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Characters and events of Roman History by Guglielmo Ferrero

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The Chautauqua Press


[Copyright deleted]

By G.P. Putnam's Sons

Fifth Printing

The Chautauqua Print Shop

Chautauqua, N.Y.


In the spring of 1906, the College de France invited me to deliver,
during November of that year, a course of lectures on Roman history.
I accepted, giving a resume, in eight lectures, of the history of the
government of Augustus from the end of the civil wars to his death;
that is, a resume of the matter contained in the fourth and fifth
volumes of the English edition of my work, _The Greatness and Decline
of Rome_.

Following these lectures came a request from M. Emilio Mitre, Editor
of the chief newspaper of the Argentine Republic, the _Nacion_, and
one from the _Academia Brazileira de Lettras_ of Rio de Janeiro, to
deliver a course of lectures in the Argentine and Brazilian capitals.
I gave to the South American course a more general character than
that delivered in Paris, introducing arguments which would interest a
public having a less specialized knowledge of history than the public
I had addressed in Paris.

When President Roosevelt did me the honour to invite me to visit the
United States and Prof. Abbott Lawrence Lowell asked me to deliver a
course at the Lowell Institute in Boston, I selected material from the
two previous courses of lectures, moulding it into the group that was
given in Boston in November-December, 1908. These lectures were later
read at Columbia University in New York, and at the University of
Chicago in Chicago. Certain of them were delivered elsewhere--before
the American Philosophical Society and at the University of
Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, at Harvard University in Cambridge, and
at Cornell University in Ithaca.

Such is the record of the book now presented to the public at large.
It is a work necessarily made up of detached studies, which, however,
are bound together by a central, unifying thought; so that the reading
of them may prove useful and pleasant even to those who have already
read my _Greatness and Decline of Rome_.

The first lecture, "The Theory of Corruption in Roman History," sums
up the fundamental idea of my conception of the history of Rome. The
essential phenomenon upon which all the political, social, and moral
crises of Rome depend is the transformation of customs produced by the
augmentation of wealth, of expenditure, and of needs,--a phenomenon,
therefore, of psychological order, and one common in contemporary
life. This lecture should show that my work does not belong among
those written after the method of economic materialism, for I hold
that the fundamental force in history is psychologic and not economic.

The three following lectures, "The History and Legend of Antony and
Cleopatra," "The Development of Gaul," and "Nero," seem to concern
themselves with very different subjects. On the contrary, they present
three different aspects of the one, identical problem--the struggle
between the Occident and the Orient--a problem that Rome succeeded in
solving as no European civilisation has since been able to do, making
the countries of the Mediterranean Basin share a common life, in
peace. How Rome succeeded in accomplishing this union of Orient and
Occident is one of the points of greatest interest in its history. The
first of these three lectures, "Antony and Cleopatra," shows how
Rome repulsed the last offensive movement of the Orient against
the Occident; the second, "The Development of Gaul," shows the
establishing of equilibrium between the two parts of the Empire; the
third, "Nero," shows how the Orient, beaten upon fields of battle and
in diplomatic action, took its revenge in the domain of Roman ideas,
morals, and social life.

The fifth lecture, "Julia and Tiberius," illustrates, by one of the
most tragic episodes of Roman history, the terrible struggle between
Roman ideals and habits and those of the Graeco-Asiatic civilisation.
The sixth lecture, "The Development of the Empire," summarises in a
few pages views to be developed in detail in that part of my work yet
to be written.

I have said that not all history can be explained by economic forces
and factors, but this does not prevent me from regarding economic
phenomena as also of high importance. The seventh lecture, "Wine in
Roman History," is an essay after the plan in accordance with which,
it seems to me, economic phenomena should be treated.

The last lecture deals with a subject that perhaps does not, properly
speaking, belong to Roman history, but upon which an historian of Rome
ought to touch sooner or later; I mean the role which Rome can still
play in the education of the upper classes. It is a subject important
not only to the historian of Rome, but to all those who are interested
in the future of culture and civilisation. The more specialisation
in technical labour increases, the greater becomes the necessity of
giving the superior classes a general education, which can prepare
specialists to understand each other and to act together in all
matters of common interest. To imagine a society composed exclusively
of doctors, engineers, chemists, merchants, manufacturers, is
impossible. Every one must also be a citizen and a man in sympathy
with the common conscience. I have, therefore, endeavoured to show
in this eighth lecture what services Rome and its great intellectual
tradition can render to modern civilisation in the field of education.

These lectures naturally cannot do more than make known ideas in
general form; it would be too much to expect in them the precision
of detail, the regard for method, and the use of frequent notes,
citations, and references to authorities or documents, that belong
to my larger work on Rome; but they are published partly because I
consider it useful to popularise Roman history, and partly because
some of the pleasantest of memories attach to them. Their origin, the
course on Augustus given at the College de France, which proved one of
the happiest occasions of my life, and their development, leading
to my travels in the two Americas, have given me experiences of the
greatest interest and pleasure.

I am glad of the opportunity here to thank all those who have
contributed to make the sojourn of my wife and myself in the United
States delightful. I must thank all my friends at once; for to name
each one separately, I should need, as a Latin poet says, "a hundred
mouths and a hundred tongues."


TURIN, February 22, 1909.


CLEOPATRA ............................. 37
THE DEVELOPMENT OF GAUL ................. 69
NERO .................................... 101
JULIA AND TIBERIUS ...................... 143
WINE IN ROMAN HISTORY ................... 179
INDEX ................................... 265

"Corruption" in Ancient Rome And Its Counterpart in Modern History

Two years ago in Paris, while giving a course of lectures on Augustus
at the College de France, I happened to say to an illustrious
historian, a member of the French Academy, who was complimenting me:
"But I have not remade Roman history, as many admirers think. On
the contrary, it might be said, in a certain sense, that I have only
returned to the old way. I have retaken the point of view of Livy;
like Livy, gathering the events of the story of Rome around that
phenomenon which the ancients called the 'corruption' of customs--a
novelty twenty centuries old!"

Spoken with a smile and in jest, these words nevertheless were more
serious than the tone in which they were uttered. All those who know
Latin history and literature, even superficially, remember with
what insistence and with how many diverse modulations of tone are
reiterated the laments on the corruption of customs, on the luxury,
the ambition, the avarice, that invaded Rome after the Second Punic
War. Sallust, Cicero, Livy, Horace, Virgil, are full of affliction
because Rome is destined to dissipate itself in an incurable
corruption; whence we see, then in Rome, as to-day in France, wealth,
power, culture, glory, draw in their train--grim but inseparable
comrade!--a pessimism that times poorer, cruder, more troubled, had
not known. In the very moment in which the empire was ordering itself,
civil wars ended; in that solemn _Pax Romana_ which was to have
endured so many ages, in the very moment in which the heart should
have opened itself to hope and to joy, Horace describes, in three
fine, terrible verses, four successive generations, each corrupting
Rome, which grew ever the worse, ever the more perverse and

Aetas parentum, peior avis, tulit
Nos nequiores, mox daturos
Progeniem vitiosiorem.

"Our fathers were worse than our grandsires; we have deteriorated from
our fathers; our sons will cause _us_ to be lamented." This is the
dark philosophy that a sovereign spirit like Horace derived from the
incredible triumph of Rome in the world. At his side, Livy, the great
writer who was to teach all future generations the story of the city,
puts the same hopeless philosophy at the base of his wonderful work:

Rome was originally, when it was poor and small, a unique
example of austere virtue; then it corrupted, it spoiled, it
rotted itself by all the vices; so, little by little, we have
been brought into the present condition in which we are able
neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the
remedies we need to cure them.

The same dark thought, expressed in a thousand forms, is found in
almost every one of the Latin writers.

This theory has misled and impeded my predecessors in different ways:
some, considering that the writers bewail the unavoidable dissolution
of Roman society at the very time when Rome was most powerful, most
cultured, richest, have judged conventional, rhetorical, literary,
these invectives against corruption, these praises of ancient
simplicity, and therefore have held them of no value in the history of
Rome. Such critics have not reflected that this conception is
found, not only in the literature, but also in the politics and the
legislation; that Roman history is full, not only of invectives in
prose and verse, but of laws and administrative provisions against
_luxuria, ambitio, avaritia_--a sign that these laments were not
merely a foolishness of writers, or, as we say to-day, stuff for
newspaper articles. Other critics, instead, taking account of these
laws and administrative provisions, have accepted the ancient theory
of Roman corruption without reckoning that they were describing as
undone by an irreparable dissolution, a nation that not only had
conquered, but was to govern for ages, an immense empire. In this
conception of corruption there is a contradiction that conceals a
great universal problem.

Stimulated by this contradiction, and by the desire of solving it, to
study more attentively the facts cited by the ancients as examples of
corruption, I have looked about to see if in the contemporary world
I could not find some things that resembled it, and so make myself
understand it. The prospect seemed difficult, because modern men are
persuaded that they are models of all the virtues. Who could think to
find in them even traces of the famous Roman corruption? In the modern
world to-day are the abominable orgies carried on for which the Rome
of the Caesars was notorious? Are there to-day Neros and Elagabaluses?
He who studies the ancient sources, however, with but a little of the
critical spirit, is easily convinced that we have made for ourselves
out of the much-famed corruption and Roman luxury a notion highly
romantic and exaggerated. We need not delude ourselves: Rome, even in
the times of its greatest splendour, was poor in comparison with the
modern world; even in the second century after Christ, when it stood
as metropolis at the head of an immense empire, Rome was smaller,
less wealthy, less imposing, than a great metropolis of Europe or
of America. Some sumptuous public edifices, beautiful private
houses--that is all the splendour of the metropolis of the empire.
He who goes to the Palatine may to-day refigure for himself, from the
so-called House of Livia, the house of a rich Roman family of the
time of Augustus, and convince himself that a well-to-do middle-class
family would hardly occupy such a house to-day.

Moreover, the palaces of the Caesars on the Palatine are a grandiose
ruin that stirs the artist and makes the philosopher think; but if
one sets himself to measure them, to conjecture from the remains the
proportions of the entire edifices, he does not conjure up buildings
that rival large modern constructions. The palace of Tiberius, for
example, rose above a street only two metres wide--less than seven
feet,--an alley like those where to-day in Italian cities live only
the most miserable inhabitants. We have pictured to ourselves
the imperial banquets of ancient Rome as functions of unheard of
splendour; if Nero or Elagabalus could come to life and see the
dining-room of a great hotel in Paris or New York--resplendent with
light, with crystal, with silver,--he would admire it as far more
beautiful than the halls in which he gave his imperial feasts. Think
how poor were the ancients in artificial light! They had few wines;
they knew neither tea nor coffee nor cocoa; neither tobacco, nor the
innumerable _liqueurs_ of which we make use; in face of our habits,
they were always Spartan, even when they wasted, because they lacked
the means to squander.

The ancient writers often lament the universal tendency to physical
self-indulgence, but among the facts they cite to prove this dismal
vice, many would seem to us innocent enough. It was judged by them
a scandalous proof of gluttony and as insensate luxury, that at a
certain period there should be fetched from as far as the Pontus,
certain sausages and certain salted fish that were, it appears, very
good; and that there should be introduced into Italy from Greece the
delicate art of fattening fowls. Even to drink Greek wines seemed for
a long time at Rome the caprice of an almost crazy luxury. As late
as 18 B.C., Augustus made a sumptuary law that forbade spending for
banquets on work-days more than two hundred sesterces (ten dollars);
allowed three hundred sesterces (fifteen dollars) for the days of the
Kalends, the Ides, and the Nones; and one thousand sesterces (fifty
dollars) for nuptial banquets. It is clear, then, that the lords
of the world banqueted in state at an expense that to us would seem
modest indeed. And the women of ancient times, accused so sharply by
the men of ruining them by their foolish extravagances, would cut a
poor figure for elegant ostentation in comparison with modern dames
of fashion. For example, silk, even in the most prosperous times, was
considered a stuff, as we should say, for millionaires; only a few
very rich women wore it; and, moreover, moralists detested it, because
it revealed too clearly the form of the body. Lollia Paulina passed
into history because she possessed jewels worth several million
francs: there are to-day too many Lollia Paulinas for any one of them
to hope to buy immortality at so cheap a rate.

