JEWELS OF THE WESTERN CIVILIZATION
Preface to Greece under the Romans
CHAPTER I. From the Conquest of Greece to the Establishment of Constantinople as Capital of the Roman Empire. B.C. 146 — A.D. 330.
CHAPTER II. From the Establishment of Constantinople as Capital of the Roman Empire, to the Accession of Justinian. A.D.330— A.D. 627.
CHAPTER III. The Reign of Justinian. A.D. 527— A.D. 665.
CHAPTER IV. From the Death of Justinian to the Restoration of Roman Power in the East by Heraclius. A.D. 565— A.D. 683.
CHAPTER V. From the Mohammedan Invasion of Syria to the Extinction of the Roman Power in the East. A.D. 633— A.D. 716.
PREFACE TO GREECE UNDER THE ROMANS.
The social and political organization of life among the Greeks and Romans was essentially different, even during the period when they were subject to the same government; and this difference must be impressed on the mind, before the relative state of civilization in the Eastern and Western Empires can be thoroughly understood.
The Romans were a tribe of warriors. All their institutions, even those relating to property and agriculture, were formed with reference to war. The people of the Western Empire, including the greater part of Italy, consisted of a variety of races, who were either in a low state of civilization at the time of their conquest by the Romans, or else had been already subjected to foreigners. They were generally treated as inferior beings, and the framework of their national institutions was everywhere destroyed. The provincials of the West, when thus left destitute of every bond of national union, were exposed to the invasions of warlike tribes, which, under the first impulses of civilization, were driven on to seek the means of supplying new wants. The moment, therefore, that the military forces of the Roman government were unable to repulse these strangers, the population of the provinces was exposed to subjection, slavery, or extermination, according as the interests or the policy of the invading barbarians might determine.
In that portion of the Eastern Empire peopled by the Greeks, the case was totally different. There the executive power of the Roman government was modified by a system of national institutions, which conferred, even on the rural population, some control over their local affairs. The sovereign authority was relieved from that petty sphere of administration and police, which meddles with the daily occupations of the people. The Romans found this branch of government completely organized, in a manner not closely connected with the political sovereignty; and though the local institutions of the Greeks proved less powerful than the central despotism of their conquerors, they possessed greater vitality. Their nationality continued to exist even after their conquest; and this nationality was again called into activity when the Roman government, from increasing weakness, gradually began to neglect the duties of administration.
But while the conquest of Greece by the Romans had indeed left the national existence nearly unaltered, time, as it changed the government of Rome, modified likewise the institutions of the Greeks. Still, neither the Roman Caesars, nor the Byzantine emperors, any more than the Frank princes and Turkish sultans, were able to interrupt the continual transmission of a political inheritance by each generation of the Greek race to its successors; though it is too true that, from age to age, the value of that inheritance was gradually diminished, until in our own times a noble impulse and a desperate struggle restored to the people its political existence.
The history of the Greek nation, even as a subject people, cannot be destitute of interest and instruction. The Greeks are the only existing representatives of the ancient world. They have maintained possession of their country, their language, and their social organization, against physical and moral forces, which have swept from the face of the earth all their early contemporaries, friends, and enemies. It can hardly be disputed that the preservation of their national existence is to be partly attributed to the institutions which they have received from their ancestors. The work now offered to the public attempts to trace the effects of the ancient institutions on the fortunes of the people under the Roman government, and endeavours to show in what manner those institutions were modified or supported by other circumstances.
It was impossible, in the following pages, to omit treating of events already illustrated by the genius of Gibbon. But these events must be viewed by the historian of the Roman Empire, and of the Greek people, under very different aspects. The observations of both may be equally true, though inferior skill and judgment may render the views, in the present work, less correct as a picture, and less impressive as a history. The same facts afford innumerable conclusions to different individuals, and in different ages. History will ever remain inexhaustible; and much as we have read of the Greeks and Romans, and deeply as we appear to have studied their records, there is much still to be learned from the same sources.
In the references to the authorities followed in this work, a preference will often be shown to those modern treatises, which ought to be in the hands of the general reader. It has often required profound investigation and long discussion to elicit a fact now generally known, or to settle an opinion now universally adopted, and in such cases it would be useless to collect a long array of ancient passages.
1st May, 1843.
323. Death of Alexander. Lamian war
32 a. Antipater disfranchised 12,000 Athenian citizens
321. Ptolemy founds a monarchy in Egypt.
312. Era of Seleucidae.
310. Agathocles invades Carthaginian possessions in Africa.
303. Demetrius Poliorcetes raises siege of Rhodes.
300. Mithridates Ariobarzanes founds kingdom of Pontus.
280. Achaian league commenced.
Pyrrhus landed in Italy to defend the Greeks against the Romans.
279. Gauls invade Greece, and are repulsed at Delphi.
278. Nicomedes brings the Gauls into Asia.
271. Romans complete the conquest of Magna Graecia.
260. Romans prepare their first fleet to contend with Carthage.
250. Parthian monarchy founded by Arsaces.
241. Attains, king of Pergamus.
228. First Roman embassy to Greece
218. Hannibal invades Italy.
212. Syracuse taken by Romans. Sicily conquered.
210. Sicily reduced to the condition of a Roman province.
202. Battle of Zama.
197. Battle of Cynoscephalae.
196. The Greeks declared free by Flamininus at the Isthmian games.
192. Antiochus the Great invades Greece.
188. The laws of Lycurgus abrogated by Philopoemen.
181. Death of Hannibal.
168. Battle of Pydna. End of Macedonian monarchy.
167. One thousand Achaian citizens sent as hostages to Rome.
155. The fine of 500 talents imposed on Athens for plundering the Oropians remitted by the Romans.
147. Macedonia reduced to the condition of a Roman province.
146. Corinth taken by Mummius. Greece reduced to the condition of a Roman province.
133. Rebellion of slaves in the Attic silver mines.
130. Asia, embracing great part of the country between the Halys and Mount Taurus, constituted a Roman province.
96. Cyrenaica becomes a Roman possession by the will of Ptolemy Apion.
86. Athens taken by Sulla.
77. Depredations of the pirates on the coasts of Greece and Asia Minor at their acme.
75. Bithynia and Pontus constituted a Roman province.
67. Crete conquered by Metellus after a war of two years and a-half, and shortly after reduced to the condition of a Roman province. It was subsequently united with Cyrenaica.
66. Monarchy of the Seleucidae conquered by Pompey.
65. Cilicia reduced to the condition of a Roman province.
48. Caesar destroys Megara.
44. Caesar founds a Roman colony at Corinth.
30. Augustus founds Nicopolis.
Egypt reduced to the condition of a Roman province.
25. Galatia and Lycaonia constituted a Roman province.
24. Pamphylia and Lycia constituted a Roman province.
21. Cyprus reduced to the condition of a Roman province. Athens deprived of its jurisdiction over Eretria and Aegina, and the confederacy of the free Laconian cities formed by Augustus.
14. Augustus establishes a Roman colony at Patrae.
A.D. Year of Rome 753. 194th Olympiad, 4th year, a.m. 5508 of the Byzantines, called the Aera of Constantinople; but other calculations were adopted at Alexandria and Antioch.
18. Cappadocia reduced to the condition of a Roman province.
22. The Roman senate restricts the right of asylum claimed by the Greek temples and sanctuaries.
66. Nero in Greece.
67. Nero celebrates the Olympic Games.
72. Commagene reduced to a Roman province.
73. Thrace reduced to a Roman province by Vespasian. Rhodes, Samos, and other islands on the coast of Asia deprived of their privileges as free states, and reduced to the condition of a Roman province called the Islands.
74. Vespasian expels the philosophers from Rome.
90. Domitian expels the philosophers from Rome.
96. Apollonius of Tyana at Ephesus at the time of Domitian’s death.
98. Plutarch flourishes.
103. Epictetus teaches at Nicopolis.
112. Hadrian, archon of Athens.
1 15. Martyrdom of Ignatius.
122. Hadrian visits Athens.
125. Hadrian again at Athens.
129. Hadrian passes the winter at Athens.
132. Jewish war.
135. Hadrian is at Athens towards the close of the Jewish war.
143. Herodes Atticus consul.
162. Galen at Rome. Pausanias, Polyaenus, Lucian, and Ptolemy flourish.
168. Disgrace of Herodes Atticus at Sirmium.
176. Marcus Aurelius visits Athens and establishes scholarchs of the four great philosophic sects.
180. Dio Cassius, Herodian, Athenaeus flourish.
212. Edict of Caracalla, conferring the Roman citizenship on all the free inhabitants of the empire.
226. Artaxerxes overthrows the Parthian empire of the Arsacidae, and founds the Persian monarchy of the Sassanidae.
238. Herodian, Aelian, Philostratus.
251. The emperor Decius defeated and slain by the Goths.
267. Athens taken by the Goths.
284. Aera of Diocletian, called Aera of the Martyrs.
312. ISt September. Cycle of Indictions of Constantine.
325. Council of Nicaea.
330. Dedication of Constantinople.
332. Cherson assists Constantine against the Goths.
337. Constantine II, Constantius, Constans, emperors.
355. Julian appointed Caesar.
364. Valentinian I. Valens.
365. Earthquake in Greece, Asia Minor, and Sicily.
375. Earthquake felt especially in Peloponnesus.
378. Defeat and death of Valens.
379. Theodosius the Great
381. Second oecumenical council, at Constantinople.
394. Olympic Games abolished.
395. Arcadius and Honorius. Huns ravage Asia Minor. Alaric invades Greece.
398. Alaric governor of Eastern Illyricum.
408. Theodosius II.
425. University of Constantinople organized.
428. Genseric invades Africa.
431. Third oecumenical council, at Ephesus.
438. Publication of the Theodosian Code.
439. Genseric takes Carthage.
441. Theodosius II sends a fleet against Genseric.
442. Attila invades Thrace and Macedonia.
447. Attila ravages the country of Thermopylae.
Walls of Constantinople repaired by Theodosius II.
449. Council of Ephesus, called the Council of Brigands.
451. Fourth oecumenical council, at Chalcedon.
457. Leo I, called the Great, and the Butcher.
458. Great earthquake felt from Antioch to Thrace.
460. Earthquake at Cyzicus.
465. Fire which destroyed parts of eight of the sixteen quarters of Constantinople.
468. Leo I sends a great expedition against Genseric.
473. Leo II crowned.
474. Leo II. Zeno the Isaurian.
476. End of the Western Roman Empire.
477. Return of Zeno, twenty months after he had been driven from Constantinople by Basiliskos.
480. Earthquakes at Constantinople during forty days.
Statue of Theodosius the Great thrown from its column.
491. Anastasius I, called Dicorus.
499. Bulgarians invade the empire.
507. Anastasius constructs the long wall of Thrace.
514. Revolt of Vitalianus.
518. Justin I.
526. Death of Theodoric.
527. Justinian I.
Gretes, king of the Huns, receives baptism at Constantinople.
The Tzans submit to the Roman Empire.
528. Gordas, king of the Huns, on the Cimmerian Bosphorus, receives baptism at Constantinople, and is murdered by his subjects on his return.
Justinian commences his lavish expenditure on fortifications and public buildings.
529. First edition of the Code of Justinian.
Schools of philosophy at Athens closed.
531. Battle of Callinicum. Death of Kobad, king of Persia.
Plague commenced which ravaged the Roman Empire for fifty years.
532. Sedition of Nika.
Peace concluded with Chosroes.
533- Conquest of the Vandal kingdom in Africa.
Institutions and Pandects published.
534. Belisarius returns to Constantinople.
Second edition of the Code.
536. Belisarius takes Rome.
537. Siege of Rome by Goths under Witiges.
Dedication of St. Sophia.
538. Bulgarians invade the empire.
Famine in Italy.
539. Witiges besieged in Ravenna.
Huns plunder Greece to the Isthmus of Corinth.
540. Surrender of Ravenna.
541. Totila king of the Groths.
Consulate abolished by Justinian.
542. Great pestilence at Constantinople.
546. Rome taken by Totila.
547. Rome taken by Belisarius.
548. Belisarius quits Italy.
Death of Theodora.
549. Rome again taken by Totila.
Justinian’s armies occupy the country of the Lazi.
550. Sclavonians and Huns invade the empire,
551. Silkworm introduced into the Roman Empire.
552. Totila defeated. Rome retaken by Narses.
553. Fifth oecumenical council at Constantinople.
554. Earthquakes at Constantinople, Nicomedia, Berytus, and Cos.
Church of Cyzicus fell during divine service.
557. Terrible earthquake at Constantinople. Justinian did not wear his crown for forty days.
558. Zabergan, king of the Huns, defeated near Constantinople by Belisarius.
562. Treaty of peace with Persia. Belisarius accused of treason.
563. Belisarius restored to his rank.
565. March — death of Belisarius.
13th Nov.— death of Justinian in the thirty-ninth year of his reign. Justin II.
567. Kingdom of Gepids destroyed by Lombards.
568. Lombards invade Italy.
569. Justin sends the embassy of Zemarchos to the Turks.
571. Mahomet born. Weil says he died in 632, at the age of 63 lunar years, which places his birth in April 571.
572. War between the Roman Empire and Persia.
574. Tiberius defeated by the Avars.
Tiberius proclaimed Caesar by Justin.
576. Battle of Melitene. Romans penetrate to Caspian Sea.
578. Death of Justin II. Tiberius II.
579. Death of Chosroes.
581. Persian army defeated by Maurice in his fourth campaign.
582. 14th Aug. — death of Tiberius. Maurice.
John the Faster, patriarch of Constantinople, uses the title Ecumenic, granted to the patriarch by Justinian.
589. Incursions of the Avars and Sclavonians into Greece. From this time Sclavonian colonies were settled in the Peloponnesus.
590. Maurice crowns his son Theodosius at Easter. Hormisdas, king of Persia, dethroned and murdered.
591. Chosroes II restored to the Persian throne by the assistance of Maurice.
Maurice marches out of Constantinople against the Avars.
600. Maurice fails to ransom the Roman prisoners.
602. Rebellion of the army. Phocas proclaimed emperor.
603. Persian war commences.
608. Priscus, the son-in-law of Phocas, invites Heraclius.
609. Persians lay waste Asia Minor, and reach Chalcedon.
610. Phocas slain. Heraclius.
613. Heraclius Constantine, or Constantine III., crowned 22nd Jan.; he was born 3rd May 612.
614. Jerusalem taken by the Persians, and Church of the Holy Sepulchre burned.
615. Heraclius sends the patrician Niketas to seize the wealth of John the Charitable, patriarch of Alexandria.
616. Persians invade Egypt
617. Persians occupy Chalcedon with a garrison.
618. Public distribution of bread at Constantinople commuted for a payment in money preparatory to its abolition.
619. Avars attempt to seize Heraclius at a conference for peace.
620. Peace concluded with the Avars.
621. Great preparations for carrying on the Persian war.
622. Monday, 5th April — Heraclius left Constantinople and proceeded by sea to Pylae. He collected troops from the provinces, and exercised his army. He advanced to the frontiers of Armenia, and made dispositions to winter in Pontus, but suddenly advanced through Armenia into Persia. The Persians made a diversion against Cilicia, but, on Heraclius continuing his advance, turned and pursued him. Heraclius gained a battle, and placed his army in winter quarters in Armenia. 16th July — Aera of the Hegira of Mahomet.
623. 25th March — Heraclius left Constantinople, joined the army in Armenia, and was in the Persian territory by the 20th April. Chosroes rejects terms of peace, and Heraclius takes Ganzaca and Thebarmes. Chosroes fled by the passes into Media, and Heraclius retired to winter in Albania.
Death of Sisebut, king of the Visigoths, who had conquered the Roman possessions in Spain.
624. Chosroes sends an army, under Sarablagas and Perozites, to guard the passes by which Heraclius was likely to invade Persia; but the emperor, making a long circuit by the plains, engaged Sarablagas before he was joined by Sarbaraza, and gained the battle. Sarbaraza, and then Saen, are also defeated.
The Lazes and Abasges abandoned Heraclius in this campaign. Heraclius wintered in the Persian territory. This was a campaign of marches and counter-marches in a mountainous country, and Heraclius was opposed by greatly superior forces, who succeeded in preventing his advance into Persia.
625. Heraclius resolves to return into the south-eastern part of Asia Minor. From his winter quarters there were two roads — a short mountain-road by Taranton, where nothing could be found for the troops; a longer road, by the passes of Mount Taurus, where supplies could be obtained. After a difficult march of seven days over Taurus, Heraclius crossed the Tigris, marched by Martyropolis to Amida, where he rested, and despatched a courier to Constantinople. As the Persians were following, Heraclius placed guards in the passes, crossed the Nymphius, and reached the Euphrates, where he found the bridge of boats withdrawn. He crossed by a ford, and passed by Samosata over Mount Taurus to Germanicia and Adana, where he encamped between the city and the bridge over the Saros. Sarbaraza advances to the Saros, and, after a battle, retires. Heraclius advances to Sebaste, crosses the Halys, and puts his army into winter quarters. Chosroes plunders the Christian churches in Persia, and compels all Christians in his dominions to profess themselves Nestorians.
626. The scholarians make a tumult at Constantinople because they are deprived of the bread which had previously been distributed. John Seismos attempts to raise the price of bread from three to eight pholles.
Constantinople besieged by the Avars from 29th July to 8th August.
A Persian army under Sarbaraza occupies Chalcedon. Another under Saen is defeated by Theodore, the emperor’s brother. Heraclius stations himself in Lazica, and waits until he is assured of the defeat of the Avars before Constantinople, and the passage of the Caspian gates by an army of Khazars under Ziebel. Meeting of Heraclius and Ziebel took place near Tiflis, which was occupied by a Persian garrison. The Khazars furnish Heraclius with 40,000 troops.
The church of Blachernes is enclosed within the fortifications of the city by a new wall.
627. Heraclius appears to have derived little advantage from the assistance of the 40,000 Khazars, unless we suppose that by their assistance he was able to render himself master of Persarmenia and Atropatene. They quitted him during the year 627.
9th October — Heraclius entered the district of Chamaetha, where he remained seven days, 1st December — Heraclius reached the greater Zab, crossed and encamped near Nineveh.
Rhazetas quitted his station at Ganzaca, and pursued Heraclius — crossed the greater Zab by a ford three miles lower down than Heraclius passed it. Battle in which Rhazetes was defeated on Saturday, 12th December. Sarbaraza recalled from Chalcedon to oppose the advance of Heraclius, who occupied Nineveh, and passed the greater Zab again.
23rd December — Heraclius passed the lesser Zab, and rested several days in the palace of Jesdem, where he celebrated Christmas.
628. 1st January — Heraclius passed the river Toma, took the palace of Beglali with its parks, and Dastagerd, where Chosroes had resided for twenty-four years and accumulated great treasures.
Heraclius recovered three hundred standards taken by the Persians from the Romans at different times, and passed the feast of Epiphany (6th January) at Dastagerd. He quitted Dastagerd on the 7th, and in three days reached the neighbourhood of Ctesiphon, and encamped twelve miles from the Arba, which he found was not fordable. He then ascended the Arba to Siazouron, and spent the month of February in that country. In March he spent seven days at Varzan, where he received news of the revolution which had taken place, and that Siroes had dethroned his father. Heraclius then retired from the neighbourhood of Ctesiphon by Siarzoura, Chalchas, Jesdem. He passed mount Zara (Zagros), where there was a great fall of snow during the month of March, and encamped near Ganzaca, which had then three thousand houses.
3rd April — An ambassador of Siroes arrived at the camp of Heraclius. Peace concluded. 8th April — Heraclius quitted his camp at Ganzaca.
15th May — His letters announcing peace were read in the church of St. Sophia at Constantinople.
629. Death of Siroes, or Kabad, succeeded by his son Ardeshir.
Heraclius visits Jerusalem, and restores the Holy Cross to the keeping of the patriarch.
630. Heraclius at Hierapolis occupied with ecclesiastical reforms.
632. Death of Mahomet, 7th or 8th June.
Aera of Yesdedjerd, 15th August
633. The chronology of the Saracen campaigns in Syria is extremely uncertain. The accounts of the Greek and Arabian writers require to be adjusted by the sequence of a few events which can be fixed with accuracy.
Bosra besieged, and perhaps it was taken early in the following year.
Abubekr was occupied, for some time after the death of Mahomet, in reducing the rebellious Arabs to submission, and in subduing several false prophets.
634. 30th July— Battle of Adjnadin.
22nd August — Death of Abubekr.
September — Battle of Yerrauk (Hieromax). Omar was already proclaimed caliph in the Syrian army.
635. Damascus taken after a siege of several months. The siege commenced after the battle of Yermuk.
Heraclius, taking the Holy Cross with him, quitted Syria, and retired to Constantinople.
636. Various towns on the sea-coast taken by the Saracens, and another battle fought
Vahan, the commander of the Roman army, appears to have been proclaimed emperor in this or the preceding year.
637. Capitulation of Jerusalem. The date of Omar’s entry into Jerusalem and of the duration of the siege are both uncertain.
638. Invasion of Syria by a Roman army from Diarbekr, which besieges Emesa, but is defeated.
Antioch taken. —
639. Jasdos takes Edessa and conquers Mesopotamia. —
December — Amrou invades Egypt.
640. The 19th Hegira began 2nd January 640.
The Caliph Omar orders a census of his dominions.
Cairo taken. Capitulation of Mokaukas for the Copts.
641. February or March — Death of Heraclius. His reign of 30 years, 4 months, 6 days, would terminate 10th February.
Heraclius Constantine reigned 103 days, to 24th May.
Heracleonas sole emperor less than five months.
October — Constans II.
December — Alexandria taken by Saracens, retaken by Romans, and recovered by Saracens.
643. Omar rebuilds or repairs the temple of Jerusalem.
Canal of Suez restored by Amrou.
644. Death of Omar.
647. Saracens drive Romans out of Africa, and impose tribute on the province.
Moawyah invades Cyprus.
648. Moawyah besieges Aradus, and takes it by capitulation.
Constans II publishes the Type.
653. Moawyah takes Rhodes, and destroys the Colossus.
654. Pope Martin banished to Cherson.
655. Constans II defeated by the Saracens in a great naval battle off Mount Phoenix in Lycia.
656. Othman assassinated, 17th June.
658. Expedition of Constans II against the Sclavonians.
Peace concluded with Moawyah.
659. Constans II puts his brother Theodosius to death.
661. Murder of Ali, 22nd January.
Constans II quits Constantinople, and passes the winter at Athens.
662. Saracens ravage Romania (Asia Minor), and carry off many prisoners.
663. Constans II visits Rome.
668. The Saracens advance to Chalcedon, and take Amorium, where they leave a garrison; but it is soon retaken.
Constans II assassinated at Syracuse,
Constantine IV (Pogonatus).
669. The Saracens carry off 180,000 prisoners from Africa.
The troops of the Orient theme demand that the brothers of Constantine IV should receive the imperial crown, in order that three emperors might reign on earth to represent the Trinity in heaven.
670. Saracens pass the winter at Cyzicus.
671. Saracens pass the winter at Smyrna and in Cilicia.
672. Constantine IV prepares ships to throw Greek fire on the Saracens, who besiege Constantinople.
673. Saracens, who have wintered at Cyzicus, penetrate into the port of Constantinople, and attack Magnaura and Cyclobium, the two forts at the continental angles of the city.
Saracens again pass the winter at Cyzicus
674. Third year of the siege of Constantinople.
Saracen troops pass the winter in Crete.
677. Sixth year of the siege of Constantinople.
The Mardaites alarm the Caliph Moawyah by their conquests on Mount Lebanon.
Thessalonica besieged by the Avars and Sclavonians.
678. Seventh year of the siege of Constantinople.
The Saracen fleet destroyed by Greek fire invented by Callinicus.
Bulgarians found a monarchy south of the Danube, in the country still called Bulgaria.
Peace concluded with the Caliph Moawyah.
679. War with the Bulgarians.
680. Death of the Caliph Moawyah.
Sixth general council of the church.
681. Heraclius and Tiberius, the brothers of Constantine IV, are deprived of the imperial title.
684. The Caliph Abdalmelik offers to purchase peace by the payment of an annual tribute of 365,000 pieces of gold, 365 slaves, and 365 horses.
685. September — Death of Constantine IV (Pogonatus).
Justinian II ascends the throne, aged sixteen.
686. Treaty of peace between the emperor and the caliph.
687. Emigration of Mardaites.
The Sclavonians of Strymon carry their piratical expeditions into the Propontis.
689. Justinian II forces the Greeks to emigrate from Cyprus.
691. Defeat of Justinian II, and desertion of the Sclavonian colonists.
692. General council of the church in Trullo,
The haratch established by the caliph.
695. Justinian II deposed and his nose cut off, and he is banished to Cherson.
697. Saracens carry off great numbers of prisoners from Romania (Asia Minor).
First doge of Venice elected.
Carthage taken by the Romans, and garrisoned.
698. Carthage retaken by the Saracens.
Leontius dethroned and his nose cut off.
Tiberius III (Apsimar), emperor.
703. Saracens defeated in Cilicia by Heraclius, the brother of Tiberius III.
705- Justinian II (Rhinotmetus) recovers possession of the empire.
708. The Saracens push their ravages to the Bosphorus.
709. Moslemah transports 80,000 Saracens from Lampsacus into Thrace.
710. Ravenna and Cherson treated with inhuman cruelty by Justinian II.
711. Justinian II dethroned and murdered.
713. Philippicus dethroned, and his eyes put out.
Anastasius II emperor.
716. Anastasius II dethroned.
Theodosius III emperor.
Leo the Isaurian relieves Amorium, concludes a truce with Moslemah, and is proclaimed emperor by the army.
GREECE UNDER THE ROMANS
From the Conquest of Greece to the Establishment of Constantinople as Capital of the Roman Empire. B.C. 146 — A.D. 330,
The conquests of Alexander the Great effected a permanent change in the political condition of the Greek nation, and this change powerfully influenced its moral and social state during the whole period of its subjection to the Roman empire. The international system of policy by which Alexander connected Greece with Western Asia and Egypt, was only effaced by the religion of Mahomet and the conquests of the Arabs. Though Alexander was himself a Greek, both from education, and the prejudices cherished by the pride of ancestry, still neither the people of Macedonia, nor the chief part of the army, whose discipline and valour had secured his victories, was Greek, either in language or feelings. Had Alexander, therefore, determined on organizing his empire with the view of uniting the Macedonians and Persians in common feelings of opposition to the Greek nation, there can be no doubt that he could easily have accomplished the design. The Greeks might then have found themselves enabled to adopt a very different course in their national career from that which they were compelled to follow by the powerful influence exercised over them by Alexander’s conduct. Alexander himself, undoubtedly, perceived that the greater numbers of the Persians, and their equality, if not superiority, in civilization to the Macedonians, rendered it necessary for him to seek some powerful ally to prevent the absorption of the Macedonians in the Persian population, the loss of their language, manners, and nationality, and the speedy change of his empire into the sovereignty of a mere Graeco-Persian dynasty. It did not escape his discernment, that the political institutions of the Greeks created a principle of nationality capable of combating the unalterable laws of the Medes and Persians.
Alexander was the noblest model of a conqueror; his ambition aspired at eclipsing the glory of his unparalleled victories by the universal prosperity which was to flow from his civil government. New cities and extended commerce were to found an era in the world’s history. Even the strength of his empire was to be based on a political principle which he has the merit of discovering, and of which he proved the efficacy; this principle was the amalgamation of his subjects into one people by permanent institutions. All other conquerors have endeavoured to augment their power by the subjection of one race to another. The merit of Alexander is very much increased by the nature of his position with regard to the Greek nation. The Greeks were not favourably disposed either towards his empire or his person; they would willingly have destroyed both as the surest way of securing their own liberty. But the moral energy of the Greek national character did not escape the observation of Alexander, and he resolved to render this quality available for the preservation of his empire, by introducing into the East those municipal institutions which gave it vigour, and thus facilitate the infusion of some portion of the Hellenic character into the hearts of his conquered subjects.
The moderation of Alexander in the execution of his plans of reform and change is as remarkable as the wisdom of his extensive projects. In order to mould the Asiatics to his wishes, he did not attempt to enforce laws and constitutions similar to those of Greece. He profited too well by the lessons of Aristotle to think of treating man as a machine. But he introduced Greek civilization as an important element in his civil government, and established Greek colonies with political rights throughout his conquests. It is true that he seized all the unlimited power of the Persian monarchs, but, at the same time, he strove to secure administrative responsibility, and to establish free institutions in municipal government. Any laws or constitution which Alexander could have promulgated to enforce his system of consolidating the population of his empire into one body, would most probably have been immediately repealed by his successors, in consequence of the hostile feelings of the Macedonian army. But it was more difficult to escape from the tendency imprinted on the administration by the systematic arrangements which Alexander had introduced. He seems to have been fully aware of this fact, though it is impossible to trace the whole series of measures he adopted to accelerate the completion of his great project of creating a new state of society, and a new nation, as well as a new empire, in the imperfect records of his civil administration which have survived. His death left his own scheme incomplete, yet his success was wonderful; for though his empire was immediately dismembered, its numerous portions long retained a deep imprint of that Greek civilization which he had introduced. The influence of his philanthropic policy survived the kingdoms which his arms had founded, and tempered the despotic sway of the Romans by its superior power over society; nor was the influence of Alexander’s government utterly effaced in Asia until Mahomet changed the government, the religion, and the frame of society in the East.
The monarchs of Egypt, Syria, Pergamus, and Bactriana, who were either Macedonians or Greeks, respected the civil institutions, the language, and the religion of their native subjects, however adverse they might be to Greek usages; and the sovereigns of Bithynia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Parthia, though native princes, retained a deep tincture of Greek civilization after they had thrown off the Macedonian yoke. They not only encouraged the arts, sciences, and literature of Greece, but they even protected the peculiar political constitutions of the Greek colonies settled in their dominions, though at variance with the Asiatic views of monarchical government.
The Greeks and Macedonians long continued separate nations, though a number of the causes which ultimately produced their fusion began to exert some influence shortly after the death of Alexander. The moral and social causes which enabled the Greeks to acquire a complete superiority over the Macedonian race, and ultimately to absorb it as a component element of their own nation, were the same which afterwards enabled them to destroy the Roman influence in the East. For several generations, the Greeks appeared the feebler party in their struggle with the Macedonians. The new kingdoms, into which Alexander’s empire was divided, were placed in very different circumstances from the older Greek states. Two separate divisions were created in the Hellenic world, and the Macedonian monarchies on the one hand, and the free Greeks on the other, formed two distinct international systems of policy. The Macedonian sovereigns had a balance of power to maintain, in which the free states of Europe could only be directly interested when the overwhelming influence of a conqueror placed their independence in jeopardy. The multifarious diplomatic relations of the free states among themselves required constant attention, not only to maintain their political independence, but even to protect their property and civil rights. These two great divisions of Hellenic society were often governed by opposite views and feelings in morals and politics, though their various members were continually placed in alliance as well as collision by their struggles to preserve the balance of power of their respective systems.
The immense power and wealth of the Seleucidae and Ptolemies rendered vain all the efforts of the small European states to maintain the high military, civil, and literary rank they had previously occupied. Their best soldiers, their wisest statesmen, and their ablest authors, were induced to emigrate to a more profitable and extensive scene of action. Alexandria became the capital of the Hellenic world. Yet the history of the European states still continued to maintain its predominant interest, and as a political lesson, the struggles of the Achaian. League to defend the independence of Greece against Macedonia and Rome, are not less instructive than the annals of Athens and Sparta. The European Greeks at this period perceived all the danger to which their liberties were exposed from the wealth, and power of the Asiatic monarchies, and they vainly endeavoured to effect a combination of all the free states into one federal body. Whatever might have been the success of such a combination, it certainly offered the only hope of preserving the liberty of Greece against the powerful states with which the altered condition of the civilized world had brought her into contact.
At the very time when the Macedonian kings were attacking the independence of Greece, and the Asiatic courts undermining the morals of the Greek nation, the Greek colonies, whose independence, from their remote situation, was secured against the attacks of the Eastern monarchs, were conquered by the Romans. Many circumstances tending to weaken the Greeks, and over which they had no control, followed one another with fatal celerity. The invasion of the Gauls, though bravely repulsed, inflicted great losses on Greece. Shortly after, the Romans completed the conquest of the Greek states in Italy. From that time the Sicilian Greeks were too feeble to be anything but spectators of the fierce struggle of the Romans and Carthaginians for the sovereignty of their island, and though the city of Syracuse courageously defended its independence, the struggle was a hopeless tribute to national glory. The cities of Cyrenaica had been long subject to the Ptolemies, and the republics on the shores of the Black Sea had been unable to maintain their liberties against the repeated attacks of the sovereigns of Pontus and Bithynia.
Though the Macedonians and Greeks were separated into two divisions by the opposite interests of the Asiatic monarchies and the European republics, still they were united by a powerful bond of national feelings. There was a strong similarity in the education, religion, and social position of the individual citizen in every state, whether Greek or Macedonian. Wherever Hellenic civilization was received, the free citizens formed only one part of the population, whether the other was composed of slaves or subjects; and this peculiarity placed their civil interests as Greeks in a more important light than their political differences as subjects of various states. The Macedonian Greeks of Asia and Egypt were a ruling class, governed, it is true, by an absolute sovereign, but having their interest so identified with his, in the vital question of retaining the administration of the country, that the Greeks, even in the absolute monarchies, formed a favoured and privileged class. In the Greek republics, the case was not very dissimilar; there, too, a small body of free citizens ruled a large slave or subject population, whose numbers required not only constant attention on the part of the rulers, but likewise a deep conviction of an ineffaceable separation in interests and character, to preserve the ascendency. This peculiarity in the position of the Greeks cherished their exclusive nationality, and created a feeling that the laws of honour and of nations forbade free men ever to make common cause with slaves. The influence of this feeling was visible for centuries on the laws and education of the free citizens of Greece, and it was equally powerful wherever Hellenic civilization spread.
Alexander’s conquests soon exercised a widely extended influence on the commerce, literature, morals, and religion of the Greeks. A direct communication was opened with India, with the centre of Asia, and with the southern coast of Africa. This immense extension of the commercial transactions of the Asiatic and Egyptian Greeks diminished the relative wealth and importance of the European states, while, at the same time, their stationary position assumed the aspect of decline from the rapidly increasing power and civilization of Western Europe. A considerable trade began to be carried on directly with the great commercial depots of the East which had formerly afforded large profits to the Greeks of Europe by passing through their hands. As soon as Rome rose to some degree of power, its inhabitants, if not its franchised citizens, traded with the East, as is proved by the existence of political relations between Rome and Rhodes, more than three centuries before the Christian era. There can be no doubt that the connection between the two states had its origin in the interests of trade. New channels were opened for mercantile enterprise as direct communications diminished the expense of transport. The increase of trade rendered piracy a profitable occupation. Both the sovereigns of Egypt and the merchants of Rhodes favoured the pirates who plundered the Syrians and Phoenicians, so that trading vessels could only navigate with safety under the protection of powerful states, in order to secure their property from extortion and plunder, These alterations in commercial affairs proved every way disadvantageous to the small republics of European Greece; and Alexandria and Rhodes soon occupied the position once held by Corinth and Athens.
The literature of a people is so intimately connected with the local circumstances which influence education, taste, and morals, that it can never be transplanted without undergoing a great alteration. It is not wonderful, therefore, that the literature of the Greeks, after the extension of their dominion in the East, should have undergone a great change; but it seems remarkable that this change should have proved invariably injurious to all its peculiar excellencies. It is singular, at the same time, to find how little the Greeks occupied themselves in the examination of the stores of knowledge possessed by the Eastern nations. The situation and interests of the Asiatic and Egyptian Greeks must have compelled many to learn the languages of the countries which they inhabited, and the literature of the East was laid open to their investigation. They appear to have availed themselves very sparingly of these advantages. Even in history and geography, they made but small additions to the information already collected by Herodotus, Ctesias, and Xenophon; and this supercilious neglect of foreign literature has been the cause of depriving modern times of all records of the powerful and civilized nations which flourished while Greece was in a state of barbarism. Had the Macedonians or Romans treated the history and literature of Greece with the contempt which the Greeks showed to the records of the Phoenicians, Persians, and Egyptians, it is not probable that any very extensive remains of later Greek literature would have reached us. At a subsequent period, when the Arabs had conquered the Syrian and Egyptian Greeks, their neglect of the language and literature of Greece was severely felt.
The munificence of the Ptolemies, the Seleucidae, and the kings of Pergamus, enabled their capitals to eclipse the literary glory of the cities of Greece. The eminent men of Europe sought their fortunes abroad; but when genius emigrated it could not transplant those circumstances which created and sustained it. In Egypt and in Syria, Greek literature lost its national character; and that divine instinct in the portraiture of nature, which had been the charm of its earlier age, never emigrated. This deficiency forms, indeed, the marked distinction between the literature of the Grecian and Macedonian periods; and it was a natural consequence of the different situations held by literary men. Among the Asiatic and Alexandrine population, literature was a trade, knowledge was confined to the higher classes, and literary productions were addressed to a public widely dispersed and dissimilar in many tastes and habits. The authors who addressed themselves to such a public could not escape a vagueness of expression on some subjects, and an affectation of occult profundity on others. Learning and science, in so far as they could be rendered available for upholding literary renown, were most studiously cultivated, and most successfully employed; but deep feeling, warm enthusiasm, and simple truth were, from the very nature of the case, impossible.
The frame of society in earlier times had been very different in the free states of Greece. Literature and the fine arts then formed a portion of the usual education and ordinary life of every citizen in the State; they were consequently completely under the influence of public opinion, and received the impress of the national mind which they reflected from the mirror of genius. The effects of this popular character in Greek literature and art are evident, in the total freedom of all the productions of Greece, in her best days, from anything that partakes of mannerism or exaggeration. The truer to nature any production could be rendered, which was to be offered to the attention of the people, the abler would they be to appreciate its merits, and their applause would be obtained with greater certainty; yet, at the same time, the farther the expression of nature could be removed from vulgarity, the higher would be the degree of general admiration. The sentiment necessary for the realization of ideal perfection, which modern civilization vainly requires from those who labour only for the polished and artificial classes of a society broken into sections, arose in profusion, under the free instinct of the popular mind to reverence simplicity and nature, when combined with beauty and dignity.
The connection of the Greeks with Assyria and Egypt, nevertheless, aided their progress in mathematics and scientific knowledge; yet astrology was the only new object of science which their Eastern studies added to the domain of the human intellect. From the time Berosus introduced astrology into Cos, it spread with inconceivable rapidity in Europe. It soon exercised a powerful influence over the religious opinions of the higher classes, naturally inclined to fatalism, and assisted in demoralizing the private and public character of the Greeks. From the Greeks it spread with additional empiricism among the Romans: it even maintained its ground against Christianity, with which it long strove to form an alliance, and it has only been extirpated in modern times. The Romans, as long as they clung to their national usages and religious feelings, endeavoured to resist the progress of a study so destructive to private and public virtue; but it embodied opinions which were rapidly gaining ground. In the time of the Caesars, astrology was generally believed, and extensively practised.
The general corruption of morals which followed from the Macedonian conquests, was the inevitable effect of the position in which mankind were everywhere placed. The accumulated treasures of the Persian Empire, which must have amounted to between seventy and eighty millions sterling, were suddenly thrown into general circulation, and the large sums which passed into the hands of the soldiery enriched the very worst classes of society. The Greeks profited greatly by the expenditure of these treasures, and their social position became soon so completely changed by the facilities afforded them of gaining high pay, and of enjoying luxury in the service of foreign princes, that public opinion ceased to exercise a direct influence on private character . The mixture of Macedonians, Greeks, and natives, in the conquered countries of the East, was very incomplete, and they generally formed distinct classes of society: this circumstance alone contributed to weaken the feelings of moral responsibility, which are the most powerful preservatives of virtue. It is difficult to imagine a state of society more completely destitute of moral restraint than that in which the Asiatic Greeks lived. Public opinion was powerless to enforce even an outward respect for virtue; military accomplishments, talents for civil administration, literary eminence, and devotion to the power of an arbitrary sovereign, were the direct roads to distinction and wealth; honesty and virtue were very secondary qualities. In all countries or societies where a class becomes predominant, a conventional character is formed, according to the exigencies of the case, as the standard of an honourable man; and it is usually very different indeed from what is really necessary to constitute a virtuous, or even an honest citizen.
With regard to the European Greeks, high rank at the Asiatic courts was often suddenly, and indeed accidentally, placed within their reach by qualities that had in general only been cultivated as a means of obtaining a livelihood. It is not, therefore, wonderful that wealth and power, obtained under such circumstances, should have been wasted in luxury, and squandered in the gratification of lawless passions. Yet, in spite of the complaints most justly recorded in history against the luxury, idleness, avarice, and debauchery of the Greeks, it seems surprising that the people resisted, so effectually as it did, the powerful means at work to accomplish the national ruin. There never existed a people more perfectly at liberty to gratify every passion. During two hundred and fifty years, the Greeks were the dominant class in Asia; and the corrupting influence of this predominance was extended to the whole frame of society, in their European as well as their Asiatic possessions. The history of the Achaian League, and the endeavours of Agis and Cleomenes to restore the ancient institutions of Sparta, prove that public and private virtue were still admired and appreciated by the native Greeks. The Romans, who were the loudest in condemning and satirizing the vices of the nation, proved far less able to resist the allurements of wealth and power; and in the course of one century, their demoralization far exceeded the corruption of the Greeks. The severe tone in which Polybius animadverts on the vices of his countrymen, must always be contrasted with the picture of Roman depravity in the pages of Suetonius and Tacitus, in order to form a correct estimate of the moral position of the two nations. The Greeks afford a sad spectacle of the debasing influence of wealth and power on the higher classes; but the Romans, after their Asiatic conquests, present the loathsome picture of a whole people throwing aside all moral restraint, and openly wallowing in those vices which the higher classes elsewhere have generally striven to conceal.
The religion of the Greeks was little more than a section of the political constitution of the State. The power of religion depended on custom. Strictly speaking, therefore, the Greeks never possessed anything more than a national form of worship, and their religious feelings produced no very important influence on their moral conduct. The conquests of Alexander effected as great a change in religion as in manners. The Greeks willingly adopted the superstitious practices of the conquered nations, and, without hesitation, paid their devotions at the shrines of foreign divinities; but, strange to say, they never appear to have profoundly investigated either the metaphysical opinions or the religious doctrines of the Eastern nations. They treated with neglect the pure theism of Moses, and the sublime religious system of Zoroaster, while they cultivated a knowledge of the astrology, necromancy, and sorcery of the Chaldaeans, Syrians, and Egyptians.
The separation of the higher and lower ranks of society, which only commenced among the Greeks after their Asiatic conquests, produced a marked effect on the religious ideas of the nation. Among the wealthy and the learned, indifference to all religions rapidly gained ground. The philosophical speculations of Alexander’s age tended towards scepticism; and the state of mankind, in the following century, afforded practical proofs to the ancients of the insufficiency of virtue and reason to insure happiness and success either in public or private life. The consequence was, that the greater number embraced the belief in a blind overruling destiny, — while a few became atheists. The absurdities of popular paganism had been exposed and ridiculed, while its mythology had not yet been explained by philosophical allegories. No system of philosophy, on the other hand, had sought to enforce its moral truths among the people, by declaring the principle of man's responsibility. The lower orders were without philosophy, the higher without religion.
This separation in the feelings and opinions of the different ranks of society, rendered the value of public opinion comparatively insignificant to the philosophers; and consequently, their doctrines were no longer addressed to the popular mind. The education of the lower orders, which had always depended on the public lessons they had received from voluntary teachers in the public places of resort, was henceforward neglected; and the priests of the temples, the diviners and soothsayers, became their instructors and guides. Under such guidance, the old mythological fables, and the new wonders of the Eastern magicians, were employed as the surest means of rendering the superstitious feelings of the people, and the popular dread of supernatural influences, a source of profit to the priesthood. While the educated became the votaries of Chaldaeans and astrologers, the ignorant were the admirers of Egyptians and conjurors.
The Greek nation, immediately before the conquest of the Romans, was rich both in wealth and numbers. Alexander had thrown the accumulated treasures of centuries into circulation; the dismemberment of his empire prevented his successors from draining the various countries of the world, to expend their resources on a single city. The number of capitals and independent cities in the Grecian world kept money in circulation, enabled trade to flourish, and caused the Greek population to increase. The elements of national prosperity are so various and complex, that a knowledge of the numbers of a people affords no certain criterion for estimating their wealth and happiness; still, if it were possible to obtain accurate accounts of the population of all the countries inhabited by the Greeks after the death of Alexander, such knowledge would afford better means of estimating the real progress or decline of social civilization, than either the records which history has preserved of the results of wars and negotiations, or than the memorials of art and literature. The population of Greece, as of every other country, must have varied very much at different periods; even the proportion of the slave to the free inhabitants can never have long remained exactly the same. We are, unfortunately, so completely ignorant of the relative density of the Greek population at different periods, and so well assured that its absolute numbers depended on many causes which it is now impossible to appreciate fully, that it would be a vain endeavour to attempt to fix the period when the Greek race was most numerous. The empire of the Greeks was most extensive during the century which elapsed immediately after the death of Alexander; but it would be unsafe to draw, from that single fact, any certain conclusion concerning the numbers of the Greek race at that period, as compared with the following century.
The fallacy of any inferences concerning the population of ancient times, which are drawn from the numbers of the inhabitants in modern times, is apparent, when we reflect on the rapid increase of mankind, in the greater part of Europe, in late years. Gibbon estimates the population of the Roman Empire, in the time of Claudius, at one hundred and twenty millions, and he supposed modern Europe to contain, at the time he wrote, one hundred and seven millions. Seventy years have not elapsed, and yet the countries which he enumerated now contain upwards of two hundred and ten millions. The variations which have taken place in the numbers of the Jews at different periods, illustrate the vicissitudes to which an expatriated population, like a large portion of the Greek nation, is always liable. The Jews have often been far less — perhaps they have been frequently more numerous — than they are at present, yet their numbers now seem to equal what they were at the era of the greatest wealth, power, and glory of their nation under Solomon. A very judicious writer has estimated the population of continental Greece, Peloponnesus, and the Ionian Islands, at three millions and a half, during the period which elapsed from the Persian wars to the death of Alexander. Now, if we admit a similar density of population in Crete, Cyprus, the islands of the Archipelago, and the colonies on the coasts of Thrace and Asia Minor, this number would require to be more than doubled. The population of European Greece declined after the time of Alexander. Money became more abundant; it was easy for a Greek to make his fortune abroad; increased wealth augmented the wants of the free citizens, and the smaller states became incapable of supporting as large a free population as in earlier times, when wants were fewer, and emigration difficult. The size of properties and the number of slaves, therefore, increased. The diminution which had taken place in the population of Greece must, however, have been trifling, when compared with the immense increase in the Greek population of Asia and Egypt; in Magna Graecia, Sicily, and Cyrene, the number of the Greeks had not decreased. Greek civilization had extended itself from the banks of the Indus to the Pillars of Hercules, and from the shores of the Palus Maeotis to the island of Dioscorides. It may therefore be admitted, that the Greeks were, at no earlier period of their history, more numerous than at the time the Romans commenced the subjugation of the countries which they inhabited.
The history of the Greeks under the Roman domination tends to correct the opinion that national changes are to be solely attributed to those remarkable occurrences which occupy the most prominent place in the annals of states. It not unfrequently happened that those events which produced the greatest change on the fortunes of the Romans, exerted no very important or permanent influence on the fate of the Greeks ; while, on the other hand, some change in the state of India, Bactria, Ethiopia, or Arabia, by altering the direction of commerce, powerfully influenced their prosperity and future destinies. A revolution in the commercial intercourse between Europe and eastern Asia, which threw ancient Greece out of the direct line of trade, assisted in producing the great changes which took place in the Greek nation, from the period of the subjection of Greece by the Romans, to that of the conquest of the semi-Greek provinces which had belonged to the Macedonian empire, by the Saracens. The history of mankind requires a more accurate illustration than has yet been undertaken, of the causes of the depopulation and impoverishment of the people, as well as of the general degradation of all the political governments with which we are acquainted, during the period embraced in this volume; but the task belongs to universal history. To obtain a correct view of the social condition of the European nations in the darkest periods of the middle ages, it is necessary to examine society through a Greek as well as a Roman medium, and to weigh the experience and the passions of the East against the force and the prejudices of the West. It will then be found, that many germs of that civilization which seemed to have arisen in the dark ages as a natural development of society, were really borrowed from the Greek people and the Byzantine empire, in which a Graeco-Macedonian civilization long pervaded society.
