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I propose to describe the Greatness and the Misery of the old Roman world; nor is there any thing in history more suggestive and instructive. A little city, founded by robbers on the banks of the Tiber, rises gradually into importance, although the great cities of the East are scarcely conscious of its existence. Its early struggles simply arrest the attention, and excite the jealousy, of the neighboring nations. The citizens of this little state are warriors, and, either for defense or glory, they subdue one after another the cities of Latium and Etruria, then the whole of Italy, and finally the old monarchies and empires of the world. In two hundred and fifty years the citizens have become nobles, and a great aristocracy is founded, which lasts eight hundred years. Their aggressive policy and unbounded ambition involve the whole world in war, which does not cease until all the nations known to the Greeks acknowledge their sway. Everywhere Roman laws, language, and institutions spread. A vast empire arises, larger than the Assyrian and the Macedonian combined,—a universal empire,—a great wonder and mystery, having all the grandeur of a providential event. It becomes too great to be governed by an oligarchy of nobles. Civil wars create an imperator, who, uniting in himself all the great offices of state, and sustained by the conquering legions, rules from East to West and from North to South, with absolute and undivided sovereignty. The Caesars reach the summit of human greatness and power, and the city of Romulus becomes the haughty mistress of the world. The emperor is worshiped as a deity, and the proud metropolis calls herself eternal. An empire is established by force of arms and by a uniform policy, such as this world has not seen before or since...
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Copyright © 2015 by John Lord
Published by Perennial Press
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THE CONQUESTS OF THE ROMANS.
THE MATERIAL GRANDEUR AND GLORY OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
THE WONDERS OF ANCIENT ROME.
ART IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
THE ROMAN CONSTITUTION.
SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AMONG THE ROMANS.
INTERNAL CONDITION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE.
THE REASONS WHY THE CONSERVATIVE INFLUENCES OF PAGAN CIVILIZATION DID NOT ARREST THE RUIN OF THE ROMAN WORLD.
WHY CHRISTIANITY DID NOT ARREST THE RUIN OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
THE LEGACY OF THE EARLY CHURCH TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.
I PROPOSE TO DESCRIBE THE Greatness and the Misery of the old Roman world; nor is there any thing in history more suggestive and instructive.
A little city, founded by robbers on the banks of the Tiber, rises gradually into importance, although the great cities of the East are scarcely conscious of its existence. Its early struggles simply arrest the attention, and excite the jealousy, of the neighboring nations. The citizens of this little state are warriors, and, either for defense or glory, they subdue one after another the cities of Latium and Etruria, then the whole of Italy, and finally the old monarchies and empires of the world. In two hundred and fifty years the citizens have become nobles, and a great aristocracy is founded, which lasts eight hundred years. Their aggressive policy and unbounded ambition involve the whole world in war, which does not cease until all the nations known to the Greeks acknowledge their sway. Everywhere Roman laws, language, and institutions spread. A vast empire arises, larger than the Assyrian and the Macedonian combined,—a universal empire,—a great wonder and mystery, having all the grandeur of a providential event. It becomes too great to be governed by an oligarchy of nobles. Civil wars create an imperator, who, uniting in himself all the great offices of state, and sustained by the conquering legions, rules from East to West and from North to South, with absolute and undivided sovereignty. The Caesars reach the summit of human greatness and power, and the city of Romulus becomes the haughty mistress of the world. The emperor is worshiped as a deity, and the proud metropolis calls herself eternal. An empire is established by force of arms and by a uniform policy, such as this world has not seen before or since.
Early Roman history is chiefly the detail of successful wars, aggressive and uncompromising, in which we see a fierce and selfish patriotism, an indomitable will, a hard unpitying temper, great practical sagacity, patience, and perseverance, superiority to adverse fortune, faith in national destinies, heroic sentiments, and grand ambition. We see a nation of citizen soldiers, an iron race of conquerors, bent on conquest, on glory, on self-exaltation, attaching but little value to the individual man, but exalting the integrity and unity of the state. We see no fitful policy, no abandonment to the enjoyment of the fruits of victory, no rest, no repose, no love of art or literature, but an unbounded passion for domination. The Romans toiled, and suffered, and died,—never wearied, never discouraged, never satisfied, until their mission was accomplished and the world lay bleeding and prostrate at their feet.
In the latter days of the Republic, the Roman citizen, originally contented with a few acres in the plains and valleys through which the Tiber flowed, becomes a great landed proprietor, owning extensive estates in the conquered territories, an aristocrat, a knight, a senator, a noble, while his dependents disdained to labor and were fed at the public expense. The state could afford to give them corn, oil, and wine, for it was the owner of Egypt, of Greece, of Asia Minor, of Syria, of Spain, of Gaul, of Africa,—a belt of territory around the Mediterranean Sea one thousand miles in breadth, embracing the whole temperate zone, from the Atlantic Ocean to the wilds of Scythia. The Romans revel in the spoils of the nations they have conquered, adorn their capital with the wonders of Grecian art, and abandon themselves to pleasure and money-making. The Roman grandees divide among themselves the lands and riches of the world, and this dwelling-place of princes looms up the proud centre of mundane glory and power.
In the great success of the Romans, we notice not only their own heroic qualities, but the hopeless degeneracy of the older nations and the reckless turbulence of the western barbarians, both of whom needed masters.
The conquered world must be governed. The Romans had a genius for administration as well as for war. While war was reduced to a science, government became an art. Seven hundred years of war and administration gave experience and skill, and the wisdom thus learned became a legacy to future civilizations.
It was well, both for enervated orientals and wild barbarians, to be ruled by such iron masters. The nations at last enjoyed peace and prosperity, and Christianity was born and spread. A new power silently arose, which was destined to change government, and science, and all the relations of social life, and lay a foundation for a new and more glorious structure of society than what Paganism could possibly create. We see the hand of Providence in all these mighty changes, and it is equally august in overruling the glories and the shame of a vast empire for the ultimate good of the human race.
