History of the decline and fall of the roman empire edward Gibbon, Esq



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nature; and the artificial port of Ostia, in particular, situate at the

mouth of the Tyber, and formed by the emperor Claudius, was a useful

monument of Roman greatness. [91] From this port, which was only sixteen

miles from the capital, a favorable breeze frequently carried vessels in

seven days to the columns of Hercules, and in nine or ten, to Alexandria

in Egypt. [92]


[See Remains Of Claudian Aquaduct]
[Footnote 85: The following Itinerary may serve to convey some idea of

the direction of the road, and of the distance between the principal

towns. I. From the wall of Antoninus to York, 222 Roman miles. II.

London, 227. III. Rhutupiae or Sandwich, 67. IV. The navigation to

Boulogne, 45. V. Rheims, 174. VI. Lyons, 330. VII. Milan, 324. VIII.

Rome, 426. IX. Brundusium, 360. X. The navigation to Dyrrachium, 40. XI.

Byzantium, 711. XII. Ancyra, 283. XIII. Tarsus, 301. XIV. Antioch, 141.

XV. Tyre, 252. XVI. Jerusalem, 168. In all 4080 Roman, or 3740 English

miles. See the Itineraries published by Wesseling, his annotations; Gale

and Stukeley for Britain, and M. d'Anville for Gaul and Italy.]


[Footnote 86: Montfaucon, l'Antiquite Expliquee, (tom. 4, p. 2, l. i.

c. 5,) has described the bridges of Narni, Alcantara, Nismes, &c.]


[Footnote 87: Bergier, Histoire des grands Chemins de l'Empire Romain,

l. ii. c. l. l--28.]


[Footnote 88: Procopius in Hist. Arcana, c. 30. Bergier, Hist. des

grands Chemins, l. iv. Codex Theodosian. l. viii. tit. v. vol. ii. p.

506--563 with Godefroy's learned commentary.]
[Footnote 89: In the time of Theodosius, Caesarius, a magistrate of high

rank, went post from Antioch to Constantinople. He began his journey at

night, was in Cappadocia (165 miles from Antioch) the ensuing evening,

and arrived at Constantinople the sixth day about noon. The whole

distance was 725 Roman, or 665 English miles. See Libanius, Orat. xxii.,

and the Itineria, p. 572--581. Note: A courier is mentioned in Walpole's

Travels, ii. 335, who was to travel from Aleppo to Constantinople, more

than 700 miles, in eight days, an unusually short journey.--M.]


[Footnote 891: Posts for the conveyance of intelligence were established

by Augustus. Suet. Aug. 49. The couriers travelled with amazing speed.

Blair on Roman Slavery, note, p. 261. It is probable that the posts,

from the time of Augustus, were confined to the public service, and

supplied by impressment Nerva, as it appears from a coin of his reign,

made an important change; "he established posts upon all the public

roads of Italy, and made the service chargeable upon his own exchequer.

Hadrian, perceiving the advantage of this improvement, extended it

to all the provinces of the empire." Cardwell on Coins, p. 220.--M.]
[Footnote 90: Pliny, though a favorite and a minister, made an apology

for granting post-horses to his wife on the most urgent business. Epist.

x. 121, 122.]
[Footnote 91: Bergier, Hist. des grands Chemins, l. iv. c. 49.]
[Footnote 92: Plin. Hist. Natur. xix. i. [In Prooem.] * Note: Pliny says

Puteoli, which seems to have been the usual landing place from the East.

See the voyages of St. Paul, Acts xxviii. 13, and of Josephus, Vita, c.