I should reach the same conclusions if I could show you what the Roman
writers really meant by corruption in their accounts of the relations
between the sexes. It is not possible here to make critical analyses
of texts and facts concerning this material, for reasons that you
readily divine; but it would be easy to prove that also in this
respect posterity has seen the evil much larger than it was.

Why, then, did the ancient writers bewail luxury, inclination
to pleasure, prodigality--things all comprised in the notorious
"corruption"--in so much the livelier fashion than do moderns,
although they lived in a world which, being poorer and more simple,
could amuse itself, make display, and indulge in dissipation so much
less than we do? This is one of the chief questions of Roman history,
and I flatter myself not to have entirely wasted work in writing my
book [1] above all, because I hope to have contributed a little,
if not actually to solve this question, at least to illuminate it;
because in so doing I believe I have found a kind of key that opens
at the same time many mysteries in Roman history and in contemporary
life. The ancient writers and moralists wrote so much of Roman
corruption, because--nearer in this, as in so many other things, to
the vivid actuality--they understood that wars, revolutions, the great
spectacular events that are accomplished in sight of the world, do not
form all the life of peoples; that these occurrences, on the contrary,
are but the ultimate, exterior explanation, the external irradiation,
or the final explosion of an internal force that is acting constantly
in the family, in private habit, in the moral and intellectual
disposition of the individual. They understood that all the changes,
internal and external, in a nation, are bound together and in part
depend on one very common fact, which is everlasting and universal,
and which everybody may observe if he will but look about him--on the
increase of wants, the enlargement of ideas, the shifting of habits,
the advance of luxury, the increase of expense that is caused by every

[Footnote 1: _The Greatness and Decline of Rome_. 5 vols. New York and

Look around you to-day: in every family you may easily observe the
same phenomenon. A man has been born in a certain social condition and
has succeeded during his youth and vigour in adding to his original
fortune. Little by little as he was growing rich, his needs and his
luxuries increased. When a certain point was reached, he stopped. The
men are few who can indefinitely augment their particular wants, or
keep changing their habits throughout their lives, even after the
disappearance of vigour and virile elasticity. The increase of wants
and of luxury, the change of habits, continues, instead, in the new
generation, in the children, who began to live in the ease which their
fathers won after long effort and fatigue, and in maturer age; who, in
short, started where the previous generation left off, and therefore
wish to gain yet new enjoyments, different from and greater than
those that they obtained without trouble through the efforts of the
preceding generation. It is this little common drama, which we see
re-enacted in every family and in which every one of us has been and
will be an actor--to-day as a young radical who innovates customs,
to-morrow as an old conservative, out-of-date and malcontent in the
eyes of the young; a drama, petty and common, which no one longer
regards, so frequent is it and so frivolous it seems, but which,
instead, is one of the greatest motive forces in human history--in
greater or less degree, under different forms, active in all times and
operating everywhere. On account of it no generation can live quietly
on the wealth gathered, with the ideas discovered by antecedent
generations, but is constrained to create new ideas, to make new and
greater wealth by all the means at its disposal--by war and conquest,
by agriculture and industry, by religion and science. On account of
it, families, classes, nations, that do not succeed in adding to
their possessions, are destined to be impoverished, because, wants
increasing, it is necessary, in order to satisfy them, to consume the
accumulated capital, to make debts, and, little by little, to go to
ruin. Because of this ambition, ever reborn, classes renew themselves
in every nation. Opulent families after a few generations are
gradually impoverished; they decay and disappear, and from the
multitudinous poor arise new families, creating the new _elite_ which
continues under differing forms the doings and traditions of the old.
Because of this unrest, the earth is always stirred up by a fervour
for deeds or adventure--attempts that take shape according to the
age: now peoples make war on each other, now they rend themselves in
revolutions, now they seek new lands, explore, conquer, exploit; again
they perfect arts and industries, enlarge commerce, cultivate
the earth with greater assiduity; and yet again, in the ages more
laborious, like ours, they do all these things at the same time--an
activity immense and continuous. But its motive force is always the
need of the new generations, that, starting from the point at which
their predecessors had arrived, desire to advance yet farther--to
enjoy, to know, to possess yet more.

The ancient writers understood this thoroughly: what they called
"corruption" was but the change in customs and wants, proceeding from
generation to generation, and in its essence the same as that which
takes place about us to-day. The _avaritia_ of which they complained
so much, was the greed and impatience to make money that we see to-day
setting all classes beside themselves, from noble to day-labourer; the
_ambitio_ that appeared to the ancients to animate so frantically
even the classes that ought to have been most immune, was what we call
_getting there_--the craze to rise at any cost to a condition higher
than that in which one was born, which so many writers, moralists,
statesmen, judge, rightly or wrongly, to be one of the most dangerous
maladies of the modern world. _Luxuria_ was the desire to augment
personal conveniences, luxuries, pleasures--the same passion that
stirs Europe and America to-day from top to bottom, in city and
country. Without doubt, wealth grew in ancient Rome and grows to-day;
men were bent on making money in the last two centuries of the
Republic, and to-day they rush headlong into the delirious struggle
for gold; for reasons and motives, however, and with arms and
accoutrements, far diverse.

As I have already said, ancient civilisation was narrower, poorer,
and more ignorant; it did not hold under its victorious foot the whole
earth; it did not possess the formidable instruments with which we
exploit the forces and the resources of nature: but the treasures of
precious metals transported to Italy from conquered and subjugated
countries; the lands, the mines, the forests, belonging to such
countries, confiscated by Rome and given or rented to Italians; the
tributes imposed on the vanquished, and the collection of them; the
abundance of slaves,--all these then offered to the Romans and to the
Italians so many occasions to grow rich quickly; just as the gigantic
economic progress of the modern world offers similar opportunities
to-day to all the peoples that, by geographical position, historical
tradition, or vigorous culture and innate energy, know how to excel
in industry, in agriculture, and in trade. Especially from the Second
Punic War on, in all classes, there followed--anxious for a life more
affluent and brilliant--generations the more incited to follow the
examples that emanated from the great metropolises of the Orient,
particularly Alexandria, which was for the Romans of the Republic what
Paris is for us to-day. This movement, spontaneous, regular, natural,
was every now and then violently accelerated by the conquest of
a great Oriental state. One observes, after each one of the great
annexations of Oriental lands, a more intense delirium of luxury and
pleasure: the first time, after the acquisition of the kingdom of
Pergamus, through a kind of contagion communicated by the sumptuous
furniture of King Attalus, which was sold at auction and scattered
among the wealthy houses of Italy to excite the still simple desires
and the yet sluggish imaginations of the Italians; the second time,
after the conquest of Pontus and of Syria, made by Lucullus and by
Pompey; finally, the third time, after the conquest of Egypt made by
Augustus, when the influence of that land--the France of the ancient
world--so actively invaded Italy that no social force could longer
resist it.

In this way, partly by natural, gradual, almost imperceptible
diffusion, partly by violent crises, we see the mania for luxury and
the appetite for pleasure beginning, growing, becoming aggravated
from generation to generation in all Roman society, for two centuries,
changing the mentality and morality of the people; we see the
institutions and public policy being altered; all Roman history
a-making under the action of this force, formidable and immanent in
the whole nation. It breaks down all obstacles confronting it--the
forces of traditions, laws, institutions, interests of classes,
opposition of parties, the efforts of thinking men. The historical
aristocracy becomes impoverished and weak; before it rise to power the
millionaires, the _parvenus_, the great capitalists, enriched in the
provinces. A part of the nobility, after having long despised them,
sets itself to fraternise with them, to marry their wealthy daughters,
cause them to share power; seeks to prop with their millions the
pre-eminence of its own rank, menaced by the discontent, the spirit
of revolt, the growing pride, of the middle class. Meanwhile, another
part of the aristocracy, either too haughty and ambitious, or too
poor, scorns this alliance, puts itself at the head of the democratic
party, foments in the middle classes the spirit of antagonism against
the nobles and the rich, leads them to the assault on the citadels of
aristocratic and democratic power. Hence the mad internal struggles
that redden Rome with blood and complicate so tragically, especially
after the Gracchi, the external polity. The increasing wants of
the members of all classes, the debts that are their inevitable
consequence, the universal longing, partly unsatisfied for lack of
means, for the pleasures of the subtle Asiatic civilisations, infused
into this whole history a demoniac frenzy that to-day, after so many
centuries, fascinates and appals us.

To satisfy their wants, to pay their debts, the classes now set
upon each other, each to rob in turn the goods of the other, in
the cruelest civil war that history records; now, tired of doing
themselves evil, they unite and precipitate themselves on the world
outside of Italy, to sack the wealth that its owners do not know
how to defend. In the great revolutions of Marius and Sulla,
the democratic party is the instrument with which a part of the
debt-burdened middle classes seek to rehabilitate themselves by
robbing the plutocracy and the aristocracy yet opulent; but Sulla
reverses the situation, makes a coalition of aristocrats and the
miserable of the populace, and re-establishes the fortunes of the
nobility, despoiling the wealthy knights and a part of the middle
classes--a terrible civil war that leaves in Italy a hate, a
despondency, a distress, that seem at a certain moment as if they must
weigh eternally on the spirit of the unhappy nation. When, lo! there
appears the strongest man in the history of Rome, Lucullus, and drags
Italy out of the despondency in which it crouched, leads it into the
ways of the world, and persuades it that the best means of forgetting
the losses and ruin undergone in the civil wars, is to recuperate
on the riches of the cowardly Orientals. As little by little the
treasures of Mithridates, conquered by Lucullus in the Orient, arrive
in Italy, Italy begins anew to divert itself, to construct palaces
and villas, to squander in luxury. Pompey, envious of the glory of
Lucullus, follows his example, conquers Syria, sends new treasures to
Italy, carries from the East the jewels of Mithridates, and displaying
them in the temple of Jove, rouses a passion for gems in the Roman
women; he also builds the first great stone theatre to rise in
Rome. All the political men in Rome try to make money out of foreign
countries: those who cannot, like the great, conquer an empire,
confine themselves to blackmailing the countries and petty states that
tremble before the shadow of Rome; the courts of the secondary kings
of the Orient, the court of the Ptolemies at Alexandria,--all are
invaded by a horde of insatiable senators and knights, who, menacing
and promising, extort money to spend in Italy and foment the growing
extravagance. The debts pile up, the political corruption overflows,
scandals follow, the parties in Rome rend each other madly, though
hail-fellow-well-met in the provinces to plunder subjects and vassals.
In the midst of this vast disorder Caesar, the man of destiny, rises,
and with varying fortune makes a way for himself until he beckons
Italy to follow him, to find success and treasures in regions new--not
in the rich and fabulous East, but beyond the Alps, in barbarous Gaul,
bristling with fighters and forests.

But this insane effort to prey on every part of the Empire finally
tires Italy; quarrels over the division of spoils embitter friends;
the immensity of the conquests, made in a few years of reckless
enthusiasm, is alarming. Finally a new civil war breaks out, terrible
and interminable, in which classes and families fall upon each other
anew, to tear away in turn the spoils taken together abroad. Out of
the tremendous discord rises at last the pacifier, Augustus, who is
able gradually, by cleverness and infinite patience, to re-establish
peace and order in the troubled empire. How?--why? Because the
combination of events of the times allows him to use to ends of peace
the same forces with which the preceding generations had fomented so
much disorder--desires for ease, pleasure, culture, wealth growing
with the generations making it. Thereupon begins in the whole Empire
universal progress in agriculture, industry, trade, which, on a small
scale, may be compared to what we to-day witness and share; a progress
for which, then as now, the chief condition was peace. As soon as men
realised that peace gives that greater wealth, those enjoyments more
refined, that higher culture, which for a century they had sought by
war, Italy became quiet; revolutionists became guardians and guards of
order; there gathered about Augustus a coalition of social forces that
tended to impose on the Empire, alike on the parts that wished it and
those that did not, the _Pax Romana_.

