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lician Bridge.'" A kindred belief founded that terrible
self-sacrifice which was executed by the two Decii.
The victim, in a set form of prayer, called down on liim-
self the anger of the gods ; after which he plunged
among the enemy, and the curse which had descended-
on his head passed to those who slew him.t

Till the end of the fifth century of Rome, the religion
of the nation may be viewed as having commanded
general respect and belief. The faith in omens spread,
tUl every accident of life had its predictive meaning ;
and to the auguries of the Etruscans was added judicial
astrology, for Chaldean soothsayers are mentioned in
the sixth century as already common.;}: Magical rites
also were practised from a very early age. The people
believed that sorcerers could raise spirits ; and a demon
much dreaded, but much courted for his prophetic com-
munications, was Jupiter Elicius, who appeared in tem-
pest and lightnings, and slew TuUus Hostilius. The
framers of the Twelve Tables provided for the punish-
ment of malicious wizards, especially those who wrought
spells to injure the harvest, or to transport a standing
crop from one field to another. § But charms and
amulets were lawful for averting magic, and for all
purposes not injurious to others. Cato gravely recom-
mends, that for the cure of dislocated limbs certain cere-
monies should be used, and certain magical gibberish
muttered, according to forms of which he gives us three
separate sets : though he also prudently advises that the
spell be helped by the application of splints to the injured
member. 1 1 Talismans, to protect the wearer from the

• Ovidii Faster, lib. v., v. 621 ; Varro, lib. vi. ad vocem
" Argpi."

■f Livii Histor. lib. viii. cap. 9; lib. x. cap. 28.

Z Cato De Re Rustica, cap. v. : " Villici Officia."

§ Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. xxxiii. c. 2. Servius in Virgilii Eclo-
gam viii., v. 99.

y Cato De Re Rustica, cap. 16'0. The following is one of thn-
forms : " Huat haut haut ista sis tar sis ardaiinabon dunnaustra."


evil eye and other perils, were in general use throughout
the whole ancient period of Italian history.

During this age the state did nothing for public in-
struction, except sending a few patrician boys annually
into Etruria to learn the rites of divination. This prac-
tice naturally made the language of that district an aristo-
cratic accomplishment ; and it was so considered till the
Greek superseded it.* Attendance in the forum and the
senate, -with the instructions of parents at home, com-
pleted the education of the young nobles for political
life ; and athletic exercises, followed by an early enrol-
ment in the army, prepared them to act as soldiers and
commanders. The little learning which fell to the lot
of the people at large was communicated in public
schools, frequented by the boys and girls of all ranks,
and situated, in early times, as we see from the story of
Virginia, in the quarter of the forum where stood the
tradesmen's shops.

Agriculture was the business of the whole nation,
from which their incessant wars furnished to them such
a relaxation as the chase did to the barons and vassals
of the middle ages. Indeed, in the earliest centuries of
Rome, the town could scarcely be considered as the proper
residence of its citizens. Its constant population included
few besides the magistrates and other functionaries,
the artisans, who were far from being numerous, and
some of the public and private slaves : the rest of the
people had their dwelling-houses on the farms around
the walls, and entered the city only for the markets or
to attend meetings. But agriculture itself was long very
imperfect in the adjoining region. In the oldest repub-
lican times, the poorer citizens cultivated their narrow
allotments of land chiefly as kitchen-gardens ; and though
the small space unoccupied by esculent herbs enabled
the husbandman to raise a little grain, yet the quantity

* Cicero De Divinatione, lib. i. cap. 41. Valerius Maximus,
lib. i. cap. 1. Livii Histor. lib. ix. cap. 36.


produced in the whole district scarcely ever sufficed to
support its inhabitants. In the first century of the
commonwealth, eight years of dearth and six pestilences
taught the Romans how precarious was their position:*
indeed they could not have lived but for the pillage of
their wars, and the contributions exacted from conquered
tribes. The richer citizens, however, soon joined the
rearing of a few cattle to the husbandry of grain and
herbs ; and in the fourth century, when the territory of
Rome had beg-un pennanently to extend itself, agricul-
ture rapidly improved. To its former objects it added
the general cultivation of the vine, the olive, a few
fruit-trees, and some new sorts of corn ; the flocks and
herds were also large and lucrative ; but the more
valuable plants of Italy were still subordinate to the
kitchen-garden, the sheep-pasture, and the corn-field ;
and even these, the favourite branches of rural economy,
continued to be managed very unskilfully.

