Causes of the Fall of the Western Empire
We have now followed the fortunes of Italy from the days when it was the stronghold of an apparently resistless Empire to the time when there was no longer an Imperator in Italy, and when the highest representative of law and government was the leader of the Herulian mercenaries, Odovacar.
Why did the Roman Empire fall? An adequate answer to that question would fill many volumes, and would need to spring from a deep and minute knowledge of the Roman mind, the Roman laws, and the Roman armaments, to which no pretension is here made. The answer suggested in the following pages will be confessedly imperfect and inadequate, but even the fragments of a reply to such question can hardly be quite devoid of interest.
The Roman Empire of the West fell because it had completed its work, and the time had come for it to be cut down, and to cumber the ground no longer. Its rise, its extension over nearly the whole civilised world, had been a vast blessing to humanity; its prolonged existence, even had it been governed by an endless succession of Emperors like Trajan and Marcus, would have been a bane as great as the blessing. To all the p533 nations around the Mediterranean sea it had brought peace, discipline, the reign of law, the preparation for Christianity; but it had robbed them of liberty, and as century was added to century, the virtues of the free man were being more and more effaced by the habit of blind submission to authority. It was time for the Teutonic nations to rejuvenate the world, to bring their noisy energy into those silent and melancholy countries, peopled only by slaves and despots. It was time to exhibit on the arena of the world the ruder virtues and the more vigorous vices of a people who, even in their vices, showed that they were still young and strong; it was time that the sickly odour of incense offered to imbecile Emperors and lying Prefects should be scattered before the fresh moorland‑air of liberty. In short, both as to the building up, and as to the pulling down of the world-Empire of Rome, we have a right to say, 'It was, because the Lord God willed it so.'
Of course, this manner of stating the problem cannot hope for acceptance from an influential school of thinkers at the present day. 'What!' they will at once exclaim, 'would you bring back into historical science those theological terms and those teleological arguments from which we have just successfully purified it? Are you not aware that history, like astronomy, like physics, spends its infancy in the religious stage, its adolescence in the metaphysical, and when it has reached its full maturity and become thoroughly conscious of its powers and of its aims, passes into the positive, or materialistic stage — that stage from which the Will of God, the Freewill of Man, Final Causes, and every other metaphysical or theological conception is excluded, and in which Law, fixed p534 and immutable, however hard to discover, must reign supreme?'
Such, it may be admitted, is the utterance of the 'Zeit-Geist,' of that convergence of many minds towards a single thought, which we call by the less forcible English equivalent, 'the Spirit of the Age.' But, looking back over many past ages, and seeing the utter death and decay of many a 'Zeit-Geist,' once deemed omnipotent and everlasting, the Zeit-Geist of Egyptian Hierophants, of Spanish Inquisitors, of the Schoolman, of the Alchemist, of the Jacobin, one is disposed to look the present Time-Spirit boldly in the face and ask why it, any more than its predecessors, must be infallible and eternal.
There was a time when Final Causes were the bane of all the sciences, when men attempted to deduce from their crude notions of what God ought to have done, a statement most what He has done, and thus easily evaded the toil of true scientific enquiry. Our great master, Bacon, recalled the mind of Man from these fruitless wanderings, and vindicated, for the collection of facts and the observation of law, their true place in all philosophy. But he did not share that spirit of Agnosticism, that serene indifference to the existence of an ordering mind in the Universe, which is professed by many of his followers in the present day. It could not have been said of him, as it may, perhaps, hereafter be said of some of his greatest disciples, 'Blindness in part has fallen upon the Physical Philosopher. While groping eagerly after the How of this visible universe, he has missed the clue to the vaster and more mutinous questions of its Why and its By Whom.'
The present writer belongs to the old‑fashioned school, p535 which still dares and delights to speak of God in Nature and of God in History. To declare, as we venture to do, with all reverence and confession of our dim‑sightedness, that we believe we can trace the finger of the Creator and Lord of the world in events like the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, is by no means to assert that we can explain the ways of Providence in all the occurrences either of the present or of the past; it by no means commits us to the proposition that 'all things have happened for the best in the best of all possible worlds.' For one who believes in the God of whom the Christian Revelation speaks, or even in the God whom Socrates felt after and found, neither optimism nor pessimism would seem to be the rational frame of mind. We look back over our own lives; we see faults and blunders in them past counting. Assuredly it would have been better for us and for our little fragment of the world that these should not have been committed — so much the pessimist truly urges. But then, we can also see, as we think — but here each individual of the race must speak for himself — traces of a higher Power contending with us in our blindness, sometimes bringing good out of our follies and mistakes, always seeking to educate us and to raise us
Of our dead selves to higher things.'
In all this we do but ratify the statement of one who had meditated on human nature at least as deeply as any modern sociologist:
'There's a divinity that shapes our ends
Rough‑hew them as we will.'
So much the optimist may claim. Why the divinity p536 has not shaped the whole world's career to nought but a good end is confessedly inexplicable, and will perhaps be for ever unintelligible to us. Meantime, therefore, we hold the two unreconciled beliefs, in the Almightiness of God and in the existence of evil which is his enemy. To discard either of these beliefs, or to harmonise them, we find equally impossible, and therefore we desist from the attempt, and let both grow together until the harvest. If this be true in the Universal, of the whole 'scheme and constitution of things,' we may reasonably expect to find in the Particular — for instance, in the course of European history — some events of which we may confidently say, 'God brought them to pass in order to promote the welfare of Humanity,' and others of which we can only say, 'Why this irretrievable ruin, in which apparently there lurked no germ of benefit to the human race, was permitted, is a mystery.' To apply these general principles to the case before us, we assert with confidence that both the arising and the fall of the Roman Empire were blessings to the human race, and that we are justified in regarding them as the handiwork of an Unseen Power, the Maker and the Friend of Man. But that every step in the upward career of Rome was beneficial to man, or was accomplished with the smallest possible amount of human suffering, we do not believe. Nor, conversely, would we assert that the foundation of the new Teutonic kingdoms might not conceivably have come to pass at a time and in away which would have been more beneficial to humanity. It is impossible to read the history of the Early Middle Ages without feeling that, for the first six centuries after the fall of the Western Empire, there is little or no progress. The night grows p537 darker and darker, and we seem to get ever deeper into the mire. Not till we are quite clear of the wrecks of the Carolingian fabric, not till the days of William the Norman and Hildebrand, do we seem to be making any satisfactory progress out of Chaos into Cosmos. It is possible to imagine many circumstances which might have prevented the waste of these six centuries, and perhaps have started Europe on her new career with the faith of the thirteenth century joined to the culture of the age of the Renaissance. Had the sons of Theodosius possessed half the vigour of their father; had Stilicho and Aetius not been stabbed in the back by the monarchs whom they were labouring to defend; had the Arian controversy not made its ineffaceable rift between conquerors and conquered; had the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy and the Visigothic kingdom of Aquitaine not been overthrown by Justinian and by Clovis; had a very slight change in the obscure politics of the Arabian tribes cut short the preaching of Mohammed son of Abdallah; it is possible that centuries of human suffering might have been mitigated, and that the freshness of heart which so many of the European nations seem to have lost in the ages since the Renaissance might still be theirs.
But our business is with the events that were, burnt with those that might have been. Let us, therefore, proceed to consider some of the secondary causes which in the ordering of the Providence of God, brought about the transfer of the sceptre of Rome into the hands of the Barbarians.
There is perhaps no more striking illustration of a nation's powerlessness to discern the dangers that are really most menacing to its future, than the Persophobia (if we may coin a word for history from politics), which, down to the very days of the Visigothic invasion, and even beyond them, seems to have haunted the minds of Roman statesmen. True, the Parthian or Persian Monarchy was the only other civilised or semi-civilised state which rose above the horizon of Roman consciousness. The defeats of Crassus and Valerian, the ignominious peace concluded by the successor of Julian in the plains beyond the Tigris, no doubt alarmed as well as humbled every Roman. Still, after making full allowance for the impressions produced by these events, it is difficult to understand why, when Hun and Vandal and Visigoth were actually streaming into the very heart of the Empire, the Persian should still have been the favourite bugbear of poets and orators. But Claudian, for example, continually speaks of 'the Mede' as Rome's most terrible foe; and when he rises into his highest heaven of prophetic rapture over the glories of Honorius, he always predicts the conquest of Babylon or Ecbatana.
Thus, at the end of his poem on the third Consulship of Honorius, he says to the Imperial brothers,
'E'en now great Babylon despoiled I see,
In fear unfeigned the Parthian horsemen flee;
The Bactrian cons the Roman legist's lore,
Ganges grows pale between each subject shore,
And Persia spreads her gems your feet before.'
And so, in many similar passages, involuntary homage p539 is rendered to the Sassanian monarchs of Persia, by representing them as the most formidable of the antagonists of Rome.
It was this fear of the Persian monarchy which doubtless partly induced Constantine to plant his new capital at the meeting-point of Europe and Asia. In a certain sense it may be said that the measure was justified by its consequences. Except for the disastrous retreat of Julian's army — and even his expedition was a triumph, only converted into a defeat by the over-eagerness of the General — Persia won no considerable victories over Eastern Rome, and in the seventh century she was utterly overthrown by the Emperor Heraclius. Moreover, the wonderful political prescience of the founder of Constantinople was clearly shown by the tenacity with which, through the greater part of eleven stormy centuries, the Empire, which had that city for its brain, clung to life. Avars, Bulgarians, saracens, Russians, Seljouk Turks, Latin Crusaders, foamed over the surrounding provinces and dashed themselves to pieces against its walls, but none except the Crusaders effected an entrance, and none effected a durable conquest till the terrible day when the dynasty of Palaeologus succumbed to the dynasty of Othman. And the fact that that Stamboul is to this day a spell of such portentous power in the incantations of modern diplomatists, is the most powerful of all testimonies to the genius of the young prince who was hailed Imperator by the legionaries at York.
But if the question be asked, 'What was the effect of the building of Constantinople on Italy and Old Rome?' if it be considered that the true object of a statesman of the Lower Empire should have been, not to protract p540 the existence of a semi-Greek, semi-Asiatic dominion, a kind of bastard Rome, but to keep the true Rome, the City of the seven hills, in her high place at the forefront of humanity or, if she must needs fall, to make her fall as honourable and her transformed spirit as mighty as possible, — then our answer will be widely different, and we shall have to rank the founder of Constantinople foremost among the destroyers of the Empire.
We have seen in the course of this history the infinite mischief wrought by the rivalry between the Ministers of the Eastern and Western Empires. At the critical moment of Alaric's preparations for his invasion Stilicho alone might probably have crushed him; but the subtle Goth
'Sold his alternate oaths to either throne.'
Each Empire trusted that the blow was about to fall on the other — a blow which the sister-realm would have witnessed with Christian resignation — and thus the time for anticipating it and for destroying the destroyer passed away.
The sort of jealousy which had sprung up between the two capitals is well illustrated by the following lines of Claudian. The passage1 also gives us a picture of the populace of the New Rome, which, though no doubt charged with hostile feeling, connects itself sufficiently with the Athens of Alcibiades, and the Nika rioters of the days of Justinian, to justify us in accepting its main features as correct.
In consequence of Tribigild's revolt, Eutropius, then chief minister of Arcadius, convenes a sort of Council of War.
p541 'Pert youths came there and grey beards lecherous,
Whose glory was in trencher-combats won.
A menu subtly changed from yesterday's
Is a most noble exploit in their eyes.
By costly fare they tickle appetite
And give to those insatiate maws of theirs
The starry birds that drew great Juno's car,
And India's emerald prattlers of the woods.
Far realms supply their dainties: their deep greed
The Aegean sea and blue Propontis' lake
And Azof's straits with all their denizens
Soothe for an hour, but fail to satisfy.
Then with what art they wear their scented robes
Silken, but heavy for those delicate limbs!
The highest praise is his whose vapid jokes
Move loudest laughter. See their ornaments,
Fitter for girls than men, their shaven cheeks,
And mark them on the days of spectacle.
The Hun, the Goth may thunder at the gates,
The dancers will not have one gazer less.
Rome's name they ever scorn, and can admire
Only the mansions which the Bosphorus laves.
Yet there are arts in which e'en these excel:
Deftly they dance and drive a chariot well.'
Of course there is spite in this description, but the fact that such a picture of the Byzantine Court was acceptable to the dwellers by the Tiber shows the estrangement which had sprung up between the Old Rome and the New.
Had the Mistress of the World, when she found herself on all sides begirt by the 'bark2 of savage nations,' deliberately withdrawn to her own ancient citadel, put her fleets in order at Classis and Misenum, so as to command the upper and the lower seas, and sent her hardiest troops to garrison the difficult passes of the Alps, she might have lost many fair provinces, but the p542 heart of the Empire could hardly have been pierced. It was the diffusion of her vital force over several nerve-centres, Carthage, Alexandria, Antioch, but above all, Constantinople, that ruined her. Some of the suckers lived on, but the old tree perished.
It was not by an accidental coincidence that the great historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was also one of the ablest opponents of the Christian Revelation to whom the last century gave birth. The sound of the vesper-song of barefooted friars in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which seemed to call him to his great enterprise, suggested to him, not untruly, that an irreconcilable antagonism between the Genius of the Emperors and the Genius of Christianity had caused the ruins which were piled around him. And what seems to call for particular notice here is the fact that both the good and the evil in Christianity contributed to this result; both those great spiritual truths which made the essence of the new Religion when it came forth from the hands of its Divine Founder, and those foreign elements which it borrowed from philosophies and idolatries in the act of battling with them, — all fought against the Rome of the Caesars.
