For some generations after the death of Gautama, these high and noble Buddhist teachings, this first plain teaching that the highest good for man is the subjugation of self, made comparatively little headway in the world. Then they conquered the imagination of one of the greatest monarchs the world has ever seen.
We have already mentioned how Alexander the Great came down into India and fought with Porus upon the Indus. It is related by the Greek historians that a certain Chandragupta Maurya came into Alexander’s camp and tried to persuade him to go on to the Ganges and conquer all India. Alexander could not do this because of the refusal of his Macedonians to go further into what was for them an unknown world, and later on (303 B.C.) Chandragupta was able to secure the help or various hill tribes and realize his dream without Greek help. He built up an empire in North India and was presently (303 B.C.) able to attack Seleucus I in the Punjab and drive the last vestige of Greek power out of India. His son extended this new empire. His grandson, Asoka, the monarch of whom we now have to tell, found himself in 264 B.C. ruling from Afghanistan to Madras.
Asoka was at first disposed to follow the example of his father and grandfather and complete the conquest of the Indian peninsula. He invaded Kalinga (255 B.C.), a country on the east coast of Madras, he was successful in his military operations and – alone among conquerors – he was so disgusted by the cruelty and horror of war that he renounced it. He would have no more of it. He adopted the peaceful doctrines of Buddhism and declared that henceforth his conquests should be the conquests of religion.
His reign for eight-and-twenty years was one of the brightest interludes in the troubled history of mankind. He organized a great digging of wells in India and the planting of trees for shade. He founded hospitals and public gardens and gardens for the growing of medicinal herbs. He created a ministry for the care of the aborigines and subject races of India. He made provision for the education of women. He made vast benefactions to the Buddhist teaching orders, and tried to stimulate them to a better and more energetic criticism of their own accumulated literature. For corruptions and superstitious accretions had accumulated very speedily upon the pure and simple teaching of the great Indian master. Missionaries went from Asoka to Kashmir, to Persia, to Ceylon and Alexandria.
Such was Asoka, greatest of kings. He was far in advance of his age. He left no prince and no organization of men to carry on his work, and within a century of his death the great days of his reign had become a glorious memory in a shattered and decaying India. The priestly caste of the Brahmins, the highest and most privileged caste in the Indian social body, has always been opposed to the frank and open teaching of Buddha. Gradually they undermined the Buddhist influence in the land. The old monstrous gods, the innumerable cults of Hinduism, resumed their sway. Caste became more rigorous and complicated. For long centuries Buddhism and Brahminism flourished side by side, and then slowly Buddhism decayed and Brahminism in a multitude of forms replaced it. But beyond the confines of India and the realms of caste Buddhism spread – until it had won China and Siam and Burma and Japan, countries in which it is predominant to this day.
We have still to tell of two other great men, Confucius and Lao Tse, who lived in that wonderful century which began the adolescence of mankind, the sixth century B.C. In this history thus far we have told very little of the early story of China. At present that early history is still very obscure, and we look to Chinese explorers and archaeolologists in the new China that is now arising to work out their past as thoroughly as the European past has been worked out during the last century. Very long ago the first primitive Chinese civilizations arose in the great river valleys out of the primordial heliolithic culture. They had, like Egypt and Sumeria, the general characteristics of that culture, and they centred upon temples in which priests and priest kings offered the seasonal blood sacrifices. The life in those cities must have been very like the Egyptian and Sumerian life of six or seven thousand years ago and very like the Maya life of Central America a thousand years ago.
If there were human sacrifices they had long given way to animal sacrifices before the dawn of history. And a form of picture writing was growing up long before a thousand years B.C.
And just as the primitive civilizations of Europe and western Asia were in conflict with the nomads of the desert and the nomads of the north, so the primitive Chinese civilizations had a great cloud of nomadic peoples on their northern borders. There was a number of tribes akin in language and ways of living, who are spoken of in history in succession as the Huns, the Mongols, the Turks and Tartars. They changed and divided and combined and re-combined, just as the Nordic peoples in north Europe and central Asia changed and varied in name rather than in nature. These Mongolian nomads had horses earlier than the Nordic peoples, and it may be that in the region of the Altai Mountains they made an independent discovery of iron somewhen after 1000 B.C. And just as in the western case so ever and again these eastern nomads would achieve a sort of political unity, and become the conquerors and masters and revivers of this or that settled and civilized region.
