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- Lectures and Essays - 2/67 -

they do precisely what the Romans did not. They kill, ravage, plunder-- perhaps they conquer and even for a time retain their conquests--but they do not found highly organized empires, they do not civilize, much less do they give birth to law. The brutal and desolating domination of the Turk, which after being long artificially upheld by diplomacy, is at last falling into final ruin, is the type of an empire founded by the foster-children of the she-wolf. Plunder, in the animal lust of which alone it originated, remains its law, and its only notion of imperial administration is a coarse division, imposed by the extent of its territory, into satrapies, which, as the central dynasty, enervated by sensuality, loses its force, revolt, and break up the empire. Even the Macedonian, pupil of Aristotle though he was, did not create an empire at all comparable to that created by the Romans. He overran an immense extent of territory, and scattered over a portion of it the seed of an inferior species of Hellenic civilization, but he did not organize it politically, much less did he give it, and through it the world, a code of law. It at once fell apart into a number of separate kingdoms, the despotic rulers of which were Sultans with a tinge of Hellenism, and which went for nothing in the political development of mankind.

What if the very opposite theory to that of the she-wolf and her foster- children should be true? What if the Romans should have owed their peculiar and unparalleled success to their having been at first not more warlike, but less warlike than their neighbours? It may seem a paradox, but we suspect in their imperial ascendency is seen one of the earliest and not least important steps in that gradual triumph of intellect over force, even in war, which has been an essential part of the progress of civilization. The happy day may come when Science in the form of a benign old gentleman with a bald head and spectacles on nose, holding some beneficent compound in his hand, will confront a standing army and the standing army will cease to exist. That will be the final victory of intellect. But in the meantime, our acknowledgments are due to the primitive inventors of military organization and military discipline. They shivered Goliath's spear. A mass of comparatively unwarlike burghers, unorganized and undisciplined, though they may be the hope of civilization from their mental and industrial qualities, have as little of collective as they have of individual strength in war; they only get in each other's way, and fall singly victims to the prowess of a gigantic barbarian. He who first thought of combining their force by organization, so as to make their numbers tell, and who taught them to obey officers, to form regularly for action, and to execute united movements at the word of command, was, perhaps, as great a benefactor of the species as he who grew the first corn, or built the first canoe.

What is the special character of the Roman legends, so far as they relate to war? Their special character is, that they are legends not of personal prowess but of discipline. Rome has no Achilles. The great national heroes, Camillus, Cincinnatus, Papirius, Cursor, Fabius Maximus, Manlius are not prodigies of personal strength and valour, but commanders and disciplinarians. The most striking incidents are incidents of discipline. The most striking incident of all is the execution by a commander of his own son for having gained a victory against orders. "_Disciplinam militarem_," Manlius is made to say, "_qua stetit ad hanc diem Romana res._" Discipline was the great secret of Roman ascendency in war. It is the great secret of all ascendency in war. Victories of the undisciplined over the disciplined, such as Killiecrankie and Preston Pans, are rare exceptions which only prove the rule. The rule is that in anything like a parity of personal prowess and of generalship discipline is victory. Thrice Rome encountered discipline equal or superior to her own. Pyrrhus at first beat her, but there was no nation behind him, Hannibal beat her, but his nation did not support him; she beat the army of Alexander, but the army of Alexander when it encountered her, like that of Frederic at Jena, was an old machine, and it was commanded by a man who was more like Tippoo Sahib than the conqueror of Darius.

But how came military discipline to be so specially cultivated by the Romans? We can see how it came to be specially cultivated by the Greeks: it was the necessity of civic armies, fighting perhaps against warlike aristocracies; it was the necessity of Greeks in general fighting against the invading hordes of the Persian. We can see how it came to be cultivated among the mercenaries and professional soldiers of Pyrrhus and Hannibal. But what was the motive power in the case of Rome? Dismissing the notion of occult qualities of race, we look for a rational explanation in the circumstances of the plain which was the cradle of the Roman Empire.

It is evident that in the period designated as that of the kings, when Rome commenced her career of conquest, she was, for that time and country, a great and wealthy city. This is proved by the works of the kings, the Capitoline Temple, the excavation for the Circus Maximus, the Servian Wall, and above all the Cloaca Maxima. Historians have indeed undertaken to give us a very disparaging picture of the ancient Rome, which they confidently describe as nothing more than a great village of shingle-roofed cottages thinly scattered over a large area. We ask in vain what are the materials for this description. It is most probable that the private buildings of Rome under the kings were roofed with nothing better than shingle, and it is very likely that they were mean and dirty, as the private buildings of Athens appear to have been, and as those of most of the great cities of the Middle Ages unquestionably were. But the Cloaca Maxima is in itself conclusive evidence of a large population, of wealth, and of a not inconsiderable degree of civilization. Taking our stand upon this monument, and clearing our vision entirely of Romulus and his asylum, we seem dimly to perceive the existence of a deep prehistoric background, richer than is commonly supposed in the germs of civilization,--a remark which may in all likelihood be extended to the background of history in general. Nothing surely can be more grotesque than the idea of a set of wolves, like the Norse pirates before their conversion to Christianity, constructing in their den the Cloaca Maxima.

