We have now surveyed all that was glorious in the most splendid empire of antiquity. We have seen a civilization which, in many respects, rivals all that modern nations have to show. In art, in literature, in philosophy, in laws, in the mechanism of government, in the cultivated face of nature, in military strength, in aesthetic culture, the Romans were our equals. And this high civilization was reached by the native and unaided strength of man; by the power of will, by courage, by perseverance, by genius, by fortunate circumstances; by great men, gifted with unusual talents. We are filled with admiration by all these trophies of genius, and cannot but feel that only a superior race could have accomplished such mighty triumphs.
But all this splendid external was deceptive. It was hollow at heart. And the deeper we penetrate the social condition of the people, their real and practical life, the more we feel disgust and pity supplanting all feelings of admiration and wonder. The Roman empire, in its shame and degradation, suggests melancholy feelings in reference to the destiny of man, so far as his happiness and welfare depend upon his own unaided strength. And we see profoundly the necessity of some foreign aid to rescue him from his miseries.
It is a sad picture of oppression, of injustice, of poverty, of vice, and of wretchedness, which I have now to present. Glory is succeeded by shame, and strength by weakness, and virtue by vice. The condition of the great mass is deplorable, and even the great and fortunate shine in a false and fictitious light. We see laws, theoretically good, practically perverted; monstrous inequalities of condition, selfishness, and egotism the mainsprings of life. We see energies misdirected, and art corrupted. All noble aspirations have fled, and the good and the wise retire from active life in despair and misanthropy. Poets flatter the tyrants who trample on human rights, and sensuality and Epicurean pleasures absorb the depraved thoughts of a perverse generation.
[Sidenote: The imperial despotism.]
The first thing which arrests our attention as we survey the grand empire which embraced the civilized countries or the world, is the imperial despotism. It may have been a necessity, an inevitable sequence to the anarchy of civil war, the strife of parties, great military successes, and the corruptions of society itself. It may be viewed as a providential event in order that general peace and security might usher in the triumphs of a new religion. It followed naturally the subversion of the constitution by military leaders, the breaking up of the power of the Senate, the encroachments of democracy and its leaders, the wars of Sulla and Marius, of Pompey and Julius. It succeeded massacres and factions and demagogues. It came when conspiracies and proscriptions and general insecurity rendered a stronger government desirable. The empire was too vast to be intrusted to the guidance of conflicting parties. There was needed a strong, central, irrepressible, irresistible power in the hands of a single man. Safety and peace seemed preferable to glory and genius. So the people acquiesced in the changes which were made; they had long anticipated them; they even hailed them with silent joy. Patriots, like Brutus, Cassius, and Cato, gave themselves up to despair; but most men were pleased with the revolution that seated Augustus on the throne of the world. For twenty years the empire had been desolated by destructive and exhaustive wars. The cry of the whole empire was for peace, and peace could be secured only by the ascendency of a single man, ruling with absolute and unresisted sway.
[Sidenote: Necessity of revolution.]
[Sidenote: Imperial Rule.]
Historians generally have regarded the revolution, which changed the republic to a monarchy, as salutary in its influences for several generations. The empire was never so splendid as under the Caesars. The energies of the people were directed into peaceful and industrial channels. A new public policy was inaugurated by Augustus--to preserve rather than extend the limits of the empire. The world enjoyed peace, and the rich consoled themselves with riches. Society was established upon a new basis, and was no longer rent by factions and parties. Demagogues no longer disturbed the public peace, nor were the provinces ransacked and devastated to provide for the means of carrying on war. So long as men did not oppose the government they were safe from molestation, and were left to pursue their business and pleasure in their own way. Wealth rapidly increased, and all mechanical arts, and all elegant pleasures. Temples became more magnificent, and the city was changed from brick to marble. Palaces arose upon the hills, and shops were erected in the valleys. There were fewer riots and mobs and public disturbances. Public amusements were systematized and enlarged, and the people indulged with sports, spectacles, and luxuries. Rome became a still greater centre of wealth and art as well as of political power. The city increased in population and beautiful structures. The emperors were great patrons of every thing calculated to dazzle the eyes of their subjects, whether amusements, or palaces, or baths, or aqueducts, or triumphal monuments. Artists and scholars flocked to the great emporium, as well as merchants and foreign princes. Nor was imperial cruelty often visited on the humble classes. It was the policy of the emperors to amuse and flatter the people, while they deprived them of political rights. But social life was free. All were at liberty to seek their pleasures and gains. All were proud of their metropolis, with its gilded glories and its fascinating pleasures. The city was probably supplied with better water, and could rely with more certainty on the necessaries of life, than under the old regime. The people had better baths, and larger houses, and cheaper corn. The government, for a time, was splendidly administered, even by tyrants. Outrages, extortions, and disturbances were punished. Order reigned, and tranquillity, and outward and technical justice. All classes felt secure. They could sleep without fear of robbery or assassination. And all trades flourished. Art was patronized magnificently, and every opportunity was offered for making and for spending fortunes. In short, all the arguments which can be adduced in favor of despotism in contrast with civil war and violence, and the strife of factions and general insecurity of life and property, can be urged to show that the change, if inevitable, was beneficial in its immediate effects.
[Sidenote: Despotism of the emperors.]
[Sidenote: Tyranny of the emperors.]
Nevertheless, it was a most lamentable change from that condition of things which existed before the civil wars. Roman liberties were prostrated forever. Tyrants, armed with absolute and irresponsible power, ruled over the empire; nor could their tyranny end but with their lives. Noble sentiments and aspirations were rebuked. The times were unfavorable to the development of genius, except in those ways which subserved the interests of the government. Under the emperors we read of no more great orators like Cicero, battling for human rights, and defending the public weal. Eloquence was suppressed. Nor was there liberty of speech in the Senate. The usual jealousy of tyrants was awakened to every emancipating influence on the people. They were now amused with shows and spectacles, but could not make their voices heard regarding public injuries. The people were absolutely in the hands of iron masters. So was the Senate. So were all orders and conditions of men. One man reigned supreme. His will was law. Resistance to it was vain. It was treason to find fault with any public acts. From the Pillars of Hercules to the Caspian Sea one stern will ruled all classes and orders. No one could fly from the agents and ministers of the empire. He was the vicegerent of the Almighty, worshiped as a deity, undisputed master of the lives and liberties of one hundred and twenty millions of people. There was no restraint on his inclinations. He could do whatever he pleased, without rebuke and without fear. No general or senator or governor could screen himself from his vengeance. He controlled the army, the Senate, the judiciary, the internal administration of the empire, and the religious worship of the people. All offices and honors and emoluments emanated from him. All opposition ceased, and all conspired to elevate still higher that supreme arbiter of fortune whom no one could hope successfully to rival. Revolt was madness, and treason absurdity. And so perfect was the mechanism of the government that the emperor had time for his private pleasures. It was never administered with greater rigor than when Tiberius secluded himself in his guarded villa. And a timid, or weak, or irresolute emperor was as much to be feared as a monster, since he was surrounded with minions who might be unscrupulous. Nor was the imperial power exercised to check the gigantic social evils of the empire,--those which were gradually but surely undermining the virtues on which strength is based. They did not seek to prevent irreligion, luxury, slavery, and usury, the encroachments of the rich upon the poor, the tyranny of foolish fashions, demoralizing sports and pleasures, money-making, and all the follies which lax principles of morality allowed. They fed the rabble with com and oil and wine, and thus encouraged idleness and dissipation. The world never saw a more rapid retrograde in human rights, or a greater prostration of liberties. Taxes were imposed according to the pleasure or necessities of the government. Provincial governors became still more rapacious and cruel. Judges hesitated to decide against the government. A vile example was presented to the people in their rulers. The emperors squandered immense sums on their private pleasures, and set public opinion at defiance. Patriotism, in its most enlarged sense, became an impossibility. All lofty spirits were crushed. Corruption, in all forms of administration, fearfully increased, for there was no safeguard. Women became debased from the pernicious influences of a corrupt and unblushing court. Adultery, divorce, and infanticide became still more common. The emperors thought more of securing their own power and indulging their own passions than of the public good. The humiliating conviction was fastened upon all classes that liberty was extinguished, and that they were slaves to an irresponsible power. There are those who are found to applaud a despotism; but despotism presupposes the absence of the power of self- government, and the necessity of severe and rigorous measures. It presupposes the tendency to crime and violence, that men are brutes and must be coerced like wild beasts. We are warranted in assuming a very low condition of society when despotism became a necessity. Theoretically, absolutism may be the best government, if rulers are wise and just; but, practically, as men are, despotisms are cruel and revengeful. There are great and glorious exceptions; but it cannot be denied that society is mournful when tyrants bear rule. And it is seldom that society improves under them, without very powerful religious influences. It generally grows worse and worse. Despotism implies slavery, and slavery is the worst condition of mankind,--doubtless a wholesome discipline, under certain circumstances, yet still a great calamity.
The Roman world was fortunate in having such a man as Augustus for supreme ruler, after all liberties were subverted. He was one of the wisest and greatest of the emperors. He inaugurated the policy of his successors, from which the immediate ones did not far depart. He was careful, in the first place, to disguise his powers, and offend the moral sentiments of the people as little as possible. He met with but little opposition in his usurpation, for the most independent of the nobles had perished in the wars, and the rest consulted their interests. He selected the ablest and most popular men in the city to be his favorite ministers--Maecenas and Agrippa. His policy was peace. He declined the coronary gold proffered by the Italian states. He was profuse in his generosity, without additional burdens on the state, for, as the heir of Caesar, he came into possession of eight hundred and fifty millions of dollars, the amount which the Dictator had amassed from the spoils of war. He was but thirty-three years of age, in the prime of his strength and courage. He purged the Senate of unworthy members, and restored the appearance of its ancient dignity. He took a census of the Roman people. He increased the largesses of corn. He showed confidence in the people whom he himself deceived. He was modest in his demeanor, like Pericles at Athens. He visited the provinces and settled their difficulties. He appointed able men as governors, and perpetuated a standing army. He repaired the public edifices, and adorned the city.