It is quite possible that the earliest civilization of China was not Mongolian at all any more than the earliest civilization of Europe and western Asia was Nordic or Semitic. It is quite possible that the earliest civilization of China was a brunette civilization and of a piece with the earliest Egyptian, Sumerian and Dravidian civilizations, and that when the first recorded history of China began there had already been conquests and intermixture. At any rate we find that by 1750 B.C. China was already a vast system of little kingdoms and city states, all acknowledging a loose allegiance and paying more or less regularly, more or less definite feudal dues to one great priest emperor, the “Son of Heaven.” The “Shang” dynasty came to an end in 1125 B.C. A “Chow” dynasty succeeded “Shang,” and maintained China in a relaxing unity until the days of Asoka in India and of the Ptolemies in Egypt. Gradually China went to pieces during that long “Chow” period. Hunnish peoples came down and set up principalities; local rulers discontinued their tribute and became independent. There was in the sixth century B.C., says one Chinese authority, five or six thousand practically independent states in China. It was what the Chinese call in their records an “Age of Confusion.”
But this Age of Confusion was compatible with much intellectual activity and with the existence of many local centres of art and civilized living. When we know more of Chinese history we shall find that China also had her Miletus and her Athens, her Pergamum and her Macedonia. At present we must be vague and brief about this period of Chinese division simply because our knowledge is not sufficient for us to frame a coherent and consecutive story.
And just as in divided Greece there were philosophers and in shattered and captive Jewry prophets, so in disordered China there were philosophers and teachers at this time. In all these cases insecurity and uncertainty seemed to have quickened the better sort of mind. Confucius was a man of aristocratic origin and some official importance in a small state called Lu. Here in a very parallel mood to the Greek impulse he set up a sort of Academy for discovering and teaching Wisdom. The lawlessness and disorder of China distressed him profoundly. He conceived an ideal of a better government and a better life, and travelled from state to state seeking a prince who would carry out his legislative and educational ideas. He never found his prince; he found a prince, but court intrigues undermined the influence of the teacher and finally defeated his reforming proposals. It is interesting to note that a century and a half later the Greek philosopher Plato also sought a prince, and was for a time adviser to the tyrant Dionysius who ruled Syracuse in Sicily.
Confucius died a disappointed man. “No intelligent ruler arises to take me as his master,” he said, “and my time has come to die.” But his teaching had more vitality than he imagined in his declining and hopeless years, and it became a great formative influence with the Chinese people. It became one of what the Chinese call the Three Teachings, the other two being those of Buddha and of Lao Tse.
The gist of the teaching of Confucius was the way of the noble or aristocratic man. He was concerned with personal conduct as much as Gautama was concerned with the peace of self-forgetfulness and the Greek with external knowledge and the Jew with righteousness. He was the most public-minded of all great teachers. He was supremely concerned by the confusion and miseries of the world, and he wanted to make men noble in order to bring about a noble world. He sought to regulate conduct to an extraordinary extent; to provide sound rules for every occasion in life. A polite, public- spirited gentleman, rather sternly self-disciplined, was the ideal he found already developing in the northern Chinese world and one to which he gave a permanent form.
The teaching of Lao Tse, who was for a long time in charge of the imperial library of the Chow dynasty, was much more mystical and vague and elusive than that of Confucius. He seems to have preached a stoical indifference to the pleasures and powers of the world and a return to an imaginary simple life of the past. He left writings very contracted in style and very obscure. He wrote in riddles. After his death his teachings, like the teachings of Gautama Buddha, were corrupted and overlaid by legends and had the most complex and extraordinary observances and superstitious ideas grafted upon them. In China just as in India primordial ideas of magic and monstrous legends out of the childish past of our race struggled against the new thinking in the world and succeeded in plastering it over with grotesque, irrational and antiquated observances. Both Buddhism and Taoism (which ascribes itself largely to Lao Tse) as one finds them in China now, are religions of monk, temple, priest and offering of a type as ancient in form, if not in thought, as the sacrificial religions of ancient Sumeria and Egypt. But the teaching of Confucius was not so overlaid because it was limited and plain and straightforward and lent itself to no such distortions.
North China, the China of the Hwang-ho River, became Confucian in thought and spirit; south China, Yang-tse-Kiang China, became Taoist. Since those days a conflict has always been traceable in Chinese affairs between these two spirits, the spirit of the north and the spirit of the south, between (in latter times) Pekin and Nankin, between the official- minded, upright and conservative north, and the sceptical, artistic, lax and experimental south.
The divisions of China of the Age of Confusion reached their worst stage in the sixth century B.C. The Chow dynasty was so enfeebled and so discredited that Lao Tse left the unhappy court and retired into private life.
Three nominally subordinate powers dominated the situation in those days, Ts’i and Ts’in, both northern powers, and Ch’u, which was an aggressive military power in the Yangtse valley. At last Ts’i and Ts’in formed an alliance, subdued Ch’u and imposed a general treaty of disarmament and peace in China. The power of Ts’in became predominant. Finally about the time of Asoka in India the Ts’in monarch seized upon the sacrificial vessels of the Chow emperor and took over his sacrificial duties. His son, Shi-Hwang-ti (king in 246 B.C., emperor in 220 B.C.), is called in the Chinese Chronicles “the First Universal Emperor.”
