The Roman World 509 B.C. To A.D. 180
As the Athenians saw the symbol of their city-state's democracy and culture in the rock-jutting Acropolis, so the Romans viewed the Forum as the symbol of imperial grandeur.
Although the buildings in the Forum appear fundamentally Greek in style, they are more monumental and sumptuous. Here, then, are two clues to an understanding of the Romans: they borrowed much from the Greeks and others, and they modified what they took.
Rome was the great intermediary - the bridge over which passed the rich contributions of the ancient Near East and especially Greece, to form the basis of modern Western civilization.
The Romans replaced the anarchy of the Hellenistic Age with law and order and embraced the intellectual and artistic legacy of the conquered Greeks. As Rome's empire expanded, this legacy was spread westward throughout most of Europe.
Rome To 509 B.C.
The history of Rome extends from 753 B.C., the traditional date for the founding of the city by Romulus, Rome's legendary first king, to A.D. 476 when another Romulus, Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor in the West, was deposed.
The first period in this span of more than a thousand years ended in 509 B.C. with the expulsion of the seventh and last of Rome's kings, Tarquin the Proud, and the establishment of a republic.
Geography And Early Settlers Of Italy
Geography did much to shape the course of events in Italy. The Italian peninsula is 600 miles long and about four times the size of Greece and two-thirds that of California.
A great mountainous backbone, the Apennines, runs down almost the entire peninsula. But the land is not so rugged as Greece, and the mountains do not constitute a barrier to political unification.
Unlike in Greece, a network of roads could be built to link the regions. Furthermore, the plain of Latium and its city, Rome, occupied a strategic position.
It was easy to defend, and once the Romans had begun a career of conquest, they occupied a central position which made it difficult for their enemies to unite successfully against them.
The strategic position of Rome was repeated on a larger scale by Italy itself. Italy juts into the Mediterranean almost in the center of that great sea. Once Italy was unified, its commanding position invited it to unify the entire Mediterranean world.
Italy's best valleys and harbors are on the western slopes of the Apennines. The Italian peninsula faced west, not east. For a long time, therefore, culture in Italy lagged behind that of Greece because cultural contact was long delayed.
Both Greeks and Romans were offshoots of a common Indo-European stock, and settlement of the Greek and Italian peninsulas followed broadly parallel stages.
Between 2000 and 1000 B.C., when Indo-European peoples invaded the Aegean world, a western wing of this nomadic migration filtered into the Italian peninsula, then inhabited by indigenous Neolithic tribes.
The first invaders, skilled in the use of copper and bronze, settled in the Po valley.
Another wave of Indo-Europeans, equipped with iron weapons and tools, followed; in time the newer and older settlers intermingled and spread throughout the peninsula.
One group, the Latins, settled in the plain of Latium, in the lower valley of the Tiber River.
For ages history had bypassed the western Mediterranean, but it was soon to become an increasingly significant area.
During the ninth century B.C. the Etruscans, a non-Indo-European people who probably came from Asia Minor, brought the first city-state civilization to Italy.
Expanding from the west coast up to the Po valley and south to the Bay of Naples, the Etruscans organized the backward Italic peoples into a loose confederation of Etruscan-dominated city-states.
After 750 B.C. Greek colonists migrated to southern Italy and Sicily, where they served as a protective buffer against
powerful and prosperous Carthage, a Phoenician colony established in North Africa about 800 B.C.
Yet the future was not to belong to these various invaders but to an insignificant village on the Tiber River, then in the shadow of Etruscan expansion. This was Rome, destined to be ruler of the ancient world.
According to ancient legend, Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who were saved from death in their infancy by a she-wolf who sheltered and suckled them.
According to Virgil's Aeneid Romulus' ancestor was Aeneas, a Trojan who after the fall of Troy founded a settlement in Latium. The Aeneas story, invented by Greek mythmakers, pleased the Romans because it linked their history with that of the Greeks.
Turning from fable to fact, modern scholars believe that in the eighth century B.C. the inhabitants of some small Latin settlements on hills in the Tiber valley united and established a common meeting place, the Forum, around which the city of Rome grew.
Situated at a convenient place for fording the river and protected from invaders by the hills and marshes, Rome was strategically located. Nevertheless, the expanding Etruscans conquered Rome about 625 B.C., and under their tutelage Rome first became an important city-state.
Some aspects of Etruscan culture were borrowed from the Greek colonies in southern Italy, and much of this, including the alphabet, was passed on to the conquered Romans. (Etruscan writing can be read phonetically but not understood.)
From their Etruscan overlords, the Romans acquired some of their gods and the practice of prophesying by examining animal entrails and the flight of birds.
From the conquerors, too, the conquered learned the art of building (especially the arch), the practice of making statues of their gods, and the staging of gladiatorial combats. Even the name Roma appears to
be an Etruscan word.
The Roman Monarchy, 753-509 B.C.
Rome's political growth followed a line of development similar to that of the Greek city-states: limited monarchy of the sort described by Homer, oligarchy, democracy, and, finally, the permanent dictatorship of the Roman emperors. We shall see that in moving from oligarchy to democracy, the Romans, unlike the Greeks, succeeded in avoiding the intermediate stage of tyranny.
According to tradition, early Rome was ruled by kings elected by the people. After the Etruscan conquest, this elective system continued, although the last three of Rome's seven kings were Etruscan.
The king's executive power, both civil and military, was called the imperium, which was symbolized by an ax bound in a bundle of rods (fasces). In the 1920s the fasces provided both the symbol and name for Mussolini's political creed of fascism.
Although the imperium was conferred by a popular assembly made up of all arms-bearing citizens, the king turned for advice to a council of nobles called the Senate.
Senators had lifelong tenure, and they and their families belonged to the patrician class.
The other class of Romans, the plebeians, or commoners, included small farmers, artisans, and many clients, or dependents, of patrician landowners. In return for a livelihood, the clients gave their patrician patrons political support in the assembly.
The Early Republic, 509-133 B.C.: Foreign Affairs
The growth of Rome from a small city-state to the dominant power in the Mediterranean world in less than 400 years (509-133 B.C.) is a remarkable success story.
Roman expansion was not deliberately planned; rather, it was the result of dealing with unsettled conditions, first in Italy and then abroad, which were thought to threaten Rome's security. Rome always claimed that its wars were defensive.
By 270 B.C. the first phase of Roman expansion was over. Ringed by hostile peoples - Etruscans in the north, predatory hill tribes in central Italy, and Greeks in the south - Rome had subdued them all after long, agonizing effort and found itself master of all Italy south of the Po valley.
(After Rome's fall in the fifth century A.D., Italy was not again unified until 1870.)
In the process the Romans developed the administrative skills and traits of character - both fair-minded and ruthless - that would lead to the acquisition of an empire with possessions on three continents by 133 B.C.
Roman Conquest Of Italy
Soon after ousting their Etruscan overlords in 509 B.C., Rome and the Latin League, composed of other Latin peoples in Latium, entered into a defensive alliance against the Etruscans.
This new combination was so successful that by the beginning of the fourth century B.C. it had become the chief power in central Italy. But at this time (390 B.C.) a major disaster almost ended the history of Rome.
A horde of marauding Celts, called Gauls by the Romans, invaded Italy from central Europe, wiped out the Roman army, and almost destroyed the city by fire.
The elderly members of the Senate, according to the traditional account, sat awaiting their fate with quiet dignity before they were massacred. Only a garrison on the Capitoline Hill
held out under siege.
After seven months and the receipt of a huge ransom in gold, the Gauls retired. The stubborn Romans rebuilt their city and protected it with a stone wall, part of which still stands.
