Eutropius, Short History 10

Eutropius (c.320-c.390?): Roman historian, author of a very popular Short History of the Roman Empire.

The translation of Eutropius' Short History offered here is by John Selby Watson and was published in 1886. The text was found at The notes were added by Jona Lendering.

[1] These emperors, then, having retired from the government of the state, Constantius and Galerius were made emperors; and the Roman world was divided between them in such a manner, that Constantius had Gaul, Italy, and Africa; Galerius Illyricum, Asia, and the East; two caesars being joined with them.

Constantius, however, content with the dignity of emperor, declined the care of governing Africa. He was an excellent man, of extreme benevolence, who studied to increase the resources of the provinces and of private persons, cared but little for the improvement of the public treasury, and used to say that "it was better for the national wealth to be in the hands of individuals than to be laid up in one place of confinement."

So moderate was the furniture of his house, too, that if, on holidays, he had to entertain a greater number of friends than ordinary, his dining-rooms were set out with the plate of private persons, borrowed from their several houses. By the Gauls he was not only beloved but venerated, especially because, under his government, they had escaped the suspicious prudence of Diocletian, and the sanguinary rashness of Maximian. He died in Britain, at York, in the thirteenth year of his reign, and was enrolled among the gods.note

[2] Galerius, a man of excellent moral character, and skilful in military affairs, finding that Italy, by Constantius' permission, was put under his government, created two caesars, Maximin, whom he appointed over the east, and Severus, to whom he committed Italy. He himself resided in Illyricum.

But after the death of Constantius, Constantine, his son by a wife of obscure birth, was made emperor in Britain, and succeeded his father as a most desirable ruler.

In the meantime the praetorian guards at Rome, having risen in insurrection, declared Maxentius, the son of Maximian Herculius, who lived in the Villa Publica not far from the city, emperor. At the news of this proceeding, Maximian, filled with hopes of regaining the imperial dignity, which he had not willingly resigned, hurried to Rome from Lucania (which, on retiring into private life, he had chosen for his place of residence, spending his old age in a most delightful country), and stimulated Diocletian by letters to resume the authority that he had laid down, letters which Diocletian utterly disregarded.

Severus caesar, being despatched to Rome by Galerius to suppress the rising of the guards and Maxentius, arrived there with his army, but, as he was laying siege to the city, was deserted through the treachery of his soldiers.

[3] The power of Maxentius was thus increased, and his government established. Severus, taking to flight, was killed at Ravenna.note

Maximian Herculius, attempting afterwards, in an assembly of the army, to divest his son Maxentius of his power, met with nothing but mutiny and reproaches from the soldiery. He then set out for Gaul, on a planned stratagem, as if he had been driven away by his son, that he might join his son-in-law Constantine, designing, however, if he could find an opportunity, to cut off Constantine, who was ruling in Gaul with great approbation both of the soldiers and the people of the province, having overthrown the Franks and Alemanni with great slaughter, and captured their kings, whom, on exhibiting a magnificent show of games, he exposed to wild beasts.

But the plot being made known by Maximian's daughter Fausta, who communicated the design to her husband, Maximian was cut off at Marseilles, whence he was preparing to sail to join his son, and died a well-deserved death; for he was a man inclined to every kind of cruelty and severity, faithless, perverse, and utterly void of consideration for others.note

[4] At this timenote Licinius, a native of Dacia, was made emperor by Galerius, to whom he was known by old companionship, and recommended by his vigorous efforts and services in the war which he had conducted against Narses.

The death of Galerius followed immediately afterwards.note The Empire was then held by the four new emperors, Constantine and Maxentius, sons of emperors, Licinius and Maximian, sons of undistinguished men. Constantine, however, in the fifth year of his reign, commenced a civil war with Maxentius, routed his forces in several battles, and at last overthrew Maxentius himself (when he was spreading death among the nobility by every possible kind of cruelty) at the Milvian Bridge, and made himself master of Italy.note

Not long after, too, Maximin, after commencing hostilities against Licinius in the east, anticipated the destruction that was falling upon him by an accidental death at Tarsus.

[5] Constantine, being a man of great energy, bent upon effecting whatever he had settled in his mind, and aspiring to the sovereignty of the whole world, proceeded to make war on Licinius,note although he had formed a connexion with him by marriage, for his sister Constantia was married to Licinius. And first of all be overthrew him, by a sudden attack, at Cibalae in Pannonia, where he was making vast preparations for war; and after becoming master of Dardania, Moesia, and Macedonia, took possession also of several other provinces.

[6] There were then various contests between them, and peace made and broken. At last Licinius, defeated in a battle at Nicomedia by sea and land, surrendered himself, and, in violation of an oath taken by Constantine, was put to death, after being divested of the purple, at Thessalonica.