More fortunate than Alexander, Shi-Hwang-ti reigned for thirty-six years as king and emperor. His energetic reign marks the beginning of a new era of unity and prosperity for the Chinese people. He fought vigorously against the Hunnish invaders from the northern deserts, and he began that immense work, the Great Wall of China, to set a limit to their incursions.
The reader will note a general similarity in the history of all these civilizations in spite of the effectual separation caused by the great barriers of the Indian north-west frontier and of the mountain masses of Central Asia and further India. First for thousands of years the heliolithic culture spread over all the warm and fertile river valleys of the old world and developed a temple system and priest rulers about its sacrificial traditions. Apparently its first makers were always those brunette peoples we have spoken of as the central race of mankind. Then the nomads came in from the regions of seasonal grass and seasonal migrations and superposed their own characteristics and often their own language on the primitive civilization. They subjugated and stimulated it, and were stimulated to fresh developments and made it here one thing and here another. In Mesopotamia it was the Elamite and then the Semite, and at last the Nordic Medes and Persians and the Greeks who supplied the ferment; over the region of the Aegean peoples it was the Greeks; in India it was the Aryan-speakers; in Egypt there was a thinner infusion of conquerors into a more intensely saturated priestly civilization; in China, the Hun conquered and was absorbed and was followed by fresh Huns. China was Mongolized just as Greece and North India were Aryanized and Mesopotamia Semitized and Aryanized. Everywhere the nomads destroyed much, but everywhere they brought in a new spirit of free enquiry and moral innovation. They questioned the beliefs of immemorial ages. They let daylight into the temples. They set up kings who were neither priests nor gods but mere leaders among their captains and companions.
In the centuries following the sixth century B.C. we find everywhere a great breaking down of ancient traditions and a new spirit of moral and intellectual enquiry awake, a spirit never more to be altogether stilled in the great progressive movement of mankind. We find reading and writing becoming common and accessible accomplishments among the ruling and prosperous minority; they were no longer the jealously guarded secret of the priests. Travel is increasing and transport growing easier by reason of horses and roads. A new and easy device to facilitate trade has been found in coined money.
Let us now transfer our attention back from China in the extreme east of the old world to the western half of the Mediterranean. Here we have to note the appearance of a city which was destined to play at last a very great part indeed in human affairs, Rome.
Hitherto we have told very little about Italy in our story. It was before 1000 B.C. a land of mountain and forest and thinly populated. Aryan-speaking tribes had pressed down this peninsula and formed little towns and cities, and the southern extremity was studded with Greek settlements. The noble ruins of Paestum preserve for us to this day something of the dignity and splendour of these early Greek establishments. A non-Aryan people, probably akin to the Aegean peoples, the Etruscans, had established themselves in the central part of the peninsula. They had reversed the usual process by subjugating various Aryan tribes. Rome, when it comes into the light of history, is a little trading city at a ford on the Tiber, with a Latin-speaking population ruled over by Etruscan kings. The old chronologies gave 753 B.C. as the date of the founding of Rome, half a century later than the founding of the great Phoenician city of Carthage and twenty-three years after the first Olympiad. Etruscan tombs of a much earlier date than 753 B.C. have, however, been excavated in the Roman Forum.
In that red-letter century, the sixth century B.C., the Etruscan kings were expelled (510 B.C.) and Rome became an aristocratic republic with a lordly class of “patrician” families dominating a commonalty of “plebeians.” Except that it spoke Latin it was not unlike many aristocratic Greek republics.
For some centuries the internal history of Rome was the story of a long and obstinate struggle for freedom and a share in the government on the part of the plebeians. It would not be difficult to find Greek parallels to this conflict, which the Greeks would have called a conflict of aristocracy with democracy. In the end the plebeians broke down most of the exclusive barriers of the old families and established a working equality with them. They destroyed the old exclusiveness, and made it possible and acceptable for Rome to extend her citizenship by the inclusion of more and more “outsiders.” For while she still struggled at home, she was extending her power abroad.
The extension of Roman power began in the fifth century B.C. Until that time they had waged war, and generally unsuccessful war, with the Etruscans. There was an Etruscan fort, Veii, only a few miles from Rome which the Romans had never been able to capture. In 474 B.C., however, a great misfortune came to the Etruscans. Their fleet was destroyed by the Greeks of Syracuse in Sicily. At the same time a wave of Nordic invaders came down upon them from the north, the Gauls. Caught between Roman and Gaul, the Etruscans fell – and disappear from history. Veii was captured by the Romans, The Gauls came through to Rome and sacked the city (390 B.C.A.D.) but could not capture the Capitol. An attempted night surprise was betrayed by the cackling of some geese, and finally the invaders were bought off and retired to the north of Italy again.
The Gaulish raid seems to have invigorated rather than weakened Rome. The Romans conquered and assimilated the Etruscans, and extended their power over all central Italy from the Arno to Naples. To this they had reached within a few years of 300 B.C. Their conquests in Italy were going on simultaneously with the growth of Philip’s power in Macedonia and Greece, and the tremendous raid of Alexander to Egypt and the Indus. The Romans had become notable people in the civilized world to the east of them by the break-up of Alexander’s empire.
