John Lord.

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

. (page 7 of 50)
Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 7 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the largest island of the Mediterranean, was not inferior to Italy in
any kind of produce. It was, it was supposed, the native country of
wheat. Its honey, its saffron, its sheep, its horses, were all equally
celebrated. The island, intersected by numerous streamy and beautiful
valleys, was admirably adapted for the growth of the vine and olive. Its
colonies, founded by Phoenicians and Greeks, cultivated all the arts of
civilization. Long before the Roman conquest, its cities were famous for
learning and art. Syracuse, a Corinthian colony, as old as Rome, had a
fortress a mile in length and half a mile in breadth; a temple of Diana
whose doors were celebrated throughout the Grecian world, and a theatre
which could accommodate twenty-four thousand people. No city in Greece,
except Athens, can produce structures which vie with those of which the
remains are still visible at Agrigentum, Selinus, and Segesta.

[Sidenote: Carthage.]

Africa was one of the great provinces of the empire. It virtually
embraced the Carthaginian empire, and was settled chiefly by the
Phoenicians. Its capital, Carthage, so long the rival of Rome, was
probably the greatest maritime mart of antiquity, next to Alexandria.
Though it had been completely destroyed, yet it became under the
emperors no inconsiderable city, and was the capital of a belt of
territory extending one hundred and sixty miles, from the Pillars of
Hercules to the bottom of the great Syrtis, unrivaled for fertility. Its
population once numbered seven hundred thousand inhabitants, and ruled
over three hundred dependent cities, and could boast of a navy carrying
one hundred and fifty thousand men.

[Sidenote: The richness of Greece.]

Greece, included under the province called Achaia, was the next great
conquest of the Romans, the fruit of the Macedonian wars. Though small
in territory, it was the richest of all the Roman acquisitions in its
results on civilization. The great peninsula to which Hellas belonged
extended from the Euxine to the Adriatic; but Hellas proper was not more
than two hundred and fifty miles in length and one hundred and eighty in
breadth. Attica contained but seven hundred and twenty square miles, yet
how great in associations, deeds, and heroes! When added to the empire,
it was rich in every element of civilization, in cities, in arts, in
literature, in commerce, in manufactures, in domestic animals, in
fruits, in cereals. It was a mountainous country, but had an extensive
sea-coast, and a flourishing trade with all the countries of the world.
Almost all the Grecian states had easy access to the sea, and each of
the great cities were isolated from the rest by lofty mountains
difficult to surmount. But the Roman arms and the Roman laws penetrated
to the most inaccessible retreats.

[Sidenote: Her monuments and arts and schools.]

In her political degradation, Greece still was the most interesting
country on the globe. Every city had a history; every monument betokened
a triumph of human genius. On her classic soil the great miracles of
civilization had been wrought - the immortal teacher of all the nations
in art, in literature, in philosophy, in war itself. Every cultivated
Roman traveled in Greece; every great noble sent his sons to be educated
in her schools; every great general sent to the banks of the Tiber some
memento of her former greatness, some wonder of artistic skill. The
wonders of Rome herself were but spoliations of this glorious land.

[Sidenote: The glory of Athens.]

[Sidenote: Temples.]