Now all this immense story that fills three centuries, that gathers
within itself so many revolutions, so many legislative reforms, so
many great men, so many events, tragic and glorious, this vast history
that for so many centuries holds the interest of all cultured nations,
and that, considered as a whole, seems almost a prodigy, you can, on
the track of the old idea of "corruption," explain in its
profoundest origins by one small fact, universal, common, of the very
simplest--something that every one may observe in the limited circle
of his own personal experience,--by that automatic increase of
ambitions and desires, with every new generation, which prevents the
human world from crystallising in one form, constrains it to continual
changes in material make-up as well as in ideals and moral appearance.
In other words, every new generation must, in order to satisfy that
part of its aspirations which is peculiarly and entirely its own,
alter, whether little or much, in one way or another, the condition
of the world it entered at birth. We can then, in our personal
experiences every day, verify the universal law of history--a law
that can act with greater or less intensity, more or less rapidity,
according to times and places, but that ceases to authenticate itself
at no time and in no place.

The United States is subject to that law to-day, as is old Europe,
as will be future generations, and as past ages were. Moreover, to
understand at bottom this phenomenon, which appears to me to be the
soul of all history, it is well to add this consideration: It is
evident that there is a capital difference between our judgment of
this phenomenon and that of the ancients; to them it was a malevolent
force of dissolution to which should be attributed all in Roman
history that was sinister and dreadful, a sure sign of incurable
decay; that is why they called it "corruption of customs," and so
lamented it. To-day, on the contrary, it appears to us a universal
beneficent process of transformation; so true is this that we call
"progress" many facts which the ancients attributed to "corruption."
It were useless to expand too much in examples; enough to cite a few.
In the third ode of the first book, in which he so tenderly salutes
the departing Virgil, Horace covers with invective, as an evil-doer
and the corrupter of the human race, that impious being who invented
the ship, which causes man, created for the land, to walk across
waters. Who would to-day dare repeat those maledictions against the
bold builders who construct the magnificent trans-Atlantic liners on
which, in a dozen days from Genoa, one lands in Boston or New York?
"Coelum ipsum petimus stultitia," exclaims Horace--that is to say, in
anticipation he considered the Wright brothers crazy.

Who, save some man of erudition, has knowledge to-day of sumptuary
laws? We should laugh them all down with one Homeric guffaw, if to-day
it entered somebody's head to propose a law that forbade fair ladies
to spend more than a certain sum on their clothes, or numbered the
hats they might wear; or that regulated dinners of ceremony, fixing
the number of courses, the variety of wines, and the total expense; or
that prohibited labouring men and women from wearing certain stuffs
or certain objects that were wont to be found only upon the persons
of people of wealth and leisure. And yet laws of this tenor were
compiled, published, observed, up to two centuries ago, without any
one's finding it absurd. The historic force that, as riches increase,
impels the new generations to desire new satisfactions, new pleasures,
operated then as to-day; only then men were inclined to consider it as
a new kind of ominous disease that needed checking. To-day men regard
that constant transformation either as beneficent, or at least as such
a matter of course that almost no one heeds it; just as no one notices
the alternations of day and night, or the change of seasons. On the
contrary, we have little by little become so confident of the goodness
of this force that drives the coming generation on into the unknown
future, that society, European, American, among other liberties has
won in the nineteenth century, full and entire, a liberty that the
ancients did not know--freedom in vice.

To the Romans it appeared most natural that the state should survey
private habits, should spy out what a citizen, particularly a citizen
belonging to the ruling classes, did within domestic walls--should see
whether he became intoxicated, whether he were a gourmand, whether
he contracted debts, spending much or little, whether he betrayed his
wife. The age of Augustus was cultured, civilised, liberal, and in
many things resembled our own; yet on this point the dominating ideas
were so different from ours, that at one time Augustus was forced
by public opinion to propose a law on adultery by which all Roman
citizens of both sexes guilty of this crime were condemned to exile
and the confiscation of half their substance, and there was given
to any citizen the right to accuse the guilty. Could you imagine it
possible to-day, even for a few weeks, to establish this regime of
terror in the kingdom of Amor? But the ancients were always inclined
to consider as exceedingly dangerous for the upper classes that
relaxing of customs which always follows periods of rapid enrichment,
of great gain in comforts; behind his own walls to-day, every one is
free to indulge himself as he will, to the confines of crime.

How can we explain this important difference in judging one of the
essential phenomena of historic life? Has this phenomenon changed
nature, and from bad, by some miracle, become good? Or are we wiser
than our forefathers, judging with experience what they could hardly
comprehend? There is no doubt that the Latin writers, particularly
Horace and Livy, were so severe in condemning this progressive
movement of wants because of unconscious political solicitude, because
intellectual men expressed the opinions, sentiments, and also the
prejudices of historic aristocracy, and this detested the progress of
_ambitio, avaritia, luxuria_, because they undermined the dominance of
its class. On the other hand, it is certain that in the modern
world every increase of consumption, every waste, every vice, seems
permissible, indeed almost meritorious, because men of industry and
trade, the employees in industries--that is, all the people that
gain by the diffusion of luxuries, by the spread of vices or new
wants--have acquired, thanks above all to democratic institutions, and
to the progress of cities, an immense political power that in times
past they lacked. If, for example, in Europe the beer-makers and
distillers of alcohol were not more powerful in the electoral field
than the philosophers and academicians, governments would more easily
recognise that the masses should not be allowed to poison themselves
or future generations by chronic drunkenness.

Between these two extremes of exaggeration, inspired by a
self-interest easy to discover, is there not a true middle way that we
can deduce from the study of Roman history and from the observation of
contemporary life?

In the pessimism with which the ancients regarded progress as
corruption, there was a basis of truth, just as there is a principle
of error in the too serene optimism with which we consider corruption
as progress. This force that pushes the new generations on to the
future, at once creates and destroys; its destructive energy is
specially felt in ages like Caesar's in ancient Rome and ours in
the modern world, in which facility in the accumulation of wealth
over-excites desires and ambitions in all classes. They are the times
in which personal egoism--what to-day we call individualism--usurps
a place above all that represents in society the interest of the
species: national duty, the self-abnegation of each for the sake
of the common good. Then these vices and defects become always
more common: intellectual agitation, the weakening of the spirit
of tradition, the general relaxation of discipline, the loss of
authority, ethical confusion and disorder. At the same time that
certain moral sentiments refine themselves, certain individualisms
grow fiercer. The government may no longer represent the ideas, the
aspirations, the energetic will of a small oligarchy; it must make
itself more yielding and gracious at the same time that it is becoming
more contradictory and discordant. Family discipline is relaxed;
the new generations shake off early the influence of the past; the
sentiment of honour and the rigour of moral, religious, and political
principles are weakened by a spirit of utility and expediency by
which, more or less openly, confessing it or dissimulating, men always
seek to do, not that which is right and decorous, but that which is
utilitarian. The civic spirit tends to die out; the number of persons
capable of suffering, or even of working, disinterestedly for the
common good, for the future, diminishes; children are not wanted; men
prefer to live in accord with those in power, ignoring their vices,
rather than openly opposing them. Public events do not interest unless
they include a personal advantage.

This is the state of mind that is now diffusing itself throughout
Europe; the same state of mind that, with the documents at hand, I
have found in the age of Caesar and Augustus, and seen progressively
diffusing itself throughout ancient Italy. The likeness is so great
that we re-find in those far-away times, especially in the upper
classes, exactly that restless condition that we define by the word
"nervousness." Horace speaks of this state of mind, which we consider
peculiar to ourselves, and describes it, by felicitous image, as
_strenua inertia_--strenuous inertia,--agitation vain and ineffective,
always wanting something new, but not really knowing what, desiring
most ardently yet speedily tiring of a desire gratified. Now it
is clear that if these vices spread too much, if they are not
complemented by an increase of material resources, of knowledge, of
sufficient population, they can lead a nation rapidly to ruin. We do
not feel very keenly the fear of this danger--the European-American
civilisation is so rich, has at its disposal so much knowledge, so
many men, so many instrumentalities, has cut off for itself such a
measureless part of the globe, that it can afford to look unafraid
into the future. The abyss is so far away that only a few philosophers
barely descry it in the gray mist of distant years. But the ancient
world--so much poorer, smaller, weaker--felt that it could not
squander as we do, and saw the abyss near at hand.

To-day men and women waste fabulous wealth in luxury; that is, they
spend not to satisfy some reasonable need, but to show to others of
their kind how rich they are, or, further, to make others believe them
richer than they are. If these resources were everywhere saved as they
are in France, the progress of the world would be quicker, and the
new countries would more easily find in Europe and in themselves
the capital necessary for their development. At all events, our age
develops fast, and notwithstanding all this waste, abounds in a plenty
that is enough to keep men from fearing the growth of this wanton
luxury and from planning to restrain it by laws. In the ancient world,
on the other hand, the wealthy classes and the state had only to
abandon themselves a little too much to the prodigality that for us
has become almost a regular thing, when suddenly means were wanting to
meet the most essential needs of social life. Tacitus has summarised
an interesting discourse of Tiberius, in which the famous emperor
censures the ladies of Rome in terms cold, incisive, and succinct,
because they spend too much money on pearls and diamonds. "Our money,"
said Tiberius, "goes away to India and we are in want of the precious
metals to carry on the military administration; we have to give up
the defence of the frontiers." According to the opinion of an
administrator so sagacious and a general so valiant as Tiberius, in
the richest period of the Roman Empire, a lady of Rome could not buy
pearls and diamonds without directly weakening the defence of the
frontiers. Indulgence in the luxury of jewels looked almost like high

Similar observations might be made on another grave question--the
increase of population. One of the most serious effects of
individualism that accompanies the increase of civilisation and
wealth, is the decrease of the birth-rate. France, which knows how to
temper its luxury, which gives to other peoples an example of saving
means for the future, has on the other hand given the example of
egoism in the family, lowering the birth-rate. England, for a long
time so fecund, seems to follow France. The more uniformly settled and
well-to-do parts of the North American Union, the Eastern States and
New England, are even more sterile than France. However, no one of
these nations suffers to-day from the small increase of population;
there are yet so many poor and fecund peoples that they can easily
fill the gaps. In the ancient world this was not the case; population
was always and everywhere so scanty that if for some reason it
diminished but slightly, the states could not get on, finding
themselves at the mercy of what they called a "famine of men," a
malady more serious and troublesome than over-population. In the Roman
Empire the Occidental provinces finally fell into the hands of the
barbarians, chiefly because the Graeco-Latin civilisation sterilised
the family, reducing the population incurably. No wonder that the
ancients applied the term "corruption" to a momentum of desires which,
although increasing culture and the refinements of living, easily
menaced the sources of the nation's physical existence.

There is, then, a more general conclusion to draw from this
experience. It is not by chance, nor the unaccountable caprice of
a few ancient writers, that we possess so many small facts on the
development of luxury and the transformation of customs in ancient
Rome; that, for example, among the records of great wars, of
diplomatic missions, of catastrophes political and economic, we find
given the date when the art of fattening fowls was imported into
Italy. The little facts are not so unworthy of the majesty of Roman
history as one at first might think. Everything is bound together in
the life of a nation, and nothing without importance; the humblest
acts, most personal and deepest hidden in the _penetralia_ of the
home, that no one sees, none knows, have an effect, immediate or
remote, on the common life of the nation. There is, between these
small, insignificant facts and the wars, the revolutions, the
tremendous political and social events that bewilder men, a tie, often
invisible to most people, yet nevertheless indestructible.

Nothing in the world is without import: what women spend for
their toilet, the resistance that men make from day to day to the
temptations of the commonest pleasures, the new and petty needs
that insinuate themselves unconsciously into the habits of all; the
reading, the conversations, the impressions, even the most fugacious
that pass in our spirit--all these things, little and innumerable,
that no historian registers, have contributed to produce this
revolution, that war, this catastrophe, that political overturn, which
men wonder at and study as a prodigy.

