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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David


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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





Roman Civilization At The Close Of The Third Punic War And The Fall Of Greece








Rome was now the unrivaled mistress of the world. She had conquered
all the civilized States around the Mediterranean, or had established a
protectorate over them. She had no fears of foreign enemies. Her empire
was established.

Before we proceed to present subsequent conquests or domestic revolutions,
it would be well to glance at the political and social structure of the
State, as it was two hundred years before the Christian era, and also at
the progress which had been made in literature and art.

One of the most noticeable features of the Roman State at this
period was the rise of a new nobility. The patricians, when they lost the
exclusive control of the government, did not cease to be a powerful
aristocracy. But another class of nobles arose in the fifth century of the
city, and shared their power--those who had held curule offices and were
members of the Senate. Their descendants, plebeian as well as patrician,
had the privilege of placing the wax images of their ancestors in the
family hall, and to have them carried in funeral processions. They also
wore a stripe of purple on the tunic, and a gold ring on the finger. These
were trifling insignia of rank, still they were emblems and signs by which
the nobility were distinguished. The plebeian families, ennobled by their
curule ancestors, were united into one body with the patrician families,
and became a sort of hereditary nobility. This body of exclusive families
really possessed the political power of the State. The Senate was made up
from their members, and was the mainstay of Roman nobility. The equites,
or equestrian order, was also composed of the patricians and wealthy
plebeians. Noble youths gradually withdrew from serving in the infantry,
and the legionary cavalry became a closed aristocratic corps. Not only
were the nobles the possessors of senatorial privileges, and enrolled
among the equites, but they had separate seats from the people at the
games and at the theatres. The censorship also became a prop to the
stability of the aristocratic class.

We have some idea of the influence of the aristocracy from the
families which furnished the higher offices of the State. For three
centuries the consuls were chiefly chosen from powerful families. The
Cornelii gentes furnished fifteen consuls in one hundred and twelve years,
and the Valerii, ten. And, what is more remarkable, for the following one
hundred and fifty years these two families furnished nearly the same
number. In one hundred and twelve years fifteen families gave seventy
consuls to the State: the Cornelii, fifteen; the Valerii, ten; the
Claudii, four; the AEmilii, nine; the Fabii, six; the Manilii, four; the
Postumii, two; the Servilii, three; the Sulpicii, six; and also about the
same number the following one hundred and fifty years, thereby showing
that old families, whether patrician or plebeian, were long kept in sight,
and monopolized political power. This was also seen in the elevation of
young men of these ranks to high office before they had reached the lawful
age. M. Valerius Corvus was consul at twenty-three, Scipio at thirty, and
Flaminius at twenty-nine.

The control of Rome over conquered provinces introduced a new class
of magistrates, selected by the Senate, and chosen from the aristocratic
circles. These were the provincial governors or praetors, who had great
power, and who sometimes appeared in all the pomp of kings. They resided
in the ancient palaces of the kings, and had great opportunities for
accumulating fortunes. Nor could the governors be called to account, until
after their term of office expired, which rarely happened. The governors
were, virtually, sovereigns while they continued in office--were satraps,
who conducted a legalized tyranny abroad, and returned home arrogant and
accustomed to adulation--a class of men who proved dangerous to the old
institutions, those which recognized equality within the aristocracy and
the subordination of power to the senatorial college.

The burgesses, or citizens, before this period, were a very
respectable body, patriotic and sagacious. They occupied chiefly Latium, a
part of Campania, and the maritime colonies. But gradually, a rabble of
clients grew up on footing equality with these independent burgesses.
These clients, as the aristocracy increased in wealth and power, became
parasites and beggars, and undermined the burgess class, and controlled
the Comitia. This class rapidly increased, and were clamorous for games,
festivals, and cheap bread, for corn was distributed to them by those who
wished to gain their favor at elections, at less than cost. Hence,
festivals and popular amusements became rapidly a great feature of the
times. For five hundred years the people had been contented with one
festival in a year, and one circus. Flaminius added another festival, and
another circus. In the year 550 of the city, there were five festivals.
The candidates for the consulship spent large sums on these games, the
splendor of which became the standard by which the electoral body measured
the fitness of candidates. A gladiatorial show cost seven hundred and
twenty thousand sesterces, or thirty-six thousand dollars.