On the early state of the mechanical arts in Middle
Italy, our information must be gleaned from the few
monuments still remaining of architecture and the other
liberal pursuits. We learn something, but not much,
from the history of the guilds of tradesmen in Rome,
nine of which were traditionally ancient. Eight of these
comprehended the goldsmiths, the bronzesmiths, the car-
penters, the potters, the dyers, the shoemakers, the skin-
ners, and the musicians ; and all the remaining classes of
artisans were united in a ninth. The guilds, after suf-
fering several checks, were formally recognised in the
laws of the Twelve Tables; and thenceforth they
flourished and increased. In the years of the city 259
and 816 were formed two merchant-companies, or rather
societies of petty shopkeepers, the guild of Mercury and
the Capitolme.

The commercial dealings of the native Italians w^ith
foreign countries were still very limited. The fleets of
the Carthaginians swept the Mediterranean ; and at the

* Dearths, a.u. 246, 261, 263, 313, 315, 321, 322, 344 : Pes-
tilences, a. u. 291, 301. 320- 321, 323, 328.


beginning of the first Punic War, one of tlieii* leaders
declared that lie would not let the Romans so much as
wash their hands in the seas of Sicily. Several treaties,
however, had already settled terms on which the latter
were allowed to trade, both with Carthage itself and with
its settlements in Barbary and the Italian Islands. The
severity of the conditions evinces the weakness of the
new Latin state ; and the irregular laws of ancient com-
mercial navigation are illustrated by the uniform tenor
of those compacts ; for though they are all aimed against
piracy, yet none goes farther than to stipulate that
neither party shall plunder on the coasts belonging to
the other or its allies.

But in agriculture, commerce, and manufactures, we
must recollect that Southern Italy and Sicil}^ then flou-
rished even more than Greece. Carthage, inhabited by
wealthy merchants, was the best market for the Greek
cities, particularly for the wine and oil which were grown
in their neighbourhood, and for the corn of Sicily and
Sardinia. The latter island also, it is not improbable,
furnished from its mines materials to the ingenious metal-
workers of Barbary ; the Lipari isles sent their resin ;
Corsica exported its wax, its honey, and its hardy moun-
taineers as slaves ; and Elba not only worked its cele-
brated iron mines, but smelted the ore before it was
exported. The Carthaginian merchants, usually sailing
in their own vessels, frequented in crowds Syi'acuse and
the other Grecian harbours ; and before the end of the
fifth century of Rome, their wares had entered the
city. Captive negroes from the interior of Africa were
a principal branch of their exports to the Italian coasts ;
%vhich also received their gold, precious stones, and
manufactures ;* and the Romans seem moreover to
have purchased from them agricultural tools, with
other articles of smith work.t

* Heeren, Historical Researches : The African Nations (Enghsh
translation), vol. i. ; Carthage, chapters ii. and v. and Appendix.

+ Plautus in PcBnulo, act. v, so. 2 ; in Aulularia, act. iii. so. 6,
V. 30.


In the third century of the city, the warlike husband-
man of Rome had his representative in the proud patri-
cian Cincinnatus. Two hundred years later, the same
qualities were united with more honesty in the persons
of Fabricius and Curius Dentatus, the adversaries of
Pyrrhus and the Samnites ; and the national character
then began to undergo a change, which, before the
middle of the sixth century, had ended in a complete
disappearance of the early rudeness. But even in that
altered age, the primitive temper existed in all its
original strength, with a little of its good and very much
of its evil, in the person of Cato the Censor, the last of
the ancient Romans. This celebrated man's supersti-
tion has been already noticed ; but, like every other
feeling in his mind, it was modified by his practical,
shrewd, calculating temper. In his agricultural treatise
he gives minute directions for offerings to Silvanus to
secure the health of the cattle, and for propitiating the
woodland divinities before pruning or cutting down
timber-trees. But he peremptorily forbids the overseer
to be religious on his o^vn account ; he is to consult no
diviners or magicians, and to offer no sacrifices for him-
self except the Compitalia to the household gods, which
were a prerogative of the slaves.* We are initiated at
once into the groundwork of the old Roman character,
and into the details of an ancient household, when we
read the Censor's directions for building his country-
mansion, with its offices and fences, his extracts from
the family receipt-book, his advice to the master of the
establishment, his summary of the duties of a bailiff, his
list of places where agricultural purchases may be best
made, and his frequent rules of homely and even nig-
gardly thrift.t