That Rome was comparatively great and wealthy is certain. We can hardly doubt that she was a seat of industry and commerce, and that the theory which represents her industry and commerce as having been developed subsequently to her conquests is the reverse of the fact. Whence, but from industry and commerce, could the population and the wealth have come? Peasant farmers do not live in cities, and plunderers do not accumulate. Rome had around her what was then a rich and peopled plain; she stood at a meeting-place of nationalities; she was on a navigable river, yet out of the reach of pirates; the sea near her was full of commerce, Etruscan, Greek, and Carthaginian. Her first colony was Ostia, evidently commercial and connected with salt-works, which may well have supplied the staple of her trade. Her patricians were financiers and money-lenders. We are aware that a different turn has been given to this part of the story, and that the indebtedness has been represented as incurred not by loans of money, but by advances of farm stock. This, however, completely contradicts the whole tenor of the narrative, and especially what is said about the measures for relieving the debtor by reducing the rate of interest and by deducting from the principal debt the interest already paid. The narrative as it stands, moreover, is supported by analogy. It has a parallel in the economical history of ancient Athens, and in the "scaling of debts," to use the American equivalent for _Seisachtheia_, by the legislation of Solon. What prevents our supposing that usury, when it first made its appearance on the scene, before people had learned to draw the distinction between crimes and defaults, presented itself in a very coarse and cruel form? True, the currency was clumsy, and retained philological traces of a system of barter; but without commerce there could have been no currency at all.

Even more decisive is the proof afforded by the early political history of Rome. In that wonderful first decade of Livy there is no doubt enough of Livy himself to give him a high place among the masters of fiction. It is the epic of a nation of politicians, and admirably adapted for the purposes of education as the grand picture of Roman character and the richest treasury of Roman sentiment. But we can hardly doubt that in the political portion there is a foundation of fact; it is too circumstantial, too consistent in itself, and at the same time too much borne out by analogy, to be altogether fiction. The institutions which we find existing in historic times must have been evolved by some such struggle between the orders of patricians and plebeians as that which Livy presents to us. And these politics, with their parties and sections of parties, their shades of political character, the sustained interest which they imply in political objects, their various devices and compromises, are not the politics of a community of peasant farmers, living apart each on his own farm and thinking of his own crops: they are the politics of the quick-witted and gregarious population of an industrial and commercial city. They are politics of the same sort as those upon which the Palazzo Vecchio looked down in Florence. That ancient Rome was a republic there can be no doubt. Even the so-called monarchy appears clearly to have been elective; and republicanism may be described broadly with reference to its origin, as the government of the city and of the artisan, while monarchy and aristocracy are the governments of the country and of farmers.

The legend which ascribes the assembly of centuries to the legislation of Servius probably belongs to the same class as the legend which ascribes trial by jury and the division of England into shires to the legislation of Alfred. Still the assembly of centuries existed; it was evidently ancient, belonging apparently to a stratum of institutions anterior to the assembly of tribes; and it was a constitution distributing political power and duties according to a property qualification which, in the upper grades, must, for the period, have been high, though measured by a primitive currency. The existence of such qualifications, and the social ascendency of wealth which the constitution implies, are inconsistent with the theory of a merely agricultural and military Rome. Who would think of framing such a constitution, say, for one of the rural districts of France?

Other indications of the real character of the prehistoric Rome might be mentioned. The preponderance of the infantry and the comparative weakness of the cavalry is an almost certain sign of democracy, and of the social state in which democracy takes its birth--at least in the case of a country which did not, like Arcadia or Switzerland, preclude by its nature the growth of a cavalry force, but on the contrary was rather favourable to it. Nor would it be easy to account for the strong feeling of attachment to the city which led to its restoration when it had been destroyed by the Gauls, and defeated the project of a migration to Veii, if Rome was nothing but a collection of miserable huts, the abodes of a tribe of marauders. We have, moreover, the actual traces of an industrial organization in the existence of certain guilds of artisans, which may have been more important at first than they were when the military spirit had become thoroughly ascendant.

Of course when Rome had once been drawn into the career of conquest, the ascendency of the military spirit would be complete; war, and the organization of territories acquired in war, would then become the great occupation of her leading citizens; industry and commerce would fall into disesteem, and be deemed unworthy of the members of the imperial race. Carthage would no doubt have undergone a similar change of character, had the policy which was carried to its greatest height by the aspiring house of Barcas succeeded in converting her from a trading city into the capital of a great military empire. So would Venice, had she been able to carry on her system of conquest in the Levant and of territorial aggrandisement on the Italian mainland. The career of Venice was arrested by the League of Cambray. On Carthage the policy of military aggrandisement, which was apparently resisted by the sage instinct of the great merchants while it was supported by the professional soldiers and the populace, brought utter ruin; while Rome paid the inevitable penalty of military despotism. Even when the Roman

Lectures and Essays - 2/67

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