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The fate of empires; being an inquiry into the stability of civilisation online

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is sufficiently ominous. The number of days
which were annually given up to games and
spectacles at Rome rose from 66 in the reign of
Augustus to 135 in the reign of M. Aurelius, and
to 175 or more in the fourth century. In this
reckoning, no account is taken of extraordinary
festivals on special occasions. . . . The lubricity
of pantomime and the slaughter of the arena were
never more fiercely and keenly enjoyed than
when the Germans were thundering at the gates
of Treves and Carthage." ^

If we turn to the literature of the age we find
the same record. We may, perhaps, think that
it would be unjust to accept the descriptions of
Juvenal, Martial, and Petronius as pictures of the
ordinary conditions of life among the well-to-do,
and, if so, let us judge the age by its ideals of
goodness and not by its moral aberrations. Let
us turn to the better aspect and to such moralists
as Quintilian, Tacitus, and Pliny. What do we
discover? We see that Quintilian (i. 2, 4, 8)
finds it necessary to denounce the corruption of
youth by the sight of their fathers toying with
mistresses and minions. Tacitus {De Or., 28)
finds it necessary to preach the virtues of pure
motherhood. The philosopher Musonius finds it
necessary to teach that ^ " All indulgence outside
the sober limits of wedlock was a gross animal
degradation of human dignity." And we cannot
suppose that the moral remarks of Cicero were

^ Sir Samuel Dill, o'p. cit., pp. 232 et seq.
2 Ibid., p. 143.


not brilliant to his contemporaries, although we
find them the dullest of platitudes. Finding that
the moralists themselves set up such very primitive
ideals as these, what are we to think of the un-
restrained pursuit of self-indulgence in the society
that surrounded them ? Just as we reached the
conclusion that the monstrous emperors were not
really insane, so we may infer that the amazing
pictures drawn by Juvenal, Martial, and Petronius
are not really preposterous. We shall cease to
marvel at the indictment of St. Paul (Rom. i. 24
et seq,) or the denunciations of the Son of Thunder
(Rev. xvii. and xviii.).

When we pass on to inquire into the conditions
that prevailed in the relatively poorer classes, we
find that the same tendency shows itself in
measures taken with the object of eliminating
competition. Socialism steadily grew within the
empire, and had become a highly developed system
when Diocletian divested himself of the purple
in A.D. 305. The movement seems to have been
widespread: in Acts xix. 23-41, for example, we
find, at Ephesus, an organised craft with an ac-
cepted leader, Demetrius, and a '* town clerk," who
admits that there are certain causes in which the
organised craft may take action. It appears to
have begun with a blend of what, just at present,
is called syndicaHsm, or trades unionism, with

Professor Flinders Petrie, D.C.L., LL.D.,
F.R.S., refers to these facts in a small book that he
published with the title Janus in Modern Life ^

1 London, A. Constable & Co., Limited, 1907.


a book that we have found one of the most inter-
esting and most wholly admirable works that have
been written in recent years. " About a.d. 230,"
he writes (page 30), " all trades were organised into
corporations or trades unions, recognised by the
Government, instead of being only private societies
as before. This seems to have been a compulsory
unionism; but there was some difference in class
between this unionism and our own. In Rome
the trades were in the hands of smaller men, and
not of large firms and companies as much as with
us ; and, on the other hand, the mere mechanic
was usually a slave, this slave labour being econo-
mically the equivalent of machinery in our time.
Hence the Roman trades unions were small em-
ployers of the status of our plumbers or up-
holsterers, more than, as with us, a large mass
of crude labour organised against all capital. They
were trade unions, rather than unions of mechanics
as against managers. The compulsory entry of all
the master employers would no doubt be a step very
welcome to modern unionism, and the compulsory
extension of it so as to leave no free labour would
be an ideal condition, while picketing would be
quite superseded by legal compulsion to join the
union. The differences, therefore, were such as
our trades unions would desire and aim at in the
future; in short, unionism by a.d. 230 was more
developed than it is at present with us."

