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LIFE IN THE ROMAN WORLD OF NERO AND ST. PAUL
T. G. TUCKER
The reception accorded to my _Life in Ancient Athens_ has led me to
write the present companion work with an eye to the same class of
readers. In the preface to the former volume it was said: "I have
sought to leave an impression true and sound, so far as it goes, and
also vivid and distinct. The style adopted has therefore been the
opposite of the pedantic, utilizing any vivacities of method which are
consistent with truth of fact." The same principles have guided me in
the present equally unpretentious treatise. I agree entirely with Mr.
Warde Fowler when he says: "I firmly believe that the one great hope
for classical learning and education lies in the interest which the
unlearned public may be brought to feel in ancient life and thought."
For the general reader there is perhaps no period in the history of
the ancient world which is more interesting than the one here chosen.
Yet, so far as I know, there exists no sufficiently popular work
dealing with this period alone and presenting in moderate compass a
clear general view of the matters of most moment. My endeavour has
been to represent as faithfully as possible the Age of Nero, and
nowhere in the book is it implied that what is true for that age is
necessarily as true for any other. The reader who is not a special
student of history or antiquities is perhaps as often confused by
descriptions of ancient life which cover too many generations as by
those--often otherwise excellent--which include too much detail.
I have necessarily consulted not only the Latin and Greek writers who
throw light upon the time, but also all the best-known Standard works
of modern date. It is perhaps scarcely necessary to state that in
matters of contemporary government, administration, and public life my
guides have been chiefly Mommsen, Arnold, and Greenidge; for social
life Marquardt, Friedlaender, and Becker-Goell; for topography and
buildings Jordan, Huelsen, Lanciani, and Middleton; nor that the
Dictionaries of Smith and of Daremberg and Saglio have been always at
hand, as well as Baumeister's _Denkmaeler_, and Guhl and Koner's _Life
of the Greeks and Romans_. The admirable _Pompeii_ of Mau-Kelsey has
been, of course, indispensable. I have also derived profit from the
writings of Prof. Sir W. M. Ramsay in connexion with St. Paul, and
from Conybeare and Howson's _Life and Epistles_ of the Apostle. Useful
hints have been found in Mr. Warde Fowler's _Social Life in Rome in
the Age of Cicero_, and in Prof. Dill's Roman_ Society from Nero to
Marcus Aurelius_. A personal study of ancient sites, monuments, and
objects of antiquity at Rome, Pompeii, and elsewhere has naturally
been of prime value. Those intimately acquainted with the immense
amount of the available material will best realize the difficulty
there has been in deciding how much to say and how much to "leave in
For the drawings other than those of which another source is specified
I have to thank Miss M. O'Shea, on whom has occasionally fallen the
difficult task of giving ocular form to the mental visions of one who
happens to be no draughtsman. For the rest I make acknowledgment to
those books from which the illustrations have been directly derived
for my own purposes, without reference to more original sources.
I am especially grateful for the permission to use so considerable a
number of illustrations from the _Pompeii_ of Mau-Kelsey, from
Professor Waldstein's _Herculaneum_, and from Lanciani's _New Tales of
I EXTENT AND SECURITY OF THE EMPIRE
II TRAVEL WITHIN THE EMPIRE
III A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE PROVINCES
IV THE IMPERIAL SYSTEM: EMPEROR, SENATE, KNIGHTS, AND PEOPLE
V NERO THE EMPEROR
VI ADMINISTRATION AND TAXATION OF THE EMPIRE
VII ROME: THE IMPERIAL CITY
VIII STREETS, WATER-SUPPLY, AND BUILDING MATERIAL
IX THE ROMAN TOWN HOUSE
X THE COUNTRY HOMESTEAD AND COUNTRY SEAT
XI ROMAN FURNITURE
XII SOCIAL DAY OF A ROMAN ARISTOCRAT--MORNING
XIII SOCIAL DAY OF A ROMAN ARISTOCRAT (_continued_)--AFTERNOON AND
XIV LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AND LOWER CLASSES
XV HOLIDAYS AND AMUSEMENTS: THEATRE, CIRCUS, AMPHITHEATRE
XVI THE WOMEN: MARRIAGE, THE ROMAN MATRON, AND HER DRESS
XVII CHILDREN AND EDUCATION
XVIII THE ARMY: MILITARY SERVICE: PUBLIC CAREER
XIX ROMAN RELIGION--STATE AND INDIVIDUAL
XX STUDY AND SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AMONG THE ROMANS
XXI PHILOSOPHY--STOICS AND EPICUREANS
XXII THE ROMAN PROFUSION OF ART
XXIII THE LAST SCENE OF ALL--BURIAL AND TOMBS
View into Roman Forum from Temple of Vesta, A.D. 64.
(Restoration partly after Auer, Huelsen, Tognetti, etc.).
1. The Pont du Gard (Aqueduct and Bridge).
2. The Appian Way by the so-called Tomb of Seneca (Laneiani, _New
Tales of Old Rome_).
3. Plan of Inn at Pompeii. (After Mau).
4. Ship beside the Quay at Ostia. (Hill, _Illustrations of School
Classics_, FIG. 498 ).
6. The Acropolis at Athens. (From D'Ooge).
7. Plan of Antioch.
8. Emblem of Antioch. (_Dict. of Geog_. i. 116 ).
9. Emblem of Alexandria. (Mau, _Pompeii_, Fig 187).
10. Emblem of Rome. (From the column of Antoninus at Rome).
11. Augustus as Emperor.
12. Coin of Nero. (In the British Museum).
13. Bust of Seneca. (_Archaeiologische Zeitung_).
14. Agrippina, Mother of Nero. (Photo, Mansell & Co.).
15. Bust of Nero.
16. Some Remains of the Claudian Aqueduct.
17. The Rostra: back view. (Modified from Huelsen).
18. Ruins of Forum. (Record-Office in background with modern building
above.) (Photo, Anderson).
19. N.E. of Forum, A.D. 64. (Complementary to Frontispiece).
20. Temple of Fortuna Augusta at Pompeii. (Mau, FIG. 58).
21. So-called Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli.
22. Vestal Virgin. (Hill, FIG. 340 ).
23. Temple of Mars the Avenger in Forum of Augustus. (After
24. Exterior of Theatre of Marcellus. (Present state).
25. Exterior of Theatre of Marcellus. (Restored).
26. A Greek Exedra. (Baumeister).
27. Circus Maximus (restored). (Modified from Guhl and Koner).
28. Building Materials. (From Middleton).
29. Typical Scheme of Roman House.
30. Entrance to House of Pansa.
31. Interior of Roman House. (Restored).
32. House of Cornelius Rufus. (Mau, FIG. 121 ).
33. Peristyle with Garden and al fresco Dining-Table. (After Guhl and
34. Peristyle in House of the Vettii. (Present state) (Mau, FIG.
35. Kitchen Hearth in the House of the Vettii. (Mau, FIG. 125).
36. Cooking Hearths. (_Dict. Ant_. i. 672).
37. Shrine in House of the Tragic Poet. (Mau, FIG. 153 ).
38. Household Shrine. (Hill, FIG. 345).
38A. Leaden Pipes in House of Livia. (From a photograph).
39. Portable Braziers. (Daremberg and Saglio).
40. Manner of Roofing with Tiles.
41. House of Pansa at Pompeii. (After Mau).
42. House of the Vettii at Pompeii. (After Mau).
43. Specimen of Painted Room.
44. Specimen of Wall-Painting. (Mau, FIG. 264).
45. Plan of Homestead at Boscoreale. (After Mau).
46. Roman Folding Chair. (Schreiber).
47. Bronze Seat. (Overbeck).
48. Framework of Roman Couch. (Mau, FIG. 188).
49. Plan of Dining-Table with Three Couches.
51. Tripod from Herculaneum. (From Waldstein, _Herculaneum_, Plate
52. Chest (Strong-box). (Mau, FIG. 120).
53. Mirrors. (Mau, FIG. 213).
54. Lamps. (Mau, FIG. 196).
55. Lampholder as Tree. (Mau, FIG. 202).
56. Cup from Herculaneum. (Waldstein, Plate 45).
57. Kitchen Utensils. (Mau, FIG. 204).
58. Pail from Herculaneum. (Waldstein, Plate 42).
59. Patrician Shoes. (_Dict. Ant_. i. 335).
60. Roman in the Toga. (Waldstein, Plate 18).
61. Slave in Fetters.
62. Litter. (_Dict. Ant_. ii. 15).
63. Reading a Proclamation. (Mau, FIG. 17).
64. Sealed Receipt of Jueundus. (Mau, FIG. 275).
65. Discus-Thrower. (Photo, Anderson).
66. Stabian Baths. (Mau, Plate 5).
67. Bathing Implements. (Mau, FIG. 209).
68. Acrobats. (Baumeister, i. 585).
69. Surgical Instruments. (Guhl and Koner).
70. Bakers' Mills. (Mau, FIG. 218).
71. Cupids as Goldsmiths. (Wall-Painting.)(Mau, FIG. 167).
72. Garland-Makers. (_Abhandlungen, historische-philologische
Classe Koeniglich Saechsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften_).
73. Bust of Caecilius Jueundus. (Mau, FIG. 256).
74. Ploughs. (Hill, FIG. 383; _Dict. Ant_. i. 160).
75. Tools on Tomb. (_Dict. Ant_. ii. 243).
76. Pompeian Cook-Shop. (Mau, FIG. 131).
77. In a Wine-Shop. (Mau, FIG. 234).
78. Boxing-Gloves. (_Dict. Ant_. i. 329).
79. Theatre at Orange. (Restored.) (Baumeister, iii. 1742).
80. Theatre at Aspendus. (Guhl and Koner).
81. Tragic Actor. (Hill, FIG. 421).
82. Comic Masks. (Terence's _Andria_).
83. Scene from Comedy. (Hill, FIG. 422).
84. Plan of Circus.
85. The Turn in the Circus.
86. Chariot Race. (_Dict. Ant_. i. 434).
87. Amphitheatre at Pompeii. (Mau, Plate 6).
88. Barracks of Gladiators. (Mau, Plate 4).
89. Stocks for Gladiators. (Remains from Pompeii.) (Mau, FIG. 74).
90. Gladiators Fighting. (Guhl and Koner).
91. Toilet Scene. (Wall-Painting.) (Waldstein, Plate 32).
92. Woman in Full Dress. (Waldstein, Plate 7).
93. Hairpins. (Mau, FIG. 211).
94. Writing Materials.
95. Horsing a Boy. (After Saechs.) (Baumeister, iii. FIG. 1653).
96. Papyri and Tabulae. (From Dyer's _Pompeii_).
97. Roman Standards. (Guhl and Koner).
98. Armed Soldier.
99. A Roman General. (Hill, FIG. 465).
100. Centurion. (Hill, FIG. 466).
101. Standard-Bearer. (Hill, FIG. 470).
102. Baggage-Train. (Daremberg and Saglio, FIG. 1196).
103. Soldiers with Packs. (Seyffert, _Dict. Class. Ant_. p. 348).
104. Roman Soldiers Marching. (Schreiber).
105. Imperial Guards. (Guhl and Koner).
106. Besiegers with the "Tortoise." (Hill, FIG. 481).
107. Roman Artillery. (_Dict. Ant_. ii. 855).
108. Auxiliary Cavalryman. (_Dict. Ant_. i. 790).
109. Jupiter. (Vatican Museum).
110. A Sacrifice. (Mau, FIG. 44).
111. Isis Worship. (Wall-Painting.) (Mau, FIG. 81).
112. Household Shrine. (Mau, FIG. 127).
113. The World (approximately) as conceived about A.D. 100.
114. The Dying Gaul.
115. A "Candeliera" or Marble Pilaster of the Basilica Aemilia
(Lanciani, _New Tales, etc._, p. 147).
