Theodor Mommsen.

The History of Rome (Volumes 1-5) online

. (page 85 of 216)
Online LibraryTheodor MommsenThe History of Rome (Volumes 1-5) → online text (page 85 of 216)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

as Rhodes or Pergamus, there was no need in its case for any further
humiliation; the steps taken were taken only in the exercise of
justice - in the Roman sense, no doubt, of that term - and for
the prevention of the most scandalous and palpable outbreaks of
party discord.

Rome and Her Dependencies

All the Hellenistic states had thus been completely subjected to the
protectorate of Rome, and the whole empire of Alexander the Great had
fallen to the Roman commonwealth just as if the city had inherited it
from his heirs. From all sides kings and ambassadors flocked to Rome
to congratulate her; and they showed that fawning is never more abject
than when kings are in the antechamber. King Massinissa, who only
desisted from presenting himself in person on being expressly
prohibited from doing so, ordered his son to declare that he
regarded himself as merely the beneficiary, and the Romans as the true
proprietors, of his kingdom, and that he would always be content with
what they were willing to leave to him. There was at least truth
in this. But Prusias king of Bithynia, who had to atone for his
neutrality, bore off the palm in this contest of flattery; he fell on
his face when he was conducted into the senate, and did homage to "the
delivering gods." As he was so thoroughly contemptible, Polybius tells
us, they gave him a polite reply, and presented him with the fleet
of Perseus.

The moment was at least well chosen for such acts of homage. Polybius
dates from the battle of Pydna the full establishment of the universal
empire of Rome. It was in fact the last battle in which a civilized
state confronted Rome in the field on a footing of equality with her
as a great power; all subsequent struggles were rebellions or wars
with peoples beyond the pale of the Romano-Greek civilization
- with barbarians, as they were called. The whole civilized world
thenceforth recognized in the Roman senate the supreme tribunal, whose
commissions decided in the last resort between kings and nations; and
to acquire its language and manners foreign princes and youths of
quality resided in Rome. A clear and earnest attempt to get rid of
this dominion was in reality made only once - by the great Mithradates
of Pontus. The battle of Pydna, moreover, marks the last occasion on
which the senate still adhered to the state-maxim that they should, if
possible, hold no possessions and maintain no garrisons beyond the
Italian seas, but should keep the numerous states dependent on them in
order by a mere political supremacy. The aim of their policy was that
these states should neither decline into utter weakness and anarchy,
as had nevertheless happened in Greece nor emerge out of their half-
free position into complete independence, as Macedonia had attempted
to do not without success. No state was to be allowed utterly to
perish, but no one was to be permitted to stand on its own resources.
Accordingly the vanquished foe held at least an equal, often a better,
position with the Roman diplomatists than the faithful ally; and,
while a defeated opponent was reinstated, those who attempted to
reinstate themselves were abased - as the Aetolians, Macedonia after
the Asiatic war, Rhodes, and Pergamus learned by experience. But not
only did this part of protector soon prove as irksome to the masters
as to the servants; the Roman protectorate, with its ungrateful
Sisyphian toil that continually needed to be begun afresh, showed
itself to be intrinsically untenable. Indications of a change of
system, and of an increasing disinclination on the part of Rome to
tolerate by its side intermediate states even in such independence as
was possible for them, were very clearly given in the destruction of
the Macedonian monarchy after the battle of Pydna, The more and more
frequent and more and more unavoidable intervention in the internal
affairs of the petty Greek states through their misgovernment and
their political and social anarchy; the disarming of Macedonia, where
the northern frontier at any rate urgently required a defence
different from that of mere posts; and, lastly, the introduction of
the payment of land-tax to Rome from Macedonia and Illyria, were so
many symptoms of the approaching conversion of the client states
into subjects of Rome.