3--M.]
Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive

empire, the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences

to mankind; and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the

vices, diffused likewise the improvements, of social life. In the more

remote ages of antiquity, the world was unequally divided. The East was

in the immemorial possession of arts and luxury; whilst the West

was inhabited by rude and warlike barbarians, who either disdained

agriculture, or to whom it was totally unknown. Under the protection of

an established government, the productions of happier climates, and the

industry of more civilized nations, were gradually introduced into the

western countries of Europe; and the natives were encouraged, by an open

and profitable commerce, to multiply the former, as well as to improve

the latter. It would be almost impossible to enumerate all the articles,

either of the animal or the vegetable reign, which were successively

imported into Europe from Asia and Egypt: [93] but it will not be

unworthy of the dignity, and much less of the utility, of an historical

work, slightly to touch on a few of the principal heads. 1. Almost

all the flowers, the herbs, and the fruits, that grow in our European

gardens, are of foreign extraction, which, in many cases, is betrayed

even by their names: the apple was a native of Italy, and when the

Romans had tasted the richer flavor of the apricot, the peach, the

pomegranate, the citron, and the orange, they contented themselves

with applying to all these new fruits the common denomination of apple,

discriminating them from each other by the additional epithet of their

country. 2. In the time of Homer, the vine grew wild in the island of

Sicily, and most probably in the adjacent continent; but it was not

improved by the skill, nor did it afford a liquor grateful to the taste,

of the savage inhabitants. [94] A thousand years afterwards, Italy could

boast, that of the fourscore most generous and celebrated wines, more

than two thirds were produced from her soil. [95] The blessing was soon

communicated to the Narbonnese province of Gaul; but so intense was the

cold to the north of the Cevennes, that, in the time of Strabo, it was

thought impossible to ripen the grapes in those parts of Gaul. [96] This

difficulty, however, was gradually vanquished; and there is some reason

to believe, that the vineyards of Burgundy are as old as the age of the

Antonines. [97] 3. The olive, in the western world, followed the progress

of peace, of which it was considered as the symbol. Two centuries after

the foundation of Rome, both Italy and Africa were strangers to that

useful plant: it was naturalized in those countries; and at length

carried into the heart of Spain and Gaul. The timid errors of the

ancients, that it required a certain degree of heat, and could only

flourish in the neighborhood of the sea, were insensibly exploded by

industry and experience. [98] 4. The cultivation of flax was transported

from Egypt to Gaul, and enriched the whole country, however it might

impoverish the particular lands on which it was sown. [99] 5. The use of

artificial grasses became familiar to the farmers both of Italy and the

provinces, particularly the Lucerne, which derived its name and origin

from Media. [100] The assured supply of wholesome and plentiful food for

the cattle during winter, multiplied the number of the docks and herds,

which in their turn contributed to the fertility of the soil. To all

these improvements may be added an assiduous attention to mines and

fisheries, which, by employing a multitude of laborious hands, serve to

increase the pleasures of the rich and the subsistence of the poor.

The elegant treatise of Columella describes the advanced state of the

Spanish husbandry under the reign of Tiberius; and it may be observed,

that those famines, which so frequently afflicted the infant republic,

were seldom or never experienced by the extensive empire of Rome. The

accidental scarcity, in any single province, was immediately relieved by

the plenty of its more fortunate neighbors.


[Footnote 93: It is not improbable that the Greeks and Phoenicians

introduced some new arts and productions into the neighborhood of

Marseilles and Gades.]
[Footnote 94: See Homer, Odyss. l. ix. v. 358.]
[Footnote 95: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xiv.]
[Footnote 96: Strab. Geograph. l. iv. p. 269. The intense cold of a

Gallic winter was almost proverbial among the ancients. * Note: Strabo

only says that the grape does not ripen. Attempts had been made in the

time of Augustus to naturalize the vine in the north of Gaul; but the

cold was too great. Diod. Sic. edit. Rhodom. p. 304.--W. Diodorus (lib.

v. 26) gives a curious picture of the Italian traders bartering, with

the savages of Gaul, a cask of wine for a slave.--M. --It appears from

the newly discovered treatise of Cicero de Republica, that there was a

law of the republic prohibiting the culture of the vine and olive beyond

the Alps, in order to keep up the value of those in Italy. Nos

justissimi homines, qui transalpinas gentes oleam et vitem serere non

sinimus, quo pluris sint nostra oliveta nostraeque vineae. Lib. iii. 9.

