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History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empir

Escaped from the monster's den Nice and Prusa


The

Roman sceptre, the reward of his crimes, was held by Andronicus about three years and a half as the guardian or sovereign of the empire. His government exhibited a singular contrast of vice and virtue. When he listened to his passions, he was the scourge; when he consulted his reason, the father, of his people. In the exercise of private justice, he was equitable and rigorous: a shameful and pernicious venality was abolished, and the offices were filled with the most deserving candidates, by a prince who had sense to choose, and severity to punish. He prohibited the inhuman practice of pillaging the goods and persons of shipwrecked mariners; the provinces, so long the objects of oppression or neglect, revived in prosperity and plenty; and millions applauded the distant blessings of his reign, while he was cursed by the witnesses of his daily cruelties. The ancient proverb, That bloodthirsty is the man who returns from banishment to power, had been applied, with too much truth, to 'Marius and Tiberius; and was now verified for the third time in the life of Andronicus. His memory was stored with a black list of the enemies and rivals, who had traduced his merit, opposed his greatness, or insulted his misfortunes; and the only comfort of his exile was the sacred hope and promise of revenge. The necessary extinction of the young emperor and his mother imposed the fatal obligation of extirpating the friends, who hated, and might punish, the assassin; and the repetition of murder rendered
him less willing, and less able, to forgive. [1018] A horrid narrative of the victims whom he sacrificed by poison or the sword, by the sea or the flames, would be less expressive of his cruelty than the appellation of the halcyon days, which was applied to a rare and bloodless week of repose: the tyrant strove to transfer, on the laws and the judges, some portion of his guilt; but the mask was fallen, and his subjects could no longer mistake the true author of their calamities. The noblest of the Greeks, more especially those who, by descent or alliance, might dispute the Comnenian inheritance, escaped from the monster's den: Nice and Prusa, Sicily or Cyprus, were their places of refuge; and as their flight was already criminal, they aggravated their offence by an open revolt, and the Imperial title. Yet Andronicus resisted the daggers and swords of his most formidable enemies: Nice and Prusa were reduced and chastised: the Sicilians were content with the sack of Thessalonica; and the distance of Cyprus was not more propitious to the rebel than to the tyrant. His throne was subverted by a rival without merit, and a people without arms. Isaac Angelus, a descendant in the female line from the great Alexius, was marked as a victim by the prudence or superstition of the emperor. [1019] In a moment of despair, Angelus defended his life and liberty, slew the executioner, and fled to the church of St. Sophia. The sanctuary was insensibly filled with a curious and mournful crowd, who, in his fate, prognosticated their own. But their lamentations were soon turned to curses, and their curses to threats: they dared to ask, "Why do we fear? why do we obey? We are many, and he is one: our patience is the only bond of our slavery." With the dawn of day the city burst into a general sedition, the prisons were thrown open, the coldest and most servile were roused to the defence of their country, and Isaac, the second of the name, was raised from the sanctuary to the throne. Unconscious of his danger, the tyrant was absent; withdrawn from the toils of state, in the delicious islands of the Propontis. He had contracted


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