If we more minutely examine the history of either Republican or Imperial Rome, we read lessons of great significance. In the Republic we see a constant war of classes and interests,—plebeians arrayed against patricians; the poor opposed to the rich; the struggle between capital and labor, between an aristocracy and democracy. Although the favored classes on the whole retained ascendancy, yet the people constantly gained privileges, and at last were enabled, by throwing their influence into the hands of demagogues, to overturn the constitution. Julius Caesar, the greatest name in ancient history, himself a patrician, by courting the people triumphed over the aristocratical oligarchy and introduced a new regime. His dictatorship was the consummation of the victories of the people over nobles as signally as the submission of all classes to fortunate and unscrupulous generals. We err, however, in supposing that the Republic was ever a democracy, as we understand the term, or as it was understood in Athens. Power was always in the hands of senators, nobles, and rich men, as it still is in England, and was in Venice. Popular liberty was a name, and democratic institutions were feeble and shackled. The citizen-noble was free, not the proletarian. The latter had the redress of laws, but only such as the former gave. How exclusive must have been an aristocracy when the Claudian family boasted that, for five hundred years, it had never received any one into it by adoption, and when the Emperor Nero was the first who received its privileges! It is with the senatorial families, who contrived to retain all the great offices of the state, that everything interesting in the history of Republican Rome is identified,—whether political quarrels, or private feuds, or legislation, or the control of armies, or the improvements of the city, or the government of provinces. It was they, as senators, governors, consuls, generals, quaestors, who gave the people baths, theatres, and temples. They headed factions as well as armies. They were the state.
The main object to which the reigning classes gave their attention was war,—the extension of the empire. “Ubi castra, ibi respublica.” Republican Rome was a camp, controlled by aristocratic generals. Dominion and conquest were their great ideas, their aim, their ambition. To these were sacrificed pleasure, gain, ease, luxury, learning, and art. And when they had conquered they sought to rule, and they knew how to rule. Aside from conquest and government there is nothing peculiarly impressive in Roman history, except the struggles of political leaders and the war of classes.
But in these there is wonderful fascination. The mythic period under kings; the contests with Latins, Etruscans, Volscians, Samnites, and Gauls; the legends of Porsenna, of Cincinnatus, of Coriolanus, of Virginia; the heroism of Camillus, of Fabius, of Decius, of Scipio; the great struggle with Pyrrhus and Hannibal; the wars with Carthage, Macedonia, and Asia Minor; the rivalries between patrician and plebeian families; the rise of tribunes; the Maenian, Hortensian, and Agrarian laws; the noble efforts of the Gracchi; the censorship of Cato; the civil wars of Marius and Sulla, and their exploits, followed by the still greater conquests of Pompey and Julius; these, and other feats of heroism and strength, are full of interest which can never be exhausted. We ponder on them in youth; we return to them in old age.
And yet the real grandeur of Rome is associated with the emperors. With their accession there is a change in the policy of the state from war to peace. There is a greater desire to preserve than extend the limits of the empire. The passion for war is succeeded by a passion for government and laws. Labor and toil give place to leisure and enjoyment. Great works of art appear, and these become historical,—the Pantheon, the Forum Augusti, the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Column of Trajan, the Baths of Caracalla, the Aqua Claudia, the golden house of Nero, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Arch of Septimus Severus. The city is changed from brick to marble, and palaces and theatres and temples become colossal. Painting and sculpture ornament every part of the city. There are more marble busts than living men. Life becomes more complicated and factitious. Enormous fortunes are accumulated. A liberal patronage is extended to artists. Literature declines, but great masterpieces of genius are still produced. Medicine, law, and science flourish. A beautiful suburban life is seen on all the hills, while gardens and villas are the object of perpetual panegyric. From all corners of the earth strangers flock to see the wonders of the mighty metropolis, more crowded than London, more magnificent than Paris, more luxurious than New York. Fetes, shows, processions, gladiatorial combats, chariot races, form the amusement of the vast populace. A majestic centralized power controls all kingdoms, and races, and peoples. The highest state of prosperity is reached that the ancient world knew, and all bow down to Caesar and behold in him the representative of divine providence, from whose will there is no appeal, and from whose arm it is impossible to fly.
But mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, is written on the walls of the banqueting chambers of the palace of the Caesars. The dream of omnipotence is disturbed by the invasion of, Germanic barbarians. They press toward the old seats of power and riches to improve their condition. They are warlike, fierce, implacable. They fear not death, and are urged onward by the lust of rapine and military zeal. The old legions, which penetrated the Macedonian phalanx and withstood the Gauls, cannot resist the shock of their undisciplined armies; for martial glory has fled, and the people prefer their pleasures to the empire. Great emperors are raised up, but they are unequal to the task of preserving the crumbling empire. The people, enervated and egotistical, are scattered like sheep or are made slaves. The proud capitals of the world fall before the ruthless invaders. Desolation is everywhere. The barbarians trample beneath their heavy feet the proud trophies of ancient art and power. The glimmering life-sparks of the old civilization disappear. The world is abandoned to fear, misery, and despair, and there is no help, for retributive justice marches on with impressive solemnity. Imperial despotism, disproportionate fortunes, unequal divisions of society, the degradation of woman, slavery, Epicurean pleasures, practical atheism, bring forth their wretched fruits. The vices and miseries of society cannot be arrested. Glory is succeeded by shame; all strength is in mechanism, and that wears out; vitality passes away; the empire is weak from internal decay, and falls easily into the hands of the new races. “Violence was only a secondary cause of the ruin; the vices of self-interest were the primary causes. A world, as fair and glorious as our own, crumbles away.” Our admiration is changed to sadness and awe. The majesty of man is rebuked by the majesty of God.
Such a history is suggestive. Why was such an empire permitted to rise over the bleeding surface of the world, and what was its influence on the general destiny of the race? How far has its civilization perished, and how far has it entered into new combinations? Was its strength material, or moral, or intellectual? How far did literature, art, science, laws, philosophy, prove conservative forces? Why did Christianity fail to arrest so total an eclipse of the glory of man? Why did a magnificent civilization prove so feeble a barrier against corruption and decay? Why was the world to be involved in such universal gloom and wretchedness as followed the great catastrophe? Could nothing arrest the stupendous downfall?
