It was a great and difficult problem which Rome undertook, when she undertook to govern this Romano-Hellenic world; it was not wholly misunderstood, but it was by no means solved. The untenableness of the idea of Cato's time-- that the state should be limited to Italy, and that its rule beyond Italy should be only over clients--was doubtless discerned by the leading men of the following generation; and the necessity of substituting for this ruling by clientship a direct sovereignty of Rome, that should preserve the liberties of the communities, was doubtless recognized. But instead of carrying out this new arrangement firmly, speedily, and uniformly, they annexed isolated provinces just as convenience, caprice, collateral advantage, or accident led them to do so; whereas the greater portion of the territory under clientship either remained in the intolerable uncertainty of its former position, or even, as was the case with Syria especially, withdrew entirely from the influence of Rome. And even the government itself degenerated more and more into a feeble and short-sighted selfishness. They were content with governing from one day to another, and merely transacting the current business as exigency required. They were stern masters towards the weak. When the city of Mylasa in Caria sent to Publius Crassus, consul in 623, a beam for the construction of a battering-ram different from what he had asked, the chief magistrate of the town was scourged for it; and Crassus was not a bad man, and a strictly upright magistrate. On the other hand sternness was wanting in those cases where it would have been in place, as in dealing with the barbarians on the frontiers and with the pirates. When the central government renounced all superintendence and all oversight of provincial affairs, it entirely abandoned not only the interests of the subjects, but also those of the state, to the governor of the day. The events which occurred in Spain, unimportant in themselves, are instructive in this respect. In that country, where the government was less able than in other provinces to confine itself to the part of a mere onlooker, the law of nations was directly trampled under foot by the Roman governors; and the honour of Rome was permanently dragged in the mire by a faithlessness and treachery without parallel, by the most wanton trifling with capitulations and treaties, by massacring people who had submitted and instigating the assassination of the generals of the enemy. Nor was this all; war was even waged and peace concluded against the expressed will of the supreme authority in Rome, and unimportant incidents, such as the disobedience of the Numantines, were developed by a rare combination of perversity and folly into a crisis of fatal moment for the state. And all this took place without any effort to visit it with even a serious penalty in Rome. Not only did the sympathies and rivalries of the different coteries in the senate contribute to decide the filling up of the most important places and the treatment of the most momentous political questions; but even thus early the money of foreign dynasts found its way to the senators of Rome. Timarchus, the envoy of Antiochus Epiphanes king of Syria (590), is mentioned as the first who attempted with success to bribe the Roman senate; the bestowal of presents from foreign kings on influential senators soon became so common, that surprise was excited when Scipio Aemilianus cast into the military chest the gifts from the king of Syria which reached him in camp before Numantia. The ancient principle, that rule was its own sole reward and that such rule was as much a duty and a burden as a privilege and a benefit, was allowed to fall wholly into abeyance. Thus there arose the new state-economy, which turned its eyes away from the taxation of the burgesses, but regarded the body of subjects, on the other hand, as a profitable possession of the community, which it partly worked out for the public benefit, partly handed over to be worked out by the burgesses. Not only was free scope allowed with criminal indulgence to the unscrupulous greed of the Roman merchant in the provincial administration, but even the commercial rivals who were disagreeable to him were cleared away by the armies of the state, and the most glorious cities of neighbouring lands were sacrificed, not to the barbarism of the lust of power, but to the far more horrible barbarism of speculation. By the ruin of the earlier military organization, which certainly imposed heavy burdens on the burgesses, the state, which was solely dependent in the last resort on its military superiority, undermined its own support. The fleet was allowed to go to ruin; the system of land warfare fell into the most incredible decay. The duty of guarding the Asiatic and African frontiers was devolved on the subjects; and what could not be so devolved, such as the defence of the frontier in Italy, Macedonia, and Spain, was managed after the most wretched fashion. The better classes began to disappear so much from the army, that it was already difficult to raise the necessary number of officers for the Spanish armies. The daily increasing aversion to the Spanish war-service in particular, combined with the partiality shown by the magistrates in the levy, rendered it necessary in 602 to abandon the old practice of leaving the selection of the requisite number of soldiers from the men liable to serve to the free discretion of the officers, and to substitute for it the drawing lots on the part of all the men liable to service--certainly not to the advantage of the military esprit de corps, or of the warlike efficiency of the individual divisions. The authorities, instead of acting with vigour and sternness, extended their pitiful flattery of the people even to this field; whenever a consul in the discharge of his duty instituted rigorous levies for the Spanish service, the tribunes made use of their constitutional right to arrest him (603, 616); and it has been already observed, that Scipio's request that he should be allowed a levy for the Numantine war was directly rejected by the senate.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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