The Italian and Extra-Italian Policy of Rome

If, in conclusion, we glance back at the career of Rome from the union
of Italy to the dismemberment of Macedonia, the universal empire of
Rome, far from appearing as a gigantic plan contrived and carried out
by an insatiable thirst for territorial aggrandizement, appears to
have been a result which forced itself on the Roman government
without, and even in opposition to, its wish. It is true that the
former view naturally suggests itself - Sallust is right when he makes
Mithradates say that the wars of Rome with tribes, cities, and kings
originated in one and the same prime cause, the insatiable longing
after dominion and riches; but it is an error to give forth this
judgment - influenced by passion and the event - as a historical fact.
It is evident to every one whose observation is not superficial, that
the Roman government during this whole period wished and desired
nothing but the sovereignty of Italy; that they were simply desirous
not to have too powerful neighbours alongside of them; and that - not
out of humanity towards the vanquished, but from the very sound view
that they ought not to suffer the kernel of their empire to be stifled
by the shell - they earnestly opposed the introduction first of Africa,
then of Greece, and lastly of Asia into the sphere of the Roman
protectorate, till circumstances in each case compelled, or at least
suggested with irresistible force, the extension of that sphere. The
Romans always asserted that they did not pursue a policy of conquest,
and that they were always the party assailed; and this was something
more, at any rate, than a mere phrase. They were in fact driven to
all their great wars with the exception of that concerning Sicily - to
those with Hannibal and Antiochus, no less than to those with Philip
and Perseus - either by a direct aggression or by an unparalleled
disturbance of the existing political relations; and hence they were
ordinarily taken by surprise on their outbreak. That they did not
after victory exhibit the moderation which they ought to have done in
the interest more especially of Italy itself; that the retention of
Spain, for instance, the undertaking of the guardianship of Africa,
and above all the half-fanciful scheme of bringing liberty everywhere
to the Greeks, were in the light of Italian policy grave errors, is
sufficiently clear. But the causes of these errors were, on the
one hand a blind dread of Carthage, on the other a still blinder
enthusiasm for Hellenic liberty; so little did the Romans exhibit
during this period the lust of conquest, that they, on the contrary,
displayed a very judicious dread of it. The policy of Rome throughout
was not projected by a single mightly intellect and bequeathed
traditionally from generation to generation; it was the policy of a
very able but somewhat narrow-minded deliberative assembly, which had
far too little power of grand combination, and far too much of a right
instinct for the preservation of its own commonwealth, to devise
projects in the spirit of a Caesar or a Napoleon. The universal
empire of Rome had its ultimate ground in the political development of
antiquity in general. The ancient world knew nothing of a balance of
power among nations; and therefore every nation which had attained
internal unity strove either directly to subdue its neighbors, as did
the Hellenic states, or at any rate to render them innocuous, as Rome
did, - an effort, it is true, which also issued ultimately in
subjugation. Egypt was perhaps the only great power in antiquity
which seriously pursued a system of equilibrium; on the opposite
system Seleucus and Antigonous, Hannibal and Scipio, came into
collision. And, if it seems to us sad that all the other richly-
endowed and highly-developed nations of antiquity had to perish in
order to enrich a single one out of the whole, and that all in the
long run appear to have only arisen to contribute to the greatness
of Italy and to the decay involved in that greatness, yet historical
justice must acknowledge that this result was not produced by the
military superiority of the legion over the phalanx, but was the
necessary development of the international relations of antiquity
generally-so that the issue was not decided by provoking chance,
but was the fulfillment of an unchangeable, and therefore
endurable, destiny.

Notes for Chapter X

1. - Ide gar prasde panth alion ammi dedukein - (i. 102).

2. II. VII. Last Struggles in Italy

3. The legal dissolution of the Boeotian confederacy, however, took
place not at this time, but only after the destruction of Corinth
(Pausan. vii. 14, 4; xvi. 6).

4. The recently discovered decree of the senate of 9th Oct. 584, which
regulates the legal relations of Thisbae (Ephemeris epigraphica, 1872,
p. 278, fig.; Mitth. d. arch. Inst., in Athen, iv. 235, fig.), gives
a clear insight into these relations.