And when we pass from the great facts of Roman history to the questions which it suggests to a contemplative mind in reference to the state of society among ourselves, on which history ought to shed light, what enigmas remain to be solved. Does moral worth necessarily keep pace with aesthetic culture, or intellectual triumphs, or material strength? Do the boasted triumphs of civilization create those holy certitudes on which happiness is based? Can vitality in states be preserved by mechanical inventions? Does society expand from inherent laws of development, or from influences altogether foreign to man? Is it the settled destiny of nations to rise to a certain height in wisdom and power, and then pass away in ignominy and gloom? Is there permanence in any human institutions? Will society move round in perpetual circles, incapable of progression and incapable of rest, or will it indefinitely improve? May there not be the highest triumphs of art, literature, and science, where the mainsprings of society are sensuality and egotism? Is the tendency of society to democratic, or aristocratic, or despotic governments? Does Christianity, in this dispensation, merely furnish witnesses of truth, or will it achieve successive conquests over human degeneracy till the race is emancipated and saved? Can it arrest the downward tendency of society, when it is undermined by vices which blunt the conscience of mankind, and which are sustained by all that is proud in rank, brilliant in fashion, and powerful in wealth?
These are inquiries on which Roman history sheds light. If history is a guide or oracle, they are full of impressive significance. Can we afford to reject all the examples of the past in our sanguine hopes for the future? Human nature is the same in any age, and human experiences point to some great elemental truths, which the Bible confirms. We may be unmoved by them, but they remain in solemn dignity for all generations; “and foremost of them,” as Charles Kingsley has so well said, “stands a law which man has been trying in all ages, as now, to deny, or at least to ignore, and that is,—that as the fruit of righteousness is wealth and peace, strength and honor, the fruit of unrighteousness is poverty and anarchy, weakness and shame; for not upon mind, but upon morals, is human welfare founded. Science is indeed great; but she is not the greatest. She is an instrument, and not a power. But her lawful mistress, the only one under whom she can truly grow, and prosper, and prove her divine descent, is Virtue, the likeness of Almighty God,—an ancient doctrine, yet one ever young, and which no discoveries in science will ever abrogate.”
Hence the great aim of history should be a dispassionate inquiry into the genius of past civilizations, especially in a moral point of view. Wherein were they weak or strong, vital or mechanical, permanent or transient? We wish to know that we may compare them with our own, and learn lessons of wisdom. The rise and fall of the Roman Empire is especially rich in the facts which bear on our own development. Nor can modern history be comprehended without a survey of the civilization which has entered into our own, and forms the basis of many of our own institutions. Rome perished, but not wholly her civilization. So far as it was founded on the immutable principles of justice, or beauty, or love, it will never die, but will remain a precious legacy to all generations. So far as it was founded on pride, injustice, and selfishness, it ignobly disappeared. Men die, and their trophies of pride are buried in the dust, but their truths live. All truth is indestructible, and survives both names and marbles.
Roman history, so grand and so mournful, on the whole suggests cheering views for humanity, since out of the ruins, amid the storms, aloft above the conflagration, there came certain indestructible forces, which, when united with Christianity, developed a new and more glorious condition of humanity. Creation succeeded destruction. All that was valuable in art, in science, in literature, in philosophy, in laws, has been preserved. The useless alone has perished with the worn-out races themselves. The light which scholars, and artists, and poets, and philosophers, and lawgivers kindled, illuminated the path of the future guides of mankind. And especially the great ideas which the persecuted Christians unfolded, projected themselves into the shadows of mediaeval Europe, and gave a new direction to human thought and life. New sentiments arose, more poetic and majestic than ever existed in the ancient world, giving radiance to homes, peace to families, elevation to woman, liberty to the slave, compassion for the miserable, self-respect, to the man of toil, exultation to the martyr, patience to the poor, and glorious hopes to all; so that in rudeness, in poverty, in discomfort, in slavery, in isolation, in obloquy, peace and happiness were born, and a new race, with noble elements of character, arose in the majesty of renovated strength to achieve still grander victories, and confer higher blessings on mankind.
Thus the Roman Empire, whose fall was so inglorious, and whose chastisement was so severe, was made by Providence to favor the ultimate progress of society, since its civilization entered into new combinations, and still remains one of the proudest monuments of human genius.
It is this civilization, in its varied aspects, both good and evil, lofty and degraded, which in the following chapters I seek to show. This is the real point of interest in Roman history. Let us see what the Romans really accomplished—the results of their great enterprises; the systems they matured with so much thought; the institutions they bequeathed to our times; yea, even those vices and follies which they originally despised, and which, if allowed to become dominant, must, according to all those laws of which we have cognizance, ultimately overwhelm any land in misery, shame, and ruin.
In presenting this civilization, I aim to generalize the most important facts, leaving the reader to examine at his leisure recondite authorities, in which, too often, the argument is obscured by minute details, and art is buried in learning.
ONE OF THE FEATURES OF Roman greatness, which preeminently arrests attention, is military genius and strength. The Romans surpassed all the nations of antiquity in the brilliancy and solidity of their conquests. They conquered the world, and held it in subjection. For many centuries they stamped their iron heel on the necks of prostrate and suppliant kings, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caspian Sea. Nothing could impede, except for a time, their irresistible progress from conquering to conquer. They were warriors from the earliest period of their history, and all their energies were concentrated upon conquest. Their aggressive policy never changed so long as there was a field for its development. They commenced as a band of robbers; they ended by becoming masters of all the countries and kingdoms which tempted their cupidity or aroused their ambition. Their empire was universal,—the only universal empire which ever existed on this earth,—and it was won with the sword. It was not a rapid conquest, but it was systematic and irresistible, evincing great genius, perseverance, and fortitude.