First in interest and glory was Athens, which was never more splendid
than in the time of the Antonines. The great works of the age of
Pericles still retained their original beauty and freshness; and the
city of Minerva still remained the centre of all that was elegant or
learned of the ancient civilization, and was held everywhere in the
profoundest veneration. There still flourished the various schools of
philosophy, to which young men from all parts of the empire resorted to
be educated - the Oxford and the Edinburgh, the Berlin and Paris of the
ancient world. In spite of successive conquests, there still towered
upon the Acropolis the temple of Minerva, that famous Parthenon whose
architectural wonders have never been even equaled, built of Pentelic
marble, and adorned with the finest sculptures of Pheidias - a Doric
temple, whose severe simplicity and matchless beauty have been the
wonder of all ages - often imitated, never equaled, majestic even in its
ruins. Side by side, on that lofty fortification in the centre of the
city, on its western slope, was the Propylaea, one of the masterpieces of
ancient art, also of Pentelic marble, costing 2000 talents, or
$23,000,000[Footnote: Smith, Geog. Diet.] when gold was worth more than
twenty times what it is now. Then there was the Erechtheum, the temple
of Athena Polias, the most revered of all the sanctuaries of Athens,
with its three Ionic porticos, and its frieze of black marble, with its
olive statue of the goddess, and its sacred inclosures. The great temple
of Zeus Olympius, commenced by Peisistratus and completed by Hadrian,
the largest ever dedicated to the deity among the Greeks, was four
stadia in circumference. It was surrounded by a peristyle which had ten
columns in front and twenty on its sides. The peristyle being double on
the sides, and having a triple range at either end, besides three
columns between the antae at each end of the cella, consisted altogether
of one hundred and twenty columns. These were sixty feet high and six
and a half feet in diameter, the largest which now remain of ancient
architecture in marble, or which still exist in Europe. This vast temple
was three hundred and fifty-four feet in length and one hundred and
seventy-one in breadth, and was full of statues. The ruins of this
temple, of which sixteen columns are still standing, are among the most
imposing in the world, and indicate a grandeur and majesty in the city
of which we can scarcely conceive. The theatre of Bacchus, the most
beautiful in the ancient world, would seat thirty thousand spectators. I
need not mention the various architectural monuments of this classic
city, each of which was a study - the Temple of Theseus, the Agora, the
Odeum, the Areopagus, the Gymnasium of Hadrian, the Lyceum, and other
buildings of singular beauty, built mostly of marble, and adorned with
paintings and statues. What work of genius in the whole world more
interesting than the ivory and gold statue of Athena in the Parthenon,
the masterpiece of Pheidias, forty feet high, the gold of which weighed
forty talents, - a model for all succeeding sculptors, and to see which
travelers came from all parts of Greece? Athens, a city of five hundred
thousand inhabitants, was filled with wonders of art, which time has not
yet fully destroyed.

[Sidenote: Corinth.]

[Sidenote: The wonders of Corinth.]

[Sidenote: Its luxury.]

Corinth was another grand centre of Grecian civilization, richer and
more luxurious than Athens. When taken by the Romans she possessed the
most valuable pictures in Greece. Among them was one of Dionysus by
Aristides for which Attalus offered 600,000 sesterces. Rich commercial
cities have ever been patrons of the fine arts. These they can
appreciate better than poetry or philosophy. The Corinthians invented
the most elaborate style of architecture known to antiquity, and which
was generally adopted at Rome. They were also patrons of statuary,
especially of works in bronze, for which the city was celebrated. The
Corinthian, vessels of terra cotta were the finest in Greece. All
articles of elegant luxury were manufactured here, especially elaborate
tables, chests, and sideboards. If there had been a great exhibition in
Rome, the works of the Corinthians would have been the most admired, and
would have suited the taste of the luxurious senators, among whom
literature and the higher developments of art were unappreciated. There
was no literature in Corinth after Periander, and among the illustrious
writers of Greece not a single Corinthian appeared. Nor did it ever
produce an orator. What could be expected of a city whose patron goddess
was Aphrodite! But Lais was honored in the city, and rich merchants
frequented her house. The city was most famous for courtesans, and
female slaves, and extravagant luxury. It was like Antioch and Tyre and
Carthage. Corinth was probably the richest city in Greece, and one of
the largest. It had, it is said, four hundred and sixty thousand slaves.
Its streets, three miles in length, were adorned with costly edifices.
Its fortress was one thousand eight hundred and eighty-six feet above
the sea and very strong.

[Sidenote: Sparta.]

Sparta, of historic fame, was not magnificent except in public
buildings. It had a famous portico, the columns of which, of white
marble, represented the illustrious persons among the vanquished Medes.

[Sidenote: Olympia.]

Olympia, the holy city, was celebrated for its temple and its
consecrated garden, where stood some of the great masterpieces of
ancient, art, among them the famous statue of Jupiter, the work of
Pheidias, - an impersonation of majesty and power, - a work which
furnished models from which Michael Angelo drew his inspiration.

[Sidenote: Delphi.]

Delphi, another consecrated city, was enriched with the contributions of
all Greece, and was the seat of the Dorian religion. So rich were the
shrines of its oracle that Nero carried away from it five hundred
statues of bronze at one time.

[Sidenote: Greece enriches Rome.]

