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Book IV
Chapter III

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
John Buchan

published by
Hodder and Stoughton
London 1937

The text is in the public domain.

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Book IV
Chapter V

Book IV: Pater Patriae

 p277  Chapter IV

The Augustan Peace

Venient annis saecula seris,

quibus Oceanus vincula rerum

laxet, et ingens pateat tellus,

Tethysque novos detegat orbes,

nec sit terris ultima Thule.

Seneca, Medea.


Augustus gave the empire a soul, and he laboured also to correct the disharmonies of its body. In the half-century before Actium travel throughout the ancient world was a gamble with fate. The man who took the road on his lawful occasions had to reckon with certain discomfort and almost certain danger. In Italy the highways were infested by brigands and runaway slaves, and the traveller might disappear for good and all in one of the slave-dungeons. In the provinces the wars had put many of the roads out of repair, and except in the vicinity of the cities there was no police system. Dues on merchandise were capriciously and corruptly levied, and merchants had often to buy security by paying blackmail. On the seas the trader was at the mercy of privateers — the Cilician pirates in the Levant, and enthusiastic amateurs like Sextus Pompeius in the western Mediterranean.

That Princeps wrought a miraculous change. In Italy he put down banditry with a strong hand, and he drove the pirates from every sea. His legions policed the provinces up to the extreme barbarian confines. He made the Italian roads a marvel of efficiency, and established or completed a similar network overseas. Milestones and pillars at the crossroads gave the traveller his bearings. Maps were found in every educated household, and by  p278 their means a Roman girl could follow the movements of her lover serving on some distant front. A great chart of the world, prepared by Agrippina for Augustus, was displayed in the Porticus Vipsania in the Field of Mars for all to study. Geographers and explorers were patronized and assisted by the government. The old cosmographical notions had changed; the idea of an encircling Ocean stream had been abandoned, and the general conception was now of Africa and Asia joined together somewhere in the south. Imperial posts facilitated official communications between every part of the empire; the inns improved with the roads, and there were posting stations every five or ten miles. The slave-dungeons were frequently inspected to prevent cases of wrongousº imprisonment. The harbours were everywhere improved, and the cornº supply of Rome was stabilized by the institution of regular lines of sailing.1 Ports like Ostia and Puteoli had a huge mechanism of ship-owners, ship-chandlers, and marine-brokers.

Travel by land on the well-paved highways was principally by coach, carriage and litter; on the inferior roads, which were liable to landslips and floods, men journeyed on horseback or on foot. The ships were often of considerable size, up to a thousand tons register,2 and many of the largest had as their ports of origin distant places in Spain and Arabia. On land a journey was probably speedier and more certain in the civilized countries than at any later time before the age of steam.3 The news of Nero's death came to Galba in thirty‑six hours over three hundred and fifty miles of Spanish roads, and these were not always of the best. The ordinary traveller could average five miles an hour, and twenty miles a day was in the power of the foot-passenger. At sea a ship with a favourable wind could reckon on at least five knots, and  p279 there are records of some remarkable voyages; the distance from Alexandria to Puteoli could be covered in nine days, and that from Gades (Cadiz) to Ostia in seven.a But this was for summer weather; in winter the Mediterranean was practically closed to sea‑borne traffic, and all that could be done was to creep from port to port round the coast. The Etesian winds, too, blew in mid‑July from the north-west, and while they made the journey fast from Rome to the East they practically cut off for six weeks all navigation westward. Yet it may fairly be said that communications by sea were as fast as anything known in Europe before the nineteenth century, and that in many parts of the Mediterranean basin — in Syria and Palestine, in Asia Minor, in Thrace and Macedonia — there was a standard of comfort and security under Augustus which is not reached to‑day. The tribute of Epictetus was well deserved: "Caesar has won for us a profound peace. There are neither wars nor battles, robbers nor pirates, and we may travel at all hours and sail from east to west."4

The Golden Milestone In 20 B.C. at the north end of the Forum the Golden Milestone was set up, which bore on its gilded bronze the names of the chief cities of the empire and their distance from the capital. From it, like the spokes of a wheel, radiated the highways which led to the Italian coast or frontier, the first stages in foreign journeys. From the Porta Capena ran the Great South Road, the Via Appia, already three centuries old. To begin with it was a suburban highway lined with villas and country seats. When it left the Alban hills there was a bad patch through the Pomptine marshes, which was not properly repaired until the time of Tiberius. Its old terminus was Capua, but a branch ran to the great port of Puteoli and the coast lands under Vesuvius. From Capua it continued to Beneventum, where the Via Latina joined it, and thence through the Campanian vineyards, from which came the Falernian and Massic wines, to Tarentum and the hill-pastures of Calabria. The branch to Brindisi was, as we know from Horace, nothing to boast  p280 of, and it had to wait for Trajan to be ranked among the good roads. The Great North Road, the Via Flaminia, left the city by the Porta Flaminia and ran north through the corn-lands of Etruria and across the Apennines to Ariminum (Rimini), where in 27 B.C. Augustus had set up a triumphal arch to celebrate his remaking of the highway. From Ariminum it branched into two, one following the Adriatic coast to Aquileia, the gate of the north-east, while another, the Via Aemilia, skirted the base of the Apennines, crossed the wide valley of the Po, and led to Gaul and the North by the Alpine passes. The Via Salaria ran north-east from Rome through the Umbrian hills to the Adriatic, and the Via Aurelia by way of Pisa and Genoa was the coast road to Gaul. These were the main arteries, the routes nationales, but there was a multitude of lesser roads threading every part of the peninsula. The face of Italy was never more smiling than at the beginning of the principate. What are now wild glens in the Apennines had then their hamlets and manors, the sea‑shore was lined with country houses, and for nine months in the year the dreary wastes of the Campagna were white with sheep.


Let us attempt a bird's‑eye view of the diverse lands on which the Augustan peace lay like a summer noon. Assume a cultivated Roman at the turn of the century, who had the leisure and the means to make a tour of the known world. From the Princeps he had a permit to visit forbidden countries, like Egypt, and from his bankers he had traveller's cheques which would be cashed by their agents in the most distant places. Let us follow his itinerary. Naturally he first turned his eyes to the East.