5. The story, that the Romans, in order at once to keep the promise
which had guaranteed his life and to take vengeance on him, put him
to death by depriving him of sleep, is certainly a fable.

6. The statement of Cassiodorus, that the Macedonian mines were
reopened in 596, receives its more exact interpretation by means of
the coins. No gold coins of the four Macedonias are extant; either
therefore the gold-mines remained closed, or the gold extracted was
converted into bars. On the other hand there certainly exist silver
coins of Macedonia -prima- (Amphipolis) in which district the silver-
mines were situated. For the brief period, during which they must
have been struck (596-608), the number of them is remarkably great,
and proves either that the mines were very energetically worked, or
that the old royal money was recoined in large quantity.

7. The statement that the Macedonian commonwealth was "relieved of
seignorial imposts and taxes" by the Romans (Polyb. xxxvii. 4) does
not necessarily require us to assume a subsequent remission of these
taxes: it is sufficient, for the explanation of Polybius' words, to
assume that the hitherto seignorial tax now became a public one. The
continuance of the constitution granted to the province of Macedonia
by Paullus down to at least the Augustan age (Liv. xlv. 32; Justin,
xxxiii. 2), would, it is true, be compatible also with the remission
of the taxes.


The Government and the Governed

Formation of New Parties

The fall of the patriciate by no means divested the Roman commonwealth
of its aristocratic character. We have already(1) indicated that the
plebeian party carried within it that character from the first as well
as, and in some sense still more decidedly than, the patriciate; for,
while in the old body of burgesses an absolute equality of rights
prevailed, the new constitution set out from a distinction between
the senatorial houses who were privileged in point of burgess
rights and of burgess usufructs, and the mass of the other citizens.
Immediately, therefore, on the abolition of the patriciate and the
formal establishment of civic equality, a new aristocracy and a
corresponding opposition were formed; and we have already shown how
the former engrafted itself as it were on the fallen patriciate, and
how, accordingly, the first movements of the new party of progress
were mixed up with the last movements of the old opposition between
the orders.(2) The formation of these new parties began in the fifth
century, but they assumed their definite shape only in the century
which followed. The development of this internal change is, as it
were, drowned amidst the noise of the great wars and victories, and
not merely so, but the process of formation is in this case more
withdrawn from view than any other in Roman history. Like a crust
of ice gathering imperceptibly over the surface of a stream and
imperceptibly confining it more and more, this new Roman aristocracy
silently arose; and not less imperceptibly, like the current
concealing itself beneath and slowly extending, there arose in
opposition to it the new party of progress. It is very difficult
to sum up in a general historical view the several, individually
insignificant, traces of these two antagonistic movements, which do
not for the present yield their historical product in any distinct
actual catastrophe. But the freedom hitherto enjoyed in the
commonwealth was undermined, and the foundation for future revolutions
was laid, during this epoch; and the delineation of these as well as
of the development of Rome in general would remain imperfect, if we
should fail to give some idea of the strength of that encrusting ice,
of the growth of the current beneath, and of the fearful moaning and
cracking that foretold the mighty breaking up which was at hand.

Germs of the Nobility in the Patriciate

The Roman nobility attached itself, in form, to earlier institutions
belonging to the times of the patriciate. Persons who once had filled
the highest ordinary magistracies of the state not only, as a matter
of course, practically enjoyed all along a higher honour, but also had
at an early period certain honorary privileges associated with their
position. The most ancient of these was doubtless the permission
given to the descendants of such magistrates to place the wax images
of these illustrious ancestors after their death in the family hall,
along the wall where the pedigree was painted, and to have these
images carried, on occasion of the death of members of the family,
in the funeral procession.(3) To appreciate the importance of this
distinction, we must recollect that the honouring of images was
regarded in the Italo-Hellenic view as unrepublican, and on that
account the Roman state-police did not at all tolerate the exhibition
of effigies of the living, and strictly superintended that of effigies
of the dead. With this privilege were associated various external
insignia, reserved by law or custom for such magistrates and their
descendants: - the golden finger-ring of the men, the silver-mounted
trappings of the youths, the purple border on the toga and the golden
amulet-case of the boys (4) - trifling matters, but still important in
a community where civic equality even in external appearance was so
strictly adhered to,(5) and where, even during the second Punic war,
a burgess was arrested and kept for years in prison because he had
appeared in public, in a manner not sanctioned by law, with a garland
of roses upon his head.(6)

