OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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GENERAL CAUSES OF THE PROSPERITY OF ANCIENT STATES.
Such, O man who seekest wisdom, such have been the causes of
revolution in the ancient states of which thou contemplatest the
ruins! To whatever spot I direct my view, to whatever period my
thoughts recur, the same principles of growth or destruction, of
rise or fall, present themselves to my mind. Wherever a people is
powerful, or an empire prosperous, there the conventional laws are
conformable with the laws of nature--the government there procures
for its citizens a free use of their faculties, equal security for
their persons and property. If, on the contrary, an empire goes to
ruin, or dissolves, it is because its laws have been vicious, or
imperfect, or trodden under foot by a corrupt government. If the
laws and government, at first wise and just, become afterwards
depraved, it is because the alternation of good and evil is
inherent to the heart of man, to a change in his propensities, to
his progress in knowledge, to a combination of circumstances and
events; as is proved by the history of the species.
In the infancy of nations, when men yet lived in the forest,
subject to the same wants, endowed with the same faculties, all
were nearly equal in strength; and that equality was a circumstance
highly advantageous in the composition of society: as every
individual, thus feeling himself sufficiently independent of every
other, no one was the slave, none thought of being the master of
another. Man, then a novice, knew neither servitude nor tyranny;
furnished with resources sufficient for his existence, he thought
not of borrowing from others; owning nothing, requiring nothing, he
judged the rights of others by his own, and formed ideas of justice
sufficiently exact. Ignorant, moreover, in the art of enjoyments,
unable to produce more than his necessaries, possessing nothing
superfluous, cupidity remained dormant; or if excited, man,
attacked in his real wants, resisted it with energy, and the
foresight of such resistance ensured a happy balance.
Thus original equality, in default of compact, maintained freedom
of person, security of property, good manners, and order. Every
one labored by himself and for himself; and the mind of man, being
occupied, wandered not to culpable desires. He had few enjoyments,
but his wants were satisfied; and as indulgent nature had made them
less than his resources, the labor of his hands soon produced
abundance--abundance, population; the arts unfolded, culture
extended, and the earth, covered with numerous inhabitants, was
divided into different dominions.
The relations of man becoming complicated, the internal order of
societies became more difficult to maintain. Time and industry
having generated riches, cupidity became more active; and because
equality, practicable among individuals, could not subsist among
families, the natural equilibrium was broken; it became necessary
to supply it by a factitious equilibrium; to set up chiefs, to
establish laws; and in the primitive inexperience, it necessarily
happened that these laws, occasioned by cupidity, assumed its
character. But different circumstances concurred to correct the
disorder, and oblige governments to be just.
States, in fact, being weak at first, and having foreign enemies to
fear, the chiefs found it their interest not to oppress their
subjects; for, by lessening the confidence of the citizens in their
government, they would diminish their means of resistance--they
would facilitate foreign invasion, and by exercising arbitrary
power, have endangered their very existence.
In the interior, the firmness of the people repelled tyranny; men
had contracted too long habits of independence; they had too few
wants, and too much consciousness of their own strength.
States being of a moderate size, it was difficult to divide their
citizens so as to make use of some for the oppression of others.
Their communications were too easy, their interest too clear and
simple: besides, every one being a proprietor and cultivator, no
one needed to sell himself, and the despot could find no
If, then, dissensions arose, they were between family and family,
faction and faction, and they interested a great number. The
troubles, indeed, were warmer; but fears from abroad pacified
discord at home. If the oppression of a party prevailed, the earth
being still unoccupied, and man, still in a state of simplicity,
finding every where the same advantages, the oppressed party
emigrated, and carried elsewhere their independence.
The ancient states then enjoyed within themselves numerous means of
prosperity and power. Every one finding his own well-being in the
constitution of his country, took a lively interest in its
preservation. If a stranger attacked it, having to defend his own
field, his own house, he carried into combat all the passions of a
personal quarrel; and, devoted to his own interests, he was devoted
to his country.
As every action useful to the public attracted its esteem and
gratitude, every one became eager to be useful; and self-love
multiplied talents and civic virtues.
Every citizen contributing equally by his talents and person,
armies and funds were inexhaustible, and nations displayed
formidable masses of power.
The earth being free, and its possession secure and easy, every one
was a proprietor; and the division of property preserved morals,
and rendered luxury impossible.
Every one cultivating for himself, culture was more active, produce
more abundant; and individual riches became public wealth.
The abundance of produce rendering subsistence easy, population was
rapid and numerous, and states attained quickly the term of their
Productions increasing beyond consumption, the necessity of
commerce arose; and exchanges took place between people and people;
which augmented their activity and reciprocal advantages.
In fine, certain countries, at certain times, uniting the
advantages of good government with a position on the route of the
most active circulation, they became emporiums of flourishing
commerce and seats of powerful domination. And on the shores of
the Nile and Mediterranean, of the Tygris and Euphrates, the
accumulated riches of India and of Europe raised in successive
splendor a hundred different cities.
The people, growing rich, applied their superfluity to works of
common and public use; and this was in every state, the epoch of
those works whose grandeur astonishes the mind; of those wells of
Tyre, of those dykes of the Euphrates, of those subterranean
conduits of Media,* of those fortresses of the desert, of those
aqueducts of Palmyra, of those temples, of those porticoes. And
such labors might be immense, without oppressing the nations;
because they were the effect of an equal and common contribution of
the force of individuals animated and free.
- See respecting these monuments my Travels into Syria, vol. ii. p.
From the town or village of Samouat the course of the Euphrates is
accompanied with a double bank, which descends as far as its
junction with the Tygris, and from thence to the sea, being a
length of about a hundred leagues, French measure. The height of
these artificial banks is not uniform, but increases as you advance
from the sea; it may be estimated at from twelve to fifteen feet.
But for them, the inundation of the river would bury the country
around, which is flat, to an extent of twenty or twenty-five
leagues and even notwithstanding these banks, there has been in
modern times an overflow, which has covered the whole triangle
formed by the junction of this river to the Tygris, being a space
of country of one hundred and thirty square leagues. By the
stagnation of these waters an epidemical disease of the most fatal
nature was occasioned. It follows from hence, 1. That all the
flat country bordering upon these rivers, was originally a marsh;
That this marsh could not have been inhabited previously to the
construction of the banks in question; 3. That these banks could
not have been the work but of a population prior as to date; and
the elevation of Babylon, therefore, must have been posterior to
that of Nineveh, as I think I have chronologically demonstrated in
the memoir above cited. See Encyclopedia, vol. xiii, of
The modern Aderbidjan, which was a part of Medea, the mountains of
Koulderstan, and those of Diarbekr, abound with subterranean
canals, by means of which the ancient inhabitants conveyed water to
their parched soil in order to fertilize it. It was regarded as a
meritorious act and a religious duty prescribed by Zoroaster, who,
instead of preaching celibacy, mortifications, and other pretended
virtues of the monkish sort, repeats continually in the passages
that are preserved respecting him in the Sad-der and the Zend-
"That the action most pleasing to God is to plough and cultivate
the earth, to water it with running streams, to multiply vegetation
and living beings, to have numerous flocks, young and fruitful
virgins, a multitude of children," etc., etc.
Among the aqueducts of Palmyra it appears certain, that, besides
those which conducted water from the neighboring hills, there was
one which brought it even from the mountains of Syria. It is to be
traced a long way into the Desert where it escapes our search by
going under ground.
Thus ancient states prospered, because their social institutions
conformed to the true laws of nature; and because men, enjoying
liberty and security for their persons and their property, might
display all the extent of their faculties,--all the energies of