Page images









Æra of Augustus Casar.

The reign of Augustus Cæsar is the most remarkable epoch in the history of mankind. For the first time, a large part of the families, tribes, and nations, into which the human race had gradually separated, were united under a vast, uniform, and apparently permanent, social system. The older Asiatic empires had, in general, owed their rise to the ability and success of some adventurous conqueror; and, when the master-hand was withdrawn, fell asunder; or were swept away to make room for some new kingdom or dynasty, which sprang up with equal rapidity, and in its turn experienced the same fate. The Grecian monarchy established by Alexander, as though it shared in the Asiatic principle of vast and sudden growth and as rapid decay, broke up at his death into several conflicting kingdoms; yet survived in its influence, and united, in some degree, Western

[blocks in formation]


CHAP. Asia, Egypt, and Greece into one political system,

in which the Greek language and manners predominated. But the monarchy of Rome was founded on principles as yet unknown; the kingdoms, which were won by the most unjustifiable aggression, were, for the most part, governed with a judicious union of firmness and conciliation, in which the conscious strength of irresistible power was tempered with the wisest respect to national usages.

The Romans conquered like savages, but ruled like philosophic statesmen.* Till, from the Euphrates to the Atlantic, from the shores of Britain, and the borders of the German forests, to the sands of the African Desert, the whole Western world was consolidated into one great commonwealth, united by the bonds of law and government, by facilities of communication and commerce, and by the general dissemination of the Greek and Latin languages.

For civilisation followed in the train of Roman conquest : the ferocity of her martial temperament seemed to have spent itself in the civil wars: the lava flood of her ambition had cooled; and wherever it had spread, a rich and luxuriant vegetation broke forth. At least down to the time of the Antonines, though occasionally disturbed by the contests which arose on the change of dynasties, the rapid progress of improvement was by no means retarded. Diverging

Roman Civilisation.

On the capture of a city, pro- latter point, I mean, of course, the miscuous massacre was the general general policy, not the local tyorder, which descended even to ranny, which was so often exercised brute animals, until a certain sig. by the individual provincial gonal. Polyb. x. 15. As to the




from Rome as a centre, magnificent and commodious roads connected the most remote countries; the free navigation of the Mediterranean united the most flourishing cities of the empire; the military colonies had disseminated the language and manners of the South in the most distant regions; the wealth and population of the African and Asiatic provinces had steadily increased while, amid the forests of Gaul, the morasses of Britain, the sierras of Spain, flourishing cities arose ; and the arts, the luxuries, the order, and regularity of cultivated life were introduced into regions which, a short time before, had afforded a scanty and precarious subsistence to tribes scarcely acquainted with agriculture. The frontiers of civilisation seemed gradually to advance, and to drive back the still-receding barbarism * : while within the pale, national distinctions were dying away; all tribes and races met amicably in the general relation of Roman subjects or citizens, and mankind seemed settling down into one great federal society. f

About this point of time Christianity appeared. AppearAs Rome had united the whole Western world into Christianone, as it might almost seem, lasting social system, so Christianity was the first religion which aimed at an universal and permanent moral conquest.


* Quæ sparsa congregaret im- t “ Unum esse reipublicæ corperia, ritusque molliret,et tot popu- pus, atque unius animo regendum.” İorum discordes ferasque linguas Such was the argument of Asinius sermonis commercio contraheret Gallus, Tac. Ann. i. 12. ad colloquia, et humanitatem homini daret. Plin. Nat. Hist. iii. 5.


The older

CHAP. The religions of the older world were content with

their dominion over the particular people which

were their several votaries. Family, tribal, national, Religions.

deities were universally recognised ; and as their gods accompanied the migrations or the conquests of different nations, their worship was extended over a wider surface, but rarely propagated among the subject races. To drag in triumph the divinities of a vanquished people was the last and most insulting mark of subjugation.* Yet, though the gods of the conquerors had thus manifested their superiority, and, in some cases, the subject nation might be inclined to desert their inefficient protectors, who had been found wanting in the hour of trial ; still the godhead even of the defeated divinities was not denied: though their power could not withstand the mightier tutelar deity of the invaders ; yet their right to a seat in the crowded synod of heaven, and their rank among the intermediate rulers of the world, was not called in question. The conqueror might, indeed, take delight in showing his contempt, and, as it were, trampling under foot the rebuked and impotent deities of his subject ; and thus religious persecution be inflicted by the oppressor, and religious fanaticism excited among the oppressed. Yet, if

Tot de diis, quot de gentibus ancient ritual of Rome. A certain triumphi. Tertullian. Compare aspect of a comet not merely foreIsaiah, xlvi. I., and Gesenius's note; told victory, but the passing over Jer. xlviii. 7. xlix. 3.; Hos. X. 5,6.; of the hostile gods to the side of the Dan. xi. 8.

Romans : και αυτά δε τα θεία κατα+ There is a curious passage in λείψουσι τους πολεμίους, ώστε εκ Lydus de Ostentis, a book which περισσού προστεθήναι τους νικηταίς. probably contains some parts of the Lydus de Ostentis, lib. 12.

« PreviousContinue »