Immediate causes of the Conquest of Greece by the Romans
The great difference which existed in the social condition of the Greeks and Romans during the whole of their national existence, must be kept in view, in order to form a just idea of their relative position when ruled by the same government. The Romans formed a nation with the organization of a single city; their political government, always partaking of its municipal origin, was a type of concentration in administrative power, and was enabled to pursue its objects with undeviating steadiness of purpose. The Greeks were a people composed of a number of rival states, whose attention was incessantly diverted to various objects. The great end of existence among the Romans was war; they were the children of Mars, and they reverenced their progenitor with the most fervent enthusiasm. Agriculture itself was only honoured from necessity. Among the Greeks, civil virtues were called into action by the multifarious exigencies of society, and were honoured and deified by the nation. Linked together by an international system of independent states, the Greeks regarded war as a means of obtaining some definite object, in accordance with the established balance of power. A state of peace was, in their view, the natural state of mankind. The Romans regarded war as their permanent occupation; their national and individual ambition was exclusively directed to conquest. The subjection of their enemies, or a perpetual struggle for supremacy, was the only alternative that war presented to their minds.
The success of the Roman arms and the conquest of Greece were the natural results of concentrated national feelings, and superior military organization, contending with an ill-cemented political league, and an inferior military system. The Roman was instructed to regard himself merely as a component part of the republic, and to view Rome as placed in opposition to the rest of mankind. The Greek, though he possessed the moral feeling of nationality quite as powerfully as the Roman, could not concentrate equal political energy. The Greeks after the period of the Macedonian conquests, occupied the double position of members of a widely-spread and dominant people, and of citizens of independent states. Their minds were enlarged by this extension of their sphere of civilization; but what they gained in general feelings of philanthropy, they appear to have lost in patriotic attachment to the interest of their native states.
It would be a vain exercise of ingenuity to speculate on the course of events, and on the progress of the ancient world, had the national spirit of Greece been awakened in her struggle with Rome, and the war between the two peoples involved the question of Greek nationality, as well as political independence. On the one hand, Greece and Rome might be supposed existing as rival states, mutually aiding the progress of mankind by their emulation; on the other, the extinction of the Greek people, as well as the destruction of their political government, might be regarded as a not improbable event. No strong national feeling was, however, raised in Greece by the wars with Rome, and the contest remained only a political one in the eyes of the people; consequently, even if the military power of the belligerents had been more nearly balanced than it really was, the struggle could hardly have terminated in any other way than by the subjugation of the Greeks.
It seems at first sight more difficult to explain the facility with which the Greeks accommodated themselves to the Roman sway, and the rapidity with which they sank into political insignificancy, than the ease with which they were vanquished in the field. The fact, however, is undeniable, that the conquest was generally viewed with satisfaction by the great body of the inhabitants of Greece, who considered the destruction of the numerous small independent governments in the country as a necessary step towards improving their own condition. The political constitutions even of the most democratic states of Greece excluded so large a portion of the inhabitants from all share in the public administration, and after the introduction of large mercenary armies, military service became so severe a burden on the free citizens, that the majority looked with indifference on the loss of their independence, when that loss appeared to insure a permanent state of peace. The selfishness of the Greek aristocracy, which was prominently displayed at every period of history, proved peculiarly injurious in the latter days of Greek independence. The aristocracy of the Greek cities and states indulged their ambition and cupidity to the ruin of their country. The selfishness of the Roman aristocracy was possibly as great, but it was very different. It found gratification in increasing the power and glory of Rome, and it identified itself with pride and patriotism; Greek selfishness, on the contrary, submitted to every meanness from which an aristocracy usually recoils; and to gratify its passions, it sacrificed its country. Greece had arrived at that period of civilization, when political questions were determined by financial reasons, and the hope of a diminution of the public burdens was a powerful argument in favour of submission to Rome. When the Romans conquered Macedonia, they fixed the tribute at one half the amount which had been paid to the Macedonian kings.
At the period of the Roman conquest, public opinion had been vitiated, as well as weakened, by the corrupt influence of the Asiatic monarchies. Many of the Greek princes employed large sums in purchasing the military services and civic flatteries of the free states. The political and military leaders throughout Greece were thus, by means of foreign alliances, rendered masters of resources far beyond what the unassisted revenues of the free states could have placed at their disposal. It soon became evident that the fate of many of the free states depended on their alliances with the kings of Macedonia, Egypt, Syria, and Pergamus; and the citizens could not avoid the despairing conclusion that no exertion on their part could produce any decisive effect in securing the tranquillity of Greece. They could only increase their own taxes, and bring to their own homes all the miseries of a most inhuman system of warfare. This state of public affairs caused the despair which induced the Acarnanians and the citizens of Abydos to adopt the heroic resolution not to survive the loss of their independence; but its more general effect was to spread public and private demoralization through all ranks of society. Peace alone, to the reflecting Greeks, seemed capable of restoring security of property, and of re-establishing due respect for the principles of justice; and peace seemed only attainable by submission to the Romans. The continuation of a state of war, which was rapidly laying the fortified towns in ruin, and consuming the resources of the land, was regarded by the independent Greeks as a far greater evil than Roman supremacy. So ardently was the termination of the contest desired, that a common proverb, expressive of a wish that the Romans might speedily prevail, was everywhere current. This saying, which was common after the conquest, has been preserved by Polybius: “If we had not been quickly ruined, we should not have been saved”.
It was some time before the Greeks had great reason to regret their fortune. A combination of causes, which could hardly have entered into the calculations of any politician, enabled them to preserve their national institutions, and to exercise all their former social influence, even after the annihilation of their political existence. Their vanity was flattered by their admitted superiority in arts and literature, and by the respect paid to their usages and prejudices by the Romans. Their political subjection was at first not very burdensome; and a considerable portion of the nation was allowed to retain the appearance of independence. Athens and Sparta were honoured with the title of allies of Rome. The nationality of the Greeks was so interwoven with their municipal institutions, that the Romans found it impossible to abolish the local administration; and an imperfect attempt, made at the time of the conquest of Achaia, was soon abandoned. These local institutions ultimately modified the Roman administration itself, long before the Roman Empire ceased to exist; and, even though the Greeks were compelled to adopt the civil law and judicial forms of Rome, its political authority in the East was guided by the feelings of the Greeks, and moulded according to Greek customs.
The social rank which the Greeks held in the eyes of their conquerors, at the time of their subjection, is not to be overlooked. The bulk of the Greek population in Europe consisted of landed proprietors, occupying a position which would have given some rank in Roman society. No class precisely similar existed at Rome, where a citizen that did not belong to the senate, the aristocracy, or the administration, was of very little account, for the people always remained in an inferior social rank. The higher classes at Rome always felt either contempt or hostility towards the populace of the city; and even when the emperors were induced to favour the people, from a wish to depress the great families of the aristocracy, they were unable to efface the general feeling of contempt with which the people was regarded. To the Greeks, — who had always maintained a higher social position, not only in Europe, but also in the kingdoms of the Seleucidae and the Ptolemies, — a high position was conceded by the Roman aristocracy, as it awakened no feelings either of hostility or jealousy. Polybius was an example.
Treatment of Greece after its Conquest
The Romans generally commenced by treating their provinces with mildness. The government of Sicily was arranged on a basis which certainly did not augment the burdens of the inhabitants. The tribute imposed on Macedonia was less than the amount of taxation which had been previously paid to the native kings; and there is no reason for supposing that the burdens of the Greeks, whose country was embraced in the province of Achaia, were increased by the conquest. The local municipal administration of the separate cities was allowed to exist, but, in order to enforce submission more readily, their constitutions were modified by fixing a census, which restricted the franchise in the democratic commonwealths. Some states were long allowed to retain their own political government, and were ranked as allies of the republic. It is impossible to trace the changes which the Romans gradually effected in the financial and administrative condition of Greece with chronological precision. Facts, often separated by a long series of years, require to be gleaned; and caution must be used in attributing to them a precise influence on the state of society at other periods. The Roman senate was evidently not without great jealousy and some fear of the Greeks; and great prudence was displayed in adopting a number of measures by which they were gradually weakened, and cautiously broken to the yoke of their conquerors. This caution proves that the despair of the Achaeans had produced a considerable effect on the Romans, who perceived that the Greek nation, if roused to a general combination, possessed the means of offering a determined and dangerous resistance. Crete was not reduced into the form of a Roman province until about eight years after the subjection of Achaia, and its conquest was not effected without difficulty by a consular army during a war which lasted three years. The resistance offered by the Cretans was so determined that the island was almost depopulated before it could be conquered. It was not until after the time of Augustus, when the conquest of every portion of the Greek nation had been completed, that the Romans began to view the Greeks in the contemptible light in which they are represented by later writers.
No attempt was made to introduce uniformity into the general government of the Grecian states; any such plan, indeed, would have been contrary to the principles of the Roman government, which had never aspired at establishing unity even in the administration of Italy. The attention of the Romans was directed to the means of ruling their various conquests in the most efficient manner, of concentrating all the military power in their own hands, and of levying the greatest amount of tribute which circumstances would permit. Thus, numerous cities in Greece, possessing but a very small territory, as Delphi, Thespiae, Tanagra, and Elatea, were allowed to retain that degree of independence, which secured to them the privilege of being governed by their own laws and usages, so late even as the times of the emperors. Rhodes also long preserved its own government as a free state, though it was completely dependent on Rome. The Romans adopted no theoretical principles which required them to enforce uniformity in the geographical divisions, or in the administrative arrangements of the provinces of their empire, particularly where local habits or laws opposed a barrier to any practical union.
The Roman government, however, early adopted measures tending to diminish the resources of the Greek allies, and the condition of the servile population which formed the bulk of the labouring classes was everywhere rendered very hard to be endured. Two insurrections of slaves occurred in Sicily, and contemporary with one of these there was a great rebellion of the slaves employed in the silver mines of Attica, and tumults among the slaves at Delos and in other parts of Greece. The Attic slaves seized the fortified town of Sunium, and committed extensive ravages before the government of Athens was able to overpower them. It is so natural for slaves to rebel when a favourable occasion presents itself, that it is hazardous to look beyond ordinary causes for any explanation of this insurrection, particularly as the declining state of the silver mines of Laurium, at this period, rendered the slaves less valuable, and would cause them to be worse treated, and more negligently guarded. Still the simultaneous rebellion of slaves, in these distant countries, seems not unconnected with the measures of the Roman government towards its subjects. For we learn from Diodorus that the fiscal oppression of the collectors of the tribute in Sicily was so great that free citizens were reduced to slavery and sold in the slave markets as far as Bithynia.
If we could place implicit faith in the testimony of so firm and partial an adherent of the Romans as Polybius, we must believe, that the Roman administration was at first characterized by a love of justice, and that the Roman magistrates were far less venal than the Greeks. If the Greeks, he says, are intrusted with a single talent of public money, though they give written security, and though legal witnesses be present, they will never act honestly; but if the largest sums be confided to the Romans engaged in the public service, their honourable conduct is secured simply by an oath. Under such circumstances, the people must have appreciated highly the advantages of the Roman domination, and contrasted the last years of their troubled and doubtful independence with the just and peaceful government of Rome, in a manner extremely favourable to their new masters. Less than a century of irresponsible power effected a wonderful change in the conduct of the Roman magistrates. Cicero declares, that the senate made a traffic of justice to the provincials. There is nothing so holy, that it cannot be violated, nothing so strong, that it cannot be destroyed by money, are his words. But as the government of Rome grew more oppressive, and the amount of the taxes levied on the provinces was more severely exacted, the increased power of the republic rendered any rebellion of the Greeks utterly hopeless. The complete separation in the administration of the various provinces, which were governed like so many separate kingdoms, viceroyalties, or pashalics, and the preservation of a distinct local government in each of the allied kingdoms and free states, rendered their management capable of modification, without any compromise of the general system of the republic; and this admirable fitness of its administration to the exigencies of the times, remained an attribute of the Roman state for many centuries. Each state in Greece, continuing in possession of as much of its peculiar political constitution as was compatible with the supremacy and fiscal views of a foreign conqueror, retained all its former jealousies towards its neighbours, and its interests were likely to be as often compromised by disputes with the surrounding Greek states as with the Roman government. Prudence and local interests would everywhere favour submission to Rome; national vanity alone would whisper incitements to venture on a struggle for independence.
Effects of the Mithridattc War on the State of Greece
For sixty years after the conquest of Achaia, the Greeks remained docile subjects of Rome. During that period, the policy of the government aided the tendencies of society towards the accumulation of property in the hands of few individuals. The number of Roman usurers increased, and the exactions of Roman publicans became more oppressive, but the rich were the principal sufferers; so that when the army of Mithridates invaded Greece, B. C. 86, while Rome appeared plunged in anarchy by the civil broils of the partisans of Marius and Sulla, the Greek aristocracy conceived the vain hope of recovering their independence. When they saw the king drive the Romans out of Asia and transport a large army into Europe, they expected him to rival the exploits of Hannibal, and to carry the war into Italy. But the people in general did not take much interest in the contest; they viewed it as a struggle for supremacy between the Romans and the King of Pontus; and public opinion favoured the former, as likely to prove the milder and more equitable masters. Many of the leading men in Greece, and the governments of most of those states and cities which retained their independence, declared in favour of Mithridates. Some Lacedaemonian and Achaian troops joined his army, and Athens engaged heartily in his party. As soon, however, as Sulla appeared in Greece with his army, every state hastened to submit to Rome, with the exception of the Athenians, who probably had some particular cause of dissatisfaction at this time. The vanity of the Athenians, puffed up by constant allusions to their ancient power, induced them to engage in a direct contest with the whole force of Rome. They were commanded by a demagogue and philosopher named Aristion, whom they had elected Strategos and intrusted with absolute power. The Roman legions were led by Sulla. The exclusive vanity of the Athenians, while it cherished in their hearts a more ardent love of liberty than had survived in the rest of Greece, blinded them to their own insignificancy when compared with the belligerents into whose quarrel they rashly thrust themselves. But though they rushed precipitately into the war, they conducted themselves in it with great constancy. Sulla was compelled to besiege Athens in person; and the defence of the city was conducted with such courage and obstinacy, that the task of subduing it proved one of great difficulty to a Roman army commanded by that celebrated warrior. When the defence grew hopeless, the Athenians sent a deputation to Sulla to open negotiations; but the orator beginning to recount the glories of their ancestors at Marathon, as an argument for mercy, the proud Roman cut short the discussion with the remark, that his country had sent him to Athens to punish rebels, not to study history. Athens was at last taken by assault, and it was treated by Sulla with unnecessary cruelty; the rapine of the troops was encouraged, instead of being checked, by their general. The majority of the citizens were slain; the carnage was so fearfully great, as to become memorable even in that age of bloodshed; the private movable property was seized by the soldiery, and Sulla assumed some merit to himself for not committing the rifled houses to the flames. He declared that he saved the city from destruction, and allowed Athens to continue to exist, only on account of its ancient glory. He carried off some of the columns of the temple of Jupiter Olympius, to ornament Rome; but as that temple was in an unfinished state, and he inflicted no injury on any public building, it seems probable that he only removed materials which were ready for transport, without pulling down any part of the edifice. From the treasury of the Parthenon, however, he carried off 40 talents of gold and 600 of silver. The fate of the Piraeus, which he utterly destroyed, was more severe than that of Athens. From Sulla’s campaign in Greece, the commencement of the ruin and depopulation of the country is to be dated. The destruction of property caused by his ravages in Attica was so great, that Athens from that time lost its commercial as well as its political importance. The race of Athenian citizens was almost extirpated, and a new population, composed of a heterogeneous mass of settlers, received the right of citizenships. Still as Sulla left Athens in possession of freedom and autonomia, with the rank of an allied city, the vitality of Greek institutions inspired the altered body; the ancient forms and laws continued to exist in their former purity, and the Areopagus is mentioned by Tacitus, in the reign of Tiberius, as nobly disregarding the powerful protection of Piso, who strove to influence its decisions and corrupt the administration of justice.
Athens was not the only city in Greece which suffered severely from the cruelty and rapacity of Sulla. He plundered Delos, Delphi, Olympia, and the sacred enclosure of Aesculapius, near Epidaurus; and he razed Anthedon, Larymna, and Halae to the ground. After he had defeated Archelaus, the general of Mithridates, at Chaeronea, he deprived Thebes of half its territory, which he consecrated to Apollo and Jupiter. The administration of the temporal affairs of the pagan deities was not so wisely conducted as the civil business of the municipalities. The Theban territory declined in wealth and population under the care of the two gods, and in the time of Pausanias the Cadmea or citadel was the only inhabited portion of ancient Thebes. Both parties, during the Mithridatic war, inflicted severe injuries on Greece, plundered the country, and destroyed property most wantonly. Many of the losses were never repaired. The foundations of national prosperity were undermined; and it henceforward became impossible to save from the annual consumption of the inhabitants the sums necessary to replace the accumulated capital of ages, which this short war had annihilated. In some cases the wealth of the communities became insufficient to keep the existing public works in repair.
Ruin of the Country by the Pirates of Cilicia
The Greeks, far from continuing to enjoy permanent tranquillity under the powerful protection of Rome, found themselves exposed to the attacks of every enemy, against whom the policy of their masters did not require the employment of a regular army. The conquest of the eastern shores of the Mediterranean by the Romans destroyed the maritime police which had been enforced by the Greek states as long as they possessed an independent navy. Even Rhodes, after its services ceased to be indispensable, was watched with jealousy, though it had remained firmly attached to Rome and given asylum to numbers of Roman citizens who fled from Asia Minor to escape death at the hands of the partisans of Mithridates. The caution of the senate did not allow the provinces to maintain any considerable armed force, either by land or sea; and the guards whom the free cities were permitted to keep, were barely sufficient to protect the walls of their citadels. Armies of robbers and fleets of pirates, remains of the mercenary forces of the Asiatic monarchs, disbanded in consequence of the Roman victories, began to infest the coasts of Greece. As long as the provinces continued able to pay their taxes with regularity, and the trade of Rome did not suffer directly, little attention was paid to the sufferings of the Greeks.
The geographical configuration of European Greece, intersected, in every direction, by high and rugged mountains, and separated by deep gulfs and bays into a number of promontories and peninsulas, renders communication between the thickly peopled and fertile districts more difficult than in most other regions. The country opposes barriers to internal trade, and presents difficulties to the formation of plans of mutual defence between the different districts, which it requires care and judgment, on the part of the general government, to remove. The armed force that can instantly be collected at one point, must often be small; and this circumstance has marked out Greece as a suitable field where piratical bands may plunder, as they have it in their power to remove their forces to distant spots with great celerity. From the earliest ages of history to the present day, these circumstances, combined with the extensive trade which has always been carried on in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, have rendered the Grecian seas the scene of constant piracies. At many periods, the pirates have been able to assemble forces sufficient to give their expeditions the character of regular war ; and their pursuits have been so lucrative, and their success so great, that their profession has ceased to be viewed as a dishonourable occupation.
A system of piracy, which was carried on by considerable armies and large fleets, began to be formed soon after the conclusion of the Mithridatic war. The indefinite nature of the Roman power in the East, the weakness of the Asiatic monarchs and of the sovereigns of Egypt, the questionable nature of the protection which Rome accorded to her allies, and the general disarming of the European Greeks, all encouraged and facilitated the enterprises of these pirates. A political, as well as a military organization, was given to their forces by the seizure of several strong positions on the coast of Cilicia. From these stations they directed their expeditions over the greater part of the Mediterranean. The wealth which ages of prosperity had accumulated in the many towns and temples of Greece was now defenceless; the country was exposed to daily incursions, and a long list of the devastations of the Cilician pirates is recorded in history. Many even of the largest and wealthiest cities in Europe and Asia were successfully attacked and plundered, and the greater number of the celebrated temples of antiquity were robbed of their immense treasures. Samos, Clazomene, and Samothrace, the great temples at Hermione, Epidaurus, Taenarus, Calauria, Actium, Argos, and the Isthmus of Corinth, were all pillaged. To such an extent was this system of robbery carried, and so powerful and well-disciplined were the forces of the pirates, that it was at last necessary for Rome either to share with them the dominion of the sea, or to devote all her military energies to their destruction. In order to destroy these last remains of the mercenaries who had upheld the Macedonian empire in the East, Pompey was invested with extraordinary powers as commander-in-chief over the whole Mediterranean. An immense force was placed at his absolute disposal, and he was charged with a degree of authority over the officers of the republic, and the allies of the State, which had never before been intrusted to one individual. His success in the execution of this commission was considered one of his most brilliant military achievements; he captured ninety ships with brazen beaks, and took twenty thousand prisoners. Some of these prisoners were established in towns on the coast of Cilicia; and Soli, which he rebuilt, and peopled with these pirates, was honoured with the name of Pompeiopolis. The Romans, consequently, do not seem to have regarded them as having engaged in a disgraceful warfare, otherwise Pompey would hardly have ventured to make them his clients.
The proceedings of the senate during the piratical war revealed to the Greeks the full extent of the disorganization which already prevailed in the Roman government. A few families who considered themselves above the law, and who submitted to no moral restraint, ruled both the senate and the people, so that the policy of the republic changed and vacillated according to the interests and passions of a small number of leading men in Rome. Some events during the conquest of Crete afford a remarkable instance of the incredible disorder in the republic, which foreshadowed the necessity of a single despot as the only escape from anarchy. While Pompey, with unlimited power over the shores and islands of the Mediterranean, was exterminating piracy and converting pirates into citizens, Metellus, under the authority of the senate, was engaged in conquering the island of Crete, in order to add it to the list of Roman provinces of which the senate alone named the governors. A conflict of authority arose between Pompey and Metellus. The latter was cruel and firm; the former mild but ambitious, and eager to render the whole maritime population of the East his dependents. He became jealous of the success of Metellus, and sent one of his lieutenants to stop the siege of the Cretan towns invested by the Roman army. But Metellus was not deterred by seeing the ensigns of Pompey’s authority displayed from the walls. He pursued his conquests, and neither Pompey nor the times were yet prepared for an open civil war between consular armies.
Crete had been filled with the strongholds of the pirates as well as Cilicia, and there is no doubt that their ranks were filled with Greeks who could find no other means of subsistence. Despair is said to have driven many of the citizens of the states conquered by the Romans to suicide; it must have forced a far greater number to embrace a life of piracy and robbery. The government of Rome was at this time subject to continual revolutions; and the Romans lost all respect for the rights of property either at home or abroad. Wealth and power were the only objects of pursuit, and the force of all moral ties was broken. Justice ceased to be administered, and men, in such cases, always assume the right of revenging their own wrongs. Those who considered themselves aggrieved by any act of oppression, or fancied they had received some severe injury, sought revenge in the way which presented itself most readily; and when the oppressor was secure against their attacks, they made society responsible. The state of public affairs was considered an apology for the ravages of the pirates even in those districts of Greece which suffered most severely from their lawless conduct. They probably spent liberally among the poor the treasures which they wrested from the rich; and so little, indeed, were they placed beyond the pale of society, that Pompey himself settled a colony of them at Dyme, in Achaia, where they seem to have prospered. Though piracy was not subsequently carried on so extensively as to merit a place in history, it was not entirely extirpated even by the fleet which the Roman emperors maintained in the East; and that cases still continued to occur in the Grecian seas is proved by public inscriptions. The carelessness of the senate in superintending the administration of the distant provinces caused a great increase of social corruption, and left crimes against the property and persons of the provincials often unpunished. Kidnapping by land and sea became a regular profession. The great slave-mart of Delos enabled the man-stealers to sell thousands in a single day. Even open brigandage was allowed to exist in the heart of the eastern provinces at the time of Rome’s greatest power. Strabo mentions several robber chiefs who maintained themselves in their fastnesses like independent princes.
Nature of the Roman Provincial Administration in Greece
The Romans reduced those countries where they met with resistance into the form of provinces, a procedure which was generally equivalent to abrogating the existing laws, and imposing on the vanquished a new system of civil as well as political administration. In the countries inhabited by the Greeks this policy underwent considerable modification. The Greeks, indeed, were so much farther advanced in civilization than the Romans, that it was no easy task for a Roman proconsul to effect any great change in the civil administration. He could not organize his government, without borrowing largely from the existing laws of the province. The constitution of Sicily, which was the first Greek province of the Roman dominions, presents a number of anomalies in the administration of its different districts. That portion of the island which had composed the kingdom of Hiero was allowed to retain its own laws, and paid the Romans the same amount of taxation which had been formerly levied by its own monarchs. The other portions of the island were subjected to various regulations concerning the amount of their taxes and the administration of justice. The province contained three allied cities, five colonies, five free and seventeen tributary cities. Macedonia, Epirus, and Achaia, when conquered, were treated very much in the same way, if we make due allowance for the increasing severity of the fiscal government of the Roman magistrates. Macedonia, before it was reduced to the condition of a province, was divided into four districts, each of which was governed by its own magistrates elected by the people. When Achaia was conquered, the walls of the towns were thrown down, the aristocracy was ruined, and the country impoverished by fines. But as soon as the Romans were convinced that Greece was too weak to be dangerous, the Achaeans were allowed to revive some of their old civic usages and federal institutions. As the province of Achaia embraced the Peloponnesus, northern Greece, and southern Epirus, the revival of local confederacies, and the privileges accorded to free cities and particular districts, really tended to disunite the Greeks, without affording them the means of increasing their national strength. Crete, Cyprus, Cyrene, and Asia Minor were subsequently reduced to provinces, and were allowed to retain much of their laws and usages. Thrace, even so late as the time of Tiberius, was governed by its own sovereign, as an ally of the Romans. Many cities within the bounds of the provinces retained their own peculiar laws, and, as far as their own citizens were concerned, they continued to possess the legislative as well as the executive power, by administering their own affairs, and executing justice within their limits, without being liable to the control of the proconsul.
As long as the republic continued to exist, the provinces were administered by proconsuls or praetors, chosen from among the members of the senate, and responsible to that body for their administration. The authority of these provincial governors was immense; they had the power of life and death over the Greeks, and the supreme control over all judicial, financial, and administrative business was vested in their hands. They had the right of naming and removing most of the judges and magistrates under their orders, and most of the fiscal arrangements regarding the provincials depended on their will. No power ever existed more liable to be abused; for while the representatives of the most absolute sovereigns have seldom been intrusted with more extensive authority, they have never incurred so little danger of being punished for its abuse. The only tribunal before which the proconsuls could be cited for any acts of injustice which they might commit was that very senate which had sent them out as its deputies, and received them back into its body as members.
When the imperial government was consolidated by Augustus, the command of the whole military force of the republic devolved on the emperor; but his constitutional position was not that of sovereign. The early emperors concentrated in their persons the offices of commander-in-chief of the military and naval forces of Rome, of minister of war and of finance, and of Pontifex Maximus, which gave them a sacred character, as head of the religion of the State, and their persons were inviolable, as they were invested with the tribunician power; but the senate and people were still possessed of the supreme legislative authority, and the senate continued to direct the civil branches of the executive ad-ministration. In consequence of this relation between the jurisdiction of the senate and the emperors, the provinces were divided into two classes: Those in which the military forces were stationed were placed under the direct orders of the emperor, and were governed by his lieutenants or legates; the other provinces, which did not require to be constantly occupied by the legions, remained dependent on the senate, as the chief civil authority in the State, and were governed by proconsuls or propraetors. Most of the countries inhabited by the Greeks were in that peaceable condition which placed them in the rank of senatorial provinces. Sicily, Macedonia, Epirus, Achaia, Crete, Cyrene, Bithynia, and Asia Minor remained under the control of the senate. Cyprus, from its situation as affording a convenient post for a military force to watch Cilicia, Syria, and Egypt, was at first classed among the imperial provinces; but Augustus subsequently exchanged it for the more important position of Dalmatia, where an army could be stationed to watch Rome, and separate Italy and the proconsular provinces of Greece.
The proconsuls and propraetors occupied a higher rank in the State than the imperial legates; but their situation deprived them of all hope of military distinction, the highest object of Roman ambition. This exclusion of the aristocracy from military pursuits, by the emperors, is not to be lost sight of in observing the change which took place in the Roman character. Avarice was the vice which succeeded in stifling feelings of self-abasement and disappointed ambition; and as the proconsuls were not objects of jealousy to the emperors, they were enabled to gratify their ruling passion without danger. They surrounded themselves with a splendid court; and a numerous train of followers, officials, and guards, who were at their orders, was maintained at the expense of their province. As they were themselves senators, they felt assured of finding favourable judges in the senate under any circumstances. Irresponsible government soon degenerates into tyranny, and the administration of the Roman proconsuls became as oppressive as that of the worst despots, and was loudly complained of by the provincials. The provinces under the government of the emperor were better administered. The imperial lieutenants, though inferior in rank to proconsuls, possessed a more extensive command, as they united in their persons the chief civil and military authority. The effect of their possessing more power was, that the limits of their authority, and the forms of their proceedings, were determined with greater precision — were more closely watched, and more strictly controlled by the military discipline to which they were subjected; while, at the same time, the constant dependence of all their actions on the immediate orders of the emperor and the various departments of which he was the head opposed more obstacles to arbitrary proceedings.
The expenses of the proconsular administration being paid by the provinces, it was chiefly by abuses augmenting their amount that the proconsuls were enabled to accumulate enormous fortunes during their short tenure of government. The burden was so heavily felt by Macedonia and Achaia, even as early as the reign of Tiberius, that the complaints of these two provinces induced that emperor to unite their administration with that of the imperial province of Moesia; but Claudius restored them to the senate. Thrace, when it was reduced to a Roman province by Vespasian, was also added to the imperial list. As the power of the emperors rose into absolute authority over the Roman world and the pageant of the republic faded away, all distinction between the different classes of provinces disappeared. They were distributed according to the wish of the reigning emperor, and their administration arbitrarily transferred to officers of whatever rank he thought fit to select. The Romans, indeed, had never affected much system in this, any more than in any other branch of their government. Pontius Pilate, when he condemned our Saviour, governed Judaea with the rank of procurator of Caesar; he was vested with the whole administrative, judicial, fiscal, and military authority, almost as completely as it could have been exercised by a proconsul, yet his title was only that of a finance officer, charged with the administration of those revenues which belonged to the imperial treasury.
The provincial governors usually named three or four deputies to carry on the business of the districts into which the province was divided, and each of these deputies was controlled and assisted by a local council. It may be remarked, that the condition of the inhabitants of the western portion of the Roman Empire was different from that of the eastern; in the west the people were generally treated as little better than serfs; they were not considered the absolute proprietors of the lands they cultivated. Hadrian first gave them a full right of property in their lands, and secured to them a regular system of law. In Greece, on the other hand, the people retained all their property and private rights. Some rare exceptions indeed occurred, as in the case of the Corinthian territory, which was confiscated for the benefit of the Roman state, and declared ager publicus after the destruction of the city by Mummius. Throughout all the countries inhabited by the Greeks, the provincial administration was necessarily modified by the circumstance of the conquered being much farther advanced in social civilization than their conquerors. To facilitate the task of governing and taxing the Greeks, the Romans found themselves compelled to retain much of the civil government, and many of the financial arrangements, which they found existing; and hence arose the marked difference which is observed in the administration of the eastern and western portions of the empire. When the great jurist Scaevola was proconsul of Asia, he published an edict for the administration of his province, by which he allowed the Greeks to have judges of their own nation, and to decide their suits according to their own laws; a concession equivalent to the restoration of their civil liberties in public opinion, according to Cicero, who copied it when he was proconsul of Cilicia. The existence of the free cities, of the local tribunals and provincial assemblies, and the respect paid to their laws, gave the Greek language an official character, and enabled the Greeks to acquire so great an influence in the administration of their country, as either to limit the despotic power of their Roman masters, or, when that proved impossible, to share its profits. But though the arbitrary decisions of the proconsuls received some check from the existence of fixed rules and permanent usages, still these barriers were insufficient to prevent the abuse of irresponsible authority. Those laws and customs which a proconsul dared not openly violate, he could generally nullify by some concealed measure of oppression. The avidity displayed by Brutus in endeavouring to make Cicero enforce payment of forty-eight per cent, interest when his debtors, the Salaminians of Cyprus, offered to pay the capital with twelve per cent, interest, proves with what injustice and oppression the Greeks were treated even by the mildest of the Roman aristocracy. The fact that throughout the Grecian provinces, as well as in the rest of the empire, the governors superintended the financial administration, and exercised the judicial power, is sufficient to explain the ruin and poverty which the Roman government produced. Before the wealth of the people had been utterly consumed, an equitable proconsul had it in his power to confer happiness on his provinces, and Cicero draws a very favourable picture of his own administration in Cilicia: but a few governors like Verres and Caius Antonius soon reduced a province to a state of poverty, from which it would have required ages of good government to enable it to recover. The private letters of Cicero afford repeated proofs that the majority of the officers employed by the Roman government openly violated every principle of justice to gratify their passions and their avarice. Many of them even condescended to engage in trade, and, like Brutus, became usurers.
The early years of the empire were certainly more popular than the latter years of the republic in the provinces. The emperors were anxious to strengthen themselves against the senate by securing the goodwill of the provincials, and they consequently exerted their authority to check the oppressive conduct of the senatorial officers, and to lighten the fiscal burdens of the people by a stricter administration of justice. Tiberius, Claudius, and Domitian, though Rome groaned under their tyranny, were remarkable for their zeal in correcting abuses in the administration of justice, and Hadrian established a council of jurisconsults and senators to assist him in reviewing the judicial business of the provinces as well as of the capital.
Fiscal Administration of the Romans
The legal amount of the taxes, direct and indirect, levied by the Romans on the Greeks, was probably not greater than the sum paid to their national governments in the days of their independence. But a small amount of taxation arbitrarily imposed, unjustly collected, and injudiciously spent, weighs more heavily on the resources of the people, than immense burdens properly distributed and wisely employed. The wealth and resources of Greece had been greatest at the time when each city formed a separate state, and the inhabitants of each valley possessed the power of employing the taxes which they paid, for objects which ameliorated their own condition. The moment the centralization of political power enabled one city to appropriate the revenues of another to its wants, whether for its architectural embellishment or for its public games, theatrical representations, and religious ceremonies, the decline of the country commenced: but all the evil effects of centralization were not felt until the taxes were paid to foreigners. When the tributes were remitted to Rome, it was difficult to persuade absent administrators of the necessity of expending money on a road, a port, or an aqueduct, which had no direct connection with Roman interests. Had the Roman government acted according to the strictest principles of justice, Greece must have suffered from its dominion; but its avarice and corruption, after the commencement of the civil wars, knew no bounds. The extraordinary payments levied on the provinces soon equalled, and sometimes exceeded, the regular and legal taxes. Sparta and Athens, as allied states, were exempt from direct taxation; but, in order to preserve their liberty, they were compelled to make voluntary offerings to the Roman generals, who held the fate of the East in their hands, and these sometimes equalled the amount of any ordinary tribute. Cicero supplies ample proof of the extortions committed by the proconsuls, and no arrangements were adopted to restrain their avarice until the time of Augustus. It is, therefore, only under the empire that any accurate picture of the fiscal administration of the Romans in Greece can be attempted.
Until the time of Augustus, the Romans had maintained their armies by seizing and squandering the accumulated capital hoarded by all the nations of the world. They emptied the treasuries of all the kings and states they conquered; and when Julius Caesar marched to Rome, he dissipated that portion of the plunder of the world which had been laid up in the coffers of the republic. When that source of riches was exhausted, Augustus found himself compelled to seek for regular funds for maintaining the army: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed”. A regular survey of the whole empire was made, and the land-tax was assessed according to a valuation taken of the annual income of every species of property. A capitation-tax was also imposed on all the provincials whom the land-tax did not affect.
The ordinary provincial taxes in the East were this land-tax, which generally amounted to a tenth of the produce, though, in some cases, it constituted a fifth, and in others fell to a twentieth. The land-tax was rendered uniform in all the provinces and converted at last into a money payment, by Marcus Aurelius. It was not assessed annually: but a valuation was made at stated periods for a determinate number of years, and the annual amount was called the Indictio before the time of Constantine, when the importance of this fiscal measure to the well-being of the inhabitants of the Roman empire is attested by the cycle of indictions becoming the ordinary chronological record of time. Italy itself was subjected to the land-tax and capitation by Galerius, A.D. 306, but the first indiction of the cycle of fifteen years used for chronological notation commenced on the 1st of September 312. The subjects of the empire paid also a tax on cattle, and a variety of duties on importation and exportation, which were levied even on the conveyance of goods from one province to another. In Greece, the free cities also retained the right of levying local duties on their citizens. Contributions of provisions and manufactures were likewise exacted for feeding and clothing the troops stationed in the provinces. Even under Augustus, who devoted his personal attention to reforming the financial administration of the empire, the proconsuls and provincial governors continued to avail themselves of their position, as a means of gratifying their avarice. Licinus accumulated immense riches in Gaul. Tiberius perceived that the weight of the Roman fiscal system was pressing too severely on the provinces, and he rebuked the prefect of Egypt for remitting too large a sum to Rome, as the amount proved he had overtaxed his province. The mere fact of a prefect’s possessing the power of increasing or diminishing the amount of his remittances to the treasury, is enough to condemn the arbitrary nature of the Roman fiscal administration. The prefect was told by the emperor that a good shepherd should shear, not flay, his sheep. But no rulers ever estimated correctly the amount of taxes that their subjects could advantageously pay; and Tiberius received a lesson on the financial system of his empire from Baton, King of Dalmatia, who, on being asked the cause of a rebellion, replied, that it arose from the emperor’s sending wolves to guard his flocks instead of shepherds.
The financial policy of the Roman republic was to transfer as much of the money circulating in the provinces, and of the precious metals in the hands of private individuals, as it was possible, into the coffers of the State. The city of Rome formed a drain for the wealth of all the provinces, and the whole empire was impoverished for its support. When Caligula expressed the wish that the Roman people had only one neck, in order that he might destroy them all at a single blow, the idea found a responsive echo in many a breast. There was a wise moral in the sentiment uttered in his frenzy; and many felt that the dispersion of the immense pauper population of Rome, which was nourished in idleness by the public revenues, would have been a great benefit to the rest of the empire. The desire of seizing wealth wherever it could be found continued to be long the dominant feeling in the personal policy of the emperors, as well as the proconsuls. The provincial governors enriched themselves by plundering their subjects, and the emperors filled their treasuries by accusing the senators of those crimes which entailed confiscation of their fortunes. From the earliest periods of Roman history, down to the time of Justinian, confiscation of private property was considered an ordinary and important branch of the imperial revenue. When Alexander the Great conquered Asia, the treasures which he dispersed increased the commerce of the world, created new cities, and augmented the general wealth of mankind. The Romans collected far greater riches from their conquests than Alexander had done, as they pushed their exactions much farther; but the rude state of society, in which they lived at the time of their first great successes, prevented their perceiving, that by carrying off or destroying all the movable capital in their conquests, they must ultimately diminish the amount of their own revenues. The wealth brought away from the countries inhabited by the Greeks was incredible; for the Romans pillaged the conquered, as the Spaniards plundered Mexico and Peru, and ruled them as the Turks subsequently governed Greece. The riches which centuries of industry had accumulated in Syracuse, Tarentum, Epirus, Macedonia, and Greece, and the immense sums seized in the treasuries of the kings of Cyprus, Pergamus, Syria, and Egypt, were removed to Rome, and consumed in a way which virtually converted them into premiums for neglecting agriculture. They were dispersed in paying an immense army, in feeding an idle populace, which was thus withdrawn from all productive occupations, and in maintaining the household of the emperor, the senators, and the imperial freedmen. The consequence of the arrangements adopted for provisioning Rome was felt over the whole empire, and seriously affected the prosperity of the most distant provinces. It is necessary to notice them, in order to understand perfectly the financial system of the empire during three centuries.
The citizens of Rome were considered entitled to a share of the revenues of the provinces which they had conquered, and which were long regarded in the light of a landed estate of the republic. The Roman State was held to be under an obligation of supporting all who were liable to military service, if they were poor and without profitable employment. The history of the public distributions of grain, and of the measures adopted for securing ample supplies to the market, at low prices, forms an important chapter in the social and political records of the Roman people. An immense quantity of grain was distributed in this way, which was received as tribute from the provinces. Caesar found three hundred and twenty thousand persons receiving this gratuity. It is true he reduced the number one half. The grain was drawn from Sicily, Africa, and Egypt, and its distribution enabled the poor to live in idleness, while the arrangements adopted by the Roman government, for selling grain at a low price, rendered the cultivation of land around Rome unprofitable to its proprietors. A large sum was annually employed by the State in purchasing grain in the provinces, and in transporting it to Rome, where it was sold to the bakers at a fixed price. A premium was also paid to the private importers of grain, in order to insure an abundant supply. In this manner a very large sum was expended to keep bread cheap in a city where a variety of circumstances tended to make it dear. This singular system of annihilating capital, and ruining agriculture and industry, was so deeply rooted in the Roman administration, that similar gratuitous distributions of grain were established at Antioch and Alexandria, and other cities, and they were introduced at Constantinople when that city became the capital of the empire.
It is not surprising that Greece suffered severely under a government equally tyrannical in its conduct and unjust in its legislation. In almost every department of public business the interests of the State were placed in opposition to those of the people, and even when the letter of the law was mild, its administration was burdensome. The customs of Rome were moderate, and consisted of a duty of five per cent, on exports and imports. Where the customs were so reasonable, commerce ought to have flourished; but the real amount levied under an unjust government bears no relation to the nominal payment. The government of Turkey has ruined the commerce of its subjects, with duties equally moderate. The Romans despised commerce; they considered merchants as little better than cheats, and concluded that they were always in the wrong when they sought to avoid making any payment to government. The provinces in the eastern part of the Mediterranean are inhabited by a mercantile population. The wants of many parts can only be supplied by sea; and as the various provinces and small independent states were often separated by double lines of custom-houses, the subsistence of the population was frequently at the mercy of the revenue officers. The customs payable to Rome were let to farmers, who possessed extensive powers for their collection, and a special tribunal existed for the enforcement of their claims; these farmers of the customs were consequently powerful tyrants in all the countries round the Aegean Sea.
The ordinary duty on the transport of goods from one province to another amounted to two and a half per cent.; but some kinds of merchandise were subjected to a tax of an eighth, which appears to have been levied when the article first entered the Roman Empire.
The provincial contributions pressed as heavily on the Greeks as the general taxes. The expense of the household of the proconsuls was very great; they had also the right of placing the troops in winter quarters, in whatever towns they thought fit. This power was rendered a profitable means of extorting money from the wealthy districts. Cicero mentions that the island of Cyprus paid two hundred talents — about forty-five thousand pounds annually — in order to purchase exemption from this burden. The power of the fiscal agents, charged to collect the extraordinary contributions in the provinces, was unlimited. One of the ordinary punishments for infringing the revenue laws was confiscation, — a punishment which was converted by the collectors of the revenue into a systematic means of extortion. A regular trade in usury was established, in order to force proprietors to sell their property; and accusations were brought forward in the fiscal courts, merely to levy fines, or compel the accused to incur debts. Free Greeks were constantly sold as slaves because they were unable to pay the amount of taxation to which they were liable. The establishment of posts, which Augustus instituted for the transmission of military orders, was soon converted into a burden on the provinces, instead of being rendered a public benefit, by allowing private individuals to make use of its services. The enlisting of recruits was another source of abuse. Privileges and monopolies were granted to merchants and manufacturers; the industry of a province was ruined, to raise a sum of money for an emperor or a favourite.
The free cities and allied states were treated with as much injustice as the provinces, though their position enabled them to escape many of the public burdens. The crowns of gold, which had once been given by cities and provinces as a testimony of gratitude, were converted into a forced gift, and at last extorted as a tax of a fixed amount.
In addition to the direct weight of the public burdens, their severity was increased by the exemption which Roman citizens enjoyed from the land-tax, the customs, and the municipal burdens, in the provinces, the free cities, and the allied states. This exemption filled Greece with traders and usurers, who obtained the right of citizenship as a speculation, merely to evade the payment of the local taxes. The Roman magistrates had the power of granting this immunity; and as they were in the habit of participating in the profits even of their enfranchised slaves, there can be no doubt that a regular traffic in citizenship was established, and this cause exercised considerable influence in accelerating the ruin of the allied states and free cities, by defrauding them of their local privileges and revenues. When Nero wished to render himself popular in Greece, he extended the immunity from tribute to all the Greeks; but Vespasian found the financial affairs of the empire in such disorder that he was compelled to revoke all grants of exemption to the provinces. Virtue, in the old times of Rome, meant valour; liberty, in the time of Nero, signified freedom from taxation. Of this liberty Vespasian deprived Greece, Byzantium, Samos, Rhodes, and Lycia.
The financial administration of the Romans inflicted, if possible, a severer blow on the moral constitution of society than on the material prosperity of the country. It divided the population of Greece into two classes, one possessing the title of Roman citizens, — a title often purchased by their wealth, and which implied freedom from taxation; — the other consisting of the Greeks who, from poverty, were unable to purchase the envied privilege, and thus by their very poverty were compelled to bear the whole weight of the public burdens laid on the province. The rich and poor were thus ranged in two separate castes of society.
By the Roman constitution, the knights were intrusted with the management of the finances of the State. They were a body in whose eyes wealth, on which their rank substantially depended, possessed an undue value. The prominent feature of their character was avarice, notwithstanding the praises of their justice which Cicero has left us. The knights acted as collectors of the revenues, but they also frequently farmed the taxes of a province for a term of years, subletting portions, and they formed companies for farming the customs besides employing capital in public or private loans. They were favoured by the policy of Rome; while their own riches, and their secondary position in political affairs, served to screen them from attacks in the forum. For a long period, too, all the judges were selected from their order, and consequently knights alone decided those commercial questions which most seriously affected their individual profits.
The heads of the financial administration in Greece were thus placed in a moral position unfavourable to an equitable collection of the revenues. The case of Brutus, who attempted to oblige the Salaminians of Cyprus to pay him compound interest, at the rate of four per cent, a month, shows that avarice and extortion were not generally considered dishonourable in the eyes of the Roman aristocracy. The practices of selling the right of citizenship, of raising unjust fiscal prosecutions to extort fines, and enforce confiscation to increase landed estates, have been already mentioned. They produced effects which have found a place in history. The existence of all these crimes is well known; their effects may be observed in the fact that a single citizen, Julius Eurycles, had in the time of Augustus rendered himself proprietor of the whole island of Cythera, and caused a rebellion in Laconia by the severity of his extortions. During the republic the authority of Romans of high rank was so great in the provinces that no Greek ventured to dispute their commands. Caius Antonius, the colleague of Cicero in the consulship, resided at Cephalonia when he was banished for extortion, and Strabo informs us that this criminal treated the inhabitants as if the island had been his private property.
Roman citizens in Greece escaped the oppressive powers of the fiscal agents, not only in those cases wherein they were by law exempt from provincial taxes, but also because they possessed the means of defending themselves against injustice by the right of carrying their causes to Rome for judgment by appeal. These privileges rendered the number of Roman citizens engaged in mercantile speculation and trade very great. A considerable multitude of the inhabitants of Rome had, from the earliest times, been employed in trade and commerce, without obtaining the right of citizenship at home. They did not fail to settle in numbers in all the Roman conquests, and, in the provinces, they were correctly called Romans. They always enjoyed from the republic the fullest protection, and soon acquired the rights of citizenship. Even Roman citizens were sometimes so numerous in the provinces that they could furnish not a few recruits to the legions. Their numbers were so great at the commencement of the Mithridatic war (B. C. 88) that eighty thousand were put to death in Asia when the king took up arms against the Romans. The greater part undoubtedly consisted of merchants, traders, and money-dealers. The Greeks at last obtained the right of Roman citizenship in such multitudes, that Nero may have made no very enormous sacrifice of public revenue when he conferred liberty, or freedom from tribute, on all the Greeks.
