William Spalding.

Italy and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

. (page 30 of 35)
Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

• Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. vii. cap. 52. Plinii, lib. vii. ep. 27.
-f- Plauti Wostellariae, actus ii. scena 2.
J Suetonius in Caligula, cap. 60.

§ Virgilii Eclog. viii. sub finem. Horatii Epodon od. 5, 17,
18 ; lib. i. satir. viii.


enclosed the whole within his splendid gardens ; but the
hags, accustomed to collect there the hones of the dead
and the magic herbs, are represented as still resorting
to the spot. The moon goes down behind the sepulchres
while they dig a ditch, kill a black lamb in it, chant
shrill and melancholy spells to raise the ghosts, and
light a fire before which the waxen image of their
victim melts away.


A correct estimate of the state of morality in this
long period could not be made, without a detail of
particulars far too numerous for these pages. A very
few facts must suffice to preface those incidental illus-
trations, which will present themselves as we rapidly
review the state of public instruction and general read-
ing, the divisions of society, the nature of the public
spectacles, and the system of rural economy, manufac-
tures, and foreign trade.

The two centuries of the republic which still remain
to be considered, display a quick progress towards the
immorality of the empire ; and indeed, though vice
was never in the free state so monstrously triumphant
as under the bad emperors, yet before the accession of
Augustus scenes of equal guilt were acted on a smaller
stage. The purity of private life was all but extinct in
the last days of the commonwealth ; and the few re-
corded instances of domestic virtue soon became excep-
tions amidst a prevailing dissoluteness, to which the most
depraved society in Christian times has been immeasur-
ably superior. But while licentiousness thus increased,
cruelty waxed strong likewise. The depravation of
Roman morals has been said to have been caused, or
at least most fatally accelerated, by two powerful
agents. One was the profligate example of the court in
most ages of the empire, which diffused through the
whole body of the state those vices that previously had
been chiefly confined to the wealthier classes : the
second was the barbarous nature of the favourite spec-


tacles, which familiarized the people to blood long be-
fore the fall of the republic. But it must be emphati-
cally added, that domestic slavery had a stronger demo-
ralizing tendency than either, and united the bad effects
of both.

If we examine the character of the great statesmen
of the republic in their relation to the commonwealth,
we shall discover, in undecayed strength, the old spirit
of proud factiousness. It was this very temper that
trained a mind like that of Julius Csesar, in so many
points noble and generous, to enslave his country
without remorse or hesitation ; because he had learned
to consider the state, and saw every other leader ready
to consider it, as justly the property of any man or any
faction possessing power and courage enough to seize
it. It was the same temper that baffled the plans of
Augustus for founding an hereditary empire, and made
Rome under his successors an elective despotism in the
hands of the soldiery. This cast of mind had in it a
kind of irregular grandeur, which is apt to dazzle the
imagination, — an appearance that deceives many of us
in those last acts of the great Scipio Africanus, which
truly sprang from the evil principle in its most active
operation. When Scipio was charged (no doubt
falsely) with having embezzled the public money in the
war with Antiochus, the tribunes asked him in the
senate whether he possessed accounts to vouch his
transactions. He replied that he did, held up a scroll
which, he said, contained the information they wanted,
and tore it to pieces before their eyes. Afterwards, on
his impeachment, when he rose to answer his accusers,
he reminded the people that the day was the anniver-
sary of the battle of Zama ; and, without adding a
word as to the charge against him, summoned them to
accompany him, and thank the gods in the Capitol.

The bad spirit which dictated this scornful resistance
to the laws, and which, in the end, ruined the com-
monwealth, was in Scipio palliated by many admirable


qualities, and by more and loftier talents and virtues in
some other men who did honour to the period of the
civil wars. That age cannot be too minutely studied ;
and the spectacle which it offers of high intellect and
cultivation, united with ability in action and courage
in the midst of danger, is one to which no other era in
the history of the world has presented a parallel.

In passing to the character of the imperial times, we
must unfortunately dismiss in haste, as rare exceptions,
such men as Thrasea Psetus and Agricola ; with such
females as the elder Agrippina and Arria the elder and
younger. For the aspect of the times in general, it
may be enough to take one isolated feature fi'om each
of the three great sections of national life, — the court,
the senate-house, and the haunts of the people.