Such was Greece, every city of which was famous for art, or literature,
or commerce, or manufacture, or for deeds which live in history. It had
established a great empire in the East, but fell, like all other
conquering nations, from the luxury which conquest engendered. It was no
longer able to protect itself. Its phalanx, which resisted the shock of
the Persian hosts, yielded to the all-conquering legion. When Aemilius
Paulus marched up the Via Sacra with the spoils of the Macedonian
kingdom in his grand and brilliant triumph, he was preceded by two
hundred and fifty wagons containing pictures and statues, and three
thousand men, each carrying a vase of silver coin, and four hundred more
bearing crowns of gold. Yet this was but the commencement of the plunder
of Greece.

[Sidenote: Islands colonized by Greeks.]

And not merely Greece herself, but the islands which she had colonized
formed no slight addition to the glories of the empire. Rhodes was the
seat of a famous school for sculpture and painting, from which issued
the Laocoon and the Farnese Bull. It contained three thousand statues
and one hundred and six colossi, among them the famous statue of the
sun, one hundred and five feet high, one of the seven wonders of the
world, containing 3000 talents - more than 3,000,000 dollars. Its school
of rhetoric was so celebrated that Cicero resorted to it to perfect
himself in oratory.

[Sidenote: Asia Minor.]

[Sidenote: Its extent.]

[Sidenote: Cities.]

[Sidenote: Antioch.]

If we pass from Greece to Asia Minor and Syria, with their dependent
provinces, all of which were added to the empire by the victories of
Sulla and Pompey, we are still more impressed with the extent of the
Roman rule. Asia Minor, a vast peninsula between the Mediterranean,
Aegean, and Euxine seas, included several of the old monarchies of the
world. It extended from Ilium on the west to the banks of the Euphrates,
from the northern parts of Bithynia and Pontus to Syria and Cilicia,
nine hundred miles from east to west, and nearly three hundred from
north to south. It was the scene of some of the grandest conquests of
the oriental world, Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian. Syria embraced all
countries from the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean to the Arabian
deserts. No conquests of the Romans were attended with more eclat than
the subjection of these wealthy and populous sections of the oriental
world; and they introduced a boundless wealth and luxury into Italy. But
in spite of the sack of cities and the devastations of armies, the old
monarchy of the Seleucidae remained rich and grand. Both Syria and Asia
Minor could boast of large and flourishing cities, as well as every kind
of luxury and art. Antioch was the third city in the empire, the capital
of the Greek kings of Syria, and like Alexandria a monument of the
Macedonian age. It was built on a regular and magnificent plan, and
abounded in temples and monuments. Its most striking feature was a
street four miles in length, perfectly level, with double colonnades
through its whole length, built by Antiochus Epiphanes. In magnitude the
city was not much inferior to Paris at the present day, and covered more
land than Rome. It had its baths, its theatres and amphitheatres, its
fora, its museums, its aqueducts, its temples, and its palaces. It was
the most luxurious of all the cities of the East, and had a population
of three hundred thousand who were free. In the latter clays of the
empire it was famous as the scene of the labors of Chrysostom.

[Sidenote: Ephesus.]

Ephesus, one of the twelve of the Ionian cities in Asia, was the glory
of Lydia, - a sacred city of which the temple of Diana was the greatest
ornament. This famous temple was four times as large as the Parthenon,
and covered as much ground as Cologne Cathedral, and was two hundred and
twenty years in building. It had one hundred and twenty-eight columns
sixty feet high, of which thirty-six were carved, each contributed by a
king - the largest of all the Grecian temples, and probably the most
splendid. It was a city of great trade and wealth. Its theatre was the
largest in the world, six hundred and sixty feet in diameter, [Footnote:
Muller, _Anc. Art._] and capable of holding sixty thousand
spectators. Ephesus gave birth to Apelles the painter, and was the
metropolis of five hundred cities.

[Sidenote: Jerusalem.]

[Sidenote: The Temple.]

[Sidenote: The Acropolis.]