They also remodeled their army by replacing the solid line of fixed spears of the phalanx formation, borrowed from the Etruscans and Greeks, with the much more maneuverable small units of 120 men, called maniples, armed with javelins instead of spears.
It would be 800 years before another barbarian army would be able to conquer the city of Rome.
The Latin League grew alarmed at Rome's increasing strength, and war broke out between the former allies. With Rome's victory in 338 B.C., the League was dissolved, and the Latin cities were forced to sign individual treaties with Rome.
Thus the same year that saw the rise of Macedonia over Greece also saw the rise of a new power in Italy.
Border clashes with aggressive highland Samnite tribes led to three fiercely fought Samnite wars and the extension of Rome's frontiers to the Greek colonies in southern Italy by 290 B.C.
Fearing Roman conquest, the Greeks prepared for war and called in the Hellenistic Greek king, Pyrrhus of Epirus, who dreamed of becoming a second Alexander the Great. Pyrrhus' war elephants, unknown in Italy, twice routed the Romans, but at so heavy a cost that such a triumph is still called a "Pyrrhic victory."
By 270 B.C. the Roman army had subdued the Greek city-states in southern Italy.
Treatment Of Conquered Peoples
Instead of slaughtering or enslaving their defeated foes, the Romans treated them fairly, in time creating a strong loyalty to Rome throughout the peninsula.
Roman citizenship was a prized possession that was not extended to all peoples on the peninsula until the first century B.C. Most defeated states were required to sign a treaty of alliance with Rome, which bound them to adhere to Rome's foreign policy and to supply troops for the Roman army.
No tribute was required, and each allied state retained local self-government. Rome did, however, annex about one fifth of the conquered lands, on which nearly thirty colonies were established by 250 B.C.
The First Punic War
After 270 B.C. only Carthage remained as Rome's rival in the West. Much more wealthy and populous than Rome, with a magnificent navy that controlled the western Mediterranean and with a domain that included the northern coast of Africa, Sardinia, Corsica, western Sicily, and parts of Spain.
Carthage seemed more than a match for Rome. But Carthage was governed by a commercial aristocracy which hired mercenaries to do the fighting.
In the long run, the lack of a loyal body of free citizens and allies, such as Rome had, proved to be Carthage's fatal weakness.
The First Punic War (from punicus, Latin for "Phoenician") broke out in
264 B.C. when Rome sought to oust a Carthaginian force that had occupied Messina on the northeastern tip of Sicily just across from Roman Italy.
According to Polybius, a Hellenistic Greek historian, the Romans "felt it was absolutely necessary not to let Messina fall, or allow the Carthaginians to secure what would be like a bridge to enable them to cross into Italy." ^3
Rome and its Italian allies lost 200,000 men in disastrous naval engagements before Carthage sued for peace in 241 B.C. Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were annexed as the first provinces of Rome's overseas empire, governed and taxed in contrast to Rome's allies in Italy - by Roman officials called proconsuls.
[Footnote 3: Polybius Histories 1.10, trans. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh.]
The Contest With Hannibal
Thwarted by this defeat, Carthage concentrated upon enlarging its empire
in Spain. Rome's determination to prevent this led to the greatest and most difficult war in Roman history.
While both powers jockeyed for position, a young Carthaginian general, Hannibal, precipitated the Second Punic War by attacking Saguntum, a Spanish town claimed by Rome as an ally.
Rome declared war, and Hannibal, seizing the initiative, in 218 B.C. led an army of about 40,000 men, 9000 cavalry troops, and a detachment of African elephants across the Alps into Italy.
Although the crossing had cost him nearly half of his men and almost all of his elephants, Hannibal defeated the Romans three times within three years.
Hannibal's forces never matched those of the Romans in numbers. At Cannae, for example, where Hannibal won his greatest victory, some 70,000 Romans were wiped out by barely 50,000 Carthaginians.
On the whole, Rome's allies remained loyal - a testimony to Rome's generous and statesmanlike treatment of its Italian subjects. Because the Romans controlled the seas, Hannibal received little aid from Carthage. Thus Hannibal was unable to inflict a mortal blow against the Romans.
The Romans finally found a general, Scipio, who was Hannibal's match in military strategy and who was bold enough to invade Africa.
Forced to return home after fifteen years spent on Italian soil, Hannibal clashed with Scipio's legions at Zama, where the Carthaginians suffered a complete defeat.
The power of Carthage was broken forever by a harsh treaty imposed in 201 B.C. Carthage was forced to pay a huge indemnity, disarm its forces, and turn Spain over to the Romans. Hannibal sought asylum in the Seleucid empire where he stirred up anti-Roman sentiment.
Roman Intervention In The East
The defeat of Carthage left Rome free to turn eastward and settle a score with Philip V of Macedonia. Fearful of the new colossus that had risen in the west, Philip had allied himself with Hannibal during the darkest days of the war.
Now, in 200 B.C., Rome was ready to act, following an appeal from Pergamum and Rhodes for aid in protecting the smaller Hellenistic states from Philip, who was advancing in the Aegean, and from the Seleucid emperor, who was moving into Asia Minor.
The heavy Macedonian phalanxes were no match for the mobile Roman legions, and in 197 B.C. Philip was soundly defeated. His dreams of empire were ended when Rome deprived him of his warships and military bases in Greece.
The Romans then proclaimed the independence of Greece and were eulogized by the grateful Greeks for playing a role similar to that assumed by Americans twenty centuries later:
A few years later Rome declared war on the Seleucid emperor who had moved into Greece, urged on by Hannibal and a few greedy Greek states that resented Rome's refusal to dismember Macedonia.
The Romans forced the emperor to vacate Greece and Asia Minor, pay a huge indemnity, and give up his warships and war elephants. The Seleucids were checked again in 168 B.C. when a Roman ultimatum halted their invasion of Egypt, which became a Roman protectorate.
Most of the East was now a Roman protectorate, the result of a policy in which Roman self-interest was mingled with idealism.
But Roman idealism turned sour when anti-Romanism became widespread in Greece, particularly among the radical masses who resented Rome's support of conservative governments and the status quo in general.
(The Romans, for example, helped crush a socialist revolution in Sparta.) The new policy was revealed in 146 B.C. when, after many Greeks had supported an attempted Macedonian revival, Rome destroyed Corinth, a hotbed of anti-Romanism, as an object lesson.
(It is not coincidental that the predominantly working-class population of Corinth was anti-Roman, and that later, after the city was resettled, they would welcome Paul "teaching Christ" for a lengthy eighteen months.)
The Romans also supported oligarchic factions in all Greek states, and placed Greece under the watchful eye of the governor of Macedonia, which had been made a Roman province two years earlier.
Destruction Of Carthage
In the West, meanwhile, Rome's hardening policy led to suspicion of Carthage's reviving prosperity and to a demand by extremists for war Carthago delenda est ("Carthage must be obliterated"). Treacherously provoking the Third Punic War, the Romans besieged Carthage, which resisted heroically for three years. They destroyed the city in 146 B.C., the same year they destroyed Corinth, and annexed the territory as a province.
Rome, Supreme In The Ancient World
In 133 B.C. Rome acquired its first province in Asia when the king of Pergamum, dying without heir, bequeathed his kingdom to Rome.
Apparently he feared that the discontented masses would revolt after his death unless Rome, with its reputation for maintaining law and order in the interest of the propertied classes, took over.
Rome accepted the bequest and then spent the next three years suppressing a proletarian revolution in the new province called Asia. With provinces on three continents - Europe, Africa, and Asia the once obscure Roman Republic was now supreme in the ancient world.