And corruption extended to the army. The old burgess militia were
contented to return home with some trifling gift as a memorial of victory,
but the troops of Scipio, and the veterans of the Macedonian and Asiatic
wars, came back enriched with spoils. A decay of a warlike spirit was
observable from the time the burgesses converted war into a traffic in
plunder. A great passion also arose for titles and insignia, which
appeared under different forms, especially for the honors of a triumph,
originally granted only to the supreme magistrate who had signally
augmented the power of the State. Statues and monuments were often erected
at the expense of the person whom they purported to honor. And finally,
the ring, the robe, and the amulet case distinguished not only the
burgesses from the foreigners and slaves, but also the person who was born
free from one who had been a slave, the son of the free-born from the son
of the manumitted, the son of a knight from a common burgess, the
descendant of a curule house from the common senators. These distinctions
in rank kept pace with the extension of conquests, until, at last, there
was as complete a net work of aristocratic distinctions as in England at
the present day.

All these distinctions and changes were bitterly deplored by Marcus
Portius Cato--the last great statesman of the older school--a genuine Roman
of the antique stamp. He was also averse to schemes of universal empire.
He was a patrician, brought up at the plow, and in love with his Sabine
farm. Yet he rose to the consulship, and even the censorship. He served in
war under Marcellus, Fabius, and Scipio, and showed great ability as a
soldier. He was as distinguished in the forum as in the camp and
battle-field, having a bold address, pungent wit, and great knowledge of
the Roman laws. He was the most influential political orator of his day.
He was narrow in his political ideas, conservative, austere, and upright;
an enemy to all corruption and villainy, also to genius, and culture, and
innovation. He was the protector of the Roman farmer, plain, homely in
person, disdained by the ruling nobles, but fearless in exposing
corruption from any quarter, and irreconcilably at war with aristocratic
coteries, like the Scipios and Flaminii. He was publicly accused
twenty-four times, but he was always backed by the farmers,
notwithstanding the opposition of the nobles. He erased, while censor, the
name of the brother of Flaminius from the roll of senators, and the
brother of Scipio from that of the equites. He attempted a vigorous
reform, but the current of corruption could only be stemmed for awhile.
The effect of the sumptuary laws, which were passed through his influence,
was temporary and unsatisfactory. No legislation has proved of avail
against a deep-seated corruption of morals, for the laws will be avoided,
even if they are not defied. In vain was the eloquence of the hard,
arbitrary, narrow, worldly wise, but patriotic and stern old censor. The
age of Grecian culture, of wealth, of banquets, of palaces, of games, of
effeminate manners, had set in with the conquest of Greece and Asia. The
divisions of society widened, and the seeds of luxury and pride were to
produce violence and decay.

Still some political changes were effected at this time. The
Comitia Centuriata was remodeled. The equites no longer voted first. The
five classes obtained an equal number of votes, and the freedmen were
placed on an equal footing with free-born. Thus terminated the long
conflict between patricians and plebeians. But although the right of
precedence in voting was withdrawn from the equites, still the patrician
order was powerful enough to fill, frequently, the second consulship and
the second censorship, which were open to patricians and plebeians alike,
with men of their own order. At this time the office of dictator went into
abeyance, and was practically abolished; the priests were elected by the
whole community; the public assemblies interfered with the administration
of the public property--the exclusive prerogative of the Senate in former
times--and thus transferred the public domains to their own pockets. These
were changes which showed the disorganization of the government rather
than healthy reform. To this period we date the rise of demagogues, for a
minority in the Senate had the right to appeal to the Comitia, which
opened the way for wealthy or popular men to thwart the wisest actions and
select incompetent magistrates and generals. Even Publius Scipio was not
more distinguished for his arrogance and title-hunting than for the army
of clients he supported, and for the favor which he courted, of both
legions and people, by his largesses of grain.