But he gradually assumed all the great offices of the state. He clothed himself with the powers and the badges of the consuls, the praenomen of imperator, the functions of perpetual dictator. He exacted the military oath from the whole mass of the people. He became princeps senatus. He claimed the prerogatives of the tribunes, which gave to him inviolability, with the right of protection and pardon. He was also invested with the illustrious dignity of the supreme pontificate. As the Senate and the people continued to meet still for the purpose of legislation, he controlled the same by assuming the initiative, of proposing the laws. He took occasion to give to his edicts, in his consular or tribunitian capacity, a perpetual force; and his rescripts or replies which issued from his council chamber, were registered as laws. He was released from the laws, and claimed the name of Caesar. The people were deprived of the election of magistrates. All officers of the government were his tools, and through them he controlled all public affairs. The prefect of the city became virtually his minister and lieutenant. Even the proconsuls received their appointment from him. Thus he became supreme arbiter of all fortunes, the fountain of all influence, the centre of all power, absolute over the lives and fortunes of all classes of men. Strange that the people should have submitted to such monstrous usurpations, although decently veiled under the names of the old offices of the republic. But they had become degenerate. They wished for peace and leisure. They felt the uselessness of any independent authority, and resigned themselves to a condition which the Romans two centuries earlier would have felt to be intolerable.
[Sidenote: General character of the emperors.]
Of the immediate successors of Augustus, none equaled him in moderation or talents. And with the exception of Titus and Vespasian, the emperors who comprised the Julian family, were stained with great vices. Some were monsters; others were madmen. But, as a whole, they were not deficient in natural ability. Some had great executive talents, like Tiberius--a man of vast experience. But he was a cruel and remorseless tyrant, full of jealousy and vindictive hatred. Still, amid disgraceful pleasures, he devoted himself to the cares of office, and exhibited the virtues of domestic economy. Nor did he take pleasure in the sports of the circus and the theatre, like most of his successors. But he destroyed all who stood in his way, as most tyrants do. Nor did he spare his own relatives. He was sensual and intemperate in his habits, and all looked to him with awe and trepidation. There was a perfect reign of terror at Rome during his latter days, and every body rejoiced when the tyrant died.
Caligula, who succeeded Tiberius, belonged to the race of madmen. He put to death some of the most eminent Romans, in order to seize on their estates. He repudiated his wife; he expressed the wish that Rome had but one neck, that it could be annihilated by a blow; he used to invite his favorite horse to supper, setting before him gilded corn and wine in golden goblets; he wasted immense sums in useless works; he took away the last shadow of power from the people; he impoverished Italy by senseless extravagance; he wantonly destroyed his soldiers by whole companies; he was doubtless as insane as he was cruel, luxurious, rapacious, and prodigal; he adorned the poops of galleys with precious stones, and constructed arduous works with no other purpose than caprice; he often dressed like a woman, and generally appeared with a golden beard; he devoted himself to fencing, driving, singing, and dancing, and was ruled by gladiators, charioteers, and actors. Such was the man to whom was intrusted the guardianship of an empire. No wonder he was removed by assassination.
His successor was Claudius, made emperor by the Praetorians. He took Augustus for his model, was well disposed, and contributed greatly to the embellishment of the capital. But he was gluttonous and intemperate, and subject to the influence of women and favorites. He was feeble in mind and body. He was married to one of the worst women in history, and Messalina has passed into a synonym for infamy. By this woman he was influenced, and her unblushing effrontery and disgraceful intrigues made the reign unfortunate. She trafficked in the great offices of the state, and sacrificed the best blood of the class to which she belonged. Claudius was also governed by freedmen, who performed such offices as Louis XV. intrusted to his noble vassals. Claudius resembled this inglorious monarch in many respects, and his reign was as disastrous on the morals of the people. When the death of his wife was announced to him at the banquet, he called for wine, and listened to songs and music. But she was succeeded by a worse woman, Agrippina, and the marriage of the emperor with his niece, was a scandal as well as a misfortune. Pliny mentions having seen this empress in a sea-fight on the Fucine Lake, clothed in a soldier's cloak. Daughter of an imperator, sister of another, and consort of a third, she is best known as the mother of Nero, and the patroness of every thing that was shameful in the follies of the times. That an emperor should wed and be ruled by two such infamous women, indicates either weakness or depravity, and both qualities are equally fatal to the welfare of the state over which he was called to rule.
The supreme power then fell into the hands of Nero. He gave the promise of virtue and ability, and Seneca condescended to the most flattering panegyrics; but the prospects of ruling beneficently were soon clouded by the most disgraceful enormities. He destroyed all who were offensive to those who ruled him, even Seneca who had been his tutor. Lost to all dignity and decency, he indulged in the most licentious riots, disguising himself like a slave, and committing midnight assaults. He killed his mother and his aunt, and divorced his wife. He sung songs on the public stage, and was more ambitious of being a good flute-player than a public benefactor. It is even said that he fiddled when Rome was devastated by a fearful conflagration. He built a palace, which covered entirely Mount Esquiline, the vestibule of which contained a colossal statue of himself, one hundred and twenty feet high. His gardens were the scenes of barbarities, and his banqueting halls of orgies which were a reproach to humanity. He wasted the empire by enormous contributions, and even plundered the temples of his own capital. His wife, Poppaea, died of a kick which she received from this monster, because she had petulantly reproved him. Longinus, an eminent lawyer, Lucan the poet, and Petronius the satirist, alike, were victims of his hatred. This last of the Caesars, allied by blood to the imperial house of Julius, killed himself in his thirty-first year, to prevent assassination, to the universal joy of the Roman world, without having done a great deed, or evinced a single virtue. Flute-playing and chariot races were his main diversions, and every public interest was sacrificed to his pleasures, or his vengeance--a man delighting in evil for its own sake.
Nero was succeeded by Galba, who also was governed by favorites. He was a great glutton, exceedingly parsimonious, and very unpopular. In the early stages of his life, he appeared equal to the trust and dignity reposed in him; but when he gained the sovereignty, he proved deficient in those qualities requisite to wield it. Tacitus sums up his character in a sentence. "He appeared superior to his rank before he was emperor, and would have always been considered worthy of the supreme power, if he had not obtained it." He was assassinated after a brief reign.
His successor, Otho, finding himself unequal to the position to which he was elevated, ended his life by suicide. Vitellius, who wore the purple next to him, is celebrated for cruelty and gluttony, and was removed by assassination. Titus and Vespasian were honorable exceptions to the tyrants and sensualists that had reigned since Augustus, but Domitian surpassed all his predecessors in unrelenting cruelty. He banished all philosophers from Rome and Italy, and violently persecuted the Christians, and was dissolute and lewd in his private habits. He also met a violent death from the assassin's dagger, the only way that infamous monsters could be hurled from power. Yet such was the fulsome flattery to which he and all the emperors were accustomed, that Martial addressed this monster, preeminent of all in wickedness and cruelty,--
"To conquer ardent, and to triumph shy, Fair Victory named him from the polar sky. Fanes to the gods, to men he manners gave; Rest to the sword, and respite to the brave; So high could ne'er Herculean power aspire: The god should bend his looks to the Tarpeian fire."
[Footnote: Book ix. 101. ]
[Sidenote: The latter emperors.]
Of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, I will not speak, since they were great exceptions to those who generally ruled at Rome. Their virtues and their talents are justly eulogized by all historians. Great in war, and greater in peace, they were ornaments of humanity. Under their sway, the empire was prosperous and happy. Their greatness almost atoned for the weakness and wickedness of their predecessors. If such men as they could have ruled at Rome, the imperial regime would have been the greatest blessing. But with them expired the prosperity of the empire, and they were succeeded by despots, whose vices equaled those of Nero and Vitellius. Commodus, Caracalla, Elagabalus, Maximin, Philip, Gallienus, are enrolled on the catalogue of those who have obtained an infamous immortality. At last no virtue or talent on the part of the few emperors who really labored for the good of the state, could arrest the increasing corruption. The empire was doomed when Constantine removed the seat of government to Constantinople. Forty-four sovereigns reigned at Rome from Julius to Constantine, in a period of little more than three hundred and fifty years, of whom twenty were removed by assassination. What a commentary on imperial despotism! In spite of the virtues of such men as Trajan and the Antonines, the history of the emperors is a loathsome chapter of human depravity, and of its awful retribution. Never were greater powers exercised by single men, and never were they more signally abused. From the time of Augustus those virtues which give glory to society steadily declined. The reigns of the emperors were fatal to all moral elevation, and even to genius, as in the latter days of Louis XIV. The great lights which illuminated the Augustan age, disappeared, without any to take their place. Under the emperors there are fewer great names than for one hundred years before the death of Cicero. Eloquence, poetry, and philosophy were alike eclipsed. Noble aspirations were repressed by the all-powerful and irresistible despotism.
The tyranny of these emperors was rendered endurable by the general familiarity with cruelty. In every Roman palace, the slave was chained to the doorway; thongs hung upon the stairs, and the marks of violence on the faces of the domestics impressed the great that they were despots themselves. They were accustomed to the sight of blood in the sports of the amphitheatre. They ruled as tyrants in the provinces they governed.
But it must be allowed that the system of education was left untrammeled by the government, provided politics were not introduced; and it produced men of letters, if not practical statesmen. It sharpened the intellect and enlivened thought. The text-books of the schools were the most famous compositions of republican Greece, and the favorite subjects of declamation were the glories of the free men of antiquity. Nor was there any restriction placed upon writing or publication analogous to our modern censorship of the press, and many of the emperors, like Claudius and Hadrian, were patrons of literature. Even the stoical philosophers who tried to persuade the emperor that he was a slave, were endured, since they did not attempt to deprive him of sovereignty.