116. Fragments of the Architecture of the Regia. (Lanciani, p. 70).
117. Wall-Painting. (Woman with Tablets.) (Waldstein, _Herculaneum_,
118. Wall-Painting from Herculaneum. (Women playing with
Knuckle-Bones.) (Waldstein, Plate 4).
119. Lyre and Harp.
120. "Conclamatio" of the Dead. (Guhl and Koner).
121. Tomb of Caecilia Metella.
122. Street of Tombs. (Mau, Plate 10).
123. Columbarium. (Guhl and Koner).
124. Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol.
MAPS AND PLANS:
Map of Roman Empire, A.D. 64.
Plan of Rome with Chief Topographical Features.
Plan of Forum, A.D. 64.
The subject of this book is "Life in the Roman World of Nero and St.
Paul." This is not quite the same thing as "Life in Ancient Rome" at
the same date. Our survey is to be somewhat wider than that of the
imperial city itself, with its public and private structures, its
public and private life. The capital, and these topics concerning it,
will naturally occupy the greater portion of our time and interest.
But it is quite impossible to realise Rome, its civilisation, and the
meaning of its monuments, unless we first obtain some general
comprehension of the empire--the Roman world--with its component
parts, its organisation and administration. The date is approximately
anno Domini 64, although it is not desirable, even if it were
possible, to adhere in every detail to the facts of that particular
year. In A.D. 64 the Emperor Nero was at the height of his folly and
tyranny, and, so far as our information goes, the Apostle Paul was
journeying about the Roman world in the interval between his first and
second imprisonments in the capital.
One cannot, perhaps, achieve a wholly satisfying picture in a treatise
of the present dimensions. It would require a very bulky volume to
realise with any adequateness the ideal aim. It would be well if, in
the first instance, we could imagine ourselves standing somewhere far
aloft over the centre of the empire, and possessing as wide-ranging a
vision as that of the Homeric gods. From that exalted standpoint we
might gaze upon the active life of towns, upon the labourers working
their lands from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, and upon the men who
go down to the sea in ships and do their business in great waters. We
should perceive their occupations and amusements, their material
surroundings, their various dress and manners, their methods of
travel, the degree of their personal safety and liberty. Then we
should descend to earth in the middle of Rome itself, and become for
the time being inhabitants of that city, privileged to take part in
its public business and its public pleasures, to enter the houses of
what may be called its representative citizens, to share in the
various elements of its social day, and to estimate the moral,
intellectual, and artistic cultivation of Roman society.
Such would be the ideal. Here it must suffice, to select the most
essential or interesting matters, and to present them with such
vividness as the necessary brevity will permit. Very little
preliminary knowledge will be taken for granted; the use of Latin or
technical terms will be shunned, and every topic will be dealt with,
as far as possible, in the plainest of English.
Nevertheless, while aiming at entire lucidity, the following chapters
will aim even more scrupulously at telling the truth. There are
doubtless a number of matters--though generally of relatively small
moment--about which we are, and probably always shall be, uncertain.
The best way to deal with these, in a work which is descriptive rather
than argumentative, is to omit them. For the rest it must be expected
of any one whose professional concern it has been to saturate himself
for many years in the literature of the times, and to study carefully
their monumental remains, that he should occasionally make some
statement, drop some passing remark or judgment, which may appear to
be in conflict with assertions made in other quarters. If a few
examples are met with in the present book, they may be taken as made
with all deference, but with deliberation.
It is perhaps well to say this with some emphasis, in view of the
blunders often innocently committed by those who happen to be speaking
of this period. There are those who know it almost only through the
medium of the _Acts of the Apostles_, and who entertain the most
erroneous notions concerning Gallio or Festus, concerning Roman
justice, Roman taxation, or Roman moral and religious attitudes. There
are those, again, who know it almost only through the manuals of
history; that is to say, they know the dates and facts of the reigns
of the emperors, but have never realised, not to say visualised, the
contemporary Roman as a human being. There exist denunciations of the
morals of the Roman world of this date which would lead one to believe
that every man was a Nero and every woman a Messalina: denunciations
so lurid that, if they were a third part true, the continuance of the
Roman Empire, or even of the Roman race, for a single century would be
simply incomprehensible. On the other hand there have been accounts of
the material glory of Rome which have conjured up visions of splendour
worthy only of the _Arabian Nights_; and sometimes the comment is
added that it was all won from the blood and sweat heartlessly wrung
from a world of miserable slaves. It is not too much to say that none
of these descriptions could come from a writer or speaker who knew the
period at first hand.
The most dangerous form of falsehood is that which contains some
portion of truth. The life of many a Roman was deplorably dissolute;
the splendour of Rome was beyond doubt astonishing; of oppression
there were too many scattered instances; but we do not judge the
civilisation of the British Empire by the choicest scandals of London,
nor the good sense of the United States by the freak follies of New
York. We do not take it that the modern satirist who vents his spleen
on an individual or a class is describing each and all of his
contemporaries, nor even that what he says is necessarily true of such
individual or class. Nor is the professional moralist himself immune
from jaundice or from the disease of exaggeration.
The endeavour here will be to realise more veraciously what life in
the Roman world was like. For those who are familiar with the
political history and the escapades of Nero there may be some filling
in of gaps and adjusting of perspective. For those who are familiar
with the journeyings and experiences of St. Paul there may be some
correction of errors and misconceptions. For those who have any
thought of visiting the ruins of Rome and Pompeii, it may prove
helpful to have secured some comprehension of this period. Pompeii was
destroyed only fifteen years after our date, and all those houses,
large and small, were occupied in the year 64 by their unsuspecting
inhabitants. Meanwhile mansions, temples, and halls stood in splendour
above those platforms and foundations over which we tread amid the
broken columns in the Roman Forum or on the Palatine Hill.
EXTENT AND SECURITY OF THE EMPIRE
The best means of realising the extent of the Roman Empire in or about
the year 64 is to glance at the map. It will be found to reach from
the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates, from the middle of
England--approximately the river Trent--to the south of Egypt, from
the Rhine and the Danube to the Desert of Sahara. The Mediterranean
Sea is a Roman lake, and there is not a spot upon its shores which is
not under Roman rule. In round numbers the empire is three thousand
miles in length and two thousand in breadth. Its population, which, at
least in the western parts, was much thinner then than it is over the
same area at present, cannot be calculated with any accuracy, but an
estimate of one hundred millions would perhaps be not very far from
Beyond its borders--sometimes too dangerously near to them and apt to
overstep them--lay various peoples concerning whom Roman knowledge was
for the most part incomplete and indefinite. Within its own boundaries
the Roman government carefully collected every kind of information.
Such precision was indispensable for the carrying out of those Roman
principles of administration which will be described later. But of the
nations or tribes beyond the frontiers only so much was known as had
been gathered from a number of more or less futile campaigns, from
occasional embassies sent to Rome by such peoples, from the writings
of a few venturous travellers bent on exploration, from slaves who had
been acquired by war or purchase, or from traders such as those who
made their way to the Baltic in quest of amber, or to Arabia,
Ethiopia, and India in quest of precious metals, jewels, ivory,
perfumes, and fabrics.
There had indeed been sundry attempts to annex still more of the
world. Roman armies had crossed the Rhine and had twice fought their
way to the Elbe; but it became apparent to the shrewd Augustus and
Tiberius that the country could not be held, and the Rhine was for the
present accepted as the most natural and practical frontier. In the
East the attempts permanently to annex Armenia, or a portion of
Parthia, had so far proved but nominal or almost entirely vain.
On the Upper Euphrates at this date there was a sort of acknowledgment
of vague dependence on Rome, but the empire had acquired nothing more
solid. Forty years before our date a Roman expedition had penetrated
into South-west Arabia, of which the wealth was extravagantly
over-estimated, but it had met with complete failure. Into Ethiopia a
punitive campaign had been made against Queen Candace, and a loose
suzerainty was claimed over her kingdom, but the Roman frontier still
stopped short at Elephantine. Over the territories of the semi-Greek
semi-Scythian settlements to the north of the Black Sea Rome exercised
a protectorate, which was for obvious reasons not unwelcome to those
concerned. Along or near the eastern frontier she well understood the
policy of the "buffer state," and, within her own borders in those
parts, was ready to make tools of petty kings, whose own ambitions
would both assist her against external foes and relieve her of
At no time did the Roman Empire possess so natural or scientific a
frontier as at this, when it was bounded by the Rhine, the Danube, the
Black Sea, the Euphrates, the Desert, and the Atlantic. The only
exception, it will be perceived, was in Britain, but the Roman idea
there also was to annex the whole island, a feat which was never
accomplished. Two generations after our chosen date Rome had conquered
as far as the Firths of Clyde and Forth; it had crossed the Southern
Rhine, and annexed the south-west corner of Germany, approximately
from Cologne to Ratisbon; it had passed the Danube, and secured and
settled Dacia, which is roughly the modern Roumania; and it had pushed
its power somewhat further into the East. But it had not thereby
increased either its strength or its stability.
At the period then with which we are to deal, the Roman Empire
included the countries now known as Holland, Belgium, France, Spain
and Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, the southern half of the Austrian
Empire, Greece, Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine, Egypt,
Tripoli and Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, and also the southern two-thirds
of England. Within these borders there prevailed that greatest
blessing of the Roman rule, the _pax Romana_, or "Roman peace."
Whatever defects may be found in the Roman administration, on whatever
abstract grounds the existence of such an empire may be impugned, it
cannot be questioned that for at least two centuries the whole of this
vast region enjoyed a general reign of peace and security such as it
never knew before and has never known since. That peace meant also
social and industrial prosperity and development. It meant an immense
increase in settled population and in manufactures, and an immense
advance--particularly in the West--in civilised manners and
Peoples and tribes which had been at perpetual war among themselves or
with some neighbour were reduced to quietude. Communities which had
been liable to sudden invasion and to all manner of arbitrary changes
in their conditions of life, in their burdens of taxation, and even in
their personal freedom, now knew exactly where they stood, and, for
the most part, perceived that they stood in a much more tolerable and
a distinctly more assured position than before. If there must
sometimes be it would be the Roman tyrant, and he, as we shall find,
affected them but little. All irresponsible local tyrannies, whether
of kings or parties, were abolished.