The causes of how many apparently mysterious historical events would
be more clearly and profoundly known, of how many periods would the
spirit be better understood, did we only possess the private records
of the families that make up the ruling classes! Every deed we do in
the intimacy of the home reacts on the whole of our environment.
With our every act we assume a responsibility toward the nation and
posterity, the sanction for which, near or far away, is in events.
This justifies, at least in part, the ancient conception by which the
state had the right to exercise vigilance over its citizens, their
private acts, customs, pleasures, vices, caprices. This vigilance, the
laws that regulated it, the moral and political teachings that brought
pressure to bear in the exercise of these laws, tended above all to
charge upon the individual man the social responsibility of his single
acts; to remind him that in the things most personal, aside from the
individual pain or pleasure, there was an interest, a good or an evil,
in common.

Modern men--and it is a revolution greater than that finished in
political form in the nineteenth century--have been freed from these
bonds, from these obligations. Indeed, modern civilisation has made
it a duty for each one to spend, to enjoy, to waste as much as he can,
without any disturbing thought as to the ultimate consequences of
what he does. The world is so rich, population grows so rapidly,
civilisation is armed with so much knowledge in its struggle against
the barbarian and against nature, that to-day we are able to laugh at
the timid prudence of our forefathers, who had, as it were, a fear
of wealth, of pleasure, of love; we can boast in the pride of triumph
that we are the first who dare in the midst of a conquered world, to
enjoy--enjoy without scruple, without restriction--all the good things
life offers to the strong.

But who knows? Perhaps this felicitous moment will not last forever;
perhaps one day will see men, grown more numerous, feel the need
of the ancient wisdom and prudence. It is at least permitted the
philosopher and the historian to ask if this magnificent but unbridled
freedom which we enjoy suits all times, and not only those in which
nations coming into being can find a small dower in their cradle as
you have done--three millions of square miles of land!

The History and Legend of Antony and Cleopatra

In the history of Rome figures of women are rare, because only men
dominated there, imposing everywhere the brute force, the roughness,
and the egoism that lie at the base of their nature: they honoured the
_mater familias_ because she bore children and kept the slaves
from stealing the flour from the bin and drinking the wine from the
_amphore_ on the sly. They despised the woman who made of her beauty
and vivacity an adornment of social life, a prize sought after and
disputed by the men. However, in this virile history there does
appear, on a sudden, the figure of a woman, strange and wonderful, a
kind of living Venus. Plutarch thus describes the arrival of Cleopatra
at Tarsus and her first meeting with Antony:

She was sailing tranquilly along the Cydnus, on a bark with a
golden stern, with sails of purple and oars of silver, and the
dip of the oars was rhythmed to the sound of flutes, blending
with music of lyres. She herself, the Queen, wondrously
clad as Venus is pictured, was lying under an awning gold
embroidered. Boys dressed as Cupids stood at her side, gently
waving fans to refresh her; her maidens, every one beautiful
and clad as a Naiad or a Grace, directed the boat, some at
the rudder, others at the ropes. Both banks of the stream were
sweet with the perfumes burning on the vessel.

Posterity is yet dazzled by this ship, refulgent with purple and
gold and melodious with flutes and lyres. If we are spellbound by
Plutarch's description, it does not seem strange to us that Antony
should be--he who could not only behold in person that wonderful
Venus, but could dine with her _tete-a-tete_, in a splendour of
torches indescribable. Surely this is a setting in no wise improbable
for the beginning of the famous romance of the love of Antony and
Cleopatra, and its development as probable as its beginning; the
follies committed by Antony for the seductive Queen of the Orient,
the divorce of Octavia, the war for love of Cleopatra, kindled in the
whole Empire, and the miserable catastrophe. Are there not to be seen
in recent centuries many men of power putting their greatness to risk
and sometimes to ruin for love of a woman? Are not the love letters
of great statesmen--for instance, those of Mirabeau and
of Gambetta--admitted to the semi-official part of modern
history-writing? And so also Antony could love a queen and, like so
many modern statesmen, commit follies for her. A French critic of my
book, burning his ships behind him, has said that Antony was a Roman

The romance pleases: art takes it as subject and re-takes it; but that
does not keep off the brutal hands of criticism. Before all, it should
be observed that moderns feel and interpret the romance of Antony
and Cleopatra in a way very different from that of the ancients. From
Shakespeare to De Heredia and Henri Houssaye, artists and historians
have described with sympathy, even almost idealised, this passion that
throws away in a lightning flash every human greatness, to pursue
the mantle of a fleeing woman; they find in the follies of Antony
something profoundly human that moves them, fascinates them, and makes
them indulgent. To the ancients, on the contrary, the _amours_ of
Antony and Cleopatra were but a dishonourable degeneration of the
passion. They have no excuse for the man whom love for a woman
impelled to desert in battle, to abandon soldiers, friends, relatives,
to conspire against the greatness of Rome.

This very same difference of interpretation recurs in the history of
the _amours_ of Caesar. Modern writers regard what the ancients tell
us of the numerous loves--real or imaginary--of Caesar, as almost a
new laurel with which to decorate his figure. On the contrary, the
ancients recounted and spread abroad, and perhaps in part invented,
these storiettes of gallantry for quite opposite reasons--as source of
dishonour, to discredit him, to demonstrate that Caesar was effeminate,
that he could not give guarantee of knowing how to lead the armies
and to fulfil the virile and arduous duties that awaited every eminent
Roman. There is in our way of thinking a vein of romanticism wanting
in the ancient mind. We see in love a certain forgetfulness of
ourselves, a certain blindness of egoism and the more material
passions, a kind of power of self-abnegation, which, inasmuch as it is
unconscious, confers a certain nobility and dignity; therefore we are
indulgent to mistakes and follies committed for the sake of passion,
while the ancients were very severe. We pardon with a certain
compassion the man who for love of a woman has not hesitated to bury
himself under the ruin of his own greatness; the ancients, on the
contrary, considered him the most dangerous and despicable of the

Criticism has not contented itself with re-giving to the ancient
romance the significance it had for those that made it and the
public that first read it. Archaeologists have discovered upon
coins portraits of Cleopatra, and now critics have confronted these
portraits with the poetic descriptions given by Roman historians and
have found the descriptions generously fanciful: in the portraits we
do not see the countenance of a Venus, delicate, gracious, smiling,
nor even the fine and sensuous beauty of a Marquise de Pompadour, but
a face fleshy and, as the French would say, _bouffie_; the nose,
a powerful aquiline; the face of a woman on in years, ambitious,
imperious, one which recalls that of Maria Theresa. It will be said
that judgments as to beauty are personal; that Antony, who saw her
alive, could decide better than we who see her portraits half effaced
by the centuries; that the attractive power of a woman emanates not
only from corporal beauty, but also--and yet more--from her spirit.
The taste of Cleopatra, her vivacity, her cleverness, her exquisite
art in conversation, is vaunted by all.

Perhaps, however, Cleopatra, beautiful or ugly, is of little
consequence; when one studies the history of her relations with
Antony, there is small place, and that but toward the end, for the
passion of love. It will be easy to persuade you of this if you follow
the simple chronological exposition of facts I shall give you. Antony
makes the acquaintance of Cleopatra at Tarsus toward the end of 41
B.C., passes the winter of 41-40 with her at Alexandria; leaves her in
the spring of 40 and stays away from her more than three years, till
the autumn of 37. There is no proof that during this time Antony
sighed for the Queen of Egypt as a lover far away; on the contrary, he
attends, with alacrity worthy of praise, to preparing the conquest of
Persia, to putting into execution the great design conceived by Caesar,
the plan of war that Antony had come upon among the papers of the
Dictator the evening of the fifteenth of March, 44 B.C. All order
social and political, the army, the state, public finance, wealth
private and public, is going to pieces around him. The triumvirate
power, built up on the uncertain foundation of these ruins, is
tottering; Antony realises that only a great external success can
give to him and his party the authority and the money necessary to
establish a solid government, and resolves to enter into possession of
the political legacy of his teacher and patron, taking up its central
idea, the conquest of Persia.

The difficulties are grave. Soldiers are not wanting, but money. The
revolution has ruined the Empire and Italy; all the reserve funds have
been dissipated; the finances of the state are in such straits that
not even the soldiers can be paid punctually and the legions every now
and then claim their dues by revolt. Antony is not discouraged. The
historians, however antagonistic to him, describe him as exceedingly
busy in those four years, extracting from all parts of the Empire that
bit of money still in circulation. Then at one stroke, in the second
half of 37, when, preparations finished, it is time to put hand to the
execution, the ancient historians without in any way explaining to us
this sudden act, most unforeseen, make him depart for Antioch to meet
Cleopatra, who has been invited by him to join him. For what reason
does Antony after three years, all of a sudden, re-join Cleopatra?
The secret of the story of Antony and Cleopatra lies entirely in this

Plutarch says that Antony went to Antioch borne by the fiery and
untamed courser of his own spirit; in other words, because passion
was already beginning to make him lose common sense. Not finding other
explanations in the ancient writers, posterity has accepted this,
which was simple enough; but about a century ago an erudite Frenchman,
Letronne, studying certain coins, and comparing with them certain
passages in ancient historians, until then remaining obscure, was able
to demonstrate that in 36 B.C., at Antioch, Antony married Cleopatra
with all the dynastic ceremonies of Egypt, and that thereupon Antony
became King of Egypt, although he did not dare assume the title.

The explanation of Letronne, which is founded on official documents
and coins, is without doubt more dependable than that of Plutarch,
which is reducible to an imaginative metaphor; and the discovery
of Letronne, concluding that concatenation of facts that I have set
forth, finally persuades me to affirm that not a passion of love,
suddenly re-awakened, led Antony in the second half of 37 B.C. to
Antioch to meet the Queen of Egypt, but a political scheme well
thought out. Antony wanted Egypt and not the beautiful person of
its queen; he meant by this dynastic marriage to establish the Roman
protectorate in the valley of the Nile, and to be able to dispose,
for the Persian campaign, of the treasures of the Kingdom of the
Ptolemies. At that time, after the plunderings of other regions of
the Orient by the politicians of Rome, there was but one state rich
in reserves of precious metals, Egypt. Since, little by little, the
economic crisis of the Roman Empire was aggravating, the Roman polity
had to gravitate perforce toward Egypt, as toward the country capable
of providing Rome with the capital necessary to continue its policy in
every part of the Empire.

Caesar already understood this; his mysterious and obscure connection
with Cleopatra had certainly for ultimate motive and reason this
political necessity; and Antony, in marrying Cleopatra, probably only
applied more or less shrewdly the ideas that Caesar had originated in
the refulgent crepuscle of his tempestuous career. You will ask me
why Antony, if he had need of the valley of the Nile, recurred to this
strange expedient of a marriage, instead of conquering the kingdom,
and why Cleopatra bemeaned herself to marry the triumvir. The reply
is not difficult to him who knows the history of Rome. There was
a long-standing tradition in Roman policy to exploit Egypt but
to respect its independence; it may be, because the country was
considered more difficult to govern than in truth it was, or because
there existed for this most ancient land, the seat of all the most
refined arts, the most learned schools, the choicest industries,
exceedingly rich and highly civilised, a regard that somewhat
resembles what France imposes on the world to-day. Finally, it may be
because it was held that if Egypt were annexed, its influence on Italy
would be too much in the ascendent, and the traditions of the old
Roman life would be conclusively overwhelmed by the invasion of the
customs, the ideas, the refinements--in a word, by the corruptions
of Egypt. Antony, who was set in the idea of repeating in Persia
the adventure of Alexander the Great, did not dare bring about an
annexation which would have been severely judged in Italy and which
he, like the others, thought more dangerous than in reality it was.
On the other hand, with a dynastic marriage, he was able to secure for
himself all the advantages of effective possession, without running
the risks of annexation; so he resolved upon this artifice, which,
I repeat, had probably been imagined by Caesar. As to Cleopatra, her
government was menaced by a strong internal opposition, the causes for
which are ill known; marrying Antony, she gathered about her throne,
to protect it, formidable guards, the Roman legions.