In the third week of July the north-west wind made Brindisi a busy harbour, for it was the season for exporting the wool from the Calabrian sheep-runs. GreeceTo the voyager eastward the first sight of the mainland was the  p281 white temples of Nicopolis (Prevesa), the city founded in memory of Actium on the northern shore of the Ambracian gulf. This was a prosperous place, since Augustus had settled a Roman colony there, and the inhabitants of impoverished Aetolia had thronged to the new foundation. For the rest, the first impression was disappointing. Zacynthus was still well wooded, but the cities of Cephallenia had gone, and Lysimachia on the mainland was in ruins. But Patrae (Patras) on the south shore of the Corinthian gulf was another bustling Roman colony, an Augustan foundation for the X and XII legions, and thither many of the citizens of the older Achaean towns had migrated. It had a brisk linen industry, and as a port held a strategic position for trade. At the head of the gulf, Corinth, re‑established by Julius, had a similar advantage, and was by far the most flourishing of Greek cities. Beyond the isthmus the shores of the Saronic gulf presented a melancholy sight. Megara was in decay, and Athens was no longer queen of the Aegean. The soil of the Attic plain, never rich, was now wholly worked out, like some of the old tobacco lands of Virginia to‑day, and tillage was everywhere giving place to coarse pasture. There was still some traffic in what had once been a famous mart: honey from Hymettus and marble from Pentelicus, though the new Carrara quarries were decreasing Italy's demand for the latter. The chief luxury exports were bronzes for the decoration of the rich Roman houses. Athens had become a museum-peace, a place to visit on the grand tour for the sake of its ancient glories, and also a university town for those who sought a more elaborate course in philosophy than that afforded by the Roman schools. The glory had departed from Hellas, for its principal export had long been its citizens. As traders, teachers, physicians, the Greeks were scattered throughout the empire, making fortunes in a hundred crafts, and the little country was left shabby and dispirited. Our traveller, if anything of a philhellene, must have left the Piraeus with few regrets.

Egypt A very different sight met his eye when the Etesians had carried him past the Cyclades and Rhodes to where the tall pharos of Alexandria kept watch over its shallow  p282 seas. Here was a city of many races and tongues, and among its half-million inhabitants5 were Egyptians, Greeks, Anatolians, Persians, Sabaeans, and a multitude of Jews. Its great sea harbours, and the network of cross-channels linking up all the mouths of the Nile, were crowded with shipping from every port on the globe, and the canal through the Bitter Lakes to Arsinoe on the gulf of Suez gave the city a water outlet to the East. Its broad streets were lined with shady colonnades, and everywhere there were noble public buildings, such as the Museum, that staff college for learning, and the great Library which was one of the wonders of the world. Conspicuous above the harbour was the new and splendid temple erected in honour of Augustus, to which all Egypt brought votive offerings.6 There our traveller was at home, but strange to his eyes were the Egyptian shrines where animal-gods were worshipped with exotic rites. He found himself among a motley people, cultivated, excitable, avid of new things, speaking familiarly of the remotest lands, for to their city came trade routes from the uttermost places. They would talk readily of art and letters, but especially of commerce, for commerce was the breath of their being. From Alexandria were shipped not only the huge corn cargoes for Rome, but porphyry and serpentine, bricks of a special quality, red and grey granite, paper made from papyrus, alum and dyes, and from its workshops a variety of manufactured articles — fine linens, metal-work, jewellery, and the most delicate glassware. But above all, the city was the emporium to which came the products of Arabia, India and even China, for transport to the west. Spices and drugs, gums and perfumes, rare gems, ivory, tortoiseshell and gossamer silks filled its sweet-smelling warehouses.

When our traveller, having had his fill of the capital, passed south through the maze of waterways to the Nile valley, he found himself in a natural sanctuary. Egypt was defended on the north by the Delta, and on the  p283 other sides by a waste of sand, and through it ran the great river which was its life. To the south, beyond the first cataract of the Nile, lay the kingdom of Ethiopia, which was only a loose alliance of desert tribes, while from the east and west no danger had to be feared. Nevertheless the land was fully garrisoned, for Rome dared run no risks with her granary. Forts like peel-towers commanded all points of vantage. The vital problem, then as to‑day, was the protection of the irrigation system, which before Actium had fallen into decay. Augustus enlarged and improved the canals and dykes,7 and by selling some of the royal domainland encouraged the peasant proprietor. The fellahin in their mud huts had the advantage of more equitable taxation and complete security.

Egypt to the traveller was fascinating in itself, but still more as the frontier post of the mysterious East and the fabulous South. In its streets he could meet men who had ventured far into the unknown. Some had gone beyond the land of the Ethiopians and brought back tales of the snow mountains where lay the springs of the Nile.8 From Coptus (Quft) on the river a little below Thebes a carefully guarded road ran eastward, by which in six or seven days caravans could reach the port of Myos Hormos (Kosseir) on the Red Sea. This was the route for that part of the merchandise of the East which did not travel by Arsinoe and the canals, or by the great road which led by Petra to Syria. Under Augustus this merchandise had grown into a regular traffic. In the time of the Ptolemies, Strabo tells us, not twenty ships a year passed the strait of Bâb-el‑Mandeb, while now that number was six times multiplied.9 The goods which reached Myos Hormos were partly the gums and spices of Arabia, but still more the produce of India and the Far East. Some time about the turn of the century a sea captain named  p284 Hippalus10 discovered the tremendous fact of the periodicity of the monsoon, and ships, instead of hugging the coast, could now sail direct to the mouth of the Indus, starting at the summer solstice and returning to Alexandria the following February. Roman money circulated in India, Roman and Greek cults reached its shores, a temple of Augustus was erected in Mysore, and Indian traders were common in the streets of Alexandria. Within a century India was to become, after Italy, the chief producing ground for the empire.11 She sent Rome luxuries, while Rome's return cargoes were the same as those of later exploiters — wine, and cheap articles produced in mass. The traders did not stop at the Malabar coast; they rounded Cape Comorin, they visited Ceylon, they began to push into Malaya, and they were presently at the confines of China, though Chinese goods still came mostly by the overland routes to the Black Sea or the Tigris valley. They ventured south also, in search of ivory and gold, to Zanzibar and Mozambique where the Sabaean Arabs had preceded them. No city in history, not even Venice in the Middle Ages, can have matched Alexandria for travellers' tales.