First, as to the essential opposition between the uncorrupted spirit of Christianity and the continuance of the Roman State. The religious ideas of the Latin and substitute tribes among the great Republic were born, were poor and homely enough, without the Hellenic grace, or the Jewish sublimity, or the Teutonic p543 tenderness; but, such as they were, they absolutely moulded the character and institutions of the Roman people. The Church did not encroach upon the province of the State, it simply was the State. No order of priests contended for power or privilege with the officers of the Republic; those officers themselves, as they reached certain stages in their upward progress, became ministers of the gods, and, without any question as to spiritual fitness, only with so much pretension to morality as an originally moral people naturally required in its chief magistrates, they were clothed, ex Officio, with a certain sacred character. The word Religio itself, whatever be its precise etymological significance, was understood to express the binding, cementing force which a constant reference to unseen supernatural Powers exerts upon a commonwealth. Hence the same myth-making faculty which in the brain of
'The lively Grecian, in a land of hills,
Rivers, and fertile plains, and sounding shore,'3
created Nymphs and Naiads and Oreads, was employed by the more prosaic Roman to invent fresh gods S. Francesco every fresh development of the social, the political, even the financial life of Man the Citizen. Thus, according to the curious catalogue of St. Augustine,4 'they commended children in the act of birth to the goddess Ops, children crying to the god Vaticanus, lying in their cradles to Cunina, sucking to Rumina, standing to Statilinus, arriving5 to Adeona, departing to Abeona. They commended them to goddess Mens that they might have a good mind, to Volumnus and p544 Volumna, god and goddess, that they might have a good volition, to the nuptial gods that they might marry well, to the rurals, and especially to goddess Fructesca, that they might receive plenteous fruits, to Mars and Bellona that they might wage war well, to Victoria that they might conquer, to the god Honor that they might be honoured, to the goddess Pecunia that they might have plenty of money, to the god Aesculanus and his son Argentinus that that money might be both of bronze and silver. For Aesculanus was made the father because bronze money was coined before silver; and, in truth, I cannot understand why Argentinus did not beget Aurinus, since the silver coinage has been followed by one of gold.'
Such a religious system as this subjects itself easily to ridicule, as easily as the faith of a modern Italian peasant in his own particular Madonna or Bambino, in the San Cristoforo of one village, or San Lorenzo of another. Like this latter development, too, it probably glanced lightly over the minds of the upper classes of society, and was tenaciously held in all its grotesque minuteness only by the lower. Still this was substantially the religious system under which the Great Republic had grown from young to manhood; by its Pontiffs had been declared the days for the assembly of the people in the forum, by its augurs had the omens been taken in every one of its battle-fields. The deification of Julius and Augustus was the national expression of the feeling that the greatness of Rome was the peculiar care of the Eternal Gods, and that the spirits which had wrought conspicuously at this grand task during their earthly career, must still survive in the society of the Immortals, to watch over the work p545 of their own hands. It was with this faith — for faith we must surely call it — in their hearts that the legions of Rome had marched on from victory to victory. Their anticipations of reward or punishment in a future life might be vague and varying, but at least they felt that the Great City with which they had link their fortunes was eternal, and the confidence that she would survive all shocks of adverse fortune, and would treasure the names of her defenders with undying reverence, gave strength, doubtless, not only to a Decius or a Curtius, but also to many a simple Roman legionary at the moment of facing death for her sake.
The whole of this fabric of national faith, with whatsoever in it was noble, and whatsoever in it was puerile, had to fall before the Apostolic proclamation, 'To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him, one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.' If there was any hint in the Christian Scriptures of one nation favoured above all others, that nation was the Jewish, if any notion of a city chosen by the eternal 'to put his name there,' that city was Jerusalem. But the latest and prevailing utterance of the new religion was, 'All nationalities are on the same level before God. He has made of one blood all nations of men, to dwell on all the face of the earth. Your citizenship, the true civitas, which is the highest condition that man can attain to, is in heaven. This civitas is within reach of all men, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free, and makes brothers of us all.'
There was an incurable opposition between teaching such as this, and the root-idea of the Roman Commonwealth. The rulers of the State felt it, and were forced into persecution, almost against their will. Gladly p546 would they have consigned Christianity to the peaceful Pantheon of the tolerated religions (religiones licitae), in which already the worship of Astarte and Mithras, of Isis and the Dea Syria, flourished happily, side by side. But they perceived — the wisest Emperors the most clearly — that this was a religion which would have all or nothing, and they hunted it into the catacombs to bar it from the throne.
The persecutions failed: they enlisted pity, generosity, love of justice, all the nobler feelings of our nature, on the side of the votaries of the new religion, and to these latter they gave a drill, a discipline, we must also in truth add a bitterness of temper, which they had not possessed before. A time came when the Christians found that they were the majority in the Empire, a time when the young Emperor Constantine, with his foot upon the ladder of fortune, was half-convinced of the truth of Christianity, and wholly convinced of the policy of embracing it. For three generations the Emperors, with the exception of the short reign of Julian, were the Christian masters of a household whose traditions were still Pagan. Some of the anomalies which resulted from this position of theirs have been glanced at in previous pages. We have seen that no Emperor till the accession of Gratian dared to refuse the title of Pontifex Maximus, which marked him as head of the State-Choice Heathenism. We have also noticed the incongruity between the acts of Theodosius as Defender of the Catholic Faith and the conventional language of the court poet, who makes him the favourite of Mars and Jupiter during his life, and turns him into a star after his death.
That this strange medley of contending faiths had p547 no effect in enfeebling the resolution of Rome, and making her stroke uncertain, that the regiment which had fought so long under one flag would fight just as well when that flag was replaced by another, as hostile to it as the Lilies to the Tricolor, is what no one would conjecture beforehand. And that the substitution of Christianity for the worship of the deities of the Capitol had something to do with the crumbling away of the Empire in the fifth century, is a conviction which forces itself on our minds, and never so irresistibly as when we are listening to the most eloquent and the most subtle apologist for Christianity, Augustine, endeavouring to prove to us in his book on the City of God that the thing was not so. One turns over page after page of that immortal treatise — that Encyclopedia of the whole religious thought of the age; one feels the absurdity of the Pagan theory, the grandeur of the Christian conception of the vast unseen City of God, but, through it all, the antagonism between the true Roman ideas and the ideas of Christianity rises more and more definitely before the mind, and when we are called upon finally to adjudicate on the question 'Would the Rome of the Fabii and the Scipios, the Rome which heartily believed in and worshipped Jupiter and Quirinus, Mavors, Ops, and Saturnus, have fallen as the Christian Rome fell before the hordes of Alaric?' we are bound in our historical conscience to answer, No.
Secondly. In the course of its three hundred years' struggle for existence the new religion had assimilated some elements, foreign as I venture to think, to its original essence; and by these also it made war on Rome. The spirit of intolerance was one of these p548 extraneous elements, at any rate in so far as it relied on the sword of the civil magistrate to carry its sentences into effect. The words of St. Paul about heretics, 'With such an one, no, not to eat,' and of St. John, 'Receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed,' were aimed apparently at men whose immorality was bringing the new society into reproach, and contemplated exclusion from that society as the heaviest punishment to be inflicted. The general attitude towards the heathen or the unbelieving Jew was 'What have I to do with them that are without?'; and the proposal to arrange the worldly affairs, even of Christians, authoritatively, was met by 'Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?' 'Whiles it remained was it not thine own, and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?' In practice, at relation of the professors of the new faith to 'them that were without' during the second century seems to have been reasonable and friendly. Justin Martyr and Quadratus still wore the philosopher's cloak after their conversion to Christianity, and endeavoured to persuade their fellow-countrymen by an appeal to 'the voice of the soul, who is herself naturally Christian,'6 that the glad tidings which they had to proclaim, though marvellous, were not incredible, and were in harmony with the truest presentiments of man's own moral nature. Would that the new religion had always thus calmly addressed herself to the consciences of mankind, that she had never shouted nor shrieked, nor tortured, in order to enforce the acceptance of her message! Earth would p549 be by many degrees more like Heaven at this day, if she had thus remained true to her first gentle instincts.
But the persecutions came and went, and they changed, though they should not have changed, the temper of the Christian champions. So was rendered zzz that utterance of Tertullian's (destined to an evil immortality), in which he consoled his brethren for their conscientious abstinence from the pleasures of the Hippodrome by promising them far greater spectacular pleasures in the life to come, when from the safe security of Heaven they should behold so many proud prefects, so many jeering philosophers, writhing in agony under the tortures of the never-dying fires of hell. It may be admitted that the stern, almost morose, temperament of Tertullian is answerable for some of this bitterness, but it would not be difficult to quote passages of a similar tendency from Lactantius and other fathers of the Ante-Nicene Church. In truth, it was not in human nature (though it should have been in the divine that was intermingled with it) to see parents, brothers, sisters, dragged off to an insulting and cruel death, for refusing to sacrifice to the Genius of the Emperor, without some scowl of hatred becoming fixed above the eyes which witnessed these things. And so persecution did not, as was once alleged, always and entirely fail of its end. 'The blood of the Martyrs was the seed of the Church;' but it was a Church of a different habit of growth, and producing more acrid fruit than that which it replaced.
For seventy years, however, after Constantine's edicts in favour of Christianity, the new religion showed p550 herself but little as a persecutor, at least of heathens. The tolerant spirit of Constantine had something to do with this; the internal divisions of the Christian Church, especially the long and fierce Arian debate, still more. The Caesars of Rome, with the exception of Julian, settled down comfortably with their anomalous position, each being at once Pontifex Maximus of the old religion, and Moderator in the doctrinal controversies of the new. It was as it the Ottoman Sultan, still retaining his claim to the Caliphate, were to become a member of the Greek Church, and to throw himself earnestly into the discussions about the Procession of the Holy Spirit.
We have heard Theodosius, at the Council of Constantinople in the year 381, pronouncing the final triumph of the Trinitarian party within the Church, and we have seen something of the increased stringency of his determination to secure for that Church, by the power of the State, the victory over her external foes, whether Heathens or Heretics. True, these persecutions lacked the ferocity of those which were set on foot by Decius and by Galerius; still they were; and for some generations, with quiet, earnest deliberateness, the whole power of the Emperors was employed in making all Christians think alike, and in preventing non‑Christians from thinking at all.
Constantius had said, 'We will that all men should abstain from sacrifices, and if any shall hereafter offend against this law, let him be punished by the avenging sword.'7 But the decree seems to have remained a dead letter, and the heathen sacrifices went on nearly as before. Theodosius enacted new laws p551 against heathen worship, and by such acts as the demolition of the temple of Serapis at Alexandria, gave them practical effect. At the same time appeared upon the statute book a cloud of edicts (some of which have been already quoted) against 'the noxious Manicheans and their execrable meetings,' against 'the heretics of the Donatist superstition,' against 'the teachers and leaders of the crime of the Eunomians, especially their clergy whose madness has brought about this great aberration,' against 'all who are tormented by the error of divers heresies, viz., the Eunomians, the Arians, the Macedonian deniers of the Holy Ghost, the Manicheans, the Encratites, the Apotactites, the Saccofori, the Hydroparastatae.' Fine, imprisonment, loss of office, prohibition to assemble in the town or to give to their places of meeting the appearance ochs, restriction of their testamentary power — these are the penalties thundered forth in many an edict against men who had committed no crime against the State, but whose theology was different from the Emperor's. The ferocity and the terror of Diocletian's persecutions have passed away, but we find ourselves breathing the same atmosphere of petty ecclesiastical tyranny which produced the Five Mile Act and Conventicle Act of Charles II, the Penal Laws against the Irish Catholics of William III and Anne. If there were nothing more to be said against it, this attempt to harass men into uniformity of religious opinion was an enormous waste of power, at a time when the energies of the State were scarcely sufficient for its own proper work of administration. But what made the matter worse, from the point of view of a Roman statesman, was that the religion which was being maintained in domination p552 at the cost of all this legislative combat, was itself in no way essential to, nay, rather as has been before said, was of Comuni antagonistic to, the root-idea of the Roman Commonwealth. A Mohammedan Sultan pressing heavily on the Giaour, an Israelitish monarch slaying the priests of Baal, a Most Catholic king of Spain burning Jews or expelling Moriscoes, were all acting zzzzzzz in accordance with the spirit of which their royalty was the expression. But a Roman Imperator harassing the Encratites or the Apotactites because the building in which they assembled for divine worship too closely resembled a church of the orthodox, was an utterly un‑Roman Roman, an anomaly not only vexatious but ridiculous.8
Yet it is probable that to the somewhat narrow, martinet mind of Theodosius, and still more to the dazed intellects of his sons, these measures of religious persecution appeared solemn duty; nay more, that they regarded them as peace-offerings, which would ensure the secular safety of the Empire. The increasing calamities which befell the state were taken as manifestations of the wrath of God; and no more obvious means of conjuring away that wrath suggested themselves than the enactment of a new and sharper law against the Manichean pravity or the Arian madness.
In the mist and darkness which have gathered over the history of the fifth century, a mist and a darkness through which only the bare forms of events are discernible, p553 while thoughts and feelings are utterly hidden, we know little indeed of the mood of mind in which these successive Acts of Uniformity were received by the objects of them. Heathenism and Heresy, like wounded creatures, crept back to their caves and died there, but after what conflicts or with what struggles we know not. The name 'Paganus' (villager), for the worshipper of the old gods, is one among many indications that Christianity conquered first the great cities, the centres of intellectual and commercial activity, and then gradually, and we can hardly say how slowly, pushed her way into lonely glens or wide unfrequented pasture-lands, and made the dwellers there bow before the cross. Yet even in the cities and at the Imperial Courts the victory was not fully won in the reign of Theodosius. It is a noteworthy fact how many of the small band of literary men, who flourished in the latter days of the Empire, remained faithful to the old superstitions. Ammianus Marcellinus, Zosimus, Priscus, the chief historians of this period, are all Pagans, one at least of them a bitter Pagan. Nor is it by any means certain that Procopius, the great historian of the reign of Justinian, ought not to be added to the list.
