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

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The wide extent of territory which is included between the Inn, the

Danube, and the Save,--Austria, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, the Lower

Hungary, and Sclavonia,--was known to the ancients under the names of

Noricum and Pannonia. In their original state of independence, their

fierce inhabitants were intimately connected. Under the Roman government

they were frequently united, and they still remain the patrimony of a

single family. They now contain the residence of a German prince, who

styles himself Emperor of the Romans, and form the centre, as well as

strength, of the Austrian power. It may not be improper to observe, that

if we except Bohemia, Moravia, the northern skirts of Austria, and

a part of Hungary between the Teyss and the Danube, all the other

dominions of the House of Austria were comprised within the limits of

the Roman Empire.
Dalmatia, to which the name of Illyricum more properly belonged, was a

long, but narrow tract, between the Save and the Adriatic. The best

part of the sea-coast, which still retains its ancient appellation, is

a province of the Venetian state, and the seat of the little republic

of Ragusa. The inland parts have assumed the Sclavonian names of Croatia

and Bosnia; the former obeys an Austrian governor, the latter a Turkish

pacha; but the whole country is still infested by tribes of barbarians,

whose savage independence irregularly marks the doubtful limit of the

Christian and Mahometan power. [80]
[Footnote 80: A Venetian traveller, the Abbate Fortis, has lately given

us some account of those very obscure countries. But the geography

and antiquities of the western Illyricum can be expected only from the

munificence of the emperor, its sovereign.]

After the Danube had received the waters of the Teyss and the Save, it

acquired, at least among the Greeks, the name of Ister. [81] It formerly

divided Maesia and Dacia, the latter of which, as we have already seen,

was a conquest of Trajan, and the only province beyond the river. If we

inquire into the present state of those countries, we shall find that,

on the left hand of the Danube, Temeswar and Transylvania have been

annexed, after many revolutions, to the crown of Hungary; whilst the

principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia acknowledge the supremacy

of the Ottoman Porte. On the right hand of the Danube, Maesia, which,

during the middle ages, was broken into the barbarian kingdoms of Servia

and Bulgaria, is again united in Turkish slavery.
[Footnote 81: The Save rises near the confines of Istria, and was

considered by the more early Greeks as the principal stream of the

The appellation of Roumelia, which is still bestowed by the Turks on

the extensive countries of Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece, preserves the

memory of their ancient state under the Roman empire. In the time of the

Antonines, the martial regions of Thrace, from the mountains of Haemus

and Rhodope, to the Bosphorus and the Hellespont, had assumed the form

of a province. Notwithstanding the change of masters and of religion,

the new city of Rome, founded by Constantine on the banks of the

Bosphorus, has ever since remained the capital of a great monarchy. The

kingdom of Macedonia, which, under the reign of Alexander, gave laws to

Asia, derived more solid advantages from the policy of the two Philips;

and with its dependencies of Epirus and Thessaly, extended from the

Aegean to the Ionian Sea. When we reflect on the fame of Thebes and

Argos, of Sparta and Athens, we can scarcely persuade ourselves, that so

many immortal republics of ancient Greece were lost in a single province

of the Roman empire, which, from the superior influence of the Achaean

league, was usually denominated the province of Achaia.

Such was the state of Europe under the Roman emperors. The provinces

of Asia, without excepting the transient conquests of Trajan, are all

comprehended within the limits of the Turkish power. But, instead of

following the arbitrary divisions of despotism and ignorance, it will

be safer for us, as well as more agreeable, to observe the indelible

characters of nature. The name of Asia Minor is attributed with some

propriety to the peninsula, which, confined betwixt the Euxine and the

Mediterranean, advances from the Euphrates towards Europe. The most

extensive and flourishing district, westward of Mount Taurus and the

River Halys, was dignified by the Romans with the exclusive title

of Asia. The jurisdiction of that province extended over the ancient

monarchies of Troy, Lydia, and Phrygia, the maritime countries of the

Pamphylians, Lycians, and Carians, and the Grecian colonies of Ionia,

which equalled in arts, though not in arms, the glory of their parent.

