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centuries during which the universal dominion of Rome
seemed to stand firm ; and then, by a swift descent, the
book of its annals leads us to a point at wliich the
colossal fabric totters and is ready to fall. A volume
would be required for delineating even in the barest
outline the facts of those active ages, and the prin-
ciples by which the events were ruled.'^^ The purpose
which this chapter is designed to serve will be in some
degree answered, if we survey in rapid succession a very
few pouits, relating to the Tenure of the Imperial
Tlirone, the Financial System of the empu-e, and its
rules of Provincial and Municipal Government.

The title by which Augustus pretended to the sove-
reignty, was that of a free election by the people, re-
newed from time to time. All names, forms, and cere-
monies, which the free constitution held illegal, were
carefully shunned ; and all that the spirit of liberty had
honoured, were protected and brought paradingly for-
ward. But the republicanism was a wretched mask
through which every man of iaformation saw distinctly,
though none was strong enough to tear off the disguise.
From the very commencement of the first reign all the
powers, both of the senate, the popular conventions, and
the magistracies, were virtually and effectually secured to
the emperor. The new prince united by degrees in his own

* Gibbon's Decline and Fall, with all its faults, remains, and
probably will always remain, the highest authority on all the great
questions of the Imperial History, except indeed one, the very
greatest, namely, the rise and progress of Christianity. The an-
notations annexed by Mr Milman to a late edition of the work, are
well calculated to neutralize its most dangerous errors.


person all the ancient offices of state ; or, at least, though
he allowed tlie appointment of colleagTies, he intrusted to
them no shai-e of the real administration. He founded, on
his a^umption of the tribunesliip, a claim of personal in-
violability, and on his title of Imperator, wliich we trans-
late Emperor, a prerogative of absolute military com-
mand, not only beyond the city, which was the repub-
lican rule, but also witliin it ; an extension of powers
which directly contradicted the old constitution. His
generalship of the armies, indeed, aided by the official
weakness and personal subserviency of the senate, con-
stituted the true ground on which liis monarchy rested.
But in appearance he was only the first of the senators ;
the august forms of the assembly were treated with
profound respect ; and the sovereign sheltered his ordi-
nances under its name.

The National Conventions were used with equal con-
sideration. Their legislative functions, it is true, were
immediately allowed to drop, and the people never
had spirit enough to insist on claiming them : but for a
good many years the citizens were regularly summoned
to elect the magistrates of the state ; and, with a flat-
tering deference to the distant Italian towns, Augustus
framed regulations by which the votes of their muni-
cipal councils were taken, and transmitted to Rome in
a sealed record, to be counted along with those wliich
the inhabitants of the city gave personally in the
Campus Martins. But when, in the later years of
his reign, the crafty emperor felt his OAvn strength, he
restricted the elective franchise to a conge d'elire. His
successor, Tiberius, taking from the people even this
shadow of privilege, formally presented to them the
officer whom he had himself selected, without so much
as pretending that his nomination required to be confirm-
ed by the meeting. Caligula restored the right of elec-
tion, but almost immediately took it away again ; and
in his time we may consider the last mai'k of free
citizenship to have been blotted out.

The power of Augustus in the capital was protected by
liis body-guards, the famous Praetorian Cohorts. This