On the high seas within the empire you might voyage with no fear
whatever of pirates. If you looked for pirates you must look beyond
the Roman sphere to the Indian Ocean. There might also be a few to be
found in the Black Sea. On the high road you might travel from
Jerusalem to Rome, and from Rome to Cologne or Cadiz, with no fear of
any enemy except such banditti and footpads as the central or local
government could not always manage to put down. On the whole there was
nearly everywhere a clear recognition of the advantages conferred by
It is quite true that during these two centuries we meet with frequent
trouble on the borders and with one or two local revolts of more or
less strength. At our chosen date the Jews were being stirred by their
fanatical or "zealot" party into an almost hopeless insurrection;
within two years the rebellion broke out. Three years later still,
certain ambitious semi-Romans took advantage of a troubled time to
make a determined but futile effort to form a Gaulish or
German-Gaulish empire of their own. Half a century after Nero the Jews
once again rose, but were speedily suppressed. But apart from these
abortive efforts--made, one by a unique form of religious zeal, one by
adventurous ambition, at opposite extremities of the Roman
world--there was established a general, and in most cases a willing,
acceptance of the situation and a proper recognition of its benefits.
The only serious war to be feared within the empire itself was a civil
war, begun by some aspiring leader when his chance seemed strong of
ousting the existing emperor or of succeeding to his throne. Four
years from the date at which we have placed ourselves such a war
actually did break out. Nero was driven from the throne in favour of
Galba, and the history of the year following is the history of Otho
murdering Galba, Vitellius overthrowing Otho, and Vespasian in his
turn overthrowing Vitellius. Yet all this is but the story of one
entirely exceptional year, the famous "year of four emperors." Take
out that year from the imperial history; count a hundred years before
and more than a hundred years after, and it would be impossible to
find in the history of the world any period at which peace, and
probably contentment, was so widely and continuously spread. Think of
all the countries which have just been enumerated as lying within the
Roman border; then imagine that, with the exception of one year of
general commotion, two or three provincial and local revolts, and
occasional irruptions and retaliations upon the frontier, they have
all been free from war and its havoc ever since the year 1700. In our
year of grace 64, although the throne is occupied by a vicious emperor
suffering from megalomania and enormous self-conceit, the empire is in
full enjoyment of its _pax Romana_.
Another glance at the map will show how secure this internal peace was
felt to be. The Roman armies will be found almost entirely upon the
frontiers. It was, of course, imperative that there should be strong
forces in such positions--in Britain carrying out the annexation; on
the Rhine and Danube defending against huge-bodied, restless Germans
and their congeners; on the Euphrates to keep off the nimble and
dashing Parthian horse and foot; in Upper Egypt to guard against the
raids of "Fuzzy-Wuzzy "; in the interior of Tunis or Algeria to keep
the nomad Berber tribes in hand. In such places were the Roman legions
and their auxiliary troops regularly kept under the eagles, for there
lay their natural work, and there do we find them quartered generation
It is, of course, true that they might be employed inwards as well as
outwards; but it must be manifest that, if there had been any
widespread disaffection, any reasonable suspicion that serious revolts
might happen, there would have been many other large bodies of troops
posted in garrison throughout the length and breadth of the provinces.
In point of fact the whole Roman military force can scarcely have
amounted to more than 320,000 men, while the navy consisted of two
small fleets of galleys, one regularly posted at Misenum at the
entrance to the Bay of Naples, the other at Ravenna on the Adriatic.
To these we may add a flotilla of boats operating on the Lower Rhine
and the neighbouring coasts. Except during the year of civil war the
two fleets have practically no history. They enjoyed the advantage of
having almost nothing to fight against. If pirates had become
dangerous--as for a brief time they threatened to do during the Jewish
revolt--the imperial ships would have been in readiness to suppress
them. They could be made useful for carrying despatches and imperial
persons or troops, or they might be used against a seaside town if
necessary. Beyond this they hardly correspond to our modern navies.
There was no foreign competition to build against, and no "two-power
standard" to be maintained.
The Roman troops, it has already been said, were almost wholly on the
frontier. So far as there are exceptions, they explain themselves. It
was found necessary at all times to keep at least one legion regularly
quartered in Northern Spain, where the mountaineers were inclined to
be predatory, and where they were skilful, as they have always been,
at carrying on guerilla warfare. We may, if we choose, regard this
comparatively small army as policing a lawless district. In but few
other places do we find a regular military force. Rome itself had both
a garrison and also a large body of Imperial Guards. The garrison,
consisting of some 6000 men, was in barracks inside the city, and its
purpose was to protect the wealth of the metropolis and the seat of
government from any sudden riot or factious tumult. It must be
remembered that among the Romans it was soldiers who served as police,
whether at Rome or in the provinces. The Imperial Guards, consisting
of 12,000 troops, were stationed just outside the gates, in order to
secure the safety and position of the emperor himself, if any attempt
should be made against his person or authority. The rich and important
town of Lugdunum (or Lyons) had a small garrison of 1200 men, and a
certain number of troops were always to be found in garrison in those
great towns where factious disturbances were either probable or
possible. Thus at Alexandria, where the Jews were fanatical and at
loggerheads with the Greeks, and where the native Egyptians were no
less fanatical and might be at loggerheads with both, it was necessary
to keep a disciplinary force in readiness. Somewhat similar was the
case at Antioch, where the discords of the Greeks, Syrians, and Jews
stood in need of the firm Roman hand. Nor could a similar regiment be
spared from Jerusalem. The western towns were generally smaller in
size, more homogeneous, and more tranquil. It was around the Levant
that the popular _emeute_ was most to be feared. Doubtless one may
meet, whether in the New Testament or in Roman and Greek writers, with
frequent mention of soldiers, and we make acquaintance with an
occasional centurion--something socially above a colour-sergeant and
below a captain--or other officer in various parts of the empire. But
it should be understood that, except in such places as those which
have been named, soldiers were distributed in small handfuls, to act
as _gendarmerie_, to deal with brigands, to serve as bodyguard and
orderlies to a governor, to bear despatches, to be custodians of state
prisoners. To these classes belong the centurions of the _Acts of the
Apostles_, while Lysias was the colonel of the regiment keeping order
What the Roman army was like, whence it was recruited, how it was
armed, and what were its operations, are matters to be shown in a
later chapter. Regarded then as a controlling agent, maintaining
widespread peace, the Roman Empire answers closely to the British
_raj_ in India. The analogy could indeed be pressed very much further
and with more closeness of detail, but this is scarcely the place for
such a discussion.
TRAVEL WITHIN THE EMPIRE
Of the administration in Rome and throughout the provinces enough will
be said in the proper place. Meanwhile we may look briefly at one or
two questions of interest which will presumably suggest themselves at
this stage. Since all this vast region now formed one empire, since
Roman magistrates and officers were sent to all parts of it, since
trade and intercourse were vigorous between all its provinces, it will
be natural to ask, for example, by what means the traveller got from
place to place, at what rate of progress, and with what degree of
safety and comfort.
In setting forth by land you would elect, if possible, to proceed by
one of the great military roads for which the Roman world was so
deservedly famous. Not only were they the best kept and the safest;
they were also generally the shortest. As far as possible the Roman
road went straight from point to point. It did not circumvent a
practicable hill, nor, where necessary, did it shrink from cutting
through a rock, say to the depth of sixty feet or so. It did not avoid
a river, but bridged it with a solid structure such as often remains
in use till this day. If it met with a marsh, wooden piles were driven
in and the road-bed laid upon them. When it came to a deep narrow
valley it built a viaduct on arches.
[Illustration: FIG. 1.--THE PONT DU GARD (AQUEDUCT AND BRIDGE).]
The road so laid was meant for permanence. A width of ground was
carefully prepared, trenches were dug at the sides, three different
layers of road material were deposited, with sufficient upward curve
to throw off the water, and then the whole was paved with
closely-fitting many-cornered blocks of stone. In the chief instances
there were sidewalks covered with some kind of gravel. The width was
not great, but might be anything between ten and fifteen feet. Along
such roads the Roman armies marched to their camps, along them the
government despatches were carried by the imperial post, and along
them were the most conveniently situated and commodious houses of
accommodation. For their construction a special grant might be made by
the Roman treasury--the cost being comparatively small, since the
work, when not performed by the soldiers, was done by convicts and
public slaves--and for their upkeep a rate was apparently levied by
the local corporations. Besides the paved roads there was, needless to
say, always a number of smaller roads, many of them mere strips of
four feet or so in width; there were also short-cuts, by-paths, and
ill-kept tracks of local and more or less fortuitous creation.
[Illustration: FIG. 2.--THE APPIAN WAY BY THE SO-CALLED TOMB OF
Beside the great highways stood milestones in the shape of short
pillars, and generally there were in existence charts or itineraries,
sometimes pictured, giving all necessary directions as to the
turnings, distances, stopping-places, and inns, and even as to the
sights worth seeing on the way. Wherever there were such objects of
interest--in Egypt, Syria, Greece, or any other region of art,
history, and legend--the traveller could always find a professional
guide, whose information was probably about as reliable as that of the
modern _cicerone_. In Rome itself there was displayed, in one of the
public arcades, a plan of the empire, with notes explaining the
dimensions and distances.
The vehicle employed by the traveller would depend upon circumstances.
You would meet the poor man riding on an ass, or plodding on foot with
his garments well girt; the better provided on a mule; a finer person
or an official on a horse; the more luxurious or easy-going either in
some form of carriage or borne in a litter very similar to the
oriental palanquin. To carriages, which were of several
kinds--two-wheeled, four-wheeled, heavy and light--it may be necessary
to make further reference; here it is sufficient to observe that, in
order to assist quick travelling, there existed individuals or
companies who let out a light form of gig, in which the traveller rode
behind a couple of mules or active Gaulish ponies as far as the next
important stopping-place, where he could find another jobmaster, or
keeper of livery-stables, to send him on further. The rich man,
travelling, as he necessarily would, with a train of servants and with
full appliances for his comfort, would journey in a coach, painted and
gilded, cushioned and curtained, drawn by a team showily caparisoned
with rich harness and coloured cloths. This must have presented an
appearance somewhat similar to that of the extravagantly decorated
travelling-coach of the fourteenth century. The ordinary man of modest
means would be satisfied with his mule or horse, and with his one or
two slaves to attend him. On the less frequented stretches of road,
where there was no proper accommodation for the night, his slaves
would unpack the luggage and bring out a plain meal of wine, bread,
cheese, and fruits. They would then lay a sort of bedding on the
ground and cover it with a rug or blanket. The rich folk might bring
their tents or have a bunk made up in their coaches.
Where there was some sort of lodging for man and horse the average
wayfarer would make the best of it. In the better parts of the empire
and in the larger places of resort there were houses corresponding in
some measure to the old coaching-inns of the eighteenth century; in
the East there were the well-known caravanserais; but for the most
part the ancient hostelries must have afforded but undesirable
quarters. They were neither select nor clean. You journeyed along till
you came to a building half wine-shop and store, half lodging-house.
