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

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[Footnote 22: Ovid. Fast. l. ii. ver. 667. See Livy, and Dionysius of

Halicarnassus, under the reign of Tarquin.]

[Footnote 23: St. Augustin is highly delighted with the proof of the

weakness of Terminus, and the vanity of the Augurs. See De Civitate Dei,

iv. 29. * Note: The turn of Gibbon's sentence is Augustin's: "Plus

Hadrianum regem bominum, quam regem Deorum timuisse videatur."--M]

[Footnote 24: See the Augustan History, p. 5, Jerome's Chronicle, and

all the Epitomizers. It is somewhat surprising, that this memorable

event should be omitted by Dion, or rather by Xiphilin.]
The martial and ambitious of spirit Trajan formed a very singular

contrast with the moderation of his successor. The restless activity of

Hadrian was not less remarkable when compared with the gentle repose of

Antoninus Pius. The life of the former was almost a perpetual journey;

and as he possessed the various talents of the soldier, the statesman,

and the scholar, he gratified his curiosity in the discharge of his

Careless of the difference of seasons and of climates, he marched on

foot, and bare-headed, over the snows of Caledonia, and the sultry

plains of the Upper Egypt; nor was there a province of the empire which,

in the course of his reign, was not honored with the presence of the

monarch. [25] But the tranquil life of Antoninus Pius was spent in the

bosom of Italy, and, during the twenty-three years that he directed

the public administration, the longest journeys of that amiable prince

extended no farther than from his palace in Rome to the retirement of

his Lanuvian villa. [26]
[Footnote 25: Dion, l. lxix. p. 1158. Hist. August. p. 5, 8. If all our

historians were lost, medals, inscriptions, and other monuments, would

be sufficient to record the travels of Hadrian. Note: The journeys of

Hadrian are traced in a note on Solvet's translation of Hegewisch, Essai

sur l'Epoque de Histoire Romaine la plus heureuse pour Genre Humain

Paris, 1834, p. 123.--M.]

[Footnote 26: See the Augustan History and the Epitomes.]
Notwithstanding this difference in their personal conduct, the general

system of Augustus was equally adopted and uniformly pursued by Hadrian

and by the two Antonines. They persisted in the design of maintaining

the dignity of the empire, without attempting to enlarge its limits. By

every honorable expedient they invited the friendship of the barbarians;

and endeavored to convince mankind that the Roman power, raised above

the temptation of conquest, was actuated only by the love of order

and justice. During a long period of forty-three years, their virtuous

labors were crowned with success; and if we except a few slight

hostilities, that served to exercise the legions of the frontier,

the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius offer the fair prospect of

universal peace. [27] The Roman name was revered among the most remote

nations of the earth. The fiercest barbarians frequently submitted their

differences to the arbitration of the emperor; and we are informed by a

contemporary historian that he had seen ambassadors who were refused

the honor which they came to solicit of being admitted into the rank of

subjects. [28]
[Footnote 27: We must, however, remember, that in the time

of Hadrian, a rebellion of the Jews raged with religious fury, though

only in a single province. Pausanias (l. viii. c. 43) mentions two

necessary and successful wars, conducted by the generals of Pius: 1st.

Against the wandering Moors, who were driven into the solitudes of

Atlas. 2d. Against the Brigantes of Britain, who had invaded the Roman

province. Both these wars (with several other hostilities) are mentioned

in the Augustan History, p. 19.]

[Footnote 28: Appian of Alexandria, in the preface to his History of the

Roman Wars.]