Two other elements of the Christianity of the third and fourth centuries co‑operated in a subordinate degree towards the decay of the Empire. These were the Priestly Hierarchy and the Monastic Self-seclusion.
The fires of Roman persecution had, doubtless, much to do with hardening and shaping, as into a point of tempered steel, that marvellous episcopal organisation which was one day to penetrate the world. As the soldiers who survive on a well-fought battle-field look towards the officers who have been with them in the p554 thickest of the fray, so we may imagine the hearts of the believers to have glowed with fresh loyalty towards the rulers of the Church, when the rage of the Decian or the Galerian persecution was at length abated, and they had leisure to count their losses. Thus, here also to the repressive measures to Emperors must be attributed some involuntary share in the change which came over the spirit of the Church between the first century and the fourth, and which separates the simple and scarcely differentiated Overseers and Elders of the Acts of the Apostles from the full-grown Bishops and Priests of the time of Constantine. It is not likely that such a well-disciplined and compact organisation as the Christian hierarchy can have grown up within and yet outside of the Empire without impairing somewhat of its strength. And such victories as were won by Athanasius over Constantius, or by Ambrose over Theodosius, though they command our fullest sympathy as noble triumphs of the moral over the material, had probably some effect in lessening the reverence which men felt for the Augustus as a kind of 'present9 divinity,' and so in loosening the fabric of the Empire. Yet possibly we ought not to attribute large results to this cause. The great strifes between Bishop and Sovereign belong to a later age, to the barbarian monarchies or to the Eastern Empire. Except indirectly, in so far as it may have favoured the persecution of heathens and heretics, the Christian hierarchy need not be held responsible for a large share in the pulling down of Imperial Rome.
Probably we may come to a similar conclusion with p555 reference to that other great phenomenon of the religious life of the fourth and fifth centuries, the rise and progress of the monastic system. It is interesting to see how this was viewed by an educated, though certainly not unbiassed Pagan. Zosimus, speaking of the riots at Constantinople in connection with the exile of Chrysostom (401), says (V.23), 'The city was filled with uproar, and the Christian church was occupied by the men who are called Monks. Now these men renounce lawful wedlock, and fill large colleges in the cities and villages with unmarried persons, profitless for war and for any other of the State's necessities. Yet have they, in the interval between that time and the present' [perhaps half a century], 'made great advances, so that they have now appropriated a large part of the land, and under pretence of distributing all their substance to the poor, have, in a manner, made all poor alike.'
The withdrawal of so many men in the prime of life from the pursuits of industry and the defence of the state, must undoubtedly have lessened the resources of the Empire, especially as these monks were not, like their successors in the Middle Ages, the restorers of waste places, the doctors, engineers, and journalists of the community. At a time when the manliest virtue was required to stem the torrent of corruption within and barbarism without, men of noble soul and cultured intellect, like St. Jerome, retired into the caves of Bethlehem, leaving the world a prey to hypocrites and rogues, such as Olympius and Eutropius. As the latter class of men, despairing of the Roman state, sought to build up their own fortunes on the general ruin, so the former class, with the same despair of p556 the republic in their hearts, determined at least to secure their own soul's salvation, and to live for this alone. The selfishness was of a higher kind, but it would be hard to deny that it was selfishness, and that the true Christian impulse would have been to struggle on undaunted, and persist in the endeavour to leave the world better than they found it.
But, having admitted this negative charge against monkery, we cannot assign to it, in the Western Empire at least, any great active influence for ruin. In the East, during the fifth century, the power of the monks was no doubt far more hurtful to the State. 'Armies of mad monks rushing through the streets of Alexandria,'10 and their brethren in Constantinople stirring up the people to shout feet deposition of the 'Manichean tyrant,' whenever an Emperor swerved by a hair's breadth from the razor-bridge of orthodoxy as defined in the Council of Chalcedon — these were undoubtedly disintegrating and dangerous forces; and when they were predominate, the government of the Empire might truly be styled a government by lunatics. In the West we see no such spectacles at the time which we are now discussing, and it would be a scandalous injustice to class the calm Paulinus of Nola and the learned Claudianus Mamertus of Vienne with the turbulent Eutyches, or the blood-stained Barsumas of Constantinople.
'It was no accidental catastrophe which patriotism and genius might have warded off: it was old social evils — at the bottom of all, the ruin of the identical class by the slave proletariat — that p557 brought destruction on the Roman commonwealth' (Mommsen, History of Rome, book IV chap. 11).
The men of our generation, who have read the story of General Sherman's march through Georgia, are in a better position than their ancestors for estimating the part played by slavery in bringing about the ruin of Rome. The short-lived Southern Confederacy in America had many points of resemblance to the Roman republic. It was administered by wealthy cultivators of the soil, born warriors, a proud and courageous people. All that mere fighting could do to preserve its existence was ably and, at first, successfully done; but Slavery, that rock of offence which the Planters had made the corner-stone of their new edifice, proved its ruin. The truth had been suspected for some little time before, but was fully proved when Sherman's scarcely-resisted march through •three hundred miles of the enemy's country showed the hollowness of a political organisation which had been massing its armies, by hundreds of thousands at a tie, on the banks of the Potomac, but which could not reckon on its own inhabitants to resist or seriously to harass an invader who had once broken through the wall of steel on the frontier. It could not reckon upon them, because the majority of them were themselves a hostile nation, made so by the institution of slavery. True, in America as in Italy, the oppressed class waited long before they dared to show on which side their sympathies lay. This is, for a time, that which turns the scale in favour of the slave-holder, that his chattels are too debased to be capable of self-organisation, too ignorant to understand the great movements in the world of politics and war, too p558 servile-hearted to dare to embrace what may not prove the winning side. But if there comes at length such a time as came in Georgia lately, and in Etruria long ago, when the slave sees with his own eyes a man, mightier than his master, come to over all that existing order which has weighed on him so heavily, and saying, 'Help me, and I will give you freedom,' then is seen the strange magic which lies in that word freedom for even the heaviest clods of humanity; then the comfortable persuasion of the self-deceived owner, that his chattel will fight for the luxury of continuing to be a chattel, vanishes like snow in summer.
We have had to record one instance — many more have probably been left unrecorded — of the readiness of the Roman slaves to turn against their masters. In the interval between the first and second sieges of Rome by Alaric, the slaves, to the number of 40,000, fled to the barbarian camp. In his usual tantalising way Zosimus forgets to tell us the dénouement of the story, but it may be conjectured that the greater part of these slaves, if they ever returned to Rome, returned with the army of Alaric through the blazing Salarian Gate to guide their new friends to the plunder of their old oppressors.11
It would have been interesting to know what was the total number of slaves in existence at any particular period of the Empire, but a vpl census of the whole population of the Roman world, free and servile, if it ever existed, ha sanctuary survived to our day. Gibbon12 guesses the number of the slaves all over the Empire at the p559 time of Claudius at sixty millions; and it seems to be impossible either to prove or disprove his conjecture. We are told, in round numbers, that some citizens possessed 10,000 or 20,000 slaves apiece, and with more apparent accuracy that a certain freedman under Augustus, although he had been impoverished by the civil wars, left at his death 4,116 slaves.13 From other sources we learn that in the days of Augustus, 200 slaves were not considered at all an exorbitantly large establishment, and that he who had only ineffective or ten was looked upon as either very poor or very mean. In view of these facts, 40,000 seems a very small number for even the mere house-slaves in Rome at the time of its siege by Alaric. Possibly the removal of the Court to Ravenna, and the troublous character of the times, had led to the withdrawal of most of the wealthy slave-owners from that; or the crowds of freedmen and paupers supported by the public distribution of wheat may, in Rome itself, have thinned, and by a kind of competition, the number of actual bondsmen. Or, which is perhaps the most likely supposition of all, Zosimus, the writer from whom the story of the fugitive slaves is extracted, is speaking in his usual somewhat inaccurate style when he says, that 'nearly all' the slaves in Rome deserted to the camp of Alaric.
As mention has been made of slavery as it existed down to our own days in the United States of North America, and as this is that type of the 'peculiar institution' which most readily suggests itself to our minds, it may be well to remind the reader of a few p560 obvious points of dissimilarity between the two forms of servitude, the Roman and the American.
I. It seems probable that the condition of a slave under a Roman master was harder than that of the negro in the Southern States of America. Cruel men of course abused their dangerous power in both countries, while, under men of exceptional gentleness, the lot of the slave may have lost almost all that made it to differ from that of a hired labourer. But the great mass of masters, the men of average character, had in the United States a conception of duty towards their fellow‑men which was, at least in some degree, influenced by the spirit of Christianity, while the Roman derived his notions of duty from such teachers as Cato the Censor, who, in a well-known passage, uttered his opinion that whenever a slave was not asleep he ought to be at work, and that a master should always sell off his aged slaves as well as his broken-down horses. Certainly this cannot have been either the theory or the practice in Virginia or Tennessee, hardly even, one would hope, in Mississippi or Alabama. It is true that the tendency of legislation under the Emperors had been towards greater mildness in the treatment of slaves. The master's absolute power of life and death was taken away; in cases where he had practiced extreme cruelty he might be compelled to sell the victim of it; and the huge gloomy ergastula, the prisons in which the slaves had been locked up at night after their labour in the fields (which, if not subterraneous, were always lighted by windows high up in the walls, from which there was no chance of escape), were legally abolished, and perhaps practically disused. Still, the life of the Roman's slave, especially of him who was p561 engaged in agriculture, seems to have been hard and dismal beyond even the hardness and dismalness of ordinary negro slavery.14
zzz. Yet in two aspects, more important perhaps than all beside, the condition of the Italian bondsman was better than that of the American. Love and hope were left to him. The breeding of slaves for sale was an unusual though not an unknown practice; and consequently though families must sometimes have been separated, even as they are now by the ordinary economic laws of supply and demand, that great blot on the American system, the systematic tearing away of the wife from her husband and the mother from her child, did not disgrace the Roman slave-owners. Manumission also must have been a far more frequent incident of servile life among the ancients, and when it came it opened up a far happier and more unhindered career.
This difference between the two systems is chiefly due to the obvious and fundamental distinction, that in Rome there did not, as in America, yawn the wide chasm of absolute diversity of race between bond and free. All nations, even the noblest of antiquity, were represented in the slave market at Rome. The Greek doctor, or pedagogue, or scribe, the lust Cappadocian who bore the litter, the Hebrew of whose nation Titus sold 97,000 into bondage, the Syrian, the Celt, the p562 Dacian, the German, were all in their various ways ministering to the luxury or providing for the wants of the Roman master. From such a motley throng combination was little to be dreaded, and on the other hand there was in them no great inferiority of race to prevent the slave, once liberated, from standing side by side with his old master. Hence, and from motives of pride and profit which made the freedman often a more desirable appendage to the family of the Roman noble than the slave himself, arose the great frequently of manumission, which was indeed slightly checked by the time of Augustus,15 on account of the number of debased citizens with whom it was flooding the Commonwealth, but which remained a sufficiently common practice sensibly to ameliorate the condition of the Roman slave by introducing into it the vast medicament of hope.
We turn to American slavery, and we see at once a mighty contrast. There every member of the servile caste belonged to one race, and that race one separated by wide ethnological interspaces from the dominant one, and far below it in intellectual energy. It is said that a proposition once made in the Roman Senate, to order all the slaves to wear a distinctive dress, was rejected, on the ground that it would be dangerous thus to reveal to them their superiority in numbers. What the Senate had denied in that case, Nature had done ineffaceably in the case of 'persons held to bondage' under the American laws, by clothing them all with one sable livery. Hence arose, on the one hand, the price of race which placed the meanest of 'the mean whites' above the most honest and capable man p563 of African descent, and which denied to the latter, however large his share of European blood, ex parte paternâ, any share in the duties and rewards of conventional life. Hence, on the other hand, arose the fear of race, causing tS8 to throw the whole weight of its influence into the scale against manumission, and imposing upon every man, whose skin bore witness to the servile condition of his ancestors, the burden of proof that he was not himself a slave. This state of the law and of public feeling was of course utterly absent in old Rome.
III. And, yet again, there was a difference which probably made the position of the negro, when he began to reason and to reflect, more intolerable than that of the Dacian or the Syrian in a Roman villa or on an Italian farm. In the fifth century the conscience of whole civilised world acquiesced in the fact of slavery; in the nineteenth it protested against it. The Roman legislator said that this abrogation of the natural rights of man was an institution of the universal law of nations,16 and his saying was confirmed by the fact that there was in all probability not one nation then existing, civilised or barbarian, wherein Slavery, in one form or another, did not exist. And so the bondsman of those days submitted to his servile condition, as men now submit to poverty or disease, grumbling indeed that they have drawn a bad number in the lottery of life, but without any intolerable feeling of injustice, without any indignant questioning, p564 'Why was this horrible fate ever placed for me or for any one among the possible conditions of existence?'
In America we all know what far different thoughts rankled in the breast of a high-spirited and intelligent slave. Great nations were living and flourishing without this institution which made his life hateful to him. Wide sections of the Christian Church condemned it as a crime against God and man. A week perhaps, or two weeks of nightly journeying towards the North Star, would take him to a land where no slaves toiled; a few weeks more would set him beyond the possibility of recapture. Assuredly this ever present thought that Liberty was in the world, was near, but was not for him, must have made the chains of many an American slave more galling, must have raised, sometimes almost to madness, his exasperation against the social system which was his foe.
