John Lord.

The Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization online

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Early History of Rome - Wars under the Kings - Their Results - Gradual
Subjection of Italy - Great Heroes of the Republic - Their Virtues and
Victories - Military Aggrandizement - The Carthaginian, Macedonian, and
Asiatic Wars - Their Consequences - Civil Wars of Marius and Sulla, of
Pompey and Caesar - The Conquests of the Barbarians - Extension of Roman
Dominion in the East - Conquests of the Emperors - The Military Forces of
the Empire - Military Science - The Roman Legion - The Military Genius of
the Romans



The vast Extent of the Empire - Boundaries - Rivers and Mountains - The
Mediterranean and its Islands - The Provinces - Principal Cities - Great
Architectural Monuments - Roads - Commerce - Agriculture - Manufactures -
Wealth - Population - Unity of the Empire



Original Settlement - The Seven Hills - Progress of the City - Principal
Architectural Monuments - A Description of the Temples, Bridges,
Aqueducts, Forums, Basilicas, Palaces, Amphitheatres, Theatres,
Circuses, Columns, Arches, Baths, Obelisks, Tombs - Miscellaneous
Antiquities - Streets - Gardens - Private Houses - Populous Quarters -
Famous Statues and Pictures - General Magnificence - Population



The great Wonders of Ancient Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting -
Famous Artists of Antiquity - How far the Romans copied the Greeks - How
far they extended Art - Its Principles - Its Perfection - Causes of its
Decline - Permanence of its grand Creations



The Original Citizens - Comitia Calata - Comitia Curiata - Comitia
Centuriata - Comitia Tributa - The Plebs - Great Patrician Families - The
Aristocratic Structure of ancient Roman Society - The Dignity and Power
of the Senate - The Knights - The Growth of the Democracy - Contests
between Patricians and Plebeians - Rise of Tribunes - Popular Leaders -
Their Laws - The Great Officers of State - Provincial Governors -
Usurpations of fortunate Generals - The Revolution under Julius Caesar and
Augustus - Imperial Despotism - Preservation of the Forms of the
Republic, and utter Prostration of its Spirit



Genius of the Romans for Government and Laws - Development of
Jurisprudence - Legislative Sources - Judicial Power - Courts of Law - The
Profession of Law - Great Lawyers and Jurists - Ancient Codes - Imperial
Codes - The Law of Persons - Rights of Citizens, of Foreigners, of Slaves -
Laws of Marriage, of Divorce, of Adoption - Paternal Power -
Guardianship - Laws relating to Real Rights - Law of Obligations - Laws of
Succession - Testaments and Legacies - Actions and Procedure in Civil
Suits - Criminal Law



The Grecian Models - How far they contributed to Roman Creations - The
Development of the Latin Language - The Orators, Poets, Dramatists,
Satirists, Historians, and their chief Works - How far Literature was
cultivated - Schools - Libraries - Literary Legacies of the Romans



Its gradual Development from Thales to Aristotle - How far the Romans
adopted the Greek Philosophy - What Additions they made to it - How far it
modified Roman Thought and Life - Influence of Philosophy on
Christianity - Influence on modern Civilization



The Mathematical Genius of the Old Astronomers - Their Labors and
Discoveries - Extent of Astronomical Knowledge - The Alexandrian School -
The Science of Geometry and how far carried - Great Names - Medicine -
Geography - Other Physical Sciences and their limited Triumphs



The Vices and Miseries of Roman Society - Social Inequalities -
Disproportionate Fortunes - The Wealth and Corruption of Nobles -
Degradation of the People - Vast Extent of Slavery - The Condition of
Women - Demoralizing Games and Spectacles - Excessive Luxury and squalid
Misery - Money-making - Imperial Misrule - Universal Egotism and
Insensibility to grand Sentiments - Hopelessness of Reform - Preparation
for Ruin



False Security of the Roman People - Their stupendous Delusions - The
Invasion of Barbarians - Their Characteristics - Their alternate Victory
and Defeat - Desolation of the Provinces - The Degeneracy of the Legions -
General Imbecility and Cowardice - Great public Misfortunes - General
Union of the Germanic Nations - Their Leaders - Noble but vain Efforts of
a Succession of warlike Emperors - The rising Tide of Barbarians - Their
irresistible Advance - The Siege and Sack of Rome - The Fall of Cities -
Miseries of all Classes - Universal Despair and Ruin - The Greatness of
the Catastrophe - Reflections on the Fall of Rome



Necessary Corruption of all Institutions under Paganism - Glory succeeded
by Shame - The Army a worn-out Mechanism - The low Aims of Government -
Difficulties of the Emperors - Laws perverted or unenforced - The
Degeneracy of Art - The Frivolity of Literature - The imperfect Triumph
of Philosophy - Nothing Conservative in human Creations - Necessity of
Aid from foreign and Divine Sources



The Victories of Christianity came too late - Small Number of Converts
when Christianity was a renovating Power - Their comparative Unimportance
in a political and social View for three Centuries - The Church
constructs a Polity for Itself rather than seeks to change established
Institutions - Rapid Corruption of Christianity when established, and
Adoption of Pagan Ideas and Influences - No Renovation of worn-out Races -
No Material on which Christianity could work - Not the Mission of the
Church to save Empires, but the Race - A diseased Body must die



The great Ideas which the Fathers propounded - The Principle of Self-
sacrifice, seen especially in early Martyrdoms - The Idea of Benevolence
in connection with public and private Charities - Importance of public
Preaching - Pulpit Oratory - The Elaboration of Christian Doctrine - Its
Connection with Philosophy - Church Psalmody - The Principle of Christian
Equality - Its Effects on Slavery and the Elevation of the People - The
Social Equality of the Sexes - Superiority in the condition of the modern
over the ancient Woman - The Idea of Popular Education - The Unity of the


I propose to describe the Greatness and the Misery of the old Roman
world; nor is there any thing in history more suggestive and

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

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

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 1 of 50)