The reign of crime in the imperial palaces during the
worst times, was a fearfully exaggerated prototype of
those horrors which stained the petty courts of Italy in
the later of the middle ages. The Roman series of execu-
tions and confiscations, indeed, prompted solely by sus-
picion or avarice, has had no equal since its own days ;
but there have been repeated likenesses of the imperial
mixture of lewdness, cruelty, unbridled passions, and
extravagance of refinement. There was much of a mo-
dern taste in Nero's favourite amusement of scouring
the streets by night, insulting every one he met, and
sometimes returning to his palace soundly beaten ; a
recreation emulated successively by the emperors Otho,
Commodus, and Heliogabalus. But we can conceive
ourselves studying the history of the Sforza or the
ducal Medici, when we turn to the darker pages of
Nero's annals ; — when we see him in his closet with
the hag Locusta, trying experiments upon poisons ;
when he enters the banqueting-hall, and in the midst
of his court sees his victim Britannicus drink the po-
tion, and fall on the floor in convulsions ; when we
watch the speechless horror of the spectators, and be-
hold among them the unfortunate Octavia, the sister of
the murdered man and the wife of the murderer ; and


when, in the same night, amidst darkness, rain, and
tempest, we follow the corpse to the Campus Martins,
and see it thrust into its nameless grave.'^

The general reputation of the imperial senate may be
gathered from two sources ; from the younger Pliny's
contemptuous description of their monument on the
Tiburtine road in honour of Pallas, the freedman of
Claudius, with their act in honour of the same worth-
less favourite ; and from the bitter but well-merited
satire of Juvenal, in which he represents the Fathers of
Rome as called together by Domitian to deliberate on
the best way of dressing a turbot.t One other example,
a simply told fact, will teach us how far official subser-
viency could carry the degradation of personal character.
While Tiberius was on the throne, Titius Sabinus, an
associate of the murdered Germanicus, was enticed by
one of his own friends to enter his house, and there
express his indignation against the tyrant. Three sena-
tors, hidden between the ceiling of the chamber and the
roof of the mansion, were allowed to overhear the con-
versation ; and, as soon as Titius had quitted the place,
the four traitors concocted a memorial to the emperor,
in which they set forth the seditious words they had
heard spoken, and boastingly related the infamous mean-
ness by which they had purchased their knowledge.;]:

The populace we shall better understand when we
come to examine the public amusements, for these wera
their sole occupation. If they received their allow-
ance of food and had the circus and amphitheatres
opened to them, they were contented and most loyal sub-
jects : for these reasons they did not hate the bad empe-
rors ; on the contrary, they usually liked them better
than the good ones. Most of those extravagant and pro-
fligate despots scattered their treasures freely among
the mob, while their cruelty exliausted itself on the rich

' Taciti Annal. lib. xiii. cap. 15, 16, 17.
•j- Plinii lib. vii. epist. 29 ; lib. viii. epist. 4. Jiivenalis Sa-
tira iv.

X Taciti Annal. lib. iv. cap. 69.


and noble. These the emperors might always destroy
with impunity ; but it was not so safe to attempt exe-
cuting any member of their own household ; it was still
less safe to provoke the imperial guard ; and, pampered
and wretched as the Roman populace were, an attack
on them would have been the most hazardous adventure
of any. Nero, with his mad jollity, his shameless ex-
hibitions of himself, and the unequalled splendour of
his spectacles, was the idol of the rabble, who long
hung garlands on his tomb upon the Pincian Mount ;
believing for many years that he was still alive, and
would return to punish his enemies and restore the
regretted days of license.''^

In the year of grace 69, the troops of Vespasian
storijied Rome, which was held by Vitellius. The two
parties fought in three divisions ; in the Gardens of
Sallust, among the streets of the Campus Martins, and
at the rampart of the Praetorian Barrack. At all these
points the populace of the city swarmed out and looked
on, cheering the combatants as they would have done
in the amphitheatre ; the wine-shops and other scenes
of guilt stood open in the middle of the fight ; the
people resorted to them to spend the money which
they plundered from the dying and the dead ; and,
when the battle was over, they hurried to the Aven-
tinc to see the capture of Vitellius, their late favourite,
followed him w^hile he was dragged, with his hands
bound, across the Forum to the Gemonian Stairs, and
shouted as they beheld the soldiers kill him.t