IV. Upon a review therefore of the main points of likeness and unlikeness between these two conditions of society, it seems reasonable to conjecture that the men who were owned by Roman masters were less dissatisfied with their lot than those who belonged to the American planters, and that Slavery as a disruptive force was more fatal to the Southern Confederacy than to the Western Empire.
But in Rome it had been working through twelve centuries, in the United States for less than three, and therefore its evil effects were less lasting, one may venture to hope, in the latter instance than in the former. Slavery had aided in the massing together of those 'wide farms' which were the ruin of Italy.17 Slavery had emptied the fields and villages of the hardy p565 rustic who had once been the backbone ornament power. Slavery had filled the cities with idle and profligate babblers. Slavery had indoctrinated these men, themselves often freedmen or the sons of freedmen, with the pestilent notion that manual labour was beneath the dignity of a citizen. And lastly, Slavery had surround the thrones of the Emperors with men like Eutropius and Chrysaphius, who, by the favour of a fatuous master, crept from the position of a menial to that of a Prime Minister, and who, when their turn came, bitterly revenged upon Society the wrongs which they had suffered at its hands.
A new and happier world was to arise out of the ruins of the old. Slavery was to be softened into Serfdom, and Serfdom was slowly to disappear, both changes but largely attributable to the benign influence of the Christian Church. The fine old mediaeval motto,
'By hammer and hand
All arts do stand,'
was to drive out, at any rate from the cities, the old, irrational, scorn of handicraft; and the ergastulum and the scourge were to vanish like an evil dream. And so if Slavery was a cause, the Abolition of Slavery was to be a result, though by no means an immediate result, of the Fall of the Empire.
The Roman State at the beginning and the end of its career pursued towards its poorer classes two opposite lines of policy, both unjust, one of which might p566 reasonably have been expected to strangle the rising nationality in its childhood, while the other certainly hastened the ruin of its old age.
In the first ages of the Republic the plebeian soldier was expected to leave his farm or his business to serve for a short campaign against the Aequians or Volscians, and to return to a home which had in many instances suffered from the depredations of the enemy, enriched only by a precarious portion of the booty, which, by the fortune of war or the unfairness of the dividing general, might turn out to be worth little or nothing. The real gain of the most successful wars, the public land, was farmed out often at little more than a nominal rent to the senators or a few wealthy plebeians. Thus the whole tendency of the incessant wars of the Republic was to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, a tendency aggravated by the high rates charged for interest and by the stern attitude of the Roman law towards the defaulting debtor. The well-known picture drawn in the Second Book of Livy of the brave old centurion, whose farm had been plundered during his absence with the army, and who, under the crushing load of debt and taxation, had been obliged first to part with the inheritance of his ancestors and then to surrender his person into the hands of his cruel creditor, and who at length escaped from his place of torment into the Farm, where his squalid garb, his long unkempt hair, his old and honourable scars received in battle with the enemy, and the new and shameful scourge-marks upon his back inflicted by the slave of a Roman senator, stirred the people to fury: — this picture may not be precisely and historically true of the 259th year of the city, yet doubtless it is a type of many a p567 similar occurrence in those early days of the tyranny of wealth.
The characteristic of Roman Legislation at this period is its contempt for the rights of the individual, its frightfully unfair notion of the partnership between him and the State — a partnership in which he gave his time, his blood, his heroism, to promote the glory of Rome, and received in return nothing, not even permission to live on the land of his fathers.
In the later phases of the Roman Commonwealth the opposite error was committed. After the Second Punic War the State really asked nothing of the poor citizen of Rome, and gave him everything that was necessary for life, and, in so giving, deprived him of
'Man's first, noblest, birthright, Toil.'
The pauperising legislation of Rome first wore the insidious form of a gentle intervention to lower the price of corn. When Spain, Sicily, and Africa were pouring in their tributes of corn or money to the exchequer of the Republic, it was not an unnatural suggestion that the wealth thus acquired might fairly be expended in the easing the material condition of the Roman citizens, of the men on whom had fallen the heaviest weight of all the blows from Regillus to Cannae, by which the Roman State had been fashioned into greatness. Not an unnatural thought; and yet if the remembrance of the scourged veteran in the Forum, and of all the cruel wrongs of the early Plebeians, had anything to do with ripening it into action, we have here an instance of that strange Nemesis of Unrighteousness, which sometimes leads statesmen in the very excess of their penitence for an injustice in the past to prepare a new and greater p568 injustice for the future. It had been a cruel wrong to send forth the Roman Plebeian to fight the Volscian or Aequian, and not even to keep his homestead free from the exactions of the creditor, who would not have been a creditor but for the military service of the bread-winner. It was not less a wrong to make the Spaniard or the Sicilian toil, in order to enable the descendants of that same Plebeian to prolong a life of idleness and dissipation in the Roman Forum.
And, indirectly, this interference with true economic laws injured Italy no less than the Provinces. How was the Etrurian or Sabine farmer to grow his corn to a profit, when the whole machinery of the administration of the Republic was being employed to sell corn from beyond the seas at far less than cost price in the Roman capital? This was not Free Trade; it was, if we may use the expression, Protection turned inside out; it was a systematic exclusion of the Italian corn-grower from his own natural market. Of course the Italian farmer, already sorely harassed by the necessity of competition with slave-labour, succumbed, and virtually disappeared from the scene. The latifundia, the vast domains worked by celibate slaves, took the place of the small yeomen's holdings; the horrible ergastulum replaced the free and happy homestead; sheep-walks, vine-yards, and olive-yards occupied the ground once employed in the growth of corn, and, more important by far than even the disappearance of her waving corn-fields, Italy ceased to produce men as she had once done, just when the need of men to bear the world-wide burden of her Empire was the greatest.
There were great fluctuations in the market price of corn under the Republic. In the Second Punic War p569 it rose as high as 51 shillings the quarter; in the wars between Marius and Sulla as high as 102 shillings, during a great famine under Augustus to 115 shillings. But these were simply famine prices. On the other hand, during a year of great plenty near the close of the Second Punic War, the price was as low as two shillings and eight pence a quarter. A little later, according to Polybius, it was frequently sold in the valley of the Po for two shillings and eleven pence a quarter.18 As between these wide fluctuations it appears to be admitted that about 21 shillings a quarter was the ordinary market price. Now, by the legislation of Caius Gracchus, each citizen had the right to claim every month a bushel and a quarter of corn from the public stores for seventeen pence, that is to say at the rate of nine shillings a quarter, or less than half the average market price.19 The rest of the legislation of the younger Gracchus died with him, but this, its worse feature, remained. When supreme power passed from the Senate and the Assembly of the People to the Caesars, these latter rulers, though in many respects the champions of the Provincials against Rome, did not dare to withdraw the supplies of cheap corn from the citizens, though they did limit — eventually to 200,000 — the number of persons who were entitled thus to purchase it. Gradual the form of sale and purchase was done away with, and the distribution became simply p570 gratuitous. By the identical of the second century of our era, the monthly supplies of corn had been changed for the far more convenient and even or pauperising distribution of wheaten loaves, baked perhaps two or three times a week.
When Aurelian ascended the throne, the loaf which the Roman citizen was thus entitled to receive (we know not for how many days' consumption), weighed one uncia (that is 1/12) less than two pounds.20 As he went forth from the gates of the city on his expedition against the Whereupon of Palmyra, he announced to the people that if he should return victorious he would present each one of them with a crown of two pounds' weight. The citizens expected that these crowns would be of gold (worth more than £80 apiece), a donative which was beyond the power and the inclination of Aurelian. Yet were they not altogether disappointed, for when he had been drawn in triumph up the Sacred Hill, preceded by the weeping Zenobia, he commanded that wheaten loaves,21 shaped like crowns and weighing each two pounds, should be distributed to the people. Through the remainder of his life and apparently during the reigns of his successors, these larger loaves were given to those who possessed the needful tessera or out‑door relief ticket, and this uncia added to the civic rations seems to have been seriously regarded by the patriotic but ill‑advised Emperor as one of his chief titles to greatness. In writing to Arabianus the Public Commissary-General (Praefectus Annonae), he says, 'Of all the good deeds which by the favour of the p571 Immortal Gods I have wrought for the Commonwealth none is more splendid than this, that I have increased the distribution of corn to every citizen by one uncia. To ensure the perpetuity of this benefit I have appointed more ship-masters for the Nile and for the river-traffic of Rome. I have raised the banks of the Tiber and deepened the channel of its head-strong current.22 I have paid my vows to Perennity and the other Gods, I have consecrated a statue of the gracious Ceres. Now be it thy task, my dearest Arabianus, to see that these arrangements of mine be not unfruitful. For there is nothing in the world more cheerful than the Roman people when they have well eaten.'23 This same Emperor, though fond of repressing what he considered inordinate luxury (forbidding his wife to wear a silken dress because silk was then worth its weight in gold, and proscribing the use of gold threads and gilded ceilings, whatever he considered that a metal which ought to be as plentiful as silver was unnecessarily wasted), nevertheless added to the rations of the Roman people, articles which can hardly be considered as of prime necessity. He gave them pork and oil and wine; at least as to the last gift he had taken measures for planting extensive vineyards in Etruria, and cultivating them with slave-labour for the sake of a gratuitous distribution of wine to the citizens, but according to one story the scheme was frustrated by the intervention of the Praetorian Prefect who told the generous Emperor that if he gave them wine he would have to supplement his gifts with roast ducks and chickens. He also gave them white tunics with long sleeves imported p572 from various provinces of the Empire, and linen garments from Africa and Egypt. A generous and popular Emperor doubtless, but Communism thus robed in the purple is an excellent destroyer of Commonwealths.
Let us now traverse an interval of a hundred years, and see what shape this system of out‑door relief had assumed under the dynasty of the Valentinians. A long Title of the Theodosian code24 is devoted to the subject. It contains fifteen laws, chiefly the handiwork of the Emperors Valentinian and Valens, partly of Theodosius I and his sons. The first point which strikes us is, that Rome no longer enjoys a monopoly of the often lauded 'Imperial Munificence.' Constantine in founding his new capital by the Bosphorus has conferred upon it also the doubtful boon of the Annona or free largess of corn; and in order to meet the requirements of this largess, the corn-ships of Alexandria — as was remarked on a previous occasion — are now diverted from Rome to Byzantium. The City by the Tiber has now practically only the corn-fields of that province of which her ancient rival, Carthage, is the capital, to look to for her supplies. Antioch and Alexandria seem also to have shared in the public distributions, but the edicts relating to these cities do not appear in the code, possibly because their largesses were left to be regulated by the local authorities.
In Rome and Constantinople the Theodosian code presents us with a lively by strange picture of this organisation of pauperism. Three great classes are the recipients of that which is called by a courtly fiction 'the bounty of the Emperors.' These classes are the Palatini, the Militares, and the Populares, that is to p573 say, the servants of the palace, the soldiers, and the mass of the people. The last class receive their rations strictly as householders. The law is very decided on this point, 'Aedes sequuntur annonae' (the rations must follow the houses); that is to say, if a citizen who has been receiving the ration alienates his house, he loses the right to his daily loaf. At Constantinople special stress is laid on the great Founder's desire to encourage house-building in his new city, and an attempt is made (apparently not a successful one) to limit even the soldiers' share in the annona to those who possess houses in the capital.
The three classes seem to have received their rations stand on some of the great public staircases in which the City of the Seven Hills abounded, and yet abounds. Some have thought that they were all collected for this purpose in the Colosseum, but it seems more probable that each of the fourteen Regions of the City had its own flight of steps on which the applicants stand themselves, as well as its own bakery, from which they were supplied. Each class of recipients is mustered apart; the Palatini, the Militares, the Populares, have each their own tiers of seats. The bread which is distributed to them is called 'the Step-Bread' (Panis Gradilis), and the separate classes are known as 'Steps.' Stringent laws forbid the transference of the Panis Gradilis from one 'Step' to another, and the Public Commissary-General (Praefectus Annonae) is warned that the severest penalties hang over him, if he suffers this regulation to be infringed. The prohibition can hardly relate to the mere physical transportation of a loaf of bread from one stone stair to another. It probably means that each class of recipients was to be p574 considered as complete in itself, and that in case of death or removal, the lapsed ration of a Palatinus was to be transferred only to another Palatinus, that of a Popularis to another Popularis.
But from such an inversion of the great industrial laws upon which Society is founded, abuse was inseparable. The holders of the Tessera, or relief-ticket, eager to accept the alms of the State, but anxious to escape from the ignominy of asking for them, used to present themselves at the great public bakeries, and there, probably be bribery, obtain the loaves to which they were entitled. This practice was forbidden, and it was ordained 'that all men should receive their step-bread from the steps, and that none should be handed out by the shop-keepers, lest thereby any fraud should arise concerning the Panis Gradilis.'
A brazen tablet was to be affixed to the wall, near to the steps of distribution, and on it the name of the receiver and the measure of bread due to him were to be engraved. 'And if any one's impertinence should carry him so far that he shall usurp for himself or his family the right of that bread, and get his name wrongfully inserted in the brazen tablet, he shall receive chastisement according to his condition.'
The meaning of these last words is made more clear by a savage decree of the Emperor Valentinian (370). It seems that some of the Senators and great men of Rome were guilty of the meanness of sending members of their households to receive this public bread, which was of course intended only for the poorer class of free citizens. Thereupon the edict runs:
'Should the steward or slave of any Senator wrongfully obtain the Panis Gradilis by direct purchase from the clerk of distribution, p575 or by bribery, or even by his mere connivance, let such steward or slave be subjected to the torture of the equuleus.25 If it appears that he was prompted to this illegality by his own impudence, without the knowledge of his master, let him serve in chains in that bakery which he has been defrauding. Should, however, complicity in the offence be traced to his master, let the house of that Senator be confiscated for the use of the treasury.
