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Webb Carausius Panegyrists


The panegyrists supply us with many picturesque details as to which the historians are silent, but, devoting as they did their whole efforts to the glorification of the object of their adulation, they were not likely to present too favourable a portrait of the man who proved so serious a thorn in the side of the Roman Empire, and for several years defeated all attempts made against him. It will, nevertheless, be found that they do not differ greatly from the historians in their estimate of him.
Claudius Mamertinus, in his Panegyric upon Maximian delivered at Treves on April 21, 289, when that Emperor’s expedition against Carausius was about to start, says in chap. xi.— 

"It is, I say, 0 Emperor, a sign of the good fortune and good luck of you and your colleague (Diocletian) that already your soldiers have reached the Ocean, victorious, and already the ebb and flow of the tide have sucked in the blood of your enemies slain upon that coast... What courage now can that pirate possess, when he sees that your armies have all but entered those straits, by which alone thus far has he delayed death, and that they, forgetting their ships, have followed the retreating sea what way soever it might fall back? What island more distant, what other ocean can he hope for now? By what possible means can he escape the penalty of his treason, unless he be swallowed up by an earthquake or be carried away by a whirlwind to some desert island?"

"Most beautiful fleets were built and rigged out to make for the Ocean, simultaneously, from all the rivers, and not only did men work vying with one another, to complete the ships, but the rivers suddenly rose to receive them. Throughout almost a whole year, Emperor, during which you had need of fine weather, to construct your dockyards, to cut timber; for the wills of the workmen to be strong, and their hands not to be slack, scarcely any day was spoiled by rain. Even winter resembled spring in mildness, and we did not think that we lay under the northern sky, but felt that, either the stars or the districts were shifted, so to speak, and that we were enjoying the clemency of a southern clime. This river of ours, deprived for a while of the feeding rains, was unable to bear your ships, and could only bring down timber t0 the dockyards. But lo! suddenly, when the galleys had to be launched, Earth for you sent up abundant springs, Jupiter for you poured down copious rains, and Ocean for you flooded all the river channels. And so the vessels made an attack upon the waters, that came up to them of their own accord, the vessels moved by the slightest effort on the part of the rowers, whose most happy start needed the sailor’s song more than the sailor’s toil, and so any one can easily see, 0'Emperor, what a happy issue will attend you in your sea operations against the pirate when even the weather is already at your service."

That happy issue he was never able to announce, and his subsequent silence is eloquent. 

There is no Roman description of the fighting which resulted from Maximian's attempt, but the Panegyrist of Chlorus hints that disaster arose from a storm at sea. \Ve may, however, gather from the remark of Eutropius that war was in vain attempted against Carausius, and from Orosius’ statement that he defended and kept Britain for himself for seven years with the greatest bravery, that severe fighting took place, and ended in favour of Carausius. The power of Rome would not have been entirely baffled by the loss of a fleet in a storm.

In the next panegyric we have an account of the occurrences from 292 to 296. Eumenius, if he be in truth the author, speaks of his patron Constantius Chlorus in fervid terms in chaps. v., vi., and vii.—

"For who, I do not say, remembers, but who does not still, in a certain way, see by what great additions he increased and adorned the Empire? Adopted into the supreme power, immediately upon his arrival, he shut out the Ocean seething with a fleet of enemies beyond all count, and hemmed in by land and sea alike that army which had settled upon the Boulogne shore. And he, having conquered by his valour the army of Carausius, and in his mercy saving it, whilst the recovery of Britain was being brought about by the building of fleets, cleared of every enemy the land of Batavia (Holland) once seized by various tribes of Franks under a son of Batavia, and, not contented to have conquered them, he annexed them to the Roman nations so that they were forced to lay aside not only their arms but also their savageness. Why should I speak of the recovery of Britain, to which he sailed with the sea so calm that the Ocean, amazed at so great a passenger, seemed to have lost all its movements, and he arrived in such wise that victory did not accompany but awaited him. Immediately then, Caesar, by your very coming you made Gaul your own. Since the rapidity of your movements crushed at the walls of Gesoriacum the band of the pirate faction persisting in its miserable errors and took away from them, who formerly relied upon the sea, the Ocean that washed the gates. And in this proceeding your godlike forethought and its results, worthy of your design, were made visible, when you, by fixing beams and piling up on them great blocks of stone, rendered all that harbour, which at stated periods the tide covers or leaves bare, impassable to ships, and moreover by your admirable method of working you overcame the character of the place, when the sea, with its useless ebb and flow of the tide, seemed to jeer, so to say, at the pirates who were prevented from flying, and did in no wise help the imprisoned ones as if it had ceased to return. What palisades of camps shall we ever admire after this novel palisade in the sea? what marvel will it be if any strength of wall shall not yield to the battering-ram, or height of wall. shall look down upon the besieging engines, when the great Ocean, launched with such an impetus, rising in such a mighty mass, whether, as they say, repelled from distant lands or exalted by the panting it breathes forth or moved by any other influence, in vain, O Caesar, by no means could burst through your mole nor sweep it away at all by its coming and going for so many days, although, during all this time, where it flows round the world, it was breaking up coasts, and destroying banks, it was in that one place of power either inferior to your majesty or the more merciful on account of the honour due to you!