The terror of the Roman arms added weight and dignity to the moderation

of the emperors. They preserved peace by a constant preparation for war;

and while justice regulated their conduct, they announced to the nations

on their confines, that they were as little disposed to endure, as to

offer an injury. The military strength, which it had been sufficient

for Hadrian and the elder Antoninus to display, was exerted against the

Parthians and the Germans by the emperor Marcus. The hostilities of the

barbarians provoked the resentment of that philosophic monarch, and, in

the prosecution of a just defence, Marcus and his generals obtained

many signal victories, both on the Euphrates and on the Danube. [29] The

military establishment of the Roman empire, which thus assured either

its tranquillity or success, will now become the proper and important

object of our attention.
[Footnote 29: Dion, l. lxxi. Hist. August. in Marco. The Parthian

victories gave birth to a crowd of contemptible historians, whose memory

has been rescued from oblivion and exposed to ridicule, in a very lively

piece of criticism of Lucian.]

In the purer ages of the commonwealth, the use of arms was reserved for

those ranks of citizens who had a country to love, a property to defend,

and some share in enacting those laws, which it was their interest as

well as duty to maintain. But in proportion as the public freedom was

lost in extent of conquest, war was gradually improved into an art, and

degraded into a trade. [30] The legions themselves, even at the time

when they were recruited in the most distant provinces, were supposed

to consist of Roman citizens. That distinction was generally considered,

either as a legal qualification or as a proper recompense for the

soldier; but a more serious regard was paid to the essential merit

of age, strength, and military stature. [31] In all levies, a just

preference was given to the climates of the North over those of the

South: the race of men born to the exercise of arms was sought for in

the country rather than in cities; and it was very reasonably presumed,

that the hardy occupations of smiths, carpenters, and huntsmen, would

supply more vigor and resolution than the sedentary trades which are

employed in the service of luxury. [32] After every qualification of

property had been laid aside, the armies of the Roman emperors were

still commanded, for the most part, by officers of liberal birth and

education; but the common soldiers, like the mercenary troops of modern

Europe, were drawn from the meanest, and very frequently from the most

profligate, of mankind.

[Footnote 30: The poorest rank of soldiers possessed above forty pounds

sterling, (Dionys. Halicarn. iv. 17,) a very high qualification at a

time when money was so scarce, that an ounce of silver was equivalent

to seventy pounds weight of brass. The populace, excluded by the ancient

constitution, were indiscriminately admitted by Marius. See Sallust. de

Bell. Jugurth. c. 91. * Note: On the uncertainty of all these estimates,

and the difficulty of fixing the relative value of brass and silver,

compare Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 473, &c. Eng. trans. p. 452. According to

Niebuhr, the relative disproportion in value, between the two metals,

arose, in a great degree from the abundance of brass or copper.--M.

Compare also Dureau 'de la Malle Economie Politique des Romains

especially L. l. c. ix.--M. 1845.]

[Footnote 31: Caesar formed his legion Alauda of Gauls and strangers;

but it was during the license of civil war; and after the victory, he

gave them the freedom of the city for their reward.]
[Footnote 32: See Vegetius, de Re Militari, l. i. c. 2--7.]
That public virtue, which among the ancients was denominated patriotism,

is derived from a strong sense of our own interest in the preservation

and prosperity of the free government of which we are members. Such

a sentiment, which had rendered the legions of the republic almost

invincible, could make but a very feeble impression on the mercenary

servants of a despotic prince; and it became necessary to supply

that defect by other motives, of a different, but not less forcible

nature--honor and religion. The peasant, or mechanic, imbibed the useful

prejudice that he was advanced to the more dignified profession of arms,

in which his rank and reputation would depend on his own valor; and

that, although the prowess of a private soldier must often escape

the notice of fame, his own behavior might sometimes confer glory or

disgrace on the company, the legion, or even the army, to whose honors

he was associated. On his first entrance into the service, an oath was

administered to him with every circumstance of solemnity. He promised

never to desert his standard, to submit his own will to the commands of

his leaders, and to sacrifice his life for the safety of the emperor and

the empire. [33] The attachment of the Roman troops to their standards

was inspired by the united influence of religion and of honor. The

golden eagle, which glittered in the front of the legion, was the object

of their fondest devotion; nor was it esteemed less impious than it was

ignominious, to abandon that sacred ensign in the hour of danger. [34]