Syria The coast road from Egypt to Syria has some claim to rank as the most famous of all the roads of history. Up and down the seaward levels had marched the great armies of Egypt and Assyria, while the Jews looked on fearfully from their barren hills. From Sennacherib to Mark Antony that strip of plain had been the gate in which empires clashed. It was a route for trade as well as for arms; and now, under the Augustan peace, the caravans from Egypt hugged the shore as far as Gaza, where there was an important road junction. One branch went east through the Idumaean country to Petra in the desert, one went north-east to Jerusalem, and the main branch continued north through the plain of Ascalon. This last was in turn subdivided in the plain of Sharon: the western road followed the coast by  p285 Caesarea, Tyre, Sidon and Berytus (Beirut) until it reached Seleucia, the port of Antioch; the eastern crossed the hills of Ephraim to the plain of Esdraelon, where it sent off a branch to Damascus, and continued thence down the valley of the Orontes to Emesa and Antioch.

Syria had produced in the past a notable breed of sailors, but now its ports were merely the doorway to the great cities of the interior. Of these, Jerusalem among its hills owed its fame to its religion and its stubborn people, but the others were marts of high importance. Antioch, which could be reached by water from Seleucia, was second only to Alexandria in commercial repute. Situated in a flower-garden it was a city of palaces, whose streets at night were lit artificially like a modern capital, and whose houses had water laid on indoors, a place of exchange for the merchandise of East and West, the nearest point to the Euphrates, and the focus of a network of trade routes. Damascus, watered by the snows of Lebanon, was likewise a garden-city, set in the midst of orchards, an emporium, but also the home of many crafts and industries. From it caravans journeyed to the Euphrates through the wonderful city of Palmyra, whose wealth was already a legend in Rome. To Antioch and Damascus came a large share of the overland traffic from India, and far in the south the fortress city of Petra, on its cliffs above the Nabatean sands, received much of the produce of Arabia. The Roman peace became less solid as it stretched eastward. There was a multitude of quarrelsome princelings, and, as has been well said, the map of Syria was like the map of eighteenth-century Germany. The bedawin of the desert were troublesome neighbours even when they ceased to be nomads, and beyond the Euphrates lay Parthia with its ill‑defined frontier. Rome under Augustus had never less than four legions as a garrison, a garrison which at any moment might become a field force, besides auxiliary troops in peel-towers to watch the Euphrates crossings. Though it was defended by the sea in the west and the mountains in the north, and in the east and south by deserts, Syria was never, like Egypt, an enclosure of settled peace. The traveller felt behind its prosperity a certain lack of ease,  p286 and its luxury was the habit of men to whom life must always be something of a gamble.

Of that prosperity there could be no question. To one coming from Egypt, where in late summer the air hung languid above the brimming water-furrows, the Syrian atmosphere, even in the flats, seemed tonic and aromatic. The heat was great, but it braced the traveller. As soon as the deserts were passed, evidence of wealth met him on every hand. At Berytus, which was a colony of Agrippa's and remained the most Roman part of the land, the vineyards and flax plantations were famous; Sharon was a garden; Tyre and Sidon were still the home of the purple dyes; the valleys were rich in crops, and even in the Judaean hills the pockets of good soil produced abundantly; the great cities were hives of industry; every harbour was packed with shipping; the numerous roads were crowded with convoys, including strings of camels from beyond the deserts, which seemed strange to the Roman eye. The Syria of to‑day has small resemblance to the Syria of Augustus. Then it contained perhaps ten million people; strategically it was one of the most vital parts of the empire, and it was the greatest of manufacturing centres. Districts which are now barren were then productive, for the soil had not been overworked and there was no lack of water. The great forests, found now only in patches on Lebanon, were then widespread, so that the streams ran full and the rains came in due season. An elaborate system of canals and reservoirs irrigated what to‑day are wastes of sand. Recent excavation has revealed the fact that the country north-east of Palmyra, which is now without human dwellings, had then twenty-four temples, and pastures which bred the most famous horses in the world.

Syrian Culture Syria was not the easiest of Augustus's problems. There was Judaea, a volcano in periodic eruption, and the exposed frontier towards Parthia. The wealth of the cities needed constant guardianship, and that duty fell wholly on Rome. The natives were not a warlike race, and the opinion of the Roman soldiery on them may be judged from an inscription scribbled on a boulder, "The  p287 Syrians are vile folk."12 They had much the same repute as the Jews to‑day, that of men who would go anywhere and do anything in the way of business, the commercial traveller in excelsis, and we find their tracks in the remotest northern and western parts of the empire. In Rome, as Juvenal complained bitterly, the Orontes had flowed into the Tiber.13 Syria was the forerunner of Venice and Genoa in acting as middleman between East and West. But the Roman, wintering in Antioch or Damascus, learned that there was another characteristic of the people. The country was practically tri‑lingual, with Latin, Greek and Aramaic, but, except in Berytus, the specific Roman culture made little headway. The Hellenic and the Semitic strains had intermingled, and had produced their own intellectual activity and a quick interest in liberal studies. The minor arts flourished; Syrian actors and musicians were plentiful in the west, and Publilius Syrus fifty years before had introduced the mime to Rome. From the little town of Gadara had sprung Meleager, the poet of "The Garland," Menippus the Cynic philosopher, Theodorus the rhetorician, whose lectures at Rhodes were attended by Tiberius, and Philodemus, who was the teacher of Virgil. Sidon, a century earlier, has produced Antipater, whose epigrams adorn the Greek Anthology. Posidonius, the fashionable Stoic professor in Rome, had been a Syrian; indeed that philosophy drew from the East some of its chief exponents, for its founder, Zeno, was a Semite. This appetite for the things of the mind was to continue for centuries and to influence profoundly the thought of the empire, in science and philosophy, in religion and law, in prose and poetry. Of Syrian blood were Iamblichus and Heliodorus, the first novelists; Lucian the satirist; Nicolaus the historian; Porphyry and Iamblichus the Neo‑Platonists; the jurists Ulpian and Papinian; and a host of Christian fathers, orthodox and heretic.