The kingdoms of Bithynia and Pontus possessed the northern side of the

peninsula from Constantinople to Trebizond. On the opposite side, the

province of Cilicia was terminated by the mountains of Syria: the inland

country, separated from the Roman Asia by the River Halys, and from

Armenia by the Euphrates, had once formed the independent kingdom of

Cappadocia. In this place we may observe, that the northern shores of

the Euxine, beyond Trebizond in Asia, and beyond the Danube in Europe,

acknowledged the sovereignty of the emperors, and received at their

hands either tributary princes or Roman garrisons. Budzak, Crim Tartary,

Circassia, and Mingrelia, are the modern appellations of those savage

countries. [82]
[Footnote 82: See the Periplus of Arrian. He examined the coasts of the

Euxine, when he was governor of Cappadocia.]

Under the successors of Alexander, Syria was the seat of the Seleucidae,

who reigned over Upper Asia, till the successful revolt of the Parthians

confined their dominions between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean.

When Syria became subject to the Romans, it formed the eastern frontier

of their empire: nor did that province, in its utmost latitude, know any

other bounds than the mountains of Cappadocia to the north, and towards

the south, the confines of Egypt, and the Red Sea. Phoenicia and

Palestine were sometimes annexed to, and sometimes separated from, the

jurisdiction of Syria. The former of these was a narrow and rocky

coast; the latter was a territory scarcely superior to Wales, either in

fertility or extent. [821] Yet Phoenicia and Palestine will forever live

in the memory of mankind; since America, as well as Europe, has received

letters from the one, and religion from the other. [83] A sandy desert,

alike destitute of wood and water, skirts along the doubtful confine

of Syria, from the Euphrates to the Red Sea. The wandering life of the

Arabs was inseparably connected with their independence; and wherever,

on some spots less barren than the rest, they ventured to for many

settled habitations, they soon became subjects to the Roman empire. [84]

[Footnote 821: This comparison is exaggerated, with the intention, no

doubt, of attacking the authority of the Bible, which boasts of the

fertility of Palestine. Gibbon's only authorities were that of Strabo

(l. xvi. 1104) and the present state of the country. But Strabo only

speaks of the neighborhood of Jerusalem, which he calls barren and arid

to the extent of sixty stadia round the city: in other parts he gives a

favorable testimony to the fertility of many parts of Palestine: thus

he says, "Near Jericho there is a grove of palms, and a country of a

hundred stadia, full of springs, and well peopled." Moreover, Strabo

had never seen Palestine; he spoke only after reports, which may be as

inaccurate as those according to which he has composed that description

of Germany, in which Gluverius has detected so many errors. (Gluv. Germ.

iii. 1.) Finally, his testimony is contradicted and refuted by that

of other ancient authors, and by medals. Tacitus says, in speaking of

Palestine, "The inhabitants are healthy and robust; the rains moderate;

the soil fertile." (Hist. v. 6.) Ammianus Macellinus says also, "The

last of the Syrias is Palestine, a country of considerable extent,

abounding in clean and well-cultivated land, and containing some fine

cities, none of which yields to the other; but, as it were, being on a

parallel, are rivals."--xiv. 8. See also the historian Josephus, Hist.