It is unnecessary to dwell at any length on the effects of the system of general oppression and partial privileges which has been described. Honest industry was useless in trade, and political intrigue was the easiest mode of obtaining some privilege or monopoly which ensured the speedy accumulation of a large fortuned
In enumerating the causes of the impoverishment and depopulation of the Roman Empire, the depreciation of the coinage must not be overlooked. Considerable changes were made in the Roman mint by Augustus, but the great depreciation which destroyed capital, diminished the demand for labour, and accelerated the depopulation of the provinces, dates from the reign of Caracalla.
Augustus fixed the standard at 40 gold pieces (aurei) to a pound of pure gold and he coined 84 denarii from a pound of silver, but he did not always observe strictly the standard which he had established. And in the interval between his reign and that of Nero coins of less than the legal standard were frequently minted. Nero reduced the standard to 45 aurei to a pound of gold and coined 96 denarii from a pound of silver, retaining the proportion of 25 denarii to an aureus. Caracalla again reduced the standard, coining 50 aurei from a pound of gold and making a great addition of alloy in the silver coinage. Great irregularities were not uncommon in the Roman mint at every period under the republic and the empire. Indeed, order and system appear to have been introduced very slowly into some branches of the Roman administration, and great irregularities were of constant recurrence in the mint. Temporary necessities caused the legal standard to be at times lowered and at others violated even in the best days of the republic, and the arbitrary power of the emperors is more completely exhibited in the coinage than in the historical records of the empire. Before the time of Nero aurei were coined of 45 to a pound, and before the time of Caracalla of 50 to a pound.
In the time of Diocletian a great change was made in the coinage when every other branch of the administration was reformed. The standard was fixed at 60 aurei to a pound of pure gold, but this rate was not preserved for any length of time, and in the reign of Constantine the Great 72 gold pieces were coined from a pound of metal. Order and unity were at last introduced into the fabric of the Roman government, but, as too often happens in the history of human institutions, we find these benefits obtained by the loss of local rights and personal liberty. The gold standard adopted by Constantine became one of the immutable institutions of the Roman Empire, and it was retained until the eastern empire was extinguished by the conquest of Constantinople in 1204. These pieces, called at first solidi, and known afterwards to the western nations by the name of byzants, were minted without change in the weight and purity of the metal for a period of nearly 900 years.
The public taxes and the tribute of the provinces were generally exacted in gold. It was therefore the interest of the emperors to maintain the purity of the gold coinage. But as large payments were made by weight, a profit could often be made by issuing from the mint coins of less than the standard weight, and that this fraud was often perpetrated by the emperors is attested by the existence of innumerable well- preserved gold coins.
The silver coinage was in a different condition from the gold. From the time of Augustus to that of Caracalla it formed the ordinary circulating medium in the eastern part of the empire, and several cities possessed the right of coining silver in their local mints. Both the imperial and the local mints often derived an illicit gain by diminishing the weight or debasing the purity of the silver coins. Augustus, as has been already mentioned, coined 84 denarii from a pound of silver and Nero 96. Hadrian, though he made no change in the legal standard, permitted the mint to issue silver coins of less than the standard purity, and many of his successors imitated his bad example. The relative value of the aureus and the denarius underwent a change as soon as a considerable quantity of the silver coinage, whether issued by the imperial or local mints, was of debased metal, and aurei of standard weight were sold by the money-changers at an agio. The emperors appear to have defrauded those they paid in silver by issuing base denarii as well as cheated those they paid in gold by counting out light aurei.
When Caracalla coined fifty aurei to the pound, he seems to have proposed restoring the relative value of the gold and silver money. To do this it was necessary to issue a new silver coin of which twenty-five should be equal to the new aureus. Instead of restoring the denarius to its true proportion in weight and purity, he issued the larger piece, in which the emperor is represented with a radiated crown, called argenteus. These contain a considerable portion of alloy, and were minted at the rate of sixty to a pound of the new silver standard. The proportion adopted by Caracalla for the silver coinage was not observed. A deterioration is apparent even during the reigns of Alexander Severus, Maximinus, and Gordianus Pius, though these emperors evidently made some efforts to arrest the depreciation of the ordinary circulating medium by large issues of copper sestertii of full weight. They appear to have hoped to sustain the value of the silver currency by keeping up the value of the copper coin which circulated as its fractions.
The proportion of alloy in the silver coinage was rapidly increased after the time of Gordianus Pius, and at last Gallienus put an end to the silver coinage by issuing plated money and copper pieces washed with tin as a substitute for silver. Thus a base denarius of his latter years was of less value than an as of the former part of his reign, which ought to have been its sixteenth part.
Gallienus threw the whole coinage of the empire into confusion. He repeatedly reduced the size of the aureus according to his temporary exigencies, but he preserved the standard purity of the metal, for while he paid his own debts by tale he exacted payment of the tribute of the provinces by weight. The intolerable oppression of his monetary frauds and exactions, added to the disorder that prevailed in every branch of the imperial government, goaded the provinces into rebellion. The rise of the thirty tyrants, as the rebel emperors were called, must in some degree be connected with the depreciation of the coinage, for the troops as well as the provincials were sufferers by the frauds of his mint. The troops were ready to support any emperor who would pay them a donative in coin of full weight, and the provincials were ready to support any rebel who could resist the transmission of the gold in the province to Rome.
The depreciation of the ordinary currency during the reign of Gallienus has no parallel in history unless it be found in the recent depreciations of the Othoman currency. Five hundred of the washed denarii or argentei of his latter coinage were required to purchase an aureus, while government compelled its subjects to receive these base coins at the rate of twenty-five to an aureus.
The emperors defrauded their subjects, but the masters of the mint and the corporation of moneyers shared the profits of these frauds, and rendered the debasement of the coinage and the agio on gold a source of gain independent of the government. When Aurelian endeavoured to restore the unity of the empire it was necessary for him to re-establish uniformity in the currency. But when he attempted to reform the abuses in the imperial mint, the masters of the mint and the corporation of moneyers openly rebelled, and their power and numbers were so great that he is said to have lost seven thousand men in suppressing their revolt.
The depreciation in the value of the circulating medium during the fifty years between the reign of Caracalla and the death of Gallienus annihilated a great part of the trading capital in the Roman Empire, and rendered it impossible to carry on commercial transactions not only with foreign countries but even with distant provinces. Every payment was liable to be greatly diminished in real value, even when it was nominally the same. This state of things at last induced capitalists to hoard their coins of pure gold and silver for better days; and as these better days did not occur, all memory of many hoards was lost, and the buried treasures, consisting of select coins, have often remained concealed until the present time. Thus the frauds of the Roman emperors have filled the cabinets of collectors and the national museums of modem Europe with well-preserved coins.
The special effects of the depreciation of the Roman coinage on the wealth of Greece cannot be traced in detail, for no facts are recorded by historians which connect it prominently with any private or public event. The local mints ceased to exist, when even their copper coins became of greater intrinsic value than the money of the imperial mint of which they were nominally fractions. The as of the provincial city was more valuable than the denarius of the capital. Zosimus informs us that this monetary confusion produced commercial anarchy, and it requires no historian to tell us that political anarchy is a natural consequence of national bankruptcy. The laws which regulate the distribution, the accumulation and the destruction of wealth, the demand for labour and the gains of industry, attest that the depreciation of the currency was one of the most powerful causes of the impoverishment and depopulation of the Roman empire in the third century, and there can be no doubt that Greece suffered severely from its operation.
Depopulation of Greece caused by the Roman Government
Experience proves that the same law of the progress of society which gives to an increasing population a tendency to outgrow the means of subsistence, compels a declining one to press on the limits of taxation. A government may push taxation up to that point when it arrests all increase in the means of subsistence; but the moment this stationary condition of society is produced, the people will begin to consume a portion of the wealth previously absorbed by the public taxes, and the revenues of the country will have a tendency to decrease; or, what is the same thing, in so far as the political law is concerned, the government will find greater difficulty in collecting the same amount of revenue, and, if it succeed, will cause a diminution in the population.
The depopulation of the Roman provinces was, however, not caused entirely by the financial oppression of the government. In order to secure new conquests against rebellion, the armed population was generally exterminated, or reduced to slavery. If the people displayed a spirit of independence, they were regarded as robbers, and destroyed without mercy; and this cruelty was so engrafted into the system of the Roman administration that Augustus treated the Salassi in this manner, when their disorders could easily have been effectually prevented by milder measures. At the time the Romans first engaged in war with the Macedonians and Greeks, the contest was of so doubtful a nature that the Romans were not likely to relax the usual policy which they adopted for weakening their foes; Macedonia, Epirus, Aetolia, and Achaia, were therefore treated with the greatest severity at the time of their conquest. Aemilius Paulus, in order to secure the submission of Epirus, destroyed seventy cities, and sold one hundred and fifty thousand of the inhabitants as slaves. The policy which considered a reduction of the population necessary for securing obedience, would not fail to adopt efficient measures to prevent its again becoming either numerous or wealthy. The utter destruction of Carthage, and the extermination of the Carthaginians, is a fact which has no parallel in the history of any other civilized stated Mummius razed Corinth to the ground, and sold its whole population as slaves. Delos was the great emporium of the trade of the East about the time of the conquest of Greece; it was plundered by the troops of Mithridates, and again by the orders of Sulla. It only recovered its former state of prosperity under the Romans as a slave-market. Sulla utterly destroyed several cities of Boeotia, and depopulated Athens, the Piraeus, and Thebes. The inhabitants of Megara were nearly exterminated by Julius Caesar; and a considerable number of cities in Achaia, Aetolia, and Acarnania, were laid waste by order of Augustus, and their inhabitants were settled in the newly established Roman colonies of Nicopolis and Patrae. Brutus levied five years’ tribute in advance from the inhabitants of Asia Minor. His severity made the people of Xanthus prefer extermination to submission. Cassius, after he had taken Rhodes, treated it in the most tyrannical manner, and displayed a truly Roman spirit of fiscal rapacity. The celebrated letter of Sulpicius to Cicero, so familiar to the lovers of poetry from the paraphrase of Lord Byron, affords irrefragable testimony to the rapid decline of Greece under the Roman government.
During the civil wars, the troops which Greece still possessed were compelled to range themselves on one side or the other. The Aetolians and Acarnanians joined Caesar; the Athenians, Lacedaemonians, and Boeotians, ranged themselves as partisans of Pompey. The Athenians, and most of the other Greeks, afterwards espoused the cause of Brutus and Cassius; but the Lacedaemonians sent a body of two thousand men to serve as auxiliaries of Octavius. The destruction of property caused by the progress through Greece of the various bodies of troops, whose passions were inflamed by the disorders of the civil war, was not compensated by the favours conferred on a few cities by Caesar, Antony, and Augustus. The remission of a few taxes, or the present of additional revenues to an oligarchical magistracy, could exercise no influence on the general prosperity of the country.
The depopulation caused by war alone might have been very soon repaired, had the government of Greece been wisely administered. But there are conditions of society which render it difficult to replace capital or recruit population when either of them has undergone any considerable diminution. Attica appears never to have recovered from the ravages committed by Philip V of Macedon as early as the year B.C. 200, when he burned down the buildings and groves of Cynosarges and the Lyceum in the immediate vicinity of Athens, and the temples, olive-trees, and vineyards over the whole country. The Athenians had even then lost the social and moral energy necessary for repairing the damage produced by a great national calamity. They could no longer pursue a life of agricultural employment: their condition had degenerated into that of a mere city population, and the thoughts and feelings of Greek freemen were those of a town mob. In such circumstances the ravages of an enemy permanently diminished the resources of the country, for in a land like Greece, ages of labour and the accumulated savings of generations are required to cover the arid limestone mountains with olive and fig trees, and to construct the cisterns and canals of irrigation which are necessary to render a dry soil capable of yielding abundant supplies of food. In Athens bad government, social corruption, literary presumption, and national conceit, were nourished by liberal donations from foreign princes, who repaid flattery by feeding a worthless city population. Servility became more productive than honest industry, and the depopulation which resulted from wars and revolutions continued when Greece enjoyed peace under the domination of Rome. The statues of the gods erected in temples which had fallen into ruins, sculptured dedications and marble tombs, monuments of a wealthy and dense rural population of free citizens in the agricultural demes of Attica, were seen in the times of Hadrian, as the turbaned tombstone may now be seen in Turkey near the solitary desolation of the ruined mosque, testifying the rapid depopulation and destruction of vested capital which is now going on in the Othoman empire. A Roman writer says, that in Attica there were more gods and heroes than living men. It is impossible to point out, in precise detail, all the various measures by which the Roman administration undermined the physical and moral strength of the Greek nation; it is sufficient to establish the fact, that too much was exacted from the body of the people in the shape of public burdens, and that the neglect of all its duties on the part of the government gradually diminished the productive resources of the country. Works of utility were neglected; bands of robbers were allowed to infest the provinces for long periods without molestation. The extortions of the Roman magistrates, however, were more injurious, and rendered property more insecure, than the violence of the banditti. The public acts of robbery are those only which have been preserved by history; but for each open attack on public property, hundreds of private families were reduced to poverty, and thousands of free Greeks sold as slaves. Fulvius despoiled the temples of Ambracia of their most valuable ornaments, and even carried away the statues of the gods. Verres, on his passage through Greece to his post in Cilicia, carried off a quantity of gold from the temple of Minerva at Athens. Piso, while proconsul of Macedonia, plundered both it and Greece, and allowed them to be ravaged by Thracian banditti. Even under the cautious and conciliatory administration of Augustus, the oppressive conduct of the Romans caused seditions, both in Laconia — which was a favoured district, from its having taken part with the emperor against Antony— and in Attica, where the weakness to which the city was reduced seemed to render any expression of discontent impossible. The Greeks had not, in the time of Augustus, entirely lost their ancient spirit and valour, and though comparatively feeble, their conduct was an object of some solicitude to the Roman government.
The moral causes of depopulation were perhaps even more powerful than the political. They had been long in operation, and had produced great changes in the Greek character before the Roman conquest; and as some similar social evils were acting on the Romans themselves, the moral condition of Greece was not improved by the Roman government. The most prevalent evil was a spirit of self-indulgence and utter indifference to the duty of man in private life, which made every rank averse to marriage, and unwilling to assume the responsibility of educating a family. The Greeks never adorned the vestibules of their houses with the statues and busts of their ancestors; their inordinate self-conceit taught them to concentrate their admiration on themselves. And the Romans, even with the family pride which led to this noble practice, were constantly losing the glories of their race by conferring their name on adopted scions of other houses. The religion, and often the philosophy, of the ancients encouraged vicious indulgence, and the general rule of society in the first century of the Roman Empire was to live with concubines selected from a class of female slaves educated for this station. The land, which had formerly maintained a thousand free citizens capable of marching to defend their country as hoplites, was now regarded as affording a scanty provision for the household of a single proprietor who considered himself too poor to marry. His estate was cultivated by a tribe of slaves, while he amused himself with the music of the theatre, or the equally idle sounds of the philosophic schools. The desire to occupy larger properties than their ancestors had cultivated, has already been noticed as an effect of the riches obtained by the Macedonian conquests; and its influence as a moral check on the population of Greece has been adverted to . This cause of depopulation increased under the Roman government. The love of immense parks, splendid villas and luxurious living, fostered vice and celibacy to such an extent in the higher ranks, that the wealthy families became gradually extinct. The line of distinction between the rich and the poor was constantly becoming more marked. The rich formed an aristocratic class, the poor were sinking into a dependent grade in society; they were fast approaching the state of coloni or serfs. In this state of society, neither class shows a tendency to in- crease. It appears indeed to be a law of human society, that all classes of mankind which are separated, by superior wealth and privileges, from the body of the people, and by their oligarchical constitution, liable to a rapid decline. As the privileges which they enjoy have created an unnatural position in life, vice is increased beyond that limit which is consistent with the duration of society. The fact has been long observed with regard to the oligarchies of Sparta and Rome. It had its effect even on the more extended citizenship of Athens, and it even affected, in our times, the two hundred thousand electors who formed the oligarchy of France during the reign of Louis Philippe.
Roman Colonies established in Greece.
Two Roman colonies, Corinth and Patrae, were established in Greece. They soon became the principal cities, and were for ages the centres of the political administration. Their influence on Greek society was very great, yet Latin continued to be the spoken language of the inhabitants, and their institutions and local government remained exclusively Roman until the decree of Caracalla extended the Roman franchise to all Greece.
The site of Corinth was devoted to the gods when Mummius destroyed the city and exterminated its inhabitants. From that time it remained desolate until, after an interval of more than a hundred years, Julius Caesar repeopled it with a colony of Romans. The advantages of its position, its rich territory, its impregnable citadel, its narrow isthmus, and its ports on two seas, made it equally valuable as a military and naval station, and as a commercial mart. Caesar refortified the Acro-Corinth, repaired the temples, rebuilt the city, restored the ports, and established a numerous population of veteran legionaries and industrious freedmen in the new city. Corinth became once more flourishing and populous. Its colonial coinage from the time of Julius to that of Gordian III is abundant, and often beautiful. It attests the extent of its trade and the taste of its inhabitants. But the new Corinth was not a Greek city. The mother of so many Hellenic colonies was now a foreign colony in Hellas. Her institutions were Roman, her language was Latin, her manners were tinctured with the lupine ferocity of the race of Romulus. Shows of gladiators were the delight of her amphitheatre; and though she shed a strong light over fallen Greece, it was only a lurid reflection of the splendour of Rome.
The position of Corinth was admirably suited for a military station to overlook the proceedings of the Greeks who were opposed to Caesar’s government. The measure was evidently one of precaution, and very little was done to give it the show of having originated in a wish to revive the prosperity of Greece. The population of the new Corinth was allowed to collect building materials, and search for wealth, in any way, how offensive soever it might be to the feelings of the Greeks. The tombs, which had alone escaped the fury of Mummius, were destroyed to construct the new buildings, and excavated for the rich ornaments and valuable sepulchral vases which they often contained. So systematically did the Romans pursue this profession of violating the tombs, that it became a source of very considerable wealth to the colony, and Rome was filled with works of archaic art. The facilities which the position of Corinth afforded for maritime communications, not only with every part of Greece, but also with Italy and Asia Minor, rendered it the seat of the Roman provincial administration, and the usual residence of the proconsul of Achaia.
The policy of Augustus towards Greece was openly one of precaution. The Greeks still continued to occupy the attention of the ruling class at Rome, more perhaps than their declining power warranted; they had not yet sunk into the political insignificancy which they were destined to reach in the days of Juvenal and Tacitus. Augustus reduced the power of all those Greek states that retained any influence, whether they had joined his own party or favoured Antony. Athens was deprived of its authority over Eretria and Aegina, and forbidden to increase its local revenues by selling the right of citizenship. Lacedaemon was also weakened by the establishment of the independent community of the free Laconians, a confederation of twenty-four maritime cities, whose population, consisting chiefly of perioikoi, had hitherto paid taxes to Sparta. Augustus, it is true, assigned the island of Cythera, and a few places on the Messenian frontier, to the Lacedaemonian state; but the gift was a very slight compensation for the loss sustained in a political point of view, whatever it might have been in a financial.
Augustus established a Roman colony at Patrae to extinguish the smouldering nationality of Achaia, and to keep open a gate through which a Roman force might at any time pour into Greece. Patrae then lay in ruins, and the proprietors of its territory dwelt in the villages around. Augustus repaired the city, and re-peopled it with Roman citizens, freedmen, and the veterans of the twenty-second legion. To fill up the void in the numbers of the middle and lower orders of the free population, necessary for the immediate formation of a large city, the inhabitants of some neighbouring Greek towns were compelled to abandon their dwellings and reside in Patrae. The local government of the colony was endowed with municipal revenues taken from several Achaean and Locrian cities which were deprived of their civic existence. Patrae was often the residence of the proconsul of Achaia, and it flourished for ages both as a Roman administrative station and as a port possessing great commercial resources. Its colonial coinage, though neither so abundant nor so elegant in its fabric as that of Corinth, extends from the time of Augustus to that of Gordian III. As in all Roman colonies, the political institutions of Rome were closely imitated at Corinth and Patrae. Their highest magistrates were duumviri, who represented the consulate, and who were annually elected; or, perhaps, it would be more correct to say, were selected for a nominal election by the imperial authorities. Other magistrates were elected, and some were appointed to perform those duties in the colonies which were similar to the functions of the great office-bearers in Rome. And as the model of the Roman government was originally that of a single city, the resemblance was easily maintained. Under the emperors, however, the colonies gradually sank into ordinary corporations for the transaction of administrative and fiscal business, under the immediate control of the Roman proconsuls and provincial governors.
Augustus also founded a new city called Nicopolis, to commemorate the victory of Actium, but it was as much a triumphal monument as a political establishment. Its organization was that of a Greek city, not of a Roman colony; and its quinquennial festival of the Actia was instituted on the model of the great games of Greece, and placed under the superintendence of the Lacedaemonians. Its population consisted of Greeks who were compelled to desert their native cities in Epirus, Acarnania, and Aetolia. Its territory was extensive, and it was admitted into the Amphictyonic council as a Greek state. The manner in which Augustus peopled Nicopolis proves his indifference to the feelings of humanity, and the imperfection of his knowledge in that political science which enables a statesman to convert a small territory into a flourishing State.
The principles of his colonization contributed as directly to the decline and depopulation of Italy and Greece, as the accidental tyranny or folly of any of his successors. The inhabitants of a great part of Aetolia were torn from their abodes, where they were residing on their own property, surrounded by their cattle, their olive-trees and vineyards, and compelled to construct such dwellings as they were able, and find such means of livelihood as presented themselves, at Nicopolis. The destruction of an immense amount of vested capital in provincial buildings was the consequence; the agriculture of a whole province was ruined, and a considerable agricultural population must have pined in poverty or perished from want in the changed circumstances of a city life. Nicopolis long continued to be the principal city in Epirus. Its local coinage extends from Augustus down to the reign of Gallienus. The legends are Greek, and the fabric rude. The peculiar privileges conferred on the three colonies of Corinth, Patrae, and Nicopolis, and the close connection in which they were placed with the imperial government, enabled them to flourish for centuries amidst the general poverty which the despotic system of the Roman provincial administration spread over the rest of Greece.
Political Condition of Greece from the time of Augustus to that of Caracalla.
Two descriptions of Greece have been preserved, which afford vivid pictures of the impoverished condition of the country during two centuries of the Roman government. Strabo has left us an account of the aspect of Greece, shortly after the foundation of the colonies of Patrae and Nicopolis. Pausanias has described, with melancholy exactness, the desolate appearance of many celebrated cities, during the time of the Antonines. Governors and proconsuls were sent to administer the government who were ignorant of the Greek language. The taxes imposed on the country, and the expenses of the provincial administration, drained off all the wealth of the people; and those necessary public works, which required a large expenditure for their maintenance and preservation, were allowed to fall gradually into ruin. The emperors, at times, indeed, attempted, by a few isolated acts of mercy, to alleviate the sufferings of the Greeks. Tiberius, as we have already mentioned, united the provinces of Achaia and Macedonia to the imperial government of Moesia, in order to deliver them from the weight of the proconsular administration. His successor restored them to the senate. When Nero visited Greece to receive a crown at the Olympic Games, he recompensed the Greeks for their flatteries by declaring them free from tribute. The immunities which he conferred produced some serious disputes be- tween the various states, concerning the collection of their municipal taxes; and Vespasian rendered these disputes a pretext for annulling the freedom conferred by Nero. The free cities of Greece still possessed not only the administration of considerable revenues, but also the power of raising money, by local taxes, for the maintenance of their temples, schools, universities, aqueducts, roads, ports, and public buildings. Trajan carefully avoided destroying any of the municipal privileges of the Greeks, and he endeavoured to improve their condition by his just and equitable administration; yet his policy was adverse to the increase of local institutions.
Hadrian opened a new line of policy to the sovereigns of Rome, and avowed the determination of reforming the institutions of the Romans, and adapting his government to the altered state of society in the empire. He perceived that the central government was weakening its power, and diminishing its resources, by acts of injustice, which rendered property everywhere insecure. He remedied the evils which resulted from the irregular dispensation of the laws by the provincial governors, and effected reforms which certainly exercised a favourable influence on the condition of the inhabitants of the provinces. His reign laid the foundation of that regular and systematic administration of justice in the Roman empire, which gradually absorbed all the local judicatures of the Greeks, and, by forming a numerous and well-educated society of lawyers, guided by uniform rules, raised up a partial barrier against arbitrary power. In order to lighten the weight of taxation, Hadrian abandoned all the arrears of taxes accumulated in preceding years. His general system of administrative reforms was pursued by the Antonines, and perfected by the edict of Caracalla, which conferred the rank of Roman citizens on all the free inhabitants of the empire. Hadrian certainly deserves the merit of having first seen the necessity of securing the imperial government, by effacing all badges of servitude from the provincials, and connecting the interests of the landed proprietors throughout the Roman empire with the existence of the imperial administration. He secured to the provincials that legal rank in the constitution of the empire which placed their rights on a level with those of Roman citizens, and for this he was hated by the senate.
Hadrian, from personal taste, cultivated Greek literature, and admired Grecian art. He left traces of his love of improvement in every portion of the empire, through which he kept constantly travelling; but Greece, and especially Attica, received an extraordinary share of the imperial favour. It is difficult to estimate how far his conduct immediately affected the general well-being of the population, or to point out the precise manner of its operation on society; but it is evident that the impulse given to improvement by his example and his administration, produced some tendency to ameliorate the condition of the Greeks. Greece had, perhaps, sunk to its lowest state of poverty and depopulation under the financial administration of the Flavian family, and it displayed many signs of reviving prosperity, while it enjoyed the advantage of good government under Hadrian. The extraordinary improvements which the Roman emperors might have effected, by a judicious employment of the public revenues, may be estimated from the immense public works executed by Hadrian. At Athens he completed the temple of Jupiter Olympius, which had been commenced by Pisistratus, and of which sixteen columns still exist to astonish the spectator by their size and beauty. He built temples to Juno and to Jupiter Panhellenius, and ornamented the city with a magnificent pantheon, a library, and a gymnasium. He commenced an aqueduct to convey an abundant stream of water from Cephisia, which was completed by Antoninus. At Megara, he rebuilt the temple of Apollo. He constructed an aqueduct which conveyed the waters of the lake Stymphalus to Corinth, and he erected new baths in that city. But the surest proof that his improvements were directed by a judicious spirit is to be found in his attention to the roads. Nothing could tend more to advance the prosperity of this, mountainous country than removing the difficulties of intercourse between its various provinces; for there is no country where the expense of transport presents a greater barrier to trade, or where the obstacles to internal communication form a more serious impediment to improvement in the social condition of the agricultural population. He rendered the road from Northern Greece to the Peloponnesus, by the Scironian rocks, easy and commodious for wheeled carriages. Great, however, as these improvements were, he conferred one still greater on the Greeks, as a nation, by commencing the task of moulding their various local customs and laws into one general system, founded on the basis of Roman jurisprudence; and while he ingrafted the law of the Romans on the stock of society in Greece, he did not seek to destroy the municipal institutions of the people. The policy of Hadrian, in raising the Greeks to an equality of civil rights with the Romans, sanctioned whatever remained of the Macedonian institutions throughout the East; and as soon as the edict of Caracalla had conferred on all the subjects of the empire the rights of Roman citizenship, the Greeks became, in reality, the dominant people in the Eastern portion of the empire, and Greek institutions ultimately ruled society under the supremacy of Roman law.
It is curious that Antoninus, who adopted all the views of Hadrian with regard to the annihilation of the exclusive supremacy of the Roman citizens, should have thought it worth his attention to point out the supposed ancient connection between Rome and Arcadia. He was the first Roman who commemorated this fanciful relationship between Greece and Rome by any public act. He conferred on Pallantium, the Arcadian city from which Evander was supposed to have led a Greek colony to the banks of the Tiber, all the privileges ever granted to the most favoured municipalities in the Roman Empire. The habits and character of Marcus Aurelius led him to regard the Greeks with the greatest favour; and had his reign been more peaceful, and left his time more at his own disposal, the sophists and philosophers of Greece would, in all probability, have profited by his leisure. He rebuilt the temple of Eleusis, which had been burnt to the ground; he improved the schools of Athens, and increased the salaries of the professors, who then rendered that city the most celebrated university in the civilized world. Herodes Atticus, whose splendid public edifices in Greece rivalled the works of Hadrian, gained great influence by his eminence in literature and taste, as well as by his enormous wealth. It was the golden age of rhetoricians, whose services were rewarded not only with liberal salaries and donations in money, but even with such magisterial authority and honour as the Greek cities could confer. Herodes Atticus had been selected by Antoninus Pius to give lessons in eloquence to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, and he was treated with distinction by Marcus Aurelius, until it was necessary to reprove his oppressive and tyrannical conduct to the Athenians. The friendship of the emperor did not save him from disgrace, though his freedmen alone were punished.
Little can be collected concerning the condition of Greece under the successors of Marcus Aurelius. The Roman government was occupied with wars, which seldom directly affected the provinces occupied by the Greeks. Literature and science were little regarded by the soldiers of fortune who mounted the imperial throne; and Greece, forgotten and neglected, appears to have enjoyed a degree of tranquillity and repose, which enabled her to profit by the improvements in the imperial government which Hadrian had introduced and the decree of Caracalla had ratified.
The institutions of the Greeks, which were unconnected with the exercise of the supreme executive power, were generally allowed to exist, even by the most jealous of the emperors. When these institutions disappeared, their destruction was effected by the progressive change which time gradually introduced into Greek society, and not by any violence on the part of the Roman government. It is difficult, indeed, to trace the limits of the state and city administration in matters of taxation, or the exact extent of their control over their local funds. Some cities possessed independence, and others were free from tribute; and these privileges gave the Greek nation a political position in the empire, which prevented their being confounded with the other provincials in the East, until the reign of Justinian. As the Greek cities in Thrace, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt preserved these important privileges, it is not wonderful that, in Greece, the whole frame of the ancient social institutions was preserved.
Pausanias found the Amphictyonic council still holding its meetings, three centuries after the Roman conquest. The deputies of the Achaean, Boeotian, and Phocic commonwealths continued to meet for the purpose of transacting the business of their confederacies. The Athenians were allowed to maintain an armed guard in the island of Delos. The Olympic, Pythic, and Isthmian games were regularly celebrated. The Areopagus at Athens, and the Gerontia at Sparta, still exercised their functions. The different cities and provinces affected the use of their peculiar dialects, and the inhabitants of Sparta continued to imitate the Laconism of antiquity in their public despatches, though their altered manners rendered it ridiculous. The mountaineers of Attica, in the time of Antoninus, spoke a purer language than the populace of the city of Athens, which still bore evidence of its heterogeneous origin after the massacre of Sulla. Had the financial burdens of the Roman government not weighed too heavily on the population, the rivalry of the Greeks, actively directed to local improvements and to commerce, instead of being too exclusively and ostentatiously devoted to philosophy, literature, and the arts, might have proved more useful and honourable to their country. But the moral supports of the old framework of society were destroyed before the edict of Caracalla had emancipated Greece; and when tranquillity arrived, they were only capable of enjoying the felicity of having been forgotten by their tyrants.
The Greeks and Romans never showed any disposition to unite and form one people.
The habits and tastes of the Greeks and Romans were so different, that their familiar intercourse produced a feeling of antipathy in the two nations. The Roman writers, from prejudice and jealousy, of which they were themselves, perhaps, unconscious, have transmitted to us a very incorrect picture of the state of the Greeks during the first centuries of the empire. They did not observe, with attention, the marked distinction between the Asiatic and Alexandrine Greeks and the natives of Hellas. The European population, pursuing the quiet life of landed proprietors, or engaged in the pursuits of commerce and agriculture, was considered, by Roman prejudice, as unworthy of notice. Lucian, himself a Greek, indeed contrasts the tranquil and respectable manner of life at Athens with the folly and luxury of Rome; but the Romans looked on provincials as little better than serfs (coloni) and merchants were, in their eyes, only tolerated cheats. The Greek character was estimated from the conduct of the adventurers, who thronged from the wealthy and corrupted cities of the East to seek their fortunes at Rome, and who, from motives of fashion and taste, were unduly favoured by the wealthy aristocracy. The most distinguished of these Greeks were literary men, professors of philosophy, rhetoric, grammar, mathematics, and music. Great numbers were engaged as private teachers; and this class was regarded with some respect by the Roman nobility, from its intimate connection with their families. The great mass of the Greeks residing at Rome were, however, employed in connection with the public and private amusements of the capital, and were found engaged in every profession, from the directors of the theatres and opera-houses, down to the swindlers who frequented the haunts of vice. The testimony of the Latin authors may be received as sufficiently accurate concerning the light in which the Greeks were regarded at Rome, and as a not incorrect portraiture of the Greek population of the capital.
The expressions of the Romans, when speaking of the Greeks, often display nothing more than the manner in which the proud aristocracy of the empire regarded all foreigners, those even whom they admitted to their personal intimacy. The Greeks were confounded with the great body of strangers from the Eastern nations, in one general sentence of condemnation; and not unnaturally, for the Greek language served as the ordinary means of communication with all foreigners from the East. The magicians, conjurers, and astrologers of Syria, Egypt, and Chaldea, were naturally mixed up, both in society and public opinion, with the adventurers of Greece, and contributed to form the despicable type which was unjustly enough transferred from the fortune-hunters at Rome to the whole Greek nation. It is hardly necessary to observe that Greek literature, as cultivated at Rome during this period, had no connection with the national feelings of the Greek people. As far as the Greeks themselves were concerned, learning was an honourable and lucrative occupation to its successful professors; but in the estimation of the higher classes at Rome, Greek literature was merely an ornamental exercise of the mind,— a fashion of the wealthy. This ignorance of Greece and the Greeks induced Juvenal to draw his conclusive proof of the utter falsity of the Greek character, and of the fabulous nature of all Greek history, from his own doubts concerning a fact which is avouched by the testimony of Herodotus and Thucydides; but as a retort to the Graecia mendax of the Roman satirist, the observation of Lucian may be cited — that the Romans spoke truth only once in their lives, and that was when they made their wills.
The Greeks repaid the scorn of the Romans with greater and not more reasonable contempt. When the two nations first came into collision, the Romans were certainly far less polished than the Greeks, though they were much superior to them in virtue and courage. They acknowledged their inferiority, and readily derived lessons of instruction from a people unable to resist their arms. The obligation was always recognised. And Roman gratitude inflated Greek vanity to such a degree, that the conquered never perceived that their masters became at last as much their superiors in literary genius as in political and military science. The Greeks seem always to have remained ignorant that there were Roman writers whose works would, by successive generations and distant nations, be placed almost in the same rank as their own classic authors. The rhetorical contemporaries of Tacitus and of Juvenal never suspected that the original genius of those writers had extended the domain of literature, nor could any critic have persuaded them that Horace had already surpassed the popularity of their own poets by a graceful union of social elegance with calm sagacity.
A single example of the supercilious egoism of the Greeks will be sufficient to show the extent of their presumption during their political degradation as Roman provincials. When Apollonius of Tyana, the pythagorean philosopher, who excited the admiration of the Hellenic world during the first century, visited Smyrna, he was invited to attend the Panionian Assembly. On reading the decree of the council, he observed that it was signed by men who had adopted Roman names, and he immediately addressed a letter to the Panionians blaming their barbarism. He reproached them for laying aside the names of their ancestors, for quitting the names of heroes and legislators to assume such names as Lucullus and Fabricius. Now, when we remember that this rebuke was gravely uttered by a native of the Cappadocian city of Tyana, to a corporation of degenerate Asiatic Greeks, it forms a curious monument of the delusions of national vanity.
The Romans were never very deeply imbued with a passionate admiration for Grecian art, with which every rank in Greece was animated. The national pride and personal vanity of the conquerors, it is true, often coveted the possession of the most celebrated works of art, which were transported to Rome as much on account of their celebrity as their merit, for the painting and sculpture which they could procure as articles of commercial industry were sufficient to gratify Roman taste. This was peculiarly fortunate for Greece, since there can be no doubt that, if the Romans had been as enthusiastic lovers of art as they were indefatigable hunters after riches, they would not have hesitated to regard all those works of art, which were the public property of the Grecian states, as belonging to the Roman commonwealth by the right of conquest. It was only because the avarice of the people would have received little gratification from the seizure, that Greece was allowed to retain her statues and paintings when she was plundered of her gold and silver. The great dissimilarity of manners between the two nations appears in the aversion with which many distinguished senators viewed the introduction of the works of Grecian art by Marcellus and Mummius, after the conquests of Syracuse and Corinth. This aversion unquestionably contributed much to save Greece from the general confiscation of her treasures of art, to which her people clung with the most passionate attachment. Cicero says that no Greek city would consent to sell a painting, a statue, or a work of art, but that, on the contrary, all were ready to become purchasers. The inhabitants of Pergamus resisted the attempt of Acratus, a commissioner sent by Nero, to carry off the most celebrated works of art from the cities of Asia. The feeling of art, in the two peoples, is not inaptly illustrated, by comparing the conduct of the Rhodian republic with that of the Emperor Augustus. When the Rhodians were besieged by Demetrius Poliorcetes, they refused to destroy his statues, and those of his father, which had been erected in their agora. But when Augustus conquered Egypt he ordered all the statues of Antony to be destroyed, and, with a meanness somewhat at variance with patrician dignity, he accepted a bribe of one thousand talents from the Alexandrines to spare the statues of Cleopatra. The Greeks honoured art even more than the Romans loved vengeance. Works of art were carried away by those Roman governors who spared nothing they could pillage in their provinces; but these spoliations were always regarded in the light of direct robberies; and Fulvius Nobilior, Verres, and Piso, who distinguished themselves in this species of violence, were considered as the most infamous of the Roman magistrates.
It is true that Sulla carried off the ivory statue of Minerva from the temple of Alalcomenae, and that Augustus removed that of the great temple of Tegea, as a punishment because that city espoused the party of Antony. But these very exceptions prove how sparingly the Romans availed themselves of their rights of conquest; or history would have recorded the remarkable statues which they had allowed to remain in Greece, rather than signalized as exceptions the few which they transported to Rome. When Caligula and Nero were permitted to govern the world according to the impulses of insanity, they ordered many celebrated works of art to be conveyed to Rome — among these, the celebrated Cupid of Praxiteles was twice removed. It was restored to Thespiae by Claudius; but, on being again taken away by Nero, it perished in a conflagration. After the great conflagration at Rome, in which innumerable works of art perished, Nero transported five hundred brazen statues from Delphi, to adorn the capital and replace the loss it had suffered, and he ordered all the cities of Greece and Asia Minor to be systematically plundered. Very little is subsequently recorded concerning this species of plunder, which Hadrian and his two immediate successors would hardly have permitted. From the great number of the most celebrated works of ancient art which Pausanias enumerates in his tour through Greece, it is evident that no extensive injury had then occurred, even to the oldest buildings. After the reign of Commodus, the Roman emperors paid but little attention to art; and unless the value of the materials caused the destruction of ancient works, they were allowed to stand undisturbed until the buildings around them crumbled into dust. During the period of nearly a century which elapsed from the time of Pausanias until the first irruption of the Goths into Greece, it is certain that the temples and public buildings of the inhabited cities were very little changed in their general aspect, from the appearance which they had presented when the Roman legions first entered Hellas.
State of Society among the Greeks,
To give a complete account of the state of society among the Greeks under the Roman Empire, it would be necessary to enter into many details concerning the social and political institutions of the Romans, for both exercised great influence in Greece. To avoid so extensive a field, it will be necessary to give only a cursory sketch of those social peculiarities whose influence, though apparent in the annals of the Roman Empire, did not permanently affect the political history of the empire. The state of civilization, the popular objects of pursuit, even the views of national advancement, continued, under the imperial government, to be very different, and often opposite, in different divisions of the Greek nation.
The inhabitants of Hellas had sunk into a quiet and secluded population. The schools of Athens were still famous, and Greece was visited by numbers of fashionable and learned travellers from other countries, as Italy now is; but the citizens dwelt in their own little world, clinging to antiquated forms and usages, and to old superstitions, — holding little intercourse, and having little community of feeling, either with the rest of the empire or with the other divisions of the Hellenic race.
The maritime cities of Europe, Asia Minor, and the Archipelago contained a considerable population, chiefly occupied in commerce and manufactures, and taking little interest in the politics of Rome, or in the literature of Greece. Though the Greeks looked on trade with more favour than the Romans, declining wealth and unjust laws were rapidly tending to depreciate the mercantile character, and to render the occupation less respectable, even in the commercial cities. It is not inappropriate to notice one instance of Roman commercial legislation. Julius Caesar, among his projects of reform, thought fit to revive an old Roman law, which prohibited any citizen from having in his possession a larger sum than sixty thousand sesterces in the precious metals. This law was, of course, neglected; but under Tiberius it was made a pretext by informers to levy various fines and confiscations in Greece and Syria. The commerce of the eastern part of the Mediterranean which had once consisted of commodities of general consumption, declined, under the fiscal avarice of the Romans, into an export trade of some articles of luxury to the larger cities of the west of Europe. The wines of the Archipelago, the carpets of Pergamus, the cambric of Cos, and the dyed woollens of Laconia, are particularly mentioned. The decrease of trade is not to be overlooked as one of the causes of the decline and depopulation of the Roman Empire; for wealth depended even more on commerce in ancient times, than it does in modern, on account of the imperfect means of transport, and the impolitic laws relating to the exportation of grain from many provinces to Rome, where its gratuitous distribution to a large part of the population, and its frequent sale below the cost of production in Italy deranged all commercial operations.
The division of the Greek nation which occupied the most important social position in the empire, consisted of the remains of the Macedonian and Greek colonies in Asia Minor, Egypt, and Syria. These countries were filled with Greeks; and the cities of Alexandria and Antioch, the second and third in the empire in size, population, and wealth, were chiefly peopled by Greeks. The influence of Alexandria alone on the Roman Empire, and on European civilization, would require a treatise, in order to do justice to the subject. Its schools of philosophy produced modifications of Christianity in the East, and attempted to infuse a new life into the torpid members of paganism by means of gnosticism and neoplatonism. The feuds between the Jews and Christians, which arose out of its local quarrels, were bequeathed to following centuries; and in Western Europe, we still debase Christianity by the admixture of those prejudices which had their rise in the amphitheatre of Alexandria. Its wealth and population excited the jealousy of Augustus, who deprived it of its municipal institutions, and rendered it a prey to the factions of the amphitheatre, the curse of Roman civic anarchy. The populace, unrestrained by any system of order founded on corporate institutions, and without any social guidance derived from any acknowledged municipal authority, was abandoned to the passions of the wildest democracy, whenever they were crowded together. Hadrian was struck with the activity and industry of the Alexandrines; and though he does not appear to have admired their character, he saw that the increase of privileges to some organized classes of the population was the true way to lessen the influence of the mob.
Antioch and the other Greek cities of the East preserved their municipal privileges; and the Greek population in Asia Minor, Egypt, and Syria, remained everywhere completely separated from the original inhabitants. Their corporate organization often afforded them an opportunity of interfering with the details of the public administration, and their intriguing and seditious spirit enabled them to defend their rights and interests. When the free population of the provinces acquired the rights of Roman citizenship, the Greeks of these countries, who formed the majority of the privileged classes, and were already in possession of the principal share of the local administration, became soon possessed of the whole authority of the Roman government. They appeared as the real representatives of the State, excluded the native population from power, and, consequently, rendered it more dissatisfied than formerly. In the East, therefore, after the publication of Caracalla’s edict, the Greeks became again the dominant people, as they had been before the Roman conquest. In spite of the equality of all the provincials in the eye of the law, a violent opposition was created between them and the native population in Syria, Egypt, and a large part of Asia Minor, where various nations still retained their own customs and languages. The Greeks, in a large portion of the eastern half of the empire, occupied a position nearly similar to that of the Romans in the western. The same causes produced similar effects, and from the period when the Greeks became a privileged and dominant class, administering the severe fiscal supremacy of the Roman government, instead of ruling with the more tolerant habits of their Macedonian predecessors, their numbers and influence began to decline. Like the Romans of Italy, Gaul, and Spain, the Greeks of Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia destroyed themselves, perishing from the corruption which they engendered by the abuse of their power.
The secluded position of the inhabitants of ancient Hellas almost conceals their social condition from the view of the political historian. The principal causes of the decline of Greece have been already explained; but the tone of society, and the manner of living adopted by the upper and middle ranks, accelerated the progress of national decay. It has been already remarked, that the increase of wealth consequent on the Macedonian conquests had tended to augment the size of private properties, and to add to the numbers of slaves in Greece. Under the Romans, the general riches of the country were indeed very much diminished; but individuals were enabled to acquire fortunes greater than had been possessed by the ancient monarchs, and to possess estates larger than the territories of many celebrated republics. Julius Eurycles owned a province, and Herodes Atticus could have purchased a kingdom. While a few individuals could amass unbounded wealth, the bulk of the people were prevented from acquiring even a moderate independency; and when Plutarch says that Greece, in his time, could not arm more than three thousand hoplitae, though the small states of Sicyon and Megara each furnished that number at the battle of Plataea, it is necessary to remember the change which had taken place in the size of private properties, as well as the altered state of society, for both tended to diminish the numbers of the free population. The taxes of Greece were remitted to Rome, and expended beyond the limits of the province. The most useful public works were neglected, except when a benevolent emperor like Hadrian, or a wealthy individual like Herodes Atticus, thought fit to direct some portion of their expenditure to what was useful as well as ornamental. Under a continuance of such circumstances, Greece was drained of money and capital.
The poverty of Greece was farther increased by the gradual rise in the value of the precious metals, — an evil which began to be generally felt about the time of Nero, and which affected Greece with great severity, from the altered distribution of wealth in the country, and the loss of its foreign commerce, Greece had once been rich in mines, which had been a source of wealth and prosperity to Siphnos and Athens, and had laid the foundation of the power of Philip of Macedon. Gold and silver mines, when their produce is regarded as articles of commerce, are a surer basis of wealth than mines of lead and copper. The evils which have arisen in countries where gold and silver have been produced, have proceeded from the fiscal regulations of the government. The fiscal measures of the Romans soon rendered it a ruinous speculation for private individuals to attempt working mines of the precious metals, and, in the hands of the State, they soon proved unprofitable. Many mines were exhausted; and even though the value of the precious metals was enhanced, some, beyond the influence of the Roman power, were abandoned from those causes which, after the second century of the Christian era, produced a sensible diminution in the commercial transactions of the old hemisphere.
Greece suffered in the general decay; her commerce and manufactures, being confined to supplying the consumption of a diminished and impoverished population, sank into insignificancy. In a declining state of society, where political, financial, and commercial causes combine to diminish the wealth of a nation, it is difficult for individuals to alter their manner of life, and to restrict their expenditure, with the promptitude necessary to escape impoverishment. It is indeed seldom in their power to estimate the progress of the decay; and a reasonable jointure, or a necessary mortgage, may ruin a family.
In this declining state of society, complaints of excessive luxury are generally prevalent, and the Greek writers of the second century are filled with lamentations on this subject. Such complaints alone do not prove that the majority of the higher classes were living in a manner injurious to society, either from their effeminacy or vicious expenditure. They only show that the greater part of the incomes of private persons was consumed by their personal expenditure; and that a due proportion was not set apart for creating new productive property, in order to replace the deterioration, which time is ever causing in that which already exists. People of property, when their annual incomes proved insufficient for their personal expenditure, began to borrow money, instead of trying to diminish their expenses. An accumulation of debts became general throughout the country, and formed a great evil in the time of Plutarch. These debts were partly caused by the oppression of the Roman government, and by the chicanery of the fiscal officers, always pressing for ready money, and were generally contracted to Roman money-lenders. It was in this way that the Roman administration produced its most injurious effects in the provinces, by affording to capitalists the means of accumulating enormous wealth, and by forcing the proprietors of land into abject poverty. The property of Greek debtors was at last transferred, to a very great extent, to their Roman creditors. This transference, which, in a homogeneous society, might have invigorated the upper classes, by substituting an industrious timocracy for an idle aristocracy, had a very different effect. It introduced new feelings of rivalry and extravagance, by filling the country with foreign landlords. The Greeks could not long' maintain the struggle, and they sank gradually lower and lower in wealth, until their poverty introduced an altered state of society, and taught them the prudential and industrious habits of farmers, in which tranquil position they escape, not only from the eye of history, but even from antiquarian research.