The restrictive law of Domitian was veiled under the decent pretext of

encouraging the cultivation of grain. Suet. Dom. vii. It was repealed by

Probus Vopis Strobus, 18.--M.]
[Footnote 97: In the beginning of the fourth century, the orator

Eumenius (Panegyr. Veter. viii. 6, edit. Delphin.) speaks of the vines

in the territory of Autun, which were decayed through age, and the

first plantation of which was totally unknown. The Pagus Arebrignus is

supposed by M. d'Anville to be the district of Beaune, celebrated, even

at present for one of the first growths of Burgundy. * Note: This is

proved by a passage of Pliny the Elder, where he speaks of a certain

kind of grape (vitis picata. vinum picatum) which grows naturally to the

district of Vienne, and had recently been transplanted into the country

of the Arverni, (Auvergne,) of the Helvii, (the Vivarias.) and the

Burgundy and Franche Compte. Pliny wrote A.D. 77. Hist. Nat. xiv. 1.--

W.]
[Footnote 98: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xv.]


[Footnote 99: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xix.]
[Footnote 100: See the agreeable Essays on Agriculture by Mr. Harte, in

which he has collected all that the ancients and moderns have said

of Lucerne.]
Agriculture is the foundation of manufactures; since the productions of

nature are the materials of art. Under the Roman empire, the labor of an

industrious and ingenious people was variously, but incessantly,

employed in the service of the rich. In their dress, their table, their

houses, and their furniture, the favorites of fortune united every

refinement of conveniency, of elegance, and of splendor, whatever could

soothe their pride or gratify their sensuality. Such refinements, under

the odious name of luxury, have been severely arraigned by the moralists

of every age; and it might perhaps be more conducive to the virtue, as

well as happiness, of mankind, if all possessed the necessaries, and

none the superfluities, of life. But in the present imperfect condition

of society, luxury, though it may proceed from vice or folly, seems to

be the only means that can correct the unequal distribution of property.

The diligent mechanic, and the skilful artist, who have obtained no

share in the division of the earth, receive a voluntary tax from the

possessors of land; and the latter are prompted, by a sense of interest,

to improve those estates, with whose produce they may purchase

additional pleasures. This operation, the particular effects of which

are felt in every society, acted with much more diffusive energy in the

Roman world. The provinces would soon have been exhausted of their

wealth, if the manufactures and commerce of luxury had not insensibly

restored to the industrious subjects the sums which were exacted from

them by the arms and authority of Rome. As long as the circulation was

confined within the bounds of the empire, it impressed the political

machine with a new degree of activity, and its consequences, sometimes

beneficial, could never become pernicious.


But it is no easy task to confine luxury within the limits of an empire.