To the north of the Roman power were the Gauls; to the south of them were the Greek settlements of Magna Graecia, that is to say of Sicily and of the toe and heel of Italy. The Gauls were a hardy, warlike people and the Romans held that boundary by a line of forts and fortified settlements. The Greek cities in the south headed by Tarentum (now Taranto) and by Syracuse in Sicily, did not so much threaten as fear the Romans. They looked about for some help against these new conquerors.
We have already told how the empire of Alexander fell to pieces and was divided among his generals and companions. Among these adventurers was a kinsman of Alexander’s named Pyrrhus, who established himself in Epirus, which is across the Adriatic Sea over against the heel of Italy. It was his ambition to play the part of Philip of Macedonia to Magna Graecia, and to become protector and master-general of Tarentum, Syracuse and the rest of that part of the world. He had what was then it very efficient modern army; he had an infantry phalanx, cavalry from Thessaly – which was now quite as good as the original Macedonian cavalry – and twenty fighting elephants; he invaded Italy and routed the Romans in two considerable battles, Heraclea (280 B.C.) and Ausculum (279 B.C.), and having driven them north, he turned his attention to the subjugation of Sicily.
But this brought against him a more formidable enemy than were the Romans at that time, the Phoenician trading city of Carthage, which was probably then the greatest city in the world. Sicily was too near Carthage for a new Alexander to be welcome there, and Carthage was mindful of the fate that had befallen her mother city Tyre half a century before. So she sent a fleet to encourage or compel Rome to continue the struggle, and she cut the overseas communications of Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus found himself freshly assailed by the Romans, and suffered a disastrous repulse in an attack he had made upon their camp at Beneventum between Naples and Rome.
And suddenly came news that recalled him to Epirus. The Gauls were raiding south. But this time they were not raiding down into Italy; the Roman frontier, fortified and guarded, had become too formidable for them. They were raiding down through Illyria (which is now Serbia and Albania) to Macedonia and Epirus. Repulsed by the Romans, endangered at sea by the Carthaginians, and threatened at home by the Gauls, Pyrrhus abandoned his dream of conquest and went home (275 B.C.), and the power of Rome was extended to the Straits of Messina.
On the Sicilian side of the Straits was the Greek city of Messina, and this presently fell into the hands of a gang of pirates. The Carthaginians, who were already practically overlords of Sicily and allies of Syracuse, suppressed these pirates (270 B.C.) and put in a Carthaginian garrison there. The pirates appealed to Rome and Rome listened to their complaint. And so across the Straits of Messina the great trading power of Carthage and this new conquering people, the Romans, found themselves in antagonism, face to face.
It was in 264 B.C. that the great struggle between Rome and Carthage, the Punic Wars, began. In that year Asoka was beginning his reign in Behar and Shi- Hwang-ti was a little child, the Museum in Alexandria was still doing good scientific work, and the barbaric Gauls were now in Asia Minor and exacting a tribute from Pergamum. The different regions of the world were still separated by insurmountable distances, and probably the rest of mankind heard only vague and remote rumours of the mortal fight that went on for a century and a half in Spain, Italy, North Africa and the western Mediterranean, between the last stronghold of Semitic power and Rome, this newcomer among Aryan-speaking peoples.
That war has left its traces upon issues that still stir the world. Rome triumphed over Carthage, but the rivalry of Aryan and Semite was to merge itself later on in the conflict of Gentile and Jew. Our history now is coming to events whose consequences and distorted traditions still maintain a lingering and expiring vitality in, and exercise a complicating and confusing influence upon, the conflicts and controversies of to-day.
The First Punic War began in 264 B.C. about the pirates of Messina. It developed into a struggle for the possession of all Sicily except the dominions of the Greek king of Syracuse. The advantage of the sea was at first with the Carthaginians. They had great fighting ships of what was hitherto an unheard-of size, quinqueremes, galleys with five banks of oars and a huge ram. At the battle of Salamis, two centuries before, the leading battleships had only been triremes with three banks. But the Romans, with extraordinary energy and in spite of the fact that they had little naval experience, set themselves to outbuild the Carthaginians. They manned the new navy they created chiefly with Greek seamen, and they invented grappling and boarding to make up for the superior seamanship of the enemy. When the Carthaginian came up to ram or shear the oars of the Roman, huge grappling irons seized him and the Roman soldiers swarmed aboard him. At Mylae (260 B.C.) and at Ecnomus (256 B.C.) the Carthaginians were disastrously beaten. They repulsed a Roman landing near Carthage but were badly beaten at Palermo, losing one hundred and four elephants there – to grace such a triumphal procession through the Forum as Rome had never seen before. But after that came two Roman defeats and then a Roman recovery. The last naval forces of Carthage were defeated by it last Roman effort at the battle of the Aegatian Isles (241 B.C.) and Carthage sued for peace. All Sicily except the dominions of Hiero, king of Syracuse, was ceded to the Romans.