Asia Minor The traveller, returning from Syria to Rome when the  p288 spring sailings opened, had a choice of routes. The ordinary plan was to take ship from Alexandria. Or he might go overland through the passes of the Taurus across the tableland of Anatolia to some port on the Black Sea, and thence by water to Thessaly and the eastern terminus of the Via Egnatia. Or, if he had ample leisure, a coasting vessel would take him up the shores of Asia to Byzantium. To the average Roman there was little attraction about the second route. It was safe enough, since the buffer states of Commagene and Armenia were flank guards on the east; but the road led over a high plateau, which at the best was monotonous and dusty. The coasting voyage, on the other hand, took him into a land made classic by literature and history, and among islands and cities which he revered as the cradle of civilization.

Anatolian roads had not attained the perfection reached in the later empire. Asia Minor was primarily a littoral studded with cities, some of which exploited a considerable hinterland. It was a peaceful province and was therefore under the Senate's charge, and Ephesus seems to have been the principal seat of government, with Pergamum as a close rival. Each city was allowed to retain its ancient constitution, which gave it self-government, and all, having suffered much in the civil wars, were enthusiasts for the new empire and zealous in the cult of "Roma et Augustus."14 Rhodes was no longer the metropolis of the eastern Aegean: Ephesus, Smyrna, Cyzicus, Pergamum and Miletus were more important, and inland municipalities like Thyateira, Sardis and Laodicea acted as feeders for the sea‑borne commerce. Once the "royal road" to Persia had followed the Maeander, but now Syria had taken its place as the gate of the East. The river valleys, both those debouching on the Aegean and on the Black Sea, were highly cultivated, and from the hill country came the finest of wool, but only the coast lands were homogeneous; from the rich plains of Pamphylia the traveller going inland entered Pisidia, a land of half-savage mountaineers,  p289 and the hardy Galatians had little in common with the soft Lydians. The peninsula, once a bridge between East and West, had now lost most of its strategic importance, but it was fast winning a new prosperity. Along with Cyprus it produced almost every known mineral, all the precious metals, and a wide range of gems. To Italy it sent wine and oil and dried fruits, and a variety of fine timber; but its main industry was textiles — Coan silks, Milesian woollens, carpets and blankets, and dyed fabrics from Laodicea. Every port was a busy centre, since for the first time for centuries the land had honest government and peace.

The traveller observed another thing. Asia was composed of layers of old civilizations, Ionian, Hellenic and Hellenistic, and its culture remained permanently Hellenic. Latin was the official tongue, but Rome, even less than in Syria, imposed upon the land her modes of thought. The temples of Augustus were dutifully served, but they could not compare in splendour or fame with an old shrine like that of Artemis at Ephesus. There were only two Roman colonies, Alexandria in the Troad and Parium on the Propontis; no town had the Latin citizenship; there was no attempt at romanizing, except a half-hearted effort to exalt Ilium, or Troy, as the cradle of Rome. The Roman visiting the gleaming cities on the Aegean realized that here, rather than in Greece itself, the Hellenic tradition survived, and felt himself in a land more foreign in many ways than Syria or Egypt.

If time allowed, and our traveller, before completing his last homeward stage by the great Macedonian highway, ventured north from Byzantium, he found himself in a very different world. Vines and olives gave place to fir trees, the merchantmen of the south to fishing smacks, and the sunlit Aegean to the grey waters of the Euxine. On the northern shore lay the little Bosporan kingdom, which farmed the rich black soil of the steppes and supplied the nearer cities of Asia with corn. It was the furthest outpost of Rome's authority, for west of it lay the Scythians of the Crimea, and east and north the Sarmatian tribes, outliers of the great nomad peoples of  p290 Central Asia. The traveller in the Bosporan capital heard uncouth names like Iapyges, Roxolani, Alani and Aorsi, which were to be only too familiar to his grandchildren, and knew that he was very near the edge of the world.


Africa The visitor to Africa took ship at Puteoli in the bay of Naples, the busiest port in Italy, and one of the chief industrial towns, for to it the iron ore from Elba was brought for smelting, and its potteries produced the red‑glazed Arretine ware. Carthage was his destination, the famous city which the fears of republican Rome had kept derelict, but which Julius and Augustus had very wisely re‑founded. It was already the chief of African centres and rapidly regaining its ancient wealth. Its crafts were glass-blowing and dyeing, but its main importance lay in the fact that it was the harbour from which African agricultural products were shipped. Of these products corn was the chief, and the export was already drawing up fast on Egypt. Wheat in Africa was said to give four times the yield of the same grain in Egypt and Sicily. Every eye‑witness agreed on the richness of the soil; to Horace Africa was pre‑eminently the "fertile land," to Columella "abundant in corn," and to the elder Pliny the "chosen home of Ceres." Farming was conducted on novel methods, for the hillsides were terraced, and at different levels had palms and orchards, olive-yards, vegetable gardens and wheat-fields.

