Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

still a striking difference prevailed in the degree of hardship on: the different classes who took the field. An absence from attention to private concerns was evidently much more serious to a man whose property was limited to 6ol. or 8ol., than to him who, being possessed of 300l., could afford to pay for the su-' perintendance of others. During the first 200 years of Rome, the pressure of this inequality was forgotten amid the apportionments of the acquired territory: but it became intolerable after the fruits of conquest were exposed to public auction, and centered eventually in the hands of the rich.

The circumstances of the siege of Veii afford a curious illustration of the backward state of military knowlege in those days. As the deficiency of the Romans in besieging machines rendered direct attacks hopeless, the plan was to establish a permanent camp, with winter-huts, and outworks to guard it as well against the sallies of the townsmen as against the assaults of their allies in the adjoining country. That no blockade took place is evident from the fact of the defence being prolonged for a period of ten years ; and, during this tedious interval, operations were conducted with various success, each side endeavouring to supply the want of skilful combination by courage and enterprise. In compliance with the precept of an oracle, the Romans accomplished the laborious task of draining the Alban lake : but a more effectual measure for accelerating the fall of Veii was the nomination of Camillus to the dictatorship. Hitherto, the proportion of able Generals in the Roman armies had been very small; the imperfect state of education and the annual changes of the commander being very unfavourable to the attainment of that professional eminence, which is the fruit of close and long continued application. Camillus, a distinguished exception from this remark, enforced strict discipline throughout his army; and, instead of wasting time in partial combats around the walls, he proceeded to dig a subterraneous passage into the enemy's citadel. When this important labour was finished, a general attack from the outside, seconded by a for. midable irruption through the new entrance, accomplished the capture of the city, the inhabitants of which were publicly sold as slaves.

It was in the beginning of the sixth century of Rome that the military operations of the republic were first carried on at a considerable distance from the city; and the Samnites, a powerful and comparatively remote enemy, were obliged to yield after a long and sanguinary warfare. Pyrrhus of Epirus was the next formidable antagonist of the Romans; and in him they saw a model of Grecian generalship which was highly useful in correcting their own rude tactics, and in preparing

them

theni for the eventful struggle with Carthage.

Without dwelling on the memorable exploits of the second Punic war, we shall merely remark, with Mr. Brodie, that, had the government of Carthage been such as to give the citizens a thorough interest in the state, it may be justly questioned whether Rome would ever have been mistress of the world.

Fate of the Gracchi. After the fall of Carthage, and the rapid extension of the Roman conquests, the republic was destined to see her liberty assailed from a new quarter. The governors of the conquered provinces, having it in their power to act without controul, found means to accumulate enormous fortunes; and the more ambitious among them, to whom the acquisition of money served only as a stimulant, invested their property, on returning to Italy, in the purchase of extensive lands and in loans to needy citizens. In vain the Licinian law prohibited an individual from possessing more than 500 jugera, or 350 English acres; the new aristocracy having too many dependents to be at a loss for means to elude that salutary regulation. It was by an attempt to enforce its observance, and to restore the influence of the people, that the unfortunate Tiberius Gracchus first distinguished himself. At the outset he went no farther than to demand, in the capacity of tribune of the people, a relinquishment by the landholders of their surplus possessions, on condition of receiving payment out of the public treasury: the fines incurred were to be remitted ; and the sons in a family were to be allowed to possess half as much as the father. Equitable and moderate as this proposition was, it encountered the strongest opposition from the rich; who did 110t hesitate to insinuate that the popular advocate was aiming in secret at the assumption of sovereign power. Tiberius, irritated by opposition, and backed by the majority of the people, now went farther, and took steps for obtaining a law to deprive the rich proprietors of the surplus lands without allowing them a compensation. Attalus, king of Pergamus, having died about this time (year of the city 620), and left the Roman Republic his heir, Tiberius prevailed on the people to retain the disposal of the effects of the deceased monarch; a most mortifying blow to the Senate, who anticipated in this distribution a grand source of emolument and patronage. Such humiliating attacks were not to be borne by a powerful aristocracy ; and their clients were induced to proceed to blows with the adherents of Tiberius, whose massacre in open day gave an irrecoverable wound to Roman liberty. With him fell the measures which he had prevailed on the people to adopt; and, in particular, the act passed for reviving the Licinian law was never carried into effect. Commissioners were indeed ap

pointed

pointed, but the rich land-holders found means to interpose an endless succession of delays, and eventually to supersede the appointment altogether.