Jerusalem, so dear to Christians as the most sacred spot on earth,
inclosed by lofty walls and towers, not so beautiful or populous as in
the days of Solomon and David, was, before its destruction by Titus, one
of the finest cities of the East. Its royal palace, surrounded by a wall
thirty cubits high, with decorated towers at equal intervals, contained
enormous banqueting halls and chambers most profusely ornamented; and
this palace, magnificent beyond description, was connected with porticos
and gardens filled with statues and reservoirs of water. It occupied a
larger space than the present fortress, from the western edge of Mount
Zion to the present garden of the Armenian Convent. The Temple, so
famous, was small compared with the great wonders of Grecian
architecture, being only about one hundred and fifty feet by seventy;
but its front was covered with plates of gold, and some of the stones of
which it was composed were more than sixty feet in length and nine in
width. Its magnificence consisted in its decorations and the vast
quantity of gold and precious woods used in its varied ornaments, and
vessels of gold, so as to make it one of the most costly edifices ever
erected to the worship of God. The Acropolis, which was the fortress of
the Temple, combined the strength of a castle with the magnificence of a
palace, and was like a city in extent, towering seventy cubits above the
elevated rock upon which it was built. So strongly fortified was
Jerusalem, even in its latter days, that it took Titus five months, with
an army of one hundred thousand men, to subdue it; one of the most
memorable sieges on record. It probably would have held out against the
whole power of Rome, had not famine done more than battering rams.

[Sidenote: Damascus and other cities.]

Many other interesting cities might be mentioned both in Syria and Asia
Minor, which were centres of trade, or seats of philosophy, or homes of
art. Tarsus in Cilicia was a great mercantile city, to which strangers
from all parts resorted. Damascus, the oldest city in the world, and the
old capital of Syria, was both beautiful and rich. Laodicea was famous
for tapestries, Hierapolis for its iron wares, Cybara for its dyes,
Sardis for its wines, Smyrna for its beautiful monuments, Delos for its
slave-trade, Gyrene for its horses, Paphos for its temple of Venus, in
which were a hundred altars. Seleucia, on the Tigris, had a population
of four hundred thousand. Caesarea, founded by Herod the Great, and the
principal seat of government to the Roman prefects, had a harbor equal
in size to the renowned Piraeus, and was secured against the southwest
winds by a mole of such massive construction that the blocks of stone,
sunk under the water, were fifty feet in length and eighteen in width,
and nine in thickness. [Footnote: Josephus, _Ant_., xv.] The city
itself was constructed of polished stone, with an agora, a theatre, a
circus, a praetorium, and a temple to Caesar. Tyre, which had resisted for
seven months the armies of Alexander, remained to the fall of the empire
a great emporium of trade. It monopolized the manufacture of imperial
purple. Sidon was equally celebrated for its glass and embroidered
robes. The Sidonians cast glass mirrors, and imitated precious stones.
But the glory of both Tyre and Sidon was in ships, which visited all the
coasts of the Mediterranean, and even penetrated to Britain and India.

[Sidenote: Egypt.]

[Sidenote: Its ancient grandeur.]

[Sidenote: Glories of Egypt.]

[Sidenote: Thebes.]

But greater than Tyre, or Antioch, or any eastern city, was Alexandria,
the capital of Egypt, which was one of the last provinces added to the
empire. Egypt alone was a mighty monarchy - the oldest which history
commemorates, august in records and memories. What pride, what pomp,
what glory are associated with the land of the Pharaohs, with its mighty
river reaching to the centre of a great continent, flowing thousands of
miles to the sea, irrigating and enriching the most fertile valley of
the world! What noble and populous cities arose upon its banks three
thousand years before Roman power was felt! What enduring monuments
remain of a its ancient very ancient yet extinct civilization! What
successive races of conquerors have triumphed in the granite palaces of
Thebes and Memphis! Old, sacred, rich, populous, and learned, Egypt
becomes a province of the Roman empire. The sceptre of three hundred
kings passes from Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, to Augustus
Caesar, the conqueror at Actium; and six millions of different races,
once the most civilized on the earth, are amalgamated with the other
races and peoples which compose the universal monarchy. At one time the
military force of Egypt is said to have amounted to seven hundred
thousand men, in the period of its greatest prosperity. The annual
revenues of this state under the Ptolemies amounted to about 17,000,000
dollars in gold and silver, beside the produce of the earth. A single
feast cost Philadelphus more than half a million of pounds sterling, and
he had accumulated treasures to the amount of 740,000 talents, or about
860,000,000 dollars. [Footnote: Napoleon, _Life of Caesar_.] What
European monarch ever possessed such a sum? The kings of Egypt were
richer in the gold and silver they could command than Louis XIV., in the
proudest hour of his life. What monarchs ever reigned with more absolute
power than the kings of this ancient seat of learning and art! The
foundation of Thebes goes back to the mythical period of Egyptian
history, and it covered as much ground as Rome or Paris, equally the
centre of religion, of trade, of manufactures, and of government, - the
sacerdotal capital of all who worshiped Ammon from Pelusium to Axume,
from the Red Sea to the Oases of Libya. The palaces of Thebes, though
ruins two thousand years ago as they are ruins now, were the largest and
probably the most magnificent ever erected by the hand of man. What must
be thought of a palace whose central hall was eighty feet in height,
three hundred and twenty-five feet in length, and one hundred and
seventy-nine in breadth; the roof of which was supported by one hundred
and thirty-four columns, eleven feet in diameter and seventy-six feet in
height, with their pedestals; and where the cornices of the finest
marble were inlaid with ivory moldings or sheathed with beaten gold! But
I do not now refer to the glories of Egypt under Sesostris or Rameses,
but to what they were when Alexandria was the capital of the country, -
what it was under the Roman domination.