'In other ranks of life, if any one who is possessed of private resources shall confess the aforesaid crime, let him and all that he has be bound over to the service of the bakery.
'If he shall be of the very poorest classes' — a provision which shows that this demoralising largess did not even answer the purpose of a Poor‑law since 'the very poorest' were not all entitled to it — 'he shall be forced to labour as if he were a slave.
'As for the clerks of distribution who shall be proved to have perpetrated this forbidden wickedness, the sword which is the vindicator of the laws shall be drawn against them.'
It would weary the reader were we to trace in further detail the intricacies of the legislation concerning the annonae. There are arrangements for changing sale loaves (sordidi panes) for new, edicts granting a certain supply of oil to persons designated by the Prefect of the City 'for the refreshment of their frames,' edicts forbidding the soldiers of the Imperial Guard to transmit their right to the ration as a hereditary claim to their children, and again, other edicts repealing these.26 p576 It is a labyrinth of Imperial legislation, and all leading to what end? To the maintenance in idleness of the worthless population of four great cities, a population which every wise legislator would have sought by every means in his power to divert from the cities, to lead back into the country, to marry to the land, to raise to something of the dignity of manhood by that wrestling with Nature for her blessings, which makes up the delay life of Agriculture. But no: the old legal fiction of the sovereignty of the Roman people still survived, and therefore the so‑called citizen of Rome — the descendant in all probability of a Syrian or Cappadocian slave — must be allowed to spend his days in lordly idleness, seeing the charioteers drive, and the gladiators die, and then presenting himself at the appointed time at the steps of his 'regio to receive his Panis Gradilis from the bounty of the Emperor. And, to accomplish this desirable end, the administrative energies of the declining Empire must be weighted with the duties of a vast and complicated commissariat alike in peace and in war.
We have seen how the social and political system of Rome tended to destroy the free labourers in the country, and to degrade them in the great cities. We have now to consider that system of fiscal oppression by which the Empire crushed out the life of the middle classes in the provincial towns. A great French statesman,27 who has treated of this subject with a fulness of p577 knowledge drawn both from books and from practical politics, considers that this cause was more powerful than all others in bringing about the ruin of Rome.
The civilisation of the great Republic was essentially a municipal civilisation. An urban community herself, she naturally associated herself with other urban communities, and wherever her influence has profoundly and permanently modified the life of any modern people, it will be found that that people is, by choice and not from the mere force of economic laws, urban in its tastes and its habits. The towns of Italy and of the provinces possessed, during the ages of the Republic, very various privileges, and stood in very various relations to the sovereign City. Some were coloniae, own children of Rome, some were municipia, stranger towns, gathered within the circle of 'the Roman friendship or subjection.' But as the power of the Emperors grew, and as the forms of popular government by assemblies of the citizens at Rome faded into insignificance, the diversities of privilege between the various cities of the Empire faded also. Political power was now all gathered up into one centre, and lodged in the hands of one single man, the Augustus at Rome, who might delegate it to prefect or vicar, as he chose. But municipal freedom still existed — that is to say, during the first three centuries after the Christian era — and municipal power was lodged in the hands of magistrates, freely chosen by the persons who owned as much as p578 fifteen acres (twenty-five jugera)a in the borough or district round it. The affairs of the little republic were managed by an assembly modelled upon the Senate of Rome itself. It was called sometimes the Senate, sometimes the Curia, and its members, who obtained a seat as the Roman Senators did, by filling some office in the State, were called Decuriones, possibly because there were originally ten minor Curiae of ten members each, thus furnishing a total of one hundred members to the Senate. In the large towns, however, this number was often exceeded. Marquardt points out that at Antioch the number of Decuriones varied from 1200 at its best estate to sixty at its worst. The sepulchral inscriptions, which we now see in such numbers in the Italian museums, recording that the dead man was a Decurio of his native town, show that the title was, for several centuries, one which conferred a certain amount of social distinction on the holder, and we may perhaps say that the D E C of these Latin epigraphs corresponds to the Esq. of an English churchyard.
Thus, during these early centuries of the Empire, the local government of the towns was both in name and in fact republican. We need only recur to some familiar examples in the Acts of the Apostles, to understand how these municipal liberties existed side by side with the great machine of the Imperial administration, independent in their own sphere, yet trembling lest by any unauthorised proceeding they should be brought within its far‑reaching and heavy stroke. The Praetors of Philippi are afraid when their lictors bring them word that the men whom they have scourged and thrust into prison are Roman citizens. The seven politarchs of Thessalonica are troubled when the mob p579 of lewd fellows of the baser sort come surging round them, accusing the inmates of Jason's house of acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, and teaching that there is another king, one Jesus. The Recorder of Ephesus is anxious that the dispute between Paul and the silversmiths should be determined in a legal manner before the tribunal of the Proconsul of Asia, and that the authorities of the city should not have to answer difficult interrogatories as to the cause of the tumultuary assembly in the theatre. Continually we find ourselves in presence of real and living, though somewhat precarious, forms of local self-government.
The first two centuries and a half of the Empire may be perhaps considered as the golden age of the municipia, and the large amount of prosperity and happiness thus secured to the middle classes of society was probably the chief cause of the admitted success of the Imperial administration during the greater part of that period. Numerous laws were passed in favour of the municipalities. They were permitted to receive, and probably did receive, large gifts and bequests of property from their members. Fraud practised upon them by one of their officials was made equivalent, not to simple theft, but to the heavier offence of peculation. The Decurions were exempted from capital punishment for every crime but that of parricide. Finally, the municipal treasury, devoted to the construction and maintenance of great public works, roads, bridges, temples and theatres, and to the celebration of the solemn public sacrifices, was easily kept full, and had not as yet attracted the avaricious regards of the Emperors, who 'found the treasures of Rome and the ordinary contributions of the provinces suffice for the p580 needs, and even for the follies, of the central power.'28 From the brightness of this picture some abatement must doubtless be made, as readings the seventy years of anarchy and confusion which intervened between the death of Caracalla and the accession of Diocletian (217‑284). It is not possible that when mutiny, rebellion, and civil war were the chronic condition of the Empire, the municipalities can have enjoyed the full measure of their former prosperity. But whatever they may have suffered in this way was probably irregular and exceptional. It could scarcely yet be said, as far as the curiales were concerned, that the throne of the Emperors was 'a throne of iniquity framing mischief by a law.'
This last and fatal phase in the history of the municipalities was probably, in great measure, the result of the remodelling of the Empire by Diocletian.29 That great statesman saw that some change was needed if p581 the Empire was not to be rent asunder by the hands of its own children. The changes which he accordingly introduced have been already briefly described.30 These changes answered their immediate purpose. The Roman Empire was held together for another century and a half, but it gained life at the cost of the means of living. According to the old fable,31 Phaethon, when entrusted with the chariot of the Sun‑god, drove it too near to the earth and began rapidly to dry up all the pools and fountains of waters. Even so now, the Imperial Majesty, of which flatterers had made a kind of god upon earth, appearing in all the vigour of its new administrative powers close to every portion of the Empire, began at once to dry up many a reservoir of wealth which had escaped the rapacity of former Emperors. Especially was this true of the funds hitherto devoted to the purposes of local self-government. These, which the Curiae had hitherto not only raised, but administered, were now diverted to the Imperial Exchequer to provide for the pomp of the palace, the salaries of the swarms of new officials, and the donatives to the legions, while the strictly useful and reproductive expenditure on roads and bridges, and other local needs, fell day by day into abeyance.32
In the happier days of the municipalities, plenty of citizens had generally been found ready and anxious to discharge, even at some cost to themselves, the civic p582 functions of their little republics. The example of England, and still more of America, proves that where there exists a large and flourishing middle class, endowed with local self-government, money is for the most part freely forthcoming for the wants of the community. When the State is at peace, that healthy emulation which exists between citizens, and that desire to emerge from the ranks, which is natural to men, leads one to build a bridge, another to establish a library, a third to endow a school, a fourth to spend lavishly on the duties of his mayoralty, and so on. The same disposition had, no doubt, existed in the Curiae throughout the Roman Empire. But now a new competitor for the generosity of the citizens appeared in the shape of the Christ Church, perpetually increasing the sumptuousness of her worship, perpetually widening the sphere of her duties as public almoner, and, for both objects, claiming and receiving large oblations from the wealthy. The parish now competed with Curia, and the benevolent citizen who would have built an aqueduct in the second century, founded a church in the third.
And simultaneously with this new diversion of the funds of the charitable, the great Imperial mendicant drew nigh to the impoverished Curia, but speaking now with an altered tone, and saying no longer 'If you like,' but 'You must.' We see the results of the pressure which now began to be put upon the municipalities, but the exact manner of its working does not seem to be disclosed to us. An impost called the 'Aurum Coronarium, which had once been purely a free-will offering occasionally given by the cities to the Roman generals, was now a regular tax paid by the p583 Decurions as such, and by them only. The other taxes, which were assessed afresh every fifteen years throughout the whole Empire, were levied upon the Curia in its collective capacity, and if any member made default, his fellow-decurions must make good the deficiency. Under the pressure of this continually-increasing taxation, some lands went out of cultivation altogether, since there was no profit left for the proprietor after the claims of the State were satisfied. So much the more taxes must the surrounding proprietors pay, to make up for the loss to the treasury from those unsown acres.33 It is evident that when once this process had reached a certain stage, the load of taxation on the proprietors who still endeavoured to bear it would increase, not in arithmetical, but in geometrical proportion, and life would become nothing but a cruel race between the tax‑collector and his victim.
The inevitable result followed. The Curiae, which had once been honoured and envied communities, easily bearing the weight of their public duties, and dispensing comfort and happiness to the district round them, were now mere gaols in which the middle classes were shut up from birth till death, to toil for the Imperial Treasury. The dignity of decurion, or curialis as he was now often called, was no longer bestowed on the p584 most worthy by the suffrages of his fellow-citizens. It was a charge descending from the father to the son, which the son, however anxious to be freed from it, could not renounce.34 The longest 'title' (as it is called) in the Theodosian Code, is that which contains the 188 laws, passed during 150 years, concerning the rights and duties of the Decurions. Of their rights perhaps eight laws speak, of their duties the remaining 180, and that in tones of inflexible severity. The perpetually recurring expression, 'the son of Curial must be bound to the Curia,' formulated as it is with the word mancipetur, shows sufficiently how grievous a burden the service of the municipalities was considered. it is true that more than once we meet with a proviso that no one is to be condemned to enter the ranks of the Decurions as a punishment.35 'The splendour of the Curiae' is said to be dear to the Imperial heart, and 'a criminal should be visited with punishment, not with an accession of dignity;' but this hypocritical pretence can deceive no one who reads the laws by which this enactment is preceded and followed, and who sees therein the perpetual struggle of the middle classes to escape from their connection with the Curiae, and the ruthless determination with which Emperors and Prefects force them back into that hateful prison-house.
p585 No provincial governor on his own authority might excuse a Decurion from his municipal obligations on the score of poverty.36 The Emperor reserved to himself alone the exercise of this progressive. Small, certainly, was the probability that a citizen, too poor to pay his curial dues, would be able to defray the expense of a journey to Rome in order to obtain this exemption. And yet their chronic misery may have urged many to undertake this painful pilgrimage, for we find another edict37 whereby they were forgotten to visit the Emperor on public or private business without the leave of the Governor of the Province in which they dwelt. The prohibition went further: they were forbidden to take any kind of journey, lest they should defraud the Curia of their services, and for the same reason they were forbidden to leave the cities and take up their residence in the country.38 That free circulation of the citizens, which makes the life of modern states, was a crime in the eyes of the Imperial legislator, because it interfered with the machinery of fiscal extortion.
Nothing gives us a more convincing proof of the utterly unbearable condition of the Curiales than the continual efforts which they made to divest themselves of their status, and the storm of Imperial edicts by which they were constantly met and driven back into their Curiae. In truth, the whole series of this legislation seems like an attempt to compress an incompressible fluid, or in some similar way to violate the fundamental laws of physics.
The Decurion was not to be allowed to rise into the profession of an advocate, lest he should thereby obtain p586 exemption from his curial obligations; for the same reason he was not to be allowed to descend into the guild of the rag‑collectors;39 nor should he be permitted to farm the taxes of the province, lest in case of his default, the Emperor and the Curia might find themselves opposing creditors of a bankrupt estate. If a Decurion married a female slave, as the offspring of such a marriage would be incapable of representing him in the Cura, he himself was to be banished to a distant island, his slave-wife to be sent to work in the mines, and his property to pass to his next of kin, upon whom would devolve his obligations to the Curia.
It might have been thought that when every Teutonic and Scythian nationality from the Caspian to the Scheldt was pouring down upon the Empire, when the Romans were
'Ringed around with barking dogs of war,'40
the mustering of men for the battle-field would have been an object of primary importance with their rulers, and that if an oppressive conscription were not resorted to, at least every volunteer would be eagerly welcomed. By no means: the maintenance of the Curia, as a taxing-machine in a state of efficiently, was the first consideration, for upon this depended the splendour of the Imperial household, and the rapid fortunes of Prefects and Counts.
To escape from the misery of their lot as bondslaves of a bankrupt municipality, the Decurions, who were legally bound to serve in a kind of local force, the p587 militia cohortalis, thronged in multitudes into the regular army, the militia armata. Law after law was passed with tedious reiteration, forbidding the officers to enlist any man who is under curial obligations, prescribing the form in which each recruit is to declare his freedom from such liability, and insisting on the dragging back into the Curia of such Decurions as might after all have crept through all this mesh-work of opposing edicts into the army. True, if any had already served for fifteen years in the army, he was to be safe from further pursuit; but then, on the other hand, look at this provision, 'If any man of military descent shall enlist in the militia cohortalis,41 and if, with strength yet unbroken, he shall put forward the plea of advanced age, or by reason of weakness shall be judged unfit for the work of war, he shall be drawn forth from the lurking-place of his cowardice, and bound over to the duties of the Curiae.' The bondage of the Curia — that was the Chelsea Hospital which Rome provided for her broken-down soldiers in the year 380 under the auspices of Theodosius.
