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had in fact obtained their military education in the im-
perial camps ; and at last Odoacer, a prince of the Heruli,
a nation which had advanced southward from the Pome-
ranian shore of the Baltic, seized the country at the head
of an army levied for the service of the emperor and re-
ceiving his pay.

It is impossible to read the epistles and contemporary
histories of those times without being struck by one re-
markable fact. The Italians and other Roman subjects
might, it is true, be terrified by the approach of savage
robbers like the African Vandals, but towards the north-
ern invaders in general they entertained neither fear
nor hatred. They knew, for they learned after one or
two trials, Avhat they had to suffer from the so-called
barbarians : they knew also what they had to endure
under the imperial government ; and they were per-
fectly careless which of the two classes of evils might
fall to their lot. The paid armies of the emperors, and
the tribes of the Teutonic chiefs, were allowed to fight
for the possession of Italy, while the children of the
soil looked on. This is a fact which by itself condemns
the times of the lower empire as ages of misgovem-
ment and misery, and such they truly were. All the
particulars of their misrule and wretchedness, if united


in one catalogue, would make the heart turn sick. At
present we must content ourselves with indicating a
few sources of discontent, in the General and Local
Administrations, whose progress during the heathen
period has heen already related.

Constantine divided the empire, after the example of
Diocletian, into four great Prefectures. The Prefecture of
Italy extended over the Mediterranean islands, and em-
braced the countries to the north of the Alps as far as the
Danuhe, with lUvricum and the African coast. He far-
ther completed Diocletian's plan for separating the civU
from the military government. Every prefecture was
put under the civil superintendence of a Prefect, who
succeeded to the title, as well as to part of the functions,
which had recently belonged to the prefect of the Prae-
torian Guard ; this office having from Severus till Dio-
cletian been the first administrative and judicial as well
as military post in the empire. The provinces, of which
the four prefectures together contained 116, were under
civil Governors, who held different ranks and titles. All
of them without exception were lawyers. The army was
placed under eight Generals, each having an extensive
territory of his own ; and under these were numerous
provincial commanders bearing the titles of Comites and
Duces (counts and dukes), the former being the name of
higher rank. The separation of the civil power from the
military helped to secure the throne of the emperois, but
it weakened the defence of the state against its foreign
enemies, and no change which took place tended in the
slightest degree to alleviate the burdens of the people.
Oppression and deliberate cruelty had ceased to be the
favourite crimes of the rulers ; but extortion and finan-
cial injustice, long prevalent and ill checked in the pro-
vinces, were now aided in their ruinous effects by new
and most severe additions to the public taxes.

Increased taxation was rendered necessary by the
increased expenditure ; an 1 this was occasioned by the
wars, the pay of the barbarians and other troops, the
shameful extravagance of the luxurious court, the pro-


vision of corn and similar necessaries for the poor who
flocked to the two capitals, and the continued mainte-
nance of baths, public spectacles, and other establish-
ments for the diversion of the people. The two principal
additions were the following : — 1. The Aurum Coro-
narium, or Crown-money, was, like our English bene-
volences, termed a free gift, but, like them, was truly
an enforced tax. It was demanded from the cities
and provinces whenever the emperor, finding his ex-
chequer empty, chose to intimate some happy event in
his person or family, on which it was reasonable that his
subjects should offer their congratulations. 2. The Lustral
Contribution, the worst imposition of all, Avas a general
tax on trade and productive industry, to which even the
poorest day-labourer in the land was ruthlessly subjected.
One leading regulation regarding this most impolitic
exaction, though it bore the appearance of a merciful
indulgence, proved the source of incalculable misery. Its
collection was not enforced annually, but in the begin-
ning of every fifth year the payments for the four years
preceding were pressed with extreme rigour. The poorer
classes, tempted by the seeming boon of delay, and finding
it hard enough to gather the requu-ed sum for each season,
allowed the arrears to accumulate, and then were utterly
unable to satisfy the claim. Their goods were seized, and
they were themselves imprisoned, chained, and scourged.
A law of Constantino ascribes these severities to the
officers of the exchequer, and forbids the heavier punish-
ments, restricting the penalty to confinement under cer-
tain regulations. But the practice continued, in spite
of his law and those of his sons to the same effect. All
the old burdens still remained, except those which
had merged in the lustral tax, and in those next to be

