To the eye of an ancient traveler there must have been something very grand and impressive in the external aspects of wealth and power which the Roman Empire, in the period of its greatest glory, presented in every city and province. It will therefore be my aim in this chapter to present those objects of pride and strength which appealed to the senses of an ordinary observer, and such as would first arrest his attention were he to describe the wonders he beheld to those who were imperfectly acquainted with them.
[Sidenote: Culmination of Roman greatness.]
It is generally admitted that Roman greatness culminated during the reigns of the Antonines, about the middle of the second century of the Christian era. At that period we perceive the highest triumphs of material civilization and the proudest spirit of panegyric and self- confidence. To the eye of contemporaries it seemed that Rome was destined to be the mistress of the world forever.
[Sidenote: Extent of the empire.]
[Sidenote: Square miles.]
[Sidenote: Seas and rivers.]
We naturally glance, in the first place, to the extent of that vast empire which has had no parallel in ancient or modern times, and which was erected on the ruins of all the powerful states of antiquity. It was a most wonderful centralization of power, spreading its arms of hopeless despotism from the Pillars of Hercules to the Caspian Sea; from the Rhine and the Danube to the Euphrates and Tigris; from the forests of Sarmatia to the deserts of Africa. The empire extended three thousand miles from east to west, and two thousand from north to south. It stretched over thirty-five degrees of latitude, and sixty-five of longitude, and embraced within its limits nearly all the seas, lakes, and gulfs which commerce explored. It contained 1,600,000 square miles, for the most part cultivated, and populated by peoples in various stages of civilization, some of whom were famous for arts and wealth, and could boast of heroes and cities,--of a past history brilliant and impressive. In nearly the centre of this great empire was Mediterranean Sea, which was only, as it were, an inland lake, upon whose shores the great cities of antiquity had flourished, and towards which the tide of Assyrian and Persian conquests had rolled and then retreated forever. The great rivers--the Nile, the Po, and the Danube--flowed into this basin and its connecting seas, wafting the produce of distant provinces to the great central city on the Tiber. The boundaries of the empire were great oceans, deserts, and mountains, beyond which it was difficult to extend or to retain conquests. On the west was the Atlantic Ocean, unknown and unexplored--that mysterious expanse of waters which filled navigators with awe and dread, and which was not destined to be crossed until the stars should cease to be the only guide. On the northwest was the undefined region of Scandinavia, into which the Roman arms never penetrated, peopled by those barbarians who were to be the future conquerors of Rome, and the creators of a new and more glorious civilization,--those Germanic tribes which, under different names, had substantially the same manners, customs, and language,--a race more unconquerable and heroic than the Romans themselves, the future lords of mediaeval Europe, the ancestors of the English, the French, the Spaniards, and the Germans. On the northwest were the Sarmatians and Scythians--Sclavonic tribes, able to conquer, but not to reconstruct; savages repulsive and hideous even to the Goths themselves. On the east lay the Parthian empire, separated from Roman territories by the Euphrates, the Tigris, and the Armenian mountains. The Caucasian range between the Euxine and the Caspian seas presented an insuperable barrier, as did the deserts of Arabia to the Roman legions. The Atlas, the African desert, and the cataracts of the Nile formed the southern boundaries. The vulnerable part of the empire lay between the Danube and Rhine, from which issued, in successive waves, the Germanic foes of Rome. To protect the empire against their incursions, the Emperor Probus constructed a wall, which, however, proved but a feeble defense.
[Sidenote: Results of successive conquests.]
[Sidenote: Vastness of the political power.]
[Sidenote: Empire universal.]
This immense empire was divided into thirty-six provinces, exclusive of Italy, each of which was governed by a proconsul. The most important of these were Spain, Gaul, Sicily, Achaia, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. Gaul was more extensive than modern France. Achaia included Greece and the Ionian Islands. The empire embraced the modern states of England, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria, Styria, the Tyrol, Hungary, Egypt, Morocco, Algiers, and the empire of Turkey both in Europe and Asia. It took the Romans nearly five hundred years to subdue the various states of Italy, the complete subjugation of which took place with the fall of Tarentum, a Grecian city, which introduced Grecian arts and literature. Sicily, the granary of Rome, was the next conquest, the fruit of the first Punic War. The second Punic War added to the empire Sardinia, Corsica, and the two Spanish provinces of Baetica and Tarraconensis--about two thirds of the peninsula--fertile in the productions of the earth, and enriched by mines of silver and gold, and peopled by Iberians and Celts. The rich province of Illyricum was added to the empire about one hundred and eighty years before Christ. Before the battle of Actium, the empire extended over Achaia, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Narbonensic Gaul, Cyrenaica, Crete, Cilicia, Cyprus, Bithynia, Syria, Aquitania, Belgic and Celtic Gaul. Augustus added Egypt, Lusitania, Numidia, Galatia, the Maritime Alps, Noricum, Vindelicia, Rhaetia, Pannonia, and Mosia. Tiberius increased the empire by the addition of Cappadocia. Claudius incorporated the two Mauritanias, Lycia, Judaea, Thrace, and Britain. Nero added Pontus. These various and extensive countries had every variety of climate and productions, and boasted of celebrated cities. They composed most of the provinces known to the ancients west of the Euphrates, and together formed an empire in comparison with which the Assyrian and Egyptian monarchies, and even the Grecian conquests, were vastly inferior. The Saracenic conquests in the Middle Ages were not to be compared with these, and the great empires of Charlemagne and Napoleon could be included in less than half the limits. What a proud position it was to be a Roman emperor, whose will was the law over the whole civilized world! Well may the Roman empire be called universal, since it controlled all the nations of the earth known to the Greeks. It was the vastest centralization of power which this world has seen, or probably will ever see, extending nearly over the whole of Europe, and the finest parts of Asia and Africa. We are amazed that a single city of Italy could thus occupy with her armies and reign supremely over so many diverse countries and nations, speaking different languages, and having different religions and customs. And when we contemplate this great fact, we cannot but feel that it was a providential event, designed for some grand benefit to the human race. That benefit was the preparation for the reception of a new and universal religion. No system of "balance of power," no political or military combinations, no hostilities could prevent the absorption of the civilized world in the empire of the Caesars.