vi. 1. Procopius of Caeserea, who lived in the sixth century, says that

Chosroes, king of Persia, had a great desire to make himself master of

Palestine, on account of its extraordinary fertility, its opulence, and

the great number of its inhabitants. The Saracens thought the same,

and were afraid that Omar. when he went to Jerusalem, charmed with the

fertility of the soil and the purity of the air, would never return to

Medina. (Ockley, Hist. of Sarac. i. 232.) The importance attached by the

Romans to the conquest of Palestine, and the obstacles they encountered,

prove also the richness and population of the country. Vespasian and

Titus caused medals to be struck with trophies, in which Palestine is

represented by a female under a palm-tree, to signify the richness of he

country, with this legend: Judea capta. Other medals also indicate this

fertility; for instance, that of Herod holding a bunch of grapes, and

that of the young Agrippa displaying fruit. As to the present state

of he country, one perceives that it is not fair to draw any inference

against its ancient fertility: the disasters through which it has

passed, the government to which it is subject, the disposition of the

inhabitants, explain sufficiently the wild and uncultivated appearance

of the land, where, nevertheless, fertile and cultivated districts are

still found, according to the testimony of travellers; among others, of

Shaw, Maundrel, La Rocque, &c.--G. The Abbe Guenee, in his Lettres de

quelques Juifs a Mons. de Voltaire, has exhausted the subject of the

fertility of Palestine; for Voltaire had likewise indulged in sarcasm

on this subject. Gibbon was assailed on this point, not, indeed, by Mr.

Davis, who, he slyly insinuates, was prevented by his patriotism as a

Welshman from resenting the comparison with Wales, but by other

writers. In his Vindication, he first established the correctness of

his measurement of Palestine, which he estimates as 7600 square English

miles, while Wales is about 7011. As to fertility, he proceeds in

the following dexterously composed and splendid passage: "The emperor

Frederick II., the enemy and the victim of the clergy, is accused of

saying, after his return from his crusade, that the God of the Jews

would have despised his promised land, if he had once seen the fruitful

realms of Sicily and Naples." (See Giannone, Istor. Civ. del R. di

Napoli, ii. 245.) This raillery, which malice has, perhaps, falsely

imputed to Frederick, is inconsistent with truth and piety; yet it

must be confessed that the soil of Palestine does not contain that

inexhaustible, and, as it were, spontaneous principle of fertility,

which, under the most unfavorable circumstances, has covered with rich

harvests the banks of the Nile, the fields of Sicily, or the plains

of Poland. The Jordan is the only navigable river of Palestine: a

considerable part of the narrow space is occupied, or rather lost, in

the Dead Sea whose horrid aspect inspires every sensation of disgust,

and countenances every tale of horror. The districts which border on

Arabia partake of the sandy quality of the adjacent desert. The face

of the country, except the sea-coast, and the valley of the Jordan, is

covered with mountains, which appear, for the most part, as naked and

barren rocks; and in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, there is a real

scarcity of the two elements of earth and water. (See Maundrel's

Travels, p. 65, and Reland's Palestin. i. 238, 395.) These

disadvantages, which now operate in their fullest extent, were formerly

corrected by the labors of a numerous people, and the active protection

of a wise government. The hills were clothed with rich beds of

artificial mould, the rain was collected in vast cisterns, a supply of

fresh water was conveyed by pipes and aqueducts to the dry lands. The

breed of cattle was encouraged in those parts which were not adapted for

tillage, and almost every spot was compelled to yield some production

for the use of the inhabitants.

Pater ispe colendi Haud facilem esse viam voluit, primusque par artem

Movit agros; curis acuens mortalia corda, Nec torpere gravi passus sua

Regna veterno. Gibbon, Misc. Works, iv. 540.
But Gibbon has here eluded the question about the land "flowing with

milk and honey." He is describing Judaea only, without comprehending

Galilee, or the rich pastures beyond the Jordan, even now proverbial for

their flocks and herds. (See Burckhardt's Travels, and Hist of Jews,

i. 178.) The following is believed to be a fair statement: "The

extraordinary fertility of the whole country must be taken into the

account. No part was waste; very little was occupied by unprofitable

wood; the more fertile hills were cultivated in artificial terraces,

others were hung with orchards of fruit trees the more rocky and barren

districts were covered with vineyards." Even in the present day, the

wars and misgovernment of ages have not exhausted the natural richness

of the soil. "Galilee," says Malte Brun, "would be a paradise were it

inhabited by an industrious people under an enlightened government.