VOL. I. .F


dangerous band, receiving double pay and honorary dis-
tinctions, originally consisted of 10,000 men, afterwards
of 15,000 or more, all of whom were Italians. Scptimius
Severus remodelled them, increasing their number to
60,000, and filling up their ranks almost entirely from
the barbarians of the transalpine provinces. Foreigners
had been already admitted by Commodus into the legion-
ary army ; and the step taken by Severus completed the
ruin of military spirit in Italy. The soldiery had long
before that time become the electors of the emperors.
The family of the Caesars, whose jfiive successive reigns
had given to the state the aspect of an hereditary mon-
archy, was extinct with Nero ; but even he and his pre-
decessor had been placed on the throne by the praetorian
guards, on the promise of a large donative, w^hich became
indispensable on the accession of every new prmce. Ves-
pasian was raised to the sovereignty by the troops whom
he had commanded ; Nerva was elevated in the same
manner ; and no ruler made any attempt to curb the power
either of the legionary soldiers or of the guards. But the
influence of the army was sometimes eluded through the
expedient introduced by Octavius, who nominated his
successor during his own life ; and from the time of
Hadrian, the person thus appointed received the honorary
title of Caesar, that of Augustus remaining with the em-
peror. The weakness of Marcus Aurelius, in giving the
throne to his profligate son Commodus, produced a con-
test among the soldiery, in the course of which the
guards openly exposed the imperial honours to sale, and
disposed of them to the highest bidder, Julianus, a rich
old lawyer. The legionaries, liowever, immediately
bestowed the empire on their commander, Septimius.
Till the murder of the amiable Alexander Sevems, in-
trigues in the palace alternated with mutinies in the
camp in fixing the succession ; but for half a century
after that event, every emperor, except Tacitus alone,
was merely the general of one or another of the imperial
armies, and was carried to the throne from his tent,
usually passing over the dead body of his predecessor.
Several of the princes thus selected were men of the


lowest origin and grossest ignorance ; some were foreign-
ers ; and the list embraces Pannonians, Goths, and an
energetic but prudent Arab robber. The fii-mness of the
warlike Diocletian, who was the son of a Dalmatian
slave, ensured the sovereignty in a regular succession to
himself and Maximian, and to their natural or adopted
heirs, till the death of Julian.

Tlie Financial System of the republic was entirely
abandoned by Augustus, and a series of important changes
at the same time facilitated the growth of the imperial
prerogative, and augmented the misery and weakness of
the empire.* He readily acknowledged the right of
the senate to administer the state-treasury (the ^rarium),
and to impose and assess the taxes which were to fill its
chests. But, reserving to hunself the military command,
he established a second treasury (the Fiscus), which,
though supplied from sources pointed out by the senate,
was to be administered for the support of the army by
the emperor, without control or interference. The fiscus,
like the serarium, was theoretically admitted to be the
property of the state ; but from the form of its superin-
tendence, and the accessions it received, it was, as early
as the time of Trajan, regarded as really the property
of the sovereigns, its administrators. The provinces
were divided into Senatorial, managed by the senate, and
Imperial, managed by the emperors. The latter, which
were the more productive, delivered their taxes and im-
positions wholly into the fiscus ; and even in the other
class of provinces, from an early period of the empire,
the same exchequer received also all those state-revenues,
which, by the practice of the republic, had been usually
appropriated to the army. These included the income
derived from the public woods and pasturages ; which
came in this way to be considered as the Imperial Domain.
In foct,the 86 rarium received even from the senatorial pro-
vinces nothing except the customs. Farther, every new
tax, with no important exception, was made payable into

* On the imperial finances, consult (besides the authorities cited
In the prccedincr chapter) Gibbon, chap. vi. But one indispensable
source of information is Savigny's paper formerly referred to.


the fiscus. From the beginning, the two treasuries were
practically under the control of the emperors ; and at
last the aerarium completely disappeared, and the whole
revenue of the state was delivered into the imperial ex-
chequer. The date of this final step is uncertain ; but
it was later than the reign of Commodus. The senate
continued, till about the time of Diocletian, to possess
the right of imposing taxes.

The System of Taxation may be best considered in two
separate periods, the earlier of which terminates about
the reign of Marcus Aurelius. During this age the chief
sources of the state-revenue were the following, some of
which were ancient. The public lands yielded the same
kinds of returns which have been already described ;
the tax on manumissions was still exacted ; but the com-
mon opinion, that the property-tax continued to be levied
under the empire, may be unhesitatingly pronounced a
mistake, arising from a misapprehension as to the land
and poll taxes. Any property-taxes then really raised
were merely occasional, and, as we shall see, the plan was
soon altogether abandoned. The provinces continued to
pay land-taxes or proportions of fruits ; but from the very
earliest of the imperial reigns, there are traces of attempts
to abolish the proportional impositions, and establish one
uniform system of fixed land-taxes in money. The
principal new burdens were these. 1. The customs,
while they increased prodigiously in the foreign ports,
were by Augustus re-established in those of Italy.
2. He also introduced a tax on inheritances and legacies,
amounting to five per cent, on the capital, and payable
in every case, unless the sum was trifling, or unless the
successor or legatee was the nearest heir of the deceased.
The wealth, the general celibacy, and the profligacy of
the Roman nobles, combined to make this impost a most
productive one. 3. The same emperor established a ge-
neral excise of one per cent, exigible on all articles of con-
sumption. 4. He imposed on bachelors heavy taxes, and
disqualifications of inheritance, which continued in force
till abolished by Constantine. 5. Several minor burdens,
such as poll-taxes on provincials and others, and partial