[Sidenote: The Mediterranean the centre of the empire.]
If we more particularly examine this great empire, we observe that it was substantially composed of the various countries and kingdoms which bordered on the Mediterranean, and those other seas with which it was connected. Roman power was scarcely felt on the shores of the Baltic, or the eastern coasts of the Euxine, or on the Arabian and Persian gulfs. The central part of the empire was Italy, the province which was first conquered, and most densely populated. It was the richest in art, in cities, in commerce, and in agriculture.
[Sidenote: Natural productions.]
[Sidenote: Italian Cities.]
[Sidenote: Memorable cities.]
Italy itself was no inconsiderable state--a beautiful peninsula, extending six hundred and sixty geographical miles from the foot of the Alps to the promontory of Leucopetra. Its greatest breadth is about one hundred and thirty miles. It was always renowned for beauty and fertility. Its climate on the south was that of Greece, and on the north that of the south of France. The lofty range of the Apennines extended through its entire length, while the waters of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic tempered and varied its climate. Its natural advantages were unequaled, with a soil favorable to agriculture, to the culture of fruits, and the rearing of flocks. Its magnificent forests furnished timber for ships; its rich pastures fed innumerable sheep, goats, cattle, and horses; its olive groves were nowhere surpassed; its mountains contained nearly every kind of metals; its coasts furnished a great variety of fish; while its mineral springs supplied luxurious baths. There were no extremes of heat and cold; the sky was clear and serene; the face of the country was a garden. It was a paradise to the eye of Virgil and Varro, the most favored of all the countries of antiquity in those productions which sustain the life of man or beast. The plains of Lombardy furnished maize and rice; oranges grew to great perfection on the Ligurian coast; aloes and cactuses clothed the rocks of the southern provinces; while the olive and the grape abounded in every section. The mineral wealth of Italy was extolled by the ancient writers, and the fisheries were as remarkable as agricultural products. The population numbered over four millions who were free, and could furnish seven hundred thousand foot and seventy thousand horse for the armies of the republic, if they were all called into requisition. The whole country was dotted with beautiful villas and farms, as well as villages and cities. It contained twelve hundred cities or large towns which had municipal privileges. Mediolanum, now Milan, the chief city in Cisalpine Gaul, in the time of Ambrose, was adorned with palaces and temples and baths. It was so populous that it lost it is said at one time three hundred thousand male citizens in the inroads of the Goths. It was surrounded with a double range of walls, and the houses were elegantly built. It was also celebrated as the seat of learning and culture. Verona had an amphitheatre of marble, whose remains are among the most striking monuments of antiquity, capable of seating twenty-two thousand people. Ravenna, near the mouth of the Padus (Po), built on piles, was a great naval depot, and had an artificial harbor capable of containing two hundred and fifty ships of war, and was the seat of government after the fall of the empire. Padua counted among its inhabitants five hundred Roman knights, and was able to send twenty thousand men into the field. Aquileia was a great emporium of the trade in wine, oil, and salted provisions. Pola had a magnificent amphitheatre. Luna, now Spezzia, was famous for white marbles, and for cheeses which often weighed a thousand pounds. Arutium, now Avezzo, an Etrurian city, was celebrated for its potteries, many beautiful specimens of which now ornament the galleries of Florence. Cortona had walls of massive thickness, which can be traced to the Pelasgians. Clusium, the capital of Porsenna, had a splendid mausoleum. Volsinii boasted of two thousand statues. Veii had been the rival of Rome. In Umbria, we may mention Sarsina, the birthplace of Plautus; Mevania, the birthplace of Propertius; and Sentinum, famous for the self-devotion of Decius. In Picenum were Ancona, celebrated for its purple dye; and Picenum, surrounded by walls and inaccessible heights, memorable for a siege against Pompey. Of the Sabine cities were Antemnae, more ancient than Rome; Nomentum, famous for wine; Regillum, the birthplace of Appius Claudius, the founder of the great Claudian family; Reate, famous for asses, which sometimes brought the enormous price of 60,000 sesterces, about $2320; Cutiliae, celebrated for its mineral waters; and Alba, in which captives of rank were secluded. In Latium were Ostia, the seaport of Rome; Laurentum, the capital of Latinus; Lavinium, fabled to have been founded by Aeneas; Lanuvium, the birthplace of Roscius and the Antonines; Alba Longa, founded four hundred years before Rome; Tusculum, where Cicero had his villa; Tibur, whose temple was famous through Italy; Praeneste, now Palestrio, remarkable for its citadel and its temple of Fortune; Antium, to which Coriolanus retired after his banishment, a favorite residence of Augustus, and the birthplace of Nero, celebrated also for a magnificent temple, amid whose ruins was found the Apollo Belvidere; Forum Appii, mentioned by St. Paul, from which travelers on the Appian Way embarked on a canal; Arpinum, the birthplace of Cicero; Aquium, where Juvenal and Thomas Aquinas were born, famous for a purple dye; Formiae, a favorite residence of Cicero. In Campania were Cumae, the abode of the Sibyl; Misenum, a great naval station; Baiae, celebrated for its spas and villas; Puteoli, famous for sulphur springs; Neapolis, the abode of literary idlers; Herculaneum and Pompeii, destroyed by an eruption of Vesuvius; Capua, the capital of Campania, and inferior to Rome alone; and Salernum, a great military stronghold. In Samnium were Bovianum, a very opulent city; Beneventum, and Sepinum. In Apulia were Sarinum; Venusia, the birthplace of Horace; Cannae, memorable for the great victory of Hannibal; Brundusium, a city of great antiquity on the Adriatic, and one of the great naval stations of the Romans; and Tarentum, the rival of Brundusium, a great military stronghold. In Lucania were Metapontum, at one time the residence of Pythagoras; Heraclea, the seat of a general council; Sybaris, which once was the mistress of twenty-five dependent cities, fifty stadia in circumference, and capable of sending an army of three hundred thousand [Footnote: Anthon, Geog. Diet.] men into the field, --a city so prosperous and luxurious that the very name of Sybarite was synonymous with voluptuousness.