For twenty-two years Rome and Carthage kept the peace. Both had trouble enough at home. In Italy the Gauls came south again, threatened Rome—which in a state of panic offered human sacrifices to the Gods!—and were routed at Telamon. Rome pushed forward to the Alps, and even extended her dominions down the Adriatic coast to Illyria. Carthage suffered from domestic insurrections and from revolts in Corsica and Sardinia, and displayed far less recuperative power. Finally, an act of intolerable aggression, Rome seized and annexed the two revolting islands.
Spain at that time was Carthaginian as far north as the river Ebro. To that boundary the Romans restricted them. Any crossing of the Ebro by the Carthaginians was to be considered an act of war against the Romans. At last in 218 B.C. the Carthaginians, provoked by new Roman aggressions, did cross this river under a young general named Hannibal, one of the most brilliant commanders in the whole of history. He marched his army from Spain over the Alps into Italy, raised the Gauls against the Romans, and carried on the Second Punic War in Italy itself for fifteen years. He inflicted tremendous defeats upon the Romans at Lake Trasimere and at Cannae, and throughout all his Italian campaigns no Roman army stood against him and escaped disaster. But a Roman army had landed at Marseilles and cut his communications with Spain; he had no siege train, and he could never capture Rome. Finally the Carthaginians, threatened by the revolt of the Numidians at home, were forced back upon the defence of their own city in Africa, a Roman army crossed into Africa, and Hannibal experienced his first defeat under its walls at the battle of Zama (202 B.C. at the hands of Scipio Africanus the Elder. The battle of Zama ended this Second Punic War. Carthage capitulated; she surrendered Spain and her war fleet; she paid an enormous indemnity and agreed to give up Hannibal to the vengeance of the Romans. But Hannibal escaped and fled to Asia where later, being in danger of falling into the hands of his relentless enemies, he took poison and died. For fifty-six years Rome and the shorn city of Carthage were at peace. And meanwhile Rome spread her empire over confused and divided Greece, invaded Asia Minor, and defeated Antiochus III, the Seleucid monarch, at Magnesia in Lydia. She made Egypt, still under the Ptolemies, and Pergamum and most of the small states of Asia Minor into “Allies,” or, as we should call them now, “protected states.”
Meanwhile Carthage, subjugated and enfeebled, had been slowly regaining something of her former prosperity. Her recovery revived the hate and suspicion of the Romans. She was attacked upon the most shallow and artificial of quarrels (149 B.C.), she made an obstinate and bitter resistance, stood a long siege and was stormed (146 B.C.). The street fighting, or massacre, lasted six days; it was extraordinarily bloody, and when the citadel capitulated only about fifty thousand of the Carthaginian population remained alive out of a quarter of a million. They were sold into slavery, and the city was burnt and elaborately destroyed. The blackened ruins were ploughed and sown as a sort of ceremonial effacement.
So ended the Third Punic War. Of all the Semitic states and cities that had flourished in the world five centuries before only one little country remained free under native rulers. This was Judea, which had liberated itself from the Seleucids and was under the rule of the native Maccabean princes. By this time it had its Bible almost complete, and was developing the distinctive traditions of the Jewish world as we know it now. It was natural that the Carthaginians, Phoenicians and kindred peoples dispersed about the world should find a common link in their practically identical language and in this literature of hope and courage. To a large extent they were still the traders and bankers of the world. The Semitic world had been submerged rather than replaced.
Jerusalem, which has always been rather the symbol than the centre of Judaism, was taken by the Romans in 65 B.C.; and after various vicissitudes of quasi- independence and revolt was besieged by them in 70 A.D. and captured after a stubborn struggle. The Temple was destroyed. A later rebellion in 132 A.D. completed its destruction, and the Jerusalem we know to-day was rebuilt later under Roman auspices. A temple to the Roman god, Jupiter Capitolinus, stood in the place of the Temple, and Jews were forbidden to inhabit the city.
Now this new Roman power which arose to dominate the western world in the second and first centuries B.C. was in several respects a different thing from any of the great empires that had hitherto prevailed in the civilized world. It was not at first a monarchy, and it was not the creation of any one great conqueror. It was not indeed the first of republican empires; Athens had dominated a group of Allies and dependents in the time of Pericles, and Carthage when she entered upon her fatal struggle with Rome was mistress of Sardinia and Corsica, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and most of Spain and Sicily. But it was the first republican empire that escaped extinction and went on to fresh developments.