The Late Republic, 133-30 B.C.
The century following 133 B.C., during which Rome's frontiers reached the Euphrates and the Rhine, witnessed the failure of the Republic to solve the problems that were the by-products of the acquisition of an empire.
Effects Of Roman Expansion
The political history of Rome thus far has consisted of two dominant themes: the gradual extension of equal rights for all citizens and the expansion of Roman dominion over the Mediterranean world.
Largely as a result of this expansion, important social and economic problems faced Rome by roughly the midpoint of the second century B.C.
One of the most pressing problems was the decline in the number of small landowners, whose spirit had made Rome great.
Burdened by frequent military service, their farm buildings destroyed by Hannibal, and unable to compete with the cheap grain imported from the new Roman province of Sicily, small farmers sold out and moved to Rome.
Here they joined the unemployed, discontented proletariat, so-called because their only contribution was proles, "children." The proletariat comprised a majority of the citizens in the city.
On the other hand, improved farming methods learned from Greeks and
Carthaginians encouraged rich aristocrats to buy more and more land. Abandoning the cultivation of grain, they introduced large-scale scientific production of olive oil and wine, or of sheep and cattle.
This change was especially profitable because an abundance of cheap slaves from conquered areas was available to work on the estates. These large slave plantations, called latifundia, were now common in many parts of Italy.
The land problem was further complicated by the government's practice of leasing part of the territory acquired in the conquest of the Italian peninsula to anyone willing to pay a percentage of the crop or animals raised on it.
Only the patricians or wealthy plebeians could afford to lease large tracts of this public land, and in time they treated it as if it were their own property.
Plebeian protests led to an attempt to limit the holdings of a single individual to 320 acres of public land, but the law enacted for that purpose was never enforced.
Corruption in the government was another mark of the growing degeneracy of the Roman Republic.
Provincial officials seized opportunities for lucrative graft, and a new class of Roman businessmen scrambled selfishly for the profitable state contracts to supply the armies, collect taxes and loan money in the provinces, and lease state-owned mines and forests.
Although in theory the government was a democracy, in practice it remained a senatorial oligarchy. Wars tend to strengthen the executive power in a state, and in Rome the Senate had such power.
Even the tribunes, guardians of the people's rights, became for the most part puppets of the Senate. Thus by the middle of the second century B.C., the government was in the hands of a wealthy, self-seeking Senate, which became increasingly incapable of coping with the problems of governing a world-state.
Ordinary citizens were for the most part impoverished and landless; and Rome swarmed with fortune hunters, imported slaves, unemployed farmers, and discontented war veterans.
The poverty of the many, coupled with the opulence of the few, hastened the decay of the old Roman traits of discipline, simplicity, and respect for authority.
The next century (133-30 B.C.) saw Rome convulsed by civil strife, which led to the establishment of a permanent dictatorship and the end of the Republic.
The Senate was noticeably inefficient in carrying on foreign conflicts, but its most serious weakness was its inability to solve the economic and social problems following in the wake of Rome's conquests.
Reform Movement Of The Gracchi
An awareness of Rome's profound social and economic problems led to the reform program of an idealistic young aristocrat named Tiberius Gracchus.
His reforming zeal was the product of the newly imported liberal learning of Greece and an awareness that the old Roman character and way of life were fast slipping away.
He sought to arrest Roman decline by restoring the backbone of the old Roman society - the small landowner. Supported by a few liberal Senators, Tiberius was elected tribune for the year 133 B.C. at the age of twenty-nine.
Tiberius proposed to the Tribal Assembly that the act limiting the holding of public land to 320 acres per person be reenacted.
Much of the public land would in the future be held by the present occupants and their descendants as private property, but the surplus was to be confiscated and allotted to landless Roman citizens.
When it became evident that the Tribal Assembly would adopt Tiberius' proposal, the Senate induced one of the other tribunes to veto the measure.
On the ground that a tribune who opposed the will of the people thereby forfeited his office, Tiberius took a fateful - and, the Senate claimed, unconstitutional - step by having the assembly depose the tribune in question. The agrarian bill was then passed.
To ensure the implementation of his agrarian reform, Tiberius again violated custom by standing for reelection after completing his one-year term.
Claiming that he sought to make himself king, partisans of the Senate murdered Tiberius and 300 of his followers.
The Republic's failure at this point to solve its problems without bloodshed stands in striking contrast to its earlier history of peaceful reform.
Tiberius' work was taken up by his younger brother, Gaius Gracchus, who was elected tribune for 123 B.C. In addition to the reallocation of public land, Gaius proposed establishing Roman colonies in southern Italy and on the site of Carthage.
To protect the poor against speculation in the grain market (especially in times of famine), Gaius committed the government to the purchase, storage, and subsequent distribution of wheat to the urban masses at about half the former market price.
Unfortunately, what Gaius intended as a relief measure later became a dole, whereby free food was distributed - all too often for the advancement of astute politicians - to the entire proletariat.
Another of Gaius' proposals would have granted citizenship to Rome's Italian allies, who were now being mistreated by Roman officials.
This proposal cost Gaius the support of the Roman proletariat, which did not wish to share the privileges of citizenship or endanger its control of the Tribal Assembly.
Consequently, in 121 B.C. Gaius failed to be reelected to a third term and the Senate again resorted to force.
It decreed what is today called martial law by authorizing the consuls to take any action deemed necessary "to protect the state and suppress the tyrants."
Three thousand of Gaius' followers were arrested and executed, a fate Gaius avoided by committing suicide.
The Senate had shown that it had no intention of initiating needed domestic reforms, or of allowing others to do so, and the Gracchi's deaths were ominous portents of the way the Republic would decide its internal disputes.
In foreign affairs, too, the Senate soon demonstrated its incapability. Rome was forced to grant citizenship to its Italian allies after the Senate's failure to deal with their grievances goaded them into revolt (90-88 B.C.). Other blunders led to the first of the civil wars that destroyed the Republic.
The First Civil War: Marius Vs. Sulla
Between 111 and 105 B.C. Roman armies, dispatched by the Senate and commanded by senators, failed to protect Roman equestrians (capitalists) in North Africa.
Nor were they able to prevent Germanic tribes from overrunning southern Gaul, now a Roman province, and threatening Italy itself.
Accusing the Senate of lethargy and incompetence in directing Rome's foreign affairs, the capitalists and common people joined together to elect Gaius Marius consul in 107 B.C., and the Tribal Assembly commissioned him to raise an army and deal with the foreign danger.
Marius first pacified North Africa and then
crushed the first German threat to Rome.
In the process he created a new-style Roman army that was destined to play a major role in the turbulent history of the late Republic.
Unlike the old Roman army, which was composed of conscripts who owned their own land and thought of themselves as loyal citizens of the Republic, the new army created by Marius was recruited from landless citizens for long terms of service.
These professional soldiers identified their own interests with those of their commanders, to whom they swore loyalty and looked to for bonuses of land or money after the Senate had irresponsibly refused their requests.
Thus the character of the army changed from a militia of draftees to a career service in which loyalty to the state was no longer paramount. Aspiring generals were in a position to use their military power to seize the government.
In 88 B.C. the ambitious king of Pontus in Asia Minor, encouraged by the growing anti-Roman sentiment in the province of Asia and in Greece caused by corrupt governors, tax collectors, and money lenders, declared war on Rome.
The Senate ordered Cornelius Sulla, an able general and a staunch supporter of the Senate's prerogatives, to march east.