These were scenes too common to be punished as
offences ; but in Rome, and throughout Italy, there
were outrages in abundance which the imperial police
durst not overlook. As examples, we may select
crimes which seem to have together formed a profession
practised by numerous bands of miscreants ; kidnap-
ping, highway-robbery, and housebreaking. The first

• Suetonius in Nerone, cap. 67. Taciti Histor. lib. ii. cap. 8.
f Taciti Historiar. lib. iii. cap. 72, 73, 74, 75.


of these offences is mentioned in the last ages of tlie
republic as committed on travellers ; it again occui-s
repeatedly under the emperors ; Hadrian attempted to
stop it by an ordinance for shutting up the private slave-
prisons, in some of which the robbers contrived to conceal
their captives ; but the private dungeons and the crime
lasted as long as the empire.* The vict^s appear to have
been sometimes detained for years at hard laljour ; but the
frequency of the outrage can scarcely be accounted for,
unless we believe that the banditti held their prisoners
to ransom, like the modern Italian robbers. One of the
most noted haunts of the ancient highwaymen was the
Pontine Marshes, which lay conveniently near the high-
road from Naples to Rome ; and another, not less in-
fested, was the Gallinarian Wood, which stretched north-
ward from Cumts, and, by its situation, enabled the
bandits to sally out on those persons of rank who spent
the summer months on the coast of Campania. When
the military police scoured those forests, and guarded
their outlets, they produced by their vigilance another
and worse evil ; for the villains then fled to Rome, hid
themselves amidst the labyrinth of the overgrown city
(as modern thieves find themselves safest in Paris or
London), and committed daring robberies by night on
the persons and dwelling-houses of the citizens.t

We may drop, in the mean time, our inquiry into
the morality and happiness of imperial Rome, after we
have peiTised two sepulchral inscriptions, both of which
are still preserved in the city.

The first was found in 1797, on the hills of Decima,
north-east from Ostia.;}; It tells its own tale of heartless,
thoughtless, and un])lushing selfishness. " I who speak
from this marble tomb was born at Tralles, in Asia. Often
did I repair to Baiae, to enjoy its tepid baths and wander

• Suetonius in Augusto, cap. 32, with the notes of Casaubon
and Gruter. Suetonius in Tiberio, cap. 8. iElius Spartianus in
Hudriano, cap, 18, with the notes of Salmasius.

t Juvenalis Satir. iii. v. 302-314.

J Westpbal's Romische Kampagne, p. 6.


in its delightful neighbourhood by the sea. My heir,
ihindful of this my honourable life, and of my last re-
quest, employed a part of my Avealth in erecting this
receptacle for the bones of me and my descendants,
this temple sacred to our shades. But thou who readest
these lines, of thee I request only that thou wouldst
breathe this prayer for me : * May the earth lie lightly
on thee, Socrates, son of Astomachus.' "

The second inscription is taken from a square marble
cippus, which stands in the court of the Palace of the
Conservators, in the Roman Capitol.* " The bones of
Agrippina, daughter of Marcus Agrippa, granddaughter
of the divine Augustus, wife of Gemianicus Caesar,
mother of the august prince Caius Caesar Germanicus."
The high-spirited and virtuous woman whose name this
epitaph records, was a strange instance of the caprice
of destin3^ Her grandfather w^as the first emperor ;
her father was one of the most honest and enterprising
public men of his time ; her husband, a brave and
generous soldier, was poisoned by his jealous uncle
Tiberius ; the same tjTant murdered her children, all
except two, and banished herself to the Isle Panda-
taria, now Pantellaria, where, broken-hearted and soli-
tary, she starved herself to death. Her two surviving
children achieved an immortality of disgrace. The
daughter bore her name, and became the licentious
and wretched mother of Nero. The son, ascending the
throne, erected this stone and other memorials to his
mother's memory ; but, under his nickname of Caligula,
he is perhaps the most infamous of all the Roman

Intellectual Cultivation.