Outside you might be told by an inscription and a sign that it was the
"Cock" Inn, or the "Eagle," or the "Elephant," and that there was
"good accommodation." Its keeper might either be its proprietor, or
merely a slave or other tenant put into it by the owner of a
neighbouring estate and country-seat. Your horses or mules would be
put up--with a reasonable suspicion on your part that the poor beasts
would be cheated in the matter of their fodder--and you would be shown
into a room which you might or might not have to share with someone
else. In any case you would have to share it with the fleas, if not
Perhaps you base brought your food with you, perhaps you send out a
slave to purchase it, perhaps you obtain it from the innkeeper. That
is your own affair. For the rest you must be prepared to bear with
very promiscuous and sometimes unsavoury company, and to possess
neither too nice a nose nor too delicate a sense of propriety. Your
only consolation is that the charges are low, and that if anything is
stolen from you the landlord is legally responsible.
[Illustration: FIG. 3.--PLAN OF INN AT POMPEII.]
Doubtless there were better and worse establishments of this kind.
There must have been some tolerably good quarters at Rome or
Alexandria, and at some of the resorts for pleasure and health, such
as Balae on the Bay of Naples, or Canopus at the Nile mouth. It is
true also that for those who travelled on imperial service there were
special lodgings kept up at the public expense at certain stations
along the great roads. Nevertheless it may reasonably be asked why, in
view of the generally accepted standards of domestic comfort and even
luxury of the time--what may be called middle-class standards--there
was no sufficiency of even creditable hotels. The answer is that in
antiquity the class of people who in modern times support such hotels
seldom felt the need of their equivalent. In the first place, they
commonly trusted to the hospitality of individuals to whom they were
personally or officially known, or to whom they carried private or
official introductions. If they were distinguished persons, they were
readily received, whether in town or country, on their route. In less
frequented districts they trusted to their own slaves and to the
resources of their own baggage. Their own tents, bedding, provisions
and cooking apparatus were carried with them. If they made a stay of
any length in a town, they might hire a suite of rooms.
We must not dwell too long upon this topic. Suffice it that travel was
frequent and extensive, whether for military and political business,
for commerce, or for pleasure. Some roads, particularly that "Queen of
Roads," the Appian Way--the same by which St. Paul came from Puteoli
to Rome--must have presented a lively appearance, especially near the
metropolis. Perhaps on none of these great highways anywhere near an
important Roman city could you go far without meeting a merchant with
his slaves and his bales; a keen-eyed pedlar--probably a Jew--carrying
his pack; a troupe of actors or tumblers; a body of gladiators being
taken to fight in the amphitheatre or market-place of some provincial
town; an unemployed philosopher gazing sternly over his long beard; a
regiment of foot-soldiers or a squadron of cavalry on the move; a
horseman scouring along with a despatch of the emperor or the senate;
a casual traveller coming at a lively trot in his hired gig; a couple
of ladies carefully protecting their complexions from sun and dust as
they rode in a kind of covered wagonette; a pair of scarlet-clad
outriders preceding a gorgeous but rumbling coach, in which a Roman
noble or plutocrat is idly lounging, reading, dictating to his
shorthand amanuensis, or playing dice with a friend; a dashing youth
driving his own chariot in professional style to the disgust of the
sober-minded; a languid matron lolling in a litter carried by six
tall, bright-liveried Cappadocians; a peasant on his way to town with
his waggon-load of produce and cruelly belabouring his mule. If you
are very fortunate you may meet Nero himself on one of his imperial
progresses. If so, you had better stand aside and wait. It will take
him a long time to pass; or, if this is one of his more serious
undertakings, there will be a thousand carriages, many of them
resplendent with gold and silver ornament in relief upon the woodwork,
and drawn by horses or mules whose bridles are gleaming with gold.
And, if the beautiful and conscienceless Poppaea is with him, there
may be a Procession of some five hundred asses, whose it is to supply
her with the milk in which she bathes for the preservation of her
admirable velvety skin.
There are, of course, many other individuals and types to be met with.
If you happen to be traversing certain parts of Spain, the mountains
of Greece, the southern provinces of Asia Minor, or the upper parts of
Egypt, you will perhaps also meet with a bandit, or even with a band
of them. In that case, prepare for the worst. Some of the gang have
been caught and crucified: you may have passed the crosses upon your
way. This does not render the rest more amiable. St. Paul takes it as
natural to be thus "in peril of robbers." Perhaps certain regions of
Italy itself were as dangerous as any. We have more than one account
of a traveller who was last seen at such-and-such a place, and was
never heard of again. It is therefore well, before undertaking a
journey through suspected parts, to ascertain whether any one else is
going that way. There is sure to be either an official with a military
escort or some other traveller with a retinue; at least there will be
some trusty man bearing letters, or some sturdy fellow whom you can
hire expressly to accompany you.
After allowing for this occasional embarrassment--which was certainly
not greater and almost certainly very much less than you would have
encountered in the same parts of the world a century ago--it must be
declared that, on the whole, travel by land in the Roman world of the
year 64 was remarkably safe. If it was not very expeditious, it was
probably on the average quite as much so as in the eighteenth century.
Ordinary travelling by road may not have averaged more than sixty or
seventy miles a day, although hundred miles could be done without much
difficulty, while a courier on urgent business could greatly increase
Next let us suppose that our friend proposes to travel by sea. As a
rule navigation takes place only between the beginning of March and
the middle of November, ships being kept snug in harbour during the
winter months. The traveller may be sailing from Alexandria to the
capital or from Rome to Cadiz or to Rhodes. If a trader of sufficient
boldness, he may even be proceeding outside the empire as far as
India. If so, he will pass up the Nile as far as Coptos, then take
either the canal or the caravan route to Myos Hormos on the Red Sea,
and thence find ship for India, with a reasonable prospect--if he
escapes the Arab pirates--of completing his business and returning
home in about six months. Over 120 ships, small and great, leave the
above-mentioned harbour each year on the voyage to India, for
Alexandria is the great depot for the trade round the Indian Ocean,
and the products of India are in lively demand at Rome.
[Illustration: FIG. 4.--SHIP BESIDE THE QUAY AT OSTIA. (Wolf and twins
On such a remote course, however, we will not follow. Let us rather
suppose that our traveller is proceeding from Alexandria, the second
city of the empire, to Rome, which is the first. In this case he may
enjoy the great advantage of going on board one those merchantmen
belonging to the imperial service, which sail regularly with a freight
of corn to feed the empire city. His port of landing will be Puteoli
(Puzzuoli) in the Bay of Naples, which was then the Liverpool of
Italy. The rest of the journey he will either make by the Appian Road,
or, less naturally, by smaller freight-ship, putting in at Ostia, the
port of Rome recently constructed by the Emperor Claudius at the mouth
of the river Tiber. His ship, a well-manned and strongly-built vessel
of from 500 tons up to 1100 or more, will carry one large mainsail,
formed of strips of canvas strengthened by leather at their joinings,
a smaller foresail, and a still smaller topsail. It will be steered by
a pair of huge paddles on either side of the stern. There will be a
crow's-nest on the mast, and at the bows a rehead of Rome or
Alexandria or of some deity, perhaps of Castor and Pollux combined. A
tolerable, but by no means a liberal, amount of cabin accommodation
will be provided. A good-sized ship might reach 200 feet in length by
50 in breadth. One of them brought to Rome the great obelisk which now
stands in the Piazza of St. Peter's; another ship had brought another
obelisk, 400,000 bushels of wheat and other cargo, and a very large
number of passengers. At a favourable season, and with a quite
favourable wind, the ship may expect to reach the Bay of Naples in as
little as eight or nine days: sometimes it will take ten days,
sometimes as many as twelve. The ship may either proceed directly
south of Crete, or it may run across to Myra in Asia Minor, or to
Rhodes, and thence proceed due west. As a rule the ancient navigator
preferred to keep somewhat near the shore. Other ships, picking up and
putting down cargo and passengers as they went along, would pass up
the Syrian coast, calling at Caesarea, Tyre, Sidon, and other places
before passing either north or south of Cyprus. From such a ship it
might be necessary--as it was with St. Paul and the soldiers to whose
care he was committed--to tranship into another vessel proceeding
directly to Italy. If, as we have imagined, the traveller is on a
cornship of the Alexandria-Puteoli line, he will reach the Bay one day
after passing the straits of Messina, and his vessel will sail proudly
up to port without striking her topsail, the only kind of ship which
was permitted to do this being such imperial liners.
There were other famous trade routes of the period. One is from
Corinth; another from the Graeco-Scythian city at the mouth of the Sea
of Azov, whence corn and salted fish were sent in abundance; a third
from Cadiz, outside the straits of Gibraltar, by which were brought
the wool and other produce of Andalusia; a fourth from Tarragona
across to Ostia, the regular route for official and passenger
intercourse with Spain. Yet another took you to Carthage in three
days. Across the Adriatic from Brindisi you would reach in one day
either Corfu or the Albanian coast at Dyrrhachium (Durazzo), where
began the great highroad to the East. Given a fair wind, your ship
might average 125 or 130 miles in the twenty-four hours, and, if you
left Rome on Monday morning, you had a reasonable prospect of landing
in Spain on the following Saturday. From Cadiz you would probably
require ten or eleven days. There was, it is true, no need to come by
sea from that town. There was a good road all the way, with a
milestone at every Roman mile, or about 1600 yards. Unfortunately that
route would generally take you nearly a month.
It is not probable that sea travelling was at all comfortable; but it
was apparently quite as much so, and quite as rapid, as it was on the
average a century ago. Ships were made strong and sound; nevertheless
shipwrecks were very frequent, as they always have been in sailing
days. Wreckers who showed false lights were not unknown. There is also
little doubt that the vessels were often terribly overcrowded; one
ship, it is said, brought no less than 1200 passengers from
Alexandria. That on which St. Paul was wrecked had 276 souls on board,
and one upon which Josephus once found himself had as many as 600. It
is incidentally stated in Tacitus that a body of troops, who had been
both sent to Alexandria and brought back thence by sea, were greatly
debilitated in mind and body by that experience. On the other hand, as
has been already stated, there was generally no such thing as a pirate
to be heard of in all the waters of the Mediterranean.
A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE PROVINCES
After thus considering, however incompletely, the manner in which the
people of the Roman world contrived to move about within the empire
itself, we may proceed to glance at the constituent parts of the world
in which they thus travelled to and fro.
And first we must draw a distinction of the highest importance between
the western and eastern halves. Naturally enough, Italy itself was
before all others the land of the Romans. It was the favoured land,
enjoyed the fullest privileges, and was the most completely romanized
in population, manners, and sentiment. Besides its larger and smaller
romanized towns--of which there were about 1200--it was dotted from
end to end with the country-seats and pleasure resorts of Romans.