Thus competition between traders was elimi-
nated. But this result was not all that was
achieved. If on the one hand the State, by the
abolition of free labour, granted a monopoly to the


union, so, on the other hand, it exacted a considera-
tion. Society, in return, required that a certain
amount of work should be done either gratis or
below cost. This work was to be done for the
poor, all profits were to be earned from wealth :
thus the competitive stress was relieved both to
those within the union and to those without it.

'' Early in the third century, the grain importers
and the bakers, being two trades that touched the
proletariat most closely, were organised as mono-
polist unions on condition that they should do
a certain amount of work for the poor at a nominal
rate. Each member of the union was assessed by
his union " (we are quoting Professor Flinders
Petrie again ^) "on the basis of both his capital and
his trade returns, and he had to do so much of
the cheap work in proportion. Hence the wealth
of each firm determined the amount of proletariat
taxation. . . . Hence to each person the aim was
to work with the smallest amount of capital, and
to remove from the business all spare capital and
invest it elsewhere. This naturally resulted in
business being badly worked. The difficulty was
met by the law that all capital once in the business
could never be withdrawn ; and all profits, and
later, all acquired wealth should be kept in the
business, so that the richer firms should do their
full share of proletariat service. The results of
these logical developments of unionism and help
to the proletariat were that many withdrew alto-
gether from unions, retiring upon a small com-
petence rather than live under such a burden, and

^ Op. cit.y pp. 32 et seq.


that there was a general decline of commerce and

" Property having thus become the gauge of
responsibility in the union, the only way to prevent
desertions was to declare that the property was
attached to the union permanently, and whosoever
acquired it did so under the implied covenant of
supplying the share of union work out of it. The
result of this law was that no one with capital
would join a trade union, as their whole property
became attached to the union ; and poor persons
were not desired on unions, as they could not take
up a share of the proletariat service. This con-
dition was met by the law forcibly enrolling
capitalists in the unions, and demanding their
personal service as well as the use of their capital."

"By A.D. 270 Aurelian had made unionism
compulsory for life, so as to prevent the able men
from withdrawing to better themselves by free
work individually. He also gave a wine dole, and
bread in place of corn to save the wastrel the
trouble of baking. In the fourth century every
member, and all his sons, and all his property,
belonged inalienably to the trades union. By a.d.
369 all property, however acquired, belonged to
the union. Yet still men would leave all that
they had to get out of the hateful bondage, and so
the unpopular trades such as the money ers in a.d.
380 and the bakers in a.d. 408 were recruited by
requiring that everyone who married the daughter
of a unionist must join his father-in-law's business.
And thus ' the empire was an immense gaol where
all worked not according to taste but by force,' as


Waltzing remarks in his great work, Corporatioiis
Professionnelles, where the foregoing facts are

The system seems to have been completed by
what Professor Flinders Petrie^ calls "the vast
socialist decree of Diocletian, regulating all prices
and wages throughout the empire. A maximum
value was fixed for every kind of food ^grain,
wine, oil, meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. . . .
Meanwhile the wages of labourers, of artisans, and
of professions were all equally regulated, so that
the best men could never have their superior
ability rewarded. The prices of skins and leather,
of all clothing, and of jewellery were likewise

We need not dwell upon the fact that, for the
pauper class, not only were free doles of corn pro-
vided a political device that is not to be dignified
by the honourable name of charity but also the
means of passing idle days in the excitement of
the horse-races in the Great Circus. In every class
we have found the exaltation of Society, and, in
the words of Dr. Inge,^ " We may grant, probably
we should grant, that the Roman understood the
art of living better than we understand it ; that he
knew better than we how to make the most of all
the pleasures under the sun, from the noblest art
to the vilest indulgences."

History, showing us a population among whom
the non-competitive system was maintained by
any and every contrivance, reveals a leisured
people, and corroborates the testimony of the

1 Ojp. cit, p. 37. 2 Q^^ cit, p. 276.


numberless ruins of baths and amphitheatres.
Ease, it is true, was purchased by the loss of
liberty, and it was found that the hand of the State
was laid ever more and more heavily upon every
man. But no mundane consideration not the
loss of liberty itself could bring men back to a
life of competition. The footsteps all lead one
way ; there is no sign of returning to the hard con-
ditions of rivalry. But the reader of these pages
will not be surprised by the fact that the great
Roman machine provided a socialistic existence
for the mass of the people. Ease was obtained for
every class. Neither before nor since has pure
Reason been so greatly in the ascendant, never has
the kingdom of this world been so splendid.