To sum up, the romance of Antony and Cleopatra covers, at least in its
beginnings, a political treaty. With the marriage, Cleopatra seeks
to steady her wavering power; Antony, to place the valley of the Nile
under the Roman protectorate. How then was the famous romance born?
The actual history of Antony and Cleopatra is one of the most tragic
episodes of a struggle that lacerated the Roman Empire for four
centuries, until it finally destroyed it, the struggle between Orient
and Occident. During the age of Caesar, little by little, without any
one's realising it at first, there arose and fulfilled itself a fact
of the gravest importance; that is, the eastern part of the Empire had
grown out of proportion: first, from the conquest of the Pontus, made
by Lucullus, who had added immense territory in Asia Minor; then by
Pompey's conquest of Syria, and the protectorate extended by him over
all Palestine and a considerable part of Arabia. These new districts
were not only enormous in extension; they were also populous, wealthy,
fertile, celebrated for ancient culture; they held the busiest
industrial cities, the best cultivated regions of the ancient world,
the most famous seats of arts, letters, science, therefore their
annexation, made rapidly in few years, could but trouble the already
unstable equilibrium of the Empire. Italy was then, compared with
these provinces, a poor and barbarous land; because southern Italy was
ruined by the wars of preceding epochs, and northern Italy, naturally
the wealthier part, was still crude and in the beginning of its
development. The other western provinces nearer Italy were poorer and
less civilised than Italy, except Gallia Narbonensis and certain parts
of southern Spain. So that Rome, the capital of the Empire, came to
find itself far from the richest and most populous regions, among
territories poor and despoiled, on the frontiers of barbarism--in such
a situation as the Russian Empire might find itself to-day if it had a
capital at Vladivostok or Kharbin. You know that during the last years
of the life of Caesar it was rumoured several times that the Dictator
wished to remove the capital of the Empire; it was said, to Alexandria
in Egypt, to Ilium in the district where Troy arose. It is impossible
to judge whether these reports were true or merely invented by enemies
of Caesar to damage him; at any rate, true or false, they show that
public opinion was beginning to concern itself with the "Eastern
peril"; that is, with the danger that the seat of empire must be
shifted toward the Orient and the too ample Asiatic and African
territory, and that Italy be one day uncrowned of her metropolitan
predominance, conquered by so many wars. Such hear-says must have
seemed, even if not true, the more likely, because, in his last two
years, Caesar planned the conquest of Persia. Now the natural basis of
operations for the conquest of Persia was to be found, not in Italy,
but in Asia Minor, and if Persia had been conquered, it would not have
been possible to govern in Rome an empire so immeasurably enlarged
in the Orient. Everything therefore induces to the belief that this
question was at least discussed in the coterie of the friends of
Caesar; and it was a serious question, because in it the traditions,
the aspirations, the interests of Italy were in irreconcilable
conflict with a supreme necessity of state which one day or other
would impose itself, if some unforeseen event did not intervene to
solve it.

In the light of these considerations, the conduct of Antony becomes
very clear. The marriage at Antioch, by which he places Egypt under
the Roman protectorate, is the decisive act of a policy that looks
to transporting the centre of his government toward the Orient, to be
able to accomplish more securely the conquest of Persia. Antony, the
heir of Caesar, the man who held the papers of the Dictator, who knew
his hidden thoughts, who wished to complete the plans cut off by his
death, proposes to conquer Persia; to conquer Persia, he must rely on
the Oriental provinces that were the natural basis of operations for
the great enterprise; among these, Antony must support himself above
all on Egypt, the richest and most civilised and most able to supply
him with the necessary funds, of which he was quite in want. Therefore
he married the Cleopatra whom, it was said at Rome, Caesar himself had
wished to marry--with whom, at any rate, Caesar had much dallied and
intrigued. Does not this juxtaposition of facts seem luminous to you?
In 36 B.C., Antony marries Cleopatra, as a few years before he had
married Octavia, the sister of the future Augustus, for political
reasons--in order to be able to dispose of the political subsidies and
finances of Egypt, for the conquest of Persia. The conquest of Persia
is the ultimate motive of all his policy, the supreme explanation of
his every act.

However, little by little, this move, made on both sides from
considerations of political interest, altered its character under the
action of events, of time, through the personal influence of Antony
and Cleopatra upon each other, and above all, the power that Cleopatra
acquired over Antony: here is truly the most important part of all
this story. Those who have read my history know that I have recounted
hardly any of the anecdotes, more or less odd or entertaining,
with which ancient writers describe the intimate life of Antony and
Cleopatra, because it is impossible to discriminate in them the part
that is fact from that which was invented or exaggerated by political
enmity. In history the difficulty of recognising the truth gradually
increases as one passes from political to private life; because in
politics the acts of men and of parties are always bound together by
either causes or effects of which a certain number is always exactly
known; private life, on the other hand, is, as it were, isolated and
secret, almost invariably impenetrable. What a great man of state does
in his own house, his valet knows better than the historians of later

If for these reasons I have thought it prudent not to accept in my
work the stories and anecdotes that the ancients recount of Antony and
Cleopatra, without indeed risking to declare them false, it is, on the
contrary, not possible to deny that Cleopatra gradually acquired great
ascendency over the mind of Antony. The circumstance is of itself
highly probable. That Cleopatra was perhaps a Venus, as the ancients
say, or that she was provided with but a mediocre beauty, as declare
the portraits, matters little: it is, however, certain that she was
a woman of great cleverness and culture; as woman and queen of
the richest and most civilised realm of the ancient world, she was
mistress of all those arts of pleasure, of luxury, of elegance,
that are the most delicate and intoxicating fruit of all mature
civilisations. Cleopatra might refigure, in the ancient world, the
wealthiest, most elegant, and cultured Parisian lady in the world of

Antony, on the other hand, was the descendant of a family of that
Roman nobility which still preserved much rustic roughness in tastes,
ideas, habits; he grew up in times in which the children were
still given Spartan training; he came to Egypt from a nation which,
notwithstanding its military and diplomatic triumphs, could be
considered, compared with Egypt, only poor, rude, and barbarous. Upon
this intelligent man, eager for enjoyment, who had, like other
noble Romans, already begun to taste the charms of intellectual
civilisation, it was not Cleopatra alone that made the keenest of
impressions, but all Egypt, the wonderful city of Alexandria, the
sumptuous palace of the Ptolemies--all that refined, elegant splendour
of which he found himself at one stroke the master. What was there
at Rome to compare with Alexandria?--Rome, in spite of its imperial
power, abandoned to a fearful disorder by the disregard of factions,
encumbered with ruin, its streets narrow and wretched, provided as
yet with but a single _forum_, narrow and plain, the sole impressive
monument of which was the theatre of Pompey; Rome, where the life was
yet crude, and objects of luxury so rare that they had to be brought
from the distant Orient? At Alexandria, instead, the Paris of the
ancient world, were to be found all the best and most beautiful things
of the earth. There was a sumptuosity of public edifices that the
ancients never tire of extolling--the quay seven _stadia_ long,
the lighthouse famous all over the Mediterranean, the marvellous
zoological garden, the Museum, the Gymnasium, innumerable temples, the
unending palace of the Ptolemies. There was an abundance, unheard of
for those times, of objects of luxury--rugs, glass, stuffs, papyruses,
jewels, artistic pottery--because they made all these things at
Alexandria. There was an abundance, greater than elsewhere, of silk,
of perfumes, of gems, of all the things imported from the extreme
East, because through Alexandria passed one of the most frequented
routes of Indo-Chinese commerce. There, too, were innumerable artists,
writers, philosophers, and _savants_; society life and intellectual
life alike fervid; continuous movement to and fro of traffic,
continual passing of rare and curious things; countless amusements;
life, more than elsewhere, safe--at least so it was believed--because
at Alexandria were the great schools of medicine and the great
scientific physicians.

If other Italians who landed in Alexandria were dazzled by so many
splendours, Antony ought to have been blinded; _he_ entered Alexandria
as King. He who was born at Rome in the small and simple house of an
impoverished noble family who had been brought up with Latin parsimony
to eat frugally, to drink wine only on festival occasions, to wear
the same clothes a long time, to be served by a single slave--this man
found himself lord of the immense palace of the Ptolemies, where
the kitchens alone were a hundred times larger than the house of his
fathers at Rome; where there were gathered for his pleasure the most
precious treasures and the most marvellous collections of works of
art; where there were trains of servants at his command, and every
wish could be immediately gratified. It is therefore not necessary to
suppose that Antony was foolishly enamoured of the Queen of Egypt, to
understand the change that took place in him after their marriage, as
he tasted the inimitable life of Alexandria, that elegance, that ease,
that wealth, that pomp without equal.

A man of action, grown in simplicity, toughened by a rude life, he
was all at once carried into the midst of the subtlest and most highly
developed civilisation of the ancient world and given the greatest
facilities to enjoy and abuse it that ever man had: as might have been
expected, he was intoxicated; he contracted an almost insane passion
for such a life; he adored Egypt with such ardour as to forget for it
the nation of his birth and the modest home of his boyhood. And then
began the great tragedy of his life, a tragedy not love-inspired, but
political. As the hold of Egypt strengthened on his mind, Cleopatra
tried to persuade him not to conquer Persia, but to accept openly
the kingdom of Egypt, to found with her and with their children a new
dynasty, and to create a great new Egyptian Empire, adding to Egypt
the better part of the provinces that Rome possessed in Africa and in
Asia, abandoning Italy and the provinces of the West forever to their

Cleopatra had thought to snatch from Rome its Oriental Empire by the
arm of Antony, in that immense disorder of revolution; to reconstruct
the great Empire of Egypt, placing at its head the first general of
the time, creating an army of Roman legionaries with the gold of the
Ptolemies; to make Egypt and its dynasty the prime potentate of Africa
and Asia, transferring to Alexandria the political and diplomatic
control of the finest parts of the Mediterranean world.

As the move failed, men have deemed it folly and stupidity; but he who
knows how easy it is to be wise after events, will judge this confused
policy of Cleopatra less curtly. At any rate, it is certain that her
scheme failed more because of its own inconsistencies than through the
vigour and ability with which Rome tried to thwart it; it is certain
that in the execution of the plan, Antony felt first in himself
the tragic discord between Orient and Occident that was so long to
lacerate the Empire; and of that tragic discord he was the first
victim. An enthusiastic admirer of Egypt, an ardent Hellenist, he is
lured by his great ambition to be king of Egypt, to renew the famous
line of the Ptolemies, to continue in the East the glory and the
traditions of Alexander the Great: but the far-away voice of his
fatherland still sounds in his ear; he recalls the city of his birth,
the Senate in which he rose so many times to speak, the _Forum_ of his
orations, the Comitia that elected him to magistracies; Octavia, the
gentlewoman he had wedded with the sacred rites of Latin monogamy; the
friends and soldiers with whom he had fought through so many countries
in so many wars; the foundation principles at home that ruled the
family, the state, morality, public and private.

Cleopatra's scheme, viewed from Alexandria, was an heroic undertaking,
almost divine, that might have lifted him and his scions to the
delights of Olympus; seen from Rome, by his childhood's friends,
by his comrades in arms, by that people of Italy who still so much
admired him, it was the shocking crime of faithlessness to his
country; we call it high treason. Therefore he hesitates long,
doubting most of all whether he can keep for the new Egyptian Empire
the Roman legions, made up largely of Italians, all commanded by
Italian officers. He does not know how to oppose a resolute _No_ to
the insistences of Cleopatra and loose himself from the fatal bond
that keeps him near her; he can not go back to live in Italy after
having dwelt as king in Alexandria. Moreover, he does not dare declare
his intentions to his Roman friends, fearing they will scatter; to the
soldiers, fearing they will revolt; to Italy, fearing her judgment of
him as a traitor; and so, little by little, he entangles himself
in the crooked policy, full of prevarications, of expedients, of
subterfuges, of one mistake upon another, that leads him to Actium.