About the reign of Constantine the machinery of the
Land-tax and Poll-tax, which, after this period, are com-
monly spoken of together under the name of the Indic-
tion, was brought into full operation in Italy as well as in
the provinces, into which latter we remarked its Intro-


duction during the preceding age. The general prin-
ciple was this ; that the Land-tax should be levied on all
estates, whoever might be their possessors, and that the
Poll-tax should be exacted from every person who had
no territorial property, and at the same time no rank or
honorary privileges confen-ing exemption. Such exemp-
tion belonged to all the different degrees of nobility in-
stituted by the later emperors, the lowest rank which
bestowed it being that of the decurions of the muni-
cipalities. All who were liable to the poll-tax were
designated Plebeians, and were composed of three
classes : — in the towns, those free citizens who had
neither lands nor privileges, and who chiefly consisted
of the artisans and labourers ; in the country, the coloni,
or peasants attached to the soil, whose position will be
explained in another place ; and the slaves both in town
and country. The two latter classes were exceedingly
numerous in comparison with the free urban inhabi-
tants. Some who properly ranked in this new order of
Commonalty enjoyed immunity on various accounts,
as being the holders of certain public offices, or as
soldiers, widows, and nuns ; but it was expressly en-
acted that holy orders should be no ground of exemp-
tion. For the purposes of the land-tax there was a
general register of the lands in the empire, which con-
tained returns made by every landholder, under severe
penalties, of all particulars necessary for the valuation
of his estates, and which specified the sum assessed on
them proportionally to their value, the assessment being
corrected periodically. But the land-roll contained also
returns for the poll-tax ; for the proprietor was com-
pelled to give up the names and number of his slaves, and
also of his coloni and peasants of all classes. He paid
the capitation- tax for every slave, and he also paid it for
every colonus, being, however, entitled to recover the
amount from the latter, if he could. This union of the
two taxes, and the form of the land- valuation, wliich,
dividing the ground into spaces called capita, gave the
land-tax sometimes the name of Capitation, have been


the chief causes of the difficulties in understanding the
subject. The apparatus used for the indiction was an-
noying and arbitrary, the amount of the land-tax was
usually excessive, and its exaction was cruelly rigorous.

The Municipalities fared yet worse than the provinces.
As Rome had no civic funds to tempt the government,
and as its statues and buildings were the objects of an
ignorant pride and admiration, it was for a time pro-
tected by a continuance of its old supplies for the poor,
and was then gradually abandoned to its o^vn destiny.
Its internal administration remained substantially un-
changed, and its Prefect, and the prefect of Constanti-
nople, were made equal in rank to the four praetorian
prefects ; in other words, these six officers held the second
place in the empire.

The other municipal communities were rich ; and
though the extent to which Constantine carried his spo-
liation of them is doubtful, it has been asserted, with
some show of probability, that he seized a part at least of
the property of every corporate town in the empire, be-
stowing the plunder partly or wholly on the church.
At ail events, it is certain that within a few reigns
after his, the municipalities of Italy were almost all
utterly beggared ; and their depression involved farther
consequences. In the first place, their Councils were
now authorized to tax the inhabitants for local pur-
poses ; a measure which appears for the first time in
the Eastern Empire under Arcadius. The system as
to the holding of office, which had been growing for
centuries, was rapidly brought to maturity ; and, as it
presents several very singular features, a sketch of its
chief peculiarities in the Western Empire just before its
fall wil] be instructive in more respects than one, though
the details are involved in some obscurity.