Leaving our review of the character of Society
under the Roman Empire, we find, before we can
understand the consideration of the position of the
Race, that the family, as the nexus between the
two, calls for notice. We are apt to regard the
family as we know it as a part of the natural order
of things ; and at first it is not easy to recognise
that it may be based upon other principles than
those that we know so well. In saying this we
are only referring to the monogamous family :
neither the polyandrous nor the polygamous
household merits the name of " family " ; and
they have no bearing upon the matter before
us. Two forms of the monogamous family are
recognised to-day, one being the cognatic family,
and the other the agnatic. The distinction is
of great importance. The cognatic form of the
family prevails among ourselves and is well under-
stood. Seeing, however, that the agnatic form of
the family has been in force during the earlier
periods of Roman history and throughout the
whole of Chinese history, disappearing in the one
and persisting in the other, some description of it
becomes necessary.



Sir Henry Maine, in his work on Ancient Law,^
says, " The old Roman Law established ... a
fundamental distinction between ' agnatic ' and
* cognatic ' relationship that is, between the family
considered as based upon common subjection to
patriarchal authority, and the family considered (in
conformity with modern ideas) as united through
the mere fact of a common descent."

"Cognates, then,^ are all those persons who
can trace their blood to a single ancestor and an-
cestress ; or if we take the strict technical meaning
of the word in Roman Law, they are all those who
trace their blood to the legitimate marriage of a
common pair. But who are the Agnates ? In the
first place, they are all the cognates who trace their
connection exclusively through males ; . . . all who
remain after the descendants of women have been
excluded are Agnates, and their connection to-
gether is Agnatic Relationship. . . . Mulier est
finis familice. . . . None of the descendants of a
female are included in the primitive notion of
family relationship."

'' If the system of archaic law at which we are
looking be one which admits adoption, we must
add to the Agnates thus obtained all persons, male
or female, who have been brought into the family
by the artificial extension of its boundaries. But
the descendants of such persons will only be
Agnates if they satisfy the conditions which have
just been described. . . . We may suspect that
it" {ix. agnatic relationship) "would have per-

1 Chap. iii. p. 59 ; 9th ed., John Murray, 1883.

2 Ojp. cit.y chap. V. pp. 147 et seq.


petuated itself even more than it has in modern
European jurisprudence if it had not been for the
vast influence of the later Roman Law on modern

Thus the essential distinction of agnatic rela-
tionship is to be found in the understanding that,
on marriage, a woman passes exclusively into the
family of her husband, and ceases to be counted as
a member of the family from which she sprang.
The resulting contrast between cognation, the
form of the family among white men, and agna-
tion, the form of the family among yellow men, is
indeed a singular one. In the cognatic family it
is a matter of extreme difficulty for a man to trace
his origin for more than a very few generations ;
he has to take into account four grandparents, eight
great-grandparents, and so on. Very soon he is
lost in a fog of relationships, and a prolonged
tradition of family descent is almost impossible.
Practically he only recognises contemporaries who
are immediately consanguineous with him. Thus
the outlook of the cognatic family is horizontal ; it
is essentially a recognition of consanguinity among
the living, and shows us the family in its contact
with Society.

In the agnatic family, on the contrary, descent'
is absolutely direct, and becomes a matter of the
utmost simplicity, for it is evident that it can only
be traced from father to son, or from son to father,
as in the genealogies given in the Gospels of St.
Matthew and St. Luke. In the agnatic family the
outlook is vertical ; it is a recognition of the con-
tinuity of consanguinity between the generations


of the past and those that are to come, and shows
us the family in its contact with the Race.