These motives, which derived their strength from the imagination, were

enforced by fears and hopes of a more substantial kind. Regular pay,

occasional donatives, and a stated recompense, after the appointed time

of service, alleviated the hardships of the military life, [35] whilst,

on the other hand, it was impossible for cowardice or disobedience

to escape the severest punishment. The centurions were authorized to

chastise with blows, the generals had a right to punish with death;

and it was an inflexible maxim of Roman discipline, that a good soldier

should dread his officers far more than the enemy. From such laudable

arts did the valor of the Imperial troops receive a degree of firmness

and docility unattainable by the impetuous and irregular passions of


[Footnote 33: The oath of service and fidelity to the emperor was

annually renewed by the troops on the first of January.]

[Footnote 34: Tacitus calls the Roman eagles, Bellorum Deos. They were

placed in a chapel in the camp, and with the other deities received the

religious worship of the troops. * Note: See also Dio. Cass. xl. c. 18.

[Footnote 35: See Gronovius de Pecunia vetere, l. iii. p. 120, &c. The

emperor Domitian raised the annual stipend of the legionaries to twelve

pieces of gold, which, in his time, was equivalent to about ten of

our guineas. This pay, somewhat higher than our own, had been, and was

afterwards, gradually increased, according to the progress of wealth and

military government. After twenty years' service, the veteran received

three thousand denarii, (about one hundred pounds sterling,) or a

proportionable allowance of land. The pay and advantages of the guards

were, in general, about double those of the legions.]

And yet so sensible were the Romans of the imperfection of valor without

skill and practice, that, in their language, the name of an army was

borrowed from the word which signified exercise. [36] Military exercises

were the important and unremitted object of their discipline. The

recruits and young soldiers were constantly trained, both in the morning

and in the evening, nor was age or knowledge allowed to excuse the

veterans from the daily repetition of what they had completely learnt.

Large sheds were erected in the winter-quarters of the troops, that

their useful labors might not receive any interruption from the most

tempestuous weather; and it was carefully observed, that the arms

destined to this imitation of war, should be of double the weight which

was required in real action. [37] It is not the purpose of this work to

enter into any minute description of the Roman exercises. We shall only

remark, that they comprehended whatever could add strength to the body,

activity to the limbs, or grace to the motions. The soldiers were

diligently instructed to march, to run, to leap, to swim, to carry heavy

burdens, to handle every species of arms that was used either for

offence or for defence, either in distant engagement or in a closer

onset; to form a variety of evolutions; and to move to the sound of

flutes in the Pyrrhic or martial dance. [38] In the midst of peace, the

Roman troops familiarized themselves with the practice of war; and it is

prettily remarked by an ancient historian who had fought against them,

that the effusion of blood was the only circumstance which distinguished

a field of battle from a field of exercise. [39] It was the policy of

the ablest generals, and even of the emperors themselves, to encourage

these military studies by their presence and example; and we are

informed that Hadrian, as well as Trajan, frequently condescended to

instruct the unexperienced soldiers, to reward the diligent, and

sometimes to dispute with them the prize of superior strength or

dexterity. [40] Under the reigns of those princes, the science of

tactics was cultivated with success; and as long as the empire retained

any vigor, their military instructions were respected as the most

perfect model of Roman discipline.
[Footnote 36: Exercitus ab exercitando, Varro de Lingua Latina, l.

iv. Cicero in Tusculan. l. ii. 37. 15. There is room for a very

interesting work, which should lay open the connection between the

languages and manners of nations. * Note I am not aware of the

existence, at present, of such a work; but the profound observations of

the late William von Humboldt, in the introduction to his posthumously

published Essay on the Language of the Island of Java, (uber die

Kawi-sprache, Berlin, 1836,) may cause regret that this task was not

completed by that accomplished and universal scholar.--M.]
[Footnote 37: Vegatius, l. ii. and the rest of his first book.]
[Footnote 38: The Pyrrhic dance is extremely well illustrated by M.

le Beau, in the Academie des Inscriptions, tom. xxxv. p. 262, &c. That

learned academician, in a series of memoirs, has collected all the

passages of the ancients that relate to the Roman legion.]