The Church as well as the Army offered a door of escape from Curial obligations. We are not surprised at finding the Pagan Emperor Julian closing this door and decreeing42 that 'Decurions, who as Christians' [whereby clergymen are probably intended] 'decline the offices of their township, are to be recalled.' But if any different strain of legislation was hoped for from a pious Emperor like Theodosius, the Convener of the Second Council, the glory and defence of the Catholic p588 Church, such hopes were doomed to disappointment. 'Those Curiales,' says he,43 'who prefer to serve the Churches rather than their Curiae, if they wish to be that which they simulate, let them scorn to withdraw their property from the service of their country. For we will certainly not liberate them on any other condition than this, that they renounce their patrimonies. Since it is not becoming that souls which are devoted to the contemplation of God should feel any regret at the loss of their ancestral property' (383).
It is true that some years later (390) an exemption is made on behalf of those who have already entered the ranks of the clergy. 'He who before the second Consulship of my Mildness'44 [the mildness of him who in that very year ordered the massacre at Thessalonica] 'has reached the eminence of Presbyter, or undertaken the ministry of Deacon, or the office of Exorcist, may keep all his patrimony safe and free from curial bonds. But he who, under whatever name, shall have betaken himself to the reluctant ministrations of divine worship after the date of my aforesaid Consulship, let him know that he must give up the whole of his patrimony.'45
Other laws, of an earlier as well as a later date than those which have been quoted, enacted that the curial Cleric should be withdrawn from his sacred profession and restored to the civic duties from which he had absconded. Such a provision, which shows that the ecclesiastical hierarchy, however powerful, was still far from occupying the position which she held in the days of Hildebrand, must surely have clashed against even the then existing Canons of the Church. No instances p589 however seem to be forthcoming, to show in what way this conflict of laws was settled.
The monks, if Curiales, were handled by the State even more roughly than the clergy. It should be stated however that the decree which is next to follow was issued by the Emperor Valens, who, as an Arian, had special reasons for hating the enthusiastically Athanasian monks of Egypt at whom it is principally aimed (365).
'Certain lovers of idleness, deserting their civic duties, affect solitary and secret places, and under the guise of religion are collected together with the assemblies of the Lonely-Livers (Monazontes). We have therefore, on deliberation, commanded that all these, and men like them, if taken in Egypt, shall be drawn forth from their hiding-places by the Count of the East, and shall be recalled to undergo the charges of their native districts, or else, by virtue of this law, shall be deprived of the delights of their possessions,46 which, it is our pleasure, shall be claimed by those who have to undertake the charge of the public functions.'47
Besides the Church and the Army another career, if he only could succeed in entering it, seemed to promise to the aspiring Curial an exemption from the crushing load of municipal liability. This was service in the vast Imperial households, for the Palatinus of whatever rank was not only entitled, as has been already seen, to share in the corn-largesses; he was also, as the servant of the Emperor, free from 'mancipation' to any other master. And in this way, no doubt, many thousands of Decurions managed to evade the onerous p590 obligations of local self-government. There is a long series of vacillating decrees bearing on the case of these men. According to one edict thirty years' prescription was necessary, according to others, five years sufficed, to prevent the dreaded sentence, 'Let him be dragged back to his Curia.' The general impression left on the mind by these decrees is that they soon became waste parchment, the theory of government requiring that the rights of the Curio should be insisted upon, while in practice the favour of the Sovereign was powerful enough to shield from curial pursuit the members of his household. Theodosius (or Valentinian II), however, once breaks forth into a strain of sublime indignation against those who trusted to this means of deliverance (386). 'Let the Curiales who have supposed that they could be defended by the privilege of our Household be dragged back to their Curia, so that they may be "mancipated" to their proper functions and may repair the public losses. Nevertheless if any of these shall be proved to owe anything to our Divine households, let him pay it.'48 This noble sacrifice by the Emperor of everybody else to the necessities of the country, coupled with the sharpest attention to the interests of his own 'divine household,' is characteristic of the legislation of that period.
From this general survey of the laws relating to the Decurions it will be seen that we have here a state of things not altogether unlike that which existed in France before the Revolution. A court and noblesse above,49 exempt from the heaviest part of the national p591 taxation, and with their hands for ever in the national exchequer: below, a people robbed and spoiled, taillable et corvéable à merci, that is, without mercy and without foresight, and consequently some of the most fertile countries in the world brought by the tax‑gatherer to the verge of starvation. The difference between the two cases is that in France taille and corvée reached down to the very lowest of the people: in the Roman Empire, the slaves and the 'plebeians' (as the class of freemen who lacked the curial qualification were called) were not shut up in the taxing‑pen of the Curia. It was essentially an oppression of the middle classes that was thus carried on; but a century and a half of this steady, persevering tyranny had so ground down the once prosperous and thriving Decurions, that it may be doubted whether they were not, when the Western Empire fell, practically lower than the lowest of the proletariat.
M. Guizot mentions two privileges which were left to the Curiales, and which, he thinks, may have been some slight compensation for their many miseries.
1. Freedom from Corporal Punishment. We find certainly several laws which appear to concede this privilege to the Decurions. Especially is it forbidden to chastise them with the Plumbatae, the scourge with lumps of metal knotted into its throngs, which was ordinarily used for the chastisement of slaves. One remarkable law, passed in the year 381, says,50 'Let all zzzzzz and Governors of Provinces abstain from usurping a power which does not belong to them, and let them know that absolutely no Principalis nor Decurion, whatever fault or error he may have committed, p592 is to be submitted to the torments of the Plumbatae. Should perchance any judge hereafter break forth into such pertinacity of forbidden madness as to dare to subject a Principalis and a Decurion, a man who is, so to speak, the Senator of his Curia, to the strokes of the Plumbatae, let him and condemned to pay a fine of twenty pounds of gold (£2000) inasmuch as, the command of the judge being unlawful, we give him full liberty to disobey it.' This lawgiver seems to be in earnest, and the provision for inflicting a heavier fine on the actual wielder of the lash than on his master seems cleverly contrived to prevent the perpetration of the outrage. But one may doubt, from the frequent reappearance of similar provisions in the Code, whether the immunity from stripes — which was, after all, theoretically the privilege of every Roman citizen — was practically enjoyed by 'the Decurion, the Senator of his Curia.' For by later edicts (387 and 392) Theodosius expressly enacts that Decurions, who have been guilty of malversation in respect of the public monies,51 or 'who owe anything'52 — a category which would of course include those whose taxes were in arrear — may be punished with the Plumbatae. As in Egypt at the present day53 the bastinado, applied to the elders of the village, extracts the intolerable tax from the unfortunate fellah, so doubtless, many a time, in the last century of the Empire, did the cruel blows of p593 the Plumbatae wring the last Denarius out of the coffers of the Decurion.
2. A more substantial privilege doubtless, though from its nature attainable by few, was the prospect of entering the Senate, and so passing from the class of the oppressed into that of the oppressors. An inhabitant of one of the more important municipalities,54 who was possessed of large means, and had steadily climbed the ladder of official dignities in his native town, having finally attained the rank of presiding Duumvir, was to be considered free from all further curial obligations, to hold the rank of an Ex‑Count, and with the title of clarissimus, had the right of a seat in the innermost circle at the public games, and the Governor of the Province was bound to salute him with a kiss. Last and most important, an entrance was permitted him into the Roman Senate, 'the noblest Curia of all,' but apparently on condition of his leaving a son, or some other substitute, to represent him in the Curia from which he emerged.
Often it would occur that a wealthy and popular Curial, by official favour or by bribing his fellow-townsmen, would succeed in missing some steps of the slow ascent, and would present himself in the senate-house at Rome before he was duly qualified. In such a case, said the Emperor Constantius55 (361) —
'The Decurions who shirk their own duties and betake themselves to the fellowship of our Senate shall be struck off the roll of that body, and "mancipated" p594 to their own cities. Those, however, who have served the office of Praetor' [which involved heavy expenses in connection weight Praetorian games exhibited to the people] 'may remain in the Senate, but must restore any monies which they may have abstracted from our Imperial Exchequer, or from the bowels of the municipalities.' Many similar laws follow, some of which ingeniously fasten on such premature Senators a double pecuniary obligation, first as Curial, and, second, as Senator. A yet harsher tone is observable in the following law, passed in the year 398 by Arcadius, Emperor of the East.
56'All the Curiales are to abide in their original Curies, their duties to which are of perpetual obligation. Those who by fraud or popular canvassing have clambered up into the place of high Administrators and Rulers of Provinces, are to be at once deprived of the honours which they have obtained, and not only with swift and strong hand drawn back to their own Curia, and made to serve all its offices from the very beginning, but shall also be mulcted in half their patrimony.
But, by an educate which was published shortly after, these stringent provisions were somewhat modified in the case of a Curial who had obtained senatorial rank 'before the Ides of November, in the fourth Consulship of Lord Honorius Augustus, Brother of my Eternity, and his colleague Eutychianus.'
'Brother of my Eternity:' such was the pompous style in which the imbecile Arcadius spoke of the imbecile Honorius. It was time for our Teutonic kinsman, Alaric, to tear down the purple hangings of Empire, p595 and let in the fresh air of reality upon those chambers reeking with flattery and falsehood.
One last exemption must be noticed, which points to the dwindling state of the population of the Provinces, but which rests on a basis of humanity and good sense. It was enacted by the Emperor Julian57 (363), 'He who is the father of thirteenth children not only shall not be summoned to the Curia, but even though he be a Decurion, shall be left in an honoured rest' [undisturbed by the summons to undertake any curial duty].
From the sketch, necessarily brief and imperfect, which has been here given of the decline and fall of the Municipalities of the Empire, the reader can in some degree estimate for himself the share which their altered condition had in bringing about the ruin of the Empire itself. In Gaul, in Spain, in Italy, the exhaustion and impoverishment of the middle classes was, in the fifth century, so great that it had become a matter almost of indifference who ruled over them, a grandson of Theodosius, the Suevic Count Ricimer, the Herulian Odovacar, or Theodoric the Ostrogoth. Their condition could not be worse under the barbarian than under the crushing, organised, relentless tyranny of the Roman bureaucracy. It might be, and as far as Odovacar and Theodoric were concerned it probably was, better.
In the East no doubt the same process of exhaustion went on, but the fortunate push from without was wanting. In Egypt and in Syria the Arabs, fresh from the desert, easily overturned, amid shouts of Lo Ellah il Allah! the pallid resemblances of Graeco-Roman municipalities. In the other provinces of the Byzantine Empire they still cumbered the ground with the spectacle p596 of their decay until the close of the ninth century, when Leo VI, sound the Philosopher, removed from the theory of the constitution both the Senate of the Empire and the Curiae of the towns. Of the latter he said, 'The ancient laws passed as to the Curiae and Decurions impose on the Decurions intolerable burdens, and confer on the Curiae the right to nominate certain magistrates, and to govern the cities by their own authority. Now that civil affairs have taken another form, and that all things depend entirely on the care and government of the Imperial Majesty, these laws wander, so to speak, vainly and without object, around the soil of legality. We therefore abolish them by the present decree.'58
In the West, the agony of the Municipia had been shorter, and the remembrance of the days of their prosperity and usefulness was therefore less easily effaced. It would be an interesting task, but one outside of our present field, to show how, under the barbarian kings, aided in many cases by the influence of the Church, the Curiae rose again, as it were, from the tomb, until, in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, local self-government, as set forth in the Italian Commune, reached, perhaps, the noblest elevation at which the world has seen, or is likely to see it. An almost equally noteworthy tribute to the memory of the old municipal organisation is paid from a different quarter. To this day the mightiest ecclesiastical organisation in the world, that which gives birth to Poes, and deifies or bargains with Emperors, calls itself the Roman Curia.
The Local Taxation of the Empire has been dwelt upon at considerable length, because its history can be easily traced from the Statute Book, and because in tracing that history we can clearly see a powerful degrading influence at work upon an important class of the community.
The history of the Imperial Taxation is in some respects more obscure, and to give a detailed description of it would require more space than can here be afforded. But, tried by its results, still may without hesitation be condemned as wasteful, oppressive, and, in one word, barbarous. The more one examines into the subject the more one is convinced that great as the Romans were in legislation, and great in war, in finance their genius was below mediocrity. To violently wrest the whole or a large part of the lands of a conquered people from their former owners and appropriate them to the Roman State, to destroy great seats of industry and commerce like Corinth or Carthage, and bring their gold and silver and works of art home to figure in a Roman triumph, this easy system of momentary self-enrichment the Senate and its officers were able to put in practice. But to develop, as some of the Ptolemies and some of the Tudors developed, the commercial wealth of their people, to plant wisely and water diligently the tree of manufacturing or agricultural prosperity, from which the State itself might in the time of fruit-bearing pluck a golden reward, this was arcade of enterprise for which the genius of the Roman nation was little suited, and though it cannot be said to p598 u598 have been never attempted, it certainly seldom succeeded in Roman hands.