It is difficult to convey a correct notion of the evils and demoralization produced by private debts in the ancient world, though they often appear as one of the most powerful agents in political revolutions, and were a constant subject of attention to the statesman, the lawgiver, and the political philosopher. Modern society has completely annihilated their political effects. The greater facilities afforded to the transference of landed property, and the ease with which capital now circulates, have given an extension to the operations of banking which has remedied this peculiar defect in society. It must be noticed, too, that the ancients regarded landed property as the accessory of the citizen, even when its amount determined his rank in the commonwealth: but the moderns view the proprietor as the accessory of the landed property; and the political franchise, being inherent in the estate, is lost by the citizen who alienates his property.
In closing this view of the state of the Greek people under the imperial government, if is impossible not to feel that Greece cannot be included in the general assertion of Gibbon, that if a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. It may be doubted whether the Roman government ever relaxed the systematic oppression under which the agricultural and commercial population of its provinces groaned; and even Hadrian himself can hardly claim greater merit than that of having humanely administered a system radically bad, and endeavoured to correct its most prominent features of injustice. Greece, indeed, reached its lowest degree of misery and depopulation about the time of Vespasian; but still there is ample testimony in the pages of contemporary writers, to prove that the desolate state of the country was not materially improved for a long period, and that only partial signs of amelioration were apparent in the period so much vaunted by Gibbon. The liberality of Hadrian, and the munificence of Herodes Atticus, were isolated examples, and could not change the constitution of Rome. Many splendid edifices of antiquity were repaired by these two benefactors of Greece, but many works of public utility remained neglected on account of the poverty of the diminished population of the country ; and most of the works of Hadrian and Herodes Atticus contributed little more to the well-being of the people than the wages of the labour expended on their construction. The roads and aqueducts of Hadrian are wise exceptions, —as they diminished the expenses of transport, and afforded increased facilities for production. Still the sumptuous edifices, of which remains still exist, indicate that the object of building was the erection of magnificent monuments of art— to commemorate the taste and splendour of the founder, not to increase the resources of the land or improve the condition of the industrious classes.
The condition of a declining population by no means implies that any portion of the people is actually suffering from want of the necessaries of life. A sudden change in the direction of commerce, and a considerable decrease in the demand for the productions of manufacturing industry, must indeed, at the time when such events occur, deprive numbers of their usual means of subsistence, and create great misery, before the population suffers the ultimate diminution which these causes necessitate. Such events may occur in an improving as well as in a declining society. But, when the bulk of a country’s productions is drawn from its own soil, and consumed by its own inhabitants, the population may be in a declining condition, without the circumstance being suspected for some time, either at home or abroad. The chief cause of the deterioration of the national resources will then arise from the members of society consuming too great a proportion of their annual income, without dedicating a due portion of their revenues to reproduction; in short, from expending their incomes, without creating new sources of wealth, or taking any measures to prevent the diminution of the old. Greece suffered from all the causes alluded to; her commerce and manufactures were transferred to other lands; and, when the change was completed, her inhabitants resolved to enjoy life, instead of labouring to replace the wealth which their country had lost. This diminution in the wealth of the people ultimately produced changes in society, which laid the foundation for a great step in the improvement of the human species. Poverty rendered slavery less frequent, and destroyed many of the channels by which the slave trade had flourished. The condition of the slaves also underwent several modifications, as the barrier between the slave and the citizen was broken down by the necessity in which the poor classes of freemen were placed of working at the same employments as slaves in order to obtain the means of subsistence. At this favourable conjuncture Christianity stepped in, to prevent avarice from ever recovering the ground which humanity had gained.
Under oppressive governments, the person sometimes becomes more insecure than property. This appears to have been the case under the Roman, as it has since been under the Turkish government; and the population, in such case, decreases much more rapidly than property is destroyed. The inhabitants of Greece under the Roman Empire found themselves possessed of buildings, gardens, vineyards, olive plantations, and all the agricultural produce which the accumulated capital of former ages had created, to an extent capable of maintaining a far more numerous population. The want of commerce, neglected roads, the rarity of the precious metals in circulation, and the difficulties thrown in the way of petty traffic by injudicious legislation, rendered the surplus produce of each separate district of little value. The inhabitants enjoyed the mere necessaries of life, and some of the luxuries of their climate, in great abundance; but when they sought to purchase the productions of art and foreign commerce, they felt themselves to be poor. Such a state of society inevitably introduces a system of wasting what is superfluous, and of neglecting to prepare new means of future production. In this condition of indifference and ease the population of Greece remained, until the weakness of the Roman government, the disorders of the army, and the diminution and disarming of the free population, opened a way for the northern nations into the heart of the empire.
Influence of Religion and Philosophy on Society
The earliest records of the Greeks represent them as living completely free from the despotic authority of a priestly class. The natural consequence of this freedom was an indefinite latitude in the dogmas of the national faith: and the priesthood, as it existed, became a very incorrect interpreter of public opinion in religious questions. The belief in the gods of Olympus had been shaken as early as the age of Pericles, and underwent many modifications after the Macedonian conquests. From the time the Romans became masters of Greece, the majority of the educated were votaries of the different philosophical sects, —every one of which viewed the established religion as a mere popular delusion. But the Roman government, and the municipal authorities, continued to support the various religions of the different provinces in their legal rights, though the priesthood generally enjoyed this support rather in their character of constituted corporations than because they were regarded as spiritual guides. The amount of their revenues, and the extent of their civic rights and privileges, were the chief objects which engaged the attention of the magistrate.
The wealth and number of the religious establishments in Greece, and the large funds possessed by corporations, which were appropriated to public festivals, contributed in no small degree to encourage idleness among the people, and perpetuate a taste for extravagance. The great festivals of the Olympic, Pythic, and Isthmian games, in so far as they served to unite the whole Greek nation in a common place of assembly for national objects, were, indeed, productive of many advantages. They contributed to maintain a general standard of public opinion throughout the Hellenic race, and they kept up a feeling of nationality. But the dissipation occasioned by the multitude of local religious feasts and public amusements, produced the most injurious effects on society.
The privilege called the right of asylum, by which some ancient temples became sanctuaries where fugitive slaves were protected against the vengeance of their masters, where debtors could escape the pursuit of their creditors, and where the worst criminals defied the justice of the law, tended to encourage the open violation of every principle of justice. The fear of punishment, the strength of moral obligations, and the respect due to religion, were destroyed by the impunity thus openly granted to the most heinous crimes. This abuse had extended to such a degree under the Roman government, that the senate found it necessary, in the reign of Tiberius, to mitigate the evil; but superstition was too powerful to allow a complete reform, and many shrines were allowed to retain the right of asylum to a much later period.
Though ancient superstitions were still practised, old religious feelings were extinct. The oracles, which had once formed the most remarkable of the sacred institutions of the Greeks, had fallen into decay. It is, however, incorrect to suppose that the Pythoness ceased to deliver her responses from the time of our Saviour’s birth, for she was consulted by the emperors long after. Many oracles continued to be in considerable repute, even after the introduction of Christianity into Greece. Pausanias mentions the oracle of Mallos, in Cilicia, as the most veracious in his time. Claros and Didymi were famous, and much consulted in the time of Lucian; and even new oracles were commenced as a profitable speculation. The oracles continued to give their responses to fervent votaries, long after they had fallen into general neglect Julian endeavoured to revive their influence, and he consulted those of Delphi, Delos, and Dodona, concerning the result of his Persian expedition. He vainly attempted to restore Delphi, and Daphne, near Antioch, to their ancient splendour. Even so late as the reign of Theodosius the Great, those of Delphi, Didymi, and Jupiter Ammon, were in existence, but from that period they became utterly silent. The reverence which had formerly been paid to them was transferred to astrologers, who were consulted by all ranks and on all occasions. Tiberius, Otho, Hadrian, and Severus, are all mentioned as votaries of this mode of searching into the secrets of futurity. Yet hidden divination, to which astrology belonged, had been prohibited by the laws of the twelve tables, and was condemned both by express law and by the spirit of the Roman state religion. It was regarded, even by the Greeks, as an illicit and disgraceful practice.
During the first century of the Christian era, the worship of Serapis made great progress in every part of the Roman Empire. This worship inculcated the existence of another world, and of a future judgment. The fact deserves notice, as it indicates the annihilation of all reverence for the old system of paganism, and marks a desire in the public mind to search after those truths which the Christian dispensation soon after revealed. A moral rule of life with a religious sanction was a want which society began to feel when Christianity appeared to supply it.
The religion of the Greeks was so worthless as a guide in morals, that the destruction of priestly influence by the speculations of the philosophers produced no worse effect than completing a separation in the intellectual education of the higher and lower classes, which other causes had already produced. The systems of the priests and the philosophers were in direct opposition to one another, and philosophical enquiry undoubtedly did more for intellectual improvement than could have been effected by the authority of a religion so utterly destitute of intellectual power, and so compliant in its form, as that of Greece. The attention which the Greeks always paid to philosophy and metaphysical speculation, is a curious feature in their mental character, and owes its origin, in part, to the happy logical analogies of their native language; but, in the days of Grecian independence, this was only a distinctive characteristic of a small portion of the cultivated minds in the nation. From that peculiar condition of society which resulted from the existence of a number of small independent states, a larger portion of the nation was occupied with the higher branches of political business than has ever been the case in any other equally numerous body of mankind. Every city in Greece held the rank of a capital, and possessed its own statesmen and lawyers. The sense of this importance, and the weight of this responsibility, stimulated the Greeks to the extraordinary exertions of intellect with which their history is filled; for the strongest spur to exertion among men is the existence of a duty imposed as a voluntary obligation.
The habits of social intercourse, and the simple manner of life, which prevailed in the Greek republics, rendered the private conduct of every distinguished citizen as well known, and as constantly a subject of scrutiny to his fellow-citizens, as his public career. This powerful agency of public opinion served to enforce a conventional morality which, though lax in its ethics, was at least imperative in its demands. But when the international system of the Hellenic states was destroyed, when an altered condition of society had introduced greater privacy into the habits of social life, and put a stop to public intercourse among the citizens of the same region, by giving a marked prominence to the distinctions of rank and wealth, the private conduct of those who were engaged in public life was, in a great degree, withdrawn from the examination of the people; and the effect of public opinion was gradually weakened, as the grounds on which it was formed became less personal and characteristic.
Political circumstances began, about the same time, to weaken the efficacy of public opinion in affairs of government and administration. The want of some substitute, to replace its powerful influence on the everyday conduct of man, was so imperiously felt that one was eagerly sought for. Religion had long ceased to be a guide in morality; and men strove to find some feeling which would replace the forgotten fear of the gods, and that public opinion which could once inspire self-respect. It was hoped that philosophy could supply the want; and it was cultivated not only by the studious and the learned, but by the world at large, in the belief that the self-respect of the philosopher would prove a sure guide to pure morality, and inspire a deep sense of justice. The necessity of obtaining some permanent power over the moral conduct of mankind was naturally suggested to the Greeks by the political injustice under which they suffered; and the hope that philosophical studies would temper the minds of their masters to equity, and awaken feelings of humanity in their hearts, could not fail to exert considerable influence. When the Romans themselves had fallen into a state of moral and political degradation, lower even than that of the Greeks, it is not surprising that the educated classes should have cultivated philosophy with great eagerness, and with nearly similar views. The universal craving after justice and truth affords a key to the profound respect with which teachers of philosophy were regarded. Their authority and their character were so high that they mixed with all ranks, and preserved their power, in spite of all the ridicule of the satirists. The general purity of their lives, and the justice of their conduct, were acknowledged, though a few may have been corrupted by court favour; and pretenders may often have assumed a long beard and dirty garments, to act the ascetic or the jester with greater effect in the houses of the wealthy Romans. The inadequacy of any philosophical opinions to produce the results required of them was, at last, apparent in the changes and modifications which the various sects were constantly making in the tenets of their founders, and the vain attempts that were undertaken to graft the paganism of the past on the modern systems of philosophy. The great principle of truth, which all were eagerly searching after, seemed to elude their grasp; yet these investigations were not without great use in improving the intellectual and moral condition of the higher orders, and rendering life tolerable, when the tyranny and anarchy of the imperial government threatened the destruction of society. They prepared the minds of men for listening candidly to a purer religion, and rendered many of the votaries of philosophy ready converts to the doctrines of Christianity.
Philosophy lent a splendour to the Greek name; yet, with the exception of Athens, learning and philosophy were but little cultivated in European Greece. The poverty of the inhabitants, and the secluded position of the country, permitted few to dedicate their time to literary pursuits; and after the time of the Antonines, the wealthy cities of Asia, Syria, and Egypt, contained the real representatives of the intellectual supremacy of the Hellenic race. The Greeks of Europe, unnoticed by history, were carefully cherishing their national institutions; while, in the eyes of foreigners the Greek character and fame depended on the civilization of an expatriated population, already declining in number, and hastening to extinction. The social institutions of the Greeks have, therefore, been even more useful to them in a national point of view than their literature.
The Social Condition of the Greeks affected by the want of Colonies of Emigration
The want of foreign colonies, which admitted of a constant influx of new emigrants, must have exercised a powerful influence in arresting the progress of society in the Roman world. Rome never, like Phoenicia and Greece, permitted numerous bands of her citizens to depart from poverty in their own country, in order to better their fortunes and enjoy the benefits of self-government as independent communities in other lands. Her oligarchical constitution regarded the people as the property of the State. Roman civilization moved only in the train of the armies of Rome, and its progress was arrested when the career of conquest stopped. For several ages war operated as a stimulant to population at Rome, as colonization has served in modem times. It increased the general wealth by an influx of slave labour, and excited the active energies of the people, by opening a career of advancement. But the gains derived from an evil source cannot be productive of permanent good. Even before the policy of Augustus had established universal peace, and reduced the Roman army into a corps of gendarmerie or armed police for guarding the internal tranquillity of the provinces, or watching the frontiers, a combination of inherent defects in the constitution of the Roman state had begun to destroy the lower order of Roman citizens. The people required a new field of action when the old career of conquest was closed for ever, in order to engage their energies in active pursuits, and prevent them from pining away in poverty and idleness. The want of colonies of emigration, at this conjuncture, kept all the evil elements of the population fermenting within the State. The want of some distant spot connected with the past history of their race, but freed from the existing social restrictions which weighed heavily on the industrious, the ambitious, and the proud, was required by the Romans to relieve society and render political reforms possible. Various attempts were made to counteract the poverty and the want of occupation among the free labourers which was produced at Rome by every long cessation of war. C. Gracchus introduced the annual distributions of grain, which became one of the principal causes of the ruin of the republic; and Augustus established his colonies of legionaries over Italy in a manner that accelerated its depopulation.
Military colonies, colonial municipalities, and the practice adopted by the Roman citizens of seeking their fortunes in Spain, Gaul, and Britain, were an imperfect substitute for modern emigration, though they long tended to preserve an impulse towards improvement in the western portion of the Roman Empire. The policy of the emperors was directed to render society stationary; and it escaped the observation of profound statesmen, like Augustus and Tiberius, that the most efficient means of securing it from decline consisted in the formation of a regular demand on the population, by means of emigration. Foreign colonization was, however, adverse to all the prejudices of a Roman. The policy and religion of the State were equally opposed to the residence of any citizen beyond the bounds of the empire; and the constant diminution of the inhabitants of Italy, which accompanied the extended conquests of the republic, seemed to indicate that the first duty of the masters of Italy was to encourage an influx of population.
The decline in the population of Italy proceeded from evils inherent in the political system of the Roman government. They exercised their influence in the Grecian provinces of the empire, but they can only be traced with historical accuracy, in their details, close to the centre of the executive power. The system of administration in the republic had always tended to aggrandize the aristocracy, who talked much of glory, but thought constantly of wealth. When the conquests of Rome were extended over all the richest countries of the ancient world, the leading families accumulated incredible riches, — riches, indeed, far exceeding the wealth of modern sovereigns. Villas and parks were formed over all Italy on a scale of the most sumptuous grandeur, and land became more valuable as hunting-grounds than as productive farms. The same habits were introduced into the provinces. In the neighbourhood of Rome, agriculture was ruined by the public distributions of grain which was received as tribute from the provinces, and by the bounty granted to importing merchants in order to secure a low maximum price of bread. The public distributions at Alexandria and Antioch must have proved equally injurious. Another cause of the decline in the population of the empire was the great increase of the slaves which took place on the rapid conquests of the Romans, and the diffusion of the immense treasures suddenly acquired by their victories. There is always a considerable waste of productive industry among a slave population; and free labourers cease to exist, rather than perpetuate their race, if their labour be degraded to the same level in society as that of slaves. When the insecurity of property and person under the Roman government after the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and the corrupt state of society, are added to these various causes of decay, the decline and depopulation of the empire does not require farther explanation.
Yet society would not, probably, have declined as it did, under the weight of the Roman power, had the active, intelligent, and virtuous members of the middle classes possessed the means of escaping from a social position so calculated to excite feelings of despair. It is in vain to offer conjectures on the subject; for the vice in the Roman constitution which rendered all their military and state colonies merely sources of aggrandizement to the aristocracy, may have proceeded from some inherent defect in the social organization of the people, and, consequently, might have entailed ruin on any Roman society established beyond the authority of the senate or the emperors. The social organization of nations affects their vitality as much as their political constitution affects their power and fortunes.
The exclusively Roman feeling, which was adverse to all foreign colonization, was first attacked when Christianity spread itself beyond the limits of the empire. The fact that Christianity was not identical with citizenship, or, at least, with subjection to Rome, was a powerful cause of creating that adverse feeling towards the Christians which branded them as enemies of the human race; for, in the mouth of a Roman, the human race was a phrase for the empire of Rome, and the Christians were really persecuted by emperors like Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, because they were regarded as having no attachment to the Roman government, because their humanity was stronger than their citizenship.
Effects produced in Greece by the Inroads of the Goths
After the reign of Alexander Severus, the whole attention of the Roman government was absorbed by the necessity of defending the empire against the invasions of the northern nations. Two centuries of communication with the Roman world had extended the effects of incipient civilization throughout all the north of Europe. Trade had created new wants, and given a new impulse to society. This state of improvement always causes a rapid increase of population, and awakens a spirit of enterprise, which makes the apparent increase even greater than the real. The history of every people which has attained any eminence in the annals of mankind, has been marked by a similar period of activity. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Arabs, poured out a succession of armies, which must have astonished the nations which they attacked, quite as much as the apparently inexhaustible armies of the Goths amazed the degenerate Romans. Yet few events, in the whole course of history, seem more extraordinary than the success of the uncivilized Goths against the well-disciplined legions of imperial Rome, and their successful inroads into the thickly-peopled provinces of the Roman Empire. The causes of this success are evidently to be sought within the empire: the defenceless state of the population, which was everywhere carefully disarmed, the oppression of the provincials, the disorder in the finances, and the relaxation in the discipline of the troops, contributed more to the victories of the Goths than their own strength or military skill. If any national feeling, or common political interest, had connected the people, the army, and the sovereign, the Roman empire would have easily repulsed the attacks of all its enemies; nay, had the government not placed itself in direct opposition to the interests of its subjects, and arrested their natural progress by vicious legislation and corrupt administration, the barbarous inhabitants of Germany, Poland, and Russia, could have offered no more effective resistance to the advance of Roman colonization than those of Spain, Gaul, and Britain. But the task of extending the domain of civilization required to be supported by the energy of national feelings; it was far beyond the strength of the imperial or any other central government. The ablest of the despots who styled themselves the world’s masters, did not dare, though nourished in camps, to attempt a career of foreign conquest; these imperial soldiers were satisfied with the inglorious task of preserving the limits of the empire without diminution. Even Severus, after he had consolidated a systematic despotism, based on military power, did not succeed in extending the empire. This avowed inability of the Roman armies to make any further progress, invited the barbarians to attack the provinces. If a body of assailants proved successful in breaking through the Roman lines, they were sure of considerable plunder. If they were repulsed, they could generally evade pursuit. These incursions were at first the enterprises of armed bands and small tribes, but they became afterwards the employment of armies and nations. To the timid eye of the unwarlike and unarmed citizens of the empire, the whole population of the north appeared to be constantly on its march, to plunder and enslave the wealthy and peaceable inhabitants of the south.
Various means of defence were employed by the reigning sovereigns. Alexander Severus secured the tranquillity of the frontiers by paying subsidies to the barbarians: Decius fell, defending the provinces against an immense army of Goths which had penetrated into the heart of Moesia; and Trebonianus Gallus purchased the retreat of the victors by engaging to pay them an annual tribute. The disorder in the Roman government increased, the succession of emperors became more rapid, and the numbers of the invaders augmented. Various tribes and nations, called, by the Greeks and Romans, Scythians and Goths, and belonging to the great families of the Sclavonic and Germanic stock, under the names of East and West Goths, Vandals, Heruls, Borans, Karps, Peuks, and Urugunds, crossed the Danube. Their incursions were pushed through Moesia into Thrace and Macedonia; an immense booty was carried away, and a still greater amount of property was destroyed; thousands of the industrious inhabitants were reduced to slavery, and a far greater number massacred by the cruelty of the invaders.
The Greeks were awakened by these invasions from the state of lethargy in which they had reposed for three centuries. They began to repair the long neglected fortifications of their towns, and muster their city guards and rural police, for a conflict in defence of their property. Cowardice had long been supposed, by the Romans, to be an incurable vice of the Greeks, who had been compelled to appear before the Romans with an obsequious and humble mien, and every worthless Roman had thence arrogated to himself a fancied superiority. But the truth is, that all the middle classes in the Roman world had, from the time of Augustus, become averse to sacrificing their ease for the doubtful glory to be gained in the imperial service. No patriotic feeling drew men to the camp; and the allurements of ambition were stifled by obscurity of station and hopelessness of promotion. The young nobility of Rome, when called upon to serve in the legions, after the defeat of Varus, displayed signs of cowardice unparalleled in the history of Greece. Like the Fellahs of modern Egypt, they cut off their thumbs in order to escape military serviced Greece could contribute but little to the defence of the empire; but Caracalla had drawn from Sparta some recruits whom he formed into a Lacedaemonian phalanx. Decius, before his defeat, intrusted the defence of Thermopylae to Claudius, who was afterwards emperor, but who had only fifteen hundred regular troops, in addition to the ordinary Greek militia of the cities. The smallness of the number is curious; it indicates the tranquil condition of the Hellenic population before the northern nations penetrated into the heart of the empire.
The preparations for defending the country were actively carried on, both in northern Greece and at the Isthmus of Corinth. In the reign of Valerian the walls of Athens, which had not been put in a proper state of defence from the time of Sulla, were repaired, and the fortifications across the isthmus were restored and garrisoned by Peloponnesian troops. It was not long before the Greeks were called upon to prove the efficiency of their warlike arrangements. A body of Goths, having established themselves along the northern shores of the Black Sea, commenced a series of naval expeditions. They soon penetrated through the Thracian Bosphorus, and, aided by additional bands who had proceeded from the banks of the Danube by land, they marched into Asia Minor, and plundered Chalcedon, Nicomedia, Nicaea, and Prusa, A.D. 259. This successful enterprise was soon followed by still more daring expeditions.
In the year 267, another fleet, consisting of five hundred vessels, manned chiefly by the Goths and Heruls, passed the Bosphorus and the Hellespont They seized Byzantium and Chrysopolis, and advanced, plundering the islands and coasts of the Aegean Sea, and laying waste many of the principal cities of the Peloponnesus. Cyzicus, Lemnos, Skyros, Corinth, Sparta, and Argos, are named as having suffered by their ravages. From the time of Sulla's conquest of Athens, a period of nearly three hundred and fifty years had elapsed, during which Attica had escaped the evils of war; yet when the Athenians were called upon to defend their homes, they displayed a spirit worthy of their ancient fame. An officer, named Cleodemus, had been sent by the government from Byzantium to Athens, in order to repair the fortifications, but a division of these Goths landed at the Piraeus, and succeeded in carrying Athens by storm, before any means were taken for its defence. Dexippus, an Athenian of rank in the Roman service, soon contrived to reassemble the garrison of the Acropolis; and by joining to it such of the citizens as possessed some knowledge of military discipline, or some spirit for warlike enterprise, he formed a little army of two thousand men. Choosing a strong position in the Olive Grove, he circumscribed the movements of the Goths, and so harassed them by a close blockade that they were compelled to abandon Athens. Cleodemus, who was not at Athens when it was surprised, had in the meantime assembled a fleet and gained a naval victory over a division of the barbarian fleet. These reverses were a prelude to the ruin of the Goths. A Roman fleet entered the Archipelago, and a Roman army, under the emperor Gallienus, marched into Illyricum; the separate divisions of the Gothic expedition were everywhere overtaken by these forces, and destroyed in detail. During this invasion of the empire, one of the divisions of the Gothic army crossed the Hellespont into Asia, and succeeded in plundering the cities of the Troad, and in destroying the celebrated temple of Diana of Ephesus.
Dexippus was himself the historian of the Gothic invasion of Attica, but, unfortunately, little information on the subject can be collected from the fragments of his works which now exist. There is a celebrated anecdote connected with this incursion which throws some light on the state of the Athenian population, and on the conduct of the Gothic invaders of the empire. The fact of its currency is a proof of the easy circumstances in which the Athenians lived, of the literary idleness in which they indulged, and the general mildness of the assailants, whose sole object was plunder. It is said that the Goths, when they had captured Athens, were preparing to burn the splendid libraries which adorned the city; but that a Gothic soldier dissuaded them, by telling his countrymen that it was better that the Athenians should continue to waste their time in their halls and porticos over their books, than that they should begin to occupy themselves with warlike exercises. Gibbon, indeed, thinks the anecdote may be suspected as the fanciful conceit of a recent sophist; and he adds, that the sagacious counsellor reasoned like an ignorant barbarian. But the national degradation of the Greeks has co-existed with their pre-eminence in learning during many centuries, so that it appears that this ignorant barbarian reasoned like an able politician. Even the Greeks, who repeated the anecdote, seem to have thought that there was more sound sense in the arguments of the Goth than the great historian is willing to admit. Something more than mere reading and study is required to form the judgment. The cultivation of learning does not always bring with it the development of good sense. It does not always render men wiser, and it generally proves injurious to their bodily activity. When literary pursuits, therefore, become the exclusive object of national ambition, and distinction in the cultivation of literature and abstract science is more esteemed than sagacity and prudence in the everyday duties of life, effeminacy is undoubtedly more likely to prevail, than when literature is used as an instrument for advancing practical acquirements and embellishing active occupations. The rude Goths themselves would probably have admired the poetry of Homer and of Pindar, though they despised the metaphysical learning of the schools of Athens.
The celebrity of Athens, and the presence of the historian Dexippus, have given to this incursion of the barbarians a prominent place in history; but many expeditions are casually mentioned, which must have inflicted greater losses on the Greeks, and spread devastation more widely over the country. These inroads must have produced important changes in the condition of the Greek population, and given a new impulse to society. The passions of men were called into action, and the protection of their property often depended on their own exertions. Public spirit was again awakened, and many cities of Greece successfully defended their walls against the armies of barbarians who broke into the empire in the reign of Claudius. Thessalonica and Cassandra were attacked by land and sea. Thessaly and Greece were invaded; but the walls of the towns were generally found in a state of repair, and the inhabitants ready to defend them. The great victory obtained by the emperor Claudius II, at Naissus, broke the power of the Goths: and a Roman fleet in the Archipelago destroyed the remains of their naval forces. The extermination of these invaders was completed by a great plague which ravaged the East for fifteen years.
During the repeated invasions of the barbarians, an immense number of slaves were either destroyed or carried away beyond the Danube. Great facilities were likewise afforded for the escape of dissatisfied slaves. The numbers of the slave population in Greece must, therefore, have undergone a reduction, which could not prove otherwise than beneficial to those who remained, and which must also have produced a very considerable change on the condition of the poorer freemen, the value of whose labour must have been considerably increased. The danger in which men of wealth lived, necessitated an alteration in their mode of life; every one was compelled to think of defending his person, as well as his property; new activity was infused into society; and thus it seems that the losses caused by the ravages of the Goths, and the mortality produced by the plague, caused a general improvement in the circumstances of the inhabitants of Greece.
It must here be observed, that the first great inroads of the northern nations, who succeeded in penetrating into the heart of the Roman empire, were directed against the eastern provinces, and that Greece suffered severely by the earliest invasions; yet the eastern portion of the empire alone succeeded in driving back the barbarians, and preserving its population free from any admixture of the Gothic race. This successful resistance was chiefly owing to the national feelings and political organization of the Greek people. The institutions which the Greeks retained prevented them from remaining utterly helpless in the moment of danger; the magistrates possessed a legitimate authority to take measures for any extraordinary crisis, and citizens of wealth and talent could render their services useful, without any violent departure from the usual forms of the local administration. The evil of anarchy was not, in Greece, added to the misfortune of invasion. Fortunately for the Greeks, the insignificancy of their military forces prevented the national feelings, which these measures aroused, from giving umbrage either to the Roman emperors or to their military officers in the provinces.
From the various accounts of the Gothic wars of this period which exist, it is evident that the expeditions of the barbarians were, as yet, only undertaken for the purpose of plundering the provinces. The invaders entertained no idea of being able to establish themselves permanently within the bounds of the empire. The celerity of their movements generally made their numbers appear greater than they really were; while the inferiority of their arms and discipline rendered them an unequal match for a much smaller body of the heavy-armed Romans. When the invaders met with a steady and well-combined resistance, they were defeated without much difficulty; but whenever a moment of neglect presented itself, their attacks were repeated with undiminished courage. The victorious reigns of Claudius II, Aurelian, and Probus, prove the immense superiority of the Roman armies when properly commanded; but the custom, which was constantly gaining ground, of recruiting the legions from among the barbarians, reveals the deplorable state of depopulation and weakness to which three centuries of despotism and bad administration had reduced the empire. On the one hand, the government feared the spirit of its subjects, if intrusted with arms, far more than it dreaded the ravages of the barbarians; and on the other, it was unwilling to reduce the number of the citizens paying taxes, by draughting too large a proportion of the industrious classes into the army. The imperial fiscal system rendered it necessary to keep all the provincial landed proprietors carefully disarmed, lest they should revolt, and perhaps make an attempt to revive republican institutions; and the defence of the empire seemed, to the Roman emperors, to demand the maintenance of a larger army than the population of their own dominions, from which recruits were drawn, could supply.
Changes which preceded the Establishment of Constantinople as the Capital of the Roman Empire
The Romans had long been sensible that their social vices threatened their empire with ruin, though they never contemplated the possibility of their cowardice delivering it up a prey to barbarous conquerors. Augustus made a vain attempt to stem the torrent of corruption, by punishing immorality in the higher orders. But a privileged class is generally sufficiently powerful to be able to form its own social code of morality, and protect its own vices as long as it can maintain its existence. The immorality of the Romans at last undermined the political fabric of the empire. Two centuries and a half after the failure of Augustus, the emperor Decius endeavoured with as little effect to reform society. Neither of these sovereigns understood how to cure the malady which was destroying the State. They attempted to improve society by punishing individual nobles for general vices. They ought to have annihilated the privileges which raised senators and nobles above the influence of law and public opinion, and subjected them to nothing but the despotic power of the emperor. St. Paul, however, informs us that the whole frame of society was so utterly corrupted that even this measure would have proved ineffectual. The people were as vicious as the senate; all ranks were suffering from a moral gangrene, which no human art could heal. The dangerous abyss to which society was hastening did not escape observation. The alarm gradually spread through every class in the wide extent of the Roman world. A secret terror was felt by the emperors, the senators, and even by the armies. Men’s minds were changed, and a divine influence produced a reform of which man’s wisdom and strength had proved incapable. From the death of Alexander Severus to the accession of Diocletian, a great social alteration is visible in paganism; the aspect of the human mind seemed to have undergone a complete metamorphosis. The spirit of Christianity was floating in the atmosphere, and to its influence we must attribute that moral change in the pagan world, during the latter half of the third century, which tended to prolong the existence of the Western Roman Empire.
Foreign invasions, the disorderly state of the army, the weight of the taxes, and the irregular constitution of the imperial government, produced at this time a general feeling that the army and the State required a new organization, in order to adapt both to the exigencies of altered circumstances, and save the empire from impending ruin. Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, and Constantine, appeared as reformers of the Roman Empire. The history of their reforms belongs to the records of the Roman constitution, as they were conceived with very little reference to the institutions of the provinces; and only some portion of the modifications then made in the form of the imperial administration will fall within the scope of this work. But though the administrative reforms produced little change in the condition of the Greek population, the Greeks themselves actively contributed to effect a mighty revolution in the whole frame of social life, by the organization which they gave to the church from the moment they began to embrace the Christian religion. It must not be overlooked, that the Greeks organized a Christian church before Christianity became the established religion of the empire.
Diocletian found that the Roman Empire had lost much of its internal cohesion, and that it could no longer be conveniently governed from one administrative centre. He attempted to remedy the increasing weakness of the coercive principle, by creating four centres of executive authority, controlled by a single imperial legislative emperor. But no human skill could long preserve harmony between four executive despots. Constantine restored the unity of the Roman Empire. His reign marks the period in which old Roman political feelings lost their power, and the superstitious veneration for Rome herself ceased. The liberty afforded for new political ideas by the new social organization was not overlooked by the Greeks. The transference of the seat of government to Byzantium weakened the Roman spirit in the public administration. The Romans, indeed, from the establishment of the imperial government, had ceased to form a homogeneous people, or to be connected by feelings of attachment and interest to one common country; and as soon as the rights of Roman citizenship had been conferred on the provincials, Rome became a mere ideal country to the majority of Romans. The Roman citizens, however, in many provinces, formed a civilized caste of society, dwelling among a number of ruder natives and slaves; they were not melted into the mass of the population. In the Grecian provinces, no such distinction prevailed. The Greeks, who had taken on themselves the name and the position of Roman citizens, retained their own language, manners, and institutions; and as soon as Constantinople was founded and became the capital of the empire, a struggle arose whether it was to become a Greek or a Latin city.
Constantine himself does not appear to have perceived this tendency of the Greek population to acquire a predominant influence in the East by supplanting the language and manners of Rome, and he modelled his new capital entirely after Roman ideas and prejudices. Constantinople was, at its foundation, a Roman city, and Latin was the language of the higher ranks of its inhabitants. This fact must not be lost sight of; for it affords an explanation of the opposition which is for ages apparent in the feelings, as well as the interests, of the capital and of the Greek nation. Constantinople was a creation of imperial favour; a regard to its own advantage rendered it subservient to despotism, and, for a long period, impervious to any national feeling. The inhabitants enjoyed exemptions from taxation, and received distributions of grain and provisions, so that the misery of the empire, and the desolation of the provinces, hardly affected them. Left at leisure to enjoy the games of the circus, they were bribed by government to pay little attention to the affairs of the empire. Such was the position of the people of Constantinople at the time of its foundation, and such it continued for many centuries.
From the Establishment of Constantinople as Capital of the Roman Empire, to the Accession of Justinian, A. D. 330-527
Constantine, in reforming the Government of the Roman Empire, placed the administration in direct hostility to the people.
The warlike frenzy of the Romans rendered the emperors, from commanders of the army, masters of the State. But the soldiers, as soon as they fully comprehended the extent of their power in conferring the imperial dignity, strove to make the emperors their agents in the management of the empire, of which they considered themselves the real proprietors. The army was consequently the branch of the government to which all the others were considered subordinate. The disorders committed, and the defeats experienced, by the troops, at last weakened their influence, and enabled the emperors to reduce the army into a mere instrument of the imperial authority. Two great measures of reform had been contemplated by several of the predecessors of Constantine. Severus had sought to put an end to the civil authority of the senate in the administration of the empire, and to efface the remains of the ancient political constitution. Diocletian had endeavoured to deprive the army of the power of choosing and of dethroning the sovereign; but until the reign of Constantine, the empire was entirely a military State, and the chief characteristic of the imperial dignity was the military command. Constantine first moulded the measures of reform of preceding emperors into a new system of government. He completed the political edifice on the foundations which Diocletian had laid, by remodelling the army, reconstituting the executive power, creating a new capital, and adopting a new religion. Unfortunately for the bulk of mankind, Constantine, when he commenced his plan of reform, was, from his situation, unconnected with the popular or national sympathies of any class of his subjects, and he considered this state of isolation to be the surest basis of the imperial power, and the best guarantee for the impartial administration of justice. The emperors had long ceased to regard themselves as belonging to any particular country, and the imperial government was no longer influenced by any attachment to the feelings or institutions of ancient Rome. The glories of the republic were forgotten in the constant and laborious duty of administering and defending the empire. New maxims of policy had been formed, and, in cases where the earlier emperors would have felt as Romans, the wisest counsellors of Constantine would have calmly appealed to the dictates of general expediency. In the eyes of the later emperors, that which their subjects considered as national was only provincial; the history, language, and religion of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Syria, were merely distinctive characteristics of these different portions of the empire. The emperor, the government, and the army, stood apart, completely separated from the hopes, fears, and interests of the body of the people. Constantine centralized every branch of the executive power in the person of the emperor, and, at the same time, framed a bureaucracy in the administration of each department of public business, in order to guard against the effects of the incapacity or folly of any future sovereign. No more perfect machine of government appears ever to have been established; and, had it combined some principle of reviviscence, to counteract the deteriorating influence of time, with some political combinations capable of enforcing responsibility without revolution, it might have proved perpetual. It is true that, according to the moral laws of the universe, a government ought to be so constituted as to conform to the principles of truth and justice; but, practically, it is sufficient for the internal security of a State that the government da not act in such a manner as to make the people believe that it is perversely unjust. No foreign enemy ever assailed the Roman Empire that could not have been repulsed with ease, had the government and the people formed a united body acting for the general interest. Constantine, unfortunately, organized the government of the Roman Empire as if it were the household of the emperor, and constituted the imperial officials as a caste separate from the people; thus placing it, from its very nature, in opposition to the mass of his subjects. In his desire to save the world from anarchy, he created that struggle between the administration and the governed which has ever since existed, either actively or passively, in every country which has inherited the monarchical principle and the laws of imperial Rome. The problem of combining efficient administration with constant responsibility seems, in these states, still unsolved.
A series of changes in the Roman government had been commenced before the time of Constantine; yet the extent and durability of his reforms, and the distinctness of purpose with which they were conceived, entitle him to rank as one of the greatest legislators of mankind. His defects during his declining years, when his mind and body no longer possessed the activity necessary to inspect and control every detail of a despotic administration which centred in the sovereign’s person, ought not to alter our judgment of his numerous wise laws and judicious reforms. Few legislators have effected greater revolutions than Constantine. He transferred the despotic power of the emperor as commander- in-chief of the army, to the emperor as political head of the government; thus rendering the military power subservient to the civil, in the whole range of the administration. He consolidated the dispensation of justice over the whole empire, by universal and systematic laws, which he deemed strong enough to form a bulwark for the people against oppression on the part of the government. Feeble as this theoretic bulwark of law was found to be on great emergencies, it must be owned that, in the ordinary course of public affairs, it was not ineffectual, and that it mainly contributed to prevent the decline of the Roman Empire from proceeding with that rapidity which has marked the decay of most other despotic monarchies. Constantine gave the empire a new capital; and he adopted a new religion, which, with unrivalled prudence, he rendered predominant under circumstances of great difficulty. His reforms have been supposed to have hastened the decline of the empire which they were intended to save; but the contrary was really the case. He found the empire on the eve of being broken up into a number of smaller states, in consequence of the measures which Diocletian had adopted in order to secure it against anarchy and civil wan He reunited its provinces by a succession of brilliant military achievements; and the object of his legislation appeared to be the maintenance of perfect uniformity in the civil administration by the strictest centralization in what he termed the divine hierarchy of the imperial government. But his conduct was at variance with his policy, for he divided the executive power among his three sons and two nephews; and the empire was only saved from dismemberment or civil war by the murder of the greatest part of his family. Perhaps the empire was really too extensive, and the dissimilarity of its provinces too great, for executive unity, considering the imperfect means of communication which then existed, in a society which neither admitted the principle of hereditary succession nor of primogeniture, in the transmission of the imperial dignity.
The permanent success of Constantine’s reforms depended on his financial arrangements supplying ample funds for all the demands of the administration. This fact indicates some similarity between the political condition of his government and the present state of most European monarchies, and may render a close study of the errors of his financial arrangements not without profit to modem statesmen. The sums required for the annual service of the imperial government were immense; and in order to levy as great an amount of revenue from his subjects as possible, Constantine revised the census of all the taxes, and carried their amount as high as he possibly could. Every measure was adopted to transfer the whole circulating medium of the empire annually into the coffers of the State. No economy or industry could enable his subjects to accumulate wealth; while any accident, a fire, an inundation, an earthquake, or a hostile incursion of the barbarians, might leave a whole province incapable of paying its taxes, and plunge it in hopeless debt and ruin.
In general the outward forms of taxation were very little altered by Constantine, but he rendered the whole fiscal system more regular and more stringent; and during no period was the maxim of the Roman government, that the cultivators of the soil were nothing but the instruments for feeding and clothing the imperial court and the army, more steadily kept in view. All privileges were abolished; the tribute, or land-tax, was levied on the estates of all Roman subjects; and in the concessions made to the church, measures were usually adopted to preserve the rights of the fisc. A partial exemption of the property of the clergy was conceded by Constantine, in order to confer on the Christian priesthood a rank equal to that of the ancient senators; but this was so contrary to the principles of his legislation that it was withdrawn in the reign of Constantius. A great change in the revision of the general register of taxation must have taken place in the year 312, throughout the whole Roman Empire; and as Constantine was not then sole emperor, it is evident that the financial policy of his reign, with which it appears to be closely connected, was the continuation of a system already completely organized. The absorbing interest of taxation to the subjects of the Roman Empire rendered the revision of the census from this time the ordinary method of chronological notation. Time was reckoned from the first year, or Indictio, of the new assessment, and when the cycle of fifteen years was completed, a new revision took place, and a new cycle was commenced; the people thus taking no heed of the lapse of time except by noting the years of similar taxation. Constantine, it is true, passed many laws to protect his subjects from the oppression of the tax-gatherers; but the number and nature of these laws afford the strongest proof that the officers of the court, and the administration, were vested with powers too extensive to be used with moderation, and that all the vigilance of the emperor was required to prevent their destroying the source of the public revenues by utterly ruining the tax-payers. Instead of reducing the numbers of the imperial household, and reforming the expenses of the court, in order to increase the fund available for the civil and military service of the State, Constantine added to the burden of an establishment which already included a large and useless population, by indulging in the most lavish ornament and sumptuous ceremonial. It is evident that he regarded the well-paid offices of his court as baits to allure and attach the civil and military leaders to his service. His measures were successful; and from this time rebellions became less frequent, for the majority of public officials considered it more advantageous to intrigue for advancement than to risk their lives and fortunes in civil war. Nothing reveals more fully the state of barbarism and ignorance to which the Roman world had fallen; the sovereign sought to secure the admiration of his people by outward show; he held them incapable of judging of his conduct, which was guided by the emergencies of his position. The people, no longer connected with the government, and knowing only what passed in their own province, were terrified by the magnificence and wealth which the court displayed; and, hopeless of any change for the better, they regarded the emperor as an instrument of divine power.
The reforms of Constantine required additional revenues. Two new taxes were imposed, which were regarded as the greatest grievances of his reign, and frequently selected for invective, as characteristic of his internal policy. These taxes were termed the Senatorial tax, and the Chrysargyron. The first alienated the aristocracy, and the second excited the complaints of every class of society, for it was a tax levied in the severest manner on every species of receipts. All the existing constitutions, ordinary and extraordinary, and all the monopolies and restrictions affecting the sale of grain, were retained. The exactions of prior governments were rigorously enforced. The presents and gifts which had usually been made to former sovereigns were exacted by Constantine as a matter of right, and regarded as ordinary sources of revenue.
The subjection of Greece to the Roman municipal system forms an epoch in Hellenic history of great social importance; but it was effected so silently that the facts and dates which mark the progress of this political revolution cannot be traced with accuracy. The law of Caracalla, which conferred the rights of citizenship on all the provincials, annihilated the distinctive privileges of the Roman colonies, the old municipia, and the Greek free cities. A new municipal organization, more conformable to a central despotism, was gradually introduced over the whole empire, by which the national ideas and character of the Greeks were ultimately much modified. The legislation of Constantine stamped the municipal institutions of the empire with the fiscal character, which they retained as long as the empire existed; and his laws inform the historian that the influence of the city republic of ancient Hellas had already ceased. Popular opinion had disappeared from Greek society as completely as political liberty from Greece. The change which transformed the ancient language into its Romaic representative had commenced, and a modern Greek nation was consolidating its existence; disciplined to despotism, and boasting that it was composed of Romans and not of Greeks. The inhabitants of Athens and Sparta, the Achaians, Aetolians, Dorians, and Ionians, lost their distinctive characteristics, and were blended into one dull mass of uniformity as citizens of the fiscal municipalities of the empire, and as Romaic Greeks.
It is only necessary in this work to describe the general type of the municipal organization which existed in the provinces of the Roman Empire after the time of Constantine, without entering on the many doubtful questions that arise in examining the subject in detail. The proprietors of land in the Roman provinces generally dwelt in towns and cities. Every town had an agricultural district which formed its territory, and the landed proprietors who possessed twenty-five jugera constituted the body from which the municipal magistrates were selected and by which they were in some cases elected. The whole administrative authority was vested in an oligarchical senate called the Curia, consisting probably of one hundred of the wealthiest landed proprietors in the city or township. This body elected the municipal officers, and filled up vacancies in its own body. It was therefore independent of the proprietors from among whom it was taken, and whose interests it ought to have represented. The curia — not the body of landed proprietors — formed therefore the real Roman municipality, and it was used by the imperial government as an instrument of fiscal extortion, and a means of preventing a concentrated opposition against the central administration in the collection of taxes. The curia was intrusted with the collection of the land-tax, and its members were rendered responsible for the amount. As they were the wealthiest men of the place, their guarantee for the regular payment of the public revenue was of so much importance, that no curial was allowed to change his condition or quit the place of his residence. Even for a temporary absence from Greece it was necessary for a curial to obtain a permission from the proconsul.
The other free inhabitants of the municipal district, who were not liable to the land-tax, but only paid the capitation — merchants, tradesmen, artists, and labourers — formed a separate and inferior class, and were called tributaries, as distinguished from proprietors. They had no connection with the curia, but were formed into corporations and trade-guilds.
As the wealth and population of the Roman Empire declined, the operation of the municipal system became more oppressive. The chief attention of the imperial governors in the provinces was directed to preventing any diminution in the revenue, and the Roman legislation attempted to enforce the payment of the ancient amount of land-tax and capitation from a declining and impoverished population. Laws were enacted to fix every class of society in its condition with regard to the revenue. The son of a member of the curia was bound to take his father’s place; the son of a landed proprietor could neither become a tradesman nor a soldier, unless he had a brother who could replace his father as a payer of the land-tax. The son of an artisan was bound to follow his father's profession, that the amount of the capitation might not be diminished. Every corporation or guild had the power of compelling the children of its members to complete its numbers. Fiscal conservatism became the spirit of Roman legislation. To prevent the land beyond the limits of a municipality from falling out of cultivation, by the free inhabitants of the rural districts quitting their lands in order to better their condition in the towns, the laws gradually attached them to the soil, and converted them into agricultural serfs.
In this state of society the emperors were well aware that the people were generally discontented, and to prevent rebellion both the tributaries and the landed proprietors were carefully disarmed. The military class was separated from the landed proprietors by an inseparable barrier. No landed proprietor could become a soldier, and no soldier could become a member of a curia. When the free population of the empire was so much diminished that it became difficult to find recruits, the son of a soldier was bound to follow the profession of arms, but the Roman armies were generally recruited from among the barbarians who lived beyond the bounds of the empire.
In order to defend the tax-payers against the exactions of the imperial governors, fiscal agents and military officers, it became necessary that every municipality should have an official protector, whose duty it was to watch the conduct of the civil and judicial authorities and of the fiscal officers. He was called a defensor, and was elected by the free citizens of the township, both tributaries and proprietors. No municipal senator or curial could hold the office of defensor, as it might be his duty to appeal to the emperor against the exactions of the curia, as well as against the oppressive conduct of a provincial governor or judge.