Such were among the principal cities of Italy. More than two hundred and fifty towns or cities are historical, and were famous for the residence of great men, or for wines, wool, dyes, and various articles of luxury. The ruins of Pompeii prove it to have been a city of great luxury and elegance. The excavations, which have brought to light the wonders of this buried city, attest a very high material civilization; yet it was only a second-rate provincial town, of which not much is commemorated in history. It was simply a resort for Roman nobles who had villas in its neighborhood. It was surrounded with a wall, and was built with great regularity. Its streets were paved, and it had its forum, its amphitheatre, its theatre, its temples, its basilicas, its baths, its arches, and its monuments. The basilica was two hundred and twenty feet in length by eighty feet in width, the roof of which was supported by twenty-eight Ionic columns. The temple of Venus was profusely ornamented with paintings. One of the theatres was built of marble, and was capable of seating five thousand spectators, and the amphitheatre would seat ten thousand.
[Sidenote: Sicily and Sardinia.]
[Sidenote: Richness of Sicily.]
But Italy, so grand in cities, so varied in architectural wonders, so fertile in soil, so salubrious in climate, so rich in minerals, so prolific in fruits and vegetables and canals, was only a small part of the empire of the Caesars. The Punic wars, undertaken soon after the expulsion of Pyrrhus, resulted in the acquisition of Sicily, Sardinia, and Africa, from which the Romans were supplied with inexhaustible quantities of grain, and in the creation of a great naval power. Sicily, the largest island of the Mediterranean, was not inferior to Italy in any kind of produce. It was, it was supposed, the native country of wheat. Its honey, its saffron, its sheep, its horses, were all equally celebrated. The island, intersected by numerous streamy and beautiful valleys, was admirably adapted for the growth of the vine and olive. Its colonies, founded by Phoenicians and Greeks, cultivated all the arts of civilization. Long before the Roman conquest, its cities were famous for learning and art. Syracuse, a Corinthian colony, as old as Rome, had a fortress a mile in length and half a mile in breadth; a temple of Diana whose doors were celebrated throughout the Grecian world, and a theatre which could accommodate twenty-four thousand people. No city in Greece, except Athens, can produce structures which vie with those of which the remains are still visible at Agrigentum, Selinus, and Segesta.
Africa was one of the great provinces of the empire. It virtually embraced the Carthaginian empire, and was settled chiefly by the Phoenicians. Its capital, Carthage, so long the rival of Rome, was probably the greatest maritime mart of antiquity, next to Alexandria. Though it had been completely destroyed, yet it became under the emperors no inconsiderable city, and was the capital of a belt of territory extending one hundred and sixty miles, from the Pillars of Hercules to the bottom of the great Syrtis, unrivaled for fertility. Its population once numbered seven hundred thousand inhabitants, and ruled over three hundred dependent cities, and could boast of a navy carrying one hundred and fifty thousand men.
[Sidenote: The richness of Greece.]
Greece, included under the province called Achaia, was the next great conquest of the Romans, the fruit of the Macedonian wars. Though small in territory, it was the richest of all the Roman acquisitions in its results on civilization. The great peninsula to which Hellas belonged extended from the Euxine to the Adriatic; but Hellas proper was not more than two hundred and fifty miles in length and one hundred and eighty in breadth. Attica contained but seven hundred and twenty square miles, yet how great in associations, deeds, and heroes! When added to the empire, it was rich in every element of civilization, in cities, in arts, in literature, in commerce, in manufactures, in domestic animals, in fruits, in cereals. It was a mountainous country, but had an extensive sea-coast, and a flourishing trade with all the countries of the world. Almost all the Grecian states had easy access to the sea, and each of the great cities were isolated from the rest by lofty mountains difficult to surmount. But the Roman arms and the Roman laws penetrated to the most inaccessible retreats.
[Sidenote: Her monuments and arts and schools.]
In her political degradation, Greece still was the most interesting country on the globe. Every city had a history; every monument betokened a triumph of human genius. On her classic soil the great miracles of civilization had been wrought--the immortal teacher of all the nations in art, in literature, in philosophy, in war itself. Every cultivated Roman traveled in Greece; every great noble sent his sons to be educated in her schools; every great general sent to the banks of the Tiber some memento of her former greatness, some wonder of artistic skill. The wonders of Rome herself were but spoliations of this glorious land.
[Sidenote: The glory of Athens.]
First in interest and glory was Athens, which was never more splendid than in the time of the Antonines. The great works of the age of Pericles still retained their original beauty and freshness; and the city of Minerva still remained the centre of all that was elegant or learned of the ancient civilization, and was held everywhere in the profoundest veneration. There still flourished the various schools of philosophy, to which young men from all parts of the empire resorted to be educated--the Oxford and the Edinburgh, the Berlin and Paris of the ancient world. In spite of successive conquests, there still towered upon the Acropolis the temple of Minerva, that famous Parthenon whose architectural wonders have never been even equaled, built of Pentelic marble, and adorned with the finest sculptures of Pheidias--a Doric temple, whose severe simplicity and matchless beauty have been the wonder of all ages--often imitated, never equaled, majestic even in its ruins. Side by side, on that lofty fortification in the centre of the city, on its western slope, was the Propylaea, one of the masterpieces of ancient art, also of Pentelic marble, costing 2000 talents, or $23,000,000[Footnote: Smith, Geog. Diet.] when gold was worth more than twenty times what it is now. Then there was the Erechtheum, the temple of Athena Polias, the most revered of all the sanctuaries of Athens, with its three Ionic porticos, and its frieze of black marble, with its olive statue of the goddess, and its sacred inclosures. The great temple of Zeus Olympius, commenced by Peisistratus and completed by Hadrian, the largest ever dedicated to the deity among the Greeks, was four stadia in circumference. It was surrounded by a peristyle which had ten columns in front and twenty on its sides. The peristyle being double on the sides, and having a triple range at either end, besides three columns between the antae at each end of the cella, consisted altogether of one hundred and twenty columns. These were sixty feet high and six and a half feet in diameter, the largest which now remain of ancient architecture in marble, or which still exist in Europe. This vast temple was three hundred and fifty-four feet in length and one hundred and seventy-one in breadth, and was full of statues. The ruins of this temple, of which sixteen columns are still standing, are among the most imposing in the world, and indicate a grandeur and majesty in the city of which we can scarcely conceive. The theatre of Bacchus, the most beautiful in the ancient world, would seat thirty thousand spectators. I need not mention the various architectural monuments of this classic city, each of which was a study--the Temple of Theseus, the Agora, the Odeum, the Areopagus, the Gymnasium of Hadrian, the Lyceum, and other buildings of singular beauty, built mostly of marble, and adorned with paintings and statues. What work of genius in the whole world more interesting than the ivory and gold statue of Athena in the Parthenon, the masterpiece of Pheidias, forty feet high, the gold of which weighed forty talents,--a model for all succeeding sculptors, and to see which travelers came from all parts of Greece? Athens, a city of five hundred thousand inhabitants, was filled with wonders of art, which time has not yet fully destroyed.