The people were mainly Berbers, though there were various colonies of Roman veterans, and a certain admixture of the old Punic population. The city dwellers were a docile race, who gladly acquiesced in the rites of "Roma et Augustus"; but they clung, too, to their ancient gods, and in most cities there were temples to Baal and Tanit. Only one legion, the III Augusta, was required to keep order and watch the frontier. The old province of Africa, the modern Tunisia, was now but a  p291 small part of the Roman sphere of influence, which stretched for a thousand miles west to the Atlantic. Augustus took Numidia, which roughly corresponded to what is Algeria to‑day, from its king Juba and annexed it to the province, while in return he gave Juba Mauretania (Morocco) and while the western lands. Juba was an enlightened ruler, and he made his capital, Iol Caesarea, a centre of industry and learning, developed the sheep-runs in the mountains and the forests of ebony and citrus, exported wild beasts for the Roman circus, and created a flourishing trade in purple dye. Africa under Augustus had the old province as its heart, with the coast-lands of Cyrenaica to the east and the Numidian plateau to the west, and beyond the latter the protected realm of king Juba. There was no definite southern frontier except the line of forts which looked out on the Sahara. A network of roads linked Carthage and the ports with rich valleys like that of the Bagradas (Majerda), and a trunk road followed the coast to Cyrenaica and ultimately to Egypt.

The problem before Rome was to draw the nomad tribes of Numidia and Mauretania to habits of settled life. For this purpose bounties were offered for the reclaiming of marsh and bush land, and apparently with success; for tillage began to take the place of pasture, and the farmers came together into little towns, very much as in Picardy to‑day. Presently these towns were to expand into cities, which in the later empire had their full complement of temples, baths and amphitheatres built of the yellow African marble, like the Tunisian Bulla Regia and the Algerian Timgad. To keep the peace there was a constant frontier bickering with the mountaineers of Morocco and Saharan tribes like the Garamantes and the Gaetuli. But in the main it was a quiet and contented land, and a proof is that it turned its eyes to distant horizons. There were settlements on the western coast of Morocco, and Juba's navy sailed past the Pillars of Hercules and discovered the Canaries, bringing back from them hunting dogs and a new legend of the Happy Isles. The quick Berber mind, leavened by Roman and Punic influences, turned readily to intellectual interests.  p292 In time Africa was to furnish the beau idéal of the cultivated Roman, like the grandfather of Septimius Severus and the elder Gordian. It was to produce men of letters like Fronto and Apuleius, jurists like Silvanus Julianus, scholars like Florus and Aulus Gellius, a theologian like Tertullian, and in St. Augustine one of the major influences on human thought.

Spain Spain is physically a southern land akin to Africa, for it is only at the Pyrenees that the damp mossy woods begin which are the true mark of the North. Her southern frontier in Roman days was not the straits of Gibraltar, but the Moroccan uplands, and with the Riff unsettled the wealth of Baetica was insecure. That was why Augustus planted settlements on the northern and western Moroccan coast, one at least of which was actually under a Spanish governor. The farmers of southern Spain imported rams from Africa, and there was a constant coming and going between the two countries, ferries plying from Lixus to Cadiz and from Tingis (Tangier) to Belo. Consequently the traveller was wise, if he wished to survey the western half of the empire, to make a circuit clock-wise and reach Spain from its natural complement.

It was the oldest Roman province in the West,15 and it had taken the longest time to conquer. The reason for this was partly its natural formation and partly the character of its people. Spain was a land with a rich coast fringe, and inland a high plateau, rising in the south and north-west to considerable mountains, and cut into by long, awkwardly placed river valleys. Communications, except round the coast, had to climb in and out of glens and cross and recross steep ranges. Geographically the country was dislocated, and composed of more or less isolated pockets of habitable land. There were many rivers, some of them with long courses and navigable for a considerable distance — the Hiberus (Ebro) and the Sucro (Jucar) on the east, the Baetis (Guadalquivir)  p293 and the Anas (Guadiana) on the south, and the Tagus and the Durius (Douro) flowing to the Atlantic; but they made highways only for their own valleys. The country was divided into the semi-tropical south, the high and arid central plateau, the long-settled Mediterranean coast, and in the north and north-west a wild tangle of mountains. The population took the colour of their surroundings. The basis was Iberian, a stock probably of Berber origin, mixed with, but not dominated by, a Celtic element. These Iberians were shepherds and hunters on the plateau and in the mountains, and bold sailors on the western coast, and they were never as fully romanized as the Gauls. The Basques, who represent them to‑day, were even in the fourth century A.D. to the Roman Prudentius "bruta Vascorum gentilitas," and they still retain their ancient independence. The natives were split up into so many little tribes — Pliny mentions thirty-four of them in Tarraconensis alone — that they could not unite against an invader, but the difficulty of their country made it necessary to reduce them step by step. There was no single nerve-centre at which a conqueror could strike. That is why the subjugation of Spain was not completed until the time of Augustus and Agrippa, and they found it no easy task. Along the coast there was a marvellous racial variety — Roman colonists, imported Italian workmen, relics of all the seafarers who had ventured to Spain from the Minoans to the Carthaginians, but elsewhere the Celto-Iberians were the Spanish people.

The first step of Augustus was political, the redistribution of the governments. The republican two had been Hither and Further Spain. He took Baetica (Andalusia) from the latter and made it a separate province under the Senate. He made a new province of Lusitania (Portugal), and added to it the north-west territories, Galicia and Asturia, and all the rest he comprised in the huge government of Tarraconensis. Then he set himself vigorously to road-making. Three roads entered Spain from Gaul — one in the west by Roncevaux to Pampeluna, one over the central Pyrenees to Caesaraugusta (Saragossa), and one, the Via Domitia, at the eastern end. These he continued  p294 as arterial roads through the country to the southern and western coasts. They were real engineering feats, for they had to cross high passes and involved much difficult bridging. He also completed the great circuit of coast highways; in this respect Spain was the opposite of Gaul, for there the roads radiated outward from a centre, while in Spain the importance lay in the periphery.