At this period, agriculture had reached considerable perfection,
but Cato declared that his fancy farm was not profitable. Figs, apples,
pears were cultivated, as well as olives and grapes--also shade-trees. The
rearing of cattle was not of much account, as the people lived chiefly on
vegetables, and fruits and corn. Large cattle were kept only for tillage.
Considerable use was made of poultry and pigeons--kept in the farm-yard.
Fish-ponds and hare-preserves were also common. The labor of the fields
was performed by oxen, and asses for carriage and the turning of mills.
The human labor on farms was done by slaves. Vineyards required more
expenditure of labor than ordinary tillage. An estate of one hundred
jugera, with vine plantations, required one plowman, eleven slaves, and
two herdsmen. The slaves were not bred on the estate, but were purchased.
They lived in the farm-buildings, among cattle and produce. A separate
house was erected for the master. A steward had the care of the slaves.
The stewardess attended to the baking and cooking, and all had the same
fare, delivered from the produce of the farm on which they lived. Great
unscrupulousness pervaded the management of these estates. Slaves and
cattle were placed on the same level, and both were fed as long as they
could work, and sold when they were incapacitated by age or sickness. A
slave had no recreations or holidays. His time was spent between working
and sleeping. And when we remember that these slaves were white as well as
black, and had once been free, their condition was hard and inhuman. No
negro slavery ever was so cruel as slavery among the Romans. Great labors
and responsibilities were imposed upon the steward. He was the first to
rise in the morning, and the last to go to bed at night; but he was not
doomed to constant labor, like the slaves whom he superintended. He also
had few pleasures, and was obsequious to the landlord, who performed no
work, except in the earlier ages. The small farmer worked himself with the
slaves and his children. He more frequently cultivated flowers and
vegetables for the market of Rome. Pastoral husbandry was practiced on a
great scale, and at least eight hundred jugera were required. On such
estates, horses, oxen, mules, and asses were raised, also herds of swine
and goats. The breeding of sheep was an object of great attention and
interest, since all clothing was made of wool. The shepherd-slaves lived
in the open air, remote from human habitations, under sheds and
sheep-folds.

The prices of all produce were very small in comparison with
present rates, and this was owing, in part, to the immense quantities of
corn and other produce delivered by provincials to the Roman government,
sometimes gratuitously. The armies were supported by transmarine corn. The
government regulated prices. In the time of Scipio, African wheat was sold
as low as twelve ases for six modii--(one and a half bushel)--about
sixpence. At one time two hundred and forty thousand bushels of Sicilian
grain were distributed at this price. The rise of demagogism promoted
these distributions, which kept prices down, so that the farmers received
but a small reward for labors, which made, of course, the condition of
laborers but little above that of brutes: when the people of the capital
paid but sixpence sterling for a bushel and a half of wheat, or one
hundred and eighty pounds of dried figs, or sixty pounds of oil, or
seventy-two pounds of meat, or four and a half gallons of wine sold only
for fivepence, or three-fifths of a denarius. In the time of Polybius, the
traveler was charged for victuals and lodgings at an inn only about two
farthings a day, and a bushel of wheat sold for fourpence. At such prices
there was very little market for the farmer. Sicily and Sardinia were the
real granaries of Rome. Thus were all the best interests of the country
sacrificed to the unproductive population of the city. Such was the golden
age of the republic--a state of utter misery and hardship among the
productive classes, and idleness among the Roman people--a state of society
which could but lead to ruin. The farmers, without substantial returns,
lost energy and spirit, and dwindled away. Their estates fell into the
hands of great proprietors, who owned great numbers of slaves. They
themselves were ruined, and sunk into an ignoble class. The cultivation of
grain in Italy was gradually neglected, and attention was given chiefly to
vines, and olives, and wool. The rearing of cattle became more profitable
than tillage, and small farms were absorbed in great estates.

The monetary transactions of the Romans were preeminently
conspicuous. No branch of commercial industry was prosecuted with more
zeal than money-lending. The bankers of Rome were a great class, and were
generally rich. They speculated in corn and all articles of produce. Usury
was not disdained even by the nobles. Money-lending became a great system,
and all the laws operated in favor of capitalists.

Industrial art did not keep pace with usurious calculations, and trades
were concentrated in the capital. Mechanical skill was neglected in all
the rural districts.