As a countermove, the Tribal Assembly chose Marius for the eastern command. In effect both the Senate and the Tribal Assembly, whose power the Gracchi had revived, claimed to be the ultimate authority in the state.
The result was the first of a series of civil wars between rival generals, each claiming to champion the cause of either the Senate or Tribal Assembly. The first civil war ended in a complete victory for Sulla, who in 82 B.C. was appointed by the Senate to serve for an unlimited term as "dictator for the revision of the constitution."
Sulla set out to restore the preeminence of the Senate. He drastically curtailed the powers of the tribunes and Tribal Assembly, giving the Senate the control of legislation it had enjoyed 200 years before.
Having massacred several thousand of the opposition, Sulla, was convinced that his work would be permanent, and in 79 B.C. he voluntarily resigned his dictatorship. His reactionary changes, however, were not to last.
The Second Civil War: Pompey Vs. Caesar
The first of the civil wars and its aftermath increased factionalism and discontent and nursed the ambitions of individuals eager for personal power. The first to come forward was Pompey, who had won fame as a military leader. In 70 B.C. he was elected consul.
Although he was a former partisan of Sulla, he courted the populace by repealing Sulla's laws curtailing the power of the tribunes and Tribal Assembly.
Pompey then put an end to anarchy in the East caused by piracy (the result of the Senate's neglect of the Roman navy), the continuing threat of the king of Pontus, and the death throes of the Seleucid Empire.
New Roman provinces and client states set up by Pompey brought order eastward as far as the Euphrates. These included the province of Syria - the last remnant of the once vast Seleucid Empire - and the client state of Judea, supervised by the governor of Syria.
Still another strong man made his appearance in 59 B.C., when Julius Caesar allied himself politically with Pompey and was elected consul.
Following his consulship, Caesar spent nine years conquering Gaul on the pretext of protecting the Gauls from the Germans across the Rhine, where he accumulated a fortune in plunder and trained a loyal army of veterans.
During his absence from Rome, he cannily kept his name before the citizens by publishing a lucidly written account of his military feats, Commentaries on the Gallic War.
Caesar's conquest of Gaul was to have tremendous consequences for the course of Western civilization, for its inhabitants quickly assimilated Roman culture.
Consequently, when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West in the fifth century A.D., Romanized Gaul - or France - emerged before long as the center of medieval civilization.
Jealous of Caesar's achievements in Gaul and fearful of his growing
power, Pompey conspired with the Senate to ruin him. When the Senate demanded in 49 B.C. that Caesar disband his army, he crossed the Rubicon, the river in northern Italy that formed the boundary of Caesar's province.
By crossing the Rubicon - a phrase employed today for any step that commits a person to a given course of action - Caesar in effect declared war on Pompey and the Senate.
He marched on Rome while Pompey and most of the Senate fled to Greece, where Caesar defeated them at Pharsala.
"They would have it so" was Caesar's curt comment as he walked among the Roman dead after the battle. Pompey was killed in Egypt when he sought refuge there, but the last Pompeian army was not defeated until 45 B.C.
Caesar assumed the office of dictator for life, and during the six-month period before his death he initiated far-reaching reforms.
He granted citizenship liberally to non-Italians and packed the Senate with many new provincial members, thus making it a more truly representative body as well as a rubber stamp for his policies.
In the interest of the poorer citizens, he reduced debts, inaugurated a public works program, established colonies outside Italy, and decreed that one third of the laborers on the slave-worked estates in Italy be persons of free birth.
As a result, he was able to reduce from 320,000 to 150,000 the number of people in the city of Rome receiving free grain. (The population of Rome is estimated to have been 500,000.) His most enduring act was the reform of the calendar in the light of Egyptian knowledge; with minor changes, this calendar of 365 1/4 days is still in use today.
Caesar realized that the Republic was, in fact, dead. In his own words, "The Republic is merely a name, without form or substance." He believed that benevolent despotism alone could save Rome from continued civil war and collapse.
But Caesar incurred the enmity of many, particularly those who viewed him as a tyrant who had destroyed the Republic.
On the Ides (the fifteenth) of March, 44 B.C., a group of conspirators, led by ex-Pompeians whom Caesar had pardoned, stabbed him to death in the Senate, and Rome was once more plunged into conflict.
Caesar's assassins had been offended by his trappings of monarchy - his purple robe, the statues erected in his honor, the coins bearing his portrait - and they assumed that with his death the Republic would be restored to its traditional status.
But the people of Rome remained unmoved by the conspirators' cry of "Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!" The majority of them were prepared to accept a successor whose power and position stopped just short of a royal title. The real question was: Who was to be Caesar's successor?
The Third Civil War: Antony Vs. Octavian
Following Caesar's death, his eighteen-year-old grandnephew and heir, Octavian, allied himself with Caesar's chief lieutenant, Mark Antony, against the conspirators and the Senate.
Although he was not a conspirator, Cicero, the renowned orator and champion of the Senate, was put to death for his hostility to Antony, and the conspirators' armies were routed.
Then for more than a decade Octavian and Antony exercised dictatorial power and divided the Roman world between them. But the ambitions of each man proved too great for the alliance to endure.
Antony, who took charge of the eastern half of the empire, became infatuated with Cleopatra, the last of the Egyptian Ptolemies. He even went so far as to transfer Roman territories to her dominions.
Octavian took advantage of this high-handedness to arouse Rome and Italy against Antony and his queen. The ensuing struggle was depicted as a war between the West and the East.
When Octavian's fleet met Antony's off Actium in Greece, first Cleopatra and then Antony deserted the battle and fled to Egypt. There Antony committed suicide, as did Cleopatra soon afterwards when Alexandria was captured in 30 B.C.
The Early Empire, 30 B.C.- A.D. 180
At the end of a century of civil violence Rome was at last united under
one ruler, and the Republic gave way to the permanent dictatorship of the Empire. Two centuries of imperial greatness, known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), followed.
Reconstruction Under Augustus
Following his triumphal return to Rome, Octavian in 27 B.C. announced that he would "restore the Republic." But he did so only outwardly by blending republican institutions with strong personal leadership.
He provided the Senate with considerable authority, consulted it on important issues, allowed it to retain control over Italy and half of the provinces, and gave it the legislative functions of the nearly defunct Tribal Assembly.
The Senate in return bestowed upon Octavian the title Augustus ("The Revered," a title previously used for gods), by which he was known thereafter.
Because Augustus faced the problem of removing the scars resulting from a century of civil strife, he concentrated on internal reform. He did extend the Roman frontier to the Danube as a defense against barbarian invasions, but he failed in an attempt to conquer Germany up to the Elbe River.
As a result of this failure, the Germans were never Romanized, like the Celts of Gaul and Spain, and the boundary between their language and the Roman-based Romance languages of France and Spain is still the Rhine.
Augustus also sought to cure a sick society - to end the mood of utter hopelessness felt by many concerned Romans
Through legislation and propaganda, Augustus sought with some success to check moral and social decline and revive the old Roman ideals and traditions.
He rebuilt deteriorated temples, revived old priesthoods, and restored religious festivals.
He sought to reestablish the integrity of the family by legislating against adultery, the chief grounds for divorce, which had become commonplace during the late Republic.
A permanent court was set up to prosecute adulterous wives and their lovers. Among those found guilty and banished from Rome were Augustus' daughter and granddaughter. Finally, to disarm the gangs that had been terrorizing citizens, he outlawed the carrying of daggers.
Augustus greatly reduced the corruption and exploitation that had flourished in the late Republic by creating a salaried civil service, open to all classes.
