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5. “ I looked, and lo, a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny, and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.”
Now, mark on the page of history the personal character and the character of the administration of the successful general, who put an end to the civil wars which followed the death of Commodus. This general was Severus, “a native of Africa.” Perhaps, the whole compass of history could not supply a character, the peculiar features of which are so exactly delineated by the symbols before us, as that of the emperor Severus, whose administration, in some measure, restored tranquillity to the world, and yet, in its consequences, marks another era in the fall of Rome.
He was a soldier like Trajan, and a tyrant like Commodus; but both his valour and his tyranny were of a different sort: so that the “ black horse" and “ the balance for his sceptre” are as emblematical of his reign
“ the white horse,” “ the bow, and the crown,” were of the administration of Trajan, and the “red horse" and great sword” of that of Commodus.
His severity,” under the pretension of “ rigid justice,” remarked by Mr. Gibbon, sufficiently explains the beam of the balance he held in his hand. “ He never did an act of humanity, or forgave a fault.” 1
After mentioning the execution of forty senators, with all their wives, children, and dependants, the historian observes, “ Such rigid justice, for so he termed it, was, in the opinion of Severus, the only conduct capable of
1 - Parcus admodum fuit natura særus."
ensuring peace to the people or stability to the prince; and he condescended slightly to remark, that, to be mild, it was necessary he should first be cruel.” “However cruel Severus may appear in his punishments and in his revenge, many have endeavoured to exculpate him, and observed there was need of severity in an empire whose morals were so corrupted, and where no less than three thousand persons were accused of adultery during the space of seventeen years." Gibbon again remarks :“ The contemporaries of Severus, in the enjoyment of the peace and glory of his reign, forgave the cruelties by which it had been introduced. Posterity, who felt the fatal effects of his maxims and example, justly considered him as the principal author of the decline of the Roman empire.”
Severus expired at York, A.D. 211, in the eighteenth year of his reign. A short period of eleven years of unsettled times intervenes, when Alexander Severus restores both the name and the times of the first Severus, under whom the empire enjoys an auspicious calm of thirteen years, which reign (from what follows) is included in this same period of prophecy.
The voice which St. John hears proclaiming a measure of wheat for a penny, &c., is also illustrated by the history of these times. The language of the prophecy clearly implies a scarcity of these necessaries of life, and some public regulations of government in consequence. In the authors quoted by Bishop Newton, and especially in the history of Gibbon, we shall find that this was truly an age of fiscal regulations: many laws were made for regulating the price of the chief articles of subsistence, and for providing them for the consumption of the people
by public authority; and it is remarkable, that the eloquent historian fixes upon this era as a proper place for a digression on the finances of the Roman empire."
The Fourth Seal.
The opening of the fourth seal discloses a new set of emblems; and we shall find the era that succeeded to the reigns of the Severuses, as exactly answering to these emblems, as those we have already examined :
Chap. vi. 7. “ And I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed after him, and power was given unto them,"— or, “ unto him," over the fourth
part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death,” — or, “ pestilence,"_" and with the beasts of the earth.”
A season of particular mortality, from the causes mentioned, must strike every one, as the meaning of these symbols. To the reader of history it may, perhaps, occur, that the events of many periods will agree with the picture of the destruction of the human species here given. But yet it may be justly questioned, whether any period in the history of mankind so particularly agrees with this terrific picture of the march of death as the times that immediately succeeded the reign of Alexander
Joseph Mede and Bishop Newton have applied this seal to the same historical events.
Severus. He was murdered A. D. 235, and succeeded by the “monster Maximin," whose character and administration, as may be read in the page of Gibbon, led the way
to these calamitous times foreboded in the vision." He was murdered A. D. 238. “ In the space of a few months six princes are cut off with the sword,” — “ The Persians invade the east," -" The Barbarians” “ boldly attack the provinces of a declining monarchy,” –“ Gordian murdered 244. - Philip meets the same fate 248." “ From this time to the death of Gallienus -- 268 – there elapsed twenty years of shame and misfortune: during that calamitous period, every instant of time was marked, every province of the Roman world was afflicted, by barbarous invaders and military tyrants, and the ruined empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its dissolution."
Very remarkable are Mr. Gibbon's general observations on this period of history: " Our habits of thinking so fondly connect the order of the universe with the fate of man, that this gloomy period of history has been decorated with inundations, earthquakes, uncommon meteors, preternatural darkness, and a crowd of prodigies, fictions, or exaggerations. But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression which extirpated the produce of the present and the hope of future harvests. Famine is always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scanty and unwholesome food. Other causes, however, must have contributed to the furious plague which, from the year 250 to the year 265, raged, without interruption, in every province, every city, and almost every family of the Roman empire. During some time, five thousand persons died daily in,
Rome, and many towns that had escaped the hands of barbarism were entirely depopulated.
We have the knowledge of a very curious circumstance, of some use, perhaps, in the melancholy calculation of human calamities; an exact register was kept at Alexandria of all the citizens entitled to receive the contribution of corn. It was found that the ancient number of those comprised between the ages of forty and seventy, had been equal to , the whole number of claimants from fourteen to eighty years of age, who remained alive after the reign of Gallienus. Applying this authentic fact to the most correct tables of mortality, it evidently proves that above half the people of Alexandria had perished; and could we venture to extend the analogy to other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine, had consumed, in a few years, the moiety of the human species." An account of the multiplying of wild beasts at this calamitous season, may also be seen in the authors quoted by Bishop Newton.
The end of this disastrous season, as we learn from Gibbon, may be thus described :-“Gallienus died in the year 268. After this event, within a period of about thirty years, a series of great princes, Claudius, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian and his colleagues, triumphed over the foreign and domestic enemies of the state, and reestablished, with military discipline, the strength of the frontiers, and deserved the glorious titles of restorers of the Roman world." i
· Here again we have the suffrage of Mede and Bishop Newton.