The Magistracies and Councils still existed ; and till
after Constantine the former may be described as having
consisted of three classes at most, the Duumvirs, the
-(Ediles, and the Curators. The first of these, who in
some towns were the only magbtrates, were every where


those in whom was vested the jurisdiction belonging to
the corporation as such. In civO. questions tliis juris-
diction was confined to sums below a fixed amount ; and
in criminal matters, except over slaves, it did not exceed
the bounds which were necessary for maintaining the
public police.* All judicial acts of the municipal
judges were subject to revision by the governor of the
province. The -^diles, where they were found as dif-
ferent officers from the duumvirs, were nearly the same
class of functionaries as those who bore the same name
in the republic, or as the deans of guild in Scottish
boroughs, though without jurisdiction. The Curatores
Reipublicse corresponded to the quaestors of older times,
being the treasurers of the corporation.

But between the reign of Diocletian and that of Valen-
tinian I., the emperors transferred the jurisdiction of the
duumvirs, with considerable additions, to a new class of
magistrates, whom they called Defensors. These novel
authorities, and their mode of appointment, deserve espe-
cial notice ; because, as we shall hereafter discover, their
office formed in the dark ages the basis of the municipal
government of Italy, and out of it rose the free states
which covered the peninsula for some centuries after
that period. By the rule which had prevailed in the
Roman municipalities, from the earliest times till the
institution of these officers, all the magistrates were
elected by the curiae, and none but members of the curiae
were admissible to the magistracy. The defensors dif-

* There is a difference of opinion as to the exact amount of the
criminal jurisdiction possessed by the duumvirs ; and the scourging
of Paul and Silas by the magistrates of the colony Philippi (Acts
xvi, 22) has been cited as a proof that such oflBcers possessed the
unlimited right of inflicting corporal punishment on free men. But
the just inference from this passage, with the Latin writers and the
books of the civil law, is plainly this : The magistrates were
entitled to punish corporally all offenders, whether free men or
slaves, who were not Roman citizens. In the apostolic times this
rule brought far the greater number of the free provincials under the
full criminal authority of the municipalities. But, after Caracalla
had made the franchise universal, the very same state of the law,
continuing unchanged, left the magistracies no such extent of juris-
diction except over the slaves.


fered in both respects. Any inhabitant of the place was
eligible to the office, excepting indeed the members of
the curiae, who at first were held expressly disqualified ;
and the election was made by the whole laic commu-
nity, to whom Honorius added, as electors, the decu-
rions, and the bishops with their clergy. The term of
office in the Western Empire, till the time of its fall, was
five years. The appointment of the defensors required
the confirmation of the prefect ; and that officer, not the
governor of the province, was entitled to remove them for
misconduct. Indeed, by the definition which is given
of their functions, they are declared to have been in-
tended as the protectors of the municipalities against all
parties, and in particular against the proconsuls and
other provmcial functionaries, on whose conduct they
were empowered to report to the prefect.

The Curiae survived the rise of the defensors, but
their members, the Decurions, occupied a position which
is quite unparalleled in the history of municipal insti-
tutions. They received their office either by birth or by
election. The former class were those whose fathers or
grandfathers had been in place, and who were on this
account alone compelled to serve. If the number of this
class was not sufficient, according to the particular con-
stitution of the city, they filled up their board by elect-
ing persons from the community, being however directed
to choose men of rank and wealth, when such could be
found. Besides administering the public funds and, till
the establishment of the defensors, electing the magis-
trates (whose appointment required no approval by the
governor), the decurions also nominated to all the sub-
ordinate places held under the corporation. Among
these, it is enough to specify that of the Irenarcha, an
officer whose duties of arresting and interrogatmg crimi-
nals and transmitting them, with protocols, to the pro-
consuls for trial, assimilate the office to that of the
procurator-fiscal in Scotland.

The Decurions enjoyed honorary titles, and ranked as
the nobility of their towns ; they were exempted from