The successive and fortunate conquests of the Romans were the admiration, the envy, and the fear of all nations—so marvelous and successful that they have the majesty of a providential event. They cannot be called a mystery, since we see the persistent adaptation of means to an end. But no other nation ever evinced this uniform military policy, except for a limited period, or under the stimulus of a temporary enthusiasm, such as characterized the Saracens and the Germanic barbarians. The Romans fought when there was no apparent need of fighting, when their empire already embraced most of the countries known to the ancients. The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, and the Greeks made magnificent conquests, but their empire was partial and limited, and soon passed away. The Greeks evinced great military genius, and the enterprises of Alexander have been regarded as a wonder. But the Greeks did not fight, as the Romans did, from a fixed purpose to bring all nations under their sway, and they yielded, in turn, to the Romans. The Romans were never subdued, but all nations were subdued by them— even superior races. They erected a universal monarchy, which fell to pieces by its own weight, when the vices of self-interest had accomplished their work. They became the prey of barbarians in a very different sense from that which reduced the ancient empires. They did not yield to any powerful, warlike neighbor, as the Persians yielded to the Greeks, but to successive waves of unknown warriors who came in quest of settlement, and then only when all Roman vigor had fled, and the whole policy of the empire was changed—when it was the aim of emperors to conserve old conquests, not make new ones.
With the Romans, for a thousand years, war was a passion; and, while it lasted, it consumed all other passions. It animated statesmen, rulers, generals, and citizens alike, ever burning, never at rest,—a passion unscrupulous, resistless, all-pervading, all-absorbing, all-conquering. Success in war gave consideration, dignity, honor beyond all other successes. It always has called out popular admiration, and its glory has ever been highly prized, and it always will be so, but it has not monopolized all offices and dignities as among the Romans. The Greeks thought of art, of literature, and of philosophy as well as of war, and gave their crowns of glory for civic and artistic excellence as well as for military success. The Greeks fought to preserve or extend their civilization; the Romans, in order to rule. They had very little respect for any thing beyond military genius. The successful warrior alone was the founder of a great family. The Roman aristocracy, so proud, so rich, so powerful, was based on the glory of battle-fields. Every citizen was trained to arms, and senators and statesmen commanded armies. The whole fabric of the State was built up on war, and for many centuries it was the leading occupation of the people. How insignificant was a poet, or a painter, or a philosopher by the side of a warrior! Rome was a city of generals, and they preoccupied the public mind.
To a Roman, military art was the highest of all. It was constantly being improved, until it reached absolute perfection, with the old weapons and implements of war. To its perfection the whole genius of the people was consecrated; it was to them what the fine arts were to the Greeks, what priestly domination was to the Middle Ages, and what material inventions to abridge human labor are to us. The Romans despised literature, art, philosophy, commerce, agriculture, and even luxury, when they were making their grand conquests; they only respected their fortunate generals. Hence there was no great encouragement to genius or ambition in any other field; but in this field, the horizon perpetually expanded. Every new conquest prepared the way for successive conquests; ambition here was untrammeled, energy was unbounded, visions of glory were most dazzling, warlike schemes were most fertile, until the whole world lay bleeding and prostrate.
Military genius, however, does not present man in the highest state of wisdom or beauty. It is very attractive, but “there is a greater than the warrior’s excellence,” at least to a contemplative or religious eye. When men save nations, in fearful crises, by their military genius, as Napoleon did France when surrounded with hostile armies, or Gustavus Adolphus did Germany when it was struggling for religious rights, then they render the greatest possible services, and receive no unmerited honors. The heart of the world cherishes the fame of Miltiades, of Charlemagne, of Henry IV., of Washington; for they were identified with great causes. War is one of the occasional necessities of our world. No nation can live, or is worthy to live, without military virtues. They rescue nations on the verge of ruin, and establish great rights, without which life is nothing. War, however much to be lamented as an evil, is the last appeal and resource of nations, and settles what cannot be settled without it; and it will probably continue so long as there are blindness, ambition, and avarice among men. Nor, under certain circumstances, of which nations can only be the proper judges, is it inconsistent with the law of love. Hence, as it is a great necessity, it will ever be valued as a great science. Civilization accepts it and claims it. It calls into exercise great qualities, and these intoxicate the people, who bow down to them as godlike.
Still, military genius, however lauded and honored, is too often allied with ambition and selfishness to secure the highest favor of philosophers or Christians. It does not reveal the soul in its loftiest aspirations. Men of a coarser type are often most successful,—men insensible to pity and to reproach, whose greatest merit is in will, nerve, energy, and power of making rapid combinations. We revere the intellect of the Greeks more than that of the Romans, though they were inferior to the latter in military success. We have more respect for those qualities which add to the domain of truth than those which secure power. A wise man elevates the Bacons, the Newtons, and the Shakespeares above all the Marlboroughs and Wellingtons. Plato is surrounded with a brighter halo than Themistocles, and Cicero than Marius.
War as a trade is unscrupulous, hard, rapacious, destructive. It foments all the evil passions; it is allied with all the vices; it is antagonistic to human welfare. It glories merely in strength; it worships only success. It raises wicked men to power; it prostrates and hides the good. It extinguishes what is most lovely, and spurns what is most exalted. It makes a pandemonium of earth, and drags to its triumphal car the venerated relics of ages. It is an awful crime, making slaves of the helpless, and spreading consternation, misery, and death wherever it goes—marking its progress with a trail of blood, and filling the earth with imprecations and curses. It is the greatest scourge which God uses to chastise enervated nations, and cannot be contemplated with; any satisfaction except as the wrath, which is made to praise the Sovereign Ruler who employs what means He chooses to punish or exalt.
Now the Romans, in a general sense, pursued war as a trade, to gratify a thirst for power, to raise themselves on the ruins of ancient monarchies, to enrich themselves with the spoils of the world, and to govern it for selfish purposes. There were many Roman wars which were exceptions, when an exalted patriotism was the animating principle; but aggressive war was the policy and shame of Rome. Her citizens did not generally fight to preserve liberties or rights or national existence, but for self-aggrandizement. Incessant campaigns for a thousand years brought out military science, courage, energy, and a grasping and selfish patriotism. They gave power, skill to rule, executive talents; and these qualities, eminently adapted to worldly greatness, made the Romans universal masters, even if they do not make them interesting. They developed great strength, resource, will, and even made them wise in administration, possibly great civilizers, since centralized power is better than anarchies; yet these traits do not make us love them, or revere them. Providence doubtless ordered the universal monarchy, which only universal war could establish, for the good of the world at that time, for the advancement of civilization itself. Universal dominion must be succeeded by universal peace, and in such a peace the higher qualities and virtues and talents can only be manifested, so that the Roman rule was not a calamity, but a very desirable despotism. Yet despotism it was,—cold, remorseless, self-seeking. War made the Romans practical, calculating, overbearing, proud, scornful, imperious.