[Sidenote: The wonders of Corinth.]
[Sidenote: Its luxury.]
Corinth was another grand centre of Grecian civilization, richer and more luxurious than Athens. When taken by the Romans she possessed the most valuable pictures in Greece. Among them was one of Dionysus by Aristides for which Attalus offered 600,000 sesterces. Rich commercial cities have ever been patrons of the fine arts. These they can appreciate better than poetry or philosophy. The Corinthians invented the most elaborate style of architecture known to antiquity, and which was generally adopted at Rome. They were also patrons of statuary, especially of works in bronze, for which the city was celebrated. The Corinthian, vessels of terra cotta were the finest in Greece. All articles of elegant luxury were manufactured here, especially elaborate tables, chests, and sideboards. If there had been a great exhibition in Rome, the works of the Corinthians would have been the most admired, and would have suited the taste of the luxurious senators, among whom literature and the higher developments of art were unappreciated. There was no literature in Corinth after Periander, and among the illustrious writers of Greece not a single Corinthian appeared. Nor did it ever produce an orator. What could be expected of a city whose patron goddess was Aphrodite! But Lais was honored in the city, and rich merchants frequented her house. The city was most famous for courtesans, and female slaves, and extravagant luxury. It was like Antioch and Tyre and Carthage. Corinth was probably the richest city in Greece, and one of the largest. It had, it is said, four hundred and sixty thousand slaves. Its streets, three miles in length, were adorned with costly edifices. Its fortress was one thousand eight hundred and eighty-six feet above the sea and very strong.
Sparta, of historic fame, was not magnificent except in public buildings. It had a famous portico, the columns of which, of white marble, represented the illustrious persons among the vanquished Medes.
Olympia, the holy city, was celebrated for its temple and its consecrated garden, where stood some of the great masterpieces of ancient, art, among them the famous statue of Jupiter, the work of Pheidias,--an impersonation of majesty and power,--a work which furnished models from which Michael Angelo drew his inspiration.
Delphi, another consecrated city, was enriched with the contributions of all Greece, and was the seat of the Dorian religion. So rich were the shrines of its oracle that Nero carried away from it five hundred statues of bronze at one time.
[Sidenote: Greece enriches Rome.]
Such was Greece, every city of which was famous for art, or literature, or commerce, or manufacture, or for deeds which live in history. It had established a great empire in the East, but fell, like all other conquering nations, from the luxury which conquest engendered. It was no longer able to protect itself. Its phalanx, which resisted the shock of the Persian hosts, yielded to the all-conquering legion. When Aemilius Paulus marched up the Via Sacra with the spoils of the Macedonian kingdom in his grand and brilliant triumph, he was preceded by two hundred and fifty wagons containing pictures and statues, and three thousand men, each carrying a vase of silver coin, and four hundred more bearing crowns of gold. Yet this was but the commencement of the plunder of Greece.
[Sidenote: Islands colonized by Greeks.]
And not merely Greece herself, but the islands which she had colonized formed no slight addition to the glories of the empire. Rhodes was the seat of a famous school for sculpture and painting, from which issued the Laocoon and the Farnese Bull. It contained three thousand statues and one hundred and six colossi, among them the famous statue of the sun, one hundred and five feet high, one of the seven wonders of the world, containing 3000 talents--more than 3,000,000 dollars. Its school of rhetoric was so celebrated that Cicero resorted to it to perfect himself in oratory.
[Sidenote: Asia Minor.]
[Sidenote: Its extent.]
If we pass from Greece to Asia Minor and Syria, with their dependent provinces, all of which were added to the empire by the victories of Sulla and Pompey, we are still more impressed with the extent of the Roman rule. Asia Minor, a vast peninsula between the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Euxine seas, included several of the old monarchies of the world. It extended from Ilium on the west to the banks of the Euphrates, from the northern parts of Bithynia and Pontus to Syria and Cilicia, nine hundred miles from east to west, and nearly three hundred from north to south. It was the scene of some of the grandest conquests of the oriental world, Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian. Syria embraced all countries from the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean to the Arabian deserts. No conquests of the Romans were attended with more eclat than the subjection of these wealthy and populous sections of the oriental world; and they introduced a boundless wealth and luxury into Italy. But in spite of the sack of cities and the devastations of armies, the old monarchy of the Seleucidae remained rich and grand. Both Syria and Asia Minor could boast of large and flourishing cities, as well as every kind of luxury and art. Antioch was the third city in the empire, the capital of the Greek kings of Syria, and like Alexandria a monument of the Macedonian age. It was built on a regular and magnificent plan, and abounded in temples and monuments. Its most striking feature was a street four miles in length, perfectly level, with double colonnades through its whole length, built by Antiochus Epiphanes. In magnitude the city was not much inferior to Paris at the present day, and covered more land than Rome. It had its baths, its theatres and amphitheatres, its fora, its museums, its aqueducts, its temples, and its palaces. It was the most luxurious of all the cities of the East, and had a population of three hundred thousand who were free. In the latter clays of the empire it was famous as the scene of the labors of Chrysostom.