If we investigate the morality of those early ages,
we shall discover far more to blame than to admire. Still

• Cato De Re Rustica, cap. 5, 84, 135, 140, 142; also Colu-
mella De Re Rustica, lib. i. cap. 8.
t Cato De Re Rustica, cap. 1, 2, 4, 6, 14, 15, 136, 142, 143.


the old Roman was commonly pure in the bosom of his
family ; and the domestic virtues offer us some beauti-
ful pictures from the first republican times. Severe
laws limited the freedom of the female sex, and con-
stituted the head of a family the judge and king of his
own house, with the power of life and death over his off-
spring and even his wife. But the feelings and habits
of the nation disarmed those legislative enactments : the
Roman father was his children's patron and friend ;
the Roman matron, living openly in the midst of her
family, and mixing freely with their associates, was
the companion and adviser of her husband and her chil-
dren. The laws made divorce easy; and yet there was
no recorded case of their application till the year of the
city 520.* But even of the vices of later times we see,
towards the end of this period, some alarming indica-
tions, accompanied by circumstances characteristic of the
proud and fierce temper of the republican state. Poison-
ing appeared for the first time in 422, while the self-
devoting patriotism of the Samnite war was at its height.
One hundred and seventy women of rank in the city
were apprehended on a charge of having conspired to
destroy the males of their families, several of whom had
died suddenly. Twenty of the females, accused as the
prompters of the crime, consulted together, and ofi^ered
to prove their innocence, by drinking the medicaments
said to be poisoned : they swallowed the draught, and
expired in convulsions ; the rest, being condemned, were
executed within the walls of the prison. t

The public virtue of the Romans, vaunted by their
own historians and applauded by modern writers, was too
often nothing better than the spirit of pride, faction,
and ambition. The conduct of Cincinnatus and that of
Camillus are two pregnant examples ; and deeds of pa-
triotism, pure from this taint, are very rare in the early
history of the commonwealth. It is still more difficult to

* Auli Gellii Noct. Attic, lib. iv. cap. 3.
■f Livii Histor. lib. via. cap. 18.


discover an act or a character which exhibits generosity,
or even common equity, in the connexion of the Ro-
mans with the neighbouring Italian tribes. The policy
of the state, unsparingly put in force by its soldiers,
did indeed derive some excuse from the savage rules
common in all ancient wars ; but it was still sufPxiently
shocking, and often dishonest, even in comparison with
the conduct of contemporary nations. Their cruelty
was glaringly exhibited in the celebrated processions of
triumph. Besides the plunder of the conquered enemy,
there were exhibited the prisoners of vrar, men, women,
and children, led through the streets in chains, insulted
and misused. When the train reached the forum, it
stood still ; on which the victorious general from his
chariot ordered the chief captives to be led into the
adjoining Mamertine prison and despatched : and the pro-
cession then climbed the Capitoline Hill, but paused
again on its brow till the executioners reported that
their victims were dead.* Pontius, the brave and
generous captain of the Samnites, died thus by the
headsman's axe in the year 462, after having feasted
the eyes of the savage multitude. This horrible bar-
barity seems to have arisen out of the unjust and inso-
lent maxim of the Romans, that all their Italian adver-
saries were to be considered as subjects in rebellion.
The rule, however, of executing at least the com-
mander of the enemy, subsisted long after the wars of
the nation were carried on in foreign countries ; and,
till the time of Pompey, the populace marvelled, if
they did not murmur, at the forbearance of a general
who spared all his prisoners. Those who were not
executed became slaves, they and their children, to the
last generation. In the earlier centuries, indeed, the
enslaved captives were treated more kindly than in later
times ; for the Roman citizens were then less haughtily
reserved, and less pampered by luxuries ; the prisoners

• Onuphrius Panvinius De Triumpho, cap. 1 : ap. Graevium,
Thes. Antiq. Rom. torn. ix.


were Italians like themselves, and were not yet so nu-
merous as to he feared. But the precarious situation
of the slaves is proved hy a single sentence in Cato's
treatise. Sell, says the hard-hearted Censor, sell for
what they will hring, old oxen, diseased sheep, worn-
out ploughs and iron tools, aged or sickly slaves, and all
such useless lumher.*

