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 yea
s 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


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.