But war made them a great people, and made them eminent in certain great qualities. Their success in war is tantamount to saying that in one great field of genius, which civilization honors, they not merely distinguished themselves, and gained a proud fame which will never die out of the memory of man, but that they have had no equals in any age. War enabled them to build up a vast empire, which empire gave a great impulse to ancient civilization.
There is something very singular and mysterious in the results of wars which are caused and carried on by unprincipled and unscrupulous men. They are made to end in substantial benefits to the human race. The wrath of man, in other words, is made to praise God, showing that He is the Sovereign ruler on this earth, and uses what instruments He pleases to carry out his great and benevolent designs. However atrocious the causes of wars, and execrable the spirit in which they are carried out, they are ever made to subserve the benefit of future ages, and the great cause of civilization in its vast connections. Men may be guilty, and may be punished for their wickedness, and execrated through all time by enlightened nations; still they are but tools of the higher power. I do not say that God is the author of wars any more than He is of sin; but wars are yet sent as a punishment to those whom they directly and immediately affect, while they unbind the cords of slavery, and relax the hold of tyrants. They are like storms in the natural world: they create a healthier moral life, after the disasters are past. Those ambitious men, who seek to add province to province and kingdom to kingdom, and for whom no maledictions are too severe, since they shed innocent blood, rarely succeed unless they quarrel with doomed nations incapable of renovation. Thus Babylon fell before Cyrus when her day had come, and she could do no more for civilization. Thus Persia, in her turn, yielded to the Grecian heroes when she became enervated with the luxuries of the conquered kingdoms. Thus Greece again succumbed to Rome when she had degenerated into a land where every vice was rampant. The passions which inflamed Cyrus, and Alexander, and Pompey were alike imperious, and their policy was alike unscrupulous. They simply were bent on conquest, and on establishing powerful empires, which conquests doubtless resulted in the improvement of the condition of mankind. There is also something hard and forbidding in the policy of successful statesmen. We are shocked at their injustice, cruelty, and rapaciousness; but they are often used by Providence to raise nations to preeminence, when their ascendency is, on the whole, a benefit to the world. There is nothing amiable or benign in the characters of such men as Oxenstiern, Richelieu, or Bismarck, but who can doubt the wisdom of their administration? It is seldom that any nation is allowed to have a great ascendency over other nations unless the general influence of the dominant State is favorable to civilization; and when this influence is perverted the ascendency passes away. This is remarkably seen in the history of the Persian, the Greek, and the Roman Empires, and still more forcibly in the empire of the popes in the Middle Ages, and of the vast influence of France and England during the last hundred years. This is both a mystery and a fact. It is mysterious that bad men should be allowed to succeed so often, but it is one of the sternest facts of life, only to be explained on the principle that they are instruments in the hands of the Great Moral Governor whose designs we are not able to fathom, yet the wisdom of which is subsequently, though imperfectly, made known. It was wicked in the sons of Jacob to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites; their craft and lies were successful: they deceived their father and accomplished their purposes; yet his bondage was the means of their preservation from the evils of famine. The rise and fall of empires are to be explained on the same principles as the rise and fall of families. A coarse, unscrupulous but enterprising man gets rich, but his wealth is made to subserve interests far greater than that of his children. Hospitals, colleges, and libraries are endowed as monasteries were in the Middle Ages. If vice, selfishness, and pride were not overruled, what would become of our world? The whole history of civilization is the good which is made to spring out of evil. Men are nothing in comparison with Omnipotence. What are human plans? Yet enterprise and virtue and talent are rewarded. In the affairs of life we see that goodness does not lose its recompense, and that vice is punished; but beyond, what more impressively do we behold than this, that the instruments of punishment are often the wicked themselves.
Among the worst wars in history—uncalled for, unscrupulous, fanatical— were the Crusades. And when were wars more unfortunate, more unsuccessful? Five millions of Crusaders perished miserably in those mad expeditions stimulated by hatred of Mohammedanism. No trophies consoled Europe for its enormous losses, extended over two hundred years. But those wars developed the resources of Europe; they broke the power of feudal barons; they promoted commerce and the arts of life; they led to greater liberality of mind; they opened the horizon of knowledge; they introduced learned men into rising universities; they centralized the power of kings; they weakened the temporal jurisdiction of the popes; they improved architecture, sculpture, and painting; they built free cities; they gave a new stimulus to all the energies of the European nations. Their benefits to civilization were not the legitimate result of destructive passions. The natural penalty of folly and crime was paid in hardship, sorrow, disease, captivity, disappointment, poverty, and death. But out of the ashes a new creation arose, not what any of the leaders of those movements ever contemplated—infinitely removed from the thoughts of Bernard, Urban, Philip, and Richard, great men as they were, far-sighted statesmen, who expected other results. The hand which guided that warfare between Europe and Asia was the hand that led the Israelites out of Egypt across the Red Sea. Moreover, quem deus vult perdere prius dementat. What uprising more foolish, insane, disastrous, than the great Southern rebellion! Its result was never dreamed of for a moment by those Southern leaders. They hoped to see the establishment of a great empire based on slavery; they saw the utter destruction of slavery itself. The course by which they anticipated dominion and riches ended in their temporal ruin. They were made the destroyers of their own pet system, when it could not have been destroyed in any other way. It was only by a great war that the fetters of the slave could be removed, and God sent war so soon as it pleased Him to bring the wicked bondage to an end. If any thing shows the hand of God it is the wars of the nations. They are sent like the famine and the pestilence. All human wisdom and power sink into insignificance when they are put forth to stop these scourges of the Almighty. It is against all reason that they ever come; yet they do come, and then crimes are avenged; evil punishes evil, and succeeding generations are made to see that the progress of the race is through sorrow and suffering. No great empire is built up but with the will of God. No empire falls without deserving the chastisement and the ruin. But God has promised to save and to redeem, and the world moves on in accordance with natural laws, and each successive century witnesses somehow or other a great advance in the general condition of mankind. It is not the great rulers who plan this improvement. It comes from Heaven. It comes in spite of human degeneracy, which, if left to itself, would doubtless soon produce a state of society like that which is attributed to the nations “before the flood came and destroyed them all.”