[Footnote 39: Joseph. de Bell. Judaico, l. iii. c. 5. We are indebted to

this Jew for some very curious details of Roman discipline.]

[Footnote 40: Plin. Panegyr. c. 13. Life of Hadrian, in the Augustan


Nine centuries of war had gradually introduced into the service many

alterations and improvements. The legions, as they are described by

Polybius, [41] in the time of the Punic wars, differed very materially

from those which achieved the victories of Caesar, or defended the

monarchy of Hadrian and the Antonines.
The constitution of the Imperial legion may be described in a few words.

[42] The heavy-armed infantry, which composed its principal strength, [43]

was divided into ten cohorts, and fifty-five companies, under the orders

of a correspondent number of tribunes and centurions. The first cohort,

which always claimed the post of honor and the custody of the eagle, was

formed of eleven hundred and five soldiers, the most approved for valor

and fidelity. The remaining nine cohorts consisted each of five hundred

and fifty-five; and the whole body of legionary infantry amounted to six

thousand one hundred men. Their arms were uniform, and admirably adapted

to the nature of their service: an open helmet, with a lofty crest;

a breastplate, or coat of mail; greaves on their legs, and an ample

buckler on their left arm. The buckler was of an oblong and concave

figure, four feet in length, and two and a half in breadth, framed of a

light wood, covered with a bull's hide, and strongly guarded with plates

of brass. Besides a lighter spear, the legionary soldier grasped in

his right hand the formidable pilum, a ponderous javelin, whose

utmost length was about six feet, and which was terminated by a massy

triangular point of steel of eighteen inches. [44] This instrument was

indeed much inferior to our modern fire-arms; since it was exhausted

by a single discharge, at the distance of only ten or twelve paces.

Yet when it was launched by a firm and skilful hand, there was not any

cavalry that durst venture within its reach, nor any shield or corselet

that could sustain the impetuosity of its weight. As soon as the Roman

had darted his pilum, he drew his sword, and rushed forwards to close

with the enemy. His sword was a short well-tempered Spanish blade, that

carried a double edge, and was alike suited to the purpose of striking

or of pushing; but the soldier was always instructed to prefer the

latter use of his weapon, as his own body remained less exposed, whilst

he inflicted a more dangerous wound on his adversary. [45] The legion was

usually drawn up eight deep; and the regular distance of three feet

was left between the files as well as ranks. [46] A body of troops,

habituated to preserve this open order, in a long front and a rapid

charge, found themselves prepared to execute every disposition which the

circumstances of war, or the skill of their leader, might suggest. The

soldier possessed a free space for his arms and motions, and sufficient

intervals were allowed, through which seasonable reenforcements might be

introduced to the relief of the exhausted combatants. [47] The tactics of

the Greeks and Macedonians were formed on very different principles. The

strength of the phalanx depended on sixteen ranks of long pikes,

wedged together in the closest array. [48] But it was soon discovered by

reflection, as well as by the event, that the strength of the phalanx

was unable to contend with the activity of the legion. [49

[Footnote 41: See an admirable digression on the Roman discipline, in

the sixth book of his History.]

[Footnote 42: Vegetius de Re Militari, l. ii. c. 4, &c. Considerable

part of his very perplexed abridgment was taken from the regulations of

Trajan and Hadrian; and the legion, as he describes it, cannot suit any

other age of the Roman empire.]

[Footnote 43: Vegetius de Re Militari, l. ii. c. 1. In the purer age of

Caesar and Cicero, the word miles was almost confined to the infantry.