Mérida He did much, too, in the way of building new cities and amplifying old ones at strategic points in the interior, cities which should dominate the new roads and be centres of Roman influence. Examples are Asturica Augusta (Astorga) in the north-west, Saragossa on the Ebro, Emerita (Mérida) on the Guadiana, Italica on the plain of the Guadalquivir, and Tarraco (Tarragona) which rose in terraces above the blue Mediterranean. Mérida, the residence of the governor of Lusitania, impresses one even more than the aqueduct at Segovia or the bridge at Alcantara with the audacity of the Roman genius. The V and X legions, which defeated the Asturians, were settled in 25 B.C. by Publius Carisius in a new city on the Guadiana, which was meant to be not a mere frontier military post but a Latin capital and a model of Roman life.16 Otho and Vespasian added to its population and curbed the Guadiana, which Prudentius describes as "viridante rapax gurgite," but they did not enlarge the city, and Mérida was wholly an Augustan foundation. It had a bridge of sixty arches a kilometre long, which carried the road from Hispalis (Seville), an embankment against flooding of sixty‑six bays, three aqueducts, a huge reservoir four miles off, a circus and an amphitheatre. Mérida was born in the purple, for its maker was Agrippa. From it ran north the second greatest of Spanish highways, by way of Salamanca and Zamora to Castile and Aragon and the sea. In the eighth century the Arab invaders were amazed at its splendour: "one would think," they cried, "that men had come together from all the world to  p295 found this city"; and still over the squalid modern pueblo broods the mighty shade of Augustus.

To the Romans Spain seemed the richest of their possessions. Legends were rife of its extraordinary wealth, and it was rumoured that in Baetica the horses had silver mangers. It had few crafts and manufactures, but it had everything else. The coasts and the valleys produced wine and oil, wheat and flax, fruits of every kind, and esparto grass for the Italian cordwainers, while the ports had a busy traffic in pickled fish and sauces. Spanish honey, too, was famous. But its main wealth was its minerals, which soon came to be a monopoly of the imperial house, Livia herself owning large mining properties. In these it was by far the richest part of the empire. Phoenician and Carthaginian adventurers had first prospected the land and sunk shafts, and even in the time of Polybius the silver mines in Roman hands employed forty thousand men. The chief mining centres were the southern sierras and the mountains of the north-west. Spanish silver and lead were the best on the market, and there was also alluvial gold, tin, iron and copper, mercury and cinnabar and the only known mica vein in the world. Spain was to Rome what Peru was to Spain itself in the sixteenth century, an almost fabulous Eldorado. The methods of extracting and handling the ore had reached a high pitch of development; in the Rio Tinto fields to‑day one may see deep Roman shafts sunk without explosives through solid quartz, and Roman slag with so low a percentage left of copper as to amaze modern metallurgists.

The traveller in the coast lands marvelled at the overflowing riches of the soil, but he marvelled still more if he penetrated to the interior and saw the long strings of mules laden with ore on the mountain paths, and at night the glow of furnaces among remote sheep-walks. Spain in Roman hands was prospering beyond doubt, but the process of romanization was slow. The three legions quartered there kept the peace; the worship of "Roma et Augustus" was observed in the chief cities, and an altar at Tarraco was the Spanish counterpart of the great altar at Lyons. But the old Iberian and Celtic  p296 deities did not lose their devotees,17 and the Spaniard was not as ready as the Gaul to take on a Latin veneer. For that reason, perhaps, he made the better soldier. The men from the uplands were soon to be the backbone of the legions and to furnish the best auxiliary corps; nor was the race which invented the Moorish, and therefore the Norman, arch lacking in original talent. The south, indeed, speedily adopted new fashions, and Baetica became, like the Narbonese, more Roman than Rome. Cadiz, for example, could boast five hundred members of the equestrian order, a number equalled by only one Italian city. It was the most prosperous epoch in Spanish history, and the life of the country gentlefolk in the settled parts was as pleasant and varied as anything that Italy could show. There was a wonderful breed of horses, necessaries and luxuries were alike cheap, the gardens were rich in fruit and flowers, and the hills stocked with game, though rabbits were a nuisance to the sportsman.18 The Roman influence was to spread slowly but surely, and whereas in 227 B.C. the names on the inscriptions are uncouth things like Magilo and Bodecius, two centuries later they are Antonii and Flavii.19 From Spain were to come many of the chief figures in imperial literature, Lucan and the two Senecas, Martial, Quintilian, Pomponius Mela and Columella, and famous emperors like Trajan and Hadrian.

We have seen that Augustus from the beginning of the principate gave special attention to Gaul, making new territorial divisions, holding a circus of the people, and providing for the defence of its eastern frontier. It was the special charge of his house, for in seven miraculous years Julius had carried the eagles from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and from the Rhine to the Atlantic. Strategically it held a vital position in the  p297 empire; it paid as much in taxation as Egypt; it provided the army with the best cavalrymen and the best horses. It was of all the provinces the one which a leisured Roman was most likely to visit. Our traveller, on his western tour, would naturally enter it from north-east Spain by the Via Domitia and Nemausus (Nîmes) and Arelate (Arles). The other routes were by sea from Ostia to Massilia (Marseilles), for those for whom the gulf of Lyons had no terrors, or by the great coast road along the Riviera. This last was the favourite, for it was kept in good order, since it was one of the busiest highways in the empire. He who journeyed by it could see something of those valleys of the western Alps which Augustus had brought into the Roman peace, and the tall monument on the hillside above Monaco which commemorated that achievement.