With this view of war—always aggressive with one party, always a calamity to both; the greatest calamity known to the nations, exhausting, bloody, cruel, sweeping every thing before it; a moral conflagration, bringing every kind of suffering and sorrow in its train, yet made to result as a retribution to worn-out and degenerate races, and a means of vast development of resources among those peoples which have life and energy,—we see the providence of God in the Roman Conquests. The gradual growth of Rome as a warlike state is a most impressive example of the agency of a great Moral Governor in breaking up states that deserved to perish, and in building up a power such as the world needed in order to facilitate both a magnificent civilization and the peaceful spread of a new religion. The Greeks created art and literature; the Romans, laws and government, by which society everywhere was made more secure and tranquil, until the good which arose from the evil was itself perverted.
Under the kingly rule Rome becomes the most important and powerful of the cities of Latium, and a foundation is laid of social, religious, and political institutions which are destined to achieve a magnificent triumph. The kings of Rome are all great men—wise and statesmanlike, patrons of civilization among a rude and primitive people. No state for more than two hundred years was ever ruled by more enlightened princes, ambitious indeed, sometimes unscrupulous, but fortunate and successful. The benefits derived from the conquests and ascendency of the city of Romulus were seen in the union of several petty states, and the fusion of their customs and manners. Before the foundation of the city, Italy was of no account with the older empires. In less than two hundred and fifty years a great Italian power grows up on the banks of the Tiber, imbued to some extent with the civilization of Greece, which it receives through Etruria and the Tarquins.
But the growth of Rome under the kings was too rapid for its moral health. A series of disasters produced by the expulsion of the Tarquins, during which the Roman state dwindles into a small territory on the left bank of the Tiber, develops strength and martial virtue. It takes Rome one hundred and fifty years to recover what it had lost. Moreover its great prosperity has provoked envy, and all the small neighboring nations are leagued against it. These must be subdued, or Italy will remain divided and subdivided, with no central power.
The heroic period of Roman history begins really with the expulsion of the kings; also the growth of aristocratical power. It is not under kings nor democratic influences and institutions that Rome reaches preeminence, but under an aristocracy. All that is most glorious in Roman annals took place under the rule of the Patricians.
During the one hundred and fifty years—when the future mistress of the world struggled for its existence with the cities and inhabitants of Latium, Samnium, and Etruria, whose united territories scarcely extended fifty miles from Rome, were developed the virtues of a martial aristocracy. Our minds kindle with the contemplation of their courage, fortitude, patience, hope, perseverance, energy, self-devotion, patriotism, and religious faith. They deserved success. The long and bitter struggle of one hundred and fifty years had more of the nature of self-preservation than military ambition. The history of those petty wars is interesting, because it is romantic. Beautiful legends of early patriotism and heroism have been reproduced in all the histories from Livy to our times, like those of the knights of King Arthur and the paladins of Charlemagne in the popular literature of Europe. Poets have made them the themes of their inspiration. Painters have chosen them as favorite subjects of art. We love to ponder on the bitter exile of Coriolanus, his treasonable revenge, and the noble patriotism of his weeping and indignant mother, who saved her country but lost her son; on Cincinnatus, taken from the plow and sent as general and dictator against the Acquians; on the Fabian gens, defending Rome a whole year from the attacks of the Veientines until they were all cut off, like the Spartan band at Thermopylae; on Siccius Dentatus, the veteran captain of one hundred and twenty battles, who was only slain by rolling a stone from a high rock upon his head; on Cossos, slaying the king of Veii with his own hand; on the siege of Veii, itself, a city as large as Rome, lasting ten years, and only finally taken by draining the Alban lake; on the pride and avarice of the banished Camillus, and his subsequent rescue of Rome from the Gauls; on the sacred geese of the capitol, and Manlius who slew its assailants; on the siege of the capitol for seven months by these Celtic invaders, and the burning and sack of the city, and its deliverance by the great Camillus. These legends are not legitimate history, but they show the self-devotion and bravery, the simplicity and virtue of those primitive ages, when luxury was unknown and crime was severely punished. It was in those days of danger and hardship that the foundation of the future military strength of the empire was laid. We do not read of military science, of war as an art or trade, or even of great military ambition, for the sphere of military operations was narrow and obscure, but of preparation for victories, under men of genius, in the time to come. That part of Roman history bears the same relation to the age of Marius and Sulla, that the conquests of the Puritans over the Indians, and the difficulties with which they contended, do to the gigantic warfare of the North and South in the late rebellion. The Puritans laid the foundation of the military virtues of the Americans, in their colonial state, as the Patricians of Rome did for one hundred and fifty years after the expulsion of the kings. Those petty wars with Volscians and Acquians brought out the Roman character, and are the germ of subsequent greatness. They took place in the infancy of the republic, under the rule of Patricians, who were not then great nobles, but brave and poor citizens, animated with patriotic zeal and characterized, like the Puritans, for stern and lofty virtues and religious faith,—superstitious and unenlightened, yet elevated and grand,—qualities on which the strength of man is based. It is not puerile to dwell with delight on the legends of that heroic age, for the philosopher sees in those little struggles the germs of imperial power. They were small and insignificant, like the battles of the American Revolution, when measured with the marshaling of vast armies on the plains of Pharsalia or Waterloo, but they were great in their inherent heroism, and in their future results. Who shall say which is greater to the eye of the Infinite—the battle of Leipsic, or the fight on Bunker Hill? It is the cause, the principles involved, the spirit of a contest, which give dignity and importance to the battle-field. Hence all nations and ages have felt great interest in the early struggles of Rome. They are full of poetry and philosophical importance. The Roman historians themselves dwelt upon them with peculiar enthusiasm; and the record of them lives in the school-books of all generations, and has not been deemed unworthy of the critical genius of Niebuhr, of Arnold, or of Mommsen.