VOL. r. G

1 14 thp: political history of italy

the torture, from disgraceful punishments, and from the
crimmal jurisdiction of the governor of the province,
who was bound, when they were charged with oflFences,
to transmit them to the emperor for his judgment.
They also possessed immunity from most public services ;
and, if they became poor, they received allowances from
the corporation. But, on the other hand, as soon as
the property of the municipalities was confiscated, they
l;ecame the subjects of a long series of enactments, surely
the most foolishly tyrannical that legislation has ever
produced. The whole system, of which law after law
developed the links, was intended for the strange pur-
pose of making the decurions personally liable for all
shortcomings in the municipal funds, which had been
seized by the very rulers who made these laws. The
older regulations, which had imposed on these func-
tionaries severe restrictions in the disposal of their pro-
pert}-, and in their transactions with individuals as
weU as ^vith the public, were as nothing when compared
with the multiplicity of new rules, of which one or two
must here suffice as specimens. The decurions w^ere,
and indeed had always been, accountable for the very
slightest neglect or omission in the discharge of their
duties ; but they were now, besides being compelled to
take office, bound to find sureties for its due perform-
ance ; a father was liable for the acts of his son, unless
the latter had been emancipated, or the parent had pro-
tested against his election. All the members of the
board were responsible for each other's proceedings ;
and, in the earlier part of this period, the decurions, who
had nominated a magistrate, were jointly and sever-
ally held bound as sureties for him. When we re-
collect that the only fands of the corporations now
consisted in local taxes, to be wrung from an un-
willing and impoverished population, and that the im-
perial government was accustomed to order the exe-
cution of extensive public works, leaving the decurions
to find the money as they might, we shall not be sur-
prised that the appointment to office was considered


nearly equivalent to a sentence of confiscation, and that
the unlucky nominees sought to escape by every sort of
pretence, and even by voluntary exile. All such eva-
sions were rigorously punished ; and when every method
had failed in procuring members for the councils, the
emperors took the last steps in their course of legislative
folly. By some laws they made the holding of office
a title to relief from civil disabilities, as in the case of
bastards, who were thereby legitimized : by others they
made it a punishment, impressing into the councils,
like Valentinian I., the sons of veterans who refused
service, or, like Honorius, clergjTnen whom the bishop
had suspended.

In the whole list of emperors from Constantine to
Augustulus, none can be named as having legislated for
the municipalities with any degree of fairness, except
Julian and the two who bore the name of Theodosius.
The only redeeming point in the condition of the curiae
was, that their evils pressed on a class of persons nume-
rically small ; for the richer citizens alone w^ere fixed on,
and even of these many were able by money or favour
to procure exemptions. The great mass of the people
scarcely felt the evils of the municipal laws, and the sys-
tem, if viewed simply in relation to its immediate effects
on the state of society in general, would not have
deserved that minute notice which has been here given
to it. But it well merits the closest study, not less
on account of its influence on succeeding times, than
for its importance as an illustration of that universal
misgovemment which harassed the Lower Empire and
accelerated its ruin.



The Literature of Heathen Italy.

PERIOD ENDING A. U. 1059, OR A. D. 306.

Grecian Literature in Magna Grsecia and Sicily— Its Four
Centuries — The chief Writers — Its decay after the Roman Con-
quest. Roman Literature : First Age (to a. u, 550, or
B. c. 204) : The Infancy of Literature — Its Progress after a. u.
500. Second Age (a. u. 550—722, or b. c. 204— b. c. 32) :
The Formed Literature of the Republic : The Sixth Century
of the City— Plautus, Terence, and Cato — The Seventh Century
— Lucretius — Catullus— Sallust — Caesar — Cicero's Works and
Influence. Third Age (a. u. 722 — a. u. 767, or b. c. 32— a. d.
1 4) : Literature at the Court of Augustus : Poetry — Patronage —
Foreign Taste — Toleration— Livy — Propertius and TibuUus —
Ovid — Horace's Works — The Character of Virgil's Genius — His
National Poems — The Georgics — The Politics of the iEneid —
Its Antiquarianism, Topography, and Poetry. Fourth Age
A. u. 767 — 933, or a. d. 14 — 180) : Literaturefrom Augustus to
the Times of the Antonines : The Character assumed by Litera-
ture — The principal Authors — The Elder Pliny — Seneca — Lu-
can's Life and Poem — The Works of Statins — Persius, Juvenal,
and Tacitus. Fifth Age (a. u. 933—1059, or a. d. 180—306) :
Literature from Commodus till the Accession of Constantine :
In Italy no genuine Native Literature — The Greeks.