The Roman world started with all the racial
advantages of the agnatic system of relationship.
The ancient and honourable forms of marriage
known as confarreation and coemption are clearly
of that character. The first of them, co7ifa?y^eatw,
was the more solemn, and was the only marriage
of a distinctly religious kind. The second, coemptio,
was the highest form of purely civil marriage. In
both of them, the wife left her own family, and
passed under the power, the manus, of her husband ;
her property became his, and, being included
among those who came under his patria potestas,
her legal position was that of a daughter. There
was also a third, a lower, form of civil marriage
known as usus a continuous cohabitation in the
husband's house for one year, from which the in-
tention to enter into a contract of marriage was
inferred. This lower form of marriage was also of
an agnatic character ; the woman passed under the
patria potestas of her husband.

For our present purpose the point that is
interesting is the degradation in these forms of
marriage that took place in the society that we
<were considering in the last chapter. The causes
that, as we then saw, led to the revolt against the
social stress, and that, as we shall presently see,
led to revolt against the racial stress, rendered
these contracts meaningless and intolerable. A
steady process of relaxation took place, and, to
render them acceptable at all, their conditions
were made less and less exacting. Confarreation


and coemption had almost died out by the close
of the Republic, and under the Empire, in the
most splendid period of Roman society, usus
alone remained. Even that persisted in a de-
based form : the wife absented herself for three
nights in the year from her husband's house, and
the legal effect of this expedient was that she
never passed into the power of her husband, her
property never became his, her rights remained
unimpaired, and this form of marriage, scarcely
distinguishable from concubinage, was almost uni-
versally adopted. " Most marriages," says Dr. Inge
{op, cit.), ' were now mere civil contracts dissoluble
at pleasure." "It has been pointed out," he con-
tinues (p. 181), "by more than one moralist that
in times of national corruption the women are
generally even more vicious than the men. It
was so at Rome. . . . The mere fact that we find
such expressions as ' cuius castitas pro exemplo
habita est' speaks volumes for the corruption of
Society. But on this subject we need not here
dwell. It is only necessary to mention it in order
to explain that strange phenomenon of Roman life,
the unexampled frequency of divorce. Divorce
was resolved upon on the slightest pretext."

But this was not all. Reason stopped at no
halfway house. Society might make the bonds
of the married state as fragile as possible, but that
did not meet the demands of Reason. The aver-
sion was from matrimony itself. "The large
majority of men never married at all." ^

After the freedom from matrimonial contract

* Dr. Inge, op. cit., p. 182.


that prevailed during the early period of the Em-
pire, ''the dignity of marriage," says Gibbon,^
'*was restored by the Christians." He is speaking
of the times of Justinian : unhappily, the influence
of earlier conditions was still too great to permit
a reversion to the rigid line of agnation, and the
cognatic form of the family must be regarded as a
legacy of evil that the modern world has inherited
from the later Roman jurisprudence.

Our thoughts pass naturally from the posi-
tion of the family to that of the Race. Here
also Reason was dominant. But the situation
is rendered one of absorbing interest by the
gigantic and unparalleled efforts that were made
by Augustus to arrest and reverse the revolt
against the racial stress. Every geocentric con-
sideration was in his favour. The grandeur of
the traditions of Rome appealed to the imagina-
tion of his people, and the splendour of Society
called for their patriotism. He devoted himself
to the realisation of his hopes to preserve the Race,
and we find the explanation of his attempts to re-
suscitate religious fervour in his effort to achieve
this end. The element of tragedy is imported into
his work by the fact that it was foredoomed to
failure. Ad hoc religion was inherently unable to
compass a cosmocentric purpose.

The position that faced Augustus was an illus-
tration of the manner in which a high civilisation
and the ascendancy of Society can be attained by
the sacrifice of the Race, purchased, as it were, by
the expenditure of the racial capital. Dr. Inge,^

^ Op. cit., chap. xliv. ^ O'p. cit.y p. 69.


referring to the prevalence of infanticide in the
first century a.d., writes as follows :

'*The destruction of a new-born infant was,
according to some authorities, forbidden by law,
but it was certainly common. ^ Parents, whose
sense of pity prevented them from killing an infant,
often exposed it, in which case it either died of
neglect or was reared as a slave or a prostitute by
persons who made a trade of the practice. The
habit of 'limiting the number of children,' as
Tacitus euphemistically calls it, was condemned
on political grounds as tending to diminish popula-
tion at a time when the human harvest was bad ;
but we do not find the moral condemnation which
modern society passes on the practice, a judgment
which is due to a new conception of the guilt of
homicide, introduced by Christianity. The practice
of infanticide was certainly highly mischievous at
Rome in this period, and contributed not a little to
the gradual extinction of the Roman race."