The result of this protracted warfare with petty cities and states for one hundred and fifty years was the complete independence of the City of the Seven Hills, the regaining of the conquests lost by the expulsion of Tarquin, the conquest of Latium, the dissolution of the Latin League, the possession of the Pontine district, and the extension of Roman power to the valleys of the Apennines. The war with the Gauls was not a systematic contest. It was a raid of these Celts across the Apennines, and the temporary humiliation of the Roman capital. The Gauls burned and sacked the city, but soon retreated, and Rome was never again invaded by a foreign foe until the hordes of Alaric appeared. The disaster was soon recovered, and the Romans made more united by the lesson.
With the retreat of the Gauls, B.C. 350, and the recovery of Latium, B.C. 341 and four hundred and sixteen years from the foundation of the city, the aggressive period of Roman warfare begins. By this time the Plebeians made their power felt, and had obtained one of the two consulships; but for a long time after, the Patricians, though shorn of undivided sovereignty, still monopolized most of the great offices of state—indeed were the controlling power, socially and politically. At no period was Rome a democratic state; never had Plebeians the ascendency. But now the plebeian influence begins to modify the old constitution. All classes, after incessant warfare for a century and a half, and exposed to innumerable feuds, united in enterprises of conquest. Rome begins to appear on the stage of political history.
The aggressive nature of Roman warfare commenced with Samnium. The Samnites were a warlike and pastoral people who inhabited the rugged mountain district between the valleys of the Vulturnus and the Calor, but they were nevertheless barbarians, and the contest between them and the Romans was for the sovereignty of Italy. I need not mention the alleged causes, or the details of a sanguinary war. The alleged causes were not the true ones, and the details are complicated and obscure. We deal with results. The war began B.C. 326, and lasted, with short intervals of peace, thirty-six years. The Roman heroes were M. Valerius Corvus, L. Papirius Cursor, Q. Fabius Maximus, and P. Decius the younger. All of these were great generals, and were consuls or dictators. As in all great contests, lasting a whole generation, there was alternate victory and defeat, disgraced by treachery and bad faith. The Romans fought, assisted by Latins, Campanians, and Apulians. The Samnites defended themselves in their mountain fastnesses with inflexible obstinacy, and obtained no assistance from allies until nearly worn out, when Umbrians, Etrurians, and Senonian Gauls came to the rescue. About sixty thousand men fought on each side. The battle of Sentinum determined the fate of Samnium and Italy, gained by Fabius and Decius, and the Samnites laid down their arms and yielded to their rivals. Their brave general, Pontius, was beheaded in the prison under the capitol,—an act of inhumanity which sullied the laurels of Fabius. The Roman power is now established over central and lower Italy, and with the exception of a few Greek cities on the coast, Latium, Campania, Apulia, and Samnium are added to the territories of the republic.
In the mean time the political inequality between Patricians and Plebeians had been removed, and a plebeian nobility had grown up, created by success in war and domestic factions. The great man in civil history, during this war, was Appius Claudius the Censor, a proud and inflexible Patrician. His, great works were the Appian road and aqueduct. The road led to Capua through the Pontine marshes one hundred and twenty miles, and was paved with blocks of basalt; the aqueduct passed under ground, and was the first of those vast works which supplied the city with water.
About ten years elapsed between the conquest of the Samnites and the landing of Pyrrhus in Italy, B.C. 280, during which the Romans were brought in contact with Magna Grecia and Syracuse.
The chief of the Greek-Italian cities was Tarentum, a very ancient Lacedaemonian colony. It was admirably situated for commerce on the gulf which bears its name, was very rich, and abounded in fearless sailors. But like most commercial cities, it intrusted its defense to mercenaries. It viewed with alarm the growing power of Rome, and unable to meet her face to face, called in the aid of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, the greatest general of the age, which was followed by a general rising of the Italian states, to shake off the Roman yoke.
Pyrrhus was a soldier of fortune, and practiced war as an art, and delighted in it like Alexander or Charles XII. He readily responded to the overture of the Tarentine Ambassador, and sent over a general with three thousand men to secure a footing, and soon followed with twenty thousand foot, five thousand horse, and a number of elephants. Among his troops were five thousand Macedonian soldiers, a phalanx such as the Romans had never encountered. The Macedonians fought in masses; the Romans in lines. The first encounter was disastrous to the Romans, whose cavalry was frightened by the elephants. But Pyrrhus, contented with victory, did not pursue his advantages, and advanced with easy marches towards Rome with seventy thousand men. The battle of Heraclea, however, had greatly weakened his forces; his allies proved treacherous; and he was glad to offer terms of peace, which were promptly rejected by the Senate. After spending nearly three years in Italy he retired to Syracuse, but again tried his fortune against the Romans, and was signally routed at the battle of Beneventum by Curius Dentatus. He hastily left Italy to her fate, and the fall of Tarentum speedily followed, which made the Romans masters of the whole peninsula. The Macedonian phalanx, which had conquered Asia, yielded to the Roman legion, and a new lesson was learned in the art of war.
The Romans, by the fall of Tarentum, were now the undisputed masters of Italy, and had made the first great step towards the conquest of the world. The city of Romulus was now four hundred and eighty years old, and the national domain extended from the Ciminian wood in Etruria to the middle of the Campania. It was called the Ager Romanus, in which was a population of two hundred and ninety-three thousand men capable of bearing arms; and the citizens of the various conquered cities, who had served certain magistracies in them, were enrolled among Roman citizens, with all the rights to which the citizens of the capital were entitled,— absolute authority over wife, children, and slaves, security from capital punishment except by a vote of the people, or under military authority in the camp, access to all the honors and employments of the state, the right of suffrage, and the possession of Quirinal property. They felt themselves to be allies of Rome, and henceforward lent efficient aid in war. To all practical intents, they were Romans as completely as the inhabitants of Marseilles are French. Tarentum, Neapolis, Tibur, Praeneste, and other large cities, enjoyed peculiar privileges; but armed garrisons were maintained in them, under the form of colonies. The administration of them was organized after the model of Rome. Military roads were constructed between all places of importance.