Nor could the imperial tyranny be resisted by minds enervated by indulgence and estranged from all pure aspirations, by the pleasures of sense. They crouched like dogs under the uplifted arm of masters. They did not even seek to fly from the tyranny which ground them down.
[Sidenote: Character of the emperors.]
It cannot be denied that, on the whole, this long succession of emperors was more intellectual and able than oriental dynasties, and even many occidental ones in the Middle Ages, when the principle of legitimacy was undisputed. The Roman emperors, as men of talents, favorably compare with the successors of Mohammed, and the Carlovingian and Merovingian kings. But if these talents were employed in systematically crushing out all human rights, the despotism they established became the more deplorable.
Nor can it be questioned that many virtuous princes reigned at Rome, who would have ornamented any age or country. Titus, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Antoninus Pius, Alexander Severus, Tacitus, Probus, Carus, Constantine, Theodosius, were all men of remarkable virtues as well as talents. They did what they could to promote public prosperity. Marcus Aurelius was one of the purest and noblest characters of antiquity. Theodosius for genius and virtue ranks with the most illustrious sovereigns that ever wore a crown--with Charlemagne, with Alfred, with William III., with Gustavus Adolphus.
Of these Roman emperors some stand out as world heroes--greatest among men--remarkable for executive ability. Julius is the most renowned name of antiquity. He ranks only with Napoleon Bonaparte in modern times. His genius was transcendent; and, like Napoleon, he had great traits which endear him to the world--generosity, magnanimity, and exceeding culture; orator, historian, and lawyer, as well as statesman and general. But he overturned the liberties of his country to gratify a mad ambition, and waded through a sea of blood to the mastership of the world. Augustus was a profound statesman, and a successful general; but he was stained with the arts of dissimulation and an intense ambition, and sacrificed public liberties and rights to cement his power. Even Diocletian, tyrant and persecutor as he was, was distinguished for masterly abilities, and was the greatest statesman whom the empire saw, with the exception of Augustus. Such a despot as Tiberius ruled with justice and ability. Constantine ranks with the greatest monarchs of antiquity. The vices and ambition of these men did not dim the lustre of their genius and abilities.
[Sidenote: The Imperial despotism.]
Their cause was wrong. It matters not whether the emperors were good or bad, if the regime, to which they consecrated their energies, was exerted to crush the liberties of mankind. The imperial despotism, whether brilliant or disgraceful, was a mournful retrograde in the polity of Rome. It implied the extinction of patriotism, and the general degradation of the people, or else the fabric of despotism could not have been erected. It would have been impossible in the days of Cato, Scipio, or Metellus. It was simply a choice of evils. When nations emerge from utter barbarism into absolute monarchies, like the ancient Persians or the modern Russians, we forget the evils of a central power in the blessings which extend indirectly to the degraded people. But when a nation loses its liberties, and submits without a struggle to tyrants, it is a sad spectacle to humanity. The despotism of Louis XIV. was not disgraceful to the French people, for they never had enjoyed constitutional liberty. The despotism of Louis Napoleon is mournful, because the nation had waded through a bloody revolution to achieve the recognition of great rights and interests, and dreamed that they were guaranteed. It is a retrograde and not a progress; a reaction of liberty, which seats Napoleon on the throne of Louis Philippe; even as the reign of Charles II. is the saddest chapter in English history. If liberty be a blessing, if it be possible for nations to secure it permanently, then the regime of the Roman emperors is detestable and mournful, whatever necessities may have called it into being, since it annulled all those glorious privileges in which ancient patriots gloried, and prevented that scope for energies which made Rome mistress of the world. It was impossible for the empire to grow stronger and grander. It must needs become weaker and more corrupt, since despotism did not kindle the ambition of the people, but suppressed their noblest sentiments, and confined their energies to inglorious pursuits. Men might acquire more gigantic fortunes under the emperors than in the times of the republic, and art might be more extensively cultivated, and luxury and refinement and material pleasures might increase; but public virtue fled, and those sentiments on which national glory rests vanished before the absorbing egotism which pervaded all orders and classes. The imperial despotism may have been needed, and the empire might have fallen, even if it had not existed; still it was a sad and mournful necessity, and gives a humiliating view of human greatness. No lover of liberty can contemplate it without disgust and abhorrence. No philosopher can view it without drawing melancholy lessons of human degeneracy--an impressive moral for all ages and nations.
If we turn to the class which, before the dictatorship of Julius, had the ascendency in the state, and, for several centuries, the supreme power, we shall find but little that is flattering to a nation or to humanity.
[Sidenote: The Roman aristocracy.]
The Roman aristocracy was the most powerful, most wealthy, and most august that this world has probably seen. It was under patrician leadership that the great conquests were made, and the greatness of the state reached. The glory of Rome was centred in those proud families which had conquered and robbed all the nations known to the Greeks. The immortal names of ancient Rome are identified with the aristocracy. It was not under kings, but under nobles, that military ambition became the vice of the most exalted characters. In the days of the republic, they exhibited a stern virtue, an inflexible policy, an indomitable will, and most ardent patriotism. The generals who led the armies to victory, the statesmen who deliberated in the Senate, the consuls, the praetors, the governors, originally belonged to this noble class. It monopolized all the great offices of the state, and it maintained its powers and privileges, in spite of conspiracies and rebellions. It may have yielded somewhat to popular encroachments, but when the people began to acquire the ascendency, the seeds of public corruption were sown. The real dignity and glory of Rome coexisted with patrician power.
[Sidenote: Great families.]
And powerful families existed in Rome until the fall of the empire. Some were descendants of ancient patrician houses, and numbered the illustrious generals of the republic among their ancestors. Others owed their rank and consequence to the accumulation of gigantic fortunes. Others, again, rose into importance from the patronage of emperors. All the great conquerors and generals of the republic were founders of celebrated families, which never lost consideration. Until the subversion of the constitution, they took great interest in politics, and were characterized for manly patriotism. Many of them were famous for culture of mind as well as public spirit. They frowned on the growing immoralities, and maintained the dignity of their elevated rank. The Senate was the most august assembly ever known on earth, controlling kings and potentates, and making laws for the most distant nations, and exercising a power which was irresistible.
[Sidenote: Degeneracy of the nobles.]
Under the emperors this noble class had degenerated in morals as well as influence. They still retained their enormous fortunes, originally acquired as governors of provinces, and continually increased by fortunate marriages and speculations. Indeed, nothing was more marked and melancholy at Rome than the disproportionate fortunes, the general consequences of a low or a corrupt civilization. In the better days of the republic, property was more equally divided. The citizens were not ambitious for more land than they could conveniently cultivate. But the lands, obtained by conquest, gradually fell into the possession of powerful families. The classes of society widened as great fortunes were accumulated. Pride of wealth kept pace with pride of ancestry. And when Plebeian families had obtained great estates, they were amalgamated with the old aristocracy. The Equestrian order, founded substantially on wealth, grew daily in importance. Knights ultimately rivaled senatorial families. Even freedmen, in an age of commercial speculation, became powerful for their riches. Ultimately the rich formed a body by themselves. Under the emperors, the pursuit of money became a passion; and the rich assumed all the importance and consideration which had once been bestowed upon those who had rendered great public services. The laws of property were rigorous among the Romans, and wealth, when once obtained, was easily secured and transmitted.
[Sidenote: Gigantic fortunes.]
Such gigantic fortunes were ultimately made, since the Romans were masters of the world, that Rome became a city of palaces, and the spoils and riches of all nations flowed to the capital. Rome was a city of princes, and wealth gave the highest distinction. The fortunes were almost incredible. It has been estimated that the income of some of the richest of the senatorial families equaled a sum of five million dollars a year in our money. It took eighty thousand dollars a year to support the ordinary senatorial dignity. Some senators owned whole provinces. Trimalchio--a rich freedman whom Petronius ridiculed--could afford to lose thirty millions of sesterces in a single voyage without sensibly diminishing his fortune. Pallas, a freedman of the Emperor Claudius, possessed a fortune of three hundred millions of sesterces. Seneca, the philosopher, amassed an enormous fortune.
[Sidenote: Character of the nobles.]
[Sidenote: Excessive luxury.]
[Sidenote: Luxury of the aristocracy.]
[Sidenote: Luxury of the nobles.]
The Romans were a sensual, ostentatious, and luxurious people, and they accordingly wasted their fortunes by an extravagance in their living which has had no parallel. The pleasures of the table and the cares of the kitchen were the most serious avocation of the aristocracy in the days of the greatest corruption. They had around them a regular court of parasites and flatterers, and they employed even persons of high rank as their chamberlains and stewards. Carving was taught in celebrated schools, and the masters of this sublime art were held in higher estimation than philosophers or poets. Says Juvenal:--
"To such perfection now is carving brought, That different gestures, by our curious men Are used for different dishes, hare or hen."
Their entertainments were accompanied with every thing which could flatter vanity or excite the passions. Musicians, male and female dancers, players of farce and pantomime, jesters, buffoons, and gladiators, exhibited while the guests reclined at table. The tables were made of Thuja-root, with claws of ivory or Delian bronze, and cost immense sums. Even Cicero, in an economical age, paid six hundred and fifty pounds for his banqueting table. These tables were waited upon by an army of slaves, clad in costly dresses. In the intervals of courses they played with dice, or listened to music, or were amused with dances. They wore a great profusion of jewels--such as necklaces and rings and bracelets. They reclined at table after the fashion of the Orientals. They ate, as delicacies, water-rats and white worms. Gluttony was carried to such a point that the sea and earth scarcely sufficed to set off their tables. The women passed whole nights at the table, and were proud of their power to carry off an excess of wine. As Cleopatra says of her riotings with Antony,--
I laughed him out of patience; and that night I laughed him into patience: and next morn, Ere the ninth hour, I drank him to his bed."