The most remote countries of the ancient world were ransacked to supply

the pomp and delicacy of Rome. The forests of Scythia afforded some

valuable furs. Amber was brought over land from the shores of the Baltic

to the Danube; and the barbarians were astonished at the price which

they received in exchange for so useless a commodity. [101] There was a

considerable demand for Babylonian carpets, and other manufactures of

the East; but the most important and unpopular branch of foreign trade

was carried on with Arabia and India. Every year, about the time of the

summer solstice, a fleet of a hundred and twenty vessels sailed

from Myos-hormos, a port of Egypt, on the Red Sea. By the periodical

assistance of the monsoons, they traversed the ocean in about forty

days. The coast of Malabar, or the island of Ceylon, [102] was the usual

term of their navigation, and it was in those markets that the merchants

from the more remote countries of Asia expected their arrival. The

return of the fleet of Egypt was fixed to the months of December or

January; and as soon as their rich cargo had been transported on the

backs of camels, from the Red Sea to the Nile, and had descended that

river as far as Alexandria, it was poured, without delay, into the

capital of the empire. [103] The objects of oriental traffic were

splendid and trifling; silk, a pound of which was esteemed not inferior

in value to a pound of gold; [104] precious stones, among which the

pearl claimed the first rank after the diamond; [105] and a variety

of aromatics, that were consumed in religious worship and the pomp of

funerals. The labor and risk of the voyage was rewarded with almost

incredible profit; but the profit was made upon Roman subjects, and

a few individuals were enriched at the expense of the public. As the

natives of Arabia and India were contented with the productions and

manufactures of their own country, silver, on the side of the Romans,

was the principal, if not the only [1051] instrument of commerce. It was a

complaint worthy of the gravity of the senate, that, in the purchase of

female ornaments, the wealth of the state was irrecoverably given away

to foreign and hostile nations. [106] The annual loss is computed, by

a writer of an inquisitive but censorious temper, at upwards of eight

hundred thousand pounds sterling. [107] Such was the style of discontent,

brooding over the dark prospect of approaching poverty. And yet, if we

compare the proportion between gold and silver, as it stood in the time

of Pliny, and as it was fixed in the reign of Constantine, we shall

discover within that period a very considerable increase. [108] There is

not the least reason to suppose that gold was become more scarce; it is

therefore evident that silver was grown more common; that whatever might

be the amount of the Indian and Arabian exports, they were far from

exhausting the wealth of the Roman world; and that the produce of the

mines abundantly supplied the demands of commerce.


[Footnote 101: Tacit. Germania, c. 45. Plin. Hist. Nat. xxxvii. 13. The

latter observed, with some humor, that even fashion had not yet found

out the use of amber. Nero sent a Roman knight to purchase great

quantities on the spot where it was produced, the coast of modern

Prussia.]
[Footnote 102: Called Taprobana by the Romans, and Serindib by the

Arabs. It was discovered under the reign of Claudius, and gradually

became the principal mart of the East.]
[Footnote 103: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. vi. Strabo, l. xvii.]
[Footnote 104: Hist. August. p. 224. A silk garment was considered as an

ornament to a woman, but as a disgrace to a man.]


[Footnote 105: The two great pearl fisheries were the same as at

present, Ormuz and Cape Comorin. As well as we can compare ancient

with modern geography, Rome was supplied with diamonds from the mine

of Jumelpur, in Bengal, which is described in the Voyages de Tavernier,

tom. ii. p. 281.]
[Footnote 1051: Certainly not the only one. The Indians were not so

contented with regard to foreign productions. Arrian has a long list of

European wares, which they received in exchange for their own; Italian

and other wines, brass, tin, lead, coral, chrysolith, storax, glass,

dresses of one or many colors, zones, &c. See Periplus Maris Erythraei

in Hudson, Geogr. Min. i. p. 27.--W. The German translator observes that

Gibbon has confined the use of aromatics to religious worship and

funerals. His error seems the omission of other spices, of which the

Romans must have consumed great quantities in their cookery. Wenck,

however, admits that silver was the chief article of exchange.--M.

In 1787, a peasant (near Nellore in the Carnatic) struck, in digging,

on the remains of a Hindu temple; he found, also, a pot which contained

Roman coins and medals of the second century, mostly Trajans, Adrians,

and Faustinas, all of gold, many of them fresh and beautiful, others

defaced or perforated, as if they had been worn as ornaments. (Asiatic

Researches, ii. 19.)--M.]


[Footnote 106: Tacit. Annal. iii. 53. In a speech of Tiberius.]
[Footnote 107: Plin. Hist. Natur. xii. 18. In another place he computes

half that sum; Quingenties H. S. for India exclusive of Arabia.]