Such was the municipal organization which supplanted the city communities of ancient Greece, and extinguished the spirit of Hellenic life. The free action, both of the physical and intellectual powers, of the Greeks was fettered by these new social bonds. We can read many curious details relating to the system in the Theodosian code, and in the legislation of Justinian; and we can trace its effects in the ruin of the Western Empire, and in the torpidity of society in the Eastern.
Municipalities henceforward began to be regarded as a burden rather than a privilege. Their magistrates formed an aristocratic class in accordance with the whole fabric of the Roman constitution. These magistrates had willingly borne all the burdens imposed on them by the State as long as they could throw the heaviest portion of the load on the people over whom they presided. But the people at last became too poor to lighten the burden of the rich, and the government found it necessary to force every wealthy citizen to enter the curia, and make good any deficiency in the taxes of the district from his own private revenues. As the Roman Empire declined, the members of one curia after another sank to the same level of general poverty. It required little more than a century from the reign of Constantine to effect the ruin of the western provinces; but the social condition of the eastern, and the natural energy of the Greek character, saved them from the same fate.
The principle adopted by the Roman government in all its relations with the people and with the municipalities, was in every contested case to assume that the citizens were endeavouring to evade burdens which they were well able to bear. This feeling sowed the seeds of hatred to the imperial administration in the hearts of its subjects, who, seeing that they were excluded from every hope of justice in fiscal questions, became often eager to welcome the barbarians.
In Greece the old system of local governments was not entirely eradicated, though it was modified on the imperial model; but every fiscal burden was rigorously enforced by the imperial government, whenever it tended to relieve the treasury from any expense. At the same time, all those privileges which had once alleviated the pressure of the revenue law, in particular districts, were abolished. The destruction of the great oligarchs, who had rendered themselves proprietors of whole provinces in the earlier days of the Roman domination, was effected. A number of small properties were created at the same time that a moral improvement took place in Greek society by the influence of Christianity. The higher classes became less corrupt, and the lower more industrious. This change enabled the eastern provinces to bear their fiscal burdens with mare ease than the western.
The military organization of the Roman armies was greatly changed by Constantine; and the change is remarkable, as the barbarians were adopting the very principles of tactics which the emperors found it necessary to abandon. The system of the Roman armies, in ancient times, was devised to make them efficient on the field of battle. As the Romans were always invaders, they knew well that they could at last force their enemies to decide their differences in a pitched battle. The frontiers of the empire required a very different method for their defence. The chief duty of the army was to occupy an extended line against an active enemy, far inferior in the field. The necessity of effecting rapid movements of the troops, in bodies varying continually in number, became a primary object in the new tactics. Constantine remodelled the legions, by reducing the number of men to fifteen hundred; and he separated the cavalry entirely from the infantry, and placed them under a different command. He increased the number of the light troops, instituted new divisions in the forces, and made considerable modifications in the armour and weapons of the Romans. This change in the army was in some degree rendered necessary by the difficulty which the government experienced, in raising a sufficient number of men of the class and strength necessary to fill the ranks of the legions, according to the old system. It became necessary to choose between diminishing the number of the troops, or admitting an inferior class of soldiers into the army. Motives of economy, and the fear of the seditious spirit of the legions, also dictated several changes in the constitution of the forces. From this time the Roman armies were composed of inferior materials, and the northern nations began to prepare themselves for meeting them in the field of battle.
The opposition which always existed between the fiscal interest of the Roman government and of the provincials, rendered any intimate connection or community of feeling between the soldiers and the people a thing to be cautiously guarded against by the emperor. The interests of the army required to be kept carefully separated from those of the citizens; and when Constantine, from motives of economy, withdrew a large number of the troops from the camps on the frontiers, and placed them in garrison in the towns, their discipline was relaxed, and their license overlooked, in order to prevent them from acquiring the feelings of citizens. As the barbarians were beyond the influence of any provincial or political sympathies, and were sure to be regarded as enemies by every class in the empire, they became the chosen troops of the emperors. These favourites soon discovered their own importance, and behaved with as great insolence as the praetorian bands had ever displayed.
The necessity of preventing the possibility of a falling off in the revenue, was, in the eyes of the imperial court, of as much consequence as the maintenance of the efficiency of the army. Proprietors of land, and citizens of wealth, were not allowed to enrol themselves as soldiers, lest they should escape from paying their taxes; and only those plebeians and peasants who were not liable to the land-tax were taken as recruits. When Rome conquered the Greeks the armies of the republic consisted of Romans, and the conquered provinces supplied the republic with tribute to maintain these armies; but when the rights of citizenship were extended to the provincials, it became the duty of the poor to serve in person, and of the rich to supply the revenues of the State. The effect of this was, that the Roman forces were often recruited with slaves, in spite of the laws frequently passed to prohibit this abuse; and, not long after the time of Constantine, slaves were often admitted to enter the army on receiving their freedom. The subjects of the emperors had therefore little to attach them to their government, which was supported by mercenary troops composed of barbarians and slaves, but in all the provinces the inhabitants could do nothing to defend their rights, for they were carefully disarmed.
The condition of the Greeks was not improved by Constantine’s reforms.
The general system of Constantine’s government was by no means favourable to the advancement of the Greeks as a nation. His new division of the empire into four prefectures neutralized, by administrative arrangements, any influence that the Greeks might have acquired from the prevalence of their language in the countries on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. The four prefectures of the empire were the Orient, Illyricum, Italy, and Gaul, and a praetorian prefect directed the civil administration of each of these great divisions of the empire. The prefectures were divided into governments, and these governments were again subdivided into provinces. The prefecture of the Orient embraced five governments: the first was called by the name of the prefecture, the Orient; the others were Egypt, Asia, Pontus, and Thrace, In all these, the Greeks formed only a section of the population, and their influence was controlled by the adverse prejudices and interests of the natives. The prefecture of Illyricum consisted of three governments, Achaia, Macedonia, and Dacia. Achaia retained the honour of being governed by a proconsul. This distinction was only shared with the government called Asia, for there were now only two proconsular provinces; but Achaia was poor, and it was not of sufficient extent and importance to be subdivided. It embraced the Peloponnesus and the continent south of Thessaly and Epirus, occupying nearly the limits of the present kingdom of Greece. Macedonia included six provinces, — two Macedonias, Crete, Thessaly, Old Epirus, and New Epirus. In these two governments of Achaia and Macedonia, the population was almost entirely Greek. In Dacia or the provinces between the Danube and Mount Haemus, the Adriatic and the Black Sea, the civilized portion of the inhabitants was more imbued with the language and prejudices of Rome than of Greece. The proconsular government of Asia was separated from the praetorian prefectures, and placed under the immediate authority of the emperor. It included two provinces, the Hellespont and the islands between Greece and Asia Minor. Its native population was entirely Greek.
The Greek population had been losing ground in the east since the reign of Hadrian. Pescennius Niger had shown that national feelings might be roused against the oppression of Rome, without adopting Hellenic prejudices. The establishment of the kingdom of Palmyra by Odenathus, and the conquest of Syria and Egypt, gave a severe blow to the influence of the Greeks in these countries. Zenobia, it is true, cultivated Greek literature, but she spoke Syriac and Coptic with equal fluency; and when her power was overthrown, she appears to have regretted that the advice of Longinus and her other Greek councillors had induced her to adopt ambitious projects unconnected with the immediate interests of her native subjects, and she abandoned them to the vengeance of the Romans. Her armies were composed of Syrians and Saracens; and in the civil ad- ministration, the natives of each province claimed an equal rank with the Greeks. The cause of the Greek population, especially in Syria and Egypt, became from this time more closely connected with the declining power of Rome; and even as early as the reign of Aurelian, the antagonism of the native population displayed itself in an Egyptian rebellion which was an effort to throw off Greek domination as well as to escape from the yoke of Rome. The rebellion of Firmus is almost neglected in the history of the numerous rival emperors who were subdued by Aurelian; but the very fact that he was styled by his conqueror a robber, and not a rival, shows that his cause made him a more deadly enemy than the usurpers who were merely military chiefs.
These signs of nationality could not be overlooked by Constantine, and he rendered the political organization of the empire more efficient than it had formerly been to crush the smallest manifestations of national feeling among any body of its subjects. On the other hand, nothing was done by Constantine with the direct view of improving the condition of the Greeks. Two of his laws have been much praised for their humanity; but they really afford the strongest proofs of the miserable condition to which the inhumanity of the government had reduced the people; and though these laws, doubtless, granted some relief to Greece, they originated in views of general policy. By the one, the collectors of the revenue were prohibited, under pain of death, from seizing the slaves, cattle, and instruments of agriculture of the farmer, for the payment of taxes; and, by the other, all forced labour at public works was ordered to be suspended during seed-time and harvest. Agriculture derived some advantage from the tranquillity which Greece enjoyed during the widespread civil wars that preceded the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine. But as far as the imperial government was concerned, commerce still suffered from the old spirit of neglect, and was circumscribed by monopoly. The officers of the palace, and even the Christian clergy, were allowed to carry merchandise from one province to another, free from the duties which fell heavily on the regular trader. It was not until the reign of Valentinian III that the clergy were finally prohibited from engaging in commerce. The emperor was himself both a merchant and manufacturer; and his commercial operations contributed materially to impoverish his subjects, and to diminish the internal trade of his dominions. The imperial household formed a numerous population, separated from the other subjects of the empire; and the imperial officers endeavoured to maintain this host, and the immense military establishment, with the smallest possible outlay of public money. The public posts furnished the means of transporting merchandise free of expense, and the officers charged with its conveyance availed themselves of this opportunity to enrich themselves, by importing whatever they could sell with profit. Imperial manufactories supplied those goods which could be produced in the empire; and private manufacturers would seldom venture to furnish the same articles, lest their trade should interfere with the secret sources of profit of some powerful officer. These facts sufficiently explain the rapid decline in the trade, manufactures, and general wealth of the population of the Roman Empire which followed the transference of the capital to Constantinople. Yet, while commerce was thus ruined, the humble and honest occupation of the shopkeeper was treated as a dishonourable profession, and his condition was rendered doubly contemptible. He was made the serf of the corporation in which he was inscribed, and his industry was fettered by restrictions which compelled him to remain in poverty. The merchant was not allowed to travel with more than a limited sum of money, under pain of exile. This singular law must have been adopted, partly to secure the monopolies of the importing merchants, and partly to serve some interest of the officers of government, without any reference to the general good of the empire.
Though the change of the capital from Rome to Constantinople produced many modifications in the government, its influence on the Greek population was much less than one might have expected. The new city was an exact copy of old Rome. Its institutions, manners, interests, and language, were Roman; and it inherited all the isolation of the old capital, and stood in direct opposition to the Greeks, and all the provincials. It was inhabited by senators from Rome. Wealthy individuals from the provinces were likewise compelled to keep up houses at Constantinople, pensions were conferred upon them, and a right to a certain amount of provisions from the public stores was annexed to these dwellings. The tribute of grain from Egypt was appropriated to supply Constantinople with bread; the wheat of Africa was left for the consumption of Rome. Eighty thousand loaves were distributed daily to the inhabitants of the new capital. The claim to a share in this distribution, though granted as a reward for merit, in some cases was rendered hereditary, but at the same time made alienable by the receiver, and was always strictly attached to the possession of property in the city. This distribution consequently differed in its nature from the distributions bestowed at Rome on poor citizens who had no other means of livelihood. We here discover the tie which bound the new capital to the cause of the emperors, and an explanation of the toleration shown by the emperors to the factions of the circus and the disorders of the populace. The emperor and the inhabitants of the capital felt that they had a common interest in supporting the despotic power by which the provinces were drained of money to supply the luxurious expenditure of the court, and to furnish provisions and amusements for the people; and, consequently, the tumults of the populace never induced the emperors to weaken the influence of the capital; nor did the tyranny of the emperors ever induce the citizens of the capital to demand the systematic circumscription of the imperial authority.
Even the change of religion produced very little improvement in the imperial government. The old evils of Roman tyranny were perpetrated under a more regular and legal despotism and a purer religion, but they were not less generally oppressive. The government grew daily weaker as the people grew poorer; the population rapidly diminished, and the framework of society became gradually disorganized. The regularity of the details of the administration rendered it more burdensome; the obedience enforced in the army had only been obtained by the deterioration of its discipline. The barrier which the empire opposed to the ravages of the barbarians became, consequently, weaker under each succeeding emperor.
Changes produced in the Social Condition of the Greeks by the Alliance of Christianity with their National Manners.
The decline of Roman influence, and of the power of the Roman government, afforded the Greeks some favourable conjunctures for improving their condition. Christianity connected itself with the social organization of the people, without directly attempting to change their political condition; and by awakening sentiments of philanthropy which created a new social impulse, it soon produced a marked improvement in the social as well as in the moral and religious position of the Greeks. Though Christianity failed to arrest the decline of the Roman Empire, it reinvigorated the popular mind, and reorganized the people, by giving them a powerful and permanent object on which to concentrate their attention, and an invariable guide for their conduct in every relation of life. As it was long confined chiefly to the middle and lower classes of society, it was compelled, in every different province of the empire, to assume the language and usages of the locality, and thus it combined individual attachments with universal power. But it must be observed that a great change took place in the feelings and conduct of the Christians from the period that Constantine formed a political alliance with the church, and constituted the clergy into a corporate body. The great benefits which the inhabitants of the Roman Empire had previously derived from the connection of their bishops and presbyters with local national feelings, was then neutralized. The church became a political institution, dependent, like every other department of the public administration, on the emperor’s authority; and henceforward, whenever the ministers and teachers of the Christian religion became closely connected with national feelings, they were accused of heresy.
Paganism had undergone a great change about the time of the establishment of the Roman Empire. A belief in the resurrection of the body began to spread, both among the Romans and the Greeks; and it is to the prevalence of this belief that the great success of the worship of Serapis, and the general adoption of the practice of burying the dead instead of burning it on a funeral pile, are to be attributed. The decline of paganism had proceeded far before Christianity was preached to the Greeks. The ignorance of the people on the one hand, and the speculations of the philosophers on the other, had already almost succeeded in destroying all reverence for the ancient gods of Greece, which rested more oil mythological and historical recollections, and on associations derived from and connected with art, than on moral principles or mental conviction. The paganism of the Greeks was a worship identified with particular tribes, and with precise localities; and the want of this local and material union had been constantly felt by the Greeks of Asia and Alexandria, and had tended much to introduce those modifications by which the Alexandrine philosophers attempted to unite Hellenic superstitions with their metaphysical views. Many Greeks and Romans had learned just ideas of religion from the Jews. They had acquired true notions of the divine nature, and of the duties which God requires of man. While, on the other hand, a religion which could deify Commodus and some of the worst emperors, must have fallen into contempt with all reflecting men; and even those who believed in its claims to superhuman authority must have regarded it with some aversion, as having formed an unjust alliance with their tyrants. It is not, therefore, surprising that a disbelief in the gods of the empire was general among the people throughout the East. But it is impossible for man to exist in society without some religious feeling. The worship of the gods was therefore immediately replaced by a number of superstitious practices, borrowed from foreign nations, or by the revival of the traditions of a ruder period, relating to an inferior class of spirits.
The wealth of the temples in Greece, and the large funds appropriated to public feasts and religious ceremonies, kept up an appearance of devotion; but a considerable portion of these funds began to be enjoyed as the private fortunes of the hereditary priests, or was diverted, by the corporations charged with their administration, to other purposes than the service of the temples, without these changes exciting any complaints. The progressive decline of the ancient religion is marked by the numerous laws which the emperors enacted against secret divination, and the rites of magicians, diviners, and astrologers. Though these modes of prying into futurity had always been regarded by the Romans and the Greeks as impious, and hostile to the religion of the State, and been strictly forbidden by public laws, they continued to gain ground under the empire. The contempt of the people for the ancient religion as early as the time of Trajan was shown by their general indifference to the rites of sacrifice, and to the ceremonials of their festivals. While the great struggle with Christianity was openly carried on, this was peculiarly remarkable. The emperor Julian often complains, in his works, of this indifference, and gives rather a ludicrous instance of its extent in an anecdote which happened to himself. As emperor and Pontifex Maximus, he repaired to the temple of Apollo at Daphne, near Antioch, on the day of the great feast. He declares that he expected to see the temple filled with sacrifices, but he found not even a cake, nor a grain of incense; and the god would have been without an offering had the priest himself not brought a goose, the only victim which Apollo received on the day of his festival. Julian proves, by this anecdote, that all the population of Antioch was Christian, otherwise curiosity would have induced a few to visit the temple.
The laws of the moral world prevent any great reformation in society from being effected, without the production of some positive evil. The best feelings of humanity are often awakened in support of very questionable institutions; and all opinions hallowed by the lapse of time become so endeared by old recollections, that the most self-evident truths are frequently overlooked, and the greatest benefits to the mass of mankind are peremptorily rejected, when their first announcement attacks an existing prejudice. No principles of political wisdom, and no regulations of human prudence, could therefore have averted the many evils which attended the change of religion in the Roman Empire, even though that change was from fable to truth, from paganism to Christianity.
The steady progress which Christianity made against paganism, and the deep impression it produced on the middle classes of society, and on the votaries of philosophy, are certainly wonderful, when the weight of prejudice, the wealth of the temples, the pride of the schoolmen, and the influence of college endowments, are taken into consideration. Throughout the East, the educated Greeks, from the peculiar disposition of their minds, were easily led to grant an attentive hearing to the promulgators of new doctrines and systems. Even at Athens, Paul was listened to with great respect by many of the philosophers; and after his public oration to the Athenians at the Areopagus, some said, “We will hear thee again of this matter”. A belief that the principle of unity, both in politics and religion, must, from its simplicity and truth, lead to perfection, was an error of the human mind extremely prevalent at the time that Christianity was first preached. That one according spirit might be traced in the universe, and that there was one God, the Father of all, was a very prevalent doctrine. This tendency towards despotism in politics, and deism in religion, is a feature of the human mind which continually reappears in certain conditions of society and corruptions of civilization. At the same time a very general dissatisfaction was felt at these conclusions; and the desire of establishing the principle of man’s responsibility, and his connection with another state of existence, seemed hardly compatible with the unity of the divine essence adored by the philosophers. Deism was indeed the prevailing opinion in religion, yet it was generally felt that it did not supply the void created by the absence of belief in the power of the ancient pagan divinities, who had been supposed to pervade all nature, to be ever present on the earth or in the air, that they might watch the actions of men with sympathies almost human. The influence of deism was cold and inanimate, while an affectation of superior wisdom almost invariably induced the philosophers to introduce some maxim into their tenets adverse to the plain common-sense of mankind, which abhors paradox. The people felt that the moral corruption of which the pagan Juvenal, in his intense indignation, has given us so many vivid descriptions, must eventually destroy all social order. A reformation was anxiously desired, but no power existed capable of undertaking the work. At this crisis Christianity presented itself, and offered men the precise picture of the attributes of God of which they were in search; it imposed on them obligations of which they acknowledged the necessity, and it required from them a faith, of which they gradually recognised the power.
Under these circumstances, Christianity could not fail of making numerous converts. It boldly announced the full bearing of truths, of which the Greek philosophers had only afforded a dim glimpse; and it distinctly contradicted many of the favourite dreams of the national but falling faith of Greece. It required either to be rejected or adopted. Among the Greeks, therefore, Christianity met everywhere with a curious and attentive audience. The feelings of the public mind were dormant; Christianity opened the sources of eloquence, and revived the influence of popular opinion. From the moment a people, in the state of intellectual civilization in which the Greeks were, could listen to the preachers, it was certain they would adopt the religion. They might alter, modify, or corrupt it, but it was impossible that they should reject it. The existence of an assembly, in which the dearest interests of all human beings were expounded and discussed in the language of truth, and with the most earnest expressions of persuasion, must have lent an irresistible charm to the investigation of the new doctrine among a people possessing the institutions and feelings of the Greeks. Sincerity, truth, and a desire to persuade others, will soon create eloquence where numbers are gathered together. Christianity revived oratory, and with oratory it awakened many of the national characteristics which had slept for ages. The discussions of Christianity gave also new vigour to the communal and municipal institutions, as it improved the intellectual qualities of the people.
The injurious effect of the demoralization of society prevalent throughout the world on the position of the females, must have been seriously felt by every Grecian mother. The educated females in Greece, therefore, naturally welcomed the pure morality of the Gospel with the warmest feelings of gratitude and enthusiasm; and to their exertions the rapid conversion of the middle orders must in some degree be attributed. Female influence must not be overlooked, if we would form a just estimate of the change produced in society by the conversion of the Greeks to Christianity.
The effect of Christianity extended to political society, by the manner in which it enforced the observance of the moral duties on every rank of men without distinction, and the way in which it called in the aid of public opinion to enforce that self-respect which a sense of responsibility is sure to nourish. This political influence of Christianity soon displayed itself among the Greeks. They had always been deeply imbued with a feeling of equality, and their condition, after their conquest by the Romans, had impressed on them the necessity of a moral code, to which superiors and inferiors, rulers and subjects, were equally amenable. The very circumstances, however, which gave Christianity peculiar attractions for the Greeks, excited a feeling of suspicion among the Roman official authorities. Considering, indeed, the manner in which the Christians formed themselves into separate congregations in all the cities and towns of the East, the constituted form which they gave to their own society, entirely independent of the civil authority in the State, the high moral character and the popular talents of many of their leaders, it is not wonderful that the Roman emperors should have conceived some alarm at the increase of the new sect, and deemed it necessary to exterminate it by persecution. Until the government of the empire was prepared to adopt the tenets of Christianity, and identify itself with the Christian population, it was not unnatural that the Christians should be regarded as a separate, and consequently inimical class; for it must be confessed that the bonds of their political society were too powerful to allow any government to remain at ease. Let us, for a moment, form a picture of the events which must have been of daily occurrence in the cities of Greece. A Christian merchant arriving at Argos or Sparta would soon excite attention in the agora and the lesche. His opinions would be examined and controverted. Eloquence and knowledge were by no means rare gifts among the traders of Greece, from the time of Solon the oil-merchant. The discussions which had been commenced in the markets would penetrate into the municipal councils. Cities which enjoyed local privileges and which like Athens and Sparta called themselves free cities would be roused to an unwonted energy, and the Roman governors might well be astonished and feel alarmed.
It was, undoubtedly, the power of the Christians as a political body which excited several of the persecutions against them; and the accusation to which they were subjected, of being the enemies of the human race, was caused by their enforcing general principles of humanity at variance with the despotic maxims of the Roman government. The emperor Decius, the first great persecutor of Christianity, is reported to have declared that he would rather divide his throne with another emperor than have it shared by the bishop of Rome. When the cry of popular hatred was once excited, accusations of promiscuous profligacy, and of devouring human sacrifices, were the calumnious additions, in accordance with the credulity of the age. The first act of legal toleration which the Christians met with from the Roman government was conceded to their power as a political party by Maxentius. They were persecuted and tolerated by Maximin, according to what he conceived to be the dictates of his interest for the time. Constantine, who had long acted as the leader of their political party, at last seated Christianity on the throne, and, by his prudence, the world for many years enjoyed the happiness of religious toleration.
From the moment Christianity was adopted by the Hellenic race, it was so identified with the habits of the people as to become essentially incorporated with the subsequent history of the nation. The earliest corporations of Greek Christians were united in distinct bodies by civil as well as by religious ties. The members of each congregation assembled not only for divine worship, but also when any subject of general interest required their opinion or decision; and the everyday business of the community was intrusted to their spiritual teachers, and to the most influential individuals in the society. It is impossible to determine exactly the limits of the authority of the clergy and the elders in the various Christian communities during the first century. As there was usually a perfect concord on every subject, precise regulations, either to settle the bounds of clerical authority, or the form of administering the business of the society, could not be considered necessary. It cannot, indeed, be supposed that one uniform course of proceeding was adopted for the internal government of all the Christian communities throughout the world. Such a thing would have been too much at variance with the habits of the Greeks and the nature of the Roman Empire. Circumstances must have rendered the government of the Christian churches, in some parts of the East, strictly monarchical; while, in the municipalities of Greece, it would certainly appear more for the spiritual interests of religion, that even the doctrines of the society should be discussed according to the forms used in transacting the public business of these little autonomous cities. Such differences would excite no attention among the cotemporary members of the respective churches, for both would be regarded as equally conformable to the spirit of Christianity. Precise laws and regulations usually originate in the necessity of preventing definite evils, so that principles of action operate as guides to conduct, and exert a practical influence on the lives of thousands, for years before they become embodied in public enactments.
The most distant communities of Christian Greeks in the East were connected by the closest bonds of union, not only for spiritual purposes, but also on account of the mutual protection and assistance which they were called upon to afford one another in the days of persecution. The progress of Christianity among the Greeks was so rapid, that they soon surpassed in numbers, wealth, and influence any other body separated by peculiar usages from the mass of the population of the Roman Empire. The Greek language became the ordinary medium of communication on ecclesiastical affairs in the East; and the Christian communities of Greeks were gradually melted into one nation, having a common legislation and a common civil administration in many things, as well as a common religion. Their ecclesiastical government thus acquired a moral force which rendered it superior to the local authorities, and which at last rivalled the influence of the political administration of the empire. The Greek Church had grown up to be almost equal in power to the Roman state before Constantine determined to unite the two in strict alliance.
The Christian hierarchy received a regular organization as early as the second century. Christianity then formed a confederation of communities in the heart of the empire, which the imperial government very naturally regarded with jealousy, for the principles of Christianity were a direct negation of, if not a decided opposition to, many of the most cherished maxims of the Roman State. Deputies from the different congregations in Greece met together at stated intervals and places, and formed provincial synods, which replaced the Achaean, Phocic, Boeotic, and Amphictyonic assemblies of former days. How these assemblies were composed, what part the people took in the election of the clerical deputies, and what rights the laity possessed in the provincial councils, are points which have been much disputed, and do not seem to be very accurately determined. The people, the lay elders, and the clergy or spiritual teachers, were the component parts of each separate community in the earliest periods. The numbers of the Christians soon required that several congregations should be formed in a single city; these congregations sought to maintain a constant communication in order to secure perfect unanimity. Deputies were appointed to meet for this purpose; and the most distinguished and ablest member of the clergy naturally became the president of this assembly. He was the bishop, and soon became charged with the conduct of public business during the intervals between the meetings of the deputies. The superior education and character of the bishops placed the direction of the greater part of the civil affairs of the community in their hands; ecclesiastical business was their peculiar province by right; they possessed the fullest confidence of their flocks; and, as no fear was then entertained that the power intrusted to these disinterested and pious men could ever be abused, their authority was never called in question. The charity of the Christians was a virtue which separated them in a striking manner from the rest of society, bound them closely together, and increased their social influence by creating a strong feeling in their favour. The emperor Julian complains that it rendered them independent of the emperor’s power, for they were never forced to solicit the imperial bounty. And he owns that they not only maintained all the poor of their own community, but also gave liberally to poor pagans.
When Christianity became the religion of the emperor, the political organization and influence of the Christian communities could not fail to arrest the attention of the Roman authorities. The provincial synods replaced, in the popular mind, the older national institutions; and, in a short time, the power of the Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria excited the jealousy of the emperors themselves. The monarchical ideas of the eastern Greeks vested extensive authority in the hands of their bishops and patriarchs; and their power excited more alarm in the Roman government than the municipal forms of conducting ecclesiastical business which were adopted by the natives of Greece, in accordance with the civil constitutions of the Greek cities and states. This fact is evident from an examination of the list of the martyrs who perished in the persecutions of the third century, when political alarm, rather than religious zeal, moved the government to acts of cruelty. While numbers were murdered in Antioch, Alexandria, Caesarea, Smyrna, and Thessalonica, very few were sacrificed at Corinth, Athens, Patrae, and Nicopolis.
The power which Christianity had acquired, evidently exercised some influence in determining Constantine to transfer his capital into that part of his dominions where so numerous and powerful a body of his subjects were attached to his person and his cause. Both Constantine and the Christians had their own grounds of hostility to Rome and the Romans. The senate and the Roman nobility remained firmly attached to paganism, which was converted into the bond of union of the conservative party in the western portion of the empire, and thus the Greeks were enabled to secure a predominancy in the Christian church. The imperial prejudices of Constantine appear to have concealed from him this fact; and he seems never to have perceived that the cause of the Christian church and the Greek nation were already closely interwoven, unless his inclination to Arianism, in his latter days, is to be attributed to a wish to suppress the national spirit, which began to display itself in the Eastern Church. The policy of circumscribing the power of orthodoxy, as too closely connected with national feelings, was more openly followed by Constantius.
A knowledge of the numbers of the Christians in the Roman empire at the time of the first general council of the Christian church at Nice, is of great importance towards affording a just estimation of many historical facts. If the conjecture be correct, that the Christians, at the time of Constantine’s conversion, hardly amounted to a twelfth, and perhaps did not exceed a twentieth part of the population of the empire, this would certainly afford the strongest proof of the admirable civil organization by which they were united. But this can hardly be considered possible, when applied to the eastern provinces of the empire, and is certainly incorrect with regard to the Greek cities. It seems established by the rescript of Maximin, and by the testimony of the martyr Lucianus — supported as these are by a mass of collateral evidence — that the Christians formed, throughout the East, the majority of the middle classes of Greek society. Still history affords few facts which supply a fair criterion to estimate the numbers or strength of either the Christian or pagan population generally throughout the empire. The imperial authority, supported by the army, which was equally destitute of religion and nationality, was powerful enough to oppress or persecute either party, according to the personal disposition of the emperor. There were Christians who endeavoured to excite Constantius to persecute the pagans, and to seize the wealth which their temples contained. Constantine had found himself strong enough to carry off the gold and silver statues and ornaments from many temples; but, as this was done with the sanction and assistance of the Christian population where it occurred, it seems probable that it only happened in those places where the whole community, or at least the corporation possessing the legal control over the temporal concerns of these, had embraced Christianity. An arbitrary exercise of the emperor’s authority as Pontifex Maximus, for the purpose of plundering the temples he was bound to protect, cannot be suspected; it would be too strongly at variance with the systematic toleration of Constantine’s reign.
The pagan Julian was strongly incited to persecute the Christians by the more fanatical of the pagans; nor did he himself ever appear to doubt that his power was sufficient to have commenced a persecution; and, consequently, he takes credit to himself, in his writings, for the principles of toleration which he adopted. The attempt of Julian to re-establish paganism was, however, a very unstatesmanlike proceeding, and exhibited the strongest proof that the rapidly decreasing numbers of the pagans proclaimed the approaching dissolution of the old religion. Julian was an enthusiast; and he was so far carried away by his ardour as to desire the restoration of ceremonies and usages long consigned to oblivion, and ridiculous in the eyes of his pagan contemporaries. In the East he accelerated the ruin of the cause which he espoused. His own acquaintance with paganism had been gained chiefly from books, and from the lessons of philosophers; for he had long been compelled to conform to Christianity, and to acquire his knowledge of paganism only by stealth. When he acted the Pontifex Maximus, according to the written instructions of the old ceremonial, he was looked upon as the pedantic reviver of an antiquated ceremony. The religion, too, which he had studied, was that of the ancient Greeks, — a system of belief which had irrevocably passed away. With the conservative pagan party of Rome he never formed any alliance. The fancy of Julian to restore Hellenism, and to call himself a Greek, was therefore regarded by all parties in the empire as an imperial folly. Nothing but princely ignorance of the state of opinion in his age could have induced Julian to endeavour to awaken the national feelings of the Greeks in favour of paganism, in order to oppose them to Christianity, for their nationality was already engaged in the Christian cause. This mistaken notion of the emperor was seen by the Romans, and made a strong impression on the historians of Julian’s reign. They have all condemned his superstition; for such, in their eyes, his fanatic imitation of antiquated Hellenic usages appeared to be.
We must not overlook the important fact that the Christian religion was long viewed with general aversion, from being regarded by all classes as a dangerous as well as secret political association. The best informed heathens appear to have believed that hostility to the established order of society, odium humani generis, as this was called by the Romans, was a characteristic of the new religion. The Roman aristocracy and populace, with all those who identified themselves with Roman prejudices, adopted the opinion that Christianity was one of the causes of the decline of the Roman empire. Rome was a military state, Christianity was a religion of peace. The opposition of their principles was felt by the Christians themselves, who seem to have considered that the success of Christianity implied the fall of the empire; and as the duration of the empire and the existence of civilized society appeared inseparable, they inferred that the end of the world was near at hand. Nor is this surprising. The invasion of the barbarians threatened society with ruin; no political regeneracy seemed practicable by means of any internal reforms; the empire of Christ was surely approaching, and that empire was not of this world.
But these opinions and reasonings were not so prevalent in the East as in the West, for the Greeks especially were not under the influence of the same political feelings as the Romans. They were farther removed from the scenes of war, and they suffered less from the invasions of the barbarians. They were occupied with the daily business of life, and their attention was not so frequently diverted to the crimes of the emperors and the misfortunes of the State. They felt no sympathy, and little regret, when they perceived that the power of Rome was on the decline, for they deemed it probable that they should prove gainers by the change.
One feature of Christian society which excited general disapprobation about the time of the accession of Julian, was the great number of men who became monks and hermits. These enemies of social life proclaimed that it was better to prepare for heaven in seclusion, than to perform man’s active duties, and to defend the cause of civilization against the barbarians. Millions of Christians who did not imitate their example openly approved of their conduct; so that it is not wonderful that all who were not Christians regarded Christianity with aversion, as a political institution hostile to the existing government of the Roman Empire. The corruptions of Christianity, and the dissensions of the Christians, had also caused a reaction against the religion towards the latter part of the reign of Constantius II. Julian profited by this feeling, but he had not the talent to render it subservient to his views. The circumstance which rendered Christianity most hateful to him, as an emperor and a philosopher, was the liberty of private judgment assumed as one of the rights of man by monks and theologians. To combat Christianity with any chance of success, Julian must have connected the theoretic paganism of the schools with moral principles and strong faith. To succeed in such a task, he must have preached a new religion, and assumed the character of a prophet. He was unequal to the enterprise, for he was destitute of the popular sympathies, firm convictions, fiery enthusiasm, and profound genius of Mahomet.
The Orthodox Church became identified with the Greek Nation,
When Constantine embraced Christianity, he allowed paganism to remain the established religion of the State, and left the pagans in the possession of all their privileges. The principle of toleration was received as a political maxim of the Roman government; and it continued, with little interruption, to be so, until the reign of Theodosius the Great, who undertook to abolish paganism by legislative enactments. The Christian emperors continued, until the reign of Gratian, to bear the title of Pontifex Maximus, and to act as the political head of the pagan religion. This political supremacy of the emperor over the pagan priesthood was applied also to the Christian church; and, in the reign of Constantine, the imperial power over the external and civil affairs of the church was fully admitted by the whole Christian clergy. The respect which Constantine showed to the ministers of Christianity, never induced him to overlook this supremacy. Even in the general council of Nice, the assembled clergy would not transact any business until the emperor had taken his seat, and authorized them to proceed. All Constantine’s grants to the church were regarded as marks of imperial favour; and he considered himself entitled to resume them, and transfer them to the Arians. During the Arian reigns of Constantius and Valens, the power of the State over the church was still more manifest.
From the death of Constantine until the accession of Theodosius the Great, a period of thirty years elapsed, during which Christianity, though the religion of the emperors and of a numerous body of their subjects, was not the religion of the State. In the western provinces, paganism was still predominant; and even in the eastern provinces, which had embraced Christianity, the Christian party was weakened by rival sects. The Arians and orthodox regarded one another with as much hostility as they did the pagans. During this period, the orthodox clergy were placed in a state of probation, which powerfully contributed towards connecting their interests and feelings with those of the Greek population. Constantine had determined to organize the Christian church precisely in the same manner as the civil government. The object of this arrangement was to render the church completely subservient to the imperial administration, and to break, as much as possible, its connection with the people. For this purpose, the higher ecclesiastical charges were rendered independent of public opinion. The wealth and temporal power which the clergy suddenly attained by the favour of Constantine, soon produced the usual effects of sudden riches and irresponsible authority in corrupting the minds of men. The disputes relating to the Arian heresy were embittered by the eagerness of the clergy to possess the richest episcopal sees, and their conflicts became so scandalous, that they were rendered a subject of popular satire in places of public amusement. The favour shown by the Arian emperors to their own party, proved ultimately beneficial to the orthodox clergy. The Roman empire was still nominally pagan, the Roman emperors were avowedly Arian, and the Greeks felt little disposed to sympathize with the traditional superstitions of their conquerors, or the personal opinions of their masters. During this period, therefore, they listened with redoubled attention to the doctrines of the orthodox clergy, and from this time the Greek nation and the Orthodox Church became closely identified.
The orthodox teachers of the Gospel, driven from the ecclesiastical preferments which depended on court favour, and deserted by the ambitious and worldly-minded clergy, cultivated those virtues, and pursued that line of conduct, which had endeared the earlier preachers of Christianity to their flocks. The old popular organization of the church was preserved, and more completely amalgamated with the social institutions of the Greek nation. The people took part in the election of their spiritual pastors, and influenced the choice of their bishops. The national as well as the religious sentiments of the Greeks were called into action, and provincial synods were held for the purpose of defending the orthodox priesthood against the imperial and Arian administration. The majority of the orthodox congregations were Greek, and Greek was the language of the orthodox clergy. Latin was the language of the court and of the heretics. Many circumstances, therefore, combined to consolidate the connection formed at this time between the Orthodox Church and the Greek population throughout the eastern provinces of the empire; while some of these circumstances tended more particularly to connect the clergy with the educated Greeks, and to lay the foundation of the Orthodox Church becoming a national institution.
In ancient Hellas and the Peloponnesus, paganism was still far from being extinct, or, at least, as was not unfrequently the case, the people, without caring much about the ancient religion, persisted in celebrating the rites and festivals consecrated by antiquity. Valentinian and Valens renewed the laws which had been often passed against various pagan rites; and both these emperors encouraged the persecution of those who were accused of this imaginary crime. It must be observed, however, that these accusations were generally directed against wealthy individuals; and, on the whole, they appear to have been dictated by the old imperial maxim of filling the treasury by confiscations in order to avoid the dangers likely to arise from the imposition of new taxes. In Greece the ordinary ceremonies of paganism often bore a close resemblance to the prohibited rites; and the new laws could not have been enforced without causing a general persecution of paganism, which does not appear to have been the object of the emperors. The proconsul of Greece, himself a pagan, solicited the emperor Valens to exempt his province from the operation of the law; and so tolerant was the Roman administration to districts which were too poor to offer a rich harvest for the fisc, that Greece was allowed to continue to celebrate its pagan festivals.
Until this period, the temples had generally preserved that portion of their property and revenues which was administered by private individuals, or drawn from sources unconnected with the public treasury. The rapid destruction of the temples, which took place after the reign of Valens, must have been caused, in a great measure, by the conversion of those intrusted with their care to Christianity. When the hereditary priests seized the revenues of the heathen god as a private estate, they would rejoice in seeing the temple fall rapidly to ruin, if they did not dare to destroy it openly. Towards the end of his reign the Emperor Gratian laid aside the title of Pontifex Maximus, and removed the altar of Victory from the senate-house of Rome. These acts were equivalent to a declaration that paganism was no longer the acknowledged religion of the senate and the Roman people. It was Theodosius the Great, however, who finally established Christianity as the religion of the empire; and in the East he succeeded completely in uniting the Orthodox Church with the imperial administration; but in the West, the power and prejudices of the Roman aristocracy prevented his measures from attaining full success.
Theodosius, in rendering orthodox Christianity the established religion of the empire, increased the administrative and judicial authority of the bishops; and the Greeks, being in possession of a predominant influence in the Orthodox Church, were thus raised to the highest social position which subjects were capable of attaining. The Greek bishop, who preserved his national language and customs, was now the equal of the governor of a province, who assumed the name and language of a Roman. The court, as well as the civil administration of Theodosius the Great, continued Roman; and the Latin clergy, aided by the great power and high character of St. Ambrose, prevented the Greek clergy from appropriating to themselves an undue share of ecclesiastical authority and preferment in the West. The power conferred on the clergy, supported as it was by the popular origin of the priesthood, by the feelings of brotherhood which pervaded the Greek Church, and by the strong attachment of their flocks, was generally employed to serve and protect the people, and often succeeded in tempering the despotism of the imperial authority. The clergy began to form a part of the State. A popular bishop could hardly be removed from his diocese, without the government’s incurring as much danger as it formerly encountered in separating a successful general from his army. The difficulties which the emperor Constantine met with, in removing St. Athanasius from the See of Alexandria, and the necessity he was under of obtaining his condemnation in a general council, show that the church, even at that early period, already possessed the power of defending its members: and that a new power had arisen which imposed legal restraints on the arbitrary will of the emperor. Still, it must not be supposed that bishops had yet acquired the privilege of being tried only by their peers. The emperor was considered the supreme judge in ecclesiastical as well as in civil matters, and the council of Sardica was satisfied with petitioning for liberty of conscience, and freedom from the oppression of the civil magistrate.
Though the good effects of Christianity on the moral and political condition of the ancient world have never been called in question, historians have, nevertheless, more than once reproached the Christian religion with accelerating the decline of the Roman empire. A careful comparison of the progress of society in the eastern and western provinces must lead to a different conclusion. It appears certain that the Latin provinces were ruined by the strong conservative attachment of the aristocracy of Rome to the forgotten forms and forsaken superstitions of paganism after they had lost all practical influence on the minds of the people; while there can be very little doubt that the eastern provinces were saved by the unity with which all ranks embraced Christianity. In the Western Empire, the people, the Roman aristocracy, and the imperial administration, formed three separate sections of society, unconnected either by religious opinion or national feelings; and each was ready to enter into alliances with armed bands of foreigners in the empire, in order to serve their respective interests, or gratify their prejudices or passions. The consequence of this state of things was, that Rome and the Western Empire, in spite of their wealth and population, were easily conquered by comparatively feeble enemies; while Constantinople, with all its original weakness, beat back both the Goths and the Huns, in the plenitude of their power, in consequence of the union which Christianity inspired. Rome fell because the senate and the Roman people clung too long to ancient institutions, forsaken by the great body of the population; while Greece escaped destruction because she modified her political and religious institutions in conformity with the opinions of her inhabitants, and with the policy of her government. The popular element in the social organization of the Greek people, by its alliance with Christianity, infused into society the energy which saved the Eastern Empire; the disunion of the pagans and Christians, and the disorder in the administration flowing from this disunion, ruined the Western.
Condition of the Greek Population of the Empire from the reign of Constantine to that of Theodosius the Great
The establishment of a second capital at Constantinople has generally been considered a severe blow to the Roman Empire; but, from the time of Diocletian, Rome had ceased to be the residence of the emperors. Various motives induced the emperors to avoid Rome; the wealth and influence of the Roman senators circumscribed their authority; the turbulence and numbers of the people rendered even their government insecure; while the immense revenues required for donatives, for distributions of provisions, for pompous ceremonies, and for public games, formed a heavy burden on the imperial treasury, and the insubordination of the praetorian guards continually threatened their persons. When the emperor, therefore, by becoming a Christian, was placed in personal opposition to the Roman senate, there could be no longer any doubt that Rome became a very unsuitable residence for the Christian court. Constantine was compelled to choose a new capital; and in doing so he chose wisely. His selection of Byzantium was, it is true, determined by reasons connected with the imperial administration, without any reference to the influence which his choice might have on the prosperity of his subjects. Its first effect was to preserve the unity of the Eastern Empire. The Roman Empire had, for some time previous to the reign of Constantine, given strong proofs of a tendency to separate into a number of small states. The necessity of the personal control of the sovereign over the executive power in the provinces was so great, that Constantine himself, who had done all he could to complete the concentration of the general government, thought it necessary to divide the executive administration of the empire among his family before his death. The union effected by centralizing the management of the army and the civil and judicial authority, prevented the division of the executive power from immediately partitioning the empire. It was not until the increased difficulties of intercommunication had created two distinct centres of administration that the separation of the Eastern and Western empires was completed.
The foundation of Constantinople was the particular act which secured the integrity of the eastern provinces, and prevented their separating into a number of independent states. It is true, that by transferring the administration of the East more completely into the hands of the Greeks, it roused the nationality of the Syrians and Egyptians into activity, — an activity, however, which seemed to present no danger to the empire, as both these provinces were peopled almost exclusively by a tax-paying population, and contributed proportionally few recruits to the army. The establishment of the seat of government at Constantinople enabled the emperors to destroy many abuses, and effect numerous reforms, which recruited the resources and revived the strength of the eastern portion of the empire. The energy thus developed gave to the empire of the East the strength which enabled it ultimately to repulse all those hordes of barbarians who subdued the West.
Both the imperial power and the condition of society assumed more settled forms after the change of the capital. Before the reign of Constantine, ambition had been the leading feature of the Roman state. Everybody was striving for official rank; and the facilities of ascending the throne, or arriving at the highest dignities, were indefinitely multiplied by the rapid succession of emperors, by the repeated proscriptions of senators, and by the incessant confiscations of the property of the wealthiest Romans. Constantine, in giving to the government the form of a regular monarchy, introduced greater stability into society; and as ambition could no longer be gratified with the same ease as formerly, avarice, or rather rapacity, became the characteristic feature of the ruling classes. This love of riches soon caused the venality of justice. The middle classes, already sinking under the general anarchy and fiscal oppression of the empire, were now exposed to the extortions of the aristocracy, and property became almost as insecure among the smaller proprietors as it had formerly been among those who held great estates.
The condition of Greece, nevertheless, improved considerably in the interval which elapsed between the invasion of the Goths in the reign of Gallienus and the time of Constantine. History, it is true, supplies only a few scattered incidents from which the fact of this improvement can be inferred; but the gradual progress of the amelioration is satisfactorily established. When Constantine and Licinius prepared to dispute the sole possession of the empire, they assembled two powerful fleets, both of which were composed chiefly of Greek vessels. The armament of Constantine consisted of two hundred light galleys of war, and two thousand transports, and these immense naval forces were assembled at the Piraeus. This selection of the Piraeus as a naval station indicates that it was no longer in the desolate condition in which it had been seen by Pausanias in the second century, and it shows that Athens itself had recovered from whatever injury it had sustained during the Gothic expedition. To these frequent reconstructions of the buildings and walls of Greek cities, caused by the vicissitudes which frequently occurred in the numbers and wealth of their inhabitants during the period of eight centuries and a half which is reviewed in this volume, we are to attribute the disappearance of the immense remains of ancient constructions which once covered the soil, and of which no traces now exist, as they have been broken up on these occasions to serve as materials for new structures.
The fleet of Constantine was collected among the Europeans; that of Licinius, which consisted of triremes, was furnished chiefly by the Asiatic and Libyan Greeks. The number of the Syrian and Egyptian vessels was comparatively smaller than would have been the case two centuries earlier. It appears, therefore, that the commerce of the Mediterranean had returned into the hands of the Greeks. The trade of central Asia, which took the route of the Black Sea, increased in consequence of the insecure state of the Red Sea, Egypt, and Syria, and gave a new impulse to Greek industry.
The carrying trade of Western Europe was again falling into Greek hands. Athens, as the capital of the old Hellenic population, from its municipal liberty and flourishing schools of learning, was rising into importance. Constantine honoured this city with marks of peculiar favour, which were conferred certainly from a regard to its political importance, and not from any admiration of the studies of its pagan philosophers. He not only ordered an annual distribution of grain to be made to the citizens of Athens, from the imperial revenues, but he accepted the title of Strategos when offered by its inhabitants.
As soon as Julian had assumed the purple in Gaul, and marched against Constantius, he endeavoured to gain the Greek population to his party, by flattering their national feelings; and he strove to induce them to connect their cause with his own, in opposition to the Roman government of Constantius. He seems, in general, to have been received with favour by the Greeks, though his aversion to Christianity must have excited some distrust. Unless the Greek population in Europe had greatly increased in wealth and influence, during the preceding century, or Roman influence had suffered a considerable diminution in the East, it could hardly have entered into the plans of Julian to take the prominent measures which he adopted to secure their support. He addressed letters to the municipalities of Athens, Corinth, and Lacedaemon, in order to persuade these cities to join his cause. The letter to the Athenians is a carefully prepared political manifesto, explaining the reasons which compelled him to assume the purple. Athens, Corinth, and Lacedaemon, must have possessed some acknowledged political and social influence in the empire, otherwise Julian would only have rendered his cause ridiculous by addressing them at such a critical moment; and, though he was possibly ignorant of the state of religious feeling in the popular mind, he must have been too well acquainted with the statistics of the empire to commit any error of this kind in public business. It may also be observed, that the care with which history has recorded the ravages caused in Greece by earthquakes, during the reigns of Valentinian and Valens, affords conclusive testimony of the importance then attached to the well-being of the Greek population.