The public schools, which have been already described
as of very ancient date in Rome, continued to exist
throughout the period of the empire. There were taught

* The original Latin is in Gruter's Corpus Inscriptionum, torn. i.
p. 237. No. 4.


in them, however, only reading and writing, with a little
arithmetic. They were frequented by all the children
of the higher ranks, except those of the few families that
preferred an education strictly private, and it is likely
that they were also attended by a few children from the
lower orders. Of the actual amount of the information
convej^ed in them, or possessed by the people at large, it
is impossible positively to judge ; but it appears to be a
fair inference from many scattered hints and facts, that
reading at least was, in the later days of the republic and
the earlier ages of the empire, no rare accomplishment.
Many of the slaves, mdeed, educated at home for the
service of their owners, possessed much more than this.
Columella, in enumerating the qualifications of a slavc-
bailifF on a country estate, is disposed to prefer an illi-
terate one, as being least able to cheat his master ; but
Varro insists on his bailiff being able to read, write,
and keep the accounts of the establishment.* With
these branches of knowledge, then, at the utmost, the
instruction of the common peoj^le assuredly stopped, and
for them literary study in any shape was altogether

The children of the higher classes passed through
several subsequent courses of learning, all of which, how-
ever, were not matured till the imperial times. First
came a series of reading with a Grammarian, or one who
gave lessons in the elements of literature. These men
originally occupied themselves chiefly in teaching Greek,
but afterwards that language and its writmgs were in-
trusted to one tutor, and the Latin tongue was given to
another. Some rich individuals bought learned slaves, or
hired free teachers, exclusively for their own families ;
and it was thus that Augustus engaged Verrius Flaccus
to live in his house on the Palatine, devoting his whole
time to Caius and Lucius, the emperor's nephews ; but
Orbilius, Horace's severe schoolmaster, was less fortu-

• Columella De Re Rustica, lib. i. cap. 8. Vorro De Re Rus-
tioa, lib. ii. cap. 10.


nate, and in one of his writings jested on his residence
in a garret.* These teachers of grammar and literature
were generally at first native Greeks, though sometimes
Italiots or Sicilians. The Rhetoricians, or professors of
oratory, who appeared an age later than the grammarians,
and were at first treated with alternate suspicion and ridi-
cule, were also foreigners, and continued longer than the
others to be selected from that class. Those Greeks who
attempted to introduce then- philosophy at Rome, met
with yet stronger opposition, not being able to establish
themselves permanently till towards the last age of the
republic.t Nevertheless, from the time of Augustus
rhetoric and philosophy were among the most promis-
ing paths to honour and wealth ; and amidst many pre-
tenders to illumination and much false science, there
was knowledge sufficient to make the class highly re-
spectable. Among the teachers of rhetoric it may be
enough to mention Quinctilian ; although, if we are to
include Greeks who taught in the metropolis, we shall
be entitled to add Hermogenes in Hadrian's reign, with
many others of less note afterwards.

No instructor of any kind received public endowment
till the time of Vespasian. That emperor conferred sala-
ries on a few Greeks and Italians, who gave instructions
in literature and eloquence. Soon after his reign it be-
came not uncommon for municipal corporations to settle
allowances on public tutors ; and the younger Pliny,
■vNTiting to Tacitus, describes a school he had been able
to establish in his native town of Como, by promising for
its support one-third in addition to whatever sum the in-
habitants should raise among themselves. Hadrian and
other emperors extended the scheme of endowment ; and
Antoninus Pius introduced every where into the prin-
cipal towns, both in Italy and the provinces, seminaries
where all the higher branches of education were taught

* Suetonius De lUustribus Grammaticis, cap, 9, 17. Horatii
lib, ii. epist. i. v. 70,

■f Plauti Curcul, act, ii, sc. 2. Capteiv. act. ii. so, 2.


by salaried professors.* His successor founded a splendid
philosophical academy at Athens ; and that establish-
ment, the medical school of Alexandria, and the literary
academies at Autun and other places in Gaul, were the
most celebrated of the time. Rome continued to maintain
its place as the great school of law ; but its teachers were
still the practising jurisconsults, who, holding no open
prelections, merely admitted pupils to their consultations
and studies at home. Attendance on these lawyers and
in the courts, with travels in Greece, were considered,
from the time of Augustus to that of Marcus Aurelius,
as completing the education of a young man of senato-
rial birth. Mathematics and natural science were almost
universally neglected, and no teacher of these branches
ever received a public salary.