It is unfortunately quite impossible to determine with any approach to accuracy the amount of the revenue of the Empire, but the conjectures of scholars who have examined carefully into the subject point to a sum of between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 sterling as the probable total under the Emperors. It is true that we cannot say what amount of local taxation may have existed side by side with this. But in itself the amount does not seem a crushing weight for a population of perhaps 90,000,000,59 inhabiting such countries as France, Spain, and Italy are now, as Turkey in Europe, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and the northern shore of Africa were before the domination of the Mussulman had blasted them. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that a modern scientific financier, keeping a wise equipoise between direct and indirect taxation, and carefully arranging his duties so as to take only a reasonable toll from the vast commerce of the Mediterranean countries, could have easily provided for the State a revenue twice as large as she seems to have actually received, without crushing out the happiness of her subjects.
But the Roman financiers seem to have relied most on the worst kind of taxation, and to have levied it in the most wasteful and oppressive manner. Unfortunately we have no specimen of the budget of a 'Count of the Sacred Largesses' which we can submit to a modern Chancellor of the Exchequer for his criticisms. But it is almost certain that the portoria of the customs duties, varying from 2 to 5 per cent, and ultimately p599 reaching as high as 12½ per cent,60 did not contribute an important part of the revenues of the Empire. The Vicesima Hereditatum, a succession duty of 5 per cent, seems to have been enforced with some hesitation, and to be finally abandoned in the sixth century on account of its unpopularity. Yet as the duty was not paid when the property devolved upon very near relations, few taxes, one would think, could have been more easily justified, or should have been more inflexibly demanded. The Vicesima Libertatis, a tax of 5 per cent on the value of every liberated slave, was probably, in the existing state of Roman society, a wise impost, as tending to prevent the dilution of the ranks of Roman citizens by too large an accession of freedmen, and it brought in a considerable revenue to the State. It was, moreover, essentially a tax on luxuries, for to be surrounded by a troop of obsequious freedmen was one of the most common forms of ostentation among the Roman nobility. But when we read in the pages of Juvenal, Athenaeus, and Tacitus, of the portentous and childish expenditure of that nobility on other luxuries, we see that here was a field from which a modern financier would have reaped an abundant harvest. He would not have issued sumptuary edicts nor attempted by legislation to check the torrent of extravagance, but he would have said in fact to these men, the owners of half a province and the lords of an army of slaves, 'Since it pleases you to spend such vast sums on all sorts of ridiculous fantasies, spend them by all means, but give the State a share of your superfluity.' The Licenses and Assessed Taxes which an English minister of Finance would have imposed p600 upon the Roman Senators would have fed many Legions.
But the sheet-anchor of the Imperial Financier was evidently the share, the oppressive share, of produce which they wrested from the cultivator of the soil. In some countries this had been originally looked upon as Land‑Tax properly so called, in others it had been treated as rent for land appropriated by the Roman people but suffered to remain in the possession of the former owners as their tenants. In some it had been originally a Tithe (Decumae), in others it had been spoken of as a Tribute (Tributum Soli). But it will probably be safe to say that these differences had now, in the fourth and fifth centuries, become mere matters of antiquarian interest. The various populations of the Empire, Italian and Provincial, Greek and Sicilian, Asiatic and African, were all now theoretically free and practically miserable. Every fifteen years, that great revision of taxable value, called the Indiction, took place throughout the Empire. Then the few who had prospered found themselves assessed on the higher value which their lands had acquired, while the many who were sinking down into poverty, obtained, it is to be feared, but little relief from taxation on account of the higher rate which was charged to all. They might be assessed on fewer capita, but each caput was larger on account of the increasing needs of the Imperial Exchequer. This periodical re‑assessment was evidently one of the most important features of the inner life of the Empire, and was aptly expressed by the habit of dating each year from its place in the Indiction.61
p601 In the breathless race between the tax‑payer and the tax‑gatherer which financial administration became during the decay of the Empire, the inhabitant vices of the Roman system of collecting the revenue grew more and more apparent. Whether because the Republic despaired of finding absolutely honest collectors among her own citizens, because she deemed it impossible for anything but the keen self-interest of a contractor to cope with the self-interest of the cultivator of the land, or because the simplicity of an auction of the taxes commended itself to the rude fiscal notions of her statesmen — whatever may have been the cause, certain it is that the Tithes and all other forms of Land‑Tax seem to have been, from the beginning to the end of the Roman domination, farmed out to men who bore the well-known and hated name of publicani. Many familiar passages in the New Testament shew the aversion with which the subordinate ranks of this great corporation were regarded by the provincials. An often-quoted passage in Livy shews that the Senate itself, at a comparatively early period, had perceived that the vast powers for extortion wielded by the Publicans were quite incompatible with the existence of real liberty among the subject-allies of Rome.62 Finlay, the historian of Greece, has traced in p602 many pages of his history the disastrous effect of the system of tithes and tithe-farming upon both Greece and Turkey, and speaks of this system as an undoubted legacy, and a fatal one, from the Roman Empire.63 If we had the materials in our possession for a complete picture of the financial administration of Constantine p603 or Theodosius, we should no doubt find that the wasteful oppression of the publicanus was the main cause why so large an amount of suffering among the peasantry produced, comparatively, so small a revenue to the State.
The phenomena of commercial life in classical antiquity are not easy to understand. We are told that banking business had reached a high development in both Greece and Italy; that bills of exchange were constantly drawn and remitted from one part of the Empire to another; that the bankers (τραπεζῖται in Greece, Argentarii at Rome) were in the habit of receiving money on deposit, and relending it on overdrawn account. And yet, on the other hand, we hear constantly of exorbitant sums being paid for interest. Twelve-and‑a‑half per cent is mention as a frequent rate in Rome, and twenty-four per cent as charged in Sicily. The latter rate, it is true, was exacted by the tyrannical Verres, but it is far surpassed by the righteous Brutus, who exacted forty-eight per cent from the provincials of Cyprus. At all times of the Republic and Empire aes alienum (borrowed money) is spoken of as a fruitful source of danger to the State, and the debtor never seems to have a fair chance of emancipating himself from the yoke of the creditor. These are all indications of a state of things in which the usurer rather than the banker is the chief loan-monger,64 and they almost entitle us to say (whatever p604 indications to the contrary may be afforded by scattered passages in the classics) that the true business of a banker — the acting as a broker between those classes of the community which desire to lend and those classes which desire to borrow — cannot have been understood, or if understood, cannot have been widely practised in the Roman Empire.
It would be an interesting speculation to enquire what would have been the effect of a National Debt — that distinguishing feature of modern political finance — in retarding or accelerating the ruin of the Empire. The First and Second Punic Wars seem to have been fought out to a successful issue by the Senate chiefly by means of a loan, disguised under a gigantic debasement of the currency. The As, which was then the unit of monetary value, and which was coined out of a pound of copper when the quarrel with Carthage commenced, consisted of only one uncia (the twelfth part of a pound), when the dispute was settled, sixty-three years later, on the field of Zama. The disastrous effect of such a sweeping alteration in the standard of value was perhaps mitigated by the partial substitution Ostia silver currency for one of copper. But though the State had thus made a disguised loan from p605 its subjects, and though at times it may have borrowed inconsiderable sums of money for short periods from the publicani, no such institution as a permanent National Debt ever existed, or perhaps ever suggested itself as possible to the State Financiers. On some great emergencies, such as the reception of the Visigothic refugees within the limits of the Empire in 376, a loan on a large scale might have been a prudent and statesmanlike measure. The secure investment thus offered to those provincials who were shut out from the great money markets of Rome and Alexandria, might have stimulated thrift. And it is almost certain that the rulers of the Empire, had they periodically appeared before their subjects as borrowers, would have been more amenable to the legitimate influence of public opinion. Flatterers might persuade a frantic debauchee that he was pious, and unconquered, and fortunate, up to the very moment when he was ripe for assassination; but a decline in the Imperial Funds of ten per cent would have been an unmistakable proof that he was losing the confidence of his subjects.
Arguments like these might be advanced to show that the existence of the Empire would have been prolonged by the device of national indebtedness. On the other hand, we see, by abundant evidence in the history of our own times, that the creation of Bonds and Stock-certificates is like dram-drinking to imperfectly organised States. The brief military usurpers of the third century would probably have raised loans on the national credit as furiously and foolishly as the Presidents of any South American Republic. And even as to the great and stable States of modern times whose acknowledgments p606 of debt command, and rightly command, for the present, as high a price as the land itself, the substratum of all national wealth, we must remember that we have as yet traced their orbit through a very small part of the World's History. We and our immediate forefathers have seen the beginning of England's borrowing, but we know not in what spirit our remote descendants may look upon its end.
It is time to bring to a conclusion this examination of the causes of the Fall of the Roman Empire, which might range over the whole field of private and public life during the first four Christian centuries.
Some readers may be surprised at not finding a prominent place among those causes given to the autocratic power of the Caesars. Many instances have been noticed, even in the course of this history, in which a fatuous or vicious Emperor accelerated the ruin of Rome. But, upon a survey of the whole history of the Commonwealth before and after the consolidation of the supreme power in the hands of an Imperator, it does not seem possible to look upon that measure as anything else than preservative of the life of the State. We have to compare the Imperial System, not with some ideal Republic of Plato or More, not even with a modern European monarchy of average excellence, but with the Roman Republic during the last century and a half of its existence, at a time when the government of the fairest portion of the earth was in the hands of a combination of aristocrats the most selfish, and of democrats the most senseless, that the world has perhaps p607 ever seen, and was being jobbed and plundered for their apparent benefit with such blind rapacity that, had Caesar not arrested the process of destruction, the provincial population must have perished in the grasp of its oppressors.
But though, upon the whole, the power of the Emperors was exerted beneficially for the Empire, the same cannot be said of the frequent and disastrous interference of the Imperial household in State affairs. While, on the one hand, there were long intervals, notably the reigns of the Adoptive Emperors, perhaps also those of Diocletian and Constantine, during which a wise and well-organised bureaucracy (to use a modern term) gave effect to the mandates of the Supreme Power, there were other periods, especially the reigns of Claudius, of Constantius, of the sons and grandsons of Theodosius, during which the personal attendants of the Monarch, his freedmen, or even his eunuchs, succeeded in grasping the helm of the State, and their steering was uniformly disastrous.65 The confusion between the menial servants of the Monarch and the ministers of the Empire, though obvious in a constitutionally-governed country, generally tends to efface itself under a despotism, where the Sovereign, daily fed upon such flatteries as those which Claudian offered to Honorius, comes in time to believe that the trivialities of his daily life are matters of profound interest to his subjects, and as important to the world as the welfare of provinces. Thus it was, by playing upon the weakness of a master whom in their hearts they despised, that such men as Eutropius became the chief depositaries p608 of power under such sovereigns as Arcadius; thus it was that they could sell the highest offices in the Empire,66 and bitterly revenge the wrongs which they themselves had suffered in their former bondage. Whatever may be the drawbacks of a constitutional system, and they are many, it at least nullifies, if it does not destroy, the baneful influence of 'the Household' in politics. A vigorous and hard-working Bureaucrat, who finds himself eclipsed or thwarted by a showy and pretentious speaker in a popular assembly, may reflect that even this is less humiliating than the necessity of courting the favour of an uneducated domestic, who has risen into power by the performance of menial offices in the bedchamber of the Sovereign.
The rapid and terrible decline in the efficiently of the Army was without doubt another potent cause of the dissolution of the Empire. When we hear the military essayist, Vegetius,67 lamenting the effeminate habits of the soldiers in his day, who were no longer able to bear the weight of helmet and coat of mail, and petitioned the Emperor, with success, that they might be allowed to lay aside these wearisome defences, we feel how vast a change has come over the spirit of the legionary since the hardy Sabine and Marsian followed Caesar to victory. This demoralisation may be partly due, as Zosimus68 says it was, to the truckling policy of Constantine, who withdrew many of the legions from the arduous and unpopular duty of defending the frontiers and quartered them in the large cities of the Empire, where they spent their days at the Amphitheatre, and their nights in debauchery, a burden on the peaceful p609 provincials, but no longer a terror to the enemies of Rome.
But the true causes of the ruin of that wonderful machine of conquest, the Roman Army, lay deeper doubtless than in any such special mistake of military administration as this of Constantine's. Its mainspring for centuries had been the patient strength and courage, the capacity for enduring hardness, the instinctive submission to military discipline, of the populations which lined the ranges of the Apennines. Taught by their example, other races in the Empire, especially the Gauls and the friendly Germans, could do good service as foederati or even as actual legionaries. But after all, when the old Italian population was gone — and we have seen some of the economic changes which led to its disappearance before the slave-gangs of the great proprietors of Italy — there was no more reason left why the Roman army should continue to conquer. The wolves of Romulus were changed into the timid sheep of Honorius and the younger Theodosius. What had been the hammer of the nations became now their anvil.
Simple depopulation is often assigned as a cause of the fall of the Empire.69 And with great truth, especially so far as the terrible plagues and earthquakes of the second and third centuries contributed to that depopulation. It is abundantly clear, and must have p610 been observed by the attentive reader of this history, that there were vast solitary spaces within the border of the Empire when the barbarians streamed across it, and that their movement was one of colonisation almost as much as of conquest. Still, when one looks at the whole course of affairs after the Romans had made themselves masters of the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, depopulation seems to present itself to the mind as a symptom rather than a cause of the malady which was in time to prove fatal, and one is inclined to fix upon some of the vices of the Roman polity mentioned above, the slave-system, the latifundia, the extortion of the tax‑gatherer, as the reasons for that terrible failure of 'the human harvest.'
