The Riot
Continuoque animos vulgi et trepidantia bello

Corda licet longe præsciscere.

Verg. Georg. iv.69.

The gates were closed, and some twenty resolute soldiers stood on guard outside. With spears and drawn swords they kept the threatening mob at bay. The foreign athletes and adventurers who formed the mass of the crowd, though bent on mischief, were worthless cowards, and did not like the look of bare steel.

Let us away to the Baths of Caligula,' shouted one of the rioters; and the multitude, with an answering shout, rushed off towards the valley of the torrent Parthenius, near which the Baths were built. Rushing in tumultuously, they swept the attendants before them, smashed the benches, broke the taps, daubed the frescoes with mud, tore down the candelabra, broke off the heads and noses of the statues, hacked at the trees in the grounds with axes, and in ten minutes committed ravages which it took years to repair.

When they had wrecked the Baths the furious mob streamed back to the palace. The little band of soldiers still stood before the gates. The captain kept a brave mien, though he saw that it would be hopeless for his handful of comrades to hold out against the rush of thousands.

What do you want?' he called in stentorian tones to the foremost rebels.

The Governor! the Governor!' they shouted.

He is no longer here,' said the captain, And this was true, for, as he had no troops at hand, the Governor had availed himself of the brief respite to escape by a back way, and ride off to summon a detachment of guards, who were encamped near the grove of Daphne to prevent the disorders which frequently arose from the contending jealousies of Christians and Pagans.

Then look out for yourselves,' yelled the mob, for we mean to burst in!'

Open the doors, men!' said the captain. I will enter last. When we are in, close them, and escape.'

The soldiers with swift discipline executed the manoeuvre; and no sooner had the captain stepped inside than the sound was heard of the heavy bolts and bars being shot into their places.

But the mob was not so to be baffled. They rained blows upon the gates with axes and hammers, and at last improvised a battering-ram from the top of a marble bench, until the oaken valves were shattered and fell inwards with a crash. Through the courtyard the people rushed into the great Hall of Judgment. It was empty, but the awe of the place, where they had heard so many sentences of death passed upon offenders, fell for a few moments on their minds. Round the chair of state at the back of the apse, in which the Count of the East often sat with his assessors, rose the bronze and marble statues of the imperial family. Highest of all, with the diadem round his brow, the arm outstretched as though to give command, clad in the cuirass with the Gorgon head at its centre, towered the figure of Theodosius. Beside the statue of the Emperor stood that of Flaccilla, the beloved consort whom he had so recently lost, whose gentle nature had always exercised a beneficent sway over his tempestuous impulses. On either side of them were the smaller statues of their two sons -- Arcadius, a boy of nine, and Honorius, a child of five. [1] A little on one side was the statue of Count Theodosius, the brave father of the Emperor. After saving the East from imminent peril, he had fallen a victim to the jealous ingratitude of the Emperor Valens, and deserved the remorseful homage of every loyal subject, whether in the East or West.

The divinity which doth hedge a king' surrounded with tenfold protection the majesty of a Roman emperor. He was the one bulwark between civilisation and chaos. It is true that since the days of Constantine, as before them, the reigns of these Cæsars and Augusti had been brief, and their fate for the most part terrible. In the three centuries which had elapsed between Julius Cæsar and Constantine there had been sixty-two emperors, so that their average reigns had scarcely exceeded five years. Of these sixty-two, no less than forty-seven had died violent deaths. Forty-two had been murdered, three had committed suicide, one had perished in a rebellion, two had abdicated, one had been drowned, one had mysteriously disappeared. Eleven only of the entire number had died in the ordinary course of nature. Nor had the state of things been much better in the eighty-seven years which had elapsed since the death of the first Christian emperor. Their superhuman exaltation continued to be nothing but a dizzy precipice. A glance at their fates reveals a perfect Iliad of disasters. Constantine, indeed, had died in his bed, but not until he had imbrued his hands in the blood of his eldest son, Crispus. Of Constantine's three sons, Constantius inaugurated his reign by a massacre of the seed-royal; Constantine II. perished in attempting to invade the realm of his brother Constans; Constans was murdered by his own soldiers; Gallus was beheaded by Constantius; Constantius died while hurrying to suppress the revolt of Julian; Julian, at thirty-seven, fell, perhaps by the arrow of one of his own soldiers; Jovian, at thirty-two, was suffocated by the fumes of a brasier in a half-finished house; Valentinian I. died in a burst of fury at an imaginary insult; his brother Valens was burnt to death in the terrific rout at Adrianople; both his sons were murdered -- Gratian at twenty-four, Valentinian II. at twenty. Of his successors, two only in the entire century had died by natural and untroubled deaths; and of their widows and families, not a few perished by poison, despair, or broken hearts. As the prophet Hoshea says in describing a similar epoch, '

blood touched blood' on the crimson footsteps of the throne.