Nothing can aid us hetter in forming an image of
early Roman manners, than those miscellaneous pictures
which are presented in some scenes of Plautus, and which,
though they were painted from life in the sixth century
of the city, are more nearl}^ akin to the age preceding
their own date than to that which followed it. The old
dramatist gives us satirical descriptions of the haunts
frequented in Rome by the usurers, the victuallers,
the diviners, and the other ministers of growing luxury ;
he jests dryly on the combinations of the provision-
traders, and the roguery of the bankers ; he describes
the fishmongers carrying about stale fish on lame
asses, butchers as selling ewes' flesh for lambs', and
bakers as creating a nuisance by the herds of swine in
their back-courts ; he presents to us the hired slave-
cooks and music-girls, with the v/hole other apparatus
which an entertainment called into action ; he gives a
comically-caricatured list of the artists who even in his
time were laid under contribution to set forth a Roman
lady's wardrobe ; he relates the police regulations of
the streets and of the theatres ; and he delineates a most
lively picture of the merry side of life in slavery, with
some touches of its sadder colours, and continual exem-
plifications of its demoralizing consequences.t

* Cato De Re Rustica, cap. 2.

•}• Plautus in Curculione, act. iii. so. 1, act. iv. sc. 1 ; inTrucu-
lento, act. i. sc. 1 ; in Capteivis, act. iii, sc. 1, act. iv. sc. 1 ; in
Aulularia, act. ii. sc. 4-9, act. iii. sc. 1, 5 ; in Amphitryone,
Prologo, act. i. sc. 1 ; in Poenulo, Prologo ; in Persa, passim ; in
Trinummo, act. iv. sc. 3 ; in Bacchidibus, passim.



A.u. 500—933, OR B.C. 254_A.D. 180.

As this second period of Roman character and society
embraces the leading events recorded in the political
annals, it will furnish a convenient opportunity for
describing in detail the most remarkable of the national
habits and customs.


The religion of Rome, which resembled all other
pagan creeds in relying on a series of gross frauds,
went farther than any of them in the boldness of its
interference with active life. Tliis policy for a time
strengthened the system by nourishing general super-
stition ; but, as speculation gi-adually went abroad, the
very same cause began to produce the opposite effect.
The people became indifferent, not only through fami-
liarity, but through suspicion of deceit and imposture ;
the educated men treated with contempt, or with posi-
tive hostility, a mummery which, as statesmen, they
liad taken a share in inventing ; and long before the fall
of the republic, faith in the national creed w^as extinct
among the higher ranks. We cannot more fairly esti-
mate the tone of religious feeling in the last age of the
commonwealth than from the wavering and temporiz-
ing mind of Cicero ; and no better example can be
selected from his works than the contradiction between
that opinion as to the auspices and auguries Avhich,
talking as a politician, he gTavely expresses in his trea-
tise on Laws, and that which, throwing aside views of
expediency, he ventures to propound in his philosophical
work on Divination.

The temples still abounded in miracles, which the
men of letters regarded with as little respect as the
rites of the diviners. A Falerian family, called the
Hirpi, walked barefoot over burning coals at the an-
nual sacrifice on Mount Soracte : Varro flatly asserted


that they previously anointed their feet.* At Egnatia,
in Apulia, the fire on an altar lighted itself ; and on
that of the Lacinian Juno, standing in the open air, the
ashes lay unmoved by the highest winds. Horace is
outrageous in his mirth at the expense of the self-
igniting flame ; and both of it and the Lacinian miracle
Pliny quietly says, that the phenomena seem to be facts,
but are to be accounted for by causes purely natural.t
Even in the republic, and still more decidedly under
the empire, the old traditions and their rites fell into
utter neglect, unless they happened to be susceptible of
practical and political application. An interesting in-
stance is furnished by Juvenal's lamentation over the
desecrated Fount of Egeria.:}; Chapels and artificial
grottos had been built in the wood and the sacred
valley ; but the altars were deserted and broken, and
the unfurnished buildings were inhabited by a few
starving Jews, the gipsies of imperial Rome, who slept
upon hay- trusses spread on the ground.