Nevertheless, the melancholy fate of Tiberius Gracchus did not discourage his younger brother Caius from embarking in the same perilous career. Having passed several years in the study of public speaking, and in other preparations for political life, he offered himself in the year 630 to the suffrages of his fellow-citizens, for the station of tribune. He was by this time of the age of thirty, and the darling of the people : but, such was the influence of the Patricians, that he was returned only fourth on the list of the elected. In the discharge of his tribunitian functions, he displayed with the happiest effect that eloquence which he had acquired by previous application; and, when he touched on the circumstances of his brother's death, his language and delivery were so affecting as to draw tears even from his opponents. He succeeded in procuring the enactment of several very useful laws; by one of which no citizen was to be enlisted before the age of seventeen, and the private soldiers were to be clothed at the public expence. The exercise of the judicial power had hitherto belonged exclusively to the senate : but Caius obtained a law for vesting it in the Equestrian order, which occupied a middle station between the Patricians and the Plebeians. A series of such popular acts had the effect of rendering him a very dangerous man in the eyes of the Patricians : who, while they affected to follow the current of popular favour, and to express a high regard for his character, secretly took measures to undermine his influence by the new and artful expedient of bringing forwards other candidates for the affection of the citizens. These men pretended to go far beyond him in their propositions for the relief of the people, and declared that all their efforts originated in the tender regard of the Senate for the welfare of their inferiors. Caius having been deputed on a colonizing expedition to Carthage, they proceeded to disseminate suspicion of him and his friends among the citizens. Returning to vindicate his character, he made a struggle to interest the people on his side: but the influence of wealth and rank proved too strong for him, and he failed in an effort to be re-elected tribune. The Patricians, emboldened by this advantage, effected the appointment of Opimius to the consulate, who was one of his inveterate enemies, and urged the adoption of a course calculated to produce an appeal to extremities. On the occurrence of some oppo sition to the execution of his arbitrary acts, Opimius was invested by his aristocratical supporters with dictatorial authority; a signal, in other words, for the overthrow of Caius and his

adhe

adherents. Notwithstanding the caution of this firm friend of the people, a plausible opportunity of putting forth the arm of power was soon found ; and he fell, in his thirty-eighth year, a victim, like his brother, at the altar of freedom.

After the death of the Gracchi, the history of Rome presents a disgusting succession of corruptions and usurpations. The briberies of Jugurtha were followed by the intrigues of Marius and the sanguinary excesses of Sylla. It was at this gloomy æra that the “War of the Allies" took place; a war commenced by the Latins and other neighbours of Rome, in order to obtain admission to the rights of Roman citizens. This contest lasted three years, and was terminated by evasive concessions on the part of the Romans. Sylla's assumption of the permanent dictatorship accustomed the Romans to the suspension of all restraint on the power of an usurper, and prepared them to submit to the ascendancy of Crassus and Pompey. Crassus fell in the Parthian war, and Pompey, as is well known, succumbed under the talents of a greater leader. It was in vain that conspirators sought the deliverance of their country by the assassination of Cæsar : the liberty of Rome was gone for ever; and, in the 724th year of the city, Augustus found means to become her undisputed master.

Constitution of Rome. - The Roman Senate was not, as persons have frequently imagined, a legislative but an executive body. It possessed a full controul over the military force, and superintended the transaction of all public business with foreign nations : but it differed from the executive branch in this and in most other countries, by the very remarkable circumstance of having no patronage, or power of nominating the officers of the state ; which important power, as well as the still more essential prerogative of legislation, was reserved by the people in their own hands. In consequence of this fortunate distribution of authority, it became the interest of the Senate to prevent the unnecessary accumulation of public officers, or of national expence in any shape ; a situation altogether different from that of most executive govern

As the patronage of the army remained with the people, its numbers might be increased without danger to the liberty of the state; the annual change of commanders, and still more the independence of the army with regard to the executive power, having produced the memorable effect of a military nation preserving its liberty during 400 years. other military states, such as England under Cromwell and France under Bonaparte, how rapid was the transition to a system of confirmed tyranny! The respectability of the private soldiers in the Roman service was likewise a powerful

7

cause

In cause of the preservation of liberty. The soldiers were themselves possessors of all the rights of citizens; and no mechanics or labourers were enlisted on ordinary occasions at least, until the time of Marius, about the year of Rome 640. Every citizen thus felt himself interested in the public prosperity; and the hands of the men of influence were, for many ages, tied up from attempting to found their own power on the abasement of their countrymen.

“ The prudence of the Romans," says the author of “ Thoughts on Public Trusts,”!) “ in retaining the sovereign power over their perions and property, and the election of the public officers, were the causes which kept the senators honest, produced so many instances of disinterested patriotism, and brought into the public offices an uninterrupted succession of men of greater worth than have appeared in the public offices of that, or any other country, since that constitution was destroyed.”

Though the Romans were strangers to the principle of representation, the Senate may, in some measure, be considered in the light of delegates from the people; and, imperfect as was the responsibility of that body, the system was greatly preferable to the vain effort of the Athenians to perform the executive functions by collective assemblies of the people. It is a remarkable circumstance in favour of the Roman government, that integrity was preserved by the senators in their collective capacity, long after it had ceased to actuate their individual proceedings.

These were the general features of the Roman constitution. We now proceed to mark some of its subordinate characteristics. An extra proportion of the soldiers was drawn from the country, the patricians giving a preference, in enlisting, to their clients and rural dependents, above the inhabitants of the city, with many of whom they were unacquainted. The practice of balloting at the election of magistrates was not introduced until the 614th year of Rome; the suffrages having been previously given by pronouncing aloud the name of the candidate for whom the vote was offered ; a custom evidently unfavourable to freedom in a state in which the voters were greatly dependent on their superiors in rank. The usage of voting by ballot was found very convenient, and was soon afterward extended to the enactment and the repeal of laws. — We have already mentioned that the plebeians formed the middling, not the lower orders of the republic; and, in proof of this, it is of importance to recollect that of the Equestrian order a proportion was composed of plebeians. When popular assemblies were held in what was called Comitia Tributa, or voting by tribes, it appears (p. 256.) on the authority of Livy, that the patricians were ex

cluded.

« AnteriorContinuar »