, with the pleasure of an agreeable surprise; but the whole story is full of fictions and inconsistencies.
56 The law by which the younger Theodosius, in the year 438, abolished this tenure, may be found among the Novellae of that emperor at the end of the Theodosian Code, tom. vi. nov. 12. M. de Tillemont (Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. p. 371) has evidently mistaken the nature of these estates. With a grant from the Imperial demesnes, the same condition was accepted as a favor, which would justly have been deemed a hardship, if it had been imposed upon private property.
57 The passages of Zosimus, of Eunapius, of Sozomen, and of Agathias, which relate to the increase of buildings and inhabitants at Constantinople, are collected and connected by Gyllius de Byzant. l. i. c. 3. Sidonius Apollinaris (in Panegyr. Anthem. 56, p. 279, edit. Sirmond) describes the moles that were pushed forwards into the sea, they consisted of the famous Puzzolan sand, which hardens in the water.
58 Sozomen, l. ii. c. 3. Philostorg. l. ii. c. 9. Codin. Antiquitat. Const. p. 8. It appears by Socrates, l. ii. c. 13, that the daily allowance of the city consisted of eight myriads of which we may either translate, with Valesius, by the words modii of corn, or consider us expressive of the number of loaves of bread.
Note: At Rome the poorer citizens who received these gratuities were inscribed in a register; they had only a personal right. Constantine attached the right to the houses in his new capital, to engage the lower classes of the people to build their houses with expedition. Codex Therodos. l. xiv. - G.
59 See Cod. Theodos. l. xiii. and xiv., and Cod. Justinian. Edict. xii. tom. ii. p. 648, edit. Genev. See the beautiful complaint of Rome in the poem of Claudian de Bell. Gildonico, ver. 46-64.
Cum subiit par Roma mihi, divisaque sumsit Aequales aurora togas; Aegyptia rura In partem cessere novam.
*_0025 This was also at the expense of Rome. The emperor ordered that the fleet of Alexandria should transport to Constantinople the grain of Egypt which it carried before to Rome: this grain supplied Rome during four months of the year. Claudian has described with force the famine occasioned by this measure: -
Haec nobis, haec ante dabas; nunc pabula tantum Roma precor: miserere tuae; pater optime, gentis: Extremam defende famem.
Claud. de Bell. Gildon. v. 34.
It was scarcely this measure. Gildo had cut off the African as well as the Egyptian supplies. - M.
60 The regions of Constantinople are mentioned in the code of Justinian, and particularly described in the Notitia of the younger Theodosius; but as the four last of them are not included within the wall of Constantine, it may be doubted whether this division of the city should be referred to the founder.
61 Senatum constituit secundi ordinis; Claros vocavit. Anonym Valesian. p. 715. The senators of old Rome were styled Clarissimi. See a curious note of Valesius ad Ammian. Marcellin. xxii. 9. From the eleventh epistle of Julian, it should seem that the place of senator was considered as a burden, rather than as an honor; but the Abbe de la Bleterie (Vie de Jovien, tom. ii. p. 371) has shown that this epistle could not relate to Constantinople. Might we not read, instead of the celebrated name of the obscure but more probable word Bisanthe or Rhoedestus, now Rhodosto, was a small maritime city of Thrace. See Stephan. Byz. de Urbibus, p. 225, and Cellar. Geograph. tom. i. p. 849.
62 Cod. Theodos. l. xiv. 13. The commentary of Godefroy (tom. v. p. 220) is long, but perplexed; nor indeed is it easy to ascertain in what the Jus Italicum could consist, after the freedom of the city had been communicated to the whole empire.
Note: "This right, (the Jus Italicum,) which by most writers is referred with out foundation to the personal condition of the citizens, properly related to the city as a whole, and contained two parts. First, the Roman or quiritarian property in the soil, (commercium,) and its capability of mancipation, usucaption, and vindication; moreover, as an inseparable consequence of this, exemption from land-tax. Then, secondly, a free constitution in the Italian form, with Duumvirs, Quinquennales. and Aediles, and especially with Jurisdiction." Savigny, Geschichte des Rom. Rechts i. p. 51 - M.
