Soon afterwards war broke out between the kings of Egypt and Cyrene respecting the possession of the island of Cyprus, which the senate had assigned first to the elder, then to the younger; and in opposition to the most recent Roman decision it finally remained with Egypt. Thus the Roman government, in the plenitude of its power and during the most profound inward and outward peace at home, had its decrees derided by the impotent kings of the east; its name was misused, its ward and its commissioner were murdered. Seventy years before, when the Illyrians had in a similar way laid hands on Roman envoys, the senate of that day had erected a monument to the victim in the market-place, and had with an army and fleet called the murderers to account. The senate of this period likewise ordered a monument to be raised to Gnaeus Octavius, as ancestral custom prescribed; but instead of embarking troops for Syria they recognized Demetrius as king of the land. They were forsooth now so powerful, that it seemed superfluous to guard their own honour. In like manner not only was Cyprus retained by Egypt in spite of the decree of the senate to the contrary, but, when after the death of Philometor (608) Euergetes succeeded him and so reunited the divided kingdom, the senate allowed this also to take place without opposition.

India, Bactria

After such occurrences the Roman influence in these countries was practically shattered, and events pursued their course there for the present without the help of the Romans; but it is necessary for the right understanding of the sequel that we should not wholly omit to notice the history of the nearer, and even of the more remote, east. While in Egypt, shut off as it is on all sides, the status quo did not so easily admit of change, in Asia both to the west and east of the Euphrates the peoples and states underwent essential modifications during, and partly in consequence of, this temporary suspension of the Roman superintendence. Beyond the great desert of Iran there had arisen not long after Alexander the Great the kingdom of Palimbothra under Chandragupta (Sandracottus) on the Indus, and the powerful Bactrian state on the upper Oxus, both formed from a mixture of national elements with the most eastern offshoots of Hellenic civilization.

Decline Of The Kingdom Of Asia

To the west of these began the kingdom of Asia, which, although diminished under Antiochus the Great, still stretched its unwieldy bulk from the Hellespont to the Median and Persian provinces, and embraced the whole basin of the Euphrates and Tigris. That king had still carried his arms beyond the desert into the territory of the Parthians and Bactrians; it was only under him that the vast state had begun to melt away. Not only had western Asia been lost in consequence of the battle of Magnesia; the total emancipation of the two Cappadocias and the two Armenias--Armenia proper in the northeast and the region of Sophene in the south-west--and their conversion from principalities dependent on Syria into independent kingdoms also belong to this period.(38) Of these states Great Armenia in particular, under the Artaxiads, soon attained to a considerable position. Wounds perhaps still more dangerous were inflicted on the empire by the foolish levelling policy of his successor Antiochus Epiphanes (579-590). Although it was true that his kingdom resembled an aggregation of countries rather than a single state, and that the differences of nationality and religion among his subjects placed the most material obstacles in the way of the government, yet the plan of introducing throughout his dominions Helleno-Roman manners and Helleno-Roman worship and of equalizing the various peoples in a political as well as a religious point of view was under any circumstances a folly; and all the more so from the fact, that this caricature of Joseph II was personally far from equal to so gigantic an enterprise, and introduced his reforms in the very worst way by the pillage of temples on the greatest scale and the most insane persecution of heretics.

The Jews

One consequence of this policy was, that the inhabitants of the province next to the Egyptian frontier, the Jews, a people formerly submissive even to humility and extremely active and industrious, were driven by systematic religious persecution to open revolt (about 587). The matter came to the senate; and, as it was just at that time with good reason indignant at Demetrius Soter and apprehensive of a combination between the Attalids and Seleucids, while the establishment of a power intermediate between Syria and Egypt was at any rate for the interest of Rome, it made no difficulty in at once recognizing the freedom and autonomy of the insurgent nation (about 593). Nothing, however, was done by Rome for the Jews except what could be done without personal exertion: in spite of the clause of the treaty concluded between the Romans and the Jews which promised Roman aid to the latter in the event of their being attacked, and in spite of the injunction addressed to the kings of Syria and Egypt not to march their troops through Judaea, it was of course entirely left to the Jews themselves to hold their ground against the Syrian kings. The brave and prudent conduct of the insurrection by the heroic family of the Maccabees and the internal dissension in the Syrian empire did more for them than the letters of their powerful allies; during the strife between the Syrian kings Trypho and Demetrius Nicator autonomy and exemption from tribute were formally accorded to the Jews (612); and soon afterwards the head of the Maccabaean house, Simon son of Mattathias, was even formally acknowledged by the nation as well as by the Syrian great-king as high priest and prince of Israel (615).(39)

The Parthian Empire

Of still more importance in the sequel than this insurrection of the Israelites was the contemporary movement--probably originating from the same cause--in the eastern provinces, where Antiochus Epiphanes emptied the temples of the Persian gods just as he had emptied that at Jerusalem, and doubtless accorded no better treatment there to the adherents of Ahuramazda and Mithra than here to those of Jehovah. Just as in Judaea--only with a wider range and ampler proportions-- the result was a reaction on the part of the native manners and the native religion against Hellenism and the Hellenic gods; the promoters of this movement were the Parthians, and out of it arose the great Parthian empire.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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