Ephesus, one of the twelve of the Ionian cities in Asia, was the glory of Lydia,--a sacred city of which the temple of Diana was the greatest ornament. This famous temple was four times as large as the Parthenon, and covered as much ground as Cologne Cathedral, and was two hundred and twenty years in building. It had one hundred and twenty-eight columns sixty feet high, of which thirty-six were carved, each contributed by a king--the largest of all the Grecian temples, and probably the most splendid. It was a city of great trade and wealth. Its theatre was the largest in the world, six hundred and sixty feet in diameter, [Footnote: Muller, Anc. Art.] and capable of holding sixty thousand spectators. Ephesus gave birth to Apelles the painter, and was the metropolis of five hundred cities.
[Sidenote: The Temple.]
[Sidenote: The Acropolis.]
Jerusalem, so dear to Christians as the most sacred spot on earth, inclosed by lofty walls and towers, not so beautiful or populous as in the days of Solomon and David, was, before its destruction by Titus, one of the finest cities of the East. Its royal palace, surrounded by a wall thirty cubits high, with decorated towers at equal intervals, contained enormous banqueting halls and chambers most profusely ornamented; and this palace, magnificent beyond description, was connected with porticos and gardens filled with statues and reservoirs of water. It occupied a larger space than the present fortress, from the western edge of Mount Zion to the present garden of the Armenian Convent. The Temple, so famous, was small compared with the great wonders of Grecian architecture, being only about one hundred and fifty feet by seventy; but its front was covered with plates of gold, and some of the stones of which it was composed were more than sixty feet in length and nine in width. Its magnificence consisted in its decorations and the vast quantity of gold and precious woods used in its varied ornaments, and vessels of gold, so as to make it one of the most costly edifices ever erected to the worship of God. The Acropolis, which was the fortress of the Temple, combined the strength of a castle with the magnificence of a palace, and was like a city in extent, towering seventy cubits above the elevated rock upon which it was built. So strongly fortified was Jerusalem, even in its latter days, that it took Titus five months, with an army of one hundred thousand men, to subdue it; one of the most memorable sieges on record. It probably would have held out against the whole power of Rome, had not famine done more than battering rams.
[Sidenote: Damascus and other cities.]
Many other interesting cities might be mentioned both in Syria and Asia Minor, which were centres of trade, or seats of philosophy, or homes of art. Tarsus in Cilicia was a great mercantile city, to which strangers from all parts resorted. Damascus, the oldest city in the world, and the old capital of Syria, was both beautiful and rich. Laodicea was famous for tapestries, Hierapolis for its iron wares, Cybara for its dyes, Sardis for its wines, Smyrna for its beautiful monuments, Delos for its slave-trade, Gyrene for its horses, Paphos for its temple of Venus, in which were a hundred altars. Seleucia, on the Tigris, had a population of four hundred thousand. Caesarea, founded by Herod the Great, and the principal seat of government to the Roman prefects, had a harbor equal in size to the renowned Piraeus, and was secured against the southwest winds by a mole of such massive construction that the blocks of stone, sunk under the water, were fifty feet in length and eighteen in width, and nine in thickness. [Footnote: Josephus, Ant., xv.] The city itself was constructed of polished stone, with an agora, a theatre, a circus, a praetorium, and a temple to Caesar. Tyre, which had resisted for seven months the armies of Alexander, remained to the fall of the empire a great emporium of trade. It monopolized the manufacture of imperial purple. Sidon was equally celebrated for its glass and embroidered robes. The Sidonians cast glass mirrors, and imitated precious stones. But the glory of both Tyre and Sidon was in ships, which visited all the coasts of the Mediterranean, and even penetrated to Britain and India.
[Sidenote: Its ancient grandeur.]
[Sidenote: Glories of Egypt.]
But greater than Tyre, or Antioch, or any eastern city, was Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, which was one of the last provinces added to the empire. Egypt alone was a mighty monarchy--the oldest which history commemorates, august in records and memories. What pride, what pomp, what glory are associated with the land of the Pharaohs, with its mighty river reaching to the centre of a great continent, flowing thousands of miles to the sea, irrigating and enriching the most fertile valley of the world! What noble and populous cities arose upon its banks three thousand years before Roman power was felt! What enduring monuments remain of a its ancient very ancient yet extinct civilization! What successive races of conquerors have triumphed in the granite palaces of Thebes and Memphis! Old, sacred, rich, populous, and learned, Egypt becomes a province of the Roman empire. The sceptre of three hundred kings passes from Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, to Augustus Caesar, the conqueror at Actium; and six millions of different races, once the most civilized on the earth, are amalgamated with the other races and peoples which compose the universal monarchy. At one time the military force of Egypt is said to have amounted to seven hundred thousand men, in the period of its greatest prosperity. The annual revenues of this state under the Ptolemies amounted to about 17,000,000 dollars in gold and silver, beside the produce of the earth. A single feast cost Philadelphus more than half a million of pounds sterling, and he had accumulated treasures to the amount of 740,000 talents, or about 860,000,000 dollars. [Footnote: Napoleon, Life of Caesar.] What European monarch ever possessed such a sum? The kings of Egypt were richer in the gold and silver they could command than Louis XIV., in the proudest hour of his life. What monarchs ever reigned with more absolute power than the kings of this ancient seat of learning and art! The foundation of Thebes goes back to the mythical period of Egyptian history, and it covered as much ground as Rome or Paris, equally the centre of religion, of trade, of manufactures, and of government,--the sacerdotal capital of all who worshiped Ammon from Pelusium to Axume, from the Red Sea to the Oases of Libya. The palaces of Thebes, though ruins two thousand years ago as they are ruins now, were the largest and probably the most magnificent ever erected by the hand of man. What must be thought of a palace whose central hall was eighty feet in height, three hundred and twenty-five feet in length, and one hundred and seventy-nine in breadth; the roof of which was supported by one hundred and thirty-four columns, eleven feet in diameter and seventy-six feet in height, with their pedestals; and where the cornices of the finest marble were inlaid with ivory moldings or sheathed with beaten gold! But I do not now refer to the glories of Egypt under Sesostris or Rameses, but to what they were when Alexandria was the capital of the country,-- what it was under the Roman domination.
