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he was a man of immense research and learning. His work in seventeen
books is one of the most valuable which have come down from antiquity,
both from the discussions which run through it, and the curious facts
which can be found nowhere else. It is scarcely fair to estimate the
genius of Strabo by the correctness and extent of his geographical
knowledge. All men are lost in science, and science is progressive. The
great scientific lights of our day may be insignificant, compared with
those who are to arise, if profundity and accuracy of knowledge is the
test. It is the genius of the ancients, their grasp and power of mind,
their original labors which we are to consider. Anaxagoras was one of
the greatest philosophical geniuses of all ages; but, as philosophy is a
science, and is progressive, his knowledge could not be compared with
that of Aristotle. Again, who doubts the original genius and grasp of
Aristotle, but what was he, in accuracy of knowledge and true method, in
comparison with the savants of the nineteenth century; yet, it would be
difficult to show that Aristotle was inferior to Bacon or Cuvier, or
Stuart Mill. If, however, we would compare the geographical knowledge of
the ancients with that of the moderns, we confess to the immeasurable
inferiority of the ancients in this branch. When Eratosthenes began his
labors, it was known that the surface of the earth was spherical. He
established parallels of latitude and longitude, and attempted the
difficult undertaking of measuring the circumference of the globe by the
actual measurement of a segment of one of its great circles. Posidonius
determined the arc of a meridian between Rhodes and Alexandria to be a
forty-eighth part of the whole circumference - an enormous calculation,
yet a remarkable one in the infancy of astronomical science. Hipparchus
introduced into geography a great improvement, namely, the relative
situation of places, by the same process that he determined the
positions of the heavenly bodies. He also pointed out how longitude
might be determined by observing the eclipses of the sun and moon. This
led to the construction of maps; but none have reached us except those
which were used to illustrate the geography of Ptolemy. Hipparchus was
born B.C. 276, the first who raised geography to the rank of a science.
He starved himself to death, being tired of life, like Eratosthenes,
more properly an astronomer, and the most distinguished among the
ancients, born about 160 B.C., although none of his writings have
reached us. The improvements he pointed out were applied by Ptolemy
himself, an astronomer who flourished about the year 160 at Alexandria.
His work was a presentation of geographical knowledge known in his day,
so far as geography is the science of determining the position of places
on the earth's surface. The description of places belongs to Strabo. His
work was accepted as the textbook of the science till the fifteenth
century, for in his day the Roman empire had been well surveyed. He
maintained that the earth is _spherical_, and introduced the terms
_longitude_ and _latitude_, which Eratosthenes had established,
and computed the earth to be one hundred and eighty thousand
stadia in circumference, and a degree five hundred stadia in length,
or sixty-two and a half Roman miles. His estimates of the length
of a degree of latitude were nearly correct; but he made great errors in
the degrees of longitude, making the length of the world from east to
west too great, which led to the belief in the practicability of a
western passage to India. He also assigned too great length to the
Mediterranean, arising from the difficulty of finding the longitude with
accuracy. But it was impossible, with the scientific knowledge of his
day, to avoid errors, and we are surprised that he made so few.

* * * * *

REFERENCES. - An exceedingly learned work has recently been issued in
London, by Parker and Son, on the Astronomy of the Ancients, by Sir
George Cornwall Lewis, though rather ostentatious in his parade of
authorities, and minute on points which are not of much consequence.
Delambre's History of Ancient Astronomy has long been a classic, but
richer in materials for a history than a history itself. There is a
valuable essay in the Encyclopedia Britannica, which refers to a list of
authors, among which are Biccoli, Weilder, Bailly, Playfair, La Lande.
Lewis makes much reference to Macrobius, Vitruvius, Diogenes Laertius,
Plutarch, and Suidas, among the ancients, and to Ideler, Unters. uber
die Art. Beob. der Alten.

Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciences may also be consulted with
profit. Leclerc, Hist, de Med.; Spengel, Gesch. der Arzneykunde.
Strabo's Geography is the most valuable of Antiquity. See also Polybius.