The ravages committed by the Goths in the provinces immediately to the south of the Danube must have turned for a time to the profit of Greece. Though some bands of the barbarians pushed their incursions into Macedonia and Thessaly, still Greece generally served as a place of retreat for the wealthy inhabitants of the invaded districts. When Theodosius, therefore, subdued the Goths, the Greek provinces, both in Europe and Asia, were among the most flourishing portions of the empire; and the Greek population, as a body, was, without question, the most numerous and best organized part of the emperor’s subjects; property, in short, was nowhere more secure than among the Greeks.
The rapacity of the imperial government had, however, undergone no diminution; and the weight of taxation was still compelling the people everywhere to encroach on the capital accumulated by former ages, and to abstain from all investments which only promised a distant remuneration. The influx of wealth from the ruined provinces of the North, and the profits of a change in the direction of trade, were temporary causes of prosperity, and could only render the burden of the public taxes lighter for one or two generations. The imperial treasury was sure ultimately to absorb the whole of these accidental supplies. It was, indeed, only in the ancient seats of the Hellenic race that any signs of returning prosperity were visible; for in Syria, Egypt, and Cyrene, the Greek population displayed evident proofs that they were suffering in the general decline of the empire. Their number was gradually diminishing in comparison with that of the native inhabitants of these countries. Civilization was sinking to the level of the lower grades of society. In the year A. D. 363, the Asiatic Greeks received a blow from which they never recovered. Jovian, by his treaty with Sapor II, ceded to Persia the five provinces of Arzanene, Moxoene, Zabdicene, Rehimene, and Corduene, and the Roman colonies of Nisibis and Singara in Mesopotamia. As Sapor was a fierce persecutor of the Christians, the whole Greek population of these districts was obliged to emigrate. The bigoted attachment of the Persians to the Magian worship never allowed the Greeks to regain a footing in these countries, or to obtain again any considerable share in their trade. From this time the natives acquired the complete ascendancy in all the country beyond the Euphrates. The bigotry of the Persian government is not to be overlooked in estimating the various causes which drove the trade of India through the northern regions of Asia to the shores of the Black Sea,
Communications of the Greeks with countries beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire
It would be a depressing idea were it to be admitted that the general degradation of mankind after the time of the Antonines was the effect of some inherent principle of decay, proceeding from an inevitable state of exhaustion in the condition of a highly civilized society; that a moral deficiency produced incurable corruption, and rendered good government impracticable; that these evils were irremediable, even by the influence of Christianity; and, in short, that the destruction of all the elements of civilization was necessary for the regeneration of the social as well as the political system. But there is happily no ground for any such opinion. The evils of society were produced by the injustice and oppression of the Roman government, and that government was so powerful that the nations it ruled were unable to force it to reform its conduct. The middle classes were almost excluded from all influence in their own municipal affairs by the oligarchical constitution of the curia, so that public opinion was powerless. After the Roman central authority was destroyed, similar causes produced the same effects in the barbarian monarchies of the West; and the revival of civilization commenced only when the people acquired power sufficient to enforce some respect for their feelings and rights. History has fortunately preserved some scanty memorials of a Greek population living beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire, which afford the means of estimating the effects of political causes in modifying the character and destroying the activity of the Greek nation. The flourishing condition of the independent Greek city of Cherson, in Tauris, furnishes ample testimony that the state of society among the Greeks admitted of the existence of those virtues, and of the exercise of that energy, which are necessary to support independence; but without institutions which confer on the people some control over their government, and some direct interest in public affairs, nations soon sink into lethargy, from which they can only be roused by war.
The Greek city of Chersonesos, a colony of Heraclea in Pontus, was situated on a small bay to the south-west of the entrance into the great harbour of Sebastopol, a name now memorable in European history. The defeat of Mithridates, to whom it had been subject, did not re-establish its independence. But in the time of Augustus it possessed the privileges of freedom and self-government under the protection of Rome. Its distant and isolated situation protected it from the arbitrary exactions of Roman magistrates, and rendered its municipal rights equivalent to political independence. In the reign of Hadrian, this independence was officially recognised, and Chersonesos received the rank of an allied city. In the third century we find the name abbreviated into Cherson, and the city removed somewhat to the eastward of the old site. Its extent was diminished, and the fortifications of Cherson only embraced a circumference of about two miles, on the promontory to the west of the present quarantine harbour of Sebastopol. It preserved the republican form of government, and contrived to defend its freedom for centuries against the ambition of the kings of Bosporus, and the attacks of the neighbouring Goths, who had rendered themselves masters of the open country. The wealth and power of Cherson depended on its commerce, and this commerce flourished under institutions which guaranteed the rights of property. The Emperor Constantine, in his Gothic wars, did not disdain to demand the aid of this little State; and he acknowledged with gratitude the great assistance which the Roman Empire had derived from the military forces of the Chersonites. No history could present more instructive lessons to centralized despotisms than the records of the administration and taxation of these Greeks, in the Tauric Chersonesus, during the decline of the empire, and it is deeply to be regretted that none exist. About three hundred and fifty years before the Christian era, the kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus, one of these Greek colonies, was in a flourishing agricultural condition; and its monarch had been able to prevent a famine at Athens, by supplying that city with two million bushels of wheat in a single season. Three hundred and fifty years after the birth of Christ all was changed in ancient Greece, and Cherson alone of all the cities inhabited by Greeks enjoyed the blessing of freedom. The fertile fields which had fed the Athenians were converted into pasturage for the cattle of the Goths; but the commerce of the Chersonites enabled them to import com, oil, and wine from the richest provinces of the Roman Empire.
The commercial Greeks of the empire began to feel that there were countries in which men could live and prosper beyond the power of the Roman administration. Christianity had penetrated far into the East, and Christians were every- where united by the closest ties. The speculations of trade occupied an important place in society. Trade carried many Greeks of education among foreign nations little inferior to the Romans in civilization, and surpassing them in wealth. It was impossible for these travellers to avoid examining the conduct of the imperial administration with the critical eye of men who viewed various countries and weighed the merits of different systems of fiscal government. For them, therefore, oppression had certain limits from which, when transgressed, they would have escaped by transporting themselves and their fortunes beyond the reach of the imperial tax-gatherers. The inhabitants of the Western Empire could entertain no similar hope of avoiding oppression.
About the time of Constantine, the Greeks carried on an extensive commerce with the northern shores of the Black Sea, Armenia, India, Arabia, and Ethiopia, and some merchants carried their adventures as far as Ceylon. A Greek colony had been established in the island of Socotra (Dioscorides), in the time of the Ptolemies, as a station for the Indian trade; and this colony, mixed with a number of Syrians, still continued to exist, in spite of the troubles raised by the Saracens on the northern shores of the Red Sea, and their wars with the emperors, particularly with Valens. The travels of the philosopher Metrodorus, and the missionary labours of the Indian bishop Theophilus, prove the existence of a regular intercourse between the empire, India, and Ethiopia, by the waters of the Red Sea. The curiosity of the philosopher, and the enthusiasm of the missionary, were excited by the reports of the ordinary traders; while their enterprises were everywhere facilitated by the mercantile speculations of a regular traffic. Feelings of religion at this time extended the efforts of the Christians, and opened up new channels for commerce. The kingdom of Ethiopia was converted to Christianity by two Greek slaves, who rose to the highest dignities in the State, whose influence must have originated in their connection with the Roman Empire, and whose power must have opened new means of communication with the heathens in the south of Africa, and assisted Greek traders, as well as Christian missionaries, in penetrating into countries whither no Roman had ever ventured.
Effect of the separation of the Eastern andWestern Empires on the Greek nation
The separation of the eastern and western portions of the Roman Empire into two independent states, under Arcadius and Honorius, was the last step, in a long series of events, which seemed tending to restore the independence of the Greek nation. The interest of the sovereigns of the Eastern Empire became intimately connected with the fortunes of their Greek subjects. The Greek language began to be generally spoken at the court of the eastern emperors, and Greek feelings of nationality gradually made their way, not only into the administration and the army, but even into the family of the emperors. The numbers of the Greek population in the Eastern Empire gave a unity of feeling to the inhabitants, a nationality of character to the government, and a degree of power to the Christian church, which were completely wanting in the ill-cemented structure of the West. New vigour seemed on the point of being infused into the imperial government, as circumstances strongly impelled the emperors to participate in the feelings and national interests of their subjects. Nor were these hopes entirely delusive. The slow and majestic decline of the Roman Empire was arrested under a singular combination of events, as if expressly to teach the historical lesson that the Roman government had fallen through its own faults, by consuming the capital from which its resources were derived, by fettering the industry of the people, and thus causing a decline in the numbers of the population; for even in the West the strength of the barbarians was only sufficient to occupy provinces already depopulated by the policy of the government.
As soon as the Eastern Empire was definitely separated from the Western, the spirit of the Greek municipalities, and the direct connection of the body of the people with the clergy, began to exercise a marked influence on the general government. The increasing authority of the defensor in the municipalities modified, in some degree, the oligarchy of the Roman curia. Though the imperial administration continued, in fiscal matters, to maintain the old axiom that the people were the serfs of the State, yet the emperors, from the want of an aristocracy whom they could plunder, were thrown back on the immediate support of the people, whose goodwill could no longer be neglected. It is not to be supposed that, in the general decline of the empire, any disorganization of the frame of civil society was manifest in the various nations which lived under the Roman government. The numbers of the population had, indeed, everywhere diminished, but no convulsions had yet shaken the frame of society. Property was as secure as it had ever been, and the courts of law were gaining additional authority and a better organization. Domestic virtue was by no means rarer than it had been in brighter periods of history. The even tenor of life flowed calmly on, in a great portion of the Eastern Empire, from generation to generation. Philosophical and metaphysical speculations had, in the absence of the more active pursuits of political life, been the chief occupation of the higher orders; and when the Christian religion became universal, it gradually directed the whole attention of the educated to theological questions. These studies certainly exercised a favourable influence on the general morality, if not on the temper of mankind, and the tone of society was characterised by a purity of manners, and a degree of charitable feeling to inferiors, which have probably never been surpassed. Nothing can more remarkably display the extent to which the principles of humanity had penetrated, than the writings of the Emperor Julian. In the fervour of his pagan enthusiasm, he continually borrows Christian sentiments and inculcates Christian philanthropy.
Public opinion, which in the preceding century had attributed the decline of the empire to the progress of Christianity, now, with more justice, fixed on the fiscal system as the principal cause of its decay. The complaints of the oppression of the public administration were, by the common consent of the prince and people, directed against the abuses of the revenue-officers. The historians of this period, and the decrees of the emperors themselves, charge these officers with producing the general misery by the peculations which they committed; but no emperor yet thought of devoting his attention to a careful reformation of the system which allowed such disorders. The venality of the Roman officials excited the indignation of Constantine, who publicly threatened them with death if they continued their extortions, and the existence of a law inveighing against corruption speaks indirectly in favour of the state of society in which the vices of the administration were so severely reprehended.
An anecdote often illustrates the condition of society more correctly than a dissertation, though there is always some danger that an anecdote has found its place in history from the singularity of the picture which it presents. There is nevertheless one anecdote which is interesting, as affording a faithful picture of general manners, and as giving an accurate view of the most prominent defects in the Roman administration. Acindynus, the prefect of the Orient, enjoyed the reputation of an able, just, and severe governor. He collected the public revenues with inflexible justice. In the course of his ordinary administration, he threatened one of the inhabitants of Antioch, already in prison, with death, in case he should fail to discharge, within a fixed term, a debt due to the imperial treasury. His power was admitted, and his habitual attention to the claims of the fisc gave public defaulters at Antioch no hope of escaping with any punishment short of slavery, which was civil death. The prisoner was married to a beautiful woman, and the parties were united by the warmest affection. The circumstances of their case, and their situation in life, excited some attention. A man of great wealth offered to pay the husband’s debt, on condition that he should obtain the favours of his beautiful wife. The proposal excited the indignation of the lady, but when it was communicated to her imprisoned husband, he thought life too valuable not to be preserved by such a sacrifice; and his prayers had more effect with his wife than the wealth or the solicitations of her admirer. The libertine, though wealthy, proved to be mean and avaricious, and contrived to cheat the lady with a bag filled with sand instead of gold. The unfortunate wife, baffled in her hopes of saving her husband, threw herself at the feet of the prefect Acindynus, to whom she revealed the whole of the disgraceful transaction. The prefect was deeply moved by the evil effects of his severity. Astonished at the variety of crimes which he had caused, he attempted to render justice, by apportioning a punishment to each of the culprits, suitable to the nature of his offence. As the penalty of his own severity, he condemned himself to pay the debt due to the imperial treasury. He sentenced the fraudulent seducer to transfer to the injured lady the estate which had supplied him with the wealth which he had so infamously employed. The debtor was immediately released— he appeared to be sufficiently punished by his imprisonment and shame.
The severity of the revenue laws, and the arbitrary power of the prefects in matters of finance, are well represented in this anecdote. The injury inflicted on society by a provincial administration so constituted must have been incalculable. Even the justice and disinterestedness of such a prefect as Acindynus required to be called into action by extraordinary crimes, and, after all, virtues such as his could afford no very sure guarantee against oppression.
In spite of the great progress which Christianity had made, there still existed a numerous body of pagans among the higher ranks of the old aristocracy, who maintained schools of philosophy, in which a species of allegorical pantheism was taught. The pure morality inculcated, and the honourable lives of the teachers in these schools, enabled these philosophers to find votaries long after paganism might be considered virtually extinct as a national religion. While the pagans still possessed a succession of distinguished literary characters, a considerable body of the Christians were beginning to proclaim an open contempt of all learning which was not contained in the Scriptures. This fact is connected with the increased power of national feelings in the provinces, and with the aversion of the natives to the oppression of the Roman government and the insolence of Greek officials. Literature was identified with Roman supremacy and Greek arrogance. The Greeks, having long been in possession of the privileges of Roman citizens, and calling themselves Romans, now filled the greater part of the civil employments in the East.
From the time of Constantine, the two great principles of law and religion began to exert a favourable influence on Greek society, by their effect in moderating the despotic power of the imperial administration in its ordinary communications with the people. They created new institutions in the State, having a sphere of action independent of the arbitrary power of the emperor. The lawyers and the clergy acquired a fixed position as political bodies; and thus the branches of government with which they were connected were, in some degree, emancipated from arbitrary changes, and obtained a systematic or constitutional form. The dispensation of justice, though it remained dependent on the executive government, was placed in the hands of a distinct class; and as the law required a long and laborious study, its administration followed a steady and invariable course, which it was difficult for any other branch of the executive to interrupt. The lawyers and judges, formed in the same school and guided by the same written rules, were placed under the influence of a limited public opinion, which at least insured a certain degree of self-respect, supported by professional interests, but founded on general principles of equity. The body of lawyers not only obtained a complete control over the judicial proceedings of the tribunals, and restrained the injustice of proconsuls and prefects, but they even assigned limits to the wild despotism exercised by the earlier emperors. The department of general legislation was likewise intrusted to lawyers; and the good effects of this arrangement are apparent, from the conformity of the decrees of the worst emperors, after this period, with the principles of justice.
The power of the clergy, originally resting on a more popular and purer basis than that of the law, became at last so great, that it suffered the inevitable corruption of all irresponsible authority intrusted to humanity. The power of the bishops almost equalled that of the provincial governors, and was not under the constant control of the imperial administration. To gain such a position, intrigue, simony, and popular sedition were often employed. Supported by the people, a bishop ventured to resist the emperor himself; supported by the emperor and the people, he ventured even to neglect the principles of Christianity. Theophilus, the patriarch of Alexandria, ordained the Platonic philosopher Synesius, bishop of Ptolemais, in Cyrenaica, when he was a recent and not an orthodox Christian; for, as a bishop, he refused to put away his wife, and he declared that he neither believed in the resurrection of the body nor in the eternity of punishments.
In estimating the relative extent of the influence exercised by law and religion on the social condition of the Greeks, it must be remarked that Greek was the language of the Eastern Church from the time of its connection with the imperial administration; while, unfortunately for the law, Latin continued to be the language of legal business in the East, until after the time of Justinian. This fact explains the comparatively trifling influence exercised by the legal class, in establishing the supremacy of the Greek nation in the Eastern Empire, and accounts also for the undue influence which the clergy were enabled to acquire in civil affairs. Had the language of the law been that of the people, the Eastern lawyers, supported by the municipal institutions and democratic feelings of the Greeks, could hardly have failed, by combining with the church, to form a systematic and constitutional barrier against the arbitrary exercise of the imperial authority. The want of national institutions forming a portion of their system of law, was a defect in the social condition of the Greeks which they never supplied.
Slavery continued to exist in the same manner as in earlier times; and the slave-trade formed the most important branch of the commerce of the Roman Empire. It is true that the humanity of a philosophical age, and the precepts of the Gospel, introduced some restraints on the most barbarous features of the power possessed by the Romans over the lives and persons of their slaves; still, freemen were sold as slaves if they failed to pay their taxes, and parents were allowed to sell their own children. A new and more systematic slavery than the old personal service grew up in the rural districts, in consequence of the fiscal arrangements of the empire. The public registers showed the number of slaves employed in the cultivation of every farm; and the proprietor was bound to pay a certain tax for these slaves according to their employment. Even when the land was cultivated by free peasants, the proprietor was responsible to the fisc for their capitation-tax. As the interest of the government and of the proprietor, therefore, coincided to restrain the free labourer employed in agriculture from abandoning the cultivation of the land, he was attached to the soil, and gradually sank into the condition of a serf; while, on the other hand, in the case of slaves employed in farming, the government had an interest in preventing the proprietor from withdrawing their labour from the cultivation of the soil : these slaves, therefore, rose to the rank of serfs. The cultivators of the soil became, for this reason, attached to it, and their slavery ceased to be personal; they acquired rights, and possessed a definite station in society. This was the first step made by mankind towards the abolition of slavery.
The double origin of serfs must be carefully observed, in order to explain some apparently contradictory expressions of the Roman law. There is a law of Constantius preserved in Justinian’s code, which shows that slaves were then attached to the soil, and could not be separated from it. There is a law, also, of the Emperor Anastasius, which proves that a freeman, who had cultivated the property of another for thirty years, was prohibited from quitting that property; but he remained in other respects a freeman. The cultivator was called by the Romans colonus, and might, consequently, be either a slave or a freeman. His condition, however, was soon so completely determined by special laws, that its original constitution was lost.
Attempts of the Goths to establish themselves in Greece
The first great immigration of the Goths to the south of the Danube took place with the permission of the Emperor Valens; but as the Roman government adopted no measures for insuring their tranquil settlement in the country, these troublesome colonists were soon converted into dangerous enemies. Being ill supplied with provisions, finding the country unprotected, and having been allowed to retain possession of their arms, they began to plunder Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia, for subsistence. At last, emboldened by success, they extended their incursions over the whole country, from the walls of Constantinople to the borders of Illyricum. The Roman troops were defeated. The emperor Valens, advancing inconsiderately in the confidence of victory, was vanquished in the battle of Adrianople, and perished A.D. 378. The massacre of a considerable number of Goths, retained in Asia as hostages and mercenaries, roused the fury of their victorious countrymen, and gave an unusual degree of cruelty to the war of devastation which they carried on for three years. Theodosius the Great put an end to these disorders. The Goths were still unable to resist the Roman troops when properly conducted. Theodosius induced their finest bodies of warriors to enter the imperial service, and either destroyed the remaining bands, or compelled them to escape beyond the Danube.
The depopulated state of the empire induced Theodosius to establish colonies of Goths, whom he had forced to submit, in Phrygia and Lydia. Thus the Roman government began to replace the ancient population of its provinces, by introducing new races of inhabitants into its dominions. Theodosius granted many privileges to these dangerous colonists, who were allowed to remain in possession of much of the wild liberty secured to them by their national institutions, merely on condition that they should furnish a certain number of recruits for the military service of the State. When the native population of the empire was gradually diminishing, some suspicion must surely have been entertained that this diminution was principally caused by the conduct of the government; yet so deeply rooted was the opposition of interests between the government and the governed, and so distrustful were the emperors of their subjects, that they preferred confiding in foreign mercenaries, to reducing the amount, and changing the nature, of the fiscal contributions, though by doing this they might have secured the support, and awakened the energy of their native subjects.
The Roman despotism had left the people almost without any political rights to defend, and with but few public duties to perform; while the free inhabitants deplored the decline of the agricultural population, and lamented their own degeneracy, which induced them to crowd into the towns. They either did not perceive, or did not dare to proclaim, that these evils were caused by the imperial administration, and could only be remedied by a milder and more equitable system of government. In order to possess the combination of moral and physical courage necessary to defend their property and rights against foreign invasion, civilized nations must feel convinced that they have the power of securing that property and those rights against all domestic injustice and arbitrary oppression on the part of the sovereign.
The Goths commenced their relations with the Roman Empire before the middle of the third century; and during the period they dwelt in the countries adjoining the Roman provinces, they made great progress in civilization, and in military and political knowledge. From the time Aurelian abandoned to them the province of Dacia, they became the lords of a fertile, cultivated, and well-peopled country. As the great body of the agricultural population was left behind by the Romans when they vacated the province, the Goths found themselves the proprietors of lands, from which they appear to have drawn a fixed revenue, leaving the old inhabitants in the enjoyment of their estates. To warriors of their simple habits of life, these revenues were amply sufficient to enable them to spend their time in hunting, to purchase arms and horses, and to maintain a band of retainers trained to war. The personal independence enjoyed by every Gothic warrior who possessed a landed revenue, created a degree of anarchy in the territories they subdued which was everywhere more ruinous than the systematic oppression of Rome. Still in Dacia the Goths were enabled to improve their arms and discipline, and to assume the ideas and manners of a military and territorial aristocracy. Though they remained always inferior to the Romans in military science and civil arts, they were their equals in bravery, and their superiors in honesty and truth; so that the Goths were always received with favour in the imperial service. It must not be forgotten, that no comparison ought to be established between the Gothic contingents and the provincial conscripts. The Gothic warriors were selected from a race of landed gentry devoted exclusively to arms, and which looked with contempt on all industrious occupations; while the native troops of the empire were taken from the poorest peasantry, torn from their cottages, and mingled with slaves and the dissolute classes of the cities, who were induced to enlist from hunger or a love of idleness. The number and importance of the Gothic forces in the Roman armies during the reign of Theodosius, enabled several of their commanders to attain the highest rank ; and among these officers, Alaric was the most distinguished by his future greatness.
The death of Theodosius threw the administration of the Eastern Empire into the hands of Rufinus, the minister of Arcadius; and that of the Western, into those of Stilicho, the guardian of Honorius. The discordant elements which composed the Roman Empire began to reveal all their incongruities under these two ministers. Rufinus was a civilian from Gaul; and from his Roman habits and feelings, and western prejudices, disagreeable to the Greeks. Stilicho was of barbarian descent, and consequently equally unacceptable to the aristocracy of Rome; but he was an able and popular soldier, and had served with distinction both in the East and in the West. As Stilicho was the husband of Serena, the niece and adopted daughter of Theodosius the Great, his alliance with the imperial family gave him an unusual influence in the administration. The two ministers hated one another with all the violence of aspiring ambition; and, unrestrained by any feeling of patriotism, each was more intent on ruining his rival than on serving the State. The greater number of the officers in the Roman service, both civil and military, were equally inclined to sacrifice every public duty for the gratification of their avarice or ambition.
At this time Alaric, partly from disgust at not receiving all the preferment which he expected, and partly in the hope of compelling the government of the Eastern Empire to agree to his terms, quitted the imperial service and retired towards the frontiers, where he assembled a force sufficiently large to enable him to act independently of all authority. Availing himself of the disputes between the ministers of the two emperors, and perhaps instigated by Rufinus or Stilicho to aid their intrigues, he established himself in the provinces to the south of the Danube. In the year 395 he advanced to the walls of Constantinople; but the movement was evidently a feint, as he must have known his inability to attack a large and populous city defended by a powerful garrison, and which even in ordinary times received the greater part of its supplies by sea. After this demonstration, Alaric marched into Thrace and Macedonia, and extended his ravages into Thessaly. Rufinus has been accused of assisting Alaric’s invasion, and his negotiations with him while in the vicinity of Constantinople countenance the suspicion. When the Goth found the northern provinces exhausted, he resolved to invade Greece and Peloponnesus, which had long enjoyed profound tranquillity. The cowardly behaviour of Antiochus the proconsul of Achaia, and of Gerontius the commander of the Roman troops, both friends of Rufinus, was considered a confirmation of his treachery. Thermopylae was left unguarded, and Alaric entered Greece without encountering any resistance.
The ravages committed by Alaric’s army have been described in fearful terms; villages and towns were burnt, the men were murdered, and the women and children carried away to be sold as slaves by the Goths. But even this invasion affords proofs that Greece had recovered from the desolate condition in which it had been seen by Pausanias. The walls of Thebes had been rebuilt, and it was in such a state of defence that Alaric could not venture to besiege it, but hurried forward to Athens, where he concluded a treaty with the civil and military authorities, which enabled him to enter the city without opposition. His success may have been assisted by treacherous arrangements with Rufinus, for he appears to have really occupied Athens rather as a federate leader than as a foreign conqueror. The tale recorded by Zosimus of the Christian Alaric having been induced by the apparition of the goddess Minerva to spare Athens, is refuted by the direct testimony of other writers, who mention the capitulation of the city. The fact that the depredations of Alaric hardly exceeded the ordinary license of a rebellious general is, at the same time, perfectly established. The public buildings and monuments of ancient splendour suffered no wanton destruction from his visit; but there can be no doubt that Alaric and his troops levied heavy contributions on the city and its inhabitants. Athens evidently owed its good treatment to the condition of its population, and perhaps to the strength of its walls, which imposed some respect on the Goths; for the rest of Attica did not escape the usual fate of the districts through which the barbarians marched. The town of Eleusis, and the great temple of Ceres, were plundered and then destroyed. Whether this work of devastation was caused by the Christian monks who attended the Gothic host, and excited their bigoted Arian votaries to avenge the cause of religion on the temples of the pagans at Eleusis, because they had been compelled to spare the shrines at Athens, or whether it was the accidental effect of the eager desire of plunder, or of the wanton love of destruction, among a disorderly body of troops, is not very material. Bigoted monks, avaricious officers, and disorderly soldiers, were probably all numerous in Alaric’s band.
Gerontius, who had abandoned the pass of Thermopylae, took no measures to defend the Isthmus of Corinth and the difficult passes of Mount Geranea, so that Alaric marched unopposed into the Peloponnesus, and, in a short time, captured almost every city in it without meeting with any resistance. Corinth, Argos, and Sparta, were all plundered. The security in which Greece had long remained, and the policy of the government, which discouraged their independent institutions, had conspired to leave the province without protection, and the people without arms. The facility which Alaric met with in effecting his conquest, and his views, which were directed to obtain an establishment in the empire as an imperial officer or feudatory governor, rendered the conduct of his army not that of avowed enemies. Yet it often happened that they laid waste everything in the line of their march, burnt villages, and massacred the inhabitants.
Alaric passed the winter in the Peloponnesus without encountering any opposition from the people; yet many of the Greek cities still kept a body of municipal police, which might surely have taken the field, had the imperial officers endeavoured to organize a regular resistance in the country districts. The moderation of the Goth, and the treason of the Roman governor, seem both attested by this circumstance. The government of the Eastern Empire had fallen into such disorder at the commencement of the reign of Arcadius, that even after Rufinus had been assassinated by the army, the new ministers of the empire gave themselves very little concern about the fate of Greece. Honorius had a more able, active, and ambitious minister in Stilicho, and he determined to punish the Goths for their audacity in daring to establish themselves in the empire without the imperial authority. Stilicho had attempted to save Thessaly in the preceding year, but had been compelled to return to Italy, after he had reached Thessalonica, by an express order of the emperor Arcadius, or rather of his minister Rufinus. In the spring of the year 396, he assembled a fleet at Ravenna, and transported his army directly to Corinth, which the Goths do not appear to have garrisoned, and where, probably, the Roman governor still resided. Stilicho’s army, aided by the inhabitants, soon cleared the open country of the Gothic bands; and Alaric drew together the remains of his diminished army in the elevated plain of Mount Pholoe, which has since served as a point of retreat for other northern invaders of Greece. Stilicho contented himself with occupying the passes; but his carelessness, or the relaxed discipline of his troops, afforded the watchful Alaric an opportunity of escaping with his army, of carrying off all the plunder which he had collected, and of gaining the Isthmus of Corinth.
Alaric succeeded in conducting his army into Epirus, which he treated, as he had expected to treat the Peloponnesus. Stilicho was supposed to have winked at his proceedings, in order to render his own services indispensable by leaving a dangerous enemy in the heart of the Eastern Empire; but the truth appears to be, that Alaric availed himself so ably of the jealousy with which the court of Constantinople viewed the proceedings of Stilicho, as to negotiate a treaty, by which he was received into the Roman service, and that he really entered Epirus as a general of Arcadius. Stilicho was again ordered to retire from the Eastern Empire, and he obeyed rather than commence a civil war by pursuing Alaric. The conduct of the Gothic troops in Epirus was, perhaps, quite as orderly as that of the Roman legionaries; so that Alaric was probably welcomed as a protector when he obtained the appointment of Commander-in-chief of the imperial forces in Eastern Illyricum, which he held for four years. During this time he prepared his troops to seek his fortune in the Western Empire. The military commanders, whether Roman or barbarian, were equally indifferent to the fate of the people whom they were employed to defend; and the Greeks appear to have suffered equal oppression from the armies of Stilicho and Alaric.
The condition of the European Greeks underwent a great change for the worse, in consequence of this unfortunate plundering expedition of the Goths. The destruction of their property, and the loss of their slaves, were so great, that the evil could only have been slowly repaired under the best government, and with perfect security of their possessions. In the miserable condition to which the Eastern Empire was reduced, this was hopeless; and a long period elapsed before the mass of the population of Greece again attained the prosperous condition in which Alaric had found it; nor were some of the cities which he destroyed ever rebuilt. The ruin of roads, aqueducts, cisterns, and public buildings, erected by the accumulation of capital in prosperous and enterprising ages, was a loss which could never be repaired by a diminished and impoverished population. History generally preserves but few traces of the devastations which affect only the people; but the sudden misery inflicted on Greece was so great, when contrasted with her previous tranquillity, that testimonies of her sufferings are to be found in the laws of the empire. Her condition excited the compassion of the government during the reign of Theodosius II. There exists a law which exempts the cities of Illyricum from the charge of contributing towards the expenses of the public spectacles at Constantinople, in consequence of the sufferings which the ravages of the Goths, and the oppressive administration of Alaric, had inflicted on the inhabitants. There is another law which proves that many estates were without owners, in consequence of the depopulation caused by the Gothic invasions; and a third law relieves Greece from two-thirds of the ordinary contributions to government, in consequence of the poverty to which the inhabitants were reduced.
This unfortunate period is as remarkable for the devastations committed by the Huns in Asia, as for those of the Goths in Europe, and marks the commencement of the rapid decrease of the Greek race, and of the decline of Greek civilization throughout the empire. While Alaric was laying waste the provinces of European Greece, an army of Huns from the banks of the Tanais penetrated through Armenia into Cappadocia, and extended their ravages over Syria, Cilicia, and Mesopotamia. Antioch, at last, resisted their assaults, and arrested their progress; but they took many Greek cities of importance, and inflicted an incalculable injury on the population of the provinces which they entered. In a few months they retreated to their seats on the Palus Maeotis, having contributed much to accelerate the ruin of the richest and most populous portion of the civilized world.
The Greeks arrested the conquests of the Northern barbarians.
From the time of Alaric’s ravages in the Grecian provinces, until the accession of Justinian, the government of the Eastern Empire assumed more and more that administrative character which it retained until the united forces of the Crusaders and Venetians destroyed it in the year 1204. A feeling that the interests of the emperor and his subjects were identical, began to become prevalent throughout the Greek population. This feeling was greatly strengthened by the attention which the government paid to improving the civil condition of its subjects. The judicial and financial administration received, during this period, a greater degree of power, as well as a more bureaucratic organization; and the whole strength of the government no longer reposed on the military establishments. Rebellions of the army became of rarer occurrence, and usually originated in civil intrigues, or the discontent of unrewarded mercenaries. A slight glance at the history of the Eastern Empire is sufficient to show that the court of Constantinople possessed a degree of authority over its most powerful officers, and a direct connection with its distant provinces, which had not previously existed in the Roman Empire.
Still the successful resistance which the Eastern Empire offered to the establishment of the northern nations within its limits, must be attributed to the density of the native population, to the number of the walled towns, and to its geographical configuration, rather than to the spirit of the Greeks, to the military force of the legions, or to any general measures of improvement adopted by the imperial government. Even where most successful, it was a passive rather than an active resistance. The sea which separated the European and Asiatic provinces opposed physical difficulties to invaders, while it afforded great facilities for defence, retreat, and renewed attack to the Roman forces, as long as they could maintain a naval superiority. These circumstances unfortunately increased the power of the central administration to oppress the people, as well as to defend them against foreign invaders, and allowed the emperors to persist in the system of fiscal rapacity which constantly threatened to annihilate a large portion of the wealth from which a considerable mass of the citizens derived their subsistence. At the very moment when the evils of the system became so apparent as to hold out some hope of reform, the fiscal exigencies of the government were increased by money becoming an important element in war, since it was necessary to hire armies as well as to provide facilities of transport, and means of concentration, in cases of danger, defeat, or victory; so that it began to be a financial calculation in many cases, whether it was more prudent to defend or to ransom a province. The great distance of the various frontiers, though it increased the difficulty of preventing every hostile incursion, hindered any rebellious general from uniting under his command the whole forces of the empire. The control which the government was thus enabled to exercise over all its military officers, secured a regular system of discipline, by centralizing the services of equipping, provisioning, and paying the soldiers; and the direct connection between the troops and the government could no longer be counteracted by the personal influence which a general might acquire, in consequence of a victorious campaign. The power of the emperors over the army, and the complete separation which existed in the social condition of the citizen and the soldier, rendered any popular movement in favour of reform hopeless. A successful rebellion could only have created a new military power; it could not have united the interests of the military with those of the people, unless changes had been effected which were too great to be attempted by any individual legislator, and too extensive to be accomplished during one generation. The subjects of the empire were also composed of so many nations, differing in language, usages, and civilization, that unity of measures on the part of the people was impossible, while no single province could expect to obtain redress of its own grievances by an appeal to arms.
The age was one of war and conquest; yet, with all the aspirations and passions of a despotic and military State, the Eastern Empire was, by its financial position, compelled to act on the defensive, and to devote all its attention to rendering the military subordinate to the civil power, in order to save the empire from being eaten up by its own defenders. Its measures were at last successful; the northern invaders were repulsed, the army was rendered obedient, and the Greek nation was saved from the fate of the Romans. The army became gradually attached to the source of pay and honour; and it was rather from a general feature of all despotic governments, than from any peculiarity in the Eastern Empire, that the soldiery frequently appear devoted to the imperial power, but perfectly indifferent to the person of the emperor. The condition of the Western Empire requires to be contrasted with that of the Eastern, in order to appreciate the danger of the crisis through which favourable circumstances, and some prudence, carried the government of Constantinople. Yet, even in the West, in spite of all the disorganization of the government, the empire suffered more from the misconduct of the Roman officers than from the strength of its assailants. Even Genseric could hardly have penetrated into Africa unless he had been invited by Boniface, and assisted by his rebellion; while the imperial officers in Britain, Gaul, and Spain, who, towards the end of the reign of Honorius, assumed the imperial title, laid those provinces open to the incursions of the barbarians. The government of the Western Empire was really destroyed, the frame of political society was broken in pieces, and the provinces depopulated, some time before its final conquest had been achieved by foreigners. The Roman principle of aristocratic rule was unable to supply that bond of union which the national organization of the Greeks, aided by the influence of the established church, furnished in the East.
It has been already observed that the geographical features of the Eastern Empire exercised an important influence on its fate. Both in Europe and Asia extensive provinces are bounded or divided by chains of mountains which terminate on the shores of the Adriatic, the Black Sea, or the Mediterranean. These mountain-ranges compel all invaders to advance by certain well-known roads and passes, along which the means of subsistence for large armies can only be collected by foresight and prudent arrangements. The ordinary communication by land between neighbouring provinces is frequently tedious and difficult; and the inhabitants of many mountain districts retained their national character, institutions, and language, almost unaltered during the whole period of the Roman sway. In these provinces the population was active in resisting every foreign invader; and the conviction that their mountains afforded them an impregnable fortress insured the success of their efforts. Thus the feelings and prejudices of the portion of the inhabitants of the empire which had been long opposed to the Roman government, now operated powerfully to support the imperial administration. These circumstances and some others which acquired strength as the general civilization of the empire declined, concurred to augment the importance of the native population existing in the different provinces of the Eastern Empire, and prevented the Greeks from acquiring a moral, as well as a political, ascendancy in the distant provinces. In Europe, the Thracians distinguished themselves by their hardihood and military propensities. In Asia, the Pamphylians, having obtained arms to defend themselves against the brigands who began to infest the provinces in large bands, employed them with success in opposing the Goths. The Isaurians, who had always retained possession of their arms, began to occupy a place in the history of the empire, which they acquired by their independent spirit and warlike character. The Armenians, the Syrians, and the Egyptians, all engaged in a rivalry with the Greeks, and even contested their superiority in literary and ecclesiastical knowledge. These circumstances exercised considerable influence in preventing the court of Constantinople from identifying itself completely with the Greek people, and enabled the Eastern emperors to cling to the maxims and pride of ancient Rome as the ground of their sovereignty over so many various races of mankind.
The wealth of the Eastern Empire was a principal means of its defence against the barbarians. While it invited their invasions, it furnished the means of repulsing their attacks or of bribing their forbearance. It was usefully employed in securing the retreat of those bodies who, after having broken through the Roman lines of defence, found themselves unable to seize any fortified post, or to extend the circle of their ravages. Rather than run the risk of engaging with the Roman troops, by delaying their march for the purpose of plundering the open country, they were often content to retire without ravaging the district, on receiving a sum of money and a supply of provisions. These sums were generally so inconsiderable, that it would have been the height of folly in the government to refuse to pay them, and thus expose its subjects to ruin and slavery; but as it was evident that the success of the barbarians would invite new invasions, it is surprising that the imperial administration should not have taken better measures to place the inhabitants of the exposed districts in a condition to defend themselves, and thus secure the treasury against a repetition of this ignominious expenditure. But the jealousy with which the Roman government regarded its own subjects was the natural consequence of the oppression with which it ruled them. No danger seemed so great as that of intrusting the population with arms.
The commerce of the Eastern Empire, and the gold and silver mines of Thrace and Pontus, still furnished abundant supplies of the precious metals. We know that the mint of Constantinople was always rich in gold, for its gold coinage circulated through western and northern Europe, for several centuries after the destruction of the Western Empire. The proportion in the value of gold to silver, which in the time of Herodotus was as one to thirteen, was, after a lapse of eight centuries, in the time of Arcadius and Honorius, as one to fourteen and two-fifths. The commerce of Constantinople embraced, at this time, almost the trade of the world. The manufactories of the East supplied Western Europe with many articles of daily use, and the merchants carried on an extensive transport trade with Central Asia. By means of the Red Sea, the productions of southern Africa and India were collected and distributed among numerous nations who inhabited the shores within and without the Straits of Babelmandeb —countries which were then far richer, more populous, and in a much higher state of civilization than at present. The precious metals, which were becoming rare in Europe, from the stagnation of trade, and the circumscribed exchanges which take place in a rude society, were still kept in active circulation by the various wants of the population of the Eastern Empire. Commodities from far distant lands were still consumed in large quantities. The island of Jotaba, which was a free city in the Red Sea, became a mercantile position of great importance; and from the title of the col- lectors of the imperial customs which were exacted in its port, the Eastern emperors must have levied a duty of ten per cent, on all the merchandise destined for the Roman Empire. This island was occupied by the Arabs for some time, but returned under the power of the Eastern Empire during the reign of Anastasius.
As the Eastern Empire generally maintained a decided naval superiority over its enemies, commerce seldom suffered any serious interruption. The pirates who infested the Hellespont about the year 438, and the Vandals under Genseric who ravaged the coasts of Greece in 466 and 475, were more dreaded by the people on account of their cruelty than by the government or the merchants in consequence of their success, which was never great. In the general disorder which reigned over the whole of Western Europe, the only secure depots for merchandise were in the Eastern Empire. The emperors saw the importance of their commercial influence, and made considerable exertions to support their naval superiority. Theodosius II assembled a fleet of eleven hundred transports when he proposed to attack the Vandals in Africa. The armament of Leo the Great, for the same purpose, was on a still larger scale, and formed one of the greatest naval forces ever assembled by the Roman power.
Declining condition of the Greek population in the European provinces of the Eastern Empire
The ravages inflicted by the northern nations on the frontier provinces, during the century which elapsed from the defeat of Valens to the immigration of the Ostrogoths into Italy, were so continual that the agricultural population was almost destroyed in the countries immediately to the south of the Danube, and the inhabitants of Thrace and Macedonia were greatly diminished in number, and began to lose the use of their ancient languages. The declining trade caused by decreased consumption, poverty, and insecurity of property, also lowered the scale of civilization among the whole Greek people. One tribe of barbarians followed another, as long as anything was left to plunder. The Huns, under Attila, laid waste the provinces to the south of the Danube for about five years, and were only induced to retreat on receiving from the emperor six thousand pounds of gold, and the promise of an annual payment of two thousand. The Ostrogoths, after obtaining an establishment to the south of the Danube, as allies of the empire, and receiving an annual subsidy from the Emperor Marcian to guard the frontiers, availed themselves of pretexts to plunder Moesia, Macedonia, Thrace, and Thessaly. Their king, Theodoric, proved by far the most dangerous enemy that the Eastern Empire had yet encountered. Educated as a hostage at the court of Constantinople, a residence of ten years enabled him to acquire a complete knowledge of the languages, the politics, and the administration of the imperial government. Though he inherited an independent sovereignty in Pannonia, he found that country so exhausted by the oppression of his countrymen, and by the ravages of other barbarians, that the whole nation of the Ostrogoths was compelled to emigrate, and Theodoric became a military adventurer in the Roman service, and acted as an ally, a mercenary, or an enemy, according as circumstances appeared to render the assumption of these different characters most conducive to his own aggrandisement.
It would throw little additional light on the state of the Greeks, to trace minutely the records of Theodoric’s quarrels with the imperial court, or to narrate, in detail, the ravages committed by him, or by another Gothic mercenary of the same name, in the provinces, from the shores of the Black Sea to those of the Adriatic. These plundering expeditions were not finally terminated until Theodoric quitted the Eastern Empire to conquer Italy, and found the Ostrogothic monarchy, by which he obtained the title of the Great.
It was certainly no imaginary feeling of respect which prevented Alaric, Genseric, Attila, and Theodoric, from attempting the conquest of Constantinople. If they had thought the task as easy as the subjugation of Rome, there can be no doubt that the Eastern Empire would have been as fiercely assailed as the Western, and new Rome would have shared the fate of the world’s ancient mistress. These warriors were only restrained by the difficulties which the undertaking presented, and by the conviction that they would meet with a far more determined resistance on the part of the inhabitants, than the corrupt condition of the imperial court and of the public administration appeared at first sight to promise. Their experience in civil and military affairs revealed to them the existence of an inherent strength in the population of the Eastern Empire, and a multiplicity of resources which their attacks might call into action but could not overcome. Casual encounters often showed that the people were neither destitute of courage nor military spirit, when circumstances favoured their display. Attila himself, the terror both of Goths and Romans — the Scourge of God — was defeated before the town of Asemous, a frontier fortress of Illyricum. Though he regarded its conquest as a matter of the greatest importance to his plans, the inhabitants baffled all his attempts, and set his power at defiance. Genseric was defeated by the inhabitants of the little town of Taenarus in Laconia. Theodoric did not venture to attack Thessalonica, even at a time when the inhabitants enraged at the neglect of the imperial government drove out the officers of the emperor Zeno, overthrew his statues, and prepared to defend themselves against the barbarians with their own unassisted resources. There is another remarkable example of the independent spirit of the Greek people, which saved their property from ruin, in the case of Heraclea, a city of Macedonia. The inhabitants, in the moment of danger, placed their bishop at the head of the civil government, and intrusted him with power to treat with Theodoric, who, on observing their preparations for defence, felt satisfied that it would be wiser to retire on receiving a supply of provisions for his army, than venture on plundering the country. Many other instances might be adduced to prove that the hordes of the northern barbarians were in reality not sufficiently numerous to overcome a determined resistance on the part of the Greek nation, and that the principal cause of their success within the Roman territories was the vicious nature of the Roman government.
Theodoric succeeded, during the year 479, in surprising Dyrrachium by treachery; and the alarm which this conquest caused at the court of Constantinople shows that the government was not blind to the importance of preventing any foreign power from acquiring a permanent dominion over a Greek city. The emperor Zeno offered to cede to the Goths the extensive province of Dardania, which was then almost destitute of inhabitants, in order to induce Theodoric to quit Dyrrachium. That city, the emperor declared, constituted a part of the well-peopled provinces of the empire, and it was therefore in vain for Theodoric to expect that he could keep possession of it. This remarkable observation shows that the desolation of the northern provinces was now beginning to compel the government of the Eastern Empire to regard the countries inhabited by the Greeks, which were still comparatively populous, as forming the national territory of the Roman Empire in Europe.
Improvement in the Eastern Empire from the death of Arcadius to the accession of Justinian
From the death of Arcadius to the accession of Justinian, during a period of one hundred and twenty years, the empire of the East was governed by six sovereigns of very different characters, whose reigns have been generally viewed through the medium of religious prejudices; yet, in spite of the dissimilarity of their personal conduct, the general policy of their government is characterized by similar features. The power of the emperor was never more unlimited, but it was never more systematically exercised. The administration of the empire, and of the imperial household, were equally regarded as forming a part of the sovereign’s private estate, while the lives and fortunes of his subjects were considered as a portion of the property of which he was the master. The power of the emperor was now controlled by the danger of foreign invasions, and by the power of the church. The oppressed could seek refuge with the barbarians, and the persecuted might find the means of opposing the government by the power of the orthodox clergy, who were strong in the support of a great part of the population. The fear of divisions in the Church itself, which was now intimately connected with the State, served also in some degree as a restraint on the arbitrary conduct of the emperor. The interest of the sovereign became thus identified with the sympathies of the majority of his subjects; yet the difficulty of deciding what policy the emperor ought to follow in the ecclesiastical disputes of the heretics and the orthodox was so great, as at times to give an appearance of doubt and indecision to the religious opinions of several emperors.
The decline of the Roman power had created an eager desire to remedy the disorders which had brought the empire to the brink of destruction. Most of the provinces of the West were inhabited by mixed races without union; the power of the military commanders was beyond the control of public opinion; and neither the emperor, the senate, nor the higher clergy, were directly connected with the body of the people. In the East, the opinion of the people possessed some authority, and it was consequently studied and treated with greater deference. The importance of enforcing the impartial administration of justice was so deeply felt by the government, that the emperors themselves attempted to restrict the application of their legislative power in individual and isolated cases. The Emperor Anastasius ordered the judges to pay no attention to any private rescript, if it should be found contrary to the received laws of the empire, or to the public good; in such cases, he commanded the judges to follow the established laws. The senate of Constantinople possessed great authority in controlling the general administration, and the dependent position of its members prevented that authority from being regarded with jealousy. The permanent existence of this body enabled it to establish fixed maxims of policy, and to render these maxims the grounds of the ordinary decisions of government. By this means a systematic administration was firmly consolidated, over which public opinion exerted some direct influence, and by its systematic operation and fixed rules of procedure it became in some degree a check on the temporary and fluctuating views of the sovereign.