North and west of Italy were various peoples, differing widely in
character, habits, and religion, as well as in physique. East of it
were various other peoples differing also from each other in such
respects, but for the most part marked by a common civilisation in
which the West had but an almost inconsiderable share. Before the
Roman conquest the nations and tribes of the West had been in general
rude, unlettered, and unorganised. Except here and there in Spain,
where the Phoenicians or Carthaginians had been at work, and in the
Greek colonies sprung from Marseilles, they had hardly possessed such
a thing as a town. They scarcely knew what was meant by civic life,
with its material luxuries and graces, its art and literature. They
were commonly small peoples without unity, brave fighters, but, in all
those matters commonly classed as civilisation, distinctly behind the
times. The superiority of the Roman in these parts was not merely one
of organised strength, military skill, and political method, it was a
superiority also of intellectual life and culture. In Spain, Gaul,
Britain, Switzerland, the Tyrol and southern Austria, and also in
North-West Africa, the Roman proceeded to organise after his own
heart, to settle his colonies, to impose his language, and to
inculcate his ideals. He was dealing with inferiors; this he fully
recognised, and so for the most part did they.
Meanwhile to the eastward also Rome spread her conquests. Here,
however, she was dealing with peoples who had already passed under
influences in many respects superior to those brought by the
conqueror, influences which were in a sense only beginning to educate
the conqueror himself. Let us here, for the sake of clearness, make a
brief digression into previous history.
Throughout the eastern half of the Mediterranean countries, conquering
Rome had been face to face with an older, a more polished, a more
keenly intellectual, and more artistic culture than her own. This was
the civilisation of Greece. We need not dwell upon the character of
Hellenic culture. Anyone who has made acquaintance with the richness
of Greek literature, the clear sureness of Greek art, the keen insight
of Greek science and philosophy, and the bold experiments of Greek
society--especially as represented by Athens--will understand at once
what is meant. When the Romans, more than two hundred years before our
date, conquered Greece, in so far as they were a people of letters or
of effort in abstract thought, in so far as they possessed the arts of
sculpture, architecture, painting, and music, they were almost wholly
indebted to Greece. Their own strength lay in solidity and gravity of
character, in a strong sense of national and personal discipline, in
the gift of law-making and law-obeying. In culture they stood to the
Greeks of that time very much as the Germans of two centuries ago
stood to the French. After their conquest by the Romans the Greeks
perforce submitted to the rule of might, but the typical Greek never
looked upon the Roman as socially or intellectually his equal. He
became himself the philosophic, artistic, and social teacher of his
conqueror. His own language was richer in literature, and it was
better adapted to every form of conversation. The Latin of the Romans
therefore made no progress in Greece or the Greek world. It might be
made the language of the Roman courts and of official documents; but
beyond this the ordinary Greek disdained to study it. On the other
hand the ordinary well-educated Roman could generally speak Greek.
Magistrates and officials were almost invariably thus accomplished,
and in Athens or Ephesus they talked Greek as we should naturally talk
French in Paris--only better, inasmuch as they learned the language in
a more rational and practical way. Nero himself could act, or thought
he could act, a Greek play and sing a Greek ode among the Greeks. Most
probably the Roman noble had been brought up by a Greek nurse, just as
so many English families formerly employed a nurse imported from
France. Nor did the Greeks merely ignore the Latin language. They
refused to be romanized in any other respect. Even the Roman
amusements tended to disgust them, and it is to the credit of his
superior refinement that the average Greek was repelled by those
brutal exhibitions of gladiatorial bloodshed and slaughter over which
the coarser Roman gloated.
When, next, we pass from Greece proper--that is to say, from the
Grecian peninsula and the islands and Asiatic shores of the Aegean
Sea--into Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, we still find the Roman
conqueror annexing peoples more versed in the higher arts of life than
himself. For ages there had existed in these regions various forms of
advanced civilisation. The Assyrian, Babylonian, Phoenician, Hebrew,
and Egyptian cultures were old before Rome was born. Later the Persian
subjugated all these peoples. And then, four hundred years before the
time with which we are dealing, had come the Macedonian Greek
Alexander the Great, and had conquered every one of those provinces
which were subsequently to form the eastern part of the Roman Empire
as represented on our map. The language and culture of Alexander were
Greek, and he carried these and settled them with the most determined
policy in every available quarter. After his death his empire broke up
into kingdoms, but those kings who succeeded him--every Antiochus of
Syria and every Ptolemy of Egypt--were Greek. Their court was Greek,
and Hellenism was everywhere the fashion in life, thought, letters,
and art. All round the coasts, in all the great cities, on all the
main routes, up all the great river valleys of these eastern kingdoms,
this graecizing proceeded. Alexander had founded the city of
Alexandria, and soon that great and opulent city became more the home
of Greek science and literature than Athens itself. His successors
founded other great cities, such as Antioch, and there also the
civilisation was Greek.
Egyptians, Jews, and Syrians who were possessed of any kind of public,
social, or even mercantile ambition therefore naturally spoke Greek,
either only, or more often in conjunction with their native tongue.
This is the reason why the Septuagint appeared in Greek; why Greek as
well as Hebrew and Latin was written over the Cross; why our New
Testament was written in Greek; and why Paul could travel about the
eastern half of the Roman world and talk fluently wherever he went. He
could address a Roman governor directly at Paphos because that
governor had learned Greek at Rome, either in school or under his
nurse or tutor. He could stand before the Areopagus at Athens and
address that distinguished body in its own tongue because it was also
one of _his_ own tongues.
Not that one could expect the Greek culture, or even the language, to
remain pure when thus spread abroad. There were blendings of Oriental
elements, Egyptian, Jewish, or Syrian; but these elements were
themselves derived from advanced and time-honoured civilisations.
It follows, therefore, that all through the Eastern half of its domain
Rome could not contrive to romanize. She did not attempt to suppress
Greek ideas; she preferred to utilise them. So long as the Roman rule
was obeyed in its essentials, Rome was satisfied.
In the main, then, we have, outside Italy, two very distinct halves of
the Roman world: the Eastern, with its large cities, its active civic
life, its high culture, its contributions to science, art, and
luxury--and, it must be added, its general dissoluteness--with here
and there its pronounced leanings to Oriental fanaticism; and the
Western, with very few large towns, with a life more determined by
clans and tribes or country districts, with comparatively little
social culture, contributing almost nothing to art or science,
stronger in its contribution of natural products and virile men than
in those of the more refined or artificial luxury. Over this half the
Roman tongue, Roman dress, and Roman manners spread rapidly. In it
Roman settlers made themselves more at home. The aim of the better
classes of the natives was to render themselves as Roman as possible.
It is in the western part of the empire that you will find the names
which mark systematic Roman settlement and which often denote the work
of an emperor. Towns such as Saragossa (Caesarea Augusta), Aosta,
Augsburg, Autun (Augustodunum), and Augst are foundations of Augustus.
Hence the fact that Spain and Prance speak a Latin tongue at this day,
while no Latin was ever even temporarily the recognised language
between the southern Adriatic and the Euphrates.
This prime division made, let us now pass quickly round the empire,
making such brief observations as may appear most helpful as we go.
In the year 64 the south of Spain, the province of Baetica--of
which we may speak more familiarly as Andalusia--was prosperous
and peaceful, almost completely romanized and latinized. Many
of its inhabitants were true Latins, most had made themselves
indistinguishable from Latins. Along the river Guadalquivir there were
flourishing towns, chief among them being those now known as Seville
and Cordova. The whole region was one of rich pasture and tillage, and
from it the merchant ships from Cadiz brought to Rome cargoes of the
finest wool and of excellent olives and other fruits. The east of
Spain, with Tarragona for its capital, stood next in order for its
settled life and steady produce, including wine, salt fish and sauces,
while in the interior the finest steel--corresponding to the Bilbao
blades of more modern history--was tempered in the cold streams of the
hills above the sources of the Tagus. From Portugal came cochineal and
olives. In several parts of the peninsula--in Portugal, in the
Asturias, and near Cartagena--were mines of gold and silver, which had
been worked by the old Phoenicians and which the Romans had reopened.
The chief trouble of Spain, it may be interesting to learn, was the
rabbits, and against these there were no guns and no poison, but only
dogs, traps, and ferrets. In Gaul there is one province
long-established and fully romanized, with its capital at Narbonne,
and with flourishing Roman towns, which are now familiar under such
names as Aries and Nimes. This is a region over the coast of which the
culture of Greece had managed to stray, centuries before, through the
accident of a Greek colony having been founded at Marseilles. In this
province a Roman might live and feel that he was still as good as in
Italy. But beyond lay what was known as "Long-haired" Gaul, sometimes
"Trousered" Gaul, so called from the distinguishing externals of its
inhabitants, who wore breeches, let their hair grow long, and on their
faces grew only a moustache--three things which no Roman did, and from
which, even in these districts, the nobles, who were the first to
romanize, were beginning to desist.
The peoples of these Gaulish provinces preferred, like all early
Celtic communities, to give their adherence only to clans or tribes,
and to unite no further than impulse or expediency dictated, forming
no towns larger than a village, living for the most part in poor huts
scattered through forests, hills, marshes, and pasture land, and
content to sleep on straw, if only they could wear a fine plaid and
boast of a gold ornament. The names of many such tribes still remain
in the names of the towns which grew up from the chief village of each
canton. Such were the Ambiani, who have given us Amiens, and the Remi,
who have given us Rheims. Paris and Treves denote the administrative
villages of the Parisii and Treveri. Nevertheless the country had its
corn-lands and was rich in minerals and cattle, from which the hides
came regularly down the Rhone to be carried to the Mediterranean
markets. "Long-haired" Gaul was at this date rude and superstitious,
with that weird druidical religion which the Emperor Claudius had done
his best to suppress. Its chief vice was that of drunkenness. As with
the French, who have largely descended from them, the proverbial
passions of the Gauls were for war and for the art of speaking; but at
our date the former passion was decaying and the latter gaining
ground. The Gaulish provinces united at a point on the Rhone, near
which necessarily arose the largest city of that part of the world,
namely, Lugdunum, or Lyons, which speedily became not only a seat of
administration but a noted school of eloquence.
Of Britain there is as yet little to say. For the last twenty years
the Romans had done their best to conquer the Celtic tribes, who
suffered, as Celtic tribes were always apt to suffer, from their own
disunion. They had now reached the Trent--or rather a line from
Chester to Lincoln--had just punished Boudicca (or Boadicea) for her
vigorous effort at retaliation and her slaughter of 70,000 Romans or
adherents of Rome, and were following the true Roman practice of
securing what they had won by building military roads and establishing
strong posts of control, as at Colchester, Chester, and
Caerleon-on-Usk. Some amount of iron-working was being done in
Britain, but its chief exports were, as they had long been, tin, salt,
and hides. The British themselves had no towns. The places so called
were nothing more than collections of huts, surrounded by rampart and
ditch, in some easily defensible spot amid wood or marsh.