[Relocated Footnote: The style of modern historical criticism may thus
be exemplified, like the discussions of the Germans, whether the Arx on
the Capitoline Hill occupied the northeastern or southwestern corner,
which take up nearly one half of the learned article in Smith's
Dictionary, on the Capitoline. "Thales supposed the earth to float on
the water, like a plank of wood": [Greek: oi d hudatos keisthai touton
gar archaiotaton pareilaephamen ton logon hon phasin eipein thalae ton
Milaesion]. Aristot., _De Coel_., ii. 13: "_Quoe sequitur Thaletis
ineptq sententia est. Ait enim terrarum orbem aqua sustineri._" Seneca,
_Nat. Quoest_., iii. 13. This notion is mentioned in _Schol. Iliad_,
xiii. 125. This doctrine Thales brought from Egypt. See Plut., _Pac_.,
in. 10; Galen, c. 21. But this maybe doubted. Callimach., _Frag_., 94;
Hygin, _Poet. Astr_., ii. 2; Martin, _Timee de Platon_., tom. ii. p.
109, thinks it questionable whether Thales saw Egypt. Diog. Laert.,
viii. 60. Compare, however, Sturz, _Thales_, p. 80; Proclus, _in Tim_.,
i. p. 40; _Schol. Aristophanes, Nub_., ii. 31; Varro, ii. vi. 10. See
also, _Ideler Chron_., vol. i. p. 300. But Brandis sheds light upon the
point, though his suggestions conflict with Origen, _Phil_., p. 11; also
with Aristotle, _De Coel_., ii. 13.

This style of expending learning on nothing, meets with great favor with
the pedants, who attach no value to history unless one half of the page
is filled with erudite foot-notes which few can verify, and which prove
nothing, or nothing of any consequence.]



We have now surveyed all that was glorious in the most splendid empire
of antiquity. We have seen a civilization which, in many respects,
rivals all that modern nations have to show. In art, in literature, in
philosophy, in laws, in the mechanism of government, in the cultivated
face of nature, in military strength, in aesthetic culture, the Romans
were our equals. And this high civilization was reached by the native
and unaided strength of man; by the power of will, by courage, by
perseverance, by genius, by fortunate circumstances; by great men,
gifted with unusual talents. We are filled with admiration by all these
trophies of genius, and cannot but feel that only a superior race could
have accomplished such mighty triumphs.

But all this splendid external was deceptive. It was hollow at heart.
And the deeper we penetrate the social condition of the people, their
real and practical life, the more we feel disgust and pity supplanting
all feelings of admiration and wonder. The Roman empire, in its shame
and degradation, suggests melancholy feelings in reference to the
destiny of man, so far as his happiness and welfare depend upon his own
unaided strength. And we see profoundly the necessity of some foreign
aid to rescue him from his miseries.

It is a sad picture of oppression, of injustice, of poverty, of vice,
and of wretchedness, which I have now to present. Glory is succeeded by
shame, and strength by weakness, and virtue by vice. The condition of
the great mass is deplorable, and even the great and fortunate shine in
a false and fictitious light. We see laws, theoretically good,
practically perverted; monstrous inequalities of condition, selfishness,
and egotism the mainsprings of life. We see energies misdirected, and
art corrupted. All noble aspirations have fled, and the good and the
wise retire from active life in despair and misanthropy. Poets flatter
the tyrants who trample on human rights, and sensuality and Epicurean
pleasures absorb the depraved thoughts of a perverse generation.

[Sidenote: The imperial despotism.]

The first thing which arrests our attention as we survey the grand
empire which embraced the civilized countries or the world, is the
imperial despotism. It may have been a necessity, an inevitable sequence
to the anarchy of civil war, the strife of parties, great military
successes, and the corruptions of society itself. It may be viewed as a
providential event in order that general peace and security might usher
in the triumphs of a new religion. It followed naturally the subversion
of the constitution by military leaders, the breaking up of the power of
the Senate, the encroachments of democracy and its leaders, the wars of
Sulla and Marius, of Pompey and Julius. It succeeded massacres and
factions and demagogues. It came when conspiracies and proscriptions and
general insecurity rendered a stronger government desirable. The empire
was too vast to be intrusted to the guidance of conflicting parties.
There was needed a strong, central, irrepressible, irresistible power in
the hands of a single man. Safety and peace seemed preferable to glory
and genius. So the people acquiesced in the changes which were made;
they had long anticipated them; they even hailed them with silent joy.
Patriots, like Brutus, Cassius, and Cato, gave themselves up to despair;
but most men were pleased with the revolution that seated Augustus on
the throne of the world. For twenty years the empire had been desolated
by destructive and exhaustive wars. The cry of the whole empire was for
peace, and peace could be secured only by the ascendency of a single
man, ruling with absolute and unresisted sway.