Under the lower empire, and the times of chivalry, it was appropriated

almost as exclusively to the men at arms, who fought on horseback.]

[Footnote 44: In the time of Polybius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus,

(l. v. c. 45,) the steel point of the pilum seems to have been much

longer. In the time of Vegetius, it was reduced to a foot, or even nine

inches. I have chosen a medium.]

[Footnote 45: For the legionary arms, see Lipsius de Militia Romana, l.

iii. c. 2--7.]

[Footnote 46: See the beautiful comparison of Virgil, Georgic ii. v.

[Footnote 47: M. Guichard, Memoires Militaires, tom. i. c. 4, and

Nouveaux Memoires, tom. i. p. 293--311, has treated the subject like a

scholar and an officer.]

[Footnote 48: See Arrian's Tactics. With the true partiality of a Greek,

Arrian rather chose to describe the phalanx, of which he had read, than

the legions which he had commanded.]
[Footnote 49: Polyb. l. xvii. (xviii. 9.)]
The cavalry, without which the force of the legion would have remained

imperfect, was divided into ten troops or squadrons; the first, as the

companion of the first cohort, consisted of a hundred and thirty-two

men; whilst each of the other nine amounted only to sixty-six. The

entire establishment formed a regiment, if we may use the modern

expression, of seven hundred and twenty-six horse, naturally connected

with its respective legion, but occasionally separated to act in the

line, and to compose a part of the wings of the army. [50] The cavalry of

the emperors was no longer composed, like that of the ancient republic,

of the noblest youths of Rome and Italy, who, by performing their

military service on horseback, prepared themselves for the offices

of senator and consul; and solicited, by deeds of valor, the future

suffrages of their countrymen. [51] Since the alteration of manners and

government, the most wealthy of the equestrian order were engaged in

the administration of justice, and of the revenue; [52] and whenever they

embraced the profession of arms, they were immediately intrusted with a

troop of horse, or a cohort of foot. [53] Trajan and Hadrian formed their

cavalry from the same provinces, and the same class of their subjects,

which recruited the ranks of the legion. The horses were bred, for

the most part, in Spain or Cappadocia. The Roman troopers despised the

complete armor with which the cavalry of the East was encumbered. Their

more useful arms consisted in a helmet, an oblong shield, light boots,

and a coat of mail. A javelin, and a long broad sword, were their

principal weapons of offence. The use of lances and of iron maces they

seem to have borrowed from the barbarians. [54]
[Footnote 50: Veget. de Re Militari, l. ii. c. 6. His positive

testimony, which might be supported by circumstantial evidence, ought

surely to silence those critics who refuse the Imperial legion its

proper body of cavalry. Note: See also Joseph. B. J. iii. vi. 2.--M.]

[Footnote 51: See Livy almost throughout, particularly xlii. 61.]

[Footnote 52: Plin. Hist. Natur. xxxiii. 2. The true sense of that very

curious passage was first discovered and illustrated by M. de Beaufort,

Republique Romaine, l. ii. c. 2.]

[Footnote 53: As in the instance of Horace and Agricola. This appears to

have been a defect in the Roman discipline; which Hadrian endeavored to

remedy by ascertaining the legal age of a tribune. * Note: These details

are not altogether accurate. Although, in the latter days of the

republic, and under the first emperors, the young Roman nobles obtained

the command of a squadron or a cohort with greater facility than in the

former times, they never obtained it without passing through a tolerably

long military service. Usually they served first in the praetorian

cohort, which was intrusted with the guard of the general: they were

received into the companionship (contubernium) of some superior officer,

and were there formed for duty. Thus Julius Caesar, though sprung from a

great family, served first as contubernalis under the praetor, M.

Thermus, and later under Servilius the Isaurian. (Suet. Jul. 2, 5. Plut.

in Par. p. 516. Ed. Froben.) The example of Horace, which Gibbon adduces

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