The wines were often kept for two ages, and some qualities were so highly prized as to sell for about twenty dollars an ounce. Large hogs were roasted whole at a banquet. The ancient epicures expatiate on ram's-head pies, stuffed fowls, boiled calf, and pastry stuffed with raisins and nuts. Dishes were made of gold and silver, set with precious stones. Cicero and Pompey one day surprised Lucullus at one of his ordinary banquets, when he expected no guests, and even that cost fifty thousand drachmas--about four thousand dollars. His beds were of purple, and his vessels glittered with jewels. The halls of Heliogabalus were hung with cloth of gold, enriched with jewels. His beds were of massive silver, his table and plate of pure gold, and his mattresses, covered with carpets of cloth of gold, were stuffed with down found only under the wings of partridges. Crassus paid one hundred thousand sesterces for a golden cup. Banqueting rooms were strewed with lilies and roses. Apicius, in the time of Trajan, spent one hundred millions of sesterces in debauchery and gluttony. Having only ten millions left, he ended his life with poison, thinking he might die of hunger. The suppers of Heliogabalus never cost less than one hundred thousand sesterces. And things were valued for their cost and rarity, rather than their real value. Enormous prices were paid for carp, the favorite dish of the Romans. Drusillus, a freedman of Claudius, caused a dish to be made of five hundred pounds weight of silver. Vitellius had one made of such prodigious size that they were obliged to build a furnace on purpose for it; and at a feast in honor of this dish which he gave, it was filled with the livers of the scarrus (fish), the brains of peacocks, the tongues of a bird of red plumage, called Phaesuicopterus, and the roes of lampreys caught in the Carpathian Sea. Falernian wine was never drunk until ten years old, and it was generally cooled with ices. The passion for play was universal. Nero ventured four hundred thousand sesterces on a single throw of the dice. Cleopatra, when she feasted Antony, gave each time to that general the gold vessels, enriched with jewels, the tapestry and purple carpets, embroidered with gold, which had been used in the repasts. Horace speaks of a debauchee who drank at a meal a goblet of vinegar, in which he dissolved a pearl worth a million of sesterces, which hung at the ear of his mistress. Precious stones were so common that a woman of the utmost simplicity dared not go without her diamonds. Even men wore jewels, especially elaborate rings, and upon all the fingers at last. The taste of the Roman aristocracy, with their immense fortunes, inclined them to pomp, to extravagance, to ostentatious modes of living, to luxurious banquets, to conventionalities and ceremonies, to an unbounded epicureanism. They lived for the present hour, and for sensual pleasures. There was no elevation of life. It was the body and not the soul, the present and not the future, which alone concerned them. They were grossly material in all their desires and habits. They squandered money on their banquets, their stables, and their dress. And it was to their crimes, says Juvenal, that they were indebted for their gardens, their palaces, their tables, and their fine old plate. The day was portioned out in the public places, in the bath, the banquet. Martial indignantly rebukes these extravagances, as unable to purchase happiness, in his Epigram to Quintus: "Because you purchase slaves at two hundred thousand sesterces; because you drink wines stored during the reign of Numa; because your furniture costs you a million; because a pound weight of wrought silver costs you five thousand; because a golden chariot becomes yours at the price of a whole farm; because your mule costs you more than the value of a house--do not imagine that such expenses are the proof of a great mind." [Footnote: Book iii. p. 62.]
Unbounded pride, insolence, inhumanity, selfishness, and scorn marked this noble class. Of course there were exceptions, but the historians and satirists give the saddest pictures of their cold-hearted depravity. The sole result of friendship with a great man was a meal, at which flattery and sycophancy were expected; but the best wine was drunk by the host, instead of by the guest. Provinces were ransacked for fish and fowl and game for the tables of the great, and sensualism was thought to be no reproach. They violated the laws of chastity and decorum. They scourged to death their slaves. They degraded their wives and sisters. They patronized the most demoralizing sports. They enriched themselves by usury, and enjoyed monopolies. They practiced no generosity, except at their banquets, when ostentation balanced their avarice. They measured every thing by the money-standard. They had no taste for literature, but they rewarded sculptors and painters, if they prostituted art to their vanity or passions. They had no reverence for religion, and ridiculed the gods. Their distinguishing vices were meanness and servility, the pursuit of money by every artifice, the absence of honor, and unblushing sensuality.
[Sidenote: Gibbon's account of the nobles.]
[Sidenote: Sarcasms of Ammianus Marcellinus.]
Gibbon has eloquently abridged the remarks of Ammianus Marcellinus, respecting these people: "They contend with each other in the empty vanity of titles and surnames. They affect to multiply their likenesses in statues of bronze or marble; nor are they satisfied unless these statues are covered with plates of gold. They boast of the rent-rolls of their estates. They measure their rank and consequence by the loftiness of their chariots, and the weighty magnificence of their dress. Their long robes of silk and purple float in the wind, and, as they are agitated by art or accident, they discover the under garments, the rich tunics embroidered with the figures of various animals. Followed by a train of fifty servants, and tearing up the pavement, they move along the streets as if they traveled with post-horses; and the example of the senators is boldly imitated by the matrons and ladies, whose covered carriages are continually driving round the immense space of the city and suburbs. Whenever they condescend to enter the public baths, they assume, on their entrance, a tone of loud and insolent command, and maintain a haughty demeanor, which, perhaps, might have been excused in the great Marcellus, after the conquest of Syracuse. Sometimes these heroes undertake more arduous achievements: they visit their estates in Italy, and procure themselves, by servile hands, the amusements of the chase. And if, at any time, especially on a hot day, they have the courage to sail in their gilded galleys from the Lucrine Lake to their elegant villas on the sea-coast of Puteoli and Cargeta, they compare these expeditions to the marches of Caesar and Alexander. Yet, should a fly presume to settle on the silken folds of their gilded umbrellas, should a sunbeam penetrate through some unguarded chink, they deplore their intolerable hardships, and lament, in affected language, that they were not born in the regions of eternal darkness. In the exercise of domestic jurisdiction they express an exquisite sensibility for any personal injury, and a contemptuous indifference for the rest of mankind. When they have called for warm water, should a slave be tardy in his obedience, he is chastised with an hundred lashes; should he commit a willful murder, his master will mildly observe that he is a worthless fellow, and should be punished if he repeat the offense. If a foreigner of no contemptible rank be introduced to these senators, he is welcomed with such warm professions that he retires charmed with their affability; but when he repeats his visit, he is surprised and mortified to find that his name, his person, and his country are forgotten. The modest, the sober, and the learned are rarely invited to their sumptuous banquets; but the most worthless of mankind--parasites who applaud every look and gesture, who gaze with rapture on marble columns and variegated pavements, and strenuously praise the pomp and elegance which he is taught to consider as a part of his personal merit. At the Roman table, the birds, the squirrels, the fish which appear of uncommon size, are contemplated with curious attention, and notaries are summoned to attest, by authentic record, their real weight. Another method of introduction into the houses of the great is skill in games, which is a sure road to wealth and reputation. A master of this sublime art, if placed, at a supper, below a magistrate, displays in his countenance a surprise and indignation which Cato might be supposed to feel when refused the praetorship. The acquisition of knowledge seldom engages the attention of the nobles, who abhor the fatigue and disdain the advantages of study; and the only books they peruse are the 'Satires of Juvenal,' or the fabulous histories of Marius Maximus. The libraries they have inherited from their fathers are secluded, like dreary sepulchres, from the light of day; but the costly instruments of the theatre, flutes and hydraulic organs, are constructed for their use. In their palaces sound is preferred to sense, and the care of the body to that of the mind. The suspicion of a malady is of sufficient weight to excuse the visits of the most intimate friends. The prospect of gain will urge a rich and gouty senator as far as Spoleta; every sentiment of arrogance and dignity is suppressed in the hope of an inheritance or legacy, and a wealthy, childless citizen is the most powerful of the Romans. The distress which follows and chastises extravagant luxury often reduces the great to use the most humiliating expedients. When they wish to borrow, they employ the base and supplicating style of the slaves in the comedy; but when they are called upon to pay, they assume the royal and tragic declamations of the grandsons of Hercules. If the demand is repeated, they readily procure some trusty sycophant to maintain a charge of poison or magic against the insolent creditor, who is seldom released from prison until he has signed a discharge of the whole debt. And these vices are mixed with a puerile superstition which disgraces their understanding. They listen with confidence to the productions of haru-spices, who pretend to read in the entrails of victims the signs of future greatness and prosperity; and this superstition is observed among those very skeptics who impiously deny or doubt the existence of a celestial power." [Footnote: Found in the sixth chapter of the fourteenth, and the fourth of the twenty-eighth, book of Ammianus Marcellinus.]
Such, in the latter days of the empire, was the leading class at Rome, and probably in the cities which aped the fashions of the capital. There was a melancholy absence of elevation of sentiment, of patriotism, of manly courage, and of dignity of character. Frivolity and luxury loosened all the ties of society. The animating principle of their lives was a heartless Epicureanism. They lived for the present hour, and for their pleasures, indifferent to the great interests of the public, and to the miseries of the poor. They were bound up in themselves. They were grossly material in all their aims. They had lost all ideas of public virtue. They degraded women; they oppressed the people; they laughed at philanthropy; they could not be reached by elevated sentiments; they had no concern for the future. Scornful, egotistical, haughty, self- indulgent, affected, cynical, all their thoughts and conversation were directed to frivolities. Nothing made any impression upon them but passing vanities. They ignored both Heaven and Hell. They were like the courtiers of Louis XV. in the most godless period of the monarchy. They were worse, for they superadded pagan infidelities. There were memorable exceptions, but not many, until Christianity had reached the throne. "One after another, the nobles sunk into a lethargy almost without a parallel. The proudest names of the old republic were finally associated with the idlest amusements and the most preposterous novelties. A Gabrius, a Callius, and a Crassus were immortalized by the elegance of their dancing. A Lucullus, a Hortensius, a Philippus estimated one another, not by their eloquence, their courage, or their virtue, but by the perfection of their fish-ponds, and the singularity of the breeds they nourished. They seemed to touch the sky with their finger if they had stocked their preserves with bearded mullets, and taught them to recognize their masters' voices, and come to be fed from their hands." [Footnote: Merivale, chap. ii.]