Theodosius II succeeded his father Arcadius at the age of eight; and he governed the Empire for forty-two years, during which he left the care of the public administration very much in the hands of others. His sister Pulcheria, though only two years older than her brother, exercised great influence over his education; and she seems, in all her actions, to have been guided by sentiments of philanthropy as well as piety. She taught him to perform the ceremonial portion of his imperial duties with grace and dignity, but she could not teach him, perhaps he was incapable of learning, how to act and think as became a Roman emperor. At the age of fifteen Pulcheria received the rank of Augusta, and assumed the direction of public affairs for her brother. Theodosius was naturally mild, humane, and devout. Though he possessed some manly personal accomplishments, his mind and character were deficient in strength. He cultivated the arts of writing and painting with such success as to render his skill in the illumination of manuscripts his most remarkable personal distinction. His Greek subjects, mingling kindness with contempt, bestowed on him the name of Kalligraphos. His incapacity for business was so great, that he is hardly accused of having augmented the misfortunes of his reign by his own acts. A spirit of reform, and a desire of improvement, had penetrated into the imperial administration; and his reign was distinguished by many internal changes for the better. Among these, the publication of the Theodosian code, and the establishment of the university of Constantinople, were the most important. The Theodosian code afforded the people the means of arraigning the conduct of their rulers before fixed principles of law, and the university of Constantinople established the influence of Greek literature, and gave the Greek language an official position in the Eastern Empire. The reign of Theodosius was also distinguished by two great remissions of arrears of taxation. By these concessions the greatest possible boon was conferred on the people, for they extinguished all claim for unpaid taxation over a period of sixty years. The weakness of the emperor, by throwing the direction of public business into the hands of the senate and the ministers, for a long period consolidated that systematic administration which characterizes the government of his successors. He was the first of the emperors who was more a Greek than a Roman in his feelings and tastes; but his inactivity prevented his private character from exercising much influence on his public administration.
In the long series of eight centuries which elapsed from the final establishment of the Eastern Empire, at the accession of Arcadius, to its destruction by the Crusaders, no Athenian citizen gained a place of honour in the annals of the empire. The schools of Athens were fruitful in pedants, but they failed to produce true men. In ancient times, it was observed that those who were trained as athletes were not distinguished as soldiers; and modern times confirm the testimony afforded by the history of the Eastern Empire, that professors of universities, and even teachers of political philosophy, make bad statesmen. But though the men of Athens had degenerated into literary triflers, the women upheld the fame of the city of Minerva. Two Athenian beauties, Eudocia and Irene, are among the most celebrated empresses who occupied the throne of Constantinople. The eventful life of Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II, does not require to borrow romantic incidents from Eastern tales; it only asks for genius in the narrator to unfold a rich web of romance. Some circumstances in her history deserve notice, even in this volume, as they throw light incidentally on the state of society among the Greeks.
The beautiful Eudocia was the daughter of an Athenian philosopher, Leontios, who still sacrificed to the heathen divinities. Her heathen name was Athenais. She received a classical education, while she acquired the elegant accomplishments of that aristocratic society which had cultivated the amenities of life from the time of Plato, who made use of carpets in his rooms, and allowed ladies to attend his lectures. Her extraordinary talents induced her father to give her a careful literary and philosophical education. All her teachers were gratified with her progress. Her native accent charmed the inhabitants of Constantinople, accustomed to pure Attic Greek by the eloquence of Chrysostom; and she also spoke Latin with the graceful dignity of a Roman lady. The only proof of rustic simplicity which her biography enables us to trace in Athenian manners, is the fact that her father, who was a man of wealth as well as a philosopher, believed that her beauty, virtue, and accomplishments, would obtain her a suitable marriage without any dowry. He left his whole fortune to his son, and the consequence was that the beautiful Athenais, unable to find a husband among the provincial nobles who visited Athens, was compelled to try her fortune at the court of Constantinople, under the patronage of Pulcheria, in the semi-menial position which we now term a maid of honour. Pulcheria was then only fifteen years old, and Eudocia was probably twenty. The young Augusta was soon gratified by the conversion of her beautiful heathen protégée to Christianity; but time passed on, and the courtiers of Constantinople showed no better taste in matrimony than the provincial decurions. The dowerless Eudocia remained unmarried, until Pulcheria persuaded her docile brother to fall in love with the fair Athenian. At the ripe age of twenty-seven, she became the wife of Theodosius II, who was twenty, and the pagans might then boast that Leontios had acted as a seer, not as a pedant, in leaving her without a dowry.
Twenty years after her marriage, Eudocia was accused of a criminal passion for Paulinus, a handsome officer of the court. At the age of fifty the blood is usually tame, and waits upon the judgment. We are also led to suppose that Paulinus, whom one of the chroniclers tells us Eudocia loved because he was very learned and very handsome, had also fallen into the sere and yellow leaf, for the unlawful attachment of the empress was revealed by his being laid up with the gout. The story runs thus. As the emperor Theodosius was going to church on the feast of Epiphany, a poor man presented him with a Phrygian apple of extraordinary size. The emperor and all the senate stopped and admired the monstrous apple, and Theodosius made his treasurer pay the poor man 150 gold byzants. The apple was sent immediately to Eudocia, who lost no time in forwarding it to the constant object of her thoughts, the gouty Paulinus. He, with less of devoted affection than might have been expected considering the rank and circumstances of the donor, despatched it as a present to the emperor, who, on his return from church, found his costly Phrygian apple ready to welcome him a second time. Theodosius not being satisfied with the manner in which his wife had treated his present, asked her what she had done with it; and Eudocia, whose fifty years had not diminished her appetite for fruit in a forenoon, replied with delightful simplicity, that she had eaten the monster. This falsehood awakened green-eyed jealousy in the heart of Theodosius. Perhaps the Kalligraphos, on his way home from church, had contemplated adorning the initial letter of a manuscript with a miniature of Eudocia holding the enormous apple in her hand. A scene of course followed; the apple was produced; the emperor was eloquent in his reproaches, the empress equally eloquent in her tears, as may be found better expressed in similar cases in modern novels than in ancient histories. The result was that the handsome man with the gout was banished, and shortly after put to death. The empress was sent into exile with becoming pomp, under the pretext of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where she displayed her learning by paraphrasing several portions of Scripture in heroic verses. Gibbon very justly observes that this celebrated story of the apple is fit only for the Arabian Nights, where something not very unlike it may be found. His opinion is doubly valuable, from the disposition he generally shows to credit similar tales of scandal, as in the case of the secret history of Procopius, to which he ascribes more authority than it deserves. Eudocia on her deathbed declared that the reports of her criminal attachment to Paulinus were false. They must have been very prevalent, or she would not have considered it necessary to give them this solemn denial. Her death is placed in the year 460.
Marcian, a Thracian of humble birth, who had risen from a common soldier to the rank of senator, and had already attained the age of fifty-eight, was selected by Pulcheria as the man most worthy to fill the imperial throne on the death of her brother. He received the rank of her husband merely to secure his title to the empire. She had taken monastic vows at an early age, though she continued to bear, during her brother’s reign, a considerable part in the conduct of public business, having generally acted as his counsellor. The conduct of Marcian, after he became emperor, justified Pulcheria’s choice; and it is probable that he was one of the senators who had supported the systematic policy by which Pulcheria endeavoured to restore the strength of the empire; a policy which sought to limit the arbitrary exercise of the despotic power of the emperor by fixed institutions, well-regulated forms of procedure, and an educated and organized body of civil officials. Marcian was a soldier who loved peace without fearing war. One of his first acts was to refuse payment of the tribute which Attila had exacted from Theodosius. His reign lasted six years and a half, and was chiefly employed in restoring the resources of the empire, and alleviating its burdens. In the theological disputes which divided his subjects, Marcian attempted to act with impartiality; and he assembled the council of Chalcedon in the vain hope of establishing a system of ecclesiastical doctrine common to the whole empire. His attempt to identify the Christian church with the Roman Empire only widened the separation of the different sects of Christians; and the opinions of the dissenters, while they were regarded as heretical, began to be adopted as national. Religious communities everywhere assumed a national character. The Eutychian heresy became the religion of Egypt; Nestorianism was that of Mesopotamia. In such a state of things Marcian sought to temporize from feelings of humanity, and bigots made this spirit of toleration a reproach.
Leo the Elder, another Thracian, was elected emperor, on the death of Marcian, by the influence of Aspar, a general of barbarian descent, who had acquired an authority similar to that which Stilicho and Aetius had possessed in the West. Aspar being a foreigner and an Arian, durst not himself, notwithstanding his influence and favour with the army, aspire to the imperial throne; a fact which proves that the political constitution of the government, and the fear of public opinion, exercised some control over the despotic power of the court of Constantinople. The insolence of Aspar and his family determined Leo to diminish the authority of the barbarian leaders in the imperial service; and he adopted measures for recruiting the army from his native subjects. The system of his predecessors had been to place more reliance on foreigners than on natives; to employ mercenary strangers as their guards, and to form the best armed and highest paid corps entirely of barbarians. In consequence of the neglect with which the native recruits had been treated, they had fallen into such contempt that they were ranked in the legislation of the empire as an inferior class of military. Leo could not reform the army without removing Aspar; and, despairing of success by any other means, he employed assassination; thus casting, by the murder of his benefactor, so deep a stain on his own character that he received the surname of the Butcher. During his reign, the arms of the empire were generally unsuccessful; and his great expedition against Genseric, the most powerful and expensive naval enterprise which the Romans had ever prepared, was completely defeated. As it was dangerous to confide so mighty a force to any general of talent, Basiliscus, the brother of the empress, was intrusted with the chief command. His incapacity assisted the Vandals in defeating the expedition quite as much as the prudence and talents of Genseric. The Ostrogoths, in the meantime, extended their ravages from the Danube as far as Thessaly, and there appeared some probability that they would succeed in establishing a kingdom in Illyricum and Macedonia, completely independent of the imperial power. The civil administration of Leo was conducted with great prudence. He followed in the steps of his predecessor in all his attempts to lighten the burdens of his subjects, and to improve their condition. When Antioch suffered severely from an earthquake, he remitted the public taxes to the amount of one thousand pounds of gold, and granted freedom from all imposts to those who rebuilt their ruined houses. In the disputes which still divided the church, he adopted the orthodox or Greek party, in opposition to the Eutychians and Nestorians. The epithet of Great has been bestowed on him by the Greeks — a title, it should seem, conferred upon him rather with reference to his being the first of his name, and on account of his orthodoxy, than from the pre-eminence of his personal actions. He died at the age of sixty-three, and was succeeded by his grandson, Leo II, an infant, who survived his elevation only a few months, A.D. 474.
Zeno mounted the throne on the death of his son, Leo II. He was an Isaurian, whom Leo the Great had selected as the husband of his daughter Ariadne, when he was engaged in rousing the military spirit of his own subjects against the barbarian mercenaries. In the eyes of the Greeks, the Isaurians were little better than barbarians; but their valour had obtained for them a high reputation among the troops in the capital. The origin of Zeno rendered him unpopular with the Greeks; and as he did not participate in their nationality in religion, any more than in descent, he was accused of cherishing heretical opinions. He appears to have been unsteady in his views, and vicious in his conduct; yet the difficulties of his position were so great, and the prejudices against him so strong, that, in spite of all the misfortunes of his reign, the fact of his having maintained the integrity of the Eastern Empire attests that he could not have been totally deficient in courage and talent. The year after he ascended the throne, he was driven from Constantinople by Basiliscus, the brother of Leo’s widow Verina; but Basiliscus could only keep possession of the capital for about twenty months, and Zeno recovered his authority. The great work of his reign, which lasted seventeen years and a half, was the formation of an army of native troops to serve as a counterpoise to the barbarian mercenaries who threatened the Eastern Empire with the same fate as the Western. About the commencement of his reign he witnessed the final extinction of the Western Empire, and, for many years, the Theodorics threatened him with the loss of the greater part of the European provinces of the Eastern. Surely the man who successfully resisted the schemes and the forces of the great Theodoric could not have been a contemptible emperor, even though his orthodoxy were questionable. When it is remembered, therefore, that Zeno was an Isaurian, and a peacemaker in theological quarrels, it will not be surprising that the Greeks, who regarded him as a heterodox barbarian, should have heaped many calumnies on his memory. From his laws which have been preserved in the code of Justinian, he seems to have adopted judicious measures for alleviating the fiscal obligations of the landed proprietors, and his prudence was shown by his not proposing to the senate the adoption of his brother as his successor. The times were difficult; his brother was worthless, and the support of the official aristocracy was necessary. The disposal of the imperial crown was again placed in the hands of Ariadne.
Anastasius secured his election by his marriage with Ariadne. He was a native of Dyrrachium, and must have been near the age of sixty when he ascended the throne. In the year 514, Vitalian, general of the barbarian mercenaries, and a grandson of Aspar, assumed the title of emperor, and attempted to occupy Constantinople. His principal reliance was on the bigotry of the orthodox Greeks, for Anastasius showed a disposition to favour the Eutychians. But the military power of the mercenaries had been diminished by the policy of Leo and Zeno; and it now proved insufficient to dispose of the empire, as it could derive little support from the Greeks, who were more distinguished for ecclesiastical orthodox than for military courage. Vitalian was defeated in his attempt on Constantinople, and consented to resign the imperial title on receiving a large sum of money and the government of Thrace. The religious opinions of Anastasius unfortunately rendered him always unpopular, and he had to encounter some serious seditions while the empire was involved in wars with the Persians, Bulgarians, and Goths. Anastasius was more afraid of internal rebellions and seditions than of defeat by foreign armies; and he subdivided the command of his troops in such a way, that success in the field of battle was almost impossible. In one important campaign against Persia, the intendant-general was the officer of highest rank in an army of fifty thousand men. Military subordination, and vigorous measures, under such an arrangement, were impossible; and it reflects some credit on the organization of the Roman troops, that they were enabled to keep the field without total ruin.
Anastasius devoted his anxious care to alleviate the misfortunes of his subjects, and to diminish the taxes which oppressed them. He reformed the oligarchical system of the Roman curia, which had already received some modifications tending to restrict the ruinous obligation of mutual responsibility imposed on all members of municipalities for the whole amount of the land-tax due to the imperial treasury. The immediate consequence of his reforms was to increase the revenue, a result which was probably effected by preventing the local aristocracy from combining with the officers of the fisc. Such changes, though they are extremely beneficial to the great body of the people, are rarely noticed with much praise by historians, who generally write under the influence of central prejudices. He constructed the great wall, to secure from destruction the rich villages and towns in the vicinity of Constantinople. This wall extended from the Sea of Marmora, near Selymbria, to the Black Sea, forming an arc of about forty-two miles, at a distance of twenty-eight miles from the capital. The rarest virtue of a sovereign is the sacrifice of his own revenues, and, consequently, the diminution of his own power, for the purpose of increasing the happiness of his people. The greatest action of Anastasius was this voluntary diminution of the revenues of the State. He abolished the Chrysargyron, a lucrative but oppressive tax which affected the industry of every subject. The increased prosperity which this concession infused into society soon displayed its effects; and the brilliant exploits of the reign of Justinian must be traced back to the reinvigoration of the body politic of the Roman Empire by Anastasius. He also expended large sums in repairing the damages caused by war and earthquakes. He constructed a canal from the lake Sophon to the Gulf of Astacus, near Nicomedia, a work which Pliny had proposed to Trajan, and which was restored by the Byzantine emperor Alexius I; yet so exact was his economy, and so great were the revenues of the Eastern Empire, that he was enabled to accumulate, during his reign, three hundred and twenty thousand pounds of gold in the public treasury. The people had prayed at his accession that he might reign as he had lived; and, even in the eyes of the Greeks, he would probably have been regarded as the model of a perfect monarch, had he not shown a disposition to favour heresy. Misled, either by his wish to comprehend all sects in the established church, — as all nations were included in the empire, — or by a too decided attachment to the doctrines of the Eutychians, he excited the opposition of the orthodox party, whose domineering spirit troubled his internal administration by several dangerous seditions, and induced the Greeks to overlook his humane and benevolent policy. He reigned more than twenty-seven years.
Justin, the successor of Anastasius, had the merit of being strictly orthodox. He was a Thracian peasant from Tauresium, in Dardania, who entered the imperial guard as a common soldier. At the age of sixty-eight, when Anastasius died, he had attained the rank of commander-in-chief of the imperial guards, and a seat in the senate. It is said that he was intrusted with a large sum of money to further a court intrigue for the purpose of placing the crown on the head of some worthless courtier. He appropriated the money to secure his own election. His reign tended to unite more closely the church with the imperial authority, and to render the opposition of the heterodox more national in the various provinces where a national clergy and a national language existed. Justin was without education, but he possessed experience and talents. In his civil government he imitated the wise and economical policy of his predecessor, and his military experience enabled him to improve the condition of the army. He furnished large sums to alleviate the misery caused by a terrible earthquake at Antioch, and paid great attention to repairing the public buildings throughout the empire. His reign lasted nine years, A.D. 518-527.
It must be observed that the five emperors of whose character and policy the preceding sketch has described the prominent features, were men born in the middle or lower ranks of society; and all of them, with the exception of Zeno, had witnessed, as private individuals, the ravages of the barbarians in their native provinces, and suffered personally from the weak and disorganized state of the empire. They had all ascended the throne at a mature age, and these coincidences tended to imprint on their councils that uniformity of policy which marks their history. They had all more of the feelings of the people than of the dominant class, and were, consequently, more subjects than Romans. They appear to have participated in popular sympathies to a degree natural only to men who had long lived without courtly honours, and rare, indeed, even among those of the greatest genius, who are born or educated near the steps of a throne. That some part of the merit of these sovereigns was commonly ascribed to the experience which they had gained by a long life, is evident from the reply which, it is said, the Emperor Justin gave to the senators, who wished him to raise Justinian, at the age of forty, to the dignity of Augustus: “You should pray”, said the prudent monarch, “that a young man may never wear the imperial robes”.
During this eventful period, the Western Empire crumbled into ruins, while the Eastern was saved, in consequence of these emperors having organized the system of administration which has been most unjustly calumniated, under the name of Byzantine. The highest officers, and the proudest military commanders, were rendered completely dependent on ministerial departments, and were no longer able to conspire or rebel with impunity. The sovereign was no longer exposed to personal danger, nor the treasury to open peculation. But, unfortunately, the central executive power could not protect the people from fraud with the same ease as it guarded the treasury; and the emperors never perceived the necessity of intrusting the people with the power of defending themselves from the financial oppression of the subaltern administration.
The principles of political science and civil liberty were, indeed, very little understood by the people of the Roman Empire. The legislative, executive, and administrative powers of government were confounded, as well as concentrated, in the person of the sovereign. The emperor represented the sovereignty of Rome, which, even after the establishment of Christianity, was considered as something superhuman, if not precisely a divine institution. But, so ill can despotism balance the various powers of the State, and so incapable is it of studying the condition of the governed, that even under the best emperors, seditions and rebellions were not rare. They constituted the only means whereby the people could make their petitions heard; and the moment the populace ceased to be overawed by military force, every trifling discontent might, from accident, break out into a rebellion. The continual abuse to which arbitrary power is liable was felt by the emperors; and several of them attempted to restrain its exercise, in order that the general principles of legislation might not be violated by the imperial ordinances. Such laws express the sentiments of justice which animate the administration, but they are always useless; for no law can be of any avail unless a right to enforce its observance exist in some tribunal, independent of the legislative and executive powers of the State; and the very existence of such a tribunal implies that the State possesses a constitution which renders the law more powerful than the prince. Much, however, as many of the Roman emperors may have loved justice, no one was ever found who felt inclined to diminish his own authority so far as to render the law permanently superior to his own will. Yet a strong impulse towards improvement was felt throughout the empire; and, if the middle and upper classes of society had not been already so far reduced in number as to make their influence almost nugatory in the scale of civilization, there might have been some hope of the political regeneration of the Roman state. Patriotism and political honesty can, however, only become national virtues when the people possess a control over the conduct of their rulers, and when the rulers themselves publicly announce their political principles.
Erroneous views also of political economy led many of the emperors to increase the evil which they were endeavouring to remedy. Had the Emperor Anastasius left the three hundred and twenty thousand pounds of gold which he accumulated in the treasury circulating among his subjects, or had he employed it in works extending the industry of his people and adding to the security of their property, it is probable that his reign would have very greatly augmented the population of the empire, and pressed back the barbarians on their own thinly peopled lands. If it had been in his power to have added to this boon some guarantee against arbitrary impositions on the part of his successors, and against the unjust exactions of the administration, there can be no doubt that his reign would have restored to the empire much of the pristine energy of the republic; and that, instead of giving a false brilliancy to the reign of Justinian, he would have increased the happiness of the most civilized portion of mankind, and given a new impulse to population.
State of civilization and influence of national feelings during this period
The ravages of the Goths and Huns in Europe and Asia assisted in producing a great change in the state of society in the Eastern Empire, even though their efforts at conquest were successfully repulsed. In many provinces the higher classes were completely exterminated. The loss of their slaves and serfs, who had been carried away by the invaders, either reduced them to the condition of humble cultivators, or forced them to emigrate, and abandon their land, from which they were unable to obtain any revenue in the miserable state of cultivation to which the capture of their slaves, the destruction of their agricultural buildings, and the want of a market, had reduced the country. In many of the towns the diminished population was reduced to misery by the ruin of the district. The higher classes disappeared under the weight of the municipal duties which they were called upon to perform. Houses remained unlet; and even when let, the portion of rent which was not absorbed by the imperial taxes, was insufficient to supply the demands of the local expenditure. The labourer and the artisan alone could find bread; the walls of cities were allowed to fall into ruins; the streets were neglected; many public buildings had become useless; aqueducts remained unrepaired; internal communications ceased; and, with the extinction of the wealthy and educated classes, the local prejudices of the lower orders became the law of society. Yet, on the other hand, even amidst all the evidences of decline and misery in many parts of the empire, there were some favoured cities and districts which afforded evidence of progress. The lives and fortunes of the lower orders, and particularly of the slaves, were much better protected than in the most glorious periods of Greek and Roman history. The police was improved; and though luxury assisted the progress of effeminacy, it also aided the progress of civilization by giving stability to order. The streets of the great cities of the East were traversed with as much security during the night as by day.
The devastations of the northern invaders prepared the way for a great change in the races of mankind who dwelt in the regions between the Danube and the Mediterranean. New races were introduced from abroad and new races were formed by the admixture of native proprietors and colons with emigrants and domestic slaves. Colonies of agricultural emigrants were introduced into every province of the empire. Several of the languages still spoken in Eastern Europe bear evidence of changes which commenced at this period. Modern Greek, Albanian, and Vallachian may be considered more or less the representatives of the ancient languages of Greece, Epirus, and Thrace, though modified by the influence of foreign elements. In the provinces, the clergy alone were enabled to maintain a position which allowed them to devote some time to study. They accordingly became the principal depositaries of knowledge, and as their connection with the people was of the most intimate and friendly character, they employed the popular language to instruct their flocks, to preserve their attachment, and rouse their enthusiasm. In this way, ecclesiastical literature grew up in every province which possessed its own language and national character. The Scriptures were translated, read, and expounded to the people in their native dialect, in Armenian, in Syriac, in Coptic, and in Gothic, as well as in Latin and Greek. It was this connection between the people and their clergy which enabled the Orthodox Church, in the Eastern Empire, to preserve a popular character, in spite of the exertions of the emperors and the popes to give it a Roman or imperial, organization. Christianity, as a religion, was always universal in its character, but the Christian church long carried with it many national distinctions. The earliest church had been Jewish in its forms and opinions, and in the East it long retained a tincture of the oriental philosophy of its Alexandrine proselytes. After Christianity became the established religion of the empire, a struggle arose between the Latin and Greek clergy for supremacy. The greater learning and the more popular character of the Greek clergy, supported by the superior knowledge and higher political importance of the laity in the East, soon gave to the Greeks a predominant influence. But this influence was still subordinate to the authority of the Bishop of Rome, who arrogated the rank of a spiritual emperor, and whose claims to represent the supremacy of Rome were admitted, though not without jealousy, by the Greeks. The authority of the Bishop of Rome and of the Latin element in the established church was so great in the reign of Marcian, that the legate of Pope Leo the Great, at the general council of Chalcedon, though a Greek bishop, made use of the Latin language when addressing an audience composed entirely of Eastern bishops, and for whom his discourse required to be translated into Greek. It was inconsistent with the dignity of the Roman pontiff to use any language but that of Rome, though doubtless St. Peter had made use of Greek, except when speaking with the gift of tongues. Latin, however, was the official language of the empire; and the Emperor Marcian, in addressing the same council of the church, spoke that language, though he knew that Greek alone could be intelligible to the greater number of the bishops whom he addressed. It was fortunate for the Greeks, perhaps also for the whole Christian world, that the popes did not, at this time, lay claim to the gift of tongues, and address every nation in its own language. If it had occurred to them that the head of the universal church ought to speak all languages, the bishops of Rome might perhaps have rendered themselves the political sovereigns of the Christian world.
The attempt of the popes to introduce the Latin language into the East roused the opposition of all the Greeks. The constitution of the Eastern Church still admitted the laity to a share in the election of their bishops, and obliged the members of the ecclesiastical profession to cultivate the goodwill of their flocks. In the East, the language of the people was the language of religion and of ecclesiastical literature, consequently the cause of the Greek clergy and people was united. This connection with the people gave a weight and authority to the Greek clergy, which proved extremely useful in checking the religious despotism of the popes, as well as in circumscribing the civil tyranny of the emperors.
Though the emperor still maintained his supremacy over the clergy, and regarded and treated the popes and patriarchs as his ministers, still the church as a body had already rendered itself superior to the person of the emperor, and had established the principle, that the orthodoxy of the emperor was a law of the empire. The Patriarch of Constantinople, suspecting the emperor Anastasius of attachment to the Eutychian heresy, refused to crown him until he gave a written declaration of his orthodoxy. Yet the ceremony of the emperor’s receiving the imperial crown from the Patriarch was introduced, for the first time, on the accession of Leo the Great, sixty-six years before the election of Anastasius. It is true that the church was not always able to enforce the observance of the principle that the empire of the East could only be governed by an orthodox sovereign. The aristocracy and the army proved at times stronger than the orthodox clergy.
The state of literature and the fine arts always affords a correct representation of the condition of society among the Greeks, though the fine arts, during the existence of the Roman Empire, were more closely connected with the government and the aristocracy than with popular feelings. The assertion that Christianity tended to accelerate the decline of the Roman Empire has been already refuted; but although the Eastern Empire received immeasurable benefits from Christianity, both politically and socially, still the literature and the fine arts of Greece received from it a mortal blow. The Christians soon declared themselves the enemies of all pagan literature. Homer, and the Attic tragedians, were prohibited books; and the fine arts were proscribed, if not persecuted. Many of the early fathers held opinions which were not uncongenial with the fierce contempt for letters and art entertained by the first Mohammedans. It is true that this anti-pagan spirit might have proved temporary, had it not occurred at a period when the decline of society had begun to render knowledge rarer, and learning of more difficult attainment than formerly.
Theodosius the Younger found the administration in danger of not procuring a regular supply of well-educated aspirants to civil offices; and in order to preserve the state from such a misfortune, he established a university at Constantinople, as has been already mentioned, and which was maintained at the public expense. The composition of this university demonstrates the important political position occupied by the Greek nation : fifteen professors were appointed to teach Greek literature; thirteen only were named to give instruction in Latin; two professors of law were added, and one of philosophy. Such was the imperial university of Theodosius, who did everything in his power to render the rank of professor highly honourable. The candidate who aspired to a chair in the university was obliged to undergo an examination before the senate, and it was necessary for him to possess an irreproachable moral character, as well as to prove that his learning was profound. The term of twenty years’ service secured for the professors the title of count, and placed them among the nobility of the empire. Learning, it is evident, was still honoured and cultivated in the East; but the attention of the great body of society was directed to religious controversy, and the greatest talents were devoted to these contests. The few philosophers who kept aloof from the disputes of the Christian church, plunged into a mysticism more injurious to the human intellect, and less likely to be of any use to society, than the most furious controversy. Most of these speculators in metaphysical science abandoned all interest in the fate of their country, and in the affairs of this world, from an idle hope of being able to establish a personal intercourse with an imaginary world of spirits. With the exception of religious writings, and historical works, there was very little in the literature of this period which could be called popular. The people amused themselves with chariot races instead of the drama; and, among the higher orders, music had long taken the place of poetry. Yet the poets wanted genius, not encouragement; for John Lydus tells us that one of his poetical effusions was rewarded by the patron in whose praise it was written, with a gold byzant for each line. Pindar probably would not have expected so much.
The same genius which inspires poetry is necessary to excellence in the fine arts: yet, as these are more mechanical in their execution, good taste may be long retained, after inspiration has entirely ceased, merely by imitating good models. The very constitution of society in the fifth century seemed to forbid the existence of genius. In order to produce the highest degree of excellence in works of literature and art, it is absolutely necessary that the author and the public should participate in some common feelings of admiration for simplicity, beauty, and sublimity. When the condition of society places the patron of works of genius in a totally different rank of life from their authors, and renders the criticisms of a small and exclusive circle of individuals the law in literature and art, then an artificial taste must be cultivated, in order to secure the applause of those who alone possess the means of rewarding the merit of which they approve. The very fact that this taste, which the author or the artist is called upon to gratify, is to him more a task of artificial study than an effusion of natural feeling, must of itself produce a tendency to exaggeration or mannerism. There is nothing in the range of human affairs so completely democratic as taste. Sophocles addressed himself alike to the educated and the uneducated; Demosthenes spoke to the crowd; Phidias worked for the people.
Christianity engaged in direct war with the arts. The Greeks had united painting, sculpture, and architecture, in such a way, that their temples formed a harmonious illustration of the beauties of the fine arts. The finest temples were museums of paganism, and, consequently, Christianity repudiated all connection with this class of buildings until it had disfigured and degraded them. The courts of judicature, the basilicas, not the temples, were chosen as the models of Christian churches, and the adoption of the ideal beauty of ancient sculpture was treated with contempt. The earlier Fathers of the church wished to represent our Saviour as unlike the types of the pagan divinities as possible.
Works of art gradually lost their value as creations of the mind; and their destruction commenced whenever the material of which they were composed was of great value, or happened to be wanted for some other purpose more useful in the opinion of the possessor. The Theodosian Code contains many laws against the destruction of works of ancient art and the plundering of tombs. The Christian religion, when it deprived the temples and the statues of a religious sanction, permitted the avaricious to destroy them in order to appropriate the materials; and, when all reverence for antiquity was effaced, it became a profitable, though disgraceful occupation, to ransack the pagan tombs for the ornaments which they contained. The clergy of the new religion demanded the construction of new churches; and the desecrated buildings falling into ruins, supplied materials at less expense than the quarries.
Many of the celebrated works of art which had been transported to Constantinople at its foundation, were destroyed in the numerous conflagrations to which that city was always liable. The celebrated statues of the Muses perished in the time of Arcadius. The fashion of erecting statues had not become obsolete, though statuary and sculpture had sunk in the general decline of taste; but the vanity of the ambitious was now more gratified by the costliness of the material than by the beauty of the workmanship. A silver statue of the empress Eudocia, placed on a column of porphyry, excited so greatly the indignation of John Chrysostom, that he indulged in the most violent invectives against the empress. His virulence caused the government to exile him from the patriarchal chair. Many valuable Grecian works of bronze were melted down, in order to form a colossal statue of the Emperor Anastasius, which was placed on a lofty column to adorn the capital; others, of gold and silver, were melted, and coined into money, and augmented the sums which he laid up in the public treasury. Still it is unquestionable that a taste for painting had not entirely ceased among the educated and wealthy classes. Mosaics and engraved gems were fashionable luxuries, but the general poverty had decreased the numbers of the patrons of art, and the prejudices of the Christians had greatly restricted its range.
Condition of the Greeks under the Reign of Justinian, A. D. 527-565.
Influence of the Imperial Power on the condition of the Greek Nation during the reign of Justinian
It happens not unfrequently, that during long periods of time national feelings and popular institutions escape the attention of historians; their feeble traces are lost in the importance of events, apparently the effect of accident, destiny, or the special intervention of Providence. In such cases, history becomes a chronicle of facts, or a series of biographical sketches; and it ceases to yield the instructive lessons which it always affords, as long as it connects events with local habits, national customs, and the general ideas of a people. The history of the Eastern Empire often assumes this form, and is frequently little better than a mere chronicle. Its historians hardly display national character or popular feeling, and only participate in the superstition and party spirit of their situation in society. In spite of the brilliant events which have given the reign of Justinian a prominent place in the annals of mankind, it is presented to us in a series of isolated and incongruous facts. Its chief interest is derived from the biographical memorials of Belisarius, Theodora, and Justinian; and its most instructive lesson has been drawn from the influence which its legislation has exercised on foreign nations. The unerring instinct of mankind has, however, fixed on this period as one of the greatest eras in man’s annals. The actors may have been men of ordinary merit, but the events of which they were the agents effected the mightiest revolutions in society. The frame of the ancient world was broken to pieces, and men long looked back with wonder and admiration at the fragments which remained, to prove the existence of a nobler race than their own. The Eastern Empire, though too powerful to fear any external enemy, was withering away from the rapidity with which the State devoured the resources of the people; and this malady or corruption of the Roman government appeared to the wisest men of the age so utterly incurable, that it was supposed to indicate the approaching dissolution of the globe. No dawn of a new social organization had yet manifested its advent in any part of the known world. A large portion, perhaps the majority of the human race, continued to live in a state of slavery; and slaves were still regarded as intelligent domestic animals, not as men. Society was destined to be regenerated by the destruction of predial slavery; but, to destroy predial slavery, the free inhabitants of the civilized world were compelled to descend to the state of poverty and ignorance in which they had, for ages, kept the servile population. The field for general improvement could only be opened, and the reorganization of society could only commence, when slaves and freemen were so closely intermingled in the cares and duties of life as to destroy the prejudices of class; then, at last, feelings of philanthropy were called into action by the necessities of man’s condition.
The reign of Justinian is more remarkable as a portion of the history of mankind, than as a chapter in the annals of the Roman Empire or of the Greek nation. The changes of centuries passed in rapid succession before the eyes of one generation. The life of Belisarius, either in its reality or its romantic form, has typified his age. In his early youth, the world was populous and wealthy, the empire rich and powerful. He conquered extensive realms and mighty nations, and led kings captive to the footstool of Justinian, the lawgiver of civilization. Old age arrived; Belisarius sank into the grave suspected and impoverished by his feeble and ungrateful master; and the world, from the banks of the Euphrates to those of the Tagus, presented the awful spectacle of famine and plague, of ruined cities, and of nations on the brink of extermination. The impression on the hearts of men was profound. Fragments of Gothic poetry, legends of Persian literature, and fables concerning the fate of Belisarius himself, still indicate the eager attention with which this period was long regarded.
The expectation that Justinian would be able to re-establish the Roman power was entertained by many, and not without reasonable grounds, at the time of his accession to the throne; but, before his death, the delusion was utterly dissipated. Anastasius, by filling the treasury, and remodelling the army, had prepared the way for reforming the financial administration and improving the condition of the people. Justinian unfortunately employed the immense wealth and effective army to which he succeeded, in such a manner as to increase the burden of the imperial government, and render hopeless the future reform of the system. Yet it must still be observed that the decay of the internal resources of the empire, which proceeded with such fearful rapidity in the latter days of Justinian’s reign, was interwoven with the frame of society. For six centuries, the Roman government had ruled the East in a state of tranquillity, when compared with the ordinary fortunes of the human race; and during this long period, the people had been moulded into slaves of the imperial treasury. Justinian, by introducing measures of reform, tending to augment the powers and revenues of the State, only accelerated the inevitable catastrophe prepared by centuries of fiscal oppression.
It is impossible to form a correct idea of the position of the Greeks at this time without taking a general, though cursory view of the nature of the Roman administration, and observing the effect which it produced on the whole population of the empire. The contrast presented by the increasing efforts of the government to centralize every branch of the administration, and the additional strength which local feelings were gaining in the distant provinces, was a singular though natural consequence of the increasing wants of the sovereign, and of the declining civilization of the people. The civil organization of the empire attained its highest degree of perfection in the reign of Justinian; the imperial power secured a practical supremacy over the military officers and beneficed clergy, and placed them under the control of the civil departments of the state; the absolute authority of the emperor was fully established, and systematically exercised in the army, the church, and the state. A century of prudent administration had infused new vigour into the government, and Justinian succeeded to the means of rendering himself one of the greatest conquerors in the annals of the Roman Empire. The change which time had effected in the position of the emperors, from the reign of Constantine to that of Justinian, was by no means inconsiderable. Two hundred years, in any government, must prove productive of great alterations.
It is true that in theory the power of the military emperor was as great as that of the civil monarch; and, according to the phrases in fashion with their contemporaries, both Constantine and Justinian were constitutional sovereigns, equally restrained, in the exercise of their power, by the laws and usages of the Roman Empire. But there is an essential difference between the position of a general and a king; and all the Roman emperors, until the accession of Arcadius, had been generals. The leader of an army must always, to a certain extent, be the comrade of his soldiers; he must often participate in their feelings, and make their interests and views coincide with his own. This community of sentiment generally creates so close a connection, that the wishes of the troops exercise great influence over the conduct of their leader, and moderate to them, at least, the arbitrary exercise of despotic power, by confining it within the usages of military discipline and the habits of military life. When the civil supremacy of the Roman emperors became firmly established by the changes which were introduced into the imperial armies after the time of Theodosius the Great, the emperor ceased to be personally connected with the army, and considered himself quite as much the master of the soldiers whom he paid, as of the subjects whom he taxed. The sovereign had no longer any notion of public opinion beyond its existence in the church, and its display in the factions of the court or the amphitheatre. The immediate effects of absolute power were not, however, fully revealed in the details of the administration, until the reign of Justinian. Various circumstances have been noticed in the preceding chapter, which tended to connect the policy of several of the emperors who reigned during the fifth century with the interests of their subjects. Justinian found order introduced into every branch of the public administration, immense wealth accumulated in the imperial treasury, discipline re-established in the army, and the church eager to support an orthodox emperor. Unfortunately for mankind, this increase in the power of the emperor rendered him independent of the good-will of his subjects, whose interests seemed to him subordinate to the exigencies of the public administration; and his reign proved one of the most injurious, in the history of the Roman Empire, to the moral and political condition of its subjects. In forming an opinion concerning the events of Justinian’s reign, it must be borne in mind that the foundation of its power and glory was laid by Anastasius, while Justinian sowed the seeds of the misfortunes of Maurice; and, by persecuting the very nationality of his heterodox subjects, prepared the way for the conquests of the Mussulmans.
Justinian mounted the throne with the feelings, and in the position, of a hereditary sovereign, prepared, however, by every advantage of circumstance, to hold out the expectation of a wise and prudent reign. Born and educated in a private station, he had attained the mature age of forty-five before he ascended the throne. He had received an excellent education. He was a man of honourable intentions, and of a laborious disposition, attentive to business, and well versed in law and theology; but his abilities were moderate, his judgment was feeble, and he was deficient in decision of character. Simple in his own habits, he, nevertheless, added to the pomp and ceremonial of the imperial court, and strove to make the isolation of the emperor, as a superior being, visible in the public pageantry of government. Though ambitious of glory, he was infinitely more attentive to the exhibition of his power than to the adoption of measures for securing the essentials of national strength.
The Eastern Empire was an absolute monarchy, of a regular and systematic form. The emperor was the head of the government, and the master of all those engaged in the public service; but the administration was an immense establishment, artfully and scientifically constructed in its details. The numerous individuals employed in each ministerial department of the State consisted of a body of men appropriated to that special service, which they were compelled to study attentively, to which they devoted their lives, and in which they were sure to rise by talents and industry. Each department of the State formed a separate profession, as completely distinct, and as perfectly organized in its internal arrangements, as the legal profession is in modem Europe. A Roman emperor would no more have thought of suddenly creating a financier, or an administrator, than a modem sovereign would think of making a lawyer. This circumstance explains at once how education and official knowledge were so long and so well preserved in the Roman administration, where, as in the law and the church, they flourished for ages after the extinction of literary acquirements in all other classes of the people; and it affords also an explanation of the singular duration of the Roman government, and of its inherent principle of vitality. If it wanted the energy necessary for its own regeneration, which could only have proceeded from the influence of a free people on the sovereign power, it at least escaped the evils of official anarchy and vacillating government. Nothing but this systematic composition of the multifarious branches of the Roman administration could have preserved the empire from dissolution during the period in which it was a prey to internal wars and foreign invasions; and this supremacy of the system over the will of individuals gave a character of immutability to administrative procedure, which warranted the boast of the subjects of Constantine and Justinian that they lived under the protection of the Roman constitution. The greatest imperfection of the government arose from the total want of any popular control over the moral conduct of the public servants. Political morality, like pure taste, cannot live without the atmosphere of public opinion.
The state of society in the Eastern Empire underwent far greater changes than the imperial administration. The race of wealthy nobles, whose princely fortunes and independent bearing had excited the fears and the avarice of the early Caesars, had been long extinct. The imperial court and household included all the higher classes in the capital. The senate was now only a corps of officials, and the people had no position in the State but that of tax-payers. While the officers of the civil, finance, and judicial departments, the clergy and the military, were the servants of the emperor, the people, the Roman people, were his slaves. No connecting link of common interest or national sympathy united the various classes as one body, and connected them with the emperor. The only bond of union was one of universal oppression, as everything in the imperial government had become subordinate to the necessity of supplying the treasury with money. The fiscal severity of the Roman government had for centuries been gradually absorbing all the accumulated wealth of society, as the possession of large fortunes was almost sure to entail their confiscation. Even if the wealth of the higher classes in the provinces escaped this fate, it was, by the constitution of the empire, rendered responsible for the deficiencies which might occur in the taxes of the districts from which it was obtained; and thus the rich were everywhere rapidly sinking to the level of the general poverty. The destruction of the higher classes of society had swept away all the independent landed proprietors before Justinian commenced his series of reforms in the provinces.
The effect of these reforms extended to future times, and exercised an important influence on the internal composition of the Greek people. In ancient times, a very large portion of society consisted of slaves. They formed the great body of the rural population; and, as they received no moral training, they were inferior, in every mental quality, to the barbarians of the north: from this very cause they were utterly incapable of making any exertion to improve their condition; and whether the province which they inhabited belonged to the Romans or Greeks, the Goths or the Huns, they remained equally slaves. The Roman financial administration, by depressing the higher classes, and impoverishing the rich, at last burdened the small proprietors and the cultivators of the soil with the whole weight of the land-tax. The labourer of the soil then became an object of great interest to the treasury, and, as the chief instrument in furnishing the financial resources of the State, obtained almost as important a position in the eyes of the fisc as the landed proprietor himself. The first laws which conferred any rights on the slave, are those which the Roman government enacted to prevent the landed proprietors from transferring their slaves engaged in the cultivation of lands, assessed for the land-tax, to other employments which, though more profitable to the proprietor of the slave, would have yielded a smaller, or less permanent, return to the imperial treasury. The avarice of the imperial treasury, by reducing the mass of the free population to the same degree of poverty as the slaves, had removed one cause of the separation of the two classes. The position of the slave had lost most of its moral degradation, and occupied precisely the same political position in society as the poor labourer, from the moment that the Roman fiscal laws compelled any freeman who had cultivated lands for the space of thirty years to remain for ever attached, with his descendants, to the same estate. The lower orders were from that period blended into one class: the slave rose to be a member of this body; the freeman descended, but his descent was necessary for the improvement of the great bulk of the human race, and for the extinction of slavery. Such was the progress of civilization in the Eastern Empire. The measures of Justinian which, by their fiscal rapacity, tended to sink the free population to the same state of poverty as the slaves, really prepared the way for the rise of the slaves as soon as any general improvement took place in the condition of the human race.
Justinian found the central administration still aided and controlled by municipal institutions and corporate communities throughout the empire, as well as by the religious assemblies of the orthodox and heterodox congregations. Many of these bodies possessed large revenues. The fabric of the ancient world still existed. Consuls were still named. Rome, though subject to the Goths, preserved its senate. Constantinople enjoyed all the license of the hippodrome; Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and many other cities, received public distributions of grain. Athens and Sparta were still governed as little states, and a body of Greek provincial militia still guarded the pass of Thermopylae. The Greek cities possessed their own revenues, and maintained their roads, schools, hospitals, police, public buildings, and aqueducts; they paid professors and public physicians, and kept their streets paved, cleaned, and lighted. The people enjoyed their local festivals and games; and though music had supplanted poetry, the theatres were still open for the public amusement.
Justinian defaced these traces of the ancient world far more rapidly in Greece than Theodoric in Italy. He was a merciless reformer, and his reforms were directed solely by fiscal calculations. The importance of the consulate was abolished, to save the expenses attendant on the installation of the consuls. The Roman senators were exterminated in the Italian wars, during which the ancient race of the inhabitants of Rome was nearly destroyed. Alexandria was deprived of its supplies of grain, and the Greeks in Egypt were reduced in number and consideration. Antioch was sacked by Chosroes, and the position of the Greek population of Syria permanently weakened.
But it was in Greece itself that the Hellenic race and institutions received the severest blow. Justinian seized the revenues of the free cities, and deprived them of their most valuable privileges, for the loss of their revenues compromised their political existence. Poverty produced barbarism. Roads, streets, and public buildings could no longer be repaired or constructed unless by the imperial treasury. That want of police which characterizes the middle ages, began to be felt in the East. Public instruction was neglected, but the public charities were liberally supported; the professors and the physicians were robbed of the funds destined for their maintenance. The municipalities themselves continued to exist in an enfeebled state, for Justinian affected to reform, but never attempted to destroy them; and even his libeller, Procopius, only accuses him of plundering, not of destroying them. The poverty of the Greeks rendered it impossible for them to supply their municipalities with new funds, or even to allow local taxes to be imposed, for maintaining the old establishments. At this crisis, the population was saved from utter barbarism by the close connection which existed between the clergy and the people, and the powerful influence of the church. The clergy and the people being united by a community of language, feelings, and prejudices, the clergy, as the most powerful class of the community, henceforth took the lead in all public business in the provinces. They lent their aid to support the charitable institutions, to replace the means of instruction, and to maintain the knowledge of the healing art; they supported the communal and municipal organization of the people; and by preserving the local feelings of the Greeks, they strengthened the foundations of a national organization. History supplies few materials to illustrate the precise period at which the clergy in Greece formed their alliance with the municipal organization of the people, independent of the central authority; but the alliance became of great national importance, and exercised permanent effects after the municipalities had been impoverished by Justinian’s reforms.
Military Forces of the Empire
The history of the wars and conquests of Justinian is narrated by Procopius, the secretary of Belisarius, who was often an eyewitness of the events which he records with a minuteness which supplies much valuable information on the military system of the age. The expeditions of the Roman armies were so widely extended, that most of the nations of the world were brought into direct communication with the empire. During the time Justinian's generals were changing the state of Europe, and destroying some of the nations which had dismembered the Western Empire, circumstances beyond the control of that international system of policy, of which the sovereigns of Constantinople and Persia were the arbiters, produced a general movement in the population of central Asia. The whole human race was thrown into a state of convulsive agitation, from the frontiers of China to the shores of the Atlantic. This agitation destroyed many of the existing governments, and exterminated several powerful nations, while, at the same time, it laid the foundation of the power of new states and nations, some of which have maintained their existence to the present time.