Along the Rhine it is enough to note that the Germans were being kept
in hand. South of the Danube the region now known as Styria and
Carinthia was rich in iron, and both here and all along the
mountainous tract of the Tyrol and neighbourhood Rome was steadily
pushing her language and habits by means of settlement, trading, and
military occupation. It may be remarked by the way that at this date
there were in use practically all the Alpine passes now familiar to
us--the Mont Genevre, the Little and Great St. Bernard, the Simplon,
the St. Gothard, and the Brenner.
The Upper Balkans were necessarily under military occupation, but
Macedonia was a flourishing graecized province with Thessalonica--the
modern Salonika--for its capital. Greece proper, known officially as
Achaia, had declined in every respect since the classical age of
Athens. The monuments of that city were, indeed, as sumptuous as ever;
a number had been added in Roman times, though generally in inferior
taste. Athens was still a sort of university, but its professors were
for the most part sophists or rhetoricians, beating over again the old
straws of philosophies which had once possessed a living meaning and
exercised a living force. Athens herself had never properly recovered
from the migration of learning to Alexandria. Delphi, the great
oracular seat of the Greek world, had also declined in importance,
although it could still boast of an imposing array of buildings and
memorials. The centre of commerce and of official life, a Roman colony
in the midst of Greece, a cosmopolitan and a dissolute place, was
Corinth on the Isthmus. Here Nero had intended to cut a canal through
from sea to sea--he had turned the first sod with his own hand--but
his personal extravagance caused an insufficiency of funds, and the
project met with the fate of the first enterprise at Panama. It was,
therefore, still necessary for a traveller proceeding to the East to
cross the Isthmus and reship at Cenchreae. The rest of Greece was
almost all poor and sparsely populated, and many ancient sites and
monuments were already suffering from neglect and dropping into ruin.
[Illustration: Fig. 6--THE ACROPOLIS AT ATHENS (From D'Ooge.)]
Across the Aegean, Asia Minor was in a condition of unprecedented
prosperity. It contained no less than five hundred towns of
considerable repute, chief among them being Smyrna and Ephesus, with
their handsome public buildings, open squares, theatres, gardens, and
promenades. Smyrna in particular boasted of its wide marble-paved
streets crossing each other at right angles, and provided with arcades
running along their sides. Its one defect was the want of proper
sewers. Among the sights of the world was the huge temple at Ephesus,
dedicated to Artemis, the "Great Diana" of the _Acts of the Apostles_.
This temple, the largest in the ancient world, was 425 feet long, 220
wide, and its columns were 60 feet in height and numbered 127.
South-east of the Aegean was situated the opulent Rhodes, the
handsomest and strongest port in the Mediterranean, provided with fine
harbour buildings, a seat of learning, and so full of art that it
contained no less than 3000 statues. In the somewhat desolate interior
of Asia Minor were spacious runs for sheep and horses, but wheat also
was grown, and the country could at least produce tall and sturdy
slaves. In northern Galatia the common people had not yet forgotten
the Celtic tongue which they had brought from Gaul over three
centuries ago. In the south-east, opposite Cyprus, lay Tarsus, the
birthplace of Paul, a city which combined the art of manufacturing
goats' hair into tent-cloth with the pursuit of what may be called a
university instruction in philosophy, science, and letters. In both
these local avocations the apostle employed his youth to good purpose.
Across the water Cyprus produced the copper which still bears its
[Illustration: FIG. 7.--PLAN OF ANTIOCH.]
Of Syria, rich in corn and fruits, the chief city--the third in the
empire--was Antioch, a town splendidly laid out upon the Orontes in a
strikingly modern fashion. A broad street with colonnades extended in
a straight line through and beyond the city for four miles, and was
crossed by others at right angles. This street is said to have been
lighted at nights, while the Roman streets remained dark and
dangerous. In the neighbourhood of the city was the celebrated park
called Daphne, where the voluptuous and almost incredible dissipation
of the ancient world perhaps reached its acme. Like Alexandria,
Antioch was furiously addicted to horseracing.
Further down the coast Sidon produced its famous glass, and Tyre its
famous purple dye. Inland from these lay the handsome city of
Damascus, famed for its gardens and for its work in fine linen. Still
farther south was Hierosolyma, or Jerusalem, of which it is perhaps
not necessary here to give details. Its population was reckoned at a
quarter of a million.
On the coast of Egypt, after you had caught sight, some thirty miles
away, of the first glint from the huge marble lighthouse standing 400
feet high upon the island of Pharos, you arrived at Alexandria, the
second city of the Roman world and the great emporium for the trade of
Egypt, of all Eastern Africa as far as Zanzibar, and of India. From it
came the papyrus paper, delicate glass-work, muslin, embroidered
cloths, and such additions to luxury as roses out of season.
Alexandria, built like Antioch on a rectangular plan, with its chief
streets 100 feet in width, contained a Jewish quarter, controlled by a
Jewish headman and a Sanhedrin; an Egyptian quarter; and a Greek
quarter, in which were the splendid buildings of the Library with its
600,000 volumes, and the University, devoted to all branches of
learning and science--including medicine--and provided with botanical
and zoological gardens. Here also were the temple of Caesar and the
fine harbour buildings. Its population, exceedingly money-loving and
pleasure-loving, and comprising representatives of every Oriental
people, may have numbered three-quarters of a million. The circuit of
the city was about thirteen miles, and its chief street some four
miles in length.
[Illustration: FIG. 8.--EMBLEM OF ANTIOCH.]
Behind it lay Egypt, with its irrigation and traffic canals kept in
good order; with its monuments in far better preservation than
now--the pyramids, for example, being still coated with their smooth
marble sides, and not to be mounted by the present steps, from which
the marble has been torn; with its rich corn-lands, its convict mines
and quarries, the Siberia of antiquity; with its string of towns along
the Nile and its seven or, eight millions of inhabitants--mostly
speaking Coptic--and full of strange superstitions and peculiar
worship of animals.
Coming westward we reach the prosperous Cyrene, and then, by the
rather out-of-the-world Bight of Tripoli, Africa proper, where once
ruled mighty Carthage, the colony of Tyre, and where the Phoenician or
Punic language still survived among the population of mixed
Phoenicians and Berbers. Here, too, are wide and luxuriant stretches
of corn-land, upon which Rome depends only next, if next, to those of
Alexandria. Further west are the Berber tribes of Mauretania, governed
by Rome but hardly yet fully assimilated into the Roman system.
[Illustration: FIG. 9.--EMBLEM OF ALEXANDRIA.]
In the Mediterranean Sea lie Crete, a place which had now become of
little importance; Sicily, as much Greek as Roman, fertile in crops
and possessed of many a splendid Greek temple and theatre; Sardinia,
an unhealthy island infested by banditti, and employed as a sort of
convict station, producing some amount of grain and minerals; and
Corsica, which bore much the same character for savagery as it did in
times comparatively recent, and which had little reputation for any
product but its second-rate honey and its wax. The Balearic Islands
were chiefly noted for their excellence in the art of slinging for
painters' earth, and for breeding snails for the Roman table.
[Illustration: FIG. 10.--EMBLEM OF ROME. From the Column of Antoninus
It remains to say that the feeling of local pride was very strong in
the rival towns of the empire. Each gloried in its distinguishing
commerce and natural advantages, and the chosen emblems of the greater
cities set forth their boasts with much artistic ingenuity. Thus
Antioch is symbolised by a female figure seated on a rock, crowned
with a turreted diadem, and holding in her hand a bunch of ears of
corn, while her foot is planted on the shoulder of a half-buried
figure representing the river Orontes. Alexandria, with her Horn of
Plenty, her Egyptian fruits, and the representations of her elephants,
asps, and panthers, as well as of her special deities, appears in
relief upon a silver vessel found at Boscoreale near Pompeii and here
Such in brief was the Roman Empire. How all this empire was governed,
what was meant by emperor, governor, taxation, and justice, is matter
for other chapters.
THE IMPERIAL SYSTEM: EMPEROR, SENATE, KNIGHTS, AND PEOPLE
We have seen, and succinctly traversed, the extent of the Roman world.
The next step is to consider, as tersely as possible, its system of
government and administration about the year 64. This task is not only
entirely necessary to our immediate purpose; it is also one of great
interest and profit in itself. If we are either to see in their proper
light the experiences of such a man as St. Paul, or to understand the
long continuance of so wide an empire, we must observe carefully the
principles and methods adopted by the Romans as rulers.
We speak fluently of the "Roman Emperor" and of the "reign of Nero."
What was an emperor? What were his powers, and how did he exercise
In the first place, it must be noted that, strictly speaking, Rome
acknowledged no such thing as an autocrat. It had no monarch; the
title "king" was disowned by the Caesars and entirely denied by the
people; the emperor was technically not a superior sovereign, but, on
the contrary, something inferior to a sovereign. He was the first
citizen, the "first man of the state." The state was nominally a
commonwealth, and the emperor its most important officer.
He was, to begin with, the representative of Rome as civil and
military governor of all provinces containing an army, or apparently
calling for an army. "Emperor" means military commander, and he was
the commander-in-chief of all the forces of the empire, military or
naval, but in a sense far more liberal than would now be intended by
such an expression. Of all the fighting forces he had absolute
control, determining their numbers, their service, all appointments,
their pay, and their discharge. He moved them where he chose, and,
beyond this, he possessed the power of declaring war and concluding
peace. Wherever there existed an armed force, whether in the far-off
field or in garrison, its obedience was due to him. In sign of this
every soldier, on the first of January and on the anniversary of the
emperor's accession, took a solemn oath--and an oath in those days was
felt as no mere matter of form, but as a solemn act of religion--that
he would loyally obey the commander-in-chief. The emperor's effigy was
conspicuous in the middle of every camp, and, in small, it figured on
the standard of every regiment. The sacred obligation of the soldier
to an Augustus or a Nero was kept perpetually in evidence, and he was
never allowed to forget it. Wherever the emperor appeared or
intervened in the provinces, all other powers became subordinate to
[Illustration: FIG. 11.--AUGUSTUS AS EMPEROR.]
Theoretically such a commander might always be deposed by the Roman
people, acting through its Senate. In reality he was master of the
situation. If he was ever deposed, or if a new commander was ever
appointed, it was by the army. If he proved a tyrant, there was no
other means of getting rid of him than by the army, unless it were by
assassination. At such times the Senate might make a show of naming
the successor, and the army might make a show of agreeing with the
Senate, but such expressions, as Tacitus repeats, were "empty and
meaningless words." The madman Caligula had been assassinated. When,
four years after our date, Nero was compelled to flee from his palace
and was persuaded into committing suicide, it was because the soldiers
had declared against him and had elected another.
The vast powers of the emperor had come into the hands of one man
simply because the republic had been found incompetent to handle its
empire, whether from a military or a financial point of view. It
managed neither so consistently nor so honestly as did the individual.
The emperor, then, by a constitutional fiction, was an officer of the
commonwealth, commanding its forces, not only with the freedom of
action which Rome had always allowed to its experts in dealing with
the enemy, but with that freedom greatly enlarged, and with a tenure
of the office perpetually renewed.