[Sidenote: Condition of the people.]
As for the miserable class whom they oppressed, their condition became worse every day from the accession of the emperors. The Plebeians had ever disdained those arts which now occupy the middle classes. These were intrusted to slaves. Originally, they employed themselves upon the lands which had been obtained by conquest. But these lands were gradually absorbed or usurped by the large proprietors. The small farmers, oppressed with debt and usury, parted with their lands to their wealthy creditors. In the time of Cicero, it was computed that there were only about two thousand citizens possessed of independent property. These two thousand people owned the world. The rest were dependent; and they were powerless when deprived of political rights, for the great candidate for public honors and offices liberally paid for votes. But under the emperors the commons had subsided into a miserable populace, fed from the public stores. They would have perished but for largesses. Monthly distributions of corn were converted into daily allowance for bread. They were amused with games and festivals. From the stately baths they might be seen to issue without shoes and without a mantle. They loitered in the public streets, and dissipated in gaming their miserable pittance. They spent the hours of the night in the lowest resorts of crime and misery. As many as four hundred thousand sometimes assembled to witness the chariot races. The vast theatres were crowded to see male and female dancers. The amphitheatres were still more largely attended by the better populace. They expired in wretched apartments without attracting the attention of government. Pestilence and famine and squalid misery thinned their ranks, and they would have been annihilated but for constant succession to their ranks from the provinces. In the busy streets of Rome might be seen adventurers from all parts of the world, disgraced by all the various vices of their respective countries. They had no education, and but little of religious advantages. They were held in terror by both priests and nobles. The priest terrified them with Egyptian sorceries, the noble crushed them by iron weight. Like Iazzaroni, they lived in the streets, or were crowded into filthy apartments. Several families tenanted the same house. A gladiatorial show delighted them, but the circus was their peculiar joy. Here they sought to drown the consciousness of their squalid degradation. They were sold into slavery for trifling debts. They had no home. The poor man had no ambition or hope. His wife was a slave; his children were precocious demons, whose prattle was the cry for bread, whose laughter was the howl of pandemonium, whose sports were the tricks of premature iniquity, whose beauty was the squalor of disease and filth. He fled from a wife in whom he had no trust, from children in whom he had no hope, from brothers for whom he felt no sympathy, from parents for whom he felt no reverence. The circus was his home, the wild beast his consolation. The future was a blank. Death was the release from suffering. Historians and poets say but little of his degraded existence; but from the few hints we have, we infer depravity and brutal tastes. If degraded at all, they must have been very degraded, since the Romans had but little sentiment, and no ideality. They were sunk in vice, for they had no sense of responsibility. They never emerged from their wretched condition. The philosophers, poets, scholars, and lawyers of Rome, sprang uniformly from the aristocratic classes. In the provinces, the poor sometimes rose, but very seldom. The whole aspect of society was a fearful inequality--disproportionate fortunes, slavery, and beggary. There was no middle class, of any influence or consideration. It was for the interest of people without means to enroll themselves in the service of the rich. Hence the immense numbers employed in the palaces in menial work. They would have been enrolled in the armies, but for their inefficiency. The army was recruited from the provinces--the rural population--and even from the barbarians themselves. There were no hospitals for the sick and the old, except one on an island in the Tiber. The old and helpless were left to die, unpitied and unconsoled. Suicide was so common that it attracted no attention, but infanticide was not so marked, since there was so little feeling of compassion for the future fate of the miserable children. Superstition culminated at Rome, for there were seen the priests and devotees of all the countries which it governed--"the dark-skinned daughters of Isis, with drum and timbrel and wanton mien; devotees of the Persian Mithras, imported by the Pompeians from Cilicia; emasculated Asiatics, priests of Berecynthian Cybele, with their wild dances and discordant cries; worshipers of the great goddess Diana; barbarian captives with the rites of Teuton priests; Syrians, Jews, Chaldean astrologers, and Thessalian sorcerers." Oh, what scenes of sin and misery did that imperial capital witness in the third and fourth centuries--sensualism and superstition, fears and tribulations, pestilence and famine, even amid the pomps of senatorial families, and the grandeur of palaces and temples. "The crowds which flocked to Rome from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, brought with them practices extremely demoralizing. The awful rites of initiation, the tricks of magicians, the pretended virtues of amulets and charms, the riddles of emblematical idolatry, with which the superstition of the East abounded, amused the languid voluptuaries who neither had the energy for a moral belief, nor the boldness requisite for logical skepticism." They were brutal, bloodthirsty, callous to the sight of suffering, and familiar with cruelties and crimes. They were superstitious, without religious faith, without hope, and without God in the world.
[Sidenote: The slaves.]
We cannot pass by, in this enumeration of the different classes of Roman society, the number and condition of slaves. A large part of the population belonged to this servile class. Originally introduced by foreign conquest, it was increased by those who could not pay their debts. The single campaign of Regulus introduced as many as a fifth part of the whole population. Four hundred were maintained in a single palace, at a comparatively early period. A freedman in the time of Augustus left behind him four thousand one hundred and sixteen. Horace regarded two hundred as the suitable establishment for a gentleman. Some senators owned twenty thousand. Gibbon estimates the number at about sixty millions, one half of the whole population. One hundred thousand captives were taken in the Jewish war, who were sold as slaves, and sold as cheap as horses. [Footnote: Wm. Blair, On Roman Slavery, Edinburgh, 1833; Robertson, On the State of the World at the Introduction of Christ.] Blair supposes that there were three slaves to one freeman, from the conquest of Greece to the reign of Alexander Severus. Slaves often cost two hundred thousand sesterces. [Footnote: Martial, xii. 62.] Every body was eager to possess a slave. At one time his life was at the absolute control of his master. He could be treated at all times with brutal severity. Fettered and branded he toiled to cultivate the lands of an imperious master, and at night he was shut up in subterranean cells. The laws did not recognize his claim to be considered scarcely as a moral agent. He was secundum hominum genus. He could acquire no rights, social or political. He was incapable of inheriting property, or making a will, or contracting a legal marriage. His value was estimated like that of a brute. He was a thing and not a person--"a piece of furniture possessed of life." He was his master's property, to be scourged, or tortured, or crucified. If a wealthy proprietor died, under circumstances which excited suspicion of foul play, his whole household was put to the torture. It is recorded, that, on the murder of a man of consular dignity by a slave, every slave in his possession was condemned to death. Slaves swelled the useless rabbles of the cities, and devoured the revenues of the state. All manual labor was done by slaves, in towns as well as the country. Even the mechanical arts were cultivated by the slaves. And more, slaves were schoolmasters, secretaries, actors, musicians, and physicians. In intelligence, they were on an equality with their masters. They came from Greece and Asia Minor and Syria, as well as from Gaul and the African deserts. They were white as well as black. All captives in war were made slaves, and unfortunate debtors. Sometimes they could regain their freedom; but, generally, their condition became more and more deplorable. What a state of society when a refined and cultivated Greek could be made to obey the most offensive orders of a capricious and sensual Roman, without remuneration, without thanks, without favor, without redress. [Footnote: Says Juvenal, Sat. vi., "Crucify that slave. What is the charge to call for such a punishment? What witness can you present? Who gave the information? Listen! Idiot! So a slave is a man then! Granted he has done nothing. I will it. I insist upon it. Let my will stand instead of reason." Read Martial, Juvenal, and Plautus.] What was to be expected of a class who had no object to live for. They became the most degraded of mortals, ready for pillage, and justly to be feared in the hour of danger. Slavery undoubtedly proved the most destructive canker of the Roman state. It destroyed its vitality. It was this social evil, more than political misrule, which undermined the empire. Slavery proved at Rome a monstrous curse, destroying all manliness of character, creating contempt of honest labor, making men timorous yet cruel, idle, frivolous, weak, dependent, powerless. The empire might have lasted centuries longer but for this incubus, the standing disgrace of the pagan world. Paganism never recognized what is most noble and glorious in man; never recognized his equality, his common brotherhood, his natural rights. There was no compunction, no remorse in depriving human beings of their highest privileges. Its whole tendency was to degrade the soul, and cause forgetfulness of immortality. Slavery thrives best, when the generous instincts are suppressed, and egotism and sensuality and pride are the dominant springs of human action.
[Sidenote: Degradation of woman.]