The Eastern Empire bore no inconsiderable part in raising this mighty storm in the West, and in quelling its violence in the East; in exterminating the Goths and Vandals, and in arresting the progress of the Avars and Turks. Yet the number and composition of the Roman armies have often been treated by historians as weak and contemptible. It is impossible, in this sketch, to attempt any examination of the whole military establishment of the Roman Empire during Justinian’s reign; but in noticing the influence exercised by the military system on the Greek population, it is necessary to make a few general observations. The army consisted of two distinct classes, — the regular troops, and the mercenaries. The regular troops were composed both of native subjects of the Roman empire, raised by conscription, and of barbarians, who had been allowed to occupy lands within the emperor's dominions, and to retain their own usages, on the condition of furnishing a fixed number of recruits for the army. The Roman government still clung to the great law of the empire, that the portion of its subjects which paid the land-tax could not be allowed to escape that burden by entering the army. The proprietors of the land were responsible for the tribute; the cultivators of the soil, both slaves and serfs, secured the amount of the public revenues; neither could be permitted to forego their fiscal obligations to perform military duties. For some centuries it had been more economical to purchase the service of barbarians than to employ native troops; and perhaps, if the oppressive system of the imperial administration had not impaired the resources of the State, and diminished the population by consuming the capital of the people, this might have long continued to be the case. Native troops were always drawn from the mountainous districts, which paid a scanty tribute, and in which the population found difficulty in procuring subsistence. The invasions of the barbarians, likewise, threw numbers of the peasantry of the provinces to the south of the Danube out of employment, and many of these entered the army. A supply of recruits was likewise obtained from the idle and needy population of the towns. The most active and intelligent soldiers were placed in the cavalry, — a force that was drilled with the greatest care, subjected to the most exact discipline, and sustained the glory of the Roman arms in the field of battle. As the higher and middle classes in the provinces had, for ages, been excluded from the military profession, and the army had been at last composed chiefly of the rudest and most ignorant peasants, of enfranchised slaves, and naturalized barbarians, military service was viewed with aversion; and the greatest repugnance arose among the civilians to become soldiers. In the meantime, the depopulation of the empire daily increased the difficulty of raising the number of recruits required for a service which embraced an immense extent of territory, and entailed a great destruction of human life.
The troops of the line, particularly the infantry, had deteriorated considerably in Justinian’s time; but the artillery and engineer departments were not much inferior, in science and efficiency, to what they had been in the best days of the empire. Military resources, not military knowledge, had diminished. The same arsenals continued to exist; mere mechanical skill had been uninterruptedly exercised; and the constant demand which had existed for military mechanicians, armourers, and engineers, had never allowed the theoretical instruction of this class to be neglected, nor their practical skill to decline from want of employment. This fact requires to be borne in mind.
The mercenaries formed the most valued and brilliant portion of the army; and it was the fashion of the day to copy and admire the dress and manners of the barbarian cavalry. The empire was now surrounded by numbers of petty princes, who, though they had seized possession of provinces once belonging to the Romans, by force, and had often engaged in war with the emperor, still acknowledged a certain degree of dependence on the Roman power. Some of them, as the kings of the Heruls and the Gepids, and the king of Colchis, held their regal rank, by a regular investiture, from Justinian. These princes, and the kings of the Lombards, Huns, Saracens, and Moors, all received regular subsidies. Their best warriors entered the Roman service, and served in separate bands, under their own leaders, and with their national weapons, but subjected to the regular organization and discipline of the Roman armies, though not to the Roman system of military exercises and manoeuvres. Some of these corps of barbarians were also formed of volunteers, who were attracted by the high pay which they received, and the license with which they were allowed to behave.
The superiority of these troops arose from natural causes. The northern nations who invaded the empire consisted of a population trained from infancy to warlike exercises, and following no profession but that of arms. Their lands were cultivated by the labour of their slaves, or by that of the Roman subjects who still survived in the provinces they had occupied; but their only pecuniary resources arose from the plunder of their neighbours, or the subsidies of the Roman emperors. Their habits of life, the celerity of their movements, and the excellence of their armour, rendered them the choicest troops of the age. The emperors preferred armies composed of a number of small bands of mercenary foreigners, attached to their own persons by high pay, and commanded by chiefs who could never pretend to political rank, and who had much to lose and little to gain by rebellion; for experience proved that they perilled their throne by intrusting the command of a national army to a native general, who, from a popular soldier, might become a dangerous rival. Though the barbarian mercenaries in the service of Rome generally proved far more efficient troops than their free countrymen, yet they were on the whole unequal to the native Roman cavalry of Justinian's army, the Cataphracti, sheathed in complete steel on the Persian model, and armed with the Grecian spear, who were still the best troops in a field of battle, and were the real type of the chivalry of the middle ages.
Justinian weakened the Roman army in several ways by his measures of reform. His anxiety to reduce its expenditure induced him to diminish the establishment of camels, horses, and chariots, which attended the troops for transporting the military machines and baggage. This train had been previously very large, as it was calculated to save the peasantry from any danger of having their labours interrupted, or their cattle seized, under the pretext of being required for transport. Numerous abuses were introduced by diminishing the pay of the troops, and by neglecting to pay them with regularity and to furnish them with proper food and clothing. At the same time the efficiency of the army in the field was more seriously injured, by continuing the policy adopted by Anastasius, of restricting the power of the generals; a policy, however, which, it must be confessed, was not unnecessary in order to avoid greater evils. This is evident from the numerous rebellions in Justinian's reign, and the absolute want of any national or patriotic feeling in the majority of the Roman officers. Large armies were at times composed of a number of corps, each commanded by its own officer, over whom the nominal commander-in-chief had little or no authority; and it is to this circumstance that the unfortunate results of some of the Gothic and Persian campaigns are to be attributed, and not to any inferiority of the Roman troops. Even Belisarius himself, though he gave many proofs of attachment to Justinian’s throne, was watched with the greatest jealousy. He was treated with constant distrust, and his officers were at times encouraged to dispute his measures, and never punished for disobeying his orders. The fact is, that Belisarius might, if so disposed, have assumed the purple, and perhaps dethroned his master. Narses was the only general who was implicitly trusted and steadily supported; but Narses was an aged eunuch, and could never have become emperor.
The imperial military forces consisted of one hundred and fifty thousand men; and though the extent of the frontier which these troops were compelled to guard was very great, and lay open to the incursions of many active hostile tribes, still Justinian was able to assemble some admirably appointed armies for his foreign expeditions. The armament which accompanied Belisarius to Africa consisted of ten thousand infantry, five thousand cavalry, and twenty thousand sailors. Belisarius must have had about thirty thousand troops under his command in Italy before the taking of Ravenna. Germanus, when he arrived in Africa, found that only one-third of the Roman troops about Carthage had remained faithful, and the rebels under Stozas amounted to eight thousand men. As there were still troops in Numidia which had not joined the deserters, the whole Roman force in Africa cannot have been less than fifteen thousand. Narses, in the year 551, when the empire began to show evident proofs of the bad effects of Justinian’s government, could assemble thirty thousand chosen troops, an army which defeated the veterans of Totila, and destroyed the fierce bands of Franks and Alemanns which hoped to wrest Italy from the Romans. The character of the Roman troops, in spite of all that modern writers have said to depreciate them, still stood so high that Totila, the warlike monarch of the Goths, strove to induce them to join his standard by offers of high pay. No army had yet proved itself equal to the Roman troops on the field of battle; and their exploits in Spain, Africa, Colchis, and Mesopotamia, prove their excellence; though the defeats which they sustained, both from the Persians and on the Danube, reveal the fact that their enemies were improving in military science, and ready to avail themselves of the slightest neglect on the part of the Roman government.
Numerous examples could be cited of almost incredible disorder in the armies, — originating generally in the misconduct of the imperial government. Belisarius attempted, but found it impossible, to enforce strict discipline, for his soldiers were often left unpaid and his officers were at times encouraged to act independently of his orders. Two thousand Heruls ventured to quit his standard in Italy, and, after marching round the Adriatic, were pardoned by Justinian, and again engaged in the imperial service. Procopius mentions repeatedly that the disorders of the unpaid troops ruined the provinces; and in Africa, no less than three Roman officers, Stozas, Maximin, and Gontharis, attempted to render themselves independent, and were supported by large bodies of troops. The Greeks were the only portion of the population who were considered as sincerely attached to the imperial government, or, at least, who would readily defend it against every enemy; and accordingly, Gontharis, when he wished to secure Carthage, ordered all the Greeks to be murdered without distinction. The Greeks were, however, from their position and rank in society as burgesses or tax-payers, almost entirely excluded from the army, and, though they furnished the greater part of the sailors for the fleet, they were generally an unwarlike population. Witiges, the Gothic king, calls the Roman army of Belisarius an army of Greeks, a band of pirates, actors, and mountebanks.
One of the most unfortunate measures of Justinian was his disbanding all the provincial militia. This is incidentally mentioned in the Secret History of Procopius, who informs us that Thermopylae had been previously guarded by two thousand of these troops; but that this corps was dissolved, and a garrison of regular troops placed in Greece. As a general measure it was probably dictated by a plan of financial reform, and not by any fear of popular insurrection; but its effects were extremely injurious to the empire in the declining state of society, and in the increasing disorganization of the central power; and though it may possibly have prevented some provinces from recovering their independence by their own arms, it prepared the way for the easy conquests of the Avars and Arabs. Justinian was intent on centralizing all power, and rendering all public burdens uniform and systematic; and had adopted the opinion that it was cheaper to defend the empire by walls and fortresses than by a moveable army. The necessity of frequently moving troops with great celerity to defend the frontiers, had induced the officers to abandon the ancient practice of fortifying a regular camp; and at last, even the art of encamping was neglected. The barbarians, however, could always move with greater rapidity than the regular troops of the empire.
To secure the frontiers, Justinian adopted a new system of defence. He constructed extensive lines supported by innumerable forts and castles, in which he placed garrisons, in order that they might be ready to sally out on the invading bands. These lines extended from the Adriatic to the Black Sea, and were farther strengthened by the long wall of Anastasius, which covered Constantinople, by walls protecting the Thracian Chersonesus and the peninsula of Pallene, and by the fortifications at Thermopylae, and at the Isthmus of Corinth, which were carefully repaired. At all these posts permanent garrisons were maintained. The eulogy of Procopius on the public edifices of Justinian seems almost irreconcilable with the events of the latter years of his reign; for Zabergan, king of the Huns, penetrated through breaches he found unrepaired in the long wall, and advanced almost to the very suburbs of Constantinople.
Another instance of the declining state of military tactics may be mentioned, as it must have originated in the army itself, and not in consequence of any arrangements of the government. The combined manoeuvres of the divisions of the regiments had been so neglected that the bugle-calls once used had fallen into desuetude, and were unknown to the soldiers. The motley recruits, of dissimilar habits, could not acquire, with the requisite rapidity, a perception of the delicacy of the ancient music, and the Roman infantry no longer moved
In perfect phalanx, to the Dorian mood.
Of flutes and soft recorders.
It happened, during the siege of Auximum in Italy, that Belisarius was placed in difficulty from the want of an instantaneous means of communicating orders to the troops engaged in skirmishing with the Goths. On this occasion it was suggested to him by Procopius, his secretary and the historian of his wars, to replace the forgotten bugle-calls by making use of the brazen trumpet of the cavalry to sound a charge, and of the infantry bugle to summon a retreat.
Foreigners were preferred by the emperors as the occupants of the highest military commands; and the confidence with which the barbarian chiefs were honoured by the court enabled many to reach the highest rank in the army. Narses, the most distinguished military leader after Belisarius, was a Pers-Armenian captive. Peter, who commanded against the Persians in the campaign of 528, was also a Pers-Armenian. Pharas, who besieged Gelimer in Mount Pappua, was a Herul. Mundus, who commanded in Illyria and Dalmatia, was a Gepid prince. Chilbud, who, after several victories, perished with his army in defending the frontiers against the Sclavonians, was of northern descent, as may be inferred from his name. Salomon, who governed Africa with great courage and ability, was a eunuch from Dara. Artaban was an Armenian prince. John Troglita, the patrician, the hero of the poem of Corippus, called the Johannid, is also supposed to have been an Armenian. Yet the empire might still have furnished excellent officers, as well as valiant troops; for the Isaurians and Thracians continued to distinguish themselves in every field of battle, and were equal in courage to the fiercest of the barbarians.
It became the fashion in the army to imitate the manners and habits of the barbarians; their headlong personal courage became the most admired quality, even in the highest rank; and nothing tended more to hasten the decay of the military art. The officers in the Roman armies became more intent on distinguishing themselves for personal exploits than for exact order and strict discipline in their corps. Even Belisarius himself appears at times to have forgotten the duties of a general in his eagerness to exhibit his personal valour on his bay charter; though he may, on such occasions, have considered that the necessity of keeping up the spirits of his army was a sufficient apology for his rashness. Unquestionably the army, as a military establishment, had declined in excellence ere Justinian ascended the throne, and his reign tended to sink it much lower; yet it is probable that it was never more remarkable for the enterprising valour of its officers, or for their personal skill in the use of their weapons. The death of numbers of the highest rank in battles and skirmishes in which they rashly engaged, proves this fact. There was, however, one important feature of ancient tactics still preserved in the Roman armies, which gave them a decided superiority over their enemies. They had still the confidence in their discipline and skill to form their ranks, and encounter their opponents in line; the bravest of their enemies, whether on the banks of the Danube or the Tigris, only ventured to charge them, or receive their attack, in close masses.
Influence of Justinian’s legislation on the Greek population.
The Greeks long remained strangers to the Roman law. The free cities continued to be governed by their own legal systems and local usages, and the Greek lawyers did not consider it necessary to study the civil law of their masters. But this state of things underwent a great modification, after Constantine transformed the Greek town of Byzantium into the Roman city of Constantinople. The imperial administration after that period, came into more immediate connection with its eastern subjects; the legislative power of the emperors was more frequently exercised in the regulation of provincial business; and the Christian church, by uniting the whole Greek population into one body, often called forth general measures of legislation. While the confusion arising from the incongruity of old laws to the new exigencies of society was generally felt, the increasing poverty, depopulation, and want of education in the Greek cities, rendered it difficult to maintain the ancient tribunals. The Greeks were often compelled to study at the universities where Roman jurisprudence alone was cultivated, and thus the municipal law-courts were at last guided in their decisions by the rules of Roman law. As the number of the native tribunals decreased, their duties were performed by judges named by the imperial administration; and thus Roman law, silently, and without any violent change or direct legislative enactment, was generally introduced into Greece.
Justinian, from the moment of his accession to the throne, carried his favourite plan, of centralizing the direction of the complicated machine of the Roman administration in his own person, as far as possible. The necessity of condensing the various authorities of Roman jurisprudence, and of reducing the mass of legal opinions into a system of legislative enactments, possessing unity of form and facility of reference, was deeply felt. Such a system of legislation is useful in every country; but it becomes peculiarly necessary, after a long period of civilization, in an absolute monarchy, in order to restrain the decisions of legal tribunals by published law, and prevent the judges from assuming arbitrary power, under the pretext of interpreting obsolete edicts and conflicting decisions. A code of laws, to a certain degree, serves as a barrier against despotism, for it supplies the people with the means of calmly confuting the acts of their government and the decisions of their judges by recognised principles of justice; and at the same time it is a useful ally to the absolute sovereign, as it supplies him with increased facilities for detecting injustice committed by his official agents.
The faults or merits of Justinian’s system of laws belong to the lawyers intrusted with the execution of his project, but the honour of having commanded this work may be ascribed to the emperor alone. It is to be regretted that the position of an absolute sovereign is so liable to temptation from passing events, that Justinian himself could not refrain from injuring the surest monument of his fame, by later enactments, which mark too clearly that they emanated either from his own increasing avarice, or from weakness in yielding to the passions of his wife or courtiers. It could not be expected that his political sagacity should have devised the means of securing the rights of his subjects against the arbitrary exercise of his own power; but he might have consecrated the great principle of equity, that legislation can never act as a retrospective decision; and he might have ordered his magistrates to adopt the oath of the Egyptian judges, who swore, when they entered an office, that they would never depart from the principles of equity (law), and that if the sovereign ordered them to do wrong, they would not obey. Justinian, however, was too much of a despot, and too little of a statesman, to proclaim the law, even while retaining the legislative power in his person, to be superior to the executive branch of the government. But in maintaining that the laws of Justinian might have been rendered more perfect, and have been framed to confer greater benefits on mankind, it is not to be denied that the work is one of the most remarkable monuments of human wisdom; and we should remember with gratitude, that for thirteen hundred years the Pandects served as the magazine of legal lore to the Christian world, both in the East and in the West; and if it has now become an instrument of administrative tyranny in the continental monarchies of Europe, the fault is in the nations who refuse to follow out the principles of equity logically in regulating the dispensation of justice, and do not raise the law above the sovereign, nor render every minister and public servant amenable to the regular tribunals for every act he may commit in the exercise of his official duty, like the humblest citizen.
The government of Justinian’s empire was Roman, its official language was Latin, Oriental habits and usages, as well as time and despotic power, had indeed introduced modifications in the old forms; but it would be an error to consider the imperial administration as having assumed a Greek character. The accident of the Greek language having become the ordinary dialect in use at court, and of the church in the East being deeply tinctured with Greek feelings, is apt to create an impression that the Eastern Empire had lost something of its Roman pride, in order to adopt a Greek character. The circumstance that its enemies often reproached it with being Greek, is a proof that the imputation was viewed as an insult. As the administration was entirely Roman, the laws of Justinian — the Code, the Pandects, and the Institutions — were published in Latin, though many of the latter edicts (novells) were published in Greek. Nothing can illustrate in a stronger manner the artificial and antinational position of the eastern Roman Empire than this fact, that Latin was the language of the laws of an empire, of which Greek was the language of the church and the people. Latin was preserved in official business, and in public ceremonials, from feelings of pride connected with the ancient renown of the Romans, and the dignity of the Roman Empire. So strong is the hold which antiquated custom maintains over the minds of men, that even a professed reformer, like Justinian, could not break through so irrational an usage as the publication of his laws in a language incomprehensible to most of those for whose use they were framed.
The laws and legislation of Justinian throw only an indistinct and vague light on the state of the Greek population. They were drawn entirely from Roman sources, calculated for a Roman state of society, and occupied with Roman forms and institutions. Justinian was so anxious to preserve them in all their purity, that he adopted two measures to secure them from alteration. The copyists were commanded to refrain from any abridgment, and the commentators were ordered to follow the literal sense of the laws. All schools of law were likewise forbidden, except those of Constantinople, Rome, and Berytus, a regulation which must have been adopted to guard the Roman law from being corrupted, by falling into the hands of Greek teachers, and becoming confounded with the customary law of the various Greek provinces. This restriction, and the importance attached to it by the emperor, prove that the Roman law was now the universal rule of conduct in the empire. Justinian took every measure which prudence could dictate to secure the best and purest legal instruction and administration for the Roman tribunals; but only a small number of students could study in the licensed schools, and Rome, one of these schools, was, at the time of the publication of the law, in the hands of the Goths. It is therefore not surprising that a rapid decline in the knowledge of Roman law commenced very shortly after the promulgation of Justinian's legislation.
Justinian’s laws were soon translated into Greek without the emperor’s requiring that these paraphrases should be literal; and Greek commentaries of an explanatory nature were published. His novells were subsequently published in Greek when the case required it; but it is evident that any remains of Greek laws and customs were rapidly yielding to the superior system of Roman legislation, perfected as this was by the judicious labours of Justinian’s councillors. Some modifications were made in the jurisdiction of the judges and municipal magistrates at this time; and we must admit the testimony of Procopius as a proof that Justinian sold judicial offices, though the vagueness of the accusation does not afford us the means of ascertaining under what pretext the change in the earlier system was adopted. It is perhaps impossible to determine what share of authority the Greek municipal magistrates retained in the administration of justice and police, after the reforms effected by Justinian in their financial affairs, and the seizure of a large part of their local revenues. The existence of Greek corporations in Italy shows that they retained an acknowledged existence in the Roman Empire.
Internal Administration as it affected the Greeks
The religious intolerance and financial rapacity of Justinian’s internal administration increased the deep-rooted hatred of the imperial power throughout the provinces, and his successors soon experienced the bitter effects of his policy. Even the commencement of his own reign gave some alarming manifestations of the general feeling. The celebrated sedition of the Nika, though it broke out among the factions of the amphitheatre, acquired its importance in consequence of popular dissatisfaction with the fiscal measures of the emperor. This sedition possesses an unfortunate celebrity in the annals of the empire, from the destruction of many public buildings and numerous works of ancient art, occasioned by the conflagrations raised by the rebels. Belisarius succeeded in suppressing it with considerable difficulty after much bloodshed, and not until Justinian had felt his throne in imminent danger. The alarm produced a lasting impression on his mind; and more than one instance occurred during his reign to remind him that popular sedition puts a limit to despotic power. At a subsequent period, an insurrection of the people compelled him to abandon a project for recruiting the imperial finances, according to a common resource of arbitrary sovereigns, by debasing the value of the coin.
We possess only scanty materials for describing the condition of the Greek population during the reign of Justinian. The relations of the Greek provinces and cities with the central administration had endured for ages, slowly undergoing the changes produced by time, but without the occurrence of any general measure of reform, until the decree of Caracalla conferred on all the Greeks the rights and privileges of Roman citizens. That decree, by converting all Greeks into Romans, must have greatly modified the constitution of the free and autonomous cities; but history furnishes no means of determining with precision its effect on the inhabitants of Greece. Justinian made another great change by confiscating the local revenues of the municipalities; but in the six centuries which had elapsed from the fall of the Roman republic to the extinction of municipal freedom in the Greek cities, the prominent feature of the Roman administration had been invariably the same — fiscal rapacity, which gradually depopulated the country, and prepared the way for its colonization by foreign races.
The colossal fabric of the Roman government embraced not only a numerous imperial court and household, a host of administrators, finance agents, and judges, a powerful army and navy, and a splendid church establishment; it also conferred the privilege of titular nobility on a large portion of the higher classes, both on those who were selected to fill local offices in connection with the public administration, and on those who had held public employments during some period of their lives. The titles of this nobility were official; its members were the creatures of government, attached to the imperial throne by ties of interest; they were exempted from particular taxes, separated from the body of the people by various privileges, and formed, from their great numbers, rather a distinct nation than a privileged class. They were scattered over all the provinces of Justinian’s empire, from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, and constituted, at this period, the real nucleus of civil society in the Roman world. Of their influence, many distinct traces may be found, even after the extinction of the Roman power, both in the East and in the West.
The population of the provinces, and more especially the proprietors and cultivators of the soil, stood completely apart from these representatives of the Roman supremacy, and almost in a state of direct opposition to the government. The weight of the Roman yoke had now pressed down all the provincials to nearly the same level. As a general rule, they were excluded from the profession of arms; their poverty caused them to neglect the cultivation of arts, sciences, and literature, and their whole attention was absorbed in watching the increasing rapacity of the imperial treasury, and in finding means to evade the oppression which they saw no possibility of resisting. The land and capitation taxes formed the source of this oppression. No taxes were, perhaps, more equitable in their general principle, and few appear ever to have been administered, for so long a period, with such unfeeling prudence. Their severity had been so gradually increased, that but a very small annual encroachment had been made on the savings of the people, and centuries elapsed before the whole accumulated capital of the empire was consumed; but at last the whole wealth of its subjects was drawn into the imperial treasury; free men were sold to pay taxes; vineyards were rooted out, and buildings were destroyed to escape taxation.
The manner of collecting the land and capitation taxes displays singular ingenuity in the mode of estimating the value of the property to be taxed, and an inhuman sagacity in framing a system capable of extracting the last farthing which that property could yield. The registers underwent a public revision every fifteenth year, but the indictio, or amount of taxation to be paid, was annually fixed by an imperial ordinance. The whole empire was divided into capita, or hides of land. The proprietors of these capita were grouped together in communities, the wealthier members of which were formed into a permanent magistracy, and rendered liable for the amount of the taxes due by their community. The same law of responsibility was applied to the senates and magistrates of cities and free states. Confiscation of private property had, from the earliest days of the empire, been regarded as an important financial resource. In the days of Tiberius, the nobles of Rome, whose power, influence, and character alarmed the jealous tyrant, were swept away. Nero attacked the wealthy to fill his exhausted treasury; and from that time to the days of Justinian, the richest individuals in the capital and the provinces had been systematically punished for every offence by the confiscation of their fortunes. The pages of Suetonius and Tacitus, of Zosimus and Procopius, attest the extent and duration of this war against private wealth. Now, in the eyes of the Roman government, the greatest political offence was the failure to perform a public duty; and the most important duty of a Roman subject had long been to furnish the amount of taxes required by the State. The increase of the public burdens at last proceeded so far, that every year brought with it a failure in the taxes of some province, and consequently the confiscation of the private property of the wealthiest citizens of the insolvent district, until at last all the rich proprietors were ruined, and the law became nugatory. The poor and ignorant inhabitants of the rural districts in Greece forgot the literature and arts of their ancestors; and as they had no longer anything to sell, nor the means of purchasing foreign commodities, money ceased to circulate.
But though the proud aristocracy and the wealthy votaries of art, literature, and philosophy, disappeared, and though independent citizens and proprietors now stood scattered over the provinces as isolated individuals, without exercising any direct influence on the character of the age, still the external framework of ancient society displayed something of its pomp and greatness. The decay of its majesty and strength was felt; mankind perceived the approach of a mighty change, but the revolution had not yet arrived; the past glory of Greece shed its colouring on the unknown future, and the dark shadow which that future now throws back, when we contemplate Justinian’s reign, was then imperceptible.
Many of the habits, and some of the institutions of ancient civilization, still continued to exist among the Greek population. Property, though crumbling away under a system of slow corrosion, was regarded by public opinion as secure against lawless violence or indiscriminate confiscation; and it really was so, when a comparison is made between the condition of a subject of the Roman empire and a proprietor of the soil in any Other country of the then known world. If there was much evil in the state of society, there was also some good; and, when contemplating it from our modern social position, we must never forget that the same causes which destroyed the wealth, arts, literature, and civilization of the Romans and Greeks, began to eradicate from among mankind the greatest degradation of our species — the existence of slavery.
In the reign of Justinian, the Greeks as a people had lost much of their superiority over the other subjects of the empire. The schools of philosophy, which had afforded the last refuge for the ancient literature of the country, had long fallen into neglect, and were on the very eve of extinction, when Justinian closed them by a public edict. The poverty and ignorance of the inhabitants of Greece had totally separated the philosophers from the people. The town population had everywhere embraced Christianity. The country population, composed in great part of the offspring of freedmen and slaves, was removed from all instruction, and paganism continued to exist in the retired mountains of the Peloponnesus, Those principles of separation which originated in non-communication of ideas and interests, and which began to give the Roman empire the aspect of an agglomeration of nations, rather than the appearance of a single State, operated as powerfully on the Greek people as on the Egyptian, Syrian, and Armenian population. The needy cultivators of the soil — the artisans in the towns — and the servile dependents on the imperial administration, —formed three distinct classes of society. A strong line of distinction was created between the Greeks in the service of the empire and the body of the people, both in the towns and country. The mass of the Greeks naturally participated in the general hostility to the Roman administration; yet the immense numbers who were employed in the State, and in the highest dignities of the Church, neutralized the popular opposition, and deprived Greece of intellectual leaders, who might have taught it to aspire to national independence.
It has been already observed that Justinian restricted the powers and diminished the revenues of the Greek municipalities, but that these corporations continued to exist, though shorn of their former power and influence. Splendid monuments of Grecian architecture, and beautiful works of Grecian art, still adorned the Agora and the Acropolis in many Greek cities. Where the ancient walls were falling into decay, and the untenanted buildings presented an aspect of ruin, they were cleared away to construct new fortifications, churches, and monasteries, which Justinian was constantly building in every province of the empire. The hasty construction of these buildings, rapidly erected from the materials furnished by the ancient structures around, accounts both for their number and for the facility with which time has effaced almost every trace of their existence. Still, even in architecture, the Roman Empire displayed some traces of its greatness; the church of St Sophia, and the aqueduct of Constantinople, attest the superiority of Justinian’s age over subsequent periods, both in the East and in the West.
The superiority of the Greek population must at this time have been most remarkable in their regulations of internal government and police administration. Public roads were still maintained in a serviceable state, though not equal in appearance or solidity of construction to the Appian Way in Italy, which excited the admiration of Procopius. Streets were kept in repair by the proprietors of houses. The astynomoi and the agoranomoi were still elected, but their number often indicated the former greatness of a diminished population. The post-houses, post-mansions, and every means of transport, were maintained in good order, but they had long been rendered a means of oppressing the people; and, though laws had often been passed to prevent the provincials from suffering from the exactions of imperial officers when travelling, the extent of the abuse was beginning to ruin the establishment. The Roman Empire, to the latest period of its existence, paid considerable attention to the police of the public roads, and it was indebted to this care for the preservation of its military superiority over its enemies, and of its lucrative commerce.
The activity of the government in clearing the country of robbers and banditti, and the singular severity of the laws on this subject, show that the slightest danger of a diminution of the imperial revenues inspired the Roman government with energy and vigour. Nor were other means of advancing the commercial interests of the people neglected. The ports were carefully cleaned, and their entry indicated by lighthouses, as in earlier times; and, in short, only that portion of ancient civilization which was too expensive for the diminished resources of the age had fallen into neglect. Utility and convenience were universally sought, both in private and public life; but solidity, taste, and the durability which aspires at immortality, were no longer regarded as objects of attainable ambition. The basilica, or the monastery, constructed by breaking to pieces the solid blocks of a neglected temple, and cemented together by lime burnt from the marble of the desecrated shrine, or from some heathen tomb, was intended to contain a certain number of persons; and the cost of the building, and its temporary sufficiency for the required purpose, were just as much the general object of the architect’s attention in the time of Justinian as in our own.
The worst feature of Justinian's administration was its venality. This vice, it is true, generally prevails in every administration uninfluenced by public opinion and based on an organized bureaucracy; for whenever the corps of administrators becomes too numerous for the moral character of individuals to be under the direct control of their superiors, usage secures to them a permanent official position, unless they grossly neglect their duties. Justinian, however, countenanced the venality of his subordinates by an open sale of offices; and the violent complaints of Procopius are confirmed by the legislative measures of the emperor. When shame prevented the emperor himself from selling an official appointment, he did not blush to order the payment of a stated sum to be made to the empress Theodora. This conduct opened a door to abuses on the part of the imperial ministers and provincial governors, and contributed, in no small degree, to the misfortunes of Justin II. It diminished the influence of the Roman administration in the distant provinces, and neutralized the benefits which Justinian had conferred on the empire by his legislative compilations. A strong proof of the declining condition of the Greek nation is to be found in the care with which every misfortune of this period is recorded in history. It is only when little hope is felt of repairing the ravages of disease, fire, and earthquakes, that these evils permanently affect the prosperity of nations. In an improving state of society, great as their ravages may prove, they are only personal misfortunes and temporary evils; the void which they create in the population is quickly replaced, and the property which they destroy rises from its ruins with increased solidity and beauty. When it happens that a pestilence leaves a country depopulated for many generations, and that conflagrations and earthquakes ruin cities, which are never again reconstructed of their former size — these evils are apt to be mistaken by the people as the primary cause of the national decline, and acquire an undue historical importance in the popular mind. The age of Justinian was remarkable for a terrible pestilence which ravaged every province of the empire in succession, for many famines which swept away no inconsiderable portion of the population, and for earthquakes which laid waste no small number of the most flourishing and populous cities of the empire.
Greece had suffered very little from hostile attacks after the departure of Alaric; for the piratical incursions of Genseric were neither very extensive nor very successful; and after the time of these barbarians, the ravages of earthquakes begin to figure in history, as an important cause of the impoverished and declining condition of the country. The Huns, it is true, extended their plundering expeditions, in the year 540, as far as the Isthmus of Corinth, but they do not appear to have succeeded in capturing a single town of any note. The fleet of Totila plundered Corcyra, and the coast of Epirus, from Nicopolis up to Dodona; but these misfortunes were temporary and partial, and could have caused no irreparable loss, either of life or property. The fact appears to be, that Greece was in a declining condition; but that the means of subsistence were abundant, and the population had but an incorrect and vague conception of the means by which the government was consuming their substance and depopulating their country. In this state of things, several earthquakes, of singular violence, and attended by unusual phenomena, made a deep impression on men’s minds, by producing a degree of desolation which a declining state of society rendered irreparable. Corinth, which was still a populous city, Patrae, Naupactus, and Coronea, were all laid in ruins. An immense assembly of Greeks was collected at the time to celebrate a public festival; the whole population was swallowed up in the midst of their ceremonies. The waters of the Maliac Gulf retired suddenly, and left the shores of Thermopylae dry; but the sea, suddenly returning with violence, swept up the valley of the Spercheius, and carried away the inhabitants. In an age of ignorance and superstition, when the prospects of mankind were despondent, and at the moment when the emperor was effacing the last relics of the religion of their ancestors — a religion which had filled the sea and the land with guardian deities — these awful occurrences could not fail to produce an alarming effect on men’s minds, and were not unnaturally regarded as a supernatural confirmation of the despair which led many to imagine that the ruin of our globe was approaching. It is not wonderful that many pagans believed with Procopius that Justinian was the demon destined to complete the catastrophe of the human race.
The condition of the Greek population in Achaia seems to have been as little understood by the courtiers of Justinian as that of the newly-established Greek kingdom by its Bavarian masters and the protecting Powers. The splendid appearance which the ancient monuments, shining in the clear sky with the freshness of recent constructions, gave to the Greek cities, induced the Constantinopolitans and other strangers who visited the country, to suppose that the aspect of elegance and delicacy of finish, everywhere apparent, was the result of constant municipal expenditure. The buildings of Constantine and Theodosius in the capital were probably begrimed with dust and smoke, so that it was natural to conceive that those of Pericles and Epaminondas could retain a perpetual youth only by a liberal expenditure for their preservation. The celebrity of the city of Athens, the privileges which it still enjoyed, the society by which it was frequented, as an agreeable residence, as a school for study, or as a place of retirement for the wealthy literary men of the age, gave the people of the capital a far too exalted idea of the well-being of Greece. The contemporaries of Justinian judged the Greeks of their age by placing them in too close a relation with the inhabitants of the free states of antiquity; we, on the contrary, are too apt to confound them with the rude inhabitants who dwelt in the Peloponnesus after it was filled with Sclavonian and Albanian colonies. Had Procopius rightly estimated the condition of the rural population, and reflected on the extreme difficulty which the agriculturist always encounters in quitting his actual employment in order to seek any distant occupation, and the impossibility of finding money in a country where there are no purchasers for extra produce, he would not have signalized a penurious disposition as the national characteristic of the Greeks. The population which spoke the Greek language in the capital and in the Roman administration was now influenced by a very different spirit from that of the inhabitants of the true Hellenic lands; and this separation of feeling became more and more conspicuous as the empire declined in power. The central administration soon ceased to pay any particular attention to Greece, which was sure to furnish its tribute, as it hated the Romans less than it feared the barbarians. From henceforward, therefore, the inhabitants of Hellas become almost lost to the historians of the empire; and the motley and expatriated population of Constantinople, Asia Minor, Syria, and Alexandria, is represented to the literary world as forming the real body of the Greek nation — an error which has concealed the history of a nation from our study, and replaced it by the annals of a court and the records of a government.
Influence of Justinian’s Conquests on the Greek Population and the change effected by the Conquest of the Vandal Kingdom of Africa
The attention of Justinian’s immediate predecessors had been devoted to improving the internal condition of the empire, and that portion of the population which spoke Greek, forming the most important body of the emperor’s subjects, had participated in the greatest degree in this improvement. The Greeks were, apparently, on the eve of securing a national preponderance in the Roman state, when Justinian forced them back into their former secondary condition, by directing the influence of the public administration to arms and law, the two departments of the Roman government from which they were in a great measure excluded. The conquests of Justinian, however, tended to improve the condition of the mercantile and manufacturing portion of the Greek population, by extending its commercial relations with the West; and this extended commerce tended to support the central government at Constantinople, when the framework of the Roman imperial administration began to give way in the provinces. With the exception of Sicily, and the southern portion of Italy, the whole of Justinian’s conquests in the West were peopled by the Latin race; and the inhabitants, though attached to the emperor of Constantinople as the political head of the Orthodox Church, were already opposed to the Greek nation.
When the Goths, Sueves, and Vandals had completed their establishment in Spain, Africa, and Italy, and were spread over these countries as landed proprietors, the smallness of their number became apparent to the mass of the conquered population; and the barbarians soon lost in individual intercourse as citizens the superiority which they had enjoyed while united in armed bands. The Romans, in spite of the confiscation of a portion of their estates to enrich their conquerors, and in spite of the oppression with which they were treated, still formed the majority of the middle classes; the administration of the greater part of the landed property, the commerce of the country, the municipal and judicial organization, all centred in their hands. In addition to this, they were separated from their conquerors by religion. The northern invaders of the Western Empire were Arians, the Roman population was orthodox. This religious feeling was so strong, that the Catholic king of the Franks, Clovis, was often able to avail himself of the assistance of the orthodox subjects of the Arian Goths, in his wars with the Gothic kings. As soon, however, as Justinian proved that the Eastern Empire had recovered some portion of the ancient Roman vigour, the eyes of all the Roman population in Spain, Gaul, Africa, and Italy, were directed to the imperial court; and there can be no doubt that the government of Justinian maintained extensive relations with the Roman population and the orthodox clergy over all Europe, who did much to assist his military operations.
Justinian succeeded to the empire while it was embroiled in war with Persia, but he was fortunate enough to conclude a peace with Chosroes the Great, who ascended the Persian throne in the fourth year of his reign. In the East the emperor could never expect to make any permanent conquests; while in the West a large portion of the population was ready to receive his troops with open arms; and, in case of success, formed submissive and probably attached subjects. Both policy and religion induced Justinian to commence his attacks on the invaders of the Roman Empire in Africa. The conquest of the northern coast of Africa by the Vandals, like the conquest of the other great provinces of the Western Empire by the Goths, the Burgundians, and the Franks, was gradually effected, in a series of consecutive campaigns, for the Vandals who first entered the country with Genseric were not sufficiently numerous to subdue and garrison the whole province. The Vandals, who quitted Spain in 428, could not arm more than 80,000 men. In the year 431, Genseric having defeated Boniface, took Hippo; but it was not until 439 that he gained possession of Carthage; and the conquest of the whole African coast to the frontier of the Greek settlements in Cyrenaica was not completed until after the death of Valentinian III, and the sack of Rome in 455. The Vandals were bigoted Arians, and their government was peculiarly tyrannical; they treated the Roman inhabitants of Africa as political enemies, and persecuted them as religious opponents. The Visigoths in Spain seized two-thirds of the subjugated lands, the Ostrogoths in Italy were satisfied with one-third; and both these people acknowledged the civil rights of the Romans as citizens and Christians. The Vandals adopted a different policy. They exterminated the Roman landlords and seized all the richest lands. Genseric reserved immense domains to himself and to his sons. He divided the densely peopled and rich district of Africa proper among the Vandal warriors, exempting them from taxation, and binding them to military service. Eighty thousand lots were apportioned, clustered round the large possessions of the highest officers. Only the poorer proprietors were permitted to preserve the arid and distant parts of the country. Still the number of Romans excited the fears of the Vandals, who destroyed the walls of the provincial towns in order to deprive the inhabitants of all means of defence in case of their venturing to rebel. The Roman population was enfeebled by these measures, but its hatred of the Vandal government was increased; and when Gelimer assumed the royal authority in the year 531, the people of Tripolis rebelled, and solicited assistance from Justinian.
Justinian could not forget the great wealth of Africa at the time of its conquest by Genseric; the distributions of grain which it had furnished for Rome, and the immense tribute which it had once paid. He could hardly have imagined that the government of the Vandal kings could have depopulated the country and annihilated the greater part of its wealth in the space of a single century. The conquest of a civilized population by rude warriors must always be attended by the ruin, and often by the extermination, of the numerous classes which are supported by those manufactures which are destined for the consumption of the refined. The first conquerors despise the manners of the conquered, and never adopt immediately their costly dress, which is naturally considered as a sign of effeminacy and cowardice, nor do they adorn their dwellings with the same taste and refinement. The vanquished being deprived of the wealth necessary to procure these luxuries, the ruin of a numerous class of manufacturers, and of a great portion of the industrious population, is an inevitable consequence of this cessation of demand. Thousands of artisans, tradesmen, and labourers, must either emigrate or perish by starvation; and the annihilation of a large commercial capital employed in supporting human life takes place with wonderful rapidity. Yet the conquerors may long live in what to them is wealth and luxury; the accumulated riches of the country will for many years be found amply sufficient to gratify all their desires, and the whole of this wealth will generally be consumed, and even the power of reproducing it be greatly diminished, before any signs of poverty are perceived. These facts are illustrated in the clearest manner by the history of the Vandal domination in Africa. The emigration of Vandal families from Spain did not consist of more than eighty thousand males of warlike age; and when Genseric conquered Carthage, his whole army amounted only to fifty thousand warriors; yet this small horde devoured all the wealth of Africa in the course of a single century, and, from an army of hardy soldiers, it was converted into a caste of luxurious nobles living in splendid villas round Carthage. In order fully to understand the influence of the Vandals on the state of the country which they occupied, it must be observed that their oppressive government had already so far lowered the condition and reduced the numbers of the Roman provincials, that the native Moors began to reoccupy the country from which Roman industry and Roman capital had previously excluded them. The Moorish population being in a lower state of civilization than the lowest grade of the Romans, could exist in districts abandoned as uninhabitable after the destruction of buildings and plantations which the oppressed farmer had no means of replacing; and thus, from the time of the Vandal invasion, we find the Moors continually gaining ground on the Latin colonists, gradually covering an increased extent of country, and augmenting in numbers and power.
The Vandals had become one of the most luxurious nations in the world, when they were attacked by Belisarius, but as they continued to affect the character of soldiers, they were admirably armed, and ready to take the field with their whole male population. Their equipments were splendid, but the neglect of military discipline and science rendered their armies very inefficient. A revolution had lately occurred. Hilderic, the fifth monarch of the Vandal kingdom, the grandson of Genseric, and son of Eudocia, the daughter of the Emperor Valentinian III, showed himself inclined to protect his orthodox and Roman subjects. This disposition, and his Roman descent, excited the suspicion of his Vandal and Arian countrymen, without attaching the orthodox provincials to his hated race. Gelimer, the great-grandson of
Genseric, availed himself of the general discontent to dethrone Hilderic, but the revolution was not effected without manifestations of dissatisfaction. The Roman inhabitants of the province of Tripolis availed themselves of the opportunity to throw off the Vandal yoke, and solicit assistance from Justinian; and a Gothic officer who commanded in Sardinia, then a dependency of the Vandal kingdom, rebelled against the usurper.
The succession of the Vandal monarchs was as follows:
They invaded Africa, A.D. 428
Genseric ascended the throne. 429
Gelimer seized the crown, 531
The treason of Gelimer afforded Justinian an excellent pretext for invading the Vandal kingdom. Belisarius, a general already distinguished by his conduct in the Persian war, was selected to command an expedition of considerable magnitude, though by no means equal to the great expedition which Leo I had sent to attack Genseric. Ten thousand infantry, and five thousand cavalry, were embarked in a fleet of five hundred transports, which was protected and escorted by ninety-two light galleys of war. The troops were all veterans, inured to discipline, and the cavalry was composed of the choicest soldiers in the imperial service. After a long navigation, and some delay at Methone and in Sicily, they reached Africa. The Vandals, who, in the time of Genseric, had been redoubted pirates, and as such were national enemies of the commercial Greeks, were now too wealthy to court danger, and were ignorant of the approach of the Roman armament, until they received the news that Belisarius was marching towards Carthage. They were numerous, and doubtless brave, but they were no longer trained to war, or accustomed to regular discipline, and their behaviour in the field of battle was contemptible. Two engagements of cavalry, in the bloodiest of which the Vandals lost only eight hundred men, decided the fate of Africa, and enabled Belisarius to subjugate the Vandal kingdom. The brothers of Gelimer fell gallantly in the field. His own behaviour renders even his personal courage doubtful,—he fled to the Moors of the mountainous districts; but the misery of barbarous warfare, and the privations of a besieged camp, soon extinguished his feelings of pride, and his love of independence. He surrendered, and Belisarius led him prisoner to Constantinople, where he appeared in the pageantry of a triumphal procession. A conquering general, a captive monarch, and a Roman triumph, offered strong temptations to romantic fancies; but the age was a time of great events and common-place men. Gelimer received from Justinian large estates in Galatia, to which he retired with his relations. Justinian offered him the rank of patrician, and a seat in the senate; but he was attached to his Arian principles, or he thought that his personal dignity would be best maintained by avoiding to appear in a crowd of servile senators. He refused to join the Orthodox Church, and evaded accepting the proffered honour.
The Vandals displayed as little patriotism and fortitude as their king. Some were slain in the war, the rest were incorporated in the Roman armies, or escaped to the Moors. The provincials were allowed to reclaim the lands from which they had been expelled at the conquest; the Arian heresy was proscribed, and the race of these remarkable conquerors was in a short time exterminated. A single generation sufficed to confound their women and children in the mass of the Roman inhabitants of the province, and their very name was soon totally forgotten. There are few instances in history of a nation disappearing so rapidly and so completely as the Vandals of Africa. After their conquest by Belisarius, they vanish from the face of the earth as completely as the Carthaginians after the taking of Carthage by Scipio. Their first monarch, Genseric, had been powerful enough to plunder both Rome and Greece, yet his army hardly exceeded fifty thousand men. His successors, who held the absolute sovereignty of Africa for one hundred and seven years, do not appear to have commanded a larger force. The Vandals seem never to have multiplied so much that the individuals lost the oligarchical position in which their sudden acquisition of immense wealth had placed them.
Belisarius soon established the Roman authority so firmly round Carthage, that he was able to despatch troops in every direction, in order to secure and extend his conquests. The western coast was subjected as far as the Straits of Hercules: a garrison was placed in Septum, and a body of troops stationed in Tripolis, to secure the eastern part of this extensive province from the incursions of the Moors. Sardinia, Corsica, Majorca, Minorca, and Ibiza, were added to the empire, merely by sending officers to take the command of these islands, and troops to form the garrisons. The commercial relations of the Greeks, and the civil institutions of the Romans, still exercised a very powerful influence over the population of these islands.
Justinian determined to re-establish the Roman government on precisely the same basis as it existed before the Vandal invasion; but as the registers of the land-tax and capitation, and the official admeasurement of the estates, no longer existed, officers were sent from Constantinople for the assessment of the taxes; and the old principle of extorting as much of the surplus produce of the land as possible, was adopted as the rule for apportioning the tribute. Yet, in the opinion of the provincials, the financial rapacity of the imperial government was a more tolerable evil than the tyranny of the Vandals, and they remained long sincerely attached to the Roman power. Unfortunately, the rebellion of the barbarian mercenaries, who formed the flower of Justinian’s army in Africa, the despair of the persecuted Arians, the seductions of the Vandal women, and the hostile incursions of the Moorish tribes, aided the severity of the taxes in desolating this flourishing province. The exclusion of the Roman population from the right of bearing arms, and forming themselves into a local militia, even for the protection of their property against the plundering expeditions of the neighbouring barbarians, prevented the African provincials from aspiring at independence, and rendered them incapable of defending their property without the aid of the experienced though disorderly soldiery of the imperial armies. Religious persecution, financial oppression, the seditions of unpaid troops, and the incursions of barbarous tribes, though they failed to cause a general insurrection of the inhabitants, ruined their wealth, and lessened their numbers. Procopius records the commencement of the desolation of Africa in his time; and subsequently, as the imperial government grew weaker, more negligent, and more corrupt, it pressed more heavily on the industry and well-being of the provincials, and enabled the barbarous Moors to extend their encroachments on Roman civilization.
The glory of Belisarius deserves to be contrasted with the oblivion which has covered the exploits of John the Patrician, one of the ablest generals of Justinian. This experienced general assumed the command in Africa when the province had fallen into a state of great disorder; the inhabitants were exposed to a dangerous coalition of the Moors, and the Roman army was in such a state of destitution that their leader was compelled to import the necessary provisions for his troops. Though John defeated the Moors, and restored prosperity to the province, his name is almost forgotten. His actions and talents only affected the interests of the Byzantine Empire, and prolonged the existence of the Roman province of Africa; they exerted no influence on the fate of any of the European nations whose history has been the object of study in modern times, so that they were utterly forgotten, when the recently discovered poetry of Corippus, one of the last and worst of the Roman poets, rescued them from complete oblivion.
Causes of the easy Conquest of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy by Belisarius
The government of the Ostrogoths, though established on just principles by the wisdom of the great Theodoric, soon fell into the same state of disorder as that of the Vandals, though the Goths themselves, from being more civilized, and living more directly under the restraint of the laws which protected the property of their Roman subjects, had not become individually so corrupted by the possession of wealth. The conquest of Italy had not produced any very great revolution in the state of the country. The Romans had long been accustomed to be nominally defended, but, in fact, to be ruled, by the commanders of the mercenary troops in the emperor’s service. They were as completely excluded from military service under their own emperors for a long period, as they were by the Gothic kings. And though the conquest deprived them of one-third of their landed property, it secured to