Such had been the sad stories of the deaths of kings'; yet the awful sacro-sanctitude of the imperial person was ideally unimpaired, and the spirit of the old Lex Majestatis still haunted the minds of men. Was not the emperor the lord of the universe?

What would have happened next no one can tell. Perhaps the mere emblems of imperial power might have been sufficient to restore the people to their senses, and to convince them of the futility of a riot for which it was as certain as destiny itself that they would be called to give a heavy account. But now an incident occurred which swept to the winds all remorse and all moderation; for suddenly a stone flew over the heads of the mob, and, with a sharp ring, struck the cheek of the statue of Theodosius.

A boy had flung it in mere gaiety of heart. To the boys of Antioch the riot had only been a wild and more than usually exciting holiday. They had not the smallest sense of the seriousness of that day's proceedings. Were not their fathers, and even their schoolmasters -- yes, and even some of the senators, amid the throng? Surely they must know what they were about, and it was not for the boys to spoil the fun. They could shy stones if they could do nothing else; and was not that lordly bronze statue a quite irresistible cockshot?

A shout of laughter followed the ring of the bronze when the stone so effectually struck its mark; but it was drowned by savage cries of Down with the Spaniard! Down with the tyrant! Down with the usurer!' as the mob now swarmed on to the judgment seat, and began to strike the imperial statues with every implement which they could improvise. The effigies of the two young princes being the smallest, were naturally the first to be dashed off their pedestals, and were soon battered into shapeless masses.

I have got the nose of His Majesty Arcadius,' boasted one man. And I have got a curl of his Supreme Babydom Honorius,' said another. I beat you both,' said a third, for I have got one of the Spaniard's hands entire, and shall keep it as a relic. I warrant you no crown gold shall be put in it for his favourite Goths.'

The statue of Flaccilla was the next to fall, and neither the piety, the purity, nor the unassuming good temper of the dead Empress, nor the keen recent sorrow of the Emperor for his bereavement, were sufficient to protect her image from the brutal insults of the mob. But the worst indignities were reserved for the statue of the Emperor himself. They tore off the bronze diadem, and smashed it to pieces. They beat off the arms. They drove the eyes in with the sharp end of hammers: The equestrian statue of the Count his father was treated with equal contumely. They pelted, and battered, and tore it down, amid shouts of Defend thyself, great cavalier!' After they had trampled and tripudiated on all five statues to their hearts' content, they tied ropes round the shattered hulks, and dragged them in triumph along the red granite flags of the main street and the white slabs of Herod's Colonnade, finally flinging them in undistinguishable fragments at the base of the statue of the tutelary genius of their city.

Encouraged by impunity, the fiercest spirits of the multitude meditated still more irreparable misdeeds. It was a common thing in Alexandria to add terror to a sedition by a fire. Why should they not try the same at Antioch?

How shall we answer for it to the Emperor?' asked a timid voice.

May all the gods and goddesses confound him!' shouted a Pagan rioter in the crowd named Hermas.

Why cannot we revolt to Maximus, as Berytus has threatened to do?' called a voice.

The burgher Aretas has counselled submission, the coward! Let us burn his house!' shouted Hermas, who was in a state of wild excitement.

The counsel was adopted. Lighted torches began to appear, as though by magic, in many hands, and some began to fling them into the windows of the public buildings, and to do their best to kindle a conflagration in which the glorious city might have been irretrievably damaged. But, happily, at this moment a cry arose of The archers! the archers!' and the steady march of armed men was heard approaching from the Golden Gate. The Governor had galloped full speed to the camp at Daphne, and was returning at the head of an entire company. The news spread like lightning, and the crowd slank off in every direction. Most of them did not offer the faintest show of resistance, but fled the moment they caught sight of the glittering uniforms and the bent bows. A few only of the more resolute, who had seized swords or clubs, held their ground in the Tetrapylon, half sheltered by the pillars of the intersecting colonnades and by the pedestals of the numerous statues. Headed by Hermas, they made a sudden rush on the troop, and struck a dozen men bleeding to the ground. But the indignant archers let fly a shower of arrows among them, and when the crowd saw some fifty rioters fall to the earth, pierced through and through, they raised a yell of terror, and fled with wild precipitation. In the course of half an hour not a man of them was visible anywhere. They had taken refuge in their houses and barred the doors and lattices. The archers paraded the empty streets. The riot had only lasted three hours. By noon all was over, and Antioch lay like a city of the dead.


[1] Considerable uncertainty hangs over the exact dates of the births of Arcadius and Honorius.

chapter i the gathering storm
Top of Page
Top of Page