But the ruling community deserves a censure more severe than that directed against the ruled. It is no easy task for a man--any more than for a state--to own to insignificance; it is the duty and right of the ruler either to renounce his authority, or by the display of an imposing material superiority to compel the ruled to resignation. The Roman senate did neither. Invoked and importuned on all hands, the senate interfered incessantly in the course of African, Hellenic, Asiatic, and Egyptian affairs; but it did so after so inconstant and loose a fashion, that its attempts to settle matters usually only rendered the confusion worse. It was the epoch of commissions. Commissioners of the senate were constantly going to Carthage and Alexandria, to the Achaean diet, and to the courts of the rulers of western Asia; they investigated, inhibited, reported, and yet decisive steps were not unfrequently taken in the most important matters without the knowledge, or against the wishes, of the senate. It might happen that Cyprus, for instance, which the senate had assigned to the kingdom of Cyrene, was nevertheless retained by Egypt; that a Syrian prince ascended the throne of his ancestors under the pretext that he had obtained a promise of it from the Romans, while the senate had in fact expressly refused to give it to him, and he himself had only escaped from Rome by breaking their interdict; that even the open murder of a Roman commissioner, who under the orders of the senate administered as guardian the government of Syria, passed totally unpunished. The Asiatics were very well aware that they were not in a position to resist the Roman legions; but they were no less aware that the senate was but little inclined to give the burgesses orders to march for the Euphrates or the Nile. Thus the state of these remote countries resembled that of the schoolroom when the teacher is absent or lax; and the government of Rome deprived the nations at once of the blessings of freedom and of the blessings of order. For the Romans themselves, moreover, this state of matters was so far perilous that it to a certain extent left their northern and eastern frontier exposed. In these quarters kingdoms might be formed by the aid of the inland countries situated beyond the limits of the Roman hegemony and in antagonism to the weak states under Roman protection, without Rome being able directly or speedily to interfere, and might develop a power dangerous to, and entering sooner or later into rivalry with, Rome. No doubt the condition of the bordering nations--everywhere split into fragments and nowhere favourable to political development on a great scale-- formed some sort of protection against this danger; yet we very clearly perceive in the history of the east, that at this period the Euphrates was no longer guarded by the phalanx of Seleucus and was not yet watched by the legions of Augustus. It was high time to put an end to this state of indecision. But the only possible way of ending it was by converting the client states into Roman provinces. This could be done all the more easily, that the Roman provincial constitution in substance only concentrated military power in the hands of the Roman governor, while administration and jurisdiction in the main were, or at any rate were intended to be, retained by the communities, so that as much of the old political independence as was at all capable of life might be preserved in the form of communal freedom. The necessity for this administrative reform could not well be mistaken; the only question was, whether the senate would delay and mar it, or whether it would have the courage and the power clearly to discern and energetically to execute what was needful.

Carthage And Numidia

Let us first glance at Africa. The order of things established by the Romans in Libya rested in substance on a balance of power between the Nomad kingdom of Massinissa and the city of Carthage. While the former was enlarged, confirmed, and civilized under the vigorous and sagacious government of Massinissa,(6) Carthage in consequence simply of a state of peace became once more, at least in wealth and population, what it had been at the height of its political power. The Romans saw with ill-concealed and envious fear the apparently indestructible prosperity of their old rival; while hitherto they had refused to grant to it any real protection against the constantly continued encroachments of Massinissa, they now began openly to interfere in favour of the neighbouring prince. The dispute which had been pending for more than thirty years between the city and the king as to the possession of the province of Emporia on the Lesser Syrtis, one of the most fertile in the Carthaginian territory, was at length (about 594) decided by Roman commissioners to the effect that the Carthaginians should evacuate those towns of Eniporia which still remained in their possession, and should pay 500 talents (120,000 pounds) to the king as compensation for the illegal enjoyment of the territory. The consequence was, that Massinissa immediately seized another Carthaginian district on the western frontier of their territory, the town of Tusca and the great plains near the Bagradas; no course was left to the Carthaginians but to commence another hopeless process at Rome. After long and, beyond doubt, intentional delay a second commission appeared in Africa (597); but, when the Carthaginians were unwilling to commit themselves unconditionally to a decision to be pronounced by it as arbiter without an exact preliminary investigation into the question of legal right, and insisted on a thorough discussion of the latter question, the commissioners without further ceremony returned to Rome.

The Destruction Of Carthage Resolved On At Rome

The question of right between Carthage and Massinissa thus remained unsettled; but the mission gave rise to a more important decision. The head of this commission had been the old Marcus Cato, at that time perhaps the most influential man in the senate, and, as a veteran survivor from the Hannibalic war, still filled with thorough hatred and thorough dread of the Phoenicians.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book