assessments on the industry of traders and artificers, were
added by different sovereigns.

In the second period, extending from the Antonines to
Constantine, there were introduced various changes, of
which there were two that deserve notice. In the first
place, Caracalla conferred the nominal franchise of Rome
on all the provincials, in order to make them liable to
the inheritance-tax, and other burdens leviable only on
citizens. Secondly, a more important revolution, which
is of obscure origin, but had commenced before the An-
tonines, was, every where except within the Alps, fully
accomplished about their times, and altered the entire
system of public burdens. The old property-tax, as-
sessed on a man's whole means of every sort, was quite
abolished ; and there were substituted for it two sepa-
rate imposts, a Land-tax, and a Capitation or Poll-
tax. All the variable exactions levied on the provinces
were gradually commuted for these two fixed ones ;
but Italy was long allowed to remain on a different foot-
ing, which may perhaps be traced to an early date in
the empire. The district which was under the prefect of
Rome, called Italia Urbicaria, was entirely free both from
land-tax and poll-tax. The rest of the peninsula, styled
Italia Annonaria, had to furnish the capital with quantities
of corn, certainly not large, and exigible in kind. When
Diocletian divided the empire with his colleagues, and
Maximian received Italy and Africa as his share, the
former country was subjected to the same land and poll
taxes as the provinces. But the system will be most
conveniently explained when we have reached the next

In the Local Collection of the Revenue, the imperial
rule introduced one great improvement. The system
of leasing out the returns was at once given up, except
in the customs and excise, which were allowed to remain
as before. But any amelioration which this partial
change might have produced in the condition of the
Roman subjects, was more than counterbalanced by the
new plan of provincial superuatendence, which was fram-
ed with an express view to the collection of the revenue.


Although it allowed good administration, if the supreme
government was well conducted, it left the people de-
prived of all peremptory check over their local rulers.
Under the best monarchs, the provinces were much
more equitably and kindly governed than in the last
days of the republic ; l}ut under the tyrannical ones,
their state was worse than it had ever been ; and the good
princes had seldom time to repair the mischief done by
their predecessors. One proof of general poverty is this ;
that the emperors were very frequently obliged to remit
long arrears of taxes due by whole countries ; and it is
remarkable that such remissions were found necessary at
the termination of some of the best reigns. Trajan's is an
example ; for Hadrian, on his accession, had to forgive
very heavy public debts.*

Into those provinces which were senatorial, the senate
continued to send proconsuls or praetors as Governors : into
all of them, however, senatorial as well as imperial, the
emperors sent Procurators to administer those finances
which fell to the fiscus, naming these officers without
consulting the senate. In the smaller provinces, for the
sake of economy, the procurator of the fiscus was also
appointed governor, with full judicial powers and mili-
tary command. Freedmen, that is, emancipated slaves,
were frequently, even by Augustus, named to that
charge ; and Claudius introduced a yet more ruinous
system, granting to all such persons, whether they were
governors or not, jurisdiction without appeal in every
matter regarding the imperial treasury. The better
emperors in the second century of our era limited this
authority ; but it was never wholly abolished. Judea was
one of those small provinces in which the procurator was
also governor ; Antonius Felix, its unprincipled adminis-
trator, was the brother of Pallas, the favourite of Claudius,
and both of them were freedmen. The historian tells us
that Felix ruled with the power of a king and the soul
of a slave ; and he was only one of a numerous class.t

* iElius Spartianus in Hadriano, cap. 7.

-|- Acts, chapter xxiv. Taciti Annalium, lib. xiL cap. 54: His-
toriar. lib. v. cap. 9.