The centre of this new system lay far to the west of the more ancient centres of empire, which had hitherto been the river valleys of Mesopotamia and Egypt. This westward position enabled Rome to bring in to civilization quite fresh regions and peoples. The Roman power extended to Morocco and Spain, and was presently able to thrust north-westward over what is now France and Belgium to Britain and north-eastward into Hungary and South Russia. But on the other hand it was never able to maintain itself in Central Asia or Persia because they were too far from its administrative centres. It included therefore great masses of fresh Nordic Aryan- speaking peoples, it presently incorporated nearly all the Greek people in the world, and its population was less strongly Hamitic and Semitic than that of any preceding empire.
For some centuries this Roman Empire did not fall into the grooves of precedent that had so speedily swallowed up Persian and Greek, and all that time it developed. The rulers of the Medes and Persians became entirely Babylonized in a generation or so; they took over the tiara of the king of kings and the temples and priesthoods of his gods; Alexander and his successors followed in the same easy path of assimilation; the Seleucid monarchs had much the same court and administrative methods as Nebuchadnezzar; the Ptolemies became Pharaohs and altogether Egyptian. They were assimilated just as before them the Semitic conquerors of the Sumerians had been assimilated. But the Romans ruled in their own city, and for some centuries kept to the laws of their own nature. The only people who exercised any great mental influence upon them before the second or third century A.D. were the kindred and similar Greeks. So that the Roman Empire was essentially a first attempt to rule a great dominion upon mainly Aryan lines. It was so far a new pattern in history, it was an expanded Aryan republic. The old pattern of a personal conqueror ruling over a capital city that had grown up round the temple of a harvest god did not apply to it. The Romans had gods and temples, but like the gods of the Greeks their gods were quasi-human immortals, divine patricians. The Romans also had blood sacrifices and even made human ones in times of stress, things they may have learnt to do from their dusky Etruscan teachers; but until Rome was long past its zenith neither priest nor temple played a large part in Roman history.
The Roman Empire was a growth, an unplanned novel growth; the Roman people found themselves engaged almost unawares in a vast administrative experiment. It cannot be called a successful experiment. In the end their empire collapsed altogether. And it changed enormously in form and method from century to century. It changed more in a hundred years than Bengal or Mesopotamia or Egypt changed in a thousand. It was always changing. It never attained to any fixity.
In a sense the experiment failed. In a sense the experiment remains unfinished, and Europe and America to-day are still working out the riddles of world-wide statescraft first confronted by the Roman people.
It is well for the student of history to bear in mind the very great changes not only in political but in social and moral matters that went on throughout the period of Roman dominion. There is much too strong a tendency in people’s minds to think of the Roman rule as something finished and stable, firm, rounded, noble and decisive. Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, S.P.Q.R. the elder Cato, the Scipios, Julius Caesar, Diocletian, Constantine the Great, triumphs, orations, gladiatorial combats and Christian martyrs are all mixed up together in a picture of something high and cruel and dignified. The items of that picture have to be disentangled. They are collected at different points from a process of change profounder than that which separates the London of William the Conqueror from the London of to-day.
We may very conveniently divide the expansion of Rome into four stages. The first stage began after the sack of Rome by the Goths in 390 B.C. and went on until the end of the First Punic War (240 B.C,). We may call this stage the stage of the Assimilative Republic. It was perhaps the finest, most characteristic stage in Roman history. The age-long dissensions of patrician and plebeian were drawing to it close, the Etruscan threat had come to an end, no one was very rich yet nor very poor, and most men were public-spirited. It was a republic like the republic of the South African Boers before 1900 or like the northern states of the American union between 1800 and 1850; a free- farmers republic. At the outset of this stage Rome was a little state scarcely twenty miles square. She fought the sturdy but kindred states about her, and sought not their destruction but coalescence. Her centuries of civil dissension had trained her people in compromise and concessions. Some of the defeated cities became altogether Roman with a voting share in the government, some became self-governing with the right to trade and marry in Rome; garrisons full of citizens were set up at strategic points and colonies of varied privileges founded among the freshly conquered people. Great roads were made. The rapid Latinization of all Italy was the inevitable consequence of such a policy. In 89 B.C. all the free inhabitants of Italy became citizens of the city of Rome. Formally the whole Roman Empire became at last an extended city. In 212 A.D. every free man in the entire extent of the empire was given citizenship; the right, if he could get there, to vote in the town meeting in Rome.
This extension of citizenship to tractable cities and to whole countries was the distinctive device of Roman expansion. It reversed the old process of conquest and assimilation altogether. By the Roman method the conquerors assimilated the conquered.
But after the First Punic War and the annexation of Sicily, though the old process of assimilation still went on, another process arose by its side. Sicily for instance was treated as a conquered prey. It was declared an “estate” of the Roman people. Its rich soil and industrious population was exploited to make Rome rich. The patricians and the more influential among the plebeians secured the major share of that wealth. And the war also brought in a large supply of slaves. Before the First Punic War the population of the republic had been largely a population of citizen farmers. Military service was their privilege and liability. While they were on active service their farms fell into debt and a new large-scale slave agriculture grew up; when they returned they found their produce in competition with slave-grown produce from Sicily and from the new estates at home. Times had changed. The republic had altered its character. Not only was Sicily in the hands of Rome, the common man was in the hands of the rich creditor and the rich competitor. Rome had entered upon its second stage, the Republic of Adventurous Rich Men.