At this time the Roman Empire fell under the sway of one emperor and three caesars, a state of things which had never existed before; the sons of Constantine ruling over Gaul, the east, and Italy. But the pride of prosperity caused Constantine greatly to depart from his former agreeable mildness of temper. Falling first upon his own relatives, he put to death his son, an excellent man; his sister's son, a youth of amiable disposition; soon afterwards his wife, and subsequently many of his friends.

[7] He was a man, who, in the beginning of his reign, might have been compared to the best princes; in the latter part of it, only to those of a middling character. Innumerable good qualities of mind and body were apparent in him; he was exceedingly ambitious of military glory, and had great success in his wars; a success, however, not more than proportioned to his exertions.

After he had terminated the civil war, he also overthrew the Goths on various occasions, granting them at last peace, and leaving on the minds of the barbarians a strong remembrance of his kindness.

He was attached to the arts of peace and to liberal studies, and was ambitious of honorable popularity, which he, indeed, sought by every kind of liberality and obligingness. Though he was slow, from suspicion, to serve some of his friends, yet he was exceedingly generous towards others, neglecting no opportunity to add to their riches and honors.

[8] He enacted many laws, some good and equitable, but most of them superfluous, and some severe. He was the first that endeavored to raise the city named after him to such a height as to make it a rival to Rome.

As he was preparing for war against the Parthians, who were then disturbing Mesopotamia, he died in the Villa Publica, at Nicomedia, in the thirty-first year of his reign, and the sixty-sixth of his age.note His death was foretold by a star with a tail, which shone for a long time, of extraordinary size, and which the Greeks call a comet. He was deservedly enrolled among the gods.

[9] He left for his successors three sons and one nephew, the son of his brother. But Dalmatius caesar, a man of happy genius, and not unlike his brother, was soon after cut off by a mutiny among the soldiers, Constantius, his cousin, sanctioning the act, rather than commanding it.note The officers of Constans also put to death Constantine, when he was making war upon his brother, and had rashly commenced an engagement at Aquileia.note

Thus the government was left in the hands of two emperors. The rule of Constans was for some time energetic and just, but afterwards, falling into ill-health, and being swayed by ill-designing friends, he indulged in great vices; and, becoming intolerable to the people of the provinces, and unpopular with the soldiery, was killed by a party headed by Magnentius.note He died not far from the borders of Spain, in a fortress named Helena, in the seventeenth year of his reign, and the thirtieth of his age; yet not till he had performed many gallant actions in the field, and had made himself feared by the army through the whole course of his life, though without exercising any extraordinary severity.

[10] The fortune of Constantius was different; for he suffered many grievous calamities at the hands of the Persians, his towns being often taken, his walled cities besieged, and his troops cut off. Nor had he a single successful engagement with Sapor, except that, at Singara, when victory might certainly have been his, he lost it, through the irrepressible eagerness of his men, who, contrary to the practice of war, mutinously and foolishly called for battle when the day was declining.

After the death of Constans, when Magnentius held the government of Italy, Africa, and Gaul, Illyricum also felt some new commotions, Vetranio being elected to the throne by a combination of the soldiery, whom they made emperor when he was very old and universally popular from the length and success of his service in the field; an upright man, of morality severe as that of the ancients, and of an agreeable unassumingness of manner, but so ignorant of all polite learning, that he did not even acquire the first rudiments of literature until he was old and had become emperor.

[11] But the imperial authority was snatched from Vetranio by Constantius, who stirred up a civil war to avenge his brother's death; Vetranio being compelled, with the consent of the soldiers, and, by a new and extraordinary proceeding, to divest himself of the purple. There was at the same time an insurrection at Rome, Nepotian, a son of Constantine's sister, endeavouring to secure the throne with the aid of a body of gladiators; but he met with an end such as his savage attempts merited, for he was cut off on the twenty-eighth day of his usurpation by the officers of Magnentius, and paid the penalty of his rashness. His head was carried through the city on a lance; and dreadful proscriptions and massacres of the nobility ensued.

[12] Not long afterwards Magnentius was overthrown in a battle at Mursa, and nearly taken prisoner. Vast forces of the Roman Empire were cut off in that struggle, sufficient for any foreign wars, and for procuring many triumphs, and a lasting peace.

Soon after, Gallus, his uncle's son, was appointed by Constantius as caesar over the east; and Magnentius, being defeated in several battles, put an end to his life at Lyons, in the third year and seventh month of his reign, as did also his brother at Sens, whom he had sent as caesar to defend Gaul.

[13] About this time the caesar Gallus, after committing many tyrannical acts, was put to death by Constantius. Gallus was a man naturally cruel, and too much inclined to tyranny, if he could but have reigned in his own right Silvanus also, who attempted an insurrection in Gaul, was cut off before the end of thirty days; and Constantius then remained sole ruler and emperor over the Roman dominions.

