Accordingly the Roman armies before Carthage or Numantia already remind one of those Syrian armies, in which the number of bakers, cooks, actors, and other non-combatants exceeded fourfold that of the so-called soldiers; already the Roman generals are little behind their Carthaginian colleagues in the art of ruining armies, and the wars in Africa as in Spain, in Macedonia as in Asia, are regularly opened with defeats; the murder of Gnaeus Octavius is now passed over in silence; the assassination of Viriathus is now a masterpiece of Roman diplomacy; the conquest of Numantia is now a great achievement. How completely the idea of national and manly honour was already lost among the Romans, was shown with epigrammatic point by the statue of the stripped and bound Mancinus, which he himself, proud of his patriotic devotedness, caused to be erected in Rome. Wherever we turn our eyes, we find the internal energy as well as the external power of Rome rapidly on the decline. The ground won in gigantic struggles is not extended, norin fact even maintained, in this period of peace. The government of the world, which it was difficult to achieve, it was still more difficult to preserve; the Roman senate had mastered the former task, but it broke down under the latter.

Chapter II

The Reform Movement And Tiberius Gracchus

The Roman Government Before The Period Of The Gracchi

For a whole generation after the battle of Pydna the Roman state enjoyed a profound calm, scarcely varied by a ripple here and there on the surface. Its dominion extended over the three continents; the lustre of the Roman power and the glory of the Roman name were constantly on the increase; all eyes rested on Italy, all talents and all riches flowed thither; it seemed as if a golden age of peaceful prosperity and intellectual enjoyment of life could not but there begin. The Orientals of this period told each other with astonishment of the mighty republic of the west, "which subdued kingdoms far and near, and whoever heard its name trembled; but it kept good faith with its friends and clients. Such was the glory of the Romans, and yet no one usurped the crown and no one paraded in purple dress; but they obeyed whomsoever from year to year they made their master, and there was among them neither envy nor discord."

Spread Of Decay

So it seemed at a distance; matters wore a different aspect on a closer view. The government of the aristocracy was in full train to destroy its own work. Not that the sons and grandsons of the vanquished at Cannae and of the victors at Zama had so utterly degenerated from their fathers and grandfathers; the difference was not so much in the men who now sat in the senate, as in the times. Where a limited number of old families of established wealth and hereditary political importance conducts the government, it will display in seasons of danger an incomparable tenacity of purpose and power of heroic self-sacrifice, just as in seasons of tranquillity it will be shortsighted, selfish, and negligent--the germs of both results are essentially involved in its hereditary and collegiate character. The morbid matter had been long in existence, but it needed the sun of prosperity to develop it. There was a profound meaning in the question of Cato, "What was to become of Rome, when she should no longer have any state to fear?" That point had now been reached. Every neighbour whom she might have feared was politically annihilated; and of the men who had been reared under the old order of things in the severe school of the Hannibalic war, and whose words still sounded as echoes of that mighty epoch so long as they survived, death called one after another away, till at length even the voice of the last of them, the veteran Cato, ceased to be heard in the senate-house and in the Forum. A younger generation came to the helm, and their policy was a sorry answer to that question of the old patriot. We have already spoken of the shape which the government of the subjects and the external policy of Rome assumed in their hands. In internal affairs they were, if possible, still more disposed to let the ship drive before the wind: if we understand by internal government more than the transaction of current business, there was at this period no government in Rome at all. The single leading thought of the governing corporation was the maintenance and, if possible, the increase of their usurped privileges. It was not the state that had a title to get the right and best man for its supreme magistracy; but every member of the coterie had an inborn title to the highest office of the state--a title not to be prejudiced either by the unfair rivalry of men of his own class or by the encroachments of the excluded. Accordingly the clique proposed to itself, as its most important political aim, the restriction of re-election to the consulship and the exclusion of "new men"; and in fact it succeeded in obtaining the legal prohibition of the former about 603,(1) and in sufficing with a government of aristocratic nobodies. Even the inaction of the government in its outward relations was doubtless connected with this policy of the nobility, exclusive towards commoners, and distrustful towards the individual members of their own order. By no surer means could they keep commoners, whose deeds were their patent of nobility, aloof from the pure circles of the aristocracy than by giving no opportunity to any one to perform deeds at all; to the existing government of general mediocrity even an aristocratic conqueror of Syria or Egypt would have proved extremely inconvenient.

Attempts At Reform Permanent Criminal Commissions Vote By Ballot Exclusion Of The Senators From The Equestrian Centuries The Public Elections

It is true that now also there was no want of opposition, and it was even to a certain extent effectual. The administration of justice was improved. The administrative jurisdiction, which the senate exercised either of itself or, on occasion, by extraordinary commissions, over the provincial magistrates, was confessedly inadequate.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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