ABOUT A. U. 550, OR B. C. 204.

A COMPLETE history of ancient literature in Italy and
Sicily would embrace the mental cultivation of the
Greeks as well as that of the Romans. For the Helle-
nic colonies of the west were not less active in the pur-


suits of learning than the mother-country ; several illus-
trious names in Grecian poetry and science belong by
birth to the Italiot settlements ; and other Greeks, though
natives of the old country, dwelt in Sicily or the adja-
cent mainland, chiefly after the Sicilian princes had be-
gun to patronise art and letters. The Roman literature,
however, must be regarded as the main object in this
sketch : and it will be enough if we glance rapidly at a
few of the principal literary events which took place in
the Greek colonies before their subjugation.

Ch'eek Literature in Sicily and Magna Grcecia befm-e
the Roman Conquest. — If we pass over the early Italiot
legislators, whose age is uncertain, we shall find the
oldest Greco- Italian names of celebrity in the middle of
the second century of Rome ; and hence the duration of
Grecian literature and philosophy in those countries
extends to about four hundred years. The most ancient
of their poets yield in importance to their philosophers ;
the list of whom opens with Pythagoras, whose visit to
Italy is understood to have occurred about the reign of
Tarquinius Superbus, in the beginning of the third cen-
tury of Rome. Among his most distinguished followers
were Empedocles of Agrigentum, and Timaeus of Locri ;
but before these philosophers, and little later than the
great teacher liimself, the Ionian Xenophanes had found-
ed, at Elea, his celebrated school. Epicharmus, a Coan,
who spent his life in Sicily, and is said to have been an
immediate disciple of Pythagoras, is also renowned as a
poet ; and in his name the Sicilians claimed the honour
of having invented comedy nearly a hundred years
before it flourished at Athens. Among the Greek comic
poets, from Aristophanes down to Menander, several of
the most famous were Italiots, of whose works we have
only fragments, such as Alexis of Thurii, who was the
grandfather of Menander ; Sophron, w^ho in the time of
the Middle Attic comedy invented the Mimes ; Carcinus,
a Sicilian, and the two Philemons of Syracuse.

At the end of the third century of Rome, when its
inhabitants had hardly escaped from the hands of Per-


sena^ Syracuse contained more men of high genius than
any other city in the world. These were collected at
the court of the first Hiero, during his short reign of ten
years, and among them were the greatest poets of the
age : Pindar, whose odes have immortalized liis Sicilian
patrons ; the pathetic Simonides, who was buried in the
city by Hiero ; and the sublime ^schylus, who died in
the island at an advanced age, and is said to repose near
the ruins of Gela.

Early in the fourth century of Rome, Herodotus the
historian, and Lysias the orator, a native of Syracuse,
were among the colonists who founded the city of Thurii ;
and about the same time Leontium possessed, in its citizen
Gorgias, a rhetorician whose fame rivalled that of Lysias.

The next illustrious names meet us in the last half of
.the same century, at the court of the elder Dionysius,
prince of Syracuse. Under him and his son, Sicily was
honoured by the residence of Plato, though the nation
derives no credit from the ingratitude with which its
sovereigns treated the great philosopher and his distin-
guished friend Dion. The life of Plato was preserved
from the cruelty of the tyrant by the renowned mathe-
matician Archytas of Tarentum.

A mathematician of yet greater celebrity, Archimedes
the Syracusan, devoted the best efforts of his skill in
mechanics to the defence of his native town against the
Romans, and was at length killed in the storming of it.
Nearly contemporary with him, but chiefly resident at
the capital of the Ptolemies, was his fellow-citizen
Theocritus, the best known of all the Sicilian poets ;
whose imitators, Moschus, also of the same city, and
Bion, who at least lived in the island, if he was not born
there, probably belong to a time little later than his.

Immediately on the conquest of Lower Italy by the
Romans, Greek began to fall into disuse. In a quarter
of a century, more than one author of Grecian origin
contributed to the infant literature of the Latins ; and,
in the first years of Tiberius, Strabo complained that
Magna Grsecia had ceased to be Greece, except in Taren-

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 35)