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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

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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





The Roman Empire On The Accession Of Augustus








Octavius, now master of the world, is generally called Augustus Caesar--the
name he assumed. He was the first of that great line of potentates whom we
call emperors. Let us, before tracing the history of the empire, take a
brief survey of its extent, resources, population, institutions, state of
society, and that development of Art, science, and literature, which we
call civilization, in the period which immediately preceded the birth of
Christ, when the nations were subdued, submissive to the one central
power, and at peace with each other.

The empire was not so large as it subsequently became, nor was it
at that height of power and prosperity which followed a century of peace,
when uninterrupted dominion had reconciled the world to the rule of the
Caesars. But it was the golden age of imperial domination, when arts,
science, and literature flourished, and when the world rested from
incessant wars. It was not an age of highest glory to man, since all
struggles for liberty had ceased; but it was an age of good government,
when its machinery was perfected, and the great mass of mankind felt
secure, and all classes abandoned themselves to pleasure, or gain, or
uninterrupted toils. It was the first time in the history of the world,
when there was only one central authority, and when the experiment was
to be tried, not of liberty and self-government, but of universal empire,
growing up from universal rivalries and wars--wielded by one central and
irresistible will. The spectacle of the civilized world obedient to one
master has sublimity, and moral grandeur, and suggests principles of grave
interest. The last of the great monarchies which revelation had foretold,
and the greatest of all--the iron monarchy which Daniel saw in prophetic
vision, reveals lessons of profound significance.

The empire then embraced all the countries bordering on the
Mediterranean--that great inland sea upon whose shores the most famous
cities of antiquity flourished, and toward which the tide of Assyrian and
Persian conquests had rolled, and then retreated for ever. The boundaries
of this mighty empire were great mountains, and deserts, and oceans, and
impenetrable forests. On the east lay the Parthian empire, separated from
the Roman by the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Armenian Mountains, beyond
which were other great empires not known to the Greeks, like the Indian
and the Chinese monarchies, with a different civilization. On the south
were the African deserts, not penetrated even by travelers. On the west
was the ocean; and on the north were barbaric tribes of different names
and races--Slavonic, Germanic, and Celtic. The empire extended over a
territory of one million six hundred thousand square miles, and among its
provinces were Spain, Gaul, Sicily, Africa, Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor,
Achaia, Macedonia, and Illyricum--all tributary to Italy, whose capital was
Rome. The central province numbered four millions who were free, and could
furnish, if need be, seven hundred thousand foot, and seventy thousand
horse for the armies of the republic. It was dotted with cities, and
villages, and villas, and filled with statues, temples, and works of art,
brought from remotest provinces--the spoil of three hundred years of
conquest. In all the provinces were great cities, once famous and
independent--centres of luxury and wealth--Corinth, Athens, Syracuse,
Carthage, Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Damascus, and Jerusalem, with
their dependent cities, all connected with each other and the capital by
granite roads, all favored by commerce, all rejoicing in a uniform
government. Rome, the great mistress who ruled over one hundred and twenty
millions, contained an immense population, variously estimated, in which
were centred whatever wealth or power had craved. This capital had become
rapidly ornamented with palaces, and temples, and works of art, with the
subjugation of Greece and Asia Minor, although it did not reach the climax
of magnificence until the time of Hadrian. In the time of Augustus, the
most imposing buildings were the capitol, restored by Sulla and Caesar,
whose gilded roof alone cost $15,000,000. The theatre of Pompey could
accommodate eighty thousand spectators, behind which was a portico of one
hundred pillars. Caesar built the Forum Julium, three hundred and forty
feet long, and two hundred wide, and commenced the still greater
structures known as the Basilica Julia and Curia Julia. The Forum Romanum
was seven hundred feet by four hundred and seventy, surrounded with
basilica, halls, porticoes, temples, and shops--the centre of architectural
splendor, as well as of life and business and pleasure. Augustus restored
the Capitoline Temple, finished the Forum and Basilica Julia, built the
Curia Julia, and founded the imperial palace on the Palatine, and erected
many temples, the most beautiful of which was that of Apollo, with columns
of African marble, and gates of ivory finely sculptured. He also erected
the Forum Augusti, the theatre of Marcellus, capable of holding twenty
thousand spectators, and that mausoleum which contained the ashes of the
imperial family to the time of Hadrian, at the entrance of which were two
Egyptian obelisks. It was the boast of this emperor, that he found the
city of brick and left her of marble. But great and beautiful as Rome was
in the Augustan era, enriched not only by his own munificence, but by the
palaces and baths which were erected by his ministers and courtiers,--the
Pantheon, the Baths of Agrippa, the Gardens of Maecenas,--it was not until
other emperors erected the Imperial Palace, the Flavian Amphitheatre, the
Forum Trajanum, the Basilica Ulpia, the Temple of Venus and Rome, the
Baths of Caracalla, the Arches of Septimius Severus and Trajan, and other
wonders, that the city became so astonishing a wonder, with its palaces,
theatres, amphitheatres, baths, fountains, bronze statues of emperors and
generals, so numerous and so grand, that we are warranted in believing its
glories, like its population, surpassed those of both Paris and London
combined.