[Sidenote: Necessity of revolution.]

[Sidenote: Imperial Rule.]

Historians generally have regarded the revolution, which changed the
republic to a monarchy, as salutary in its influences for several
generations. The empire was never so splendid as under the Caesars. The
energies of the people were directed into peaceful and industrial
channels. A new public policy was inaugurated by Augustus - to preserve
rather than extend the limits of the empire. The world enjoyed peace,
and the rich consoled themselves with riches. Society was established
upon a new basis, and was no longer rent by factions and parties.
Demagogues no longer disturbed the public peace, nor were the provinces
ransacked and devastated to provide for the means of carrying on war. So
long as men did not oppose the government they were safe from
molestation, and were left to pursue their business and pleasure in
their own way. Wealth rapidly increased, and all mechanical arts, and
all elegant pleasures. Temples became more magnificent, and the city was
changed from brick to marble. Palaces arose upon the hills, and shops
were erected in the valleys. There were fewer riots and mobs and public
disturbances. Public amusements were systematized and enlarged, and the
people indulged with sports, spectacles, and luxuries. Rome became a
still greater centre of wealth and art as well as of political power.
The city increased in population and beautiful structures. The emperors
were great patrons of every thing calculated to dazzle the eyes of their
subjects, whether amusements, or palaces, or baths, or aqueducts, or
triumphal monuments. Artists and scholars flocked to the great emporium,
as well as merchants and foreign princes. Nor was imperial cruelty often
visited on the humble classes. It was the policy of the emperors to
amuse and flatter the people, while they deprived them of political
rights. But social life was free. All were at liberty to seek their
pleasures and gains. All were proud of their metropolis, with its gilded
glories and its fascinating pleasures. The city was probably supplied
with better water, and could rely with more certainty on the necessaries
of life, than under the old regime. The people had better baths, and
larger houses, and cheaper corn. The government, for a time, was
splendidly administered, even by tyrants. Outrages, extortions, and
disturbances were punished. Order reigned, and tranquillity, and outward
and technical justice. All classes felt secure. They could sleep without
fear of robbery or assassination. And all trades flourished. Art was
patronized magnificently, and every opportunity was offered for making
and for spending fortunes. In short, all the arguments which can be
adduced in favor of despotism in contrast with civil war and violence,
and the strife of factions and general insecurity of life and property,
can be urged to show that the change, if inevitable, was beneficial in
its immediate effects.

[Sidenote: Despotism of the emperors.]

[Sidenote: Tyranny of the emperors.]