[14] He then sent into Gaul, with the authority of caesar, his cousin Julian, the brother of Gallus, giving him his sister in marriage, at a time when the barbarians had stormed many towns and were besieging others, when there was every where direful devastation, and when the Roman Empire was tottering in evident distress. But by Julian, with but a moderate force, vast numbers of the Alemanni were cut off at Strasburg, a city of Gaul; their distinguished king was taken prisoner, and Gaul recovered. Many other honorable achievements, too, were afterwards performed by Julian against the barbarians, the Germans being driven beyond the Rhine, and the Roman Empire extended to its former limits.

[15] Not long after, when the German armies were withdrawing from the defence of Gaul, Julian was made emperor by the unanimous consent of the army, and, after the lapse of a year, went to take the government of Illyricum, while Constantius was engaged in the war with Parthia. Constantius, hearing what had occurred, and returning to the civil strife, died on his march between Cilicia and Cappadocia, in the thirty-eighth year of his reign, and the forty-fifth of his age, and was deservedly enrolled among the gods.note

He was a man of a remarkably tranquil disposition, good-natured, trusting too much to his friends and courtiers, and at last too much in the power of his wives. He conducted himself with great moderation in the commencement of his reign; he enriched his friends, and suffered none, whose active services he had experienced, to go unrewarded. He was however somewhat inclined to severity, whenever any suspicion of an attempt on the government was excited in him; otherwise he was gentle. His fortune is more to be praised in civil than in foreign wars.

[16] Julian then became sole emperor, and made war, with a vast force, upon the Parthians; in which expedition I was also present. Several towns and fortresses of the Persians he induced to surrender, or took them by storm; and, having laid waste Assyria, fixed his camp for some time at Ctesiphon. As he was returning victorious, and mingling rashly in the thick of a battle, he was killed by the hand of an enemy, on the 26th of June,note in the seventh year of his reign, and the thirty-second of his age, and was enrolled among the gods.

He was a remarkable man, and one that would have governed the Empire with honor, if he had but been permitted by the fates. He was eminently accomplished in liberal branches of knowledge, but better read in the literature of the Greeks, so much so indeed that his Latin was by no means comparable to his Greek learning. He was possessed of great and ready eloquence, and of a most tenacious memory. In some respects he was more like a philosopher than a prince. Towards his friends he was liberal, yet less discriminating as to the objects of his generosity than became so great an emperor; for there were some of them that cast a stain on his glory. To the people of the provinces he was most just, and remitted the taxes on them as far as was possible. He was indulgent towards all men; he felt no great anxiety about the public treasury; but of glory he was a great lover, and manifested even an intemperate desire for the attainment of it.

He was a persecutor of the Christian religion, yet so that he abstained from shedding blood. He was not unlike Marcus Antoninus, whom he even studied to rival.

[17] After him Jovian, who attended him in the expedition as one of his body-guard, was chosen by the suffrages of the soldiers to fill the throne; a man better known to the army by the fame of his father than by his own. As affairs were now in confusion, and the army distressed for want of provisions, Jovian, after being defeated in one or two battles by the Persians, made peace with Sapor, a peace which was necessary indeed, but ignominious, for he was obliged to contract his boundaries, a portion of the Roman dominions being ceded to the enemy; a disgrace which had never occurred, before his time, since the Roman Empire had been founded, during a space of one thousand one hundred and eighteen years.note

And though our legions were made to pass under the yoke, both at Caudium by Pontus Telesinus, at Numantia in Spain, and in Numidia, yet no part of the Roman territory was given up on any of those occasions. Such terms would not have been altogether reprehensible, if he had been resolved, when it should be in his power, to throw off the obligation of the treaty, as was done by the Romans in all the wars that I have mentioned; for war was immediately after made upon the Samnites, Numantines, and Numidians, and the peace was never ratified.

But being in dread, as long as he remained in the east, of a rival for the imperial dignity, he thought too little of his glory. After marching from thence, accordingly, and directing bis course towards Illyricum, he died suddenly on the borders of Galatia. He was a man, in other parts of his conduct, deficient neither in energy nor understanding.

[18] Many think that he was carried off by a violent fit of indigestion, for he had indulged in delicacies at supper; others suppose that he died of the odor of his chamber, which, from a recent plastering of lime, was dangerous to such as slept in it; others imagine that he fell a victim to the overpowering effects of charcoal, which he had ordered to be burnt in great abundance on account of the extreme cold. He died in the seventh month of his reign, on the 18th of April,note in the thirty-third year of his age, and, by the kindness of the emperors that succeeded him, was enrolled among the gods; for he was inclined to equity, and liberal by nature.

Such was the state of the Roman Empire in the consulship of the Emperor Jovian and Varronianus, in the year one thousand, one hundred and nineteen from the foundation of the city.note But as we have now come to illustrious and venerable princes, we shall here fix a limit to the present part of our work; for the things that remain must be told in a more elevated style; and we do not, for the present, so much omit them, as reserve them for higher efforts in writing.