[Footnote 108: The proportion, which was 1 to 10, and 12 1/2, rose to

14 2/5, the legal regulation of Constantine. See Arbuthnot's Tables of

ancient Coins, c. 5.]
Notwithstanding the propensity of mankind to exalt the past, and to

depreciate the present, the tranquil and prosperous state of the empire

was warmly felt, and honestly confessed, by the provincials as well

as Romans. "They acknowledged that the true principles of social life,

laws, agriculture, and science, which had been first invented by the

wisdom of Athens, were now firmly established by the power of Rome,

under whose auspicious influence the fiercest barbarians were united

by an equal government and common language. They affirm, that with the

improvement of arts, the human species were visibly multiplied. They

celebrate the increasing splendor of the cities, the beautiful face of

the country, cultivated and adorned like an immense garden; and the long

festival of peace which was enjoyed by so many nations, forgetful of

the ancient animosities, and delivered from the apprehension of future

danger." [109] Whatever suspicions may be suggested by the air of

rhetoric and declamation, which seems to prevail in these passages, the

substance of them is perfectly agreeable to historic truth.


[Footnote 109: Among many other passages, see Pliny, (Hist. Natur. iii.

5.) Aristides, (de Urbe Roma,) and Tertullian, (de Anima, c. 30.)]


It was scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries should discover

in the public felicity the latent causes of decay and corruption. This

long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow

and secret poison into the vitals of the empire. The minds of men were

gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was

extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated. The natives of

Europe were brave and robust. Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Illyricum

supplied the legions with excellent soldiers, and constituted the real

strength of the monarchy. Their personal valor remained, but they no

longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of

independence, the sense of national honor, the presence of danger, and

the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of

their sovereign, and trusted for their defence to a mercenary army. The

posterity of their boldest leaders was contented with the rank of

citizens and subjects. The most aspiring spirits resorted to the court

or standard of the emperors; and the deserted provinces, deprived of

political strength or union, insensibly sunk into the languid

indifference of private life.


The love of letters, almost inseparable from peace and refinement, was

fashionable among the subjects of Hadrian and the Antonines, who were

themselves men of learning and curiosity. It was diffused over the whole

extent of their empire; the most northern tribes of Britons had acquired

a taste for rhetoric; Homer as well as Virgil were transcribed and

studied on the banks of the Rhine and Danube; and the most liberal

rewards sought out the faintest glimmerings of literary merit. [110] The

sciences of physic and astronomy were successfully cultivated by the

Greeks; the observations of Ptolemy and the writings of Galen are

studied by those who have improved their discoveries and corrected their

errors; but if we except the inimitable Lucian, this age of indolence

passed away without having produced a single writer of original genius,

or who excelled in the arts of elegant composition. The authority of

Plato and Aristotle, of Zeno and Epicurus, still reigned in the schools;

and their systems, transmitted with blind deference from one generation

of disciples to another, precluded every generous attempt to exercise

the powers, or enlarge the limits, of the human mind. The beauties

of the poets and orators, instead of kindling a fire like their own,

inspired only cold and servile mitations: or if any ventured to deviate

from those models, they deviated at the same time from good sense

and propriety. On the revival of letters, the youthful vigor of the

imagination, after a long repose, national emulation, a new religion,

new languages, and a new world, called forth the genius of Europe.

But the provincials of Rome, trained by a uniform artificial foreign

education, were engaged in a very unequal competition with those bold

ancients, who, by expressing their genuine feelings in their native

tongue, had already occupied every place of honor. The name of Poet was

almost forgotten; that of Orator was usurped by the sophists. A cloud of

critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning,

and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of

taste.[1101]
[Footnote 110: Herodes Atticus gave the sophist Polemo above eight

thousand pounds for three declamations. See Philostrat. l. i. p. 538.

The Antonines founded a school at Athens, in which professors of

grammar, rhetoric, politics, and the four great sects of philosophy were

maintained at the public expense for the instruction of youth. The

salary of a philosopher was ten thousand drachmae, between three and

four hundred pounds a year. Similar establishments were formed in the

other great cities of the empire. See Lucian in Eunuch. tom. ii. p. 352,

edit. Reitz. Philostrat. l. ii. p. 566. Hist. August. p. 21. Dion

Cassius, l. lxxi. p. 1195. Juvenal himself, in a morose satire, which in



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