Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online

THE RUINS, 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 mercenaries.

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 plenitude.

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. 214.

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;

  1. 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 Antiquities.

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- avesta:

"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 their self-love.



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