The same sterling virtues which characterized the absolute rule of the Patricians still continued, and patriotism partook of the nature of religious sentiment. Three Decii surrendered their lives for the Roman army, and Manlius immolated his son to the genius of discipline; Runnus is degraded from the Senate for possessing ten pounds of silver plate, although twice consul and once dictator; Regulus, twice consul, possessed no more than one little field in the barren district of Papinice. Curius like Fabricius prepared his simple meal with his own hand, and refused the gold of the Samnites, as Fabricius refused that of Pyrrhus. The new masters of Italy deserved their empire. There was union because there was now political equality. The “new men, like Fabricius and Curius Dentatus, were not less numerous in the Senate than the old Curial families. The aristocracy of blood was blended with the aristocracy of merit. The consulship gave unity of command, the Senate wisdom and the proper strength, preserving a happy equilibrium of forces,—the combination of royalty, aristocracy, and democracy, which, with military virtues and austere manners, made an irresistible force.” [Footnote: Durny, Hist. des Romains] This period, the fifth century of the existence of the Roman state, was its heroic age.
But now military aggrandizement became the master-passion of the people, and the uniform policy of the government. Military virtues still remained, but the morals of state began to decline. Aggressive wars, for conquest and power, henceforth, mark the progress of the Romans; and not merely aggressive wars, but unjust and foreign wars. The step of the Roman is now proud and defiant. Visions of unlimited conquest rise up before his eye. He is cold, practical, imperious. The eagles of the legions are the real objects of pride and reverence. Mars is the presiding deity. Success is the only road to honor.
While Rome was completing the reduction of Italy, Carthage, a Tyrian colony on the opposite coast of Africa, was extending her conquests in the Islands of the Mediterranean. The Greek colonies of Sicily had fallen under her sway. She was a rival whose power was formidable, enriched by the commerce of the world, and proud in the number of her allies. The city contained seven hundred thousand inhabitants, and the walls measured twenty miles in circumference.
Between such ambitious and unscrupulous rivals, peace could not long be maintained. To the eye of the philosopher the ascendency of Carthage or of Rome over the countries which border on the Mediterranean was clearly seen. Which were better? Shall the world be governed by a martial, law- making, law-loving, heroic commonwealth, not yet seduced and corrupted by luxury and wealth, or by a commercial, luxurious, selfish nation of merchants, whose only desire is self-indulgence and folly. Providence sides with Rome—although Rome cannot be commended, and is ruled by ambitious and unscrupulous chieftains whose delight is power. If there is to be one great empire more, before Christianity is proclaimed, which shall absorb all other empires, now degenerate and corrupt, let that be given to a people who know how to civilize after they have conquered. Let the sword rather than gold rule the world—enlightened statesmen rather than self-indulgent merchants. So Carthage falls, after three memorable struggles, extending over more than a century, during which she produced the greatest general of antiquity, next to Caesar and Alexander. But not even Hannibal could restore the fortunes of his country, after having inflicted a bitter humiliation on his enemies. That city of merchants, like Tyre and Sidon, must drink of the cup of divine chastisement. Another type of civilization than that furnished by a “mistress of the sea,” was needed for Europe, and another rule for Asia and Africa. The Carthaginians taught the Romans, in their contest, how to build ships of war and fight naval battles. As many as three hundred thousand men were engaged in that memorable sea-fight of Ecnomus which opened to Regulus the way to Africa. Three times did the Romans lose their fleets by tempests, and yet they persevered in building new ones. The fortitude of the Romans, in view of the brilliant successes of Hannibal, can never be sufficiently admired. The defeat at Cannae was a catastrophe, but the troops of Fabius, to whom was left the defense of the city, were not discouraged, and with Scipio—religious, self-reliant, and lofty—the tide of victory turned. By the first Punic war, which lasted twenty-two years, Rome gained Sicily; by the second, which opened twenty-three years after the first, and lasted seventeen years, she gained Sardinia, a foothold in Spain and Gaul, and a preponderance throughout the western regions of Europe and Africa; by the third, which occurred fifty years after the second, and continued but four years, she gained all the provinces of Africa ruled by Carthage, and a great part of Spain. Nothing was allowed to remain of the African capital. The departing troops left behind complete desolation. The captives were sold as slaves, or put to death, and enough of spoil rewarded the victors to adorn a triumph only surpassed by that of Paulus on his return from the conquest of Greece.
In the mean time, in the interval between the second and third Punic wars, occurred the Macedonian wars, which prepared the way for conquests in the East. The great Macedonian empire was split up into several monarchies among the generals of Alexander and their successors. The Ptolemies reigned in Egypt; the successors of Seleucus in Babylonia; those of Antigonus in Syria and Asia Minor; those of Lysimachus in Thrace; and of Cassander in Macedonia. It was the mission of Rome to subdue these monarchies, or rather her good fortune, for she was destined to conquer the world. The principles which animated these wars cannot be defended on high moral grounds, any more than the conquest of India by England, or of Algeria by France. They were based entirely upon ambition—upon the passion for political aggrandizement. I confess I have no sympathy with them. Roman liberties were not jeopardized, nor were these monarchies dangerous rivals like Carthage. The subjugation of Italy was in accordance with what we now call the Monroe doctrine—to obtain the ascendency on her own soil; and even the conquest or of Sicily was no worse than the conquest of Ireland, or what would be the future absorption of Cuba and Jamaica within the limits of the United States. The Emperor Napoleon would probably justify both the humiliation of Carthage and the conquest of Greece and Asia and Egypt, and others would echo his voice in defense of aggressive domination, on some plea of pretended schemes of colonization, and the progress of civilization. But I do not believe in overturning the immutable laws of moral obligation for any questionable policy of expediency. I look upon the great civil wars of the Romans, which followed these conquests, in which so much blood was shed, and in which Marius and Sulla and Caesar and Pompey exhausted the resources of the state, and made an imperial regime necessary, only as the visitation of God in rebuke of such wicked ambition.
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