[Sidenote: Extent and population of Alexandria.]
[Sidenote: Public buildings.]
The ground-plan of this great city was traced by Alexander himself, but it was not completed until the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus. It continued to receive embellishments from nearly every monarch of the Lagian line. Its circumference was about fifteen miles; the streets were regular, and crossed one another at right angles, and were wide enough to admit both carriages and foot passengers. The harbor was large enough to admit the largest fleet ever constructed; its walls and gates were constructed with all the skill and strength known to antiquity; its population numbered six hundred thousand, and all nations were represented in its crowded streets. The wealth of the city may be inferred from the fact that in one year 6250 talents, or more than 6,000,000 dollars, were paid to the public treasury for port dues. The library was the largest in the world, and numbered over seven hundred thousand volumes, and this was connected with a museum, a menagerie, a botanical garden, and various halls for lectures, altogether forming the most famous university in the empire. The inhabitants were chiefly Greek, and had all their cultivated tastes and mercantile thrift. In a commercial point of view it was the most important in the empire, and its ships whitened every sea. Alexandria was of remarkable beauty, and was called by Ammianus Vertex omnium civitatum. Its dry atmosphere preserved for centuries the sharp outlines and gay colors of its buildings, some of which were remarkably imposing. The Mausoleum of the Ptolemies, the High Court of justice, the Stadium, the Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Amphitheatre, and the Temple of the Caesars, all called out the admiration of travelers. The Emporium far surpassed the quays of the Tiber. But the most imposing structure was the Exchange, to which, for eight hundred years, all the nations sent their representatives. It was commerce which made Alexandria so rich and beautiful, for which it was more distinguished than both Tyre and Carthage. Unlike most commercial cities, it was intellectual, and its schools of poetry, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, and theology were more renowned than even those of Athens during the third and fourth centuries. For wealth, population, intelligence, and art, it was the second city of the world. It would be a great capital in these times.
[Sidenote: Power of the empire seated in the western provinces.]
Such were Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Africa, all of which had been great empires, but all of which were incorporated with the Roman in less than two hundred years after Italy succumbed to the fortunate city on the Tiber. But these old and venerated monarchies, with their dependent states and provinces, though imposing and majestic, did not compose the vital part of the empire of the Caesars. It was those new provinces which were rescued from the barbarians, chiefly Celts, where the life of the empire centred. It was Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Illyricum, countries which now compose the most powerful European monarchies, which the more truly show the strength of the Roman world. And these countries were added last, and were not fully incorporated with the empire until imperial power had culminated in the Antonines. From a comparative wilderness, Spain and Gaul especially became populous and flourishing states, dotted with cities, and instructed in all the departments of Roman art and science. From these provinces the armies were recruited, the schools were filled, and even the great generals and emperors were furnished. These provinces embraced nearly the whole of modern Europe.
[Sidenote: Its provinces.]
[Sidenote: Its towns and cities.]
[Sidenote: Its commercial centres.]
Spain had been added to the empire after the destruction of Carthage, but only after a bitter and protracted warfare. It was completed by the reduction of Numantia, a city of the Celtiberians in the valley of the Douro, and its siege is more famous than that of Carthage, having defied for a long time the whole power of the empire, as Tyre did Alexander, and Jerusalem the armies of Titus. It yielded to the genius of Scipio, the conqueror of Africa, as La Rochelle, in later times, fell before Richelieu, but not until famine had done its work. The civilization of Spain was rapid after the fall of Numantia, and in the time of the Antonines was one of the richest and most prized of the Roman provinces. It embraced the whole peninsula, from the Pillars of Hercules to the Pyrenees; and the warlike nations who composed it became completely Latinized. It was divided into three provinces--Boetica, Lusitania, and Tarraconensis--all governed by praetors, the last of whom had consular power, and resided in Carthago Nova, on the Mediterranean. Under Constantine, Spain, with its islands, was divided into seven provinces, and stood out from the rest of the empire like a round bastion tower from the walls of an old fortified town. This magnificent possession, extending four hundred and sixty miles from north to south, and five hundred and seventy from east to west, including, with the Balearic Isles, 171,300 square miles, with a rich and fertile soil and inexhaustible mineral resources, was worth more to the Romans than all the conquests of Pompey and Sulla, since it furnished men for the armies, and materials for a new civilization. It furnished corn, oil, wine, fruits, pasturage, metals of all kinds, and precious stones. Boetica was famed for its harvests, Lusitania for its flocks, Tarraconensis for its timber, and the fields around Carthago Nova for materials of which cordage was made. But the great value of the peninsula to the eyes of the Romans was in its rich mines of gold, silver, and other metals. The bulk of the population was Iberian. The Celtic element was the next most prominent. There were six hundred and ninety-three towns and cities in which justice was administered. New Carthage, on the Mediterranean, had a magnificent harbor, was strongly fortified, and was twenty stadia in circumference, was a great emporium of trade, and was in the near vicinity of the richest silver mines of Spain, which employed forty thousand men. Gades (New Cadiz), a Phoenician colony, on the Atlantic Ocean, was another commercial centre, and numbered five hundred Equites among the population, and was immensely rich. Corduba, on the Boetis (Guadalquivir), the capital of Boetica, was a populous city before the Roman conquest, and was second only to Gades as a commercial mart. It was the birthplace of Seneca and Lucan.
[Sidenote: Richness of Gaul.]
[Sidenote: Population and cities.]
[Sidenote: Splendor of Gaulish cities.]