But neither instructed men nor the multitude could
bear to want religion. The former took refuge in the
metaphysical theologies of the Greek philosophers ; the
latter indemnified themselves for the absence of a com-
mon and stable faith by a thousand superstitions of
their own, in many of which the better-informed class
did not disdain to join them. The omens multiplied
incredibly ; and no historian, either of the republic of of
the empire, neglects to devote entire chapters to them ;
for while Livy's credulity is notorious, Tacitus is as
minute in his details of marvels as Suetonius or the
compilers of the Augustan History. Foreign rites, like-
wise, akin to those of the national religion, repeatedly in-
truded. The earliest remarkable instance, in the year of
the city 567, was the horrible story of the Bacchanalian
Mysteries, whose infamous debaucheries were promptly

' Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. vii. cap. 2. Servius in Virgilii -^neid.
ib. xi. V. 785.
t Horat. lib. i. sat. v. v. 97 : Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. ii. cap. 107.
:J: Juvenalis Satir. iii. v. 11-20.


expelled ; but in the imperial times the Egyptian Isis
had her permanent temples beside those of Bellona and
Cybcle ; and these three sets of fanes, frequented by
females of rank, were the scenes of gross depravity.*
Oriental astrologers and interpreters of dreams were to
be found every where ; and under the emperors the
latter trade was chiefly exercised in the apartments of
the Roman ladies by poor Jewish women.t When a
star shot from the sky, the populace believed that at
that moment the person expired, on whose birth the
bright orb had taken its place in the heavens.;}; The
emperor Tiberius, who was skilled in astrology, watched
the stars from the cliffs of his island of Capreae ; and
Nero was a yet more ardent student of supernatural
secrets. An eastern wizard initiated him in the banquets
of the Magi ; and, when an evil conscience had raised
the ghost of his murdered mother, his sorcerers strove
in vain, by mysterious rites, to banish the angry shade.§
The power of magicians to raise the dead was long
doubted or denied by the learned ; and the elder Pliny
mentions with merriment that he had seen the Greek
Apion. This man had discovered the marvellous root
osy rites (perhaps the mandrake of the middle ages), which
was a preservative against poisons, but cost life to him
who pulled it ; and he had evoked the shade of Homer,
to question him as to the place of his birth, but professed
that he durst not repeat the answer which the spirit
had given. 1 1 On the other hand, it was never doubted
that ghosts vv^ere wont to rise of their own accord.
The same writer avows his belief of such occur-
rences, after relating gravely, as an incident really super-
natural, a palpable trick played by Sextus Pompeius
in his campaign against Julius Caesar ; and Pliny's

• Livii Hist. lib. xxxix. cap. 8, &c. Juvenalis Sat. vi. v. 510, &c.
-j- Juvenalis Satir. vi. v. 545.
X Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. ii. cap. 8.

§ Taciti Annal. lib. vi, cap. 21. Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. xxx. cap.2.
Suetonius in Nerone, cap. 34.

11 Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. xxx. cap. 2.


nephew is still more unequivocal In the confession of
faith -wliich he makes in telling several stories of
apparitions, one of which happened to a freedman of his
own, and is the most foolish of the series.* One of his
legends, the well-told adventure of Athenodorus at
Athens, with its haunted house advertised, its mur-
dered man buried in the court, and its chains clanking
at midnight, is in every particular a ghost-story suited
to modern times ; and, indeed, it is little more than an
amplification of the lying tale invented by the roguish
slave Tranio in Plautus, in which we detect the original
of Ben Jonson's Alchemist.t

Even before Augustus, witchcraft in Rome had be-
come, in some of its most gloomy features, very like what
it was in the middle ages. Love-charms and philtres
were dangerously common ; and a draught of this kind
is said to have driven Caligula mad.;}: For destroy-
ing an enemy, a waxen figure was exposed to a slow
fire, with ceremonies closely resemblmg those which
were practised for the same end a thousand years later.
Vu'gil's description of the love-spells, mdeed, is too
poetical, and too Grecian ; but Horace has some pic-
tures which, though highly coloured, are evidently
sketched from the life.§ His witches are described as
burying an unhappy boy to the neck in the court-yard
of their house, that he might die of hunger, and his
heart be infused in a love-potion ; and in another scene
we behold them practising the charm for killing an
enemy. An extensive area on the outer declivity of the
Esquiline Mount, not far from the place now covered
by the ruins of the Baths of Titus, was, in the republi-
can times, a burying-ground for slaves and executed
criminals ; and some tombs of a higher class lay also in
the same quarter of the hUL Maecenas, it is true, had

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 29 of 35)