And this capital and this empire seemed to be the domain of one
man, so vast his power, so august his dignity, absolute master of the
lives and property of one hundred and twenty millions, for the people were
now deprived of the election of magistrates and the creation of laws. How
could the greatest nobles otherwise than cringe to the supreme captain of
the armies, the prince of the Senate, and the high-priest of the national
divinities--himself, the recipient of honors only paid to gods! But
Augustus kept up the forms of the old republic--all the old offices, the
old dignities, the old festivals, the old associations. The Senate,
prostrate and powerless, still had external dignity, like the British
House of Peers. There were six hundred senators, each of whom possessed
more than one million two hundred thousand sesterces--about $50,000, when
that sum must have represented an amount equal to a million of dollars in
gold, at the present time, and some of whom had an income of one thousand
pounds a day, the spoil of the provinces they had administered.

The Roman Senate, so august under the republic, still continued,
with crippled legislative powers, to wield important functions, since the
ordinary official business was performed by them. The provinces were
governed by men selected from senatorial ranks. They wore the badges of
distinction; they had the best places in the circus and theatre; they
banqueted in the capitol at the public charge; they claimed the right to
elect emperors.

The equestrian order also continued to farm the revenues of the
provinces, and to furnish judges. The knights retained external
decorations, were required to possess property equal to one-third of the
senators, and formed an aristocratic class.

The consuls, too, ruled, but with delegated powers from the
emperor. They were his eyes, and ears, and voice, and hands; but neither
political experience nor military services were required as qualifications
of the office. They wore the wreath of laurel on their brow, the striped
robe of white and purple, and were attended with lictors. All citizens
made way for them, and dismounted when they passed, and rose in their
presence. The praetors, too, continued to be the supreme judges, and the
quaestors regulated the treasury. The tribunes existed also, but without
their former independence. The prefect of the city was a new office, and
overshadowed all other offices--appointed by the emperor as his lieutenant,
his most efficient executive minister, his deputy in his absence from the
city.

A standing army, ever the mark of despotism, became an imperial
institution. At the head of this army were the praetorian guards, who
protected the person of the emperor, and had double pay over that of the
ordinary legionaries. They had a regular camp outside the city, and were
always on hand to suppress tumults. Twenty-five legions were regarded as
sufficient to defend the empire, and each legion was composed of six
thousand one hundred foot and seven hundred and twenty-six horse. They
were recruited with soldiers from the countries beyond Italy. Auxiliary
troops were equal to the legions, and all together numbered three hundred
and forty thousand--the standing army of the empire, stationed in the
different provinces. Naval armaments were also established in the
different seas and in great frontier rivers.

The revenue for this great force, and the general expenses of the
government, were derived from the public domains, from direct taxes, from
mines and quarries, from salt works, fisheries and forests, from customs
and excise, from the succession to property, from enfranchisement of
slaves.

The monarchy instituted by Augustus, in all but the name, was a
political necessity. Pompey would have ruled as the instrument of the
aristocracy, but he would only have been primus inter pares; Caesar
recognized the people as the basis of sovereignty; Augustus based his
power on an organized military establishment, of which he was the
permanent head. All the soldiers swore personal fealty to him--all the
officers were appointed by him, directly or indirectly. But he paid
respect to ancient traditions, forms, and magistracies, especially to the
dignity of the Senate, and thus vested his military power, which was his
true power, under the forms of an aristocracy, which was the governing
power before the constitution was subverted.

It need scarcely be said that the great mass of the people were
indifferent to these political changes. The horrors of the Marian and
Sullan revolutions, the struggles of Caesar and Pompey, and the awful
massacres of the triumvirs had alarmed and disgusted all classes, and they
sought repose, security, and peace. Any government which would repress
anarchy was, to them, the best. They wished to be spared from executions
and confiscations. The great enfranchisement of foreign slaves, also,
degraded the people, and made them indifferent to the masters who should
rule over them. All races were mingled with Roman citizens. The spoliation
of estates in the civil wars cast a blight on agriculture, and the
population had declined from war and misery.

Augustus, intrenched by military power, sought to revive not
merely patrician caste, but religious customs, which had declined. Temples
were erected, and the shrines of gods were restored. Marriage was
encouraged, and the morals of the people were regulated by sumptuary laws.
Severe penalties were enacted against celibacy, to which the people had
been led by the increasing profligacy of the times, and the expenses of
living. Restrictions were placed on the manumission of slaves. The
personal habits of the imperator were simple, but dignified. His mansion
on the Palatine was moderate in size. His dress was that of a senator, and
woven by the hands of Livia and her maidens. He was courteous, sober,
decorous, and abstemious. His guests were chosen for their social
qualities. Virgil and Horace, plebeian poets, were received at his table,
as well as Pollio and Messala. He sought to guard morals, and revive
ancient traditions. He was jealous only of those who would not flatter
him. He freely spent money for games and festivals, and secured peace and
plenty within the capital, where he reigned supreme. The people
felicitated themselves on the appearance of unbounded prosperity, and
servile poets sung the praises of the emperor as if he were a god.