[Sidenote: Extent and population of Alexandria.]

[Sidenote: Library.]

[Sidenote: Public buildings.]

[Sidenote: Commerce.]

The ground-plan of this great city was traced by Alexander himself, but
it was not completed until the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus. It
continued to receive embellishments from nearly every monarch of the
Lagian line. Its circumference was about fifteen miles; the streets were
regular, and crossed one another at right angles, and were wide enough
to admit both carriages and foot passengers. The harbor was large enough
to admit the largest fleet ever constructed; its walls and gates were
constructed with all the skill and strength known to antiquity; its
population numbered six hundred thousand, and all nations were
represented in its crowded streets. The wealth of the city may be
inferred from the fact that in one year 6250 talents, or more than
6,000,000 dollars, were paid to the public treasury for port dues. The
library was the largest in the world, and numbered over seven hundred
thousand volumes, and this was connected with a museum, a menagerie, a
botanical garden, and various halls for lectures, altogether forming the
most famous university in the empire. The inhabitants were chiefly
Greek, and had all their cultivated tastes and mercantile thrift. In a
commercial point of view it was the most important in the empire, and
its ships whitened every sea. Alexandria was of remarkable beauty, and
was called by Ammianus _Vertex omnium civitatum_. Its dry
atmosphere preserved for centuries the sharp outlines and gay colors of
its buildings, some of which were remarkably imposing. The Mausoleum of
the Ptolemies, the High Court of justice, the Stadium, the Gymnasium,
the Palaestra, the Amphitheatre, and the Temple of the Caesars, all called
out the admiration of travelers. The Emporium far surpassed the quays of
the Tiber. But the most imposing structure was the Exchange, to which,
for eight hundred years, all the nations sent their representatives. It
was commerce which made Alexandria so rich and beautiful, for which it
was more distinguished than both Tyre and Carthage. Unlike most
commercial cities, it was intellectual, and its schools of poetry,
mathematics, medicine, philosophy, and theology were more renowned than
even those of Athens during the third and fourth centuries. For wealth,
population, intelligence, and art, it was the second city of the world.
It would be a great capital in these times.

[Sidenote: Power of the empire seated in the western provinces.]

Such were Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Africa, all of which had
been great empires, but all of which were incorporated with the Roman in
less than two hundred years after Italy succumbed to the fortunate city
on the Tiber. But these old and venerated monarchies, with their
dependent states and provinces, though imposing and majestic, did not
compose the vital part of the empire of the Caesars. It was those new
provinces which were rescued from the barbarians, chiefly Celts, where
the life of the empire centred. It was Spain, Gaul, Britain, and
Illyricum, countries which now compose the most powerful European
monarchies, which the more truly show the strength of the Roman world.
And these countries were added last, and were not fully incorporated
with the empire until imperial power had culminated in the Antonines.
From a comparative wilderness, Spain and Gaul especially became populous
and flourishing states, dotted with cities, and instructed in all the
departments of Roman art and science. From these provinces the armies
were recruited, the schools were filled, and even the great generals and
emperors were furnished. These provinces embraced nearly the whole of
modern Europe.

[Sidenote: Spain.]

[Sidenote: Its provinces.]

[Sidenote: Productions.]

[Sidenote: Its towns and cities.]

[Sidenote: Its commercial centres.]

Spain had been added to the empire after the destruction of Carthage,
but only after a bitter and protracted warfare. It was completed by the



Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 7 of 50)