No land could be less dependent on foreign importation; it bore within

itself every thing that could be necessary for the subsistence and

comfort of a simple agricultural people. The climate was healthy, the

seasons regular; the former rains, which fell about October, after the

vintage, prepared the ground for the seed; that latter, which prevailed

during March and the beginning of April, made it grow rapidly. Directly

the rains ceased, the grain ripened with still greater rapidity, and was

gathered in before the end of May. The summer months were dry and very

hot, but the nights cool and refreshed by copious dews. In September,

the vintage was gathered. Grain of all kinds, wheat, barley, millet,

zea, and other sorts, grew in abundance; the wheat commonly yielded

thirty for one. Besides the vine and the olive, the almond, the date,

figs of many kinds, the orange, the pomegranate, and many other fruit

trees, flourished in the greatest luxuriance. Great quantity of honey

was collected. The balm-tree, which produced the opobalsamum,a great

object of trade, was probably introduced from Arabia, in the time of

Solomon. It flourished about Jericho and in Gilead."--Milman's Hist. of

Jews. i. 177.--M.]
[Footnote 83: The progress of religion is well known. The use of letter

was introduced among the savages of Europe about fifteen hundred years

before Christ; and the Europeans carried them to America about fifteen

centuries after the Christian Aera. But in a period of three thousand

years, the Phoenician alphabet received considerable alterations, as it

passed through the hands of the Greeks and Romans.]

[Footnote 84: Dion Cassius, lib. lxviii. p. 1131.]
The geographers of antiquity have frequently hesitated to what portion

of the globe they should ascribe Egypt. [85] By its situation that

celebrated kingdom is included within the immense peninsula of Africa;

but it is accessible only on the side of Asia, whose revolutions,

in almost every period of history, Egypt has humbly obeyed. A Roman

praefect was seated on the splendid throne of the Ptolemies; and the

iron sceptre of the Mamelukes is now in the hands of a Turkish pacha.

The Nile flows down the country, above five hundred miles from the

tropic of Cancer to the Mediterranean, and marks on either side of the

extent of fertility by the measure of its inundations. Cyrene, situate

towards the west, and along the sea-coast, was first a Greek colony,

afterwards a province of Egypt, and is now lost in the desert of Barca.

[Footnote 85: Ptolemy and Strabo, with the modern geographers, fix the

Isthmus of Suez as the boundary of Asia and Africa. Dionysius, Mela,

Pliny, Sallust, Hirtius, and Solinus, have preferred for that purpose

the western branch of the Nile, or even the great Catabathmus, or

descent, which last would assign to Asia, not only Egypt, but part of

[Footnote 851: The French editor has a long and unnecessary note on the

History of Cyrene. For the present state of that coast and country, the

volume of Captain Beechey is full of interesting details. Egypt, now an

independent and improving kingdom, appears, under the enterprising

rule of Mahommed Ali, likely to revenge its former oppression upon the

decrepit power of the Turkish empire.--M.--This note was written in

1838. The future destiny of Egypt is an important problem, only to

be solved by time. This observation will also apply to the new French

colony in Algiers.--M. 1845.]

From Cyrene to the ocean, the coast of Africa extends above fifteen

hundred miles; yet so closely is it pressed between the Mediterranean

and the Sahara, or sandy desert, that its breadth seldom exceeds

fourscore or a hundred miles. The eastern division was considered by

the Romans as the more peculiar and proper province of Africa. Till the

arrival of the Phoenician colonies, that fertile country was inhabited

by the Libyans, the most savage of mankind. Under the immediate

jurisdiction of Carthage, it became the centre of commerce and empire;

but the republic of Carthage is now degenerated into the feeble and

disorderly states of Tripoli and Tunis. The military government of

Algiers oppresses the wide extent of Numidia, as it was once united

under Massinissa and Jugurtha; but in the time of Augustus, the limits

of Numidia were contracted; and, at least, two thirds of the country

acquiesced in the name of Mauritania, with the epithet of Caesariensis.