During the imperial times, the Municipalities of Italy
suffered changes yet greater than those which took place
in other branches of polity. Rome was the first town
to receive a new plan of local administration. Under the
republic, the internal administration of the capital had
belonged to the principal officers of the general govern-
ment ; but Augustus erected it and the district extend-
ing to the hundredth milestone on each side, into a sort
of province by itself, which was placed under an officer
appointed by the emperor, and named, in imitation of an
old title, the Prefect of the City. This functionary-
was the imperial governor of the district, the head of its
police, and its supreme criminal judge, to whose juris-
diction all, with very few exceptions, were directly sub-
ject.* Surrounded by his six lictors, he exercised, with
no responsibility save to his master, the united powers
of all the republican magistrates. The city was at the
same time divided into fourteen regions, each of which
had two police superintendents, called Curators, and as
many paid informers or Denunciators. Vespasian again
subdivided it into vici or wards, of which ever}' region
contained seventy-nine or more ; and each ward received
four resident inspectors, called Vicomagistri. A formid-
able military police (the Vigiles), composed of 4900
trained slaves, was organized by Augustus, placed under
a prefect, and divided into seven cohorts, each of which
acted in two regions of the city.

The other towns of Italy, as well as of the whole empire,
gradually lost their distinctions of rank and title ; and
after the abolition of the elective franchise, the name of
Municipiumwas indiff"erently applied to all. The term, in-
deed, was strictly and generally applicable ; for the muni-
cipalities actually rose on the ruins of the commonwealth ;
and a new system for their administration, begun by
Trajan, and carried on by Hadrian, was completed by the
Antonines. The funds of those burgal communities were
preserved to them, and augmented by laws which facili-

* Drakenborch de Prasfectis Urbi, cap. v'l. : De Jurisdictione.


tated their acquisition of property, botli real and personal ;
their wealth enabled them in every instance to execute
important public works, without imposing any local
taxes ; the members of their Curiae or Town-councils,
who were the administrators of the corporations, received
honorary distinctions ; and almost the only unfavour-
able symptom which showed itself, was the commence-
ment of those strict obligations to serve the civic offices,
which we shall immediately find to have afterwards
become severe and ruinous. The flourishing state of the
municipalities has, with much reason, been considered
as one of the most influential causes of that strength
which the empire so long possessed, notwithstanding
. the abuses which were so common in every other de-

But the state carried rottenness in its core. Political
virtue, as a general quality of the Italians or of their
fellow-subjects, was long ago extinct ; religion was dor-
mant, and the sceptical philosophy of the educated classes
was as immoral as the uninformed superstition of the
millions ; the wealth of the empire was in every suc-
ceeding century more and more concentrated in the hands
of a few, and the mass of the people became constantly
poorer and more abject. In the city of Rome, Augustus fed
800,000 paupers ; Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines,
gradually increased the number ; and their successors
had a yet harder task to perform in supporting the mul-
titudes who had neither possessions nor employment.

In Diocletian's time, the emperors had assumed regal
and oriental pomp. The public revenues, and the em-
pire itself, were held to be their property, and their ex-
penditure of the funds of the state for national ends was
styled and considered a gift, not the performance of a
duty. The nominal limits of the Roman dominion were
nearly the same as in the peaceful reign of Augustus,
embracing the richest and most cultivated portions of
the earth, in the neighbourhood of the Mediterranean.

* Consult, on the municipalities under the empire, Roth De Re
Municipal! Romanorum : Stuttgard, 1801.



The boundaries, which were never permanently passed,
were these : the Rhine and Danube, and the mountains
of Scotland, in Europe ; the Euphrates and the Syrian
deserts, in Asia ; and the sandy Sahara in Africa. But
tliese frontiers were now suiTounded by active and war-
like barbarians ; the great migration of the northern
tribes had unequivocally commenced ; and the displaced
nations, together with some of their invaders, pressed for-
ward into the Roman provinces, and even into Italy itself.
Under Aurelian, it was thought necessary, for the first
time since the days of Servius Tullius, to fortify the im-
perial city ; and Diocletian, dividing the administration
of the empire, ceased to consider Rome as its capital.