But to him that hath shall be given--especially if he is in a position
to insist on the gift. The emperor's military authority, his position
as governor of provinces, could not alone rightfully qualify him to
control Rome itself, with its laws, its magistrates, its domestic and
provincial policy. Theoretically the Roman emperor never did control
In practice he did with them very much as he chose. If he seriously
wished a certain course to be followed, a certain law to be passed or
abolished, even a certain man to be elected to an office, it was
promptly done. But how could he thus perpetually interfere and yet
appear to remain a constitutional officer? Not through the mere
obsequiousness of every one concerned, including the Senate. That
would be too transparent, clumsy, and invidious. It was necessary that
he should possess some adequate appearance of real authority, and he
was therefore ingeniously invested with that authority. It was thus.
There were under the commonwealth certain annual officers of wide and
rather indefinite powers called "tribunes of the commons." These
persons could veto any measure which they declared to be in opposition
to the interests of the people. They could also summon the Senate, and
bring proposals before it. Meanwhile their persons were "sacrosanct,"
or inviolable, during their term of office. Here lay the opportunity.
The emperor was invested by the Senate with these "powers of the
tribune." He was not actually elected a tribune, for the office was
only annual and could not be held along with any other, whereas the
emperor must have the prerogatives always, and in conjunction with any
other functions which he might choose to hold. He, therefore, only
received the corresponding "powers" and privileges. This position
enabled him to veto a measure whenever he chose, and with impunity.
Naturally therefore it became the custom, as far as possible, to find
out his wishes beforehand, and to move accordingly. He could also, in
the same right, summon the Senate and bring measures, or get them
brought, before it. To make certainty doubly certain, he was granted
the right to what we should call "the first business on the
Observe further the shrewdness of the first emperor, Augustus, when he
selected this particular position. The "tribunes of the commons" were
constitutionally popular champions; they represented the interests of
the common people. By assuming a position similar to theirs, the
emperor--or commander-in-chief--made it appear to the common people
that he was their chief and perpetual representative, and that their
interests were bound up with his authority. He took them under his
wing, and saw, among other things, that they did not starve or go
stinted of amusements. He saw to it that they had corn for their
bread, plenty of water, and games in the circus. His "bread and games"
kept them quiet.
Supported by the army on one side, with his person secure, enjoying
the right of initiative and the right of veto, this officer of the
"commonwealth" became indeed the Colossus who bestrode the Roman
world. He was invariably made also the Pontifex Maximus, or chief
guardian of the religious interests of Rome. He might in addition
receive other constitutional appointments--for example, that of
supervisor or corrector of morals--whenever these might suit a special
purpose. What more could a man desire, if he was satisfied to forego
the name of autocrat so long as he possessed the substance? It was
quite as much to the purpose to be called _Princeps_, or "head of the
state," as to be called a king, like the Parthian or other Oriental
monarchs. Among the Romans, therefore, "Princeps" was his regular
title. The Graeco-Oriental half of the empire, which had long been
accustomed to kings and to treating them almost as gods, frankly
styled this head of the state "king" or "autocrat," but no true Roman
would forget himself so far as to lapse into this vulgar truth.
One other title, however, the Romans did attach to their "Princeps."
Something was still wanting to bring home, to both the Roman and the
provincial, the peculiarly exalted position of so great a man;
something which should be a recognition of that majesty which made him
almost divine, at least with the divinity that doth hedge a king. The
title selected for this purpose was _Augustus_, a word for which there
is no nearer English equivalent than "His Highness," or perhaps "His
Majesty," if we imagine that term applied to one who, by a legal
fiction, is not a king. The insane Caligula called himself, or let
himself be called, "Lord and Master," and later Domitian temporarily
added to this title "God," but even Nero claimed neither of these
Here, then, is the position of Nero: Commander-in-chief of all the
forces of Rome by land and sea, and master of its foreign policy; the
titular protector of its commons and therefore inviolable of person
and virtual controller of laws and resolutions; official head of the
state religion; rejoicer in the style of "His Highness the Head of the
State." To speak ill of him, or to do anything derogatory to his
authority, was _lese majeste_.
[Illustration: FIG. 12.--COIN OF NERO. British Museum.]
Reference has several times been made to the Senate. It is time now to
speak briefly of that body. For the sake of clearness, however, we
must include a survey of the recognised constituent elements or
"orders" of Roman society.
The body politic consisted nominally of all who where known as "Roman
citizens." These included men of every rank, from the artisan, the
agricultural labourer, or even the idle loafer--of whom there was more
than plenty--up through every grade of the middle classes to the
richest and bluest-blooded aristocrat who considered himself in point
of birth more than the equal of the emperor. Any such citizen was
secured in person and property by the Roman laws. It was a punishable
act for the local authorities at Philippi to take Paul, a "Roman
citizen," and, before he was condemned, chastise him with rods.
According to the letter of the constitution, the power of electing all
officers of state, and of passing laws, had belonged to this
miscellaneous body, the "people," gathered in assembly. Meanwhile the
power of determining foreign policy and controlling the finances had
lain with a special body, consisting largely of the aristocracy and of
ex-officers of state, known as the "Senate." We are not here concerned
with the causes of the changes which buried this constitution out of
sight, but only with the actual state of things in the year 64.
In point of fact there were, under the emperors, no longer any
assemblies of the "people"; the people at large neither elected nor
legislated. The chief articles of the constitution had fallen into
complete abeyance during the troublous times which preceded the
establishment of that poorly disguised monarchy which we know as the
empire. All real power of electing and law-making came to be in the
hands of the Senate, acting with the emperor. While the emperor
dominated the Senate, he was nevertheless glad to fall back upon that
body in justification of his own actions and as a means of keeping up
the constitutional pretence. He permitted the Senate to pass
resolutions, and to exercise authority, just so far as there was no
conflict with his own pronounced wishes and interests. It was not his
policy to interfere and irritate when there was no occasion. On the
other hand, when he desired a piece of legislation or an important
administrative novelty, he preferred that it should be backed up by
the sanction, or promoted by the apparently spontaneous action, of the
Senate. It then bore a better appearance, and was less open to cavil.
The people are no longer consulted at all in such matters. They have
no say in them, for they have neither plebiscite nor representative
It must not be supposed that there never was friction between emperor
and Senate. The Senate was often--or rather generally--servile,
because it was intimidated. But there were times when it was inclined
to assert itself; some of its members occasionally allowed themselves
a certain freedom of speech, toward which one emperor might be
surprisingly lenient or good-naturedly contemptuous, and another
outrageously vindictive. In the year 64 the Senate was outwardly
docile enough, although at heart it was anything but loyal to his
Highness Nero the Head of the State. It must always be remembered that
among the Senate were included many of the highest-born, proudest, and
strictest of the Roman nobles or men of eminence. To them the whole
succession of emperors was still a series of upstarts--the family of
the Caesars--usurping powers which properly belonged to the Senate.
You could not expect these persons, aristocrats at heart, and many of
them true patriots, bearing names distinguished throughout Roman
history, to acquiesce in the spectacle of one who was no better than
they, as he passed up to his huge palace on the Palatine Hill,
escorted by his guards, or as he entered the Senate-House to give what
were practically his orders, perhaps scarcely deigning to recognise
men whose families had been illustrious while his was obscure. At
times a member here or there was calculating his own chances of
supplanting the man who galled him by condescension, or coldness, or
even insult. These aristocrats felt as the French nobles might feel
with Napoleon. And on his side the emperor, good or bad, never felt
quite safe from a plot to overthrow him. On the whole these earlier
emperors were much engaged in keeping the Senate in its place, and
were inclined, with quite sufficient reason, to be jealous and
suspicious of its more important members.
It was natural, therefore, that they should keep a very practical
control over the composition of that body. The situation was much as
if a modern nation were ruled by a virtual autocrat assisted by a
House of Peers. The senators and their families formed a "senatorial
order." So far as the Romans had such a thing as a peerage under the
empire, it is to be found in the senatorial order. And as a title may
now be either hereditary or conferred by the sovereign as the "fount
of honour," so, under the Roman emperors, the right to belong to the
senatorial order might come from birth or from the choice of the head
of the state. Normally you belonged to the "order" if you were the son
of a senator; you ranked in that class of society. To belong to the
Senate itself and to take part in its debates you must then have held
a certain public office and must possess not less than L8000. The
L8000 is the minimum. Most senators were rich, and some were
enormously wealthy. They are found with a capital of L3,000,000 or
L4,000,000 and an income up to L150,000. As for the public office
which you must first hold, you could not even be a candidate for it
unless you were already of the "order." If, when you are a senator,
there is anything serious against you, or if you become impoverished,
your name may be expunged from the list. Otherwise you remain a
senator all your life, and your son in turn is of the "order," and may
pass into the Senate by the same process. If you were a popular or
highly deserving person, and from any accident had lost your property,
the emperor would frequently make up the deficiency, or your brother
senators would subscribe the necessary amount.
But an emperor could meanwhile raise to the "order" anyone he chose.
He could give him standing, and so make him eligible as a candidate
for that public office which was preliminary to entering the actual
Senate. Moreover, when it came to the elections to this office which
served as the indispensable stepping-stone to the Senate-House, the
vacancies were limited in number, and the emperor had the right of
either nominating or recommending the candidates whom he preferred.
Needless to say, those candidates were invariably elected. It was, of
course, monstrous arrogance for Caligula to boast that he could make
his horse a consul if he chose, but the taunt contained a measure of
Let us then put the case thus. Imagine that a modern senate is
recruited from persons whose names are in the _Peerage and
Baronetage_, and that, before any scion of such a family can enter the
Senate itself, he must go through some sort of under-secretaryship, to
which he must first be elected.
But next imagine that the sovereign can raise to the rank of "peerage
or baronetage" some favoured person whose family does not yet figure
in _Debrett_. Such a man is then entitled to put his name on the list
of candidates for the necessary under-secretaryship, and, when the
sovereign reviews that list, he marks the candidate as nominated or
recommended by himself. So he passes into the Senate.
Most emperors did this but sparingly. They made the Senate an
aristocratic and wealthy body, keeping its numbers at somewhere near
600. We must not be perpetually assuming that the Caesars were either
reckless or unscrupulous, because two or three were of that character.
Many of them were remarkably capable and sagacious men. They
recognised the need of ability and high character in their Senate.
They had themselves enough of the old Roman exclusiveness to keep
their honours from being made too cheap, and the probability is that
under their rule the Senate was quite as honourable and quite as able
a body as it was at any time under the republic.
The feeling of _noblesse oblige_ was strongly implanted in this
senatorial class. The wealth of most members also put them above the
more sordid temptations. The senator was not permitted to undertake
any mercantile or financial business. The ancient notion still
survived, that the only really honourable occupations for money were
war and agriculture. The senator might own land and dispose of its
produce or receive its rents, but he could not, for instance, be a
money-lender or tax-farmer. Sometimes, no doubt, a senator evaded
these provisions by employing a "dummy," but we must not probe too
deep under the surface. In compensation for this disability it was
from the senatorial class that were drawn all the governors of the
important provinces, except Egypt, and all the higher military
officers. In these capacities they received salaries. The governor of
Africa, for example, was paid L10,000 a year.