While the rich accumulated considerable libraries, of
which Cicero's is one of the earliest examples, the poorer
men of letters had access to public collections in Rome,
said to have at length amounted to twenty-nine.t The
oldest of the latter class was the celebrated one which
belonged to Aristion, the prince of Athens, captured by
Sylla, and placed by him in the Capitol ; the next was
that of Lucullus, in his beautiful gardens on the Pincian
Mount, overlooking the Campus Martins, where its hall
became the favourite resort of the Greek scholars ; and
in the Augustan age was founded the library of Asinius
Pollio, which he formally presented to the Roman people.
But these, as well as the later establishment which
Vespasian attached to his Temple of Peace, and those
less choice collections which were usually placed in the
public Thermae, were eclipsed by the two magnificent
foundations of Augustus and Trajan. The former con-
sisted of two departments, — a Greek and a Latin, — and
was arranged in halls annexed to the Temple of Apollo,

• Suetonius in Vespasiano, cap. 18. Plinii lib, iv. ep. 13.
Capitolinus in Antonino, cap. 1 1 .

■f Publius Victor, De Regionibus Urbis : ap. Graevium, torn, iii,
p. 49.


which again was connected with the emperor's mansion
on the Palatine. The second, the Ulpian Library, was
deposited in the Temple of Trajan in his forum, from
which, however, Diocletian removed it to adorn his
baths. Its halls became, after the Tabularium, the chief
receptacle of the national records and archives.

Under the republic, books could be procured only by
purchase from abroad or by employing private copyists ;
but bookshops, appearing for the first time in the reign
of Augustus, soon became common in the city, and in a
century and a half were to be found, though certainly not
numerous, in several provincial towns.* The younger
Pliny mentions the public sale of his works at Lyons,
and Gellius relates, with all the delight of a modem bib-
lio-maniac, his discovery of some rare Greek manuscripts
on a stall at Brundusium.t We read of a book-shop
at Rome, in the Argiletum, near the Juhan forum ; of
one beside the Temple of Peace ; of several in the Sigil-
laria ; and of another unknown street, the Vicus Sanda-
liarius, which was full of them. Some of the metropolitan
booksellers, like Quinctilian's publisher Tryplion, kept
copyists and illuminators in constant employment ; and
they covered the columns or posts of their doors with
the titles of the volumes they had for sale.;}: In the
Augustan age, and much later, authors did not usually
derive any direct profit from their works; and poor poets,
a class in which the epigrammatist Martial is a curious
example, made dedications and flattery a regular and
degrading trade. The earliest notice of literary property
which we discover in Italy is contained in a comedy of
Plautus, one of whose buffoons proposes to bequeath his
jest-book as a portion to his daughter. But in the last
age of the republic the grammarian Pompilius Androni-

* See Schuftgen De Librariis et Bibliopolis : in Thesauro
Poleni, torn. iii.

-|- Plinii lib. ix. epist. 11. Gellii Noct. Attic, lib. ix. cap. 4.

X Martialis lib. i. epig. 2, 4, 118. Gellii Noct. Attic, lib.' v.
cap. 4. Galenus De Libris Propriis, in Prooem. Horatius De
Arte Poetica, v. 372; lib. i. satir. iv. v. 72. Quinctiliani Institut.
Orator., Praefat. ad Tryphonem.


cus contrived to save himself from starving by disposin ;
of a manuscript ; and such sales became more common
after the time of the elder Pliny, wlio was offered in
Spain a large sum for his encyclopaedia.*

The Romans, though we are apt to overlook the fact,
had registers of politics and intelligence, vs^hich were
really not unlike our own newspapers in their contents,
but immeasurably inferior in the mode of circulation.+

The journals of the Senate and National Conventions
long contained little more than entries resembling those
in our collected acts of parliament. These furnished
most of the materials from which, till 625, the pontiffs
compiled their annals ; and there is also proof that, after
the republic had extended its dominions, those official
journals were regularly copied and transmitted to public
men living at a distance,;}: But these sources were not
enough. Every man abroad had his correspondents in
Rome ; and when the task of collecting news became more
difficult, several persons assumed newsmonging as a trade,
taking in shorthand notes of the proceedings at public
meetings, and selling copies of them, as well as of the
common gossip of the day, and the official journals.
Julius Caesar, in 694, established a regular system for
recordmg the deliberations, both of the senate and the
conventions, in a form much like our reports of parlia-
mentary debates ; and he allowed these accounts to be

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 35)