He also established a permanent standing army, stationed in the frontier provinces and kept out of politics. More than forty colonies of retired soldiers were founded throughout the Empire; among them were Palermo in Sicily, Patras in Greece, and Baalbek in Syria.
Augustus' reforms engendered a new optimism and patriotism that were reflected in the art and literature of the Augustan Age (discussed later in this chapter).
The Julio-Claudian And Flavian Emperors
Augustus was followed by four descendants of his family, the line of the Julio-Claudians, who ruled from A.D. 14 to 68. Augustus' stepson Tiberius, whom the Senate accepted as his successor, and Claudius were fairly efficient and devoted rulers; in Claudius' reign the Roman occupation of Britain began in A.D. 43.
The other two rulers of this imperial line disregarded the
pretense that they were only the first among all citizens: Caligula was a madman who demanded to be worshiped as a god and made his favorite horse a senator; Nero was infamous for his immorality, the murder of his wife and his mother, and his persecution of Christians in Rome.
In A.D. 64, a great fire raged for nine days, destroying more than half of the capital. The Roman historian Tacitus has left us a vivid account of how Nero made the unpopular Christians scapegoats for the fire:
... large numbers ... were condemned - not so much for
incendiarism as for their anti-social tendencies. Their
torches to be ignited after dark....Nero provided his Gardens for the spectacle, and exhibited displays in the Circus... Despite their guilt as Christians, and the ruthless punishment it deserved, the victims were pitied. For it was felt they were being sacrificed to one man's brutality rather than to the national interest. ^10
[Footnote 10: Tacitus Annals 15:44, trans. Michael Grant (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1959), p. 354.]
The Julio-Claudian line ended in A.D. 68 when Nero, declared a public enemy by the Senate and faced by army revolts, committed suicide. In the following year four emperors were proclaimed by rival armies, with Vespasian the final victor.
For nearly thirty years (A.D. 69-96) the Flavian dynasty (Vespasian followed by his two sons, Titus and Domitian) provided the Empire with effective, if autocratic, rule.
The fiction of republican institutions gave way to a scarcely veiled monarchy as the Flavians openly treated the office of emperor as theirs by right of conquest and inheritance.
The Antonines: "Five Good Emperors"
An end to autocracy and a return to the Augustan principle of an administration of equals - emperor and Senate - characterized the rule of the Antonine emperors (A.D. 96-180), under whom the Empire reached the height of its prosperity and power.
Selected on the basis of proven ability, these "good emperors" succeeded, according to Tacitus, in "reconciling things long incompatible, supreme power and liberty." Two of these emperors are especially worthy of notice.
Hadrian reigned from A.D. 117 to 138. His first important act was to stabilize the boundaries of the Empire. He gave up as indefensible recently conquered Armenia and Mesopotamia and erected protective walls in Germany and Britain, the latter an imposing structure of stone twenty feet high.
Hadrian traveled extensively, inspecting almost every province of the Empire. New towns were founded, old ones restored, and many public works were constructed, among them the famous Pantheon in Rome.
The last of the "five good emperors" was Marcus Aurelius, who ruled from A.D. 161 to 180. He approached Plato's ideal of the "philosopher king" and preferred the quiet contemplation of his books to the blood and brutality of the battlefield.
Yet he was repeatedly troubled by the invasions of Parthians from the east and Germans from across the Danube.
While engaged in his Germanic campaigns, he wrote his Meditations, a collection of personal thoughts notable for its lofty Stoic idealism and love of humanity. (Ironically, the stoic manner in which Christian martyrs accepted death did not impress him: "What an admirable soul, that is, which is ready, if at any moment it must be separated from the body....This readiness must come from a man's own judgment, not from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but with reason and dignity if it is to persuade another, and without tragic show." (Meditations XI,3)
Like a good Stoic, Marcus Aurelius died at his post at Vindobona (Vienna). At Rome his equestrian statue still stands on the Capitoline Hill, "returning the salute of legions which have been dead for two thousand years."
The "Immense Majesty Of The Roman Peace"
In its finest period, the Empire was a vast area stretching from Britain to the Euphrates and containing upwards of 100 million people.
It was welded together into what Pliny the Elder, in the first century A.D., termed the "immense majesty of the Roman peace" (Pax Romana).
Non-Romans were equally conscious of the rich benefits derived from Roman rule. The mass of the inhabitants of the Empire welcomed the peace, prosperity, and administrative efficiency of the Principate.
The Pax Romana began with Augustus and reached its height under the Five Good Emperors. Cities increased in number and were largely self-governed by their own upper-class magistrates and senates.
They formed nerve centers linked together by a network of roads and waterways. Secure behind natural frontiers guarded by well-trained armies, the Pax Romana created a cosmopolitan world-state where races and cultures intermingled freely.
The "True Democracy" Of The Roman Empire
At the head of this huge world-state stood the emperor, its defender and symbol of unity as well as an object of veneration.
The major theme of the many encomiums written to celebrate the generally enlightened government of the Principate was that liberty had been exchanged for order and prosperity.
The Empire was said to represent a new kind of democracy: "the true democracy and the freedom that does not fail" - "a democracy under the one man that can rule and govern best."
Rome's unification of the ancient world had far-reaching economic consequences. The Pax Romana was responsible for the elimination of tolls and other artificial barriers, the suppression of piracy and brigandage, and the establishment of a reliable coinage.
Such factors, in addition to the longest period of peace the West has ever enjoyed, explain in large measure the great expansion of commerce that occurred in the first and second centuries A.D. Industry was also stimulated, but its expansion was hindered since wealth remained concentrated and no mass market for industrial goods arose.
Industry remained organized on a small-shop basis with producers widely scattered, resulting in self-sufficiency.
The economy of the Empire remained basically agrarian, and the huge estates, latifundia, prospered.
On these tracts, usually belonging to absentee owners, large numbers of coloni, free tenants, tilled the soil
as sharecroppers. The coloni were replacing slave labor, which was
becoming increasingly hard to secure with the disappearance of the flow of war captives.
Early Evidence Of Economic Stagnation
Late in the first century A.D. the first sign of economic stagnation appeared in Italy. Italian agriculture began to suffer from overproduction as a result of the loss of its markets for wine and olive oil in Roman Gaul, Spain, and North Africa, which were becoming self-sufficient in those products.
To aid the Italian wine producers, the Flavian emperor Domitian created an artificial scarcity by forbidding new vineyards in Italy to be planted and by ordering half the existing vineyards in the provinces to be plowed under.
A century later the Five Good Emperors sought to solve the continuing problem of overproduction by subsidizing the buying power of consumers.
Loans at 5 percent interest were made to ailing landowners, with the interest to be paid into the treasuries of Italian municipalities and earmarked "for girls and boys of needy parents to be supported at public expense." This system of state subsidies was soon extended to the provinces.
Also contributing to Roman economic stagnation was the continuing drain of money to the East for the purchase of such luxury goods as silks and spices and the failure of city governments within the Empire to keep their finances in order, thus making it necessary for the imperial government to intervene.
Such early evidence of declining prosperity foreshadowed the economic
crisis of the third century A.D., when political anarchy and monetary inflation caused the economy of the Empire to collapse (see ch. 5).
Rome, Imperial Capital
At the hub of the sprawling Empire was Rome, with about a million inhabitants. Augustus boasted that he had found a city of brick and had left one of marble. Nonetheless, Rome presented a great contrast of magnificence and tawdriness, of splendid public buildings and squalid tenements, which often collapsed or caught fire.