Gaul, which was the first of Caesar's most brilliant conquests, and which took him ten years to accomplish, was a still more extensive province. It was inhabited chiefly by Celtic tribes, who, uniting with Germanic nations, made a most obstinate defense. When incorporated with the empire, Gaul became rapidly civilized. It was a splendid country, extending from the Pyrenees to the Rhine, with a sea-coast of more than six hundred miles, and separated from Italy by the Alps, having 200,000 square miles. Great rivers, as in Spain, favored an extensive commerce with the interior, and on their banks were populous and beautiful cities. Its large coast on both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic gave it a communication with all the world. It produced corn, oil, and wine, those great staples, in great abundance. It had a beautiful climate, and a healthy and hardy population, warlike, courageous, and generous. Gaul was a populous country even in Caesar's time, and possessed twelve hundred towns and cities, some of which were of great importance. Burdigala, now Bordeaux, the chief city of Aquitania, on the Garonne, was famous for its schools of rhetoric and grammar. Massolia (Marseilles), before the Punic wars was a strong fortified city, and was largely engaged in commerce. Vienne, a city of the Allobroges, was inclosed with lofty walls, and had an amphitheatre whose long diameter was five hundred feet, and the aqueducts supplied the city with water. Lugdunum (Lyons) on the Rhone, was a place of great trade, and was filled with temples, theatres, palaces, and aqueducts. Nemausus (NOEmes) had subject to it twenty-four villages, and from the monuments which remain, must have been a city of considerable importance. Its amphitheatre would seat seventeen thousand people; and its aqueduct constructed of three successive tiers of arches, one hundred and fifty- five feet high, eight hundred and seventy feet long, and fifty feet wide, is still one of the finest monuments of antiquity, built of stone without cement. It is still solid and strong, and gives us a vivid conception of the magnificence of Roman masonry. Narbo (Narbonne) was another commercial centre, adorned with public buildings which called forth the admiration of ancient travelers. The modern cities of Treves, Boulogne, Rheims, Chalons, Cologne, Metz, Dijon, Sens, Orleans, Poictiers, Clermont, Rouen, Paris, Basil, Geneva, were all considerable places under the Roman rule, and some were of great antiquity.
Illyricum is not famous in Roman history, but was a very considerable province, equal to the whole Austrian empire in our times, and was as completely reclaimed from barbarism as Gaul or Spain. Both Jerome and Diocletian were born in a little Dalmatian town.
[Sidenote: Cultivated face of nature.]
[Sidenote: Agricultural wealth.]
Nothing could surpass the countries which bordered on the Mediterranean in all those things which give material prosperity. They were salubrious in climate, fertile in soil, cultivated like a garden, abounding in nearly all the fruits, vegetables, and grains now known to civilization. The beautiful face of nature was the subject of universal panegyric to the fall of the empire. There were no destructive wars. All the various provinces were controlled by the central power which emanated from Rome. There was scope for commerce, and all kinds of manufacturing skill. Italy, Sicily, and Egypt were especially fertile. The latter country furnished corn in countless quantities for the Roman market. Italy could boast of fifty kinds of wine, and was covered with luxurious villas in which were fish-ponds, preserves for game, wide olive groves and vineyards, to say nothing of the farms which produced milk, cheese, honey, and poultry. Syria was so prosperous that its inhabitants divided their time between the field, the banquet, and the gymnasium, and indulged in continual festivals. It was so rich that Antiochus III. was able to furnish at one time a tribute of 15,000 talents, beside 540,000 measures of wheat. The luxury of Nineveh and Babylon was revived in the Phoenician cities.
[Sidenote: Natural productions of the various provinces.]
Spain produced horses, mules, wool, oil, figs, wine, corn, honey, beer, flax, linen, beside mines of copper, silver, gold, quicksilver, tin, lead, and steel. Gaul was so cultivated that there was little waste land, and produced the same fruits and vegetables as at the present day. Its hams and sausages were much prized. Sicily was famous for wheat, Sardinia for wool, Epirus for horses, Macedonia for goats, Thessaly for oil, Boeotia for flax, Scythia for furs, and Greece for honey. Almost all the flowers, herbs, and fruits that grow in European gardens were known to the Romans--the apricot, the peach, the pomegranate, the citron, the orange, the quince, the apple, the pear, the plum, the cherry, the fig, the date, the olive. Martial speaks of pepper, beans, pulp, lentils, barley, beets, lettuce, radishes, cabbage sprouts, leeks, turnips, asparagus, mushrooms, truffles, as well as all sorts of game and birds. [Footnote: Martial, B. 13.] In no age of the world was agriculture more honored than before the fall of the empire.
And all these provinces were connected with each other and with the capital by magnificent roads, perfectly straight, and paved with large blocks of stone. They were originally constructed for military purposes, but were used by travelers, and on them posts were regularly established. They crossed valleys upon arches, and penetrated mountains. In Italy, especially, they were great works of art, and connected all the provinces. Among the great roads which conveyed to Rome as a centre were the Clodian and Cassian roads which passed through Etruria; the Amerina and Flavinia through Umbria; the Via Valeria, which had its terminus at Alternum on the Adriatic; the Via Latina, which, passing through Latium and Campania, extended to the southern extremity of Italy; the Via Appia also passed through Latium, Campania, Lucania, Iapygia to Brundusium, on the Adriatic. Again, from the central terminus at Milan, several lines passed through the gorges of the Alps, and connected Italy with Lyons and Mayence on the one side, and with the Tyrol and Danubian provinces on the other. Spain and southern Gaul were connected by a grand road from Cadiz to Narbonne and Arles. Lyons was another centre from which branched out military roads to Saintes, Marseilles, Boulogne, and Mayence. In fact, the Roman legion could traverse every province in the empire over these grandly built public roads, as great and important in the second century as railroads are at the present time. There was an uninterrupted communication from the Wall of Antonius through York, London, Sandwich, Boulogne, Rheims, Lyons, Milan, Rome, Brundusium, Dyrrachium, Byzantium, Ancyra, Tarsus, Antioch, Tyre, Jerusalem--a distance of 3740 miles. And these roads were divided by milestones, and houses for travelers erected every five or six miles.