The same influences which tended to rob man of the rights which God has given him, and produce cruelty and heartlessness in the general intercourse of life, also tended to degrade the female sex. In the earlier age of the republic, when the people were poor, and life was simple and primitive, and heroism and patriotism were characteristic, woman was comparatively virtuous and respected. She asserted her natural equality, and led a life of domestic tranquillity, employed upon the training of her children, and inspiring her husband to noble deeds. But, under the emperors, these virtues had fled. Woman was miserably educated, being taught by a slave, or some Greek chambermaid, accustomed to ribald conversation, and fed with idle tales and silly superstitions. She was regarded as more vicious in natural inclination than man, and was chiefly valued for household labors. She was reduced to dependence; she saw but little of her brothers or relatives; she was confined to her home as if it were a prison; she was guarded by eunuchs and female slaves; she was given in marriage without her consent; she could be easily divorced; she was valued only as a domestic servant, or as an animal to prevent the extinction of families; she was regarded as the inferior of her husband, to whom she was a victim, a toy, or a slave. Love after marriage was not frequent, since she did not shine in the virtues by which love is kept alive. She became timorous, or frivolous, without dignity or public esteem. Her happiness was in extravagant attire, in elaborate hair-dressings, in rings and bracelets, in a retinue of servants, in gilded apartments, in luxurious couches, in voluptuous dances, in exciting banquets, in demoralizing spectacles, in frivolous gossip, in inglorious idleness. If virtuous, it was not so much from principle as from fear. Hence she resorted to all sorts of arts to deceive her husband. Her genius was sharpened by perpetual devices, and cunning was her great resource. She cultivated no lofty friendships; she engaged in no philanthropic mission; she cherished no ennobling sentiments; she kindled no chivalrous admiration. Her amusements were frivolous, her taste vitiated, her education neglected, her rights violated, her sympathy despised, her aspirations scorned. And here I do not allude to great and infamous examples which history has handed down in the sober pages of Suetonius and Tacitus, or that unblushing depravity which stands out in the bitter satires of the times. I speak not of the adultery, the poisoning, the infanticide, the debauchery, the cruelty of which history accuses the Messalinas and Agrippinas of imperial Rome. I allude not to the orgies of the Palatine Hill, or the abominations which are inferred from the paintings of Pompeii. But there was a general frivolity and extravagance among women which rendered marriage inexpedient, unless large dowries were brought to the husband. Numerous were the efforts of emperors to promote honorable marriages, but the relation was shunned. Courtesans usurped the privilege of wives, and with unblushing effrontery. A man was derided who contemplated matrimony, for there was but little confidence in female virtue or capacity. And woman lost all her fascination when age had destroyed her beauty. Even her very virtues were distasteful to her self-indulgent husband. And whenever she gained the ascendency by her charms, she was tyrannical. Her relations incited her to despoil her husband. She lived amid incessant broils. She had no care for the future, and exceeded men in prodigality. "The government of her house is no more merciful," says Juvenal, "than the court of a Sicilian tyrant." In order to render herself attractive, she exhausted all the arts of cosmetics and elaborate hair-dressing. She delighted in magical incantations and love-potions. In the bitter satire of Juvenal, we get an impression most melancholy and loathsome:--
"'T were long to tell what philters they provide, What drugs to set a son-in-law aside. Women, in judgment weak, in feeling strong, By every gust of passion borne along. To a fond spouse a wife no mercy shows; Though warmed with equal fires, she mocks his woes, And triumphs in his spoils; her wayward will Defeats his bliss and turns his good to ill. Women support the bar; they love the law, And raise litigious questions for a straw; Nay, more, they fence! who has not marked their oil, Their purple rigs, for this preposterous toil! A woman stops at nothing, when she wears Rich emeralds round her neck, and in her ears Pearls of enormous size; these justify Her faults, and make all lawful in her eye. More shame to Rome! in every street are found The essenced Lypanti, with roses crowned, The gay Miletan, and the Tarentine, Lewd, petulant, and reeling ripe with wine!"
[Sidenote: Condition of woman.]
In the sixth satire of Juvenal is found the most severe delineation of woman that ever mortal penned. Doubtless he is libellous and extravagant, for only infamous women can stoop to such arts and degradations, which would seem to be common in his time. But, with all his exaggeration, we are forced to feel that but few women, even in the highest class, except those converted to Christianity, showed the virtues of a Lucretia, a Volumnia, a Cornelia, or an Octavia. There was but a universal corruption. The great virtues of a Perpetua, a Felicitas, an Agnes, a Paula, a Blessilla, a Fabiola, would have adorned any civilization. But the great mass were, what they were in Greece, even in the days of Pericles, what they have ever been under the influence of Paganism, what they ever will be without Christianity to guide them, victims or slaves of man, revenging themselves by squandering his wealth, stealing his secrets, betraying his interests, and deserting his home.
[Sidenote: Games and festivals.]
Another essential but demoralizing feature of Roman society, were the games and festivals and gladiatorial shows, which accustomed the people to unnatural excitements, and familiarity with cruelty and suffering. They made all ordinary pleasures insipid. They ended in making homicide an institution. The butcheries of the amphitheatre exerted a fascination which diverted the mind from literature, art, and the enjoyments of domestic life. Very early it was the favorite sport of the Romans. Marcus and Decimus Brutus employed gladiators in celebrating the obsequies of their fathers, nearly three centuries before Christ. "The wealth and ingenuity of the aristocracy were taxed to the utmost, to content the populace and provide food for the indiscriminate slaughter of the circus, where brute fought with brute, and man again with man, or where the skill and weapons of the latter were matched against the strength and ferocity of the first." Pompey let loose six hundred lions in the arena in one day. Augustus delighted the people with four hundred and twenty panthers. The games of Trajan lasted one hundred and twenty days, when ten thousand gladiators fought, and ten thousand beasts were slain. Titus slaughtered five thousand animals at a time. Twenty elephants contended, according, to Pliny, against a band of six hundred captives. Probus reserved six hundred gladiators for one of his festivals, and massacred, on another, two hundred lions, twenty leopards, and three hundred bears. Gordian let loose three hundred African hyenas and ten Indian tigers in the arena. Every corner of the earth was ransacked for these wild animals, which were so highly valued that, in the time of Theodosius, it was forbidden by law to destroy a Getulian lion. No one can contemplate the statue of the Dying Gladiator which now ornaments the capitol at Rome, without emotions of pity and admiration. If a marble statue can thus move us, what was it to see the Christian gladiators contending with the fierce lions of Africa. The "Christians to the lions," was the watchword of the brutal populace. What a sight was the old amphitheatre of Titus, five hundred and sixty feet long, and four hundred and seventy feet wide, built on eighty arches, and rising one hundred and forty feet into the air, with its four successive orders of architecture, and inclosing its eighty thousand seated spectators, arranged according to rank, from the emperor to the lowest of the populace, all seated on marble benches, covered with cushions, and protected from the sun and rain by ample canopies! What an excitement when men strove not with wild beasts alone, but with one another, and when all that human skill and strength, increased by elaborate treatment, and taxed to the uttermost, were put forth in the needless homicide, and until the thirsty soil was wet and matted with human gore! Familiarity with such sights must have hardened the heart and rendered the mind insensible to refined pleasures. What theatres are to the French, what bull-fights are to the Spaniards, what horse-races are to the English, these gladiatorial shows were to the ancient Romans. The ruins of hundreds of amphitheatres attest the universality of the custom, not in Rome alone, but in the provinces.
[Sidenote: The circus.]
The sports of the circus took place from the earliest periods. The Circus Maximus was capable of containing two hundred and sixty thousand, as estimated by Pliny. It was appropriated for horse and chariot races. The enthusiasm of the Romans for races exceeded all bounds. Lists of the horses, with their names and colors, and those of drivers, were handed about, and heavy bets made on each faction. The games commenced with a grand procession, in which all persons of distinction, and those who were to exhibit, took part. The statues of the gods formed a conspicuous feature in the show, and were carried on the shoulders as saints are carried in modern processions. The chariots were often drawn by eight horses, and four generally started in the race.
The theatre was also a great place of resort. Scaurus built one capable of seating eighty thousand spectators. That of Pompey, near the Circus Maximus, could contain forty thousand. But the theatre had not the same attraction to the Romans that it had to the Greeks. They preferred scenes of pomp and splendor.
[Sidenote: The circus and theatre.]
No people probably abandoned themselves to pleasures more universally than the Romans, after war ceased to be the master passion. All classes alike pursued them with restless eagerness. Amusements were the fashion and the business of life. At the theatre, at the great gladiatorial shows, at the chariot races, senators and emperors and generals were always present in conspicuous and reserved seats of honor; behind them were the ordinary citizens, and in the rear of these, the people fed at the public expense. The Circus Maximus, the Theatre of Pompey, the Amphitheatre of Titus, would collectively accommodate over four hundred thousand spectators. We may presume that over five hundred thousand people were in the habit of constant attendance on these demoralizing sports. And the fashion spread throughout all the great cities of the empire, so that there was scarcely a city of twenty thousand people which had not its theatres, or amphitheatres, or circus. The enthusiasm of the Romans for the circus exceeded all bounds. And when we remember the heavy bets on favorite horses, and the universal passion for gambling in every shape, we can form some idea of the effect of these amusements on the common mind, destroying the taste for home pleasures, and for all that was intellectual and simple. What are we to think of a state of society, where all classes had leisure for these sports. Habits of industry were destroyed, and all respect for employments which required labor. The rich were supported by the contributions from the provinces, since they were the great proprietors of conquered lands. The poor had no solicitude for a living, for they were supported at the public expense. They, therefore, gave themselves up to pleasure. Even the baths, designed for sanatory purposes, became places of resort and idleness, and ultimately of improper intercourse. When the thermae came fully into public use, not only did men bathe together in numbers, but even men and women promiscuously in the same baths. In the time of Julius Caesar, we find no less a personage than the mother of Augustus making use of the public establishments; and in process of time the emperors themselves bathed in public with the meanest of their subjects. The baths in the time of Alexander Severus were not only kept open from sunrise to sunset, but even the whole night. The luxurious classes almost lived in the baths. Commodus took his meals in the bath. Gordian bathed seven times in the day, and Gallienus as often. They bathed before they took their meals, and after meals to provoke a new appetite. They did not content themselves with a single bath, but went through a course of baths in succession, in which the agency of air as well as water was applied. And the bathers were attended by an army of slaves given over to every sort of roguery and theft. "_O furum optume balmariorum_," exclaims Catullus, in disgust and indignation. Nor was water alone used. The common people made use of scented oils to anoint their persons, and perfumed the water itself with the most precious perfumes. Bodily health and cleanliness were only secondary considerations; voluptuous pleasure was the main object. The ruins of the baths of Titus, Caracalla, and Diocletian, in Rome, show that they were decorated with prodigal magnificence, and with every thing that could excite the passions--pictures, statues, ornaments, and mirrors. Says Seneca, Epistle lxxxvi., "_Nisi parietes magnis et preciosis orbibus refulserunt_." The baths were scenes of orgies consecrated to Bacchus, and the frescoes on the excavated baths of Pompeii still raise a blush on the face of every spectator who visits them. I speak not of the elaborate ornaments, the Numidian marbles, the precious stones, the exquisite sculptures, which formed part of the decorations of the Roman baths, but the demoralizing pleasures with which they were connected, and which they tended to promote. The baths became, according to the ancient writers, ultimately places of excessive and degrading debauchery.