Nevertheless, it was a most lamentable change from that condition of
things which existed before the civil wars. Roman liberties were
prostrated forever. Tyrants, armed with absolute and irresponsible
power, ruled over the empire; nor could their tyranny end but with their
lives. Noble sentiments and aspirations were rebuked. The times were
unfavorable to the development of genius, except in those ways which
subserved the interests of the government. Under the emperors we read of
no more great orators like Cicero, battling for human rights, and
defending the public weal. Eloquence was suppressed. Nor was there
liberty of speech in the Senate. The usual jealousy of tyrants was
awakened to every emancipating influence on the people. They were now
amused with shows and spectacles, but could not make their voices heard
regarding public injuries. The people were absolutely in the hands of
iron masters. So was the Senate. So were all orders and conditions of
men. One man reigned supreme. His will was law. Resistance to it was
vain. It was treason to find fault with any public acts. From the
Pillars of Hercules to the Caspian Sea one stern will ruled all classes
and orders. No one could fly from the agents and ministers of the
empire. He was the vicegerent of the Almighty, worshiped as a deity,
undisputed master of the lives and liberties of one hundred and twenty
millions of people. There was no restraint on his inclinations. He could
do whatever he pleased, without rebuke and without fear. No general or
senator or governor could screen himself from his vengeance. He
controlled the army, the Senate, the judiciary, the internal
administration of the empire, and the religious worship of the people.
All offices and honors and emoluments emanated from him. All opposition
ceased, and all conspired to elevate still higher that supreme arbiter
of fortune whom no one could hope successfully to rival. Revolt was
madness, and treason absurdity. And so perfect was the mechanism of the
government that the emperor had time for his private pleasures. It was
never administered with greater rigor than when Tiberius secluded
himself in his guarded villa. And a timid, or weak, or irresolute
emperor was as much to be feared as a monster, since he was surrounded
with minions who might be unscrupulous. Nor was the imperial power
exercised to check the gigantic social evils of the empire, - those which
were gradually but surely undermining the virtues on which strength is
based. They did not seek to prevent irreligion, luxury, slavery, and
usury, the encroachments of the rich upon the poor, the tyranny of
foolish fashions, demoralizing sports and pleasures, money-making, and
all the follies which lax principles of morality allowed. They fed the
rabble with com and oil and wine, and thus encouraged idleness and
dissipation. The world never saw a more rapid retrograde in human
rights, or a greater prostration of liberties. Taxes were imposed
according to the pleasure or necessities of the government. Provincial
governors became still more rapacious and cruel. Judges hesitated to
decide against the government. A vile example was presented to the
people in their rulers. The emperors squandered immense sums on their
private pleasures, and set public opinion at defiance. Patriotism, in
its most enlarged sense, became an impossibility. All lofty spirits were
crushed. Corruption, in all forms of administration, fearfully
increased, for there was no safeguard. Women became debased from the
pernicious influences of a corrupt and unblushing court. Adultery,
divorce, and infanticide became still more common. The emperors thought
more of securing their own power and indulging their own passions than
of the public good. The humiliating conviction was fastened upon all
classes that liberty was extinguished, and that they were slaves to an
irresponsible power. There are those who are found to applaud a
despotism; but despotism presupposes the absence of the power of self-
government, and the necessity of severe and rigorous measures. It
presupposes the tendency to crime and violence, that men are brutes and
must be coerced like wild beasts. We are warranted in assuming a very
low condition of society when despotism became a necessity.
Theoretically, absolutism may be the best government, if rulers are wise
and just; but, practically, as men are, despotisms are cruel and
revengeful. There are great and glorious exceptions; but it cannot be
denied that society is mournful when tyrants bear rule. And it is seldom
that society improves under them, without very powerful religious
influences. It generally grows worse and worse. Despotism implies
slavery, and slavery is the worst condition of mankind, - doubtless a
wholesome discipline, under certain circumstances, yet still a great

[Sidenote: Augustus.]

The Roman world was fortunate in having such a man as Augustus for
supreme ruler, after all liberties were subverted. He was one of the
wisest and greatest of the emperors. He inaugurated the policy of his
successors, from which the immediate ones did not far depart. He was
careful, in the first place, to disguise his powers, and offend the
moral sentiments of the people as little as possible. He met with but
little opposition in his usurpation, for the most independent of the
nobles had perished in the wars, and the rest consulted their interests.
He selected the ablest and most popular men in the city to be his
favorite ministers - Maecenas and Agrippa. His policy was peace. He
declined the coronary gold proffered by the Italian states. He was
profuse in his generosity, without additional burdens on the state, for,
as the heir of Caesar, he came into possession of eight hundred and fifty
millions of dollars, the amount which the Dictator had amassed from the
spoils of war. He was but thirty-three years of age, in the prime of his
strength and courage. He purged the Senate of unworthy members, and
restored the appearance of its ancient dignity. He took a census of the
Roman people. He increased the largesses of corn. He showed confidence
in the people whom he himself deceived. He was modest in his demeanor,
like Pericles at Athens. He visited the provinces and settled their
difficulties. He appointed able men as governors, and perpetuated a
standing army. He repaired the public edifices, and adorned the city.