And, to all appearance, Rome was the most favored spot upon the
globe. Vast fleets brought corn from Gaul, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia,
Africa, and Egypt, to feed the four millions of people who possessed the
world. The capital was the emporium of all the luxuries of distant
provinces. Spices from the East, ivory, cotton, silk, pearls, diamonds,
gums thither flowed, as well as corn, oil, and wine. A vast commerce gave
unity to the empire, and brought all the great cities into communication
with each other and with Rome--the mighty mistress of lands and continents,
the directress of armies, the builder of roads, the civilizer and
conservator of all the countries which she ruled with her iron hand. There
was general security to commerce, as well as property. There were order
and law, wherever proconsular power extended. The great highways, built
originally for military purposes, extending to every part of the empire,
and crossing mountains and deserts, and forests and marshes, and studded
with pillars and post-houses, contributed vastly to the civilization of
the world.

At this time, Rome herself, though not so large and splendid as in
subsequent periods, was the most attractive place on earth. Seven
aqueducts already brought water to the city, some over stone arches, and
some by subterranean pipes. The sepulchres of twenty generations lined the
great roads which extended from the capital to the provinces. As these
roads approached the city, they became streets, and the houses were dense
and continuous. The seven original hills were covered with palaces and
temples, while the valleys were centres of a great population, in which
were the forums, the suburra, the quarter of the shops, the circus, and
the velabrum. The Palatine, especially, was occupied by the higher
nobility. Here were the famous mansions of Drusus, of Crassus, of Cicero,
of Clodius, of Scaurus, and of Augustus, together with the temples of
Cybele, of Juno Sospita, of Luna, of Febris, of Fortune, of Mars, and
Vesta. On the Capitoline were the Arx, or citadel, and the temple of
Jupiter. On the Pincian Hill were villas and gardens, including those of
Lucullus and Sallust. Every available inch of ground in the suburra and
velabrum was filled with dwellings, rising to great altitudes, even to the
level of the Capitoline summit. The temples were all constructed after the
Grecian models. The houses of the great were of immense size. The suburbs
were of extraordinary extent. The population exceeded that of all modern
cities, although it has been, perhaps, exaggerated. It was computed by
Lipsius to reach the enormous number of four millions. Nothing could be
more crowded than the streets, whose incessant din was intolerable to
those who sought repose. And they were filled with idlers, as well as
trades-people, and artisans and slaves. All classes sought the excitement
of the theater and circus--all repaired to the public baths. The
amphitheatres collected, also, unnumbered thousands within their walls to
witness the combats of beasts with man, and man with man. The gladiatorial
sports were the most exciting exhibitions ever known in ancient or modern
times, and were the most striking features of Roman society. The baths,
too, resounded with shouts and laughter, with the music of singers and of
instruments, and even by the recitations of poets and lecturers. The
luxurious Roman rose with the light of day, and received, at his levee, a
crowd of clients and retainers. He then repaired to the forum, or was
carried through the crowds on a litter. Here he presided as a judge, or
appeared as a witness or advocate, or transacted his business affairs. At
twelve, the work of the day ceased, and he retired for his midday siesta.
When this had ended, he recreated himself with the sports of the Field of
Mars, and then repaired to the baths, after which was the supper, or
principal meal, in which he indulged in the coarsest luxuries, valued more
for the cost than the elegance. He reclined at table, on a luxurious
couch, and was served by slaves, who carved for him, and filled his cup,
and poured water into his hand after every remove. He ate without knives
or forks, with his fingers only. The feast was beguiled by lively
conversation, or music and dancing.

At this period, the literature of Rome reached its highest purity
and terseness. Livy, the historian, secured the friendship of Augustus,
and his reputation was so high that an enthusiastic Spaniard traveled from
Cadiz on purpose to see him, and having gratified his curiosity,
immediately returned home. He took the dry chronicles of his country, drew
forth from them the poetry of the old traditions, and incited a patriotic
spirit. A friend of the old oligarchy, an aristocrat in all his prejudices
and habits, he heaped scorn on tribunes and demagogues, and veiled the
despotism of his imperial master. Virgil also inflamed the patriotism of
his countrymen, while he flattered the tyrant in whose sunshine he basked.
Patronized by Maecenas, countenanced by Octavius, he sung the praises of
law, of order, and of tradition, and attempted to revive an age of faith,
a love of agricultural life, a taste for the simplicities of better days,
and a veneration of the martial virtues of heroic times. Horace ridiculed
and rebuked the vices of his age, and yet obtained both riches and honors.
His matchless wit and transcendent elegance of style have been admired by
every scholar for nearly two thousand years. Propertius and Tibullus, and
Ovid, also adorned this age, never afterward equaled by the labors of men
of genius. Literature and morals went hand in hand as corruption
accomplished its work. The age of Augustus saw the highest triumph in
literature that Rome was destined to behold. Imperial tyranny was fatal to
that independence of spirit without which all literature languishes and
dies. But the limit of this work will not permit an extended notice of
Roman civilization. This has been attempted by the author in another work.





Next: The Six Caesars Of The Julian Line

Previous: The Civil Wars Following The Death Of Caesar



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