Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

and rights, this old, stern, and most exclusive system of the Twelve Tables became supplemented, modified, corrected in a thousand details. Under the ceaseless labour and thought of philosophic jurisconsults, applying general principles, the science of right was gradually formed, and a barbarous groundwork of civic privileges, local, arbitrary, relative in the highest degree, and full of the most galling inequality, became in process of time, without sudden change, by the slow and gradual deduction of Roman genius and Greek subtilty, a complete system of natural equity, with a sort of philosophic precision and mathematical elegance.* This great result had not indeed been accomplished at the time we are considering, the fifty years which succeeded the Incarnation, but things were in progress towards it. Rome was bringing all civilised nations to have and to acknowledge but one law, and this law not imposed by the power of the victorious nation, but the result of the good sense of all: so that what we now call Roman law was nothing but a great revolt of universal equity against institutions originally peculiar to the Roman people.

For this material fabric of surpassing power and extent rested upon more than material foundations. Rome was not merely the mighty conqueror,

but the skilful assimilator of the human race. Her reign would not have acquired and deserved the name of a majestic peace but for this. And

• See Champagny, iv. 94-102.

to appreciate her power and her merit herein we must look beneath the surface. Perhaps if we compare her for a moment with other great cities which were most distinguished amid the thousands comprised in her dominion, this will be most apparent. We will choose none but the heads of former empires, the chief lights of civilisation.

First of all Athens. She had been a great naval power, a great emporium of traffic; she was still, as she had been for ages, a great centre of human thought and speculation. Once the tributes of many Greek cities flowed to her, and she became the representative of the Greek name. The most beautiful buildings of the world raised upon her acropolis, out of the wealth of her subjects testified to what had been her sway. But she had not the gift of making this sway acceptable to her tributaries. They quickly revolted from her, and her empire passed like a dream. Henceforth her reign was restricted to the arts of peace: painting, music, and sculpture, poetry, eloquence, and philosophy, the natural gifts of the most gifted among ancient races, chose her for their home. The great and the wise of the earth loved to visit her, and to spend a time of study within her walls, reverencing the shadow of departed political greatness, but more enjoying the light of present culture and refinement, nay, charmed by the very clearness of the atmosphere, and the hues of a spot renowned for its loveliness,

"Where on the Ægean shore a city stands

Built nobly, pure the air, and light the soil." Athens was of old and gradual growth; but Antioch was selected by a rich and brilliant sovereign for the head of his empire. She was crowned Queen of the East at her birth ; and so long as the kingdom of the Seleucidæ lasted, its princes found in their beautiful Antioch a residence to their mind. They poured out upon her their wealth, and her lovely climate lent itself to every invention of luxury. Seated in a matchless valley between two ranges of lofty mountains, she grew till four cities, each enclosed within its own walls, extended from beyond the deep-flowing Orontes to the heights of Mount Silpius, and her battlements, still towering over craig and ravine, even in their ruins astonish the traveller. All the races of the East found in her their home: there Greek and Oriental civilisation joined hands; and she continued for ages, under Roman dominion, a spot where the wealthy delighted to dwell, her Syrian magnificence embellished by a long series of Roman emperors. Caligula, Trajan, and Hadrian built her baths; Antoninus Pius paved her chief street with Egyptian granite. For more than eight hundred years this glory lasted, until she was taken and destroyed by Chosroes. But what, as a heathen city, are Antioch’s contributions to the human race? She was a splendid capital, a choice abode of luxury and power, and nothing more.

Greater yet than Antioch, fairest of all fair cities, yielding to Rome only in size, but her rival, perhaps her superior, in traffic, was Alexandria. Chosen by one of the greatest conquerors and sovereigns to be a military and commercial metropolis, she collected in her bosom the trade of three continents. From the beginning Egyptian, Greek, and Jew had each in her their quarter; but every nation of the empire, and Indians, Scythians, and Ethiopians from beyond it, were represented there. Occupying a broad tongue of land between the sea and the lake Mareotis, from which every fog was scattered by the northern winds that ventilate the Delta in summer, * her dry atmosphere preserved for centuries the colour and outline of her buildings unimpaired; not a flute of her pillars or a flower of their capitals was marred by time; and eye-witnesses tell us that no city of the world presented such a scene of beauty and grandeur as that which met the traveller disembarking at the Gate of the Moon, and passing to the Gate of the Sun, from sea to sea, through a street lined with columns.† This was crossed by a chief thoroughfare of like beauty and more than four miles long, while her quays lined the two harbours, and exhibited the productions of Europe, Asia, and Africa in abundance unrivalled by Rome herself. All

• Strabo, vi. 17.

† Achilles Tatius, lib. v. beginning. 52. Strabo, vi. 17.

Diodorus Siculus, xvii.

that the Seleucidæ had done for Antioch, and more yet, the Ptolemies had done for Alexandria. They had made her the great school of philosophy and medicine. Her Serapeion and Museum had no equals in the world for grandeur. She joined then in herself the glory of Athens and of Antioch; a seat no less of thought, study, and mental culture than of material wealth. She was the fullgrown offspring of Alexander, sharing his double greatness from her birth to her end, and this brilliant life lasted for well-nigh a thousand years, until she yielded to the Arab destroyer. Yet what great contribution did she too, as a heathen city, leave to the human race?

Greater than Athens, Antioch, and Alexandria in the material order, Rome excelled them yet more in this, that she had at once the will and the power to communicate to others that which was most precious of all her possessions in her own eyes, in the eyes of her subjects, and in the

eyes of posterity: her political and civil rights, her citizenship. Her great instrument in the government of men, her great means of preserving that majestic peace which was the true glory of her empire, was this gift of imparting her own rights in various degrees to the conquered. Her mode of doing this well deserves mention, since it lets us into the secret of her

power. The Latin city which in her cradle had grown upon the ruins of Alba Longa, taking its citizens

« PredošláPokračovať »