The crowded narrow streets, lined with apartment houses and swarming with all manner of people, are described by the satirist Juvenal early in the second century A.D.:
...Hurry as I may, I am blocked
By a surging crowd in front, while a vast mass
Of people crushes onto me from behind.
One with his elbow punches me, another
[Footnote 15: R. C. Trevelyan, Translations from Horace, Juvenal and Montaigne (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1941), p. 129.]
At the top of the social order were the old senatorial families who lived as absentee owners of huge estates and left commerce and finance to a large
and wealthy middle class.
In contrast to the tenements of the poor, the homes of the rich were palatial, as revealed by excavations at Pompeii, which was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79.
These elaborate villas contained courts and gardens with fountains, rooms furnished with marble walls, mosaics on the floors, and numerous frescoes and other works of art.
An interesting feature of Roman furniture was the abundance of couches and the scarcity of chairs. People usually reclined, even at meals - a custom which may have had its value during the sumptuous dinners served by the wealthy gourmands, who were not above administering emetics to permit disgorging and starting afresh on more food and wine.
The lower classes in the cities found a refuge from the dullness of their existence in social clubs, or guilds, called collegia, each comprising
the workers of one trade.
The activity of the collegia did not center on economic aims, like modern trade unions, but on the worship of a god and on feasts, celebrations, and decent burials for members.
The living conditions of slaves varied greatly. Those in domestic service were often treated humanely, and their years of efficient service frequently rewarded by emancipation.
Nor was it uncommon for freed slaves to rise to places of eminence in business, letters, and the imperial service. On the other hand, conditions among slaves on the large estates could be indescribably harsh. Beginning with Augustus, however, numerous enactments protected slaves from mistreatment; Hadrian, for example, forbade private prisons and the killing of a slave without judicial approval.
Recreation played a key role in Roman social life. Both rich and poor were exceedingly fond of their public baths, which in the capital alone numbered 800 during the early days of the Empire.
The baths served the same purpose as our modern-day athletic clubs. The larger baths contained enclosed gardens, promenades, gymnasiums, libraries, and famous works of art as well as a sequence of rooms through which one moved - the sweat room, the warm room where sweat was scraped off by a slave (soap was unknown), the tepid room for cooling off, and the invigorating cold bath.
Another popular room was the lavatory with its long row of marble toilets equipped with comfortable arm rests. Here Romans liked to sit and chat for an hour or more.
Foot races, boxing, and wrestling were minor sports; chariot racing and
gladiatorial contests were the chief amusements.
The cry for "bread and circuses" reached such proportions that by the first century A.D. the Roman calendar had as many as a hundred days set aside as holidays, the majority of which were given over to games furnished at public expense.
The most spectacular sport was chariot racing. The largest of six race courses at Rome was the Circus Maximus, a huge marble-faced structure seating about 150,000 spectators.
The games, which included as many as twenty-four races each day, were presided over by the emperor or his representative. The crowds bet furiously on their favorite charioteers, whose fame equaled that of the sports heroes of our own day.
Scarcely less popular, but infinitely less civilized, the gladiatorial contests were organized by both emperors and private promoters as a regular feature on the amusement calendar.
These cruel spectacles, which have no exact counterpart in any other civilization, were held in arenas, the largest and most famous of which was the Colosseum.
The contests took various forms. Ferocious animals were pitted against armed combatants or occasionally even against unarmed men and women who had been condemned to death.
Another type of contest was the fight to the death between gladiators, generally equipped with different types of weapons but matched on equal terms. It was not uncommon for the life of a defeated gladiator who had fought courageously to be spared at the request of the spectators.
Although many Romans decried these blood-letting contests, they continued until the fifth century, when Christianity forbade them.
The Roman Contribution
Unlike the Greeks, the Romans were not gifted in abstract thought. They constructed no original system of philosophy, invented no major new literary forms, and made no outstanding scientific discoveries. Yet they excelled in the art of government.
The Romans created a workable world-state and developed a skill in administration, law, and practical affairs.
The Pax Romana
was fashioned and maintained by a people who were, on the whole, conscious of their responsibilities to others.
The Roman Spirit
The Roman spirit was compounded of many factors. Never completely forgotten was the tradition of plain living that stemmed from Rome's early history as a nation of farmers.
Geography was another factor; for centuries the Romans were faced with the need to conquer or be conquered, and they had to stress discipline and duty to the state. But the Roman spirit also had another side.
It could be arrogant and cruel, and its sense of justice was often untempered with mercy. In A.D. 84, a Scottish chieftain is reported to have said of his Roman conquerors, "To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they create a desert and call it peace." ^16
[Footnote 16: Tacitus Agricola 30.]
Rome's answer to such criticism was delivered a few years earlier by a Roman general to some tribes in Gaul that had revolted after the infamous emperor Nero had arrested some of their leaders:
Gaul always had its petty kingdoms and intestine wars,
But they are not perpetual....
Should the Roman be driven out...what can result but wars between all these nations? ...Let the lessons of fortune...teach you not to prefer rebellion and ruin to submission and safety. ^17
[Footnote 17: Tacitus Histories 4.74.]
Evolution Of Roman Law
Of the contributions made by the Romans in government, Roman law is preeminent.
Two great legal systems, Roman law and English common law, are the foundation of jurisprudence in most modern Western nations. Roman law is the basis for the law codes of Italy, France, Scotland, Louisiana, and the Latin American countries.
Where English common law is used, as in the United States (except in Louisiana), there is also a basic heritage of great legal principles originated by ancient Roman jurists.
In addition, Roman legal principles have strongly affected the development of the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church; and international law has borrowed principles inherent in the Roman system.
Roman law evolved slowly over a period of about a thousand years. At first, as in all early societies, the law was unwritten, mixed with religious custom, and harsh in its judgments.
In the fifth century B.C., this law was put in writing in the Law of the Twelve Tables, as the result of plebeian demand. During the remainder of the Republic the body of Roman law (jus civile, "law of the citizen") was enlarged by legislation passed by the Senate and the assembly and by judicial interpretation of existing law to meet new conditions.
By the second century A.D. the emperor had become the sole source of law, a responsibility he entrusted to scholars "skilled in the law" (jurisprudentes).
These scholars stuck fast to the idea of equity ("Follow the beneficial interpretation"; "Letter of law is height of injustice") and to stoic philosophy with its concept of a "law of nature" common to all people and ascertainable by means of human reason.
Finally, in the sixth century A.D., the enormous bulk of Roman law from all sources was codified and thus easily preserved for posterity.
Roman Engineering And Architecture
The Empire's needs required a communication system of paved roads and bridges as well as huge public buildings and aqueducts. As road builders, the Romans surpassed all previous peoples.
Constructed of layers of stone and gravel according to sound engineering principles, their roads were planned for the use of armies and messengers and were kept in constant repair.
The earliest and best known main Roman highway was the Appian Way. Running from Rome to the Bay of Naples, it was built about 300 B.C. to facilitate Rome's expansion southward. It has been said that the speed of travel possible on Roman highways was not surpassed until the early nineteenth century.
In designing their bridges and aqueducts, the Romans placed a series of stone arches next to one another to provide mutual support. At times several tiers of arches were used, one above the other. Fourteen aqueducts, stretching a total of 265 miles, supplied some fifty gallons of water daily for each inhabitant of Rome.
They were proudly described by Rome's superintendent of aqueducts as "a signal testimony to the greatness of the Roman Empire," to be contrasted with "the idle pyramids or all the useless, though famous, works of the Greeks." ^18
Roman buildings were built to last, and their size, grandeur, and decorative richness aptly symbolized the proud imperial spirit of Rome. Whereas the Greeks evolved the temple, theater, and stadium, the Romans contributed the triumphal arch, bath, basilica, amphitheater, and the multistoried apartment house.