But he gradually assumed all the great offices of the state. He clothed
himself with the powers and the badges of the consuls, the praenomen of
imperator, the functions of perpetual dictator. He exacted the military
oath from the whole mass of the people. He became _princeps
senatus_. He claimed the prerogatives of the tribunes, which gave to
him inviolability, with the right of protection and pardon. He was also
invested with the illustrious dignity of the supreme pontificate. As the
Senate and the people continued to meet still for the purpose of
legislation, he controlled the same by assuming the initiative, of
proposing the laws. He took occasion to give to his edicts, in his
consular or tribunitian capacity, a perpetual force; and his rescripts
or replies which issued from his council chamber, were registered as
laws. He was released from the laws, and claimed the name of Caesar. The
people were deprived of the election of magistrates. All officers of the
government were his tools, and through them he controlled all public
affairs. The prefect of the city became virtually his minister and
lieutenant. Even the proconsuls received their appointment from him.
Thus he became supreme arbiter of all fortunes, the fountain of all
influence, the centre of all power, absolute over the lives and fortunes
of all classes of men. Strange that the people should have submitted to
such monstrous usurpations, although decently veiled under the names of
the old offices of the republic. But they had become degenerate. They
wished for peace and leisure. They felt the uselessness of any
independent authority, and resigned themselves to a condition which the
Romans two centuries earlier would have felt to be intolerable.

[Sidenote: General character of the emperors.]

Of the immediate successors of Augustus, none equaled him in moderation
or talents. And with the exception of Titus and Vespasian, the emperors
who comprised the Julian family, were stained with great vices. Some
were monsters; others were madmen. But, as a whole, they were not
deficient in natural ability. Some had great executive talents, like
Tiberius - a man of vast experience. But he was a cruel and remorseless
tyrant, full of jealousy and vindictive hatred. Still, amid disgraceful
pleasures, he devoted himself to the cares of office, and exhibited the
virtues of domestic economy. Nor did he take pleasure in the sports of
the circus and the theatre, like most of his successors. But he
destroyed all who stood in his way, as most tyrants do. Nor did he spare
his own relatives. He was sensual and intemperate in his habits, and all
looked to him with awe and trepidation. There was a perfect reign of
terror at Rome during his latter days, and every body rejoiced when the
tyrant died.

[Sidenote: Caligula.]

Caligula, who succeeded Tiberius, belonged to the race of madmen. He put
to death some of the most eminent Romans, in order to seize on their
estates. He repudiated his wife; he expressed the wish that Rome had but
one neck, that it could be annihilated by a blow; he used to invite his
favorite horse to supper, setting before him gilded corn and wine in
golden goblets; he wasted immense sums in useless works; he took away
the last shadow of power from the people; he impoverished Italy by
senseless extravagance; he wantonly destroyed his soldiers by whole
companies; he was doubtless as insane as he was cruel, luxurious,
rapacious, and prodigal; he adorned the poops of galleys with precious
stones, and constructed arduous works with no other purpose than
caprice; he often dressed like a woman, and generally appeared with a
golden beard; he devoted himself to fencing, driving, singing, and
dancing, and was ruled by gladiators, charioteers, and actors. Such was
the man to whom was intrusted the guardianship of an empire. No wonder
he was removed by assassination.

[Sidenote: Claudius.]

His successor was Claudius, made emperor by the Praetorians. He took
Augustus for his model, was well disposed, and contributed greatly to
the embellishment of the capital. But he was gluttonous and intemperate,
and subject to the influence of women and favorites. He was feeble in
mind and body. He was married to one of the worst women in history, and
Messalina has passed into a synonym for infamy. By this woman he was
influenced, and her unblushing effrontery and disgraceful intrigues made
the reign unfortunate. She trafficked in the great offices of the state,
and sacrificed the best blood of the class to which she belonged.
Claudius was also governed by freedmen, who performed such offices as
Louis XV. intrusted to his noble vassals. Claudius resembled this
inglorious monarch in many respects, and his reign was as disastrous on
the morals of the people. When the death of his wife was announced to
him at the banquet, he called for wine, and listened to songs and music.
But she was succeeded by a worse woman, Agrippina, and the marriage of
the emperor with his niece, was a scandal as well as a misfortune. Pliny
mentions having seen this empress in a sea-fight on the Fucine Lake,

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 32 of 50)