The genuine Mauritania, or country of the Moors, which, from the ancient

city of Tingi, or Tangier, was distinguished by the appellation of

Tingitana, is represented by the modern kingdom of Fez. Salle, on

the Ocean, so infamous at present for its piratical depredations, was

noticed by the Romans, as the extreme object of their power, and almost

of their geography. A city of their foundation may still be discovered

near Mequinez, the residence of the barbarian whom we condescend to

style the Emperor of Morocco; but it does not appear, that his

more southern dominions, Morocco itself, and Segelmessa, were ever

comprehended within the Roman province. The western parts of Africa are

intersected by the branches of Mount Atlas, a name so idly celebrated by

the fancy of poets; [86] but which is now diffused over the immense ocean

that rolls between the ancient and the new continent. [87]
[Footnote 86: The long range, moderate height, and gentle declivity

of Mount Atlas, (see Shaw's Travels, p. 5,) are very unlike a solitary

mountain which rears its head into the clouds, and seems to support the

heavens. The peak of Teneriff, on the contrary, rises a league and a

half above the surface of the sea; and, as it was frequently visited by

the Phoenicians, might engage the notice of the Greek poets. See Buffon,

Histoire Naturelle, tom. i. p. 312. Histoire des Voyages, tom. ii.]
[Footnote 87: M. de Voltaire, tom. xiv. p. 297, unsupported by either

fact or probability, has generously bestowed the Canary Islands on the

Roman empire.]
Having now finished the circuit of the Roman empire, we may observe,

that Africa is divided from Spain by a narrow strait of about twelve

miles, through which the Atlantic flows into the Mediterranean. The

columns of Hercules, so famous among the ancients, were two mountains

which seemed to have been torn asunder by some convulsion of the

elements; and at the foot of the European mountain, the fortress of

Gibraltar is now seated. The whole extent of the Mediterranean Sea, its

coasts and its islands, were comprised within the Roman dominion. Of the

larger islands, the two Baleares, which derive their name of Majorca and

Minorca from their respective size, are subject at present, the former

to Spain, the latter to Great Britain. [871] It is easier to deplore the

fate, than to describe the actual condition, of Corsica. [872] Two Italian

sovereigns assume a regal title from Sardinia and Sicily. Crete, or

Candia, with Cyprus, and most of the smaller islands of Greece and Asia,

have been subdued by the Turkish arms, whilst the little rock of

Malta defies their power, and has emerged, under the government of its

military Order, into fame and opulence. [873]
[Footnote 871: Minorca was lost to Great Britain in 1782. Ann. Register

for that year.--M.]

[Footnote 872: The gallant struggles of the Corsicans for their

independence, under Paoli, were brought to a close in the year 1769.

This volume was published in 1776. See Botta, Storia d'Italia, vol.


[Footnote 873: Malta, it need scarcely be said, is now in the possession

of the English. We have not, however, thought it necessary to notice

every change in the political state of the world, since the time of


This long enumeration of provinces, whose broken fragments have formed

so many powerful kingdoms, might almost induce us to forgive the vanity

or ignorance of the ancients. Dazzled with the extensive sway, the

irresistible strength, and the real or affected moderation of the

emperors, they permitted themselves to despise, and sometimes to

forget, the outlying countries which had been left in the enjoyment of

a barbarous independence; and they gradually usurped the license of

confounding the Roman monarchy with the globe of the earth. [88] But

the temper, as well as knowledge, of a modern historian, require a

more sober and accurate language. He may impress a juster image of the

greatness of Rome, by observing that the empire was above two thousand

miles in breadth, from the wall of Antoninus and the northern limits

of Dacia, to Mount Atlas and the tropic of Cancer; that it extended

in length more than three thousand miles from the Western Ocean to the

Euphrates; that it was situated in the finest part of the Temperate

Zone, between the twenty-fourth and fifty-sixth degrees of northern

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