The Narbonese The Narbonese, or southern Gaul, was, as a province, older than Julius's conquest. It combined what is to‑day Provence, Languedoc, Dauphiné, part of Savoy and a corner of Switzerland. As compared with the rest of Gaul its organization was urban, for it was above all things a country of splendid cities. Each city had attached to it a territory which had once been the possession of the local tribe, and that territory was an integral part of the civic life. Its ports were famous trading centres to which the merchants of all lands resorted; every acre was intensively cultivated, chiefly for the vine and the olive, and it exported its wines as far afield as Ireland. The Narbonese had indeed little kinship with the rest of Gaul, being, as the elder Pliny said, more like Italy than a province. Its inhabitants were drawn from many races, and, being rich, were pacific and if anything over-civilized, though in the future it was to produce fighting men like Agricola, and an emperor like Antoninus Pius. The doubts sometimes cast upon Gallic fortitude may be taken to apply to this warm and habitable southern land.20

Celtic Gaul Very different were the three northern provinces, where the Celtic strain ran pure, and a poorer soil and  p298 a sterner climate imposed harder conditions of life. The men were taller than the small-boned Romans, often fair in colouring, and their garb was sleeved coats and trousers as befitted a race of horsemen. Their organization was tribal rather than territorial, but they left their mark upon the soil, for they founded most of the towns and villages of the France we know to‑day. But they were a society, never a nation, or, more accurately, a group of societies.21 Left to themselves they wasted their strength on futile clan battles, and it needed the strong hand of Rome to impose that unity which means prosperity. Their temperamental difference from the Romans made them admire what they could not originate, and they remained consistently loyal to the empire. Indeed they invented for themselves a pedigree which linked them to Italy, and the Aedui and the Arverni claimed to be of Trojan blood.22

In Celtic Gaul Rome encouraged the formation of cities, but the country was never urbanized, for on the wide downs and beside the slow, reedy rivers there was always a multitude of little villages and scattered farms. The division between town and country was never absolute. The people retained their old customs and devotions, their old dress, and, in the country parts, their old speech. Alesia was still a traditional sanctuary, and the ancient goddesses of springs and hills and woods, the Matres, were still the popular objects of worship, though, as time went on, they tended to become confused with the Mediterranean deities. The mass of the people were craftsmen, shepherds and farmers — stock-farmers principally, since the pasture was better than the tillage. The olive and the fig would not grow north of the Cevennes, and the vineyards were poor, so beer, not wine, was the popular drink.

The land was well adapted for communications. The long deep rivers, Rhône and Saône, Moselle and Seine,  p299 Loire and Garonne, had made the Gauls a nation of boatmen;23 and since their craft were of shallow draught they could navigate a multitude of lesser streams, so that with easy portages goods could be sent by water throughout the land. There must have been fair roads even before the Roman conquest, or Hannibal and Julius could not have moved their armies at the pace they did. Augustus took the whole road system in hand, and with Lyons as the centre instituted five great trunk highways. One went down the Rhône to Marseilles and continued east and west along the coast; one ran south-west through Aquitania to the port of Burdigala (Bordeaux); one ran north by the Seine valley to the Channel shore; one led to the camps on the Rhine; while the fifth went by Besançon across the Jura, and so over the Alps to Italy. Lyons was the key to the Roman control. It was the true capital, and likewise the link between south and north. As the emporium for Gallic trade it became immensely prosperous, and in A.D. 64 it could distribute no less than forty thousand pounds when Rome was ravaged by fire. Carriage roads had now been constructed across the Alps by the Great and Little St. Bernard passes, and by Mont Genèvre, and of these Lyons was the terminus; it thus became the point where Italy made its closest contact with the premier province.

The mineral wealth of Gaul was inconsiderable, but in all kinds of agricultural and industrial products the country was pre‑eminent. We have seen the sub‑tropical riches of the Narbonese; elsewhere the produce was chiefly pastoral, the sheep on the downs, the cattle in the plains, and the swine in the forests. Gallic wool was of the best quality, and there was a great export trade in hams and cheeses, pickled meats and sausages; carrots, a new luxury in Rome, came from the north; and the elder Pliny records that in his day geese — for the sake of foie gras — were driven all the way by road from Belgium to Italy. But the chief wealth was industrial. The Gaul was an expert workman and the crafts seem to have been small family businesses. The chief trades were weaving,  p300 glass-blowing and pottery. At first the Arretine ware had been imported, but it was not long before the Gallic potters imitated it and improved on it, and so captured the market of the world. It was the same with glass; soon Egypt and Syria could not compete with the products of this northern land. One reason for this success was the forests, which provided cheap and plentiful fuel for the furnaces.

Gaul was also the gateway to the unknown, for to the east lay the Germanies, and to the north Britain. The latter, in the time of Augustus, was not a part of the empire, but its native princes were on good, though distant, terms with Rome; there was a considerable traffic between its shores and Gaul, articles of luxury being exchanged for metals, both base and precious, corn, hides and slaves, and, adds Strabo, "very good hounds."b The traveller, who by way of Reims and Soissons reached Boulogne, saw beyond the Channel spectral white cliffs and felt himself very close to the ultimate mysteries. For he had heard in Gaul strange tales of ghost ferries which bore the souls of the dead over those grey seas to their last home.24 In Boulogne harbour, too, he could meet sailors, who in their coasting smacks had gone east into the Baltic and north past the Norway capes, and could speak of an ocean curdled like milk and great bearded sea‑monsters with ivory fangs.

The Danube Basin One other part of the empire was open to the traveller, the land between the Danube, the Adriatic and the Aegean. Leaving Rome by the Via Flaminia he reached Aquileia, which was the gate of the north-east segment of the frontier. There the roads met which crossed the eastern Alps and served Rhaetia and Noricum and Pannonia. It was the base for the armies which were engaged in the frontier wars along the Danube. It was the emporium for the trade of the lands which to‑day are the Tyrol, Bavaria, Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria, Roumania and Transylvania, a trade mostly in the hands of the great merchant house of the Barbii. It was the  p301 southern terminus of the Amber Road,25 by which amber was brought from the Baltic through the domains of a hundred savage tribes, to be fashioned in Aquileia for export into necklets and bibelots. Trade had followed the eagles and goods were beginning to enter Italy from the north-east, furs and hides and salted fish from distant places like south Russia and Scandinavia. Travel was easy down the Save valley to the Danube, and Rome held all the southern shore of the latter river. But beyond that lay the unsettled lands. Along with the Germanies this was the most difficult part of Rome's frontier, and the legions had often to stand to arms. Noricum had its industries, Moesia had good farming land, and Pannonia exported metals, besides bears for the amphitheatre from its gloomy forests; but the day was still far off when the Danubian basin was to rise — and with it northern Italy — to a spectacular prosperity.