A. V. 1059—1229; or a.d. 306—476.


306. Constantinus the Great, pro-
claimed at York 25th July
306 ; sole emperor from
323 ; transfers the seat of
government to Constanti-
nople 330

337. Constantinus II., Constan-
tius, Constans, co-em-



Constans, co-

350. Constantius
361. Juhanus the Apostate

363. Jovianus

364. Valentinianus I., Valens,

CO- emperors. Formal di-
vision of the empire into
Eastern and Western

367. (Eastern) Valens ; (Wes-
tern) Valentinianus I. and

375. (E.) Valeng; (W.) Grati-
anus and Valentinianus II.

379.(E.)Theodosius I. the Great;
(W.) Gratianus and Va-
lentinianus II.

383. (E.) Theodosius I., Arca-

A. D.

I dius, co-emperors; (W.)

j Valentinianus II.

392. (Whole empire) Theodosius

I I. and Arcadius

395. (E.) Arcadius; (W.) Ho-

408. (E.) Theodosius II. ; (W.)

423. (E.) Theodosius II.; (W.)

425. (E.) Theodosius II.; (W.)
Valentinianus III.

450. (E.) Marcianus; (W.) Va-
lentinianus III.

455. (E.) Marcianus; (W.)
Maximus, Avitus

457-474. (E.) Flavius Leo;
(W.) Majorianus, Seve-
rus, Anthemius, Olybrius,

474. (E.) Flavius Leo IL ; (W.)

Julius Nepos
-174-475. (E.) Zeno; (W.) Ju-
lius Nepos

475. (E.) Zeno; (W.) Romulus

476. Italy seized by Odoacer


The accession of Constantine the Great was a mighty
epoch both for Italy and for the world. He removed
the seat of the government to Byzantium, or New
Rome, afterwards called Constantinople, being influenced
by the double reason, that the residence of the empe-
rors was required nearer the disturbed frontiers, and
that the Italian peninsula, still substantially a heathen
country, was ill fitted to be the centre of a Christian
kingdom. He established the gospel as the religion of
the state, and paganism never again reared its head,
except in the short reign of his able nephew Julian the
Apostate. Constantine's own character, it is admitted, was
an ambiguous one, and those of his successors offer few
points of interest, if we except that of the strong-minded
and enlightened Theodosius the Great. The faith of
Christ, when it became the creed of the empire, had
already received many of those debasing elements which
in succeeding times continued to mingle more and more
deeply with its essence ; and the imperfect morality of
the times in private life was accompanied with but
few instances of political wisdom or honesty, either in
the rulers or in those whom they governed.

The external history from Constantine to Augustulus,
is composed of intrigues, seditions, and struggles, every
year more unsuccessful, against the attacks of the north-
em nations. The division of the empire into two, the
Eastern and Western, first introduced in the year of our
Lord 864, and permanent from 895, restored to Italy the
advantage of being one of the seats of government ; but
the separation produced no material increase of strength.
One invasion followed another in a rapid succession, of
which it is useless to enumerate all the steps. The West
Goths (Visigoths) under Alaric in 400, were followed
across the Alps in 405 by a new army of the same nation
under Radagai, and these again were succeeded in 408 by
the reappearance of Alaric's host, which, about 410, took
and pillaged the capital. Attila the Hun, named the
Scourge of God, invaded Italy in 452 ; and in 455, the Van-
dals under Genseric plundered the imperial city during


forty days, carrying off the noblest of the citizens into
Barbary as slaves. In 472 Rome suffered another sack from
Ricimer the patrician, a claimant of the throne for his
father-in-law Anthemius. More than one emperor had
facilitated the progress of the barbarians by giving them
lands within the frontiers ; everyone of them recruited his
legions from among these fierce tribes ; and Constantine,
imitated by his successors, acted still more unwisely, for he
formed them into separate battalions, retaining their na-
tional arms and customs, and commanded by their own
chiefs. After this step, which enabled the Germanic
soldiers to compare themselves with the effeminate troops
of the south, it is surprising they did not sooner use the
strength of which they wa-e conscious. But most of the
northern leaders who invaded Italy in the fifth century

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 35)