"Abortion," he says [loc, cit,), '*was not dis-
couraged by law, and was very extensively
practised. The art was a regular part of the
physician's practice, and was apparently well
understood.^ We find praises of women for not
resorting to it."

Details of further aspects of such matters may
be found in Soranus one of an honourable family
of physicians practising in Rome in the first
century a.d.

^ See Sen., De Ira, i. 15, 2 : " Liberos quoque, si debiles, mon-
strosive editi sint, mergimus."

^ See, however, Ovid : " Ssope suos utero quae necat ipsa perit."


Dr. Inge^ quotes Petronius, who says: "No
one acknowledges children ; for the man who has
heirs is never invited to any festive gathering, but
is left to associate with the dregs of society. On
the other hand, the childless man is covered with
honours, and passes for a model of all the virtues,"
and Dr. Inge adds : "So great were the advantages
of childlessness that Seneca consoles a mother who
had just lost her only son by reminding her of
the greater consideration that she will now enjoy. ^
A man who married was regarded as hardly in his
senses. ..."

Early in his reign Augustus set himself to the
task of reversing these conditions and rolling back
the tide of time. His famous reform, the Lex
Julia, appeared in 18 B.C. It was divided into
three parts, whereof the Leoo de maritandis ordinibus
attempted to combat the increasing tendency to
celibacy and sterility by a system of penalties and
rewards. The penalties seem to have been chiefly
operative under the laws of inheritance. Severe
limitations were placed on the capacity of the
unmarried to receive a legacy, and their severity
was only halved to those who, although married,
were childless. Property was to pass to those who
had children. If a husband and wife had children,
they could leave their possessions to one another ;
but, if they had no children, only a tenth part;
and, if they had children by another marriage,
they might leave to one another as many tenths
as there were children. If a husband absented

1 Op.cit, p. 31.

2 See also Tac, Ann.j iii. 25 : " prsevalida orbitate."


himself from his wife, except on pubhc business,
he was deprived of the power to receive a legacy.
Vacant legacies were inherited by the State. Two
years were allowed to a widow or a widower before
remarriage became compulsory.

The rewards were designed to render marriage
and the possession of a family fashionable. Married
men with families were selected for promotions,
precedence in the theatre, and remission of

The second part was the Leoo de adiiltejiis, and
finally came the I^ex sumptuaria. This last was
designed to prevent the dissipation of a family
fortune by extravagance; property was to pass
to children.

In A.D. 9, Augustus promulgated the Law
Pappia Poppgea, the greatest work of Roman
legislation since the Twelve Tables. It was an
extension and codification of the Lex Julia,

"II donna," writes De Montesquieu,^ "la loi
qu'on nomma de son nom Julia et Pappia Pop-
pcea du nom des consuls^ d'une partie de cette
annee-la. La grandeur du mal paroissoit dans
leur Election meme ; Dion ^ nous dit qu'ils n'etoient
point maries et qu'ils n'avoient point d'enfans.

" Cette loi d' August e fut proprement un code de
loix et un corps systematique de tons les reglemens
qu'on pouvoit faire sur ce sujet. On y refondit les
loix Juliennes* et on leur donna plus de force:

^ De V Esprit des Loix, Li v. xxiii., chap. xxi.
2 Marcus Pappius Mutilus and Q. Poppaeus Sabinus.
^ Dion., liv., Ivi.

* Le titre 14 des fragmens d'Ulpien distingue fort bien la loi
Julienne de la Pappienne.


elles ont tant de vues, elles influent sur tant de
choses, qu'elles forment la plus belle partie des
loix civiles des Romaines."

These laws were not permitted to become a
dead letter. Julia herself, the only daughter of
Augustus, the widow of Agrippa, the mother of
Caius and Lucius Cgesar, and the wife of Tiberius,
was convicted under the drastic provisions of the
Lex de adulteriis, and banished, at the age of

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