The ruin of such a mighty fabric as the world-empire of Rome can hardly be contemplated by the citizen of any State such as our own, which has extended its dominion over alien peoples and far distant lands, without stirring some foreboding fears that of our country too it may one day be said, 'How art thou fallen from Heaven, oh Lucifer, Son of the Morning!' Even so, according to the well-known story, the younger Africanus, in the very midst of the ruined city of Carthage, which he had himself destroyed, shed prophetic tears over the fate of his own country, and repeated those verses of the Iliad —
'Ἔσσεται ἧμαρ, ὅτ’ ἄν ποτ’ ὀλώλῃ Ἴλιος ἱρή,
Καὶ Πρίαμος καὶ λαὸς ἐϋμμελίω Πριάμοιο.'70
But an Englishman, though his presumption may rightly be chastened by the thought of the mortality p611 of Rome, may derive some comfort from the reflection that she was tempted, as his country is not, by absolutely unbounded success. It was not till after the destruction of Carthage that the worst qualities of the Roman conqueror, his rapacity, his cruelty, his contempt for the rights of others began to develop themselves. The other powerful nations, both in the Old and the New World, which act as a counterpoise to our own, and sometimes administer a severe rebuke to our national pride, are in truth our best friends, preserving us from that overweening arrogance which is unendurable by God and Man.
of the causes enumerated above, which conspired for the ruin of the Empire, some clearly affect us not. The Christian religion is with us no explosive force threatening the disruption of our most cherished institutions. On the contrary it has been said, not as a mere figure of speech, that 'Christianity is part of the common law of England.' And even the bitterest enemies of our religion will scarcely deny that, upon the whole, a nation imbued with the teaching of the New Testament is more easy to govern than one which derived its notions of divine morality from the stories of the dwellers on Olympus.
The partition of the Empire, the erection of a co‑equal seat of authority in its Asiatic dependences, can hardly be considered a danger for us in practical politics.
Slavery is not eating as a canker into the heart of the English State. Yet perhaps there may be something analogous to slavery in the condition of 'the dangerous classes' in our great cities, men leading a sunless and squalid existence from the cradle to the p612 grave, serfs adscripti to the gaol and the workhouse. And this thought may quicken the zeal, already so earnest, of statesmen and philanthropists to remove from us this reproach.
To the eye of an inexperienced observer there appear to be symptoms in the British administration of India, especially in the preponderating importance of land‑tax as a side of revenue, and in our mention of employing the native foederati, which suggest some anxious comparisons with the Roman imperial system. May it prove that the resemblance is only in appearance, not in reality!
The pulverisation of the burgher-class by the fiscal oppressions practised upon the Decurions may possibly contain some warnings for benevolent administrators who, in their very zeal for the improvement of the condition of the people, may allow local taxation to attain proportions which, were any pause to occur in the onward march of the country, might be found well-nigh intolerable.
But of all the forces which were at work for the destruction of the prosperity of the Roman world none is more deserving of the careful study of an English statesman than the grain-largesses to the populace of Rome. Whatever occasional ebbings there may be in the current, there can be little doubt that the tide of affairs, in England and in all the countries of Western Europe, as well as in the United States of America, sets permanently towards Democracy. Will the great Democracies of the Twentieth Century resist the temptation to use political power as a means of material self-enrichment? With a higher ideal of public duty than has been shown by some of the governing classes p613 which preceded them, will they refrain from jobbing the Commonwealth? Warned by the experience of Rome, will they shrink from reproducing directly, or indirectly, the political heresy of Caius Gracchus, that he who votes in the Forum must be fed by the State? If they do, perhaps the world may see Democracies as long-lived as the Dynasties of Egypt or of China. If they do not, assuredly now as in the days of our Saxon forefathers, it will be found that he who is 'giver of bread' is also lord.71 The old weary round will recommence, democracy leading to anarchy, and anarchy to despotism, and the National Workshops of some future Gracchus will build the palaces in which British or American despots, as incapable to rule as Arcadius or Honorius, will guide mighty empires to ruin, amidst the acclamations of flatterers as eloquent and as hollow as the courtly Claudian.
1 In Eutropium, II.325‑341.
2 See Claudian's words as quoted on p586.
3 Wordsworth: Excursion, Book IV.
4 De Civitate Dei, IV.21.
5 'Deae Adeonae adeuntes, Abeonae abeuntes.'
6 'Testimonium animae naturaliter Christianae.' The phrase belongs to the following century, but the line of argument indicated by it to this.
7 Cod. Theod. XVI.10.4.
8 The story of Generidus the heathen, and his refusal to continue in the Emperor's edict unless the edict against his fellow-heathens were repealed, well illustrates the baneful effect of this persecuting legislation in the defence of the Empire (see vol. I p764).
9 According to the often-quoted words of Horace, 'praesens divus habebitur Augustus.'
10 Kingsley, Roman and Teuton.
11 Zosimus, V.42. See vol. I p794.
12 Vol. I p179 (ed. Smith).
14 Since writing this sentence, I have met with the following striking words of Mommsen (Hist. of Rome, book IV chap. 2): 'The abyss of misery and woe, which opens before our eyes in this most miserable of all proletariats, we leave to be fathomed by those who venture to gaze into such depths: it is very possible that, compared with the sufferings of the Roman slaves, the sum of all negro suffering is but a drop.'
16 'Libertas . . . est naturalis facultas ejus quod cuique facere libet, nisi si qui vi aut jure prohibetur. Servitus autem est constitutio juris gentium, qua quis dominio alieno contra naturam subjicitur' (Institutes of Justinian, book I tit. 3).
17 'Latifundia perdidere Italiam.'
18 Four Obols (6½ d.) for the Sicilian Medimnus. The Attic Medimnus was a bushel and a half. We cannot quite be certain that the Sicilian Medimnus was the same quantity, and therefore the calculation is liable to some doubt.
19 More precisely, the citizen was entitled to claim five Modii at the rate of 6⅓ asses per Modius, the modius being equivalent to the quarter of a bushel, and the as to.53 of a penny.
20 The Roman pound weighed a little less than ¾ of our pound avoirdupois.
21 Called Siliginei.
22 'Tiberinas exstruxi ripas: vadum alvei tumentis effodi.'
24 Lib. XIV. tit. 17.
25 An instrument of torture shaped like a horse.
26 Some of this legislation has reference to Constantinople, but similar arrangements would probably be in force at Rome.
27 Guizot in his 'Essais sur l'histoire de France. Du régime municipal dans l'Empire Romain au Ve siècle de l'ère chrétienne,' a fine demonstration of the morbid anatomy of a state. Guizot founds himself chiefly upon Roth 'de Re Municipali Romanorum,' Stuttgart, 1801. The Theodosian Code is the quarry from which both authors derive their materials. Marquardt, in his Römische Staatsverwaltung, I.463‑512, expands, and in some details corrects, Guizot's sketch of the earlier history of the municipalities.
28 Guizot, Essai, p10.
29 Guizot lays the whole blame of this legislation on Constantine. No doubt the edicts on this subject in the Theodosian Code chiefly bear his name, but the cause was surely the more burdensome administration of the Empire, and it would take at least twenty years (from Diocletian's accession in 284 to Constantine's accession in 306) to bring about that great change which Guizot so well describes, by which a coveted dignity became an odious charge. And, in fact, the oppression of the municipalities by the central power had probably been going on for a much longer period. Marquardt (Römische Staatsverwaltung, I.511) points out that as early as the time of Trajan (99‑117), in what Guizot considers the golden age of the municipalities, there are already slight traces of persons 'qui inviti fiunt decuriones' (Trajan's Letter to Pliny in Plinii Epistolae, X.113). And the same author seems inclined to place the beginning of the 'Verfall der Curien' as early as the beginning of the third century. But he admits that this decline did not become utter ruin till the age of Constantine.
30 See vol. I pp14‑15.
'Cum procul insanae traherent Phaethonta quadrigae,
Saeviret dies, terramque et stagna propinqui
Claudian, De IV Cons. Honorii, 63‑65.
32 This must be taken as an inference from the general course of legislation rather than as an established fact.
33 Possibly, as far as each particular district was concerned, this burden might be to some extent relieved at the next assessment (indictio) at which, theoretically at least, account was taken of the productive capacities of every province in the Empire. But as the taxes were not diminishing, but increasing, if this process of throwing lands out of cultivation on account of the rapacity of the tax‑gatherer was going on extensively throughout the Empire, it is evident that the landholders who remained must have had to bear a rapidly accumulating burden.
34 It would seem probable that with this degradation in the rank of the Decurions, the body which they formed lost the position of a local Senate which it had previously occupied. This, however, we cannot prove from the language of the laws. Only, a new class among the Decurions, the Principales, seems to hold something like the same position towards the rest of the community which the Decurions held formerly.
35 Cod. Theod. XII.1.66 and 108.
36 Cod. Theod. XII.1.1.
37 Ibid. XII.1.9.
38 Ibid. XII.1.143, 144; XII.18.
39 Centonarii. The meaning of the word is doubtful.
'Septi latrantibus undique bellis.'
(Claudian, In Eutropium, II.486)
41 'Si quis militaris prosapiae se Officio Cohortis adgregarit.' (Cod. Theod. XII.1.83.)
42 Cod. Theod. XII.1.50.
43 Cod. Theod. XII.1.104.
44 A.D. 388.
45 Cod. Theod. XII.1.121.
46 'Familiarium rerum carere inlecebris.'
47 Cod. Theod. XII.1.63.
48 Cod. Theod. XII.1.114/x.
49 Official, it is true, rather than, as in France, hereditary.
50 Cod. Theod. XII.1.85.
51 Cod. Theod. XII.1.117.
52 Ibid. XII.1.126.
53 Written in 1879; happily no longer true in 1892.
54 This qualification is not expressed in the Code, but we can hardly suppose that the presiding magistrate of a mere village would be entitled to claim rank as an ex‑comes.
55 Cod. Theod. XII.1.48.
56 Cod. Theod. XII.1.159, 160.
57 Cod. Theod. XII.1.55.
58 Novellae Leonis, 46, quoted by Guizot, Essais, &c., p18.
59 This is the result of Von Wietersheim's calculation (I.234).
60 Marquardt's Römische Staatsverwaltung, II.268.
61 The Indictions began under Constantine in the year 312. According to the usage then prevalent, 313 would be called the first Indiction, 314 the second Indiction, and so on. It was not till the twelfth century, according to Marquardt, that the obvious plan of numbering the periods (according to which 312‑327 would be the first Indiction, 327‑342 the second Indiction, and so on) was introduced (Römische Staatsverwaltung, II.238).
62 'Ubi publicanus esset, ibi aut jus Publicum vanum aut libertatem sociis nullam esse' was the opinion expressed by the Senate when the organisation of the province of Macedonia was under discussion, B.C. 167 (XLV.18.5).
63 Compare particularly vol. VI p13. 'From the moment that the crops began to ripen, the property of the cultivator in nine‑tenths of it was treated as a matter subsidiary to the arrangement relative to the disposal of the remaining tenth which belonged to the sovereign. An industrious peasant could rarely make any profit by raising an early crop or by improving the quality of his produce. . . . No superiority of skill or increase of labour could under such circumstances secure a higher price. . . . The effects of this system of taxation on the condition of Greek agriculture may still be studied in the dominions of the Turkish sultan or the Greek king, for they rival one another in the disastrous effects of their fiscal administration [A.D. 1859].'
The wastefulness, though not the oppression, of a system of publicani is further shown by the following extract from a letter to the Times. It appears from this letter that the system is still the curse of Italy.
'Let me mention one more reason for Italian poverty — the oppressive and absurd fiscal laws and the pernicious system of farming the taxes, a system which wrenches from the most necessitous classes from 30 to 50 per cent more taxation than is necessary. I will give one example of this, in the ruinous system of octroi taxes. I know a small town of about 2000 inhabitants, the taxes (octroi) of which are let for 16,000 francs the year. The farmer annually makes a profit of from 5000 to 6000 francs. The town is miserably poor, yet the wretched inhabitants have to pay this heavy sum more than is needful if the taxes were collected in a proper manner. Most of the other taxes are farmed in a similar fathers. The drain upon the community, and especially the poor, can be easily imagined.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Sept. 27, 1879.
And a letter from Angora (Sept. 28, 1879) describes in the old familiar language the odious occasion of the publican and the horrible wastefulness of the tithe-farming system as practised in Asia Minor (Times, Oct. 18, 1879).
64 Thus distinguished. The usurer, as such, lends from his own capital; the banker, as such, from the deposits of his customers. The usurer, therefore, if he wishes to make 15 per cent on his capital, can only do it by charging 15 per cent to his customers. The banker may make the same percentage while only charging 3 per cent to his customers, if a sum of money equivalent to fifteen times his capital be deposited with him at 2 per cent. The usurer's best chance of profit is in being able to foreclose on oppressive terms his debtor's mortgage. The banker, who has ever before his eyes the necessity of a prompt repayment of his deposits, dreads few things more than the necessity of foreclosing a mortgage and so 'locking up' part of the funs entrusted to him. Thus, without supposing the latter to be a bit more generous or less selfish than the former, he is led by mere self-interest into a course of dealing which gives the borrower a chance of recovering himself from the burden of aes alienum.
65 An exception should be made for the great deeds of the eunuch Narses, but they lie beyond the range of the present history.
66 Compare Claudian, In Eutropium, I.196‑221.
67 Epitoma Rei Militaris, I.20.
69 I have nowhere seen this aspect of the question more vividly presented than in Prof. Seeley's Second Essay on Roman Imperialism (published in Macmillan's Magazine, August, 1869). 'Some principle of decay,' he says, 'must have been at work [to produce the collapse which followed the prosperity of the Antonine period], but what principle? We answer: It was a period of sterility or barrenness in human beings; the human harvest was bad.'
'Surely a day shall come for the fall of Ilion the holy,
Priam, the stout-speared king, and all the people of Priam.'
71 Lord = Hlaford, the Loaf-giver. The derivation is questioned by some scholars.
a Twenty-five jugera come to 15.575 acres, actually, and thus closer to sixteen; or 6.3 hectares. (The details of the conversion can be found in the article Jugerum in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.)
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 10 Mar 12