Patricio-Plebian Nobility

These distinctions may perhaps have already existed partially in the
time of the patrician government, and, so long as families of higher
and humbler rank were distinguished within the patriciate, may have
served as external insignia for the former; but they certainly only
acquired political importance in consequence of the change of
constitution in 387, by which the plebeian families that attained
the consulate were placed on a footing of equal privilege with the
patrician families, all of whom were now probably entitled to carry
images of their ancestors. Moreover, it was now settled that the
offices of state to which these hereditary privileges were attached
should include neither the lower nor the extraordinary magistracies
nor the tribunate of the plebs, but merely the consulship, the
praetorship which stood on the same level with it,(7) and the curule
aedileship, which bore a part in the administration of public justice
and consequently in the exercise of the sovereign powers of the
state.(8) Although this plebeian nobility, in the strict sense of the
term, could only be formed after the curule offices were opened to
plebeians, yet it exhibited in a short time, if not at the very first,
a certain compactness of organization - doubtless because such a
nobility had long been prefigured in the old senatorial plebeian
families. The result of the Licinian laws in reality therefore
amounted nearly to what we should now call the creation of a batch of
peers. Now that the plebeian families ennobled by their curule
ancestors were united into one body with the patrician families and
acquired a distinctive position and distinguished power in the
commonwealth, the Romans had again arrived at the point whence they
had started; there was once more not merely a governing aristocracy
and a hereditary nobility - both of which in fact had never
disappeared - but there was a governing hereditary nobility, and the
feud between the gentes in possession of the government and the
commons rising in revolt against the gentes could not but begin
afresh. And matters very soon reached that stage. The nobility was
not content with its honorary privileges which were matters of
comparative indifference, but strove after separate and sole political
power, and sought to convert the most important institutions of the
state - the senate and the equestrian order - from organs of the
commonwealth into organs of the plebeio-patrician aristocracy.

The Nobility in Possession of the Senate

The dependence -de jure- of the Roman senate of the republic, more
especially of the larger patricio-plebeian senate, on the magistracy
had rapidly become lax, and had in fact been converted into
independence. The subordination of the public magistracies to
the state-council, introduced by the revolution of 244;(9) the
transference of the right of summoning men to the senate from the
consul to the censor;(10) lastly, and above all, the legal recognition
of the right of those who had been curule magistrates to a seat and
vote in the senate,(11) had converted the senate from a council
summoned by the magistrates and in many respects dependent on them
into a governing corporation virtually independent, and in a certain
sense filling up its own ranks; for the two modes by which its members
obtained admission - election to a curule office and summoning by the
censor - were both virtually in the power of the governing board
itself. The burgesses, no doubt, at this epoch were still too
independent to allow the entire exclusion of non-nobles from the
senate, and the nobility were perhaps still too judicious even to wish
for this; but, owing to the strictly aristocratic gradations in the
senate itself - in which those who had been curule magistrates were
sharply distinguished, according to their respective classes of
-consulares-, -praetorii-, and -aedilicii-, from the senators who
had not entered the senate through a curule office and were therefore
excluded from debate - the non-nobles, although they probably sat in
considerable numbers in the senate, were reduced to an insignificant
and comparatively uninfluential position in it, and the senate became
substantially a mainstay of the nobility.