"Xerxes, the most powerful King of the Persians, as I have heard, threw golden fetters into the deep, maintaining that he was binding Neptune in bonds, because he stormed with his billows: this he did of his foolish boastfulness and sacrilegious vanity. But your divine forethought, Caesar, employing an efficacious policy, did not outrage the element, but, instead of challenging hate, deserved respect. What other construction can we put upon the facts, when, so soon as the desperate straits of the besieged and reliance upon your mercy had raised the siege, the first tide that fell upon the aforementioned barrier, burst through it, and the whole of that army of trees invincible, so long as it was well for you that it should be invincible, as though the signal had been given and its days of watching were over, broke up, so that none could doubt that that harbour, which had been closed against the pirate, so that he could not bring help to his followers, was thrown open to you to ensure your victory. For, 0 invincible Caesar, thanks to that dash of your valour and felicity, the whole war might have been finished forth with, had not the necessity of the case suggested that time should be given for building ships."

In chap. xii. the panegyrist writes a short account of the rise and fall of Carausius as follows: —

"And so when by a' nefarious brigandage the fleet had been drawn away by the pirate chief in his flight, that fleet which used to protect Gaul, and, further, when many ships had been built as we build them, and when the Roman legion had been won over, when some squadrons of foreign troops had been cut off, when certain merchants of Gaul had been brought over, and when no small amount of barbarian troops had been won by means of the spoils of the provinces, and all of these troops had been trained to seamanship under the tuition of the chief of that scandalous proceeding, we heard that our armies, although in valour invincible as they were, were yet inexperienced in maritime matters, and that a mighty mass of war had grown up against them: we heard this, although we were sure of the result. For there had come upon them the long freedom from punishment for their guilt, which had inflamed the audacity of the band of desperadoes to such an extent that they boasted that the storminess of the sea, which, by a kind of fatal necessity had deferred our victory, was an excuse for our fear of them, and they believed that the war was not dropped for a time designedly, but given up entirely in despair, and this prevailed so much that, all fear of common punishment being laid aside, the henchman slew the arch-pirate, and thought that the Empire was a fit reward for such a crime." 

Again, in chaps. xiv. and xv., we find— 

"At this point I cannot fail to remember how delightful in governing the state and in gaining glory was the good luck of those princes who, though they stayed in Rome, gained triumphs and titles from nations conquered by their generals. Fronto, for instance, not the second, but the other glory of Roman eloquence, when he was giving to the prince Antoninus the credit of finishing the war in Britain, although he, residing in the palace at Rome, had entrusted the command in the campaign to another, declared that he deserved all the glory for the success, just as the helmsman of a warship deserves the credit for all the journey and voyage of the ship.

"But you, O Caesar invincible, of all that voyage and all that war, were not only by your rights as commander-in-chief, director, but, by your actions and the example of your bravery, the exhorter and impeller of the same, and, sailing from the shores of Boulogne, over the storm-swollen Ocean, you inspired that fleet of yours, which the river Seine had brought down (to the sea), with so irresistible an ardour that, although the commanders were yet hesitating, and the sea. and the sky were stormy, the troops of their own accord clamored for the signal to sail, despised all signs of danger, set sail upon a stormy day and caught a side Wind, because there was no direct one. For who, however rough might be the sea, would not venture a voyage, when you were sailing? On all sides, as it is said, when the news came that you were sailing, arose one voice and one appeal,'Why do we hesitate? Why do we delay? The Chief has already weighed anchor, he is already approaching, perhaps he has already arrived. Let us venture everything 3 let us go through whatsoever billows there may be! What is that we can fear? We follow Caesar.’ Nor was their belief in your good fortune a delusion, for, as we hear from the statements of the troops, at that time so thick a fog came down upon the sea that the hostile fleet, stationed on the watch in ambush, off the Isle of Wight, was passed, the enemy being entirely ignorant of it, and did not arrest your attack and was not able to oppose you. And as for the fact that this army, invincible under your auspices, as soon as it had reached the shores of Britain set fire to all its ships, what other signals except those of your divinity impelled them so to do? Or what other reason persuaded them to reserve no means of escape, to dread none of the hazards of war, nor to think Mars impartial, as the proverb has it, except it was that, from contemplation of you and your colleagues in the Empire, it was certain that there could be no possible doubt about the victory? They then did not think about mere strength, or human power, but your divinities.