"_Balnea, vina, Venas corrumpunt corpora nostra_."
[Sidenote: Dress and ornament.]
The Romans, originally, were not only frugal, but they dressed with great simplicity. In process of time, they became extravagantly fond of elaborately ornamented attire, particularly the women. They wore a great variety of rings and necklaces; they dyed their hair, and resorted to expensive cosmetics; they wore silks of various colors, magnificently embroidered. Pearls and rubies, for which large estates had been exchanged, were suspended from their ears. Their hair glistened with a network of golden thread. Their stolae were ornamented with purple bands, and fastened with diamond clasps, while their pallae trailed along the ground. Jewels were embroidered upon their sandals, and golden bands, pins, combs, and pomades raised the hair in a storied edifice upon the forehead. They reclined on luxurious couches, and rode in silver chariots. Their time was spent in paying and receiving visits, at the bath, the spectacle, and the banquet. Tables, supported on ivory columns, displayed their costly plate; silver mirrors were hung against the walls, and curious chests contained their jewels and money. Bronze lamps lighted their chambers, and glass vases, imitating precious stones, stood upon their cupboards. Silken curtains were suspended over the doors and from the ceilings, and lecticae, like palanquins, were borne through the streets by slaves, on which reclined the effeminated wives and daughters of the rich. Their gardens were rendered attractive by green-houses, flower-beds, and every sort of fruit and vine.
But it was at their banquets the Romans displayed the greatest luxury and extravagance. No people ever thought more of the pleasures of the table. And the prodigality was seen not only in the indulgence of the palate by the choicest dainties, but in articles which commanded, from their rarity, the highest prices. They not only sought to eat daintily, but to increase their capacity by unnatural means. The maxim, "_Il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger_," was reversed. At the fourth hour they breakfasted on bread, grapes, olives, and cheese and eggs; at the sixth they lunched, still more heartily; and at the ninth hour they dined; and this meal, the coena, was the principal one, which consisted of three parts: the first--the gustus--was made up of dishes to provoke an appetite, shell-fish and piquant sauces; the second--the fercula--composed of different courses; and the third--the dessert, a mensae secundae--composed of fruits and pastry. Fish were the chief object of the Roman epicures, of which the mullus, the rhombus, and the asellus were the most valued. It is recorded that a mullus (sea barbel), weighing but eight pounds, sold for eight thousand sesterces. Oysters, from the Lucrine Lake, were in great demand. Snails were fed in ponds for the purpose, while the villas of the rich had their piscinae filled with fresh or salt-water fish. Peacocks and pheasants were the most highly esteemed among poultry, although the absurdity prevailed of eating singing-birds. Of quadrupeds, the greatest favorite was the wild boar, the chief dish of a grand coena, and came whole upon the table, and the practiced gourmand pretended to distinguish by the taste from what part of Italy it came. Dishes, the very names of which excite disgust, were used at fashionable banquets, and held in high esteem. Martial devotes two entire books of his "Epigrams" to the various dishes and ornaments of a Roman banquet. He refers to almost every fruit and vegetable and meat that we now use--to cabbages, leeks, turnips, asparagus, beans, beets, peas, lettuces, radishes, mushrooms, truffles, pulse, lentils, among vegetables; to pheasants, ducks, doves, geese, capons, pigeons, partridges, peacocks, Numidian fowls, cranes, woodcocks, swans, among birds; to mullets, lampreys, turbots, oysters, prawns, chars, murices, gudgeons, pikes, sturgeons, among fish; to raisins, figs, quinces, citrons, dates, plums, olives, apricots, among fruit; to sauces and condiments; to wild game, and to twenty different kinds of wine; on all of which he expatiates like an epicure. He speaks of the presents made to guests at feasts, the tablets of ivory and parchment, the dice-boxes, style-cases, toothpicks, golden hair-pins, combs, pomatum, parasols, oil-flasks, tooth-powder, balms and perfumes, slippers, dinner-couches, citron-tables, antique vases, gold-chased cups, snow-strainers, jeweled and crystal vases, rings, spoons, scarlet cloaks, table-covers, Cilician socks, pillows, girdles, aprons, mattresses, lyres, bath-bells, statues, masks, books, musical instruments, and other articles of taste, luxury, or necessity. The pleasures of the table, however, are ever uppermost in his eye, and the luxuries of those whom he could not rival, but which he reprobates:--
"Nor mullet delights thee, nice Betic, nor thrush; The hare with the scut, nor the boar with the tusk; No sweet cakes or tablets, thy taste so absurd, Nor Libya need send thee, nor Phasis, a bird. But capers and onions, besoaking in brine, And brawn of a gammon scarce doubtful are thine. Of garbage, or flitch of hoar tunny, thou'rt vain; The rosin's thy joy, the Falernian thy bane."
[Footnote: Martial, b. iii. p. 77.]
[Sidenote: A poet's dinner.]
He thus describes a modest dinner, to which he, a poet, invites his friend Turanius: "If you are suffering from dread of a melancholy dinner at home, or would take a preparatory whet, come and feast with me. You will find no want of Cappadocian lettuces and strong leeks. The tunny will lurk under slices of egg; a cauliflower hot enough to burn your fingers, and which has just left the garden, will be served fresh on a black platter; white sausages will float on snow-white porridge, and the pale bean will accompany the red-streaked bacon. In the second course, raisins will be set before you, and pears which pass for Syrian, and roasted chestnuts. The wine you will prove in drinking it. After all this, excellent olives will come to your relief, with the hot vetch and the tepid lupine. The dinner is small, who can deny it? but you will not have to invent falsehoods, or hear them invented; you will recline at ease, and with your own natural look; the host will not read aloud a bulky volume of his own compositions, nor will licentious girls, from shameless Cadiz, be there to gratify you with wanton attitudes; but the small reed pipe will be heard, and the nice Claudia, whose society you value even more than mine." [Footnote: Ibid. b. v. p. 78.]
How different this poet's dinner, a table spread without luxury, and enlivened by wit and friendship, from that which Petronius describes of a rich freedman, which was more after the fashion of the vulgar and luxurious gourmands of his day.
[Sidenote: Expensive furniture.]
Next to the pleasures of the table, the passion for expensive furniture seemed to be the prevailing folly. We read of couches gemmed with tortoise-shell, and tables of citron-wood from Africa. Silver and gold vases, Tables, also, of Mauritanian marble, supported on pedestals of Lybian ivory; cups of crystal; all sorts of silver plate, the masterpieces of Myro, and the handiwork of Praxiteles, and the engravings of Phidias. Gold services adorned the sideboard. Couches were covered with purple silks. Chairs were elaborately carved; costly mirrors hung against the walls, and bronze lamps were suspended from the painted ceilings. But it was not always the most beautiful articles which were most prized, but those which were procured with the greatest difficulty, or brought from the remotest provinces. That which cost most received uniformly the greatest admiration.
[Sidenote: Money making.]
If it were possible to allude to an evil more revolting than the sports of the amphitheatre, or the extravagant luxuries of the table, I would say that the universal abandonment to money-making, for the enjoyment of the factitious pleasures it purchased, was even still more melancholy, since it struck deeper into the foundations which supported society. The leading spring of life was money. Boys were bred from early youth to all the mysteries of unscrupulous gains. Usury was practiced to such an incredible extent that the interest on loans, in some instances equaled, in a few months, the whole capital. This was the more aristocratic mode of making money, which not even senators disdained. The pages of the poets show how profoundly money was prized, and how miserable were people without it. Rich old bachelors, without heirs, were held in the supremest honor. Money was the first object in all matrimonial alliances, and provided that women were only wealthy, neither bridegroom nor parent was fastidious as to age, or deformity, or meanness of family, or vulgarity of person. The needy descendants of the old Patricians yoked themselves with fortunate Plebeians, and the blooming maidens of a comfortable obscurity sold themselves, without shame or reluctance, to the bloated sensualists who could give them what they supremely valued, chariots and diamonds. It was useless to appeal to elevated sentiments when happiness consisted in an outside, factitious life. The giddy women, in love with ornaments and dress, and the godless men, seeking what they should eat, could only be satisfied with what purchased their pleasures. The haughtiest aristocracy ever known on earth, tracing their lineage to the times of Cato, and boasting of their descent from the Scipios and the Pompeys, accustomed themselves at last to regard money as the only test of their own social position. There was no high social position disconnected with fortune. Even poets and philosophers were neglected, and gladiators and buffoons preferred before them. The great Augustine found himself utterly neglected at Rome, because he was dependent on his pupils, and his pupils were mean enough to run away without paying. Literature languished and died, since it brought neither honor nor emolument. No dignitary was respected for his office, only for his gains; nor was any office prized which did not bring rich emoluments. And corruption was so universal, that an official in an important post was sure of making a fortune in a short time. With such an idolatry of money, all trades and professions fell into disrepute which were not favorable to its accumulation, while those who administered to the pleasures of a rich man were held in honor. Cooks, buffoons, and dancers, received the consideration which artists and philosophers enjoyed at Athens in the days of Pericles. But artists and scholars were very few indeed in the more degenerate days of the empire. Nor would they have had influence. The wit of a Petronius, the ridicule of a Martial, the bitter sarcasm of a Juvenal, were lost on a people abandoned to frivolous gossip and demoralizing excesses. The haughty scorn with which a sensual beauty, living on the smiles and purse of a fortunate glutton, would pass, in her gilded chariot, some of the impoverished descendants of the great Camillus, might have provoked a smile, had any one been found, even a neglected poet, to have given them countenance and sympathy. But, alas! every body worshiped the shrine of Mammon. Every body was valued for what he had, rather than for what he was; and life was prized, not for those pleasures which are cheap and free as heaven, not for quiet tastes and rich affections and generous sympathies and intellectual genius,--the glorious certitudes of love, esteem, and friendship, which, "be they what they may, are yet the fountain-life of all our day,"--but for the gratification of depraved and expensive tastes; those short-lived enjoyments which ended with the decay of appetite, and the ennui of realized expectation,--all of the earth, earthy; making a wreck of the divine image which was made for God and heaven, and preparing the way for a most fearful retribution, and producing, on contemplative minds, a sadness allied with despair, driving them to caves and solitudes, and making death the relief from sorrow. Cynicism, scorn, unbelief, and disgusting coarseness and vulgarity, made grand sentiments an idle dream. The fourteenth satire of Juvenal is directed mainly to the universal passion for gain, and the demoralizing vices it brings in its train, which made Rome a Pandemonium and a Vanity Fair. "Flatterers," says he, "consider misers as men of happy minds, since they admire wealth supremely, and think no instance can be found of a poor man that is also happy; and therefore they exhort their sons to apply themselves to the arts of money making. Come, boys; sack the Numidian hovels and the forts of Brigantes, that your sixtieth year may bestow on you the eagle which will make you rich. Or, if you shrink from the long-protracted labors of the camp, then bring something that you may profitably dispose of, and never let disgust of trade enter your head, nor think that any difference can be drawn between perfumes and leather. The smell of gain is good from any thing whatever. No one asks you how you get money, but have it you must." The poet Persius paints this passion for gold, displayed in the customs of the day, in a strain at once lofty and mournful, bitter and satirical: [Footnote: Satire ii.]--
"O that I could my rich old uncle see In funeral pomp! O that some deity To pots of buried gold would guide my share! O that my ward, whom I succeed as heir, Were once at rest! Poor child! he lies in pain, And death to him must be accounted gain. By will thrice has Nerius swelled his store, And now he is a widower once more. O groveling souls, and void of things divine! Why bring our passions to the immortal's shrine?"