The Nobility in Possession of the Equestrian Centuries

The institution of the equites was developed into a second, less
important but yet far from unimportant, organ of the nobility. As the
new hereditary nobility had not the power to usurp sole possession of
the comitia, it necessarily became in the highest degree desirable
that it should obtain at least a separate position within the body
representing the community. In the assembly of the tribes there
was no method of managing this; but the equestrian centuries under
the Servian organization seemed as it were created for the very
purpose. The 1800 horses which the community furnished(12) were
constitutionally disposed of likewise by the censors. It was, no
doubt, the duty of these to select the equites on military grounds and
at their musters to insist that all horsemen incapacitated by age or
otherwise, or at all unserviceable, should surrender their public
horse; but the very nature of the institution implied that the
equestrian horses should be given especially to men of means, and it
was not at all easy to hinder the censors from looking to genteel
birth more than to capacity, and from allowing men of standing who
were once admitted, senators particularly, to retain their horse
beyond the proper time. Perhaps it was even fixed by law that the
senator might retain it as long as he wished. Accordingly it became
at least practically the rule for the senators to vote in the eighteen
equestrian centuries, and the other places in these were assigned
chiefly to the young men of the nobility. The military system, of
course, suffered from this not so much through the unfitness for
effective service of no small part of the legionary cavalry, as
through the destruction of military equality to which the change gave
rise, inasmuch as the young men of rank more and more withdrew from
service in the infantry. The closed aristocratic corps of the equites
proper came to set the tone for the whole legionary cavalry, taken
from the citizens who were of highest position by descent and wealth.
This enables us in some degree to understand why the equites during
the Sicilian war refused to obey the order of the consul Gaius
Aurelius Cotta that they should work at the trenches with the
legionaries (502), and why Cato, when commander-in-chief of the army
in Spain, found himself under the necessity of addressing a severe
reprimand to his cavalry. But this conversion of the burgess-cavalry
into a mounted guard of nobles redounded not more decidedly to the
injury of the commonwealth than to the advantage of the nobility,
which acquired in the eighteen equestrian centuries a suffrage not
merely separate but giving the tone to the rest.

Separation of the Orders in the Theatre

Of a kindred character was the formal separation of the places
assigned to the senatorial order from those occupied by the rest of
the multitude as spectators at the national festivals. It was the
great Scipio, who effected this change in his second consulship in
560. The national festival was as much an assembly of the people as
were the centuries convoked for voting; and the circumstance that the
former had no resolutions to pass made the official announcement of a
distinction between the ruling order and the body of subjects - which
the separation implied - all the more significant. The innovation
accordingly met with much censure even from the ruling class, because
it was simply invidious and not useful, and because it gave a very
manifest contradiction to the efforts of the more prudent portion of
the aristocracy to conceal their exclusive government under the forms
of civil equality.

The Censorship a Prop of the Nobility

These circumstances explain, why the censorship became the pivot of
the later republican constitution; why an office, originally standing
by no means in the first rank, came to be gradually invested with
external insignia which did not at all belong to it in itself and with
an altogether unique aristocratic-republican glory, and was viewed as
the crown and completion of a well-conducted public career; and why
the government looked upon every attempt of the opposition to
introduce their men into this office, or even to hold the censor
responsible to the people for his administration during or after his
term of office, as an attack on their palladium, and presented a
united front of resistance to every such attempt. It is sufficient
in this respect to mention the storm which the candidature of Cato for
the censorship provoked, and the measures, so extraordinarily reckless
and in violation of all form, by which the senate prevented the
judicial prosecution of the two unpopular censors of the year 550.
But with their magnifying the glory of the censorship the government
combined a characteristic distrust of this, their most important and
for that very reason most dangerous, instrument. It was thoroughly
necessary to leave to the censors absolute control over the personal
composition of the senate and the equites; for the right of exclusion
could not well be separated from the right of summoning, and it was
indispensable to retain such a right, not so much for the purpose of
removing from the senate capable men of the opposition - a course which
the smooth-going government of that age cautiously avoided - as for the
purpose of preserving around the aristocracy that moral halo, without
which it must have speedily become a prey to the opposition. The
right of ejection was retained; but what they chiefly needed was the
glitter of the naked blade - the edge of it, which they feared, they

Online LibraryTheodor MommsenThe History of Rome (Volumes 1-5) → online text (page 85 of 216)