"The fact that when any battle was proposed they vouched for themselves certain success is not so much due to the confidence of the troops as to the good fortune of the Emperors_ Why, even the standard bearer in that nefarious mutiny, Why did he leave the shore which was in his possession? Why did he desert the fleet and the harbour? except that, O Caesar invincible, he feared that you were about to come forthwith, you whose sails he had beheld approaching, at any rate he preferred to put the matter to the test with your generals before awaiting the present thunderbolt of your majesty. Fool that he was, who did not know that wherever he fled, the force of your divinity was present everywhere, where your features, where your statues were worshipped." In chaps. xvi., xvii, and xviii., he says——

"Nevertheless, he [Allectus], flying from you, fell into the hands of your men; he was conquered by you: crushed by your armies. In a word, so alarmed was he, seeing you behind his back, and panic-stricken, as one distracted he hastened to death, and neither drew out his army in battle array nor drew up all the forces which he was hurrying with him, but attended by the old prime movers in the conspiracy and by the mercenary bands of barbarians, forgetful of your great powers, he rushed upon his doom. And, Caesar, the happy fortune of you and your colleague gave this boon to the state, that when the Roman empire was victorious, scarcely a single Roman fell. For, as I hear, all those plains and hills were covered only by the corpses of the most foul enemies which were strewed over them. The garments, barbarian or assumed in imitation of barbarism, the long red hair now dabbled with blood and befouled with dust, dragged in all directions, according as they had been drawn by the agony of the wounded, lay upon the ground, and among them the great standard bearer of the pirates, who had of his own free will and accord laid aside the dress which, in his lifetime, he had outraged, and was hardly discovered by the evidence of a single garment. So truly had he said to himself, when his death was near, that he would not even when slain wish to be recognized. And, invincible Caesar, by the favour of the immortal gods, you won the victory over all the enemies you attacked, but over and above all you annihilated the Franks so that those soldiers of yours also who, as I have mentioned above, owing to the mistake caused by the fog at sea had reached the town of London, slew whatever was left of that mercenary mob of barbarians which was minded to sack the city and take to flight, and your soldiers in the slaughter of the enemy not only gave safety to your subjects in the province but pleasure at the gladiatorial display. "Oh, victory complex, attended by innumerable triumphs by which the Britains were restored, by which the power of the Franks was utterly destroyed, by which the necessity of obeying was imposed upon many other nations implicated in that treasonable conspiracy, by which finally the seas were cleared and pacified forever! You may boast, O invincible Caesar, that you have discovered another world, and by restoring the naval glory of the power of Rome, have added to the Empire an element greater than all the lands. Accordingly, by this victory of yours, not only has Britain been freed from servitude, but security has been restored to all the peoples that, situated upon the sea coast, run as much risk in war as the advantages they gain in peace."

If we may believe the Chroniclers quoted below, the Britons themselves had, since they fell under the power of Allectus, found reason to desire even the Roman rule in preference to his tyranny, which formed a bitter contrast to the popular rule of Carausius. The following description of their reception of Chlorus, translated from chap. xix. of the Panegyric, supports this view. The author graphically describes the scene as follows: —

"Fitly and properly therefore, as soon as you, the avenger and the liberator, so long desired, had reached those shores, a triumph poured itself forth to meet your majesty, and the Britons, jumping for joy, with their wives and children presented themselves, not merely falling down to worship you yourself, whom they regarded as one come down from heaven, but also the sails and the oars of that ship, which had brought to them your divinity, and they were quite ready to strew themselves upon the ground and thus feel your incoming. And no wonder if they were elated with so great joy, after that helpless captivity of theirs for so many years, after the outrages committed upon their wives, after the degrading servitude of their children when they were at length free, at length Romans, at length refreshed by the true light of the Empire. For over and above that reputation for mercy and piety, belonging to your colleague, which is celebrated by the voice of the peoples, they saw in your face, Caesar, outward and visible signs of all the virtues: on your forehead, signs of dignity : in your eyes, signs of gentleness: in your blushing, signs of modesty: in your address, signs of justice. When they had marked each and every one of these characteristics and had observed them, they sang together with shouts of joy : they devoted themselves to you and your colleague : to you and your colleague they devoted their children: to your children they devoted their children even unto the third and fourth generation."

Webb, P.H. The reign and coinage of Carausius. (London, 1908).

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