Such men were no mere inexperienced aristocrats or plutocrats. They
had regularly passed through a military training in youth, and had
then held a minor civil appointment, commonly involving some knowledge
of public finance. Next they had passed into the Senate and taken part
in its business; had then held other public offices which taught them
practical administration and probably legal procedure; and had
afterwards been put in command of a "legion," that is to say, a
brigade or _corps d'armee_. After performing such functions with
credit, a senator might be sent to govern Syria or Macedonia or
Britain or some other province. He was then a man of varied experience
and ripe judgment, trained in official discipline and etiquette, as
well as in knowledge. This was the kind of man whom Paul met in Cyprus
in the person of the governor Sergius Paulus, or at Corinth in the
person of Gallio.
Certain smaller provinces might be administered by men of another
order, who were neither filled with the senatorial traditions nor had
passed through the senatorial career. These were but "factors" or
"agents" of Caesar, and among them were the Pontius Pilate, Felix, and
Festus, who were administrators of Judaea in New Testament times.
Next in rank to the senatorial order stood that of the "Knights." If
the senators represent, in a certain sense, the peerage and
baronetage, the next order represents--also in a certain sense.--the
knightage. Generally speaking, it comprehended what we should call the
upper middle classes, and particularly those concerned in the higher
walks of finance; such persons as, with us, would be the directors or
managers of great companies and banks. It also included persons whom
the head of the state chose to honour with something less than
senatorial standing. Many of these men were extremely wealthy, but the
minimum property qualification stood at only L3200, and Roman citizens
who possessed that amount were rather apt to pose as knights, and to
be commonly spoken of as such by a kind of courtesy title, although
their names could not be found upon the authorised rolls. Though
several emperors did their best to stop this practice, the endeavour
was for the most part fruitless. Once in England the "esquires" were a
class with certain recognised claims, but nothing could stop the
polite tendency to add "Esq." to the name of a person on a private
letter. The case was somewhat similar at Rome, although the practice
did not proceed quite so far.
Nevertheless there was a distinct and official roll of "Roman
knights," whom the head of the state had honoured with a public
present of "the gold ring," a ceremony corresponding to the royal
sword-stroke of modern times. This body, mounted on horses nominally
presented by the public, and riding in procession through the streets,
was reviewed and revised every year. Their roll was called, and if a
name was omitted from its proper place, it meant--without explanation
necessary--that by the pleasure of the emperor the person in question
had ceased to be a knight. Every member of the already-mentioned
higher or senatorial order was by right a knight until he actually
became a senator, from which time he ceased to enjoy the privileges of
a knight because he was enjoying those of the higher order rank. For
there were privileges as well as disabilities in each case. As a
senator could govern large provinces and command armies, but could not
engage in purely financial business; so the knight could--and almost
alone did--conduct the large financial enterprises of the Roman world,
but could not command armies nor hold any of the great public offices
or higher provincial appointments, except the governorship of Egypt.
Relatively to the senators the emperor was technically only "first
among equals"; he was the first senator, as well as the first man of
the state. At this date a senator would hold a truly public office,
civil or military, with or under this "superior equal," but he would
not act as his personal agent or assistant. The Roman aristocrat had
not yet learned to serve in that capacity, still less on the
"household" staff of the autocrat. There were as yet no highly placed
Romans serving as Lord High Chamberlain, much less as Private
Secretary. The "knights" stood in a different position. They were
prepared to be the emperor's personal agents, just as they were
prepared to be the agents of any one else, if sufficiently
remunerated. They would take his personal orders, whether in managing
his estates, collecting his provincial revenues, or relieving him of
some routine portion of his own official labour.
It follows that it was often more lucrative to be a knight than a
senator, and a number of senators were not unwilling to give up their
rank, for the same reasons which induce a modern peer to serve on
companies or a peeress to open a shop. On the other hand many a knight
would have declined to become a senator, at least until he had
sufficiently feathered his nest. The inducement to become or remain a
senator was the social rank, the honour and dignity, with their
outward insignia and the deference paid to them, the front seat, and
the reception at court. In these the wives also shared, and at Rome
the influence of the wife could not be disregarded.
If you met a senator, or a person of senatorial rank, in the street,
you would know him for such by the broad band of purple which ran down
the front, and probably also down the back, of his tunic, and by the
silver or ivory crescent which he wore upon his black shoes. His wife,
it is perhaps needless to say made even more show of what is called
the "broad stripe." If you met a knight, you would perceive his
standing by his two narrow stripes of purple appearing upon the same
part of his dress. Each would wear a gold ring; but that in itself
would prove nothing, since, despite all attempts at prohibiting the
custom, every Roman who could afford a gold ring permitted himself
If you entered one of the large semicircular theatres, which are to be
described in due course, you would find that the men wearing the broad
stripe seated themselves in the chairs which stood upon the level in
front of the stage, while those wearing the narrow stripes would
occupy the first fourteen tiers of seats rising just behind them. No
one else might, occupy those places. If some one who had been
improperly posing as a knight, or who had been degraded from his rank
because he had wasted his credit and his money and no longer possessed
either L3200 or a reputation, ventured to seat himself in the fourteen
rows in the hope of being unnoticed, he would be speedily called upon
by the usher to withdraw. Snobs occasionally made the attempt, and, at
a somewhat later date, we have an amusing epigram of Martial
concerning one who repeatedly but unsuccessfully dodged the usher and
who was at last compelled to kneel in the gangway opposite the end of
the fourteenth row, where it might look to those behind as if he were
sitting among the knights, while technically he could claim that he
was not sitting at all.
Elsewhere also, as for instance at the chariot-races in the Circus,
and at the gladiatorial shows in the amphitheatre, there were special
places set apart for the two orders.
Below the senators and the knights came the "people,"--the "commons,"
or "third estate"--with all its usual grades and its usual variety of
occupation or no occupation, of manners and character or absence of
both. With the life of these, as with the life of a noble, we shall
deal at the proper time.
So much for the Roman citizen proper. Other elements of the population
were the foreigners. At Rome these were exceedingly numerous, and the
city may in this respect be called--as indeed it was called--a
microcosm, a small copy or epitome of the Roman world. Gauls,
Africans, Greeks, Jews, Syrians, and Egyptians were perhaps the most
commonly to be seen, but particularly prominent were the Greeks and
the Jews. The Greeks were recognised above all as the clever men, the
artists, the social entertainers, and the literary guides. The Jews,
who formed a sort of colony in what is now known as Trastevere--the
low-lying quarter across the Tiber--were not yet the princes of high
finance. As yet they were chiefly the hucksters and petty traders,
notorious for their strange habits and for the fanaticism of their
religion, which nevertheless exercised a strange potency and made many
proselytes even in high places, especially among the women. Poppaea,
the wife of Nero himself, is commonly considered to have been such a
proselyte, although the strange notion that she herself was a Jewess
is without any sort of foundation. It is a common error to suppose
that the Jews came to Rome only after the destruction of Jerusalem.
The dispersion had occurred long before Rome had anything to do with
Judaea, and naturally the enterprising Jew was to be found in all
profitable places, whether in Alexandria, Antioch, Smyrna, Corinth,
Rome, or farther afield.
In the political sense all these foreigners belonged to their own
provinces and communities. They might be citizens there, but they were
not citizens at Rome. At Rome they had no public claims and no
official career, unless--as not seldom happened--they received, for
some service or some distinction, the gift of the Roman citizenship.
Sometimes the citizenship was given wholesale to a town, or even to a
province. How the Hebrew father or grandfather of St. Paul became a
Roman citizen, we do not know. Their own abilities or the emperor's
favour might carry such citizens, or their children, up all the steps
which were open to the ordinary Roman.
After the foreigners come the slaves. At Rome itself they formed about
one-third of the population. This is not the moment for any detailed
account of their employment, their treatment, or their liberation.
Suffice it for the present that the slave possessed no rights at all.
He was the chattel of his master, who possessed over him the full
power of life and death, limited only by public opinion and prudential
considerations. A Roman might have at his disposal one slave or ten
thousand slaves. He could use them as he liked, kill them if he chose,
and, subject to certain limitations, set them free if he willed,
provided that he did not set too many free at once. The last
restriction was especially necessary, inasmuch as a slave who was
manumitted by his master with the proper ceremonies became _ipso
facto_ a Roman citizen, but was still bound by certain ties of loyalty
to his former master. For a Roman to possess too large an attachment
of "freedmen," as they were called, might prove dangerous. The
"freedman," though a citizen, could not himself enter upon a public
career; neither, in ordinary circumstances, could his children; but in
the third generation the family stood on an entire equality with any
other Roman family in that respect.
For the present it may be added that our conception of the meaning of
the word "slave" must not be that attached to its modern use. Many
such slaves were men of great special or general ability, or men of
high culture, especially if Greeks, Syrians, Jews, or Egyptians. They
were frequently superior to their masters, and subsequently, as free
citizens, added much to either the refinement or the over-refinement
of Roman life. Perhaps it is as well, in passing, to point out that
the later Roman people was in no small degree descended from all this
aggregation of foreigners and emancipated slaves, and that we must
speak with the greatest reservation when we describe the modern Roman
as a direct descendant of the ancient stock who fought with Hannibal
and subjugated the world.
NERO THE EMPEROR
Roughly then this is the situation at the centre of government.
Sumptuously housed on the Palatine Hill--the origin of our word
"palace"--is His Highness Claudius Nero, Head of the State,
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, Empowered to act as Tribune of the
People, and Head of the State Religion: in modern times commonly
called "the Emperor." Every day and night his palace is surrounded by
a regiment of the Imperial Guards, and attached to his person is a
special corps for bodyguard, and orderlies. In practice, whatever be
the theory, he possesses the control of legislation and appointments;
upon him practically depends all recognised distinction of social
rank. Down below, to the side of the Forum, is the Senate-House, in
which there gathers, twice each month, and oftener if summoned, the
great deliberative body which, in spite of all disturbances, civil
wars, and limitations or broadenings of its power, is the continuation
of the assembly of grave Roman fathers who first met some eight
hundred years before. These men, who are of birth and wealth and
commonly of sound public training, are the nominal upholders and
directors of the commonwealth, still left to perform many functions
and to administer the more peaceful provinces in their own
way--especially if they relieve the emperor of trouble--but in
practice controlled by His Highness whenever and however it suits his
purpose. They and the emperor form a partnership in authority, but the
Senate is very distinctly the junior partner. They lend him advice or
sanction when he seeks it, and they sometimes act as a break on his
impetuosity. It is not well to alienate them, for they are proud; they
are jointly, sometimes individually, powerful; and their moral weight
with army and public is not to be despised.
Thus stands the central government, while socially there follows the
order of the Knights, depending for their rank upon the emperor, and
in many cases serving in his employ. Below these the populace, of
whose rights and liberties the emperor is an official champion to whom
theoretically any Roman citizen can appeal against a sentence of death
or against cruel wrong. It is hard to conceive of a stronger position