Perhaps the most famous Roman edifice is the Colosseum, a huge amphitheater about one quarter of a mile around on the outside and with a seating capacity of about 45,000. Its three stories of arches are decorated with Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns.
Sculpture And Painting
After the conquest of Greece thousands of statues and other art pieces were brought to Rome.
Many Romans acquired a passion for art, and the homes of the wealthy were filled with all kinds of Greek art, either brought to Rome as booty or copied there in great number.
Although strongly influenced by Etruscan and Greek models, the Romans developed a distinctive sculpture of their own, which was remarkably realistic, secular, and individualistic.
Lifelike portraiture flourished, probably originating in the early practice of making and preserving wax images of the heads of important families.
The Romans developed a great fund of decorative motifs, such as cupids, garlands of flowers, and scrolls of various patterns, which are still used today.
What little Roman painting has been preserved clearly reflects the influence of Hellenistic Greek models. The Romans were particularly skilled in producing floor mosaics - often copies of some Hellenistic painting - and in painting frescoes. The frescoes still to be seen in Pompeii and elsewhere show that the artist drew the human figure accurately and showed objects in clear though imperfect perspective.
In literature as in art, the Romans turned to the Greeks for their models. Roman epic, dramatic, and lyric poetry forms were usually written in conscious imitation of Greek masterpieces.
Compared with Greek literature, however, Latin literature is for the most part inferior to its Greek models. But it remains one of the world's great literatures largely because of its
influence upon medieval, Renaissance, and modern culture.
Formal Latin literature did not begin until the third century B.C. when a Greek slave named Livius Andronicus translated Homer's Odyssey and
several Greek plays into Latin.
By the end of the same century the first of a series of Latin epics dealing with Rome's past was composed. Only a few fragments have survived.
The oldest examples of Latin literature to survive intact are the twenty-one comedies of Plautus (c. 254-184 B.C.), which were adapted from Hellenistic Greek originals but with many Roman allusions, colloquialisms, and customs added.
Plautus' comedies are bawdy and vigorously humorous, and their rollicking plots of illicit love and stock characters of the shrewish wife ("Look at you! Gadding about, reeking of scent; you ought to know better, at your time of life"), henpecked husband ("But dear, I was only helping a friend buy a bottle of perfume"), lovelorn youth, clever slave, and swashbuckling soldier reveal the level of culture and taste in early Rome.
The works of Plautus suggest many of the types that modern comedy has assumed - the farce, burlesque, and the comedy of manners. From him Shakespeare got ideas for his Comedy of Errors and The Merry Wives of Windsor; the modern musical and movie, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, is an adaptation of three of Plautus' plots.
The Golden Age Of Latin Literature
Latin literature entered its first great period of creative activity in the first century B.C., when an outpouring of intellectual effort coincided with the last years of the Republic.
This period marks the first half of the Golden Age of Latin literature, known as the Ciceronian period because of the stature of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.), the greatest master of Latin prose and the outstanding intellectual influence in Roman history.
Acclaimed as the greatest orator of his day, Cicero found time during his busy public life to write extensively on philosophy, political theory, and rhetoric.
Some 900 of his letters still exist. Together with fifty-eight speeches, they give us insight into Cicero's personality as well as life in republican Rome.
Cicero also made a rich contribution by passing on to the Romans and to later ages much of Greek thought - especially that of Plato and the Stoics - and at the same time interpreting it from the standpoint of a Roman intellectual and practical man of affairs.
He did more than any other Roman to make Latin a great literary language.
Other works of the Ciceronian period include the personal lyrical poetry of Catullus (c. 87-54 B.C.), a young man about town who wrote intensely of his loves and hates:
I hate and love - the why I cannot tell,
But by my tortures know the fact too well. ^19
[Footnote 19: Carmen 85, trans. Theodore Martin.]
Catullus' contemporary, Lucretius (99-55 B.C.), found in the philosophy of Epicurus an antidote to his profound disillusionment with his fellow citizens who, he wrote, "in their greed of gain...amass a fortune out of civil bloodshed: piling wealth on wealth, they heap carnage on carnage. With heartless glee they welcome a brother's tragic death." ^20 Lucretius' long philosophical poem, On the Nature of Things, is discussed on page 94.
[Footnote 20: Lucretius On the Nature of the Universe 3.70, trans. Ronald Latham (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1951), p. 98.]
Augustus provided the Roman world with a stability that was conducive to a further outpouring of literary creativity. The second phase of the Golden Age of Latin literature, the Augustan Age, was notable particularly for its excellent poetry.
Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is considered the greatest of all Roman poets. His masterpiece, a great national epic called the Aeneid, glorifies the
work of Augustus and eloquently asserts Rome's destiny to conquer and rule the world.
Using Homer's Odyssey as his model, Virgil recounted the fortunes of Aeneas, the legendary founder of the Latin people, who came from burning Troy to Italy.
The Aeneid breathes Virgil's deep and enthusiastic patriotism and is as much a piece of imperial symbolism as Rome's triumphal arches.
As Augustus' poet laureate after the death of Virgil, Horace (65-8 B.C.) often sincerely praised the emperor's achievements:
Now Parthia fears the fist of Rome, the fasces
Now Faith and Peace and Honor and old-fashioned Conscience and unremembered Virtue venture
To walk again, and with them blessed Plenty,
Pouring her brimming horn. ^21
[Footnote 21: Horace "The Centennial Hymn," trans. James Michie, The Odes of Horace, p. 227.]
Most of Horace's poetry, however, is concerned with everyday human interests and moods, and succeeding generations up to the present have been attracted by his serene outlook on life:
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today. ^22
[Footnote 22: Horace Odes 3.29, trans. John Dryden.]
Quite a different sort was Ovid (43 B.C. - A.D. 17). His partiality for themes of sensual love in his Art of Love and other poems ("There she stood, faultless beauty in front of me, naked") caused Augustus to exile him to the shores of the Black Sea, Rome's equivalent to Russia's Siberia.
But Ovid was also a first-rate storyteller, and it is largely through his Metamorphoses, a witty verse collection of Greek stories about the life of the gods - not neglecting their lovelife - that classical mythology was transmitted to the modern world.
The Silver Age Of Latin Literature
The literature of the Silver Age, the period between the deaths of Augustus and Hadrian (A.D. 14-138), substituted a more critical and negative spirit for the patriotism and optimism of the Augustan Age.
Despite a great emphasis on artificial stylistic devices, the Silver Age was memorable for its moral emphasis, seen in Tacitus, Plutarch, Seneca, and especially in Juvenal (d. A.D. 130), who has been called "the greatest satiric poet who ever lived."
With moral indignation and bitter irony he assailed the shortcomings of Roman society: the common people of the city, no longer having votes to sell, are interested only in free "bread and circuses;" a good woman is a "rare bird," as "uncommon as a black swan," but "worse still is the well-read menace" who "with antiquarian zeal quotes poets I've never heard of."
The Writing Of History
Two Roman historians produced notable works during the Golden and Silver Ages. The first, Livy (59 B.C. - A.D. 17), was a contemporary of Virgil; Livy's immense History of Rome, like the latter's Aeneid, is of epic proportions and glorifies Rome's conquests and ancestral ways.
By assembling the legends and traditions of early Roman history and welding them into a continuous narrative, Livy, like Virgil, sought to advance Augustus' program of moral and social regeneration.