[Sidenote: Objects of ancient commerce.]
Commerce under the emperors was not what it now is, but still was very considerable, and thus united the various provinces together. The most remote countries were ransacked to furnish luxuries for Rome. Every year a fleet of one hundred and twenty vessels sailed from the Red Sea for the islands of the Indian Ocean. But the Mediterranean, with the rivers which flowed into it, was the great highway of the ancient navigator. Navigation by the ancients was even more rapid than in modern times before the invention of steam, since oars were employed as well as sails. In summer one hundred and sixty-two Roman miles were sailed over in twenty-four hours. This was the average speed, or about seven knots. From the mouth of the Tiber, vessels could usually reach Africa in two days, Massilia in three, Tarraco in four, and the Pillars of Hercules in seven. From Puteoli the passage to Alexandria had been effected, with moderate winds, in nine days. But these facts apply only to the summer, and to objects of favorable winds. The Romans did not navigate in the inclement seasons. But in summer the great inland sea was white with sails. Great fleets brought corn from Gaul, Spain, Sardinia, Africa, Sicily, and Egypt. This was the most important trade. But a considerable commerce was carried on in ivory, tortoise-shell, cotton and silk fabrics, pearls and precious stones, gums, spices, wines, wool, oil. Greek and Asiatic wines, especially the Chian and Lesbian, were in great demand at Rome. The transport of earthenware, made generally in the Grecian cities; of wild animals for the amphitheatre; of marble, of the spoils of eastern cities, of military engines, and stores, and horses, required very large fleets and thousands of mariners, which probably belonged, chiefly, to great maritime cities like Alexandria, Corinth, Carthage, Rhodes, Cyrene, Massalia, Neapolis, Tarentum, and Syracuse. These great cities with their dependencies, required even more vessels for communication with each other than for Rome herself--the great central object of enterprise and cupidity.
[Sidenote: The metropolis of the empire.]
[Sidenote: The centre and the pride of the world.]
[Sidenote: Its varied objects of interest.]
In this survey of the provinces and cities which composed the empire of the Caesars, I have not yet spoken of the great central city--the City of the Seven Hills, to which all the world was tributary. Rome was so grand, so vast, so important in every sense, political and social; she was such a concentration of riches and wonders, that it demands a separate and fuller notice than what I have been able to give of those proud capitals which finally yielded to her majestic domination. All other cities not merely yielded precedence, but contributed to her greatness. Whatever was costly, or rare, or beautiful in Greece, or Asia, or Egypt, was appropriated by her citizen kings, since citizens were provincial governors. All the great roads, from the Atlantic to the Tigris, converged to Rome. All the ships of Alexandria and Carthage and Tarentum, and other commercial capitals, were employed in furnishing her with luxuries or necessities. Never was there so proud a city as this "Epitome of the Universe." London, Paris, Vienna, Constantinople, St. Petersburg, Berlin, are great centres of fashion and power; but they are rivals, and excel only in some great department of human enterprise and genius, as in letters, or fashions, or commerce, or manufactures-- centres of influence and power in the countries of which they are capitals, yet they do not monopolize the wealth and energies of the world. London may contain more people than ancient Rome, and may possess more commercial wealth; but London represents only the British monarchy, not a universal empire. Rome, however, monopolized everything, and controlled all nations and peoples. She could shut up the schools of Athens, or disperse the ships of Alexandria, or regulate the shops of Antioch. What Lyons or Bordeaux is to Paris, Corinth or Babylon was to Rome--secondary cities, dependent cities. Paul condemned at Jerusalem, stretched out his arms to Rome, and Rome protects him. The philosophers of Greece are the tutors of Roman nobility. The kings of the East resort to the palaces of Mount Palatine for favors or safety. The governors of Syria and Egypt, reigning in the palaces of ancient kings, return to Rome to squander the riches they have accumulated. Senators and nobles take their turn as sovereign rulers of all the known countries of the world. The halls in which Darius, and Alexander, and Pericles, and Croesus, and Solomon, and Cleopatra have feasted, if unspared by the conflagrations of war, witness the banquets of Roman proconsuls. Babylon and Thebes and Athens were only what Delhi and Calcutta are to the English of our day--cities to be ruled by the delegates of the Roman Senate. Rome was the only "home" of the proud governors who reigned on the banks of the Thames, of the Seine, of the Rhine, of the Nile, of the Tigris. After they had enriched themselves with the spoils of the ancient monarchies they returned to their estates in Italy, or to their palaces on the Aventine, for the earth had but one capital--one great centre of attraction. To an Egyptian even, Alexandria was only provincial. He must travel to the banks of the Tiber to see something greater than his own capital. It was the seat of government for one hundred and twenty millions of people. It was the arbiter of taste and fashion. It was the home of generals and senators and statesmen, of artists and scholars and merchants, who were renowned throughout the empire. It was enriched by the contributions of conquered nations for eight hundred years. It contained more marble statues than living inhabitants. Every spot was consecrated by associations; every temple had a history; every palace had been the scene of festivities which made it famous; every monument pointed to the deeds of the illustrious dead, and swelled the pride of the most powerful families which aristocratic ages had created.
* * * * *
For the ancient authorities, see Strabo, Pliny, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Titus Livius, Pausanias, and Herodotus. There is an able chapter on Mediterranean prosperity in Napoleon's History of Caesar. Smith, Dictionary of Ancient Geography, is exhaustive. See, also, Muller, article on Atticus, in Ersch, and Gruber's Encyclopedia, translated by Lockhart; Stuart and Revett, Antiquities of Atticus; Dodwell, Tour through Greece; Wilkinson, Hand-book for Travelers in Egypt; Becker, Hand-book of Rome. Anthon has compiled a useful work on ancient geography, but the most accessible and valuable book on the material aspects of the old Roman world is the great dictionary of Smith, from which this chapter is chiefly compiled.