We must picture the empire of Augustus as primarily the coastal belt of the Mediterranean watershed, and the western lands looking to the Atlantic. Many inland territories had been added, but these were the glacis of the fortress rather than the fortress itself, and often an embarrassing glacis to develop and keep in order. Beyond was the twilight of the little known, thickening into a darkness which no explorer had yet dispelled. There lay the wild lands and the legendary peoples. Adventurers now and then disappeared into the gloom and returned with wonderful tales, like those expeditions recorded a century and a half later in the lost work of the geographer Marinus, when the Ethiopian desert was traversed and a Roman general crossed the Sahara to a mysterious tropic kingdom. Roman eyes turned most  p302 anxiously to the northern frontier, for the pressure of famine in Scandinavia was driving tribes with uncouth names across the Baltic, and something in Central Asia — tribal convulsions or the desiccation of the land — was forcing unnumbered hordes down upon the slender defences of the Euxine. It could be only a matter of years until the tide beat against the actual Roman breastwork. The Scythians had been always familiar to Rome, as to ancient Hellas, as a generic name for the dwellers in the north-eastern plains: but now this name began to articulate itself, and men spoke familiarly of the monstrous blond Roxolani; and the Getae whose cavalry fought in the heavy phalanx of Iran, and whose god was a bear on a mountain peak; and the Dacians who built great forts of squared stone; and the Sarmatians who were ruled by women, and who rode on swift small horses, wore scale armour, and bore painted arrows in scarlet quivers. Of the Parthian menace Rome had long been cognisant, but these northerners were a new enemy. They were still little more than names, but they were steadily creeping nearer, and already the frontier posts had exchanged shots with their vanguard.

The urge of the advancing tide was also felt in the north-west. If a man stands to‑day on the bank of the Rhine facing the Taunus hills he is looking to a land which was never settled, or fully conquered, by Rome. Rome in the days of Augustus knew little about it, believing that it was all a deep, dark forest, to which she gave the name of Hercynian, stretching illimitably towards the sunrise. But she felt its influence and dreaded it, and laboured to devise some bulwark for her gentler Gaul. In his latter years Augustus had to face the first blast of the storm which was ultimately to overwhelm his empire.26

The Author's Notes:

1 Claudius introduced something very like state marine insurance in order to encourage winter voyages. Suet. Div. Claud. 18, 19.

2 e.g. the vessel in which Caligula brought an obelisk from Egypt. Pliny N. H. XVI.200.º The ship which took St. Paul to Rome had 276 passengers, and Josephus sailed in one which carried 600.

3 Aelius Aristides in the middle of the second century A.D. took 100 days to reach Rome from Anatolia, but he chose the difficult route round the north coast of the Aegean.

4 III.13.9.

5 Diod. XVII.52.6; he gives the free population as 300,000; cf. Marquardt, Röm. Staatsverwaltung, I.297.

6 A second temple to Augustus as "Saviour" was erected at Philae.

7 He greatly increased the amount of cultivated land, so that a rise in the river of 12 cubits at Memphis was as good as 14 cubits before. Strabo XVII.1.3; Suet. Div. Aug. 18.

8 "mercatores qui ulteriora Aethiopiae scrutantur." Pliny N. H. VI.173.

9 II.5.12.

10 For Hippalus, see Periplus, 57; Bunbury, Hist. of Anc. Geog., II.351.

11 Pliny N. H. XXXVII.203.

12 οἱ Σύροι κακὸν γένος — quoted by Charlesworth, Trade Routes of Rom. Emp., 56.

13 III.62.

14 See W. H. Buckler, "Augustae, Zeus Patroos," in Rev. de F. (1935), 177‑88.

15 The Spaniards spoke a slightly archaic Latin, since the tongue had been so long in the country. A parallel is the French of the Canadian habitants.

16 Rostovtzeff's view (Soc. and Econ. Hist. of Rome, 547) that the Augustan foundation was only a small garrison town, which was later added to, is refuted by recent archaeological research.

17 These native gods were often identified with members of the Roman pantheon, and we find Jupiter Ahoparaliomegus, Mars Cariociecus and Proserpina Ataecina.

18 See the account of the elder Seneca, Controv. XVIº.22.

19 C. I. L. II.2633 quoted by Arnold, Studies of Roman Imperialism, 156.

20 Cf. Tac.  Ann. XI.18; Hist. IV.76; Germ. 28.

21 "Celticism has left only possibilities of nations. It survives only in the foundations of our western Europe, and has made hardly any contribution to its super-structures." Hubert, The Rise of the Celts, 15.


"Arvernique ausi Latio se fingere fratres

sanguine ab Iliaco populi —"

Lucan, Phars. I.427‑8.

23 Hannibal found and made use of Gallic boats on the Rhône at Avignon.

24 Procop. Bell. Goth. IV.20; Claudian, in Rufin. I.123‑8.

25 Under Augustus the Amber Road was made easy as far as the Danube. Later it was more fully explored, and seems to have run from Carnuntum (Petronell) on that river, up the valley of the March to upper Silesia; then by way of Kalisz and the Prosna to the Vistula valley and the coast. Pliny N. H. XXXVII.45.

26 The details in this chapter are taken principally from Strabo, Tacitus, Diodorus Siculus, the elder Pliny, Josephus, Plutarch, Columella, and the later geographers — the author of the Periplus maris Erythraei, and Ptolemy. I have also drawn largely upon Mr. M. P. Charlesworth's Trade Routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire, and various writings of Rostovtzeff, Tenney Frank, F. Cumont, and Jullian.

Thayer's Notes:

a The subject is covered in detail and with its full complement of source citations, by Lionel Casson in "Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships", TAPA 82:136‑148.

b Geog. IV.5.2. Strabo's Greek, in the text reproduced in the Loeb edition at least, has κύνες εὐφυὲς πρὸς τὰς κυνηγεσίας, more strictly translated as in that edition, q.v., "dogs that are by nature suited to the purposes of the chase", or even more strictly yet (and more simply): "dogs by nature well suited to hunting".

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