The old Greek philosophers gloried in their poverty; but poverty was the greatest reproach to a Roman. "In exact proportion to the sum of money a man keeps in his chest," says Juvenal, [Footnote: Satire iii.] "is the credit given to his oath. And the first question ever asked of a man is in reference to his income, rather than his character. How many slaves does he keep? How many acres does he own? What dishes are his table spread with?--these are the universal inquiries. Poverty, bitter though it be, has no sharper sting than this,--that it makes them ridiculous. Who was ever allowed at Rome to become a son-in-law if his estate was inferior, and not a match for the portion of the young lady? What poor man's name appears in any will? When is one summoned to a consultation even by an aedile?"
"Long, long ago, in one despairing band, The poor, self-exiled, should have left the land."
And with this reproach of poverty there was no means to escape from it. Nor was there alleviation. A man was regarded as a fool who gave any thing except to the rich. Charity and benevolence were unknown virtues. The sick and the miserable were left to die unlamented and unknown. Prosperity and success, no matter by what means they were purchased, secured reverence and influence.
Indeed, the Romans were a worldly, selfish, Epicurean people, for whom we can feel but little admiration in any age of the republic. They never were finely moulded. They had no sentiment, unless in the earlier ages, it took the form of glory and patriotism. In their prosperity, they were proud and scornful. In adversity, they buried themselves in low excesses. They were not easily moved by softening influences. They had no lofty idealism, like the Greeks; nor were they even social, as they were. They were disgustingly practical. Oui bono?--"who shall show us any good?"--this was their by-word, this the sole principle of their existence. They were jealous of their dignity, and carried away by pomps and show. They were fond of etiquette and ceremony, and were conventional in all their habits. They had very little true intellectual independence, and were slaves of fashion as they were of ceremony and dress. They were inordinately greedy of social position and of social distinctions. They loved titles and surnames and inequalities of rank. They plumed themselves on taking a common-sense view of life, disdaining all lofty standards. They were dazzled by an outside life, and cared but little for the great certitudes on which real dignity and happiness rest. They had no conception of philanthropy. They lived for themselves. Nor had they veneration for ideal worth or beauty or abstract truth. They were reserved and reticent and haughty in social life. They were superstitious, and believed in dreams and omens and talismans. They were hospitable to their friends, but chiefly to display their wealth and pomp. They were coarse and indecent in banquets. They loved money supremely, but squandered it recklessly to gratify vanity. They had no high conceptions of art. They were copyists of the Greeks, and never produced any thing original but jurisprudence. They did not even add to the arts and sciences, which they applied to practical purposes. Their literature never produced a sentimentalist; their philosophy never soared into idealism; their art never ventured upon new creations. Their supreme ambition was to rule, and to rule despotically. They gloried in slavery, and degraded women and trod upon the defenseless. They had no pity, no gentleness, no delicacy of feeling. They could not comprehend a disinterested action. They lived to eat and drink, and wear robes of purple, and ride in chariots of silver, and receive greetings in the market-place, and be attended by an army of sycophants, flatterers, and slaves. What was elevated and what was pure were laughed at as unreal, as dreamy, as transcendental. All science was directed to utilities, and utilities were wines, rare fishes and birds, carpets, silks, cooking, palaces, chariots, horses, pomps. Their supreme idea was conquest, dominion over man, over beast, over seas, over nature--all with a view of becoming rich, comfortable, honorable. This was their Utopia. Epicurus was their god. Sensualism was the convertible term for their utilities, and pervaded their literature, their social life, and their public efforts; extinguishing poetry, friendship, affections, genius, self-sacrifice, lofty sentiments--the real utilities which make up our higher life, and fit man for an ever-expanding felicity. Practically, they were atheists--unbelievers of what is fixed and immutable in the soul, and glorious in the soul's aspirations. They had will and passion, sagacity and the power to rule, by which they became aggrandized; but they were wanting in those elements and virtues which endear their memory to mankind. They were both tyrants and sensualists; fitted to make conquests, unfitted to enjoy them. In an important sense, they were great civilizers, but their civilization pertained to material life. They worshiped the god of the sense, rather than the god of the reason; and, compared with the Greeks, bequeathed but little to our times which we value, except laws and maxims of government, and ideas of centralized power.
Such was imperial Rome, in all the internal relations of life, and amid all the trophies and praises which resulted from universal conquest. I cannot understand the enthusiasm of Gibbon for such a people, or for such an empire,--a grinding and resistless imperial despotism, a sensual and proud aristocracy, a debased and ignorant populace, disproportionate fortunes, slavery flourishing to a state unprecedented in the world's history, women the victims and the toys of men, lax sentiments of public morality, a whole people given over to demoralizing sports and spectacles, pleasure the master passion of the people, money the mainspring of society, all the vices which lead to violence and prepare the way for the total eclipse of the glory of man. What was a cultivated face of nature, or palaces, or pomps, or a splendid material civilization, or great armies, or a numerous population, or the triumph of energy and skill, when the moral health was completely undermined? The external grandeur was nothing amid so much vice and wickedness and wretchedness. A world, therefore, as fair and glorious as our own, must needs crumble away. There were no proper conservative forces. The poison had descended to the extremities of the social system. A corrupt body must die when vitality had fled. The soul was gone. Principle, patriotism, virtue, had all passed away. The barbarians were advancing to conquer and desolate. There was no power to resist them, but enervated and timid legions, with the accumulated vices of all the nations of the earth, which they had been learning for four hundred years. Society must needs resolve itself into its original elements when men would not make sacrifices, and so few belonged to their country. The machine was sure to break up at the first great shock. No state could stand with such an accumulation of wrongs, with such complicated and fatal diseases eating out the vitals of the empire. The house was built upon the sands. The army may have rallied under able generals, in view of the approaching catastrophe; philosophy may have gilded the days of a few indignant citizens; good emperors may have attempted to raise barriers against corruption; and even Christianity may have converted by thousands: still nothing, according to natural laws, could save the empire. It was doomed. Retributive justice must march on in its majestic course. The empire had accomplished its mission. The time came for it to die. The Sibylline oracle must needs be fulfilled: "O haughty Rome, the divine chastisement shall come upon thee; the fire shall consume thee; thy wealth shall perish; foxes and wolves shall dwell among thy ruins: and then what land that thou hast enslaved shall be thy ally, and which of thy gods shall save thee? for there shall be confusion over the face of the whole earth, and the fall of cities shall come." [Footnote: If any one thinks this general description of Roman life and manners exaggerated, he can turn from such poets as Juvenal and Martial, and read what St. Pani says in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.]
* * * * *
REFERENCES.--Mr. Merivale has written most fully of modern writers on the condition of the empire. Gibbon has occasional paragraphs which show the condition of Roman society. Lyman's Life of the Emperors should be read, and also DeQuincy's Lives of the Caesars. See, also, Niebuhr, Arnold, and Mommsen, though these writers have chiefly confined themselves to republican Rome. But, if one would get the truest and most vivid description, he must read the Roman poets, especially Juvenal and Martial. The work of Petronius is too indecent to be read. Ammianus Marcellinus gives us some striking pictures of the latter Romans. Suetonius, in his Lives of the Caesars, furnishes many facts. Becker's Gallus is a fine description of Roman habits and customs. Smith's Dictionary of Antiquities should be consulted, as it is a great thesaurus of important facts. Lucian does not describe Roman manners, but he aims his sarcasms on the hollowness of Roman life, as do the great satirists generally. Tillemont is the basis of Gibbon's history, so far as pertains to the emperors.
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