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Is the Emperor Happy?

Solidus of the Emperor Petronius Maximus (Mar-May455)

I am greatly enjoying the second volume of The Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire, written by Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866). This is the volume that tells of the Huns and the Vandals. More and more, I am fascinated by classic 19th century British and American historians.

The following excerpt is from Apollinaris Sidonius, a fifth century Roman poet, diplomat, and bishop. He is writing about the emperor that followed Valentinian III, who was assassinated for his part in the murder of Aetius, the last great Roman general, who defeated Attila and the Huns at Chalons in CE 451.

I received your letter … dedicated to the praises of your patron the emperor Petronius Maximus. I think, however, that either affection or a determination to support a foregone conclusion has carried you away from the strict truth when you call him most happy because he passed through the highest offices of the state and died an emperor. I can never agree with the opinion that those men should be called happy who cling to the steep and slippery summits of the state. For words cannot describe how many miseries are hourly endured in the lives of men who, like [the Roman dictator] Sulla, claim to be called Felix [fortunate] because they have clambered over the limits of law and right assigned to the rest of their fellow citizens. They think that supreme power must be supreme happiness, and do not perceive that they have, by the very act of grasping dominion, sold themselves to the most wearisome of all servitudes; for, as kings lord it over their fellow men, so the anxiety to retain power lords it over kings.

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