63 Julian (Orat. i. p. 8) celebrates Constantinople as not less superior to all other cities than she was inferior to Rome itself. His learned commentator (Spanheim, p. 75, 76) justifies this language by several parallel and contemporary instances. Zosimus, as well as Socrates and Sozomen, flourished after the division of the empire between the two sons of Theodosius, which established a perfect equality between the old and the new capital.
64 Codinus (Antiquitat. p. 8) affirms, that the foundations of Constantinople were laid in the year of the world 5837, (A. D. 329,) on the 26th of September, and that the city was dedicated the 11th of May, 5838, (A. D. 330.) He connects those dates with several characteristic epochs, but they contradict each other; the authority of Codinus is of little weight, and the space which he assigns must appear insufficient. The term of ten years is given us by Julian, (Orat. i. p. 8;) and Spanheim labors to establish the truth of it, (p. 69-75,) by the help of two passages from Themistius, (Orat. iv. p. 58,) and of Philostorgius, (l. ii. c. 9,) which form a period from the year 324 to the year 334. Modern critics are divided concerning this point of chronology and their different sentiments are very accurately described by Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. p. 619-625.
65 Themistius. Orat. iii. p. 47. Zosim. l. ii. p. 108. Constantine himself, in one of his laws, (Cod. Theod. l. xv. tit. i.,) betrays his impatience.
66 Cedrenus and Zonaras, faithful to the mode of superstition which prevailed in their own times, assure us that Constantinople was consecrated to the virgin Mother of God.
67 The earliest and most complete account of this extraordinary ceremony may be found in the Alexandrian Chronicle, p. 285. Tillemont, and the other friends of Constantine, who are offended with the air of Paganism which seems unworthy of a Christian prince, had a right to consider it as doubtful, but they were not authorized to omit the mention of it.
68 Sozomen, l. ii. c. 2. Ducange C. P. l. i. c. 6. Velut ipsius Romae filiam, is the expression of Augustin. de Civitat. Dei, l. v. c. 25.
69 Eutropius, l. x. c. 8. Julian. Orat. i. p. 8. Ducange C. P. l. i. c. 5. The name of Constantinople is extant on the medals of Constantine.
70 The lively Fontenelle (Dialogues des Morts, xii.) affects to deride the vanity of human ambition, and seems to triumph in the disappointment of Constantine, whose immortal name is now lost in the vulgar appellation of Istambol, a Turkish corruption of. Yet the original name is still preserved, 1. By the nations of Europe. 2. By the modern Greeks. 3. By the Arabs, whose writings are diffused over the wide extent of their conquests in Asia and Africa. See D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, p. 275. 4. By the more learned Turks, and by the emperor himself in his public mandates Cantemir's History of the Othman Empire, p. 51.
71 The Theodosian code was promulgated A. D. 438. See the Prolegomena of Godefroy, c. i. p. 185.
*_0026 The Notitia Dignitatum Imperii is a description of all the offices in the court and the state, of the legions, &c. It resembles our court almanacs, (Red Books,) with this single difference, that our almanacs name the persons in office, the Notitia only the offices. It is of the time of the emperor Theodosius II., that is to say, of the fifth century, when the empire was divided into the Eastern and Western. It is probable that it was not made for the first time, and that descriptions of the same kind existed before. - G.
72 Pancirolus, in his elaborate Commentary, assigns to the Notitia a date almost similar to that of the Theodosian Code; but his proofs, or rather conjectures, are extremely feeble. I should be rather inclined to place this useful work between the final division of the empire (A. D. 395) and the successful invasion of Gaul by the barbarians, (A. D. 407.) See Histoire des Anciens Peuples de l'Europe, tom. vii. p. 40.