I think I have shown that Antony succumbed in the famous war not
because, mad with love, he abandoned the command in the midst of the
battle, but because his armies revolted and abandoned him when they
understood what he had not dared declare to them openly: that he
meant to dismember the Empire of Rome to create the new Empire of
Alexandria. The future Augustus conquered at Actium without effort,
merely because the national sentiment of the soldiery, outraged by the
unforeseen revelation of Antony's treason, turned against the man who
wanted to aggrandise Cleopatra at the expense of his own country.

And then the victorious party, the party of Augustus, created the
story of Antony and Cleopatra that has so entertained posterity; this
story is but a popular explanation--in part imaginatively exaggerated
and fantastic--of the Eastern peril that menaced Rome, of both its
political phase and its moral. According to the story that Horace has
put into such charming verse, Cleopatra wished to conquer Italy, to
enslave Rome, to destroy the Capitol; but Cleopatra alone could not
have accomplished so difficult a task; she must have seduced Antony,
made him forget his duty to his wife, to his legitimate children,
to the Republic, the soldiery, his native land,--all the duties
that Latin morals inculcated into the minds of the great, and that
a shameless Egyptian woman, rendered perverse by all the arts of the
Orient, had blotted out in his soul; therefore Antony's tragic
fate should serve as a solemn warning to distrust the voluptuous
seductions, of which Cleopatra symbolised the elegant and fatal
depravity. The story was magnified, coloured, diffused, not because it
was beautiful and romantic, but because it served the interests of the
political _coterie_ that gained definite control of the government
on the ruin of Antony. At Actium, the future Augustus did not fight a
real war, he only passively watched the power of the adversary go
to pieces, destroyed by its own internal contradictions. He did not
decide to conquer Egypt until the public opinion of Italy, enraged
against Antony and Cleopatra, required this vengeance with such
insistence that he had to satisfy it.

If Augustus was not a man too quick in action, he was, instead, keenly
intelligent in comprehending the situation created by the catastrophe
of Antony in Italy, where already, for a decade of years, public
spirit, frightened by revolution, was anxious to return to the ways
of the past, to the historic sources of the national life. Augustus
understood that he ought to stand before Italy, disgusted as it
was with long-continued dissension and eager to retrace the way
of national tradition, as the embodiment of all the virtues his
contemporaries set in opposition to eastern "corruption,"--simplicity,
severity of private habits, rigid monogamy, the anti-feministic
spirit, the purely virile idea of the state. Naturally, the exaltation
of these virtues required the portrayal in his rival of Actium, as
far as possible, the opposite defects; therefore the efforts of his
friends, like Horace, to colour the story of Antony and Cleopatra,
which should magnify to the Italians the idea of the danger from
which Augustus had saved them at Actium; which was meant to serve as a
barrier against the invading Oriental "corruption," that "corruption"
the essence of which I have already analysed.

In a certain sense, the legend of Antony and Cleopatra is chiefly an
antifeminist legend, intended to reinforce in the state the power of
the masculine principle, to demonstrate how dangerous it may be to
leave to women the government of public affairs, or follow their
counsel in political business.

The people believed the legend; posterity has believed it. Two years
ago when I published in the _Revue de Paris_ an article in which I
demonstrated, by obvious arguments, the incongruities and absurdities
of the legend, and tried to retrace through it the half-effaced lines
of the truth, everybody was amazed. From one end of Europe to the
other, the papers resumed the conclusions of my study as an astounding
revelation. An illustrious French statesman, a man of the finest
culture in historical study, Joseph Reinach, said to me:

After your article I have re-read Dion and Plutarch. It is
indeed singular that for twenty centuries men have read and
reread those pages without any one's realising how confused
and absurd their accounts are.

It seems to be a law of human psychology that almost all historic
personages, from Minos to Mazzini, from Judas to Charlotte Corday,
from Xerxes to Napoleon, are imaginary personages; some transfigured
into demigods, by admiration and success; the others debased by hate
and failure. In reality, the former were often uglier, the latter more
attractive than tradition has pictured them, because men in general
are neither too good nor too bad, neither too intelligent nor
too stupid. In conclusion, historic tradition is full of deformed
caricatures and ideal transfigurations; because, when they are dead,
the impression of their political contemporaries still serves the ends
of parties, states, nations, institutions. Can this man exalt in a
people the consciousness of its own power, of its own energy, of
its own value? Lo, then they make a god of him, as of Napoleon or
Bismarck. Can this other serve to feed in the mass, odium and scorn
of another party, of a government, of an order of things that it is
desirable to injure? Then they make a monster of him, as happened in
Rome to Tiberius, in France to Napoleon III, in Italy to all who for
one motive or another opposed the unification of Italy.

It is true that after a time the interests that have coloured
certain figures with certain hues and shades disappear; but then the
reputation, good or bad, of a personage is already made; his name is
stamped on the memory of posterity with an adjective,--the great, the
wise, the wicked, the cruel, the rapacious,--and there is no human
force that can dissever name from adjective. Some far-away historian,
studying all the documents, examining the sequence of events, will
confute the tradition in learned books; but his work not only will not
succeed in persuading the ignorant multitude, but must also contend
against the multiplied objections offered by the instinctive
incredulity of people of culture.

You will say to me, "What is the use of writing history? Why spend so
much effort to correct the errors in which people will persist just
as if the histories were never written?" I reply that I do not believe
that the office of history is to give to men who have guided the great
human events a posthumous justice. It is already work serious enough
for every generation to give a little justice to the living,
rather than occupy itself rendering it to the dead, who indeed, in
contradistinction from the living, have no need of it. The study of
history, the rectification of stories of the past, ought to serve
another and practical end; that is, train the men who govern
nations to discern more clearly than may be possible from their own
environment the truth underlying the legends. As I have already said,
passions, interests, present historic personages in a thousand forms
when they are alive, transfiguring not only the persons themselves,
but events the most diverse, the character of institutions, the
conditions of nations.

It is generally believed that legends are found only at the dawn
of history, in the poetic period; that is a great mistake; the
legend--the legend that deceives, that deforms, that misdirects--is
everywhere, in all ages, in the present as in the past--in the present
even more than in the past, because it is the consequence of certain
universal forms of thought and of sentiment. To-day, just as ten or
twenty centuries ago, interests and passions dominate events, alter
them and distort them, creating about them veritable romances, more
or less probable. The present, which appears to all to be the same
reality, is instead, for most people, only a huge legend, traversed by
contemporaries stirred by the most widely differing sentiments.

However the mass may content itself with this legend, throbbing
with hate and love, with hope and the fear of its own self-created
phantoms, those who guide and govern the masses ought to try to divine
the truth, as far as they can. A great man of state is distinguished
from a mediocre by his greater ability to divine the real in his world
of action beneath its superfice of confused legends; by his greater
ability to discriminate in everything what is true from what is merely
apparently true, in the prestige of states and institutions, in the
forces of parties, in the energy attributed to certain men, in the
purposes claimed by parties and men, often different from their
real designs. To do that, some natural disposition is necessary, a
liveliness of intuition that must come with birth; but this faculty
can be refined and trained by a practical knowledge of men, by
experience in things, and by the study of history. In the ages dead,
when the interests that created their legends have disappeared, we
can discover how those great popular delusions, which are one of the
greatest forces of history, are made and how they work. We may thus
fortify the spirit to withstand the cheating illusions that surround
us, coming from every part of the vast modern world, in which so
many interests dispute dominion over thoughts and will. In this sense
alone, I believe that history may teach, not the multitude, which will
never learn anything from it, but, impelled by the same passions,
will always repeat the same errors and the same foolishnesses; but
the chosen few, who, charged with directing the game of history, have
concern in knowing as well as they can its inner law. Taken in this
way, history may be a great teacher, in its every page, every line,
and the study of the legend of Antony and Cleopatra may itself even
serve to prepare the spirit of a diplomat, who must treat between
state and state the complicated economic and political affairs of
the modern world. And so, in conclusion, history and life interchange
mutual services; life teaches history, and history, life; observing
the present, we help ourselves to know the past, and from the study of
the past we can return to our present the better tempered and prepared
to observe and comprehend it. In present and in past, history can form
a kind of wisdom set apart, in a certain sense aristocratic, above
what the masses know, at least as to the universal laws that govern
the life of nations.

The Development of Gaul

In estimating distant historical events, one is often the victim of
an error of perspective; that is, one is disposed to consider as the
outcome of a pre-established plan of human wisdom what is the final
result, quite unforeseen, of causes that acted beyond the foresight of
contemporaries. At the distance of centuries, turning back to consider
the past, we can easily find out that the efforts of one or two
generations have produced certain effects on the actual condition of
the world; and then we conclude that those generations meant to
reach that result. On the contrary, men almost always face the future
proposing to themselves impossible ends; notwithstanding which, their
efforts, accumulating, destroying, interweaving, bring into being
consequences that no one had foreseen or planned, the novelty or
importance of which often only future generations realise. Columbus,
who, fixed in the idea of reaching India by sailing west, finds
America on his way and does not recognise it at once but is persuaded
that he has landed in India, symbolises the lot of man in history.

Of this phenomenon, which is to me a fundamental law of history,
there is a classic example in the story of Rome: the conquest of Gaul.
Without doubt, one of the greatest works of Rome was the conquest and
Romanisation of Gaul: indeed that conquest and Romanisation of Gaul
is the beginning of European civilisation; for before the Graeco-Latin
civilisation reached the Rhine over the ways opened by the Roman
sword, the continent of Europe had centres of civilisation on
the coast or in its projecting extremities, like Italy, Baetica,
Narbonensis; but the interior was still entirely in the power of a
turbulent and restless barbarism, like the African continent to-day.
Moreover, what Rome created in Asia and Africa was almost entirely
destroyed by ages following; on the contrary, Rome yet lives in
France, to which it gave its language, its spirit, and the traditions
of its thought. Exactly for this reason it is particularly important
to explain how such an outcome was brought about, and by what historic
forces. From the propensity to consider every great historical
event as wholly a masterpiece of human genius, many historians have
attributed also this accomplishment to a prodigious, well-nigh divine
wisdom on the part of the Romans, and Julius Caesar is regarded as
a demigod who had fixed his gaze upon the far, far distant future.
However, it is not difficult, studying the ancient documents with
critical spirit, to persuade oneself that even if Caesar was a man of
genius, he was not a god; that from beginning to end, the real story
of the conquest of Gaul is very different from the commonly accepted

I hope to demonstrate that Caesar threw himself into the midst of
Gallic affairs, impelled by slight incidents of internal politics,
not only without giving any thought whatever to the future destiny
of Gaul, but without even knowing well the conditions existing there.
Gaul was then for all Romans a barbarous region, poor, gloomy, full
of swamps and forests in which there would be much fighting and little
booty: no one was thinking then of having Roman territory cross the
Alps; everyone was infatuated by the story of Alexander the Great,
dreaming only of conquering like him all the rich and civilised
Orient; everyone, even Caesar. Only a sequence of political accidents
pushed him in spite of himself into Gaul.

In 62 B.C., Pompey had returned from the Orient, where he had finished
the conquest of Pontus, begun by Lucullus, and annexed Syria. On his
return, the conservative party, irritated against him because he had
gone over to the opposite side, and having been given something to
think of by the prestige that the policy of expansion was winning
for the popular party, had succeeded by many intrigues in keeping
the Senate from ratifying what he had done in the East. This internal
struggle closed the Orient for several years to the adventurous
initiatives of the political imperialists; for as long as the
administration of Pompey remained unapproved, it was impossible to
think of undertaking new enterprises or conquests in Asia and Africa;
and therefore, of necessity, Roman politics, burning for conquest and
adventure, had to turn to another part of Europe.