For two hundred years the Roman soldier farmers had struggled for freedom and a share in the government of their state; for a hundred years they had enjoyed their privileges. The First Punic War wasted them and robbed them of all they had won.
The value of their electoral privileges had also evaporated. The governing bodies of the Roman republic were two in number. The first and more important was the Senate. This was a body originally of patricians and then of prominent men of all sorts, who were summoned to it first by certain powerful officials, the consuls and censors. Like the British House of Lords it became a gathering of great landowners, prominent politicians, big business men and the like. It was much more like the British House of Lords than it was like the American Senate. For three centuries, from the Punic Wars onward, it was the centre of Roman political thought and purpose. The second body was the Popular Assembly. This was supposed to be an assembly of all the citizens of Rome. When Rome was a little state twenty miles square this was a possible gathering. When the citizenship of Rome had spread beyond the confines in Italy, it was an altogether impossible one. Its meetings, proclaimed by horn-blowing from the Capitol and the city walls, became more and more a gathering of political hacks and city riff-raff. In the fourth century B.C. the Popular Assembly was a considerable check upon the Senate, a competent representation of the claims and rights of the common man. By the end of the Punic Wars it was an impotent relic of a vanquished popular control. No effectual legal check remained upon the big men.
Nothing of the nature of representative government was ever introduced into the Roman republic. No one thought of electing delegates to represent the will of the citizens. This is a very important point for the student to grasp. The Popular Assembly never became the equivalent of the American House of Representatives or the British House of Commons. In theory it was all the citizens; in practice it ceased to be anything at all worth consideration.
The common citizen of the Roman Empire was therefore in a very poor case after the Second Punic War; he was impoverished, he had often lost his farm, he was ousted from profitable production by slaves, and he had no political power left to him to remedy these things. The only methods of popular expression left to a people without any form of political expression are the strike and the revolt. The story of the second and first centuries B.C., so far as internal politics go, is a story of futile revolutionary upheaval. The scale of this history will not permit us to tell of the intricate struggles of that time, of the attempts to break up estates and restore the land to the free farmer, of proposals to abolish debts in whole or in part. There was revolt and civil war. In 73 B.C., the distresses of Italy were enhanced by a great insurrection, of the slaves under Spartacus. The slaves of Italy revolted with some effect, for among them were the trained fighters of the gladiatorial shows. For two years Spartacus held out in the crater of Vesuvius, which seemed at that time to be an extinct volcano. This insurrection was defeated at last and suppressed with frantic cruelty. Six thousand captured Spartacists were crucified along the Appian Way, the great highway that runs southward out of Rome (71 B.C.).
The common man never made head against the forces that were subjugating and degrading him. But the big rich men who were overcoming him were even in his defeat preparing a new power in the Roman world over themselves and him, the power of the army.
Before the Second Punic War the army of Rome was a levy of free farmers, who, according to their quality, rode or marched afoot to battle. This was a very good force for wars close at hand, but not the sort of army that will go abroad and bear long campaigns with patience. And moreover as the slaves multiplied and the estates grew, the supply of free- spirited fighting farmers declined. It was a popular leader named Marius who introduced a new factor. North Africa after the overthrow of the Carthaginian civilization had become a semi-barbaric kingdom, the kingdom of Numidia. The Roman power fell into conflict with Jugurtha, king of this state, and experienced enormous difficulties in subduing him. Marius was made consul, in a phase of public indignation, to end this discreditable war. This he did by raising paid troops and drilling them hard. Jugurtha was brought in chains to Rome (106 B.C.) and Marius, when his time of office had expired, held on to his consulship illegally with his newly created legions. There was no power in Rome to restrain him.
With Marius began the third phase in the development of the Roman power, the Republic of the Military Commanders. For now began a period in which the leaders of the paid legions fought for the mastery of the Roman world. Against Marius was pitted the aristocratic Sulla who had served under him in Africa. Each in turn made a great massacre of his political opponents. Men were proscribed and executed by the thousand, and their estates were sold. After the bloody rivalry of these two and the horror of the revolt of Spartacus, came a phase in which Lucullus and Pompey the Great and Crassus and Julius Caesar were the masters of armies and dominated affairs. It was Crassus who defeated Spartacus. Lucullus conquered Asia Minor and penetrated to Armenia, and retired with great wealth into private life. Crassus thrusting further invaded Persia and was defeated and slain by the Parthians. After a long rivalry Pompey was defeated by Julius Caesar (48 B.C.) and murdered in Egypt, leaving Julius Caesar sole master of the Roman world.