He praised the virtues of the ancient Romans - their heroism, patriotism, and piety - and sought to draw moral lessons from an idealized past:
Tacitus (A.D. 55-117), like his contemporary Juvenal, was concerned with improving society, but he used history rather than satiric poetry to serve his ends.
In his Germania Tacitus contrasted the life of the idealized, simple Germanic tribes with the corrupt and immoral existence of the Roman upper classes. In the Annals and Histories he used his vivid, epigrammatic prose to depict the shortcomings of the emperors and their courts from the death of Augustus to A.D. 96.
For example: "Tyrants merely procure infamy for themselves and glory for their victims" and "The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." Tacitus suffered from the bias of his own senatorial class; he looked upon the emperors as tyrants and thus could not do justice to the positive contributions of imperial government.
The most famous Greek author in the Empire was Plutarch (A.D. 46?-126?). He lectured on philosophy at Rome before retiring to his small hometown to pursue research on the outstanding figures in Roman and Greek history in order to discover what qualities make people great or ignoble.
His Parallel Lives, containing forty-six biographies of famous Greeks and Romans arranged in pairs for the purpose of comparison, is one of the eminently readable classics of world literature.
Because many of the sources Plutarch used have been lost, his Lives is a mine of invaluable information for the historian.
Stoicism And Epicureanism
The Romans contributed no original philosophical theories, preferring to adapt existing Greek systems of thought to suit their needs.
As people of action with grave governmental responsibilities, the Romans paid scant attention to such abstract problems as the nature of the universe and of human knowledge.
But the corrupting effects of life that began in the late Republic on the old Roman virtues and traditions caused thoughtful Romans to be concerned over problems of behavior.
As a consequence, they were attracted to the two chief Hellenistic ethical philosophies, Epicureanism and Stoicism.
Epicureanism made its greatest impact during the last days of the Republic, since some people found its tenets comforting in a period of political upheaval when no one knew what the future would bring.
As young men, Virgil and Horace embraced Epicureanism, but Lucretius was the most important Roman interpreter of this philosophy. In On the Nature of Things, Lucretius followed Epicurus in basing his explanation of the "nature of things" on materialism and atomism.
He called on people to free themselves from the superstitious fear of death, which was drawing them to the emotional mystery religions of Greece and the East.
Lucretius exhorted his readers to seek pleasure in philosophical serenity, rather than in sensuous gratification, and to have no fear of death since souls, like bodies, are composed of atoms that fall apart when death comes: "What has this bugbear Death to frighten man/If souls can die, as well as bodies can?"
More enduring, especially in the days of the Empire, was the appeal of Stoicism to the Roman ruling classes.
The emphasis of Roman Stoicism was on a just life, constancy to duty, courage in adversity, and service to humanity.
It had a humanizing effect on Roman law by introducing such concepts as the law of nature and the brotherhood of all - including slaves.
The law of nature, as defined by Cicero, "is not a product of human thought, nor is it any enactment of peoples, but something eternal which rules the whole universe by its wisdom in command and prohibition." It is the source of "the rational principles on which our laws must be based." ^24
[Footnote 24: Cicero De Legibus 1.4.14 - 6.20.]
One of the outstanding Roman Stoics was Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65), Nero's tutor and a writer of moral essays and tragedies.
He was regarded with high favor by the leaders of the early Christian Church, for his Stoicism, like that of the ex-slave Epictetus (d. A.D. 135) and the emperor Marcus Aurelius, had the appearance of a religious creed. He stressed an all-wise Province, or God, and believed that each person possessed a spark of the divine:
God is near you, he is with you, he is within you.
our guardian.... No man can be good without the help of God. ^25
[Footnote 25: Seneca Epistles 41, quoted in Chester G. Starr, Civilization and the Caesars: The Intellectual Revolution in the Roman Empire (New York: Norton, 1965), p. 228.]
Christians assumed that Seneca must have been influenced by St. Paul during the latter's stay in Rome.
By A.D. 400 a fictitious collection of letters between the two was being circulated.
Science In The Roman Empire
The Romans had little scientific curiosity, but by putting the findings of Hellenistic science to practical use, they became masters in engineering, applied medicine, and public health.
The Romans pioneered in public health service and developed the extensive practice of hydrotherapy - the use of mineral baths for healing.
Beginning in the early Empire, doctors were employed in infirmaries where soldiers, officials, and the poor could obtain free medical care. Great aqueducts and admirable drainage systems also indicate Roman concern for public health.
Characteristic of their utilitarian approach to science was the Romans' predilection for amassing immense encyclopedias. The most important of these was the Natural History compiled by Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), an enthusiastic collector of all kinds of scientific odds and ends.
In writing his massive work, Pliny is reputed to have read more than 2000 books. The result is an intriguing mixture of fact and fable thrown together with scarcely any method of classification.
Nevertheless, it was the most widely read work on science during the Empire and the early Middle Ages.
Pliny was well aware of the lack of creative scientific activity in his day. "In these glad times of peace," he wrote, "no addition whatever is being made to knowledge by means of original research, and in fact even the discoveries of our predecessors are not being thoroughly studied."
To Pliny, the cause of this state of affairs was "blind engrossment with avarice," and he cited this example: "...now that every sea has been opened up..., an immense multitude goes on voyages - but their object is profit not knowledge." ^26
Pliny himself was suffocated by a rain of hot ashes while he was studiously observing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Pompeii, an awesome event that killed two thousand people and was described by Pliny's nephew: "Many lifted up their hands to the gods, but a great number believed there were no gods, and that this night was to be the world's last, eternal one." ^27
[Footnote 26: Pliny Natural History 2.14.117118, trans. H. Rackham, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), vol. 1, pp. 259, 261.]
[Footnote 27: Pliny the Younger Letters 6.16.20.]
The last great scientific minds of the ancient world were two Greeks, Claudius Ptolemy and Galen, both of whom lived in the second century A.D.
Ptolemy resided at Alexandria, where he became celebrated as a geographer, astronomer, and mathematician.
His maps show a comparatively accurate knowledge of a broad section of the Old World, and he used an excellent projection system. But he exaggerated the size of Asia, an error that influenced Columbus to underestimate the width of the Atlantic and to set sail from Spain in search of Asia.
His work on astronomy, usually called the Almagest ("the great work") from the title of the Arabic translation,
summed up the geocentric, or earth-centered, view of the universe that prevailed until the sixteenth century.
In mathematics, Ptolemy's work in improving and developing trigonometry became the basis for modern knowledge of the subject.
Galen, born in Pergamum in Asia Minor, was a physician for a school of gladiators. His fame spread, and he was called to Rome where he became physician to Marcus Aurelius.
Galen was responsible for notable advances in physiology and anatomy; for example, he was the first to explain the mechanism of respiration.
Forbidden by the Roman government to dissect human bodies, Galen experimented with animals and demonstrated that an excised heart can continue to beat outside the body and that injuries to one side of the brain produce disorders in the opposite side of the body.
Galen's account of how he discovered the cause of a Roman matron's chronic insomnia shows that he was aware of the psychosomatic factor in illness: he noted that the lady's pulse "suddenly became extremely irregular" whenever the name of a famous actor was mentioned. "Now what was it that escaped the notice of previous physicians when examining the aforesaid woman?" Galen wrote.
"They have no clear conception of how the body tends to be affected by mental conditions." ^28 Galen's medical encyclopedia, in which he summarized the medical knowledge of antiquity, remained the standard authority until the sixteenth century.
[Footnote 28: Galen "On Prognosis," in Thomas W. Africa, Rome and the Caesars (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1965), p. 217.]