The letters of Cicero prove to us that Caesar was not the first to
think that Rome, having its hands tied for the moment in the East,
ought to interfere in the affairs of Gaul. The man who first had the
idea of a Gallic policy was Quintus Metellus Celerus, husband of the
famous Clodia, and consul the year before Caesar. Taking advantage of
certain disturbances arisen in Gaul from the constant wars between the
differing parts, Metellus had persuaded the Senate to authorise him to
make war on the Helvetians. At the beginning of the year 59, that is,
the year in which Caesar was consul, Metellus was already preparing
to depart for the war in Gaul, when suddenly he died; and then Caesar,
profiting by the interest in Rome for Gallic affairs, had the mission
previously entrusted to Metellus given to himself and took up both
Metellus's office and his plan. Here you see at the beginning of this
story the first accident,--the death of Metellus. An historian curious
of nice and unanswerable questions might ask himself what would have
been the history of the world if Metellus had not died. Certainly Rome
would have been occupied with Gallic concerns a year sooner and by
a different man; Caesar would probably have had to seek elsewhere a
brilliant proconsulship and things Gallic would have for ever escaped
his energy.

However it be, charged with the affairs of Gaul accidentally and
unexpectedly, Caesar went there without well knowing the condition of
it, and, in fact, as I think I proved in a long appendix published in
the French and English editions of my work, he began his Gallic policy
with a serious mistake; that is, attacking the Helvetians. A superior
mind, Caesar was not long in finding his bearings in the midst of the
tremendous confusion he found in Gaul; but for this, there is no need
to think that he carried out in the Gallic policy vast schemes, long
meditated: he worked, instead, as the uncertain changes of Roman
politics imposed. I believe that there is but one way to understand
and reasonably explain the policy pursued by Caesar in Gaul, his sudden
moves, his zigzags, his audacities, his mistakes; that is, to study
it from Rome, to keep always in mind the internal changes, the party
struggle, in which he was involved at Rome. In short, Gaul was for
Caesar only a means to operate on the internal politics of Rome, of
which he made use from day to day, as the immediate interest of the
passing hour seemed to require.

I cite a single example, but the most significant. Caesar declared Gaul
a Roman province and annexed it to the Empire toward the end of
57 B.C.; that is, at the end of his second year as proconsul,
unexpectedly, with no warning act to intimate such vigorous intent,--a
surprise; and why? Look to Rome and you will understand. In 57 B.C.,
the democratic party, demoralised by discords, upset by the popular
agitation to recall Cicero from unjust exile, discredited by scandals,
especially the Egyptian scandals, seemed on the point of going to
pieces. Caesar understood that there was but one way to stop this
ruin: to stun public opinion and all Italy with some highly audacious
surprise. The surprise was the annexation of Gaul. Declaring Gaul a
Roman province after the victory over the Belgae, he convinced Rome
that he had in two years overcome all Gallic adversaries. And so, the
conquest of Gaul--this event that was to open a new era, this event,
the effects of which still endure--was, at the beginning in the mind
that conceived and executed it, nothing but a bold political expedient
in behalf of a party, to solve a situation compromised by manifold

But you will ask me: how from so tiny a seed could ever grow so mighty
a tree, covering with its branches so much of the earth? You know that
at the close of the proconsulship in Gaul, there breaks out a great
civil war; this lasts, with brief interruptions and pauses, until
the battle of Actium. Only toward 30 B.C., is the tempest lulled, and
during this time Gaul seems almost to disappear; the ancient writers
hardly mention it, except from time to time for a moment to let us
know that some unimportant revolt broke out, now here, now there, in
the vast territory; that this or that general was sent to repress it.

The civil wars ended, the government of Rome turns its attention to
the provinces anew, but for another reason. Saint Jerome tells us that
in 25 B.C., Augustus increased the tribute from the Gauls: we find
no difficulty in getting at the reason of this fact. The thing most
urgent after the re-establishment of peace was the re-arrangement of
finance; that signified then, as always, an increase of imposts:
but more could not be extorted from the Oriental provinces, already
exhausted by so many wars and plunderings; therefore the idea to
draw greater revenues from the European provinces of recent conquest,
particularly from Gaul, which until then had paid so little. So
you see a-forging one link after another in the chain: Caesar for a
political interest conquers Gaul; thirty years afterward Augustus goes
there to seek new revenues for his balance-sheet; thence-forward
there are always immediate needs that urge Roman politics into Gallic
affairs: and so it is that little by little Roman politics become
permanently involved, by a kind of concatenation, not by deliberate

We can easily follow the process. Augustus had left in Gaul to exact
the new tribute, a former slave of Caesar's, afterward liberated,--a
Gaul or German whom Caesar had captured as a child in one of his
expeditions and later freed, because of his consummate administrative
ability. It appears, however, that, for the Gauls at least, this
ability was even too great. In a curious chapter Dion tells us that
Licinius, this freedman, uniting the avarice of a barbarian to the
pretences of a Roman, beat down everyone that seemed greater than he;
oppressed all those who seemed to have more power; extorted enormous
sums from all, were they to fill out the dues of his office, or to
enrich himself and his family. His rascality was so stupendous that
since the Gauls paid certain taxes every month, he increased to
fourteen the number of the months, declaring that December, the last,
was only the tenth; consequently it was necessary to count two more,
one called Undecember and another, Duodecember.

I would not guarantee this story true, since, when there is introduced
into a nation a new and more burdensome system of taxes, there are
always set in circulation tales of this kind about the rapacity of
the persons charged with collecting them: but true or false, the tale
shows that the Gauls were much irritated by the new tribute; indeed
this irritation increased so much that in the winter from the year 15
till the year 14 B.C., Augustus, having to remain in Gaul on account
of certain serious complications, arisen in Germany, was obliged to
give his attention to it during his stay. The prominent men of
Gaul presented vigorous complaints to him against Licinius and his
administration. Then there occurred an episode that, recounted three
centuries later with a certain naivete by Dion Cassius, has been
overlooked by the historians, but which seems to me to be of prime
interest in the history of the Latin world. Dion writes:

Augustus, not able to avoid blaming Licinius for the many
denunciations and revelations of the Gallic chiefs, sought in
other things to excuse him; he pretended not to know certain
facts, made believe not to accept others, being ashamed to
have placed such a procurator in Gaul. Licinius, however,
extricated himself from the danger by a decidedly original
expedient. When he realised that Augustus was displeased and
that he was running great risk of being punished, he conducted
that Prince to his house, and showing him his numerous
treasuries full of gold and silver, enormous piles of objects
made of precious metals, said:--"My lord, only for your good
and that of the Romans have I amassed all these riches. I
feared that the natives, fortified by such wealth, might
revolt, if I left them to them: therefore I have placed them
in safe-keeping for you and I give them to you." So, by his
pretext that he had thus broken the power of the barbarians
for the sake of Augustus, Licinius saved himself from danger.

This incident has without doubt the smack of legend. Ought we
therefore to conclude that it is wholly invented? No, because in
history the distortions of the truth are much more numerous than
are inventions. This page of Dion is important. It preserves for
us, presented in a dramatic scene between Augustus and Licinius, the
record of a very serious dispute carried on between the notable men of
Gaul and Licinius, in the presence of Augustus. The Gauls complain of
paying too many imposts: Licinius replies that Gaul is very rich;
that it grows rich quickly and therefore it ought to pay as much as is
demanded of it, and more. Not only did the freedman show rooms full of
gold and silver to his lord; he showed him the great economic progress
of Gaul, its marvellous future, the immense wealth concealed in
its soil and in the genius of its inhabitants. In other words, this
chapter of Dion makes us conclude that Rome--that is, the small
oligarchy that was directing its politics--realised that the Gaul
conquered by Caesar, the Gaul that had always been considered as
a country cold and sterile, was instead a magnificent province,
naturally rich, from which they might get enormous treasure. This
discovery was made in the winter of 15-14 B.C.; that is, forty-three
years after Caesar had added the province to the Empire; forty-three
years after they had possessed without knowing what they possessed,
like some _grand seigneur_ who unwittingly holds among the common
things of his patrimony some priceless object, the value of which only
an accident on a sudden reveals.

This chapter of Dion allows us also to affirm that he who first
realised the value of Gaul and opened the eyes of Augustus, was no
great personage of the Roman aristocracy whose names are written in
such lofty characters on the pages of history, whose images are yet
found in marble and bronze among the museums of Europe; no one of
those who ruled the Empire and therefore according to reason and
justice had the responsibility of governing it well: it was, instead,
an obscure freedman, whose ability the masters of the Empire scorned
to exploit except as to-day a peasant uses the forces of his ox,
hardly deigning to look at him and yet deeming all his labour but the
owner's natural right.

So stands the story. The Gallic freedman observed, and understood, and
was forgotten; posterity, instead, has had to wonder over the profound
wisdom of the Roman aristocrat, who understood nothing. Moreover, if
in 14 B.C. Licinius had to make an effort to persuade the surprised
and diffident Augustus that Gaul was a province of great future, it is
clear that Gaul must already have begun to grow rich by itself without
the Roman government's having done anything to promote its progress.

From what hidden sources sprang forth this new wealth of Gaul? All the
documents that we possess authorise us to respond that Gaul--to begin
from the time of Augustus--was able to grow rich quickly, because the
events following the Roman conquest turned and disposed the general
conditions of the Empire in its favour. Gaul then, as France now, was
endowed with several requisites essential to its becoming a nation of
great economic development: a land very fertile; a population dense
for the times, intelligent, wide-awake, active; a climate that, even
though it seemed to Greeks and Romans cold and foggy, was better
suited to intense activity than the warm and sunny climate of the
South; and finally,--a supreme advantage in ancient civilisation,--it
was everywhere intersected, as by a network of canals, by navigable
rivers. In ancient times transport by land was very expensive;
water was the natural and economic vehicle of commerce: therefore
civilisation was able to enter with commerce into the interior of
continents only by way of the rivers, which, as one might say, were to
a certain extent the railroads of the ancient world.

To these advantageous conditions, which, being physical, existed
before the Roman conquest, the conquest added some others: it broke
down the political barrier that previously cut off these convenient
means of penetration, the rivers; it suppressed the wars between
the Gallic tribes, the privileges, the tyrannies, the tolls, the
monopolies; it saved the enormous resources that were previously
wasted in these constant drains; it put again the hoe, the spade, the
tools of the artisan, into hands that had before been wielding the
sword; and finally, it consolidated (and this was perhaps the most
important effect) the jurisdiction of property. When Caesar invaded
Gaul, the great landowners still cultivated cereals and textile plants
but little; they put the greater part of their fortune into cattle,
exactly because in that regime of continual war and revolution lands
easily kept changing proprietors. Furthermore, the more frequent
contact with Rome acquainted the Gauls with Roman agriculture and its
abler methods, with Latin life and its studied order.

By the combination of all these causes, population and production
increased rapidly. The gain in population was so considerable that
the ancients themselves noticed it. Strabo (Bk. 4, ch. i, Sec.2) observes
that the Gallic women are fecund mothers and excellent nurses. With
the population, wealth increased on all sides, in agriculture as in
industry and in trade.

The new and more stable jurisdiction of the landed proprietary
generated another most important effect; it promoted rapidly the
cultivation of cereals and textile plants, of wheat and flax. "All
Gaul produces much wheat," says Strabo, and we read his notice without
surprise, because we know that France is, even to-day, the region of
Europe most fertile in cereals. There is no reason to suppose that it
must have been barren of them twenty centuries ago. Other documentary
evidence, particularly inscriptions, confirms Strabo, informing us
that, especially in the second century, Rome bought the customary
grain to feed the metropolis not only in Egypt, but also in Gaul.
In short, Gaul seems to have been the sole region of Europe fertile
enough to be able to export grain, to have been for Rome a kind of
Canada or Middle West of the time, set not beyond oceans but beyond
the Alps.

