973 ROMECONSTANTINE AND HIS SUCCESSORS.
Diocletian was long reluctant to
undertake the bloody work, nor is it certain
that the persuasions of Maximian and Galerius would have prevailed with him but for the
firing of his palace in Nicomedia, by incendiaries who were represented to him as Christians.
Hereupon he gave his assent to the persecution,
and soon outdid his colleagues in the fury and
bloody spirit with which he hunted to their last
retreats the panting fugitives. Constantius,
however, refused to join in the proscription,
and the Christians of Gaul were saved from
the fate of their brethren in other parts of the
Empire. At the date of Diocletian's abdication, the persecution still raged; but eight
years after his retirement, the struggle was
given over, and an edict, issued by the court
of Milan, granted a legal existence and freedom of worship to the new religionists. It
was an act which sealed the fate of paganism.
In retiring from power, Diocletian made a
serious mistake in violating the principles of
the Caesarian system which he had himself established. Instead of permitting the two existing Caesars, now recognized as Augusti, to nominate each his own associate, the ex-Emperor insisted that his son-in-law Galerius
should choose both the new Caesars. The
favored Augustus accordingly named an Illyrian peasant called Daza, who now took the
appellation of Maximinus, to be colleague
in the East, and then instead of nominating
Constantine, the son of Constantius, as Caesar
of the West, he passed by that popular prince
and chose a favorite named Flavius Severus.
At this time Constantius, the Western Augustus, was in Britain, nor is it doubtful that
Galerius, by ignoring his associate Emperor,
intended to open the way for his own assumption of undivided sovereignty. But the popularity of Constantius was so great that the
scheme could not be carried out. The people
of Britain and Gaul, both pagan and Christian,
rallied to his support; and when he died at
York, in the former country, the soldiers at
once proclaimed his son Constantine as Emperor. Galerius durst not oppose the movement, but gave a seemingly cordial assent to
the proclamation, insisting, however, that the
prince should be a Caesar only, and be regarded as the junior member of the Imperial
CHAPTER LXVI CONSTANTINE AND HIS SUCCESSORS.
WE here come to another
evolution in the destinies
of Rome. It is the age.
of the decadence of paganism, and the institution of Christianity. At
the first it was prudent
for the new Emperor to assume a satisfaction which he did not feel. Concealing his
ambition, he contented himself for six years
(306-312), with the government of the Caesarian provinces of the North. In his administration in Britain he exhibited great energy.
The island was more completely reduced and
better defended than ever before. As soon as
this work was accomplished he hastened
to the Rhenish frontier, where the barbarians, hearing of the death of Constantius, had
risen in rebellion. Great were the military
abilities now displayed by Constantine. In
a terrible battle with the Germans on the
Moselle he gained a decisive victory. Here,
too, began to be revealed those cold, and
indifferent elements of character for which he
was ever noted. He ordered a massacre of
his German captives for no better reasonas it
would appearthan that the death of the prisoners was the easiest method of disposing of
a troublesome burden.
Of religious convictions Constantine had
none. But he possessed an intellect capable
of penetrating the condition of the world.
He perceived the conclusion of the great syllogism in the logic of events. He saw that
Destiny was about to write Finis at the bottom
of the last page of paganism. He had the