Business operations were usually conducted by slaves. Even
money-lenders and bankers made use of them. Every one who took contracts
for building, bought architect slaves. Every one who provided spectacles
purchased a band of serfs expert in the art of fighting. The merchants
imported wares in vessels managed by slaves. Mines were worked by slaves.
Manufactories were conducted by slaves. Everywhere were slaves.

While the farmer obtained only fourpence a bushel for his wheat, a
penny a gallon for his wine, and fivepence for sixty pounds of oil, the
capitalists, centered in Rome, possessed fortunes which were vastly
disproportionate to those which are seen in modern capitals. Paulus was
not reckoned wealthy for a senator, but his estate was valued at sixty
talents, nearly L15,000, or $75,000. In other words, the daily interest of
his capital was fifteen dollars, enough to purchase one hundred and eighty
bushels of wheat--as much as a farmer could raise in a year on eight
jugera--a farm as large as that of Cincinnatus. Each of the daughters of
Scipio received as a dowry fifty talents, or $60,000. The value of this
sum, in our money, when measured by the scale of wheat, or oil, or
wine--allowing wheat now to be worth five shillings sterling a
bushel--against fivepence in those times, would make gold twelve times more
valuable then than now. And hence, Scipio left each of his daughters a sum
equal to $720,000 of our money. In estimating the fortune of a Roman, by
the prices charged at an inn per day, a penny would go further then than a
dollar would now. But I think that gold and silver, in the time of Scipio,
were about the same value as in England at the time of Henry VII., about
twenty times our present standard.

Every law at Rome tended in its operation to the benefit of the
creditor, and to vast accumulations of property; for the government being
in the hands of the rich, as in England a century since, and in France
before the Revolution, favored the rich at the expense of the poor. It
became disgraceful at Rome to perform manual labor, and a wall separated
the laboring classes from the capitalists, which could not be passed.
Industrial art took the lowest place in the scale of labor, and was in the
hands of slaves. The traffic in money, and the farming of the revenue
formed the mainstay and stronghold of the Roman economy. The free
population of Italy declined, while the city of Rome increased. The loss
was supplied by slaves. In the year 502 of the city, the Roman burgesses
in Italy numbered two hundred and ninety-eight thousand men capable of
bearing arms. Fifty years later, the number was only two hundred and
fourteen thousand. The nation visibly diminished, and the community was
resolved into masters and slaves. And this decline of citizens and
increase of slaves were beheld with indifference, for pride, and cruelty,
and heartlessness were the characteristics of the higher classes.

With the progress of luxury, and the decline of the rural
population, and the growth of disproportionate fortunes, residence in the
capital became more and more coveted, and more and more costly. Rents rose
to an unexampled height. Extravagant prices were paid for luxuries. When a
bushel of corn sold for fivepence, a barrel of anchovies from the Black
Sea cost L14, and a beautiful boy twenty-four thousand sesterces (L246),
more than a farmer's homestead. Money came to be prized as the end of
life, and all kinds of shifts and devices were made to secure it.
Marriage, on both sides, became an object of mercantile speculation.

In regard to education, there was a higher development than is
usually supposed, and literature and art were cultivated, even while the
nation declined in real virtue and strength. By means of the Greek slaves,
the Greek language and literature reached even the lower ranks, to a
certain extent. "The comedies indicate that the humblest classes were
familiar with a sort of Latin, which could no more be understood without a
knowledge of Greek, than Wieland's German without a knowledge of French."
Greek was undoubtedly spoken by the higher classes, as French is spoken in
all the courts of Europe. In the rudiments of education, the lowest people
were instructed, and even slaves were schoolmasters. At the close of the
Punic wars, both comedy and tragedy were among the great amusements of the
Romans, and great writers arose, who wrote, however, from the Greek
models. Livius translated Homer, and Naevius popularized the Greek drama.
Plautus, it is said, wrote one hundred and thirty plays. The tragedies of
Ennius were recited to the latter days of the empire. The Romans did not,
indeed, make such advance in literature as the Greeks, at a comparatively
early period of their history, but their attainments were respectable when
Carthage was destroyed.





Next: The Reform Movement Of The Gracchi

Previous: Roman Conquests From The Fall Of Carthage To The Times Of The Gracchi



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