The cultivation of flax, to the ancient world what cotton is to-day,
progressed rapidly in Gaul along with that of wheat, so that Gaul was
early able to rival Egypt also in this respect. That Gaul and Egypt
should have so much in common at the same time, was something so
interesting and seemed so strange that Pliny himself wrote:

Flax is sowed only in sandy places and after a single
ploughing. Perhaps Egypt may be pardoned for sowing it,
because with it she buys the merchandise of India and Arabia.
But, look you!--even Gaul is famous for this plant. What
matters it, if huge mountains shut away the sea; if on the
ocean side it has for confines what is called emptiness?
Notwithstanding that, Gaul cultivates flax like Egypt: the
Cadurci, the Caleti, the Ruteni, the Biturigi, the Morini, who
are considered tribes of the ends of the earth ... but what am
I saying? All Gaul makes sails,--till the enemies beyond the
Rhine imitate them, and the linen is more beautiful to the
eyes than are their women.

These descriptions show Gaul to be one of the new countries, like the
Argentine Republic or the United States, in which the land has still
almost its natural pristine fecundity and brings forth a marvellous
abundance of plants that clothe and nourish man. We know that in Gaul
under the Empire there were immense fortunes in land in face of which
the fortunes of wealthy Italian proprietors shrink like the fortunes
of Europe when compared with the great ranch fortunes of the Argentine
Republic or the United States. Twenty years ago they began to excavate
in France the ruins of the great Gallo-Roman villas: these are
constructed on the plan of the Italian villa, decorated in the same
way, but are much larger, more sumptuous, more sightly; one feels
in them the pride of a new people which has adopted the Latin
civilisation, but has infused into that, derived from the wealth of
their land, a spirit of grandeur and of luxury that poorer and older
Latins did not know, exactly as to-day the Americans infuse a spirit
of greater magnitude and boldness into so many things that they take
from timid, old Europe. Perhaps there was also in this Gallic luxury,
as in the American, a bit of ostentation, intended to humiliate the
masters remaining poorer and more modest.

But Gaul was a nation not only rich in fertilest agriculture; side by
side with that, progressed its industry. This, according to my
notion, is one of the vital points in ancient history. Under the Roman
domination, Gaul was not restricted to the better cultivation of its
productive soil; but alone among the peoples of the Occident, became,
as we might now say, an industrial nation, that manufactured not only
by and for itself, but like Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, sold also to
other peoples of the Empire and outside of its own boundaries; in
a word, exported. The more frequent contact with the Orient better
acquainted the Gauls with the beautiful objects made by the artisans
of Laodicea, of Tyre, of Sidon; and the clever genius of the Celt,
always apt in industry, drew from them incentive to create a Gallic
industry, partly imitative, partly original, and to seek a large
_clientele_ for these industries in Italy, in Spain, beyond the Rhine,
among the Germans, in the Danube provinces. This is proved by a
number of important passages in Pliny, confirmed by inscriptions and
archaeological discoveries.

Pliny has already told us that the Gauls manufactured many linen
sails; we know also that they made not only rough sails, but also fine
linen for clothing, which had a wide market. There have been found in
the Orient numerous fragments of an inscription containing the famous
edict of Diocletian on maximum sale prices allowed, an inscription
of value to us for its nomenclature of ancient fabrics. In this
nomenclature is mentioned the _birrus_ of Laodicea, an imitation of
the _birrus_ of the Nervii, which was a very fine linen cloth, worn
by ladies of fashion. Laodicea was one of the most ancient centres of
Oriental textile fabrics; the Nervii were one of the most remote of
the Gallic peoples, living--the coincidence is noteworthy--about where
Flanders is now. If at Laodicea they made at the end of the third
century an imitation of Nervian linen, that means that the Nervii had
succeeded in manufacturing and finding market for cloth so desirable
as to rouse the Laodiceans, competing for trade, to imitate it. What
proof more persuasive that during the early centuries of the Empire
the Gauls greatly improved their industries and widened their markets?

They had mastered weaving, but they did not stop there; they invented
new methods of dyeing, using vegetable dyes instead of the customary
animal colours of the Orient. Pliny says:

The Gaul imitates with herbs all colours, including Tyrian
purple; they do not seek the mollusk on the sea bottom; they
run no risk of being devoured by sea monsters; they do not
exploit the anchorless deep to multiply the attractions of
the courtesan, or to increase the powers of the seducer of
another's wife. They gather the herbs like cereals, standing
on the dry ground; although the colour that they derive does
not bear washing. Luxury could thus be gratified with greater
show at the cost of fewer dangers.

It is clear, then, according to Pliny, at one time, it was believed
that the competition of Gallic dyers might have ruined the Oriental,
and would have done so, had the tenacity of their vegetable colouring
equalled its beauty. In another passage Pliny tells us that these
Gallic stuffs were used especially by the slaves and the populace.

The wool industry made no less progress in Gaul than weaving and
dyeing. From numerous passages in Juvenal and Martial it appears
that the woollen clothing worn by the populace of Rome in the second
century was woven in Gaul, particularly in the districts to-day
known as Arras, Langres, Saintonge. Pliny attributes to the Gauls the
invention of a wool, that, soaked in acid, became incombustible, and
was used to make mattresses.

Glass-making was another art carried from the East across the
Mediterranean into Gaul. Still another industry, metallurgy, after
weaving, contributed greatly to enrich Gaul. Undoubtedly even before
the Roman conquest, Gaul worked gold mines; it seems, however, that
silver mines remained untouched until about the time of Augustus. At
any rate, the discovery of some deposits of gold and silver then gave
a spur to several flourishing industries; jewelry-making, and--an
original Gallic industry of much importance--silver-plating and
tinning. Here is another extract from Pliny, from which you will
see that in those times they already made in France "Christofle"

They cover [writes Pliny] the copper with tin in such a way
that it is difficult to distinguish it from silver. It is a
Gallic invention. Later they began to do the same thing with
silver, silver-plating especially the ornaments of horses and
carriages. The merit of the invention belongs to the Biturigi,
and the industry was developed in the city of Alesia. After
the same fashion there has been spread everywhere a foolish
profusion of objects not only silver-, but gold-plated. All
that is called _cultus_, elegance!

We might almost say that Gallic industry did to the old industries of
the ancient world what German wares have done compared with older and
more aristocratic products of France, of England, popularising objects
of luxury for the many and the merely well-to-do.

Finally, if any one hesitated to trust fully these very important
passages in Pliny, he would be quite convinced by reading the great
work of Dechelette. This author, studying with Carthusian patience and
the ablest critical acumen the Gallic ceramics to be found scattered
among the museums, has demonstrated most commendably that in the first
century of the Empire many manufactories of ceramics were opened and
flourished in Gaul, especially in the valley of the Allier, and that
they sold their vases in Spain, in the Danube regions, to the Germans,
and in Italy.

Dechelette has proved that many ceramics found among the ruins of
Pompeii, now admired in the museums of Pompeii and Naples, were made
in Gaul,--discoveries most noteworthy, which, in connection with the
extracts from Pliny, disclose in essence that real Roman Gaul whose
sumptuous relics but half tell the tale of its wealth.

This tremendous development of Gaul was without doubt an effect of the
Roman conquest; but an effect that neither Caesar, nor any other man
of his times had foreseen or willed, but which Augustus was first to
recognise in the winter of 15-14 B.C., and to which, astute man that
he was, he gave heed as he ought; that is, not as due his own merit,
but as an unexpected piece of good fortune. I have already said that
one of the greatest cares of Augustus, as soon as the civil wars were
finished, was to reorganise the finances of the Empire; that to find
new entries for the treasury, he had turned his attention in 27 B.C.
to the province conquered by his father, regarding it merely from
the common point of view, as poor and of little worth like the
other European territories. Then, at a stroke, he realised that that
territory so lightly valued, was producing grain like Egypt, linen
like Egypt; that the arts of civilisation for which Egypt was so rich
and famous were beginning to prosper there! Augustus was not the man
to let slip so tremendous a piece of good luck. Until then he had
hesitated, like one who seeks his way; in that winter from 15-14 B.C.,
he found finally the grand climax of his career, to make Gaul the
Egypt of the West, the province of the greatest revenues in Europe.
From that time on to the end of his life, he did not move from Europe;
he lived between Italy and Gaul. Like him, Tiberius, Drusus, all the
men of his family, devoted all their efforts to Gaul, to consolidating
Roman dominion there, to advancing its progress, to increasing the
revenues, to making it actually the Occidental Egypt. From Velleius we
learn that under Tiberius Gaul rendered to the Empire as much as did
Egypt, and that Gaul and Egypt were considered alike the two richest
imperial provinces.

As a political interest had at first impelled Caesar to annex Gaul, an
immediate financial interest urged Augustus to continue the work,
to take care of the new province. Then the historic law that I have
already enunciated to you, the law by which the efforts of men result
far differently from that which they had intended, was verified anew
by Augustus also, and in a new form. He had created his Gallic policy
to augment the revenues of the Empire; the consequences of this fiscal
policy, necessity-inspired, were greater than he and his friends ever
dreamed. The winter of 15-14 B.C. is a notable date in the story of
Latin civilisation, for then the destiny of the Empire was irrevocably
settled; the Roman Empire will be made up of two parts, the Oriental
and the Occidental, each part sufficiently strong to withstand
being overcome by the other; it will be neither an Asiatic, nor a
Celtic-Latin, but a mixed Empire: between both parts, Italy will rule
for two centuries more, and Rome, an immense city, at once Oriental
and Latin, will keep the metropolitan crown won from the enfeebled
East, and dominate the immature barbarian West.

Speaking of Cleopatra, I have shown you how great was the Oriental
peril that threatened in the last century of the Republic to wipe out
Rome. What miraculous force saved it? Gaul. Suppose that the army of
Caesar had been exterminated at Alesia; suppose that Rome, discouraged,
had abandoned its Gallic enterprise as it had done with Persia, after
the disaster of Crassus and the failure of Antony; or suppose that
Gaul had been a poor province, sterile and unpopulous, like many a
Danube district; Rome could not have held out long as the seat of
imperial government, just as to-day the capital of the Russian Empire
could not maintain itself at Vladivostok or Harbin. It would have been
necessary to move the metropolis to a richer and more populous region.
That Gaul grew rich and was Romanised, changed the state of things.
When Rome possessed beyond the Alps in Europe a province as large and
as full of resources as Egypt; when there was the same interest in
defending it as in defending Egypt, Italy was well placed to govern
both. The Egypt of the Occident counterbalanced the Egypt of the
Orient, and Rome, half way between, was the natural and necessary
metropolis of the wide-spread Empire. Gaul alone, revived, so
to speak, the Empire in the West and prevented the European
provinces--even Italy itself--from becoming dead limbs safely
amputable from the Oriental body. Gaul upheld Italy and Rome in Europe
for three centuries longer; Gaul stopped it on the way to the Asiatic
conquests run through by Alexander. Had it not been for Gaul, Asia
Minor, Syria, and Egypt would have formed the real Empire of Rome,
and Italy would have been lost in it: without Gaul, the Orientalised
Empire would have tried to conquer Persia and probably succeeded in
doing so, abandoning the poor and unproductive lands of the untamed
Occident. In short, Gaul created in the Roman Empire that duality
between East and West which gives shape to all the history of our
civilisation; it kept the artificial form of the Empire, circular
about an island sea; it inspired the Empire with that double
self-contradictory spirit, Latin and Oriental, at once its strength
and its weakness.

Next time I will show you the continuation of this struggle of two
minds, in a characteristic episode, the story of the Emperor Nero.
Now, before closing, let me set before you briefly some general
considerations drawn from the history of Roman Gaul which are
applicable to universal history.

From what I have told you, it follows that the fortunes of peoples and
states depend in part on what might be called the historic situation
of every age, the situation that is created by the general state of
the world in every successive epoch and which no people or state can
mould at its own pleasure. Without doubt, a nation will never conquer
a noteworthy greatness if the men that compose it fail of a certain
culture, a certain energy, a social _morale_ sufficiently vigorous;
but though these qualities are necessary, they are not equally
productive in all periods, but serve more or less, in different
periods, according as general circumstances are disposed about a
people. Gaul was fertile, and its people possessed before the conquest

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