The figure of Julius Caesar is one that has stirred the human imagination out of all proportion to its merit or true importance. He has become a legend and a symbol. For us he is chiefly important as marking the transition from the phase of military adventurers to the beginning of the fourth stage in Roman expansion, the Early Empire. For in spite of the profoundest economic and political convulsions, in spite of civil war and social degeneration, throughout all this time the boundaries of the Roman state crept outward and continued to creep outward to their maximum about 100 A.D. There had been something like an ebb during the doubtful phases of the Second Punic War, and again a manifest loss of vigour before the reconstruction of the army by Marius. The revolt of Spartacus marked a third phase. Julius Caesar made his reputation as a military leader in Gaul, which is now France and Belgium. (The chief tribes inhabiting this country belonged to the same Celtic people as the Gauls who had occupied north Italy for a time, and who had afterwards raided into Asia Minor and settled down as the Galatians.) Caesar drove back a German invasion of Gaul and added all that country to the empire, and he twice crossed the Straits of Dover into Britain (55 and 54 B.C.), where however he made no permanent conquest. Meanwhile Pompey the Great was consolidating Roman conquests that reached in the east to the Caspian Sea.
At this time, the middle of the first century B.C., the Roman Senate was still the nominal centre of the Roman government, appointing consuls and other officials, granting powers and the like; and a number of politicians, among whom Cicero was an outstanding figure, were struggling to preserve the great traditions of republican Rome and to maintain respect for its laws. But the spirit of citizenship had gone from Italy with the wasting away of the free farmers; it was a land now of slaves and impoverished men with neither the understanding nor the desire for freedom. There was nothing whatever behind these republican leaders in the Senate, while behind the great adventurers they feared and desired to control were the legions. Over the heads of the Senate Crassus and Pompey and Caesar divided the rule of the Empire between them (The First Triumvirate). When presently Crassus was killed at distant Carrhae by the Parthians, Pompey and Caesar fell out. Pompey took up the republican side, and laws were passed to bring Caesar to trial for his breaches of law and his disobedience to the decrees of the Senate.
It was illegal for a general to bring his troops out of the boundary of his command, and the boundary between Caesar’s command and Italy was the Rubicon. In 49 B.C. he crossed the Rubicon, saying “The die is cast” and marched upon Pompey and Rome.
It had been the custom in Rome in the past, in periods of military extremity, to elect a “dictator” with practically unlimited powers to rule through the crisis. After his overthrow of Pompey, Caesar was made dictator first for ten years and then (in 45 B.C.) for life. In effect he was made monarch of the empire for life. There was talk of a king, a word abhorrent to Rome since the expulsion of the Etruscans five centuries before. Caesar refused to be king, but adopted throne and sceptre. After his defeat of Pompey, Caesar had gone on into Egypt and had made love to Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, the goddess queen of Egypt. She seems to have turned his head very completely. He had brought back to Rome the Egyptian idea of a god-king. His statue was set up in a temple with an inscription “To the Unconquerable God.” The expiring republicanism of Rome flared up in a last protest, and Caesar was stabbed to death in the Senate at the foot of the statue of his murdered rival, Pompey the Great.
Thirteen years more of this conflict of ambitious personalities followed. There was a second Triumvirate of Lepidus, Mark Antony and Octavian Caesar, the latter the nephew of Julius Caesar. Octavian like his uncle took the poorer, hardier western provinces where the best legions were recruited. In 31 B.C., he defeated Mark Antony, his only serious rival, at the naval battle of Actium, and made himself sole master of the Roman world. But Octavian was a man of different quality altogether from Julius Caesar. He had no foolish craving to be God or King. He had no queen-lover that he wished to dazzle. He restored freedom to the Senate and people of Rome. He declined to be dictator. The grateful Senate in return gave him the reality instead of the forms of power. He was to be called not King indeed, but “Princeps” and “Augustus.” He became Augustus Caesar, the first of the Roman emperors (27 B.C. to 14 A.D.).
He was followed by Tiberius Caesar (14 to 37 A.D.) and he by others, Caligula, Claudius, Nero and so on up to Trajan (98 A.D.), Hadrian (117 A.D.), Antonius Pius (138 A.D.) and Marcus Aurelius (161- 180 A.D.). All these emperors were emperors of the legions. The soldiers made them, and some the soldiers destroyed. Gradually the Senate fades out of Roman-history, and the emperor and his administrative officials replace it. The boundaries of the empire crept forward now to their utmost limits. Most of Britain was added to the empire, Transylvania was brought in as a new province, Dacia; Trajan crossed the Euphrates. Hadrian had an idea that reminds us at once of what had happened at the other end of the old world. Like Shi-Hwang-ti he built walls against the northern barbarians; one across Britain and a palisade between the Rhine and the Danube. He abandoned some of the acquisitions of Trajan.
The expansion of the Roman Empire was at an end.